Wednesday, September 30, 2015

California Hope

Recently, I have spent time in the hospital with close family members suffering from UTI’s (Urinal Track Infection) in Israel and California. I will relate the differences in the hospital environment as the Japanese treat height differences: the person next to the tall one, i.e. accentuating the positive.

California, with all its problems, often is willing to invest in a vital need even if the budget is tight.  For example, under current California law, a nurse in a regular ward takes care of no more than four patients.  In practice, this meant that the nurses treating my father were attentive and patient. They were able to use their sense of humor to lower high tension situations.  Not only that, the fact that the ward was equipped with electrical IV pumps meant that they did not have constantly check the IV flows of their patient.  This meant that even at the end of their 12 hours shifts, they were pleasant and professional.  As has been said about going to prison, the punishment is being to the hospital; no more is needed.

On the same note, it should be noted in California’s favor that, albeit imposed by the judicial system, the prison system is finally starting to try to treat the sources of problems of its inmates instead of just incarcerate them.  Granted, there is a large disproportion between the amount of available resources and scale of the problem. However, there is no doubt some prisoners are not born criminals but instead people that need help. 

Alas, nothing is perfect. The condition of LA roads continues to shock and distress.  The veins and arteries of Los Angeles are truly clogged by cholesterol of awful surfacing (as well as cars of course).  The state government could clearly do a better job maintaining them.

California is well known for being ahead of its time in terms of seeking solutions. The development for electrical cars began as a mandate from California decades ago when it realized that it could never really “beat” air pollution over the long term. This attitude is clearly preferable, as an example, to that of the government of Venezuela, which has decided to deal with the problem of high inflation (68% annually) by not publishing inflation data. It would be funny if it was not tragic.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Orwellian Thoughts

During my just completed family visit to Los Angeles, I had the rare chance to spend many hours reading a book as I was sitting next to my father in the hospital.  By chance, I had purchased the first volume of George Orwell’s essays, reviews and essays, encompassing the years 1930-1940.  During these years, he wrote about poverty, both in the UK and abroad, and the Spanish Civil War, some of his passions. He also wrote about ideologies of the day, namely fascism, communism, socialism and capitalism, from his independent point of view.  During 1930’s, people had much more hope and passion in politics.  Among the articles he wrote in 1939, one titled Not Counting Niggers caught my attention not because of its currently unacceptable name but instead to its content, surprisingly still relevant 70 years later.

In this article, he critiques a long-forgotten book by Mr. Streit entitled Union Now calling for a complete union of “good” democracies to fight the “bad” bullies of the time, notably Germany, Italy and Japan. Orwell does not reject offhand the need for such a union and even sees a logic to it.  He also does not challenge the assumption that the latter three countries are morally evil.  However, he does question how pure the democracies are.  In 1939, France and Britain had huge empires which provided them with the economic resources to support their standard of living at home.  The “dependencies” as they were called had almost no economic or political rights of their own, a fact equally acceptable to both socialists and conservatives of the time.  In other words, while the crimes in the fascist country were clearly different in kind, Orwell questioned just how innocent the Western democracies were.  He should be noted that he completely supported the war when it broke out but did not turn a blind eye to the existing stains.

Today, Western democracies no longer have empires.  The UK has a Commonwealth, a formally voluntary union of former colonies while the France has arrangements for its former colonies. Instead, current Western standards of living are substantially based on low wages, not to mention poor working conditions, in China, Bangladesh and India, to name just a few third world countries.  To demonstrate, the price of basic of garments would be significantly higher if they were actually made in the US or UK.  Unfortunately, “out of sight, out of mind” often still applies.  Since people do not actually see those sweat shops, they don’t exist, just as Orwell wrote.  Awareness has increased in recent years as a result of some shocking newspapers. Nonetheless, Orwell’s belief that political and labor rights should be universal is still far from being prevalent.

In my view, George Orwell is among the greatest writers of the English language in the 20th century. While some of issues he treated are no longer relevant, his enlightening point of view and beauty of language still provide a ray of light in the 21st century.