Hacker wants to cripple students by denying them basic tools of a complex society

That Andrew Hacker would advocate ending the requirement to study algebra to get a four-year college degree is mildly surprising. There has been no hint of such anti-intellectualism in his many fine essays on demographics, race and the education system in the New York Review of Books and elsewhere throughout the years.  On the other hand, he has not been afraid to express a controversial opinion, usually backed by a slew of empirical evidence.

That he would use cheap and transparent propaganda tricks to advocate anything, let alone the deep-sixing of algebra, as he does in his article in last Sunday’s New York Times opinion section, is both shameful and disappointing.  The article makes a shambles out of truth by defining algebra by its hardest and most advanced features.

Hacker sprinkles his article with examples of “algebra” as proof that it’s just too hard for most kids:

  • (x² + y²)² = (x² – y²)² + (2xy)²
  • Vectorial angles and discontinuous functions
  • Quadratic equations
  • Fermat’s dilemma (I think he means Fermat’s Last Theorem)

Hacker is right to say that no one except engineers, scientists and the occasional financial analyst will need to know any of his examples, which are all very hard. But correct me if I’m wrong, these are all subjects for the second year of algebra (I think the first year includes some simple quadratics).

Let’s take a look at what else Hacker wants to keep children from learning (except the lucky few who will get technical degrees):

  • X + 5 = 10
  • 2X – 3 = 5
  • .08x = 80
  • a/b = c/d, so ad = bc

That’s all math from the first year of algebra and all necessary for most people in our technology-oriented society.

The uses for my first three examples come every time we buy anything, be it in a supermarket, department store, laundromat or stadium. These basics of algebra allow us to figure our taxes and balance our checkbook.

The last example is particularly noteworthy, because since I began working at my first job running a closed circuit television studio for a subsidiary of the old Ma Bell in Seattle and writing/directing such classics as “Safe Pole Climbing,” not a week has gone by when I have not needed this basic equation.

Here is a classic example: I am billing an employee’s time at $65 an hour and paying her a total compensation of $38,000, meaning I break even once she has billed 11 hours to clients every week. To what level do I have to raise her rate to get the same break-even point if I increase her total compensation to $45,000?  In the basic equation a/b = c/d, so ad = bc: a is what she makes, b is her hourly billing rate and c is her new compensation.

Let’s plug it in:

$38,000 time d = $65 times $45,000

And now solve, using the simplest of algebra that is taught about a third of the way through the first year (and a calculator for the arithmetic!):

38,000d = 2,925,000

d = $76.97, which I would round up to $77/hour or down to $75/hour.

In one form or another, week after week for decades I have faced a problem that this equation helped me to solve—as a university instructor of foreign languages, as a television news writer and reporter, as a would-be Hollywood screenwriter, as a marketing manager, as a public relations executive.

Hacker draws a picture of algebra that has nothing to do with the real-world needs of people.

I won’t dwell on the fact that learning mathematics is good for young brains because it entails developing a new way of thinking—similar to studying Chinese or Spanish—since Hacker freely admits it himself and proposed an algebra-free math curriculum for the liberal arts type that focuses on finding the mathematical beauty in the visual arts, music and poetry.

I don’t think it’s unfair to ask college or even high school students to pass a first-year algebra class. The key word is “pass.” Getting a C because the last few weeks got a little rough is no shame. It just means that someone shouldn’t consider going into any science or technology career, as the kids best suited to those careers whiz through algebra, trigonometry, calculus and beyond. And it probably also means that you’ll have a deficit in one area when competing against those who excel in higher math courses in liberal arts fields such as writing, law, business administration, sales, human resources and even the visual and performing arts. For example, my understanding of physics, which hinges on an understanding of the rudiments of calculus, has helped me win the advertising and public relations work of many technology companies.

There are plenty of fields that don’t require that someone get through trigonometry, and many of them pay very well.

But the world has become too complicated for anyone who can’t figure out that two cans of beans that are $5.00 each cost $10.00 total. That’s 2X = ?, if X is $5. And that, Mr. Hacker, is algebra.

