T   P   O
The Patient Ox (aka Hénock Gugsa)

G r e e t i n g s !

** TPO **
A personal blog with diverse topicality and multiple interests!

On the menu ... politics, music, poetry, and other good stuff.
There is humor, but there is blunt seriousness here as well!

Parfois, on parle français ici aussi. Je suis un francophile .... Bienvenue à tous!

* Your comments and evaluations are appreciated ! *

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The One Percenters - by Christopher Ketcham

graphics by Henock  (click to enlarge)

The One Percenters
----- // -----
by Christopher Ketcham *

[Income inequality and the death of culture in New York City]

For my daughter’s benefit, so that she might know the enemy better, know what he looks like, where he nests, and when and where to throw eggs at his head, we start the tour at Wall Street. It’s hot. August. We’re sweating like old cheese. 

Here are the monuments that matter, I tell her: the offices of Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon; the JPMorgan Chase tower up the block; around the corner, the AIG building. The structures dwarf us, imposing themselves skyward. 

“Linked together like rat warrens, with air conditioning,” I tell her. “These are dangerous creatures, Léa. Sociopaths.” 

She doesn’t know what sociopath means. 

“It’s a person who doesn’t care about anybody but himself. Socio, meaning society—you, me, this city, civilization. Patho, like pathogen—carrying and spreading disease.” 

Long roll of eyes.

I’m intent on making this a teachable moment for my daughter, who is fifteen, but I have to quit the vitriol, break it down for her. I have to explain why the tour is important, what it has to do with her, her friends, her generation, the future they will grow up into. 

On a smaller scale, I want Léa to understand what New York, my birthplace and home, once beloved to me, is really about. Because I’m convinced that the beating heart of the city today is not its art galleries, its boutiques, its restaurants or bars, its theaters, its museums, nor its miserable remnants in manufacturing, nor its creative types—its writers, dancers, artists, sculptors, thinkers, musicians, or, god forbid, its journalists. 

“Here,” I tell her, standing in the canyons of world finance, “is what New York is about. Sociopaths getting really rich while everyone else just sits on their asses and lets it happen.”
* “The Reign of One Percenters” – by Christopher Ketcham, November/December issue of Orion Magazine. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Thief and the Naive Messenger - by Maggid M.

People can be so disappointing!

The Thief and the Naive Messenger
(a Parable)
Maggid MiDubno *

There was once a thief who had his eye on the cash receipts of a very busy store. The store, however, was always full of customers; so, an open attempt on the premises was not the way to achieve his illegal goal. He watched daily and noticed that, near the end of each business day, a young man left the store with a fat bag and headed directly to the bank a few doors away. But the streets were also too busy for an attempt at robbery.

Then the thief devised a plan. He went into the fancy men’s shop next door. He told the salesman that he needed a suit for his son but did not know his son’s size. The salesman suggested that he point out someone on the street that resembled the “customer’s” son and he would guess the proper size. When the young man passed by the thief singled him out. The salesman guessed the size but the “buyer” said
that he wanted to be sure and so he yelled out to the young man and proposed a “favor”.

“Could you please try on a suit for us? You look like the size of my son and it would really help if you could try on my selection so I can buy it for him.” The reluctant messenger gave in to the pleading man and entered. During the try-on he put the bag under his arm as he slipped the other arm through the jacket’s sleeve. The thief grabbed the bag and started to run.

The messenger started in pursuit but was stopped by the shopkeeper who demanded that he take off the suit before he left. In the hustle and bustle the thief escaped.

The quick lesson here - Shout out: "Stop thief!" when someone breaks a trust.

* source: http://www.torah.org/learning/tabletalk/5767/vayikra.html

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Il pleure dans mon Coeur - Paul Verlaine

Il pleure dans mon Coeur
----- // -----
Paul Verlaine (1844-1896)

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville.
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénêtre mon coeur ?

O bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits !
Pour un coeur qui s’ennuie,
O le chant de la pluie !

