Category Archives: Culture

None Should Ever Die

A Patient in a Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit

Culture Change in Health Care

In 1957 the world experienced the most severe flu outbreak since the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.  This new flu was called the Asian flu, and it was much more virulent than the typical annual flu.  In fact, about 100,000 Americans died of the Asian flu, while the population was roughly half it was today.  That would mean that under the same conditions, for our current population, it would have meant about 200,000 deaths.

Those who suffered from the Asian flu reported it as completely sapping their strength.  Many reported not being able to stand and had to crawl back and forth between their beds and the bathroom.  Even scarier for the population was that the disease was especially deadly for pregnant women.

The contrast between the government response in the 1950’s and the response to the Covid epidemic today couldn’t be more drastic.  During the Asian flu epidemic, people were told to use common sense (stay home if you are sick, cover your mouth when coughing, wash your hands), and that was about it.  Today, as we all know, the government has shut down most of the economy, and quarantines are imposed for weeks if not months at a time.

The contrasting responses are due to a dramatic shift in the culture of the Health Care establishment, which, in turn, is mirroring a change in our national cultures.  The change is in how we deal with death.

In the 1950s, people alive had had plenty of experience with death, and especially death at young ages.  The Spanish Flu pandemic had only been 40 years before, so decision makers and experienced doctors had lived through it.  There had been other similar if less deadly outbreaks of disease thereafter, such as the diphtheria epidemic and frequent outbreaks of polio, measles, and so on.  And of course, there had been the World Wars, the last of which had only been about a decade and a half before.

People then understood that you die, and frequently at an age younger than hoped.  Most, even up to the time of the Asian flu, believed that mortal life was a temporary condition followed by an eternal afterlife.  Medical research and care, while increasingly advanced, was geared toward helping end conditions that terminated life all too early ages.  This was the age of vaccines for polio and a multitude of childhood diseases.

Today, medical care is focused on preventing any death, at any age, regardless of the cost.  Most of us who have had an elderly loved one with a serious medical condition have had the medical establishment recommend procedures that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) to extend life, at questionable quality, for only a short amount of time.

The current epidemic is far and away most deadly and dangerous to those past 80 (or with serious life threatening conditions).  Protections should be in place to protect them from what for them is frequently a deadly disease.  But even now, even in states that saw the worst of this almost six months ago, only 2% of their populations have the disease, and only 0.2% have died from it (the vast majority of those over 80).

We have done ourselves immense economic damage, in efforts that now appear to have been ineffective anyway, to try to save 2 people out of a thousand,  mostly those with rather limited expected life spans.

The reason for this previously inconceivable over-reaction is the change to our culture.  Mortal life is now seen as the only thing that matters, because most no longer believe in an afterlife.  The strange thing is that this cultural change will result in much shorter mortal lives for all.  We are impoverishing ourselves out of an over-reaction to unexpected deaths.  It just so happens the greatest reducer of life span is actually Poverty.  And shutting down entire sectors of the economy for months on end will result in a massive increase in poverty.

What to Do

Epidemics, like natural disasters, are normal events in human experience.  It is always sad when people die young or die from unexpected causes.  We should do what we can, within reason, to combat epidemics, and help any who suddenly stand in need.

But we need to do so reasonably, and in a cost effective and targeted fashion.  Not by panicking and embracing universal policies that do as much or more damage than good.

Early on, from the experience of the passengers and crew of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, it was known what could be expected from the Covid epidemic.  As a result, the elderly (and those with serious conditions) should have started to receive assistance for isolating. 

The rest of us should have continued as normal, recognizing that we needed to do minor things, like wear a facemask or wash our hands more often, to slow the spread of the disease.  This is what Sweden decided to do, and they appear to be no worse off medically than places that have gone into complete shutdown.

Family Change – Part 2

The recent “#Me Too” movement is aimed at publicizing and shaming those accused of attacking women.  I certainly feel that those who have forced themselves on women need to be held accountable, regardless of their position or “who they are”.  Violence against anyone is wrong and unwarranted, and we need to protect potential victims and punish perpetrators.

There has been an even more universal attack on women over the last sixty or so years.  Whereas sexual violence, luckily, is still the exception, the attack I refer to has impacted far more women.  It has been even more damaging to their children.  This recent “attack” has led to dramatic change for families in much of the world.

This attack is really the repercussions of what is usually called the “Sexual Revolution”.  This post is not about the “right or wrong” of changing morality, but about the impact on families (women and children bearing the brunt) that the historic change in morality has had.

For most of history, a man was financially responsible for the care of his mate and their children.  Marriage was, for the most part, a binding contract that helped ensure that the spouse and children were cared for (at least financially).  This contract was strengthened by the accepted norms of society and conduct.  Those that were irresponsible, and did not care for their families, were shunned by others as reprehensible individuals unworthy of responsibility or association.

This changed dramatically in the 1960’s.  “Free Love” and the changes in morality meant that men could more readily have sex with women, free of responsibility.  Divorce became more and more frequent, to the point that it is now actually the norm in most western cultures.  Children born out of wedlock are starting also to become the norm.  And all of this has meant dramatic and significant damage to the Family structure, the basic building block of society.

Much of the responsibility for this lies with men.  Too many seem too ready to abandon children and family responsibility.  This is not without significant consequences to the children involved.  A missing parent leaves a void that nothing ever fills.  Nothing can compensate for the loss of support and guidance due to a missing parent.  Children of divorce or abandonment carry significant emotional scars for life.  Many also experience extreme need, as the single parent (most commonly the mother) is unable to shoulder the financial burden.

