Category Archives: De Consolatione Philosophiae

A few notes on “Footnotes To Gaza”

Sometimes the books I enjoy the most are not recommended by a friend or carefully selected from my “to read” list. They are, like “Footnotes in Gaza” by Joe Sacco, random picks from a library or bookstore shelf. I was not even looking at books for myself, I was in the graphic books section searching for something that will rather entertain my oldest son, when I spotted the title that arose my interest. The author’s name seemed vaguely familiar as well. Perhaps I read it in some magazine before -I  am not sure. But the fact that he published in some of my favorites, such as Times and Harper’s , spoke well for the author and  I knew that I had to borrow “Footnotes in Gaza” . I started reading it as soon as  I got home and  I got so absorbed by its lecture that I congratulated myself for following my instincts…

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Yes history is actual, and perhaps there is no place better than Palestine and the Gaza Strip to look at as we try to understand how current events unfold from the old ones. How current conflicts are rooted in old wounds. Sacco notes in his foreword to the book the comment of an witness: « ” I still remember the wailing and tears of my father other his brother;” he said. “I couldn’t sleep for many months after that …It left a wound in my heart that can never heal. […] [T]hey planted hatred in our hearts.”» (p. ix, para. II).The witness was Abed El-Aziz El-Rantisi , a senior official of Hamas, the political wing of the Palestinian resistance movement that is often blamed (and culpable) for terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. Terrorist attacks leading Israelis to intensify their efforts to eliminate the armed militants from Gaza Strip and destroy their connections with the outside world – the paths they use to bring in weapons and  send suicide bombers into Israel. And since rockets and bullets do not make a difference between civilians and militants – the more aggressive are the Israeli attacks,  the more likely to hurt Palestinian civilians.And given that the isolation enforced on the overpopulated Gaza Strip  leads to  less employment and trade opportunities and therefore  more poverty… With each genetation there are more victims, more wounded hearts, more hatred…

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On personal note, one question is following me since I finished reading “Footnotes to Gaza” : How comes  that so many IDF soldiers showed cruelty or at best indifference and lack of human compassion towards civilians? Yes, some where potential enemy soldiers or murderers -yet many of them were old men or boys as young as 15, they were teachers and merchants , some of them were peacemakers, and some had been  living exemplary lives.  Considering the year when the killings happen : 1956, 11 years after the end of WWII  and the average age of active soldiers in the IDF , the Israeli soldiers had to remember the years of Holocaust as something that happened in their own time. The memory of those times when they, the people of Israel, could have faced , and some of them had faced perhaps , humiliation and death. Just because everybody whith those religious beliefs, anyone who belonged to their nation was “the enemy”. No matter what they had done or how they lived as individuals. I think that memory had to be alive in their minds and hearts. And one hopes that the people who belong to a nation surviving so much harm, so much injustice are more likely to act humanly: showing mercy, compassion, acting justly and avoiding the gratuitous humiliation and violence against their prisoners. Yet, in spite of one what might hope, there is perhaps a harsher reality -most of us recall the fear instead. The thought that if they are acting too softly instead of being aggressively in offensive,  they may end up being those oppressed, those victimized… the hopeless ones.

A complete book review is available on my “artsy” blog/page : Anaïs

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the “google test”

A recent  Times review of potential GOP candidates for presidency criticized Tim Pawlenty for having too dull of a campaign – that is to be read  “too serious of a campaign” . It seems that being all about numbers and facts is not likely to give you a leading edge among right-wing conservatives, especially when your competitors are making outrageous enough statements to have the media simmer over them for weeks.

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How to tell an ugly truth

Or why “pink marketing” strategies do not really work when the situation is actually gloomy…

Many do associate marketing strategies and branding with the skills of a sleek salesmen who could sell ice to the Eskimos. And unfortunately many marketing strategies are built on a similar approach, that of a sleek salesman.

Sleek marketing strategies are creating demand – not too long ago as we were just getting used with the idea of the cell phone as a must have and now cell phones won’t do any longer –we must have smartphones.

Sleek marketing strategies also specialize on “embellishing the truth” or creating a better brand image by enhancing the product’s feature. Which is ok  when the truth about the product is that it looks quite pretty without adding the marketing make-up  . Such is the case of Toyota marketing its newest   SUV models as green rather than just  gas efficient.  For such fancy SUVs they are quite efficient when it comes to their MPG, to be green they’d probably have to give up being SUVs altogether …

The problem arises when the marketing strategies try to pretty up a truth that is ugly. Such was the delay of Toyota recalls and the company’s attempts to push certain technical issues under the rug or make them look minor when they were quite bad…

You probably tell yourself that it is counterintuitive to shout out an ugly truth as a marketing strategy. If a product malfunctions, you may want to make the whole deal hush-hush until the problem is fixed. And you are right, just that between media and social media is hard to keep an issue affecting your customers hush-hush for too long.  So what shall you do?