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s’écoeure.
Quoi ! nulle trahison ?
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C’est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi,
Sans amour et sans haine,
Mon coeur a tant de peine.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"A Mendacious Nation" - Nicholas Wapshott

Can Republicans tell the truth to themselves?
------ // ------

By Nicholas Wapshott
Reuters / Opinion
January 29, 2013

To understand how far the republic founded by the famously truthful George Washington has become a mendacious nation, you need look only as far as the Weather Channel. According to a report, the meteorologists there deliberately and routinely tell untruths about the prospect of rain so that when it turns out to be sunny the network’s viewers feel unexpectedly happy. The practice, it seems, is widespread among weather forecasters. Joe Sobel, a meteorologist for Accuweather, tells his audience it will rain when he knows the likelihood is small because “when the forecast is for good weather and it’s bad, I certainly will get more grief than if the forecast is for bad weather and it’s good.”

When the accuracy of even weather forecasting, a once factual, rigorous, scientifically determined service relied upon by everyone from farmers to sailors, is compromised for fear of causing offense, America has reached a state of quotidian deceit even George Orwell did not reckon on. Lying over the weather is not the compulsive lying of Richard Nixon: “People have got to know whether or not their President is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.” Or the visceral lying of Lance Armstrong, who even lied when he confessed to Oprah Winfrey, using the lying words, “I can’t lie to you …” and “I’m not going to lie to you or to the public …” Nor is it even the crooked lies of the price-fixing bankers who misled the markets and cost us all a pretty penny when they concocted the Libor lending rate to suit themselves.

Lying about the weather to please the masses is not so much lying as pandering on a prodigious scale. Bowing down before the voters has become so commonplace in Washington that when someone says something from the heart that is likely to provoke contemplation or discussion, they are dismissed as foolhardy. The president’s second inaugural address was full of soaring language and high ideals that reflected his ambitions for the nation. But Barack Obama was so liberal in his vision that the speech was derided by opponents as un-presidentially divisive and absurdly idealistic. The same charge was made against Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural address from the Democratic side. How dare the president say what he believes and where he is heading? Tell us what we like to hear, or at the least say something that will not offer hostages to fortune. Please pander more and stop talking like a leader.

Democratic leaders have no need to pander. Their next presidential candidates are already lining up, and it would be foolhardy indeed to dare tell Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden what to say or do. They are so obviously leaders with their own thoughts and agendas that the Democratic base is ready to follow them wherever they lead. That may be bad for party democracy, but it is good for winning elections. The Republican leadership, meanwhile, is so buffeted and bossed around by its Tea Party base that it conjures up images of high-rise ladder fire engines that have a driver at the front and another at the rear to steer round tight corners. The hilarious 2012 GOP primary season was a panderers’ parade, with every last candidate so eager to get on the right side of the far right they ended up, like poor Mitt Romney, as tangled as a fairground contortionist.

At a Republican National Committee election inquest in Williamsburg, Virginia, last week, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal risked his future as a 2016 presidential candidate by engaging in some straight talking. “We’ve got to stop being the Stupid Party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults,” he said. ”We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.” And: “A debate about which party can better manage the federal government is a very small and shortsighted debate. If our vision is not bigger than that, we do not deserve to win.” He declared that “the Republican Party does not need to change our principles ‑ but we might need to change just about everything else we do.” That’s not a message the Republican base wants to hear, but it sure sounds like leadership.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, too, has decided it is time to abandon pandering and offer an election-winning alternative. He thinks the endless talking points about Benghazi, abortion, gay marriage and taxes plainly did not resonate with voters and will soon advocate policies designed to broaden the GOP’s appeal beyond the base to embrace moderate Republicans who have been turned off by the hoary mantras of the “closed system” dogmatists content merely to talk to each other.

Speaking to an audience of the world’s political and business elite at Davos, well out of Tea Party earshot, Cantor described the 2012 election as “a wake-up call for a lot of folks” and spoke of introducing “sane immigration policies,” adopting German economic growth strategies and helping the unemployed find jobs. He will propose specific policies at the American Enterprise Institute on Feb. 5 that include private-school vouchers for poor parents, new workforce training programs and easy-to-obtain visas to lure high-tech immigrants – subjects [r3] that brand him as a dangerous appeaser among many of his party’s faithful.

These are early days in the Republican postmortem. Some appear ready to face the facts of defeat and avoid the head-on confrontation urged by their allies in what some conservatives describe as “the media-industrial complex” that earns its keep by urging on GOP extremists. Charles Krauthammer, a keeper of the complex, knows which side his bread is buttered and advises more of the same. “Ignore the trimmers,” he declared within hours of the November defeat. “There’s no need for radical change. … No whimpering. No whining. No reinvention when none is needed. Do conservatism but do it better. There’s a whole generation of leaders ready to do just that.” It is a sure recipe for permanent Democratic government.