We do have laws for child support. But these are woefully inadequate to supply for the true needs of children.  Even when child support is paid, the split in resources between separated parents impoverishes both of them and the involved children.  But the emotional damage is worse, especially when each parent insults or is disrespectful of the other in front of children desperate for role models.

We, collectively, will all pay as more and more families fail.  We literally pay for the increase in crime, drug use, and other problems that are a direct result of family disintegration.  We also pay in other ways.  Many no longer acquire the values that should be learned as a youth in a stable family with responsible role models.  And this affects all of us as civility, honesty, respect for one another, and overall kindness within society all seem to be dropping off at an ever accelerating pace.

What to Do

Recognize, and teach your children to recognize, that sexual relations bring serious and significant responsibilities into play when an infant is created as a result.  A child is a long term and, for many, an almost overwhelming burden.  If one engages in sex, one must be willing to accept and shoulder these responsibilities.

We cannot force others to behave better.  But we can take a good hard look at ourselves.  And we should ensure that we do not shirk our own family responsibilities.  We should do everything we possibly can to take care of and raise our children.  We need to be good role models.  We need to provide financial and emotional support.  Without it, and without the foundation of strong families, society will have an increasingly difficult time.

Barbarians INSIDE the Gates

Barbarians Sack Rome

Rome lasted as a great power for over a thousand years.  There are a lot of reasons given for its fall.  Most of these factors did contribute to the decline of the Roman empire, but its fall is primarily the cause of Barbarians.  Not just Barbarians attacking its borders.  But PRIMARILY due to Barbarians it let inside its borders.

Over time the Roman people became utterly materialistic and fainthearted.  They increasingly relied on Barbarians to join their Armies.  Barbarians that they had already let into their country.  Barbarians that continued to maintain allegiance to their Barbarian tribes.  In fact, after the battle of Adrianople, the Romans let Barbarians into their country with weapons, and as tribal groups.  The Romans were defeated as much by the ENEMY WITHIN as those invading across the border.

For ages the Romans had let Barbarians into their country.  But they broke up groups before dispersing the families of the groups to widely different areas.  The Barbarians were expected to assimilate as best they could, and to acquire Roman values and culture.  But when they started to let in giant groups, allowed them to stay together and to maintain their own tribal culture and tribal allegiances, the end of Rome was near.

Right now Europe is basically doing the same thing to itself.

Masses of people from the Muslim world are entering Europe.  They are moving there primarily for economic reasons.  They want to go to the countries that will give them the most money and the best benefits.  This is why most head to the United Kingdom, Germany, and Sweden.

They are in large groups that have little to no intention of assimilating.  Many, if not most, don’t learn the local language.  They don’t adopt societal norms.  Many don’t even want to work.

It would be fine if these groups accepted the societal norms of the countries they move into.  But, as a whole, they don’t.  They maintain their own culture and values, and it is radically different from the countries they are moving into.  They also maintain their primary allegiance to their tribe, and increasingly view the people and governments providing their every need with contempt and hostility.

Not that Europe has ever had any success in assimilating foreigners.  Europe’s history is one of separation of cultures into distinct countries behind defensible borders.  They would then fight the neighbors because they are different.

But now Europe is actually allowing increasingly massive numbers of what may well be their worst enemies into their communities.  They are experiencing rates of crime and terrorism increasing on an exponential curve.  And when the handouts end as governments face coming financial crises, much worse is going to happen.

What to Do

Countries should accept immigrants, but there should be expectations.  Expectations that the laws will be obeyed.  Expectations that immigrants are to become productive and contribute to society.  Expectations that they will assimilate to at least acceptance of the primary culture.

The problem for Europe is that this may very well be 20/20 hindsight.

Guns in America, Part Two

American Revolution Militia Reenactors

As I pointed out in an earlier post, guns and gun violence are a part of American culture.  But there is another complex aspect of dealing with gun violence in America.  Americans have a fundamental legal right to own guns.  It is part of the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, set up by the original founders of the United States.  The law (the second amendment to the Constitution) states: ”A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The last part of the amendment seems pretty clear.  “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  But Americans do have laws that restrict the ownership of certain types of weapons.  For example, I like Cannons and Mortars.  I am even trained in how to use them.  But it is illegal for me to own one without all kinds of bureaucratic paperwork, checks and investigations.  The same thing goes for machine guns, or automatic weapons.  Poisonous gases, like Phosgene or Mustard gas, are outright illegal, even though they are technically “Arms”.  Due to the lethality of all of these kinds of weapons, I believe most everyone agrees that their ownership and use require extreme oversight and sensible restrictions.

The first part of the amendment is somewhat vague, but it gets at the all important “intent” of the law, the reason for it existing.  It seems to me that the intent of the law allowing Americans to have guns is to protect the country (the “free state”).  And that the protection comes from armed citizens forming militias.  I believe that this was because when the United States was created, it could not defend itself with a standing army.  Militias were necessary then.

Many today say that it is still necessary to be armed to be protected from a “tyrannical government”.  I ask such people if they would really be willing to shoot at American soldiers and police officers.  Because that is what this line of thinking means.  Some actually did that once (individually, AND as organized militias).  It was called the American Civil War, and it was not a good experience.  Today, advances in weaponry, plus the ability of the state to support a large standing Army, make the “Militia” irrelevant.  The best a “militia” could do today is wage a guerilla war against an occupier, but this is a far cry from providing national security.

