Bloody civil war in Iraq should remind us what could go wrong in Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry gave an impassioned rationale for attacking Syria. He tried to build the case for the absolute moral imperative to punish Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons on his own people and to prevent him from doing it again.

Kerry detailed the horror of the act for the listening world. Then he promised that U.S. military actions, with or without the support of allies, would be different from Iraq and Afghanistan, because it would not require “boots on the ground.” In other words, we’re going to do a little bombing, then leave Syria to continue its dance of death.

While I join Secretary Kerry and every other ethical and sane human being alive in condemning the Syrian government for using this weapon of mass destruction, I do not share his thirst for military action.

Kerry can list many reasons to bomb Syria, including the fact al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, the fact that we warned him not to do it (another version of the “let’s kill thousands to save face” strategy) and the assumption that failure to act will embolden al-Assad and other U.S. bêtes noire like Iran and North Korea to go farther.

I can think of only one reason not to use force against al-Assad, but it trumps all of Kerry’s rationales: it will likely backfire and plunge Syria into an intensified cycle of violence between a weakened Ba’athist government and a splintered opposition that includes forces that truly despise the United States.

If you need to remind yourself what will happen in Syria, read the article titled “Bloodier than Ever” in the latest Economist. I’ll state my case my excerpting the first paragraph:

“…the scale and scope of recent attacks have shaken even the most hardened Iraqis. More than 500 have been killed in bombings this month, after some 1,000 perished violently in July—the highest number since civil strife tailed off five years ago. Yet these figures, tallied by Iraq Body Count, an independent web-based monitoring organisation, are only the most visible cause for alarm. Car-bombings and suicide-bombers have been a fact of life in central and northern Iraq for most of the past decade, but recent attacks reveal a level of co-ordination not seen for several years.”

In other words, the civil war not only continues in Iraq, but is intensifying again. Later in the article, we find out that al-Qaeda launched an attack on prisons at Abu Ghraib and Taji last month, enabling 500 prisoners to escape. Still later, we learn that the violence is spreading to the south of Iraq, formerly one of the most peaceful parts of the country.

What a mess! And the Syrian mess will be just as bloody and violent and last just as long if we bomb Syria.

Let’s face it. With or without a violent U.S. response, the Syrian people are going to go through a lot of suffering over the coming years, certainly if al-Assad prevails and certainly during a continued civil war. It’s likely that the overthrow of the Syrian Ba’athists will produce a permanently fractured state like Iraq instead of the one strong (and hopefully pro-western) government for which we might all hope. It’s also possible that Syria may end up with another blood-thirsty strong man.

Maybe the Obama administration cynically figures that since things are going to be a mess in Syria anyhow, we might as well send a message to Iran and Russia and work off some our excess weaponry, so we can buy some more from American arms manufacturers.  That Real Politik strategy would certainly be more consistent with the last 75 years of American foreign policy than the moral imperatives that Kerry evokes. That Kerry was careful to tiptoe around international law lends proof to this supposition, as the United States doesn’t want to box itself into holding any other entity above its own sense of imperial entitlement, not even international law.

Thinking about the suffering of the 1,500 people who died of chemical poisoning makes me physically ill. It was a repulsive act that deserves to be met with world condemnation, economic boycott, increased support of those rebels willing to commit to a western-style democracy and a temporary rapprochement with Iran—anything we can do to destabilize the Ba’athists in Syria short of military action.

For your reading pleasure, a poem from OpEdge author’s book

I’m going to start posting one the poems from my book, Music from Words, every few weeks and tell you something about it. My hope is that some dear readers will buy one or more copies of the book. The best place to buy Music from Words is either from the publisher, Bellday Books or from Amazon or another online book store. You can also order it at virtually all brick-and-mortar book stores.

We start with “July Fourth,” the first poem in the book. “July Fourth” was published years ago in the literary journal Oxford Review, which also nominated the poem for a Pushcart prize.  The poem repeats the name, Joe Venuti, many times. Venuti was a jazz violinist who began performing before 1920 and was still at it in the early 1970’s. If you like the OpEdge blog or this poem, please buy Music from Words.


