Views on the News
by Sean Prophet
DAYLIGHT SAVINGS MADNESS: Just turned my clock forward. Aren't the cycles of nature good enough? There's a natural, comforting rhythm to the progression of longer days. It's disorienting to the body and soul to be out of sync with it. If we waited another month, the days would be longer anyway. Yes, there are practical reasons for the change. But it gets me every time....
MIDDLE EAST MAYHEM: Teenagers as suicide bombers??? Just too insane to comment on. I think I need a Ph.D...don't know if it would really help. Hard to add anything intelligent to a situation that the world's brightest minds (Kissinger, Sadat, Carter, Albright, Clinton, Powell, etc.) have tried and failed to solve. Fellow net writer David Loomstein has written an apt analysis at his "morning brief" site. What comes to mind here is the "ice-cream-scoop solution," -- as in: take a giant ice cream scoop and dig out that section of the planet. Being of Irish descent, I've felt the same way about Northern Ireland in the past. It brings to mind the song by the band Storm Troopers of Death called "Fuck the Middle East." (I heard this performed (screamed) by L.A. metal band Soylent Green at the Palace when my son's band Crucible played there with 6 other metal bands including Morbid Angel) While such one-sided ranting songs most likely make the problem worse, it's hard not to wonder if so-called intelligent solutions are any better these days. Kind of makes me think that the world might be better off broken apart as little self-sufficient planetoids floating through space like you might see in a Roger Dean painting. All we are saying...is give peace a chance... Can it ever be?
NUCLEAR POLICY REVIEW STRENGTHENS DETERRENCE: Recently leaked reports of American plans to target seven countries with nuclear weapons should be welcomed. Instead, they've generated a righteous furor. In the January 2002 BSJ issue, I've suggested this exact course of action as the only way to counter nuclear terrorism. Long before these plans were leaked, I'm sure diplomats notified the countries in question that America would not stand for an attack, and would retaliate. The big players, Russia, China, and the like have always known. In the post 9/11 world, we had no choice but to expand this list. Publication of this list will lessen the likelihood of nuclear conflict, not increase it.
CONGRESS FAILS TO TIGHTEN FUEL-ECONOMY STANDARDS: Congress this month let stand the decades-old fuel economy standards, which allow light trucks to be exempt from the CAFE rules. A 50% improvement in efficiency would have been phased in over 13 years. Lawmakers cited the concern of "soccer moms" and "pickup pops" who didn't want to have to drive smaller, lighter vehicles. Political pressure to keep the gas-guzzlers legal comes from the grass roots. We Americans get what we deserve, and in this case, we'll get continued dependence on the Middle East, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, higher pump prices, and increased CO2 emissions. Are we ready to pay this price?
GORBACHEV DECLARES THAT COMMUNISM WAS "PURE PROPAGANDA": The man who presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Union declared the system to have been "unreal." This would come as no surprise to anyone in the West. But to hear the former leader of the East-bloc actually make this statement is like having a former Pope suddenly declare himself an atheist! Now there's an idea...here's hoping the next Pope will be the Vatican's Gorbachev.
CHOCOLATE'S DARK SECRET--SLAVE LABOR: A slave sent this message to chocolate eaters worldwide: "You are eating my flesh." No, slavery wasn't abolished by the Emancipation Proclamation. British documentary filmmakers Brian Woods and Kate Blewett have recently discovered that Cocoa plantation workers in Ivory Coast and elsewhere have been kept locked up and not paid in years. Think about this the next time you enjoy a chocolate bar, cake, or hot cocoa. A boycott won't improve the lot of these workers, because it will depress prices further and worsen their treatment. Solving problems such as this requires instituting the rule of law, which would involve international sanctions, regime change, or war, and it may not happen in our lifetimes. As we enjoy our cheap imports which often come at the price of slavery, we in the rich countries should be willing to take some action to at least raise awareness. We may not be able to solve the problem, but at least we should give a thought and some expression of gratitude to the universe that we are not so enslaved.
OBESITY A GREATER HEALTH RISK THAN SMOKING OR DRINKING: A UCLA/Rand study puts the health risk of severe obesity at about twice that of smoking or drinking. It resulted in a 36% increase in health care costs versus an average 21% for smoking. Risk of health problems and premature death were 50% higher for severely obese people than smokers or drinkers. (Worse if the obese also smoke and drink.) This is especially of concern since 70% of Americans get no regular exercise. Yet public outrage has focused on more traditional vices of tobacco and alcohol. Taxes on smoking have put the price of cigarettes around $4.00 per pack, and bans on public smoking have turned smokers into pariahs, even outdoors. The most stalwart paternalists in our society would be loathe to try to get the government to restrict people's diets. But that's exactly what should be done, if you follow the same logic as the anti-smoking zealots. After all, in a system where most people rely on health insurance for their medical care, we all pay the increased premiums which result from self-inflicted health problems. But I would argue that those who indulge should pay the costs themselves. Since smokers pay higher premiums, I would expect that the severely obese should be required to do the same. The answer is once again found in the free-market and individual choice, not overbearing government regulations.
COURT ORDERS MOTHER NOT TO SMOKE: A bitter custody battle in Utica, New York, involving a smoking mom and a non-smoking dad has resulted in the mother being ordered to stop smoking if she wants visitation rights to her 13-year-old son. That's not to stop smoking around her son, but to stop smoking, period! Given this precedent, I wonder if, for example, an overweight mom with an overweight child could be court-ordered to stop eating twinkies or feeding the child ice cream?