Footnote: The story of George Washington, on being accused of chopping down a cherry tree, saying, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa. You know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet,” was itself a lie, made up by an early biographer, Mason Locke Weems.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Thoughts on James Garfield - WaPo Editorial

General James Garfield

James Garfield (1851-1881)
James Garfield, ahead of his time
------ // ------

By Editorial Board
The Washington Post
February 17, 2013

[For the briefest time, President Garfield was an inspiration.]
Most of our presidents languish in a cloud of national historical vagueness, especially those who held the office in its first century. For one thing, there were so many of them, which is what happens when republics don’t grant power for more than four years at a time. And, except for Abraham Lincoln, so few of them make really good movie material. Lincoln, of course, is in theaters everywhere in this 150th anniversary year of Emancipation, but the decades that came after that glorious episode in our history don’t seem to offer much hope for an honest sequel or another admirable president to portray.
There is one, though, who’s worth a thought on this holiday, Presidents’ Day, which is usually devoted to Washington, Lincoln and blockbuster sales events. You may have passed by the memorial to him at the foot of Capitol Hill — it’s an elaborate thing that has one large standing statue of the president and three smaller ones representing earlier stages of his eventful life. 
He was James A. Garfield, who may have been the best president we never had, or hardly had. Garfield was fatally wounded only months into his presidency by a deranged office seeker with a handgun, and the memorials to him — statuary, parks, streets, schools here in Washington and elsewhere — reflect not just the nation’s grief over his martyrdom but also a genuine admiration felt across a great part of the country and especially among its most downtrodden. 
Garfield was a poor boy (last of the log cabin presidents) who lost his father early, worked his way through school, and went on to become a professor, Civil War general, businessman and congressman. 
He was chosen for the 1880 Republican presidential nomination even though he didn’t seek it and tried to dissuade the delegates at the deadlocked convention from stampeding to him. (Talk about a story line that would test the credulity of modern American audiences.) And he took office reluctantly, sensing that he would never see his Ohio farm again.
Garfield was an upright man but human, and he made mistakes and enemies here and there. But he was a forceful and widely respected advocate for what he believed in, inspired trust among many and felt strongly on the great issue of his day — the future of newly emancipated Americans. He was also a powerful orator, and in his inaugural address he delivered an impassioned defense of civil rights, the likes of which was not to be made by another American president for nearly a century.
“The elevation of the negro race from slavery to the full rights of citizenship is the most important political change we have known since the adoption of the Constitution of 1787,” he said. “NO thoughtful man can fail to appreciate its beneficent effect upon our institutions and people. It has freed us from the perpetual danger of war and dissolution. It has added immensely to the moral and industrial forces of our people. It has liberated the master as well as the slave from a relation which wronged and enfeebled both. It has surrendered to their own guardianship the manhood of more than 5,000,000 people, and has opened to each one of them a career of freedom and usefulness. It has given new inspiration to the power of self-help in both races by making labor more honorable to the one and more necessary to the other. The influence of this force will grow greater and bear richer fruit with the coming years.”
There was more along those lines, and it bears reading. Moreover, Garfield appointed four black men, among them Frederick Douglass, to posts in his administration. We are left to wonder today what a president of conviction and conscience such as Garfield might have done to rouse the country and lead it against the vicious new institutions of repression and virtual re- enslavement that were taking hold in the American South, with the silent acquiescence of the North. 
We will never know, of course, what the limits of his leadership might have been, but it would seem, from the grief at his passing and the memorials that remain, that he was a president who left more of a mark on the people’s consciousness in a few months than some others have in four years and more.
Some Readers’ Comments …

