Monday, March 31, 2008

The Ultimate Intellectual Piracy

The United States may soon cease to be the world’s greatest threat to global peace.

That statement may come as news to those who were not aware that the U.S. ever was a great threat to global peace. And surely, by many measures, it is not. How many countries have a Peace Corps? How many provide real estate for a United Nations?

Let us not quibble about the U.S.’s standing as the world’s leading seller of weaponry. Let us not debate the invasion of Iraq, or the devastation and brutality of the Vietnam War (or, indeed, the murder rates in our own cities).

In fact, let us withdraw that statement about the United States altogether. Because soon, it may not matter anyway.

The U.S. has had its Ugly Americans abroad, as well as its piggish Yuppies cluelessly asking themselves, “Why do they hate us?” in the wake of 9/11. But at least some such Yuppies did ask, and some actually seemed to want to hear an answer. That, however, may not be the way of the future.

Surely there will always be a liberal, educated fringe of Chinese individuals who have not only visited the West but who have also come to appreciate the good things that the West’s liberal, educated fringe try to achieve. Such individuals will undoubtedly be grossly outnumbered, though, by those Chinese people who, in good middle-class American style, neither know nor care, very much, what the rest of the world may think or believe.

Most Chinese may be like most Americans – concerned, that is, with what’s on the barbecue or in the fridge, and not so concerned with what someone with a cause, somewhere else in the world, seems to be complaining about.

China has a reputation, these days, of copying what other people invent. There is no law of nature that limits such copying to the good things. Those who plunder goods from others’ homes may inadvertently haul away some dust and cockroaches as well.

In particular, China may be copying some flaws from America of the 1960s. Chinese responses to Tibet certainly make it seem that way.

On Tibet, as in Vietnam, the world speaks out, in the name of fairness and humanity. The Dalai Lama, like a latter-day Ho Chi Minh, actually talks as if he believed that the leaders of the superpower were reasonable people. But those leaders have their eyes on domestic opinion, and domestic opinion is clear enough.

It took a long, long time for Americans to make up their minds, take action, and ultimately end the Vietnam War. Even in a fairly open democracy, with many fictions exposed by a relatively free press, it took years on end for society to get sick of its own anti-communist rhetoric.

Americans of that era knew what they believed. They knew it because it was what someone had told them, and it was also what their friends seemed to believe. We cannot expect anything different from the Chinese, and we are not getting anything different. The effort to talk sense to Chinese people – even educated, westernized ones – about Tibet, these days, seems much like the effort to talk sense to Americans in 1968 (or, actually, in 2003).

Tibet is not the point. Tibet is merely the illustration. If the Chinese people are presently able to support internal or localized nationalist hype á la the Alamo or Cuba, in the future they may also be able to support nationalist hype focused abroad, á la Saigon or Baghdad.

Things are changing very quickly, these days, in the U.S.-China balance. It is easy to notice the shifts in the balances of finance, military power, and influence. But other things are shifting as well.

Sooner than we expect, people of the whole world may begin to encounter the Ugly Chinese. If such a thing happens, it will not be because Chinese individuals are interpersonally ugly. Much to the contrary, they hail from a culture that seems to foster deference and agreeableness. It will happen, not because of who the Chinese people are, but despite that.

Power tends to corrupt, and the Chinese people are gaining power. There are things they want and, as shown in Tibet, there are things they will take – not because they are right, educated, or caring, but simply because they will be increasingly able to follow their beliefs and feed their desires.

It will be too bad if China copies us so diligently in that mistake. But the writing does appear to be on the wall. Chinese public opinion is harshly set against a fair deal for the people of Tibet. Leaders in China, like leaders in the United States, do not generally tell their constituents to set their nationalism aside in favor of respect or decency to others.