Let’s close with a  slight subject change: Unfortunately, many non-college jobs pay very little money and much less than what they used to pay, which is why contemporary parents are in a panic to get their kids into the colleges associated with success in the high-paying fields. These parents would be better off campaigning for a higher minimum wage, laws that help unions organize and other laws that raise salaries so that one can attain and maintain a middle class lifestyle whether one is a Harvard-educated lawyer or a community college trained security guard.

Consistent NCAA & Penn State decisions show that it’s always about the bucks

The public argument over whether the NCAA was too harsh, too lenient or just right in punishing Penn State has replaced the argument over whether Penn State should have taken down or left up the statue of Joe Paterno.

What I find so remarkable in the unfolding of the Penn State sex abuse cover-up is the consistency in the decisions reached by both the NCAA and Penn State. They both held one value above all others.

If OpEdge were a TV or radio show, this is the moment when we would hear a hard rock base line followed by a slightly spacey sounding male voice yelping a single word, ”Money!…..”

That the NCAA’s decision is all about the Benjamins, Grants, Jacksons, Lincolns and McKinleys is fairly obvious.

The NCAA’s actions constituted a hard line, but do not prevent Penn State from engaging in the sports promotion business in the future, as ending the football program would have. Cleaning out some 13 years of Paterno victories cost no one anything—except the pill of bitter pride for the players and coaches. (And thanks to the good fortune of dying quickly and unexpectedly, Joe Paterno never suffered the humiliating torments of seeing 13 years of victories and the NCAA record snatched from him because of his own hubris.)

The $60 million and loss of bowls and scholarships hampers Penn State, but a “death penalty” would have put thousands of people in Happy Valley out of work and led to a major  depression in an area in which college sports, and particular football, is a major industry.

The Penn State decision was also about money. After the revelations that Joe Paterno knew that Sandusky was raping boys on campus and engaged in a cover-up of those horrifying facts, how could the statue of the former saint remain standing?

But why keep the name on the library? It’s simple: Joe Paterno raised the funds that built it, contributing several millions of his own to the project. When people give that kind of money to any charitable or educational institution, there is always a contract. I’m guessing that somewhere there’s a contract in which the name of the library is bestowed upon Paterno.  And if there’s no contract, there’s a letter of understanding, public minutes, a mission statement or something in writing.

Where there’s something in writing, lawyers lurk, and we know what that would mean in the case of the Paterno Library: a long and very ugly law suit in which the public would learn once again of the special circumstances that might give PSU the right to change the name of the building. That couldn’t be good for business.

In short, the statue is an amusement, but a library is real money.  Once a statue is gone, it’s easy to forget it was ever there. But you can’t tear down a library.

Paterno isn’t the first power-hungry egotist to build a library on the bones of ethical behavior, and in his case the victims number fewer than one hundred (let’s hope). Think Andrew Carnegie and his creation of a steel fortune on the bones and blood of thousands of exploited miners and workers.

In fact the bitter and sweet mix of emotions many will now feel as they contemplate the good that the library represents and the evil that Paterno suborned and concealed would be an appropriate expression towards every Carnegie-built and -supported library across the country.

Those who dream of cowboy justice wake up to the reality of mass murder at the movies

Facing the facts on guns in American society completely demoralizes me, and no more so than when I have to view those facts through the prism of yet another mass murder committed by someone who legally purchased his weapons and ammunition.

Perhaps most depressing is the nature of the political discussion. The debate should center on the formulation of a mix of new gun control laws and regulations that could screen a nut like James Holmes, who killed 12 and injured nearly 60 during a midnight showing of a new Batman movie in an Aurora, Colorado theatre.

But the discussion in the news media is not about fixing the problem, but about the extreme unlikelihood that we will even consider stronger gun control laws.  At the root of every article about the inability of our political system to consider tighter gun control is the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the billions of dollars it has spent over the years to buy politicians and spew pro-gun propaganda to the public.

The NRA has achieved its goals. Compared to 20 years ago, more Americans currently support loosening our already sieve-like gun control laws. One of the weapons Holmes used was an assault rifle, which is essentially a light machine gun. The assault rifle is a weapon neither of the hunt nor of sport shooting, and yet a majority of Americans now support its legal sale.