1:47 PM CST
Garfield was only President for 5 months before he was killed...not much time to really get anything done.
1:11 PM CST
Wow, imagine how awfully Fox would have savaged this man had they been around at the time. And, like Lincoln, can anyone imagine this guy coming CLOSE to the Republican nomination in this day and age? LOL
11:35 AM CST
President Garfield was also against the cronyism and corrupt political machines such as Tammany Hall that were corrupting politics in general and the Republican Party in particular. He was replaced by Chester Arthur a former party hack who loved his big buffets and didn't accomplish too much.
The assassination of President Garfield was such a tragedy and the fourth biggest what if
behind Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy.
11:02 AM CST
Nice counterpoints to this article.
130 years after Garfield's death, resentment over the loss of white privilege is alive and well.
10:32 AM CST
In high school we were taught that Garfield devised a unique proof of the Pythagorean theorem, which you can read here:
As a congressman, Garfield was a close friend of the renowned astronomer Simon Newcomb of the US Naval Observatory, whose career he championed. With his fluency in Greek and Latin, he was truly a Renaissance man.
9:17 AM CST
A very good book about President Garfield, his assassin and the doctors that were complicit in his death is "Destiny of the Republic" by Candice Millard. I would recommend it if anyone wants additional information about President Garfield.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Price of Inequality - CSM

Joseph Stiglitz

The Price of Inequality
(Q & A with Joseph Stiglitz *)
Nathan Gardels **

[Joseph Stiglitz, author of the new book 'The Price of Inequality,' argues that the wealth gap in the United States 'is holding us back' because it weakens consumer demand. 'If we want to restore growth, and therefore full employment and greater tax revenues,' we need to address this gap.]


Nathan Gardels: What is the central thesis of your book, “The Price of Inequality”?
Joseph Stiglitz: My argument in the context of the current debate is that no large economy has ever recovered from recession through austerity. But more than that, the sharp rise in inequality – especially in the United States, which has the greatest inequality gap in the advanced countries – is holding us back. The lack of aggregate demand that has resulted from this inequality is a key factor hindering a return to growth.
Simply, those at the top where wealth has concentrated spend much less of their income than those at the bottom or in the middle. So, demand drops. If we want to restore growth, and therefore full employment and greater tax revenues, we need to address the underlying problem of inequality.

Gardels: And the cause of that inequality is what? Trade? Technological innovation? Tax policy?
Stiglitz: Certainly the US faces the same challenges of globalization and technological job displacement as other advanced economies. But much of the US problem is that it has rising inequality because of policy choices that allow, and even encourage and incent, “rent-seeking” economic behavior at the top.
Rent-seeking distorts the efficient operation of markets. When financial gains from speculation are taxed at a lower rate than innovation, resources that would support productivity-boosting activities are diverted into, well, legalized gambling. Predatory lending policies and abusive credit-card practices fit in this same rent-seeking category.
There are plenty of other examples: Executive compensation packages that come at the expense of the stakeholders and employees. Drug companies have successfully lobbied to stop the federal government – the largest purchaser of drugs – from negotiating lower drug prices. Bankruptcy laws in the US are given a higher priority in a workout than student loans, which can’t be discharged even under bankruptcy!

Gardels: What policy choices, then, can start to reverse growing inequality?
Stiglitz: You can start with the tax code. Since so much of the rising income at the top comes from rent-seeking, more progressive taxation – particularly on capital gains – is necessary. Better-enforced antitrust and bankruptcy laws are policy choices that will make a difference. Limiting the power of CEOs to set their own pay is another obvious corrective.

Gardels: A recent book by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, “Why Nations Fail,” argues that the US is losing its famous inclusiveness and social mobility. “The problem is that economic inequality often comes bundled with political inequality,” they have written. “Those with great wealth and easy access to politicians and policymakers will try to increase their power at the expense of society. That sort of hijacking of politics is a surefire way of undermining inclusive political institutions, and it is already under way in the US.”
In short, beyond a certain threshold, inequality threatens a governing system that works for all.
Stiglitz: I agree completely. Their thinking and mine are very much along the same lines.
Economic inequality begets political inequality and vice versa. Then the very vision that makes America special – upward mobility and opportunity for all – is undermined. One person, one vote becomes one dollar, one vote. That is not democracy. That is political decay.
* Nobel economics winner (2001)
**  © 2012 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Dream Within a Dream - by Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe


A Dream Within A Dream
by Edgar Allan Poe

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow--
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand--
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep--while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Fishing on The Susquehanna in July - Billy Collins

Billy CollinsThe Susquehanna River 

Fishing On The Susquehanna In July
------- // -------
by Billy Collins (1941 -)

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.

Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure -- if it is a pleasure --
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one --
a painting of a woman on the wall,

a bowl of tangerines on the table --
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,

rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.

But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia,

when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend

under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandana

sitting in a small, green
flat-bottom boat
holding the thin whip of a pole.

That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.

Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,

even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Genetics and Mass Killers - by Nathaniel Comfort


Could Genetics Help Us Understand Mass Killers?
---- // ---- 
by Nathaniel Comfort *
The Hartford Courant,
January 11, 2013

Wayne Carver, the state's chief medical examiner, asked geneticists at the University of Connecticut to join the investigation into the Dec. 14 killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. A retired FBI profiler said in response, "I think it's great to consider if there's something here that would help people understand this behavior." 

Where's the harm? What could go wrong?

In principle, genetics could pinpoint a biological defect that could explain the rampage of Adam Lanza, who shot students, school staff members, his mother and himself.
"Is there any identifiable disease associated with this behavior?" Carver asked. Of course there is. The first hit on this fishing expedition was Asperger's syndrome, with which Adam Lanza was alleged to have been diagnosed as a child. Consensus quickly emerged that Asperger's does not predispose one toward violent behavior — the autism spectrum was, then, a genetic red herring. But the genetic investigation continues, and the likelihood of finding some correlated disease or syndrome is high. Here are some things they might find:

Other personality disorders. Lanza was "a nerd," quiet, shy, smart and he favored the dark, eerie aesthetic of Goth culture. So many kids fit this profile it is almost inconceivable that they don't have some genetic markers in common.

A relative with a history of violence. A study published last year using the time-honored method of studying twins claimed to show that criminal behavior can be predicted by genetics. Indeed, family identity was briefly implicated in the Sandy Hook massacre — for a few hours Lanza's brother was thought to be the shooter — but that turned out to be another red herring. A detailed analysis of Lanza's pedigree, however, might produce antisocial ancestors, which could aid in post-hoc prediction.

The "violent-drunk" gene. A form of a serotonin receptor (HTR2B) is associated with violent impulsive behavior, if the bearer is male and has been drinking alcohol. A study published in 2010 triggered wide speculation that this gene was responsible for that burly jerk at the bar who keeps picking fights late in the fourth quarter of the football game.

The "warrior" gene. A particular form of the neurotransmitter monoamine oxidase (MAOA-L) has been linked to a variety of aggressive behaviors and impulsiveness.

A sophisticated genetic explanation, however, would not feature a single "massacre" gene. It would involve a complex profile — a constellation of alleles, or particular forms of a gene, which, acting in combination and in certain environments, give a high risk of violent action.

Genetic science is well past the days of single genes for complex behaviors. The news media, however, are not. One blog asked, "Did Adam Lanza's genes make him a murderer?" The impression persists that, if we boil it down far enough, complex, nuanced, 21st-century genetics can provide our craving for simple, fundamental explanations as to why the incomprehensible continues to happen.

Although in Lanza's case the only benefit of genetic analysis is the potential for better understanding after the fact, the long-term goals of such a study are prediction and prevention. These of course are also the goals of modern genetic medicine. We already screen for several dozen diseases at birth; psychiatric conditions and syndromes could easily become part of such a program. As antisocial behavior is increasingly medicalized, then, genetic surveillance logically and easily expands from hypertension to psychosis to school shootings.

Should genetic risk factors be identified, steps could theoretically be taken to avert another massacre. These could include lifetime surveillance (perhaps merely informally, by family members, teachers and employers) counseling, medication and, in cases of extreme likelihood, pre-emptive institutionalization. Chilling steps toward genetic prevention, then, needn't involve science-fiction scenarios involving prenatal diagnosis and gene therapy. They could be accomplished by means of existing conditions of law and sentiment.

Dystopian science fiction movies such as "Gattaca" and "Minority Report" sensationalize troubling visions of the biological control of social behavior. Our genetic future will not be so dramatic; nor — more's the pity — will the actors look like Uma Thurman or Tom Cruise. The future creeps up on you mundanely, through innumerable small steps, each a natural, easy and hopefully compassionate consequence of the last.
* Nathaniel Comfort is a historian of genetics at Johns Hopkins University. His latest book is "The Science of Human Perfection: How Genes Became the Heart of American Medicine."