Adonis Diaries

Archive for January 13th, 2014

Beauty of Arabic language? Tedblogguest “From Lebanon to the world”

Archaeologists believe that Phoenician traders, who set out from the shores of Lebanon, spread their alphabet across the ancient Mediterranean world, unleashing a chain reaction that they couldn’t have conceived of even in their wildest dreams.

Tedblogguest, organizers of TEDxBeirut, posted this Jan. 6, 2014:

From Lebanon to the world: Why today’s talk on the beauty of Arabic is so important right now

Today, we are honored to spread that word again as Suzanne Talhouk’s talk from TEDxBeirut,

Don’t kill your language,” becomes the first talk in Arabic featured on Talhouk: Don't kill your language 

Like the alphabet of those Phoenician traders, this talk emerged from a deep-rooted need that TEDxBeirut has come to satisfy — the itch to speak out on the issues that matter to people here in Lebanon.


The stage of TEDxBeirut 2012. This annual event has become a beacon of hope in the Lebanese city. Photo by Assaad Chbeir

To Speak the Truth

The release of this talk comes at a particularly difficult moment for the Arabic language and for Lebanon, as both are still trying to find their place in the world.

For both, the potential is all there: both are endowed with an amazing wealth of ideas. (The Arabic language can claim a vocabulary more than 12 million words; Lebanon can claim as many millions and more of its descendants scattered around the world.)

Both are warm and well-connected. (The Lebanese are renowned for their hospitality; Arabic script is cursive, joining letters together like Lebanon joins different communities, and sparked traditions of literature and calligraphy.)

Both can lay claim to a rich heritage. (Arabic gave the world Averroes and Avicenna; Lebanon gave the world Kahlil Gibranand Fairuz).

Yet, all this potential is weighed down by baggage from the past. You may know that Lebanon went through a civil war from 1975 to 1990. Like Belgium in WWII, Lebanon became the fighting ground of many nations. Beirut, at its center, was the cosmopolitan scene where warring languages were, and still are, spoken.

Not much has changed.

Lebanon is more cosmopolitan than ever and even more hotly contested. The Lebanese continue to speak in different languages with each other, and public discourse focuses on issues beyond our borders — so much so that there is rarely an honest public conversation about the issues that affect the lives of people living here.

This leaves people feeling helpless in affecting real change around them.

It is a lot like the divide between formal and vernacular language in Arabic. Except the cost of the conversations we never have in Lebanon is hefty and paid for in intermittent violence as well as in gridlock in education, healthcare and the economy.

It is no wonder why Lebanon, for all its Mediterranean charm, is also among the countries with the highest rates of depression in the world.

The Right to Bear Good News

We started TEDxBeirut as a way to share big ideas and real issues with a small local community. It grew, quickly and organically, to become the bearer of good news in Lebanon, a counterweight to our grim public life — which remains mute on issues like education or the economy.

When we talk to people about TEDxBeirut, our speakers and the work they do, we see their faces light up as if they suddenly found hope again.


Attendees at TEDxBeirut fill in the blank on the question, “All we need is _____.” Photo by Nina Sharabati

Finding a Lost Generation

Many of our speakers are over the age of 30. That means we have speakers who grew up in the civil war, who worked on rebuilding and who continue to do so. Most — if not all of them — grew up speaking at least two languages and — more likely — three as is the norm in Lebanon, where the native Arabic is also the least appreciated language.

What makes these speakers so exceptional is their flair for addressing the toughest problems we face in Lebanon, from recycling (Ziad Abichaker: A garbage love story) to technology start-ups (Bassam Jalgha: Why can’t we have our own NASA?).

The work these speakers do today shows the potential of their lost generation, which has so much more to give than war. TEDxBeirut puts these speaker front and center — in plain sight — for people to meet, learn from and be inspired by. Allowing this generation to be discovered sets off positive chain reactions with amazing effects.

Lebanon is Full of Potential 

Beirut is brimming with incredible people with bold ideas. We loved Suzanne Talhouk‘s candor from the first moment we met her and, as we worked with her, her talk began to change how we talk and write in Arabic and how we think of our native language.

