Thursday, December 24, 2009

Why the Climate Talks in Copenhagen Were a Farce

Perpetual motion machines. Anti-gravity devices. Carbon capture and sequestration technology. Here’s the question— “What do these three scientific ideas all have in common?”

Answer— they violate all the known laws of physics, chemistry, and thermodynamics, and this inconvenient reality means that all three ideas are bogus in a way that makes them completely mythological. But don’t tell that to the Exxon Mobil public relations people. Exxon Mobil claims in television ads that the oil and gas corporate giant is spending 100 million dollars on a facility to remove carbon from natural gas and return the CO2 to the earth from which it came. 100 million dollars. WOW, what a commitment. That equals the profits made by Exxon Mobil every hour and fifteen minutes. Not only that, but this same carbon capture and sequestration technology is being touted by the coal industry as the wave of the future in their quest for green, clean coal.

All of this public relations smoke-and-mirrors campaign works extraordinarily well on the American citizens because they’ve been dumbed-down by 40 years of education in a school system that ranks #27 in the world at teaching science. Why is this important? Because these same scientific illiterates are able to vote and breed, and it’s their children who will suffer.

Consider these facts. Carbon capture and sequestration technology would take something like the WWII Manhattan Project kind of scientific effort to make it work, if it could ever work at all. The Manhattan Project which built the atomic bomb spent 2 billion dollars back in 1944 and 1945 when a billion dollars was serious money. That would equal about 55 billion dollars today. Exxon Mobil knows full well that 100 million dollars spent on public relations is much cheaper that billions spent on actual science, and the people who are targeted by their television ads don’t know the difference, so Exxon Mobil is, in reality, doing exactly what it should do to remain profitable. And, God knows, remaining profitable is really the only game that is being played here.

If the oil and gas industry’s shell game can be called self-serving and disingenuous, then the “clean coal” strategy followed by the global coal industry needs to be labeled as borderline criminal. China alone brings a new coal-fired generation plant on line every five days, and none of these are designed to be retrofitted with carbon capture technology at any point in the future. Even if this technology could become feasible, it could never actually be applied because of the gigantic number of applications involved. And if that situation seems daunting, then consider this— to replace all of the world’s existing coal-based electricity with nuclear power would require the building of a new nuclear generation plant every day for the next 36 years.

So this, in a nutshell, explains why the climate talks in Copenhagen are such a farce. It’s rather like the Curia of the Roman Catholic Church meeting to address priestly sexual abuse. The only thing that you can do as a private American citizen is to avoid buying any beach front property with the intent of passing it on to your grandchildren.

Editorial note about “The Stonecypher”

In this age of ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter, I had come to wonder if another simple blog like The Stonecypher had any real value. Hence, no postings by me for almost four months. But now, as I start to prepare for this year’s annual Conference on World Affairs, I’m back with what I hope will be relevant observations.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

America— More of an Economy than a Society

There’s an old adage that says, “When two men fight over a woman, they want the fight more than the woman.” And the thing that I remember personally from college is that food fights were never about food. Never! Which brings me to the town hall meetings and the so-called “Tea Parties,” all of which have absolutely nothing to do with healthcare legislation or big government. America just wants a fight. It’s that simple.

My wife and I have spent quality time in two-thirds of the nations on earth over the last twenty or so years. As we've learned for ourselves, without exception, all of the OTHER countries of the world see themselves as (first and foremost) a society. Even the places like China and Burma and Iran get the picture— that the glue of societal common bonding can help citizens cope with even the most oppressive and harsh of national governments. By contrast, we in the U.S.A. see our country as an economy (primarily) and a military superpower (secondarily) and societal considerations are relegated to tertiary status at best. Once I came to realize this, I also realized that obsessing about things like healthcare or big government was as futile as obsessing about impending death just because I'm getting older. So America will now have to make its way without my guidance and input.

The nations that have universal healthcare (this is everyone but the U.S.A.) all started with the premise that ALL citizens would get healthcare. This was the only piece of the puzzle that was non-negotiable. For the most part, none of those other nations got it right when they started. Certainly, none of them achieved perfection on their first try. They each tinkered with their plans and changed the functions and features until they made it workable, with the result that the many different nations have many different systems today for managing and funding their health care. But they all did what they had to do to reach the fundamental goal of universal coverage. We, by contrast, start with a budget (we're an economy, don't forget) and then we ask ourselves what we can afford.

In my lifetime, I've watched America enthusiastically plunge into three wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq) and nobody, liberal or conservative, ever said we should slow down until we knew all the details. And god knows, nobody ever questioned the cost. We're a military superpower, don't forget, or at least we see ourselves that way. Of course, this makes it hard to explain why we can start wars so easily, but why we can never seem to win those wars, but that’s a topic for another blog.

So let's not kid ourselves about the healthcare issue, or about the rage that fuels the town hall meetings and the Tea Parties. Obama's healthcare plan is full of shortcomings and vagaries and imperfections, but this wouldn't matter if we saw ourselves as, primarily, a society above all else. But we don’t. America wants this internal fight simply for the sake of internal fighting, just like the food fights in college. This is why I’ve repeatedly predicted that there will be another civil war, although probably not in my lifetime. This isn't a matter of swinging pendulums. Those irate idiots (on both sides) at the town hall meetings will not be satisfied with a swing of the pendulum. Someone on each side of the abortion issue has now been murdered in cold blood simply because someone on the other side of the issue wanted to end the debate, so on the microcosmic level, the civil war has already begun. I’m going to just stay the hell out of it, because The United States of America isn't worth it anymore.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Jesus— The Pathetic Communicator

Whenever I venture out into foreign nations, particularly those third-world countries with non-Christian religions, I am always struck by one supremely evident reality. When describing the Christian God, He or She or It, or whatever the hell the father figure is supposed to be, is without doubt a perfectly terrible communicator. If we accept the basic belief of Christianity— that one can attain everlasting life in Heaven only by accepting Jesus Christ as a Savior, then that belief (if true) would be the most important single fact in the life of every human being on the planet. One would think that a loving and fair God would make sure that every human had access to the complete information about the importance of this fact so that every person would be on a level playing field when it came time to save their soul. Alas, such is not the case.

The majority of earth’s people have never heard of the Bible’s teachings, and they think of the Scripture itself (if they think of it at all) as just another famous book— like Moby Dick. Christian fundamentalists still think that their missionaries are getting the word out, but the truth is that most Christian missionaries went out of business when the British Empire went out of business back in the late 1940s. At that time, the global population was less than 2 billion. Since then, the population has increased to nearly 7 billion with almost all of the 5 billion new humans being born into Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu cultures. These are the people who could care less what the Gospels have to say, if they bother to care at all, because they’ve been ignored and condemned to hell by lousy communication from a small-time Savior who doesn’t know how to conduct salvation on a scale as large as five billion people.

You’d think that if God is so almighty that he could create the heavens and the earth, he might be able to accomplish what the most basic public relations professional does every day. He might be able to communicate effectively with a wide audience on a topic of great individual importance. Instead, this supposedly almighty God communicates his all-important game plan with a single parochial publication and a relatively small staff of self-anointed prophets and imperfect teachers, thus insuring that most of his flock will remain ignorant about their own eternal fate until the day they die and it’s too late. My personal belief is that Christian evangelical fundamentalists absolutely like it this way. This little system makes them feel special in their belief that they will be saved, while almost everyone else goes to hell. It’s really all about feeling special.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

When Civil War Breaks Out, the Conservatives Will Triumph

Readers who had been following “The Stonecypher” are aware that nothing new has been published for several months now. My wife and I have been cavorting through the jungles of some third-world Asian rainforest slums, but we are home now and I am back to my blog.

Our travels brought us into the company of a British couple, a retired university economics professor and his wife, a retired French teacher. After a week or so, when we had all established our mutual intellectual credentials to the extent that our opinions were valued within the group, he asked me what I predicted In America’s future. I replied that I could see a full-fledged civil war in the U.S.A. within fifty years, and probably much sooner than that. He asked if I meant a war with white against black, and I assured him, “Absolutely not. The racial differences have been, more or less, settled and Barack Obama’s presidency is the proof of that. The civil war,” I explained, “Will be between the liberals and the conservatives.” He asked, “Who will win?” I told him without hesitation, “The conservatives will win. They have all the guns.”

Our once-united nation is, I believe, irreversibly bifurcated and polarized. The conservatives now know that democratic, freely-held elections are not a reliable way to gain power and advance their cause, and it’s only a matter of time until they bring out their considerable firepower to have their own way. If a conservative pro-lifer can kill an abortion doctor, it’s a small step from one murder to multiple murders. If a liberal shoots back, the fight will be on.

While we were away from America, a new term entered our nation lexicon, the “birther” movement. “Birthers” are the conservatives who fervently believe that Obama was born in Kenya, and a good many of them also believe that his mother was a goat and his father was Lucifer, making Barack the Antichrist. These “birthers” have strong convictions about their ability to see through the spin and propaganda coming from the Left. They see themselves as truth-finders, able to find the hidden facts behind conspiracies and uncover answers to questions like, “Where does the sun REALLY go at night?”

