Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Evidence on Global Warming

I had always wondered why Evangelical Christian fundamentalists were so resistant to the concept of global warming. Since most of them vote Republican, and since the Republicans side with business on most issues, and since business interests have been slow to accept the evidence on global warming— I just naturally assumed that this chain of political logic was the reason for the Evangelical position on climate change. Today, however, I was exposed to a different chain of logic on the subject.

Televangelist, Kenneth Copeland, was the man who opened my eyes. According to Brother Copeland, there’s a passage in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah where God promises to keep the ocean in a “perpetual” state. To bible readers, “perpetual” means that the sea level will remain constant. So here’s how Copeland’s chain of logic refutes the idea of global warming. If the climate gets warmer, the polar ice will melt. If the polar ice melts, the sea level will rise. If the sea level rises, the ocean will not be “perpetual” in the biblical sense, and it would not be consistent with Jeremiah. You can’t make this stuff up. The fact that the polar ice is melting right in front of our eyes isn’t relevant, any more than the fossil record is relevant to the discussion of creation versus evolution.

I do have one unanswered question. What happened to the “perpetual” ocean in the time of Noah?

Friday, October 24, 2008

If Obama Is Elected, All Is Forgiven

“If Obama is elected, all is forgiven.” At the 2008 Conference on World Affairs, Wendy Chamberlin (U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan at the time of 9/11) was asked in a Q&A, “What is the rest of the world saying about the upcoming presidential election?” Her response: “If Obama is elected, all is forgiven.”

“Forgiven for what?” you might ask. The short answer is that the world might forgive us for George W. Bush. In case you don’t travel abroad, I can tell you that the United States of America is now the most hated nation on earth (with the possible exception of Sudan, because of Darfur). Na├»ve self-proclaimed patriots like to say, “Foreigners don’t hate Americans. They love Americans. They just hate our government,” and there was a time when that was absolutely true. But one of the drawbacks of democracy is that— when a president like Bush gets elected to a second term— the electorate must share the blame for everything that happens in the second term. Right or wrong, the world sees the average American as a rich, spoiled, redneck goober, and this can translate into some nasty consequences. Recent statistics (from the FBI unit that monitors foreign crime against Americans) show that 24% of all American tourists traveling in Third World countries report falling victim to burglary or assault.

Since my wife and I write about living conditions in Third World slums, based on our travel experiences to those places, this gets very personal for us. We protect ourselves by wearing jackets emblazoned with the Canadian flag, and we carry luggage with Canadian shipping stickers plastered all over, and we flat-out lie about our citizenship. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, we are Canadians. If Wendy Chamberlin was right, and if Obama becomes the next president, maybe things will change for the better. We can only hope that’s the case.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Merck Cuts 7,500 Jobs

Yesterday, drug giant, Merck, announced that it was cutting 7,500 jobs, and it’s a sure bet that most of those job eliminations will be in the sales positions. The unfortunate sales reps who lose those jobs will feel acute loss in their income and maybe even their lifestyle, but the brutal fact is that they will not be missed by either their company (Merck) or the physicians and the greater medical community.

Imagine yourself going to four different Walgreen drugstores just to purchase toothpaste, toilet paper, aspirin, and body lotion— because no single store can sell more than one item. That’s analogous to the relationship that has evolved between the doctors and the drug companies. By duplicating and triplicating the sales presence in every medical office and clinic, the drug companies reasoned that each doctor could be bombarded with three or four sales pitches from the same company in the time that it usually took to get in one good pitch. Each sales rep would sell just one or two drugs rather than having one rep sell six or seven drugs. But, like most big ideas that get spawned in upper management, the plan totally failed to consider the needs and wants of the customer. As a result, physicians simply stopped fielding sales pitches altogether.

My personal physician told me that she limits herself to seeing no more than eight sales reps in any single day. She averages about 25 per week, or 100 per month, but nearly all of those so-called “sales visits” are nothing more than sample drops lasting two or three minutes. Drug industry internal statistics show that the average pharmaceutical sales call results in less than five minutes with the prescribing physician. I retired from a job in pharmaceutical sales ten years ago, and back in the good old days my sales visits averaged 25 minutes, and I sold every drug in the company product portfolio. But now, Big Pharma with their manager-driven big idea has managed to alienate the medical community, and has pretty much made their sales force irrelevant to the product promotion process. That’s why companies like Merck can feel comfortable with 7,500 person layoffs.

