Great Trip!

March 31, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission.

This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Standpoint:

Baracoa is what travel books call a “quaint historical town”. Historical it is indeed. Baracoa was the first settlement here, founded as long ago as 1512 near the Eastern tip of Cuba. Quaint it isn’t at all, though, coming close to a slum, admittedly in the midst of a lush tropical jungle with gorgeous views of the table mountain and the bay. Casting a melancholic glance over the calm waters, some days after the Haitian nightmare, one couldn’t help pondering: what if a similar earthquake struck here, no more than 40 miles away from Port-au-Prince? Or a much stronger one, like the one that just now hit Chile? How would this poor place fare?

Chile was lucky in that its epicentre was not in densely populated areas, which explains why the death toll was relatively low. But there is more to Chile’s better fate than pure chance. Chile today is a stable and modern country with a functioning government. It has more solid buildings than easily crumbling shacks, and its average per capita income is the highest in Latin America. The situation may be out of hand for a while, but anarchy isn’t around the corner. Haiti, the least developed nation in the Americas, is quite different. Not only has government become entirely dysfunctional, even the most elementary notions of human civilisation seem to have dissolved after the catastrophe. Brutal survival instincts were unleashed. The shocking violence was a consequence of a long record of kleptocratic dictatorships, social chaos and poverty, all eroding morality. In all respects, Haiti is a failed state.

What about Cuba, then? Frankly, Cuba would fare even worse in the case of a severe earthquake. It would undoubtedly lapse back into another Hobbesian “state of nature”, where the life of man “is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Right now, the helpless Cuban population is stuck in the choking hands of their socialist Leviathan named Castro (Fidel or Rául, it makes no difference). People are unfree and miserable, and they are painfully aware of it. Government is arbitrary. Human rights don’t count, as the recent death after a hunger strike of imprisoned dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo demonstrated. In the speculative case that a natural catastrophe occurred here, too fast for the vigilant authorities to react, the derelict homes would crumble no slower than in Haiti, killing thousands of people. And that first catastrophe would imply a second one: it would push society to its tipping point. We would witness anarchy and violence of the most venomous kind. It would be the final step in an ongoing tragedy: the euthanasia of Cuban society.

Life is already “nasty and brutish” here. Cuba is decaying at a scandalous pace, physically and morally. The social capital of civil values and mutual trust has evaporated and hatred is taking hold. It has become normal to cheat, trick, lie and steal — from each other and from the government. Neighbours, friends and family spy on, blackmail and denounce each other. Solidarity and civil courage have fallen into oblivion. No one dares to move when two men beat up a peaceful drunk in the crowded Parque Cespedes in Santiago. There is a good reason for this inaction: one attacker is a police officer, the other one probably from the Comité de Defensa de la Revolución, a neighbourhood control cell, or the secret police. The victim is left on the ground, crying. This artificial, horrifying edifice of “public order” insured by terror would break down should a natural catastrophe incapacitate the state. As well as scrambling for survival, Cubans would begin settling accounts with each other. In the ensuing abyss of violence, as well as being “solitary, poor, nasty and brutish”, Cuban lives would also become short.

A decade ago, people were already critical and rebellious, but they still had some admirable energy, charisma and curiosity. That spirit has evaporated, gone with the unsuccessful years that have passed, gone with the hopes of betterment. Cubans look as grey, exhausted and unhappy as the Czechs did at the end of the Eighties: no smiles, no politeness, either towards strangers or fellow Cubans. There aren’t even any spontaneous concerts in the streets any more. Everything that is public now means the State, means dollars and has become unaffordable. The government has crowded out most private undertakings. Every interaction with locals now comes in commercial terms. With an empty expression on their faces, people look out for full wallets. The only escape from being approached is a discourtesy one has to force upon oneself. “Where do you come from?” is the standard opening to a conversation in order to sell something beyond value or to beg for a gift. How can one tell the difference? If the person says, “I don’t want money from you”, the reverse is true. Far from taming greed, socialism has turned Cuba into a desperately materialistic society.

Read it all.

Fast Forward

March 31, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission.

This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Sensitive

March 31, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission.