What to Do

There is a lot of debate, and it is valid.  Americans can reach compromises that will go a long way towards fixing the problem, but it cannot be eliminated in the short term.  There are too many guns already in the hands of bad actors, and no law is going to change that overnight.

Neither extreme is viable.  You cannot outlaw gun ownership and confiscate guns.  First off, Americans won’t allow this to happen politically, and second, even if you tried to do this, only lawbreakers would have guns (leaving decent people relatively defenseless).

On the other hand, we don’t want the “Wild West” either, with everyone allowed to own any kind of weapon.  We already know this, and as I stated earlier, the ownership of certain kinds of weapons is already either illegal or severely restricted.

I personally am OK with restricting semi-automatic weapons to those who can pass strict background and security investigations.  I am ok if this takes a while and involves expense, training, and paperwork.  I think it is also OK to ban things that try to turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones (bump stocks or trigger cranks).  No one defending themselves or their home needs such things.

I think that a requirement for being certified in gun safety before owning one is a good thing too.  The most tragic thing on the news is about kids killing themselves or others with guns, with AMMO IN THEM, that are left lying around.

Guns in America, Part One

By Christopher DOMBRES (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

The Culture of Gun Violence

Due to the last mass shooting event, I’ve been asked by a number of people for my thoughts on the Gun debate in America.  This is a very important topic, and one that can’t adequately be discussed in a single post (which I try to limit to a single typed page), so I will have to do it in multiple parts.

Right now there are about 112 guns in the USA for every 100 people.  There are in fact, more guns than people.  It has probably always been this way.  People in America have always been armed to the teeth.  It started due to “issues” with the Native Americans.  It continued with the Revolution, and then into the expansion into the “Wild West”.  Guns also played a role in keeping slaves and trying to prevent their freedom (as in the Civil War).  So culturally, Americans have a long history of having guns, and, frankly, using them.  So guns are an integral part of America’s cultural history.

And when it comes to gun culture, history is just a small part.  Almost all of American culture is awash in guns and gun violence.  It is in our movies, constantly, for more than a hundred years.  Westerns, murder mysteries, crime dramas, action flicks, sci-fi, not to mention war movies, all depict plenty of people shooting plenty of other people.  Video games, whose popularity is now greater than that of Television, are primarily of the “First Person Shooter” variety.  Even our music has a lot to do with shooting people.

The reason I point this out is that I also lived in another country that had a huge number of semi automatic assault rifles in private residences.  This was Switzerland, where every male in the country had to take military training, and at the end he got sent home with an Assault Rifle and a couple of hundred rounds of ammunition.  But there is a big difference.  Mainly that in Switzerland, mass shootings are unheard of, while murders are extremely rare.  They have the same relative access to serious firepower, maybe even better access than the average American.  The only significant difference between the Swiss situation and the American one is CULTURE.  The main component of Swiss culture is “Follow the Rules”.  And not shooting people with your assault rifle is one of their rules.  So they don’t do it.  But this is NOT American culture.

There is another contributor to gun violence in America.  That is the notoriety it brings.  American culture also has a huge “popularity” factor to it.  It is not enough in American culture to be rich.  You need to be rich AND FAMOUS.  Being Famous is a BIG DEAL in American culture.  The Kardashians, the Real Housewives, and hosts of others are successful solely out of being Famous.  And a way to get known by everyone is to become INFAMOUS.  Unfortunately today, that means killing a bunch of innocent people.

So while the debate goes on about gun laws and other legal restrictions, I have to point out that there is a much more deep seated and fundamental problem when it comes to guns.  It’s our very culture.  And as I have pointed out in other posts and articles, the hardest thing to do is to change a culture.

What to Do

We have to realize that we have, unfortunately, glamorized the use of guns in our culture.  This is in fact the root cause of the problem of mass shootings.  We do need to tone this way down.  Culture doesn’t change because of passing a bunch of laws.  We have to start thinking about guns and gun use differently, and to have a reasonable dialog about it.

The cultural problem is only multiplied by making the shooters famous by plastering their name and picture all over the place.  We need to tone this down too.  We need to tone down the sensationalism surrounding these events, and treat anyone who would even contemplate doing such things with aversion and scorn.  We need to stop making the perpetrators famous.

If there was proper cultural pressure, America could handle the problem, unfortunately, it usually takes multiple significant catastrophes before a culture even begins to question itself.

Idle Incentives

Housing Project

Society does need to provide for those in need.  The disabled that cannot work, orphans and abandoned children, and even those that have temporarily fallen on ‘hard times’.  Part of being in a society requires that we take on this responsibility.  Any of us could fall into one of these conditions due to accident, sickness or misfortune.  Only the utterly selfish and self centered would deny helping those truly in need.

It is not a question of whether or not we should help others.  The questions are how and under what conditions and circumstances.  Many of our current problems, financially and culturally, are a result of us as a society allowing our government to deal with assistance by just handing out money.

If you are deemed “in need” by the government, you get money.  A recipient doesn’t do anything return.  This mechanism of providing financial assistance is, in any case where someone could do something in return, promotes and incentivizes idleness.  We are literally paying people who could do some kind of labor or service money to sit around and do nothing.  There are few, if any, incentives to stop taking or reduce the amount of the assistance.

