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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Trump Says Google Is Against Him

(Wrongo is taking off for the rest of the week. So unless SHTF, the next post will be a Wake-Up Call on Tuesday after Labor Day. We all need a break, and late August is usually pretty slow as far as news goes. Try to enjoy the heat wave, or whatever your weather brings.)

The Daily Escape:

Detail from above the doors of Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, FR – 2008 photo by Wrongo. Strasbourg is one of Wrongo’s favorite European cities.

Remember the dog in the movie “Up” who was constantly distracted, yelling “Squirrel!, all the time? That’s the media when Trump tweets.

When he was first elected, we had the daily squirrel. Now we’ve achieved hourly squirrel. The WaPo reports that:

Early on Tuesday morning, President Trump accused Google of rigging search results for “Trump News” against “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media,” and wondered, “Illegal?” Then, he promised that the situation would be “addressed.”

This is today’s Conservatism in action: A constant search for new conspiracy theories to advance their agenda of victimhood. Trump was repeating a claim that first appeared in the conservative news site, PJ Media, which published a piece with the headline, “96% of Google Search Results for ‘Trump’ News Are from Liberal Media Outlets.”

Google, naturally, denied Trump’s accusation. According to Google, the rankings are supposed “to promote original journalism, as well as to expose users to diverse perspectives.”

Google News results are ranked on a variety of factors, and the results are personalized to an extent. Many factors contribute to their results, including the “freshness” of content, and the extent to which it contains original reporting, as opposed to commentary on the news.

Wrongo’s experience with Google shows that they constantly down rank sites by changing their algorithms.  Last year, there was a big dust-up when Google changed its algorithms to promote main stream media and demote independent outlets. “Deemed to be leftie” sites like the Wrongologist have taken traffic hits due to Google’s downgrading non-MSM sites in their search rankings.

But, Trump isn’t completely wrong.

Facebook has a partnership with the Atlantic Council to help FB work on deleting what they call “inauthentic content”. The Atlantic Council is a NATO-backed think tank. Its board includes people like Henry Kissinger, Michael Morrell, the former acting CIA Director, and Gen. Michael Hayden. It is funded by the UAE, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Corporation, Chevron, and a long list of other corporations.

If you use Facebook, do you really want this cast of characters controlling what you see, or do not see? Do you trust them with creating your news feed?

But it could mean much more than that. No one is sure what methodology FB is using. And that could have serious First Amendment implications.

There is a lot here to argue about on both the right and the left. We’ve tumbled to the fact that in the US, companies can do much more than the government regarding censorship. Is this a strength or a weakness?

The First Amendment was originally an Anti-federalist addition to the Constitution designed to contain federal power, giving an equal chance to citizens to organize and publicize resistance to an autocratic regime.

It’s more worrisome that Facebook is working with the Atlantic Council to develop rules about what is false news than if the Atlantic Council was working with the US Government to do the same thing. Why? Because every four years, the government is subject to recall by voters.

The big question: Is the Atlantic Council/Facebook agreement a permitted form of private/government censorship? Is it a way to circumvent the First Amendment?

After all, these are private sector organizations. They can take any political perspective they want, just like FoxNews, and its parent, the News Corporation do every day. Since Citizens United, we call that the right of a corporation to Constitutionally-protected free speech.

There’s an ongoing petition at White House.gov to replace Facebook, Google, and Twitter’s “community standards” with First Amendment protections. No worries, nothing will come of that.

One way to look at this is: If you don’t like Google because you think it’s “biased”, then don’t use it. And if Trump and his fellow travelers what a search engine that always places them first, why don’t they simply build one, and see if the “market” makes it a success?

At the end of the day, the important question is how to ensure that the public cannot be forced by both private as well as public interests to find and read information from only a short list of approved providers.

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Monday Wake-Up Call – August 20, 2018

The Daily Escape:

East Byram River, Greenwich CT – August 2018 iPhone photo by Wrongo. With so much recent rainfall, CT waterfalls are working hard.