It even began to change our habits. But the reception the talk received on the web went even further than we could have imagined. The talk went viral soon after it was posted, and it unleashed a conversation between Arabic speakers from Morocco to Iraq, and the curious from across the globe.

Suzanne’s movement, which started in Lebanon, was soon enthusiastically carried forward by volunteers to countries like Jordan.

Lebanon is a place that can be difficult and, at times, violent. But we at TEDxBeirut choose to press on and be witnesses to the good news and hidden heroes working here. Otherwise, we’d miss the greatest opportunity of all: to stand for something more than the sum of our parts. That is everything to us.

Now, on with the conversation — in as many languages as possible.


A TEDxBeirut balloon. Photo: TEDxBeirut

The next TEDxBeirut will take place in mid-2014. It is organized by John Chehaybar, Reem Maktabi, Farah Hinnawi, Rim Baltaji. Find out much more here »

Andrew Jackson 7th President: The most powerful and popular President (1829-37) in the 19th century US history

Andrew Jackson founded the Democratic party and was the least educated of the former presidents.

Born on March 1767 in a small farm of South Carolina, he got engaged at 13 in the revolutionary troops. Orphaned at age 14, his education is cut short and multiplies the small jobs. He never applied to or attended a “university” but learned enough law to be admitted as lawyer in North Carolina in 1787.

In 1788, he is appointed district attorney general of what is currently known as Tennessee. He speculated and lost and was about to experience prison for defaulting. This adventure would mark Jackson and his apprehension for banking institutions.

Jackson is elected to the convention that discussed Tennessee Constitution and became the first representative of this State in Congress in 1796, then senator in 1797, and was appointed member of the Supreme Court of this State (1798-1804)

Jackson is elected militia chief of Tennessee and became a national hero during the 1812 war against England. The British troops entered the Capital of Washington DC and burned it.

He defeated the Indian Creeks before saving New Orleans from the British siege in January 1815.

Jackson confronted the Indian Seminole and colonized Spanish Florida. This non-declared offensive war, not approved by Congress, expanded the US territories to the east of Mississippi.

Jackson becomes governor of Florida in 1821. By 1823, he is a federal senator.

In the 1820’s, the debate over slavery in the opened western lands for colonization is raging. A sectional compromise is agreed upon: slavery is prohibited North of 36 degree and 30 minutes latitude and accepted south of this latitude. This consensus was the work of strong Congressmen such as Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster. President Monroe had no say in it.

The southern States import most of its consuming goods and reluctant on paying import taxes, while the northern States want to preserve and protect their industries from foreign competition.

Opposition to Federal financing of transportation infrastructure is another major hurdle to surmount.

The year 1819 experienced a financial crisis that halted the speculative trend in the newly expanded territories westward.

The latest creation of the second Bank of the USA in 1816, after the expiration term of the first national bank, is raising resentment.

Six of the new western States agree on the universal vote for all white citizens, and thus, you don’t need to be an owner of properties to vote. In 1828, 18 states have adopted this “democratic” voting system

The caucus system is still applied for the selection of the Presidential candidates: The political parties select their candidates, and consequently, only weak Presidents are selected to consolidate the power of the legislative body.

In 1823, the future President, John Quincy Adams was minister of foreign affairs and originated the Monroe Doctrine of the US neutrality in European affairs and guarding the American continent from any European incursions.

The Republican party is divided and refuse to abide by the caucus system. On July 20, 1822, Tennessee support the candidate Andrew Jackson.

Andrew Jackson is first in popular votes but the 99 votes of Grand Electors is far short of the absolute majority of 131. The speaker of Congress Henry Clay managed to elect John Quincy Adams as 6th President.

The string of Presidents from Virginia is broken. Jackson resigns from the Senate and retires to his property at the Hermitage. Jackson’s friends are mobilized to forming the “Democratic Party” or the “men of Jackson” against the men of Adams. Jackson is promoted as the Man of the western frontier, a region that was in full expansion, in opposition to the elite classes of the East.

Jackson got 178 votes of the Grand Electors in 1828 and 647,000 popular votes against 508,000 for Adams. The popular vote broke the 50% in participation.

