Once in a while the health condition of a celebrity goes beyond their PR and can inspire the rest of us. It happened when Julie Andrews could no longer sing following a surgery and now I read that Val Kilmer following throat cancer cannot speak, or speak so he can be readily understood. He had a tracheostomy and now has a tube which is hidden by a scarf. We all undergo losses, it’s part of life on this planet, and we all have to handle them. Some losses are more drastic than others, and losing your voice when you are an actor is very drastic. According to the NYT profile Kilmer, who is a Christian Scientist, uses the tenets of his faith and shows no self-pity. He’s involved in a foundation he created, has a quirky gallery on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, and still believes he can find roles to suit his present condition.
Here we are living through a pandemic, undergoing some form of loss, having to make adjustments to our lifestyle, adjustments which are both large and small, and which will probably linger in some form for a long time. Some at the moment have no income, and for them the experience of someone like Val Kilmer can perhaps offer some iota of comfort that it may ultimately be easier for them to receive an income than it will ever be for him to get his voice back. For the rest of us it’s a reminder of how fortunate we are.
Robots and the Pandemic
For those wanting to know how the pandemic will change the world, faster use of automation looks to be one way it will. Robots are looking particularly attractive to businesses, manufacturers and investors. That’s not new because robots don’t have to be paid, demand benefits or take sick leave. The virus is increasing interest because robots don’t require protective gear and can’t sneeze on their coworkers. Many believe the pandemic is accelerating automation, but it has implications. It won’t happen all at once, and each sector and each company will have to review their needs because some jobs lend themselves better to automation better than others. While it is believed that automation will create some jobs, because that is the pattern of former new innovations, experts also think that in developed countries automation is likely to exacerbate economic inequality. That is because the jobs created will be digital age jobs for a digital age economy, while the large part of the economy is likely to be based on service economy jobs which do not pay as well as they used to and include as well all those who will be left out.
Of course it’s not all smooth sailing for those who will use robots. Robots get their own kind of viruses and can be hacked, so manufacturers and businesses will have to invest in security. Nevertheless the projection points to a rocky road for too many.
Beyond Our Current Problems
I woke up one morning as many surely do with a heavy heart—the persistence of racial injustice, a mismanaged pandemic and an administration which systematically depreciates and debases democratic institutions. Then as I do every day, I looked at my email and the newsletters it contains. I learned that 81% of people in Malawi are more concerned about hunger than they are about getting the virus. In Venezuela, hearses with coffins had to stop in the middle of streets, having run out of gas which is now in very short supply. There too fear of being infected is second to hunger. In Yemen and Syria to name but two, the ruination of the countries economically and politically makes it near impossible to be able to have any kind of normalcy. And then I realized that not since the civil rights movement has there been so much commitment and awareness to resolve racial injustice, that a vaccine, at least one, will be found and we shall be able to live more safely again, that we will eventually be rid of this administration and even if the country is in tatters by then (as it surely will) we shall still be standing. And I realized one more thing that the problems of the US will end up far more easily resolved than those of Malawi, Venezuela, Yemen or Syria. That said, my heart is still heavy for those millions suffering unjustly.
Incarceration in the US
It’s The US has the highest per capita prison rate and the highest prison population in the world. The US represents 5% of the world’s population but 25% of those incarcerated worldwide. Russia and Ukraine follow. These are meaningful figures in light of the protests asking for police reform. And what is even more meaningful are the facts of incarceration from the NAACP showing how incarceration disproportionately affects people of color. Here is a sample:
- · African Americans are incarcerated at 5 times the rate of whites.
- · African Americans and Hispanics which comprise 32% of the population comprise 56% of incarcerated people.
- · If they were incarcerated at the same rate as whites prison population would decline by almost 40%.
- · While African Americans and whites use drugs at about the same rates, imprisonment of African Americans for drug charges is about 6 times that of whites.
Those facts speak for systemic racism, they speak for an overhaul of not only our police but the entire criminal justice system.
Colonial Art Thefts
Racism is not only a problem in the US, the restitution of art to former colonies in Africa reminds us it’s been widespread for centuries. African art and treasures have ended up in European museums for many to visit and enjoy, but the problem is how they got there, through armed pillage, military expeditions, missionary collections or taken without sufficient compensation. Colonial powers had not much respect for the indigenous traditions and cultures they encountered, nevertheless they managed to realize the importance and unique beauty of the art, art which we now know inspired artists such as Picasso and Matissse. Unlike Western art African art is part and parcel of the culture and of everyday life, masks were not ornamental, for example, but part of important ritual practices. In November 2018 France’s President asked for a report on the restitution of African Art, but since there has been no movement to follow through on the recommendations or to return the art. Both France and the UK, the two major colonial powers in the continent have done little to address the resistance returning these pieces has engendered. It’s a legal issue, a political and cultural one, but it’s also a moral and an ethical one. Part of the problem is that often museums themselves fear that restitution would deplete their collection, which considering they only exhibit a portion of it at a time may not be valid. Another contributing factor is that African nations do not always have the necessary museums, which they are trying to remedy. Unchanged racist attitudes have made the debate contentious, nevertheless African Art pieces not properly acquired
Talk of Change
Prompted by the protest, ideas for needed changes are being talked about, written about and thought about. Here are three examples.
The NYT has been running a series called The America We Need. In that vein, a recent editorial by David Leonhardt addressed new research documenting the wage gap between blacks and whites since the gap is as large now as it was in the 50’s during segregation. Several ideas are being put forth by economists and others: Raising the pay for all working families, asking the wealthy to let go of legacy college admissions and favorable tax treatment, which among other things increase inequality, or even adopt profit sharing plans.
The Chamber of Commerce which has become a powerful conservative lobbying group, has published a report on the opportunities gap that hinders black Americans. It highlights that for blacks unemployment is twice that of whites. Blacks represent 12% of US workers but only 9% of business owners and have a much harder time obtaining financing. The Chamber has held events trying to find solutions.
Meanwhile the Guardian published a piece by Tara Westover where she calls attention to the changes needed to build a world where we can be one people, she talks about how Covid-19 has affected minorities disproportionately and asks us to rethink changes in education, so that we can end up in a world where class, education and profession do not divide us.
It’s hard to know what the results will be but it’s encouraging that talk of changes is coming from many different sources
To Ponder On
“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”
Booker T. Washington