As with global warming, healthcare reform and tax policies, a large portion of Americans prefer to ignore the facts of gun violence in the United States. Here are some I pulled from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence:

  • The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is 19.5 times higher than rates in 22 other populous high-income countries combined, despite similar non-lethal crime and violence rates.
  • Among 23 populous, high-income countries, 80% of all firearm deaths occurred in the United States.
  • An estimated 41% of gun-related homicides and 94% of gun-related suicides would not occur under the same circumstances had no guns been present.
  • A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide than to be used in a self-defense shooting; 11 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault or homicide and four times more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting death or injury than to be used in a self-defense shooting.
  • Every year there are only about 200 legally justified self-defense homicides by private citizens compared with more than 30,000 gun deaths.

In short, loose gun control laws in the United States sacrifice the lives of 30,000 people every year, all to shield from prosecution 200 people who killed others with guns while protecting themselves.

These facts are never part of the core discussion concerning gun violence. And yet we hear—and the news media publish—the yahoos who propose that if more people had guns, perhaps fewer people would have died in the Aurora movie theatre or other mass murders.

Let’s play out the nightmare of which these gun supporters dream. You’re in the theatre and all of sudden the air is filled with smoke and gun shots.  So you pull out you gun and start shooting back in the direction you think it’s coming from. Someone on the other side of the theatre sees you fire your weapon and thinks you’re the shooter and starts aiming at you. Meanwhile, the hundreds of other people in the theatre now have gunfire coming at them from three, maybe even more, directions. I know that Will Smith survived the Mexican standoff at the end of Enemy of the State, but that was a movie.  Remember, all the other actors survived, as well, because the bullets were fake. Not so in Aurora. More guns shooting would have lead to one thing only—more dead and more injured.

Considering that it was gun-loving Colorado, I want to thank the x number of gun owners who were packing that evening who decided not to draw their firearms.

Gun control laws demonstrate the corruption our current political system.  Any number of politicians would be delighted to support stronger gun laws, that is, if enough people would pony up both the small fortune they would lose from the NRA and the large fortune to match what the NRA will spend to defeat them. It’s all about money and getting elected.

Travelers wants us to channel our inner dog for lower insurance rates and the pride that comes of obedience

To say it’s a dog’s life once described a dreary, harsh and probably impoverished condition. Nowadays we would probably use the term “dog’s life” to symbolize living in the lap(dog) of luxury. Spending on dogs and other pets has tripled over the past 20 years. Stores for training, feeding and grooming dogs seem to be proliferating at a pandemic rate.

Dogs now serve as a major motif in television commercials for virtually every product, including beer, snack foods, automobiles and clothing. In these television spots, dogs can be symbols of family, of loyalty to the pack (if not to a spouse), of good-naturedness, of goofiness, and even of freedom.

But it is the image of a mindlessly happy slave blindly following orders to which Travelers Insurance wants us to aspire in its new commercial for auto and other insurance. Among the traditional values associated with dogs, the Travelers ad favors blind obedience and easy trainability.

The commercial focuses exclusively on a dog that does everything it’s supposed to do, and more. The visual narration unfolds in 9 vignettes of the same “good dog” being good.  Since it’s a commercial for auto insurance, it naturally takes place in a car-dependent suburban setting. Here are the 9 vignettes:

  1. The dog covers a hole in which it has probably buried a bone.
  2. It pulls the sprinkler to the middle of the yard with its teeth.
  3. It wipes its front paws on a floor mat before entering the house.
  4. Its maw grabs a water bottle that its master has left on a table and places it in a trash bin.
  5. It drops a set of car keys from its teeth into the key tray by the door.
  6. It looks both ways before crossing the sidewalk, thereby avoiding a collision with a woman pushing a baby carriage.
  7. It tries to clean up spilt milk by dredging a cloth through the white puddle with its teeth.
  8. It puts its empty food bowl in the open dishwasher.
  9. It takes a bag of groceries in its teeth from the back of a mini-van and carries it inside the house.