And the three-year-old at the picnic

said she wanted to play the violin

and I said, just like Joe Venuti

and she said, you’re a Joe Venuti

and I said, you’re a Joe Venuti

and she pulled a tuft of grass and said,

here’s some Joe Venuti

and she pointed to a sparrow scratching in the dust

and said, there’s a Joe Venuti

and from a plastic bag she dumped

a bunch of Joe Venutis

and barbecue flames caressed the grilling Joe Venutis

and men threw the Joe Venuti, popping their gloves,

while women slurped the Joe Venuti and spit the seeds

and the sun played hide and seek in dissipating Joe Venutis

and through poplar branches Joe Venuti shadows danced

across the baby’s sleeping smile.


Later, like Marcus Aurelius

observing models of human behavior,

we watched the ducks glide away

after the bread was gone.

–     Marc Jampole

Originally published in Oxford Magazine, Volume 5, # 2 (Spring-Summer 1989) and Music from Words (Bellday Books, 2007).

Invading or attacking Syria would be a big mistake America and the world would regret

Regime change. It sounds so bland, so calm. So scientific. So bloodless.

Here’s what it means: using force to take over another country and then impose a new set of leaders on it or a process guaranteed to produce a new set of leaders. It’s different from a revolution, in which an entire people overthrows the rule of government, which is what happened in Egypt in late 2010. When a small group takes over its own country, that’s a coup d’état, as in Egypt this year.

Some revolutions are good like the American revolution, and some don’t work out so well, and sometimes it starts well until someone bad seizes control of the revolution, e.g., France in 1789 and Russia in 1917.

But no matter what the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and now Obama administrations may say—no matter how tortuous their reasoning—a coup d’état is never good and regime change by external forces is never good.

Some argue that all we have to do is make a pre-emptive strike and dismantle all of Assad’s jet fighters and his chemical arms capabilities. First of all, that’s easier said than done. Nicholas Jahr emailed me earlier today with this quote from CBS News: “The U.S. has huge military advantage, so there is little doubt cruise missiles could destroy targets ranging from command centers to launchers used to fire chemical weapons” and a sarcastic statement. It all sounds so familiar—didn’t we use similar words to underestimate the resources and overestimate the positive impact of a military move in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Consider, too, that even if we could execute a surgical attack that wipes out Assad’s air force in a matter of hours, wouldn’t Assad rearm with the help of Russia, which certainly could use a foreign market for its military goods?

I’ve also read the argument that Assad is backed by Iran, so we can’t back down. This idea that invading or attacking Syria is a proxy for war with Iran is just crazy.  A much better approach is to deal directly with Iran and in a series of horse trades get them to drop Assad like a hot potato. There is much Iran and the United States could accomplish together if we were somehow able to repair the relationship. But if it can’t be repaired, shouldn’t we squirrel away all the resources we can for potential hostilities with Iran? Why dissipate resources on Iran’s proxy?

Using chemical warfare is horrible. But so is the use of drones and carpet bombing. So is torture.  So is mowing down innocent citizens who have gathered to protest. Where do you draw the line in terms of unacceptable behavior by government, behavior so heinous that it requires the world to invade and seek regime change? We knew about the forced famine in the Ukraine and did nothing. We knew what happened in Chile and not only did nothing, but provided aid to the perpetrators.

Then there is the question of what a U.S. led action will do to Syria. Many of those Syrians sitting on the fence about Assad may start to support him on principle. And we all know that the most likely leaders to replace Assad will be anti-American or will support a turn to conservative Islam or both. What could we possibly win?  Is there any scenario with any possibility of coming true in which the U.S. comes out ahead or in which a great deal of innocent blood is not shed? Keep in mind that the current borders of Syria contain large populations of Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Turks, Christians, Druze, Alawite Shias and Arab Sunnis.  Remember what happened to both Iraq and Yugoslavia after the demise of “strong man” government.

There must be some mix of economic sanctions we can still impose. The news that Assad used chemical weapons on his own people may move Russia finally to pressure the Assad regime. Even showering various rebel groups with weapons and money is a preferable option to attack or invasion.

I’m not up on the theories of the just war, but surely one criterion must be that the war has a possibility of achieving an outcome in keeping with the idea of justice and morality: to the western world, including the United States, that currently means a secular, free-market democracy ruled by mostly benevolent parties and leaders. There is absolutely no chance of such an outcome if the U.S. or a U.S. led ad hoc army invades or attacks Syria.