This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Palestine’s Tragedy

March 31, 2010

Standpoint:

The hideous Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) was in full swing on campuses throughout the world recently, deriding the Jewish state as an illegitimate entity built on the ruins of “Arab Palestine”. It is worth noting that nowhere during the 1948 war was the collapse and dispersal of Palestinian Arab society (called al-Nakba, the Catastrophe, by the Palestinians) described as a systematic dispossession of Arabs by Jews. On the contrary: with Arab leaders considering the UN partition resolution of November 1947 (which called for the establishment of two states in Palestine) a Zionist triumph, and thereon being brutally candid about their determination to subvert it by force of arms, there was no doubt whatsoever as to which side had instigated the bloodletting and the attendant defeat and exodus. A senior British official visiting Gaza at the time was told by the refugees that “they have no quarrel with the Jews…and are perfectly ready to go back and live with them again”. By contrast, they spoke “with the utmost bitterness of the Egyptians and other Arab states…who, they declare, persuaded them unnecessarily to leave their homes”.

The refugees knew what they were talking about. Not only had the Zionist movement always been amenable both to a substantial non-Jewish minority existing on an equal footing with others in the prospective Jewish state, and to the two-state solution, but it went out of its way to foster Arab-Jewish co-existence. In the 30 years from the end of the First World War to the proclamation of the state of Israel on 14 May 1948, Zionist spokesmen held hundreds of meetings with Arab leaders at all levels, while ordinary Jews lived side by side with their Arab neighbours, who for their part were eager to take advantage of opportunities created by the evolving Jewish national enterprise. Consequently, throughout the Mandate era of British rule (1920-48) the periods of peaceful co-existence far exceeded those of violent eruptions, and the latter were the work of only a small fraction of Palestinian Arabs.

The breakdown of this co-existence was the result of a relentless campaign to obliterate the Jewish national revival waged from the early 1920s onward by the corrupt and extremist Palestinian Arab leadership headed by the militant ex-Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al-Husseini. This culminated in the violent attempt, supported by Arab leaders, to abort the partition resolution.

Had the Arab leaders accepted the UN resolution, there would have been no war and no dislocation. Unfortunately for both Arabs and Jews, these leaders were far less interested in the promotion of Palestinian Arab independence than in the destruction of the nascent Jewish state and the division of the spoils of war among themselves. As the Arab League’s Secretary-General, Abdel Rahman Azzam, privately revealed: “[Transjordan] was to swallow up the central hill regions of Palestine, with access to the Mediterranean at Gaza. The Egyptians would get the Negev. [The] Galilee would go to Syria, except that the coastal part as far as Acre would be added to the Lebanon.”

This fact, as we have seen, was fully recognised at the time by ordinary Palestinians, who would rather have co-existed with their Jewish neighbours but had to pay the ultimate price for their leaders’ folly: homelessness and statelessness. One can only hope that these reckless decisions are not re-enacted by the present Palestinian leadership, for only by accepting the two-state solution and eschewing their genocidal designs on the Jewish state will the Palestinians be able to look forward to putting their self-inflicted “catastrophe” behind them.

Discover:

Beauty may lie in the eyes of the beholder, but morality, apparently, lies just behind your right ear–in an area scientists call the right temporoparietal junction (RTPJ).

In a study that helps explain the mechanics of morality, neuroscientist Liane Young and her colleagues found that activity in the RTPJ is linked to the types of moral judgments we make–and those judgments can easily be tinkered with using a mere magnet. The researchers found that by delivering magnetic pulses to the RTPJ they were able to impact moral judgments; the magnetic pulses made people less likely to condemn others for attempting but failing to inflict harm [Nature]. The findings were published in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Says Young: “You think of morality as being a really high-level behavior. To be able to apply a magnetic field to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgments is really astonishing” [BBC].

Most of us make moral judgments based on not just what the consequences of an action were, but also on what the person’s intentions were. So little children and people with mental illness aren’t judged as harshly for their actions, because their intentions usually aren’t bad. It’s not just a matter of what they did, but how much they understood what they were doing [Nature].

Read it all.

More Great News

March 31, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission.

This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

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