Monthly Archives: May 2012

ANIMAL INSTINCTS

The way people treat animals on this planet, both large and small, is a strong indicator of the character and humanity of mankind, and thus far the record has been pretty poor, if not disastrous. Man’s relationship to animals should be one of protector and benefactor, but instead it is often one of predator and greedy attacker. As the population of this planet now exceeds 7 billion people, native habitats especially for large animals are significantly shrinking. At the the same time, man still sees profit in killing certain large animals such as elephants for their ivory, seals for their fur, or sharks for their supposed health benefits. And let us not forget the large number of people that still see hunting as a “sport” and will go out and slaughter defenseless animals, just for the the hell of it. The footage taken of Sarah Palin shooting defenseless moose or wolves in Alaska from a helicopter, I think perfectly symbolizes the mindset of these so-called hunters.

In any event, between the disappearing animal habitats due to expanding populations moving into lands that had been set aside for these animals, and due to continued predatory hunting, the populations of large wildlife has been decreasing at an alarming rate. Over the past 50 years, there has been huge decreases in populations of the great apes in both Africa and Asia, as well as elephants, especially in Africa, where much of the lands that elephants lived on is now becoming farming communities. Not only does the room for elephants to roam shrink, but when they wander onto these new farms in search of food they are often shot. Decreasing numbers are also noted among other large mammals such as rhinos and hippos, as well as the large cats. Lions, tigers leopards, cheetah and other cats have experienced such huge losses that they are now considered endangered species. There also has been big losses in marine wildlife, among sharks and whales. We may be among the last generations that can live alongside large animals still in the wild.

There are some groups that are trying mightily to stem the tide of animal extinction in the wild, but thus far they have, at best, achieved a slowing down of the rate of loss. It’s too bad that people don’t have the same concern for wild animals as they do for domestic pets. There is no decrease in the dog and cat populations in this country or elsewhere, as most people do love their pets. And why not? Treat dogs or cats with affection and they will give you back total, unreserved love. Even the most benevolent pet owner can never give back what these small animals give to us. Even if you have had the worst day, if your boss or your spouse yelled at you non-stop, if your investments went south and the stock market plummeted, no matter what the situation, you’re still a hero in your pet’s eyes. They will look at you you with unreserved love and innocence whatever event transpired.

Although there is a big difference in the way dogs and cats respond, such as the old joke that people are masters to their dogs, but servants to their cats, I believe that both undergo a special bonding with their owners. In our younger years we used to own dogs because there was no question that dogs far more openly display affection for their owners. But unless you’re fortunate enough to have a large, fenced-in yard, owning a dog can have its own problems. Like walking a dog on cold, rainy winter days at 6 in the morning or late at night. So as we we got older we switched our pet choices to cats largely because they use litter boxes and thus require no walking. Cats are affectionate too, but in their own unique way and at their own pace. One cat we owned lived for over 18 years and was always a constant joy. But as George Carlin, the comedian once said: “When you decide to acquire a pet, you know it’s going to end badly.”  When our cat died, it was was almost like losing a child. Both my wife and I bawled like babies.

We’ve had our current cat for over 5 years, and like the previous one, she also gives us continued pleasure. She’s grayish-white, with large blue eyes that reflect the epitome of innocence. I often think, however, that it’s extremely sad that people exist in this world that horribly abuse these small creatures. Hence, the existence of the Humane Society, the ASPCA, and countless other animal organizations that seek to to shelter and heal abused animals. Knowing there is no such thing as Hell, I still would like to see the ninth circle of Hell, as described in Dante’s Inferno, reserved for people that abuse defenseless animals. It takes a special kind of evil for that to happen. But as I’ve written before regarding serial killers, evil in some people is like a bottomless pit.

