13 February 2018

Violin Sonata

Farflung correspondents, 

Having been asked on rather short notice by another amateur classical musician, a violinist, to accompany her in Francesco Veracini (1690-1768)'s violin sonata in E minor (actually an arrangement of a trio sonata), I didn't want to say no. This is a major challenge for me, but I want to be able to do this kind of thing, so I've accepted. The piece isn't extremely difficult, but it's not exactly easy either. The performance, for anyone local in Portland with free time and inclination, will be Wed., Feb. 28 at 10 AM at the Community Music Workshop, 3350 SE Francis, between Holgate and Division. Wish me luck, I may need it. 

David 

........................................................ 

Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

 

11 February 2018

Some ideas about Compassion as an essential value in the formulation of public policy

Posted to a friend who has some complicated and rather pessimistic views but votes Republican, as part of an ongoing debate about public policy and political philosophy. 

One of the things that has come to inform my worldview over the past several decades is my fairly intensive study of Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Of course, as someone who believes in the American ideal of freedom of religion, I don't think that either policy or politics should be directly governed by, or even strongly influenced by, religious doctrine. However, much of the ethical basis of Western democracies deriving from the political philosophies beginning with Hobbes and running through the American political thinkers around the time of the Revolution certainly derives from what's usually referred to as Judeo-Christian ethics. I happen to think that the ethics that comes out of the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition is a superior model from which to derive public policy goals. When I say this, I am not including in it doctrines that I have come to reject which include an overly literal interpretation of karma, or rebirth (which I have come to regard as mere wishful thinking), or an excessive preoccupation with the doctrine of emptiness, which relates more to personal enlightenment then to what I think of as the Enlightened Society. It is Enlightened Society which should be the ideal and goal of all public policy. In other words, if public policy is to mean anything it should be guided by overarching principles derived from philosophy which seek to maximize certain values that are deemed to be universal and in general of benefit to all. Whether considered Buddhist or not, the general ideas are, I believe, suitable for adoption as universal values.

 

In the West the overarching principles that are usually defined have more to do with individual behavior, an individual gain, then they do with communitarian values. I believe that as part of the evolution of global models of governance, we need to recognize that ethical principles derived from other cultural traditions may, and in fact do, yield a superior model for public policy.

 

Although I recognize the importance of individual liberty, which is important because in any realistic philosophy, it is only at the individual level that any sort of action as possible, so it is necessary to allow each individual to take those actions which he perceives to be in his own self-interest. This is congruent with Western thinking. And in general of course utilitarian thinkers such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill recognized that there is a necessity for the "greatest good for the greatest number" to be a principle for any sort of government to effectively function in the interests of all of its people. I would argue, however, that some core values of what is ultimately important to human beings need to be recognized, and those values need to be derived from agreed principles. Buddhism stresses the importance of compassion, and I think that Western thinking fails to recognize just how central this is in any political philosophy which seeks to achieve Mill's utilitarian ideal.

 

Compassion is based on the recognition of equity. All people have an equal right to seek self-realization, happiness, well-being, whatever you wish to call it. And to that end, the fundamental sameness of humanity, regardless of measurable qualities such as intelligence, wealth, physical strength, and other qualities needs to be recognized and valued. And for that to be meaningful, the essential value of every human life needs to be accepted, and internalized. We need to place a value on every person having a meaningful life, and the means to achieve it. This is what compassion really is when considered on a public level. On a personal level, it is the ability to actually put oneself in another's shoes. To imagine what it's like to be that person. And this is a very useful exercise in achieving the kind of understanding that's necessary to fully integrate the importance of compassion. As a practical matter, what it means is that societies must organize themselves in such a way that the well-being of all people is taken into consideration, is given due value, and the society is so structured that the well-being of all citizens is ensured, to a reasonable degree of practicability. This does not mean that everyone has the same income, or lives in the same kind of housing, etc. But what it does mean is that there is value placed on and public resources expended on, the well-being of everyone.

 

So, if I were to propose an additional amendment to the Constitution to take its place alongside the Bill of Rights it would read something like this: "Government at all levels shall recognize, and through its policies seek to ensure, the well-being of all its citizens. Among the factors of such well-being are the reasonable maximization of individual freedom of action, while at the same time ensuring that all people are entitled to receive, at public expense where necessary, adequate food and shelter, adequate health care, adequate childcare services, high quality education at all levels contingent on the abilities of the individual and not on their ability to pay, and elder care." To my mind, these essential public goods are just as important as, for example, protecting civil order and providing for the common defense. When I say just as important, I mean that both are vital.