Let’s take Johnson and Johnson 1982 recall – after seven people died of Cyanide poisoning after taking Tylenol capsules that where tampered with the company had two choices:

  • To try to understate the problem and advise caution until the source of contamination was discovered (the person (s) who poisoned the pill) while standing behind the safety of the product
  • To shout out: the truth is ugly –  we have a big problem, the product is not as safe as we thought and we’ve no idea how it was possible to tamper with it  – and recall all the products immediately.

They chose the second approach –  they decided to recall Tylenol products from store shelves across US, not just in Chicago and offer free replacements . Their statement and marketing approach : the truth is ugly , but we care so much about our customers that we are not afraid to admit it and fix it no matter what cost. The result : Johnson and Johnson recovered its lost quite fast as it emerged from the whole crisis as a hero.

Another good example is the successful social marketing approach for AIDS awareness lead by the CDC in 1986 and matched by similar campaigns in UK and continental Europe (Stop AIDS Campaign) . It started by acknowledging the truth – there is a virus and it is deadly.  The truth is ugly but let’s get our facts right. The campaign encouraged medical authorities to speak openly about the risks, transmission and consequences of AIDS and it also encouraged all the people, including teens to ask questions and get informed.  The campaign had its share of negative comments and a lot of unpleasant facts were to be acknowledged and accepted – you know the type we really do not want to deal with, like your 16 years old daughter sexual life. But it did stop the rumors…

Therefore, when marketing does not have a choice but to deal with an ugly truth there are many ways it can approach the issue and build its strategy. It can stress the facts again and again in order to fight rumors and give an important place to potential solutions and healing. It can stress the importance of people as human beings rather than mere consumers that are important only as long as there is a profit to be made.

The only way you don’t want to deal with the ugly truth is by hiding it under a considerable amount marketing face powder and try to make it seem prettier by applying some heavy advertising mascara.

Civitas

The Village

When I was in graduate school, one of my classmates, who had an undergrad sociology degree, told us about this village in Romania he had to visit and study [1]. The village, somewhere in the hilly Sub-Carpathian region was able to preserve its wealth during the communist years. People had orchard gardens surrounding their houses that couldn’t be nationalized; they sold fruits in the free farmer markets for generations and made a decent profit for all those years. Some were also shepherds, another private enterprise that prospered in spite of the communism, as no one cared to track the growing herds as they moved from lower to higher pastures and back, part of the traditional transhumance customs.The prosperity of the inhabitants of that village was apparent in the size and quality of their homes, the richness of furnishing and decorations inside, their ability to develop their individual septic sewage systems. From this point of view, it was as five decades of communism never happened. Yet, something was lost – their civic conscience. The roads between houses were crumbling in disrepairs, the common grounds were abandoned to weeds and wild vegetation, the common forest resources were often abused and whilst each afforded and individual septic system, it never crossed their minds that a systems of aqueducts and sewers would’ve been more efficient.

The Country

The United State reminds me of that village. Pennsylvania reminds me of that village. The Pittsburgh Urban area reminds me of that village.

The United States economy, even after the recession, still justifies the greatest expectations for individual prosperity. But when it comes to civic wealth, or common wealth, the United States is constantly sliding down in what it has to offer to its citizens.  As in that village, Americans are richer or potentially richer than every other nation. Yet the roadways are crumbling, the education system is underfunded, public transit services are shrinking since the sixties, public libraries close doors and millions of people cannot afford the most basic healthcare services.

Now I do not know how to explain the state of facts – no place in the United States suffered through five decades of that totalitarian regime called communism. But perhaps is the opposition, the fear of a communist like regime that made people to reassert their individualities to the point that they forgot they are all residents of the same Civitas. [2]

And if civitas sounds foreign , or old and forgotten, let’s try Commonwealth – common wealth. This principle of commonwealth does not try to make the rich people poorer, but stresses a well known historical fact. When only a few individuals can enjoy a region’s wealth, its resources and the products of the community’s hard work, their prosperity will not last long. Because the handful of wealthy people will drain those resources and they will force everybody else to revolt or leave.[3] Plus is the Christian thing to do.[4]

The State

Returning to Pennsylvania, to Western Pennsylvania to be more precise – the value of common wealth and the needs for a civic conscience became even clearer in the light of the last budget cuts. As the newly elected state governor bragged about the potential wealth from shale gas extractions he also started to cut down funds for all civic programs and projects.

Targets:

State colleges and public schools. The impact is not limited to education quality for children from families with low and middle class incomes. As the state university with the largest campus in Pittsburgh saw its budget cut in half started to evaluate those expenses that can be cut. One expense is its yearly contribution to the local provider of public transportation services, the Port Authority of Allegheny County in exchange for free rides for its students and employees.[5]

The Port Authority, which saw its own funding shrink during the last years, struggles to avoid crippling cuts without going over budget. Hopes to see more funding coming its way are low, the whole transportation sector suffers from lack of funding. And that means not just fewer buses or fewer new roads, but also unsafe bridges and less work for civil engineering and contractors, therefore less business opportunities for local small businesses. [6]

Of course the state government has to deal with a billion dollar budget shortfall. Of course they have to cut down expenses. Of course they believe that taxing shale gas extraction to fund public transportation, state colleges, roads, bridges etc.  is bad for business. They tell us that taxing shale gas extraction – as they have told themselves – will lead investors to lose their interest in exploring this new resource of wealth. Even if I would not doubt their statement, how does keeping the shale gas business justify the loss of bus driver jobs, tuition paying students and research possibilities, local civil engineering and contracting businesses?