Government assistance is quite substantial.  In a 2013 study by the Cato institute , a mother with two children living in New England would get about $40,000 per year.  Tax Free.  The study points out that this works out to more than someone who works for $21 an hour gets to take home.  So why would such a person work for less than that?  Or even slightly more than that?  Would you take $25 an hour for working if you could get $21 an hour sitting at home?

I remember watching a TV investigative report where they pointed out (I’m sorry, I wish could recall which TV show, but I can’t) that teenage girls on welfare were having children so that they could move out from under their mother’s thumb, get their own place, and start to receive the “assistance” I just described for themselves.  So not only are current welfare methods incentivizing not working, they are incentivizing the creation of more welfare recipients.  I figure that it costs society about a Million dollars to subsidize the life of someone who is on “assistance” their entire life.

It is not just welfare that is a problem.  Social Security disability, Food Stamps (now called SNAP for “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”) and similar programs have skyrocketed in the amounts they have been paying out.  Social Security disability payouts totaled $56 Billion in 2000, they have now tripled to $154 Billion a year.  SNAP payouts totaled $18 Billion in 2000, and have now quadrupled to $78 Billion a year.  While many receiving Social Security disability are totally unable to work, many can.  Before 2000, only about 1% of workers put in a disability claim.  Now its 2%, and work is actually safer today.

As a society we have decided not just to provide “assistance” but to provide incentives for people NOT to work.  We cannot afford this, either financially, nor culturally, in what it does to people who do not work.  Idleness leads to all kinds of crime issues.  Our “assistance” programs destroy families as we provide additional assistance to single parents, incentivizing the father abandoning the family.

What to Do

We need to fundamentally change how we handle “assistance”.  We need to use both the carrot and the stick.  There need to be positive incentives to stop receiving assistance and there need to be negative consequences for receiving it.

People receiving assistance need to do whatever they can in return for the money they get.  If that means manual labor, then that’s what they should do.  If it is some kind of office work, then that is what they should do.  People who can do something must do that in order to receive something.  And frankly, it should be unpalatable enough to encourage them to do something else.

There need to be additional incentives for taking less or getting away from assistance.  And we do need to help people to get away from it.  Maybe the work requirements are getting training in a skill.  Maybe benefits need to decrease over time.  But there need to be incentives, pathways, and motivation to get people away from government handouts.

We need to pressure those we elect to do these kinds of things.  Too often, people are getting elected based on how much they are providing to their supporters in terms of handouts.  This needs to end, and only those that vote can end it.

Expansion of Disease

Our western culture has in recent decades seen a literal explosion in the definition of disease.  This is due to the exponential expansion of the definition to include ever increasing “mental health” issues.  First it was the most adverse of mental conditions like insanity, schizophrenia, and so on.  Then alcoholism was also labeled a disease.  Now sexual deviancy is also getting labeled a “disease”.

Disease is literally a lesion of the cells.  This means that cells have physical damage.  That can be seen under a microscope.  So cancer is obviously a disease.  So is the damage cause by things like the flu virus or an infection or even a broken bone.

This dangerous expansion of the definition of disease started with serious mental health issues.  Granted, serious conditions like schizophrenia and other conditions such as depression do in fact seem to be diseases.  No one wants them, and such people do need serious professional medical care.  The problem was when we as a society moved from what are mental health issues into labeling lack of self control as a disease.

In our lives, we are constantly bombarded by temptations to do things that are wrong and bad.  It could be the temptation to steal something, or the temptation to say something mean, or the temptation to hurt someone.  We all know that doing these things is wrong.  But we still do them, hopefully only rarely, but we still do them.

Some give in to the temptation to do something REALLY bad.  Like kill someone else, or to do them immense physical and emotional harm, as in the case of sexual assault.  Committing murder or rape is not the symptom of a disease.  It is the act of someone who has CHOSEN to do those things, and who, justly deserves severe punishment.

Labeling failures at self control is to diminish the responsibility of the person who chose to give in to temptation.  Now some temptations may appear to be overwhelming, as is the case in addiction.  But even in these cases, the addiction was created by someone giving in to temptation and choosing to do something harmful.  Like drink too much, taking drugs, or start watching pornography.  As they engage in the bad behavior more and more, they do lose self control, the ability to stop themselves from giving in to temptation.  But this is NOT a disease.  A disease is something you have NO CHOICE about.  Drinking, taking drugs, watching pornography, or hurting someone is NOT a DISEASE.  It is making bad choices.

When we label choosing to do bad a disease, we tell the person who has done something bad that it is not their fault.  That they didn’t really have a choice.  They were evidently compelled to do the bad thing.  We know this is wrong.  No one is forced to do bad.  Only you control the muscles in your own body (and this includes the muscles that make words come out of your mouth).  And you are responsible for your actions.  Labeling bad action choices as a disease is to say that the bad actor bears no responsibility for what they have done.

When we start telling people that their bad choices are not their fault, and that they are not responsible, how do you think they are going to act?  They are just going to do worse things, and do them much more often.  After all, if they are not responsible, there are no consequences for their actions.

What To Do

Recognize that society as a whole is moving down this slippery slope of labeling things like addictions and lack of self control as some kind of “disease”.  Such things are not diseases.  They are choices.

We all have particular weaknesses.  For some it is alcohol.  For others it might be drugs.  For a lot of us, it’s food.  But no one and certainly no “disease” is forcing you to drink, take drugs, or overeat.