 

Of course, merely putting those words on paper and calling them the law of the land would not actually result in a viable system of actually putting them into effect. There would have to be a transformation of the guiding philosophy of governance, to one more like those practiced in the Nordic countries today, for example, where these values are considered to be the rightful place of government. In this sense, it is not government, per se, which intrudes into people's lives, it's dumb government. It's government that does not actually attempt to foster ethical values, but instead has its own internal interests, or the interests of elites that control the government, not for the common good, but for their own private and special good. When that happens to excessive extent, people come to view the government not as ensuring their well-being, but as actually actively interfering with it. In such circumstances, government, bit by bit, begins to lose legitimacy. Because ultimately the legitimacy of government is in fact derived from the consent of the governed, and the consent of the governed is contingent on a near universal belief that the government is actually acting in the people's interests, and not the interests of those who would seek to obtain advantage at the expense of others.

 

For society to accept the responsibility to ensure the basic well-being of all of its citizens does not mean that people would be disincentivized to work hard and gain more for themselves. Quite the contrary, in societies where something fairly close to this ideal has already come about, it is almost universally the case that having the basics of life ensured actually frees people to maximize their own well-being. For example, Americans are frequently trapped in a job because they depend on employer-provided health insurance (possibly the single worst system ever devised for providing a population with reasonable health insurance). Or they can't easily move and seek some other opportunity elsewhere, because they must stay in a situation where they can successfully arrange for care for a child or an elder parent. Allowing government, in expressing the collective will of the people, to ensure the fundamental well-being of all citizens, has been shown to actually free citizens to have greater latitude in determining the course of their own lives. As a result, time after time, surveys have shown people living in societies that have already adopted something close to these ideals are, on average, happier, healthier, longer-lived, and less stressed out, than Americans.

 

Moreover, experience is shown that the highly inefficient system of providing benefits primarily privately in the United States costs far more than practicable public systems. In Sweden and Finland, for example the average tax burden is in the range of 25 to 30% of income (and that is all taxes; Americans below the 95th percentile often pay much more than that in combined state and local as well as Federal taxes, including property taxes, which tend to be rather low in most other countries). Marginal tax rates, on the very wealthy are much higher than in the United States, as they were in the United States prior to about 1975, but most middle-class people actually pay less in total taxes as a percentage of their income than is the case here. Most Americans do not know that, and see something like the citation to a 70% top marginal tax rate in Sweden (it is actually now lower than that) and believe that the tax burden necessary to provide things like universal healthcare, maternity leave and childcare, employment and retirement security, and elder care, would be crushing, when, in fact, all of these things end up being paid for by society in one way or another regardless of its "system." Organizing them as necessary public goods is more efficient, and actually reduces the overall burden. Of course the Nordic countries have far lower tax burdens associated with military spending, and what you might call "porkbarrel", but if we are talking about reforming society, some rethinking of those kinds of costs to society would also come into play. As an aside, in that it is a whole subject unto itself, I think that a recognition of compassion in public policy on a global scale would call for some understanding that American foreign policy based on the projection of power and encirclement of the entire world outside the Western Hemisphere by an "empire of bases" has been an abysmal failure. It has cost the United States huge sums in treasure and lives, and achieved very little. I would cite the hignly insightful writings of Chalmers Johnson and Andrew Bacevich for some sense of what I mean by that.

 

It is certainly true that very wealthy individuals in most European countries pay higher overall taxes than Americans. But income inequality has been steadily growing in the United States since the mid-1970s, and I think there is an emerging consensus that it is time to start taxing the top 1-4% or so of the richest Americans substantially more, as part of a rational and actually values-based reform of taxation. (Something that has never happened systematically in our country heretofore). It is not true, however, that employers are taxed excessively, in, for example, Germany. You have only to look at Germany's positive trade balance to see that its corporations are not succumbing under the load of an excessive tax burden. (Germany has most of the essentials of the system I describe, while retaining more regulated private organizations to provide much of the services). The point is that rational tax systems and values-based public service systems are eminently affordable, and actually result in higher disposable incomes, after the costs for services whether or not paid for by taxes are deducted, for the majority of people. This is not merely an opinion, but a demonstrable, albeit somewhat complicated, fact. 

 

Enough for now, I thought to simply inject some ideas into a possible further conversation.



.......................................

​ 

10 February 2018

A test for the success of any developed nation

I think a fair test of whether a country and its governance are successful and meeting the needs of its people is the following. It needs to get at least a qualified yes to all these questions.

