Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Do You Get When You Marginalize Women?

More than ever, I’m now convinced that the fable about “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was actually meant to be a metaphorical jab at the Catholic Church. Growing up Catholic in the 1950s, I was taught that the Pope spoke with infallibility when he spoke “ex cathedra” on matters of faith and morals, so I assumed that his recent comments about condom use carried some substantive weight on the subject. I know now that, what I wasn’t taught in the 1950s, is that papal infallibility is subject to a vetting process by the Vatican PR machine, whereby an infallible comment by a Pope can be “clarified” so that the pontiff doesn’t come off looking like a befuddled old fool. It was in this spirit of Vatican “clarification” that I learned today that condom use hasn’t received a green light after all (see my blog of 11/23). What was I thinking??

This “clarification” comes on the same day that the archdiocese of Phoenix, Arizona severed its affiliation with a (formerly) Catholic hospital because a nun at the hospital chose to end an 11 week pregnancy to save the life of the mother. If you’ve ever wondered which life is valued most highly by the Catholic Church— the life of an adult woman or the life of an unborn fetus— the Bishop of Phoenix has answered the question. Incidentally, the Bishop excommunicated the nun at the hospital who made the life-saving decision. By contrast, priests who sodomize and molest young children are NOT excommunicated.

The global scandal over priestly pedophilia, by grabbing all the media attention, has masked the fact that the Roman Catholic Church is dysfunctional and morally bankrupt in many other ways that have nothing to do with children. What we see in Catholicism is an example of an institution that, by marginalizing women, has denied for itself the civilizing and soothing influence that women bring into every aspect of human affairs where they’re allowed to participate. For the life of me, I’ll never understand why any woman would freely choose to be Catholic when they have so many better options.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No Love Story for Pfizer

It was just 15 months ago that Pfizer paid $2.3 billion in the largest healthcare fraud settlement ever. It also happened to be the largest criminal fine of any kind ever paid. Moreover, this was the fourth time Pfizer had been punished for illegal marketing activities since 2002, although the previous settlements had been much smaller. Most of the Pfizer malfeasance occurred in the form of “off label recommendation,” a common practice by pharmaceutical salespeople in which doctors are encouraged (and oftentimes even bribed) to prescribe medication in cases where the drug is not approved by the FDA, and the activity is played out within the incestuous relationship that’s evolved over the years between physicians and drug reps. Unless you’ve actually worked as a drug rep or worked in a medical office, it’s almost impossible to understand how a vendor-customer relationship can become so devious and dysfunctional.

I’m happy to report that, as of this week, the average person now has a voyeuristic window into this shadow world of back-scratching drug promotion. Just when Pfizer was comfortable knowing that the general public had forgotten about the $2.3 billion fine, Pfizer now has to watch its marketing machine pictured for all the world to see on the giant screen in the nearest multiplex. “Love and Other Drugs” is the title of a surprisingly good chick flick which opened in movie theaters this week, and the love story is played within the context of the world of medicine and big pharma (Pfizer), depicting pharmaceutical industry shenanigans with such uncanny accuracy that at times it almost informs the viewer like a documentary.

In a massive irony of coincidental timing, Pfizer CEO, Jeff Kindler, “resigned” (winky winky) this week to spend time with his family. The fact is, I don’t see how he tolerated the job at the top of Pfizer as long as he did. It was only twelve years ago that Pfizer, under the brilliant stewardship of Bill Steere, was voted by Fortune Magazine as the most respected corporation in America. Not only was Pfizer the best in both science and ethical marketing, but it was the darling of Wall Street, earning legitimate billions for its investors. It’s tantalizing to speculate what might have happened if Jeff Kindler had followed Bill Steere twelve years ago when Pfizer stock was at $48 and the shares were splitting every two years. Such was not the case, however. Kindler came in after eight years of Hank McKinnell, and by then the damage had been done. If you wonder about Pfizer stock, its price— just like the age of Peggy Sue— will forever be under 21.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vatican Gives Green Light To Concom Use

This week, Pope Benedict issued new guidelines for the use of condoms. I'm surprised at this for two reasons. First, I'm surprised that old "Nazi Ratzi" even knows what condoms are. Who would have thought. Second, I'm always surprised that there are people who consider these Papal announcements to be important. I suppose that these are the same people whose lives would blossom and whose hearts would flutter if some old airline chef gave out his obsolete recipes for in-flight meals.

The Vatican announcement about condoms comes on the same day that a Catholic Priest in Texas, John Fiala, was arrested for plotting the murder of a teenager whom he had been sexually molesting. Fiala said he wanted to silence the teen to "prevent embarrassment for The Church." I believe that the Catholic trolley jumped the track back when the definition of "Hail Mary" was changed to mean a last ditch attempt to win a football game with a a long, desperate pass to the end zone. Maybe Benedict's relaxed views on condom use are his "Hail Mary" attempt to regain some respect for his troubled and tarnished Catholic Church.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What is Sarah Palin Telling Us About Herself?

Here’s the only statistic that we need to know. The top 1% of the American population owns 34% of the personal wealth in the country. Financial inequity like this doesn’t exist in any other developed nation on earth, and historically this kind of outrageous distribution and concentration of wealth has usually been associated with African dictatorships and banana republics and Iron Curtain oligarchies during the middle of the last century.

In her newest book (according to excerpts leaked this week before the book’s publication) Sarah Palin has said that Barack Obama sees America as unjust and unfair. Since this wasn’t meant to compliment the President, the clear implication is that Sarah sees America as just and fair, and this isn’t surprising given the fact that she is being paid a million dollars per episode for her new reality show featuring the Tundra Tootsie and her family frolicking in their home state of Alaska. Sarah is rapidly worming her way into that top one percent, and I’m sure that this looks perfectly just and fair to her.

What we are seeing in America is, in the light of history, a familiar picture. Nations in decline always show the same indicators. The flags get more numerous (yes, the definition of flags includes all those obnoxious little ribbon loops plastered on the back of automobiles). The patriotic parades and celebrations get larger and more passionate. The rhetoric gets more disconnected from reality, and eventually a dangerous, and often cartoonish, demagogue emerges promising to lead the failing nation into a new dawn. Enter Sarah Palin. Following in the footsteps of Imelda Marcos or Eva Peron, insisting all the while that she's not really a diva, Sarah Palin seems to see herself fulfilling some kind of queen-like destiny as she exhorts the peasants to take up their torches and pitchforks so she can lead them out of modern American serfdom. The thing is, most Americans are just dumb enough to go along with it. I wouldn't bet against her.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Waiting for Superman" is Worth a Look

A minister, found guilty of disreputable or squalid behavior, can lose his church and even be shunned from his congregation. A physician found to be incompetent can lose his medical license. Incompetent or unethical lawyers can be disbarred. Even in the military, top officers can be drummed out of the service if they are pathetically unable to perform their job as required, although it happens rarely. Only one job in America offers the prospect of total freedom from accountability with almost no chance of being fired for non-performance. That job is the job of public school teacher.

I’ve just seen the film, “Waiting for Superman,” and it’s evident to me that American public school children are being allowed to fail to protect teacher tenure. Once in a rare while, a teacher does get fired, but a doctor’s chance of being barred from practicing medicine is 50 times more likely than a teacher’s chance of getting fired. Does this mean that teachers are 50 times more competent than doctors? Not a chance.

We in America have always put public school teachers on a pedestal, and I’m always skeptical of hero groups that are put on pedestals. Growing up in the 1950s, Catholic priests were put on pedestals, and 50 years later we all know how that worked out. Public school teachers consider themselves “professionals,” but one definition of a professional is someone who can charge more for his services if he does a better job than his counterparts. Thanks to tenure and the teacher unions, wages for all teachers are pretty much standardized, and exceptional performance is not allowed to command a larger paycheck. Fact is, public school teachers, by this definition, are not professionals. They are public employees, and this puts them in the same class with garbage collectors.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What Makes a Cyber Bully?

Overcome with humiliation and shame, a college student ends his own life after his single flirtation with gay sex is exposed on the internet. At about the same time, a teenage girl is accused by a friend on facebook of being "ugly," and after failing at her own attempt at suicide, she enters into psychological treatment and counseling to repair her shattered ego. These and numerous other incidents of cyber bullying take place within a social network where popularity and status is viewed as a zero-sum game, and one person rises in stature by driving down the reputation or image of someone else. There is additional power in the ability to electronically communicate the slander and negativity to the entire world.

These and similar recent incidents happen against the backdrop of a political campaign season, and in this arena, every politician uses outrageous accusations and egregious falsehoods to degrade the opposing candidate's image and reputation. This arena truly is a zero-sum game where the goal is to totally destroy the opposition. Here, too, the squalid negativity and outright lies are communicated electronically to the greatest possible audience. I believe that these two different scenarios are connected.

I don't hold a very high opinion of my fellow American citizens. I think that basically we're a nation of nitwits. Readers of this blog, however, should be aware by now that my low opinion of the population doesn't extend down to the teenage level. I believe that maladjusted teenagers, as well as the public school system which incubates them, are all just reflections of the greater adult society. Teenagers don't invent their despicable actions, they mostly just copy them from the adults they see. And when it comes to destroying reputations, the recent example seen by the teenagers comes from the adults at the very top of the food chain.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Finally It's Over

Today finally marks the merciful end of three months of "death by attack ad." If it seems like nasty TV political campaign advertising has dramatically escalated this year, it's not your imagination. The Supreme Court (those same mirthful jokesters who installed George W. Bush in 2000) decided last year that corporations could pour unlimited dollars into campaigns without telling the voters who they were supporting, or what they expected for their money. The result is that this 2010 campaign season has given us a 200% increase in negative attack ads. For those who learned arithmetic in public schools, that means the number of ads had tripled. Furthermore, says that their monitoring of these ads shows that fully 85% of the negative ads are either nothing but manipulative distortion of outright bogus lies. This is what passes for campaign activity in modern America.

