Monday, September 26, 2011

Free to Believe Anything

Recent physics data coming from CERN seems to suggest that neutrinos might— I say MIGHT— travel faster than the speed of light. If true, this would prove Einstein wrong about a crucial fact of physics. Already, evangelical Christian fundamentalists are seizing on this to say that, “If Einstein is wrong about physics, then science can be wrong about evolution, too.” This would be amusing if it weren’t so pathetic. For evangelicals to try defending their thoughts about science based on their logic is like an illiterate non-reader critiquing the sentence structure of F Scott Fitzgerald and Norman Mailer.

Here’s the thing. If Einstein is found to be in error about the speed of light, the revision of his theory will come from scientific testing and computation. It won’t come from The Old Testament. And if evolution someday turned out to be a flawed notion (I guess anything is possible) then that revision as well would be based on science, not The Old Testament.

And here’s why this is important to all of us. In the United States we bend over backwards to accommodate the radical anti-science conservative beliefs of the evangelical Christian fundamentalists, because they compose a large voting block when it comes election time. If a large segment of the voting public consolidated themselves around a hardcore belief in Santa Claus, then the political forces would devote some happy talk to Santa Claus too. Meanwhile, China and India don’t burden themselves with The Old Testament or anti-science fundamentalism. In China, EVERY student in eighth grade is REQUIRED to begin their multi-year curriculum in physics, biology, and mathematics. In America, only 18% of high school students EVER study physics or biology at any time in their undergraduate public schooling.

In the United States, people are free to believe in The Old Testament, and they are free to not care a thing about science. They are also free to be poor and unemployed while they watch all the wealth and jobs go to China.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Consider the Math, Not the Morality

Lots of blogging going on today about last night’s execution in Florida. As for me, I respect the Chinese because they practice capitalism with a death penalty. In China, not only would they quickly dispatch a scumbag for shooting a policeman, they would also extend that treatment to guys like Bernie Madoff and Ken Ley and Dick Fuld.

With seven billion people prowling about, we don’t need to worry about one life. We need to be concerned with behavior that threatens every life. One guy kills another guy. If that action is expanded to the extent that half the people do it, the human race comes to an end. I call it extinctionary morality. You ask yourself the simple question, “What happens if EVERYBODY does this certain behavior or action?” In this scenario, if the action or behavior in question threatens the human race, the perpetrator has to go away, sooner rather than later. It’s just plain nuts to look at any aspect of murder within the underpinning context that, “Not everybody does it.” Math trumps morality.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Never Believe the Happy Talk

A few readers of this blog know me personally, and I’ve been asked once or twice why I’m so cynical and contemptuous of institutions. My answer is— personal experience and my personal disappointment in the institutions I’ve come to know.

I grew up Catholic in a time when the public face of Catholicism was Bing Crosby in “The Bells of Saint Mary’s.” I was an altar boy, and I actually wanted to become a priest. Then, within my own lifetime, I saw the Catholic priesthood exposed as a kind of training ground for despicable pedophiles, while The Holy Mother Church worked behind the scenes to limit the PR damage and cover up the transgressions. I was disappointed and disillusioned.

I was young in America when the United States had half of the world’s GDP, and the so-called, “American Dream” was real, and was iconic throughout the world at that time. I remember an America that had just saved the world by winning World War II. Then, within my own lifetime, I’ve seen the United States fall below many of the other developed nations in the standard of living, and I watched the U.S. military transition from a supremely unbeatable fighting force to a bloated jobs program with high rates of on-the-job injuries and fatalities. I was, and am, disappointed and disillusioned.

To the extent that political parties can be considered institutions, they are so far beneath my contempt that I won’t even discuss them here. But more consistently disappointing than religions or nations are corporations. Who can forget Enron or Tyco or WorldCom or Lehman Brothers or Pfizer (did he just say Pfizer?) In the 1990s, Pfizer was named the “most admired” and “best managed” corporation in America. I owned some Pfizer stock when it seemed that everybody who didn’t own some of it wanted to own it. During the 1990s, Pfizer stock increased in price 10 fold in 10 years. Then, within the last twelve years, I’ve seen Pfizer become, arguably, the most dysfunctional company on the Fortune 500 (See Fortune Magazine, August 15, 2011), while Pfizer stock has languished dead flat for ten years at a price less than half of its value during the glory years. I’m disappointed and disillusioned.

From my personal experience, I believe that— just as surely as all living things eventually die— all big institutions inevitably crumble and fail if you watch them long enough. And you can, literally, watch them because their demise takes less than a single lifetime to unfold. Only 15 companies on the Fortune 500 were on that list 50 years ago. When you see an institution— any institution— at the peak of excellence, you can be pretty sure that the downhill slide has already inexorably started, and that’s why I never put my faith in any big institution. That’s why I never believe the happy talk.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Update. And Also a Question

Here's an update. My post last Thursday said that public approval of the government was at 17%. That was accurate.... then. Things change. A new CBS / New York Times poll today shows public approval of the government at 12%. This raises the question, "Who will be the last person in the country to approve of the government?"

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What Would John Cameron Swayze Say About This?

The United States of America, 2011. After ten years of war in Afghanistan, the U.S. military (funded with 700 billion dollars a year of national treasure) is hoping to get out of the war with a draw. Victory is a word that’s never uttered because it’s so far removed from reality. The enemy for ten years has been a ragtag bunch of third world insurgents numbering less than 70,000— with no munitions production facilities, no industrial manufacturing capability, no heavy armament, no air force, no navy, no transportation infrastructure, no advanced technology, and absolutely no money flowing into its coffers. In fact, no coffers. Think David and Goliath with Goliath backed by astronomical amounts of American taxpayer money.