In any event, at least our small domestic pets are not on the endangered species list. However, the same cannot be said for especially the large animals that roam the wilderness areas. I think it’s incumbent on all of us to make what ever effort we can to protect these endangered animals. Even if that effort is merely contributing to the groups that attempt to reverse declining animal populations. Because being a benefactor to wild and domesticated animals makes us more humane as human beings.

 

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT

I like eating at least as much, if not more, than the next guy. Food has been my one constant companion since the day I was born, and I would sort hate the idea of giving up the habit of eating. I also have the type of appetite that is never satisfied. I can no sooner end one meal when I’m anxious to start the next. Of course, health and practicality considerations preclude me from this type of overeating, although I do overindulge from time to time.

I am not proud to admit that we buy a lot of our food at a local Wal-Mart. We go there to meet the high-class clientele the store attracts and for the wonderful ambience. Just kidding, of course, as both those factors are sadly lacking at any Wal-Mart store. The simple fact is that we shop there to save money. I have this thing about paying significantly higher prices for identical items at other food stores. I could afford to shop at other super-markets, but I can’t mentally get over the hurdle of paying a lot more for the identical box of cereal. We also shop at Trader Joe’s where prices are also relatively cheap, especially when compared to say, the upscale Whole Foods markets.

Which brings us to the topic of the foods we eat. When one is young he or she can eat virtually anything with little consequence . A young person can eat tupperware without feeling ill effects. Of course there are always those, even in youth, that have a weight problem, and trying to keep their weight under control is a constant and ongoing battle to almost the day they die. So it was with me. With my prodigious appetite, I constantly fought a mostly losing battle of the bulge. My weight would go up and down continually, the good old yo-yo effect. Then about 3 years ago I made a few changes, and started working out more intensely in the gym, and my weight came down almost 25 pounds, and thus far has stayed off. I won’t go into the myriad of psychological and other reasons for obesity, but for some people it’s a war they can never win.

Which brings us to the health considerations of our food choices. When one ages, his or her food choices start becoming more and more limited. That is, if they desire to stay healthy and maintain a decent quality of life. For example, Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic, and other medical groups have put out numerous studies that show that cancers grow much more rapidly when fed by sugar intakes. Cancer loves sugar, and cancer cells metabolize sugar intake at 8 times the rate that normal cells do. Everyone, at any one time, has cancer cells in their body according to what these studies show. Usually, the body’s immune system fights off these cancer cells, but the immune system starts to weaken the older one gets. That’s why the leading cause of cancer is not smoking or obesity, it’s getting old. If you live long enough, you have a 50% chance of developing cancer. But as I’ve said, nothing abets the proliferation of cancer cells in the body like sugar, which also is a leading factor in other diseases such as diabetes and gout. Yet Americans love sugar, and the yearly intake of sugar for most people is often enormous. About a year ago, the Wal-Mart I mentioned that we shopped at, redecorated the store. As part of that effort, they expanded the size of the area that contains bakery products while reducing the area that contains fruits and vegetables. Of course, everyone knows we’re not getting enough white flour, sugar and trans-fats into our diets. It’s all those fruits and vegetables that keep screwing everything up.

Which brings us to the topic of the rising costs of health care. When the Democrats finally passed the frankenstein known as Obamacare, one of the predictions made was that new law would help reduce soaring medical costs. What nonsense. Of course medical costs will continue to increase rapidly as the population grows, as people live longer, and as new, highly expensive drugs and therapies are developed. But there is one way to dramatically lower the cost of health care, and that would be to force people to live healthier life-styles. Yes, I said force, similar to the way the Government forces you to pay income taxes. This would include a total ban on smoking, and requirements that people, for the most part, give up refined sugars, refined grains, and saturated and trans-fats. A requirement to eat more seafood and only lean, low-fat meats, and fruits and vegetables. And a requirement for everyone to have a daily and fairly rigorous exercise regimen. But you can already hear the screams and howls of protest if such requirements were foisted off on the populace.