I have a confession to make, here. For the first time in my adult life, going back to 1964 when I became old enough to vote (I voted for Goldwater) I deliberately chose not to vote this year. The Democrats deserve to lose, and the Republicans don't deserve to win, and casting a vote for any candidate this year just seemed to me like rewarding bad behavior. The good thing is that I can watch the election results tonight with complete impartiality, knowing that whoever goes down to defeat richly deserves to lose.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mark Zuckerberg— You Wanna Improve Public Education?

With the release of the film, “Waiting for Superman,” and with Facebook’s CEO donating $100 million to improve the schools in Newark NJ, America suddenly has its underpants tied up in knots over the pathetic state of the nation’s public schools. Predictably, all three major television news networks will piggyback on this hubbub by serving up their own version of concern about education— promising major news coverage of public school shortcomings to be broadcast over the course of all five weeknights next week. Gee, I can hardly wait. In the meantime, I have two cents to throw into the pot.

One of the smartest guys I know is my own brother-in-law who retired from a career in public education, most of it spent as the principal of an Iowa elementary school. Thirty years ago he told me something quite profound. He said, “The primary role of public education is to perpetuate the culture and values of the nation, so the state of public education simply mirrors the state of the country.” WOW, he nailed it, and I never forgot what he said. In the thirty years since then I’ve added my own caveat. American culture is portrayed, and to some degree even shaped, by network non-cable television, so if you want to understand what’s going on in schools, just watch network television. And not just the programs, but the commercials too, because television commercials keenly reflect societal tastes and behaviors.

It’s just a given that in any representation of the American family on television, the father will always be portrayed as the family nitwit— usually being upstaged by his own kids, sometimes as young as three or four. The little child actors spout wisecracks and put-downs like tiny miniature Jon Stewarts or Will Ferrells, and the clear message is that kids start out incredibly smart and grow progressively more stupid as they grow older. Being cool or hip (are those words still in use?) is always shown as more desirable and fashionable than being intelligent, and any teenager would rather be able to come up with a perfectly-timed punch line than to be able to solve a quadratic equation.

It’s not just the present school age generation that’s being dumbed down. American ignorance and stupidity didn’t just happen overnight. It took 20 or 30 or 40 years to take root. A recent study found that a majority of American adults of voting age thought that a billion was twice as much as a million, and this misconception is constantly exploited in this voting season by political television commercials that skew the reality of how much money it takes to actually run the largest economy on earth.

American public education was shaped in the 19th century to meet the need for workers who could transition from the farms into the factories of the industrial revolution. Back then, the United States actually made things, but those days are gone forever. America is now primarily a service economy, as everyone knows, and maybe some of the skills that we see lacking in the school curriculum are no longer relevant. Maybe the kids are actually the ones who have it figured out. Maybe a wisecracking quick wit would be more useful than fluency in calculus or algebra if your role in life is to grow up and sell real estate or high-priced automobiles and techno-gadgets. One thing is sure, the culture of America won’t go back to the way it was 50 years ago, so likewise, the public schools will never again look like schools did back then. In the meantime, I have some advice for Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. You wanna improve public education? Keep your $100 million— and make a high school diploma mandatory for all Facebook users

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Love Song for Papa Ratzi

Papa Ratzi (short for Ratzinger), otherwise known as Pope Benedict, is visiting the U.K. this week, and the advance media report states that sometime during his visit, he will be serenaded by the lovely voice of a winsome homegrown lass from the British Isles. It turns out that the singer will be Susan Boyle. Too bad. I was hoping it would be Sinead O’Connor.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Tea Party, and Why I Love It

I love watching the Tea Party for the same reason I always loved watching Wylie Coyote chase the Road Runner out beyond the edge of the rock precipice. It’s just a lot of fun to see that look of surprise that comes with the realization there’s nothing underneath but empty air. Tea Party candidates will undoubtedly win seats in congress come November, at which time they will come face to face with a number of unsolvable problems. The jobs necessary to bring down unemployment simply no longer exist in sufficient quantity. The national debt can’t come down when people absolutely refuse to pay higher taxes. The war in Afghanistan, like the war 40 years ago in Vietnam, is not something we can win. Deregulation, “getting the government off our backs” in TeaPartyspeak, is guaranteed to result in more episodes like the BP oil spill, and the home mortgage meltdown, and the salmonella-tainted egg recall, and the Wall Street derivatives scam, and the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical failures— because as hideous as government is, it’s not nearly as damaging as the unregulated and unprincipled corporate pursuit of profit above all else.

Unsolvable problems are a gift from heaven to a candidate running against the establishment, but a nightmare to an elected official when it comes his or her turn to make things better. The American electorate has basically become ungovernable— a good thing for those outside government looking to get in, and a frightening thing for those in power. One thing I would like to see is a breakdown of the unemployed along party lines, because it seems like unemployed Republicans blame the Democrats, and unemployed Democrats blame the Republicans. This, of course, raises the question of what happens when both disgruntled groups turn their sights on the Tea Party?

During the next two years, watch for the Wylie Coyote look of helpless resignation on the face of newly-elected Tea Party honchos. For a sicko like me, who gets off on the humor of satire, cynicism, and sarcasm, it just can’t get any better.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

It’s the Oil, Stupid

As a wave of anti-Islamic hysteria sweeps the U.S. on the 9th anniversary of 9/11, patriotic pundits tell us that this behavior runs counter to our basic notion of American pluralistic tolerance and inclusiveness. Oh, really? Tell that to the Indians (the kind on the buffalo nickel, not the citizens of India). In the last 150 years, in addition to the Indians, the following groups have been on the receiving end of intolerance, bigotry, xenophobia, prejudice, racial violence, and outright hatred from good upstanding patriotic Americans— Irish Catholics, non-Catholic Irish, Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Mexicans, Italians, people with black-colored skin, people with brown skin who look like they might have a tinge of African ancestry, Jews, non-Jews who have Jewish sounding surnames, and most recently the Muslims. Add to this list, anyone who might have once entertained a private curiosity about Communism, or anyone who ever had sex with someone of their own gender. I apologize to anyone I might have overlooked who’s earned America’s contempt by being “different.”

This analysis would seem to suggest that Muslims are merely the latest group being picked on by a nation that has always picked on one sub group or another. Actually, the Muslim situation is far different. None of the other groups mentioned above owned any oil. The Indians, back in the early days, didn’t have any oil, but they controlled every other natural resource on the North American continent, and for this they were subjected to a century of genocidal extermination. Our government leaders constantly tell us that we, as a nation, are not at war with Islam. Yesterday, on 9/11, Obama expanded this to say, “We are not, and never will be at war with Islam.” The Bureau of Indian Affairs spouted pretty much the same message throughout the nineteenth century to a people who were being slaughtered or driven into refugee status. Watch and see what would happen if Saudi Arabia, the home of Mecca and the very center of Islam, ever cut off our supply of oil.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

We All Get On Each Other’s Nerves

Shock and awe was NOT what took place over Baghdad in March of 2003. It’s hard to achieve any shock value from an event when you use the months preceding it to tell everyone that soon you will do something shocking. Because of all the hype leading up to that fiasco, the exercise itself was little more than an overblown 4th of July fireworks demonstration that surprised nobody and produced no lasting benefit. Shock and awe was what took place over lower Manhattan nine years ago this coming Saturday, and America was so shocked and awed by 9/11 that we, as a nation, will probably never get over it. It explains why, today, most of us view Muslims with at least a tinge of cautious suspicion (if we are completely honest about it). This isn’t racism or xenophobia, it’s enlightened self-interest.

The flip side of this, of course, is that ordinary citizens in Baghdad or Mosul or Kabul or Kandahar view all American soldiers with suspicion. Our troops will never be loved over there, and Muslims will never be loved in our country. For at least 60 years, the United States has subjected Muslims in the Middle East to political manipulation and lethal skullduggery just to get at their oil, so when one of them straps on a bomb vest and blows a few of our troops to smithereens, it should come as no surprise. Similarly, when some Christian pastor in Gainesville, Florida plans to burn a few Korans on 9/11, it should come as no surprise. Top U.S. military commander, Gen. David Petraeus warns us that burning Korans will inflame Muslims around the world and put our troops in harm’s way. My question is — how would we be able to tell, since Islam looks pretty inflamed already and our troops are already dying with extreme and violent regularity, so how would that be different? Maybe Muslims are inflamed by 60 years of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, going back to our installation of the Shah in Iran. I’d like to hear Petraeus give us his thoughts on that subject.

Basically, there are seven billion people in the world and we all get on each other’s nerves. It’s no more complicated than that. We in America think we’re exceptional, but every nation and culture on earth thinks the same thing, and here’s the deal — all of us are right about that.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Total Victory (But Not Recently)

65 years ago today, the Japanese formally surrendered to the United States, ending World War II. It would be the last time that a wartime foe would unconditionally surrender to us, although it would certainly not be our last war. For the last two days, some of my conservative friends have been behaving as though this total wartime victory happened just last week as they complain about Obama’s end of combat in Iraq, acting like they think it should have ended like just World War II. That fact is, a lot has happened between those two events.