This Monday, we depart from our usual ranting about politics and economics, and turn to the subject of text-analytics. The Atlantic has an article by Frank Partnoy about it. Text-analytics scans unstructured text, and pulls usable data from it, using a variety of algorithms. The technology is used extensively in the finance industry. Investment banks and hedge funds scour public filings, corporate press releases, and statements by executives to find slight changes in language that might indicate whether a company’s stock price is likely to go up or down. From Partnoy:

Goldman Sachs calls this kind of natural-language processing “a critical tool for tomorrow’s investors.” Specialty-research firms use artificial-intelligence algorithms to derive insights from earnings-call transcripts, broker research, and news stories.

More from Partnoy:

In a recent paper, researchers at Harvard Business School and the University of Illinois at Chicago found that a company’s stock price declines significantly in the months after the company subtly changes descriptions of certain risks. Computer algorithms can spot such changes quickly, even in lengthy filings, a feat that is beyond the capacity of most human investors.

Most of us use a form of the technology without knowing it, since it operates in background powering things like the spam filters on our email. Many companies also use text-analytics to monitor their reputation on social media, in online reviews, and to find wherever they are mentioned on the internet.

The technology has become so sophisticated that companies are now using it to scan employees’ emails to determine levels of employee engagement, employee stress, and morale. Many firms are sensitive about intruding on employee privacy, though courts have held that employees have virtually no expectation of privacy at work, particularly if they’ve been given notice that their correspondence may be monitored. But as language analytics improves, companies may have a hard time resisting the urge to mine employee information. Here is a blurb from one industry leader, KeenCorp:

KeenCorp’s revolutionary software uses proprietary artificial intelligence and psycholinguistic analysis. Its algorithm recognizes patterns and detects tension from regular e-mail and corporate messengers. It works unobtrusively in the background to provide automated and continuous reporting.

The software then assigns the analyzed messages a numerical index that purports to measure the level of employee engagement. When workers are feeling positive and engaged, the number is high; when they are disengaged or expressing negative emotions like tension, the number is low. This allows KeenCorp to create a “heat map” of employee engagement for company management.

KeenCorp says the heat maps have helped companies identify potential problems in the workplace, including audit-related concerns that accountants failed to flag. This can be a big issue in highly-regulated industries, like finance, health care, and pharmaceuticals.

The firm’s software can chart how employees react when a leader is hired or promoted. And one KeenCorp client investigated a branch office after its heat map suddenly started glowing and found that the head of the office had begun an affair with a subordinate.

Imagine, an office relationship threw off heat!

KeenCorp says that they don’t collect, store, or report any information at the individual level. They say all messages are “stripped and treated so that the privacy of individual employees is fully protected.”

But, it’s absolutely a short step to snooping on an individual employee. It is a simple extension of the technology to grab information about individuals, based on their heat map score. KeenCorp indicates that some potential clients want it.

If sufficient firms are seeking that information, that software enhancement will be developed by an outside firm, or by building an in-house data-mining system.

Another software, Vibe, searches through keywords and emoji in messages sent on Slack, a workplace-communication app. The algorithm reports in real time on whether a team is feeling disappointed, disapproving, happy, irritated, or stressed. While it isn’t a fully commercialized product, 500 companies have tried it.

At this point, text-analytics is an unproven technology. No data exist about how often such tools might suggest a false positive, a problem when none exists. Or even fail to reveal a problem at all.

A real issue is what will managements do if/when they are made aware of potential problems surfaced via text-analytics? HR departments survey morale all the time, and few have success in changing the paradigm.

Wrongo thinks that the ability to parse information closely is what separates really outstanding analysts from the mediocre. This software will help, not hinder great analysis.

OTOH, it is what all paranoids do with friends and family. It’s also important to note that not all wrongdoing will register on a heat map, no matter how finely tuned.

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We Won’t Manage Our Water Resources

The Daily Escape:

Louvre, Paris – 2017 photo by Brotherside

Let’s leave North Korea and the G-7 for others to worry about. Wrongo suggests that you read “Crisis on the High Plains: The Loss of America’s Largest Aquifer- the Ogallala” from the University of Denver’s Water Law Review. Here’s the key section:

The Ogallala Aquifer supports an astounding one-sixth of the world’s grain produce, and it has long been an essential component of American agriculture.

This isn’t new news. There were plenty of environmental writers in the 1980’s and 1990’s highlighting the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer as the biggest single threat to world food supplies.