1. Is it able to effectively function in the community of nations, so as to avoid unnecessary conflict with other nations? 
2. Is it able to fairly and equitably maintain domestic civil order? 
3. Does it provide a reasonably fair and equitable means of resolving civil disputes? 
4 . Does it afford the rights of reasonable privacy, freedom of religion, speech and association? 
5. Does it have a reasonable legal system to ensure honest, non-corrupt governance and commerce? 
6. Does it ensure universal public education at all levels? 
7. Does is ensure child and elder care (including retirement security) as entitlements of citizenship?
8. Does it ensure universal health care? 
9. Where conflict is unavoidable, does it adequately provide for defense of the nation?
10. Does it have an effective system of ensuring meaningful work for most of its people, and providing for minimal, decent housing and assistance to those who are unable to provide for themselves?

The US is teetering on the edge of failure as to No. 1, has some problems with Nos. 2 and 5, is solid on Nos. 4 and 9, only fair on 3 and 5, and as for 6, which it invented, it is failing, and it fails generally on 7 and 8. All in all, a failing grade. This is just not good enough and we MUST make it better. No country is perfect by these standards, but quite a few other developed nations do considerably better overall than our country, and we have plenty of resources to match and even do better than all of them. And we have NO EXCUSES for not doing so.


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Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

 

Call me crazy, but I posted this on Facebook today

https://smile.amazon.com/Nordic-Theory-Everyt…/…/ref=sr_1_1…

https://www.nytimes.com/…/the-fake-freedom-of-american-heal…


I was so impressed by this book, and the case it makes that not only must universal public education, childcare, and health care by considered human rights, but that our obsession with "big government" is totally misguided, that I want to make an offer. The first FIVE people to message me with a truthful, affirmative answer to ONE QUESTION, and their name and address, will receive a free copy of the book. If you can easily afford the $8 for kindle or $11.55 on Amazon to buy the book, please just do that, you won't regret it. US addresses only.


QUESTION:

Is it EITHER a hardship for you to buy this book or get it from a library; OR are you so convinced, after looking at its description that you disagree with it that you would certainly never read it if it weren't free, but you are willing to be open minded enough to read it if it is?




06 February 2018

This is how democracy dies ... as serious as a heart attack

Trump rather casually referred to Democrats who "refused" to give him a standing ovation at the SOTU as having committed "treason." This is not only incredibly ignorant, disgusting, and not funny, it's the very stuff of the collapse of a democracy. It has happened many times in the world before now, including, regionally and only partially, in our own country (especially in the South, post-reconstruction). And if we believe that democracy cannot die in our country, we are deluding ourselves. The ground around the dam is eroding away before our eyes. Everyone, soon, will have to choose sides. And I don't mean Republican or Democrat, because some Republicans will choose to join with the side which is their namesake, the side that seeks to PRESERVE the republic against the onslaught of DICTATORSHIP.

If you think this is wild-eyed exaggeration, seek out and read some of the things that were said after the initial failed coup in the 1990s by Hugo Chavez, or before Erdogan seized power. Or, Hitler analogies verboten or not, what German Center Rightists said in their right-wing media between 1929 and 1933 about how they would be able to "control" the Nazis. Mmm-hmmm. Right. I'm not saying Trump is a Nazi. But I am saying he and those who ally themselves with him have no real interest in or respect for the rule of law or democratic institutions, and will gladly adopt dictatorial powers if they come to think they can get away with it. Do you doubt it?

Here's a scenario that looks scarily likely to happen. Trump has been actively seeking to suppress the criminal investigation into him and his campaign for conspiracy to violate election laws by dealing with Russians seeking to aid his election. (No, it's not "opposition research." It's illegal to take aid from a foreign national in an election campaign)... and for obstruction of justice. Already it is apparent that there is substantial evidence against various members of his campaign including himself in both these areas, not to mention that the course of the investigation appears to have turned up substantial evidence that the Trump organization, and Trump himself, have violated various laws relating to international money laundering. So, Mueller is seeking to voluntarily interview Trump. Naturally. Yesterday, the NYT reported that Trump's lawyers plan to refuse this request. Mueller will almost certainly then, in due course, seek a grand jury subpena. Ask yourself this. What if Trump refuses? Maybe he appeals, but the Supreme Court will all but certainly place the courts' institutional perquisites above loyalty to Trump, and order him to comply. Then what if he doesn't comply? At that point, who will make him? And can you honestly say you don't think this might happen, and soon? If it does, I would argue, at that moment, our Constitution will have failed. Full stop. Our republic will have ceased to be an effective sovereign government. Nothing, other than the possibility that the Republicans in Congress will finally grow a spine and impeach this menace, will stand between where we will be an full-on dictatorship, because the rule of law will have utterly failed. We rely on the good faith compliance of the president with his oath of office, and this outright liar and crook cannot be trusted to do that. Perhaps you feel confident in this perfectly plausible scenario the Republicans in Congress will in fact impeach. OK, but I do not share that confidence. Not at all. 

