Saturday, November 26, 2011

And Here's Why They Will Always Be The 99%

“We are the 99%” So goes the battle cry from the “Occupy” movement, but there’s an uncomfortable reality of life that seems to be misunderstood by these folks. The equality which they seek is impossible in the modern world. If you took the total personal wealth in the United States, and distributed it equally so that every family in the nation had exactly the same net worth— within five or six years there would be a group at the very top who had accumulated hundreds of times as much as the average. The personnel makeup of this new upper tier would contain some new members (although most of them would be the same people who are at the top now) but for the most part, the winners and losers would be distributed almost exactly as they are now. Some people are simply more lucky, or more capable than others. Not necessarily better, and certainly not better in terms of their character, but simply more fortunate or more proficient in their ability to navigate the complexities of the modern economic world. Qualities like blind luck, raw intellect, common sense, self-motivation, ambition, personal discipline (this personal self-discipline is probably the most fundamental of all), and pure human likeability (sometimes called charisma)— these traits are not evenly distributed throughout the population, but these are the traits that help certain people rise to the top. And as every elementary school teacher can tell you, these traits can predict as early as fourth or fifth grade which students will go on to be the high-achievers in life.

The “Occupy” movement will die out because it’s nothing like the uprisings in the Arab Spring. Overthrowing an Arab tyrant is very different from trying to even out the economic inequalities of life.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's All About Certainty

According to the latest news accounts, the failure of the “Super Committee” came as a surprise to most Americans. Not me (see Dirty Little Truths About pentagon Funding 8-6-11) where I predicted the failure with absolute certainty. I really don’t have that many truly original ideas, but I do have a firm opinion which I’ve never seen echoed by any of the media pundits. I believe that ideology is not just about political viewpoints (and probably never was) but has, in fact, become the world’s newest religion. Wondering why Liberals and Conservatives can’t see eye to eye about the national budget is like wondering why Catholics and Buddhists don’t agree on the virginity of Mary or the divinity of her son. Religion has never been about compromise, and ideology isn’t moved to compromise either. Both are about the certainty of being correct in a single point of view, and to compromise would be to admit a possible flaw in that viewpoint which, in turn, would undermine the certainty. And here’s the key point. The certainty makes people feel good. Compromise doesn’t make people feel good. So I suppose that right about now, both factions of the Super Committee are feeling good about their toeing the line on behalf of their ideological comrades.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Some Thoughts About That "Big Footprint"

Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, warns that cutting the defense budget will reduce our navy to the smallest fleet since 1914, and will reduce our standing army to the smallest number of troops since 1940. Actually, that makes perfect sense. In 1914, we were ramping up our navy to face the looming threat of Germany, which had the most powerful navy on the high seas, including the world’s first operational fleet of submarines. Similarly, in 1940, we could see that we would soon face the German army as well as the Japanese. At that time, Germany had the world’s largest and most powerful military machine in the world, and Japan was number two in military might. Those situations required what West Point now refers to in buzzword-speak as a “big footprint.”

Fast forward to 2011. We are told that we still need a “big footprint” to fight the threat imposed by— drum roll, please— the Taliban. According to the Pentagon’s latest assessment, the number of Taliban currently in Afghanistan is about 10,000. Oh, and by the way, the Taliban has no navy. In fact, they have virtually no military infrastructure whatsoever. We’re not talking, here, about pre-war Germany or Japan. And we're most certainly not talking about the Cold War Soviet Union. The plain fact is that America maintains the world’s biggest military simply because it has become the main part of our national identity. It makes us feel good. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make us feel safe.

Monday, November 14, 2011

No Sainthood for Joe Paterno

I wonder if Joe Paterno is a practicing Catholic? If so, this might help explain why he tolerated a known pedophile under his authority for eight years without notifying the law. Perhaps he was looking to the example set by John Paul II who tolerated numerous pedophiles for twenty-plus years without any negative personal consequences. But Penn. State University isn’t the Vatican, and Paterno should have known the difference. At Penn. State, Paterno was fired immediately for his lapse in leadership responsibility. If Paterno had been the Pope instead of a head football coach, he would now be a candidate for sainthood. In the Roman Catholic process of canonization, being an accessory to pedophilia is not something they hold against you.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How Buddhism Deals With Flooding

Last March I blogged about the fact that there had been absolutely zero incidents of looting in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami. Now, another eight months have passed, and still there has been no looting whatsoever. In nearby Thailand, most of the entire country has been devastated by massive flooding for more than two weeks now, and the situation there makes New Orleans after Hurricane Katrine look like nothing more than a small scale water event. In contrast with the post-Katrina crime rampage in New Orleans, the incidence of crime and looting in Thailand has been zero. Ziltch. Notta. It's worth noting that both Japan and Thailand are Buddhist countries, and Buddhists believe that it's wrong to steal from their fellow man, so they refrain from looting even when there's a flood.

Unfortunately, such good deeds are not going to save the Buddhists from the everlasting fires of hell (if you listen to the Christian fundamentalists) because the Buddhists have not accepted Jesus into their hearts as their Lord and Savior.... and yada yada yada. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life, and there is no way to the Father but through me." (John 14:6). This narcissistic declaration from the self-proclaimed "Son of God" doesn't offer much heavenly hope to the Buddhist community.... unless, of course, the whole Jesus thing is just a pile of undiluted horseshit. In that case, the Buddhist practice of lawful behavior might have something going for it.

See also "Looting in Japan," March 13, 2011