How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Backyard Medicine Chest – Easy to Grow, Healing Herbs to Beat the Corporate Medical Monopoly*

Like the food we eat and the air we breathe, medical care is critical to human well-being and survival, but increasingly, this necessity for life is becoming inaccessible to the average American.
Proponents of the status quo will argue that the corporate predator that now passes itself off as healer is the price we must pay for innovation. On more than one occasion, I have been asked by said advocates to “name one medical innovation coming out of Cuba, Canada or the Soviet Union [or any other system not motivated by profit].” This argument belongs in the world of manipulative propaganda spewed by the same establishment that brings you hospital bills that cost more than a new house. For the record, the United States has neither the ‘best medical system in the world,’ nor the most innovative. The current system has become a mockery of the noble art of healing, sacrificed to the god of profit.

In fact, as we all instinctively know, profit is not the only motivating factor behind innovation, particularly when it comes to healthcare. Those among us who are motivated by true concern for our fellow organisms, understand that healing is an act of compassion, not greed.

Needless to say, the list of medical innovations developed without a profit motive is too staggering to even begin to attempt to list in its entirety. Jonas Salk, the inventor of the Polio vaccine, which, by the way, was the last epidemic disease to actually be ‘cured,’ did not seek a patent or other financial benefit for his life-saving work. Soviet Russia developed medical hypothermia techniques that cool the brain and body to prevent damage during prolonged surgical procedures. Recent innovations in head trauma, involving the removal of a piece of the skull to relieve pressure on the brain, were developed by medics on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. And Communist Cuba, in addition to having better statistics than the U.S. for infant mortality and preventable death, is now on the leading edge of a new generation of vaccine-style cancer treatment drugs.

In fact, it would appear that the profit motive actually interferes with meaningful medical innovation. Why would you cure a person’s illness, when it is far more profitable to maintain them in a permanent state of chronic, pharmaceutical-requiring disease? On the other hand, when healing is the primary objective of medical professionals, not profit, real innovation takes place.

The inability to pay medical bills is obscenely, the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States, accounting for 60% of all filings. More shocking is the fact that in half of those bankruptcies, the victim had health insurance. In the United States, those who cannot afford the extortion, die at alarming rates of preventable illness. The World Health Organization recently ranked the United States Healthcare system as 37th in the world. Yet for that meager ranking, we pay more for healthcare than any other nation on Earth.

As Congress deliberates the fate of Medicare and healthcare costs continue to explode exponentially, the average person feels powerless against the psychopathic institutions that now hold the power of life and death in their hands. But we aren’t powerless. For most of human history, individuals had a remedial, working knowledge of the natural pharmacopeia in the surrounding ecosystem. Every indigenous culture developed, without profit motive, medical treatments from the plant and natural materials available to them. Our Western ancestors always included favorite medicinal herbs in backyard gardens. Moms had a good grasp of how to use the herbs to treat their families, and village healers and midwives were veritable encyclopedias of healing lore.

A few plants were so important, early settlers to the New World carried them on the arduous journey across the ocean. Today, many of these plants, like the dandelion, have naturalized ubiquitously and are as American as apple pie. The apple is also an import from the Old World. Other imported plants remained constrained within cultivation but persist as important garden plants because of their utility and beauty.

Below are a few magical healing plants that are safe to use, easy to grow and have so many wonderful medicinal and culinary uses, no household should be without them:

Aloe (Aloe vera)

A native of the tropics and sub-tropics, aloe requires little care and can be grown in a container and brought indoors during the colder months in temperate climes. Aloe is a skincare essential. Aloe is anesthetic, antibacterial and also has tissue-restorative properties. Aloe is not just for sunburns. It can be applied to the skin to treat burns, poison ivy, insect bites and other skin irritations and is even a folk remedy for skin cancer. A solution of aloe in water can be used as an eye wash. Aloe has also been used by many cultures as an anti-aging tonic. A small, pill-sized piece of the gel is swallowed daily for this purpose, but beware; aloe can be a powerful purgative.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

While we have allowed jurisdiction and use of this versatile herb to gravitate almost exclusively to the felines, catnip can be an indispensible part of the human medicine chest. A tea made from the leaves and flowers can relieve pain, lower fever, soothe the stomach, relax tension and induce sleep. Because it is practically harmless, catnip is particularly useful in treating the discomforts of babies and small children.

In folklore, catnip is said to strengthen the psychic bond between humans and other members of the animal kingdom and increase psychic abilities. I like to make a bit of nighttime tea for myself and share a bit of the dried leaves at the same time with my feline friends. It makes for a pleasant evening ritual.

Mullein (Verbascum Thapsus)

Are you pestered by evil spirits? Then trim the flower stalks of this tall, biennial, rosette-shaped herb and dip them in tallow or wax. When lit, these homemade torches are said to dispel curses and ward off malignant energies. People afflicted by simple, garden-variety ailments can also benefit from the medicinally-versatile mullein.

Mullein is the king of herbal medicines when it comes to afflictions of the respiratory tract and ear, nose and throat issues. A tea made from the large, velvety leaves relieves chronic coughs and asthma and has even been used effectively to treat the symptoms of tuberculosis. The leaves can also be dried and smoked for all ailments of the chest. For ears, a few drops of flower oil made by steeping the tiny yellow flowers in olive oil in the sunshine for 21 days, will relieve ear ache, dry ears and infections. A poultice of smashed flowers is also said to cure warts. As an anti-inflammatory, a poultice made from the seed heads soothes aching and swollen joints, while the flower oil can be used to cure hemorrhoids. This species has so many curative properties, recent research suggests that it may even be an effective treatment for Hepatitis B.