I mean what would the crowd do that likes to chow down on bacon-cheeseburgers with fries, or pepperoni pizza, topped off with a hot-fudge sundae or two. To say nothing of the estimated 24 million Americans that still smoke. (You seem to see most of these smokers in Las Vegas casinos, where they’re puffing away as they keep shoveling more money into the slot machines.) As it is not likely that anyone, or any governing body, will be able to dissuade people away from their dysfunctional life-styles, don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. In the meantime, we all pay the price in higher medical bills and higher insurance rates.

 

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The common bond between serial killers and terrorists is an overwhelming and compulsive desire to kill innocent and defenseless people. The FBI estimates that at any given time, there’s between one or two dozen serial killers roaming the highways and byways of the United States. A comfy thought, especially if you’re the parent of a child driving cross-country, say, to go off to college or a job or for any other reason. A few years ago a serial killer that had murdered at least  9 victims was caught and asked why he felt compelled to kill so wantonly. He replied with words to the effect that when he walked down a street and encountered other people, his natural thoughts and instincts were to bash in their skulls. He said that he couldn’t imagine not feeling that way. (I have to admit I entertain similar thoughts when I’m stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic that goes on for miles.) Extensive research has been done, especially by the FBI,  on what creates a serial killer, and 3 primary theories have been identified.

The first theory, which is backed up by some supporting evidence, is that when the fetus is in the womb, due to some biological malfunction, its brain is constantly being bathed in abnormally high dosages of serotonin. Hence, when that fetus becomes a person, he cannot derive pleasure or sexual release in ways most people do. Instead he has to turn to the most extreme form of behavior, which usually involves the capture, then the torture and then slaying of helpless victims who are usually women. (I said “he” because almost all serial killers are men preying on women, but every now and then, a female slips into their ranks.) These men usually lead solitary, low-profile lives, and seldom bother taking the cash or other valuables their victims may have on them when abducted. Their payoff is in sexual sadism and murder.

A second known cause is when the serial killer has been terribly abused as a child, both physically and mentally. If, a child has been deeply abused by beatings or rape, or even years of mental degradation, there’s a good chance that you’ll have a serial killer in the making. Years of torment will lead to uncontrollable anger being built up, and often manifests itself early on when the soon to be serial killer starts taking out his wrath on pets and other small animals in the neighborhood. As an adult, not being able to control his pent-up anger, he can only achieve release of his fury by murdering some unsuspecting victim.

The third known cause is when a deep hatred of other peoples religious beliefs or ethnic origins, usually also taught to them from childhood, leads to blindly killing their perceived enemies. This is the mass-murdering type known as the terrorist. Notice how how terrorism fits hand in glove with serial killing. For terrorists, their fanatical religious and ethnic beliefs become a convenient excuse to go on a murderous rampage against all those they consider “unbelievers.” But like the serial killer, the real objective of the terrorist is the joy in killing itself, while religious fanaticism becomes the smokescreen to make it appear that their murdering ways have some sense of legitimacy. Thus the terrorist is just another serial killer, but on a grander scale.

I was thinking about this when I read the news that the “Lockerbie bomber” had finally succumbed to cancer, 33 months after being released from a Scotland prison for the murder of 259 innocent victims. In December 1988, the head of Libya, Moammar Gadhafi  authorized a Libyan terrorist to place a bomb aboard Pan Am flight 103, supposedly because of his hatred of America and Israel. The bomb detonated on December 21, 1988 as the flight entered Scottish airspace, killing all 248 people on the plane and another 11 on the ground in the town of Lockerbie. Gadhafi denied any knowledge of the bombing for years, but eventually admitted to it, and offered monetary compensation to the victim’s families. (Gadhafi was finally caught and killed by his fellow Libyans last  year after 42 years of tyrannical and despotic rule.)