The narration subtly twists each of these vignettes into a corresponding action that a human could, and should, take to be a better driver or get a better rate on car (and home) insurance. The phrases include, “safe driver,” “loyal driver,” “accident forgiveness,” “rewarded for good behavior,” “recognized for doing the right thing, ” “the good things you do, but maybe nobody notices,” and my favorite, “Travelers wants you to be good.”

The background music is a Speakeasy 20’s version of a song that goes “I’ve been good to you, yes I’ve been good….”

It made me want to sit up…

…and fetch a newspaper or bring a leash in my teeth to some human in hopes of getting a crunchy little ball of processed meat and meal, or perhaps a scratch behind the ear.

No one can miss the metaphor: the dog is us, at least a better version of us which is rewarded for its goodness by lower automobile and home insurance rates. The total identification between the dog and the ideal of human behavior plays out in the call to action: to visit the goodbehavior.com website.

It’s one thing to say, “She has an elephant’s memory” or “He’s crazy like a fox,” but the Travelers “good dog” ad, which is part of a whole series of ads in which dogs symbolize humans, takes the analogy beyond the comparison of a single trait to an all-encompassing idealization of humans mindlessly doing the right thing.

That right thing is defined by Travelers not only as a set of driving behaviors, but a set of consumer behaviors as well: How else do we explain the presence of loyalty as one of the “good boy” behaviors proposed in the commercial, when loyalty has nothing to do with safe driving?  Product loyalty is, after all, the holy grail of marketers. A more encompassing view of what constitutes a “good boy” imbues the imagery, which resides in a world of suburban consumerism, replete with ranch-style home, gas-guzzling automobile, dish washer, plastic water bottle and other  disposable paraphernalia of suburban excess. To Travelers, to be a “good boy” requires that one not only drive safely, but to obey all the rules for good consumerism like customer loyalty and mindless acquisition. In another context, “the good dog” might morph to something savage such as the “good Nazi” or “good Soviet,” but Travelers has something a little less overtly violent in mind: just be a happy idiot.

Penn State cover-up of Sandusky crimes shows that a cover-up always makes matters worse

Let’s go back in time to 1998 or whenever it was that Joe Paterno and some high-ranking Penn State officials first learned that an assistant football coach was sexually abusing young boys. What if, instead of engaging in an illegal cover-up of illegal and disgustingly immoral activity, Joe-Pa and his crew had put Sandusky on leave, told the authorities what they knew and made public their moves. They would have sent two very strong messages to the public:

  1. We don’t tolerate illegal and immoral activity
  2. The system works: we responded immediately and forcefully.

An expeditious handling of a tragic situation would not have hurt Penn State and its beloved football program in the long run. Most people have common sense and understand that bad actors can slip through any system.  All the public asks is that institutions do as much as possible to keep out the bad guys and, when they are uncovered, act swiftly to protect victims and punish offenders.

As Louis Freeh’s report demonstrates, Penn State neither protected victims nor pursued justice. Instead it tried to cover it up. The result: the monster Sandusky was able to perpetrate his sexual crimes on other innocents and the formerly sterling reputations of Penn State and its sainted former football coach are now shattered.

When Joe-Pa and the administrators were considering their options back then, did anyone bother doing a risk-reward analysis? Without trying to put numbers on the possibilities, they should have quickly seen that even if there were only a 1% chance that the cover-up would eventually fail, that small possibility was too much to risk if the public discovered the university’s key officials had not acted against a sexual predator. Instead of avoiding bad publicity, Joe-Pa and his crew made it worse by shifting the center of attention away from Sandusky to the university itself.

Some cover-ups may work from time to time, but the bigger the institution, the longer the cover-up and the more sensational the news, the less likely that the institution will be able to keep a lid on the bad news.

Even when we leave ethics and even legality out of the equation, the best and only option when a large organization finds out about bad news is to bring it to the public itself, put its spin on the news, tell why it happened and explain what the institution is doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Didn’t any of these highly educated and savvy white males ever hear of Watergate?

The similarities and contrasts between the Penn State pederasty scandal and Mitt Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns are illuminating. The contrast must be noted first, so that no one thinks I’m equating Romney’s greed with Penn State’s moral failings or Sandusky’s crimes, Mitt’s returns will probably indicate that he did nothing illegal, although it might support the notion that Romney tells a wee white lie from time to time. The bad news is what everyone already knew about Mitt, his money and how he earned it.

But the similarity is also worth noting. The cover-up in both cases has made the publicity much more negative than it would have been if Penn State had acted sooner and Romney had released tax returns for 5 or 6 years.

It’s also worth noting that once the typically hands-off Penn State Board of Trustees finally learned of Sandusky’s heinous crimes and the cover-up, it acted swiftly and appropriately by firing the whole lot. It was the right thing to do, both from the moral and the PR perspective.

Today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called for the suspension of the Penn State football program for an unspecified period of time. I would like to suggest that 5 years should do it. That should be enough time for the university to gain some perspective and realize that even if football were the be all and end all of a university’s mission—which it is not, that is still no reason to act illegally to protect illegal activity and enable it to continue for years.

Not releasing past tax returns is an enormous PR blunder by Romney campaign

Mitt Romney continues to refuse to release his past tax returns, while insisting that there’s “nothing hidden in them.”

It’s an untenable position, since it begs the obvious question, “If there’s nothing hidden, why not release them?”

The answer, of course, is that the returns will likely show the enormous amount of money he makes, how he makes it and how he uses sophisticated techniques to avoid paying taxes.  We won’t see anything illegal in Romney’s returns, but we will probably see how much he still earns from Bain and be able to connect some of those earnings in certain years to layoffs of companies that Bain bought and sold. It will also probably show a number of tax avoidance techniques using loopholes in the current tax laws, such as “carried interest” and tax shelters in foreign lands. The returns will reinforce the notion that Romney is a fat-cat one-percenter who should be paying more in taxes.

The returns will be bad news for the Romney campaign, which is precisely why he should have released them already.

Get the bad news out early and all at once. That’s one of the truisms that I have learned from 25 years of developing and implementing crisis communications plans for companies in many industries and of many sizes, including three of the largest chapter 11 bankruptcies in history.   Letting the bad news fester can only lead to three things, all bad for the company or individual:

  1. The bad news stays in front of the pubic longer.
  2. The bad news leaks out slowly, so what was just one story becomes many stories over time.
  3. When the bad news breaks, it will be bigger than it would have otherwise been, because added to the news is the fact of the cover-up.  Take, for example, Penn State’s child abuse scandal.

Once bad news is out there, the company or individual can address it, either by telling the world why it won’t happen again or by asserting its side of the story.  The second approach would be the one for Romney to take. He is already advocating the positions that enable him to make and keep so much money. The fact that he does what he says is okay shouldn’t surprise anyone. But by refusing to release the returns, the Romney campaign keeps the issue in the news and gives the Obama campaign a symbolic cudgel with which to beat Romney again and again…and again.

I can understand Romney’s reluctance to release the returns before he had sewed up the nomination, given the complicated tango he danced with the extreme right-wing of the Republican Party, AKA the Tea Party.

But if Mitt had asked me, I would have made a strong recommendation to release the returns as soon as he had a majority of convention delegates in hand. Once out, he could have responded to the criticism by saying,” There’s nothing illegal in the returns, so it’s a closed matter. Let’s move on.”

Romney would still have to defend his economic positions, he would still be a poster child for the fat cats and he would still be open to charges that his only concerns are for the wealthy and that he doesn’t care about anyone else.  But he’ll have to defend those accusations no matter what.  With the returns out, he could spend his time trying to explain to the American people why he thinks his tax policies work to the benefit of everyone (FYI, they don’t.)

By not releasing the returns, he reinforces the idea that something nefarious is going on. He turns a simple matter into a cover-up. And that’s much worse than admitting what everyone knows already: that like other wealthy people, he makes a lot of money and knows how to use existing tax laws to minimize his tax burden.

Obama plan to let temporary Bush II tax cuts expire but keep cuts for others will help weak economy

We start with the fact that we have both a weak economy and a heavy debt burden.  It would be great to reduce the debt, but…

If we let the temporary tax cuts of the Bush II Administration taxes end, people will have less money to spend, so the economy will shrink.

If we cut government programs which pump money into the economy, people will have less money to spend, so the economy will shrink.