The Ogallala is an interconnected series of water bodies, not one single geological water body. That implies that the last drop extracted from a New Mexico well will not cause immediate drought in Nebraska. But it is still possible that catastrophic depletion could occur over a tight enough timescale to cause a major disruption of US food supplies, especially in light of climate change. Here is a map of the Ogallala that shows the depletion of water from about 1950 to 2015:

Source: USGS SIR 2017-5040

Sadly, the prospect of the US managing our water resources seems well beyond our will and ability. We also see this in California, where the aquifers in the Central Valley are being depleted by farming.

Most of the time, the primary cause of water depletion is the decision of farmers to grow crops which are unsuitable for the local climate, invariably for financial reasons. The only true solution is a long term retreat from high water demand crops grown in semi-arid areas, in favor of growing them in more suitable areas.

And who are these farmers?  We know about the corporate farms in the Midwest, but some farmers are actually foreign countries. This from NPR: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Outside of Phoenix, in the scorching Arizona desert, sits a farm that Saudi Arabia’s largest dairy uses to grow hay for cows back home. That dairy company, named Almarai, bought the farm last year and has planted thousands of acres of groundwater-guzzling alfalfa to make that hay. Saudi Arabia can’t grow its own hay anymore because those crops drained its own ancient aquifer.

More:

They got about 15 water wells when they purchased the property. Now, each one of those wells can pump about 1.5 billion gallons of water. It’s an incredible amount of water they’re going to be drawing up from that aquifer underground…

The remarkable thing about this Saudi Arabian company is that it did the same thing in Saudi until the water ran out. The aquifers they used to grow hay and alfalfa at home simply went dry, and the Saudi government told its dairy companies to start importing hay from elsewhere.

It turns out that hay yields in the desert are the best in the US. You can literally get three or four times as much hay growing in the desert because you have a very long growing season: It’s hot, so the hay dries really quickly once it’s cut. It turned out this was such a good idea, the UAE decided to buy a farm in Arizona too.

America has already given away our manufacturing capability, and thereby created the rust belt. Now, we’ve decided to “export” our water.

Saudi Arabia’s amber waves of grain. Because, “free trade.”

The Ogallala article mentions that, if everyone immediately reduced their usage by 20%, the aquifer should last another 100 years. That’s the generation of Wrongo’s great-great-grandchildren (as yet unborn).

Not much time if you think that the Ogallala has been with us for 10,000+ years.

If we believed that the water resource should belong to those who must pay to replenish and renew it, rather than to those who can monetize it most profitably, our property rights laws would have to be different.

But we don’t, and they aren’t.

Our culture is predatory.

When the spoils are eaten, there is no more. Who will we turn on then?

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No Cake For You, No Democracy For Me

The Daily Escape:

Manhattan, NYC skyline viewed from Brooklyn – 2018 photo by Max Guilani

The gay wedding cake ruling was absurd. If a wedding photographer didn’t want to take photos at the wedding, it would be understandable, because then they’d be present at the ceremony, in some way, participating.

But a person baking and decorating a cake? The baker isn’t participating in the event, and the cake isn’t usually at the ceremony either. The cake can’t represent a religious belief unless it’s actually a religious cake.

There’s a difference between freedom “from” and freedom “to”. This case, and a few others, notably Hobby Lobby, have swung the pendulum in the direction of “freedom to”. That could be the freedom to refuse to serve a customer, to refuse to provide health coverage, to claim an infringement of your religious rights, to say that baking the cake causes undue harm to your right to believe as you do. Much of what the Right touts as freedoms fall under this category, like the freedom to bear arms.

But at the same time, will the court protect those groups who need freedom “from” something, like freedom from discrimination, or harassment?

So, here we are in 21st century America: Stuck, this time by the Supreme Court.

And most of the time, we are stuck by the House and Senate’s inability to move the country forward. The question is: How long will the majority of Americans consent to be governed by the minority?

This, from David Brooks:

Now the two-party system has rigidified and ossified. The two parties no longer bend to the center. They push to the extremes, where the donor bases and their media propaganda arms are. More and more people feel politically homeless, alienated from both parties and without any say in how the country is run.