Keeping The Tundra Tootsie Looking Good

It’s been 60 days since McCain picked the Tundra Tootsie as his Vice-Presidential running mate, and there’s still a dozen days to go until the election. Assuming that she never wears any piece of clothing more than once, and that she changes complete outfits twice a day, that means that Palin will go through about 150 dress-up cycles during her run for the nation’s second highest office. What makes this relevant is that we now know that the RNC has spent $150,000 to make her look good, or $1,000 per wardrobe change. Since she never does sit-down interviews, it’s unlikely that she gets a lot of wrinkles.

Hillary Clinton spent her own money to keep herself in pants suits because, being a Democrat, she probably had some understanding of the kind of American family that could buy clothing to last a lifetime for less than $150,000. In a normal election year, none of this would make much difference, But now, there are people—and a lot of them— who have lost their home, and who have gone on food stamps for the first time. This is not a normal election year. I’m not suggesting that the Tundra Tootsie should be given the old Marie Antoinette treatment for her wardrobe excess. Simply sending her back to live among the rapidly-diminishing polar bears will be sufficient.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Republican Conservatism — What Happened?

In 1994, when the Republicans swept into majority positions in the House and Senate, it seemed that a long-awaited Republican conservative era of dominance was at hand, and that it might last for a very long time. Back then, I hoped that such a scenario was actually the case. Back then, I listened to Rush Limbaugh. I admit that now with some degree of shame.

2008, by all accounts, promises to be a bloodbath for the Republican Party, and I fervently hope that’s the case. Needless to say, I no longer listen to Rush Limbaugh, and here’s the reason why. Somewhere in the early part of the 21st century, I realized that when I listened to Limbaugh for 3 hours, it made me feel stupid for doing it. Rush Limbaugh claims that his listeners are more informed politically than those who listen to NPR. He’s probably right, in much the same way that pure carnivores eat more red meat than those who eat a balanced diet. NPR listeners spend part of their time learning about things like foreign news and European politics and (dare I say it?) scientific discovery. In Limbaugh’s mind, how can that compete with the ranting of a man who professes to have one half of his brain tied behind him?

Which brings me to the question— if Republican conservatism was such a big deal, then how come it lasted for a measly 14 years? I think I have a five word answer: Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. These two clowns have done more for Democratic Liberalism than all the Al Sharptons and Jessie Jacksons that ever graced then ranks of the Democrat Party. Limbaugh and Hannity have given a face to ideological fanaticism. It’s the fanaticism of Republican conservatism, but it could just as easily have been the face of fanatic socialism. They have reminded Americans why we’re not a Fascist nation. It’s because we just don’t like Fascists, but more than that, we just don’t like fanatics. In two weeks, The Republican Party gets to pay the price for having the wrong people on their team.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What Happened To Uncle Sam?

Those of us who look at The United States through cynical and realistic eyes have known for a dozen years or more that the U.S. government had both the willingness and the capability to bring down our nation. What we didn’t know, until the last two weeks, was that our government could pretty much destroy the whole world as well. I’m not talking about unleashing our nukes. I’m talking about exporting financial dysfunctionality and economic stupidity on a scale never before seen on the planet.

Bright people saw it coming. In a NY Times editorial two weeks ago, Paul Krugman described The United States as a “Banana Republic with nukes.” Like most of what Paul Krugman says, his words were attacked by the usual Bush apologists (BillO’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh) as NY Times liberalism. Then, yesterday, Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize for economics, and for most of us this validated what we’ve always suspected about Krugman—that he knows what he’s talking about. The Bush-loving conservatives, however, are now saying that the Nobel Prize selection committee is just another egghead group dominated by liberals.

All of this brings me to a caricature poster that I saw over the past weekend. The image on the poster was a rendering of a naked man, and sitting on top of the shoulders was the head of Uncle Sam with his Lincolnesque gray beard, and his red, white and blue top hat. The implication of the cartoon image was that Uncle Sam has become the emperor with no clothes. This made me realize that we just never see Uncle Sam anymore. You would think that, with an all volunteer military, we might see the old familiar image of the bearded man pointing his finger out from the poster and declaring, “Uncle Sam Wants You.” But we never see that anymore, and I think I know why. I asked myself whether Uncle Sam represented a liberal, or a conservative. My answer was that he represented neither. He represented the government at a time when such ideological divisions—if they existed at all—were not the dominant features of the political landscape. Those days are gone.