As the Summer Solstice approaches on June 21st, now a good time to collect and prepare mullein torches. Lighting them and placing the torches around one’s home on the Summer Solstice is said to bring abundance and good luck.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

I am not usually a superstitious person, but when we moved into our current home, previously occupied by a couple who decorated the garden with statues of little black people all over the lawn, I enlisted the powers of sage. Native Americans have always used sage ceremonially to cleanse body and place of negative energies. In a practice known as smudging, bundles of sage are burned in the four corners of a room and house for purification purposes. Using sage, I thoroughly smudged my house before moving in and am happy to report that I have not been troubled by negative energies since.

The Latin translation of the Genus name for sage means “salvation,” and in antiquity, the herb was believed to grant longevity or even immortality. Perhaps this folklore arose because of the panacea curative properties attributed to sage.

For fever, take a lukewarm sage bath while simultaneously drinking a tea made from the dried leaves. The tea will also lift depressive moods and soothe upset stomachs. It improves kidney function and acts as a mild diuretic. Sage tea is also relaxing and induces sleep. For women of a certain age, it inhibits hot flashes and night sweats. Sage lowers blood sugar levels.

Externally, compresses and poultices of sage can be applied to the skin to relieve varicose veins, ulcers, cuts, bruises, sore muscles and joints and open wounds.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

This understated, almost weedy, little plant is truly a miracle worker. In an age where the abuse of antibiotics has infiltrated everything from medical care to agriculture, thyme reminds us that other, effective remedies against infection do exist. The active ingredient in thyme is thymol. Thymol is an extraordinary antiseptic, antispasmodic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Prepared as a tea, thyme aids in infections of the respiratory tract, soothes the stomach, eases depression, relieves headache, diminishes the symptoms of gout, lessens rheumatism and dispels hookworms. For infections of the skin, a hot thyme compress will draw out the infection and heal. Where antibiotics fail due to bacterial resistance, as with MRSA infections, simple thyme can be an invaluable healing tool.

In Old World tradition, a bed of thyme was prepared as habitat for faeries. Faeries are the caretakers to the natural world, and it is telling that thyme is believed to be their habitat of choice. Plant a bed of thyme in your garden, and the faeries it attracts will be healing to your family and the wider natural world.

References for Medical Statistics Cited:

*The above information is intended for use only by an intelligent audience. As with all medical matters, readers are encouraged to do their own independent research before trying any of the above remedies. In other words, when it comes to personal health, take matters into your own mind and hands.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Mad World – The Psychopathic Psyches of Corporations and Politicians

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.”
-William Shakespeare – As You Like It

The clues of insanity peeked out from his charismatic veneer like a shy bride behind a veil, but at the unworldly age of 20, I was too naïve to recognize them. One minute, I was awkwardly trying to extricate myself from in-between an argument involving my friend and her very nasty boyfriend, and the next minute, a handsome stranger was saying to her, “I can see you are being mistreated. Can I offer you a cigarette?”

On the rebound from an intense relationship, I was quickly captivated by the dark stranger who seemed so upfront and straight-forward. A breath of fresh air, I thought.

Over the next several months, I grew up fast. Mr. Charming turned out to be a textbook psychopath. While my immature mind ignored all the disturbing clues, my intuitive sense was screaming like a banshee to get out and far away from this dude while the getting was good. From the minute I met my psychopath, I instinctively knew that something was wrong with him, but with no worldly experience, I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

The first night I met Mr. Charming, he recited the above Shakespearian quote to me, citing it as his favorite quotation in the entire world because, “It just says so much about human nature. Aren’t we all just playing a part?” I had to confess, I did not share a similar experience of the world, but I took his word for it. Since he was 15 years my senior, he certainly must have possessed a more complete perspective.

Over time, I began to notice, he was indeed acting his way through life. He was capable of portraying outrage, sadness, fear and an entire repertoire of human emotion. Unfortunately, his acting skills were poor. Sadness scenes were sprinkled with instances of dry-eyed sobbing coupled with quick glances over the top of his hands to check if I was noting the depths of his despair. Rather than impressing me, his dramatic displays left me wondering instead, “Why is he pretending to feel these things when he obviously doesn’t?”

The one emotion he did feel was anger – a red hot, out of control outrage that seared the soul like a nuclear wind and which he ostensibly took out on me in his few brief moments of authenticity. Then, he switched back to charm and apologies, blaming his anger on some ethereal force beyond his personal responsibility. He was an expert liar, and he pulled out all the stops, telling me whatever he determined I wanted to hear, in order to ensnare me once again. Thus began the months of emotional yo-yoing back and forth, wherein he would descend into apparent madness, I would leave, and then he would relentlessly pull out the charm until I was persuaded, against all rational observations to the contrary, that it would never happen again.