Couldn't happen? Don't kid yourself. Trump has his own little Pravda in the form of FoxNews to keep his base in line, which will give him an excuse and create the threat of civil unrest that will scare a lot of people into remaining silent. And take no solace in the thought that Trump has a support of only a minority. That has rarely, if ever, stopped authoritarian dictators from coming to power. In fact, in my view, the thing most likely to save us is the very fact that Trump and his cronies are more like mafia crooks than political ideologues, and they're pretty stupid, in addition to that. If Trump were smarter, and cared more about a policy agenda, he might well have done this already. And his defiance of the norms and institutions of our government has already demonstrated for anyone with eyes to see that we lack the necessary protections to ensure that dictatorship cannot easily come about in our country. 

Trump has, indeed, shown us just how easily the complete defiance of the rule of law and institution of dictatorship could be done. And if we do manage to escape that fate with him, we will be damn fools if we don't seize the opportunity to make reforms to make sure the next one isn't smarter and more able to do it than he is. Even something as simple as the ability of the Congress, on simple majority, to vote no confidence and force a new presidential election, would probably go a long way to accomplishing the necessary check. Maybe after Trump we will somehow be able to overcome the logjam that prevents any Constitutional amendment at present.  There can be no doubt any longer that it can be done here. If it doesn't happen while Trump is in office, we will have dodged the closest bullet in our history, and we'd better learn from our experience if we don't want the next time to be far worse. 



........................................................ 

​​

​ 

Aid for single side deafness, a personally important topic to me.

I have an upcoming appointment to investigate the possible option of having a cochlear implant to address my lifelong (or very early childhood-onset) single-side deafness. This quote from a symposium on the subject makes me think it's going to be unlikely that the otological surgeon and otolaryngologist will recommend it. 

If the deaf ear has been without hearing for more than 20 years, it is likely that the implant will not restore levels of understandable speech that could be achieved in patients with a shorter term of deafness. Insurance does cover these devices, but different insurance providers may have their own criteria for approval that may differ from our medical determination of your candidacy.

mn890: Do you place cochlear implants for single-sided deafness?

Erika_Woodson,_MD: Cochlear implants (CIs) in the setting of SSD with fairly normal hearing on the other side would be considered 'off label', meaning that it is not an indication that the FDA has approved. As a center, we do recommend a CI evaluation if there is significant hearing loss in the better ear, as those individuals may benefit greatly from implantation. There are some U.S. centers doing experimental trials for CIs in the setting of SSD.


Oh well, we'll see. My SSD is of the non-indicated type (60+ years duration, hearing in non-affected ear is near-normal). Maybe I can get my bone anchored hearing assist device tweaked instead, so it actually works well for me. Currently it doesn't. 


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Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

 

02 February 2018

Rolling Constitutional Crisis Upon Us


​Comey's 
actions
​ during the 2016 election​
were sufficient to push
​Clinton
 over to the loss column. But so were Russia/Trump campaign collusion, I'm pretty sure. Either one was sufficient with the other, but wouldn't have been alone.  At this time, the Russia/Trump thing is much more important,
​however, ​
because I truly believe we are now in "rolling Constitutional Crisis," where we are the losers of the first real Cyber War in World History and we have conspirators with a foreign government and traitors in charge of our government, systematically and intentionally undermining the rule of law and the institutions of democratic governance. Trump is more like Erdogan or Putin than he is like any other president in history, INCLUDING Nixon. And the fact that he is aligning himself with them, and NOT with our actual allies, is part of the reason I've never been more afraid for the future of our country than I am right this moment. 


Absolutely Right, but a little Rich coming from Comey

 

James Comey's tweet:  

All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. But take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy.


Just so. But, there won't be too many named for Jim Comey, either, after his disgraceful double standard in 2016. Which all but certainly really did, all by itself, cost Clinton the election, even with the Russia conspiracy. 


10 January 2018

Trump the Clueless, sure, but what is important is what Democrats must now do

​ Trump is so clueless he fails to grasp that he has no choice about talking to Mueller investigators. The president arguably cannot be indicted, but no American is above the law, and that means if he were to decline an interview and were served with a subpena (which is exactly what they would do, possibly even a grand jury subpena, for which there is precedent), he would have to testify of be in contempt. Somehow I don't think Donald Trump, who is, as was pointed out on a couple of news shows today, basically a coward, would precipitate a Constitutional Crisis in all caps by triggering a contempt citation.


