Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Open Letter to Alan Perlman

My friend Alan Perlman has an outstanding blog site "The Jewish Atheist".  Alan is an ardent libertarian, a political and socioeconomic viewpoint with which I strongly disagree. He and I have been exchanging comments on his perspective, which is well illustrated in his post  "The Incentivized (Compassionate) Society". Alan's position may be summarized by his last entry in response to my comments:

Yes, we’ll always have elites running things, and unequal distribution of wealth is an inevitable result of capitalism. Some people (or their talents) will always be (perceived as) worth more than others.

But a return to Constitutional government means less, MUCH less opportunity for collusion between business and government. This revolving-door BS, where CEOs get govt. posts and set the rules for their industries — there would be a lot less of that.


If as you say, the elites will always run the show and unequal distribution is the result of capitalism, then I'm afraid we do indeed have the ingredients for a  barbaric "Lord of the Flies" society which I previously asserted and which you refuted, in which the strong would trample the weak.

Beginning with the Reagan era, that is the direction  in which the U.S. has been heading anyway as moneyed interests have  been allowed to take  over the government, including the Supreme Court.  This is why we need the restoration of  regulatory agencies and policies that will doggedly protect (yes the "P" word which I know libertarians hate)  the interests of the people.   As I've previously proposed, in order to prevent the revolving door conflict of interest, these agencies would be barred to employment for executives associated with the monitored industries.

Never in American history have so few owned so much of America's wealth which has resulted in the "elite" to which you refer: the 1% for whom the economic ideology is "State socialism for us, social Darwinism for everyone else".  Deregulation has allowed concentration of wealth to that small segment of society. Under a libertarian culture in which the government would have extremely limited powers to prevent plutocratic abuses and excesses, wouldn't the Golden Rule ( "The one who has the gold makes the rule") be considered the natural order of things?


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Moderation vs. Materialism: Confronting the Shallowness of Self-Indulgence

A recent news article states that in light of economic hard times "many" Americans are  reassessing what it takes to be happy in life. Supposedly, they are redefining "prosperity" by becoming less materialistic and more focused on human needs.

Yet this assertion is hard to square with reports of violence committed on this year's  Black Friday (Nov.25) by shoppers that is said to becoming more frequent and intense. As a specific example, there were incidents of mayhem at nine Wal Mart stores across the U.S resulting in the injury of 24 people.  In other words, despite the recession are people becoming more greedy, not less?

Judging from the tone of the item that Americans are scaling back, it appears that for the most part these individuals are more affluent and know that they won't lose much in giving up a few luxuries. But, it's a different story on the other side of town.  Customers who stampede their way into big-box stores like frightened cattle and fight each other for bargain priced merchandise that they otherwise would not be able to afford, and maybe still can't, just don't want to pass up what looks to be good deals.  Check out this disturbing video.  Is it really worth risking one's personal safety to obtain them?

Yet these less than well-off buyers still covet extravagances that they really don't need.  Getting 30% off for that latest model flat-screen TV sounds attractive.  Unfortunately they don't stop to consider how they can save 100% by refraining from such  needless luxuries in the first place, and putting the money to more practical  use instead. And for those customers making these purchases with their credit cards and who plan to pay via monthly installments, whatever merchandise discount they received  will likely be eaten up by balance-inflating interest and for those who fall past due (as inevitably many will), late fees as well. 

As a retired bill collector, here's my  advice to those who really want to buy a particular luxury but can't afford it now: exercise deferred gratification and save up for it.  You will enjoy the satisfaction of not owing a dime after making the purchase.   Furthermore, paying in full may give you the leverage to swing a deal for a lower than advertised price even though it's not official story policy to grant one.  For one thing,  a cash transaction t also saves the merchant such expenses as the credit card transaction fee.

But whatever method of payment that is used to acquire the things  we buy, ultimately we need to stop and ask ourselves whether we really need them in the first place or are just chasing after the latest fad / status symbol.  Because unless they provide us a genuine benefit or service, we just wind up being owned by our possessions.

For further reading on this topic, I recommend  To Have or to Be?  by Erich Fromm.  This great book discusses how the misplaced desire to own actually obstructs the path to personal freedom.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Europe's Islamic Experience And Its Implications for America

In accordance with their political open-mindedness, over the last few decades many of the countries of Western Europe, including Great Britain,  have opened their borders to Muslim immigrants and refugees, many of whom are from former colonies of the host nations. It was expected that these newcomers would eventually blend into the societies which had welcomed them.

But is it turning out that way? Far from it, according to a speech delivered in 2008 by Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch Parliament. He painted a bleak picture of refusal by these foreigners to assimilate into European culture and an expectation on their part instead to be unconditionally accommodated in following their religious and social customs, which often conflict with the enlightened and democratic values that are practiced by these countries.

In addition Muslim communities tend to be self-segregated, are hostile to outsiders, and have high crime rates. The problem is further compounded by the large number of these immigrants and their high birthrate.  As a result Islam is the fastest growing religion in Europe and because of its totalitarian belief system is a threat to the Continent's identity and ideals, such as an open society and gender equality.

