Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Spice of Islands

The only place in the world ... the Spice Islands.

Inhabited for thousands of years with a long history of self-rule, the Maluku islands were in the center of world trade in spices. In the south, the Banda Islands were the world's only source of nutmeg and mace produced from the nutmeg tree.  Cloves were available from nearby island communities and nowhere else in the world. For generation after generation, they traded the spices for food and manufactured goods from India, China, and Arabia.

Banda Islands
When Europeans discovered the market, competition escalated viciously.  In the 16th century, the Portuguese were first to arrive and attempted to monopolize the trade in spices, but failed.  The Dutch East India Company (VOC) attempted the same monopolizing and succeeded.  It was Europe's second joint stock company after the English East India Company, both major landmarks in the development of the modern corporation.

Much like today, the Dutch East India Company coerced the local governments into impossible trade agreements that gave them increasing leverage in the local economy and workforce.  When they came to the Banda Islands, however, there was no central government to conquer.  Each community was governed by a council of residents, and they were quite opposed to foreign involvement, so the company killed them.  Corporate genocide.

Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the Dutch governor of Batavia, sailed with a fleet (and company army) to Banda in 1621 and killed almost all of the people there.  He let about a thousand survive to preserve the agricultural knowledge necessary for continued spice production.  He divided the lands into 68 sections which he allocated to company executives and brought in slaves for forced labor.

Such deadly practices were not uncommon and are attributable in varying degree to many of the companies which followed in their treatment of both colonists and indigenous populations.

Today, it is illegal in most contexts to kill competitors.  With that exception, corporate trade practices continue much as before.

Fair trade efforts have shown some progress, but 'me first' persists to the detriment of most of the world's inhabitants.  Inequality within and between nations is increasing each year.

Public discourse suggests that the only alternative to capitalism is socialism, suggesting the better of the two is the only choice.  The idea is untrue and uninformed.  Neither capitalism nor socialism provides a solution, of course.  Both leave the lower segments of the population in deprivation and inescapable circumstances.

Fortunately, there are numerous alternatives.  For starters, ours is not a pure capitalist economy any more than China is pure socialist.  Both economies have morphed over the years, sometimes beneficially, sometimes not. 

Here's hoping we learn along the way and improve appropriately, perhaps virtuously, as has from time to time been our national intent.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Problem with Anger

An angry delivery will do more harm than good, even if the criticism is deserved.

Most folks don't begin the day looking for an opportunity to explode.  Such occasions tend to surprise us, and we perhaps respond quickly and without much thought. Kaboom!  Out pours the mess of our own less-than-perfect soul.

Anger rises naturally in us.  Something we care about got handled badly by someone else.  Waiting in line, listening to politicians, or dealing with life and a partner can trigger that natural response in us.

Anger person-to-person, however, breaks the bonds of relationship.  It's more or less deliberate.  I love you less at the moment because you ... whatever.

We sat with an impressive couple who recounted for us their personal relationship changes.  Both had been conflict escalators, adding emotional content (anger, rebuke, criticism, kitchen sink) to discussions where they didn't agree.  They told us how they had started asking why this or that mattered and negotiating the important things.  It involved more listening.  They pulled back far enough to see the values they shared and figure out how to achieve their goals.  They were justifiably proud of themselves and warmly confident about their future together. It was an eye-opener.

For the record, Jesus said anger is pretty much the same as murder.  (Mt 5:21-22)  Put down, beat down, force down, or force away.  Being, acting, or speaking angrily; all the same root.

Love is patient and kind.
  Love does not dishonor other poople.
    Love does not easily become angry.
      Love does not keep track of other people's wrongs.
         And a loving heart apologizes sincerely when it has done wrong.

Happy Valentines Day.

You might appreciate ... The Strangest of Creatures

Monday, February 12, 2018

Wage and Job Growth

Data through the end of 2017 from the Bureau of Labor Statics today.
Job growth and unemployment numbers are encouraging, but there's more to the reality for American households.

Wages have kept pace with inflation plus a small margin since 2001.  Measuring percentages can be inadequate or even misleading.  If your weekly pay is $380, making $576 seventeen years later (after inflation, that's up about $50) isn't great progress.  That's the 25th percentile.  

We have 113 million in the full time workforce and 25 million working part time.  There are about 20 million who haven't worked in more than a year of which about 7 million aren't looking anymore; they've given up, gone back to parents perhaps or to the streets with the other homeless.  An increasing number are falling out of the labor force for as yet undetermined reasons.
Data through the end of 2017 from the Bureau of Labor Statics today.
Prime employment-age male participation in the workforce

"A crucial measure of how far from full recovery the economy remains is the growth of nominal wages (wages unadjusted for inflation). Nominal wage growth since the recovery officially began in mid-2009 has been low and flat. This isn’t surprising–the weak labor market of the last seven years has put enormous downward pressure on wages. Employers don’t have to offer big wage increases to get and keep the workers they need. And this remains true even as a jobs recovery has consistently forged ahead in recent years." Economic Policy Institute

Only 39% of Americans have enough savings to cover a $1000 emergency. If the water heater dies, or if the car breaks down, most folks haven't got the savings to stay on top. The GAP continues to widen as income for the upper quintiles continues to grow rapidly. 

