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Literacy

As these words are written, Secretary of State John Kerry has announced agreement with Israel and the Ramallah government to restart peace talks, a Foreign Ministerial-level meeting is to be held shortly,

Ramallah continues both its condemnation of “Zionist atrocities” and reiterates its willingness to conduct negotiations on the basis of pre-1967 borders, Israel has said a return to pre-1967 borders – which would leave only 9.3 miles from the Mediterranean to  hostile Arab territory  – is out of the question but it will release 104 prisoners as a token of good faith.

Mahmoud Abbas, who in the past has said “We want the Israelis to leave. They want to leave – so let us let them leave” said on Monday in a briefing to mostly Egyptian journalists quoted by Reuters, less than a day after Kerry’s announcement, “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.”

Hamas has reiterated its refusal to negotiate anything at all with Israel under any circumstances whatsoever.  Hamas may be the only honest player on the field.

Some things never change; if the talks do, in fact, take place they will fail as always.  As Israel’s Foreign Minister Abba Eban said at the Geneva Peace Conference with Arab countries (December 1973), “[t]he Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  However, Eban’s aphorism missed the fact, incomprehensible to reasonable minds, that these “failures” have been a deliberate policy from the start. 

Arab leaders in the West Bank and Gaza don’t want their own state, and never have except as a tactical feint to an overarching objective.  What they do want is the obliteration of Jews and Israel at any cost and under any pretext.

As PLO executive committee member Zahir Muhsein said in a March 31, 1977 interview with the Dutch newspaper Trouw: “The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism.

Herewith, the Escher-Aiken Roadmap to Peace in the Middle East, a simple plan named for the late Senator George Aiken (R-VT) who, during  the turmoil over US involvement in Southeast Asia, said “the best policy is to declare victory and get out”, which, of course, is what finally happened, and  the Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher, renowned for drawing physical objects that couldn’t possibly exist.

The four points of the Escher-Aiken Roadmap:

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Something strange started happening in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve in South Africa in 1992.  Dead rhinoceroses – a lot of dead rhinoceroses – were being found.  By 1997 more than 40 had been killed.  Wildlife authorities were completely stumped as to the cause.

Clearly, humans weren’t responsible; the rhinos had been brutally mauled to death and their ivory tusks were intact.

Neither could the deaths be attributed to predatory animals; adult rhinoceros have no real natural enemies other than humans although young rhinos can fall prey to predators such as big cats, crocodiles, wild dogs, and hyenas.

After much head scratching somebody had a thought, a thought that proved out but one that also raised some troubling questions: elephants were behind the killings.  But why? Elephants and rhinos aren’t enemies and both are herbivores.

Not for the first time, the answer lay in horribly imperfect human understanding and actions.

Many years prior to the rhino killings South Africa found itself facing a serious elephant overpopulation problem.  Not only was sufficient grazing land rapidly dwindling, people (or rather their farms and gardens, and even their newly constructed tasty grass huts) were being threatened, sometimes fatally.

At the time, the accepted solution was to cull the herd of breeding adults, both male and female.  Grotesquely, the process included young calves often left tied to a dead parent, usually for an extended time, until a team returned to gather them up for transport to another elephant range.

An elephant never forgetsRead More

Bankrate.com, a website by and for the financial services industry, recently published an article titled 5 graduate degrees that don’t pay off .  Among those listed were computer engineering (#2), PR, advertising and mass-media programs (#3),  a law degree from a fourth-tier school (#4), and atmospheric sciences and meteorology (#5).

The list makes a partial degree of sense to me but I don’t understand what relationship most of the entries have to financial services, and I’d go a step further by suggesting that any degree in any subject from a fourth-tier school is probably a waste of time and money unless your sole objective is adding initials and abbreviations to your business card to make it more awe-inspiring.  I also note a  question of morality in a great deal of PR, advertising and mass-media programs which, ironically,  benefit Wall Street greatly.

Whether or not the other three are applicable to financial services is beyond my ken but at least they can generate a decent income, self satisfaction and, in the case of atmospheric sciences and meteorology, serve the greater good (see my Global Warming and Incoming Bad Stuff.)

What really caught my eye was Master of Fine Arts at #1 on the list.

There is more going on here than a list of disciplines that generally don’t make money for the financial services industry.  5 graduate degrees that don’t pay off  says a great deal about how we see ourselves and value (or don’t value) ourselves and our society overall.  It is an indictment that brings to mind an observation by Herbert Marcuse in One Dimensional Man (1964) to the effect that when surrounded by an irrational environment the only rational response is to behave irrationally.

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A few millennia ago a nomadic people wandered the broad expanse spreading from modern Iran to Egypt or even further. Collectively, they referred to themselves as Ivrim which, logically enough, meant “traverse or pass over”. Culturally and demographically they were insignificant and never had much impact on their neighbors. Mainly they kept to themselves which was the way the liked it, wandering and minding their own business.

Historically the Ivrim were a dud if by “history” one means victorious generals, and vast empires. Neighbors like the Egyptians and others considered them nuisances at best. What the Ivrim accomplished culturally, however, is an entirely different matter. They largely achieved mass literacy among males (females weren’t explicitly excluded: female leaders, jurists, and scholars occupying positions of respect were not unheard of then or among the later descendants of the Ivrim). The Ivrim also had the first written constitution to guarantee equal justice under law for all. Their constitution also established an independent judiciary with codified and enforced rules of evidence and procedure.

The Ivrim had a system of progressive taxation that didn’t unduly burden the less fortunate, health care and care for the elderly and infirm, and by no means least significant, they practiced the rudiments of personal hygiene and public sanitation. In today’s terms, the Ivrim had a social safety net designed to ensure the community as a whole that everyone’s basic needs would be met.

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I wish I could claim authorship of the following but I can’t; not a word of it is mine.  I came across it while the Internet was yet in its infancy and have kept it all these years as a kind of sociological comfort blanket.  One Man’s Opinion

I’ve seen it attributed, but only once, to a Punch article in the early 1960’s, which seems questionable, and will happily give the proper author his or her due if the “Punch Theory” can be substantiated;  for the most part this piece and a companion I’ve since lost titled P.E.N.C.I.L. circulated the universe via email.

To my old fogies’ sense of priorities and values the wry warnings of the future seem to have proven true beyond what Author X may have feared. Those apprehensions come to mind often when I’m faced with a crowd, often of young people or young adults while they talk to or text to nobody in sight, completely ignoring the flesh-and-blood humans who surround them.

The same apprehensions arise  when I am given to understand they are hurrying to finish “writing” their school assignments on a computer (with Spell-Check, of course) and drawing on the vast information available on the Internet (much of which is of questionable value) only leaving, if they must, their perches to text friends and relations.

Enough of my outdated sensibilities…. for now.

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Introducing the new Bio-Optical Organized Knowledge device, trade named B.O.O.K.

BOOK is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology; no wires, no electric circuits, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. It’s so easy to use, even a child can operate it. Compact and portable, it can be used anywhere — even sitting in an armchair by the fire — yet it is powerful enough to hold as much information as a CD-ROM disc.

Here’s how it works.

BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. The pages are locked together with a custom fit device called a binder which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence. Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) Read More