We left the Korean peninsula in 1953 leaving the power and prestige of our enemies, the Chinese and the North Koreans, undiminished in any way. But Eisenhower was president then, and he was a Republican. We left Vietnam in 1975 after having been defeated ourselves, leaving Ho Chi Minh victorious and 58,000 of our young men dead for no good cause. But Gerry Ford was president then, and Ford was a Republican. We pulled out of Lebanon in 1983 having achieved nothing whatsoever but the loss of 241 Marines who died while sleeping in their own barracks. But Ronald Reagan was president then, and he was a Republican. We left Iraq (the first time) in 1991while George H.W. Bush (another Republican) was president, leaving Saddam Hussein and most of the top Iraqi leadership firmly in place to fight another day. That could hardly be called “unconditional” surrender on their part.

What makes Obama unique is not that he is ending a war under conditions that are worse than when the war started. All U.S. wars have ended that way for 65 years. What’s unique is that Obama is the first president to go through this frustration who happens to be a Democrat. And by the way, he’s also black. That’s why my conservative friends are upset.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Restoring the Honor of America

The Beck - Palin rally at the Lincoln Memorial last Saturday seemed to be all about restoring our nation's honor, so why am I so disgusted?

At the rally in Washington D.C. on August 28th, Glenn Beck wasted no time in bringing God on board to help solidify his cause, and while he didn’t specify which God, it was a sure bet that he meant the one who goes by the name of Jesus Christ. This isn’t the first time that these two forces, the white Christian conservatives and the Lord and Savior of All Mankind, have teamed up to restore the honor of the United States. In the past, their cooperative efforts involved the wearing of white robes and hooded masks and the burning of crosses. The cross burning was to let everyone know that Jesus was OK with the whole “honor restoration” thing. Of course, The Prince of Peace and Son of the Everlasting God never actually showed up at any of these old-time cross burnings, but that never mattered. It was always well understood that white conservatives were empowered to speak and act on His behalf. It's still that way today.

It’s just a little curious to me that these people choose to restore America’s honor at the very time when the nation elects the first black man to the Presidency. Where was their concern about honor during the Bush administration when the entire world considered the United States of America to be something of a “scumbag” country? Oh wait. Now I remember. Bush was white and Christian.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Palin – Beck, 2012

Last week on the main street of Golden, Colorado, my wife and I saw a 1984 Ford pickup truck with hunting rifle in the back window and a bumper sticker that read, Palin-Beck 2012. My wife asked me if I thought that such a ticket had any chance of becoming a reality. I told her that I would answer that question after the Beck-Palin pep rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, August 28th, and now, after that event last Saturday, I’m convinced that Palin and Beck could well become the future of the Republican political leadership. For white conservatives, it’s hard to disagree with their message of restoring the honor of the United States, which basically is just euphemistic wording for a call to recapture the America of the 1950s when they were freely allowed to trounce on Negros and communists.

There’s one small problem. Anyone who isn’t black-skinned or communist would love to go back to those prosperous and optimistic days before Vietnam and Watergate when everyone could find a well-paying job and immigration wasn’t a dirty word. But those days are gone forever. Somewhere between the 1965 escalation in Vietnam and the criminally unlawful invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States of America lost its virginity. And virginity never can be regained. It’s wishful thinking to look at a drug-addicted, middle-age whore and think that she can go back to her adolescence of sweet innocence.

The Palin-Beck crowd seems to think that flag waving patriotism and ubiquitous Christianity can carry America back to greatness, and with 30% of young Americans lacking a high school education, and about 14% of all Americans unemployed, a gullible and frustrated pool of eager believers is certainly there to receive the Palin-Beck message. Only time will tell if there are enough of these people to win a major election for a populist ticket like Palin-Beck, but at this point I wouldn’t bet against it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

This Week’s Timely Lesson from Iraq

“The Christian missionaries came to Papua New Guinea two hundred years ago,” said an anthropologist to my wife and me over cocktails one night in Alotau, Papua New Guinea. “The missionaries had an abundance of bibles, and the local indigenous people had all the land. A century and a half later, the local people had all the bibles and the missionaries had all the land.”

I was reminded of this during the last two days. On Tuesday (August 24th) the last of the American combat troops left Iraq, and the following day the insurgents (or al-Qaeda, or the Taliban, or whatever the hell we call the bad guys this week) unleashed a torrent of terror across Iraq, killing at least 60 people in a dozen or more coordinated locations, just to prove that they still had real power. When the United States unlawfully invaded Iraq seven years ago, Iraq had dysfunctional and internationally distasteful leadership and America had an abundance of deadly munitions. Seven years later, Iraq has an abundance of deadly munitions, and the United States has dysfunctional and internationally distasteful leadership (mostly at the congressional level).

From Vietnam to Cambodia to Somalia to Lebanon to Iraq to Afghanistan, the lesson is the same— when the U.S. comes into your land to bring liberty and democracy, it’s a death sentence for your innocent people.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Why Do They Think the Truth Is So Unworkable?

There’s an old adage that says, “In war, the first casualty is the truth.” The problem is that modern institutions (government, business corporations, and religions) all seem to look at everything as a war. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all these institutions have systemic lying as one of their primary functions or core values, but I will say that the truth is looked upon as their enemy. Whistleblowers don’t get their power and their 15 minutes of fame by lying. Whistleblowers threaten institutions by telling the truth about institutional lies, and that’s considered dangerous.

It wasn’t always this way. During World War II, Edward R. Murrow reported bad news for war-torn and bomb-ravaged London with nightly candor, while Gabriel Heater gave his unvarnished assessment of U.S. setbacks in the South Pacific with no attempt to sugar coat the losses. By honestly admitting some of the truth to the American people, the real and essential “secrets” like the Manhattan Project could be safely kept under wraps. That’s because the American people, and people in general, aren’t totally stupid. When they are fed a constant diet of happy talk, they develop an intense hunger and craving for some real undiluted truth, and this is grounded in a certain kind of intuition that people have about happy talk. They instinctively know it’s mostly a lie. This isn’t being cynical, it’s being wise.

In the last four months, we’ve seen what happens when the truth is finally exposed after all the “happy talk” efforts have been tried, only to fail. Who can forget the images of the Vatican during Holy Week, 2010, as the Pope tried to swim against the flood of pedophilia accusations that poured in from around the world? You could almost sense his frustration that his traditional authority and power to burn heretics at the stake had been taken away from him. And this was followed by revelations about the devious inner workings and vulgar bonus payouts that defined Wall Street, even as that institution demolished a half century of American prosperity. Then came the BP oil spill. If happy talk and lies from CEO Tony Hayward could soak up oil, then the Gulf of Mexico disaster could have been minimized. Trying to repair the corporate image, BP hastily hired some local Cajun goobers to appear in the BP television commercials in the hope that happy talk would still carry the day if it came from someone without a British accent.

Which brings me to Julian Assange and his WikiLeak revelations about the Afghan War. We should ignore the Pentagon assertion that the leaked information will threaten American lives. The military always makes this claim when any truth whatsoever comes out about the conduct of a war. The only thing threatened will be Pentagon credibility. Now we know that at least one helicopter was brought down by a heat seeking missile supplied by Iran. News flash to the Pentagon— the Taliban already knew about this, and if young American servicemen who fly on helicopters don’t know about this, then they have a right to know the truth.

So here’s the question. Why do they think the truth is so unworkable? It’s because the true believers who populate all modern institutions think it’s their God given right to insult the intelligence of others outside the walls of their own particular institutional fortress, and to do so with impunity.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Whatever Happened to Murphy’s Law?

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” That’s Murphy’s Law, and most of us over the age of 30 probably heard it for the first time in high school. Whether we knew it or not, it was our first brush with philosophy. But then, like so many other iconic principles from the 20th Century, it just went away.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, an endless parade of “glass-half-full” happy talkers and human resource motivators and self-help gurus bombarded us with platitudes like “Failure is not an option,” and “Life rewards the risk takers,” and “Success is just a matter of learning to manage the expectations of others.” Murphy’s Law was deemed to be too pessimistic and negative for this new culture that preached unbounded positivity in all aspects of modern life. The final nail in the coffin was Y2K. Never before had a potential calamity been subjected to study and pre-planning with such attention to ultimate disastrous consequence as this predicted failure of the world’s computer systems. But then, when midnight December 31, 1999 arrived— nothing bad happened. Everything that could go wrong, didn’t go wrong, and Americans mistakenly assumed that Murphy’s Law no longer applied. Then came the 21st Century.

In the last decade, America has suffered through the Stock Market plunge of late 2000, followed by 9/11, followed by Enron, followed by the embarrassing and pathetic military failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by the in-flight destruction of the space shuttle, Columbia, followed by Hurricane Katrina, followed by the real estate bubble collapse and subsequent epidemic of home foreclosures, followed by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and skyrocketing unemployment, followed by the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, followed by an instantaneous 1000 point drop in the DOW. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s the disgusting, dirty little secret that many wing-nut Americans see the election of a black President as yet another tragic failure in “the system.” What all of these events have in common is that they came as a complete surprise to just about every American, including the people in high places who were being paid big money to avoid being surprised. Surprise is what you get when you ignore Murphy’s Law. Only the surprise of Hurricane Katrina was excusable.

So now, as we enter the second decade of this dysfunctional 21st Century, it should be evident to everyone that Murphy’s Law is still alive and well. It’s always been true that the failure to imagine and anticipate a downside betrays a shallowness of intellect, and this is the case now more than ever before. Recapturing our healthy sense of modern reality means ignoring the happy talkers, and realizing that failure is not optional— it’s inevitable, and appreciating the fact that carnival magicians are the only people who can reliably count on achieving success in their chosen profession simply by managing the expectations of others.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Nothing is “For Sure” Anymore

There’s no such thing as a farfetched idea anymore, and people who are young enough to have grown up with the Internet don’t even know what the term, “farfetched idea” means. The Internet changed everything.