The person who put the bomb on the plane was hunted down and caught by British police, and sent to jail in Scotland for life. But along the way he developed prostate cancer, and Scottish authorities arranged to have him released and sent back to Libya on compassionate grounds. They claimed that because of the cancer, he had only 3 months to live. Seems, however, he wasn’t quite that sick, and he hung on for 33 months instead of 3, before dying yesterday. Scottish authorities were roundly condemned, especially by the victim’s families, for the early release. Many are also convinced that other individuals were involved in this act of terrorism, who obviously will never be identified. In any event another serial-killer just went to his grave.

In the summer of 1972, 40 years ago, 11 Israeli athletes competing in the summer Olympics being held in Germany, were first held hostage, and then murdered by Palestinian “terrorists.” The German police were highly inept in their bungled effort to rescue these innocent athletes. Practically, Israel’s entire history since becoming a state in 1948, has been to deal with a constant barrage of terrorism directed against its people. Thousands have been murdered in so-called acts of terror, and today, there is still continued rocket attacks into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Of course, the mother of all terrorist attacks was 9/11 where almost 3000 innocent victims were murdered. It supposedly occurred because Al-qaeda’s fanatical brand of Islam led them into this killing spree.

Of course, it’s not really terrorism. If you have even fanatical differences with other political or religious beliefs, or ethnic cultures,  there are plenty of nonviolent ways to express your displeasure. Everything from getting up on a soap box to writing about your disagreements or hatreds as the case may be. When one resorts to violence, its not because of seeing the world differently. It’s not because of some desire to advance some misguided political or religious belief. It’s because of the thrill of killing unsuspecting, innocent people. In the end, the “terrorist”  is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill serial killer.

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THE ART OF BEING IRRATIONAL

Progressive thinkers often have great difficulty in coming to terms with reasons that people often act against their own self-interests. After-all, if common sense clearly dictates that it’s in a person’s best interests to choose option A, why on earth would they then go ahead and select optionB. Such thinkers often live their lives with such a logical and methodical orderliness, that they fail to understand the role that fear and paranoia plays in a person’s decision-making process. Fear is often a great motivator in how people act and the greater the fear, the greater the likely hood of paranoia, which in turn results in the greater the opportunity for badly made decisions.

I was thinking about this after reading an article the other day about log-cabin Republicans. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, log-cabin Republicans are an organization that consists solely of gay and lesbian men and women devoted to attempting to elect as many Republicans to public office as possible. They claim to have membership consisting of tens of thousands. Now it seems to me that if I were homosexual, the last place I would want to be associated with is the GOP. With the rising tide of evangelicals (a $10 word for religious fanatics) as a force within the Republican Party, and their constant bashing of gay rights and gay marriage, why would any homosexual person want to be part of that. The Party’s platform and nominee has consistently advocated bashing any attempt at gay equality and gay marriage, while the opposing Party’s nominee has always been for gay rights and has recently come out in favor gay marriage.

It would be as if Jews in Nazi Germany in the 1930s came out in favor of Adolph Hitler because they liked his economic policies, or if blacks in Mississippi tried to join the KKK at a time in history when lynchings of black people where commonplace. But there you have it: the height of irrationality. Acting against one’s self-interests. Although, it’s maybe not the height of irrational behavior. I know a few people that are strongly pro-choice, but will nevertheless vote Republican this fall, even though a Republican president will put an anti-abortion judge on the Supreme Court, thereby enabling the Court to overturn Roe V. Wade, thereby making legal, safe abortions unlawful, and thereby consigning women that want an abortion, once again, to the back alley butchers. Perhaps that’s the height of irrationality. Although, there is also delusional thinking on the part of the bible-thumpers, that out-lawing legal abortion would end it’s practice. Women will still have abortions. They will just have to go underground to get them.

