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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Burning Books and Bedlam in Afghanistan

So a couple of Korans are now ashes and a country filled top to bottom with psychopathic zealots is behaving like the ants from a kicked over ant-hill. Is the evidence sufficient yet? Can we finally call them all what they really are? Can we call the religion what it really is? Am I still an Islamaphobe, now that we've got videotape of every Afghan in that nation wandering around with a pistol or a machete looking for some infidel to slaughter?

Here's what I know, these Korans in Afghanistan were burned inadvertently. It was an accident, and was not meant disrespectfully. Why are they so upset? These were just books. They might value the thoughts and ideas and concepts that these books contain, but the actual books are just paper and ink. This insanity...it's like some kind of Islamic Zombie apocalypse!

In America when a house burns down and a King James Bible burns up with it, the fire department doesn't start beheading the homeowners. I guess there's not much point in fire insurance in Afghanistan, because after the Koran burns up, nobody is going to be left alive to collect on the claim.

I would ask rhetorically what is wrong with these people, but that's hardly necessary. We all know what is wrong with every one of them. They aren't born insane; they are slowly driven insane by the incessant bathing and the obsequious bowing and the maniacal chanting five times every day of their lives. They are further driven towards madness by the month long ordeal every year during which they are forbidden to partake of food or water while the sun is visible in the sky. Finally, they are indoctrinated on a steady diet of hatred and misogyny that is broadcast to every television and radio, printed in every newspaper, magazine, and book, and taught in every classroom. This benighted poverty-stricken dark-ages culture is so busy glorifying stupidity and superstition that they are actually making, not progress, but regress.

If we could somehow peel the Mid-East off of the planet and separate it from the rest of the Earth, in ten-thousand years we could visit it―perhaps using our home's teleportation booth―and they'd all be living in caves and using animal bones and rocks to hunt. And they'd still be waging the same pointless incessant territorial wars they've always been waging. So here it is: They are vicious, murdering bloodthirsty animals with no redeeming qualities of any kind. They are vermin infesting the face of the Earth and their religion did not come from the mouth of a human being 1400 years ago, but from the very lips of Satan himself.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pure Altruism, Does it Exist?

Does pure altruism exist? If I give to charity I suppose that is an altruistic act, but don't I expect some sort of acknowledgement from the charity worker, or the vagrant, or the blanket wrapped disaster victim? Don't I expect at least an expression of gratitude and maybe a thoughtful speech about what a kind and wonderful person I am?

Have you ever been the recipient of a random act of kindness? Have you ever been the bestower of a random act of kindness? For me the answer is neither. I'm so very cynical. It's hard for me to believe that anyone would ever do this. Don't mistake me. I'm not talking about giving to charity or to the needy. When I'm asked by the store clerk at the counter if I'd like to donate one dollar to whatever cause, I always used to say "Sure." But it seems as though that particular fund-raising strategy has been so successful that now every time I buy anything at all that inevitable question is always asked.

Now this is going to sound harsh and very cynical but the science is proven. When you reward someone for exhibiting a particular behavior, they're going to exhibit that behavior more and more frequently. This is behavioral psychology 101, and it has been absolutely proven effective in study after study. From the most primitive one-celled organisms all the way to human beings, if you want a behavior repeated, all you need to do is reward that behavior. So when they ask you to donate that dollar at the checkout counter and you say yes, they're going to do it again. And again. And again. The same thing goes for beggars. Whether it's your own dog under the table staring up at you with those soulful hungry eyes, or that beggar at the stoplight holding up a "I'm hungry, won't you help me?" sign, when you reward the behavior of begging with money or food, they're going to realize that begging gets them what they want, and they're going to do it even more.

So here's my thought. What if instead of rewarding the people who're exhibiting undesirable behavior, you instead reward those who're exhibiting desirable behavior? The idea of a random act of kindness is not a new one. There was even a movie about it called "Pay it Forward", which I thought was a pretty entertaining movie. The problem I have with "paying it forward" however is the same one I have with "pass it on" chain letters. If I expect someone to do anything in return for my sacrifice, then it is no longer anything close to altruism, it has instead been transformed into some kind of social contract, or obligation.

