Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A View From The Couch

Like many American’s I spend a lot of time observing life and the world from my living room couch and the view isn’t pretty either. That is the observations aren’t pretty, not viewing me laying on the couch like some great beached whale – well -- maybe a Walrus – would you accept a svelte Otter? In any event, I am struck by the commercials and how depressing they have become. At one time we were treated every evening to peppy commercials attempting to convince of us to buy soap (Tide’s In – Dirt’s Out), after shave, tooth paste (You’ll wonder where the yellow went), and a host of other fun products. Now the commercials seem to focus on the most negative aspects of our society, even though they use sexy models to draw our attention. And what are the products these people are trying to sell us?

Certainly the one I find most intriguing is the Bow Flex commercials. You know – the ones that show a young man with rippling ab’s and muscular thighs assuring us that he got this way in only 6 weeks. This is followed up by a young woman with rippling ab’s and muscular thighs assuring us that we could look like this in only six weeks. I’m not sure I want to know a woman with more muscles than me and somehow I suspect that young man got that way by spending six months in the gym and only the last six weeks on the Bow Flex. Besides, why would you want to look like that unless you were planning a vacation at the Sunny Farms Nudist Camp.

But then we have all of the pharmaceutical commercials who are pushing drugs, pills, and potions for everything from hair loss to hair removal. The toothpaste commercials are gone and in their place we have beautiful people selling teeth whiteners. These people have obviously never been to a dentist who would assure them that human teeth are not naturally white, they may appear that way but they are actually yellow. Of course that’s human teeth but these people could be Stepford automatons for all we know because once they smile their teeth are so white you could see your reflection in their teeth when they smile. They might actually glow in the dark – very natural for automatons but not very realistic for actual people.

But these are only the tip of the iceberg, because you also have those commercials that assure you that their product will solve your problem. The tag on these commercials is a half screen of fine print which could be written in Latin for all I know because the print is so small and on the screen for such a short time it is impossible to read what this product MIGHT do. The real kicker is the voice over that assures you that the side effects of this wonder drug might include, dizziness, diarrhea, nausea, erectile dysfunction, and in some cases fatal side-effects might occur. This sounds to me like the cure is worse than the disease, but my absolute favorite is the commercial that ends by warning you that if you have an erection lasting more than four hours, you should call for medical assistance. If this happened to me I would be calling the Guinness book of world records, not 911.

My point was that all of these modern commercials are for negative things like insurance, health, and medicine rather than fun things like soap and tobacco. I miss the old cigarette commercials where they assured you that 9 out of 10 doctors preferred Camel Cigarettes over any other brand. Where are those doctors now? Have they given up cigarettes in favor of bottled water and Yogurt? In any case those were the good old days, but commercials aren’t the only things that I have observed from my vantage point on the sofa. I have observed that all people in the United States are somewhere between 18 and 30 years old, in perfect health, with perfect (and brilliantly white) teeth, tanned, and apparently unemployed since none of them ever seem to have jobs. I am beginning to get uneasy about this because I am starting to wonder what happens to all of the people over 30 or 40 or – gasp – 50. They don’t seem to exist in the perfect world of Television Land but I’m beginning to suspect that they are used as guinea pigs for all of those drugs with the unusual side-effects.

Perhaps the more interesting point is the huge number of people willing to degrade themselves and be publicly humiliated just to be on some reality show. Of course none of these shows have anything to do with reality, unless of course you live on some deserted island and regularly eat disgusting things. But to be fair there is an astonishing number of people who feel that America is waiting to be entertained by their unique ability to ride a unicycle and juggle six tennis balls, while playing The Rhapsody in Blue” with a harmonica dangling from a rhinestone Tiara. But then you also have those who are totally devoid of any talent past breathing in and out but appear on TV for the sole purpose of being publicly humiliated in some bogus talent search. Apparently it has never occurred to anyone that the auditions alone have determined who has talent, who doesn’t, and who will likely be selected. There is more competition displayed by the folks trying to get to the bathroom after a long sermon.