Our system of democracy must evolve. Under our winner take all rules, the minority can control the country with say, 20 million votes, representing about 6% of the population.

Consider that every state has two senators. The 22 smallest states have a total population less than California.  If the Senate’s filibuster remains in effect, just 21 States can stop any presidential appointment, or any legislation. Even without the filibuster, it takes 26 states to stop legislation.

And the smallest 26 states have a population of about 57 million, less than the population of California and the New York metro area. And today, neither major political party commands more than 30% of the voters.

How long can the country sustain this lack of balance and democratic fairness? The competing interests that the framers tried to balance in 1789 have been overtaken by newer competing interests that they never envisioned.

Maybe it’s time to seriously rethink our electoral processes.

In a recent column in the NYT (quoted above), David Brooks recognizes the problem, and argues for multi-member House districts and for ranked-choice voting (RCV). Russell Berman explained how it works in The Atlantic:

Ranked-choice voting, which cities like San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Portland, Maine, use to elect their mayors, has been likened to an “instant runoff”: Instead of selecting just one candidate, voters rank their choices in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and whoever their voters chose as their second choice is added to the tally of the remaining contenders. That process continues until there are only two candidates left, and the one with the most votes wins.

Supporters say RCV ensures that candidates with the broadest coalitions of support will win, and that it allows voters to choose the candidate they prefer, without splitting the vote and handing the election to the other party. They also say RCV will inspire more positive campaigning, because candidates will aim to become voter’s second and third choices instead of targeting each other with negative advertisements. Further, they hope that RCV could create room for third-party candidates to succeed.

Wrongo thinks something needs to change. We can’t keep a system that allows the minority to run the country, especially if it is persistently a racist minority, a misogynist minority, a fundamentalist minority, and a cruel minority.

Wrongo grew up believing that having public education, public housing, public transportation (including roads) and human services paid for by the public in proportion to their income or wealth, was what created a civilized nation, an educated populace, a world-class work-force. Now, Wrongo really worries about our current political situation. He worries about his grandchildren. Unless there is political change, their future looks grim.

Herbert Stein said: “If something can’t go on forever, it won’t.”

We have to change our electoral process.

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Review of: “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World”

The Daily Escape:

Bayanzag Flaming Cliffs is a region of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Photo via Khaan Tours. In the early 20th century, these cliffs gained worldwide fame for an incredible collection of fossils.

While in Europe, Wrongo finished reading “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” a history of the Mongol dynasty written in 2004 by Jack Weatherford, a former professor of anthropology. It is a fascinating journey from the 13th Century through the 14th Century. His specialty is histories of tribal peoples.

Weatherford presents Genghis Khan and his dynasty in wonderful detail. But the book reads as much like an adventure story, as it does history. Wrongo’s view of Khan was shaped as much by Hollywood caricatures as it was by his degree in history. It turns out that Khan was not simply the ring leader of a group of barbarians, he unified the Mongols, forming them into a fighting machine that conquered nearly all of Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe.

The book shows the important role of the Mongols in creating a precursor to the modern world. Initially, through warfare. Their military innovation was the lightly armed warfighter on horseback. Charging horsemen went against foot soldiers often accompanied by a relatively small, heavily armored cavalry. Genghis Khan was the original inventor of blitzkrieg. Time after time, the Mongols’ disciplined horsemen, moving in coordinated units, defeated much larger armies. The Mongol armies were undefeated for nearly 100 years.

But Khan’s greatest achievement was the redrawing of the boundaries of the modern world. His armies united a dozen Slavic principalities and cities into a large Russian state. They created a single state of China, and unified Korea and India.

It was the Mongolian Khans, rather than the Han Chinese, who founded Beijing. Their Yuan dynasty ruled until 1368.

The Mongols captured both Baghdad and Damascus in two years, something the European Crusaders had been unable to achieve in two centuries. The last Mogul in India was removed by the British in 1857. The Russians took over the original homeland of the Khans in Mongolia, in 1920.

Weatherford tells the story of the rise of Genghis Khan from a yak herding slave to ruler of the greatest empire on earth. Along the way, he ended the Mongols’ feudal system of aristocratic privilege and birth, replacing it with a system based on individual merit, loyalty and achievement. In most countries, the Khans expanded both cultural communication and trade. They were the first builders of the “Silk Road”.

