Interesting Reads Week of November 26, 2018

The following is a selection of interesting reads from this week. Not all were published this week but dates of publication should be apparent for each one.

Portion of Depression Era fresco, Coit Tower

War and Peace

My friend Lisa Schirch has written a very useful analysis of Peacebuilding in The State of Peacebulding 2018: Twelve Observations. Lisa has done a great deal of work in Afghanistan and has boldly chosen to work with the Department of Defense to advance peacemaking there and elsewhere.  That lends a great deal of credibility to  her statement:

Whenever we are engaging across communities – whether we are teaching about peacebuilding in military academies or hosting military generals giving keynote talks at peacebuilding conferences – we need to identify both our common ground, and our differences, including distinct peacebuilding goals, priorities, and values, and layout our ethical principles that guide such interaction.

The rest of the article is equally rich in analysis.  I highly recommend it.

While we are on the subject, of war, US Army Officer Danny Sjursen has this to say in The American Conservative article America is Headed for Military Defeat in Afghanistan:

The United States military did all it was asked during more than 17 years of warfare in Afghanistan. It raided, it bombed, it built, it surged, it advised, it…everything. Still, none of that was sufficient. Enough Afghans either support the Taliban or hate the occupation, and managed, through assorted conventional and unconventional operations, to fight on the ground. And “on the ground” is all that really matters. This war may well have been ill-advised and unwinnable from the start.


While it was broadcast in mid-September, current discussions of immigration should start with a listen to This American Life’s comprehensive look at the subject in Let Me Count the Ways.  Give it a listen!

The Pew Research Center does us all a great service with its analysis and report: U.S. Unauthorized Immigrant Total Dips to Lowest Level in a Decade. The rhetoric around immigration is designed to hide the reality of what is actually happening around the issue.  This is evidenced in the way the President continues to blatantly lie about the issue. The Washington Post analyzes this. IMG_0525

The Pew Report presents actual data(!) to help describe what is happening in relation to migration from Mexico and Central America.  Of interest is the following conclusion:

Increasingly, unauthorized immigrants are long-term U.S. residents. By 2016, an unauthorized immigrant adult had typically lived in the U.S. for 14.8 years, compared with a median 8.6 years in 2007.

And the truth about what is happening right now at the border is relayed in the final paragraph of this New York Times article.

Mexico is unlikely to host the migrants who are seeking asylum without some kind of guarantees from the United States because it does not want refugee camps on its northern border.

These are refugees, fleeing violence and despair…

But, again, if we “count the ways” that the current administration is trying  limit immigration–even legal immigration–we see how comprehensive and far reaching it is.  My day-to-day work with international students is increasingly challenged by realities like the one reported by Reuters:

But now the Trump administration is weighing whether to subject Chinese students to additional vetting before they attend a U.S. school. The ideas under consideration, previously unreported, include checks of student phone records and scouring of personal accounts on Chinese and U.S. social media platforms for anything that might raise concerns about students’ intentions in the United States, including affiliations with government organizations, a U.S. official and three congressional and university sources told Reuters.

U.S. law enforcement is also expected to provide training to academic officials on how to detect spying and cyber theft that it provides to people in government, a senior U.S. official said.

Public Health

Rate of Uninsured Children 2008 2017The title of the report from The Center for Children & Families (CCF), part of the Health Policy Institute at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, pretty much says it all: Nation’s Progress on Children’s Health Coverage Reverses Course

The Economist had an extended analysis of the change in suicide rates world wide. The good news is that they have gone down substantially just about everywhere over the past generation.  The exception?

America is the big exception. Until the turn of the century the rate there dropped along with those in other rich countries. But since then, it has risen by 18% to 12.8—well above China’s current rate of seven. The declines in those other big countries, however, far outweigh the rise in America…

(T)he main means of suicide in America is guns. They account for half of suicides, and suicides account for more firearms deaths than homicides do. Guns are more efficient than pills, so people who impulsively shoot themselves are more likely to end up in the morgue than in the emergency ward.

One can view our transportation choices as a key public health issue–and we should.  In the short term, our commitment to use of the automobile limits are mobility and exposes us to poor air quality.  In the long term (an actually already), these choices have direct impacts on climate change.  So this LA Times article is NOT encouraging

Californians driving more and GM closes small-car plants because Americans only want pick-ups and SUVs. We are going backwards.


I continue to analyze what exactly I was involved in during my years in international development.  Relying, as it did at least in part, on private philanthropy, I am always interested in reading about the current state of affairs in philanthropic giving. This New York Times editorial is part of an ongoing (and necessary) critique. 

There is a great deal of concern about the current American willingness (desire) to accept an authoritarian form of government. Most of the attention focuses on “the right” but The American Conservative summarizes the finding of recent research that shows how Hilary Clinton partisans seem to have this same bent.  This brings to mind a quote from literary critic Lionel Trilling…

We are at heart so profoundly anarchistic that the only form of state we can imagine living in is Utopian; and so cynical that the only Utopia we can believe in is authoritarian

And for those who are interested in learning more about Jacques Ellul this article that asks whether Ellul is “a prophet for our tech-saturated times?” is a great introduction to his thought.  Very accessible!

And I end with the final paragraph from a short but VERY perceptive essay by Joan Didion in her volume Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In the essay “7000 Romaine, Los Angeles 38” asks why we are so taken by men like Howard Hughes (or, in our times Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg, or… Donald Trump?).  After all, as successful as they are, they are definitely NOT the heroes we say we value… Here is Didion’s take:

There has always been that divergence between our official and our unofficial heroes. It is impossible to think of Howard Hughes without seeing the apparently bottomless gulf between what we say we want and what we do want, between what we officially admire and secretly desire, between, in the largest sense, the people we marry and the people we love. In a nation which increasingly appears to prize social virtues, Howard Hughes remains not merely antisocial but grandly, brilliantly, surpassingly, asocial. He is the last private man, the dream we no longer admit.

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