​​
But all this is secondary to my main talking point lately which is... sure criminal investigation of conspiracy and obstruction of justice by Trump or Trumpists is worthwhile and important, and Congressional investigation into interference in the election in 2016, with an eye to what to do to prevent the same happening again is vital (and isn't happening), but DEMOCRATS NEED TO COHERE ON A CLEAR MESSAGE for the upcoming elections. Scared of Trump isn't good enough. We must present to the American people an agenda and a plan that is so clearly superior to the mess the Republicans have created that we wipe the floor with them in both the House and Senate elections, and in State Houses and Governorships across the land as well. And make no mistake, this is FAR MORE IMPORTANT than either the Mueller or Congressional investigations for the very real yes or no issue of whether we will defy protofascism and save our Republic.... OR NOT.

​​

05 January 2018

A nation of laws?

It's a seriously sad commentary on the state of justice and the rule of law in our country that people are reasonably and genuinely concerned that the president may fire the right wing Attorney General in order to appoint someone who will simply ignore the law and shut down legitimate investigations into the now massive evidence not only of conspiracy to violate election laws with regard to Russian meddling in the election of 2016, but of multiple instances of unambiguous obstruction of justice (a Federal crime). Are we, in the end, no longer a nation of laws? I guess we will find out in the course of the coming year. 

........................................................ 

​ 

20 December 2017

If history had taken a slight detour....

OK, I'm a tad biased. And historical contrafactuals, apart from being fun to think about, are really pretty meaningless. But reading the history of the Parthians, Sogdians, Bactrians, and what's now Pakistan and India in the era of roughly 200-600 AD, and Southeastern Asia including what's now Indonesia a few centuries later it's hard to escape the suspicion that had history further West taken a slightly different turn, and the religion of Islam either not arisen at all or remained confined to the Arabian peninsula (not an entirely implausible chain of events), in all likelihood from Iran to Japan and Mongolia to Indonesia would all be Buddhist today. And somehow I think that would've made for a somewhat better world. Just sayin'.

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Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

 

It is no longer possible to be a conscientious Republican

​If you needed any further proof that the Republicans in Congress have been entirely hijacked by craven allegiance to economic special interests, and that the same is simply not true, overall, of Democrats, consider the vote on the Tax Bill.

 First, I hold it to be a fact that the only people defending this bill are those who have a political interest in its provisions. Objectively, even initially, 83% of its tax cut benefits (at the cost of huge ballooning of the national debt, which Republicans used to oppose on principle), GOES TO THE VERY TOP in terms of income. It favors non-wage income of the wealthy over the wages of ordinary people, doubly so when you consider that much of the tax burden of ordinary working people are regressive taxes such as sales tax and payroll taxes, that hit working people disproportionately harder than the very wealthy. It's even accurate, factually, not as an opinion, that this soon to be law, benefits the very, very rich, and not just the ordinarily rich. There is no way this is, objectively, good public policy. The Republican leadership even essentially admits that its draconian cuts to revenue will make it easier for them to cut social programs, including Social Security and Medicare, that AREN'T EVEN PAID FOR OUT OF INCOME TAX REVENUES. Cutting those programs because of shortfalls in income tax revenue is just theft, pure and simple, from the funds people have paid in payroll taxes on the promise that those programs will be there. Not to mention that the kinds of investments other countries, such as China and Germany, routinely make in their future: research, education, infrastructure— will be severely impacted by this terrible law. It is not at all hyperbole, in other words, to refer to this Republican scheme as a HEIST.

 OK, then, look at the vote:

 Republicans 51 Yes, 1 too sick to be there

Democrats: 48 No

 We didn't used to have such lopsided votes on major policy measures. But our politics is now ENTIRELY POLARIZED. Democrats have been FORCED to side with the interests of the people at large, because there is nowhere else to go. And Republicans now represent their donors, and to some extent their own interests (several super rich senators directly benefit from tax provisions inserted in the dead of night into the HEIST bill).

 Then there is the whole issue of unprecedented disregard for process, and continued promotion of what can only be called subversion of democracy, through suppression of voting, gerrymandering, and foreign-backed meddling in the election. These non-democratic acts are not laid at the door of Democrats, but almost entirely Republicans. And the complete subversion of the executive branch is so manifest that you have to be deluded not to see it. And, unfortunately, millions of Americans ARE deluded in just the way Trump and his oligarchic backers have worked assiduously, through propaganda arms such as TrumpTV (Fox News), to ensure.

 It is no longer the case that we have two parties, more or less representing the interests of significant sectors of society. We now have a party that represents oligarchs, the super rich, only, and which will use whatever means necessary to gain and retain power. The other party is still trying to figure out how to deal with this crisis, but it is, finally, coalescing around a broad program of social reform and restoration of small-r republican government in America.

