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A compendium of politically incorrect polemics and other writings

Hot Off The Press!

* Reality in Education
* Curbing global warming: exercise in futility
* Hillary's Jewish problem
* Special Help for Children Under Five?
* We should get out of Iraq NOW
* Should our lives be morally "unified"?
* Should Hillary apologize?
* Is news a form of entertainment?
* Monkey on a Tiger
* Is mental illness in children on the increase?
* Iraq's government: "client" or "puppet"
* A better way to choose our leaders
* Fixing our broken health care system
* Getting the Middle East Back on Our Side
* Will the Democrats end the war in Iraq?
* Criminal Mind, Every Mind
* Congress can and should tell Bush to STOP
* Affirmative Action and me
* Signs of the times


No single factor explains the decline in performance by 12th graders on standardized tests, so a solution is both complex and elusive. To begin, we need to reconsider whether performance on such tests will prove important or even significant in our society during the next 50 years.

Our world is increasingly audio-visual-symbolic-technological in its orientation, and the ability to read, write, and compute are no longer essential for many younger people who have mastered the arts of cell phone, voice mail, video, iPod, text messaging, cash register, and electronic calculator. In consequence, classic curricula built around the 3-Rs now seems - and may well be - irrelevant to and for many.

Like George Bush's Iraq war, his no-child-left-behind is based on a fallacious assumption. It presumes that all citizens of the oncoming generation can acquire and will need, or at least can benefit from, identical academic skill sets, and this is pretty clearly not true. The lamentable consequence is that the bulk of our educational resources is squandered pointlessly on non-gifted children.

Most other western countries, like Britain, long ago figured out that different paths are needed for different children with profoundly different capabilities and that such differences are largely imbedded by age three, long before the educational system begin to come into play.

The developing person can be likened to a computer. Genetics determines the hardware, both physical and intellectual. Early experience installs an operating system that, among other things, imbeds life-long value judgments in read-only memory. Education and training in later years attempt to install applications such as reading and writing in largely volatile memory, but the attempt can be successful only to the extent the hardware and operating system are capable of supporting such applications.

Like the Iraq war, no-child-left-behind is a tragic mistake. In attempting to achieve that impossible goal, the unintended consequence is that no-child-gets-ahead.

Like other western nations, we need to get in touch with the reality that only a relatively few children are truly educable, and the majority are not. We then need to distinguish among them at a relatively early age and thereafter focus our educational resources on those who are actually educable. The inevitable consequence of such bifurcation is that those who are educable and educated will tend to monopolize those roles in life in which education is useful.

The real problem, which cannot be solved by education, is what to do with those citizens who are not educable. Until recently, they could achieve moderately satisfying lives working on farms, in factories, and in the trades. But mechanization, automation, and globalization have dramatically reduced such opportunities at the same time that the need for them, or some suitable alternative, has grown exponentially.

The solution may lie in government-sponsored programs to provide meaningful employment and appropriate purchasing power for those citizens who are not educable. In Britain, the dole tends to provide essential purchasing power but not concomitant meaningful employment. It is, therefore, at best only half a solution.

The challenge that confronts us is to frame a whole solution for those who are not educable. The solution is not to be found in no-child-left-behind but in how to provide life-long respectful and respectable accommodation for those who are, inevitably, left behind.



The California Legislature is trying to do something about the state's contribution to global warming. The intention is noble, but at the very best, the effort will prove far too little and far too late.

It's not the politicians' fault. Humankind has been headed for global warming ever since farming was invented several thousand years back, and the industrial revolution began exacerbating the problem hugely at least 150 years ago.

The ultimate source of the problem is population, and no politician is going to touch what it would take to really fix that problem with a 10 foot pole. Energy consumption is a function of population. Beyond that, every person who breathes air generates Carbon Dioxide with every breath, day and night, 24/7. (And not so incidentally, so do all the animals we eat.)

Even if we could somehow bring emissions under control in California, the rest of the world is beyond our reach. We can't even do anything to protect the rain forests in Brazil whose loss aggravates the situation mightily.

When I arrived in California, the state's population was right at seven million, fewer air breathers than currently reside in the Bay Area alone. Across the state, six times as many now as then, and more coming every day.

It won't take an atomic catastrophe to wipe out the human species, we'll manage to do it all by ourselves just by breathing, and very likely by the end of this century. Most of the other species that have inhabited the earth at one time or another are now extinct, and it won't be very long before we join them. As the saying goes, "Sic transit gloria mundi.".

The heart of the problem is the fallacy of composition. What is good for the individual can be dreadfully bad for the community, and often, lamentably, vice versa.