Unfortunately, when people get an idea in their heads, someone will then want to run with it, make it bigger, make it better, and thus totally destroy it. That person says: "Pay It Forward? What a great idea! let's do this! What if we create a Pay it Forward foundation? And, what if people donate money? And people could submit names of other deserving people! And we could sell these "Pay it Forward" bracelets that we pass on like a chain-letter after doing our good deeds. We'll need to hire some people to organize this, and some other people to promote it, and some really great people to run the whole thing... like me!" And voilà another charity organization is born―The Pay It Forward Foundation.
You can help the Foundation empower more people, encourage more students, and respond more effectively and efficiently to the hundreds of grant requests we receive, by making a donation to help the Foundation grow. Help us set the stage in 2011 and beyond for more outreach, more grants funded, and more Pay It Forward projects set in motion!
I never really thought 'Pay it Forward' was that great an idea. Because it's not pure altruism; it's more like a contract. Don't do me any favors, is a well known cliché. Today it means: Thanks for Nothing, yet I have a feeling the original author meant something completely different. The Pay it Forward movie was a Random Act of Kindness pyramid scheme in that the recipients were obligated to return the favor times three. Doesn't sound like a very good deal to me, so don't do me any favors, please!

Okay so here's my idea that gets as close to pure altruism as possible, and more importantly it rewards good people for exhibiting desirable behavior instead of rewarding undeserving people for undesirable behavior. If you were eating out with your family, and you happened to spot a young couple eating dinner at some romantic cozy table for two, you could call the waitress over and offer to pay for that couple's dinner. Now, you would do this as you were leaving, and it would be important that the couple not know who paid for their dinner. You wouldn’t want expressions of gratitude. This would be a random act of kindness, and nothing at all would be expected in return. Have you ever done anything like that or had it done for you?

Yeah, me neither. Something like that would put a serious strain on my hard won fund of cynicism.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Advertizing is the Whisper of Satan!

You can stop watching television if you want to. You can stop listening to the radio. You can put down that magazine. What it seems like you can't ever do is finally be free from commercials. Everywhere you look there they are...in your face. It's infuriating! Here I am trying to lose weight and as I flip through channel after channel, every station is displaying some delectable looking food being enjoyed by attractive models who smile in delight and invite me to join them in experiencing whatever incredibly high calorie product it is that they're tempting me with. Oh, doesn't that chocolate sundae look inviting! It's got two or three scoops of ice-cream―made with real cream I bet!―and it's drizzled all over with caramel and chocolate syrup and butterscotch syrup and ... hey look it's sprinkled with chocolate chips and white-chocolate fudge morsels and walnuts with candy sprinkles and ... and ... and ... lots of other crap designed to eventually guarantee a coronary. Eat up!

Well, you probably caught the news about the guy who had a heart attack at the "Heart Attack Grill." Maybe you thought he got what was coming to him. Maybe you think the name of the restaurant is tasteless and that they should be forced to change their name. What I think is that we live in a truly sick society. I believe in capitalism and free-enterprise and personal freedom just like you. If you want to eat at the "Heart Attack Grill," go ahead. I suppose the definition of freedom includes the freedom to jump off a cliff if that's your thing. I just worry that some of these cliff jumpers don't know what they're jumping into.

Most commercials on television are food commercials. They show video of delicious looking foods which are being enjoyed by smiling models, none of whom are overweight. Most commercials on the radio are diet commercials. These commercials always make two claims. The first claim is that the diet medication on offer is new, experimental, or limited quantity. "You Must Act Now! Supplies Are Limited!" [It seems like the only thing that is without some kind of limit is the overuse of exclamation points.] The second claim these diet plans all make is that the product is in some way free. Whenever you analyze the actual words of the commercial it's easy to see that this is yet another of those scams where they send you a product disguised as a trial. The purchaser must jump through a number of hoops to actually avoid paying for the product, otherwise the credit card number he so cluelessly offered to the solicitor will automatically be charged and another month of the "product" will automatically be shipped...This scam is called a Negative Option program.

I mentioned earlier that we live in a sick society. What I mean by that is that never before have there been so many commercials offering so many diet pills. Never before have there been so many commercials claiming they can solve your debt worries. Never before were there so many different colleges, universities, community colleges, and technical schools with their concomitant inescapable financial commitments. And with all this, our citizens nevertheless have never been fatter, more in debt, and more ignorant:

During the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States and rates remain high. In 2010, no state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty-six states had a prevalence of 25% or more; 12 of these states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia) had a prevalence of 30% or more.
While much attention has been given to the need for consumers to pay down debt and build up savings, residents in all states still carry an average of more than $10,000 in debt, according to a recent analysis of consumer debt by CareOne Services Inc., one of the nation's leading debt relief firms. These findings come from CareOne's first "State of Debt Ranking," which examined the amount of debt, number of credit cards and credit scores of more than 135,000 people nationwide who enrolled in debt management or debt settlement programs in 2009 and 2010. The ranking lists the 10 states with the highest average consumer debt and the 10 states with the lowest average consumer debt. Delaware tops the list with an average debt of more than $20,000 spread across seven unsecured creditors, such as credit cards.
America’s education system, once among the world’s best, has fallen on hard times. The latest evidence of this can be found in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an exam given every few years by the federal Department of Education to fourth, eighth, and 12th graders. The latest results of this test show that only one third of American students exhibited proficiency in science and technology. Only three percent of students are classified as “advanced.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “thirty-four percent of fourth-graders scored at or above proficient. Describing the life cycle of an organism is an example of a skill demonstrated by fourth graders at the proficient level. Thirty percent of eighth graders met the mark, by demonstrating, for example, that they could recognize plants produce their own food.” As students progress in age, it seems their knowledge declines, as only 21 percent of 12th grade students met the criteria sufficient to be considered proficient.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I feel so guilty! This website claims I have 55 slaves working for me!


I completed a fairly detailed survey which asked me about my lifestyle, age, diet, number of children, housing situation, and possessions. With this information they apparently used some sort of complicated formula to calculate that I have fifty-five slaves working for me.

I'm not especially rich, so I figure my results are typical for the average American. Alright, let's do the arithmetic...(me banging on a calculator)...if every American has around fifty slaves working for them and the population of the United States is about 311,591,917 then there are 15,579,595,850 slaves working their poor little hearts out to allow mean old Americans to continue living their American dream. Well ... to be fair, the website didn't claim that my fifty-five slaves weren't also working for someone else.

Should I feel guilty? Am I guilty? The website claims that there are 27 million slaves which is a number as great as the populations of Australia and New Zealand combined. Ok, so it's time for a little more arithmetic ...(me banging on a calculator again)...it seems as though I share each of my 55 slaves with approximately 577 other Americans. So if my slaves were time-share slaves I'd get the use of them for one day every year and a half.

Well of course the whole discussion is absurd. I still refuse to feel guilt for being born white or male in twentieth-century America. I refuse to be made to feel guilty for slavery in the south before the Civil War. I refuse to feel guilt when people who I have no control over and who I've never even met do evil things. What's the matter with me you ask? Why don't I fall to my knees begging forgiveness for all the evil things other people have done?

For example: Terrorists kill innocent civilians every day in the mid-east. The money which funds these evil terrorists comes from the sale of oil. Oil is used to make gasoline. I purchase gasoline. My money is used to kill innocent people. Q.E.D. I pay to have innocent people killed.

Stop...stop...stop! Enough! At what point does my own complicity in that final evil crime finally run out? I go to McDonalds and buy a milkshake. My dollar eventually winds up in the hands of the manager who uses it to purchase a newspaper. Then that dollar is deposited in a bank where it is given to a lady who gives it to a pan-handler who buys a bottle of cheap wine. The bum gets so drunk he wanders out into traffic and a school bus veers off the road to avoid hitting him, overturns and then slides over the edge of an embankment and plummets fifty feet into a ravine where it explodes killing everyone in a fiery inferno. If only I had never gone to McDonalds!

Seriously if it was somehow possible to trace my dollar back down the twisty path of complicity should it make me feel guilty? I would feel sad, but I would never feel like it was somehow my fault. I can't change the actions of others who I've never met and never will meet.

My complicity ends at the register.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Efficient Charity? Or is that an oxymoron?

There's a constant social pressure to give to some worthwhile cause. If you go to church on Sunday you're doubtless highly aware of this pressure as the offering plate is handed to you. When you pay your grocery bill and the clerk asks if you'd like to donate the coins in your change to some charity, it becomes very difficult to refuse. We don't like to be thought of as selfish or as cheapskates. I stumbled upon an interesting discussion about using efficiency as the primary guideline in the decision making process of charitable giving.
Most donors say they want to "help people". If that's true, they should try to distribute their resources to help people as much as possible. Most people don't. In the "Buy A Brushstroke" campaign, eleven thousand British donors gave a total of £550,000 to keep the famous painting "Blue Rigi" in a UK museum. If they had given that £550,000 to buy better sanitation systems in African villages instead, the latest statistics suggest it would have saved the lives of about one thousand two hundred people from disease. Each individual $50 donation could have given a year of normal life back to a Third Worlder afflicted with a disabling condition like blindness or limb deformity..

Most of those 11,000 donors genuinely wanted to help people by preserving access to the original canvas of a beautiful painting. And most of those 11,000 donors, if you asked, would say that a thousand people's lives are more important than a beautiful painting, original or no. But these people didn't have the proper mental habits to realize that was the choice before them, and so a beautiful painting remains in a British museum and somewhere in the Third World a thousand people are dead.
The essence of this argument is that charities which save human lives are more valuable than charities which don't. Furthermore, it assumes that charities which save the most lives per dollar donated are the most worthy charities and the most deserving of our contributions.

