31 May 2012


This morning I came across a sorrowful, disturbing item in the "on this day in history" summary at Wikipedia ~ "The Tulsa Race Riot was a large-scale racially motivated conflict on May 31 and June 1, 1921, between the white and black communities of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in which the wealthiest African-American community in the United States, the Greenwood Distict also known as the 'Negro Wall Street' was burned to the ground.  During the 16 hours of the assault, over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, more than 6,000 Greenwood residents were arrested and detained at three local facilities.  An estimated 10,000 were left homeless, and 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire.  The official count of the dead by the Oklahoma Department of Vital Statistics was 39, but other estimates of black fatalities have been up to about 300.

"The events of the riot were omitted from state and local history.  The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms, or even in private.  Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place."  (my italics)

Anyone who lived through the 1960s and 1970s understands that race riots are not limited to the distant past.  Wikipedia ~ "The term had entered the English language in the United States by the 1890s.  Until 1968 the use of the term in the U.S. referred to race riots which were often violence by racial groups against people of other races.  In the late 1960s the term came to describe riots involving large numbers of members of racial minority groups.  Physical aggression was often aimed at their neighborhood businesses, government representatives, and law enforcement agencies perceived as unfairly targeting racial groups .... Mob rule, religious intolerance, vigilantism, Jim Crow, lynching, racial profiling, economics, police brutality, institutional racism, urban renewal, and racial identity politics are often cited as causes of these riots."

At the risk of over-simplification, the appearance is that before the 1960s, race riots were instigated by whites against blacks, often with the collusion of law enforcement, as an instrument of oppression..  But with the advent of the civil rights and Black Power movements, especially after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, riots were initiated by blacks in response to that oppression.

It is remarkable that the further back in history one searches, the more one encounters a willful determination on the part of the victims to resist talking about those terrible events.  Thus these gruesome and very public acts were expunged from our collective memory, even within the families of those involved.

As happened after the 1921 Tulsa race riots, the victims of other mass racial violence became members of the culture of silence.  "In 1923, the Rosewood Massacre was a violent, racially motivated conflict that took place during the first week of January in rural Levy County, Florida.  At least six blacks and two whites were killed, and the town of Rosewood was abandoned and destroyed .... Florida had an especially high number of lynchings in the years before the massacre.

"Rosewood was a quiet, primarily black, self-sufficient whistle stop on the Seaboard Air Line Railway .... white men from nearby towns lynched a Rosewood resident.  When black citizens defended themselves against further attack, several hundred whites combed the countryside looking for black people, and burned almost every structure in Rosewood.  Survivors hid for several days in nearby swamps, and were evacuated by train and car to larger towns.  Although state and local authorities were aware of the violence, they made no arrests for the activities in Rosewood.  The town was abandoned by black residents during the attacks.  None ever returned.

"Although the rioting was widely reported around the country, few official records documented the event.  Survivors, their descendants, and the perpetrators remained silent about Rosewood for decades."

On the part of the victims, the culture of silence seems to spring from two sources ~ the fear of reprisal, and the desire to shield family and loved ones from the knowledge of what happened. For the race riots of the early 20th century, it was often investigative reporting done many years later which uncovered those horrible times.  In the case of Rosewood, that reporting led to a lawsuit against the state of Florida by descendants of Rosewood residents, and also led to John Singleton's 1997 film Rosewood.

Sociologist James W. Loewen (Lies My Teacher Told Me) wrote a book which has a direct bearing on the culture of silence.  It's titled Sundown Towns, and chronicles the widespread practice ~ in the North as well as the South ~ of excluding blacks and other minorities from thousands of towns "after sundown", in effect creating all-white communities.  Sundown towns were not shy.  One encountered signs upon entry which might read "Whites only within city limits after dark".  And the implied threat was not idle ~ those caught lingering faced lynching.  Yet until Loewen's book, the existence of sundown towns was itself a part of the culture of silence, at least in my awareness.

The race riots of the 1960s were qualitatively different, in that they were precipitated by blacks rising up against oppression.  In this respect, they appear to be immune from the culture of silence.  Or are they?  According to an essay by George Scialabba, studies conducted over the past twenty years indicate that "70 percent of Americans believe in the existence of angels.  50 percent believe that the earth has been visited by UFOs.  70 percent believe that the U.S. government is covering up the presence of space aliens on Earth.  40 percent do not know whom the U.S. fought in World War II.  40 percent could not locate Japan on a world map.  15 percent could not locate the United States on a world map.  60 percent of Americans have not read a book since leaving school.  Only 6 percent now read even one book a year .... The average American's day includes six minutes playing sports, five minutes reading books, one minute making music, 30 seconds attending a play or concert 25 seconds making or viewing art, and 4 hours watching television.

"Among high school seniors surveyed in the late 1990s, 50 percent had not heard of the Cold War.  60 percent could not say how the United States came into existence.  50 percent did not know in which century the Civil War occurred.  60 percent could name each of the Three Stooges but not the three branches of the U.S. government.  60 percent could not comprehend an editorial in a national or local newspaper."

How can so many people be so culturally ignorant?  Have our schools fallen so low?  Surely the culture of silence cannot explain such abysmal awareness of the events which shaped our lives?  Have social media and instant gratification diluted the process of learning?  It is a disturbing prospect.

29 May 2012


It's time to clear my computer's desktop of an accumulation of links that piqued my interest ~ visuals, philosophical puzzles, and gee-whiz cullings from the Internet.  Ready?

Liquid Flowers ~ drop an object into a vessel containing multi-colored liquids, then capture the splash at its zenith using a high speed exposure.  No photoshopping, just astonishing skill an imagination by photographer Jack Long.  Example ~ see image above, click to enlarge.

20 Weird Beaches from Around the World ~ speaks for itself.

Abandoned Ships Stranded in the Desert ~ a miniscule symptom of the much broader ripples of consequence when humans start diverting rivers, draining wetlands, and cutting down forests.

Only Philosophers Go to Hell ~ "A just and loving god would not intentionally create a world with excessive misery, and yet we see the excesses all around us .... How could a just and loving god create [Hell,] a place of endless misery? .... There are two standard lines in defense of Hell.  The first is the retributivist line, and the second is the libertarian line. We think that if either succeeds, only philosophers could go to Hell."  Not being a theist, I don't have a dog in this fight, but it's an interesting exploration.

You Might Be an Atheist If .... ~ Philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett takes a cue from Jeff Foxworthy's comedy shtick in his reality check on religion and faith.