 Days of reckoning will be coming, soon. We, as a nation, will have to pull together and destroy the forces of anti-democracy. And that means defeating as many Republicans as possible, at all levels of government, and especially state legislatures, governors, Congress, the Senate, and the presidency.

19 December 2017

Where we stand now -- my view

If anyone had any thought that even one Republican senator was anything other than a craven panderer to special interests and a self dealer, the fact that all of them intend to vote on the disgusting spectacle of a tax bill should cure them of that particular delusion. After all, almost three quarters of the public is against it and it serves only the interests of the super rich and mega business.

I honestly believe that every single Republican in the Senate has put non-democratic concerns, including personal power and wealth, ahead of the most basic concern for the well being of our nation. I accuse them. They, every one of them, are not patriots, in any sense of the word. They are a disgrace. They have betrayed the very most basic principles of small-r republican government and in so doing have betrayed their country. Every single one of them.

And as for our president,
​it should be ​
clear to everyone by now that our broken
​electoral college ​
system allowed
​ for​
the election of the most craven,
​truly dangerous, ​
self-dealing, selfish, corrupt,
​​
sociopathic, foolish, unbalanced, stupid, and just plain mean man
​ ​
ever to hold th
​e​
office, then someone isn't paying attention.
​This is a man
who cares nothing whatsoever for small-d democracy.
This is beyond reasonable difference of opinion. The facts stare us down, and we ignore them, or make excuses for them, or "normalize" them, at our peril
​.

If the rumors are true that the Trump administration intends to engineer the shutdown of the Mueller probe and plant violent insurrectionists among the peaceful protesters who will be taking to the streets in the wake of that, then our crisis will be upon us. We, the People, must build on our organizational efforts, to massively overcome the inertia and lethargy of American electoral politics, to wrest control from the forces of oligarchy and anti-democracy that currently hold power at almost all levels of government in much of the United States and the Federal Government. The very existence of our republic, as such, is at stake. 


We used to have civil discourse in this country. Where people who have a different view, left or right, centrist or eccentric, could present those views and strive for power without imperiling the very institutions that made our country, despite all, capable of calling itself a "democracy." But this Congress, and this presidency, have thrown all of that out. And it's not both parties. It is the Republicans, who have done this. Democrats are not without fault, of course, but the most damaging actions, such as undermining voting rights, promotion of court decisions and regulations to undermine democracy and sell power to the highest bidder, gerrymandering on steroids to prevent representation of whole classes of people, and simply ignoring the popular will as manifest in actual votes and every conceivable poll... these are overwhelming laid at the door not of both parties but of the Republicans alone. They have allowed our republic to become an oligarchy, which can no longer reasonably be called a democracy. I call upon my reasonable Republican friends, ordinary Americans who believe in our country, its Constitution, and what it always stood for, to take control back from your party, because these people do not share those beliefs. 


Resist.



02 December 2017

This is how democracy dies

The Republicans in the Senate just passed the single worst piece of tax legislation in US History, and very probably the worst piece of public policy legislation in many decades, certainly so if measured by its devastating impact on social cohesion. And they did it while destroying comity and orderly legislative procedure UTTERLY. Such actions have consequences. 

And if another Republican mentions to me that the ACA was "rammed through," I will scream. A year of solicited input, thousands of hours of hearings, only to be met in the end by no serious effort to compromise, is simply not the same thing as presenting a massive, ill thought out, fiercely unpopular gift to the half of one percent who is their donor class, and everyone else be damned, passed on a straight party vote in the dead of night with no hearings and no debate. Functional representative democracy died last night in the US. It remains to be seen if it can be resuscitated.

I now state flatly, I cannot understand how any reasonable person can continue to call him or herself a Republican.

.................

​ 

20 November 2017

Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life

A friend posted this on Facebook and it reminded me of studying this wonderful text.

​​
​​
The source of all the misery in the world
Lies in thinking of oneself;
The source of all the happiness in the world
Lies in thinking of others.  

​ ​


This is probably the most often quoted passage from Shantideva's "
​​
Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life
," which is one of the truly key Mahayana (Indo-Tibetan) Buddhist classics. (8th Century). I was struck after reading this text that it is far more important than, say, Thomas a Kempis's "
​​
Imitation of Christ
" as a practical guide to spiritual life and happiness, yet, when I was in high school, "Shantideva" wasn't even an entry in the Encyclopedia Brittanica. If you don't know of this wonderful text, give it a try. It stands up beautifully in translation and is one of the most accessible Buddhist scriptures (except for Chapter Nine, which deals with Emptiness, and which is pretty inscrutable to us Westerners, whose inner knowledge is usually pretty limited) (!).