Then there is the matter of Muslims' cultural and religious narcissism.  They go ballistic at the slightest provocation and commit violence when non-Muslims challenge their beliefs.  For instance  in 2004, there were death threats culminating in the assassination in Holland of Dutch journalist and film maker, Theo Van Gogh  by an immigrant Muslim who was upset over Van Gogh's remarks and by a film criticizing Islam. Then there were international riots in 2005 and again in 2008 by Muslims over the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammed.  (Islam prohibits its followers from creating images of the Prophet; so Muslims try to trample the freedom of expression of non-adherents by imposing this ban on them as well.). Finally,  there are their acts of outright terrorism such as attacks on commuters in Madrid in 2004 and in London in 2005 and in Spain.

Significantly, with the blessings of the Belgium government, Muslims have established a Shari'a court  in Antwerp. This court  operates outside the Belgium legal system and hears only family law cases (for now).  The problem is that the Islamic legal system is unjust and regressive, especially in the matter of women's rights.  Further, the founders of this court want to eventually place all Belgians—including non-Muslims—under its jurisdiction.

So it's no surprise that as a result of these phenomena, a backlash has developed among Western Europeans. Many people there have come to regard Muslims' radical intolerance as a danger to European security and to the individual's freedom of belief into which this part of the world, after centuries of strife and persecution, has matured and for which it now prides itself  .

Personally, as a progressive l sympathize with Europeans' concern over this issue.  The problem is that many of the opponents of  this creeping "Islamization" are political and religious right-wing extremists both in Europe, e.g. Norwegian Christian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik and in the U.S. such as the Koran-burning Rev. Terry Jones. It's the old "strange bedfellows" story of political antagonists being on the same page of a particular issue but for very different reasons.   Regardless,  I want nothing to do with nor do I want to be lumped in any way with these nut-jobs and their ilk. On the other hand, only a relatively few on the left such as the intrepid  Dutch political leader Femke Halsema have stood up to political correctness and have had the courage to condemn the imposition of Islam on non-Muslim societies even though they face condemnation from multiculturalists and the cultural relativists who complain about  the spread of "Islamophobia".

It was refreshing to find that atheists of all political stripes have taken a stand against fanatacism, including Richard Dawkins who had harsh words for Muslim schools in Great Britain;  Sam Harris and his Youtube videos critical of Islam;  and Christopher Hitchens' rightful condemnation of Muslim leaders' arrogant attempts to have the United Nations make criticism of  Islam a crime!

While the U.S. has not experienced large waves of immigration by Muslims similar to that of Europe, our country  has not been spared by Islam's attempts to strangle freedom of expression.  When Yale University Press compiled and published a collection of political cartoons in 2009, it omitted those depicting Mohammed in response to  intimation by Muslims against the school. In still another incident involving Yale, a few months ago a study program about anti-Semitism which highlighted Islam as a major contributor to Jew-hatred throughout the world was revised to omit this reference over concerns about appearing Islamophobic and (get ready) over jeopardizing Muslim financial support for the university. Then in 2010 on the other side of the country, Muslim students heckled and shouted down an Israeli speaker at  UC Irvine.

However, incidents involving American academia are not the only threat that Islam poses to the U.S. Last year a family court judge in New Jersey rejected a request for a restraining order by a Muslim woman for protection against her abusive ex-husband, who had invoked Shari;a law as a justification for his violent sexual behavior towards the woman. Out of respect for "religious freedom" the judge ruled that the the man was within his rights by following the dictates of his Islamic faith. Fortunately, the decision was later overturned. But the fact that the original judge in this case had decided in deference to Islamic law as he did is ominous.

When a  decision rendered by  a religious judicial court conflicts with  U.S. Constitution, the decree should be overruled by a civil judge.  In fact, why should such religion-based courts  be given legal recognition in the first place?  Yet a study found that some American judges in state courts are indeed using Shari'a law as a basis for or an influence on their rulings. (In all fairness, it should be noted that  Christian fundamentalists such as the Dominionists also want to replace the American law with a theocratic legal system.)

The lesson for the U.S. is clear. Freedom of worship is not absolute.  No individual  or group has the right to exercise their own religious or cultural beliefs in a manner that denies these same rights to others or that imposes its dogma on society at large.  Europeans found this out the hard way.  America ought not make the same mistake.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Two State Solution: A Risk Worth Taking

In the matter of the present stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians, I support the two-state solution.  This is not because I trust the Palestinians to readily abandon their goal to exterminate Israel.  It's just that for years they have been an albatross around Israel's neck with no end to the issues between the two entities in sight. Thus the current status quo untenable.  It is wasting Israel's resources and security. Importantly, it is also corroding its moral fabric and has already sullied the international image of the country's Zionists and military as bullying occupiers in the Palestinian-claimed territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem..

Whatever good will that most Israelis once felt towards the Palestinians along with a willingness to negotiate a settlement has long since been exhausted by the latter's refusal to reciprocate in good faith.  So let them have their sovereignty as a nation.  For better or worse it may be easier to deal with them on that level as equals.  If the new state (presumably to be named Palestine) then commits aggression against Israel, it will demonstrate that its people  never intended to recognize Israel's right to exist.  If on the other hand, Palestine demonstrates a willingness to pursue the path of peace between the two countries and Israel refuses to cooperate, this will be a propaganda victory for the Palestinians and by extension for the Arabs as a whole.  Further, it will severely damage Israel's diplomatic credibility and long-held assertion that it is only a beleaguered state simply trying to defend itself from a bad neighborhood.  