Politicians always seeking more power understand the role that fear and paranoia have in people’s choices, and are often quite adept at manipulating public opinion through such tactics. For example, politicians in both parties often make strong appeals to the senior community, because they know that seniors vote in heavy numbers. I mean with all that time on their hands, what else do seniors have to do but vote. Although seniors tend to be more conservative and profess to desire big reductions in Government spending, their attitude is one of: don’t you dare harm a hair on the head of my Social Security or Medicare benefits. Yes by all means cut spending. Just make sure you cut the other guy’s benefits. If you look at pictures of the crowds at tea party rallies, you’ll notice heavy representation by seniors demanding big reductions in Government expenditures, except those that affect money being spent on them.  Now its true that as one ages, he or she tends to feel more physically and mentally vulnerable. I mean, if you’re heading into your mid-or late seventies or older, and walking bent over with a cane, you’re probably  not going to be eligible for a job on the docks, hauling cargo off incoming ships. With feelings of vulnerability in the seniors community you can bet it’s accompanied by a heavy dosage of fear in their decision-making process.

Politicians understand this fear and act accordingly. They know that the third rail of their political careers would be to advocate reductions in senior benefits, even though those benefits account for a fairly large chunk of the Federal  budget. Not enough people realize that almost 85% of the Federal budget consists of 4 items: Social Security, Medicare, Defense, and interest on the debt. You can’t cut interest on the debt because that would result in defaulting on Government borrowing at a time when 4o cent of every dollar spent is borrowed money. Seniors won’t allow cuts to their Social Security or Medicare. That leaves Defense where spending cuts are possible. But that’s where people’s fear and paranoia kick in. Conservatives are especially fearful that if any meaningful spending cuts are allowed in Defense, we would become highly vulnerable to Chinese expansion, Iran’s aggression, terrorism, etc., etc. In fact, the Republican nominee has promised to increase rather then decrease Defense funding. (Will be interesting to see where he will come up with the money for that little flight of fantasy.)

Hence, a major fear of the populace this year is that we’re running up such huge levels of debt, that we will become like Greece, the economic basket case of Europe. The number one platform of the Republicans nominee is that deep cuts must be made in the body politic. But who will be willing to allow the rationality and sacrifices needed to realize these cuts, versus those that are too afraid of losing their benefits. If the Republicans win the White House and Congress, as is likely, will they be able to make the deep spending cuts necessary, or will the fear and paranoia they have created through their political pandering, then work against them. An interesting conundrum. I know. They will just cut out the few million dollars given to Planned Parenthood, make some cuts in food stamps, (the poor are use to getting the short end of the stick anyway), and everything will be hunky-dory. See how wonderfully easy it is to be irrational.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE POLITICS OF THE ABSURD

Have those deliciously obnoxious political TV commercials come to your state yet. You know, the ones that are comprised of maybe 5% or 10% fact, followed by as much as 90-95% fiction. Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones living in an uncontested state where there is no need for either side to waste resources on commercials bashing the other guy. Political pundits are saying there is at most, 15 states in play for this fall’s election. So if you live in say Utah or Wyoming or the deep South, everyone knows they are going to vote Republican so why bother campaigning there. Conversely, everyone knows that states like New York or California or Maryland will likely go Democratic, so again, no need to spend money campaigning there either. I, however, live in Nevada which is presumed to be up for grabs, so the obnoxious commercials have already begun with each side running TV ads saying their opponent has shipped tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas. These ads are so blatantly dishonest as well as being obnoxious, that it’s hard to believe the voting public falls for them. But since each side is prepared to spend in the neighborhood of a billion dollars each on such ads, I guess people do make their voting decisions based on what they see on TV. I find it ironic that people in the 19th century, when hi-tech was a telegraph and a local newspaper were better informed about political candidates, than people today in the electronic age when all the information they could ever want is at their fingertips. But after all, who has time to spend researching candidates political positions when there are so many other more pressing issues, like the latest Kardashian antics, or who will be the next American Idol.