Trade was key to the empire. Silk was the apex trade item, but cotton and wool were sent both to the East and the West. The Mongols made culture portable. It wasn’t just trade in goods, whole systems of knowledge were sent in both directions. Persian and Arab doctors went to China. Chinese doctors went to the Middle East.

And Khubilai Khan, the Great Khan emperor of China, recognized the need for paper money to facilitate trade, so it was used throughout the empire until its collapse. There was a dazzling array of innovations that can be ascribed to his reign: in addition to paper money, printed passports gave access to the entire Empire. There was a synthesis of knowledge from all corners of the Empire.

The Empire was ultimately carved up between Genghis Khan’s grandsons. They held cross-ownership in each other’s territories of trade networks and manufacturing facilities, which moderated their desire to fight each other. But, once the Black Death erupted in their networks, the Empire collapsed. It took about 300 years to finally end.

Genghis Khan was tolerant of all religions in a conquered country. He abolished torture, and brought back to Mongolia the learned and skilled members of each conquered nation to help to build the skills of his empire.

But the Mongols weren’t saints. In each conquest, the ruling class was rounded up and killed. The peasants and professionals were spared if they swore allegiance to the Great Khan. Although there are instances of extreme violence, these are balanced by the thoughtfulness and care that the various Khans took to administer and improve their vast empire.

We learn that some of his family were practicing Christians. That there was more religious freedom in Mongolia than in Europe at the time. He was willing to learn from his mistakes, a quality rarely seen in today’s leaders. And his attitude toward women was also surprising: his daughters became leaders, right along with his sons in the empire.

You end with a sense of how visionary and complex Genghis Khan was: An illiterate who appreciated learning, a marginal person from an obscure corner of the world who led a global empire.

This is a marvelous journey through time, about an era we rarely think of today.

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Europe’s Immigration Dilemma

The Daily Escape:

The Labrouste reading room, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris France – photo by Thibaud Poirier. The room was finished in 1868 by Henri Labrouste.

Wrongo and Ms. Right were in Hungary and Poland last week, and it was clear from discussions with locals that both countries are immigration-skeptic. In the past year, we have also been in England, France, Germany and the Netherlands, and immigration from the Middle East and Africa is a hot button issue in each.

The forever war in the Middle East is at the core of the political upheaval underway in Europe. From Carnegie Europe: (brackets by Wrongo)

Suddenly, [in 2015] hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants climbed out of boats, walked across borders, and occupied public spaces in European towns and villages. Their chaotic arrival not only shattered an illusion of tranquility but also pointed to Europe’s loss of control.

At the time, Europe was also emerging from the worst economic crisis of the postwar period. The new arrivals placed a burden on social services and public budgets. Like in the US, Europe’s citizens felt that the refugees were enjoying privileged access to benefits while citizens were losing out.

Immigration and refugee policy now dominate all political agendas within the EU, even though overall refugee flows to Europe are down substantially. The continent saw around 171,000 sea arrivals in 2017, compared to over one million in 2015. The National Interest reports that about 1.2 million refugees that made it to Europe applied for asylum in 2016:

This exposed deep fissures in the EU’s current system. It divided the continent on how to handle the refugees who have already arrived, and what to do with the many thousands that will inevitably land on Europe’s shores in the coming years. Europe now needs a strategy that can simultaneously address the legitimate concerns of some EU members but also place refugee well-being at the forefront of decision making.

Many throughout the EU are concerned about losing social homogeneity and cohesion. We heard that while in Poland and Hungary, where even government officials said that they think that immigrants must be fluent in the language even to be allowed in the country.

Yet, many European countries have low birth rates. According to Eurostat, Europe’s population rose in 2016 only because of migration. Eurostat says that without migration, only Ireland, France, Norway and Britain would see rising populations by 2050; Germany and Italy would both see population declines.

Much of Europe needs immigrants in order to sustain their economies. To capitalize on this, the EU and individual countries need to increase programs that help with language and skills training for refugees. Partnering with private firms could also help ease the transition from immigrant to productive citizen.