Ultimately, the problem is with the accumulation of power itself. When a nation becomes as big as China or the U.S., it tends to expect its leaders to achieve outsized things at the expense of other peoples. There had never before been a superpower like the United States. And in its own, different but conceivably far worse way – as we may soon begin to see – there may also never be a superpower like China.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Catching Up: Best of 2004: July

Here's another installment in the continuing effort to distill the best postings from my personal mailing list. These are from July 2004. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Clippings Thousands of mentally ill American children, some as young as seven, are locked up in juvenile detention centers because there is nowhere else for them to go. In one recent study, children who sat in front of the TV for more than two hours a day were at higher risk of smoking, gaining excess weight, and having high cholesterol as adults. Ideally, youngsters should be rationed to less than an hour a day, researchers said. About one in six soldiers returning from the war in Iraq shows signs of post-traumatic stress disorder or other emotional difficulties. Marie Antoinette never said "Let them eat cake." We have that on the authority of biographer Lady Antonia Fraser, who spoke on the subject at the 2002 Edinburgh Book Fair. Historians have known better all along, actually. A study published in Cerebrum in late 2000 demonstrated that childhood abuse and neglect results in permanent physical changes to the developing human brain. Anthropologists have long suspected that older people may have played an important role in the development of early human societies by providing extra care for children, helping to accumulate useful information and strengthening kinship bonds. Children taking cough syrups showed a dramatic reduction in cough frequency, but those taking the placebo -- essentially flavored water -- had the best results. On four other measures, the three treatments had virtually identical outcomes. Dr. Schneider said, "We've found that using virtual reality during chemotherapy helps relieve some of the symptoms that patients experience in the hours and days after therapy. I had one patient say after she was finished, 'That was fun! I was kind of frustrated when the chemotherapy ended because I didn't get to finish the game.'" * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * About Marijuana -- Police make about 700,000 arrests per year for marijuana offenses — roughly 87% of those are for nothing more than possession of small amounts. -- Enforcing marijuana laws costs an estimated $10-15 billion taxpayer dollars per year in direct costs alone. -- More than 50% of Americans between the ages of 18-50 have tried marijuana at least once. -- 72% of Americans favor decriminalization—applying a fine, not jail time. -- Unlike alcohol and many other drugs, no one has ever died of a marijuana overdose. -- Alabama locks up people convicted three times of marijuana possession for 15 years to life. -- The federal Higher Education Act prohibits student loans to young people convicted of any drug offense; all other criminal offenders remain eligible. -- More than 80% of high school students report that it's easy to get marijuana. -- In Holland, where cannabis is decriminalized, it is no more popular than in the U.S. [By the way, I don't use marijuana. I have tried it twice, however -- most recently in 1978.] Several websites name famous people who have tried marijuana, including: People named at those sites include: Margaret Mead NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg Carl Sagan George W. Bush Winston Churchill Bill Clinton Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman Friedrich Nietzsche Pablo Picasso William Shakespeare George Washington Arnold Schwarzenegger Bill Gates Nobel Prize winner Francis Crick * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * About the Law BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) -- A police officer stops you on the street, then taps something into a device in the palm of his hand. The next minute, he knows who your relatives are, who lives in your house, who your neighbors are, the kind of car you drive or boat you own, whether you've been sued and various other tidbits about your life. ... Recently the Supreme Court ruled that people who refuse to give their names to police can be arrested, even if they've done nothing wrong. Purna Raj Bajracharya was videotaping the sights of New York City for his family back in Nepal when he inadvertently included an office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was taken into custody, where officials found he had overstayed his tourist visa. Mr. Bajracharya wound up in solitary confinement in a federal detention center for three months, weeping constantly, in a 6-by-9 cell where the lights were never turned off. He might have been in there much longer if an F.B.I. agent had not finally taken it upon himself to summon legal help. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Website of Note Come up for air * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * George Bush Quotes "Like you, I have been disgraced about what I've seen on TV that took place in prison." —George W. Bush, Parkersburg, West Virginia, May 13, 2004 "Recession means that people's incomes, at the employer level, are going down, basically, relative to costs, people are getting laid off." —George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Feb. 19, 2004 "The recession started upon my arrival. It could have been — some say February, some say March, some speculate maybe earlier it started — but nevertheless, it happened as we showed up here." —George W. Bush, Meet the Press, Feb. 8, 2004 "Then you wake up at the high school level and find out that the illiteracy level of our children are appalling." —George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Jan. 23, 2004 "The ambassador and the general were briefing me on the — the vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a peaceful, free world. And we will find these people and we will bring them to justice." —George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Oct. 27, 2003 "See, free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don't attack each other. Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction." — George W. Bush, Milwaukee, Wis., Oct. 3, 2003 "I glance at the headlines just to kind of get a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves." —George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Sept. 21, 2003 "First, let me make it very clear, poor people aren't necessarily killers. Just because you happen to be not rich doesn't mean you're willing to kill." —George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., May 19, 2003 "The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorize himself." —George W. Bush, Grand Rapids, Mich., Jan. 29, 2003 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * A Few Kind Words One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers. That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. "Really?" she heard whispered. "I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!" and, "I didn't know others liked me so much." were most of the comments. No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. She never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another. That group of students moved on. Several years later, one of the students was killed in Viet Nam and his teacher attended the funeral of that special student. She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature. The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to view the coffin. As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. "Were you Mark's math teacher?" he asked. She nodded: "yes." Then he said: "Mark talked about you a lot." After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates went together to a luncheon. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously waiting to speak with his teacher. "We want to show you something," his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. "They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it." Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark's classmates had said about him. "Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it." All of Mark's former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, "I still have my list. It's in the top drawer of my desk at home." Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album." "I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary." Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me at all times," Vicki said and without batting an eyelash, she continued: "I think we all saved our lists." That's when the teacher finally sat down and cried. She cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again. It is easy to forget that life will end one day. And we don't know when that one day will be. So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. And pass this reminder on.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Catching Up: Best of 2004: June