In revolutions and civil wars, the first to die are always the “intelligentsia”— rounded up and eliminated before their ideas can contaminate the masses. One doesn’t need to be a student of history to see that the conservatives, armed to the teeth and free from the constraints of intellect, will eventually get whatever they want without the need to go through the ballot box process.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Killing for Conservatism (and Probably for Jesus, Too)

Conservative Republicans, knowing that they lack sufficient clout in the Senate to block the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, are now talking about filibustering the process to —quote, “Demonstrate their differences.” The last thing that the world needs is another demonstration of Conservative “differences,” especially after the brazen murder last weekend of Doctor George Tiller. Tiller was the abortion doctor who was assassinated in church during Sunday morning worship because some Conservative pro-lifer thought that his murder would save the lives of late term fetuses. One caller to a Conservative radio talk show defended the murder by calling it “the very late term abortion of Doctor Tiller.” I guess he thought he was being clever.

Last Friday, on his afternoon three-hour rant, Rush Limbaugh spent most of his radio show whining that Liberals were “mean” and Conservatives were “nice.” I don’t know how Limbaugh defines the word, “mean,” but I think committing murder might qualify as one definition. Conservatives don’t need to oppose the Sotomayor nomination to demonstrate their differences. Conservatives are willing to kill for their beliefs. Liberals don’t do that. That’s the difference.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Eulogy for General Motors

I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE proclaimed the small stickpin tin lapel buttons that were given out to patrons when they exited the General Motors Futurama pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City. Billing itself with the slogan, "The World of Tomorrow," the fair became a two-year celebration dedicated to the blessings of democracy and the wonders of technology, and it was this latter purpose, the apotheosis of technology, that captured the imagination of the fairgoers in a way unlikely to ever be seen again. During those two incredible years, sandwiched between a decade of economic hopelessness and the coming horror of the Second World War, it seemed for a brief moment that anything was possible.

The Futurama of General Motors which had been designed by futurist, Norman Bel Geddes, was meant to show the American landscape as it was predicted to look in the year 1960. Bel Geddes' vision of the future included 1,500-foot-high office buildings, taller than the Empire State Building constructed with lavish use of aluminum and glass, 14-lane superhighways that would allow a driver to travel coast-to-coast without stopping for anything but food and gasoline, and small individual vehicles capable of traveling by both roadway and air. Other components of future technology, envisioned in Futurama, told the people of that time what they could expect to see in the next 25 years. These anticipated marvels, prophesied in 1939, were realistically expected to exist in the early 1960s: the cautious but feasible use of atomic energy for power production, ubiquitous plastics, television sets in every home supported by a broadcast infrastructure, nylon stockings for women, rockets capable of orbiting above earth's atmosphere, radio telephones for occasional use in automobiles, aircraft capable of carrying 200 passengers at 400 mph, antibiotics, warships an eighth of a mile long, prefabricated low-cost houses, and fresh fruits and vegetables available at any time of year.

All of this predicted wonderment was set against the backdrop of an America that had the world’s greatest production capacity, on a planet that held only 2 billion human beings, all living in an atmospheric environment that had changed very little over the previous half million years. In that time of 1939, General Motors was the largest and richest corporation on the face of the earth.

Things can change dramatically in 70 years, in ways that could never have been envisioned back in 1939. The futuristic gizmos and products and developments came into being just as predicted, but along with them came environmental pollution and global population explosion and materialistic cultural changes that, arguably, made the world no better than it was back then. Today, when we talk about “The World of Tomorrow,” we don’t celebrate this vision with optimism and eager anticipation. In a way, the fate of General Motors serves as a kind of metaphor for everything else.

Monday, May 25, 2009

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The time I’m talking about was 1776, and the good idea was a compartmentalized government with three separate branches to provide checks and balances. The reasoning behind this was to make it difficult to change the status quo with quick and easy new legislation, because the founding fathers distrusted the prospect of too much government. At the end of the Eighteenth Century, this was the perfect form of government for a new nation on a new continent with seemingly unlimited resources, insulated from the rest of the world by two vast oceans. The government, small by design, was there mostly to provide a national defense, to forge foreign treaties, and to intervene in differences between the states.

Things change. The founding fathers could never have imagined today’s America. Electronic telecommunications have bridged the oceans with instantaneous information flow. Carbon emissions produced on this continent can raise the sea level at the margin of every continent. The earth’s largest religion, Islam, has spawned a militant faction bent on the destruction of America, and the means exist for these radicals to achieve their goals. For an entire century, America led the world with its civic-institutional progress, but now the rest of the developed world has overtaken us and currently leads us with its public education and healthcare. The free-market system of capitalism has degenerated into a modern feudalism where working serfs serve only to enrich an obscenely wealthy upper class, and now even that hideous system is broken.

The thing about all this that’s most alarming, however, is that every one of these dynamics has the capability to change parameters in a short period of time. In the case of 9/11 and the Wall Street meltdown, change occurred almost instantaneously, and the government of the founding fathers, ponderous by design, was simply not up to the task of meeting the challenges in a timely manner.If the shortcomings of a sluggish government would be a surprise to the founding fathers, then even more surprising would be the two party system that has evolved, with Democrats and Republicans, calcified around polar ideologies into an American equivalent of the Shites and Sunnis in Iraq.

Then again, come to think of it, maybe the founding fathers never expected the government they created to last beyond 250 years.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It’s Sad to Watch an Elephant Die

It fills me with a tinge of sadness, seeing the Republican Party as it tries to spin the defection of Arlen Specter. It’s like watching an elephant die— literally. It was exactly six years ago this week that I, too, made an abrupt switch and turned my back on the Republican Party and conservatism because it no longer made any sense to me. Last night as I watched The News Hour on PBS, everything about that decision came flooding back to me.

Reporting from St. Louis, PBS anchor, Gwen Ifill, was interviewing local citizens in the nation’s heartland to get their thoughts on Obama’s first 100 days in office. Not surprisingly, the liberal slant of PBS had generated a rather rosy picture, and so to offer some balance, she interviewed an unabashed young supporter of George W. Bush. He said, “I don’t trust the government to solve the nation’s problems. The government should just get out of the way and let the American people do what they do best. I trust the American people.” He actually sounded like Ronald Reagan. If his words are taken at face value, the stupidity of what he said is simply unbearable. Bernie Madoff is an American person. Trustworthy? Not on your life. And all those CEO tycoons of Citigroup and AIG— along with the other American people on Wall Street who devised subprime loans and credit default swaps— presumably these are the American people we should trust to solve our economic problems. There are more than 13 million American people currently unemployed and looking desperately for a job. I wonder if they would like for the government to just get out of the way and let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I doubt it.

It all comes down to this— conservatism today is nothing more than a systematized nostalgia for the 1980s of Ronald Reagan. Back then, conservatism worked. We had a clear enemy, The Soviet Union, so Reagan could denounce big government and get away with it because he could create millions of jobs by pouring billions of dollars into the military budget for defense projects. News flash to Reagan conservatives— the government and the military are the same thing.

In Reagan’s 1980s, America still had the world’s largest manufacturing base for durable goods. Not so anymore. In the 1980s, Islamic fundamentalism and global warming and the outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries— all these problems were off the radar screen. The 401K was only invented in 1982, so almost all American jobs offered the potential for a retirement income as a fringe benefit. As a result, only a comparatively few people were heavily invested in the stock market, and for the most part these were wealthy people who actually knew what they were doing when it came to finance. And as for China— the word that best described China in the 1980s was “quaint.”

This is the world that modern conservatives want to recreate. I, too, yearn for those days, and if the world could go back to the way it was then, I would be a conservative Republican in a heartbeat. But things change, and the days of Reagan are as gone as Hugh Hefner’s virginity. Modern conservatism is best defined by its champions. There are the raving egomaniacs like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter who are easily dismissed, but there are also reasoned, brilliant men like George Will and David Brooks. I personally admire George Will and David Brooks, but with all due respect to these men, I personally believe that conservatism today is mostly for the weak minded and the overly nostalgic. It’s sad to watch an elephant die.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Our Paradox

There’s a curious paradox in the way that Americans view the deployment of authority by the United States Government, and I believe that this is behind many of our current problems. On the one hand, we enthusiastically give our military a 90% approval rating for invading another sovereign country, but when the EPA is given the authority to reduce carbon emissions it sends a chill up the collective spines of American citizens. We watch the FBI and the CIA and the NSA expand their surveillance into our own private lives, and we respond to this with the indifferent lethargy of a lazy redbone hound dog on a hot summer’s day, but when it’s suggested that government regulators be given increased authority to snoop on the affairs of private business, we are incensed at the intrusion. We accept the notion of uniformed policemen protecting us from street criminals, but we reject the notion of tight financial and environmental regulation to protect us from corporate criminals. The bottom line is this— we instinctively trust private business and we distrust the government. We should trust both, or neither.

My personal belief is that we were subjected to half a century of a world-wide anti-Communist hysteria in which Capitalism, along with democracy, was seen as our protection and our salvation. Communism went away, but our love affair with free market Capitalism continued, and when ethics and integrity eroded in our culture, the stage was set for an invasion. The invasion, in this case, was not from foreign armies or foreign interests or foreign ideologies. The invasion was from home-grown fellow citizens who put the short term, immediate accumulation of personal wealth above everything else. President Obama has said this very thing in his speeches, but in slightly different words. I think that the President’s words don’t go far enough, however. In a larger sense, we are all to blame for our own downfall. We cheered Ronald Reagan for his philosophy of government deregulation, and at least a third of us still think that he had the right idea. We elected Republican presidents to continue this policy for 20 of the last 30 years. And now, with the country in an actual depression (although we don’t call it by that name), we still don’t get the picture. We are at the mercy of an enemy of our own making— a network of business giants who are too big to find enough food to feed themselves and who are reduced to stealing food from our very own dinner plates.

