Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

Wishing everyone a happy new year. Hey 2012, called you cab... now be outta here by midnight. Good to see the old year off. Hoping it was a "bottom," and that things will look-up from here. But I'd be less than candid if I said that I had no doubts in that regard.

2012, at least for this writer, was characterized by almost medieval tragedy. The mas murders, civil wars, governments killing their own people, imprisoning artists, musicians, feminists and free-thinkers. It was not what one would call a "progressive" year where we moved the human race forward in significant ways. Indeed, it is not even possible to say we stemmed the tide of negatives; slowed global warming; or made progress toward peace and justice. Shame, that. One wonders how many more "tries" we'll be given as a species.

But in spite of the depressing realities, it is my sincere hope that all can raise a glass tonight to life itself; to Mother Earth; to the many mysteries, still unsolved; and to the indomitable spirit of our kind. We may not be as smart, or as mature as we need to be to properly steward this great gift of a planet... but we have the moment, and each other to grasp and hold. Here's to that.

Monday, November 19, 2012

It Is time To Let Israel Stand On Its Own

Editor's note:  this article was first posted in Feb. 2009 on "World Impulse," the author's foreign affairs blog. Regrettably, it is even more relevant today.

Today, Amnesty International called for the United States to end foreign aid to Israel. The Author concurs, it is time to let this wealthy, nuclear-armed nation stand on its own.

Amnesty specifically called for a US reappraisal following the extensive and disproportionate use of American weapons in the recent Gaza operation which killed and injured countless civilians. It is, in fact, very likely that American weapons were used in the commission of war crimes.  Read the article here.
The US has long been the largest arms supplier to Israel; under a current 10-year agreement negotiated by the Bush administration the US will provide $30bn (£21bn) in military aid to Israel.

"As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme director. "To a large extent, Israel's military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with US taxpayers' money."
The Author, however, is concerned with the over $80 billion of direct aid provided since 1949. It is important to acknowledge up-front that our national interests were well served by this support during the Cold War. Times have changed, and our continuing, one-sided support of Israel is costly in the region and the Muslim world. Further, Israel has not reciprocated our support like most loyal allies. It continues to authorize illegal settlements, conduct disproportionate military operations, collectively punish innocents and occupy disputed lands. The continuous flow of American taxpayer dollars have also not prevented Israel from spying on the U.S. on multiple occasions; attacking an American Naval vessel killing 34 (image above), and harboring terrorists accused of murdering American citizens.

That has been the subject of previous posts, it it not the focus of this one - which is to pose a single question.  Should the U.S. continue to pour taxpayer dollars into Israel? First some background.
According to an October 27 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, cumulative aid to Israel from 1949 through fiscal year (FY) 2000 was $81.38 billion. This number is too low because it omits "hidden" funds. While it includes the $1.2 billion promised to Israel in the Wye River Memorandum, the old Food for Peace program, and the current subsidy for "refugee resettlement," it omits money from the DOD budget on the grounds that those funds are for research and development projects that benefit both the United States and Israel-a questionable premise. The CRS total also excludes estimated interest on the early disbursement of aid.

The Congressional Research Service report states that from FY 1994 through FY 1998, Israel received $29 billion in waived loans. (source)
According to Wikipedia, the U.S. currently has increased its annual military aid to Israel to the whopping sum of over $3 billion. We give this to a wealthy country with nuclear weapons. Our unconditional support for Israel was cited, among several other grievances, as grounds for the 9/11 attacks. We need to protect ourselves from terrorists, but we sure need to have a smart foreign policy that demands sacrifice from our friends whom we've supported for decades and offers all parties an honest path to peace. Perhaps reassessing our military aid to the state of Israel would make that position clearer to all the players concerned.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wealth? What Wealth?

"In 2011, the six heirs to the Walmart empire commanded wealth of almost $70 billion, which is equivalent to the wealth of the entire bottom 30 percent of US society. There has been no improvement in well-being for the typical American family for 20 years. On the other side, the top one percent of the population gets 40 percent more in one week than the bottom fifth receive in a full year. In short, we have become a divided society. America has created a marvelous economic machine, but most of the benefits have gone to the top." 

"...many of those in the financial sector got rich by economic manipulation, by deceptive and anti-competitive practices, by predatory lending. They took advantage of the poor and uninformed, as they made enormous amounts of money by preying upon these groups with predatory lending. They sold them costly mortgages and were hiding details of the fees in fine print."

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel-prize winning economics professor at Columbia University. (Source: Der Spiegel)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wow. A newly released animated short created for Sigur Ros. That is all...

Seraph from Sigur Rós Valtari Mystery Films on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Sami People - Northern Europe's Indigenous Tribes

Music and ethno-musicology constitute about half of the content in this blog. The author has spent a lifetime exploring unique and often inaccessible musical traditions. From the Ladino music of former Spanish Jews, to the mysteries of Roma music and the joyous tunes of the Balkan states; a lot of ground, time and cultures are covered.