Good luck to our legislators in this matter. They'll need far more of it than all they can possibly get.



Open-endedly "hoping" Congress will "find a way" to force Bush to terminate our involvement in Iraq "as soon as possible" is a pious, futile wish. The American people should demand that Congress demand that Bush end America's military involvement in Iraq NOW.

The root cause of our administration's myriad blunders in the middle east and with the Islamic world in general has been a monumental lack of empathy which Bush and company epitomize.

In the current vernacular, the Muslim peoples of the world, and of Iraq in particular, have felt profoundly "dissed" by the West, led first by Britain and then by America, for well over half a century - arguably for nearly a millennium.

Suppose the United States had not possessed its veto power in the United Nations and powerful Nation X had encouraged the United Nations to award Florida instead of Palestine to the Zionists for their "Jewish National Homeland." How would Americans have felt about that, and how might we have reacted? Why does Palestinian enmity seem to puzzle us?

Suppose several countries possessed genuine Weapons of Mass Destruction, but at the instance of Nation X, the United Nations forbade America to have any, implying that America was "bad" and the extant possessors of such weapons were "good." How would Americans have felt about that insulting double standard, and how might we have reacted? Why do the reactions of nations such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea that we have excluded from the nuclear "club" amaze us?

Suppose to enforce its supremacy over America's affairs, the United Nations, again at the instance of Nation X, had required America to subject itself to the indignity of inspections and had imposed sanctions on America that substantially reduced our standard of living for over a decade. How would Americans have felt about that, and how might we have reacted?

In such circumstances, what unimaginable level of effrontery would it take to believe the armed forces of Nation X would be welcomed by Americans as "liberators" rather than "invaders?" And in the same way the French, lacking the capacity to wage "normal" war, responded to German invaders in 1940 with irregular patriot/terrorist activities, wouldn't Americans also have resorted to such means of resistance?

The difference between terrorists and freedom-fighters is merely a matter of point of view and of who won and who lost.

From the perspective of the Islamic World, America is Nation X, and there's no point in arguing whether that perspective fully accords with objective reality. For all practical purposes, perception is reality, and America has at least done enough Nation X like things to engender it.

It took a long time for America to dig itself into the hole in which it now finds itself with the Islamic World, and it will take a long time for America to finally crawl back out. But whatever means it turns out to take, it ought to be abundantly clear the first step must be to stop digging.

We really must take the shovel out of George Bush's hands, not "as soon as possible" but NOW.



Senator Clinton must always be mindful that a non-trivial part of the electorate in New York state is pro-Israel and might well choose to punish a candidate at the polls who failed to support that position actively.

American Jews don't appear to support continuing the Iraq war now, but they did support Bush's starting the war at the time because if Iraq had had WMD they would have threatened Israel even if they could not possibly have been a threat to the United States.

Israel is the elephant in the living room of American po0litics. Israel's lobby - epitomized by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - has done an amazingly effective job of getting American law makers to take actions in support of Israel even when such actions have not been in America's own best interest.

When elections often turn out 51 to 49, even a small concerted constituency can tip the balance, and the specter of the "Jewish Vote" turning against a candidate who fails to support the Israeli agenda, has been sufficiently daunting to keep a majority of America's law makers in line, as it were, for some 60 years.

Hillary's "Jewish Problem" isn't unique. It's just bigger than most politicians have to contend with.



The suggestion of special help for children under five is another proposal to address piecemeal an issue that has long required a comprehensive integrated solution. Instead of a costly and inefficient patchwork of special programs which aim to ameliorate the effects of poverty, we need a forthright solution to the problem of poverty itself. Every citizen - man, woman, and child - needs to be assured of an acceptable level of purchasing power from cradle to grave regardless of such factors as employment.

That we choose to squander billions on such follies as Iraq while our national infrastructure falls apart, children go to school without breakfast, people sleep on the street, and victims of all sorts of accidental misfortunes become destitute is a shameful national disgrace.

Because of the way in which wealth begets power in our society, America is a Democracy - or Republic - in name only. From the beginning, it has been an elitist oligarchy as has finally become obvious. We need to recognize that wealth and poverty are largely the luck of the draw beginning even before birth. And we need to recognize that hereditary wealth typically had its genesis in some form of illegal or unethical activity rather than merit.

If an example is needed of why our system must be remodeled to redistribute purchasing power from the lucky, obscenely wealthy to those least fortunate, look no further than George W. Bush.



Consistency has a lot to recommend it, and it's not "consistency" that's the hobgoblin of little minds It's a "FOOLISH consistency" that's the hobgoblin.

