Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What's Going On?

I had a very peculiar dream last night, involving passports, a chase-and-run through a cane field, and violent persecution, a dream that seemed the result of various anxieties as well as recent television viewing; and when I woke I thought about freedom and slavery, peace and war. I thought about the choices we want and the situations in which we do not have choice. How are our rights ensured? Our rights are ensured by those who make a commitment to those rights, just as culture is advanced by those who make it and support it. It is now an important year for the advancement of human rights: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948; and this year is the sixtieth anniversary. The declaration affirmed freedom, and justice, and asylum, for all regardless of social categories. However, some countries abuse those rights still. “In situations of serious abuse, the human rights movement often cannot rely on local courts to enforce rights. Abusive governments have long figured out that killing, corrupting or compromising a few judges and lawyers is enough to secure impunity for human rights abuse. Instead, the human rights movement has developed the capacity to put intense pressure on abusive governments with the goal of forcing them to resist the temptation to violate human rights,” states Kenneth Roth in “The Price of Rights” on the web site of Human Rights Watch, commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights. As strategies to protect human rights, the human rights movement uses diplomatic pressure, and advances legal prosecution of individuals who have violated human rights, and encourages military intervention in extreme situations (such as genocide).

In “Social Networks and Happiness” by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler, a piece that appears online at the online site of Edge: The Third Culture (December 5, 2008), the authors Christakis and Fowler report that “We found that social networks have clusters of happy and unhappy people within them that reach out to three degrees of separation. A person’s happiness is related to the happiness of their friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends—that is, to people well beyond their social horizon. We found that happy people tend to be located in the center of their social networks and to be located in large clusters of other happy people. And we found that each additional happy friend increases a person’s probability of being happy by about 9%. For comparison, having an extra $5,000 in income (in 1984 dollars) increased the probability of being happy by about 2%.” These findings seem to be in line with common sense—we think, often, that like attracts like.

The online web magazine The Daily Voice reported yesterday, December 9, that Julian Bond has said that he will seek re-election as chair of the NAACP, the civil rights group. Previously, he had said that he would not seek the chairmanship again.

President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama has proposed a public works program that calls to mind the celebrated and useful projects of Franklin Roosevelt, and Obama’s proposals as reported are very practical, positive, and promising news, but today Barack Obama has made news by calling for Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich to resign, following reports of the governor’s seeking personal benefits for an appointment to replace the Illinois senate seat recently held by Obama, a corruption case that Jesse Jackson’s son has been implicated in, as a possible candidate for that seat.

Corruption is not unique to Illinois and in the past it has been notorious in Louisiana (Who can forget Edwin Edwards bragging about voters’ tolerance? Edwards said that he would get in trouble only if he were found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy. And, more recently, a Louisiana politician was found to have thousands of dollars stored in a fridge, leading to various legal charges). However, following an investigation into a business decision of former Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco shortly before she left office, the December 10, 2008 New Orleans Times-Picayune (correspondent David Hammer) reports that “Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s 25-percent raise to the Road Home contractor went unquestioned and largely unnoticed a year ago, but not because of any intent to conceal the $156 million increase, according to a state inspector general's report released today.” Reporter David Hammer writes, “The change raised the amount that private contractor ICF International Inc. could be paid for its work administering the program by $156 million -- to a $912 million cap,” but “Inspector General Stephen Street, an appointee of Gov. Bobby Jindal, said he found no evidence that the Blanco administration was trying to hide the raise she gave ICF, even though the media and key figures in the Legislature didn’t know about it until long after she left office.”

Science Daily has a report on software being devloped to aid security (“Keeping Track: Software Locates People And Objects, Immediately Detects Unauthorized Persons”), as well as reports on smart fabrics that monitor health and plastic that conducts electricity. Science News reports on an imaging study that examines the parts of the human brain (and emotion) involved in legal decisions affecting punishment (in the article titled “In the brain, justice is served from many parts”).

The southern Louisiana newspaper The Daily Iberian (reporter Holly Leleux-Thubron) announces that “The ancient statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, a tourist attraction in the Teche Area for more than 40 years, was sold for almost $1 million Tuesday”at the New York auction house Christie’s.

I have not seen any films in a theater recently, something I regret, but I am reminded that are now good things to see, and will be more, in some theaters, though not necessarily any that are near me in Louisiana: Milk and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button dominated the nominations Tuesday for the Broadcast Film Critics Assn.’s 14th annual Critics’ Choice Awards, receiving eight nods each,” reports Susan King of the Los Angeles Times, December 10. “Joining Milk and Benjamin Button in the best picture category are Changeling, The Dark Knight, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E and The Wrestler. (Note: The New York Film Critics Circle has picked Milk as best film, and its lead actor Sean Penn as best actor.)

One of the films I want to see is The Reader, starring Kate Winslet, which Film Journal International reviews. It is set in Germany and is about a young man and an older woman, and contains a significant historical theme. “On his way home from school, the young Berliner is taken ill and stumbles into the vestibule of a shabby tenement where he vomits. Resident Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), a 30-year-old tram conductor, comes to his rescue, helping Michael return to his comfortable but stern Berlin family,” describes Doris Toumarkine, Film Journal International, December 10. “Working from Hare’s chronologically scrambled and energized adaptation of Bernhard Schlink’s bestseller, director Stephen Daldry (The Hours) delivers a handsome and thought-provoking package that will attract critics’ praise and droves of quality-seeking audiences. Daldry also draws superior performances from his cast, especially principals Winslet, Fiennes, Olin and young German newcomer Kross.”

In New York, Renee Fleming performed at the Metropolitan Opera in Massenet’s “Thaïs.” “Ms. Fleming justified the company’s faith by delivering a vocally sumptuous and unabashedly show-stealing Thaïs. A glamorous courtesan in fourth-century Alexandria, Thaïs undergoes a spiritual transformation when confronted by an ascetic monk, Athanaël, whose fierce religiosity cannot contain his erotic desires,” comments the New York Times’ Anthony Tommasini, December 9.