We need an SEC and an EPA and an FDA and an FAA, and at least half a dozen other agencies, all with the funding and the power of the Pentagon, to protect us from the real enemy that threatens our nation, because it’s not going to be the Muslims or the foreign terrorists that make America go down the tube. There’s actually a functioning model in the world that shows how well tight government regulation can work. The model is Singapore. We would do well to look more closely at that model.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What the Future Holds for Bolivia

Like a lot of Americans, I mostly knew Bolivia (in a vague way) as the place where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid finally met their fate, so when I saw some recent photographs from Bolivia, I was shocked at how familiar the scenery looked to me. I was looking at scenes from the giant salt flats that cover thousands of square miles down in that South American country, and it looked exactly like Bonneville, Utah, and since I race on the Bonneville Salt Flats every August, I know the scenery quite well. The thing about salt flats is that they all look the same.

They’re not all the same. The Bolivian salt flats, known as Salar De Uyuni, are hundreds of times bigger than those on the Utah-Nevada border, and there’s another monumental difference— the Uyuni salt flats contain more than 75% of all the lithium on the planet. For those Americans who don’t read a lot about electric battery technology, lithium is the element that allows modern batteries to store electricity at much higher levels than is possible with any other composition. Since the next generation of cars will run on lithium batteries rather than gasoline, and since Bolivia has most of the earth’s lithium, we can look for Bolivia to become the new Saudi Arabia of this century.

The leaders of the Bolivian government, well aware of the precious resource that their nation now holds, have looked at the historical record of undeveloped countries who had something which was desperately wanted by richer and more powerful nations, and they don’t like what they see. For that reason, the government of Bolivia has decided that they will not export the raw material for lithium batteries. Absolutely none, and not under any circumstances. If the world wants lithium batteries in the abundant quantities required by future electric cars, then the richer nations will be forced to build the battery factories in Bolivia, and build the lithium batteries with Bolivian workers. Only then will the finished batteries be exported.

For those readers of this blog who are young enough to see this play out, watch for a showdown. Bolivia was powerful enough to kill the Yankees, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but don’t look for that victory to be repeated. If America can go to war over oil, it can go to war over lithium.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Seduced By "Energy Girl"

I call her “Energy Girl.” We’ve all come to know her through her television commercials on behalf of the oil and gas industry. She first appears to us at some distance from the camera, dressed always in a black pants suit, and then she begins to walk toward us with her long slender legs and black high heel shoes partially hidden by the cuff of her black trousers, gliding in long elegant effortless strides, talking to us all the while in a reassuring voice about the abundance of energy in our own back yard. “Right here in North America, we have enough energy to power 50 million cars and 100 million homes for the next 80 years.” By the time she finishes this message, she’s close to the camera, and with her shoulder length blond hair and blue eyes she looks remarkably like the actress, Laura Linney. Energy Girl exudes reassuring innocence and integrity. Surely she wouldn’t lie to us. Would she?

There’s a problem. That North American energy is abundant, but lethal. Energy Girl is telling us a half truth. In Western Canada, on the border between Alberta and British Columbia, there is probably as much oil as in the Saudi Arabian peninsula. But whereas the Arabian oil is in subterranean pools of highly pure sweet crude, the Canadian oil is bound to rock and sand in something called the tar sands. To free the oil, the rock and sand is strip mined and then blasted with high pressure steam. It takes 200 gallons of pure water (steam) to make one gallon of oil. Amazingly, although pure water is the most precious commodity on earth, the supply of water isn’t any problem. Abundant glaciers cover British Columbian mountains at that high latitude, and the population of Canadians in that part of their country is quite sparse. One can debate about the morality of using the world’s most precious resource to extract oil, but in Canada there is plenty to go around. The problem is not with supply, but with disposal. For each gallon of oil, 200 gallons of contaminated water is created. What once was the liquid of life has become the liquid of death, for the water left over from the oil extraction process is some of the most toxic fluid on earth. British Petroleum (the company who first hired Energy Girl) initially started disposing of the contaminated water by storing it in a lake behind a thirty foot high earthen dam. Over the years, the dam has grown to 300 feet in height, and it is now the largest earthen dam on the planet. The huge and growing lake of lethal black water behind the dam is easily visible from space, and the nearby strip mine is even larger. Ducks that land on the lake die within a minute.

Energy Girl has seduced us into thinking we have a viable alternative to foreign oil. Speaking for myself, I say give me the old fashioned oil, and let the Muslims keep the profit. There are worse things in the world than rich Arabs.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Secret Is Out. CO2 Levels Were Even Higher In The Past.

At the Conference on World Affairs we were treated to a two hour lecture from Jim Hansen of NASA, considered by many to be the world’s leading expert on climate change. For those unfamiliar with his status in the intellectual community, Hansen is the guy who went to the New York Times four years ago and blew the whistle on a twenty-something political flunky with no college education who had been installed by the Bush administration in NASA to censor press releases and silence any reference to global warming. The terms “icon” and “hero” applied to Jim Hansen are insufficient descriptions of his status in the scientific community.

The good news for Rush Limbaugh and the conservative Evangelical Christians is that they are correct with their claim that CO2 levels fluctuate over time, and that the CO2 levels have been even higher in the past. They’re right (no pun intended). Hansen’s research shows that 10 million years ago, the CO2 level was 450 ppm (parts per million) because the subcontinent of India was starting to plow into Asia and push up the Himalayan mountain chain. This, in turn, unleashed intense volcanic activity around the Pacific rim, and volcanoes are a main source of CO2 emissions. Limbaugh and the Evangelical Christians are right about that, too.

Here’s the bad news. 10 million years ago, that 450 ppm CO2 level made the earth totally free of ice, and sea level was 350 feet higher than it is now. Currently, our atmosphere contains 385 ppm of CO2, and it has climbed from 325 ppm in the last century. Based on that rate of CO2 level climb, in another hundred years the earth can, once again, be ice free and sea level can be 350 feet higher. Of the earth’s 6.5 billion people, 4 billion of them live within a zone lower than 350 feet above current sea level.

Jim Hansen wants us to go down to a level of CO2 somewhere between 325 ppm and 350 ppm. The alternative is unthinkable. Of course, by the time the unthinkable happens, Rush Limbaugh will be dead, and the Evangelical Christians will be looking at the end times which they actually want.

Monday, April 13, 2009

And God Said, “Go Forth and Multiply.”

Some amazing research results were presented at the Conference on World Affairs by Dr. Sanjoy Mahajan of MIT, an internationally known expert on the mechanisms that allow humans to do mathematics. His work has shown that some people who suffer a loss of speech due to brain injury also lose their ability to do simple multiplication. They can still do addition and subtraction with ease. Only multiplication skill seems to be effected. Moreover, this loss is seen mostly in older people who have been educated in the American school system.

The reason for this is astounding. Our American public school system arose during the 1840s and 1850s as a response to the coming industrial revolution. Children growing up on rural farms needed to be trained to adapt to the requirements of factory jobs— jobs which were regimented under authoritarian supervision. The schools of the time also reflected that same regimentation, and one of the ways this manifested itself was in the memorization of multiplication tables. For the last 150 years, students have memorized that 6 times 3 is 18, and this knowledge seems to be stored in the brain as a verbal statement rather than a mathematical concept. When speaking ability is lost, memories of verbal statements are lost too, and simple multiplication skill goes away. In other cultures where multiplication skill is taught as a mathematical concept, brain injury has no effect on this skill.

To demonstrate how “multiplication by memory” shortchanges American students, a large group of high school graduates was tested (all of whom were proficient in reciting their multiplication tables) and they were asked to multiply 3.147 by 5.0842. They had to do it quickly in their head, without paper and pencil, and they answered by selecting one of four multiple choice responses— A-1, B-16, C-160, or D-1600. Only 18% of them answered correctly, B-16. Statistical random selection would have predicted that 25% would have chosen correctly if they had simply guessed at the answer, but such was not the case. Ignoring the decimal points, most of them thought they were multiplying very large numbers, and the most common response was the most absurd choice, D-1600.

For Dr. Mahajan, work like this helps him explain why Americans are so poor at numerical estimation and conceptualization. If a disease effects 3% of the population, and a certain health-adverse behavior is said to increase the risk of that disease by 30%, then the overall chance of getting the disease is still less than 4%, even for those who indulge in the bad behavior. Less than 10% of the adult American public can understand this concept, and there are hundreds of similar examples to show that we just don’t, “get it,” when it comes to even the most basic arithmetic.

America has eliminated almost all of its factories. Maybe it’s time to change our factory schools.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Economics 101 in Singapore

An idea was put forth this week at the Conference on World Affairs which, if implemented, could potentially prevent any future melt downs on Wall Street due to malfeasance and incompetence. The simple idea is this: pay the Federal regulators as much in salary as the Wall Street bankers pay themselves.