Jackson opposes his veto to the renewal of of the chart of the second Bank of the US in 1832, and take out the federal funds the next year. This second national bank held one quarter of the nation’s deposits and had the monopoly of keeping all federal funds.

Jackson uses the veto as  a weapon to oppose any law that does not serve the White House policies.

Jackson relies more on his “Kitchen Cabinet” formed of informal counselors and exercises for the first time the power of firing ministers and federal employees who are nominated by the President.

The French explorer and political analyst Alexis de Tocqueville coined the term “Jackson’s Democracy”, though only white males can vote. Jackson’s opponents called him “King Andrew”.

Jackson leave the White House on March 1837, but remained the most influential man until his death in 1845.

Jackson’s Democratic Party focused its identity around liberty of enterprises and States Rights facing a weakened Federal State.

The Whig opposition favors Federal financing of transport infrastructure, raising import taxes and a centralization of banking system.

The election of 1828 changed the caucus format to the national convention of the political parties that select the candidates and their vice presidents as a “ticket”. Consequently, you had to belong to a party in order to be a candidate.

Certain States adopt the concept of “winner-take-all” and others rely on the proportional system for sending delegate to the convention.

Another Myth: Health Care’s Free Market

This article has a clear, factual approach to why the US health system is expensive from price gouging by providers, denial of coverage by insurers, onerous patents by drug companies, high salaries of doctors, and the lack of single-payer system.

It also questions the fundamental rhetoric behind the ‘free market:’ “When opponents of the Affordable Care Act argue for patients negotiating health-care prices they make as much sense as proposing that passengers haggle over pay with an airline pilot.”

Has it ever occurred to you to negotiate with the pilot of the plane you just boarded about her pay?

Assuming the pilot was willing to take bids for her services, would you have any idea of how to evaluate the worth of that particular pilot compared to anyone else who might be at the controls?

How long would it delay the flight while you and other passengers haggled over that fee?

And what of the risks in having a pilot focused on whether she negotiated good deals with her passengers, rather than getting everyone safely to their destination?

 posted this January 03 2014 on Newsweek
The Myth of Health Care’s Free Market

                Ever wonder why an appendectomy costs $8,000 in one place and $29,000 elsewhere?                                              REUTERS/Jim Bourg

While haggling with pilots is absurd, the idea that individual Americans should negotiate the prices each pays for health care is getting a lot of serious discussion right now.

The reason is the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which critics are desperate to find some way to stop.

For weeks, politicians and writers in the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal and other critical outlets have declared Obamacare a failure with plenty of victims.

Those are silly assertions because the law only took effect this week, on the first day of 2014.

These critics are all outrage with no detailed alternatives, except the mantra that competition will magically bring down health-care costs.

The libertarians at the Cato Institute argue “we need market competition more than ever. Not the mealymouthed substitutes bandied about by most health policy wonks. We need something that none of us has ever seen – real competition in a free health-care market.”

No. We need something easier, simpler, and already proven to cut costs.

1. For starters, markets can push prices up as well as down.

The electricity market rules, initially written by Enron (at the urging of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was pals with the company’s late founder), can raise prices to 90 percent of what an unfettered monopolist could charge, as I showed in my book Free Lunch, citing research by Professor Sarosh Talukdar of Carnegie-Mellon University that no one has challenged.

2. There’s the knowledge component of markets.

When one side knows and the other side is ignorant, you get price-gouging. Under current policies, prices for medical services are generally confidential. You could call hospitals and your health insurer to ask the cost of a standard medical procedure, say cataract or gall-bladder surgery. I tried that, and was told at every turn that prices were proprietary information – none of my business, until I got a bill.

More than 4 decades ago the Supreme Court defined a fair market as the “price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.

How many of us have “reasonable knowledge” of medical procedures, costs, or even the difference between a neurologist and a nephrologist?

Is an accident victim writhing in pain, life’s blood flowing out of his body, free of compulsion?

And how many of us know the assortment of facts needed to price an MRI, an angiogram or just a dozen stitches?