We must start by recognizing that we are responsible for our own actions, and that others are responsible for their actions.

We can gain and build self control through a number of methods.  One of the best for physical temptations is to regularly fast.  That means to go about a day without eating anything.  This is hard to do (and should only be done infrequently), but as you do it, you show your physical body that your mind is in control.  And you will gain the strength to handle physical temptations.

Our “Most Trusted” People

Throughout all past ages, from the start of recorded history until just under a hundred years ago, almost every culture and every civilization has held a certain group of people in the lowest possible esteem.  I shouldn’t say the “lowest” as I am sure the criminal element and prostitutes were on the absolute bottom rung.  But the group I am alluding to was barely one level higher.  This would be those who act on stage, the entertainers, the actors and actresses.

The reason for the lowly reputation of entertainers was their collective loose morals.  Most societies viewed them with the same aversion they had for prostitutes.  It wasn’t just the blatant sexuality in very conservative environments.  They were also viewed as dishonest and masters at manipulation.  After all, they pretended to be someone else for a living.

This started to change in the late 19th century and the change was accelerated by the invention and then mass appeal of the movies in the early 20th century.  Entertainers became celebrities.  This has continued into our day.  It is now so reversed that entertainers and other celebrities, like star athletes, are now our societies “Most Trusted” people.

The bizarre thing is that the fundamental reasons they were viewed with disdain in the past, loose morals and destructive behavior (to themselves and/or towards others) hasn’t really changed.  Of course there are many fine people who are actors and actresses, but collectively, they have the same characteristics as in ancient times.  The same people drawn to this profession then are the same kind of people drawn to it today.

What is truly frightening is that most people are actually influenced by what these now “most trusted” people have to say.  About almost any topic.  Most people believe that they know these actors and actresses and that they are just like the characters that they play.  The reality is that the vast majority are under-educated, insulated from normal society, and elitist.  And they are NOT the people that they pretend to be on the movie screen.  They are, after all, ACTING.

What To Do

Don’t accept the word or opinions of someone just because they are famous.  Study issues for yourself and make up your own mind.

Don’t believe that someone has certain traits or talents or understanding just because they portray someone on the screen that has these attributes.  Understand there is a difference between “make-believe” and reality.

Consider the actual lives and accomplishments of those that you look up to.  Do they really deserve your trust?  Why then do we continue to put so much credence into what these people have to say?

Global Warming

No other issue today seems to inflame the passions more than the issue of Global Warming.  Most youth and certainly the vast majority of scientists are convinced that the earth is heating up, that this will cause the sea levels to rise, and that human activity is the cause of it all.  In order to prevent predicted catastrophe, they want significant action immediately implemented to hopefully change the trajectory of reported environmental trends.

To understand Global Warming we have to look at each aspect of the controversy.  We need to consider the issue in historical context.  We need to understand the scientific data.  We need to understand the motivations of those involved on each side.  We need to look at the proposals for change and their probable effect.  And we need to analyze and reflect on our own prejudices and behaviors.  This post can only scratch the surface, but it will point you in the right directions for further study.

Most people are woefully unfamiliar with anything that has happened outside of their own personal experience.  This means that they don’t understand what the past was like, and what happened “way back when”.  Rising sea levels and recently increasing numbers of destructive storms seem to be evidence of Global Warming.  The fact is that sea levels do change over time.  For example, in the time of the Roman Empire, Ravenna Italy and Ephesus Turkey were both coastal sea ports.  Both are now miles from the coast.  The ancient seaport of Ur in Iraq is now 150 miles from the coast.  Storm frequency is rising in our lifetimes, but as recently as the 1940’s, people didn’t move to Florida because of the huge storms that so frequently battered it.  So things may appear to be changing, but in the long term historical context, these changes appear to be a return to previously “normal” conditions.

The vast majority of scientists due indeed believe in Global Warming.  But here both the data and the motivations are suspect.  There have been numerous cases where data was “fudged”.  The famous case of emails from the British University of East Anglia shows collusion to manipulate data to conform to what scientists want it to say.  Scientific research is almost wholly funded by government subsidy; the bigger the problem, the bigger the subsidies.  If Global Warming was debunked, many in the scientific community would lose significant funding.  Going against accepted theories also results in scientific ostracism.  If you don’t agree with the others, you end up understanding how Galileo must have felt in dealing with the Catholic Church in late medieval times.

Rising temperatures and sea levels are only part of the issue.  The other half of the Global Warming controversy is that it is caused by Human Activity, specifically the output of carbon dioxide (CO2).  CO2 is the byproduct of burning stuff (like fuel) and of breathing.  Most of the proposals for dealing with Global Warming are directed at changing Human Activity.

Humans are polluting the earth.  We can literally see air pollution in major cities.  We know that our oceans are filling up with plastic that doesn’t disappear.  Chemical dumping is actually increasing in the world, and many rivers are so contaminated the water is literally poison to plants and animals alike.  The developed west (USA, Western Europe, Japan, Canada and similar) have made great strides in combating pollution since the 1960s.  Of course, they could still do better, especially with auto emissions and non-biodegradable garbage.  But most of the real pollution of the planet is now happening in China, the former Soviet Union, and the poor countries of the Third World.  We in the west can do little to change their ways.  The Paris Accords are a mechanism for sending money from rich countries to the Third World to get them to change.  Unfortunately, money given to Third World countries just ends up in the bank accounts of corrupt leaders.