I was finally rescued by a dream. In my dream, a lion was pursuing me. I was running for my life, trying to hide wherever I could find shelter, but the lion always found me. Then I had an epiphany. The lion was compelled to hunt me. He was a predator, and nothing would ever change him. I stopped running and realized that I would have to kill the lion, or spend my life in fear and exile. In my dream, I strangled him with my bare hands. The next morning I left Mr. Charming for good. It was years before I would learn that Mr. Charming was actually, certifiably psychopathic.

This weekend, after seeing it positively cited in several articles, I picked up and consumed a copy of Jon Ronson’s new book The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. This came on the heels of attending a viewing of Charles Ferguson’s film Inside Job on Friday night. All of the above has given me considerable food for thought on the prevalence of psychopaths in our midst.

In The Psychopath Test, Ronson points to noted psychiatrist Bob Hare’s checklist, which lists 20 characteristics of psychopathy. The candidate is given a score of 0-2 for each characteristic (0=not applicable, 1=somewhat applicable and 2=definitely applicable). A score of 30 or more indicates the candidate is a probable psychopath.

The characteristics are: 1- glibness, superficial charm, 2- grandiose sense of self-worth, 3- need for stimulation, prone to boredom, 4- pathological lying, 5- conning, manipulative, 6- lack of remorse or guilt, 7- emotionally shallow, 8- callous, lack of empathy, 9- parasitic lifestyle, 10- poor behavioral controls, 11- sexually promiscuous, 12- early behavior problems, 13- lack of realistic, long-term goals, 14- impulsivity, 15- irresponsibleness, 16- failure to accept responsibility, 17- short-term relationships, 18-juvenile delinquency, 19-revocation of conditional release, and 20-criminal versatility.

Depending on the source, psychopaths (or sociopaths as they are also known) account for anywhere between 1-6% of the human population. Another entity is comprised of almost 100% psychopaths, and that entity is the publicly-traded corporation. By definition, a corporation’s only mandate is to generate profits for shareholders. The environmental cataclysm, ruined lives and financial ruin of anything that stands in the way of that objective is simply labeled as an “externality” or something outside the concern of the corporation.

Here are a few little nuggets for thought based on Hare’s checklist:

The entire government of the United States is currently obsessed with balancing the budget and reducing the deficit even though almost all economists agree that cutting spending during these uncertain times threatens the fragile economic stability we have achieved (4-pathological lying, 13-lack of realistic long-term goals, 15-irresponsibleness). Furthermore, on the heels of securing tax cuts for the rich, Congress now tells us we all need to tighten our belts (5-conning, manipulative). Medicaid for the elderly is an unaffordable luxury as are heating vouchers for the underprivileged, teachers’ and fire-fighters’ pensions and food stamps for impoverished families (6-lack of remorse or guilt, 7-emotionally shallow, 8-callous, lack of empathy).

In the film Inside Job, Director Charles Ferguson traces the events on Wall Street leading up to the systemic collapse that caused the Great Recession of 2008. Ferguson’s exposé uncovers internal memos from many of the culprit investment firms, J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sacs, etc. that revealed financial advisors were fully aware of the worthlessness of the complex financial derivatives they were peddling. Some referred to them as “crap.” Yet they encouraged investors to buy them anyway and heavily purchased them for investors’ mutual funds. At the same time, the above financial institutions shorted (or hedged against) those same securities. All the while investment bankers were living large. Tax write-offs for “entertainment expenses” included perpetual ongoing parties with prostitutes and cocaine, private jets and multi-million dollar yachts. When the bottom fell out, the bankers got rich, while millions of hardworking, average Americans saw their life’s savings evaporate (2-grandiose sense of self-worth, 3-need for stimulation, prone to boredom, 4-pathological lying, 5-conning, manipulative, 6-lack of remorse or guilt, 7-emotionally shallow, 8-callous, lack of empathy, 9-parasitic lifestyle, 10-poor behavioral controls, 11-sexually promiscuous,13-lack of realistic long-term goals, 14-impulsivity, 15-irresponsibleness, 16-failure to accept responsibility, 20-criminal versatility). The bankers then used our tax payer-sponsored bail-out to give themselves bonuses.

As almost universal scientific consensus now warns that Earth’s climate is becoming radically destabilized by anthropogenic burning of fossil fuels, internal memos from Exxon and other oil and gas industry giants show that these wealthiest corporations on Earth deliberately set out to disseminate doubt about the scientific facts of climate change. These powerful entities have spared no expense trying to convince the world that climate change is a conspiracy perpetrated by leftists who want to destroy the global economy. As the Gulf of Mexico lies ecologically hobbled, killer storms ravage the heartland, killing hundreds and the Mississippi spills her banks, the oil and gas companies step up lobbying efforts to “drill baby drill” (2-grandiose sense of self-worth, 4-pathological lying, 5-conning, manipulative, 6-lack of remorse or guilt, 7-emotionally shallow, 8-callous, lack of empathy, 9-parasitic lifestyle, 10-poor behavioral controls, 13-lack of realistic, long-term goals, 14, impulsivity, 15-irresponsibleness, 16-failure to accept responsibility, 20-criminal versatility).

I could go on indefinitely. It turns out there are all kinds of psychopaths and borderline psychopaths. Many are criminally insane, which accounts for a high preponderance of them in the prison population. Others are seemingly quite normal, high-functioning individuals found at the helms of powerful corporations or running governments, but they all have one thing in common. Wherever they go, they cut a path of destruction, leaving wasted lives, communities and even entire ecosystems in their wake.