But should the hoped-for but unlikely outcome of a mutual and sincere peace accord take place between the Jewish state and Palestine, it could spark a region-wide and acceptance of Israel. After all, a major reason for the Arabs' hostility towards Israel is the issue of Palestinian statelessness.   However, should there be  a successful relationship between the two countries and the Arab nations still remain  opposed to Israel's existence, it will prove that all along they were just using the Palestinian issue as an phony excuse, and that they never had and never will accept Israel.  This unfortunately  is likely the case, proof of which is that for decades the Arab countries have used the Palestinians  as pawns, refusing  to integrate them into Arab countries and instead  let them languish in refugee camps.  If the Arabs really cared about their Palestinian brethren, wouldn't they have absorbed them into their own lands as Israel did with the Jewish populations whom the Arabs expelled from their countries in 1948 when Israel became a nation?  

It can't be easy for Israel to face the prospect of living next door to to Palestine.   But the last thing Israel needs is to become another pariah state as was South Africa, or an isolated hermit one like North Korea.   However,  if matters continue on their present course, Israel may well either collapse or become so politically and socially deformed by apartheid that even its most ardent Jewish supporters abroad especially those in America will turn away. 

As previously mentioned the present situation is unsustainable. There is no easy way out, but one way or another a change is going to have to come.  And time is on nobody's side, least of all Israel's. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

America's Regressive Tendencies

I recently came across a Youtube video calle "Heresy" based on a production by the late Carl Sagan (saganp b;Carl Sagan.(Heresy)  [Carl Sagan Tribute Series, Part 20] - YouTube)   In this beautifully dramatized and animated production from the 1970's, Sagan discusses the oppression that organized religion historically  imposed upon science."Heresy" begins with the story of Galileo and his theory of heliocentrism which he presented to the Catholic Church ecclesiastical authority. For daring to propose that the Earth is not the center of the universe, he was charged with the crime of heresy and was forced to recant his findings under the threat of death. Sagan goes on to emphasize how important it is for science to stand its ground against intrusive dogma, to challenge religious beliefs for which there is no evidence and which serve only to block the progress of reason and enlightenment.

Sadly, his message would likely be less accepted today by the American public than when it first came out over three decades ago. Since that time our society has regressed in its understanding and acceptance of science, especially the Theory of Evolution.  Or more accurately since the 1980's beginning with the Reagan era, religious and right wing political extremism have undermined science and continue to do so.

Further,the fact that such anti-science Christian zealots as Republicans Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are already political office holders and are serious presidential candidates with sizable followings speaks volumes about the inability of a large percentage of  Americans to understand the scientific method and in the political realm to be able to think critically, especially regarding the Constitutional principle of church-state separation vs. Christian privilege. 

Sadder still is that President Obama has backpedaled from his original progressive positions on policies ranging from the economy to health care, to an almost total surrender to the GOP stance on these issues. In acquiescing to various budget cuts he has extinguished the light of hope for a renaissance of scientific and social progress that shined ever so briefly when he took office after the dark years of the Bush administration.

I despair for the future of our country. I fear that come election time in 2012, if it comes to the likely contest between Obama and a GOP right wing radical, no matter who wins, the Republican Taliban will likely prevail.  In doing so they will likely impose a benighted era of theistic dominance against science and of socioeconomic Darwinism that will make the Bush years and present times seem liberal by comparison.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Getting Real About the Past

A relative of mine (a fellow senior) forwarded the following e-mail to me:

"We didn't have the green thing back then
Here is an old-timer's response to the incessant inundation we get on the "Green Thing" and "Sustainability."
In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren't good for the environment.
The woman apologized to her and explained, "We didn't have the green thing back in my day."
The clerk responded, "That's our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment."

He was right -- our generation didn't have the green thing in its day.
Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled.

We walked up stairs, because we didn't have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn't climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.
Back then, we washed the baby's diapers because we didn't have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts -- wind and solar power really did dry the clothes. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house -- not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana .
In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn't have electric machines to do everything for us.

When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.
Back then, we didn't fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn't need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.
We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service.
We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn't need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn't it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn't have the green thing back then?
Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smart ass young person."
Well, I gave this message some thought, and here's my response.

  • Back then America built cars with big cars with single-digit gas mileage "because we could" and believed that we were entitled to consume as much fuel as we wanted, unlike Europeans who were economizing with small, fuel efficient vehicles and mass transit.
    • We separated garbage from paper trash and burnt the latter in backyard open air containers.  We raked fallen leaves and collected the cut grass from the above vaunted hand mowers and burnt them at curb side. The smoke of course created constant air pollution. In places like Los Angeles, the air quality was much worse than it is today.
    • Supermarkets couldn't wait to get out of the bottle recycling business. In California in the 1970's they lobbied against and defeated a ballot proposition requiring that they resume that function.
    • Ballpoint pens were already popular in the 1950's. Does anyone really want to go back to fountain pens that leaked in the pocked of your white shirt? But fountain pens are still available. I wonder who's buying them.
    • It's hard to drink from water fountains when so many places have eliminated them. And remember when the water pressure from the fountain spout was low and the person in front of you would put his mouth on it and slurp like a dog? Yuck.
      These are just a few examples that come to mind to remind us that we were not as conservation-minded back then as we would like to think. And the only reason that we made do was not out of nobility of character but because we had no choice and didn't know any better.  If our modern conveniences could be transported back in time, people back then would jump at the chance to use them.