Since conflicts in the Middle East show no signs of abating, far-right parties across Europe will have easy selling points on the threat of migration for the foreseeable future. The rise of the populist right has coincided with an electoral catastrophe for the center-left throughout Europe.

Listening to fears and addressing concerns openly has to occur. In that regard, Project28 just conducted its third annual survey of 1000 Europeans about migration, in which 78% of EU citizens said that the external borders of Europe should be better protected. There was a clear majority in all European countries for the view that immigration represents a “very serious” or a “somewhat serious” problem.

A frightening 50% of Europeans believe that their children will have a worse life than their parents. This view is noticeably higher in countries like Austria, Greece and Germany, which have been at the forefront of the migration crises. 70% of the European public believes that the “rapid population growth of Muslims” is either a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” threat to Europe.

The future for immigration is unclear in both Europe and the US. How it works out will depend on the wisdom and skill of our political leaders over the next few years. Will Europe adopt more exclusionary policies on immigration and refugees? Will these new policies be the kind that the majority of people in Europe can live with?

Can Europe’s politicians adopt anti-immigration policies like those proposed by their populist, right-wing adversaries that are doing so well politically? If they can, it increases the odds that Europe’s liberal democracies will resist the corrosion of press freedom, and independent civil society that we have seen in Poland and Hungary.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Memorial Day, 2018

(Today, Wrongo repeats 2017’s Memorial Day column. It still seems all too appropriate for America)

The Daily Escape:

NYC’s Grand Central Station – 1943

“On Memorial Day we commemorate those who died in the military service of our country. In 1974, a sci-fi novel called “The Forever War” was released. It is military science fiction, telling the story of soldiers fighting an interstellar war. The protagonist, named Mandella, is sent across the galaxy to fight a poorly understood, apparently undefeatable foe.

Sound familiar? Today the forever war is not simply fiction. Our all-volunteer military has been fighting in the Middle East for the past 16 years in the longest war in American history. And there is little reason to hope that we will not be fighting there 16 years from now. Brian Castner, a former explosive ordnance disposal officer who served three tours in Iraq, observes:

Our country has created a self-selected and battle-hardened cohort of frequent fliers, one that is almost entirely separate from mainstream civilian culture, because service in the Forever War, as many of us call it, isn’t so much about going as returning. According to data provided by the Center for a New American Security, of the 2.7 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, half have done multiple tours. More telling, 223,000 have gone at least four times, and 51,000 have done six or more deployments.

We can’t get our fill of war. In fact, since 1943, the year the picture above was taken in New York City, the US has been at peace for just five years: 1976, 1977, 1978, 1997 and 2000 were the only years with no major war.

So today, we gather to celebrate those who have died in service of our global ambitions. We watch a parade, we shop at the mall, and we attend a cookout. Perhaps we should be required to spend more time thinking about how America can increase the number of years when we are not at war.

Wrongo can’t escape the idea that if we re-instituted a military draft, and required military service of all young Americans, it would soon become impossible for the politicians and generals to justify the forever war.

So, wake up America! Instead of observing Memorial Day with another burger, get involved in a plan to re-institute the draft. It won’t stop our involvement in war, but it will unite American mothers and fathers to bring about the end of this forever war, and any future ‘forever war’”.

To help you wake up, listen to Curtis Mayfield doing his tune “We Got To Have Peace”, live on the Old Grey Whistle Test, a BBC2 TV show that was aired from 1971 to 1988. In 1965, Mayfield wrote “People Get Ready” for the Impressions, another of his politically charged songs. Here is “Got To Have Peace”:

Gotta have peace.

Sample Lyrics:

And the people in our neighborhood
They would if they only could
Meet and shake the other’s hand
Work together for the good of the land

Give us all an equal chance
It could be such a sweet romance
And the soldiers who are dead and gone
If only we could bring back one

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Last Day In Budapest Teaches a Valuable Lesson

The Daily Escape:

Liberty (or Liberation) Statue, Budapest, Hungary. The statue was erected in 1947 in remembrance of the liberation of Hungary by Soviet troops. Many recalled the period of  Soviet control as a time when they were “under liberation” – 2018 photo by Wrongo

Sometimes a person-to-person experience can jolt you from your comfort zone, and provide insight into a wholly different life experience. On Monday, we visited Tabitha House, a pediatric hospice and palliative care facility in Hungary. As its name implies, it provides end of life care for terminally ill children or for those kids with chronic and life-shortening conditions.