My particular psychopath took pleasure in sucking his victim’s personal power, like a vampire thriving on the blood of his prey. He reduced me to an insecure, frightened shadow of myself. In a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle, he destroyed me, and I stayed because the power to leave had been beaten out of me. As a culture, we let the psychopathic corporate and political status quo do the same to us.

They bleed the life out of the economy, ravage the Earth, hold jobs as ransom for their misdeeds over our heads, connive, and lather us up with their glib protestations that it was all a terrible mistake or misunderstanding and that it will never happen again. It will. The harshest reality of the psychopath is that his condition is incurable. Like the lion from my dream, the havoc they wreck is at the core of their very nature, and they will never, ever, change. It is up to us, the sane among us, to find our personal power and strangle the pathology out of the system if we are to save ourselves as a species and save the Earth.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 21, 2011 - After the Rapture

6 pm has come and gone to those living on the international timeline and beyond, and the cataclysmic waves of earthquakes, floods and planetary destruction have yet to materialize. I’m glad, not in an “I told you so” kind of way, but glad because I don’t want to see the world end.
I’m glad the human race still remains hopelessly earthbound upon this lovely spec of a blue sphere, floating out in the middle of universal nowhere on an arm of Orion. Here we are, an insignificant wisp of a species, contemplating our place in the Big Picture.

Here we are, billions of years in the evolutionary making. Our mere existence is a trillion-to-one long shot. Our planet, oozing life out of every orifice is a statistical anomaly among only few in the infinite recesses of space and time. Life is exceptional. Can we now just honor and live it?

Eat real food. Make love. Listen to the birds. Smell the flowers. Read a good book. Play with your kids. Cuddle your pets. Life is amazing. Accept the gift graciously. Stop dreaming about the end. Be thankful. Treat the Earth like you mean it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Awaiting the Rapture, May 21, 2011 – End Times Prophecies and the Folly of Humankind

Long before European explorers ventured across the Pacific Ocean, some of the most adept sailors ever known to history made their way across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean to settle on remote Easter Island. Once settled, the archaeological record indicates they never returned to their homeland 1,400 miles to the west. On the 69 square mile island, the new settlers were about as isolated from the rest of the world as a people can be.

In his award winning book Collapse (1), Jared Diamond details the natural history of the people of Easter Island and their adopted ecosystem. When humans first arrived on the remote island, it was a sub-tropical paradise, covered in dense forest. Giant palm trees with massive trunks larger than 7 feet in diameter spread out across the landscape. Land and sea birds crowded the shorelines. Native fruit and hardwood species cluttered the island offering an edible and medicinal cornucopia. The surrounding seas teemed with porpoises, tuna and other marine culinary delights.

But, when a Dutch explorer named Jacob Roggeveen, discovered the island on Easter Sunday, 1722, he found a devastated landscape without a single shrub or tree larger than 10 feet in height. Towering above the wasteland like ghostly specters, were giant, gray, stone statues, some as tall as modern five-storey buildings. The few human inhabitants that remained were emaciated and subsisting on a diet of rats.

What happened? It seems that life on Easter Island was originally, practically utopian. Hardwood trees were pared into seaworthy vessels for hunting porpoise and tuna. Land and sea birds were easily captured and eaten. Forest fruits were abundant. People built modest stone statues to thank their gods, cutting down the giant round palm trees to transport their icons across the island. The human population prospered and exploded. Eventually, the ecological carrying capacity for humans was breeched. People ate more birds than could be naturally replaced. Eventually all the sea and land birds disappeared. Islanders cut down more trees to build bigger statues. They cleared even more forest to grow crops. As the trees fell, topsoils washed away into the sea, making it difficult or impossible for the forests to re-establish themselves. Trees were now unavailable to make canoes, so porpoise and tuna vanished from the diet. Eventually, the ecosystem and the human population collapsed.

Rather than conserving scarce resources and living sustainably, difficult times inspired Easter Islanders to building larger and larger statues, believing that their gods would be appeased and that bounty would return to them. As Diamond notes in Collapse, One has to wonder what was transpiring on Easter Island as the last tree fell. Were dissenting voices urging people to reason and crying out in horror at the foolishness of their peers? Or did the joyous ecstasy of the faithful, cheering on the utter, fully-realized environmental devastation they believed would force the gods to make their divine move, drown out any semblance of sanity? Since the Easter Islanders left no record of their ecological end times, we can never know, but their example illustrates how little the human species varies over time and across cultures.

The end of the world is upon us. So says Biblical scholar Harold Camping, who has determined that May 21st, 2011 is the day that the faithful, saved followers of Jesus will be raptured up to heaven with their savior, while the rest of us toil in a Hell on Earth. Camping further speculates that the world will come to a final end, as outlined in Revelation at the sands of Armageddon on October 21st this same year.

Initially, Camping’s theory was a fringe idea restricted to a few of his zealous followers, but the possibility of rapturous ecstasy has now gripped the born-again community, spreading like wildfire. The faithful are ridding themselves of their worldly goods and joyously awaiting the end of the world. Messengers are spreading out across the globe to spread the “good news.” In the Turks and Caicos Islands, a small country of less than 50,000 people just north of Haiti where I am a permanent resident, missionaries have arrived with the message. They are even advertising in the local paper. The end times are upon us. Rejoice.