For years, the best and the brightest of the grads coming out of the Ivy League schools have gravitated— not to careers in government or science or teaching— but to finance. The reason is simply that they wanted to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time. The fact that they destroyed our economy doesn’t negate their claim to being the best and the brightest. Their goal wasn’t to preserve the economy, but to get rich in personal wealth, and they accomplished this beyond anything achieved by any group of people in the history of the world. Meanwhile, those people toiling within the bowels of the SEC and other Federal agencies— people who might have prevented the tragic mess— these people behaved with the detached lethargic incompetence that you often see in minimum wage workers who could care less about losing their job. The crooks were motivated and the police were not.

The idea about motivating government regulators with vast sums of money is not a new or novel idea. It actually works. We know this because it has worked in Singapore for more than thirty years. Like so many other things in that nation-state, it’s a radical notion that has proven highly effective but would probably be impossible in our democracy. But since Singapore doesn’t have the limitations of democracy, it has chosen to pay the public sector people salaries equivalent to the salaries in the private sector. The result is that the regulators actually want to keep their jobs, so they’re willing to do their jobs well. The crooks and the police are equally motivated, and as a consequence, some of the best and the brightest line up on the side of the good guys.

America isn’t Singapore, however, and so this economic disaster won’t be the last.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Conference on World Affairs

This year’s international Conference on World Affairs was, by far, the best in the last decade, perhaps because so little time needed to be devoted to Bush and Cheney. Subjects covered ran the gamut— global warming, Charles Darwin, black holes in space, Islamophobia, economic meltdown, the demise of newspapers, Rush Limbaugh, dark energy discoveries in the universe, breast cancer, American education, terrorism, international traffic in sex slavery, Mexican drug wars, and the political danger of misunderestimating the Republicans. In the next couple of weeks I’ll be summarizing many of the best ideas that I picked up from this amazing annual gathering of intellectuals.

One of the highlights was a lecture by Bill Reinert, national head of advanced technology for Toyota. His subject, of course, was the auto industry, and his talk can be summarized in three numbers— 17 million, 14 million, and 8.5 million. Last year the global auto industry produced 17 million cars. After the latest round of cutbacks, the global auto industry now has the capacity to produce 14 million cars per year. This year, the global auto industry is on track to sell 8.5 million cars. Do the math. More than any other single element, it’s overcapacity which most frightens auto industry leaders. There are currently 16 auto companies building cars around the world, and Bill Reinert’s educated prediction was that, when the economic crisis has passed, there will be 6 auto conglomerates left to supply the car industry. Don’t look for GM and Chrysler to be among them.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Iowa Sets an Example for Other States

I fell in love with Iowa 35 years ago when I married a girl from that state. When the Iowa caucus came along to take its place as a keystone in the American political process, the idea made perfect sense to me. Iowa has conservatives, but they’re not like the red meat conservatives that tune in on Rush Limbaugh via radio stations down in Dixie. Iowa has its share of liberals, too, but they’re different from the liberals in Northern California and Boulder, Colorado. And the Christians in Iowa— and there are plenty of them—are nothing like the rabid fundamentalists who attend the mega churches in Texas and Colorado Springs. The thing about the people in Iowa is that they have a real authenticity about them. They seem to avoid becoming caricatures, and most of them will go to any lengths to avoid slipping into extravagance and excess. They’re the real deal.

That’s why it seemed so significant to me this week when gay marriage was legalized in the state of Iowa. This place, which is so typical of something we imagine to be “mainstream” America, has proclaimed to the world that anti-gay bias is the last great bigotry which needs to be erased from our culture.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Why All the Fuss About Same-Sex Marriage?

Rock and roll music, horseless carriages (early automobiles), Communism, cable television, and racially integrated public schools— what do these things have in common? At one time or another during the 20th Century, each of these cultural and technological elements was predicted to cause the demise of the traditional American family by corrupting the children. That puts them in the same category with same-sex marriage today. Here’s the thing about American-family-demise predictors (usually religious fundamentalists) — they never get tired of having their predictions turn out to be wrong.

Today, 40% of all American babies are born out of wedlock. In the black community, 70% are born out of wedlock. I don’t know what family demise looks like in America, but these statistics seem to me to fit that definition. Here’s my message to the born-again, religious fundamentalist evangelicals (I hope I’ve got the politically-correct label for these wingnuts) — there is only one cause for the demise of the traditional American family, and that is parenting which is selfish, irresponsible, and clueless. Since same-sex parents are currently almost negligible in number, I’m talking about mostly heterosexual parents, and many of these are fine upstanding Christians. Rock and roll was not the problem, and neither was Communism or cable television or racial integration in the schools. Same-sex marriage presents only one threat to the traditional American family. Maybe gays will prove themselves to be better parents than heterosexuals. In modern America, It wouldn’t take much for that to happen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Can Catholicism Survive "PappaRatzi"?

If Pope Benedict (a.k.a. PappaRatzi) stays alive long enough, he can potentially do to the Roman Catholic Church what George W. Bush did to the Republican Party. It’s not that Benedict is the worst pope in church history. He’s certainly not that. It’s just that he’s manifestly stupid in a time when papal infallibility has been reduced to nothing but a joke, and modern media makes sure that everybody knows it.

First, he shot his own foot by backing Bishop Richard Williamson in spite of Williamson’s denial of the Holocaust. What made this particularly lame, even by papal standards, was the Pope’s claim that the word “Holocaust” was misinterpreted in the whole sordid mess. Here’s the thing. Benedict grew up in Nazi Germany and served in the German army to defend Nazism, so he was in a perfect position to know what the “Holocaust” meant— both as a word, as well as the world’s best known episode of genocide.

Now Benedict has gone to Africa and told the people there that condoms are sinful. In South Africa, one person in six has HIV. For people of child bearing age, the number is one in four. During the last 25 years, since HIV transmission has been well understood, only the use of condoms has proven effective in reducing HIV in third world populations where anti-retroviral drugs are not readily available. Now, Benedict wants to see an end to that. This is the last thing Africa needed— a senile, celibate, irrelevant old fool representing a body of more senile, celibate old fools known as Cardinals— all claiming to speak for God. Can Catholicism get any more pathetic?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Why Anti-Capitalism is a Good Thing

Wars are fought with more than just guns and bombs. In addition to these tried and true instruments of destruction, economic and financial “meddling” to disrupt an enemy economy has always been recognized as another effective lethal weapon. During WWII, European countries on both sides of the conflict flooded each other with counterfeit money to devalue the currency of the opposing side. In the late 1980s, toward the end of the Cold War and after the early ascendency of computers, all Pentagon WWIII war gaming included plans to hack into the Soviet computers which controlled the Soviet economy. Even today, as we’ve chased down Al Quaeda enemies following 9/11, a major part of our anti-terrorist strategy has been to go after their funding. And now we’re dealing with the fallout of destruction caused by a relatively small number— fewer than 20,000— Wall Street insiders who put personal enrichment above loyalty to country or old-fashioned American patriotism. What these people did in the name of American capitalism was nothing less than an act of war, and if these guys had been foreign nationals, then a proper response by our government would have been to bomb the capital of their host country into oblivion.

I contend that the “financial products” bombs that have been dropped on America by Wall Street have caused broader and deeper misery across the nation than the death and destruction of 9/11. Any system can go too far in a negative direction, and capitalism is not immune to this, and right now American capitalism has gone too far and it’s more of an enemy than a friend. Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh was on a rant in defense of capitalism, accusing President Obama of trying to dismantle capitalism. With his $400 million dollar bankroll, Limbaugh can be counted on to be on the wrong side of any economic issue, and yesterday was no exception. If Obama is anti-capitalism at the present time, that’s a good thing— at least until the economy is fixed. Right now, the capitalists are America’s enemy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Capitalism Needs a Death Penalty

The United States is among the most religious nations on the planet, but when it comes to money, our American culture is near the bottom in global metrics with its morality and ethics. This blog, however, isn’t about the disconnect between religion and basic human goodness. I’ve beat that subject to death. I’m writing today about free market capitalism, and my thesis is that it doesn’t work in America anymore because it doesn’t work in the absence of strong morality and ethics.

Growing up, I never understood why American intellectuals were so infatuated with communism during the Great Depression of the 1930s. That’s because I was looking back on that time from the 1950s, and during that decade our free market capitalism worked just fine. But now I’m old, and America’s economic system is broken again, and now I understand why the brighter people in our society don’t automatically accept the supremacy of the free market capitalistic system. It hasn’t worked well for our nation for ten years now.

There is, however, a place where free market capitalism works well, even today. That place is China. The system works there because it is combined with the liberal use of executions and the death penalty for unethical behavior, and that— in turn— deters the kinds of system failures that have brought down our economy. Consider China’s tainted milk scandal. Two milk company executives knowingly put out milk laced with bacteria to make a quick buck, and a number of Chinese children died from drinking that milk. After a brief hearing, the company executives were executed with a bullet in the back of the head. Four months after that, two American peanut company executives in Georgia knowingly put salmonella-tainted peanuts into the United States food chain because they knew they could do it with impunity. You don’t need to be a revisionist historian to see that those two fat goobers in Georgia would have made a different decision about the salmonella laced peanuts if they were living and working in China.

If Bernie Madoff had pulled his Ponzi scam in China, his name would have made the newspapers just one time— under obituaries. All of the current posturing and outrage over the $160 million in bonus money paid to AIG executives would be unnecessary in China. The idiotic affair would be settled quietly with one simple phone call from the government secret police. This isn’t to say that morality and ethics are better in China than in America. That’s probably not the case. It’s just that the system in China works as though everyone was ethical. Here’s the thing— in the absence of strong ethical standards, no sane person will ever turn down several million dollars because of the threat of a slap on the wrist.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Big Pharma—Too Big To Fail?