      Oh yes, one last thing. Why do we old folks generate e-mails patting ourselves on the back about how we got by on the bare essentials in the good old days?  Why don't we write to each other via snail-mail instead—in longhand with a fountain pen?     

      Tuesday, July 19, 2011

      Stumbles on the Right

      Have the excesses of the radical Republicans and leaders of other far right organizations finally caught up with these extremists?  The GOP members of Congress have refused to seriously negotiate with their Democrat counterparts regarding the national debt limit and by doing so has threatened to put the U.S. into default on its monetary obligations, regardless of the potentially disastrous outcome of such a lunatic stance. President Obama has offered  egregious concessions that he had no business making to the point that he sounds more like a Republican himself, but to no avail. Republicans have demanded that the Democrats accept all of their terms or they will pull the plug. .

      On the other hand, Obama's apparent willingness to give away the store, such as placing the burden of deficit reductions on the backs of those Americans least able to afford it in order  to meet the Republicans' approval, may have been a calculated risk in which he gambled that the GOP would still refuse to co-operate and that he could then claim the high ground for his attempts to be reasonable in the face of Republicans obduracy.  Yet after all this now the Republicans may finally be ready to compromise after all.  The alternative of course is that they would wind up taking the blame for potentially disastrous consequences to the American economy if the debt limit is not raised.  Incidentally, if during the negotiations they have been counting  on public opinion to support their intransigence, that is a big mistake. A survey showed that 71% of those polled rejected the congressional Republicans stance in the budget talks. Significantly, over 50% of Republicans in this survey also disagreed with their own party's approach in this matter.  

      The other instance of the conservative right taking a hit was the exposure of Rupert Murdoch's  and his mega company News Corp engaging in wiretapping and bribery.  Murdoch and his company have strong ties to the far right wing via his ownership of Fox Broadcasting, which includes the extremely partisan Fox News. and as publisher for evangelical Christian preachers such as Rick Warren who have become wealthy via their association with Murdoch's.publishing house. These so-called men of God have no qualms about dealing with Murdoch whose business practices and personal morality are utterly depraved. Lie down with dogs and you get up with fleas.

      In light of these developments that revealed the sleazy tactics of the Republicans and  the criminal behavior by the owner of Fox News, maybe the American voting public will begin to understand the threat that the far right poses to the nation. In this regard the 2012 presidential election will likely be even more pivotal than that in 2008, which thanks to Obama's failure of leadership was not a change that we could believe in after all.  He should stand aside next year and let a real progressive candidate run instead.  Dennis Kucinich, are you listening?

      Sunday, July 3, 2011

      Another Kind of Rape Casualty: Justice for the Accused

      The unexpected development in the rape charge against Dominique Strauss-Kahn  if nothing else shows that in legal matters things are not always as as they seem, no matter how solid a case initially appears against a defendant.  For this reason one issue that I've not yet seen discussed in all the media coverage of this affair, and for that matter in any well publicized case involving allegations of sexual assault, is why the accused does not have the same right to privacy in order to be spared embarrassment as that automatically granted by the press to  the accuser. Under the American Constitution, isn't a person presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law? 

      Consider how prejudicial it is against the defense when the only name and photo in a rape case that you will see or hear bandied about in the media is that of someone who has been  charged  but not yet convicted of one of the most heinous crimes imaginable. Imagine how pictures of the accused doing the "perp walk" affects potential candidates when it's time to select a jury.  Yet, there is no offsetting mention of the accuser's identity and background to balance the picture in the mind of the public.

      So even if the defendant is eventually cleared, there may always be a shadow of doubt in the court of public opinion as to his innocence that will stalk him for the rest of his life and that can for example ruin his career and relationship with family members.  This goes back to the question of why the accuser should be the one to be granted anonymity in the first place?  If she is truly a victim of a crime and what happened to her was totally beyond her control, why should she feel humiliated and hide herself as though she had done something shameful?  This isn't  Afghanistan. Moreover, trials are usually open to the public who  will then see her anyway when she finally appears in the courtroom and gives her testimony.  On the other hand, if the defendant is found to be not guilty because he was falsely accused, society may be then become less inclined to believe plaintiffs who really were assaulted and who press charges against their attackers.

      So in short, either both sides must be shielded from identification and resulting pre-trial publicity, or neither side should be.  The present double standard must be abolished.  Only then can the interests of justice be truly served.

      Saturday, June 11, 2011

      The Growing Irrelevance of the American Worker

      I recently got around to seeing the movie "Up In the Air". In this film, George Clooney plays the role of Ryan Bingham, a "terminator". Bingham travels around the country in behalf of companies who apparently don't have the balls to fire workers to their faces themselves and instead hire his employer's services to deliver the news to their sacked employees. Bingham informs the workers that "their positions are no longer available",  and  then tries to  conduct a cliche ridden pep talk/ termination interview. Naturally, all the workers hear is that they have been let go. Nothing else that he says afterwards registers because at the moment  nothing else matters. (I know that feeling from personal experience).
      The dismissed employees were portrayed as loyal, long term workers who had no idea that their jobs had been in jeopardy in the first place.  So naturally their response was shocked disbelief, and they invariably protested that they had invested years of service to their company, that they had mortgages to pay and families to feed. Of course, all this made no difference.  Even when  a company offers a severance package, which is not always the case, fired is still fired.