What’s up with that? I am personally quite fond of this planet and don’t particularly want to see it come to an end, regardless of any salvation that might be coming my way, which by the way, I am pretty sure I am exempt from, given my heretical views. Nevertheless, my desire to see our beautiful planet preserved is where I diverge from the estimated 680 million or so born again Christians on Earth who fervently want to see the world come to an end.

Camping’s end times prophecies are nothing new. Christians and others have been waiting for the end times since the founding of their religion. Apostle Paul was a lifelong celibate, who felt sex and having children was entirely unnecessary, since the world was imminently ending (2).

The Mayan calendar famously postulates that December 21st, 2012 marks the end of an age and that the world as we know it will be unrecognizable after that date. Whether prophecies hold true or not, history shows that civilizations most definitely suffer from cultural end times, usually due to their own folly. However, to date, no God has ever rescued the unfortunate masses from their own, self-inflicted extinction. The early inhabitants of Easter Island are case in point.

May 21st will come and go, and I would be willing to bet my life’s savings that we are all going to be left behind here on beautiful Earth. It would be great if those desperately seeking the Rapture would take this as an indication that they are suffering from a mythological delusion and use the opportunity to divert their attentions to the myriad issues here on Planet Earth that require our urgent attention.

Alas, reality is elusive for those who refuse to recognize it. Excuses will be made. God was just testing us and we weren’t ready. Let’s go decimate some more landscapes and then He will have to rescue us. In the end, will we be just like the last Easter Islanders, holding the axe that cuts the final tree and wondering why our imaginary God hasn’t saved us from ourselves? Hopefully, the voices of reason will prevail because I am not partial to a diet of rats.

As people look towards a mythical utopian future, they ironically turn their backs to exactly that which they seek. The Earth and nature become means to an end that will never transpire. Just as The Easter Islanders ruined paradise, born again Christians cheer on wholesale slaughter in the Middle East and view global environmental apocalypse as the joyous fulfillment of end time prophecies.

We cannot enter paradise by destroying the Earth, and the Rapture will not miraculously save us from our stupidity. If we would just look around, embrace our loved ones, care for our habitat and appreciate all the beauty of life, we would find the paradise we so desperately seek right beneath our earthbound feet.

1- Jared Diamond, Collapse. See Chapter 2.
2- Elizabeth Abbott, A History of Celibacy. See chapter 2.

A few of the many websites dedicated to the “good news:”

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Latest Great Republican and Oil and Gas Industry Big Lie

The price of gasoline is up again, causing myriad politicians to stumble all over each other pointing fingers of blame. Republicans would have us believe that prohibitive regulations that prevent the oil and gas industries from exploiting reserves in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and offshore have caused all our problems. Democrats are a mixed bag on the topic, as usual.

In reality, gas prices are subject to the same market forces that set the price of everything else in the world, primarily supply and demand. When demand is greater than supply, prices go up. When the inverse is true, prices fall; hence, a summertime rise in price is predictable when Americans take to the road for holiday making. Also, when Americans conserve due to increased costs, prices inevitably fall.

On Friday, I was fortunate to be invited by a dear friend to attend a luncheon where one of our town’s leading businessmen was speaking. During his presentation, which was largely informative and entertaining, he not so subtlety let drop the idea that the United States has massive untapped oil reserves and that if we would only drill for them, we could not only meet ALL of our domestic demand but that we could be a net exporter of crude too. I was floored by this misinformation, but I was also enlightened. Our local businessman has an honest reputation around town, and he has done a lot for the community, and I have no reason to believe he was being deliberately duplicitous. Rather he was simply giving voice to an idea that is being actively propagated by the Republican Party and the oil and gas industries in order to mislead the American people.

Why would the Republican Party want to mislead the American people? Over the past couple of decades, the oil and gas industries have donated almost $250 million to political campaigns. 75% of these contributions have gone to Republicans, making the GOP is the “Grand Oil Party.” Republicans will promote ideas as instructed by their corporate sponsors. The remaining 25% of contributions also explains the dubious hesitancy on the part of Democrats (1).

Last week, even the Democratic President of the United States caved into pressure, announcing he would open up areas in Alaska for oil exploration in addition to extending offshore drilling leases in the ecologically-suffering Gulf of Mexico citing that the measures, “make good sense.” He should have said that the expansion of drilling for oil into ecologically-sensitive areas makes good “cents” for oil companies. For the rest of us, these actions will have little if any impact on the price at the pump. In fact, everyone in Washington from Republicans, Democrats and even oil industry executives confess that, “there is simply no policy shift that could plausibly come from the federal government that can significantly change [the] dynamic (Pavel Molchanov, a Raymond James oil industry analyst (2)).”

Drilling for crude oil will also NEVER make us energy independent. The United States currently consumes almost twenty million barrels of crude oil per day, but we only produce about 25% of that amount domestically. This means that we must either stop burning so much oil, or import oil from foreign countries. The oil and gas industries would like us to believe the solution to our problems can be solved by expanding drilling operations, which seems logical, but, as with most realities, it’s not that simple.

The cold, hard truth that the oil industry does not want us to recognize is that crude oil is a finite resource. There is only a limited, diminishing amount of the prized elixir in the ground. For all our American hubris, we simply cannot make more of the stuff. To make matters worse, Americans have already tapped out most domestic oil. How do we know this?