FRENCH HIGH SCHOOLS ALLOW SMOKING: Instead of engaging denial like we Americans do, the French let their students smoke openly on campus. Statistics show that about half of American smokers start as teens, and it's common knowledge that a combination of peer pressure and advertising are responsible. But in this country, we make kids sneak around. In fact, in California, anyone under 18 can be cited by the police for possession of a cigarette lighter. Their parents will then pay a hefty fine for their infraction. If we are concerned about reducing teen smoking, it must be approached through education and persuasion, not a mandate. Ultimately, teens are on a very close approach to becoming adults, and make adult decisions in many areas of their lives. If we expect teens to grow up, then we must begin to treat them as adults slowly and gradually. Nothing magical happens at age 18. And teens resent the hypocrisy of adult smokers telling them not to smoke. Showing our kids respect to allow them to make their own rational choices in their formative years will encourage them to take all adult advice more seriously.
VOLUNTEER WEATHERMAN GUIDES MARINERS: President Bush has tried to encourage volunteerism in the wake of 9/11. But too often, volunteers work in poorly organized groups doing jobs for which they might not be properly trained. The really good people get the paying positions. Canadian Herb Hilgenberg breaks this mold. Working seven days a week on the short-wave radio, retired engineer Hilgenberg has spent the last 15 years giving preceise weather forecasts to private and commercial ships alike. His information has come to be relied upon as more accurate than the generalized Marine forecasts. His expertise came from his own direct experience at sea. His forecasts have saved at least 25 lives over the years. This is volunteerism at its finest. An expert who loves his work, and who wants for nothing, giving all his time in the service of others. MORAL OF THE STORY: Be selfish, and develop your talents so you have something to give. People who volunteer out of a sense of guilt, with limited skills, don't help either themselves or society.
KANSAS SUPREME COURT RULES TRANSSEXUAL MARRIAGE INVALID: J'Noel Gardiner's sex change operation took place years before the wedding, and her husband Marshall Gardiner was well aware of the situation. The marriage was challenged by the dead man's son Joe Gardiner, who of course stood to inherit half the father's fortune. Legal justification for the ruling hinged on a U.S. Supreme court decision declaring transsexual anatomy to be "man-made" and not worthy of legal recognition. It strikes me as terribly callous for a government to fail to recognize the tremendous social and psychological challenges faced by transsexuals. They need assistance and understanding--their lives are difficult enough. This gets down to a question of very basic human rights. Do we own our bodies? Or do the state's interests and definitions take precedence over the individual. Apparently, at least for now, the state has won.
GERMAN PROSTITUTES GET FULL LEGAL RECOGNITION: Including profit-sharing and health plans. Isn't is about time that the rest of the world learned to respect sex-workers, and legitimize women's oldest profession? Is it better to see sex-workers crack-addicted, disease-ridden, or behind bars? Safe and legal prostitution hurts no one--except of course controlling women who wish they could maintain a monopoly on sex.
SALVIA DIVINORUM THE LATEST ETHNOPHARMACOLOGICAL AGENT TO ATTRACT MEDIA ATTENTION: Like Ayahuasca, Peyote, and many other agents, Salvia Divinorum, a member of the mint family, has been used for centuries to help native populations understand the meaning of their world. But our paternalistic protectors at the DEA are now considering adding this drug to the list of "chemicals of concern," a step on the way to scheduling and banning of the plant. I'm sure there are literally thousands of plants with psychoactive properties that have not yet been discovered or widely publicized. But heaven forbid people should actually begin to use such naturally occuring drugs to expand their horizons. Our collective guardians seem to have made it their mission to be sure no one attains an altered state of consciousness. We can drink ourselves into oblivion, ingest all manner of toxic pesticides, breathe in smog, ingest carcinogenic food additives, spend our lives in boring nothingness and nobody cares. But try to alter your brain chemistry in a positive or enlightening manner, and risk being thrown in the slammer. I can't comment on the efficacy of Salvia Divinorum for consciousness-raising, but let's hope that people are allowed to find out on their own, rather than taking the DEA's word for it.
OVERBEARING REGULATION LEADS TO PATIENTS DENIED PAIN MEDICATION: The DEA would rather have huge numbers of terminal and seriously ill patients suffering than have some others abusing Oxycontin. Some doctors now refuse to perscribe the medicine at all, for fear of scrutiny and government retribution. Those responsible for these regulations have obviously never lived with the pain of fibromyalgia or cancer. When someone's dying, who cares if they become an addict! These regulators should simply be forced to experience the pain they perpetuate.
CLONING FRONTIER: Woman 8 weeks pregnant with clone....dozens of human embryos cloned in China...moral outrage on all sides...government regulation in the U.S. and England is powerless to prevent it...just proves that you can't stand in the way of science. Backward people will continue to try, and the once daunting mysteries of life will continue to fall like dominoes. Hang on for dear life...Luddites! These clones are just the ones we know about. The smart money would keep clone status under wraps. We're already living in Brave New World. We don't know how many clones may be out there, or will be in the future, nor should we care. It is strictly the business of the parents and scientists involved. This is simply another way of bringing people into the world, and controlling the outcome. We're finally getting a grip on our own evolution, taking over where nature left off. Like yesterdays' 'Brave New World' Chimeras -- in-vitro fertilization, or sex-selection -- cloning will become routine. Twenty years from now, we'll think this controversy to have been quite quaint.