Another installment in the continuing effort to distill the best postings from my personal mailing list. There were a lot of things that still seemed worthwhile, so I decided to take it one month at a time. So now I am up to whatever I posted there in June 2004. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Late-Night Political News from "A fiery Al Gore called for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, and CIA Director George Tenet. Bush was furious. He said to Gore, 'Hey, who elected you president?!'" —Jay Leno "President Bush is going to establish elections there in Iraq. He's going to rebuild the infrastructure. He's going to create jobs. He said if it works there, he'll try it here." —David Letterman "Attorney General John Ashcroft told Congress they shouldn't be asking him about the legality of the war until the war is over. And there's precedent for that — I think it's called the Nuremberg Trials." —Jay Leno "President Bush met with the Pope in Rome. Did you see the picture of the two of them? Man, that poor guy, he has a blank look on his face like he doesn't know where he is. Then, the Pope told him, just be quiet and relax." —David Letterman "Former President Bush, to celebrate his 80th birthday, jumped out of an airplane. And if you've seen the polls, you know he's not the only Bush in freefall." —David Letterman "According to the New York Times, last year White House lawyers concluded that President Bush could legally order interrogators to torture and even kill people in the interest of national security — so if that's legal, what the hell are we charging Saddam Hussein with?" —Jay Leno * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * I hate hoax warnings, but this one is important! Send this warning to everyone on your e-mail list! If someone comes to your front door saying they are conducting a survey & asks you to take your clothes off, do not do it! This is a scam; they only want to see you naked. I wish I'd gotten this yesterday. I feel so stupid and cheap now ... * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Clippings May 27, 2004 — Food additives are associated with symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to the results of a randomized trial published in the June issue of the Archives of Diseases in Childhood. "Almost every patient who is seen either in a family practice clinic or in specialty clinics does have something wrong with their sleep, and that if you address sleep problems, improvements can be made." Another interesting quote: "40% of respondents with insomnia had one or more psychiatric disorders vs. 16% of those with no sleep complaints." CALAIS, France (Reuters) -- Entrepreneur Richard Branson has set a new world record by driving across the English Channel in an amphibious sports car in under two hours. ... As the car drove up on to Calais' sandy beach, its windscreen wiper still going, a very wet but elated Richard Branson emerged. "A few big ferry waves engulfed us a bit, but it was rather refreshing," Branson said. "Its a remarkable car and it definitely gets a lot of smiles from people on the ferries." SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) -- Go-go boys and drag queens waved rainbow- colored flags as hundreds of thousands of dancing revelers clogged a downtown avenue to celebrate gay pride on Sunday. Organizers said they expected 1.5 million people to attend the Eighth Annual Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans-gender Pride Parade, which would make it the world's biggest gay event. It is widely recommended that patients with back pain need to be encouraged to resume normal activities as soon as possible. There are two major types of behavioral anxiety-induction techniques; flooding and implosion. ... Implosion is ... anxiety-filled .... For example, in implosive sessions, snake-phobic clients have been told to imagine the following sequence: see the snake; pick up the snake; it is biting you; let it bite; feel the pain; it is crawling into your eye sockets and wiggling in there; now feel it wiggling inside your head. This technique is not used as frequently as it once was. [From Walborn, "Process Variables," pp. 149-150.] Mr. Ashcroft is very close to the gun lobby .... After 9/11, he ordered that all government lists — including voter registration, immigration and driver's license lists — be checked for links to terrorists. All government lists, that is, except one: he specifically prohibited the F.B.I. from examining background checks on gun purchasers. "I don't know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." -President George Bush The David Letterman Scholarship was established by David Letterman in 1985 to provide scholarships for telecommunications students at Ball State University. The awards are intended for average students who nevertheless have a creative mind. Winners are selected primarily based on creativity. Projects may involve a variety of media, including written work, research, audio, video, graphics and film. The winner receives a $10,000 scholarship. The first runner-up receives $5,000. The second runner-up receives $3,333. Highly educated people may call themselves independents, but when it comes to voting they tend to pick a partisan side and stick with it. College-educated voters are more likely than high-school-educated voters to vote for candidates from the same party again and again. ... Once you've joined a side, the information age makes it easier for you to surround yourself with people like yourself. And if there is one thing we have learned over the past generation, it's that we are really into self-validation. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Ronald Reagan Quotes "I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself." "I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency — even if I'm in a Cabinet meeting." "Well, I learned a lot....I went down to (Latin America) to find out from them and (learn) their views. You'd be surprised. They're all individual countries." "I don't know. I've never played a governor." –asked by a reporter in 1966 what kind of governor he would be "Facts are stupid things." –at the 1988 Republican National Convention, attempting to quote John Adams, who said, "Facts are stubborn things" "Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first." "Trees cause more pollution than automobiles." "All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk." "The state of California has no business subsidizing intellectual curiosity." –responding to student protests on college campuses during his tenure as California governor "Approximately 80 percent of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation, so let's not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emission standards from man-made sources." "We are trying to get unemployment to go up, and I think we're going to succeed." "What we have found in this country, and maybe we're more aware of it now, is one problem that we've had, even in the best of times, and that is the people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice." "How are you, Mr. Mayor? I'm glad to meet you. How are things in your city?" –greeting Samual Pierce, his secretary of Housing and Urban Development, during a White House reception for mayors "My name is Ronald Reagan. What's yours?" –introducing himself after delivering a prep school commencement address. The individual responded, "I'm your son, Mike," to which Reagan replied, "Oh, I didn't recognize you." "Politics is just like show business. You have a hell of an opening, you coast for awhile, you have a hell of a closing." "What does an actor know about politics?" –criticizing Ed Asner for opposing American foreign policy * * * I also received the following remarks about Reagan in cartoon format: He tripled the national debt, but he had such *charisma*! He supported apartheid, but he was *always* personable! He backed Saddam, but he made us feel *good* about ourselves! He crushed worker rights, but he was someone you could sit down and have a beer with! Star Wars turned out to be an expensive fantasy, but he had that *infectious optimism*! He backed death squads throughout Central America, but he always looked for the best in everyone. He looked the other way when Salvadoran allies raped American nuns, but he had that *self-deprecating humor*! He confused old movies with foreign policy, but he was always *quick with a joke*! He traded arms for hostages and diverted money to drug-running death squads, but he never lost his *sunny disposition*! * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * White House Report President George W. Bush's increasingly erratic behavior and wide mood swings has the halls of the West Wing buzzing lately as aides privately express growing concern over their leader's state of mind. ... Worried White House aides paint a portrait of a man on the edge, increasingly wary of those who disagree with him and paranoid of a public that no longer trusts his policies in Iraq or at home. ... In interviews with a number of White House staffers who were willing to talk off the record, a picture of an administration under siege has emerged, led by a man who declares his decisions to be "God's will" and then tells aides to "fuck over" anyone they consider to be an opponent of the administration. ... Aides who raise questions quickly find themselves shut out of access to the President or other top advisors. Among top officials, Bush's inner circle is shrinking. Secretary of State Colin Powell has fallen out of favor because of his growing doubts about the administration's war against Iraq. ... God may also be the reason Attorney General John Ashcroft, the administration's lightning rod because of his questionable actions that critics argue threatens freedoms granted by the Constitution, remains part of the power elite. West Wing staffers call Bush and Ashcroft "the Blues Brothers" because "they're on a mission from God." "The Attorney General is tight with the President because of religion," says one aide. "They both believe any action is justifiable in the name of God." But the President who says he rules