Still television isn’t all reality shows and depressing commercials, some are actually educational, or at least seem to be. Foremost among these is the History Channel which is also known as “Hitlervision” but to be fair, they seem to have exhausted WW II and have moved on to things like Archeological digs. Sifting sand looking for pottery shards can be riveting and is almost as stimulating as watching the endless parade of sharks and fish on the Animal Planet. However, the Animal Planet does provide some alternative programming that includes lions, tigers, bears, and snakes in various stages of hunting or consuming prey. I thought one of the most educational things I saw on Animal Planet was the dead man whose head was stuck inside of the mouth of his “pet” Burmese Python. I presume the Python was piqued by the inadequate supply of rabbits and tried to make a point with his master, who unfortunately died in the process. Apparently many of these animals don’t fully understand that they are PETS and should behave accordingly and not react like their brethren in the wild.

But I love TV and have learned so much from it. I think the most important thing I have learned is that watching TV in association with diet and exercise will cause you to lose weight – really -- just listen closely because every weight loss program rests on diet and exercise. So I’m off to my exercise program which consists to pillow fluffing, rummaging to find the clicker, and eating my non-fried, low fat, low carb, potato chips.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Decline and Fall of Reason

The State of Michigan is declining in virtually every way and certainly a great many more people are moving out than moving in. The auto industry – as represented by Ford, GM, and Chrysler – is sinking as well. The quality of the schools in appalling and the scores on standardized tests are poor and got even worse after the difficulty of the test was reduced. The state is strongly Democratic, highly taxed, and heavily unionized, but no one seems to connect the dots between these facts and the state of decline. The Reign of Reason seems to be in jeopardy – at least in Michigan, but I suspect it is throughout the US – if Howard (Mad Dog) Dean and Senator John Kerry are any example of what passes for rational thought.

The UAW has virtually built a socialist society with the auto industry so the workers absolutely believe that they are entitled to free healthcare, high salaries, full employment, low skill requirements, and of course as little work as possible. This socialist attitude has been brought into the population as a whole and is propagated by the teachers who are fully unionized. These unionized teachers are highly paid – among some of the highest paid in the country but are demanding more money. Of course they like to compare their salaries on a per annum basis rather than the per diem basis which permits a more realistic comparison. On a per diem basis teachers in Michigan are being paid wages equivalent to Computer Programmers and Engineers. But salary is only part of the problem because these unionized teachers are also strongly oriented to socialism and regularly indoctrinate their students about the virtues of socialism and the evils of capitalism. Not only that they resist any effort to measure their productivity or quality of output. Within the European socialist governments the objective is employment not productivity and this attitude seems to have infected the UAW and the other Unions in the US.

The reality is that Socialism – like Marxism – does not work. It drains the economy, stifles creativity, and certainly curtails capital investment. Europe, especially France, is dominated by Socialist governments, which are staggering under the weight of their welfare programs. In most of these countries there is a large and growing population of the unemployed, some of whom would like to work but a great many more find that they can live well on the government dole. This is a class of parasites that --like all parasites -- is slowly killing the host. These welfare programs have forced the EU to continuously reduce its defense spending to the point that their military capability is seriously impaired. Although they are strongly Anti-American they are totally dependent on the US for their defense. The fact that they can’t connect the dots between their anti-American actions and their own security is simply another illustration of the decline of reason.

But the evidence that not only is critical thinking disappearing but even the decline in rational thought is all about us. Consider science, which from where I sit is not only in decline it is virtually disappearing. The culprit is “Epidemiology” which is literally the study of epidemics, how they spread and their impact on large groups of people. Of course Epidemiology itself is merely the application of statistical analysis of a data sample, which is then projected to the larger group. However, for anyone who has actually used statistics or analyzed data for any purpose the accuracy of any analysis is suspect. When the analysis is based on an a priori assumption any reliability the analysis might have had is now dramatically reduced because only the data that supports the a priori position is considered. This is the basis for the conclusion that everything from Alar to charcoal to tobacco causes cancer. There is absolutely no science behind any of these conclusions, yet the media reports them as fact and the great majority of people accepts the conclusions as true and acts accordingly. Where is the critical thinking or rational thought?