In the late 1950’s a Shell Oil executive by the name of Marion Hubbert, noticed a disturbing trend. As an industry insider, he was aware that new discoveries of oil were becoming less frequent and that the peak of new discoveries had occurred in the 1930’s (this is still true today). Hubbert speculated that, based on an average time period of 40 years from discovery to recovery, U.S. oil production would peak in 1970 and that crude oil would be a resource of diminishing return thereafter. Hubbert’s employer tried to keep his hypothesis under wraps, but the data got out anyway. Then, the entire industry dismissed Hubbert as a charlatan. Unfortunately for Shell’s bottom line, Hubbert turned out to be right. The peak of U.S. oil production transpired in 1970, and we have been discovering and recovering less and less of the stuff ever since. Even with modern high tech methods for discovery and production, the United States has not been able to alter the trajectory of this particular slippery slope (3). By the way, the above information is based on actual oil industry data and is therefore not just the “environmentalist” opinion.

Perhaps more important is the fact that globally, new crude deposit discoveries are also in decline. New discoveries peaked in the 1960’s. According to Hubbert’s calculations, this means that we are already at global peak oil, and based on the U.S. (and all other countries with oil reserves) example, we can expect diminishing crude production from hereafter. Coupled with exponentially-increasing demand from China and India, we should be aware that we are staring down the barrel of a full-fledged global energy crisis. But the oil companies tell us that our problems will be solved by simply drilling more wells.

Furthermore, given the ultimate trajectory of the above statistics, wouldn’t it be prudent to maintain rather than exploit U.S. reserves? If crude is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity, which it is, and our current economy and quality of life is totally dependent upon the substance, which they are, then tapping out our reserves now, while foreign supplies are readily available, seems foolhardy and short-sighted.

Why would the oil and gas industries want to mislead the American people? In a word, money. Even though the most profitable companies in the history of the world are petroleum giants like Exxon, they are not satisfied. In fact, these companies know that the vast majority of economically-relevant U.S. oil was tapped out by the 1970’s, but certain perverse subsidies and tax breaks actually make it feasible to go after reserves that cost more to get out of the ground than they will yield. Oil companies basically have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. If they hit pay dirt, they get all the profits. If they tap out a dry hole, the American people pay for the failed exercise. Who wouldn’t want to gamble with such odds?

So, from the people who brought you Saddam Hussein as 9/11 conspirator and climate change denial, we now have the next great lie of the oil and gas industries. Lest there be any confusion, I will be very clear: The United States has tapped the vast majority of its oil and gas reserves, and we will never, ever again, no matter how much we drill, be able to be energy independent unless we adopt other forms of energy such as wind, solar and geothermal, on a massive scale.

The greatest tragedy of the new big lie is that it completely ignores a reality we cannot escape. Oil is a finite resource. Every drop consumed today means one less available drop tomorrow. Eventually, we are going to have to come to grips with this reality and turn towards other forms of energy. The longer we continue to rely on a dwindling resource and try to stave off the inevitable, the worse the crash of reality will be.

History illuminates a long list of peoples who rose to greatness and then crashed into extinction because they did not or were unable to alter their patterns of consumption.

We can be like the inhabitants of Easter Island who consumed every palm tree and land animal without restraint and then found themselves starving to death. We can continue expending vast amounts of tax payer dollars to subsidize a dinosaur industry that can have only one foreseeable outcome, with a catastrophic finale. Or, we can apply our powers of reason and foresight and spend our tax dollars on developing alternative energy instead of using them to line the pockets of the wealthiest entities on Earth before it’s too late. The choice is ours.


2- Quotation from Superville, D. and Capplello, D. Obama Oil Move Won’t Ease Pump Pain. Asheville Citizen Times, May 15th, 2011.

3- Statistics from Tamminen, Terry. Lives per Gallon – The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction. Island Press, Washington. pp. 67-70.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Science is Neither Subjective nor Liberal – Creationism, Intelligent Design and the Religious Brainwashing of American Children

“…reality has a well-known liberal bias.” – Steven Colbert

All opinions are not equal. The idea that aluminum foil on the head repels alien infiltration into the mind is an opinion. Some ideas are based on reality and others are not.

The difference between science and faith is that science questions. In science, there are no set in stone or on paper absolutes. All theory must be falsifiable, and rigorous scrutiny is not only recommended, it is seen as essential to the establishment of fact. Science seeks truth through perpetual examination. Faith, on the other hand, demands compliance without question. The faithful are expected to accept as “truth” an interpretation of reality based on scriptures that are viewed as infallible. To question the infallibility of the venerated documents, even when overwhelming evidence suggests fundamental flaws, is heresy.

Once upon a time, the Church had an absolute monopoly on “truth.” To question the Church’s truth was dangerous, and many great thinkers were imprisoned or lost their lives defending scientific reason. Independent women who dared to exercise sovereignty over their own bodies and minds were burned at the stake, along with those who questioned Biblical “truth” (as interpreted by Church autocrats) in humanity’s greatest genocidal campaign. We have come a long way in history since those times, but some contemporary zealots would have us return to them. The single entity that liberated humanity from the Dark Ages was the ability to employ reason, and higher reasoning today remains the ultimate tool we have to prevent our descent into the dark recesses of fear and superstition.