I am not religious, but I am inspired by the purity and essential goodness and intelligence of Buddhist teachings. Not the supernatural, deities and guru yoga and all that, but the core teachings on how we make ourselves and others unhappy, what we can do about it, and how to live a life in the world that is ethical and spiritual, in the sense of being the best human beings we can be, by practicing the most essential, even cosmic, virtues: lovingkindness, compassion, taking joy in other's happiness, and equanimity (the so-called "Four Limitless Qualities.") To me, these are the real essence of Buddhism, and nowhere are they more beautifully expounded upon than in Shantideva's  classic text.

Legend has it that Shantideva was a scholar at the famous Nalanda University in what is now Bangladesh
​,​
in the 8th century.
​(You didn't really think universities were invented in the West, did you?) ​
He was thought of as a do-nothing and know-nothing by some of his fellow scholars, because all he did was meditate. They thought he must be rather dull. So, as a trick, they connived to have him be required to give a teaching on Dharma, thinking to embarrass him, since they assumed he knew nothing, as he rarely spoke. As part of the trick, they took away the ladder for the Throne, which was very high. When the date came, Shantideva (remember this is a legend) entered the Gompa (Meditation Hall). Seeing that there was no ladder, he sat in the Padmasana posture, levitated up to the throne, and began reciting this very text, which he delivered over many hours in its entirety. Those in attendance were humbled and blessed to receive such pure wisdom, and were quickly cured of their petty jealousies.

Makes a nice story. And it really is a wonderful spiritual guide.
​ And now it's available in a dozen different translations in English. ​

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Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

19 November 2017

Oregon Symphony, November 18, 2017

Beethoven: Symphony No. 2
John Adams: Absolute Jest
Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber

The concert was quite interesting. Johannes Debus conducted. The Beethoven 2d symphony, which is quite charming, was very well played and came off with good effect. But the other music in the program was actually more interesting. John Adams's Absolute Jest, which is a sort of Metamorphosis of themes of Beethoven (especially from the late quartets) was excitingly played and multifaceted. I am not always a fan of Adams (though I tend to like him better than Glass and other American so called minimalists), but this work rewards attention. The use of a string quartet as a solo group, sometimes pitted against the orchestra, sometimes interwoven with it, each commenting on the other, is very well done and gives the work some meaty texture. The last piece, in some ways the model for the Adams piece, was the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, by Paul Hindemith (1940, written after he emigrated to America to escape the Nazis). I have heard this before, and found it rather conventional mid-century neoclassical fare, but this performance was so electric and sparkling that I heard the music in a whole new light. Hindemith is not a "popular" composer. He wasn't a serialist or doctrinarian, and some of his music is quite charming, but it doesn't yield its charms all that easily. This piece was originally supposed to be a ballet, and the choreographer really just wanted an orchestration of some dances by Weber (1786-1826), but that fell apart, because Hindemith had other ideas. These aren't arrangements; it's a unified work that uses its source material as a springboard. You have to pay attention, get in touch with the thinking behind it, let it seep in. This was a thoroughly rewarding experience overall, and let's face it, Classical symphony orchestra concerts in our postmodern era do not always rise to that level; frequently, workaday competence is all you get. Not this time... these musicians were engaged and thoughtful, as well as masterful, and the result was just great.

05 November 2017

Tulsi Gabbard on military intervention

I don't agree with everything Tulsi Gabbard has said or done, but these words bear repeating and should ring from the lips of every politician, in essence, every time they address this subject. (From recent New Yorker profile; she said them at a speech to a veterans group).

"Too often we have found, throughout our country's history, we have people in positions of power who make offhanded comments about sending a few thousand troops here, fifty thousand there, hundred thousand there, intervening militarily here, or starting a war there — without seeming to understand or appreciate the cost of war. If our troops are sent to fight a war, it must be the last option. Not the first."

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Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

03 November 2017

Read this much of Krugman today

 Even if you don't make a habit of reading Krugman, you should read this much from today's column:

"why should tax cuts even be on the table? We have budget deficits, not surpluses, and lots of unmet needs for future spending. U.S. taxes are low, not high, compared with other wealthy countries. Predictions that tax cuts will lead to rapid economic growth have been wrong time and again. And by large margins, voters want taxes on corporations and the wealthy to go up, not down.
 

"The ruling theory among Republicans seems to be that going into the midterm elections they need a "win" to offset their failure to repeal Obamacare. I guess this might be right, although it's a theory that reveals extraordinary contempt for voters, who are supposed to be impressed by the G.O.P.'s ability to ram through policies that only benefit a tiny elite.
 

"However the politics turn out, this is remarkably terrible policy, devised via a remarkably terrible process. Most Americans realize that Donald Trump is a very bad president; they need to realize that his party's congressional leadership is pretty awful, too."