I have to admit I miss those Republican debates that took place before Romney became the inevitable choice. All those whacky kids up there on the platform, each one trying to prove they were more of a right-wing, looney-tunes, space cadet than the other guy, was highly entertaining. As an aside, one of those looney-tuners, Michele Bachman, just announced that she has become a Swiss citizen. Seems she will hold a dual citizenship with the United States and Switzerland. (Immediately after the announcement, there was a sharp upswing in the Swiss suicide rate as people were found to be throwing themselves off the highest peak in the Swiss Alps. Ms. Bachman was finally prevailed upon to announce that she had no intention of running for office in Switzerland. A huge, collective sigh of relief could be heard throughout Zurich.) In any event, the Republican debates gave the candidates an opportunity to showcase the bottomless pit of their right-wing extremism, and Romney had to describe himself as a “severe extremist” to prove to a doubting GOP constituency that he could sink further into that pit than the others.

Anyway back to the obnoxious, devious and mudslinging commercials. They’re just beginning now, but by September and October they will be flooding the airways (unless you are one of the lucky ones living in one of the 35 states that are not competitive.) Your choices then will be to shut off the TV for good, or at least until after the election, or tape every program ahead of time so you can fast-forward through all those commercials. In any event, I thought that I would give the pros and cons of each of the candidates strengths and weaknesses, and the key issues to consider,  so readers can make up their own minds. Here goes.

An important issue that thus far has gotten very little attention, is the fact that the next President will get to make at least one, and possibly 2 or 3 nominations to the Supreme Court. This means that legal abortion hangs in the balance. Ruth Bader Ginsburg who is 80 years old and has survived pancreatic cancer, will undoubtably be the first to go. She is strongly pro-choice. We know that Romney’s mouth has written checks that his large, anti-abortion, evangelical base of supporters expect to cash once he becomes President. That means appointing anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court. Bottom line, if Romney is President, Roe V. Wade is overturned, and legalized abortion is history. Obama, of course, would nominate a pro-choice judge.

The economy, of course, or the lousy state it’s in, is ostensibly the dominant issue in the campaign. There is no question that Obama has made some serious mistakes in that regard, and it may cost him re-election. Unemployment which was 10% when he took office, is now down to about 8% which is an improvement but a pretty tepid one. Obama’s initial efforts to aid the economy didn’t work out too well, and his attempt to achieve universal health turned out to be a 2700 page behemoth that everyone seems to hate. It will also likely be overturned by the Supreme Court, sending us back to square one in trying to devise a system where everyone gets decent health care. Then there is the ballooning deficit which is heading toward the 16 trillion dollar neighborhood, although that’s mainly due to the lack of revenues because of the poor economy, rather than increased spending. The problem was that Obama was a rookie, with only 2 years of Senate experience, and he made a lot of rookie mistakes. With 4 years experience under his belt he would probably be a better president in his second term. On the plus side, he got Osama bin Laden and a host of other low-life terrorists,  he saved General Motors and Chrysler from going out of business, he got us out of Iraq and is getting us out, finally, from Afghanistan.

Advocates for Romney would point out that he is a smart businessman, looks presidential and would sharply reduce Government expenditures as well as regulations if elected. The problem is that almost all of those sharp reductions would be in benefits that go to the poor, the elderly and the sick. The rich would not be asked to make any sacrifices, and in fact, would reap huge windfalls under Romney’s proposed tax plans. After cutting programs for the disadvantaged, he would significantly increase military expenditures, although he hasn’t said where he would get the money to do that. Must be from that good old money tree that continues to grow in the Pentagon courtyard. Then there’s the problem that Romney will say just about anything, and flip-flop on every issue he once stood for, in order to get elected. I’ve written about that before, so I won’t go into the gruesome details again. But from abortion, to health care, to gun control, to gay rights, Romney has had a complete reversal of previous positions, now that he’s decided to become a ” severe conservative.”

I could go much deeper into these issues, but if you’re interested, as I’ve said, there’s a ton of information just a few clicks away. If you do intend to vote I would urge everyone to be as informed about the issues as is reasonably possible.

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