at the behest of God can also tongue-lash those he perceives as disloyal, calling them "fucking assholes" in front of other staff, berating one cabinet official in front of others and labeling anyone who disagrees with him "unpatriotic" or "anti-American." ... The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the record. [Note: President Bush won re-election five months after this article was published.] * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Senior Leaders Call for End of Bush Presidency WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration's foreign policy in Iraq and elsewhere has been a "disaster," and President Bush should not be re-elected, a group of former diplomats and military leaders say in a newly released statement. ... A statement from the group notes its more than two dozen members include Democrats and Republicans who have "served every president since Harry S. Truman." They contend Bush's foreign policy has failed at "preserving national security and providing world leadership." Members expressing their opposition in the statement are former senior diplomatic, national security and military officials. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Laughter for Healing Studies have shown that patient satisfaction correlates with the length of visits and the emotional tone of medical encounters. When patients think that they have connected with the physician, they are more satisfied with their care and are more likely to follow the doctor's advice. Gross et al found that patients feel less rushed if physicians spend even a brief time chatting with them. ... A recent study examined patient-physician communication as it relates to malpractice risks. Primary care physicians with no history of malpractice claims differed from those who had experienced claims in three areas - physicians with no claims history spent more time with patients, used facilitative statements more often, and relied on laughter and humor more often during their encounters than did physicians who had been sued for malpractice. ... The term gallows humor describes a type of morbid humor that people use in the face of tragedy or death. ... A recent study found that experienced paramedics do not share their work-related humor with family and friends for fear that it will not be understood. Consequently, it is important that patients be shielded from this type of medical humor so that they do not misinterpret the laughter as cruel or uncaring. ... Naftulin et al found that "student" ratings could be influenced by a teacher's style. In their study, an actor was enlisted to lecture to a group of mental health professionals. The actor was coached to use humor to make the presentation enjoyable, even though the lecture included double-talk and contradictory statements. The participants rated the speaker highly despite the lack of substance in the presentation. ... Ziv studied the effects of humor during a 14-week statistics course for college students. The subject matter and teacher for both the control and experimental groups were identical, except that the teacher included the use of humor in the experimental group. At the end of the course, on the final examination, the students who were exposed to humor performed significantly better than the group with which humor was not used. Ziv emphasized that humor works best in small doses-usually four or five jokes or cartoons per lecture-and that the humor should be relevant to the material taught. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Of all the blunders American military leaders have made in Iraq, one of the least talked about is how they succeeded in arming the insurgents. By the time of the coalition invasion, Iraq had one of the largest conventional arms stockpiles in the world. ... The marines I was embedded with — a forward reconnaissance unit at the front of the initial invasion — were stunned by the sheer amounts of weaponry they saw as we raced across some 400 miles to Baghdad. Along much of the route, Iraqi forces had dug holes every couple of hundred yards in which they'd piled grenades, mortars and other munitions. ... But under orders to reach Baghdad as quickly as possible, the marines rarely had a chance to remove, destroy or even mark the stockpiles. In one village, combat engineers (led by local children whom they had bribed with bags of Skittles candies) discovered an underground bunker crammed with dozens of sophisticated air-to-ground missiles. Yet higher-ups in the division insisted that there was no time to destroy them. The marines moved on, leaving the missiles unguarded. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Are You an Agent of Terror? Stanley Milgram's experiments on obedience to authority--sometimes referred to as the "shock" studies--are the most influential and controversial in modern social psychology. ... Milgram recruited a diverse group of psychologically normal adult men to participate in a laboratory experiment supposedly designed to measure the effects of punishment on learning. Each subject was given the role of teacher and instructed to ask another ostensible subject (actually a research assistant who was a confederate of the experimenter) a series of questions. The subject in the role of teacher was instructed to administer an electric shock each time the "learner" made an error, beginning with a mild 15 volts and progressing in 15-volt intervals up to an eventual 450 volts, which was clearly marked as extremely dangerous. Although no shocks were actually administered, the situation was orchestrated to appear terrifyingly realistic. Midway through the experiment, the confederate, who was in an adjoining room where he could be heard but not seen, screamed out that he was having a heart attack; eventually, he ceased responding altogether. If the subject resisted administering shocks, the experimenter urged him on with statements like "It is absolutely essential that you continue" and "You have no choice. You must go on." How many psychologically normal people would administer a 450-volt shock to someone who might be going into cardiac arrest as a result? When Milgram posed this question to others, the average estimate was no more than one in a hundred people. A group of psychiatrists guessed one in a thousand. ... Astonishingly, however, Milgram found that a full 65 percent of the men (26 out of 40) went to 450 volts. ... In a television interview in 1979, Milgram said that he eventually came to the conclusion that "If a system of death camps were set up in the United States of the sort we had seen in Nazi Germany, one would be able to find sufficient personnel [to operate] those camps in any medium-sized American town." The obedience studies indelibly changed our understanding of the Holocaust. In early explanations of the brutalities, Nazi leaders were demonized as pathological sadists and monsters. Hannah Arendt challenged this in her book "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil," which depicted Adolf Eichmann as a conventional bureaucrat trying to further his career. Milgram, having seen ordinary people submit to authority in his experiments, concluded that Arendt's perspective "comes closer to the truth than one might dare imagine." He argued that "the most fundamental lesson" of his findings was that "ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process." * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Abortion Realities Fetal genetic tests are now routinely used to diagnose diseases as well known as cystic fibrosis and as obscure as fragile X, a form of mental retardation. ... Most couples say they are both profoundly grateful for the new information and hugely burdened by the choices it forces them to make. The availability of tests earlier in pregnancy mean that if they opt for an abortion it can be safer and less public. ... "But nobody's talking about it. Certainly not here in southeastern Virginia," where anti-abortion groups are so vocal. ... "People will come into my office in tears and say they've been against abortion their whole lives," [Dr. John Larsen, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at George Washington University Medical Center] said, "but they'll make an exception for themselves." ... * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Groaners 1. Two antennas meet on a roof, fall in love and get married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent. 2. Two hydrogen atoms walk into a bar. One says, "I've lost my electron." "The other says, "Are you sure?" The first replies, "Yes, I'm positive..." 3. A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, "I'll serve you but don't start anything." 4. A sandwich walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Sorry we don't serve food in here." 5. A dyslexic man walks into a bra. 6. A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and says: "A beer please, and one for the road." 7. Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: "Does this taste funny to you?" 8. "Doc, I can't stop singing 'The Green, Green Grass of Home.'" "That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome." "Is it common?" "It's Not Unusual." 9. Two cows standing next to each other in a field. Daisy says to Dolly, "I was artificially inseminated this morning." "I don't believe you," said Dolly. "It's true, no bull!" exclaimed Daisy. 10. An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either. 11. Deja Moo: The feeling that you've heard this bull before. 12. A man takes his Rottweiler to the vet and says, "My dog's cross-eyed, is there any thing you can do for him?" "Well," says the vet, "let's have a look at him." So he picks the dog up and examines his eyes. Finally, he says, "I'm going to have to put him down." "What? Because he's cross-eyed?" "No, because he's really heavy." 13. Apparently, one in five people in the world are Chinese. And there are five people in my family, so it must be one of them. It's either my mom or my dad or maybe my older brother Calvin or my younger brother Hop-Sing-Lee. But I'm pretty sure it's Calvin. 