Mother Jones recently published an article by Chris Mooney entitled “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science,” which has over the past couple of weeks gone viral on the internet. If readers have not yet read this poignant piece, they should do so, as it casts light on some of the more frustrating aspects of our contemporary political climate. One of the points Mooney makes in his article is that the science of climate change has now become viewed as a leftist political agenda. Science is a liberal cause.

One of the more interesting features of the Blogger software is that it allows the blogger to view sources of traffic to the blog. This feature enables the user to see other websites where the blog is being discussed, which can often be enlightening. A few weeks ago, killing Mother aroused some interest from a far right fundamentalist group who referred to this author as “anti-human” among other derogatory labels based on my belief that human life is not exceptional among species and that rather, all life should be viewed as sacred.

This weekend, I happened upon another commentary that referred to one of my posts as a “classic leftie argument from a recent opinionated blog.” While I will admit that I am certainly opinionated (who isn’t?), the “classic leftie” dig I found rather offensive, particularly in light of the fact that Mr. Tadpole (the commenter) and I had been having what I thought was a civil discussion on the topic of collectivism and individualism, and he suggested he would, “meet [me] halfway.” Clearly, he isn’t budging from his stubborn position on the right at all. His argument was taken directly out of the left/right political playbook, and he ascribed opinions to me that I actually did not express in my post. Tadpole did not refute any of my claims directly, he simply tarred me with the liberal brush, and sadly, for most people, that was all that was needed for him to support his arguments.

When did we become a people who can sum up the entirety of infinite potential within the two-dimensional, black and white confines of left or right? While my blog post that elicited Tadpole’s criticism was peppered with some opinions, they were not the opinions Tadpole ascribed to me.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about being described as a “classic leftie” is that much of my commentary on this blog is scientific. I take great pains to back up my opinions with supporting evidence from a variety of multidisciplinary sources. When I draw conclusions, they are based on real evidence, not just some knee jerk liberal political orientation. When did scientific fact become a matter of political subjectivity? While my political views are definitely, for the most part, liberal, I reject the idea that certain topics such as economics, science and history, based on verifiable facts, are in any way subjective. Facts cannot and should not be constrained by political opinion, but we have become a people who think they can.

There is a difference between fact and opinion. One of the greatest features of our democracy is that all people are entitled to express and hold their own opinions. However, a sad extension of our right to free speech and opinion has been that many people suffer from the misconception that all opinions are valid. They are not. While you are entitled to an opinion, this right does not in any way impede your opinion from perhaps being a delusion. Unfortunately the American mainstream media further exacerbates the problem by giving air time to opinions that have no validity at all, giving these unfounded delusions an air of credibility. The public are tricked into believing that there are actually two sides of scientific issues like evolution and climate change. In the scientific community, these issues are not at all controversial. They are settled scientific fact, but the media presents them as if scientific controversy exists. Political controversy exists, that’s all.

Exacerbating the scientific search for reality is the new politicization of religion, and the Republican Party is now the religious right’s choir boys. Just because the current political right wing is mired in religious superstition and the active refutation of settled science, doesn’t mean that science has a liberal bias. One political party may have chosen delusion as their national platform, but that does not mean the other has an exclusive monopoly on the truth or that truth is politically subjective.

Fundamentalists treat scripture like it is the go-to source for everything. Science, history, marriage counseling, you name it, adherents believe the Bible is the single source of “truth.” Any reality that contradicts Biblical truth is just the devil playing tricks. If logic, reason and verifiable facts refute a two-thousand year old document that doesn’t even recognize the existence of most of the Earth’s continents, these tools of reason must be the work of the devil. The Bible is NOT a scientific reference, yet a large percentage of the American population treats it as if it is. The fact that we now have only one political party that is dealing in the realm of reason is cause for alarm.

Today I received an email from a 17 year old student in Louisiana urging me to sign a petition to fight the state school board for the right to learn about evolution in his science classes. In 2008, the Louisiana legislature and Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law R.S.17:285.1 (the Louisiana Science Education Act), which allows teachers to introduce materials into science classes for the critique of scientific theories, specifically evolution, climate change, the origins of life and (oddly, since it is not a ‘theory’) human cloning. But the above issues are settled science. While scrutiny still exists within the framework of the various mechanisms of evolution, the primordial planetary conditions that gave rise to life and the intensity and/or timeframe of climate change, the theories themselves are not the subjects of any scientific controversy. Louisiana lawmakers have specifically stated that their aim is to introduce creationism, climate change denial and anti-evolution dogma into the science classrooms of Louisiana. Now they can.

In other words, in defiance of the United States Constitution, which states “no law respecting an establishment of religion (1),” shall be imposed upon citizens, R.S. 17:285.1 does just that. Creationism, aspects of climate change denial and anti-evolution are not scientific theories. They are religious opinions that have no place in the science classroom.

Sadly, the Louisiana School Board is occupied not by scientists or even educators but by political figures who thrive on the far right platform of superstition and dogma. These people suffer from the delusion that truth is subjective and that opinion=fact. Creationism belongs in the realm of opinion that includes the idea that the Earth is a flat disk at the center of the universe. Teaching such ideas to children in science class confuses them as to the nature of reality.