Where in the World?  A Google Earth Puzzle ~ Think you can tell where a satellite view of a location might be on the planet?  18 images give you a chance to strut your geographic prowess.

Human Migrations Map ~ This is very cool.  Either choose a nation from the drop-down list, or simply place your cursor on a country and click.  You can learn what other nations are the sources of the most immigrants (with a numerical count), and what other nations are the destinations for those emigrating from your choice.  Many surprises lurk here.

iSideWith ~ answer a brief questionnaire, and when the results are tallied, this website lets you know which political candidate(s) are truly closest to your set of values.  It's an eye-opener.

Cougars 2, Wolves 0 ~ morbidity and mortality when these two predators come in conflict.  The tally is from the Bitterroot Valley, just south of Missoula, where I'm writing this. I would not have predicted these results, though after careful thought they make sense.  Cats run from dogs, right?  Wrong.

Navigator's Gag Amuses Plane-Spotters as Fighter Jet Races Through Snowdonia.  In the Royal Air Force they're called 'navigators', in the U.S. Air Force they're called 'weapons systems officers'.  Either way, a bit of irreverent humor helps lighten the tension of high-speed, ground-hugging training flights through an area in Wales called the Mach Loop.  Check out the text for more information.  And here is a video showing the action.  Most of the aircraft are RAF Tornadoes.

28 May 2012


I'm feeling a bit subdued this Memorial Day, remembering my time in the military, especially in Vietnam.  Some names of those I knew have started to fade, but their faces and voices and personalities remain clear.  I hope that as you attend family gatherings and share special meals, you'll take a moment to honor those who served, those who gave their lives or returned home with physical or emotional wounds ~ men and women from all wars, on all sides.  It's too easy to become sidetracked by the crass abomination of sales or sporting events, and forget the true purpose of the holiday.

I've been fortunate to visit the Vietnam Memorial (known familiarly as The Wall) several times ~ each was spent in reflection and tears.  This morning I happened upon a brief article of interesting facts about the 58,267 names incised there ~ sets of fathers and sons, brothers, age groups, dates, casualties from home towns.  One pair of figures struck me ~

  • 997 soldiers were killed on their first day in Vietnam
  • 1,448 soldiers were killed on their last day in Vietnam
Just about everyone in the war zone kept a 'short-timer's calendar', and knew how many days remained to be served in country.  As the number of days dwindled, the anxiety of the newcomer (having no idea what to expect) was replaced by a different anxiety ~ understanding all too well what could happen, and determined to survive.  Some resorted to superstitious rituals, hoping to increase their chances of getting out alive.  Others just took it one day at a time, their senses honed to a keen edge.

I like the way the cited article concludes ~ "For most Americans who read this, they will only see the numbers that the Vietnam War created.  To those of us who survived the war, and to the families of those who did not, we see the faces, we feel the pain that these numbers created.  We are, until we too pass away, haunted by these numbers, because they were our friends, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters."

27 May 2012


Today marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, one of the most internationally recognizable structures on the planet.  Clad in international orange, at the time of its completion the 4,200 ft (1,280 m) suspension bridge had the longest main span in the world.  At centerline the bridge is 692 ft (211 m) above the water.  [Dropped from this height, a human-sized object would attain a velocity of approximately 102 mph ~ so fast that at the bottom of the fall, the impact with water would feel like hitting concrete.]

The American Society of Civil Engineers declared the Golden Gate Bridge to be one of the modern Wonders of the World.  Elegant in its simplicity and graceful in its imposing strength, the bridge draws the eye of any observer as it spans the confluence of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, while connecting the peninsular city of San Francisco to Marin County.

Thanks to the ever-resourceful Andrea Kuszewski, here is a guide to 1937 San Francisco, including an interactive map.  You can zoom in and out, pan in any direction, and explore the city's neighborhoods as they existed then.  Numerous icons, when clicked on, give you a flavor of life then.  Note that the sentence just above the map is a link to a full screen version.

Above is an image of the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day.  Below, the bridge is enshrouded by San Francisco's trademark fog, with downtown in the background.  Click on either image to enlarge.

26 May 2012


I think of myself as a highly ethical person.  My moral compass is (in my awareness) steady.  To paraphrase the cadet honor code at West Point, I do not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.  Further, I go out of my way to leave the world a better place than I found it ~ which includes fighting social injustice and environmental irresponsibility, making people laugh, sharing love, and acting with integrity.  

But is it really that simple?  Not necessarily, according to a new study which examines why people make ethical or unethical decisions.  The study found that even though an individual's understanding of right and wrong may remain constant, choices may vary depending on that person's power position (employee vs. management), or work role (soldier vs. medic).  The shift may be unconscious, since we are responding to often-subliminal codes in our environment ~ codes which spell out what is expected of us, even if it conflicts with our personal values.

That's where many people find themselves making decisions at odds with their moral code.  If they notice, they may find ways to rationalize the conflict, or they may just live with the guilt.  Or, if their vision is clear, they may have the character to do the right thing, regardless of the expectations of others.  As one of the researchers put it, "We find that people tend to make decisions that may conflict with their morals when they are overwhelmed, or when they are just doing routine tasks without thinking of the consequences.  We tend to play out a script as if our role has already been written.  So the bottom line is, slow down and think about the consequences when making an ethical decision."

Which means that we must be aware that the decision involves ethics, whether it is a mundane daily act or something more uncommon in our lives.  Awareness is key.  Clarity is key.  Being true to one's ethos is key.  All else falls into place.  Taking risks with other people's money as a stock broker or banker, or cutting safety corners to save on costs on a construction project, or taking forbidden performance-enhancing drugs as an athlete, or deciding to shoot or not to shoot as a soldier, or returning a wallet found on the sidewalk, or writing the card or letter that you know means a great deal to the recipient .... all are choices which carry ethical consequences.

25 May 2012


From Wikipedia ~ "Towel Day is celebrated every year on 25 May as a tribute by fans of the author Douglas Adams.  On this day, fans carry a towel with them to demonstrate their appreciation for the books and the author, as referred to in Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  The commemoration was first held in 2001, two weeks after Adams' death on 11 May 2001.

"The original quotation that explained the importance of towels is found in Chapter 3 of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ~ 'A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.  Partly it has great practical value.  You can ~

  • wrap it around you for warmth
  • lie on it on the beach
  • sleep under it beneath the stars
  • use it to sail a miniraft
  • wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat
  • wrap it around your head to ward off noxious fumes
  • wave it in emergencies as a distress signal
  • dry yourself off with it if it seems clean enough
"More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value.  For some reason, if a strag (non-hitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel on him, he will automatically assume that .... any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with."