Another proof we need to tax the wealthy more: funds for investing in guitars & stamps

The market for collectibles is booming.  Be it luxury race cars, paintings, stamps, coins, vintage wines or classic guitars, wealthy people are willing to pay a lot more money than they used to for possessions imbued with special value by society or certain elite groups in society.  And why not? They have more money to spend thanks to wage stagnation and a low tax regime.

The climb in what the rich are willing to pay for a 1957 Ferrari or a Cezanne landscape has been precipitous. The Economist, for example, has put together a super index of various indices of luxury valuables. While the stock markets of the developed world have increased by 147% in the past ten years, the Economist says its “valuables index” has shot up by 211% during the same time frame.

The Economist also reports that companies are creating funds that invest in stamps, classic guitars, wine and equine blood stock (racing horses). That’s right—instead of investing in initial start-ups of solar and wind technology companies, rich folk can invest in funds that buy stamps or classic guitars and hope for continued inflation in these “valuables.”

Those who want to keep taxes on the wealthy at low levels always fall back on the old saw that wealthy people need all that money to create jobs.  But what jobs are created by bidding up the price of 50-year-old guitars or 75-year-old stamps?  None. It’s just an exchange of funds between wealthy folks who have nothing better to do with their money. They certainly aren’t investing it in creating jobs.

But the government would have a lot of things better to do with this money. It could increase unemployment and food stamp benefits, which would give money to people who would spend it immediately for goods and services, creating jobs to fill the additional demand. The government could spend it on fixing our highways and bridges and expanding mass transit, especially between suburbs and city centers, which would create jobs. It could subsidize research into alternative energy and more energy efficient technologies, which would create jobs. It could increase the number of government health, food, safety and environmental inspections, which would create jobs.

We’ve created jobs through government spending before. During the ‘50s and ‘60s when income taxes on the wealthy were much higher than today, federal and state government supported an expansion in higher education that made U.S. universities the envy of the world and a inexpensive bargain for students. During that high-tax era, we also built a wonderful interstate system of highways and improved public schools by reducing class size, hiring more specialist teachers and building state-of-the-art school buildings. As most readers will know, we now remember the ‘50s and ‘60s as an age of prosperity for most Americans. Taxes on the wealthy were not high then; they are too low now.

Thirty some odd years into the low-tax-on-wealthy regime started by Ronald Reagan, we have a crumbling transportation infrastructure, college education is becoming increasingly unaffordable, public pension plans are underfunded and states are throwing needy people off food stamp and unemployment insurance rolls. We have little money to invest in the technologies that will potentially save us from human-induced global warming and resource shortages. Public school districts are firing teachers everywhere. Mass transit systems are cutting routes and vehicles everywhere.

Was it worth destroying our social fabric so that the wealthy could have the money to pay more for an old painting?

I must admit that the frequent record purchases of art work and other valuables have made gossip and lifestyle columns much more interesting in our age of plutocratic conspicuous consumption. But in most other ways the country was better off when the rich paid more taxes.

Wall Street Journal gets history wrong in blaming college high costs on increased government aid

The Wall Street Journal has launched a campaign to convince the American people that increased government aid, especially under Obama, has caused the incredible rise in the cost of going to college.  In the same day, the false notion that increased government support of education is the real cause of the rise in tuition appeared twice in the Journal: in an editorial and in an Op/Ed interview of the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), which is funded by Project Liberty, a nonprofit organization with neither website nor mission statement.

It’s as ridiculously wrong as saying that blame for the real estate bubble belongs not on the banks that made bad loans, nor the investment bankers who sold these loans knowing they were suspect, but on the Clinton administration for making more money available for mortgage loans. In the case of the real estate bubble, the Wall Street Journal analysis was faulty because no federal official approved or suborned “liar loans” or selling bad paper to unknowing investors.

In the case of the high cost of college, the Journal and its columnists are trying to rewrite the facts of history. The federal government has made more money available—in loans more than grants—because the cost of college has skyrocketed. The high costs caused government to act.

I wonder of the Journal editorial staff believes that a fish makes a bear dip its paws in the river and eat it. Or that Stalin forced Hitler to invade the Soviet Union.

CCAP director, conservative economics professor Richard Vedder, does have a good point when he chides colleges for building expensive luxury dorms and climbing walls. I have a feeling that most parents would rather see their children in more modest surroundings, perhaps with fewer distractions from studying, and pay less in tuition and housing for their precious scholars. Keep in mind, though, that these colleges are not building these Taj Ma-Dorms for the poor and middle class who need to borrow, but for wealthy and upper middle class students.

Luxury amenities are trivial, though. By far the biggest reason college costs have gone up is because states are contributing less to them.  As the states have gradually cut back on support for education since the beginning of the Reagan era, college costs have ballooned beyond general inflation.

Even while the Journal editorial board blames the Obama administration, which began in 2009, for the 30-year rise in college costs, it finds room to denigrate intellectuals and the academic world. They do it in a transitional paragraph about the potential impact of the new college costs standards that President Obama wants to implement (FYI, I don’t think the standards are a good idea, but I disagree with the Journal’s reasoning):

“And we concede that this latest Obama regulatory onslaught couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch than the university elite who did so much to elect him. But while shifting control of universities from lefty professors to the U.S. Department of Education may seem like a transition between six and a half-dozen, it is not.”

I’m willing to believe the Journal when it implies or states that left-wingers people academia. Certainly virtually every scientist has liberal or left-wing views favoring evolution and human-caused global warming. Moreover academic studies in economics and sociology routinely disprove the myths espoused in the Wall Street Journal. Yes, there has been an enormous net transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy over the past 35 years though tax policy, privatization and union-bashing. Yes, a poor child is less likely to rise to middle class or wealthy status in the United States than virtually any other developed country. No, raising taxes on the wealthy does not destroy jobs, it creates jobs.

So many of the principles of the free market that the Wall Street Journal and its contributors promulgate have been proven false by serious objective academic research. It’s no wonder the Journal and other mass media outlets actively mock and scorn academics whenever they get a chance, be it snide side remarks in editorials or the many geekish, snobbish and ineffectual academics in mass entertainment like ”Fraser” and “The Big Bang Theory.” The believers in the religion of the unregulated free market don’t have the facts on their side, but they do control most of the ink.




Left-leaning economic columnist Eduardo Porter swallows nuclear power Kool-Aid

Eduardo Porter usually gives a reasoned argument on economic problems and it usually leads to a left-leaning solution such as raising taxes on the wealthy or more government investment. He generally approaches the myths of mainstream and conservative economic writers with a clear head.

It was therefore surprising to read Porter on the front page of The New York Times business section advocating for the increased use of nuclear generated electricity as the solution to the twin challenges of human-induced global warming and resource shortages.

Porter effortlessly runs through all the usually facts about the absolute need to reduce carbon emissions even in the face of rapidly increasing global demand for energy. But his argument hinges on a study that he says was conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and the International Energy Agency that found that a nuclear generator could produce power at $50-$75 per megawatt/hour, compared to $70 to $90 for coal-generated electricity and in the hundreds of dollars for solar.  Porter conveniently forgets to tell us that Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) was also involved in the study, but a link thankfully provided by the New York Times gives us that information. By the way, NEA is an international organization whose mission is to “assist its member countries in maintaining and further developing, through international co-operation, the scientific, technological and legal bases required for the safe, environmentally friendly and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” In other words, it’s a shill for the nuclear industry. It is shocking and disappointing to see a reporter I respect stoop to concealing the source of the statistics he uses!

There is so much wrong with his analysis and his use of these statistics that I don’t know where to begin.  The study itself is open to question because it uses very favorable assumptions for nuclear when it comes to construction costs and interest rates. These assumptions don’t take into account the fact that the world has still not developed a viable way to store or neutralize spent nuclear fuel, which will spew radioactive poisons into the environment for thousands of years.

Beyond these figures which aren’t quite facts, Porter makes a number of assumptions that are questionable:

  • Like so many conservatives, he acts as if electricity delivered on a national grid is the only kind of energy that matters. Not true. For example, solar energy can heat the rooms, food and water house by house for much of the year in much of the world. Solar energy could also be used in neighborhood units that supply electricity to blocks or neighborhoods (and are connected to the holy grid).
  • He assumes that tax and regulation cannot be used to “level the playing field.”  Again quoting the Nuclear Energy Agency study, Porter says that even if a tax of $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide were placed on coal and natural gas, it would still be cheaper than wind and solar. Why that arbitrary number? Why couldn’t we tax carbon emissions as much as necessary to make solar and wind competitive?  Right now society and every individual that suffers from a pollution-related disease or a weather disaster are paying the social cost of keeping coal-generated electricity cheap. That’s the way it used to be with cigarettes, too, with society paying the cost of lost productivity and increased illness among smokers. Now we tax the hell out of cigarettes and there is no reason why couldn’t do the same with carbon emissions.
  • Porter doesn’t even discuss the possibility of catastrophic nuclear accidents such as what happened at Kyshtym (in 1957), Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. What he says is that younger environmentalists “don’t associate nuclear power with Chernobyl and the cold war.”  I’m not sure what the cold war has to do with anything (except that the original reason that Truman selected nuclear over the solar option in the early 50’s may have been that he was enamored with dropping bombs). But anyone who doesn’t associate nuclear power with Chernobyl is an idiot, and in Porter’s world, probably a fictional character.  Porter underestimates the justifiable fear of a nuclear accident that people feel.

Porter ends his radioactive polemic with a cry that we have to get started approving nuclear power plants now if we want nuclear power to play a leading role in combating climate change, because it takes 10 years and $5 billion to build each plant. It would be far better if that money were spent on perfecting solar and wind technologies and in priming the market for these alternative technologies with tax breaks and government purchases.

Coincidentally, this week also brought word that Fukushima is leaking poisoned water again. The many nuclear accidents, the one major catastrophe about every 10-15 years and the lack of a place to store all the poisonous byproducts makes nuclear generation of electricity a failed technology. It replaces one environmental horror story with another.  Instead of pouring more money into the nuclear cesspool, we should launch a major effort to accelerate development of alternative energy and technologies that use less energy, while promoting conservation and making the changes to our infrastructure that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, e.g., increase mass transit.

Legal defense for NSA spying falls to new revelations of illegal spying

Defenders of National Security Agency (NSA) wholesale spying on Americans have asserted that it was and is legal, thanks to the Patriot Act.

But it turns out that all too often the NSA has broken the law—2,776 times over a one-year period, according to an internal audit leaked by the former NSA contractor and American hero Edward Snowden.  That’s an average of more than 7.6 times per day that the NSA violated privacy rules protecting the communications of those residing in the United States. The New York Times reports that most of the violations resulted from operator and system errors like “inadequate or insufficient research” when selecting wiretap targets.   For example, almost 70% of the violations occurred when a foreigner whose cellphone was wiretapped without a warrant came to the United States, where a warrant was required.

There is no way to prettify this pig: On its face, 2,776 instances of breaking the law in one year seems to prove that there has been a complete breakdown in agency discipline and that abuse of the Patriot Act is rampant.

The fact that it looks as if most of the violations involved taking a shortcut doesn’t absolve the NSA or the Obama administration. Here are some examples of other shortcuts: not asking for a warrant to wiretap an American citizen; doing complete sweeps of the metadata of millions of Americans; military trials to avoid civilian due process; and, of course, the shortest of all short cuts—torture. We’re not talking about a slippery slope here. What’s at issue is a mindset that is willing to break the rules and in the process trample on the rights of millions and to turn our society into a friendly police state.

It’s lose-lose for the NSA. Saying that the number of errors was miniscule compared to the number of wiretaps they are performing would indicate that the NSA is in fact spying on a disturbingly enormous number of people. So either the NSA makes a ton of mistakes or it’s doing massive spying.  That’s about as lose-lose as you can get!

Barack Obama assumed the office of the President of the United States on extremely high moral ground, which mainly reflected American and world disgust with the bumbling butchery of Bush II that birthed two useless but destructive and expensive wars, a torture gulag around the world and shocking new levels of spying on American citizens.  Barry even won a Nobel Peace Prize essentially for not being George Bush.

After the continued use of drones and continued revelations of spying abuses, Obama has lost all that high ground. You can’t stake a claim to a higher morality merely because you never ordered torture (especially if you have essentially suborned torture by not prosecuting the creators of the illegal torture machine). That’s akin to saying that you’re a better person because you only sell crystal meth to those over the age of 18. Of course, if we apply this analogy to Obama’s NSA, it may mean that you still “forget” to ask for ID most of the time!