There was a time when certain ideas and beliefs were so preposterous that the vast majority of people rejected these notions, and the people who did actually believe the unbelievable were labeled as “crackpots.” Believing that the earth was flat, or that a new living man could be constructed from dead body parts, the crackpots, as portrayed in those early films, were usually old codgers who lived out beyond the edge of the hamlet until the townspeople eventually came at night like an invading army carrying fiery torches and pitchforks. But not anymore.

The townspeople don’t object to anything these days— even if you believe that Obama was born outside of the United States, or that childhood vaccines cause autism, or that 9/11 was orchestrated by the Bush administration, or that we need our gigantic military to defend America’s freedom, or that melting glacial and polar ice doesn’t equate with a temperature increase, or that the Apollo lunar landings were staged here on earth, or that America can “drill baby drill” its way to energy independence, or that the entire American economy and foreign policy has always been controlled by a tiny cabal of ultra-powerful men who operate in secrecy off the radar of the public and the media.

Pick your own paranoia and wrap it into a crackpot theory. The townspeople will never come for you with torches and pitchforks because you’re no longer alone, no matter what you believe. Thanks to the Internet, any person with any idea or belief whatsoever can connect with other people of a similar mind. This builds a coalition of like-minded activists who soon become numerous enough to be classified as a real honest-to-goodness minority group. And as everyone knows, it’s unthinkable to question the beliefs of a minority group. This is why there are two sides to every issue, and I do mean EVERY issue. Nothing is “for sure” anymore.

The problem is, real life has a one-sided reality to it that can’t be changed by contrary belief.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What On Earth Is Weaker Than Eskimo Chili Salsa?

With PR efforts that have been weaker than Eskimo chili salsa, climate scientists have consistently shown that they just don’t understand public relations, and that’s why American public opinion polls (not that this is any measure of scientific wisdom) now show that only about 57% of us accept the science on global warming, and this is down from 70% back before the economic meltdown. Curiously, in Europe where the downturn in the economy was equally bad, about 90% of the people have unquestioned faith in the data showing that our planet is getting hotter.

One thing that Europe doesn’t have is our system of ideologically conservative think tanks like the CATO Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heartland Institute (my God, don’t these names make you feel safe and comfy)? Fifty years ago when the EPA was moving to ban DDT, these think tanks took money from the chemical and pesticide industry and put the cash into the pockets of scientific experts-for-hire who appeared on television to say that DDT was, not only safe, but a boon to agriculture and food production.

Twenty-five years ago, these think tanks were used to launder money from the tobacco companies and transfer it into the pockets of scientific experts-for-hire who would vouch for the safety of carcinogenic smoke in the human lung. Undoubtedly, this effort helped delay anti-smoking legislation by several years, during which time smokers continued to die who otherwise might have lived. But now the stakes are much higher. For the last dozen years, these very same conservative think tanks have funneled money from oil and coal companies into the pockets of new experts-for-hire to muddy the water around the issue of global warming. In the U.S. this effort has had the same success in delaying needed change that we saw with tobacco. Unfortunately, climate change is a global problem and not just an American policy problem, so the outcome involves— not dead smokers— but flooded coastal dwellers, perhaps a billion of them. That’s billion with a B.

How effective is the campaign to deny global warming? Right outside my back door in Colorado is the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). This is the world’s leading institution for climate modeling, and it should be the world’s strongest voice in raising the alarm about climate change. I’ll bet you’ve never heard of NCAR, but I’ll bet you’ve heard of Exxon Mobil and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Recently, a friend of mine with a local television station wanted to do an interview at NCAR about the link between the much-publicized rain-induced flooding in Rhode Island and global warming. His producer insisted that he interview an advocate from the “opposing side of view.” In other words, the television piece should be constructed as a balanced debate about global warming. With disgust, I need to say that NCAR and the TV reporter both capitulated, and the illusion was perpetuated that global warming is still an unproven hypothesis. My personal opinion is that none of this matters. The tipping point has already been passed, but twenty years ago a competent PR campaign on behalf of the world’s scientific climatologists might have saved the planet.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I Can Let You Look At It, But You Can’t Touch It

A group of radical, dark-skinned, fundamentalist Muslims plans to bomb an American law enforcement target, and they are labeled as “Islamic terrorists.” Nine whacked-out, white, fundamentalist Christians plan to bomb an American law enforcement target, and they are labeled as “Hutaree militia.”

Islamic madrassas whip dark-skinned Muslims into a frenzy of anger at the U.S. government, and they are creating “radicalized terrorists.” Tea Party assemblies whip white Christians into a frenzy of anger at the U.S. government, and they are creating “patriotic activists.” Frankly, other than calculated semantics, I don’t see any difference.

At last week’s Conference on World Affairs, one of the discussions dealt with “Modern Crusaders, religion in the military.” Ike Wilson, a professor of modern warfare tactics at West Point, expounded on the influence of fundamentalist Christianity in the conduct of our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The indoctrination starts early. Each Sunday morning, freshly enlisted Marine Corps trainees at boot camp are given the choice between cleaning latrines or attending a fundamentalist Christian worship service. And then, once they are deployed to a war zone, they shoot their bullets through gun barrels that are engraved with Old Testament bible verses right next to the weapon serial number. Troops are supplied with small Christian bibles that have been translated into the local Islamic, Middle-Eastern language, and they are expected to leave these bibles behind in houses where they conduct “searches,” although Pentagon rules prevent them from personally handing the bibles to local Muslim citizens. This nuanced religious conversion policy is typical of a pervasive Pentagon schizophrenia that reminds me of the high school girl who tells her boyfriend, “I can let you look at it, but you must promise not to touch it.”

If al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters find one of the small Christian bibles in a private home, they routinely murder all the residents of that house. One Pentagon estimate puts the number of these “religiously motivated” murders at a level equal to the number of civilians accidentally killed by misguided American bombs and gunfire. If these murders are reported at all, they’re typically dismissed as “sectarian conflict.” It’s easy to say that fundamentalist, radicalized Islam is insane, but then how can we not say the same for fundamentalist Christianity? We can’t condemn one and embrace the other without sacrificing our intellectual integrity. Personally, I don’t see how we can have it both ways.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Oil is the Least of Our Worries

I spent last week at the annual Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado, as I’ve done early in the month of April every year for the last twenty years. This conference brings together over 100 leading intellectuals from the fields of business, politics, science, entertainment (mostly Hollywood), education, medicine, religion, technology, and modern culture, and one thing I’ve always appreciated about the CWA is that the conference discussions tend to explore global problems with refreshing candor, seldom trivializing bad news with Pollyanna, “glass half full” happy talk. Not that I’m a Danny Downer, but I’m realistic enough to know that any glass— whether half-full or half-empty— will still eventually need to be washed and put away.

And so I eagerly attended a panel discussion titled, “Peak Oil,” where I fully expected to hear the latest data on petroleum production and extraction and depletion— all of which was predicted half a century ago on a bell shaped graph called the “Hubbert peak curve.” I knew the drill. I just didn’t know if the latest predictions called for the oil to run dry in 30, or 40, or 50 years. Not that it will make any difference to me since I’ll be dead by then.

To my surprise, the discussion veered off into the “Hubbert peak curve” as it applies to finite, non-renewable commodities other than petroleum. It turns out that oil is probably the least of our worries. Before the world runs out of oil, it will run out of platinum and copper (not to mention edible fish and fresh potable water), and all of the rare earth minerals that make our micro-electronic gadgets possible. The calculation has often been cited that it would take six earth-sized planets to supply the raw material if every nation in the world had the American standard of living. It’s no wonder that current Exxon Mobil television commercials now talk about job creation rather than “sustainable” fossil fuel.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Following the Digital Slime Trail

The Library of Congress announced today that they will digitally archive every tweet that’s been posted since the inception of twitter. This, they tell us, will give future researchers a kind of snapshot of everyday life in our time. In other words, live people in the future will be able to follow the digital slime trail of dead people. Question is— why would they want to?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Not As Long As I’m Alive

Following the holy week troubles for Pope Benedict over the issue of sexual depravity (I refuse to minimize it by calling it priestly abuse), a friend of mine observed, “The Pope is his own worst enemy.” I immediately responded, “Not as long as I’m alive.”

Today, April 9th 2010, a letter written in 1985 surfaced in which old Joe Ratzinger (now the beloved Pope Benedict) refused to defrock a California child-molesting pervert (he tied child victims to the bed while he sodomized them) priest for, quote, “the good of The Universal Church.” Thank God, Ratzinger was wrong about this too, Catholicism is NOT universal.

No sooner was this letter exposed to the world than the Vatican issued an edict to the world’s Catholic dioceses to be completely transparent and compliant with local criminal law when local child abuse is found to be perpetrated by local priests. Sorry, “Papa Ratzi.” Too little, too late. This is like the teenager without a valid driver’s license who kills a pedestrian with a stolen car, and then agrees to take driver’s training class. But here’s the kicker. For faithful Catholics, this wipes the slate clean, and all is forgiven. Belief is a crippling attribute.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Vatican Lays an Easter Egg

It’s Easter Sunday, a day that celebrates the historic occasion when the body of Jesus Christ was misplaced or stolen from the grave. Exploiting the media attention covering this holy event, a key Vatican official compared the criticism of The Church and the Pope over the sadistic sex abuse of children to anti-Semitism. As the public remarks were televised, the Pope sat nearby, looking comatose in what appeared to be a drug induced stupor. The video filming crew made sure he was on camera. So now it’s out in the open. In the mind of the Vatican, the reality of indulging in sexually perverted child molesting sodomy and the reality of being Jewish are equally offensive to would-be critics. Can it get any more pathetic?