The Hitchhiker's Guide is filled with droll humor, as well as camouflaged commentary on issues ranging from environmental activism to radical atheism.  Adams was a proponent of both, and influenced thinkers and writers as diverse as Richard Dawkins, Mark Carwadine, and Richard Leakey.  But it would be a mistake to place Adams into a conveniently-labeled cubbyhole.  His was an original voice and a questing intellect, concealed behind gentle, playful humor.

I can think of no finer celebration than the Diva's Song from the 1997 French science fiction film The Fifth Element.  When I first saw the movie, this performance literally left me breathless.  The Russian operatic soprano Evgenia Laguna is transcendent, her voice soaring effortlessly through its four octave range.

24 May 2012


A few weeks ago I published a post which included commentary on the dismantling of the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program at Tucson High School, and the banning of books which focused on Mexican American history and culture.  Both actions were undertaken by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, with support from white conservative legislators, none of whom had ever sat in on one of the program's classes to actually see and hear what is taught.  The dismantling and banning were done blindly, on suspicion that ethnic studies subvert American values.  In fact, the opposite is true.  In dictatorial fashion, Brewer is considering extending the ban to include ethnic studies at the state's universities.

Serendipitously, last night I watched an episode of the PBS series Independent Lens, an indie film titled Precious Knowledge ~ On the Front Lines of the Ethnic Studies War.  The documentary puts a human face on the teachers, the students, and the racist book banners involved in the TUSD controversy.  It traces the development of classes in Mexican American Studies, the suppression of the program by Brewer and others, and the demonstrations organized by students to protest the loss of this valuable resource.  Fact ~ 93 percent of students who enroll in the program's classes graduate from high school, compared to 50 percent of Latino students overall. The Mexican American Studies program has been so successful that school districts in other cities around the country have adopted it as a model for helping Latino, black, Asian, Native American, and other minority students to stay in school and graduate.  At TUSD, the program was open to all students, not limited to Latino students.

As a former student and a former teacher, I was deeply impressed with the range and depth of learning taking place in the MAS classroom ~ not just learning about Latino history in the Americas, but learning about active involvement in improving one's community.  When minority students grasp that they are not second-class citizens, that racial stereotypes are false, and that they have the intelligence and the right to speak out for quality education, it is inspiring to watch their minds and spirits blossom.

I highly recommend watching the program here, at your earliest opportunity.  According to the website, it will only be available for viewing until June 9.  I do not know whether it may be available elsewhere after that date, but I'll provide updates as I find out.  Here is a brief summary of the making of the documentary.  And here is Wikipedia's summary of the film's story line.

23 May 2012


During a recent episode of NPR's Morning Edition, Alix Spiegel spotlighted a common use of language which I'd never before considered.  The piece parses out how ~ if we pay attention to function words (articles, conjunctions, and pronouns, among others) ~ we can tease out a significant layer of meaning more subtle, yet just as important, as content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs).

Function words "express grammatical relationships with other words within a sentence, or specify the attitude or mood of the speaker".  Content words are the anchor words which "carry the content or meaning of a sentence".  Function words are the filler words which tie content words together, forming a cohesive thought.  But they do much more.  Not only do they organize language, they convey status in relationships, hint at the speaker's gender and relative social status, predict who will recover from trauma, and even provide clues to whether the speaker is lying or telling the truth.

Psychologist James Pennebaker at the University of Texas has been studying function words for twenty years.  He and his students devised a computer program to "peer into massive data sets and discern patterns that no human could hope to match".  Based on the degree to which two people do (or do not) adjust their use of function words (especially pronouns) to each other, Pennebaker can tell which person is senior in a power relationship, and can predict whether people meeting each other for the first time in a speed dating event will hit it off.

By paying attention, one can not only discern the intent of a person in conversation, but influence that intent.  You can read the transcript, or listen to the story, here.

22 May 2012


Normally the online reference site Wikipedia is my initial go-to source for information.  However, I've discovered at least one instance in which Wiki's information is off by well over a century.  In the entry on the Mile-High Club, the history paragraph cites the first recorded instance (perhaps apocryphal) of a couple having sex during flight in an aircraft happened in November 1916.  However, an article at the website io9 places the date much earlier ~ in 1784, when the first woman aeronaut boarded a hot air balloon.  One of her two male companions disembarked to lighten the load, the balloon ascended quickly, and onlookers from the ground reported seeing rather suggestive behavior in the balloon's passenger basket.  You can read the account here,and draw your own conclusions.  Thanks to Jennifer Ouellette for the link in one of her Google+ posts.

I don't want to disparage the Wiki entry ~ it includes sections on popularly known incidents of people attempting to have sex on planes, the legalities involved, and a list of references documenting the information.  Wikipedia remains a useful starting point in any research.

Note ~ modern sex in flight isn't confined to airliner rest rooms.  The commercial Airbus A380 has first class cabins which feature beds, though the cabins are not soundproof.  And some enterprising individuals and companies offer special Mile-High charter flights, in aircraft large and small (see images above and below, click to enlarge), presumably for a premium price.  

21 May 2012


The title refers not to the Pacific Ring of Fire, but to the visual effect produced by an annular solar eclipse ~ "when the Sun and Moon are exactly in line, but the apparent size of the Moon is smaller than that of the Sun.  Hence the Sun appears as a very bright ring, or annulus, surrounding the outline of the Moon."

Yesterday viewers in the eastern Pacific Ocean and western United States were treated to the spectacle of an annular eclipse.  Here is an animation showing the path of the moon's shadow across the Earth's surface, with insets showing how the eclipse looked from the ground.  Click on the "eclipse graphics" prompt.

Below are several striking views of the eclipse ~ click to enlarge each image.

20 May 2012


A few nights ago I was mesmerized by a PBS American Masters episode, Johnny Carson:  King of Late Night.  As most readers know, Johnny Carson hosted the late night talk and variety show The Tonight Show from 1962-1992, in the process becoming the most popular entertainer in U.S. television history.  His nightly audiences averaged 15 million viewers ~ double the current audience of David Letterman and Jay Leno .... combined.  Both men got their big break on Carson's show, and most people (including Johnny Carson himself) saw Letterman as Carson's heir as The Tonight Show host.  For reasons that remain obscure and a bit shady, NBC instead chose Leno to fill Carson's shoes .... an impossible task.