At best, morality is always mediated by context. It's a "usually" and "rarely" sort of thing, not an "always" and "never" kind of business.

Most of us believe it's usually wrong to kill, but when it's kill-or-be-killed, most of us would approve of killing and not regard it as immoral.

As a practical matter, we all wear many hats and many masks as we journey through life and, if you believe in determinism and that free-will is an illusion - as I do - then the role we play at any moment and the flavor of morality that accompanies it is never ours to choose. In a very real sense, it always comes "with the territory."



Senator Clinton should apologize for voting to empower Bush to so whatever he thought best with respect to Iraq. She should have known better than to trust him, and therefore her vote was not merely a mistake but a culpable one.

Dean Fish (NYT 02-26-07) correctly points to the ambiguity "sorry" involves. I try to make myself clearer by avoiding that word and using, instead, either "it's a real shame that . . ." or "I screwed up, and I apologize."



Half a century ago, in his book "Games People Play," Eric Berne opined we all "spend our lives waiting either for death or Santa Claus" and we need "time-structuring devices" to occupy us while we wait.

As time-structuring devices, news and entertainment are interchangeable. That the morning newspaper is such a device becomes clear when it arrives late. Once the time segment it usually structures has past, the newspaper becomes valuable only as a wrapper for garbage.

The only real news we usually encounter is in advertisements because from them we learn of things we can do something about. Everything else - wars, catastrophes, and elections like celebrities and sporting events - are merely "gee whiz" stuff of transient curiosity value but without actionable significance in our lives.

No wonder, then, that most of us opt for the more titillating of time-structuring alternatives when free to choose.



In Science Times recently, Dennis Overbye noted that a bevy of experiments in recent years suggest the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and frantically making up rationalizing mythology about being in control.

In recent comments about these findings (NYT 01-06-07) Maureen Dowd didn't adequately clarify why many experts believe "free will" is an illusion. Determinists believe every decision we appear to make of our own free will is, in fact, inexorably determined by the totality of the influences of our genetics, our lifetime of conditioning experiences up to the instant of decision, and the broadly defined environmental circumstances at that instant.

If that view is correct, as I believe it probably is, then attributes such as moral, responsible, charitable, and the like become truly meaningless. Perpetrators of evil acts would not be guilty, sinful, or even irresponsible as such terms are currently defined because they imply volitional exercise of the kind of self control presumed to be associated with free will.

We really do need to update our operational understand of how human nature ticks.

Recognition that behavior is deterministic rather than volitional would necessitate profound modification of the structure and operation of most human social norms and systems. And isn't it about time? For around four millennia now, we've been burdened by the fruits of ignorance and misunderstandings propounded by arrogant, self-serving, and often delusional "patriarchs."



My late wife was diagnosable with bipolar disorder as early as age 14 which was in 1960. Her brother was similarly afflicted and diagnosable at about the same time and age. The family from which they came had a lengthy and widespread tradition of similarly serious but undiagnosed or misdiagnosed dysfunction.

While my information is anecdotal rather than statistical, it seems clear to me that mental illness among young people may only appear to be on the increase owing to the current tendency to recognize and address their conditions which in earlier times - as in the case of my wife - were either hush-hushed or poo-pooed, or both.

Beyond that, at least four of the 30 children in my suburban upper-middle-class first grade would surely have been diagnosed with ADHD if it had been 2007 instead of 1937. Our ability to see problems is at least partially determined by our willingness to do so. To the extent that stress is a causative factor, I suspect nothing has essentially changed. We may have different kinds of stress today, but young people have always had to deal with stress of one kind or another.



In "Images of Hanging Make Hussein a Martyr to Many" (NYT 01-06-07) the present government of Iraq is characterized as America's "client" government. Despite procedural complexities to make it appear legitimate, it's obviously a "puppet" government. So why the euphemism "client" instead of calling a spade a spade?



The American advertising industry has conditioned a knee-jerk reflexive response in the average American to respond to image and celebrity without thoughtful regard to substance. This works because today's issues, both political and commercial, would be too complex for amateur analysis even if the true facts were disclosed, which they rarely are.

Exhortations to the electorate won't solve the problem. Nor will anything else short of a Constitutional Amendment drastically revising our system.

The British system is far superior with the executive branch formed from the legislative body, and recallable by it any time. In that system, the electors at least have a fighting chance to know the candidate for whom they vote, and what he or she stands for.

An even better system for America would be a tiered system of electors such that the electors at every level, in choosing one of their number to move to the next higher level, would have that same kind of opportunity to know their candidates. Beyond that, the diffusion of decision-making would make it far more difficult to buy an election as George Bush effectively did than it obviously is today.