The famous scientist Carl Sagan was accepted by PBS and thus by the public as a true scientist, when in actual fact he was a shameless self-promoter who hounded those with whom he disagreed, especially Immanuel Velikovsky who postulated several theories that were plausible but counter to the popular ideas of the time. Velikovsky has not been proven right or wrong but then neither have the theories supported by Sagan. The fact is that the popular science crowd has stated things as fact when in reality much of what they have said is open to speculation or even downright wrong. The dinosaurs were killed off by a huge meteor that changed the Earths climate was something that Sagan stated as fact when it was a theory -- certainly a plausible theory but a theory nonetheless and not the fact as reported. There is growing evidence that the Earth has indeed been struck by massive meteors but the connection between that event and the disappearance of the dinosaurs is speculative and does not address the issue that every geological epoch has ended with catastrophic mountain building, including the Cretaceous, which spelled the end of the dinosaurs .

Then we have the debacle over DDT, which has been banned from production on the basis of a book written by Rachel Carson titled “Silent Spring”. The fact that Carson was dying of cancer and was personally convinced that pesticides were responsible was never questioned at the time. Instead the usual gaggle of environmentalists – acting on nothing but emotion – succeeded in having DDT banned worldwide. Since that time all of Carson’s assumptions have been disproven but the damage has been done, malaria has once again become the scourge of Africa. . No critical thinking was employed and certainly no empirical evidence was ever offered to support her claims. The reality is that NO ONE knows precisely what causes cancer, but we DO know what causes malaria, which is carried by mosquitoes that are very effectively killed by DDT. The thinking among the environmentalists seems to be that a bird is more precious than a human life. But no one seems willing to question this, which seems to be another illustration that critical thinking and rational thought is in retreat.

Of course the most outrageous position taken by the popular science crowd and academia in general is Evolution. Evolution is a THEORY and with the advance of paleontology, not a very sturdy one. None of the tests stated by Darwin as necessary for proof have been met and current paleontologists think they will never be met. The reality is that the very foundation for Evolution is crumbling and the evidence is piling up that it is probably partially wrong if not totally wrong. In fact Darwin’s book “The Origin of Species” is still taught without any critical examination even though ironically the book doesn’t describe or address the origin of species. No transitional life forms have ever been found and several eminent paleontologists (e.g. Stephen Gould) have stated that none will ever be found. Even the vaunted example of the Eohippus has turned out to be false and the fossil record incorrect. Nevertheless, many scientists, the media, and certainly academia continue to state Evolution as fact, not as a theory, and worse – these people won’t even consider any alternative – more evidence of the death of science and the decline of reason.

Recently the United States has undergone a virtual epidemic of Diabetes. The media and the medical community are all in a dither over this and the usual Nannies are calling for all sorts of government intervention or action to correct this “threat to public health”. The Pharmaceutical companies are cranking out pills by the zillion in order to meet this threat. The reality is that the National Institute of Health lowered the threshold for Diabetes from 200 to 100, which overnight plunged the country into this “health crisis”. Of course the drug companies are cleaning up and no one in the media or in the medical community seems concerned enough to criticize or even investigate the situation. Even if you don't think science and critical thinking are in retreat at the very least you must admit that dot connection is certainly in decline.