There is no shortage of remembrance material out there, including a range of commemorative DVDs featuring interviews, musical and comedy performances, and Carson's own sketches, all culled directly from The Tonight Show archives.  The American Masters homage is different.  It explores the "dichotomy and enigma, unearthing clues about Carson's childhood, early days in the business, and personal and professional life".  You can view the hour-long documentary on Johnny Carson here.

During his career, Carson received six Emmy Awards and a 1985 Peabody Award.  In 1987 he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.  In 1992 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 1993 received a Kennedy Center Honor.  So many people across generations ended their day with him, that millions felt shock and grief when Carson passed away on January 23, 2005.  Tributes poured in, and luminaries throughout the entertainment industry paid homage.

Both David Letterman on The Late Show and Jay Leno on The Tonight Show devoted an entire show to remembering Johnny.  I found Letterman's reminiscence to be particularly sincere and moving.  Below you will find links to his entire tribute to Carson, presented in brief segments ~

  • Part 1, the opening monologue, consisting entirely of jokes Carson sent to Letterman.
  • Part 2, Letterman's impressions of Carson's greatness.
  • Part 3, clips of Carson's appearances on Letterman's show.
  • Part 4, reminiscences by Tonight Show producer Peter Lassally.
  • Part 5, Lassally continued.
  • Part 6, Lassally continued.
  • Part 7, Doc Severinsen, Tommy Newsome and Ed Shaughnessy play one of Johnny Carson's favorite songs, 'Here's That Rainy Day'.  (Carson's other favorite was 'I'll Be Seeing You')
  • Bonus, Johnny Carson's last TV appearance.
  • Bonus, Bette Midler performing 'One For My Baby (and One More for the Road)' on the penultimate episode of The Tonight Show with Carson as host.
The impact of Johnny Carson on American popular culture cannot be overstated.  With his guests he was always attentive, and appeared to genuinely enjoy people both well-known and unknown.  His casual interview style did little to conceal a very sharp mind and sense of humor. His jokes at public figures showed no favoritism ~ everyone was fair game.  Like most people in public life, Carson had a significant ego, but also a deep desire for personal privacy born of humility and decency.

Johnny Carson's signature segue to a commercial break was "We'll be right back".  He let it be known later in his life that he wanted his epitaph to read "I'll be right back".  I'm waiting, wistfully.

19 May 2012


No, today is not Barack Obama's birthday.  Fifty years ago today, actress and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday Mr. President" to the charismatic John F. Kennedy, at a gathering in Madison Square Garden to celebrate his 45th birthday.  Monroe's rendition was memorable for its sultry, seductive delivery, and for her sheer, flesh-colored, rhinestone-studded dress which was so form-fitting that she literally had to be sewn into it.

The event was spiced by the belief that Monroe and Kennedy had had an affair ~ perhaps born out by Jackie Kennedy's not attending the birthday celebration.  It was also poignant, in view of Monroe's death less than three months later, at the age of 36.  Here is a grainy video of her performance (bear in mind it was 1962).  Afterward, Kennedy joked, "I can now retire from politics after having had Happy Birthday sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way."

Sadly, Kennedy himself left us just over a year later ~ on 22 November 1963, he was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.

When we lose someone, whether an admired public figure or a beloved friend or relative, it is believed that we go through five stages of grief ~ denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  But what about if the loss isn't to death, but to separation?  Someone close to us moves on to a new job, a new relationship, or a new city.  The loss may be temporary or permanent.  In The Meaning of Goodbye, Krystal D'Costa explores departures from individuals and from groups.  If temporary, a casual "see you later" may suffice.  If permanent, a more formal observance may be needed to confirm the connection, express intimacy, and bestow wishes for a safe and happy life.

D'Costa reminds us that "At the end of the day, it's not an easy experience for everyone.  Goodbyes, especially among an affectionate cohort, can weigh heavily on the group dynamic, which is why it bears repeating that they are only as final as you allow them to be ~ after all, there's always Facebook."  And email, and snail mail, and phone calls, and future visits, and Skype, and ....

18 May 2012


From the NYTimes ~ In the New York Times earlier this month, Nicholas D. Kristof called for a boycott of Anheuser-Busch because of how the company's products are affecting residents of an Indian reservation that has been decimated by alcoholism.  The reservation is dry, but the nearby town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, (with a population of about 10 people) 'sells more than four million cans of beer and malt liquor annually' and 'is the main channel through which alcohol illegally enters the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation' (see map above ~ bold print mine).

"How can tribes, states, the federal government and local communities deal with alcoholism on and around reservations?  If the beer companies and liquor stores are following the law, do they have a further responsibility to their communities?"

These questions introduce a debate, How to Address Alcoholism on Indian Reservations.  The panelists include ~

  • Frank Lamere, Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, who maintains that regulators and manufacturers have Blood on Their Hands ~ "The Lakota Nation slowly bleeds to death while Nebraska and Anheuser-Busch proclaim that there are no easy answers, muttering about legal businesses and capitalism".
  • Aneel Karnani, University of Michigan, who counters that the situation is Not a Private Sector Problem ~ "liquor stores and beer companies can't prevent alcoholism or smuggling".
  • Waheed Hussein, University of Pennsylvania, who draws a distinction between Good Profit and Bad Profit ~ "when the products sold by companies hurt a community, they have a special responsibility to mitigate the damage".
  • Richard B. Luarke, Governor of the Pueblo of Laguna, NM, who proposes that Communities Must Be Proactive through "regulating alcohol sales, and offering scholarships and training-to-work initiatives".
The issue of alcoholism on the rez is far from new.  It has been portrayed and analyzed for decades in scholarly papers, movies such as the 2002 film Skins, and Ian Frazier's 2000 book On The Rez.  Those who know little about conditions on Indian reservations, or those who have little sympathy for the unique history of genocide and systematic prejudice inflicted upon Native Americans, may wonder why this is the problem of anyone but the Indians themselves.  After all (says the stereotype), they're all lazy drunks anyway, aren't they?

No.  The fact is that it is no accident that unemployment, alcoholism, and domestic violence are higher on many reservations than in any other segment of society.  When your people have their ancestral land stolen, and are then forced to live in squalor on land no one else wants ~ when your culture, your very language is taken from you, and your children are taken from their families and made to attend Dickensian boarding schools with the aim of turning them into white people ~ when you see yourself portrayed in movies and the media either as a blood-thirsty red man or an anachronistic noble savage ~ and when all these conditions persist across generations, the slide into hopelessness is too difficult for many to resist.  And once you've misplaced your pride and lost all hope, it's all to easy to seek the emotional numbness provided by alcohol.  