It would be nice if anyone in power in Washington were as intelligent, perceptive, and thoughtful as several of the Op-Ed columnists at the New York Times, but that will never be the case as long as our present electoral system survives and candidates who can think clearly are shunned.



America's health care crisis traces back 70 years or so to a pair of fundamental errors that are now easy to see clearly. Perception of health care as properly an employer-provided benefit left all citizens who were most in need and not fortunate enough to be employed by the "best" companies twisting in the wind.

Treating health care funding as a fragmented insurance activity added mountains of unproductive administrative costs to the equation, including costs of profits for the insurance carriers. In time added complexities further burdened the health care picture. Was an infirmity work-related? If so, a whole additional can of worms called "workers compensation" opened up.

It's way past time to de-privatize and hugely simplify the whole health care situation. Two new Federal laws would get the ball rolling provided there were no exceptions or loopholes (such as the exemption of American Samoa from the new Federal minimum wage law).

First, employers should be absolutely prohibited from dabbling in health care as an employee benefit or in any other way.

Second, insurance companies should be absolutely prohibited from offering health insurance of any sort to any one.

Both of those functions should be unequivocally reserved to the Federal government.

While Congress is at it, this would be a wonderful time to prohibit both employers and insurance carriers from dabbling in pensions and any other sort of post-retirement benefits which now clearly must be fully portable. That function ought also to be unequivocally reserved to the Federal government on whatever basis - contributory or otherwise - makes sustainable sense.

As parts of that reform, such things as unemployment compensation, welfare, and what have you ought to be added to the "citizen's safety net" so all wealth-sharing activities would be bundled together seamlessly and efficiently.

The only things that stand in the way of such rational and humane reforms are the vested interest of corporate America's powerful and affluent greedy "moochers" and the corrupt politicians they pay off, one way or another.



Avoiding confrontation with the elephant in the living room, Brent Scowcroft's "Getting the Middle East Back on Our Side" (NYT 01-04-07) is just another pious wish. Obviously, the elephant is Israel whose very existence daily affronts a billion Muslims worldwide. They rightly blame America for enabling Palestine's partition by the UN in 1947 and for America's subsequent discriminatory support of Israel including war in Iraq largely for Israel's benefit.

By mendaciously linking opposition to Israel with anti-Semitism, Israel's American propagandists, such as the subversive AIPAC, have effectively thwarted both realistic consideration of the real problem Israel's existence poses for the world and meaningful exploration of workable solutions.

Ultimately, perfecting Palestine's partition won't work. But requiring Israel to permit all displaced Palestinians to return with full voting rights and expropriated properties restored might avail. Displacing Israeli theocracy with genuine democracy, the reconstituted electorate could then vote to reunify Palestine and conceivably bring relative peace to the area.



Certainly not. George Bush irretrievably opened Pandora's box. Iraq, arbitrarily cobbled together by Western powers following World War I, now hosts civil war among its unreconcilable Kurd, Shiite, Sunni, and other factions. Necessarily ruthless, Saddam achieved beneficial stability for some 30 years. Bush-style democracy won't prove an effective substitute there.



The authors of "The Violent Brain" (Scientific American Mind, January 2007) seem unaware all human behavior, criminal and benign alike, like all behavior of all other animals, is wholly deterministic and that "free will" and volitional "choice" are illusions.

Every action and every thought is the inexorable consequence of three non-controllable factors: intrinsic biology including genetic memory, cumulative programming resulting from all of life's experience up to the moment, and imperatives of instant circumstance.

Realistically, then, evil may exist, but not sin, and both guilt and pride are equally meaningless.

Implications for penology are important. While incarceration is useful to protect society from further depredation, punishment is useful only if it contributes to re-programming, and vengeance is counterproductive.

Clearly our focus should be on eliminating experience that engenders adverse programming from birth onward. In any event, however, we need procedures for identifying individuals who have acquired anti-social tendencies, isolating them before they can do harm, and reprogramming them to enable their safe return to society.



If a Congressional resolution actually empowered Bush to "GO," than another Congressional resolution ought to be able to require him to "STOP." And if a Congressional resolution didn't actually authorize Bush to "RUN AMUCK," a Congressional resolution ought to be able to order him to cease and desist.

Playing funding games won't get the job done.

Congress is actually between a rock and a very hard place. It's only real means of bringing a recalcitrant president to book is impeachment, and this Congress dares not use that means in this instance because as Bush's successor, Dick Cheney would very likely be worse.