      The lesson to be learned here is that as a source of income, usually the chief one for most people, employment really is an investment, and a high risk one at that.  As such, it can collapse and become worthless at any time.  So it behooves workers not to become complacent or get emotionally attached to their jobs and worst of all define their worth by them. No matter how secure an employee thinks that his /her  position is, the rug can be pulled out  from him at any time, especially under an "at will"condition of employment as is the case for most parts of the U.S .

      Since the beginning of the Great Recession, millions of Americans— more than at any time since the 1930's— have learned this the hard way.   But looking at job loss in the large sense of the American capitalist /corporate system, this mass unemployment is an inevitable phenomenon.  Private companies are not in business to manufacture goods and create jobs in the process. They are in business to make money. period.  In order to turn a profit, businesses will pare whatever expenses that they can, including and especially labor.  If, for example, they can cut their work force in half and shove off the duties of the terminated staff onto the remaining employees without increasing the latter's pay, (which is typically an option in a non-union environment)  they will do so in a heartbeat. This is why America has a very productive work force. People here may resent being required to assume additional responsibilities  without a commensurate boost in wages (a practice known as "offloading"), but in the current economy, they will accept the situation and be thankful that they have a job at all. (Also see "Twelve Charts That Will Make Your Blood Boil")

      Alternately of course, management may decide that the best way to slash in house payroll costs is to do away with them altogether, such as by outsourcing the work overseas.  Did you know that U.S. based companies actually get a tax break for shipping jobs abroad? There is a bill inow in Congress to revoke this incentive, but passage is not a slam dunk as various lobbies and interests are sure to fight it.

      On a side note, in other parts of the world, such as Europe and increasingly the Middle East of all places, disenfranchised workers regularly take to the streets in mass protests. But that's not the American way.   For the most part people in the U.S. seem to have been brainwashed into considering such demonstrations as unamerican. If that's the case, they obviously don't know their history.  The labor movement at one time was one of committed activism in which people gave up their lives for the right to join unions and demand the end to inhumane working conditions.  But that was then and this is now.  

      So what can workers do to protect their interests while they still have jobs?  Here are a few suggestions. Acquire as little debt as possible relative to your income and pay off or down whatever financial obligations you currently have as quickly as possible.  This way, if you lose your job, you will be able to weather the storm of unemployment from a much more advantageous position and are less likely to make rash decisions due to financial desperation that you may later regret.

      While you're employed, scan and save the want ads and Internet postings regularly for recurring job opportunities that sit your employment profile and goals.  Keep your references and resumè updated. Network with people in the same line of work at other companies.  Keep your feelings about your work private,i.e. avoid posting any displeasure that you might have about your job on social media; ranting on Facebook for example can backfire.  Follow the economic news about your employer, especially their financial condition, and whether they're involved in buy-outs or mergers.

      Above all, don't assume that  you're safe just because you're performing well and your future with the company looks solid. It's that very complacency that can come back to haunt you when you are unexpectedly summoned to a meeting and are greeted by the real life counterpart of Ryan Bingham.

      For further ideas on dealing with workplace stress and on controlling personal finances, click here for a link to my website "Green Monday".  (Disclosure: that page also includes promotional material for my e-book of the same name.)

      Thursday, May 19, 2011

      Unsustainable Consumption, Inexhaustible Stupidity

      With gas prices once again in the $4 range in various regions of the U.S., I don't feel a bit sorry for American vehicle owners.  If big oil is gouging us, it's because decade after decade  we let it happen. Despite warnings starting almost 40 years ago beginning with the energy crises in 1973 and 1978 , we continue to drag our feet on making serious improvements  in gas mileage.  Instead we continue to waste fuel on SUV's , pick-up trucks,and other gas guzzlers and act as if we're entitled to cheap oil ("drill baby drill") instead of seeking alternative sources of energy and being more conservation-minded by demanding greater fuel efficiency in our vehicles.  In fact, according to oil tycoon and alternate fuel backer T. Boone Pickens America is the only country in the world without an energy plan

      In England and France partly as the result of the high cost of fuel, even though there are numerous automobiles on the road. most of them are small and fuel efficient.  To encourage traffic reduction, there is also a congestion tax in London which private vehicles entering the center of city must pay. On the other hand, public transportation in Europe including inter and intra city rail service is extremely advanced.  The extensive and well connected subway and bus systems in London and Paris make getting around these cities without a private car a breeze.

      But time and time again America has turned its back on or delayed programs to eliminate or reduce our oil addiction, such as through improvement of  our  own national public transportation network. Now  will this alternative along with other infrastructure upgrades wind up deferred indefinitely thanks to the Great Recession, and  Republicans' concomitant  refusal to pay their fair share of taxes that would support such projects?

      Yet America's interstate highway system was developed in the 1950's under President Eisenhower, a Republican. At that time income tax rates for the wealthy were much higher than now, and fuel prices were much lower than at present. But the point is that there was a political will to get the job of national road construction completed. Why can't we invoke that same determination to build a national high-speed rail transit system now? Aside from the fact that other countries are  light years ahead  of America in this mode of transportation, consider the number of jobs such a project would create, whether conducted as a public or joint public-private endeavor. Moreover, the dreadful state of domestic airline service alone should be an incentive for Americans to push for this alternate and more efficient mode of transportation.