Now that we have a Banana Republic with nukes, maybe we need a new personification of our dysfunctional and ideologically-divided government, and I can’t think of anything better than the caricature of naked Uncle Sam wearing nothing but his top hat.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

In One Short Lifetime

In an antique store last week, I purchased a Colliers Atlas and Gazetteer from the year, 1942. That’s the year I was born, and I wanted to see this snapshot of the world as it was then, to compare with my world of today, and try to grasp the magnitude of change that can occur in one short lifetime. The continents have changed not at all. Several of the national borders have changed in the years since the end of WW II, and many of the names of the nations today are entirely different from what they were back then. The real difference, however, is in the populations of the cities of the world.

In 1942, the largest city on earth was greater London with a total population of 8.3 million, followed closely by New York City with 7.4 million. The rest of the top twelve, in order, were Tokyo (6.4M), Berlin (4.3M), Moscow (4.1M), Chicago (3.4M), Osaka (3.1M), Paris (2.8M), Hamburg (1.6M), Los Angeles (1.5M), Sydney (1.2M), Warsaw (1.2M), and Rome (1.1M). It’s no coincidence that these same cities represented all of the major players in the war at that time, hence the term, WORLD War II. The war decimated much of the population of all but the American cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, with the result that most of these cities (especially the European cities) are not substantially more populous today than they were in 1942.

What the gazetteer population charts showed in these cities was a demographic very similar to what we see in the same cities today— with one dramatic exception. The city of Los Angeles, 1.5 million in 1942, is now over 20 million for the greater L.A. basin. This puts L.A. into a class with the next set of cities that I want to mention. Here are the population numbers for a second group of cities that were only marginally involved in the Second World War. At that time, these cities were all considered, Third World.

Bombay (1.1M), Cairo (1.3M), Calcutta (1.2M), Mexico City (1.5M), Sao Paulo (1.2M), Rio de Janeiro (1.8M), Shanghai (3.2M), Tientsin (China) (1.4M), Chunking (635,000), Johannesburg (554,000), Delhi (347,000) and Nairobi (20,400) — these were relatively small cities in 1942. Today, all of them are at or near the 20 million level, and Mexico City with its 30 million inhabitants is now the largest city on earth. That’s a huge change in one short lifetime, but more than the numbers have changed. The quality of life in these cities has changed as well, as might be expected.

If you think that providing water and sanitation to a brand new group of 20 million people presents a challenge, you’re right. My wife and I have spent time in each of these new mega-cities to expand our expertise on living conditions in Third World slums, and I can tell you that the smell of human excrement is never far away in these places. Mexico City has a phenomenon called, “fecal snow.” Many of the 30 million people use open land that gets sporadic rainfall (the city, however, sits on onetime swampland), and their human waste desiccates into dry powder that gets carried aloft in the wind. I mention this because I often wonder about those folks who disagree with the notion that overpopulation is a problem. Would they change their mind if their own backyard became a community latrine?

In my short lifetime, the global population has skyrocketed from 2 billion to 6.5 billion. The next 65 years simply cannot handle a comparable gain in the number of human beings here on earth.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Way To Go, CBS

I was just another immature teenage boy in the 1950s, and most of us at that time held to the philosophy that, “If a gal was good looking, and she wasn’t snobbish, then it was okay if she was stupid.” As a matter of fact, a certain measure of stupidity was actually an advantage. Such was our 1950s worldview filtered by the screen of immaturity. By the 1960s, we had totally dropped such notions to avoid being labeled “chauvinistic pig” and “sexist.” So imagine our surprise to find—50 years later—that we were right all along, as evidenced by that dim-witted little cupcake named Sarah Palin. John McCain, it turns out, shares our 1950s worldview.

Trading on nothing more than her glamour, fertility, and smart-aleck attitude, she has gathered about her a flock of female followers who want desperately to be associated with Sarah’s posse. I suspect that many of these followers wish they could have a big posse of their own, just like Ms. Palin. But happily, there’s one woman who hasn’t been fooled by this hot-looking and empty-headed Nanuk of the North, and that’s Katy Couric. I wasn’t a big fan of Katy Couric before the Palin interviews, but I’m a fan of hers now. Sarah Palin might be a big game hunter, but little Miss Katy is the one who knows how to trap a deer in the headlights. Way to go, CBS.