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A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XXI
  • No. 2
  • March/April
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • Spending on Others
  • The Hope of Better Times
  • The Forgotten Widows
  • Victims v Victimhood
  • Car Infotainment Systems
  • Non-Whites Needed
  • To Ponder On

Spending on Others

Hard to If you want to be happy spend money on others. Psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn and marketing professor Michael Norton document all this in their book Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending. They’ve of course conducted research and experiments and on a recent PBS program Elizabeth Dunn even spoke of living what she has come to believe. She and a group of friends are engaged in a project pooling resources to sponsor a refugee family. To these authors happiness is not spending on oneself, but on others. One may like spending money on oneself, it may make one happy, but the gratification of spending money on others is greater, which means that maximizing self-interest is not always an answer and altruism may not be as devoid of gratification as we might have thought. To someone like me who has been practicing meditation and the values it represents for years or to someone who agrees with the idea of Continue reading

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A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XXI
  • No. 1
  • January/February
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • Cockroaches!!?
  • 19%!!
  • The Plight of Poultry Workers
  • A Blot on Our Conscience
  • Cyber-Exploitation
  • "When Will They Ever Learn?"
  • To Ponder On

Cockroaches!!?

Hard to believe but cockroaches have a redeeming side. We shun them, destroy them, hate them, but it appears there is more to them. Cockroaches can save lives. A transmitter can be attached to them and since they are small enough to go anywhere, they can easily be sent through the rubble after a natural disaster and relay if there is life. There are 450 species of them—more than we need I’m sure—and of those only 4 species can be considered pests. In some countries they are pets and are part of folklore. They have and are providing inspiration for scientists. The way they easily move and can use their wings to right themselves back up inspired one scientist to design a robot. The way their legs are hinged are inspiring another to design prostheses. They are being studied in medicine also since they apparently produce Continue reading

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A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume xx
  • No. 6
  • November/December
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • People Skills Wanted
  • Shackling and The Humanity of Others
  • The $149 Million Mansion
  • Virtual Reality at The UN
  • Fighting Human Trafficking
  • Medical Ethics
  • To Ponder On

 People Skills Wanted

David Like many I keep wondering if our use of technology is replacing human skills and making them redundant. The mere idea that this may not be quite so makes me, and hopefully others, stop and take notice. The idea comes from a paper “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market” by David Deming who is Assistant Professor of economics at Harvard, a paper being given a more public airing by being the subject of an article in the online site fivethirtyeight.com. The paper comes from research that points out that until fairly recently, one needed hard skills in order to have a job that paid very well, skills like those of engineering, or math. It is not so any longer, people skills are now needed. This doesn’t mean Continue reading

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A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XX
  • No. 5
  • September/October
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • Not Victims But Warriors
  • Rehab v Punishment
  • Tom's Shoes
  • Farm Workers' Progress
  • Worth More Than Others?
  • A Challenge To Amazon
  • To Ponder On

Not Victims But Warriors

David Kirp, a public policy professor at Berkeley, writes in a NYT op-ed about an anti-poverty program in Houston where they did something quite rarely done: They asked people in some neighborhoods with high poverty rate, what they needed. That he points out has not been the traditional approach. Neighborhood Centers, a Houston non-profit in existence since 1907, went about it differently. The credit is mostly due to the organization’s president and chief executive officer for the last 20 years, Angela Blanchard who says,” The people are the asset, the source of potential solutions, not the problem.” Their numerous one-on-one interviews and Continue reading

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A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XX
  • No. 4
  • July/August
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • A 100-Carat Diamond
  • Pets vs Condemned Prisoners
  • A Moral Undertone
  • Refugees, Refugees, Refugees
  • Hope For The Planet
  • You Dec ide
  • To Ponder On

A 100-Carat Diamond

Sotheby’s New York recently sold a 100-carat emerald cut diamond for $22.1 million. The buyer was anonymous. Even through its picture on the BBC website the stone was remarkable and for its size was described as a rare flawless diamond. Although it set a record, it wasn’t the most expensive diamond, two years ago a pink diamond was sold for $83 million. Were these stones bought by and for a single individual or were they bought on behalf of an institution, a museum perhaps?

A few years ago I visited a diamond exhibit in a museum. I had never before then seen a pink or yellow diamond nor stones with such brilliance. Suddenly I understood why clarity in diamond was a sought after quality. And too I understood why diamonds have been the subject of sagas, adventures or been coveted and lusted after. I learned that their real beauty is not visible when one sees diamonds in jewellery stores’ windows and displays. It’s easy to imagine how the 100-carat stone would fit into an exhibit such as the one I saw, be its chief attraction, even adding to the lore, the history, the mystery of how carbon and time turn into the pristine rock we call diamond.