How valid is this philosophy? Is saving human lives really the most crucial goal towards which we all should advance? If we explore the author's contention that the frivolous waste of money on a painting would have been better spent in the saving of one-thousand lives in Africa, then we must also explore the results of this binary decision made by the contribution giver.

The thousand saved Africans would almost certainly agree that they are the most deserving of the charitable contribution. This however ignores an unfortunate fact. The amount of life-sustaining resources in Africa―food, medicine, shelter, clean water―are sadly insufficient to sustain the lives of the Africans already living on this desperately poor continent. By funding a non-African outside force to travel thousands of miles carrying the cargo and resources and man-power necessary to save all these thousands of lives makes the donator in large part responsible for putting further strain on an already unsustainable economy. The idea that these thousand "saved" Africans will now live happily-ever-after in peace and harmony along with the other six-hundred million starving Africans is so absurd that it literally boggles the mind.

That money spent on sanitation and sewage treatment could have purchased perhaps one-million condoms, which would have decreased the birth-rate and allowed those hundreds of millions of Africans to endure for perhaps another generation. But here again the logic trips us up. For perhaps in those one-million babies never born, was the African leader who would have led the African people out of darkness and savagery into a better more compassionate future. And who's to say to what use those condoms would have gone? Perhaps all the wise Africans would have used the condoms while all the foolish Africans would have continued making babies. Your big-hearted and thoughtful gift could wind up turning a hellish brutal land into something so much worse that there's no way it could even be imagined.

Indeed even among the original thousand saved lives might be a great one with destiny riding his shoulders. So perhaps saving the most lives possible is the best answer. Unless... what if among those thousand saved lives is another Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot! No, the only thing I'm certain of is that trying to predict what the future holds based on a spur of the moment impulsive charitable gift is enough to drive a person to drink...

And on that note...Good night.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fat is like debt and vice versa

So this might be a little bit of a s-t-r-e-t-c-h, but it occurred to me as I trudged wearily along on the treadmill that the fat on my belly was a big ol' debt that I was in the process of paying for. Both fat and debt slow you down, cause you to worry, and make you less attractive to potential reproductive partners. They're both very difficult to get out from under. It always seems like it's one step forward and two steps back when dealing with them. Hard work, a healthy dose of common sense and being a little choosier are the only reliable ways of taking care of either one.

If you can picture my analogy, then imagine how fat Uncle Sam would be! Obama has been fattening him up with enough pork and Keynesian stimulus to provide every family in the nation a giant Christmas ham and still leave enough fatback and pork rind on the slaughterhouse floor to clog every artery in the nation with fifty pounds of plaque. You see, another not-so-funny thing about being fat is that at some point if you get too big, you just die. There are many signs along the way to that sad destination that provide a very blatant warning which any half-wit not blinded by greed or the glory of his own ego could easily read if he only would. But it seems as though Obama―our Commander-in-Chef―plans to keep stuffing debt down our throats until we're too laden down with unbearable weight to even get out of bed.

The good news is that my new fitness regimen has succeeded in allowing me to get rid of about 13 pounds so far. I pay for the food I eat during the day with miles on the treadmill at night. It's really tough getting results. I never thought I'd have to put this much time and energy into losing thirty pounds but it looks as though it's going to take everything I've got. I spend an hour and a half to two hours every night at a fast walk with a fairly steep incline. I've tried jogging but my heartbeat gets too fast if I try to jog, so until I succeed in losing more weight I'm going to just stay at a walk.

What kind of diet is Uncle Sam going to require? In an ironic juxtaposition, I happened to catch NBC's The Biggest Loser as I was trudging along on my treadmill. Watching that show about fat people who cry has got to make most people feel better about their own situation. As they huffed and puffed and cried, I could almost hear the sarcastic voice of Chiun, Master of Sinanju, singing in my head..."Fat stupid hamburger eating Americans!" I wonder what Chiun would have to say about Uncle Sam if he could see him today?...
Uncle Sam, you're so fat! You eat so much! Perhaps if you didn't shove so many sugar-coated rings of bread fried in boiled grease into your big fat American mouth you could manage to wedge your bloated buttocks into your over-sized red-white-and -blue clown suit. Oh, I'm afraid there is too much work to be done. That I should spend my few remaining years trying to coax a fat lump of pudding off of his couch is a sadder destiny than any that has befallen any previous ancestor. A sad destiny and a pointless one, because even if I had a thousand years, at the end of all those years still you would remain a bloated, latté slurping, hamburger eating, lazy American filled top to bottom with unearned pride. In the Histories of Sinanju they will write of me that I struggled in vain against a mountain of lard and in the end was suffocated and buried beneath vast rolls of sweaty American belly. Oh the shame!