      Endless dependence on a finite resource such as oil is an incredibly senseless policy. But even more irrational is for Americans,particularly the Republican right, to think that they have a god-given birthright to this source of energy just to satisfy their profligate lifestyle.  Further, that by using whatever means they want and wherever they want to extract it, regardless of environmental damage, this will some how magically extend the supply of oil for as long as they wish to pump it.

      And typically, these people who are mostly  theists believe that their mythical deity bring a "Day of Reckoning" against others who don't embrace their supernatural religious fables. Yet they themselves refuse to accept the prospect  of a real world "Day of Reckoning" for misusing and exhausting our natural resources. Unfortunately, when the oil wells run dry and drilling sites have become ecological basket cases, they won't be the only ones affected.

      Friday, April 15, 2011

      No Respite From the Time Clock: A Bleak Future for Older Americans

      A startling development has taken place in the U.S. employment picture. According to "Why The Middle Aged Are Missing Out on Jobs" these people (ages 45—54) are having a tough time finding jobs. In itself, that's not unusual as employers are more inclined to hire younger workers (and indeed this age group is experiencing gains in employment) . But the wild card in the deck is that competition is coming from another source: Seniors. Not only are more older employees staying on the job past retirement age, but they are more successful than their middle-aged counterparts in snagging new jobs that have come into existence since 2009 as well.  In other words, middle aged employees as a whole are losing  jobs faster than seniors are finding new ones.

      But all this begs the question. Why are older people staying in the workforce beyond retirement age, such that they and their younger—but not that much younger—counterparts are competing with each other for jobs?  According to "Why The Middle Aged Are Missing Out...",  in 2001, 33% of seniors were in the workforce. In 2007, the figure was 39%.  It's unlikely that the size of the increase can be attributed to many more older folks' suddenly enjoying work so much that they don't want to retire.

      For some time now middle age employees despite years of experience have faced being undercut and replaced by people in their twenties or early thirties. And as mentioned, when the former are displaced, they often have a hard time finding new positions often not only because of age discrimination but also because they came from a higher salary level than their younger and less experienced counterparts. So wouldn't it stand to reason that still older workers would face a similar hurdle?  Unfortunately, the article doesn't explain this anomaly.

      My guess is that seniors are being chosen over middle-aged workers because they will work for less. Many older people  lost their nest eggs assets such as 401(k) investments in the Great Recession or otherwise lack the resources for retirement in the first place. But they do receive social security, which however by itself  is not enough to survive on. Hence they must stay in the labor force to make up the difference. I know if my wife and I had to repatriate, that would be our lot. We would most likely have to keep working until we drop dead in our traces.

      However, many older workers, i.e. those in the age range of 55—62 years of age do not yet qualify for social security. But perhaps out of desperation, they are willing to work for less than their slightly younger counterparts. Regardless, it should never have come to the point that two vulnerable groups, the older and middle aged workers should be pitted against each other this way.  And both face the prospect of an uncertain future that people in this age range haven't encountered in many decades, at or near the point in their lives that they should instead be reaping the rewards from their years of service in the labor force..

      It's an indictment of the American economic system that such a cruel state of affairs has come to pass.

      Sunday, March 27, 2011

      Why Don't They Get It?

      Those heathen Japanese. GOD sent them a warning through that earthquake, tsunami and nuclear contamination to mend their wicked ways, to recognize his supreme powers and to pray to him for forgiveness for their stubborn refusal to accept his might,  But do they listen? Oh no, they're too busy digging themselves out of the rubble, working to rebuild the damaged areas and putting their lives back in order rather than spend time beseeching his mercy.

      And another thing, in the wake of all the destruction and casualties,  why hasn't there been looting and rioting?  Just who do those Asians think they are by maintaining law and order without being forced to do so?. You can bet if a catastrophe of this magnitude had befallen an American city, God-fearing people would have been picking the shelves clean, exercising their right to bear arms against anyone who gets in their way, and fighting the National Guard in order to prevent that socialist Obama and the federal government from taking over their lives.   

      And you know what really gets me?  The Japanese are just too progressive and diligent.  By planning in advance for the natural disasters like this one, for all the lives that were lost thousands more were saved unlike in other countries that pray and cut corners instead of prepare in advance. And can you imagine that they had the nerve to apply geology and other sciences to gain an understanding of their environment instead of relying on the Bible and  putting themselves in the hands of the LORD to carry them through times of tragedy?

      I could go on but why bother?  Those people are hopeless. They may have such traits as courage, patience, and a sense of community on their side, but we Americans have GOD on ours.

      Thursday, March 3, 2011


      There is a series on "The Animal Planet" television network titled "The Monsters Inside Me"  which focuses on various parasites that invade and feed off the human body. The program vividly  dramatizes the horrible experiences of people who have been infected by some of these organisms. Yet according to theists, as destructive as these forms of life might be, they were created by God who  has a purpose for everything that he does. Following this line of reasoning, if they were made by God, as were other other noxious beings whose very existence is a threat to humankind, from cancer cells cells to eye worms (the latter have no other way of survival but by eating the eyes of living humans) we should not question their existence. In fact carrying the logic a step further, man should not attempt to exterminate them as this runs counter to God's will in having created them in the first place.

      One Christian viewpoint is that these disagreeable creatures were not always dangerous but became so as the result of original sin(!). Because Adam and Eve disobeyed God and caused Man's fall, people including infants, especially those in remote corners of the world must be made to suffer from horrible diseases and parasites because they have not received God's grace (by accepting Jesus) as their savior. One would think that God would find a faster way to send them the message than by making them wait for missionaries.