More than likely it was acquired by an individual. Then I, and I hope you the reader, begin to question. Oh no, not the right of someone to buy it, but the social good of one person owning a $22 million stone. If indeed it belongs to one person, who is or will benefit from it?

 Pets vs Condemned Prisoners

The Marshall Project, a non-profit journalistic organization specializing in the criminal justice system, had a 7-question quiz comparing how we execute condemned prisoners and how we euthanize pet Continue reading

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A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XX
  • No. 3
  • May/June
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • Humans Needed
  • Challenged Books
  • Calls From Prisons
  • Charting a Course
  • Gun Ownership: A Bit of Hope
  • On Majority-Minority States
  • To Ponder On

 Humans Needed

Technology can be full of wonders, but oh it’s far from perfect! We’ve all enjoyed sites that allow us to make travel reservations, from airplane tickets to hotel rooms and car rentals. But we’ve also been frustrated at how complex it can get. We get a fare on a given site and by the time we check another site and go back to the first one, the price we saw is gone. Apparently this is now a common experience. That may be why the American Society of Travel Agents reports rising demand for travel agents. People are increasingly turning to travel agents, to someone they can talk to, to a human in order to make their travel plans. In fact some agencies are concerned about finding enough qualified and experienced agents. The society assumes that the demand is due Continue reading

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A Commentary On How Current Events Reflect— Or Not—Our Search For Higher Values

  • Volume XX
  • No. 2
  • March/April 2015
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

in this issue:

  • Rights For The Homeless
  • The Face of a Baby
  • More Organ Donations
  • Doulas For The Dying
  • Robots and The Future of Work
  • Reproductive Technology and Reality
  • To Ponder On

Rights For The Homeless

A Berkeley School of Law study found that since 1990, 58 California cities have enacted numerous laws that discriminate against the homeless. The average city studied had 9 such laws. San Francisco and Los Angeles each led with 23 restrictions. Homeless people are arrested far more than the average, for vagrancy, for “drunkenness”. And if they are not arrested, the homeless are cited or harassed for sleeping in public, sometimes for sitting or lying down. In essence the study concludes that the laws are used to punish people’s status, not their behavior. Researchers found that often the homeless are harassed by police or security guards without reference to any law at all. Also noted is that the trend of laws against the homeless does not seem to abate. In 2013 in California, advocates tried to pass a Homeless Bill of Rights. While it passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee, it died in the Appropriation Committee. This year the same advocates are back with a “right to rest” bill meant to extend basic human and civil rights protection for the homeless. Oregon and Colorado are also introducing similar bills.

The homeless are a neglected and vulnerable group deserving equal treatment too often denied them.   As researchers put it in an L.A. Times op-ed, “One day we will look back at these anti-homeless laws, as we do now at other antiquated vagrancy laws, and wonder how we could have been so inhumane.”

 The Face of a Baby

The first baby born in Hungary January 1, 2015, was news and had his picture in the paper. Because Rikardo Racz is Roma, also known as gypsy, the picture attracted the attention of Elod Novak, the deputy leader of a far-right party. He posted a picture of himself with his wife and three children on Facebook decrying the presence of the Romas, with statements such as the fact that to him they were multiplying and will soon make people like him a minority in their own country. The post triggered s torrent of both condemnation and approval and reflected the racism—and anti-racism—currently at work in the country.

Not long before this incident a Roma baby in a village south of Paris was denied burial by the mayor. In this case the mayor of a neighborhood village shocked by the refusal offered a spot in the cemetery of his village.

There’s something foul and pernicious about the use of a baby to vent one’s prejudices. It happened with Roma babies, since Roma are a shunned and unwanted minority and presence in several European countries. No doubt it happens in other countries about the babies of any of the many groups who are discriminated against. When racism shows its face through that of a baby, it’s time to ask ourselves how we would react to the babies of minorities or even to those we hold prejudices against.

More Organ Donations

On average, heart transplants, the most successful of all the transplanted organs have added 4.9 years to a patient’s life. Those who had a combined pancreas-kidney lived an average of 4.6 years longer. Kidney recipients lived 4,4 years longer, liver recipients 4.3 years, intestine recipients 2.8 years and pancreas recipients 2.6 years. All in all 2.2 million years have been added to the lives of organ recipients in the past 25 years. According to a study published in the medical journal JAMA Surgery, 533,329 patients have received organs between 1987 and 2012. More than half the extra years belong to people who had kidney transplants. Next are people who received new livers, then people who received hearts followed by people who received lungs, new pancreas, pancreas and kidneys together, then intestine. For a layperson such as myself there were surprises. I didn’t realize intestines were on the list of donated organs, nor did I realize the extent to which livers were transplanted.