It took hundreds of years for enlightened thinkers to claw the way out of the Dark Ages and into the Age of Reason. Those who seek to teach opinion as fact would send us back to an age where everything that happens on Earth is controlled by a dictator in the sky. While this simplified view of the world might be comforting for some, it also creates a dangerous precedent where people can deny responsibility in the problems that plague the world today.

As climate change now ravages the world around us, creating the atmospheric climate in which record-breaking tornadoes ravage the Southeastern United States and the great Mississippi River swells to swallow up the heartland, we need a population that is able to think and respond appropriately. As the scientists’ dire predictions become reality, we should take the opportunity to recognize that they are correct in their theories. Unfortunately, down in Louisiana, if R.S. 17:285.1 is not overturned, a generation of children will grow up thinking these catastrophic events are God’s will and not the preventable folly of humanity.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The American Consumer Culture vs. the Economics of Real Happiness

I love the way the trees move in wind,
not straining against the force,
but bending back in ecstasy to accept the warm embrace.
Wind in the leaves tickles the branches and they sparkle,
flashing the light of joy.

I want to be a tree,
stretching my limbs to let you run through me
until the light from your breath
shines out from every pore.

I walk through unexplored woodlands and happen across a tiny hummingbird sitting on a thimble-sized nest containing two jellybean eggs. My heart races with excitement, and I feel blessed to stumble upon such a miracle. I kiss my baby’s neck in the space between the ear and shoulder. He smells faintly of breast milk and caramel and his giggling laughter, unencumbered by any restraint, fills me completely.

Imagine the happiest moments of your life - the birth of a child, a camping trip, childhood memories of days outside climbing trees and playing stickball with the neighborhood gang. Chances are your happy memories are devoid of details such as what you were wearing or the latest gadget you might have been sporting. Joy is not contained in your first iPhone or pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes. Family, community and connectedness are universal hallmarks of human joy.

My treasure chest of joy includes a collection of quirky things my kids said when they were little that made me laugh so hard I cried, countless days spent at the beach or walking in the wilderness, a rained-out camping trip and days and evenings spent with friends and family.

No consumer good can make us happy. The momentary high we get from the initial purchase soon wears off and may even make us more miserable when we realize the promised boost of social status is not as much a reality as the increased balance on the credit card.

From the day a child is born into Western civilization, he/she is bombarded with the consumer culture. The television tells us that in order to be successful and to fit in, we have to look a certain way, dress a certain way and accessorize ourselves with the latest technology. Children and teenagers, desperately seeking connection and identity are particularly vulnerable to this aggressive marketing. By the time adulthood is reached, the subliminal brainwashing that insists our success, popularity and happiness is connected to consumer products is so engrained that few question the ulterior motives behind the smokescreen.

Sucked into the cleverly-crafted marketing, consumerism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The teenagers who manage to acquire the right accoutrements are universally admired by the rest and thereby do achieve popularity and social success. But this success is simulated and is not based on one’s true identity but on an artificial veneer. The possessor of the purchased persona does not feel secure in their success, but even more vulnerable, knowing that the purchased identity is nothing but a house of cards that will collapse into the empty heap upon the merest inspection.

While American purchasing power has increased threefold since the end of World War II, largely due to the reduced costs of manufacturing achieved by the exploitation of cheap labor markets abroad, The National Opinion Research Center, an organization that has been conducting polling over the same time period, has found that American happiness has not increased at all. Having more stuff has not made us happier.

Consumerism would be merely a sad testament to the shallowness of Western culture if it weren’t so utterly destructive. The rise of the consumer culture since the end of World War II parallels a widening gap between rich and poor, the loss of almost all U.S. manufacturing jobs to cheaper overseas markets, an explosion of solid wastes, rampant global resource depletion and the global toxification of land, air and water. Our stuff is killing us and killing the planet too. As the globalized marketplace expands to fuel its sociopathic need for exponential growth, the Western consumerist culture spreads its disease across the globe to unwitting populations who, once truly happy, now seek to emulate the cleverly-marketed promise of happiness by stuff.

How do you measure happiness? Once the basic needs of food, shelter and clean air and water are met, a person’s happiness rests almost entirely on the quality of interpersonal relationships, enjoyable work and leisure time. None of these things can be purchased from a store.

On the other hand, money is required to purchase stuff. While food, water and shelter were once readily obtainable from the natural world, consumer goods have always needed an infusion of cold hard cash. To acquire the things marketing tells us we crave, we must go to work. In today’s uncertain job market, Americans are spending more and more time at work. Productivity is way up, but salaries are not. The entire work week is sacrificed on the altar of employment with the weekend serving for some, if not all, as a kind of consolation prize.

In another year or two, the latest flat screen TV will be usurped by a newer, slicker model. The new car smell will have worn off. The battery in the iPod will have worn out. And, all the latest fashions hanging in the closet will be so last week. All the stuff will make its way to a landfill somewhere eventually, and all those hours spent working to get all that stuff could have been spent doing something meaningful that really would have made us happy. But we continue to persist in the insanity, selling our lives to others in order to fill our living spaces with meaningless crap, all the while wondering why we are so damn miserable.

Hug your spouse and kids. Smell their skin. Take a walk. Plant some food. Read a good book. Spend some quality time with a non-human friend. Then cut up the credit cards and be happy.

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