We spent time talking with Judit Hegedus, head nurse of Tabitha House. She told us that Tabitha House is the largest pediatric hospice in Hungary. It has five beds.

Just five beds.

There are 9.8 million people in Hungary, of which 2.1 million are children. The first Hungarian hospice started in 1991, and insurance coverage for adults in hospice began in 2004. But it took until 2017 before there was any government financing for pediatric hospice and palliative care.

As of 2015, the most recent year with data, there were only 215 hospice/palliative care beds in Hungary. If this seems low, the World Health Organization’s recommendations for a country with a population of 10 million like Hungary is that a minimum of 500 beds are needed.

Tabitha House has a mostly part-time staff of 15, including pediatric and hospice nurses, a psychologist, a physiotherapist and a physician. There is a problem recruiting sufficient professionals because some misunderstand the value of palliative care, and they share society’s fear of childhood death.

Obviously, there is a large unfilled pediatric hospice need in Hungary. The most cost-effective way to expand assistance to terminally ill kids would be by offering home care services. Judit says that in-patient costs average about $72/day, low by US standards. In-home care costs about $16.50/visit.

While funding expansion is an issue, she hopes to initiate offering home care services later in 2018.

When we arrived at Tabitha House, we expected to be moved by the struggle of kids fighting for their lives. Of course that happened, but the biggest emotional wallop came from listening to Judit, and watching her staff deal with the impossible situation they face. In their country, there is an overwhelming need for pediatric hospice services, and totally insufficient resources to meet that need.

You leave feeling that these people are saints. They are a happy team, persevering despite having to make do with less-than-the-best equipment, and fighting the long odds facing their patients.

It was touching to stand with Judit in front of their “family tree”, a wall mural of a tree with many branches. At the end of each branch was a photo of a child. Judit would pause with her finger over each, say the child’s name, and offer a short memory of him or her.

There are wonderful people in the world. People who are not playing the angles, who are not reaching for wealth. People who exclude no one from their care and concern.

People who do good simply because it is necessary.

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Saturday Soother – Korean Peace Edition

The Daily Escape:

Haze caused by smoke from a wildfire, Wind River Range, WY – 2018 photo by UtahPictures

Their handshake made history. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in met each other at the border, then walked hand in hand into South Korea for a meeting between countries still technically at war.

Whether they can declare an end to the war will be the subject of more negotiations and trust-building over the next few months, perhaps years. They did sign an accord that commits them to the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

This is either a huge step forward, or it is another case of false hope for a peace that has eluded the two Koreas for 65 years. Either way, it is an unprecedented diplomatic initiative between the two Koreas that could reduce global tensions.

South Korea’s peace offensive with the North has taken the US’s threat of military confrontation against North Korea off the table, unless the peace discussions should fail. Their preemptive diplomacy has left the US with no option but to move to the negotiating table without insisting that North Korea relinquish its nuclear weapons as a precondition. Is Trump behind this strategy? Historians will tell us some time in the future.

Strategically, North Korea looks like it is willing to work toward peace. They are in a win-win situation. If sanctions are eased, and peace talks move incrementally to a successful conclusion, a process of socio-economic rebirth in the North (a Kim Jong-un priority) can begin.

If Trump can’t agree with Kim Jong-un, we will find ourselves at odds with our South Korean ally. In that case, China might walk away from its sanctions against the North, blaming the US for not making progress in the face of the offer by Kim Jong-un to renounce his nuclear weapons.

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in needs to find a middle ground between his cunning enemy to the North and his impulsive ally in the US. And no one should expect that Kim will capitulate on Trump’s key demand of total and immediate nuclear disarmament.

That’s the biggest problem. South Korea’s president favors an “action for action” strategy in which the North takes steps to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, and is rewarded for each move with economic benefits and security guarantees.

South Korean officials said that the entire process could take about two years.

But Trump’s national security team has insisted that North Korea scrap its weapons programs before any relief from the sanctions can be granted. And they say that “substantial dismantlement” should be completed much more quickly, perhaps in six months.