Bush's Iraq misadventure was doomed from before the beginning. The administration acted on utterly unrealistic assumptions rather than determinable facts at every turn. Understanding the Iraqi mindset - and the certainty our invasion would be perceived as conquest rather than liberation - did not require rocket science. Just a bit of motivational research and contemplation would have neatly done the trick.

Nor was rocket science required to see that shunning all the Iraqi military and police who had maintained stability there for a score of years while failing to substitute a million person post-hostility peace-keeping force would surely result in chaos.

Now Bush has the effrontery to imply that the puppet Iraqi government is somehow responsible for failure to keep the peace. Am I alone in seeing Bush's Iraqi misadventure as a poor-person's sequel to "Alice in Wonderland?"



As a member of Harvard's class of 1952, I benefited from its affirmative action policy aimed at diversifying its student body with a sprinkling of plausibly qualified applicants from west of the Hudson river, and I have often wondered how many better qualified candidates from Brookline might have been denied admission in order to make room for me.

At the end of the day, two of our most cherished precepts, "Freedom" and "Equality of Opportunity" are mutually exclusive. In order to award me the freedom to avail myself of the opportunity to attend Harvard, someone else's freedom to do so clearly had to be trampled upon.

Real life tends to be a sum-zero game in which what benefits one disadvantages some other, and which is which is often the luck of the draw. With our without intentional intervention, the deck is always stacked for someone and against someone else. So the real issue is whether we should attempt to modify the otherwise random or deterministic stacking of the deck.

One's view of whether there should be affirmative action or not may depend on what purpose one perceives institutions of higher education actually serve in our society.

At least at the undergraduate level, their principal purpose seems to me to be the dispensing of credentials which give rise to preferential opportunities for further education, employment, and association, not necessarily related in any way to merit (whatever "merit" actually means).

What we are really talking about, then, is allocation of life-long privilege to have preferential opportunities to enjoy success and prosperity (whatever "success" and "prosperity" actually mean).

At the individual level, it really makes no difference because for every winner there must necessarily be a loser, and the totality is naught. That said, it might make an enormous difference at the level of society as a whole.

Does it serve our society best to award further privilege to those already privileged by good fortune (genes, parents, schools, whatever) or to attempt to equalize privilege throughout our society by awarding some privilege to those upon whom fortune has not smiled so sweetly?

Most of the world including America operates, in fact, on the principle that to those who already have, more should be given, and perhaps that is the way to provide society with the best doctors, lawyers, educators, engineers, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, politicians, and so on. The operant - and as yet unanswered - question is: would dispensing of opportunities on a more egalitarian basis serve our society as a whole better or worse?

And the debate on that issue hinges largely on conflicting definitions of "better" and "worse" - value judgments which, themselves, defy fact and reason.



In a Gynecologist's Office:
"Dr. Jones, at your cervix."

In a Podiatrist's office:
"Time wounds all heels."

On a Honey Wagon in Oregon:
"Meals on Wheels -- Yesterday's."

On a Septic Tank Truck:
" In the #2 business, We're #1!"

At a Proctologist's door:
"To expedite your visit, please back in."

On a Handyman's truck:
"We repair what your husband fixed."

On a Plumber's truck:
"Don't sleep with a drip. Call your plumber."

On a Church's Billboard:
"7 days without God makes one weak."

At a Tire Shop in Milwaukee:
"Invite us to your next blowout."

In a Plastic Surgeon's office:
"Let us pick your nose."

At a Towing company:
"We don't charge an arm and a leg. We only want tows."

On an Electrician's truck:
"Let us remove your shorts."

In a Nonsmoking Area:
"If we see smoke, we'll assume you're on fire and dowse you."

On a Delivery Room door:
"Push. Push. Push."

At an Optometrist's Office :
"If you don't see what you're looking for,
you've come to the right place."

On a Taxidermist's window:
"We really know our stuff."

On a Fence:
"Salesmen welcome! Dog food is expensive!"

At a Car Dealership:
"The best way to get back on your feet - miss a car payment."

Outside a Muffler Shop:
"No need to call ahead. We hear you coming."

In a Veterinarian's waiting room:
"Be back in 5 minutes. Sit! Stay!"

At the Electric Company :
"We'd be delighted if you'd send your payment,
but if you don't, you will be."

In a Restaurant window :
"Don't stand there being hungry, Come on in and get fed up."

In the front yard of a Funeral Home :
"Drive carefully. We'll wait. "

At a Propane Filling Station ,
"Thank heaven for little grills."

At a Chicago Radiator Shop:
" Best place in town to take a leak."