An unfortunate and misguided underlying message in much of the discussion of Global Warming is that Humans are inherently bad for the planet.  Many Global Warming advocates believe the world is overpopulated and that we must take urgent steps to reduce the size of the population.  I personally believe the planet could support multiples of the current population.  The second biggest exporter of food in the world is the Netherlands.  Look at how tiny this place is on a map.  The reason they can export so much food is how they use their land and resources.  Our problem isn’t that there are too many of us, it is that we don’t adequately use what we have, we waste a lot, and we still pollute too much.

What to Do

We need to pollute less.  We need to use less disposable non-biodegradable products (like plastic).  We need to incentivize movement away from such materials.

We need to reduce air pollution.  We are at the point in the west where most things are pretty compliant with clean air standards.  But I still see vehicles emitting black clouds on the road.  The police should be able to immediately impound those vehicles that pollute more in a day than my vehicle does in year.

We need to encourage other countries to pollute less, and incentivize their doing so through our trade and other international relations policies.  Just giving them money is NOT the way to do this.

We also need to “Keep Calm and Not Panic”.  Change to sea levels and climate are mostly part of natural cycles that move between extremes across millennia.  There are warmer periods, and there are ice ages.  There are times of extreme weather and times of relative calm.  For example, there are recent increases in seismic activity.  I am waiting to hear from the alarmists how humans are causing that.

We need to do much better at using the resources we have, but limiting or restricting the number of Humans we “allow” on the planet is not the way.  We need to be better stewards of our planet and take better care of it, and the more people in the developed world, the better we can do this.

Circling the Wagons

One of the best things about the USA is that when there is a disaster, people help each other.  Americans have a strong sense of community, like almost no-where else.  Many European friends have told me over the years how different the United States is from their countries in response to disasters.  Americans get out and help each other; they don’t wait for a government response.

I believe that this cultural willingness to help each other, to bond together in tough times, comes from our pioneer and settler history.  Almost no one in American history made it solely on their own in new lands.  They had to band together to help each other out, as no one was self sufficient.  They couldn’t be.  There were too many demands on their time and limited resources.  So they banded together in settlements, or in the wagon trains that moved west.  As they did so, they provided each other with mutual protection, and not everyone had to carry with them every single kind of tool, or every kind of repair part.  Resources were shared, and each contributed to the success of the group.

We still see this today, as it is a deep part of American culture.  Whenever there is a tornado, or an earthquake, or, like recently, a flood, Americans come together to help each other out.  We help with the labor, we share what we have, and we put ourselves in danger to rescue others.  This is a wonderful thing to see, and something that should both fill us with pride, and with optimism that we can handle tough things by helping each other out.

When people tell me that they are “prepping” because they are worried about the future, I have to tell them that they are delusional if they think they can handle the future on their own.  This is because anyone with any kind of military or police or security background will tell you that you (or even you and your family together) cannot protect your home.  You cannot be awake and alert that long, and you can’t look in every direction all the time.  Trying to be safe on your own is folly.

The tried and true method for safety and security is to band together, to “circle the wagons” in times of crisis.  Only like minded large groups and communities can fend for themselves, can provide themselves with basic security, and can pool and share needed resources in extremely tough times.

What to Do

For these reasons it is all the more important in troubled times to be involved in our own communities, at the most basic neighborhood and local levels.  We need to know each other and how we can help each other.  We need to know who can do what, and who can help with different important aspects of life.

For example, I know a guy in my neighborhood who is a professional expert in water purification.  I know others who are good mechanics, who is a decent plumber, and I myself am a pretty good electrician.  We can all help each other and our other neighbors in case of a serious disaster.

So, get involved in your neighborhood and in your towns and cities.  Find like-minded people and others who would be willing to pitch in and “Circle the Wagons” with you should it come to that.

Culture Change

Culture is a composite of a society’s accepted way of doing things; the way they dress, how they treat each other, how they make decisions, what they value and what they dismiss.  All of these kinds of things combined are what defines a culture.  Cultures generally evolve over the course of hundreds of years.  As a result, changing a culture is incredibly difficult.

In our latest wars in the Middle East, our objective was to change a couple of societies (Iraq and Afghanistan) into functioning democracies.  Iraq, which had something of a functioning middle class, was supposed to become a “Beacon of Hope” to the region.  They were supposed to embrace democracy just like Germany and Japan embraced it after the end of World War Two.

The problem for us was that Iraqis didn’t embrace democracy.  Their culture didn’t change the way the Germans and the Japanese did.  Instead, once we had quickly conquered the county, Iraq devolved into anarchy and a long term insurrection.  In Iraq, culture is based on clan/tribe loyalty.  Eventually we figured out enough about how to leverage their tribal culture to reduce the insurgency.  We paid the tribal leaders to employ their young men in the “Sons of Iraq” program.  This stabilized the situation enough that we could get out while claiming success.  But the country never embraced true democracy.  Iraq’s culture didn’t change.

The situation in Afghanistan is similar.  But we haven’t been able to tamp down the insurgency by bribing the tribal leaders, as most of the problem is coming from tribes and Madrassas (religious schools) in Pakistan.  Afghan society isn’t embracing democracy, nor are the areas of Pakistan bordering it.  The ancient tribal structure isn’t changing.  And they certainly aren’t viewing outsiders and non-muslims as people there to help them.

So why did Germany and Japan change while Iraq and Afghanistan haven’t?  We need to understand why the Germans and Japanese cultures changed after World War Two in order to understand why it is so difficult to change other cultures.  This is crucial because culture change in the Middle East must happen before we can end the current problem of radical Islamic terrorism that plagues us.

Germany and Japan both had militaristic cultures with fanatical devotion to their supreme and dictatorial leaders.  Both of these cultures evolved over a significant period of time in response to their country’s particular situation.  Both societies were very willing to expend every ounce of their national will and strength to maintain their cultures.  But by the end of World War Two it was readily apparent to every single citizen of Germany and Japan that their enemies were ready, willing, and able to kill every single last one of them, if that is what it was going to take to make them surrender.  Every city in both countries was bombed to oblivion.  Both suffered millions of casualties, both military AND civilian, and their entire populations were economically ruined and starving.

This is what it takes for a culture to be open to short term radical change.  The society has to recognize that its culture has brought upon itself death, destruction and ruin.  Even then, it might still take a generation or two.  Germany, after all, had to go through not one, but TWO world wars for it to finally abandon its militaristic culture.  The American South’s culture of racial supremacy didn’t totally disappear after the American Civil War, even though that war brought their society to almost the same point as the Germans and Japanese in WW2.  But this is what it takes for rapid culture change to happen.  And it has not yet happened to radical Islam.

What to Do

Terrorism is going to be with us for quite a while.  We do not yet view Radical Islam as the same threat to us as we did Nazi (or Kaiser) Germany or the Empire of Japan.  But their objectives are really the same.  They want to enslave the rest of the world because they view themselves as racially and religiously superior to the rest of us.

Unfortunately, we have to deal with them the same way.  How would we treat areas under Nazi control?  How would we view people espousing Nazi doctrine during wartime?  How would we handle them?  Until we do the same thing with radical Islam, terrorism is going to remain with us.

Family Change – Part 1

I did some research years ago on the Social Security program.  It’s the largest government expense, at about a Trillion dollars a year.  As our general population ages (people living longer and having less kids), this program will only continue to increase in size and scale.

I figured that since the program is so large, there must have been some kind of debate about setting it up in the first place.  I dug around and found that the entire debate in congress is actually posted on Social Security’s own website.  It is pages and pages from the Congressional Record of 1935.  This is pretty dry, but I actually took the time to download it and read most of it.  It was extremely illuminating.

I remember that one of the main overall objections was that it would “end the family as we know it”.  I thought that was a pretty extreme and outlandish claim.  Families certainly continue to exist, and I didn’t think at the time that Social Security had much of an impact on families over the years since it was set up.  But then I read the argument again.  The key phrase is “as we know it”.  What he was talking about was the family as it was known in 1935.  For most, this was the extended family.  This was not just the mom and dad with their kids.  Back then the family also included the grandparents, and it was the working adults who took care of those too old to work anymore.

Social Security did end the family “as we know it” from 1935.  This is because, as Rep. O’Connor (D-NY) put it, “we would have the spectacle of sons and daughters giving up supporting their parents and wanting the Federal Government to support them” [Congressional Record – House, 1935, p5461].  This was pooh- poohed by others in the debate who assured everyone that wouldn’t happen.  Well, it did.  The extended family is a thing of the past.  And few of us today are in any way prepared for taking on this responsibility, as it HAS been handed over to the Federal Government.

The basic problem with Social Security is that it is not a savings or an insurance program.  The money that you or your parents put into the program is used to pay off other people.  Like any Ponzi scheme, the first people to get money from Social Security really made out well.  Literally the first person to receive a check was Ida May Fuller.  She had contributed a total of $24.75 into the program.  By the time she died, she had received a total of $22,889.  It wasn’t because she was a rock-star at investing and turned every dollar into a thousand.  She got this much because she was getting the money put into the program by other people.

We now regularly assume that the government will take care of our parents and will take care of us.  It is both scary and astonishing to read how few elderly have any retirement savings, and how many are still paying mortgages while attempting to live solely off of Social Security.  What do you think will happen when this program no longer provides enough to buy food, let alone anything else?

What to Do

The rational thing would be to change the Social Security program into an actual investment or annuity type program.  I am not talking about putting it into the stock market, but into things like treasury bonds.  But the main point of the changed program would be that you only got out YOUR OWN MONEY plus interest.  This would require a significant upfront cost of paying off the people whose money has already been given to others.  But it is the only conceivable way of saving this program.  As Rep Monaghan of MT put it in 1935, “There will be a day of reckoning for those suggesting the delusional plan suggested”.

By destroying the extended family, none of us are prepared to go back to it.  Children are unprepared to take in their parents and care for them.  On the other side, seniors are unwilling to give up independence and give a lot of household decision making responsibility to their children.  Both sides need to discuss what would happen, and the ground rules for such arrangements.  Because it is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when we have to go back to extended families, or most seniors will literally starve to death.

Yelling “FIRE”

Credit: AP / SANA

Our ability to voice our opinions, to say and express what we think, is one of our most cherished freedoms.  In fact, the most basic rights in a free and open society are Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press.  These rights are a prerequisite for Democracy. It is worth noting that Democracy will fail in any country or society where these rights either don’t exist in the first place or if they are taken away.

Everyone has to be able to say what they think in order for there to be honest and open debate.  Such debate allows people to form their own opinions and make their own choices once they are well informed by a broad variety of voices and arguments.  Any restriction on the presentation of the arguments and evidence of different points of view reduces our ability to arrive at informed opinions and positions.