      In the more advanced cultures, humankind has effectively eradicated many destructive diseases. But in certain cases, some bacteria, such as streptococcus that were hardy enough to withstand antibiotics have mutated into new strains--"superbugs" that are resistant to treatment. One such germ is the flesh-eating bacteria, which was once rare but has become increasingly common.

      Well, maybe there's some logic to God's allowing these creatures to endanger people, given his track record. Even in the Torah which does not embrace  the doctrine of original sin, he does some pretty nasty stuff when people offend him.  For example, most of us know the biblical tale of the great Flood in which God destroyed almost all life on Earth  (an act which I call biocide). In fact since life began, most species have not survived the cut. God creates them then destroys them--giving and taking away carried to its ultimate conclusion. He seems to have an acute case of attention deficit syndrome.

      However, if we re-frame the discussion regarding the existence of parasites, superbugs, and other dangerous critters (well, dangerous to Man anyway) in the context of natural selection and remove an arbitrary supreme being from the mix, then it all begins to make sense in a way that a creationist /theistic explanation could never begin to.  This is why for example I find it hard to understand how those medical professionals who believe in literal interpretation of the scriptures over the theory of evolution can reconcile their scientific training with their creationist convictions regarding the mutant strains of germs which become resistant to antibiotic treatment.   The only method that I can see for their coping with this contradiction is compartmentalization.  But even so the cognitive dissonance must  be a strain.

      It's easy to see why  parasitic infections and other pest related illnesess are common in poor and backward areas of the world where people are uneducated and lack awareness of basic hygiene, let alone science.  Yet if Christian  fundamentalists continue to undermine the teaching of theory of evolution in American schools and instead allow creationist doctrine is allowed to prevail, the gains that science has made made in understanding and eradicating these diseases in the U.S. could be seriously affected. We've already seen what happens when the Republican Party, the political arm of the religious right runs the show. During the Bush years, funding for the enforcement of food safety laws was drastically cut, and the incidence of microbe related food borne illnesses and deaths in the U.S. soared.  In that era the conservative Republicans' contempt for conducting scientific studies in  other health related issues  also manifested itself in their fight against stem cell research.  

      Right-wing fundamentalists' domination of social-political values must be stopped.  Failure to end their anti-life policies is hazardous to America's health.

      Tuesday, February 8, 2011

      Facing Our Mortality

      Many if not most theists are under the impression that in a life-threatening crisis, atheists will see the "error of their ways" and turn to God for help. However, that is an erroneous assumption.  Like many other non-believers, I know  this from personal experience.  I recently came through a personal (health) crisis involving what appeared to be a possibly life threatening medical condition. But fortunately, the  test came back negative.

      During this time not once did I waiver in my  position that there is no evidence for the existence of a  supreme being to save me, especially one who requires prayer (groveling) to consider intervention and who then  may or may not intercede depending on what kind of a mood he's in and on whether or not I've said the magic words and in the right way.

      Of course, while waiting for the examination and then its outcome I was very distressed as I don't handle uncertainty very well.  But my biggest concern is how would I tell my wife if the results turned out positive.  In short a sky daddy was hardly on my radar during this period.  In 2002 I wasn't so lucky and was in fact diagnosed with a severe illness but made a full recovery.  At that time I likewise "kept the non-faith".

      Yet what I've experienced is nothing compared to that of noted author Christopher Hitchens who is is suffering from esophageal cancer.  Hitchens  is a prominent atheist and  has remained steadfast in his non-belief.  In spite of his ill health, he participated in a debate with Tony Blair in November about whether or not religion is a force for good in the world and proceeded to clean Blair's clock.

      Regarding his illness, Hitchens has said that if his condition deteriorates and as a result, he become a theist, let it be known now that he would not be in his right mind for doing so.

      In the final analysis people like Hitchens are not only an inspiration in a society that for the most part is guided by irrationality regarding religion. He is a reminder to believers that there certainly are atheists in the proverbial fox holes after all and when the going gets tough, the tough use reason.

      Sunday, January 9, 2011

      How Religious Indoctrination Undermines Higher Education

      Beyond preparing students for their chosen professions,  I believe that the purpose of  a secular college education should be the development of their reasoning skills.  Examples of subjects  leading to this end are critical thinking,  philosophy (including  the Socratic method),  history, and the natural sciences.  Ideally, students who successfully complete these course and take them to heart even thought they may not finish their degree (as in my case) will be less inclined towards superstition and will be more apt to question religious beliefs by which they were brought up.  However, if  despite this exposure, a college graduate still clings to theistic convictions, at least it's almost certain that (s)he was  provided with an opportunity and the intellectual tools to take a different intellectual path.