This is what happens when 21st Century investigative media zeal meets up with a 14th Century mindset of unquestioned authority lacking any modern competent public relations expertise. Here’s my little Easter present to The Catholic Church in the form of some free and unsolicited advice to the Vatican— in a power struggle between The Church and the world’s secular media, The Church will come in second. Quite simply, the Vatican isn’t smart enough to compete with the probing intellectual capability of media professionals around the world who want to save innocent children from abuse by bringing down the Pope. Moreover, there are probably a thousand journalists who now recognize that this current religious crisis facing the most arrogant institution on earth is actually another potential Watergate, and whoever finds the true “smoking gun” will be the next Bob Woodward. In his Easter homily to the world, the Pope made no apology for anything, but he said that the coming year would bring “anguish” for The Church. He has no idea.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Good Friday? Not at the Vatican

Bristling at the fact that they no longer have the power to burn non-believers at the stake, the Cardinals and other honchos in the Vatican are mounting an all out push-back against the world’s media for questioning the sanctity of Pope Benedict. As more allegations of priestly abuse (a quaint little Catholic euphemism for pedophile sodomy) pour in from various nations, implicating the Pope himself in the cover-up of sexual misconduct, the Vatican is responding with indignation and outright anger. Whatever happened to that admonition we were given in the confessional, “Now make a good act of contrition”? Clearly, contrition is something expected from all of the everyday sinners like me, and it’s beneath the dignity of someone as lofty as the Pope.

I left The Catholic Church forty years ago. I knew back then that the whole thing was a fraud.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Weirded-Out About Sex

It’s Holy Week again as we count down to the day that Jesus got himself whacked, and as usual we’re treated to televised images of Pope Benedict reading words from a sheet of paper with all the inflection and passion of a lobotomized automaton. Putting the Pope up there on his little balcony during a week dedicated to holiness is symbolically like putting Bernie Madoff out front as the poster boy for a week celebrating financial security, and that’s especially true this year when revelations of sex abuse are pouring in from around the world that clearly demonstrate the depth of Vatican sexual depravity. The Catholic Church is increasingly seen as a vast child molestation machine, and it’s a sure bet that every victim who comes forward is speaking for ten victims of past abuse who prefer to carry their secret to the grave. Given that Catholic priestly sexual perversion has probably been in place for more than a thousand years, the number of violated innocents must be in the hundreds of thousands. Maybe millions.

Here’s what I don’t understand. Humans have been copulating for a couple million years, and while none of us ever get the sex thing totally figured out, still, as a species, we’ve pretty much been able to form institutions that were normal and mentally healthy about human sexuality. Catholicism stands alone in its category as the one global religion that can’t comprehend the mysteries of normal sex. From masturbation to homosexuality to female equality to birth control to mastering the multitasking capability that makes a career and family both possible for the average man— The Catholic Church is simply weirded-out about every aspect of sexuality. And this is being extremely kind. I’m sure that if I'd been sodomized by a priest, I’d see Catholicism as the epitome of pure evil. For the life of me, I don’t understand why Catholics put up with it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It’s All About Jobs

Exxon Mobil. The American Petroleum Institute. Chevron. America’s Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. What a fool I’ve been, because I always thought that these corporations and institutions were primarily involved in pulling fossil remnant material out of the ground to be refined into fuel to produce energy. At one time, I even believed that they contributed to climate change. I could not have been more mistaken.

Thanks to numerous television commercials which played during the Winter Olympics and the NCAA basketball playoffs, I now realize that the petroleum companies and the coal companies are mostly benign jobs programs that exist fundamentally just to put vast numbers of Americans to work. In this aspect, they are similar to the American car companies, and the medical health insurance companies, and even the United States Military. It’s all about jobs, and anyone who doubts that just isn’t watching enough commercial television. The message is clear. To bring down unemployment, we must burn more coal and oil, and buy more cars, and privatize more of the health insurance system, and start more foreign wars— or at the very least, we should maintain the wars that we’ve got. If history teaches us anything, it’s that the most effective national policy for putting people to work is participation in a good old-fashioned war, and two is even better.

And as for climate change, it’s a job killer if it’s taken seriously. Fortunately for hard working Americans as well as those looking for work, nobody in America is taking it seriously.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Days of Henry Ford and Tom Edison Are Long Gone

Last week, Lehman Brothers CEO, Dick Fuld, was in the news again when an investigative commission released its report on why Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. To nobody’s surprise, the investigators concluded that Lehman Brothers, under Fuld’s stewardship, went down in flames simply because Fuld and his company richly deserved to fail for their fraudulent business practices. Fuld may have been the poster boy for the 2008 meltdown, but the seeds of that fiasco go back more than twenty years.

The real story isn’t about Dick Fuld, but about the fact that America tolerates and nourishes a veritable galaxy of creatures just like him, men like Jeff Skilling and Ken Ley of Enron, and Roger Smith and Rick Wagoner of General Motors, and Hank Mckinnell of Pfizer. The list could go on and on, for there’s no shortage of men like these who took a highly successful company and drove it into the ground just for personal wealth and lazy unimaginative expediency.

Our problem in America is partly that our quaint and naïve love affair with Capitalism is based in no small way on our nostalgic admiration for industrialists like Henry Ford and Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone and Walter Chrysler— primarily entrepreneurs, and then subsequently tycoons who headed successful business operations that produced and sold products that they, themselves, had invented or developed. That respected American entrepreneurial tradition continues to this day with successful businessmen like Bill Gates and Steven Jobs and Warren Buffet. Admiration for all of these men is justifiable.

But the essence of the greater problem is that most Capitalism-loving Americans can’t tell you the difference between a Bill Gates and a Dick Fuld, and it would be difficult to overstate the significance of that. The difference is that corporate honchos like Fuld and the vast majority of other corporate CEOS are definitely NOT entrepreneurs. On the best day of their lives, these men could never start a legitimate business from scratch and make it successful any more than your average17th Century pirate could design and build his own sailing ship. These modern pirates are top-feeding functionaries who rise to positions of incredible wealth and power with their internal corporate political skill, and usually nothing more.

Why is this suddenly more important than it’s been in the past? Because the true unemployment rate in the richest nation on earth is now closer to 20% than to the reported 10%, and most of the people without jobs will never go back to high-paying work because the jobs— first in manufacturing, and then accounting, and then customer service, and then research and development— all were exported out of the country by the honchos to make the bottom line look good in the shortest possible time without regard to long term consequences. Of course, there are apologists aplenty in places like the U.S. Commerce Department who tell us that the exportation of jobs was just a natural consequence of globalization, but globalization didn’t come with a rule book that mandated the export of jobs just to save labor costs. Those decisions were left up to the honchos running the companies, and their own self-serving interpretation of Capitalistic ethics gave them their roadmap to follow. What we have now, massive unemployment and financial misery at the bottom, and exploitation at the top for multi-million-dollar bonus checks, all of this is simply unrestricted free-market Capitalism at work, functioning just the way it was designed to function. I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again, Capitalism only works in a positive way within an ethical framework. The days of Henry Ford and Tom Edison are long gone.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Makes Us the Winner?

What do Eastern Slovakia, Sweden, and South Korea all have in common? They are among the 17 countries that, unlike the United States, all have high speed broadband access for all the citizens. But these countries don’t have any aircraft carriers, and the U.S.A. has 12 of them, so that makes us the winner.

What do Finland, Canada, and Germany all have in common? They are among the 25 industrialized nations that have healthcare for every citizen, and an infant mortality rate lower that of the United States. But they don’t have any aircraft carriers, and we have a dozen of them, so that makes us the winner.

What do Japan, Norway and India all have in common? They are among the 32 nations that have a secondary public education system that is superior to the United States school system in every measurable parameter. But they don’t have any aircraft carriers, and America has a whole fleet of them, so that makes us the winner.

Why are aircraft carriers so important? It’s because Navy families who have a son or daughter serving aboard an aircraft carrier can go to sea and ride on board these floating cities, and even watch aircraft steam catapult launches that are performed live just for the entertainment of the civilian folks. People who have been privileged enough to experience these carrier sea voyages say that it’s even better than a trip to Disney Land and a Carnival Cruise both rolled into one. But here’s the thing. The carrier fleet costs the American taxpayers about $100 billion dollars a year, and fewer than 100,000 families qualify for the free ride on board. That works out to a million dollars per family. It would actually be cheaper to just send all of them to Disney Land and treat them to a Carnival Cruise every year at taxpayer expense.

Some people will argue that the aircraft carriers, in addition to providing sea going entertainment experiences for a privileged few, are also a form of protection against foreign threats. If Japan ever stages another surprise attack on a Pacific Navy base, we can clean their clock. The trouble with that argument is that the real foreign threats, primarily Al Qaeda and the global terrorist community, don’t see anything to fear in our fleet of carriers. They see the aircraft carrier for what it is— a modern version of Cleopatra’s barge, an excessive floating symbol of power that’s mostly just for show.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Truth About the Latest Autism Cover-up

“Everyone knows the truth, in spite of those powerful special interests who twist the facts to suit their own agenda.” Over the years, this mantra has been chanted by those who know that the Apollo moon landings were clandestinely staged here on earth, and that 9/11 was perpetrated by the Bush administration, and that melting glaciers have nothing to do with temperature rise, and that the Air Force has consistently suppressed the truth about UFOs, and the list goes on and on. The latest chorus to sing this song is the autism advocacy organization, SafeMinds, which is an acronym for Sensible Action for Ending Mercury Induced Neurological Disorders. Unfortunately for those parents who have autistic children, SafeMinds has nothing going for it but the catchy acronym.

