Digest: 24 December 2013

 

 

Highlight

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In András Schiff Explores Beethoven Piano Sonatas, performs and lectures on the piano sonatas at Wigmore Hall. “András Schiff last performed the complete Beethoven piano sonatas at Wigmore Hall from 2004–6 to overwhelming critical acclaim, with the Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger describing one particular performance as ‘a riveting mixture of erudition, analysis, passion, wit and memory’.  On the day before each of the eight recitals in the series, the world-renowned pianist, pedagogue and lecturer gave a lecture-recital in which he explored the works to be performed. Deeply engaging and insightful, these thought-provoking lecture-recitals, recorded live at the Hall, are now available below to hear as eight lecture-recitals.”

 

Economic

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In President Obama Puts Spotlight on Economic Inequality, Gary Reber (for Nation of Change) discusses President Obama’s important speech on inequality but questions both its consistency with federal policy and its relevance to the underlying problem.  Reber argues that the problem of inequality is deep-rooted in the structure of how wealth is distributed in our free market system.  Arguments for overcoming inequality tend to focus on job creation, not surprising as in the past labor provided 95% of the input into the production of products and services. But this is no longer the case, now it is capital that creates that level of input. Current wealth disparity comes as a result of the exclusion of all but some from being able to develop wealth through capital, in today’s markets, until that discrepancy is addressed inequality will continue to grow.

 

Environmental 

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In Why Is the US Getting in the Way of International Efforts to Make Clean Water a Basic Human Right?, Shiney Varghese (for AlterNet) discusses US hindrances to the acceptance of holding access to clean water as a human right.  In November all UN member states agreed that clean water is a necessary part of an adequate standard of living, which means that access to clean water is implicitly protected by various UN conventions including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The US has prevented agreement on a definition of these rights, but considering the offending passage is one which would seem beneficial Amnesty International has called on the US government to explain what it is they take issue with – surely the notion that everyone should have access to safe, accessible, and affordable water is (or should be) consistent with US policy.

 

Political

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In Lament of the Plutocrats, Ben White and Maggie Haberman (for Politico) discuss the relationship between Wall St. and the White House.  Wall St. bankers expected more from the Obama Administration after all of the funding they put in to get him elected, and they have been disappointed.  In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Obama on several public occasions referred to Wall St. bankers in ways they did not appreciate – e.g. as “fat cats”.  Bankers also have not been offered what they would consider to be positions of adequate influence in the government. At this point the relationship remains heavily strained, but efforts are being made to diminish the gap. Some of these efforts are being made by Hillary Clinton, whose friendly and understanding approach to Wall St. bankers has endeared her to them – but this will probably little benefit the current administration, rather perhaps it is designed to cement a future one.

In What Obama Left Out of His Inequality Speech: Regulation, Thomas O. McGarty (for New York Times) discusses the evolution of deregulation that has given rise to current inequality issues. While Obama identified some of the important threats we face from inequality, he did not address regulation. McGarty argues that this is an important omission – pointedly relevant as it is to the structure that gives rise to inequality. In the absence of strong government institutions, costs can be more easily externalized and the burden falls on those least able to protect themselves.  Government institutions, relative to business interests, have been consistently weakened over several stages starting towards the end of President Carter’s administration, continuing with a drop in regulatory enforcement through the 90s, and culminating with the second Bush presidency starting in 2001.  The continuation of this laissez-faire approach to regulation will undermine efforts to deal with inequality.

 

Social

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In Even Gifted Students Can’t Keep Up, The Editorial Board for New York Times discusses how in the US it is not just the education of average and below-average students that is failing, but also the education of our most gifted students.  The US is falling behind competitor countries in education, as measured by the Program for International Student Assessment. Tightening budgets and the pressure to attend to average and below average students has meant a lessened ability to develop above-average students to their potential.  The Editorial Board suggests some ways the US can do more to prevent this, these include: better government support, accelerated learning programs, the possibility of early college admission, and psychological coaching.

In A Tale of Two Cities: America’s Bipolar Climate Future, Marc Hujer and Samila Shafy (for Der Spiegel) discusses the disparity of views on climate change in New Bern, North Carolina, and New York City.  In New York, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and with the pushing of Mayor Bloomberg, the risks of climate change are taken seriously and measures are being implemented to mitigate them.  The same cannot be said for New Bern, where views of climate change do not necessitate an active response against it. Hujer and Shafy describe how in New Bern the failure to act happens as a matter of principle, it reflects their faith in God and their lack of belief in a model in which a government provides for its citizens. Unfortunately this approach will come with a sting.  New York on the other hand has proved to be something of a model for city-based action in response to climate threats.

In Surveillance: Cosy or Chilling?, Noam Cohen (for New York Times) discusses two polar views on digital surveillance and how these views guide the metaphors we use to discuss that surveillance. These metaphors are playing out in the courts, on one front are those metaphors that align modern events with events in the past, to establish a consistent precedent. On the other side are those who highlight the difference between modern techniques of surveillance and those used in the past. Seeing new techniques as consistent with those of the past would mean the acceptance of precedent that allows the collection of metadata. Seeing them as inconsistent will mean a new precedent must be set. As Cohen points out, it will be interesting to see what metaphors the next decision prefers.

In Why Walking is a Wonder Drug for Your Health, Jay Walljasper (for AlterNet) discusses the various ways in which walking contributes to health, and thus also to the various facets of life for which health is a boon.  Walking has the potential to contribute a beneficial effect to the building of communities, to lowered health costs, improved school performance, a stronger economy, and better neighborhoods. But for walking to have its fullest effect it must be built into our everyday lives, provided for in community and city planning – not be relegated to treadmills in indoor gyms.