      Such is not the case for a religion-affiliated college.  This type of a school is typically founded with an agenda of indoctrinating its students in an often authoritarian environment.  Uppermost in such an institution is the dogma that the existence of a supreme being is a foregone conclusion. The school administrators then shoehorn unsubstantiated "proof" in the form of scripture or doctrine to support this assumption into a required curriculum of religious study courses alongside with training in the student's major.  Honing of analytical skills is replaced by or subordinated to rote learning.  This kind of education, of course, stands the principles of sound logic on their head.  But as will be seen later, it is nevertheless a highly effective means of turning out generation after generation of competent—even brilliant—professionals who are staunch theists for life

      An example of such a school is the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines, a country, incidentally, where society  holds a college degree in high regard (albeit more for reasons of status than of knowledge). Although this institution was founded by the Dominican Order, at this point I want to make it clear that I'm not singling out Catholic universities for special criticism. The same principle applies to most other religion-based tertiary level schools throughout the world as well.  It's just that based on the negative experience of my wife Lydia as a student at UST many years ago plus my own awareness of some recent events there, Santo Tomas serves as example to illustrate how a sectarian institution, even one that is 400 years old,  is one of the largest Catholic universities in the world, and has a premier medical school, can still mis-educate its enrollees, warp their reasoning abilities into accepting and embracing unreasonable tenets of faith, and as a result inflict damage on the nation's culture.

      For example overpopulation is a serious problem in the Philippines thanks to the Catholic Church's historic opposition to artificial means of birth control and family planning even though an overwhelmingly majority of Filipinos, including  Catholics, now favor the Reproductive Health Act which for the first time in this country would remove obstacles to these choices. This proposed legislation was vetoed by the former President of the Philippines, Gloria Arroyo, but is up again for consideration by Congress and has the backing of current President, Benigno Aquino III.  However, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines which functions as the political lobby of the Church, opposes this bill and has hinted at  excommunication for Aquino and members of Congress if they vote for it, although the head of the CBCP later denied making this threat.

      Nevertheless, the UST student newspaper The Varisitarian, recently vehemently denounced 14 professors at Ateneo de Manila (a nearby  university, also a Catholic institution), for advocating passage of the RH Act, which the paper said violated Church teachings.  The writer of the editorial certainly lived up to the meaning of     "Dominican" which is Latin for the "hounds (attack dogs) of God".

      In another incident of  almost to cult-like devotion Church liturgy  on December 8, over 20,000 people, mostly UST students and staff formed "The Grand Living Rosary" on the campus in honor of the Virgin Mary to thank her for guiding the school's mission to educate the young(!).   Some of the participants choreographed a formation  of the words "Ave Maria" and all chanted the rosary in unison.  If this exercise by a supposed center of learning  is not symbolic of of subordinating the intellectual to the irrational, I don't know what is. No wonder so many alumni from UST and other Catholic universities, even members of the elite socioeconomic class,  who were exposed to such indoctrination and are now in government office can not make rational decisions or form coherent public policy, especially in the matter of planning.  Due to their upbringing and religious training,  when it comes to matters of faith many of these people are as blindly devout as the uneducated and undereducated masses at the other end of the social spectrum.   A prominent columnist in today's "Philippine Star" newspaper claimed that even the more superstitious practices of religion are superior to the alternative of atheism as long as they lead to a better understanding of faith!

      Lydia was not surprised about these events.  To this day she vividly remembers and still resents  some incidents from her own time at Santo Tomas over 50 years ago.  One was the ridiculously stringent discipline imposed by professors who treated students like children by demanding unquestioning obedience, some going so far as to require their students keep "eyes front" at all times or be expelled from the class. Another was the compulsory 32 units of religious subjects imposed on undergraduates which were ultimately worthless not only for content but for credit transfer. Most of all Lydia recalls being publicly chastised and embarrassed by  UST priests for petty dress code violations such as being denied communion just for wearing a sleeveless blouse.

      After receiving her degree from UST and emigrating to the U.S., Lydia later tried to register as a graduate student in the California State University Los Angeles, only to discover that CSULA would not recognize the religion and other courses. So she had to enroll as undergraduate first and replace the missing credits.   But in doing so, Lydia says that she's glad for that experience because of the huge difference in the manner with which the faculty at public universities interact with students vs.that at a religious institution. She had felt so stifled at UST that she graduated there with the equivalent of a B average.  However, encouraged by the freer intellectual environment of Cal State, she completed her studies there cum laude in both her B.A. and M.A. degrees. How many other good minds are being similarly kept from reaching their full potential by repressive religious conditioning?

      But America is not immune from attempts by religious interests to control the educational school system.  Note how Christian fundamentalists and right wing ideologues have taken over school boards in various locales and have undermined public education by trying to impose  the teaching of creationism over the theory of evolution, along with requiring the use of  revisionist history textbooks and social studies curricula to fit their reactionary agenda in the public school districts where these groups constitute a majority. Will pupils in these districts come away from their secondary educational experience with closed minds that even at secular university can't open?  Lydia and I both recall from our respective CSULA days a few of our classmates who were Christian fundamentalists and who became upset, even going so far as to file complaints just because their professors criticized religion.

      And speaking of religious agitation at the higher education level, Under the Bush administration Protestant  fundamentalists  and Catholics were responsible for the blocking of funds for university stem cell research. Christian evangelist cadets have been proselytizing classmates at the U.S. Air Force Academy for years despite attempts civil liberty groups to halt this practice; and in 2009, Muslims intimidated Yale with violence from publishing cartoons that display Mohammed.

      As I mentioned in the beginning of this post a secular-based college education doesn't guarantee critical thinking towards religion.  But a theistic centered one will almost certainly prevent it.  So the lesson is clear. When religious interests gain control of an educational system, the learning process becomes one of being taught what to think rather than how to think.  And the consequences can only have a detrimental effect on society.