And yet 579,506 patients were put on the transplant network waiting list, but did not receive an organ. It’s easy to imagine the anguish of those patients and their families. Somehow the fact that only 48% of patients needing organs receive them is a striking statistic. At some point in the future, it is possible that those waiting for an organ without being able to receive one could be a friend or member of our own family. There is to my knowledge no study of what people do with the years gained from being an organ recipient. I venture to say that rare is the person who did not make use of being given another chance or a chance to make their life count or succeed in however small a way. The bottom line remains though that less than half of those who need transplants are able to receive them. We definitely need more awareness and more people willing to donate their organs

 Doulas For The dying

The idea is new enough that there are no statistics as to how many there are. Their duties also vary, anything from arranging all sorts of details such as power of attorneys and funeral arrangements to counseling. Mostly there is a lot of hand holding. Increasingly people find that handling death is too much not only emotionally but also in practical terms given that the end of life comes with many details needing attention, so they turn to what is being called death doulas. Doulas, from a Greek word meaning woman who serves, are established in helping with births, so it seems natural that some would also chose to work with the other end of the life spectrum. There are now private courses to certify one to be a death doula. Some doulas or the organizations they are affiliated with use volunteers, and most charge fees, depending on what is required of them. Some were hospice nurses or volunteers for whom being a doula is a logical transition .When the nearness of death comes to a family, family members suffer in one way, while the dying member usually requires something different.  For many the idea of someone who will be there to guide them through this emotional journey is a great help and, as is the case with hospice, for the dying person that kind of comfort to them and their family can be welcomed.

Death is such a traumatic subject for so many, or at least one laden and fraught with fears that death doulas can, and sooner than we think will, end up filling a niche in our service oriented society. Hospice care, since it is covered by Medicare, at least for those over 65, is not class conscious. It helps the poor like the rich. With death doulas, since it is a service provided for a fee, it does make one wonder if it will turn out to be something that benefits the affluent more than others?

 Robots and The Future of Work

Sometimes big changes happen imperceptibly, away from the headlines. They happen drop by drop until the proverbial one that makes the bucket overflow. That’s what happening with robots. They’re gaining ground as the society and the labor force in particular are having a hard time keeping up. We basically like robots, sometimes think they’re cute and make us think of Data on Star Trek or R2D2 on Star Wars. For decades robots have done a number of tasks in many kinds of factories, generally having a positive effect. Robots can now vacuum, assist in surgery and will soon drive cars. In Japan there’s a robot to paint the designs on nails with a precision difficult for humans to match. Several economists including Lawrence Summers, former Treasury Secretary, however, are not sure that in the future technology will create as many jobs as it will destroy. Airplane pilots, for example, are now an endangered species since flying an airplane, already largely automated, could soon totally be so. Truck drivers are also at risk, given that the same technology that can have driverless cars, can also have driverless trucks. What all this means is that nothing short of the nature of work will have to change as a result. That includes the number and the kind of jobs that will then be available. Many will require more skills, but overall it looks there will be less of them. Some predict it will be a world with more wealth and less need to work. That may be good news for those with money but what about the many others? Already we see many jobs disappearing and changes in the job market we have not yet understood.

The implications robots and technology will have on the society and the labor force in the not distant future is not an issue on the agenda of many. In fact listening to several members of congress it seems they haven’t any notion this is occurring, even though it is a dangerous trend that requires awareness, thought, research, policies, preparation and of course wisdom to keep it from becoming a big problem. As with most issues there isn’t agreement as to how serious a problem this could be. Regardless, It ought to be of concern to all of us. Not only could it affect how we may advise children and grandchildren, it may perhaps also guide us to influence and prod decision makers to address it intelligently.

 Reproductive Technology and Reality

The painter Mark Rothko painted few murals, among the best known are those from the penthouse of Harvard’s Holyoke Center installed there by the artist in 1964. Although precautions were taken by Rothko and others, the murals began to fade and by 1979 the university removed the paintings. Rothko had created translucent colors by using dry pigments with animal skin glue and whole egg. These were absorbed into unvarnished canvases and made the surface quite porous. As a result traditional ways of restoring paintings could not be used. Narayan Khandekar, Senior Conservation Scientist at Harvard came up with the notion of projecting lights onto the canvass using a camera and a software algorithm thus restoring the paintings without touching them. When looked at in this manner the murals now look the way they originally did. As of last November they are once more exhibited. Each day the lights are turned off for one hour so that the difference can be appreciated. But with or without the lights the technique has led to discussion and even debate as to what is the nature of a work of art and what are the implications of such technique for art in general. But the questions raised do go beyond the art world, to the use of technology certainly, and to the definition of reality. If technology can reproduce a unique work of art, where is reproductive technology taking us? Similarly if reality or what is tangibly real can be cleverly reproduced, do we need to redefine reality, or extend its meaning to include the reproduction thus obtained?

 To Ponder On

                                “Since when do we have to agree with people to defend them from injustice?”
                                                                                                                                      Lillian Hellman