Last month it was Pfizer who climbed into bed with Wyeth, and two weeks ago Merck got so cozy with Schering that the two became one— presumably till death do them part. Now it’s Roche who has taken over Genentech, although by all accounts this was more of a rape than a marriage. We’ve seen this scenario before in the financial setting when banking giant, Citigroup, took over Smith Barney back in those days of ancient history when both firms were actually making good money. We’re now told that Citigroup is too big to fail, so it’s natural to wonder if the newly bloated Pharma giants might not be positioning themselves to also be considered, “too big to fail.”

Following each takeover or merger, the well-orchestrated Pharma PR machines went into high gear, spinning out the usual PR-isms about achieving “synergies” and realizing “economies of scale,” but what have been the observable results? The first noticeable change came in doctor’s offices where the number of Pharma salespeople making sales calls fell off dramatically. My own personal physician would sometimes see as many as eight salespeople in a single day (most sales calls were two-minute sample drops). That was a year ago. Recently, the number has fallen off to one or two in an average day, and sometimes none at all. In the 1990s, many young people graduating college looked on Pharma sales as a worthy career aspiration, but today, many of those who realized their dream with a job selling pharmaceuticals have recently learned how fallen leaves probably feel in front of a leaf blower. The industry which once fielded over 100,000 sales people now has about one-third of that number.

None of this is particularly unsettling unless you’re making your living selling drugs. The problem for the greater society is that the research departments in companies like Pfizer are undergoing the same atrophy that’s been seen in the sales divisions. This means that potentially fewer new medications will come into the field of medicine, and even fewer existing drugs will undergo needed improvements. DTC marketing, however, remains robust and will only continue to grow, so look for Pharma advertising on TV to become even more abundant and glitzy as drug firms use this avenue to pump up sales and profits.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

News Flash to Rome. News Flash to Utah

Among all the world’s great religions, only Buddhism has demonstrated that its people and spiritual leaders understand the role of public relations in shaping media attention. The diplomatic travels of the Dali Lama, and the global media focus on the harsh Chinese treatment of Buddhist monks over the issue of Tibet— these and other PR initiatives demonstrate that, when it comes to the media, the Buddhists “get it.”

In stark contrast, the Abrahamic monotheisms don’t seem to have a clue. Three years ago, the Muslims went ballistic (actually, the proper phrase is to say they went Jihadist) because a Danish newspaper (the media) published cartoons of Mohammad. In the mayhem over that episode, several infidels were killed, which is always a real crowd pleaser for Islam, but it didn’t go very far to win over new coverts.

Catholicism fights this media battle constantly, and never seems to get it right. Most Vatican press releases are reactive to bad news, like when another Archdiocese goes bankrupt paying off past victims of priestly sex abuse, or when some rogue Bishop denies the Holocaust. Even when Vatican news is proactive and celebratory, it’s usually to announce something silly, like a human interest story about some South American peasant woman who cooks a baked potato only to find that the skin has crinkled into a likeness of the face of the Virgin Mary. We’ve all seen that sort of thing coming from the Vatican PR machine. The latest media war being waged by The Church involves the upcoming Ron Howard/Tom Hanks film, “Angels and Demons,” from the Dan Brown novel. The film doesn’t open until May, but already the Vatican is up in arms because they’re afraid that moviegoers will come away with the impression that The Church was anti-science during the Renaissance. News flash to Rome— that’s not any secret or misconception, and it hasn’t been for 400 years.

And now it’s the Mormon Church with its panties tied into knots over something involving the media. An upcoming episode of the HBO series, “Big Love,” will show a depiction of a secret ceremony (not fictitious) inside a Mormon temple. Only Mormons are supposed to know about this secret ceremony, but now HBO subscribers can see it too, and worst of all, they will learn about it for free, without paying that famous Mormon tithe. News flash to Utah—“Big Love” is only a sitcom. It’s not a documentary.

Long ago, business, educational, and political groups learned that trained PR people, with expertise in media relations, could go a long way toward making life easier for them in today’s media-drenched world. The Abrahamic monotheistic religions of the world need to embrace this tactic, and do it soon, because as long as these religions keep doing stupid things, the media will keep making them look stupid.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Please— No More Optimism. Enough, Already

Only 52 days on the job, and already President Obama is taking heat for his public attitude about the economy. The rap on him is that he is insufficiently optimistic, and that he fails to reassure us with “happy talk,” and Tim Geithner comes in for the same criticism. The United States is entering another depression, but Americans still don’t get it. They still look for optimism and happy talk in their leaders, failing to understand that these are the very qualities that got us into this mess.

The blame for the economic meltdown has been pinned on “gimmick” financial concoctions like sub-prime mortgages, and credit default swaps, and bundling of toxic assets for foreign consumption, and sale-lease-backs, and derivatives, and CDOs (collateralized debt obligations), and the list goes on and on. The fact is that all of these “deals” were nothing more than the bricks and mortar of the failed economic structure, but the foundation underlying the whole process of economic decay was the mindset of the managers and directors and VPs who concocted these financial instruments in the first place. You can almost hear the echoes of their voices as they went about their work, saying things like, “The market rewards the risk takers,” and “Failure is not an option,” and “It’s just a matter of managing expectations.” They had prepped themselves by reading books authored by management gurus— books that preached the value of unbridled optimism, and that taught the techniques of happy talk. They had advanced through their careers under the mantel of human resource honchos who rewarded them for their optimistic outlook. These were not evil men. They were simply misguided optimists and happy talkers living in an era when these traits were ingrained in American management DNA, and when the genes for critical thought had long since disappeared through the process of natural selection.

And now, even as Americans head for the poor house, they still seem to want the same old fluff. God help us. Maybe Obama is that rare individual who knows only too well that his ideas can fail, and who is too honest to tell us otherwise. He displays something called, “critical thinking,” and fifty years ago it was a trait that was valued more than optimism. Maybe a good old-fashioned depression will bring it back into vogue.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Eliminate the Middleman

New research polling data shows that 15% of Americans now put themselves into the category of having “no religion.” Within theology-based categories, only the Catholic Church and the Baptists can claim larger memberships, although the evangelical fundamentalists are closing the gap rapidly with 12% of the population currently and their numbers climbing fast. As a member of the “no religion” group, it appears to me that many Americans are discovering for themselves what I discovered years ago— that spirituality and religion don’t necessarily go hand in hand, and that any person can believe in a higher power without going through a middle man.

I’ve always seen religious leaders functioning like used car salesmen, with God (or something like him) as the manager hidden in the back room. If this analogy is unclear, go rent the movie “Fargo,” and watch it. For those who worship within this system, their offerings of faith, devotion and (especially) money go into the church, and the church leader gives them feedback on how the higher power feels about their contribution. It never made any sense to me, and that epiphany came to me long before the news of Catholic pedophiles serving as priests and guys like Ted Haggard telling us what some higher power wants us to know.

I don’t know exactly what’s on God’s mind, and neither does the Pope or Ted Haggard. I recommend giving money directly to the local soup kitchen or homeless shelter rather than any church, and if we truly believe that we have a soul, then I recommend listening to that through quiet introspection rather than sermons. As for the religious leaders, let them join the rest of us in this economy and go about looking for a job.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Poster Icon for American Stupidity

I thought about weighing in on the current controversy surrounding Rush Limbaugh, but why bother? Thinking and writing about Rush is like wrestling with a pig— it makes me feel tired and dirty, and the pig likes it. He thrives on criticism. And here’s the sad and terrible thing about Limbaugh— he will never go away. Even after he dies, dittoheads will experience Limbaugh “sightings” in the same way that believers do with Elvis and The Virgin Mary.

The dittoheads don’t seem to realize that their hero is really just a comedian, like Jon Stewart, but without any sense of humor or appreciation of the comedy in the absurd, and for this reason I was going to nominate the average, cross-sectional dittohead as the iconic poster person for American stupidity. But then along came Nadya Suleman and Sandra Herold.

For those unfamiliar with these two names, Nadya Suleman is known as the “octomom.” Her claim to fame is that she expects society to pay the million-dollar medical bill for delivering her fatherless and ultimately-doomed octuplets which she brought into the world because she damn well felt like it. If that seems to qualify as stupid, Sandra Herold’s story is even worse. Her pet 200-pound male chimpanzee chewed the hands and face off a lady friend of Sandra Herold, literally eating her alive because she was perceived as a threat in a sex triangle. Sandra had taught the chimp to shower with her and sleep with her, and presumably share a cigarette after it was all over.

For most of a million years, human beings have practiced heterosex and homosex and procreation in a way that’s remained pretty much unchanged over time, and everybody seemed okay with that status quo until these two head-case women came along to prove that in 21st Century America, there is no limit to what stupid people can do.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who Do We Listen To?

Barack Obama and Tim Geithner know the best way to fix the economy. So does John McCain, and so do his Republican colleagues. And without a doubt, the people who have the best handle on a financial fix are the folks who call in to talk radio. These talk show callers, and the hosts who take their calls, are always on the cutting edge when it comes to solving any problem whatsoever. The only problem that seems to avoid solution is the fact that everyone disagrees. So who do we listen to?