We can all readily acknowledge the increasing lack of civility and politeness in political discourse.  The unwillingness to listen to the arguments of the other side.  The chanting and other attempts to drone out what one side doesn’t want to hear from the other.  All of these are bad enough, and are attempts to limit freedom by limiting debate.

But there is an attack on our freedoms from a different direction.  What I mean here is the abuse of the freedoms in order to eliminate them.  Freedom of Speech is meant to enable debate.  It is NOT meant to enable violence.  It was recognized long ago that while you may have the freedom to say whatever you want, this right ended when you did something like yell “Fire” in a crowded theater.  Any rational person recognized this as a necessary limitation on free speech, as it could lead to a stampede and the actual injury and death of others.

Freedom of Speech was meant to enable debate and allow for differences in opinion.  It was never meant to allow the speaker to create danger, incite violence or advocate murder.  It is one thing to say “I don’t agree with how those who don’t share my religious beliefs live their lives”.  It is a very different thing to say “I think we should kill all the infidels”.  The later is not part of any debate.

Speakers and writers cross the line when the call for brutality or force.  Advocating violence is evil and wrong.  To be more specific, saying or writing that those with different opinions or objectives should be hurt or killed is both evil and wrong.

Over the past couple of decades, countries that enjoy freedom of speech have welcomed millions of immigrants from areas devoid of such rights.  Some of them, unfortunately, abuse their newly acquired rights.  They preach harm and death to the very people that have welcomed them, and in large measure materially support them.  They are doing more than abusing their welcome.  They are actively recruiting and inciting others to violence.  This is not the exercise of a basic right.  This is not very different from crying “Fire” with the intent of harming others.  It is much, much worse.

What To Do

First of all, recognize that free speech does not include the right to tell people to hurt or kill others.  It does not give people the right to say that others should be dead.  Incitement to violence is in fact a crime.  It should be treated as such.  We need to demand that such crimes be prosecuted.

If someone committing this crime is a citizen of another country, they should not be welcome.  There is no law or fundamental right compelling us to import those who seek our destruction.  We need not admit the foxes into the hen house.

The Culture of Terror

Bloody Religious Schisms

Credit: Reuters

There are two major Religions outside of the Orient, Christianity and Islam.  Both have had some very violent history associated with them.  For the Christians, this happened in two main periods.  The first is after the fall of the Roman Empire, when conversion to Christianity was conducted at sword point.  You either converted from paganism, or the ruler would put you to death.  The second period was during the “reformation” where Catholicism was challenged by Protestantism.  The Catholics and Protestants had numerous wars in the 1600s, the most infamous of which was the Thirty Years War, which literally laid waste to most of central Europe.  Both sides were known for killing the other based on religious preference.  The hatred between the two sides continued into the 20th Century.

Islam has had a similar history.  In its early stages, conversion to Islam was done at the point of weapon.  If you were conquered by an Islamic army, you had to either convert, die, or end up in servitude or slavery.  There was also a schism in Islam.  One branch of Islam became known as Sunni while their opponents were known as Shia (or Shiites).  The separation between the two camps was over who the successors of Mohammed should be in leading Islam.  Shia Muslims are centered in Iran, with sizeable populations in neighboring countries.  Most of the rest of the Muslim world is Sunni.

The Sunni side of Islam is subdivided, similar to the way Protestantism is subdivided into Baptists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Fundamentalists, and so on.  In Sunni Islam, there are Salafists, a subgroup of Fundamentalists Muslims.  A subgroup of Salafist, called Wahhabi’s, exist mainly in Saudi Arabia.  A subgroup of Wahhabis are Jihadi’s, and these are the Sunni terrorists.

The Jihadis hate everyone that does not follow their interpretation of Islam.  Their hatred is most intense against Shiites, as they see them as perverting Islam.  But then they hate everyone else too.  They believe that they have the right to impose their narrow view of their religion on everybody.  And if you don’t like that, they feel justified in killing you.

Wahhabi’s gained power, influence and wealth due to their partnership with the Saudi royal dynasty.  Oil put nearly unimaginable wealth into their formerly impoverished hands since the 1970s.  Many of them donate this money to their religion.  Their clergy use the money to spread the Wahhabi fundamentalist view throughout Sunni Islam.  Many of the clergy are radicalized Jihadis, who foment and incite terror through multiple groups and organizations (Al Qaeda and ISIL to name a couple).

The Shiites have their own terrorist.  Iran overthrew their king (the Shah) and the country was taken over by Shiite clergy.  The head Shiite cleric rules Iran.  The Iranian government funds terrorist organizations (like Hezbollah) with Iran’s money.

The Islamic terrorists attack Jews, Christians, Hindus and Atheists; but mostly they are at war with each other.  All of this is a religious war.  Religious wars do not end when one side wins a battle or even wins a conflict.  It goes on and on until the religions involved make changes to their doctrine and their believers conform to this doctrine.  The only way this ends is when the cultures originating the problem change.

What to Do

Recognize that only a very small minority of Muslims are involved in terrorism.  The vast majority are not.  But many in the Muslim world are funding terrorism.

Terrorism requires funding and proselytizing.  Without the two, it is difficult to convince someone to become a terrorist and then fund their activities.  Efforts to combat terrorism should focus on two primary thrusts.  One is to constricting the funds available to terrorist organizations.  The other is to interfere with (better yet end) the process of converting people to jihadis.