Last Friday, March 12, 2010, an autism-related lawsuit brought against the Department of Health and Human Services was dismissed in Federal court, and SafeMinds spokesperson, Laura Bono, is crying “foul” because much of the science disproving the autism-mercury linkage has been supplied by the CDC and the NIH— both of which are HHS agencies. If this was all there was to the story, Ms. Bono might have a case, but she and her organization, SafeMinds, are choosing to ignore the vast reservoir of scientific work that has been done on autism by other investigators such as Columbia University (summer 2008) and Italian researchers who reported in the journal, Pediatrics, in January of 2009. Added to this is the empirical fact that, when vaccine manufacturers took the mercury preservative out of childhood vaccines almost two decades ago, the rate of autism continued to climb. Moreover, as an increasing number of parents choose to not vaccinate their children at all, we are seeing that the autism rate for these unvaccinated children is identical to the rate in those who get vaccine.

The story about SafeMinds and this lawsuit is not a story about autism. It’s a story about belief versus knowledge and wisdom, and it’s a story as old as humanity. As everyone knows who watches the evolution-versus-creation circus, some people follow belief and some people follow logic. That’s always been the case and it always will be the case. What makes the autism controversy so unfortunate is that innocent children get caught in the middle.

See also: Vaccine and Autism 7/2/2008, The Truth About Autism 9/6/2008, and More Truth About Autism and Childhood Vaccine 1/28/2009

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I’ve Always Been Half Wrong

I’ve come to see that ideologies and belief systems are like sub-atomic particles in the way that they seem to exist in a world of duality where everything has a mirror image. Just like the proton has its anti-proton, every belief or ideological value is almost pre-destined to have a polar opposite, and this inevitably makes each pole seem extreme to the opposite twin. When abortion stopped being a medical issue and became a political issue, it was an automatic certainty that there would be pro-abortion and anti-abortion sides to the issue.

The immediate result of this is that nothing ever really changes, regardless of whether the “pro” or the “anti” view of anything holds sway, and the extreme right is fundamentally indistinguishable from the extreme left. As I watched the Tea Party Convention last month, and then the CPAC gathering two weeks ago, I realized that I was watching modern versions of the 1960s SDS and Weather Underground groups, polar opposites in their political affiliations but identical in their radical approach to self-righteousness. There isn’t a nickel’s worth of difference between the 1960s version of Tom Hayden and the 2010 version of Sarah Palin.

I don’t think that this is any byproduct of modern life in America where everything is stressed to the max, and then exploited by the media. My own theory is that we’re hard wired this way, and by “we” I don’t mean modern Americans, but Homo Sapiens. This tendency to split ourselves into opposite camps probably evolved along with everything else that makes us human because it had survival value. When our technology and high-level co-operative group-tasking ability finally gave us mastery over the entire lower animal kingdom, then our primary threat to daily life came from our fellow man. And at this stage of development, it probably benefitted us in a survival way to be able to quickly differentiate between friend and foe, and then to take sides and defend a position at all costs. Early cultural evolution was probably not kind to the fence-sitters and the appeasers, and the tragedy in this is that true intellect and wisdom tends to aggregate in the middle rather than at the extremes.

Speaking personally, in the last forty-plus years, I’ve flip-flopped in my political beliefs, establishing for myself a reputation as something of an iconoclast, first on the extreme right, and more recently on the extreme left. Thinking that radical views would produce quicker results, I never seemed to be smart enough or patient enough to be satisfied in the middle, but I’ve always been wise enough to know down deep in my heart that about half of everything that I’ve ever believed was just dead wrong.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Examining Just Why, Exactly, Sarah Palin is Electrifying

From the years 1932 until roughly 1964, citizens of the U.S.A. felt positive about their Federal government, and for the most part they invested trust in their elected leaders. But this was only a brief anomaly in the long history of our country, and it ended with Watergate and the Vietnam War before it could take hold and flourish. For most of our national history, the opposite sentiment toward Washington has prevailed and from the earliest years of our Republic, Americans historically viewed their government with suspicion, and even outright contempt. So I guess you could say that the Tea Party movement is really a throwback to another time. What’s new is the emergence of Sarah Palin.

Given this high percentage “anti-government” sentiment, it’s surprising that Sarah Palin hasn’t gained more traction with her message of suspicion and distrust of Washington. Recent polls put her disapproval rating at 55%, with fully 71% of Americans saying that she is unqualified to be the next President. Perhaps the reason for this can be found in the recent Tea Party convention in Nashville.

Never, in my recent memory, has so much adulation and applause been given to such simple utterances about simple-minded solutions to galactically unsolvable problems. Evidently, to be in lockstep with the Tea Party, one needs to believe that a speaker is “electrifying” and “galvanizing” when they observe that the United States Government spends too much, by borrowing too much, in order to deliver too little in the way of problem solutions. Knowing this, Sarah Palin is able to rally her troops by overstating the obvious about Washington. Okay, now we know that the Tea Party “gets it” — the Federal Government is inefficient, and generally doesn’t work as well as it did in the past. The thing is, mainstream Democrats and Republicans “get it” too. The only difference is, Republicans and Dems don’t feel that such self-evident truths are “electrifying.”

My politics are, admittedly, schizophrenic. My objection to Bill Clinton molded me into a rabid Conservative, then eight years of George W. Bush transformed me into a flaming Liberal. And after a year of Barack Obama, I’m now a dejected cynic who believes that America is basically ungovernable, and that even an outwardly decent and intellectual person in the Presidency can have very little positive effect on the problems that face the country today. Sarah Palin, we are told by the Tea Party members, should be elected as our next Chief Executive because she shares a certain folksy commonality with the average person. To this I reply, “Not so fast.” My advice is to go out into the street and talk to a lot of common, average Americans, and then ask yourself if you want your grandchildren to inherit a world that is shaped by the common, average American.

For the record, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and all the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were considered to be aristocratic at that time, and there wasn’t a single man among them who would have qualified today as a common average American. I suspect that none of these founding fathers of our country would fare very well in today’s modern Tea Party, and as the Tea Party goes, so goes Sarah Palin.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Retrospective Look at 2012

Looking back, it seems that nobody saw the end coming in the way that it actually happened. Armageddon was supposed to be the final apocalyptic battle between good and evil, playing out like World War Two with Satan in the role of Hitler and Jesus in the role of Ike Eisenhower. The problem was that good and evil were concepts that had become increasingly hard to recognize and define, so that when Armageddon finally played itself out, the evil wasn’t to be found in any kind of Satanic icon, and Jesus was certainly no Eisenhower.

When December 12, 2012 finally arrived (yes, the Mayans had called it correctly), life in America was so complex that people couldn’t even do the basics without institutional support. It started at birth. Babies (half of whom were born out of wedlock) were torn from their mothers and stashed in soulless Munchkin warehouses euphemistically called, “day care centers.” Even those babies with fathers were subjected to the fate of “day care” lest their inconvenient little daytime lives might interfere with total feminine fulfillment. American’s basic nutrition came to them like rat feed funneled into a maze— cascading down imperfectly-regulated, convoluted agra-production chains to be piled high on their ample plates by competing fat-glutting smorgasbords. American’s very procreation was now scrutinized and dramatized and publicized and manipulated and pharmaceutically enhanced against a backdrop of debate about whether two sexes might be one too many. Daily individual health was maintained with miraculous tiny tablets supplied by pharmaceutical researchers, castigated for their unmitigated gall and audacity to charge money for these live saving miracles. Half of Americans were too fat to trek, so they moved from place to place in SUV’s and airplanes, and then they screamed to the high heavens when their conveyances occasionally rolled over or fell from the sky. Americans wanted to be safe. They needed to be safe. They demanded to be safe. Just as long as it was someone else’s job to make them safe. And those fifty-odd-percent of the people in the government who weren’t totally incompetent were expected to baby-sit all this mess. A sixth of the planet wanted America to just disappear from the face of the earth, and Americans wondered if that was gonna cut into their shopping.

Backing up this complex dysfunctional madness was the U.S. Military, with more armament than the rest of the world’s combined military firepower. The fundamentalist Christians absolutely loved this heavily armed institutional protector, their love no doubt driven by the belief that Satan would come against this nation leading an invading army of his own. In the tenth year of the Iraq and Afghan war, Christians actually succeeded in having bible verses engraved into the steel of the personal automatic weapons that were supplied to the Pentagon (this truly is happening). Implied in all of this was the basic belief that the U.S.A. was the force of good on the earth, and that when Jesus finally made his long-awaited second coming, he would be wearing the garb of a high ranking U.S. Military officer.

But Jesus and Satan were both “no-shows” when the end finally came. The force of evil, whether real or imagined, was contained in the very complexity of the culture that had evolved in the 400 years since the Pilgrims had arrived. On this tiny planet, natural resources had diminished while the human population had tripled in just fifty years, so that across the face of the earth, human comfort and well being had become a zero sum game. America was despised because America had it all. Those last three al-Qaeda attacks in 2012 were partly a result of this situation. By themselves, the small scale al-Qaeda attacks should have been insignificant, nothing more than three flea bites on a 200 pound dog, but the attacks disrupted both the complexity of American life as well as the sense of national security. America desperately needed its complexity and the sense of safety, otherwise what was the use of pouring half a trillion dollars each year into the Pentagon?