How then to pay off some of our enormous national debt?

The key to my mind is to let the Bush II tax breaks expire on money that does not create jobs. Two examples:

  • Any investment in the secondary market, which means, the buying and selling of stocks and bonds that do not result in additional funds for job-creating corporations. When you buy an initial offering of stock, the money goes to the company, but from then on, buying or selling that stock does not create any jobs, only transfers wealth between buyers and sellers.
  • The purchase of fine art and those luxury items for which high quality but less expensive substitutes are available. For example, producing a pair of luxury blue jeans costs about the same in materials and labor (including marketing) as producing a pair of quality jeans you can buy in a department store. It’s not the profit, but the costs to produce and sell that create new jobs. The enormous profit that the luxury item commands represents an exchange of wealth between the wealthy person buying the jeans and the wealthy people who own the company, but no additional jobs.

My point is that the more money you make, the more of what you make gets put into assets that do not create jobs or create relatively few jobs for the money spent. Virtually everything that the poor and the near poor make goes right back into the economy, as does most of what the middle class makes. It is only the wealthy and near wealthy who can keep much of their money out of the job-producing economy.

That’s why President Obama is absolutely spot on to propose letting the Bush II cuts expire, but only on those with incomes of more than $250,000.  As the President said earlier this week, “These tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are also the tax cuts that are least likely to
promote growth.”

As with any proposal to increase regulation or raise taxes on the wealthy or near wealthy, a major thrust of the Republican reaction is to invoke “small business.”  And as always, Democrats fall for it, hook, line and sinker and thereby let Republicans control the terms of the debate. This week, for example, there have been dueling versions of how many small business owners would have to start paying the additional taxes if the Bush II cuts expire for those earning more than $250,000: The President’s people say it’s a mere 3% who will have their taxes return to what they were before Bush II and Congress went “bat-Cantor crazy”; whereas the Republicans (purposely misunderstanding a detail of a non-partisan report) aver that it’s 50%. The very definition of small business is up for question: for Small Business Administration purposes, it covers businesses that have as many as 1,500 employees and sell as much as $21.5 million a year. Sounds pretty big to me.

The entire small business argument is nothing more than a smoke screen. Whether one owns a small business, is a high-powered attorney, plays a professional sport or runs a public company, does it really matter how the money is earned? $250,000 is a lot of money to earn in one year, more than 98% of the population makes. In our troubled time, it’s not too much to ask people to pay in taxes what they used to pay before the disastrous Bush II Administration.

Is popularity of Dr. Oz magazine covers sign that we want real heroes or that we embrace politics of selfishness?

One measure of celebrity hotness is the increase in the sales of magazines that bear their faces on the cover. Putting some celebs on the cover can increase newsstand sales by tens of thousands. That explains why hot celebrities end up on so many covers and also why we can use covers as a measure of hotness. The covers are one aspect of the feeding frenzy that characterizes celebrity worship.  As soon as a celebrity cover drives sales higher at one magazine, other mags follow suit, ratcheting up the intensity of the celebrity worship. Sometimes magazine advertising representatives will try to sell the benefits of advertising in an issue, the cover of which features the celebrity of the month.

As reported in the New York Times today, the hottest magazine cover celebrity in 2012 is not Justin Bieber, Snooki or even Adele. It’s not any singer, actor or TV personality. And it isn’t even a member of any of the wealthy families whose ancestors held autocratic control over large masses of people (AKA royalty).

It’s Dr. Mehmet Oz, a physician, a medical doctor, someone dedicated to science. You know, science—that topic which situation comedies, movies and other mass media present as boring and a sure sign of social ineptness if one likes it. Science—against which the mass media has waged war by broadcasting  pseudo-documentaries on imaginary creatures and giving so much play to anti-scientific theories and theorists.

Not just science, but medical science, which is part of biology, the basis of which is standard evolutionary theory.

The Times quickly disposes of the question of why Time, O, Prevention, Men’s Fitness, Natural Health, Shape, Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day have all put the good doctor on covers over the past few years. Everyone quoted agrees that it’s because when Oz goes on a cover, more magazines fly off the shelves.

I would desperately like to believe that the current consumer thirst for Mehmet suggests that people are sick of the superficial fame of most celebrities and are attracted to the more tangible accomplishments of Dr. Oz. But Oz just one person, compared to the dozens of current A-list media magnets who are reality TV stars, royalty, children of the rich and third-rate pop entertainers.

It is also a little disconcerting to think of the type of doctor Oz is and what he represents. I don’t mean to knock Dr. Oz, who gives the same kind of much-needed good advice about health that Suze Ormand does about personal finance. Just like Suze, if people followed Dr. Oz’s advice, they would be a lot happier and healthier.  When you see him make a guest appearance on a TV show that is inundated with commercials for chips, pop and fast food surrounded by an endless dessert of reality shows and fantasy documentaries, he resembles an oasis of rationality.

But compare Oz to the medical celebrities of the 50’s and 60’s, when I was growing up. Back then it was Albert Schweitzer and Tom Dooley (who we learned years later doubled as a CIA operative in Southeast Asia). Back then, our medical heroes went to undeveloped foreign countries to treat poor people. Let’s not forget about Jonah Salk, who developed a vaccination against a major disease.  In the 80’s, the medical celebrity was our Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who took a heroic stand against a major health menace, smoking tobacco-based products.

By contrast, Dr. Mehmet Oz’s heroic deeds that transform him from physician into celebrity is that he treats you—the narcissistic self-centered viewer. He shows each of us—each of you—how to be healthier, as opposed to providing medical care to poor people in the jungles of Africa or Laos, curing a disease or taking on a big industry for the benefit of society.

To make my point, let’s consider the call to action woven into the message symbolized by our past medical celebrities—be it to help the locals in poor countries abroad or to fight disease, the call to action to consumers for Dooley, Schweitzer and Salk was “give money or your time.” Koop offered several calls to action, most of which reflected altruism—stop smoking, support anti-smoking regulations and warning labels, support government intervention in health issues.

For Dr, Oz, the call to action is to work on the self, to better the self.

An age in which the pursuit of selfish interest is the highest good naturally prefers its medical heroes to focus on keeping each of us healthy—not some distant tribes, not even some underserved community in rural or urban America, but you, the viewer, the individual, the self seeking its own best interest.

16 museums dedicated to teaching creationism pockmark the American landscape

Secular humanist that I am, I couldn’t contain a squeaky chortle of glee when reading that the Creation Museum in a Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati is in financial distress. Attendance is down more than 30% from its opening year of 2007. It’s having trouble raising the $20 million it needs to build a giant Noah’s Ark theme park.

The Creation Museum uses interactive exhibits to brainwash children and uneducated adults to believe that the Earth was formed by a conscious deity about 6,000 years ago and that humans and dinosaurs once inhabited the same ecosystem at the same time.  The museum, wghose theme line is “Prepare to believe,” was built by a ministry called Answers in Genesis, founded, like the Murdoch right-wing media empire, in Australia.

The museum blames the bad economy for the slowdown in business. Of course the museum operates with one hand tied behind its back, since no public school classes are allowed to send field trips there because it would run counter to the Supreme Court decision that keeps religion outside the classroom. Imagine how well the Creation Museum would be doing if could get on the public school field trip gravy train.

I’m wondering if the problem isn’t that it has to face brutal competition. I’m not talking about from Disney and Universal Studios, which are dedicated to the religion of consumerism. I mean competition from the other museums that want us to believe in an unscientific and false view of the physical world. After all, there are now 16 museums in the United States dedicated to the false notion of creationism,  including:

You’d think there would be plenty of paying customers for everyone, what with a recent Gallup poll showing that 46% of all Americans believe that a god created humans in their current form, while another 32% think that whatever the process of evolution , it got a good nudge from a deity. That’s an enormous target market.

The creationist museum is a very much a phenomenon of the south. Of the 16 museums dedicated to creationism, 11 are in the south, with 3 in attraction-rich Florida and 4 deep in the heart of all things conservative, Texas.

Yet, despite the fact that Gallup found only 15% of the population endorsing the scientific view that humans evolved with the intervention of a deity, museums that advocate Darwinism, such as the American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (4 million visitors a year) and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh (1.3 million visitors a year), draw more people. No creationist museum comes close to these numbers. It’s probably because those damn yankees stole all the best dinosaur specimens.

To believe that a god created us is harmless enough until it is used to defend pollution-causing activities or war. I also have no problem with building institutions full of pretty pictures and exhibits dedicated to religious contemplation and then charging people an entrance fee to see. Maybe it works a little better when the entry fees are voluntary donations, which has been the game for the Catholic Church for about 2,000 years.

What I find pernicious to the intellectual health of the collective body of the American people is to pass off this nature-centric religion as science, which is what all these museums attempt to do. In one way or another, they all use facts and what they call analysis to provide what they call scientific proof of the intervention of a god in the creation or development of human beings. To ask the “god” question is inherently unscientific (which is why calling the Higgs boson a “god particle” is so unfortunate). Science exists outside the world of gods, because it is based solely on observation and not a priori theories of existence. Science looks for consistent rules that exist through time and does not care who or what created the rules, just how they work.

Thus, it’s their pretentions to science that make these creation museums unethical.

By rejecting state health insurance exchange, GOP governors increase the scope of federal government

These past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about my brother’s death at the age of 49.  When he fell from a ladder and smashed his brains on the concrete below, he was worth about $100.  Yet he got the finest, most high-tech treatment available by first class specialists who respected and maintained his life until it was hopeless, then cut out his useable parts for the living.

And it was all free.

The best medical treatment in the world for free for an itinerent skilled laborer—and he got it at the Charity Hospital in New Orleans, which was founded in 1736 and at one time was the second largest hospital in the country. It never reopened after Hurricane Katrina, most assuredly for political reasons.

My thoughts have turned to the wonderful care my brother received because of the announcement by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal that he was acting for the entire state and rejecting key portions of the Affordable Care Act. How far has Louisiana  fallen when it comes to taking care of its citizens!

Jindal has now been joined by his fellow right-wing ideologue Florida Governor Richard Scott, who is also rejecting those portions of the new health care law over which the states have control.

In the case of both of the provisions that Jindal and Scott have rejected, the governors are cutting off the noses of their constituencies to spite their own faces in a near paroxysm of ideological purity.

First, their refusal to construct state health insurance exchanges (HIX), which are state markets on which different insurance companies offer policies built on state-mandated standards to uninsured citizens of the state.  The Affordable Care Act gives every state the option to create an HIX, but the citizens of those states who decide not to create an one will be able to buy insurance on the federal version. In other words, by blocking Louisiana and Florida HIXs, Jindal and Scott are directly leading to an increase in federal government intervention on a state level because people who would have bought insurance through a state HIX will now go to the federal HIX.  I guess their opposition to social service programs to help the needy supersedes their dedication to states’ rights.

Ideological purity will lead to a net transfer of money from the pockets of Louisianans and Floridians because their governors are also rejecting an increase in the Medicare program.

I get it that both would like to replace Medicare with either a voucher system or, alternatively, end all government support of health care for the elderly.  But let’s look at the facts on the ground: Medicare as it exists right now is being expanded to serve millions of new people.  All of this expansion will be completely financed on the short term by the federal government and mostly financed by the feds in the long run. For every dollar that a state puts into the expansion in the future, it will receive many, many dollars from the feds both now and later. All of this money will go to making their citizens healthier.  Moreover, the citizens of every state will have to pay taxes to support the Medicare expansion, whether or not they receive the benefits.  Thus, by refusing to participate, a state is making its citizens pay for the health care of the citizens of other states.

In both refusals, the good governors are perversely working against their own cause. By not creating an HIX, they increase federal government control of the local health insurance market using federal not state standards. By turning down the Medicare expansion, they take money out of the pockets of their citizens and give it to the citizens of other states, a de facto tax increase with no benefit to those taxed—just the kind of thing about which Rick and Bobby like to pontificate.

Laughable on the level of ideas, but truly tragic when we think of the hundreds of thousands of people in these two states who will not get adequate health care because of these heartless ideologues.  It’s a sad day for both Louisiana and Florida.