As readers may have learned, I am fascinated by traditional music performed by powerful women. Lately I've found some amazing tunes, and uncovered a fascinating bit of history and ethno-musicology in the process. Here's how it all got started.

I was fleshing-out the "Metal playlist" on my YouTube channel, which has ended up with primarily Scandinavian bands. That just kind of happened, and looking interest was piqued. Just what was it about this music that appealed? I drilled down and realized that a lot of the music I found appealing contained elements of traditional, even folk music. In a Pagan kind of way, which made it even better.

YouTube has the added value and convenience of suggesting videos based on prior user choices. I like that and have found some awesome material by experimenting with those suggested links. I recently stumbled on Sami traditional folk music. And discovered Yoiking.

The Sami people are northern Europe's indigenous tribes. They are physically located in the northern/arctic regions of four countries: Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. They speak a unique language that has dialects based on tribe and geography. Sometimes called Laplanders, the Sami people were largely nomadic for centuries. They herd Raindeer.

They live in temporary, rustic dwellings - including Teepees. They are, in some ways, similar to indigenous peoples everywhere - including native Americans. They speak of "brother Bear" and "brother Eagle," they focus on the land and the seasons, live in harmony with nature and the animals. They have a long, Shamanic tradition and the power of the "northern Witches" is the subject of legends.

Back to Yoiking. Like some native american chants, Sami Yoiks are very special musical compositions - designed to "be" the thing or person that is their core subject. Yoiks are often creative vocalizations, and not words per se. A singer would not Yoik about a river, he/she would Yoik the river. So the resulting tunes are sometimes unfamiliar to modern ears, and it is necessary to get one's head around the representational nature of the art. The impact of a Yoik is not in the meaning of the lyrics, there often aren't any, it is in the IMPACT of the performance - which should take listeners to another place.  This post, from a University of Texas School of Music blog, is very detailed and definitive. A great article for those who want to dig deeper and know more.  And now, without further ado...Sofia Jannok of Sweden.

The ethereal sound of Mari Boine...

And the music of Elle Márjá Eira

You might also like:

AfroPop Music

Portugal's Fado

Spain's Musical Regions

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Corruption - It's A New Plague

I came across this point-on video recently and deemed it totally worth sharing. We need to escalate the urgency of this conversation - as we grapple with increasing evidence of endemic corruption at every level of our private and public institutions.

Are Your Politicians For Sale? from Political Prostitution on Vimeo.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Is The NSA Spying On American Citizens?

Just a few days ago, the proverbial feces hit the fan. Wired Magazine, in a stellar piece of investigative reporting, revealed a treasure-trove of information regarding the NSA's new Utah spy center, and the agency's secretive agreements with shadowy firms to spy on US Citizens. Uh-huh. That's right. We should all be concerned.

The story hit hard, and spread. TV News reports from small local stations all the way to national news programs highlighted the story. The US Army General responsible for the NSA felt compelled to go public with a denial. Of course, it didn't hurt that concerned congressional representative started asking direct questions. Read the Wired article. And read the General's denials here. Take note that he says quite specifically: We don't do we have sub-contracted that task out to trusted foreign allies like Israel and Singapore.that here. "Here" is the operative word. I submit that means the agency does not spy on US Citizens from US territory. Thus, the "here." In fact, there is evidence that

There are many who are quite skeptical about the General's denials. After all, it's not like the NSA has a long record of honesty when addressing Congress or the American public. It's a spy thing. So we have to rely on the judgments of others in that regard. Read what ComputerWorld had to say about the denials in this article.

Now, read about how we've outsourced the invasion of our privacy to foreign firms in this BUSINESS INSIDER article.

The Author is connected to this story, in a peripheral sort of way. During the 80's I had a chance to meet and chat with Admiral John Poindexter, the US Governments uber-geek programmer, and the conceptual architect of the TIAA (Total Information Awarness & Analysis) program that was deemed so unconstitutional by Congress that they de-funded it and sent it away. Problem is, it never really disappeared. It just went underground. I first wrote about my conversation with the Admiral years ago in THIS POST.

So you can see that in addition to Israeli firms, Singapore is also involved. Investigations reveal that THIS MAN is part of the Singaporean effort. He's an old associate of Poindexter's by the way. You remember Poindexter's TIAA, well in Singapore it's called RAHS: Risk Assessment Horizon Scanning. Snowden is an integral part of a firm called Cognitive Edge that is the architect of RAHS. From the firm's website, this vague but tantalizing description of the program.

The RAHS system is a strategic risk assessment and analysis tool, which aims to provide early alerts on potential threats to national security by building a network that links various independent government agencies throughout the Singapore government. Through the RAHS project, the government aims to identify early indicators of change, detect signals and analyze potential threat patterns which otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

Finally, here's a video piece from Amy Goodman's Democracy Today covering the story.