The image of the drunken Indian is an ugly stereotype which most Native Americans do not fit.  But many are alcoholics, encouraged by the reservation system, by the racism of their white neighbors, and by the parasitic business practices of beer and wine companies.  It is a problem for all of us, because we all created it, whether by our participation or by our silence.  So long as even one man, woman, or child is oppressed, none of us is free.

Native Americans don't need me to speak for them.  The list of accomplished Indian writers includes many of my favorite authors.  Similarly, in the arts, in academia, in the practice of law, in science, Native Americans excel on a par with other social groups.  They are held back not by a lack of skill or intelligence, but by a lack of opportunity.  Indians are by far the most discriminated-against minority in America, a fact made all the more insidious by so many living isolated in impoverished ghettos, making their plight invisible to the rest of society.  It is only through persistence, courage, and ingenuity (in books, in classes, and in forums like the NYTimes debate) that Native Americans are able to call the attention of an insensitive public to what needs fixing, by whom, and how it should be accomplished.

In the meantime, Whiteclay, Nebraska, population 10, continues to make a killing ~ literally and financially ~ at the rate of more than 4 million cans of beer and malt liquor per year, sold to Lakota Indians with no thought for ethics or social responsibility, only for profit.  Kristof's editorial on the physical and psychological warfare being waged against Pine Ridge is worth reading and passing along.  And yes, I'm joining the boycott.

17 May 2012


We've passed a significant turning point ~ today's NYTimes announced that "white births are no longer a majority in the United States.  Non-Hispanic whites accounted for 49.6 percent of all births in the 12-month period that ended last July, according to Census Bureau data made public on Thursday, while minorities ~ including Hispanics, blacks, Asians, and those of mixed race ~ reached 50.4 percent (see chart above, click to enlarge), representing a majority for the first time in the country's history.

"Such a turn has long been expected, but no one was certain when the moment would arrive ~ signaling a milestone for a nation whose government was founded by white Europeans and has wrestled mightily with issues of race, from the days of slavery, through a civil war, bitter civil rights battles and, most recently, highly charged debates over efforts to restrict immigration.

"While overall, whites will remain a majority for some time, the fact that a younger generation is being born in which minorities are the majority has broad implications for the country's economy, its political life, and its identity.  'This is an important tipping point,' said William H. Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institution, describing the shift as a 'transformation from a mostly white baby boomer culture to the more globalized multiethnic country that we are becoming.'

" .... A more diverse young population forms the basis for a generational divide with the country's elderly, a group that is largely white and grew up in a world that was too.  The contrast raises important policy questions.  The United States has a spotty record educating minority youth.  Will older Americans balk at paying to educate a younger generation that looks less like themselves?  And while the increasingly diverse young population is a potential engine of growth, will it become a burden if it is not properly educated? .... A college degree has become the most important building block of success in today's economy, but blacks and Latinos lag far behind whites in getting one.  According to Mr. Frey, just 13 percent of Hispanics and 18 percent of blacks have a college degree, compared with 31 percent of whites.

" .... Educating young minorities [is] of critical importance to the future of the country and the economy .... Immigrants took several generations to assimilate through education in the last large wave of immigration at the turn of the 20th century.  But [economic] mobility was less dependent on education then, and Americans today cannot afford to wait, as they struggle to compete with countries like China."

The NYTimes commentary was supplemented later in the day on the PBS Newshour, where the "white births are a minority" news was the lead story.  Check here for both video and a transcript of the discussion with a Brookings Institution demographer and a professor of globalization at New York University.  There is some overlap in commentary, and some additional perspective.

I am one retirement-age white male who welcomes our transformation to a more culturally diverse nation.  For too long, the white majority has virtuously celebrated America as a melting pot of immigrants ~ all the while violently resisting the latest wave of immigrants.  It is deliciously ironic that the change we've so long resisted comes from within.  As the white baby boomer generation passes out of its child-bearing years, Latino and other minorities are entering their child-bearing peak.  When you think about it, that should be reassuring to those who worry about who will be around to fund the Social Security, Medicare, and other support for aging Americans.

But for me, it's about far more than financial security.  I've lived in multicultural, multilingual settings over the years, and they are always more vibrant and interesting than lily-white cities or regions.  There are so many traditions to experience in this world, why would anyone be content with just one?  We all can teach and learn from each other, while retaining our own ethnic identity (if we wish), or adopting those aspects of other cultures which please us (if we wish).  Life is rich.  Those places which already are experiencing the majority/minority shift ~ cities like New York, Las Vegas, and Memphis, and states like Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and California ~ have sometimes made the news when some whites have to struggle with their racism or their insecurity.  But in the long run, that struggle will be seen as growing pains.  You can't stop the tide.

But don't tell that to the men who run the Republican Party.  Increasingly they give every appearance of seeing themselves as the last bastion of white male superiority.  And increasingly, they are alienating women and minorities, at a time in the party's evolution when they can least afford the numerical losses.  The party is adrift, with no rescue in sight, and clinging to the perceived lifeboat of radical Tea Bagger ideology, which is only hastening their highly vocal drift away from the American mainstream.  The Washington Post recently published figures which support the idea of entrenched racialized parties ~

  • More than three-fourths of African American voters identify with Democrats
  • Hispanics favor Democrats 47 percent to 24 percent
  • Among whites, the Republican Party has an 11-point edge
  • Among white men, the GOP advantage rises to 21 points.  Barely a third of white men consider themselves Democrats
"If the GOP is becoming the new 'white man's party', the Democrats are reliant on women and people of color .... It's hard to see much future for a GOP that has minimal support from blacks and Latinos, especially when the latter are such a fast-growing part of the population.  Though the growth of the Latino population appears to favor Democrats, the party can hardly afford to write off white men altogether.  An optimistic view is that party racialization is approaching the point of diminishing returns ~ and that the losing party in 2012 will conclude that it must broaden its base, or die."

We live in complex and interesting times, nationally and internationally.  Those who can adapt to change, will likely survive.  Those who cannot, will become mere shells of their former selves, and when you put them to your ear, you can hear the ocean.

16 May 2012


This topic has been lying fallow on my desktop for a few weeks.  I was considering discarding it, when I checked the Washington Post online just now, and discovered that the story, which was first published on April 27, remains the most-shared article nearly three weeks later.  So if it still has that kind of traction, perhaps it's time to comment.