Things changed in the '70s.  Corporations moved to profit as the exclusive model.  Workers became a liability and were treated accordingly.  Legislation supported the move. Much improvement is needed, still.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

So, what do you think it was that he saw?

Considered objectively, he saw something, and he tried to describe it.  

"I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

So, what do you think it was that he saw?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

“Nearly 3 in 4 individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges are foreign born.”

27 JAN 18 - His 9th executive order on immigration.

Previous orders have been overturned by the courts.
On January 16, President Trump tweeted that “nearly 3 in 4 individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges are foreign born.” That part is true but misleading.

DoJ and DHS reported for the 15 years between 9/11/2001, and 12/31/2016, 549 people were convicted of international terrorism-related charges in U.S. federal courts, and 402 of them were foreign born.  Nearly 3 in 4. 

There's a problem, though.   There are approximately 41 million foreign-born people living in the United States.  Those 402 out of the 41 million are a miniscule proportion - less than 0.0000001 percent.  If an individual is foreign-born, the likelihood that the person has or will engage in terrorism-related activities is nearly zero.

Those foreign born individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges since 9/11, those are convictions, not deaths.  (Deaths by terrorists on U.S. soil were 61 for post-9/11 through 2014.  The count includes both foreign-born and domestic perpetrators.)

White nationalists and right-wing extremists killed 5 times that number, but they're not 'terrorists'.  Extremists, yes; terrorists, no; but they killed five times as many as the terrorists did.  There's little difference among extremists.
So, what about all those refugees?
When it comes to terrorist acts by refugees, the numbers are unequivocal. In the four decades between 1975 and 2015, only 20 individuals who arrived in the U.S. as refugees either attempted or carried out a terrorist attack - resulting in three deaths. And, of most relevance to President Trump’s immigration ban, all three of those killings were by anti-Castro refugees back in the '70s.
Not a single death has resulted from terrorist activity by a Muslim refugee.  Not one.
Conversation in the public arena, particularly regarding refugees, those millions displaced from their homes and livelihood, has been uninformed and irrational.  The hatred and mistrust generated within our own culture are immense as even legal residents are now treated prejudicially.
Citing that “3 in 4” terrorists are foreign born falsely suggests that excluding the foreign born would substantially reduce a large threat to this country.  Unequivocally, it is a false representation.  And at what cost?  How many of the 41 million lives of immigrants and refugees should we disrupt and ruin to further reduce an already minuscule threat? Let’s not use statistical lies to destroy lives.
While I'm inclined to agree with this administration on a number of issues, this isn't one of them.  The correct focus is vetting before entry and deportation of criminals, of course, and the processes are being reviewed and improved.  Meanwhile, the political rhetoric against the foreign born has been destructive and culturally destabilizing.  In all, the harm has far exceeded whatever good may have been accomplished.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Perhaps it's time

"Three and a half million years separate the individual who left these footprints in the sands of Africa from the one who left them on the moon.  A mere blink in the eye of evolution.  Using his burgeoning intelligence, this most successful of all mammals has exploited the environment to produce food for an ever-increasing population.  In spite of disasters when civilisations have over-reached themselves, that process has continued, indeed accelerated, even today.  Now mankind is looking for food, not just on this planet but on others.  Perhaps the time has now come to put that process into reverse.  Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it's time we control the population to allow the survival of the environment."  2002 Sir David Attenborough 

Population control is now being considered.  Is that reasonable?
Quotations below are also from Sir David Attenborough in recent years.

"I don't think whole populations are villainous, but Americans are just extraordinarily unaware of all kinds of things.  If you live in the middle of that vast continent, with apparently everything your heart could wish for just because you were born there, then why worry? [...]  If people lose knowledge, sympathy and understanding of the natural world, they're going to mistreat it and will not ask their politicians to care for it."  2005

"In the past, we didn't understand the effect of our actions. Unknowingly, we sowed the wind and now, literally, we are reaping the whirlwind. But we no longer have that excuse: now we do recognise the consequences of our behaviour. Now surely, we must act to reform it — individually and collectively, nationally and internationally — or we doom future generations to catastrophe."  2006

"The growth in human numbers is frightening. I've seen wildlife under mounting human pressure all over the world, and it's not just from human economy or technology. Behind every threat is the frightening explosion in human numbers. I've never seen a problem that wouldn't be easier to solve with fewer people – or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more."  2009

“We cannot continue to deny the problem. People have pushed aside the question of population sustainability and not considered it because it is too awkward, embarrassing and difficult. But we have to talk about it."  2012

“We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now.”  2013

Among the issues our children will face, population growth today exceeds support capacity, particularly food production and fresh water supply.  

World population has grown from 1.5 billion to 7.5 billion (quintupled) in my mother's lifetime.

It's been suggested that most of the world's problems would be solved if the population were cut in half, something that may be the inevitable result of current growth.   Most prophetic descriptions of the end-times suggest such collapse.  Economists, the UN, and others are beginning to agree.  Thoughts?