Update:  This just in. Stratfor emails reveal secret, widespread TrapWire surveillance system powered by Abraxas technology. Abraxas founder Richard “Hollis” Helms said his signature product“can collect information about people and vehicles that is more accurate than facial recognition, draw patterns, and do threat assessments of areas that may be under observation from terrorists.” He calls it “a proprietary technology designed to protect critical national infrastructure from a terrorist attack by detecting the pre-attack activities of the terrorist and enabling law enforcement to investigate and engage the terrorist long before an attack is executed,” and that, “The beauty of it is that we can protect an infinite number of facilities just as efficiently as we can one and we push information out to local law authorities automatically.”  The author has nothing against predictive analytics or the notion of horizon-scanning for threat detection. However I personally hold the belief that these kinds of culture-impacting decisions should be taken with full public involvement, discussion and debate. I'm not seeing that happening in this case.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hiromi Uehara - A Musical Wonder

Recently, I've been listening a lot to Hiromi Uehara and her band. The jazz world has a new piano master, and she's really a lot of fun. Born in Japan in 1979, Uehara began her musical education at age 6 and was first introduced to jazz at age eight.  She had an opportunity to meet and perform with Chick Corea at 17, then moved to Boston to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music. There, she met colleagues and made friends that still play with her now.  And play she does. Lots of high-profile concert appearances these days, complimented by a ton of international exposure. So what's the story with this young woman? What's the buzz all about? Just listen.

And this, with her mentor Chick Corea...

Friday, March 30, 2012

The President's Message to Planned Parenthood

I am the father of two daughters, a former RN, and a long-time feminist. I have had the privilege of serving on the board of directors of Planned Parenthood Health Services of Southwest Oregon; Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon; and, as a founding member of the Planned Parenthood Oregon PAC. During that same period, I was also a member of the state board of directors at Oregon NARAL.

One-in-four women will use the services of Planned Parenthood during the course of their lives, for all kinds of reasons related to reproductive health. Planned Parenthood counselors help millions of American women plan their families, and tend to their personal health. They provide advice, STD prevention, pregnancy testing, access to contraception, physical examinations, breast exams; and, access to safe pregnancy termination if that is the express desire of the patient.

It is important to note that almost all of Planned Parenthood's mission and programs are designed to minimize the incidence of abortion.  Huge budgets are devoted to appropriate sex education and community outreach. Education programs help kids and young adults build successful, honest relationships, avoid STDs, and deal with difficult issues like body image and peer pressure. Adult education programs teach about birth control, general healthcare, pregnancy and family planning. Planned Parenthood health centers are a safe place for candid, accurate advice on sex and sexuality. The Organization has been providing these services for over 95 years through 75 locally governed affiliates that run 800 health care centers nationwide.  More than 90 percent of care provided in these health centers is preventative, primary care - a fact that is lost on those who inaccurately characterize Planned Parenthood as an "abortion provider." The local affiliate that I helped govern, for example, did not even provide abortion services - as there were adequate resources in this medical community to address that need.

It is, however, important that when women decide to terminate a pregnancy  there are provisions made for a safe and sanitary clinical procedure conducted by a qualified physician. Especially in areas where there is a lack of service providers. History teaches us one thing. Women will take the matter into their own hands under desperate circumstances, and put their own health and well-being at risk to manage family planning. Given that certain knowledge, it is nothing short of crass, politically-driven malpractice to deny this population control over their own bodies, access to safe clinics, and the right to chose their own course based on their own values.

I have a well-known position on access to health care and patient rights, gleaned from my years in the health care delivery system. And I have a sense of what it was like before women were handed control over their own reproductive systems. A dear friend of mine suffered through a back-ally, motel-based abortion before the procedure was legal. It was a horrifying experience for her and those of us who loved and supported her. I vowed then to work to ensure that kind of often injurious illicit procedure would go away so future generations of young women wouldn't be subject to such an unnecessary, intrusive, and out-of-line experience.

I am, therefore, very gratified to hear this kind of unequivocal statement from the President of the United States. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Call for Women to Rise Up

Laurie Penny writes in England's "The Independent" newspaper:
With women under attack financially, socially and sexually across the developed and developing world, with assaults on jobs, welfare, childcare, contraception and the right to choose, the time for polite conversation is over. It's time for anger. It's time for daring, direct action, big demands, big dreams. The men who still run the world from boardrooms and government offices have become too used to not being afraid of what women will do if we are attacked, used and exploited. We must make them afraid.
Intrigued? It's a great opinion piece that surely reflects the frustration of many. Read the article.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Farmer Who Beat Monsanto

I rarely include audio programs as part of this blog, but I'm making an exception for this one. It's worth a listen to hear the story of the only farmer who has actually prevailed over mega agri-giant Monsanto in a court of law.
Listen to internet radio with The Organic View on Blog Talk Radio