Please take a moment to read past the headline, Let's Just Say It ~ the Republicans Are the Problem.  I know it sounds like more blame-game finger-pointing.  But let's consider the evidence ~

"We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional.  In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted.  Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

"The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics.  It is ideologically extreme ~ scornful of compromise ~ unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science ~ and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.  When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country's challenges.

"It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right.  Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate .... are virtually extinct.  The post-McGovern Democratic Party, by contrast, while losing the bulk of its conservative Dixiecrat contingent in the decades after the civil rights revolution, has retained a more diverse base.  Since the Clinton presidency, it has hewed to the center-left on issues from welfare reform to fiscal policy.  While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post.

"What happened?"

And with that teaser, I leave you to peruse the Post analysis here.  The discussion goes well beyond election year commentary.  It recognizes a seismic shift in ideology, one which may well lead the GOP to implode from its own self-destructive inertia.  While I am an unapologetic liberal, I view the Republican Party's metamorphosis (think Franz Kafka) with concern, for how can meaningful dialogue in government occur when one set of participants refuses to negotiate?  Turn the situation around ~ if radical liberals (which mostly don't exist, except in Newt Gingrich's fevered imagination ~ held the nation hostage for years, saying 'It's my way or the highway', moderate Americans of all political persuasions would be justified in throwing the bums out.  Well, we have a different set of bums who are obstructing and subverting the democratic process.  (See image above, of current congressional Republican leaders)

We need a return to moderation on both sides.  The Democratic Party clearly retains more moderates than does the Republican Party, which, like an eager lapdog, pants and slobbers for the favor of the most radical band of the conservative base.  I don't understand that rabid, self-entitled mentality.  But I know that it is paralyzing Washington, and shredding our development at home and abroad.  If allowed to continue, the trend will mark a whimpering end to the American Century.

15 May 2012


A recent episode of NPR's Science Friday featured a group of science advocates (including a writer, a mathematician, and a physicist/former congressman) who point out that since the American President should have the basic scientific knowledge to understand policy challenges, evaluate options, and devise solutions, a presidential science debate could help voters decide if a candidate is up for the job.  I would carry it further, and suggest that science debates should be held among candidates for all elective federal and state offices.  After all, science is the purest and most effective form of problem-solving ~ investigating phenomena (political issues), acquiring new knowledge (understanding all sides of the issue), and correcting and integrating previous knowledge (writing new laws or revising old laws).

Here are a few excerpts to help understand the proposal ~

"[A TV debate] is a really important way of bridging the science gap that is emerging as science begins to influence more and more aspects of our lives, and lies at the center of more and more of our unsolved, major public policy challenges.  And yet the people that we're electing, often don't seem to have much knowledge of science, or the ability to tell the difference between a knowledge-based argument and one that just sound good .... High-tech firms routinely ask little puzzles of prospective employees and yet our number one employee, arguably, never has to respond in real time to a question that's not canned.  It's very easy to plug into well-memorized, well-rehearsed sets of answers.

"[Even in Congress] there are very, very few scientists there right now .... No presidential candidate is going to want to enter a debate involving much mathematics or science.  They just don't understand it.  They don't know anything about it.  They may have taken one course on it in high school, and the last thing they want is to publicly display their ignorance .... for certain candidates, their belief in the Bible would overwhelm any knowledge of mathematics they might have.  And so they might be influenced more by their religious beliefs than they are by any knowledge of math.  [That would be useful to know], but only if you're wanting to judge candidates on the basis of their religious beliefs.  I would be more concerned about, will they understand the financial structure of the United States government?  And will they be able to tell, by themselves, what is a dangerous direction to take, and what is a safe direction to take? .... I really want someone up there who is sharp in all fields of knowledge ~ not just science and mathematics, but a well-rounded, well-educated individual able to deal with all the many issues that come before the President of the United States.  And if they can't do that, I don't care what party they're from, I wouldn't support them.

" .... There are two different ways to [structure the debate].  One is asking them .... their positions on the big science policy questions, whether they understand that climate change is occurring ~ according to scientific knowledge, and the measurements that we're doing in nature ~ and if so, what their plan is to deal with that.  Or, how do we deal with our slipping science and math education standards?  Or, since science and technology drive so much of our economy ~ about 60 percent of our economic activity right now, in one way or another ~ how are we going to ensure our continued innovation dominance?

"There's another way to do it, too, and that's to ask them to take something called the American Science Pledge, a pledge to base public policy decisions on evidence instead of opinion or belief.

" .... I would be very interested in what they know about the importance of science, that scientific research is the basis of the economy because it's the research that leads to new discoveries.  New discoveries lead to manufacturing of new products, and that leads to jobs.  And if you're not going to fund basic science research, you're not likely to improve the economy as much as you could with allocating funds to research.  I would also be interested in how much a presidential candidate knows about the National Science Foundation.  That's a very good question to ask them.  What is the National Science Foundation?  What do they do?  Would you support increased funding for them, in an effort to improve the economy?  A question like that would really wake them up on some of these issues.

" .... I would like to know if the president understood anything about risk assessment.  If you don't understand that concept, you're so easily swayed by politics versus science.  Whether you're on the environmentalist side or the industrial side, it skews it so widely from one end to the other and nothing ever gets accomplished .... former Vice President Cheney had his famous 1 percent doctrine.  If there was a 1 percent chance of a terrorist attack, you had to act as if it were a certainty.  On the other hand, if there's a 99.9 percent chance that global warming [is real], many people say, wow, maybe it's not established.  So people, politicians in particular, too often use numbers as providing declaration and not providing real information.

" .... part of the resistance is just the word debate, science debate.  Maybe it should be billed as science discussion.  What's important is how you think scientifically, whatever the topic.  That's why questions regarding math [or science] require them to think through a problem, just to see how they think analytically.  It's not surprising that you'd meet resistance because politicians are used to just giving canned, rehearsed answers .... It behooves people with a scientific or mathematical background to engage themselves in the public domain.  It's kind of scary in a way, because if you just forthrightly say something that's true, you're liable to incur the wrath of all sorts of people who feel that what you said has contradicted their religious or cultural beliefs.  But it's also harder to be a politician than it is to be a scientist, and less fun.  To be a politician, you have to assuage and placate various disparate constituencies, and that's harder to do.  Science is fun.  Math is fun.

" .... There's really no politician who is going to be excited about debating anything to do with science.  Politicians are in business when they're running for election to do one thing, and that's to get votes to get elected.  And if they don't see a payoff for them in this, and if they see undue risk, they're not going to want to do it."

Which means that it is up to us, the electorate, to make it crystal clear to ALL candidates that we expect our elected representatives, whose salaries we pay, to be well-educated, well-informed, and have the ability to think analytically about the broad range of issues we as a society face ~ and to understand in every fiber of their being that it's not about playing it safe, or pandering to special interests, or fund-raising for the next election.  It's about being the best, most balanced, most incisive thinker representing our interests.  The public in general, and politicians in particular, are lazy thinkers, preferring simple (and misleading) answers to complex issues.  Avoidance and denial won't accomplish anything beyond accelerating America's slide into ignorance, a second- or third-rate power in the world.  We have the talent, we have the ingenuity, we have the desire.  What we need ~ especially in our leaders ~ is a rigorous and comprehensive understanding of science and math.  And how will we know how much they understand, unless they demonstrate for us in a forum like a public debate?

The panel discussion covered much more material ~ you can read the transcript or listen to the discussion here.  For further ideas relating to a presidential science debate, check out the website Sciencedebate.org.  Whether the topic is energy, health, science education, climate change, the economy, or technology, clearly it is in our best interest to become informed citizens, and teach our children through our example.

14 May 2012


In The Atlantic online, Andy Isaacson presents an extremely well-researched and well-written essay titled Can a Better Vibrator Inspire an Age of Great American Sex?  This is not a salacious, nudge-nudge wink-wink essay, but an informed assessment of the favorite sex toy for many women (and some men) ~ its history, its popularity today, and the future of vibrator design.  The hope of one company is that "a better machine could mean better sex for a repressed nation".  And the U.S. without doubt remains among the most sexually repressed nations in the world, a place where one state (Tennessee) has passed a law that defines kissing and holding hands among teenagers as 'gateway behavior' to becoming sexually active.  For the past 30 years we've been regressing as a nation in so many ways, but do we really want to return to prohibition laws, knowing that they encourage what they're intended to thwart?  And holding hands?  Really?

Do you fancy owning and operating your own personal surveillance drone?  One article suggests that you may get your chance.  Until recently only branches of the Department of Defense could obtain waivers from the FAA to fly drones in domestic airspace ~ whether equipped with cameras or weaponized.  The FAA has rightfully cited concerns over safety in the air, since commercial and private pilots are not notified of the drones' presence.  (Not to mention massive concerns over privacy, in a world where government uses the threat of terrorism to intrude itself into our lives in more numerous and onerous fashions as time goes on.)

Now it seems that domestic corporations and individuals are agitating for access to drone technology and operation.  "Congress has told the FAA that the agency must allow civilian and military drones to fly in civilian airspace by September 2015 .... Drones come in all sizes, from the high-flying Global Hawk with its 116-foot wingspan to a hummingbird-like drone that weighs less than an AA battery and can perch on a window ledge to record sound and video (see image above, click to enlarge).  Lockheed Martin has developed a fake maple leaf seed, or 'whirly bird', equipped with imaging sensors, that weighs less than an ounce.

"Potential civilian users are as varies as the drones themselves ~

  • Power companies want them to monitor transmission lines.
  • Farmers want to fly them over fields to detect which crops need water.
  • Ranchers want them to count cows.
  • Journalists are exploring drones' news-gathering potential.
  • The hungriest market is the nation's 19,000 law enforcement agencies, from the U.S. Border Patrol to your local police department and sheriff's office."
Many concerns remain to be resolved.  Currently military drones are controlled by operators seated at a computer, often halfway around the world.  Neither the drones and the operators are required to meet the safety and training standards to which civilian pilots must adhere.  The National Air Traffic Controllers Association would like to all domestic drone operators to have at least an instrument-rated pilot license (a step above a private pilot license).  Further, the uses to which drones may be put give cause for concern .... particularly weaponized drones.  An ACLU spokeman maintains that "The Constitution is taking a back seat so that boys can play with their toys.  It's kind of scary that they can use a laptop computer to zap people from the air."  A recent ACLU report said allowing drones greater access takes the country "a large step closer to a surveillance society, in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded, and scrutinized by the authorities."

Tough issues.  Check out the embedded video at the 'article' link above.

On a lighter note, I recently discovered a website which offers courses from top universities, for free.  "Learn from world-class professors, watch high quality lectures, achieve mastery via interactive exercises, and collaborate with a global community of students."  Coursera offers content from the humanities and social sciences, from mathematics and statistics, from healthcare, medicine and biology, from computer science, from economics, finance and business.  I have not signed up yet, but a friend has taken several courses, and recommends the service highly.

13 May 2012


Today is Mother's Day in the U.S. ~ an annual holiday recognizing "mothers, motherhood, and maternal bonds in general, as well as the positive contributions they make to society."  Most of us have abiding warm and tender feelings toward our mothers, even in dysfunctional families.  Especially as we become older, have children of our own, and then grandchildren, we appreciate what our own parents went through to raise us.

Today I'd like to broaden the scope of the celebration to include all women (whether or not they had children) who have contributed to the history of the world's cultures, ancient and modern.  On the website Women of History there is a menu tab labeled Notable Women, with a long list of categories in which woman have played critical roles ~ from monarchs to warriors, artists to mathematicians, writers to judges.

Given that in most cultures, women have be subjugated to a status not equal to men, imagine how many more accomplishments could be listed if men had accepted women as their peers all along.  My hunch is that a more androgynous world would be a kinder, more tolerant place ~ competition would be moderated by cooperation, analysis would be enhanced by intuition, stoic strength would be balanced by openly expressed emotions.  What are now stereotypical traits of masculinity and femininity would simply become available to all, unconstrained by rigid social standards.  To each his/her own blend.

Perhaps someday.  For now, a toast to mothers everywhere.  Salud.

11 May 2012


From Hijacking Emotion is the Key to Engaging Your Audience ~ "The default to emotion is part of the human condition.  To better appreciate the role of emotion and what it allows an audience to do, we need to take a brief detour into evolutionary biology.  The human brain can be understood as three separate brains working in tandem, if not completely integrated with each other.

"The primitive brain and the limbic brain collectively make up the limbic system, which governs emotion.  Within the limbic system, there is a structure called the amygdala, which leaders need to understand.  When faced with a stimulus, the amygdala (red structure in above image, click to enlarge) turns our emotions on.  It does so instantaneously, without our having to think about it.