Of course this brings us to the issue of Cholesterol and heart disease. The average untreated cholesterol for white males has historically been between 220 and 240 and it continues at that level today. Gradually the National Institute of Health has lowered the bar – first to 180 and now to some where around 100. The only correlation between heart disease and cholesterol has been statistical and no empirical connection has been established. If anything the body may self-regulate cholesterol, but that isn’t the point. The point is that once again as the desired level of Cholesterol drops the number of people taking the cholesterol lowering drugs increases as does the profits of the drug companies. That statistical correlation seems to go unreported and critical thinking doesn’t seem to apply to these health issues. Of course the proponents of these drugs point out that the life span of the average American continues to grow. I suppose the ultimate goal is to prevent cancer and heart disease, the two leading causes of death. Once that is accomplished I guess we will all have to resort to suicide or simply euthanize the old.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Educational Television

Television is indeed a wonderful medium, it teaches so much and then it sometimes shows you others in the learning process. But you are never quite sure who is learning -- the viewer, the writer, or those talking heads who the viewer is assured are really intelligent. I have learned so much from television that I feel I wasted years in reading and listening to all of those lectures. For instance I have learned the Bermuda Triangle should be avoided, I know that diet and exercise in association with virtually anything – like Chocolate Pudding for example – will cause you to lose weight. I have learned that smoking causes hang nails, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and dental decay, plus reducing your mental competence to the point to where you vote Republican. I now know that Americans – all Americans are obese primarily from eating super-sized hamburgers and drinking Cokes. Television is truly an amazing medium and I learn constantly from it.

Television has assured me that in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary Evolution is a fact and not a theory and that we have actually descended from apes. Nevertheless I believe in freedom of religion so I continue to support Evolution as a belief system. I am totally aware that at any minute a huge meteor will strike the Earth and wipe out all of mankind. Television has taught me that Al Gore and Global Warming are real and we are in imminent danger of being roasted alive – or is it freeze to death due to the coming ice age that is the result of global warming? It is all so confusing. . I have learned that if your career has tanked the solution is to immediately announce that you have a drug or alcohol problem and you are bound for rehab. Of course what is to be rehabilitated is the career not the habit, but then who notices. But these are the global issues that everyone has learned from Television, but there are many other lessons lurking in the background – if you only watch. For example in television land – men are essentially stupid, women make the best rocket scientists, that weepy men are attractive to real babe’s, and women are truly the master race.

Alas, while I don’t totally agree with all of the wonderful feminists who assure me that as a male I am doomed to the life of serfdom and ignorance I see on television, I do find some (slim) facts that indicate they might be right. I think this understanding of the male role begins with marriage and that you need only to examine recently married men, you know the men who think that marriage really didn’t change anything other than the laundry service. Of course all of those men who have been married for longer than the average age of a fruit fly know that once you have uttered those fateful words “I DO” nothing is ever the same. Life as you know it has ended and your lifetime of adjusting to the weird world of women has begun. This adjustment requires a lifetime and the reality is most men never reach any true level of understanding the female mind, they simply adapt to the conditions. Women are simply different and this difference is much greater than the simple physical differences. The very foundation of these differences begins with what is important and what is not. For example for women there are approximately ten to the 27th power of things that are important but for the average male there are simply ten and after food and sex (in that order) he must be reminded of the other eight.

Almost immediately after that fateful day that is enshrined in the female mind as “the Anniversary”, the male comes to understand that all of those things that he enjoyed are “tacky” and that his wardrobe falls somewhere between pathetic and embarrassing. But this isn’t really where the learning and adjustment begins. Believe it or not it begins with women’s sizes and underwear --- errrr – ah yes – lingerie (pronounced “lawn – jer –ray’ – NOT “ling-grrr -eee). Most men don’t put a great deal of thought into their own clothes and even less into women’s other than ease of removal. Clothes for men come in small, medium, or large and extra-large and men generally fall into one of these categories unless of course we are talking about jock straps and in that case everyone wears a large (extra-large is pure ego and generally would not be believed). Now I have been married for many years and I still have not grasped women’s sizes. They come in petite, juniors (but no seniors) plus sizes (which no one seems to actually wear so why stores stock them I have no idea), and a whole bunch of other sizes, which all seem purely arbitrary. The numerical sizes do not follow any logical system because a size 6 and a size 7 are only sold to anorexics and seem to bear no relationship to each other.