Back home, in the second week of September, 2011, the leading Republican candidate for the upcoming presidential election is found to have mandated vaccination of all 16 year-old girls in Texas against cervical cancer just to do the bidding of the vaccine maker, Merck, in return for substantial corporate monetary contributions. Democrat politics is equally inept. A solar panel start-up company has just declared bankruptcy after squandering half-a-billion dollars of “stimulus” money pumped in by the Obama administration. Polls show public approval of government is at 17%. “Official” unemployment stands at 9.2%, but the real unemployment rate is twice that high. Housing foreclosures have never been more numerous in all the nation’s history. U.S. corporations and small businesses are holding more cash than ever, but say they won’t invest in jobs or infrastructure upgrades until they can have their faith in government restored. Nobody expects that to happen anytime soon. And 84% of total American wealth is owned by the top 20% of wealthy Americans.

If John Cameron Swayze had reported news like this back in 1954, the American public at that time would have overthrown the U.S. government, even if it meant flirting with Soviet Communism.

Friday, September 9, 2011

What Is It With American Voters and Texas Politicians?

What is it with the American electorate and Texas politicians? Must be masochism. What else can explain it? Lyndon Johnson— now there was a real piece of work. Granted, he kind of slipped in under the radar as the result of a tragic assassination, and he waited until he was rightfully elected president two years later before he gave us the full-scale version of war in Vietnam, as well as Medicare here at home. That worked out so well that the other party (Republican) decided to tap into the wellspring of Texas politics when they came up with their pick for the election of 2000. And damned if their guy, George W. Bush, didn’t also slip in under the radar, this time as the result of a Supreme Court decision. His legacy to us was a totally needless war in Iraq and the worst economic situation since the 1930s here at home. Score another one for the Texans.

Now it’s Rick Perry’s turn. This guy combines the “real Texan” shit-kickin’ authenticity of LBJ with the “deer in the headlights” cluelessness of George W. Bush. His promise to us is the elimination of Social Security, creationism in the school science classes, and the rejection of pretty much everything that smacks of science or intellect. He hasn’t said yet where he plans to start his own war to take the place of Iraq.

How many times do we need to go to the well in Texas before we learn that the stuff coming out of there isn’t fit to drink?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

It’s All About Bringing Down the Anti-Christ

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, has a personal open letter that’s being passed around the Internet as an attachment to people’s e-mail messages, and if it comes your way it’s DEFINITELY worth a read. Schultz, along with 100 other business leaders, have taken it upon themselves to plead with Congress to stop what they’re doing and to work together to restore the American Dream which pretty much everybody knows is dead. The letter from Schultz and its message is praiseworthy— but utterly useless. Here’s why.

If you personally know an evangelical fundamentalist who believes that the earth is less than 5000 years old, and that 4000 years ago people (created by God) were riding around on dinosaurs— if you personally know such a believer, then you also probably know that you will never, EVER get such a person to change that belief. Disagreeing with them, and giving them scientific evidence to disprove their notion only solidifies their position. Disconfirmation always strengthens belief in the religious mind. What Schultz and his 100 friends don’t seem to realize is that the new movement within the Republican Party— including but not limited to the Tea Party— is not so much a political force as it is a quasi-religion. You can’t plead with them to work for the betterment of the nation because, in their religious-type belief system, that’s exactly what they’re doing now. What everybody seems to be missing is the true extent of the vitriolic focus of hatred on Obama. Throughout American history, every president has earned some measure of contempt from his political opponents, but until 2008, The President of the United States was never believed to be the anti-Christ. But such has been the case for three years now. You don’t get a believer with a Christian religious mindset to back off on his or her opposition to the anti-Christ just for the trivial notion of restoring the American Dream.

It will only get worse. Rick Perry is the one person who truly understands the situation for exactly what it is, and he will probably be the next president. He kicked-off his presidential quest with a pep rally in a giant stadium that drew over 30,000 hard core Christian believers. This was pure genius. It’s exactly what a person would do as the opening salvo in a war against the anti-Christ.

The problem with the Book of Revelations is that it doesn’t explain all that much about what to do AFTER you defeat the anti-Christ. Come January of 2013, Perry will have to figure that out. Maybe then, he and his followers will start to care about America.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Tribes Are Bigger Now

Much of the chaos and uncertainty in Afghanistan and Iraq (not to mention Libya) has been explained over the years by tribalism, but I happen to think that tribalism also explains the chaos and uncertainty in the United States of America. Our tribes are just bigger and more formalized. When you get right down to it, what are religions and political parties and giant corporations other than just big inflexible tribes? This isn’t a new idea. Other people, smarter than me, have come to this notion before I did. I just needed a little more time to mull it over and get on board.

How else can you explain the way that old time Lutherans see things so differently from evangelical fundamentalists, even though both groups believe in the same Jesus? How else can you rationalize the vitriolic gap between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans even though both groups claim to have the nation’s best interests at heart? And most amazing of all, how else can you understand the positive passion and loyalty that some employees invest in their company or corporation, even though that same company looks at the employee like a totally disposable commodity to be eliminated the minute there’s a need to adjust the bottom line? People believe in their tribe simply because it’s THEIR tribe. There is no right or wrong way of seeing things in the big picture because the definitions of right and wrong are set by the tribe, and the tribal members believe that the tribe is all there is. There is no “big picture.”

One last thing. People are free to kiss off a religion, or switch political affiliations, or to give up on their company and abandon misplaced loyalty without actually quitting the job, but they almost never do it because tribal members don’t see themselves as being free to quit or switch or give up on the tribe. 10,000 years of human cultural evolution, and it’s come down to this— the tribes are just bigger now.