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.