But the real difference between the sexes lies in their underwear. For guys underwear is really pretty simple. You have briefs for guys who like comfort, or boxers for guys who like the wedgie feel, or for those guys who can’t decide whether to be cool or comfortable you have the boxer brief, and that’s it!!. For women there are entire stores devoted exclusively to their underwear and none seem oriented toward comfort – the merchandise not the store. The sizes are as mysterious as the Periodic Table of Elements. Bra’s seem to range in size from skimpy little band-aid type things to cupful, handful, and up to “Big Bertha”. The panties range in size from little pieces of lace that require a bikini wax to the “Thigh Master” and there the name says it all.

But it isn’t just the clothes that distinguish the sexes, we also have differences that the typical male can never seem to comprehend. For instance take the toilet paper, which as any man knows can be found on the toilet paper holder. How it gets there is largely unknown and it is generally believed by most men that there is some sort of a toilet paper fairy – who based on television is apparently known as “Charmin”. Charmin is both squeezable and efficient and replaces the toilet paper as required – I think. But this is actually an example of how truly simple men are because the female of the species has distinct preferences regarding the placement of the toilet paper on the holder. Once married the male quickly discovers that toilet paper must feed either over the top or from under the role. There really isn’t any correct way but every woman has a preference and if the husband intends to continue his conjugal relationship he should master this art of toilet paper replacement.

But the toilet paper adjustment is only the tip of the iceberg in marital adjustment. Most men never really realized how primitively they were living prior to marriage or learned how to deal with the problems that they never realized were problems. One of these is the “noise”. At some time shortly after marriage there will be a noise in the night. This noise was initially heard by Eve in the garden while poor Adam slept. She went to investigate and as we say the rest is history. However, since that time, women do not go to investigate mysterious noises – that is the man’s job. This noise always occurs shortly after the husband has dropped off to sleep. Of course the husband after a long day of toil could sleep through the San Francisco Earthquake, but women’s hearing is genetically different. A woman can hear cotton rubbing on silk from a distance of approximately a quarter mile and immediately conclude that this noise is due to a drug crazed burglar intent on stealing the --- well it really doesn’t matter what they were planning on stealing because it is the husband’s duty to frighten him away before that event occurs.

Now any man who has been through this knows that pretending to be asleep is fruitless because the dear wife will continue punching him in the back until he gets up and searches high and low for the source of the “noise”. The newly married man will commonly pretend to be asleep but this simply demonstrates his naiveté because it won’t work. The woman will continue beating on his back until blunt force trauma becomes a real possibility. The next male strategy employed by the newly married is to explain the noise as “nothing”, but this won’t work either. Women KNOW that something dangerous has occurred and the noise must be identified or there will be no sleep. Sleep can only be achieved by the husband getting out of bed, prowling throughout the house in his underwear, and then returning to bed and announcing – it’s nothing – go to sleep. Now the man who has been married long enough to have been through this drill a few times, simply gets up goes the refrigerator, gets something to munch on, opens the door, closes it, turns on a couple of lights, and then returns to the dear wife and announces it was nothing. The wife is now free to go to sleep knowing that the home has been protected, the noise identified (it was nothing), and she is secure in knowing that her man has once again saved the day. But I digress – let’s return to the topic of Television as a medium.

Television is certainly a source of entertainment as well as education. Not only do we learn about men and women, we also learn about medicine, nutrition, and exercise. From television I have learned that if you join the Bow Flex generation you will look like a superhero in just a few short weeks. Clearly Bow Flex sweat has regenerative powers because they all look so young and healthy. But that’s when I discovered that if you only eat Oatmeal your cholesterol will drop to astonishing levels. This has been demonstrated clinically using horses and not one had high cholesterol, although some people who have eaten oatmeal for extended periods did come to resemble a Quaker. I think it was the hat.