And so the U.S.A. turned on itself. With a true statistical unemployment rate of 22% and a housing market in its seventh year of depression, and with the war in Afghanistan promising to go on forever, waged by a Pentagon that was now widely recognized as nothing but a useless sinkhole for money, Americans, correctly, came to see the U.S. government, not as a protector, but as an enemy of all but the wealthy and the powerful. When the killing started, the rest of the world was happy to sit on the sidelines and watch the images that came from a quarter of a billion tiny cell phone cameras.

After that day of Armageddon in 2012, the Christian fundamentalists changed their interpretation of the Book of Revelations. Since nobody was seen flying naked up into the sky that day, they had to recalibrate their notion of the Rapture. When the killing was taking place, the fundamentalists handled themselves extremely well owing to their inordinately high incidence of private gun ownership coupled with traditional conservative values that included frequent NRA target practice and the heavy duty stockpiling of ammunition. In this so called “preparedness” they now look back and see the hand of Jesus and the blessing of the Lord at work. But to those around the world who watched this from afar, it’s impossible to say which was the army of good, and which was the army of evil.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What Do We Really Need?

A new app for a hand held mobile device. A quart of water. Polished granite tops on kitchen counters. A 600 calorie-per-day diet. Question: what do these items all have in common? Answer: depending on a person’s location on the planet, each of these items will meet the definition of a need fulfillment, and the huge disparity in the way these items add to the quality of life demonstrates that sufficiency and need fulfillment are markers for a ghastly zero sum game that is being played out on planet earth.

America’s definition of “need” began to change in the late 1940s and the early 1950s. Following the four years of rationing and scarcity that took place during World War Two, pent up demand for life essentials was quickly satisfied by this nation’s robust economy and production capability which had come through the war intact. No other nation on earth could make that claim. Moreover, television also came of age during that time. And when the need for basic life essentials was finally satisfied, people in marketing (a new concept at that time) began to see that non-essential goods and services could be supplied with our excess production capability, and then sold via the new medium of television advertising. The only question was how to sell these non-essential products.

The answer was to create need (or at least the perception of need) where none existed. That meant depicting non-essentials and outright trivialities as being essential. For example, early television ads from that time were disproportionately devoted to the promotion of laundry soap, and the “pitch” always seemed to be that human happiness was intimately tied to the brightness of the whiteness of the shirt that we put on each morning. For the person wearing that clean shirt, fresh breath was also presented as an essential, and so stout mouth wash (mostly alcohol) was hawked to erase “halitosis,” a pseudo-medical term that was coined by someone in advertising. That set off a cascade of pseudo-medicine-speak that continues to this day with abstract marketing concoctions like “erectile dysfunction” and “fibromyalgia” and “restless leg syndrome.” If you suffer from one of these afflictions, you might not know what’s wrong with you, but thanks to television advertising, you sure as hell know that you “need” a drug to fix it.

Once the early television “need creation” marketing got rolling, anything was possible. The meat product, Spam, was positioned as a delicacy, and sales soured even though the product tasted like dog food, because nobody was willing to admit that they couldn’t appreciate a delicacy. The list of examples is endless, but the important thing to understand is that, somewhere along the way, Americans lost their ability to know what was really needed as an essential. The concept of need became tied to whatever was being advertised and sold to them.

The dirty little secret in all of this is that television broadcasting signals are able to reach beyond the borders of the United States, and into every culture on earth. However, in order for every person on earth to have their television-implanted-needs fulfilled, it would require the resources and energy capacity and production capability of six additional earth sized planets. Once the concept of “need” became something to sell, the possibility was there for it to be oversold. That’s where we are now, and there’s no way to put that old 1940s, fresh tasting, Ipana Toothpaste back in the tube.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ready or Not, Here Comes the Future

For the most part, historically significant events never happen in an isolated context, without the influence of everything else that happens before and during that time in history. Nothing happens in a vacuum. It’s because of this that the future is really not so hard to predict if past and present circumstances are interpreted properly, and at this particular time in history there are undisputable and clearly evident facts that we can string together to read the future more accurately than ever before.

Consider these facts. The global population has more than tripled in the last sixty years, growing by more than 4 billion human beings. Fact number two: most all of these additional 4 billion people live at an extreme poverty level in shanty towns, inside and around gigantic cities that are larger than anything that existed fifty years ago. Fact number three: television, Internet, and other mass media has become so ubiquitous that, despite extreme poverty, almost every disadvantaged human on earth knows about the high standard of living in Europe and the United States. Fact number four: human nature being what it is, every disadvantaged human on earth aspires to have what we have in Europe and America. Fact number five: in order for all of earth’s 7 billion people to live like we do in Europe and America, it would require the natural resources and energy production capacity of six more earth-size planets. And finally, fact number six: since we don’t have access to any planet but this one, we can expect the aspirations of the disadvantaged to play out in conflict between the haves and the have-nots.

None of this comes as any surprise to the people who do their truculent work inside the Pentagon. It’s the main reason why the United States spends more on weapons of war than all the rest of the world’s nations combined. The only question to be answered is this: are we really willing to exterminate huge numbers of people just to keep what we’ve got?

Every modern problem, from radical fundamentalism in both Islam and Christianity, to climate changes, and economic meltdown, and depletion of natural resources, and ubiquitous corruption in seats of power… all of these problems have their origins in the growth of population and the disparity of living conditions across the planet. And the secondary problem is that most countries including the United States are now becoming ungovernable, and most large corporations are unmanageable, and most religions are unreasonable. Welcome to the future.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Reflections on the Subject of Self Reflection

There’s an old saying, “You can fool the fans, but you can’t fool the players.” Self reflection, as a stand-alone exercise, can be either worthless or beneficial, and it all depends on whether a person sees oneself as a fan or a player. This helps explain why true and honest self reflection is extraordinarily difficult, in fact it’s so difficult that maybe the only way a person can achieve it is by living the monastic life of a monk or a hermit or an ascetic. For more than a thousand years, this was seen as the appropriate path to self reflection, and God knows, that path hasn’t become any easier in modern America with our admit-no-wrongdoing, take-no-responsibility culture of spin and deception.

My personal belief is that most of what passes today for self reflection is actually more of a self deception, and it’s driven by a multi-billion-dollar self-help and image-makeover industry where modern shamans and gurus push the philosophy of optimism and happy talk. We all know the modern mantras: “Failure is not an option” and “Life rewards the risk takers” and “Success is just a matter of managing the expectations of others.” If we have a thousand dollars to invest in a weekend-long “workshop,” we can hear someone like Tony Robbins tell us about our own boundless potential, and after a brainwashing like that there isn’t much room in our soul for self reflection.

If the non-religious, commercial message is that we can achieve superior results in anything we do just by believing in a positive final outcome of our efforts, then this unbridled optimism is balanced by the Christian religions, particularly Catholicism, where we are taught that we were branded with original sin from the moment of our birth and will remain in a state of sin until we die unless we repent. Are we worthless sinners? Or are we potential supermen? I guess it all depends on who gets our money. If we give our money to a church, some clergyman who speaks for God will help us understand what to do about our worthless life of sin. If we give our money to Tony Robbins, we’re already well on the way to a super life of achievement. But here’s the thing. If we don’t give our money to anybody for their advice about our life, then we might possibly be well on the way to self reflection.

I don’t claim to have all the answers about self reflection, but I do know that the first step in the process is to ignore the advice about life that comes from other people.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Brief History of World War III... 9-11 Was Worse Than We Thought

The essence of naiveté is the failure to imagine. We had always assumed that our enemies were distant and compartmentalized. We assumed that our sophisticated and undetectable surveillance watched them, and distantly tracked their movements and accessed their authenticity while wielding our own unimaginable authority, endeavoring all the while to verify predicted tropisms that had been perfectly foreseen in our war game planning.

Looking back now, the surprising thing about 9-11 is that, at the time, it came as such a surprise. Pearl Harbor had also come as a complete surprise, but that attack had come from a distant island with a small population of only 75 million who plotted against us from across the largest ocean on earth. But in the half century since Pearl Harbor, the number of human beings on the planet had tripled, and modern air travel had put every spot on earth within a day’s travel time. We felt safe because we spent more on our military-industrial machine than the entire rest of the world was spending on their combined armaments. We had a military presence in 130 foreign countries. These were supposed to be sovereign nations, but we figured that was okay with everyone because we were the good guys. We had perfectly positioned ourselves to prevent another Pearl Harbor. Problem is, we lacked imagination. The 9-11 attackers were able to conceive, plan, organize, orchestrate, implement, and execute something that our superstar Generals in the Pentagon could not even imagine. By thinking at least five steps ahead of us, they had finally learned how to fight us, but it took them 48 years to do it.

In 1948 when Saudi Arabia started shipping oil abroad, and the true extent of the Saudi oil deposits could be calculated, the motive was there for eventually going to war. The founding of the country of Israel gave us a kind of forward operating base, and our policy of propping-up the so-called democratic regimes in Egypt and Lebanon was intended to give us allies in the area. As each of these things came into being, we thought that they were stabilizing forces working to our benefit. For the Muslims and Arabs in the area, however, our efforts in the Middle East only intensified their suspicion and distrust of the U.S.A.

Then in 1953, the CIA clandestinely deposed the rightful ruler of Iran and installed the Shah. To the extent that you can trace the origin of 9-11 to a single event, that was probably the one, and the average American didn't even notice. We were too busy watching Senator Joe McCarthy on TV and worrying about whether our neighbor might be a Communist, because we thought the Communists would be our adversary in the next war. Little did we know that war was already underway and the real enemy was totally off our radar. We would stay clueless until September 11, 2001.

The enemy that would eventually become al-Qaeda received a huge boost in 1979 with the Islamic Revolution in Tehran. This was the catalyst for the spawning of a radical fundamentalist faction within the Islamic religion, and that radicalized minority might have stayed bottled up in Iran if it had not been for the emergence and growth of the Internet. With the Internet, the means finally existed for hard core Muslim fundamentalist radicals to link up with each other from anywhere on earth. The result was al-Qaeda, and the result of al-Qaeda was 9-11.

Looking forward we know three things, none of them positive for the United States. Thanks to the success of the 9-11 attack, al-Qaeda now knows that even a small amount of destruction will be magnified a thousand fold by disruption in the complexities of our culture. Secondly, al-Qaeda has learned to franchise itself so that future attacks can come from any location and any culture on earth. And lastly, al-Qaeda has seen that the American intelligence apparatus is vulnerable because it lacks the ability to connect the dots.

Human events don’t happen in the isolation of a vacuum, and 9-11 was no exception to that rule.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What, Exactly, Was Mayberry All About?

Mayberry has evolved into a kind of nostalgic metaphor for the America of the 1950s and early 60s, and that idyllic America is gone forever. The decade of the 1950s began with some jagged edges thanks to the Korean War and McCarthyism, but by 1955, life in the United States had smoothed itself into time of ease and contentment, the likes of which will never be seen again on this planet. The good times would last for another ten years.

To begin with, in 1955 the earth held little more than 2 billion human beings, and the ultimate positive significance of that would not be clearly understood until that global population had tripled fifty years later. The United States had emerged from World War II with half of the world’s GDP and half of all the manufacturing capacity on earth, and by 1955, those percentages were still well above 40%. Airline travel was glamorous, in airplanes that were all built in U.S.A. All around the world, the term, ”automobile,” meant an American car. Oil reserves had recently been identified on the Arabian peninsula, but all of our cars ran on gasoline refined from oil pumped out of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Southern California. The home computers and the microprocessors that power them were still 20 years in the future, but clunky and gigantic mainframe computers were already being supplied to industry and the military by IBM and NCR and Honeywell, and America had 100% of that market. To keep from falling behind, even the Soviet military was forced to secretly buy American computers through clandestine third-party nations. At the dawn of the 1950s, 12% of American households had television, and by 1959 that percentage had grown to 93%, and all of those TVs were American made.

The effect of all this production on the American standard of living was nothing less than miraculous. 94 % of American teen agers were graduating high school, and with nothing more than their high school diploma they could land a job that would support them for life. In the auto companies of Michigan and the steel plants along the Ohio River, a high school grad could start at a job that would pay the modern equivalent of $50 an hour, and this was in a time when $2500 would buy a nice home.

Granted, life for black Americans, known at the time as “negroes,” was a life as a second class citizen, but divorce and out-of-wedlock births happened in fewer than 5% of black households. Those rates were actually lower than the rates in the white community. Today those rates are at 70%. Black schools were segregated, but nearly all of the youngsters attending those schools lived with a father in their home.

The term, “drugs,” in 1955 meant hard heroin or marijuana rolled into “reefers,” and the use of these illegal substances was so far off the public radar that it was almost totally confined to the dark underworld of ghettos and back alleys. As for legal drugs, antibiotics were something totally new, and communicable diseases were not just being controlled and treated, but many of them were actually being eliminated.

This, then, was the backdrop for all of those rock-and-roll films and records, and the tailfins on the cars, and the be-bop dances in the malt shops, and all of the cultural icons that we associate today with the 1950s and early 60s. That culture was superficial, but the American greatness behind it was real. It wasn’t, however, something that could last forever. And somewhere between “I Love Lucy” and IBM computers that went to the moon, there really and truly was a land and a time like Mayberry. Then it went away.

In 30 years, all of us who lived in that time, and who remember it will be dead and gone. The young people of today will look at their world and believe that everything is just fine, but it won’t be Mayberry.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Why We Don’t Use Profiling to Screen for Terrorists

America is a society of high values and morals, and one example of this is that we won’t allow ourselves to use ethnic and racial profiling to spot potential terrorists in airports. We’re a God-fearing nation that respects the rule of law. Anyway, that's our story, and we're sticking to it.

I don’t believe a word if it. Not for a minute. In America, values and morals and norms are whatever we say they are, and very seldom does the rhetoric match the reality. We just make it up as we go along. The U.S. is 5% of the earth's population, but we have 25% of the world's prison population. Countries like China and Indonesia incarcerate political prisoners as well as criminals, buy they don't lock up citizens in numbers like we do in America. Helping to drive this prison population explosion is the fact that we have the highest murder rate on the planet, by a HUGE margin. No other western, non-third-world country comes even close to our kill rate, and even Middle East countries at war like Afghanistan and Pakistan are only slightly ahead of us in wasting the lives of their own citizens. What I'm describing, here, is just the "civilian" part of the Great American Killing Machine. Add to that the fact the America spends more on military hardware than all the rest of the world combined, and every penny spent on this so-called "defense" has just one purpose: erasing human life with maximum efficiency. Backing up all that hardware is the manpower of the "armed services." Television advertising to recruit volunteers for the military makes up the single largest TV advertising budget spent by anyone running ads on the tube. And the average person doesn't even see most of the recruitment ads, unless they are black or Hispanic, because 60% of all that money is spent on the BET and Telemundo networks. This isn’t profiling, however. This is merely market segmentation.

As Americans, we excel at squandering lives, but we're not all that good at saving lives. America is #24 in the world in infant mortality and #19 in the world in providing healthcare to our citizens. Other countries don't have better doctors or better hospitals, but they just choose to spend their money on healthcare instead of their armies and navies. We do, however, hold the #1 spot in one area of medicine. We lead the world in the number of elective cosmetic surgeries performed purely for enhancing appearance. The need to look good is a primary American value, but this isn’t discriminatory in spite of the fact that most of the Muslim potential terrorists aren’t physically attractive. We don't notice this because we don't do profiling.

There's another area where we are #1,and that's in the purchase and recreational use of drugs that are illegal and unrelated to medicine. Whether it's cocaine from Columbia, or marijuana from Mexico, or heroin from Afghanistan, we in the United States buy it, and snort it, and shoot it, and smoke it with enthusiasm and gusto not seen anywhere else on earth. We don’t talk about the source of our illegal drugs (Mexico and Columbia and Afghanistan) because this might lead to discrimination and profiling. Instead we try to compensate for this consumption of harmful substances by restricting fast foods that are high in fat content.

The family has always been considered important in every culture on earth, and we are told that the family is important in America, too. Let's see how we're doing. More than half of all American marriages end in divorce. 52% to be exact. This is the highest divorce rate of any country. One behavior that leads to divorce is spousal abuse, and 17% of all married woman in America say that they’ve been abused by a husband. Illegitimate birth rates in America are also the highest of any nation or culture, and in some U.S. minority population segments the illegitimacy rate is 70%. We don’t specify exactly which minority population is involved, here, because that would be profiling.

Finally, I should probably mention the ethical and moral value of “loyalty,” and look at how that value is practiced in the American work place. With the unemployment rate above 10%, there is no shortage of people who would be willing to share their stories about how their own personal loyalty to their employer was eventually betrayed. It’s not an exaggeration to say that EVERY employee of a large corporation worries about keeping their job. And well they should, because the quest for greater profits drives corporations to treat employees like leaves in the path of a leaf blower. America is a money making machine, so I guess nobody can say that America is a land without values. We just worship monetary values. But at least we don’t do profiling.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Afghanistan— Prolonging the Inevitable

Let your mind drift back to 1776, and ask yourself, “How long would The King’s red-clad dragoons have stayed around if the Continental soldiers had been armed with automatic assault weapons and RPGs?” To understand that scenario is to understand present-day Afghanistan, a country that contains three guns for every inhabitant. And the bad news for American foreign policy doesn’t stop there.

Warfare (the waging of war) is devilishly complex, but war itself is actually quite simple. War is merely two sides that kill each other until one side can’t stand to be killed any longer. Throughout history, war was never any more complicated than that. In World War II, the Japanese Kamikaze attacks showed America that Japan had a greater willingness to die than we did, and it took two atomic bombs to break that Japanese will. Vietnam was simply a tragedy that came about because Lyndon Johnson thought that Ho Chi Minh thought like he did, and eventually the American public decided that this petty difference of opinion was not worth dying for. Which brings us to Afghanistan where the enemy not only has the will to die, but actually has the aspiration to die. Faced with that kind of cultural mind set, America has two choices. We can either sign a formal declaration of surrender and leave with our tail between our legs, or we can just leave. Either way, we will lose that war, not because we lack military power, but because we lack suicidal tendencies.

The Taliban, or al-Qaeda, or the insurgents, or the Afghan nationals (hell, we can’t even agree on what to call them) is an enemy like none other in our long history of enemies. They have no industrial infrastructure behind them, no munitions manufacturing capability, no heavy transportation, no armored vehicles, no air power, no spy satellites, no electronic eavesdropping equipment, no forts, and certainly no central headquarters like the Pentagon. Nevertheless, they defeated England at the height of the British Empire’s power, and they defeated the Soviet Union at the height of Soviet power. As one U.S. Congressman recently stated, “We are facing a 14th-century enemy with our 21st-century military force, and we are fighting with 18th-century military tactics.” Bluntly stated, they are defeating the United States at the height of American power simply because they welcome the chance to die.

Liberals and Conservatives seldom agree on anything, so when Liberal Vice President, Joe Biden, and Conservative writer and intellectual, George Will, both say the same thing, that has some significance. Both of them essentially are saying, “Leave Afghanistan immediately before any more American troops die needlessly.” We should listen to them.