01 November 2017

Not really all THAT complicated

If Clinton had been elected, and you read that Chelsea had accepted a meeting back in June of 2016 with a Russian lawyer with connections to Russian intelligence to discuss help with the Clinton campaign against Trump, and she'd accepted in her response with "I love it," actually held that meeting, with the Chairman of the campaign present; and then a few months later another staffer pleaded guilty to meeting with a Russian "professor" with ties to the Kremlin who promised "dirt" on Donald Trump, then lied to the FBI about it, do you seriously think there would be any question about whether or not Clinton should be impeached? Not to mention that, in this reverse world scenario, her campaign manager (who'd had to resign in disgrace), and his protege, would be indicted for money laundering after accepting millions and millions of dollars for influence peddling from pro-Russian Ukrainians and Russian oligarchs. 

This is exactly what has already happened with Trump, in the real world. There is clear evidence of collusion by the Trump campaign with a hostile foreign power, including the cooperation in the use of illegally hacked DNC emails, which are a "thing of value" under election laws. Very serious crimes, involving compromising our national interest in favor of the interests of a hostile foreign power, have been committed, and it is all but impossible to believe Trump himself didn't know about it, or that he hasn't been lying about it for months now. Impeachment is inevitable. It isn't really all that complicated. 

Nouveau Quatour

Here's a link to a phone video of part of our chamber music concert last week. Taken by Brad. The harpsichord is all but inaudible, unfortunately. 

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Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.

31 October 2017

Jack o lanterns



Mueller news

I take no pleasure in any of this. I regard Trump as a scourge and a tragedy, but I'd much rather focus on positive things for our country. But anyway, Mueller's job is to investigate crimes in the arena he's investigating, whether or not they are directly connected to Trump's own culpability. Certainly the questions of why Manafort was so anxious to assume the role of campaign manager when he was some $17 million in debt to a Russian oligarch, and then proceeded to commit massive tax evasion and money laundering while concealing the fact that he continued to act as a foreign agent, even while Trump's campaign manager and afterwards, while not directly implicating Trump or his family members, casts his entire campaign in a very dark light. And the Gates indictment is just sort of a "mini me" for Manafort. Both these guys now have a tremendous incentive to cooperate in the investigation from here on out, because without the leniency that cooperation could bring, they are facing many years in prison. 

And if Trump is foolish enough to pardon them, I have to believe that will be a bridge too far for enough Republicans, combined with nearly all Democrats, that he will be impeached. These indictments are airtight document cases. These guys are guilty as hell, and there's no way out for them other than cooperation or pardon. And I suspect both of them know about some skeletons in the closet, because Trump is so stupid he doesn't even understand that it actually is illegal to cooperate with foreign governments to interfere in elections. Remember he said "a lot of people would've taken that meeting" about Don Jr.'s meeting with Russians in June of '16... if it can be proven that that meeting resulted in the transfer of "a thing of value" (such as oppo. research, like the emails themselves), it would be a felony. But Trump pretty obviously doesn't grasp that. He keeps saying "everyone's saying there's no collusion." Which is just plain stupid. What 'everybody says' is totally irrelevant. 

But the real news on Monday no one saw coming. It's the seemingly minor case of George Papadopoulos. A Trump campaign staffer. One of the guys he mentioned (along with Carter Paige) to the Washington Post as "an excellent guy" and a foreign policy advisor. (Actually a 30 year old, rather undistinguished fellow of the Hudson Institute). Anyway, this guy rather clumsily lied to the FBI back in January and February of this year (before the Mueller appointment)(a felony), and then tried to cover it up (ineptly). According to not an indictment but a plea agreement. He told them he hadn't met with Russians, but he had. He talked to Russian "danglers" no doubt working at the behest of Russian intelligence services, back as early as April of '16, about getting "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, and learned, long before this was public knowledge, that the Russians had "thousands of e-mails." Did he report this to the FBI at the time? No, he reported it to his "supervisor," who said, "good work," and discussed sending him to Russia to follow up. Remember, this is an adversary of the United States, attempting to influence the outcome of a US election. Cooperation with that endeavor is a serious crime if committed by a US citizen. Papadopoulos was not charged with that, and did not plead guilty to it, but he did plead guilty to lying about it, and he has been a "proactive cooperator" since his arrest in July. The conclusion that he has been wearing a wire and/or otherwise helping investigators get evidence against higher ups in the Trump campaign, who knows how high up, is inescapable. And this guy pleaded guilty, turned states' evidence. This is very, very bad news, far worse that Manafort and Gates, for Trump, and, like I said, no one saw it coming. 

I think it's now more than likely that Trump will be forced out of office by, say, 2019. And a week ago I did not think that. 

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Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum.