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 na├»ve 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.