Prior to 9/11, a man named John O’Neill knew about the impending doom that awaited the people of New York. As the FBI’s top expert on Al Quaeda and Bin Laden, O’Neill had connected the dots, as the saying goes. Unfortunately, he didn’t know the exact date of the planned attack, and he was killed in the World Trade Center that fateful day. What makes this story relevant to the financial crisis is that John O’Neill was ignored by his own agency, the FBI, as well as everyone else who could have made a difference. To me, it’s a sure bet that there is some bright person out there who absolutely knows how to get our economy started again, and it’s an absolute certainty that his ideas are falling on deaf ears. It always happens this way.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Is Sarah Palin Trying to Correct God’s Mistake?

It’s a catfight. Eowww. Ever since Sarah Palin’s unsuccessful bid for the nation’s second highest office, she has been in the crosshairs with animal rights activists for her promotion of the slaughter of Alaskan wolves. What was lacking, until now, was a public face to represent the people trying to save the wolves, but that gap has now been filled by actress, Ashley Judd, and the cat fight is on between these two fetching women.

Palin, in her role as governor of Alaska, believes that the wolf population has grown to the point where it threatens the elk and caribou herds, and in her role as a celebrated hunter she believes that shooting wolves from helicopters is the answer. In her role as a born again Christian, she also claims to believe in creation and a creator God. All of these different roles are confusing to me, and evidently to Palin as well. The situation in Alaska, with the wolves preying on the elk and caribou, is something called the “balance of nature,” and for people like Palin who believe in a creator God, this balance of nature is something that was set up by The Lord. Granted— sometimes nature can get out of balance. In Africa, where the human population and human environmental effects are now exploding exponentially, the balance of nature has been thrown off kilter, and the wildlife in Africa is now threatened. This doesn’t hold true for Alaska, however, where the human footprint on the land is comparable to what it was in Africa 200 years ago. So whatever is happening there in Palin country, with the wolves and the meat-on-the-hoof, is happening pretty much the way that God intended, if you believe in that sort of thing.

From her first day at the side of John McCain, it was obvious that Sarah Palin had a very high opinion of herself. It now appears that— just as she thought she was in a position to save McCain from himself— she now feels the same way about her God. Shooting wolves from helicopters is just her way of making God’s balance of nature work a little more to her liking.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Consumerism vs. Sufficiency

Advice from Rush Limbaugh about finance and economics is like advice from Hugh Hefner about dating, especially now that Limbaugh has a network deal that will pay him $400 million over the next few years. To put it mildly, he’s not hurting one damn bit, but that doesn’t keep him from trying to identify with his listeners when it comes to hard times. For those who don’t know, Rush is on board with the Republicans, pushing tax cuts as a way to save the nation from another depression.

I, myself, have absolutely no expertise in finance, economics, or business, but I am an expert on frugality. You often see those bumper stickers on ancient VW minibuses or old Volvos— they say, “Simplify,” and while I don’t display such a bumper sticker, I do support the sentiment wholeheartedly. I have my own opinion about the depression based only on what I see and read. I believe that it will get very bad and stay very bad for a very long time, and I believe that most people in government share this view but are prevented by political considerations from ever saying what they actually know in their hearts. The Democrats will get their massive spending, and the Republicans will be denied the pork reductions and bigger tax cuts which they want, and none of this will work the way it’s intended because the thing is so overwhelming that it’s like trying to shoot a housefly with a gun from 50 feet away. It doesn’t matter if you decide between using a rifle or a shotgun.

The people who survived the 1930s, and that includes the 75% who DIDN’T ever lose their jobs, were never able to part with hard-earned money as easily as the generations that came after them. I believe that as we go forward from this current depression, all of us will become experts on sufficiency, and less concerned with consumerism. That probably doesn’t apply to Rush Limbaugh, however.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Vatican Stands by Bishop in Holocaust Denial

As a blogger trying to write something new every day or two, I just need to say how thankful I am for the Vatican. If I’m at a loss for words, I simply Google “Vatican” and a door miraculously opens to show me the way. Sometimes it’s a Papal utterance of some kind that condemns birth control and unplanned teen pregnancy at one and the same time. Or maybe it’s a scathing denouncement of homosexuality, timed to coincide with a secular report documenting a level of homosexual orientation in the Catholic priesthood much higher than in any other observable male population. Even when the Church talks about money, it’s usually in the context of sex, as when American Archdioceses are forced to close parishes because they’ve been bankrupted by payouts to victims of priestly pedophilia. Catholicism has just never been able to get its arms around the issue of human sex, and the Church looks dysfunctional whenever the subject comes up.

Sex isn’t the only topic perplexing to the Vatican, however. There’s also the Holocaust and the broader issue of German Nazism. Pius XII, a gaunt Germanophile of dubious piousness, has been dubbed by several WWII historians as, “Hitler’s Pope.” There’s disagreement about whether his relationship with Der Fuhrer was one of appeasement or collaboration, but there’s no denying that Pius XII knew about trains to the death camps and said nothing to diminish or impede the slaughter of European Jews. The modern Vatican now seeks to reward this by making Pius XII into a saint. Go figure.

Then there’s Joseph Ratzinger. This man is the reason for my blog, today, since he’s currently making news around the world. He started WWII as a Hitler Youth, and by war’s end he was shooting anti-aircraft at Allied bombers. In 2005, he changed his name to Pope Benedict XVI, but I just call him, “PappaRatzi.” This former Nazi is now standing by one of his underlings, Bishop Richard Williamson, as Williamson makes headline news asserting that no Jews ever died in Nazi gas chambers. The Vatican is standing firm on a decision that Williamson can be rehabilitated, evidently viewing Holocaust denial as something in the same class with other inadvertent misdemeanors (actually the Church calls them venial sins) like pedophilia. The Church puts a lot of stock in rehabilitation, and much less in responsibility. What probably is beyond rehabilitation is a trusting relationship between the Vatican and Israel,

I love the Vatican. I could never be creative enough to make this stuff up.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More Truth About Autism and Childhood Vaccines

Realizing that thousands of babies in Italy had been given whooping cough vaccine containing thimerasol in the early 1990s, Italian scientists saw the chance to look within this group for autism, and a possible correlation with infant vaccination. The results, reported earlier this week in the journal, Pediatrics, found only small differences in 2 of 24 brain function measurements taken in 1,403 of these children ten years after their vaccinations. Unlike past autism studies, this recent Italian study randomized the assignment of the test subjects to rule out chance factors such as education or poverty, and thus focused exclusively on a link between thimerasol and autism. No such link was found. Moreover, only one of the 1,403 children actually had autism— a mere fraction of the 1 per 150 autism rate claimed to exist in the childhood population of the U.S.A.

Like the Columbia University study published last summer, this new Italian study will be dismissed by advocacy groups like Autism Speaks, because in their ideology-based belief system, “everyone knows the truth, in spite of those special interests who twist the facts to suit their own agenda,” and the definition of a “special interest” is any scientific group who disproves a vaccine-autism link. It’s like trying to convince a hard-core JFK conspiracy buff that the Warren Report was accurate. Meanwhile, autistic youngsters wait for someone to find the REAL reason for their affliction.

Also see: Vaccine and Autism (7/2/08), The Truth About Autism? (9/6/08)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Limbaugh says, “Compromise is Just for Gutless Liberals.”

Here’s the deal. America can cast its lot with Barack Obama or Rush Limbaugh. It’s one or the other. Everyone reading this blog knows Obama, but for anyone who is unfamiliar with Limbaugh, they need to tune in by radio for three hours each day where this onetime Missouri hillbilly pontificates on everything from politics to health issues to societal trends— armed, intellectually, with nothing but his own uneducated opinion and bias. A few years ago, during the Terri Schiavo episode, Limbaugh even became a self-proclaimed expert on neuro-biology. Here’s why knowing about Limbaugh is important— Republicans buy into what he says. When you understand Limbaugh, you understand the poverty of Republican conservative ideology. And here’s why that’s important—Republicans are standing in the way of the government’s feeble attempt to fix the broken economy.

The economy is declining into uncharted territory, something akin to entering a black hole. Lessons learned during the 1930s don’t apply today because America, back then, was a manufacturing economy, and today it’s a service economy. The fact is that nobody— not even Nobel Prize-winning economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz—knows what will work to turn things around. The Democrats think the stimulus infusion should be massive government spending, but they don’t really know if that will work. The Republicans think there should be plenty of tax cuts, but they, also, don’t know if that will work. History is of no help, here. Under Bush we had both tax cuts and massive spending, and the result was our current mess, and there’s no way of knowing if things would have been different had Bush left out one or the other. As of right now, the stimulus infusion is stalled because Republicans are insisting on tax cuts, and Limbaugh is telling them that, “compromise is just for gutless Liberals.” Meanwhile, Obama still wants compromise. Obama or Limbaugh, It’s one or the other.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Coming This Thursday, Ted Haggard’s Pity Party

Onetime Evangelical superstar, Ted Haggard, has a big day coming up this Thursday. That’s when he appears on Larry King Live to promote an HBO documentary about himself that will debut that same night. The documentary project is meant to examine Haggard’s two year time in exile from his pulpit at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs— an exile resulting from revelations about Haggard’s homosexuality— and early reviews of the cable film have cynically labeled it, “Haggard’s pity party.”