14. I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day but I couldn't find any. 15. I went to the butcher's the other day to bet him 50 bucks that he couldn't reach the meat off the top shelf. He said, "No, the steaks are too high." 16. A man woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, "Doctor, doctor, I can't feel my legs!" The doctor replied, "I know you can't - I've cut off your arms!" 17. I went to a seafood disco last week and pulled a mussel. 18. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly; but when they lit a fire in the craft, it sank, proving that you can't have your kayak and heat it too. 19. What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh. 20. Two termites walk into a bar. One asks, "Is the bar tender here?" * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Borowitz Report KERRY-GEPHARDT MEETING CREATES OMINOUS BLACK HOLE IN UNIVERSE Could Devour Earth, Scientists Fear A meeting between presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry and possible running mate Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-MO) has created a mysterious black hole in the universe that could eventually swallow Earth and all of its inhabitants, scientists said today. Dr. Carlton Hong, an astrophysicist at the University of Minnesota, said that shortly after the two top Democrats sat down to talk, "pools of extremely low energy began to form" creating "what can only be described as a creepy, black-hole-like vacuum." * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Cool Websites Tugboat Hits Bridge * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Quotes on the Great Depression from Studs Terkel's Book "Black and white, it didn't make any difference who you were, 'cause everybody was poor. All friendly, sleep in a jungle [i.e., a hobo camp]. ... Twenty-five or thirty would be out on the side of the rail, white and colored. They didn't have no mothers or sisters, they didn't have no home, they were dirty, they had overalls on, they didn't have no food, they didn't have anything." "I saw a railroad police, a white police. They call him Texas Slim. He shoots you off all trains. We come out of Lima, Ohio . . . Lima Slim, he would kill you if he catch you on any train." "The shame I was feeling. I walked out [of my home] because I didn't have a job. I said, "I'm goin' out in the world and get me a job." And God help me, I couldn't get anything. I wouldn't let them see me dirty and ragged and I hadn't shaved. ... I'd write, "Dear Mother, I'm doin' wonderful and wish you're all fine." That was in Los Angeles and I was sleeping under some steps and there was some paper over me." "I was with a bunch of hoboes, drinkin' canned heat. I wouldn't eat two or three days, 'cause I was too sick to eat." "The poor people had it rough. The rich people was livin' off the poor." [Terkel asks: Did you find any kindness during the Depression?] "No kindness. Except for Callahan the hobo -- only reason I'm alive is 'cause Callahan helped me on that train. And the hobo jungle. Everybody else was evil to each other. There was no friendships. Everybody else was worried and sad looking. It was pitiful." "When tramps and hoboes would come to their door for food, the southern white people would drive them away. But if a Negro come, they will feed him." "They would hire Negroes for these type jobs where they wouldn't hire whites. They wouldn't hire a white woman to do housework, because they were afraid she'd take her husband." "The Negro woman who worked for the white woman would take food and wrap it in newspapers. Sometimes we would hurry down the alley and holler at 'im: "Hey, mister, come here!" ... Negroes would always feed these tramps." "The majority of people were hit and hit hard. They were mentally disturbed you're bound to know, 'cause they didn't know when the end of all this was comin'. There was a lot of suicides that I know of." "A lot of times one family would have some food. They would divide. And everyone would share." "It's different today. People are made to feel ashamed now if they don't have anything. Back then, I'm not sure how the rich felt. I think the rich were as contemptuous of the poor then as they are now. But among the people that I knew, we all had an understanding that it wasn't our fault." "That's one of the things about the Depression. There was more camaraderie than there is now. Even more comradeship than the Commies could even dream about. That was one of the feelings that America lost. People had different ideas, they disagreed with one another. But there was a fine feeling among them. You were in trouble . . . damn it, if they could help ya, they would help ya."

Monday, March 17, 2008

War: The Timing Was Off

We got out of the Great Depression, in good measure, by gearing up for World War II. Declaring war against Iraq in 2008 might have made economic good sense. Now that the money is already spent, someone will have to think of a new way to revive the economy if, as appears increasingly possible, we again wind up in a financial trench. Or perhaps we will discover a different sense of what a good economy is all about.