A compendium of politically incorrect polemics and other writings
* Reality in Education
* Curbing global warming: exercise
* 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
* 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
Action and me
* Signs of the times
REALITY IN EDUCATION
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
GLOBLAL WARMING: EXERCISE IN FUTILITY
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.
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.
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.
to our legislators in this matter. They'll need far more of it than all they can possibly get.
SHOULD GET OUT OF IRAQ NOW
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.
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.
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?
difference between terrorists and freedom-fighters is merely a matter of point of view and of who won and who lost.
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.
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.
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
Hillary's "Jewish Problem" isn't unique. It's just bigger than most politicians have to contend with.
HELP FOR CHILDREN UNDER FIVE?
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.
OUR LIVES BE MORALLY "UNIFIED"?
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.
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
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."
NEWS A FORM OF ENTERTAINMENT?
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.
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.
ON A TIGER
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."
ILLNESS IN CHILDREN ON THE INCREASE?
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.
IRAQ'S GOVERNMENT: "CLIENT" OR "PUPPET"
"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?
A BETTER WAY TO CHOOSE
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.
to the electorate won't solve the problem. Nor will anything else short of a Constitutional Amendment drastically revising
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.
FIXING OUR BROKEN
HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
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).
employers should be absolutely prohibited from dabbling in health care as an employee benefit or in any other way.
insurance companies should be absolutely prohibited from offering health insurance of any sort to any one.
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.
GETTING THE MIDDLE EAST BACK ON OUR SIDE
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.
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.
THE DEMOCRATS END THE WAR IN IRAQ?
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.
CRIMINAL MIND, EVERY MIND
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.
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.
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.
CAN AND SHOULD TELL BUSH TO STOP
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?"
ACTION AND ME
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.
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).
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.
SIGNS OF THE
In a Gynecologist's Office:
"Dr. Jones, at your cervix."
In a Podiatrist's office:
On a Honey Wagon in Oregon:
"Meals on Wheels -- Yesterday's."
On a Septic Tank Truck:
the #2 business, We're #1!"
At a Proctologist's door:
"To expedite your visit, please back in."
On a Handyman's
"We repair what your husband fixed."
On a Plumber's truck:
"Don't sleep with a drip. Call your plumber."
a Church's Billboard:
"7 days without God makes one weak."
At a Tire Shop in Milwaukee:
"Invite us to your next
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
"If we see smoke, we'll assume you're on fire and dowse you."
On a Delivery Room door:
"Push. Push. Push."
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
"We really know our stuff."
On a Fence:
"Salesmen welcome! Dog food is expensive!"
At a Car Dealership:
best way to get back on your feet - miss a car payment."
Outside a Muffler Shop:
"No need to call ahead. We hear
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 :
stand there being hungry, Come on in and get fed up."
In the front yard of a Funeral Home :
"Drive carefully. We'll
At a Propane Filling Station ,
"Thank heaven for little grills."
At a Chicago Radiator Shop:
Best place in town to take a leak."