New Life sent him on his way with a quarter-million-dollar severance package (see my blog of 1/20), but we didn’t know until this weekend that Haggard’s old congregation (actually it was the congregation's insurance company) also had to pony up additional tens of thousands of dollars to settle with a young man who had been homosexually involved with Haggard for years while he (Haggard) was preaching from New Life’s pulpit about the evils of gay sex. This all has a very Catholic feel about it.

Anyway, Haggard has evidently burned through his $250K severance money and he feels that now is the time to try for a comeback. Since he makes no claim about being rehabilitated from his own self-destructive sexual tendencies, I can only assume that his attempt at reinvention will be based partly on a feel-sorry-for-me approach, and also partly on the claim that he is “born again” and “right with his Savior,” or however it is that Evalgelicals phrase this stuff. For me, personally, I can’t wait to see if he still projects that smirking, arrogant confidence that always reminded me of Eddie Haskell.

Also see: Jesus = $$$$, Even In a Bad Economy

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lessons from the Chinese Dairy Industry

Embarrassed by the recent infant deaths from melamine-tainted milk, and anxious to put the scandal to rest, the Chinese courts have mandated the execution of the two men judged to be the most egregiously responsible for the problem, and long prison sentences have been issued for 19 others connected to the tragic safety failure. For me, this story has two profound implications, quite unrelated to each other, but both logically flowing from this harsh verdict issued by the Chinese court.

The first lesson, here, is that China takes its public health image very seriously. The last thing China wants is to be seen as a third-world nation when it comes to the health of its citizens. For this reason, the world can expect official China to hide, or minimize, the full extent of the H5N1 (bird flu) outbreak that is taking place there right now. The high mortality numbers that came to light in Germany this week (see yesterday’s blog, 1/22) are probably correct, and may even be lower than what is actually occurring.

Lesson number two from the death penalty verdict in China is that Communist capitalism may have a large competitive advantage over our unfettered free-market capitalism where it’s every man for himself when it comes to responsibility. Starting with Enron's Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling nine years ago, and continuing right up through John Thain in today’s news, American corporate business has seen an unbroken sequence of CEOs exploiting their companies and their employees for their own enrichment, and nothing in the American system alters or impedes this activity. Worse yet, in some circles, CEO excess is actually admired as a sign of success. What we now have is, essentially, a 21st Century feudalism where the working serfs exist to serve the lords. There is no doubt that if Bernie Madoff had pulled his little scheme in China instead of New York, he would be in his grave instead of his $7 million dollar penthouse. The accountability demanded from managers and executives in China is one reason why China will probably leave America in the dust.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Shovels in the Ground, Digging Graves

Can Obama start to fix all the problems? Maybe all but one. Unemployment, loss of consumer confidence, foreclosure-induced homelessness, lousy healthcare, lousy public education, rising sea levels, polar ice melting, CO2 pollution, anti-terrorist foreign wars— maybe #44 can make some headway with all of these troubles. Maybe not. But God help him, and God help all of us if H5N1continues its present course of genetic drift.

Since mid January, reports out of China have told of a new case of human H5N1 (bird flu) infection every few days. The Chinese official death count is still less than ten. That’s the “official” report. But then, this week, at a virology conference in Germany, Japanese virologist, Masato Tashiro, revealed to an astonished audience that Chinese colleagues had passed along information about the true magnitude of the H5N1 problem in China. The real death count is over 300, with an additional 3000 Chinese citizens quarantined with suspected infection. But here’s the worst part, the anonymous Chinese whistle blowers have confirmed seven cases of human to human transmission.

Over the past few years, there have been infrequent and sporadic reports of humans contracting bird flu from infected chickens, but until now there had not been a verified case of human to human transmission. This ghastly new development signals that the H5N1 virus has successfully accomplished the genetic drift that would allow it to become the worldwide pandemic we have been taught to fear, and while the virus was mutating to a new lethal variant, we human beings shrank the world by enabling an easy intra-national exchange of citizenry in the interest of promoting globalization. What we now have is the equivalent of the “hot zone” scenario where a killer virus escapes from the biological research laboratory in Fort Dietrich, Maryland.

If, as informed scientists are predicting, H5N1 becomes pandemic, then all of our other problems will diminish to insignificance. Those shovels in the ground that the government keeps promising will become a widespread reality, digging graves.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jesus = $$$$, Even In a Bad Economy

Business news coverage of the economic decay fails to tell me about the effect on one of America’s biggest enterprises, Evangelical televangelism, so I went looking for myself to see if the folks at Trinity Broadcasting might need a government bailout. All I can say is, “Hallelujah.” The Scriptures still provide a successful business opportunity.

Kenneth Copeland’s giant BVOV operation in Texas has adopted the time-tested sales strategy of selling the features and benefits of the product. The product in this case is eternal Salvation, and it’s pitched to TV viewers much like an extended service warranty on a new kitchen appliance, only in this case the appliance is our personal invisible soul. The point of Copeland’s message is that money sent to BVOV is not a donation. It’s an “investment” in the future. None of this is required to pass SEC scrutiny.

Paula White, as she does every January, is pitching her message of “First Fruits.” The idea, here, is that TV viewers are asked to send Paula their salary for the first week of January, or even their first month’s salary if they feel especially generous. This, they are told, will work like a seed planted in the ground, and will generate a bountiful harvest of fruits multiplied many times over. Contributors must take Paula’s word on this. No seed, no harvest. Also, no scrutiny from the SEC for Pastor Paula.

As with Wall Street CEOs, Evangelical religious leaders can bail out with a substantial golden parachute if their career goes in the tank. Take the case of Ted Haggard. Two years ago, he was found having a homosexual tryst, which for Christians is the equivalent of robbing a bank with an AK-47. His New Life Church sent him on his way with $152K in salary, $62K in salary for his wife, $11K for legal fees, $26K for assistance with their special-needs son, and $26K for counseling to convert him back to heterosexuality. The counseling fund turned out to be a waste of money. Haggard says now that his sexual identity is “complex,” which must be of marginal comfort to his wife and children.

If Bernie Madoff goes to jail, he can contemplate the idea that he made his money in the wrong business.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Understanding Pfizer’s Latest Job Cuts

If you’re afflicted with Alzheimer’s, cancer, schizophrenia, pain, inflammation, or diabetes, help may still be on the way to you from Pfizer. But if your health problem is anemia, bone loss, obesity, a gastrointestinal disorder, osteoarthritis, or cardiovascular and peripheral artery disease, you’d better not count on the world’s largest drug maker. CEO, Jeff Kindler, has been forced to make hard choices ever since he took over from Hank McKinnell at the helm of Pfizer, but none of those choices were as far reaching as this week’s decision to cut 800 research jobs, and to close down the search for therapies to treat some of mankind’s most common diseases.

I don’t have access to Pfizer’s boardroom, but this certainly seems like a departure from Pfizer’s basic business model which has proven extremely successful over the last quarter century. The drug giant’s strategy has always been to invest more than its competitors in research to develop blockbuster therapies, and then to market them more aggressively than the competition. To become a blockbuster, however, a drug needs to treat a disease which is common to a great many patients, and arguably the most common health problem in America is obesity. With new data showing that an alarming one-third of all Americans are obese, and with nearly all post menopausal women justifiably concerned about bone loss, these two maladies unquestionably afflict far more people than schizophrenia. The only explanation for Pfizer’s strange choice of what stays and what goes away seems to be that they are keeping the research intact where the near term results are most likely to bear fruit.

All of this is designed to cut costs in anticipation of the disaster that awaits the company in late 2011. That’s when Lipitor goes off patent, and if the past is any indicator of the future, then 90% of the Lipitor business will fall to the generic replacements. Lipitor accounts for more than a quarter of Pfizer’s total sales volume, so the stakes could not be higher. There might be a strategy in the works, however, to meet this challenge. The rumor on the street, there, in New York at 42nd and Lexington is that Pfizer is preparing to move aggressively into a generic business of its own.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Ten Pickup Truck Commercials a Hundred Times Over

Greetings from the Detroit Auto Show, which is always my favorite media project of the year. This year, I prepped myself by watching three weeks of non-stop football, during which I sat through a thousand pickup truck commercials from the big three automakers. Actually, to be more precise, I watched ten pickup truck commercials a hundred times over. All of them were calculated to clear out unwanted inventory by selling manliness. There wasn’t a single woman— not even one— driving any of those pickup trucks, nor were any women depicted watching the truck drivers being manly, and since women make more than half of all new vehicle buying decisions, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t see any pickup trucks at Detroit this year. I was right.

The show has changed over the years, but never more so than this year. From the 1920s (no, I wasn’t attending back then) up through the 1970s, Detroit and the other gala auto shows in New York and Los Angeles fired our imaginations and took us on fantasy journeys where we glimpsed the future of car travel, and the shows did this in such a way that we couldn’t wait to arrive at that future. The irony is that all of this happened long before the advertising industry started using psychologists and focus groups to scientifically measure ways to reach the buyers. As marketing has become more sophisticated (at least when it comes to cars), the final offering to buyers has become less enticing. The Detroit Auto Show this week may be the pinnacle of that decline.

In the heyday of auto shows (the 1950s) the sizzle on the steak came from the concept cars— full size next-generation prototypes provided by the carmakers to showcase future offerings, as well as to gauge the reaction of prospective car buyers. In effect, the customer was brought into the process of finalizing the automotive designs. Then, somewhere in the 1970s, all those design decisions were passed to the suits in the marketing departments. Today, only the limited-production car builders like McLaren and Bugatti are doing those eye-popping, jaw-dropping concept projects. The result can be seen in the 2008 business performance of the mainstream, mass production car industry, which hit an all time low. There was a time when people at the Detroit Auto Show would say to the auto industry representatives, “Where do I sign up to buy one of those beauties?” This year, people seemed to be saying, “Is that the best thing you’ve got?”

Monday, January 12, 2009

Good Riddance

The nightmare is almost over. Harry Reid (above) expresses the sentiment felt by most of us as the 43rd President prepares to leave office next week. His farewell news conference this morning was vintage George W. Bush as he expressed no regrets, and offered no apology for any aspect of his job performance. He characterized the absence of WMDs in Iraq as a “disappointment,” which is like having a gun pressed against your forehead and being “disappointed” to find out that it’s not loaded. Nevertheless, a quarter of all Americans will miss him. His absolute certitude made him the poster boy for Conservative Christianity—an ideology where it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong just as long as you’re unwavering in your certainty.
The United States of America will never— ever—again be as morally good, and as successful as it was when Bush took office eight years ago, and some aspects of the American dream have been lost forever. Bush is confident that future historians will judge him kindly, in effect saying that only the passing of time will clear his good name. Actually, I believe that only the passing of time will finally show us how badly he damaged our country.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

“Sweet Caroline”— an Early Review of the Upcoming Sarah Palin Interview

She’s back. Sarah Palin has done a video interview with media Conservative, John Ziegler, to be televised next month. The thrust, here, is to make the case that Liberal media bias does exist, and that this bias, focused against Palin in the election, gave the victory to Obama. The accusation is nothing new, but there’s a new wrinkle in it that didn’t exist before election time— namely, the candidacy of Caroline Kennedy for the open New York Senate seat. Palin compares herself— rural, middle class, relatively unknown, and Conservative, with Kennedy— urban (Manhattan), very wealthy, famous, and Liberal. Like Palin before the election, Kennedy has recently had some major gaffes in her response to media questions, but according to Palin, the media is giving Kennedy a pass because of her urban, wealthy, Liberal status.

Sarah Palin actually has some of it right. The mainstream media really is treating Caroline Kennedy with more gentleness than it showed to Sarah Palin, and that’s not counting the lampoons from SNL that helped torpedo the “Tundra Tootsie.” Where Palin has it wrong is in blaming the attributes cited above for the differences in media attention. None of this has anything to do with rural vs. urban, or Conservative vs. Liberal. What accounts for the difference in media treatment is the personality differences in the two women. It all comes down to personal style.

Presidents are selected by the American voters in the very same way that Junior High School students select their class officers. The contest is decided on the popularity of the candidates, and the popularity is based on their personality. It’s all about personality, and nothing more. Sarah Palin presented an image to the voters of a wise-cracking hipster, with flirtatious winks and elements of stand-up comedy in her speeches. I don’t know if all of this came from her, or if much of it was orchestrated by her handlers and advisers. By itself, it wasn’t a glaring negative, but even in Junior High School, a hipster can’t get elected if he or she is a phony. And a person pretending to be hip needs to be able to tell someone where they get their news. If they can’t name a newspaper, then they should say they use the Internet. But if they’re totally clueless about news, then they’re phony. Even worse, if they adopt a “how-dare-you-ask-that-question” demeanor, and bitch about the person asking the question, then they’re just plain lame.

Caroline Kennedy presents an image of shyness, and sincere humility about not being able to answer some essential media questions. She seems like a genuinely nice lady, and that’s not a public image that motivates SNL to do a nasty parody. Her shied isn’t Liberalism, it’s that she’s slightly boring to watch. By contrast, Sarah Palin is a lightening rod who is always fascinating to watch, in the same way that we were fascinated to watch Roseanne Barr singing the National Anthem at the baseball game in 1990. Palin needs to let this go. She lost the election fair and square.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ann Coulter’s Hidden Agenda

Conservative columnist, Ann Coulter, is making the rounds of the morning talk shows promoting her new book— yet another in her long series of tomes devoted to bashing Liberalism. I don’t recall the title of this newest offering, but it doesn’t matter since the writing of it was clearly nothing more than a therapy exercise to help her deal with her emotional devastation in the wake of the last national election. These Conservative people are having a really hard time with our newest incoming President.

Coulter’s latest tact is to blame Liberalism for the high percentage of mothers who are raising their offspring as single parents. Her outrageously-incendiary claim is that every problem in America stems from single motherhood. Here’s the idiocy of that position, given Coulter’s Conservatism. She represents an ideology that is against sex education in the schools, and against abortion even in the case of rape, and against the easy availability of birth control methods for single girls. Her answer to the problem is abstinence, even though study after study shows that the abstinence pledges are a waste of time when it comes to reducing illegitimate birth rates.

Given that the topic of fatherless families has been around for at least two decades (and for a dozen of those years the government was Republican and Conservative), my question for Ms. Coulter is, “Why Now?” What’s her agenda in raising this issue at this time? I believe that there’s more, here, than meets the eye. With more than half of all African American babies being born out of wedlock, this issue of absentee fathers is an issue that doesn’t showcase black American culture in the best light. Nobody disputes that, not even black Liberals if they’re being objective. And in case anyone hasn’t noticed, our incoming President is part of the black American culture. Ann Coulter’s agenda isn’t about Liberalism and single moms, it’s about Obama and his dark complexion. As I’ve said many times before, just because radical Conservatives don’t dress in white getups anymore, that doesn’t mean that they’re not sympathetic with Klan ideology.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

It’s the annual football orgy time with NFL playoffs and a seemingly endless stream of bowl games, and this year it represented a chance for the dying auto makers to advertise their way out of bankruptcy with a Fed fueled cash injection paying for the TV spots. Since I was going to be watching most of the games anyway, I decided to use this opportunity to monitor the advertisements more closely than I’d done in the past. Here’s what I found.

GM and Chrysler were, by far, the most prolific sponsors of televised football this year. Every single game that I watched had the play on the field interrupted by AT LEAST a dozen car commercials. Twelve was a minimum. Some games had two or three times that number. Chrysler’s advertising agency, BBDO Detroit, seems to believe that college football audiences are overwhelmingly made up of testosterone-loaded young macho types who dream of piloting Dodge Ram pickup trucks through fiery explosions as they drive like a bat out of hell without pavement under the tires. Maybe BBDO Detroit has the Chrysler customer demographic dialed in to perfection, but I have to believe that these commercials (which look like they’re being filmed in a war zone) have a lot more to do with the fact that Dodge Ram pickup sales are still languishing in the aftermath of $4.00 gas.

GM’s new advertising agency for Cadillac, Modernista!, is trying something rather daring. They are conspicuously tying the GM brand to the various makes and models from Pontiac and Cadillac in addition to Chevrolet. I wouldn’t have believed that there was anyone left in America who didn’t know that Cadillac was a subsidiary of GM, but since Modernista! believes this, here’s my question— is now the time to set the record straight just as GM CEO, Rick Wagoner is fresh from his Congressional fiasco? Wouldn’t it be better to let a prospective buyer for an Escalade think that, since the vehicle has a European sounding name, it must be made by a foreign car maker? This is especially true since GM is touting a 5 year warranty in the new commercials. Good luck with that GM warranty three years from now.

The tragedy is that none— zilch—zero percent of the commercials from GM and Chrysler were for green vehicles that would give fuel efficiency and lower emissions.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Media Bias— Is It Real?

As January 20th approaches, the Right Wing radio ayatollahs are even more fanatic and livid than they were on election night. It’s not so much Limbaugh and Hannity who are seething as it is the local Conservative Rush wannabes that bombard their listeners in every large urban market outside of Oregon and New England. Having failed to gain traction with the Antichrist and the born-in-Kenya accusations against Obama, these modern-day Father Coughlins are now obsessed with the notion that Obama was elected only because of Liberal media bias. It’s inconceivable to them that the majority of the American people rejected the Conservative position based on fact rather than misinformation. Here’s my question. What— exactly— is their notion of media bias?

The Katy Couric interviews with Sarah Palin got a lot of television time, and the fact is that Palin’s performance was not digitally altered. What TV viewers saw was reality. Palin suffered greatly for her pathetic attempt to look well-informed, but the same can be said for Caroline Kennedy now that it’s her turn on the target end of the turkey shoot. Palin is Conservative and Kennedy is Liberal, so where’s the bias? Was Jon Stewart considered a media guy or a comedian? Was SNL parody considered media coverage? I would suggest that these comedy outlets lack any kind of political bias, and before the election they went after the candidates based on how ridiculous the candidates looked. I’ve always said that Conservatives just don’t do well with humor.

As for George W. Bush, the worst (and in my opinion, the truest) thing ever said about him didn’t come from the media. “Bush,” it was said, “Is like a combination of the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow, and the Lion in the Wizard of OZ. He has no heart, and no brain, and no courage.” The man who said this was John McCain in the 2000 primary election. McCain isn’t exactly a media mouthpiece.

Democracy depends on having the losing side in an election accept defeat. The Conservatives need to get over themselves.