Because the Commonwealth, Civitas is not about welfare as Temporary Assistance For Needy Families and Dependents. It is about the subtle foundations, the framework on which the wealth of the community is built. And a wealthy community holds more possibilities for individual wealth.

Deficit Causes

One can blame it on the high costs or retirement benefits for public transportation and state employees. One can blame it on the recession. One can also blame it on the misadministration of wealth by the state and local governments and argue that, for this reason, the wealth should stay in the hands of those who are able to exploit it. Which could very well be, and in fact some actually are out of state companies, out of state investors or out of state workers exploiting the local resources, i.e. shale gas. Companies, investors and workers who have no interest to invest in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

And  no one will be wrong, all of the above are justifiable explanations. But no one will be right either. Because the root of our problems lays on the fact that we had lost our civic conscience, we had somehow forgotten that we are all citizens of the same Civitas.

This has to be the correct explanation, lest is no other way for me to understand why the wrong solutions are sought in all the wrong places.

Notes:

 [1] I cannot recall the name of the village. I can recall the name of my classmate in case you want to track him down and verify the authenticity of the story

[2] Civitas. Civitates: « concilium coetusque hominum jure sociati « (Cicero, Somm.Scip. ) =a political community sovereign and independent.  Linguistic root for the word “civic”= regarding that community.Source: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Civitas.html

[3]That is something even roman emperors knew when they gave free corn to the residents of the City.

[4]” Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” Andrew Carnegie

[5] http://bit.ly/gOWUmf

[6] http://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/print-edition/2011/04/15/engineers-prep-for-bridge-funding-drop.html?ana=fbk

The Apostle Paul and Planned Parenthood (or why do conservatives want to defund PP)

 Why do conservatives want so hard to defund Planned Parenthood?

 

First, they told us that it was about the abortions.  As good Christians, our elected conservative leaders, raised an ethical objection and opposed the use of tax money to fund a service that is unethical from their point of view . And, as a Christian, I did get their point of view because even though abortion is legal it is a questionable ethical decision. And the Apostle Paul would agree with the conservatives, I think, in 1 Corinthians 5-6 he is quite clear about expelling the ethically questionable from the community even though their acts were permitted in the world, i.e. legal by Roman law. Now, not that I agree with the conservative faction, but I can understand their reason – they are considering the taxes paid as their contribution to the broad community of American residents and they believe to be their duty to oppose anything that may force them to contribute to an act that they are condemning from an ethical standpoint.

 Yet only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortions and not even a penny from the federal fund opposed by conservatives is  used  towards this service. And it was said “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” (1 Corinthians 5 -9,10). Therefore as long as Planned Parenthood only offers legal services and does not use these good Christians money to fund unethical services, there should not be any objection to its federal funding.

 

But the argument did not stop here. Now these good Christian conservatives, who were elected as our leaders, are telling us that cutting funds for Planned Parenthood is not about abortions, but about “making sacrifices” to reduce the $14 trillion budget deficit. Yet there are many other ways to reduce the deficit that should be at the top of the list, long before Planned Parenthood is even mentioned. Not from a conservative or liberal point of view but from the same Christian point of view that was used when funding Planned Parenthood was first opposed.

[Some other ways to reduce deficit: close corporate tax loopholes – $400 billion over a 10-year period (1); stop big oil subsidies – $3.6 billion (2) reduce the fleet of new F-35 fighter jet by one – $304 million (3).]

Yet, all I hear in reply is that we have to sacrifice Planned Parenthood. That there is no reason for a program designed to help those single moms working for $8 an hour with no benefits to feel entitled to our generous giving. But it is the Apostle Paul who said: “A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7- 10, 11) Interestingly, since the only way for most women to remain unmarried once separated and yet survive was to receive support from the community. So the Christian community has the duty to support the single woman and the woman who had to separate from her husband is entitled to expect their support.

Therefore, it is in the virtue of the Christian Ethics invoked by our elected conservative leaders when they first opposed funding Planned Parenthood that most women who use its services are entitled to them. It is just that when you ask our elected conservative leaders to dip their hands in their pockets or those of their rich supporters that they are suddenly blinded and are unable to recall what is asked from them…And it was said to them “You give a tenth of your spices –mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law –justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Mathew 23-23)

Yet, in spite of the argument above, our elected conservative leaders will continue to oppose the funding Planned Parenthood. Why? They cannot ask their rich supporters to give up their bountifulness for the single working mothers. They cannot support those women who are independent enough, brave enough to ask what is due to them. Because without the submissive women who came to accept their husbands abuse as the “Christian thing to do”  and their rich buddies to pay for their campaigns they’d end up in the ditch (or pit).

This is why there is nothing more I can add, but accept that no matter what I say or how their position would be unchanged.

“Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind both with fall into a pit” ( Mathew 15-14)

 

Note: All bible quotes are from the from the NIV edition.