Or, for that matter, whether any of those procedures is the best alternative, or even necessary?

We don’t have a free market for health-care services.

If we did, we would see a narrow range of prices for the same service. After all, a Ford F-150 pickup with the same options costs about the same in Washington, West Virginia, or Wyoming.

Not so hospital and medical costs, a fact brought home in the 2012 Pricing Report of the International Federation of Health Plans, a trade association for health insurance companies.

While the average U.S. hospital stay is just under $4,300 per day, one in four patients are charged $1,514 or less and one in 20 pay $12,537 or more.

The total cost for an appendectomy ranges from $8,156 for a fourth of these procedures to more than $29,426 for the most expensive 5 percent. The average cost is $13,851.

Economists learn before they get their undergraduate degrees that such huge variations are signs of inefficient markets or even “faux markets“.

Such wide price variations may even indicate collusion among some providers to jack up prices, which is generally illegal.

Even if we ignore these huge price variations, the trade industry report illustrates another problem: American health-care costs are completely out of line with the rest of the modern world.

In France the average daily cost of a hospital stay is $853; in the U.S., it’s $4,287.

An MRI costs on average $335 in Britain and $363 in France, but $1,121 in the U.S.

Routine and normal childbirth costs, on average: $2,641 in Britain and $3,541 in France but in the U.S. averages $9,775. Caesarean section delivery runs $4,435 in Britain, $6,441 in France; $15,041 in the U.S.

This pattern holds for all 21 procedures examined in the report.

Excessive health-care costs drain both the public purse and private purses, make manufacturing noncompetitive and force employers to divert attention from running their firms to dealing with health insurers.

Our universal single-payer health-care plan for older Americans, Medicare, has lower costs and lower overhead than the system serving those under age 65.

If everyone in the U.S. was on Medicare, the savings would move the federal budget from deficit to surplus.

Of the 34 modern economies, the U.S. has by far the costliest health care system.

For each dollar per capita that the other 33 economies spend on health care the U.S. spends $2.64, my analysis of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data shows.

Canada, Germany, and France each spend about 11.5 percent of their economy on health care, compared to 17.6 percent in the U.S.

We could have eliminated the income tax in 2010 had we adopted the Canadian, German, or French health-care systems.

Look at your pay stub and how much goes to federal income taxes, then think about the unnecessary economic pain American health care causes you.


One important distinction between other modern countries and the United States is that they all provide universal health care, while 48 million Americans had no health insurance in 2012 and another 30 million had coverage for only part of the year.

Millions have coverage riddled with loopholes and exceptions, not paying for such vital services as an ambulance, even when the patient is unconscious.

And all private health insurers try to avoid paying claims in various ways, from requiring onerous paperwork to denying a procedure was necessary.

On top of all this are restraints on trade in American medicine, like limiting the supply of doctors and nurses. The American Medical Association has acknowledged that it worked to hold down the number of physicians to push up income for doctors.

Under state licensing rules, many of even the best-trained foreign doctors cannot practice here.

And there are the drug and other medical patents. Economist Dean Baker notes that in America, “we grant patents to providers and then let them charge pretty much whatever they want, while other countries also grant patents, but then limit the prices charged.

When a patent expires, American law allows the drug company to pay would-be makers of generic versions to not produce the drug. That keeps prices, and profits, high. It ought to be illegal.

Congress expressly forbids Medicare from negotiating wholesale price discounts for the Medicare Part D program initiated by President George W. Bush, so Americans pay far more for drugs available in other countries, which negotiate huge discounts.

Finally, not everything should be judged by price competition.

The love and affection of our families, the loyalty of our diplomats, and the integrity of jetliner makers and of the airlines that hire pilots are not matters for market economics.

We could experiment with the kind of price competition that the Cato Institute proposes. It might even work, though I doubt it. But why?

We already know that universal coverage with a single payer is much cheaper than what America spends now. And we know that the quality of U.S. health care is far from the best – 37th in the world, according to the World Health Organization, which ranks France No. 1.

When opponents of the Affordable Care Act argue for patients negotiating health-care prices they make as much sense as proposing that passengers haggle over pay with an airline pilot.




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