Moon’s position is to offer economic benefits and security guarantees incrementally, based on one small agreement after another, until both sides are comfortable. In short, his plan is: Be sensible. No one needs to be humiliated. No one has to win. No one has to lose. Deal with issues one by one. Don’t refuse to talk about anything at all. Talk. That’s what sensible people do.

No one knows where this goes. The two Koreas have struck similar agreements in the past. For example, in 1991, Pyongyang and Seoul promised to end the Korean War, but never did. And in 2005, North Korea and five other countries — including the US and South Korea — struck a deal to end Pyongyang’s nuclear program in exchange for economic aid. That deal fell through.

President Moon has acknowledged that there is a limit to what the two Koreas can agree on without American involvement:

Peace on the Korean Peninsula cannot be achieved by agreements between South and North Korea alone…It has to have American endorsement.

But, nobody knows how the Trump wild card will play out.

But today’s Saturday. For now, let’s bask in a little hope. It’s spring, and buds and flowers abound. The fields of Wrong have bluebirds in two separate nest boxes sitting on eggs. We’ve over-seeded the whole 3 acres of grass to keep our world green and weed-free. Time to brew up a cup of Red Rooster Coffee’s 4 & 20 French Roast that the roaster says is dark and intense, full of complexity, with lots of spice and chocolate.

Now settle back, and listen to Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”, performed here by the Sydney Camerata Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Luke Gilmour, in 2011. Copland was awarded the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Music for this work. Here it is performed by a 13-piece orchestra, which Copland scored for the eponymous ballet, choreographed by Martha Graham. Wrongo prefers the chamber version to the full orchestra version:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Monday Wake Up Call – March 26, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Emma González during her silence at the March for Our Lives

From the NYT:

Emma González spoke for just under two minutes on Saturday before tens of thousands of demonstrators at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, describing the effects of gun violence in emotional detail and reciting the names of classmates who had been killed.

Then she said nothing for four minutes and 26 seconds.

It was uncomfortable for many in the audience. Then a timer went off, and she said:

Since the time that I came out here, it has been six minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting, and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape, and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives, before its someone else’s job,

Wrongo likes this analysis by Melissa Byrnes at Lawyers, Guns & Money: (brackets by Wrongo)

[Her silence] It is the loudest call to action I have heard in a long time. We need to be unsettled. We need to question our assumptions about what is possible. We need pay attention to the silent woman who insists that we hear the multitude of silences of those we’ve failed. We need to recognize when that woman is commanding us to listen. We need to rethink what leadership looks and sounds like.

Because this is a woman I am ready to follow.

There is reason to hope that these kids will drive change in our politics. They have stepped into a vacuum caused by our divided politics. They shouldn’t have had to do this, it was our job, and we have failed.

Now, we can’t just become their passive admirers. We have to participate in this movement for political and social change. On the one hand, we are being led by an amazingly courageous person in Washington DC. And on the other, your titular leader, Donald Trump, chose to go golfing in Florida this weekend.

Remember this in November.

For the first time since Trump’s election, we are seeing how issues like gun control, #metoo, BLM and the frustration caused by economic inequality are melding together in a leftward political tilt.

It’s way past time for Trump and politicians on all sides, who purposefully make no progress on the great issues of the day, to wake up, listen and ACT!

To help them wake up, here is Ed Sheeran with his 2017 song “What Do I Know”? Sheeran says that his dad’s advice was to never mention politics, never mention religion and never get involved in other people’s battles. From Sheeran:

The song ‘What Do I Know’ was me looking at the world and being like ‘we aren’t doing too well are we?’ and writing a song about it…

Listen up:

Sample Lyrics:

The revolution’s coming, it’s a minute away

I saw people marching in the streets today

You know we are made up of love and hate

But both of them are balanced on a razor blade

 I’ll paint the picture let me set the scene,

You know the future’s in the hands of you and me

So let’s all get together, we can all be free

Spread love and understanding positivity

 Everybody’s talking about exponential growth

And the stock market crashing and their portfolios

While I’ll be sitting here with a song that I wrote

Saying love could change the world in a moment

But what do I know?

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2018/mar/24/emma-gonzalezs-powerful-march-for-our-lives-speech-in-full-video

 

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