" .... The amygdala is the key to understanding an audience's emotional response, and to connecting with an audience.  It plays an important role in salience, what grabs and keeps our attention .... Only when we have an audience's attention can we then move them to rational argument.

" .... Here are five ways to engage [an audience] effectively:

  • Establish connection before saying anything substantive.  .... The key is to make sure the audience isn't doing anything else so that they pay attention.
  • Say the most important thing first once you have their attention.  The most important thing should be a powerful framing statement that will control the meaning of all that follows.
  • Close with a recapitulation of the powerful framing statement that opened the presentation.
  • Make it easy to remember.  Keep in mind how hard it is for people to listen, hear, and remember.  One way is to repeat key points..
  • Follow the rule of threes.  Have three main points.  But no more than three main points, no more than three topics, no more than three examples per topic.
"The default to emotion is part of the human condition.  The amygdala governs the fight-or-flight impulse, the triggering of powerful emotions, and the release of chemicals that put humans in a heightened state of arousal.  Humans are not thinking machines.  We're feeling machines who also think.  We feel first, and then we think.  As a result, leaders need to meet emotion with emotion before they can move audiences with reason."

It strikes me that while the above remarks are intended for speakers in a business setting, they are equally valid for politicians addressing a constituency, for writers creating the opening chapter in their novel or work of non-fiction, or for anyone who hopes to engage the interest and support of a group of people.  When I was teaching, I instinctively followed most of the writer's ideas.  Restless, bored, or irritated teenagers need a focus ~ as do restless, bored, or irritated adults.  

I'm not sure I quite buy into the pat 'emotion-first, intellect-second' assumption.  Much depends on the setting, and on group expectations.  If one has signed up for a presentation at a professional conference, one's interest is already engaged.  The connection is already established.  But if I were moderating a discussion on a controversial topic, or stating my views favoring one side of that topic, then these guidelines would be useful.  

10 May 2012


Do you eat to live, or do you live to eat?  It is a life-and-death question.  Take all your clothes off and take a good look in the mirror, as though you were critiquing a stranger.  What do you see?  Is the body in front of you slender and toned, or packing a few swells and bulges?  Or is it downright blubbery?

We are in an epidemic, one that we are paying for in cold, hard cash every year.  According the the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), fully one third of all Americans, including children, are seriously overweight.  Fully another third are clinically obese.  According to a PBS Newshour feature, "When you have too much weight around the middle, the changes in blood pressure, the changes in blood sugar, in cholesterol, these are silent processes .... people have a rather benign view of weight gain.  And it's now catching up.  Now we have people who, in their 40s, 50s, 60s, are having heart attacks and strokes.  Big is not beautiful.

" .... One out of three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in his or her lifetime.  One out of two if that child is African-American or Latino.  It's not just developing diabetes.  If that child develops the diabetes before the age of 10, his or her lifetime will be cut by 19 years, and the life will be an unhealthy one.  It will be a painful one. It will have kidney failure or amputations, heart attack or stroke.

" .... The foods that are so affordable are the high fat, high sugared foods that are activating the pleasure centers of our brain in the same way that drugs do.  It's the dopamine system.  It's the pleasure-reward system of the brain.  And so we've refined these food products to be as potent as we can for that reward."

But the reward, as with drug addictions, is temporary.  We get suckered into coming back for another fix, and another.  Our fixes become larger ~ we are literally, as Mike Huckabee says, "digging our graves with a knife and fork".  What isn't temporary are the long-term, deleterious health effects, as well as the effects on our national economy.  Obesity is costing us $200 billion a year, and the cost is growing.  Here is a sampling of what's at stake ~

  • Obesity is a contributing factor in 5 of the top 10 causes of death ~ heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease.  ~ CDC.
  • In 2009, roughly 94 percent of schools served a lunch that failed to meet federal standards for healthy school meals.  80 percent of the lunches served in those schools exceeded federal recommendations for total fat and saturated fat.  ~ USDA survey.
  • Someone with diabetes costs on average $6,600 more per year to care for than someone without diabetes .... Someone who is obese costs on average more than $1400 more per year to care for than someone who is not obese.  ~ CDC.
  • At the current rates of increase, obesity-related health care costs are expected to exceed $300 billion by 2018 ~ more than double the $147 billion reported in 2008.
  • Workers who are obese are less likely to be promoted than their fit peers.  ~ Reuters.
(Source:   Obesity in America, by the numbers.  The link includes in interactive map showing adult obesity by state, with a click-and-play feature showing the increase from 1995 to 2010.)  

Imagine how revolting we must look to (a) developed countries which promote fitness, and (b) underdeveloped countries where famine is a fact of life.  It breaks my heart to watch small children and teenagers waddle down the street.  It verges on revolting to see adults with huge rolls of fat on their bodies, stuffing junk food and soft drinks into their faces.  I find it difficult to muster much sympathy.  Every bite is a conscious choice.  It's not like these people are oblivious to the fact that, as time passes, they are having to buy clothing in larger and larger sizes.  They get it.  They're simply, tragically in denial.

I know, I've been there.  From age 40 to age 56, my own over-eating (mostly healthy foods) caused the scale to tip to higher and higher numbers.  My reality check came when I reached 199 lb.  The thought of weighing 200 lb. or more was grotesque.  So I made a decision to limit my food intake to 1200 calories per day.  This allowed me to lose about 2 lb. per month, a rate slow enough to improve the chances that weight loss would be both manageable and permanent.  Reading the nutrition labels on food packaging was an education in itself ~ all those toxic additives ~ but my main references were the content of fat, calories, and fiber.  And my best friend was the bathroom scale.  

Today, at 5'9" I weigh 144 lb., exactly at the low end of the healthy weight range for my height. I'm slender, but if I were to add muscle mass (which is denser than most other tissues), I'd still be within acceptable weight limits.  Here is an indispensable tool ~ a chart broken down by gender, showing the ideal healthy weight range for a given height.  Within that range, lower is better.  The website includes a link to determine your body mass index (BMI).  I encourage you to place the link on your computer's desktop, for easy reference.  

Now is the time.  Not tomorrow, not next month.  Like quitting smoking, losing weight will have immediate health benefits.  Exercise, and eat healthy foods in moderate portions.  You'll feel better, you'll look better, and you'll live longer.  Your loved ones will thank you, your doctor will thank you, and most of all you'll thank yourself.

The map below (click to enlarge) shows the rate of obesity in America by state, as of 2010.  Note that in no state is the rate less than 20%.  One in five people.  In the majority of states, the rate is much higher.  Our national self-indulgence is a disgrace.