Unfortunately the answer is not to vote for Republicans in the 2014 mid-term elections, since the Republican Party as a whole buys into the authoritarian state much more than the Democrats do.  Before we can stem the slow drift towards a police state, we have to turn the Democratic Party back towards a reasoned approach to fighting terrorists, one that depends on legal police and intelligence techniques known to work. It would also help if we had a foreign policy that did not overtly exploit and offend the people who represent the terrorists’ constituency.

Controlling the electorate in Egypt and the United States

The powers that be in Egypt seem to have the same view of democracy as those in the United States have: it’s fine as long as we get our way.

In the United States, they pass laws that make it harder for people to vote in hopes of offloading minorities, the poor and students from voter rolls to give future elections to right-wing conservatives.  In Egypt they are taking a more violent approach, first with a coup d’état that no one wants to call a coup d’état, and then violently uprooting thousands of protesters, leading to the deaths of 525 and counting.  The only coup d’état we’ve had in the United States was in 2000, when the Supreme Court used dubious law to declare George Bush (the Younger) the winner even though he lost the popular vote by millions and probably also lost the electoral college before voter manipulation.

Of course in the bad old days of southern overt resistance to civil rights, those who wished to limit voting to Caucasians often resorted to violence.  We’ve come a long way, baby!

All facetiousness aside, the United States is looking pretty foolish today for not having immediately cut all aid to Egypt when the military overturned the democratically elected government of the Muslim brotherhood.  There was certainly a lot of incompetence displayed by the Brotherhood in running the country, but if incompetence was a justifiable excuse for overthrowing a legally elected government, then we would have endured a number of coups in the United States over the years, including to overthrow Bush II.

Our attitude towards democracy overseas has always been ambivalent, because despite the flowery language about democracy our leaders have spouted from Wilson to Obama, the main concern of American foreign policy has always been to protect the interests of large American companies doing business abroad, secure a cheap source of raw materials, specifically oil, and open markets for American goods, including huge supplies of weapons. Democracy is fine—as long as the democratically-elected government supports those goals.

The Egyptian military is dependent on U.S. aid, as is the Egyptian economy, which was invoked as a reason for the coup. Would the generals have produced a replay of Tiananmen Square if we had withheld all aid until new elections had occurred?

More to the point, why aren’t we halting aid now? The pleas of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry for an end to violence on both sides sound hollow in the wake of the slaughter of the protesters. Of course, democracy plays little if no part in the equation for U.S. foreign policy makers. It’s a beautiful word we like to throw around, but since we became actively involved in world affairs sometime at the end of the 19th century, we’ve been more concerned with creating stable governments. Military governments are certainly more stable than democracies.

It’s time to freeze all aid to Egypt and organize our allies to put pressure on the Egyptian government for immediate elections.

Neoteny suggests we’d be better off if we didn’t take our childhood habits into adulthood

Everywhere we turn nowadays we see mass culture infantilizing adults.

Here are some other examples of infantilization of American adults, by which I mean adults in late 20th century and early 21st century America behaving like children and enjoying the entertainments of their childhood:

  • Disney’s EPCOT Center, a theme park for adults, opened in 1982 and since then the growth in popularity of all theme parks among adults has skyrocketed.  It is absolutely amazing how many adults now go to theme parks for vacation.
  • Around the mid-70s, there began a wave of children’s movies for adults, starting with the “Star Wars” and the Indiana Jones series.  Other children’s movies for adults are the movie versions of situation comedies for children such as “The Brady Bunch.” (But I’m not talking about “The Simpsons,” which like “Gulliver’s Travels” and “Huckleberry Finn,” is an adult entertainment that children can also enjoy.)
  • The hundreds of computer games for adults.
  • Glorified fast-food chains serving alcohol with video and other games for adults, such as Dave & Busters.

Instead of graduating to something more sophisticated, adults seem to be keeping their childhood and childish entertainments and hobbies, such as video games, comic books and amusement parks. Mass media is spewing out ever more juvenile entertainment targeted for adults such as the recent wave of superhero movies. Adults are showing a much greater interest in juvenilia such as the Harry Potter and the Hunger Games novels. Campus recruiters compare their campuses to Harry Potter’s imaginary school. Advertisers are also appealing to the child within all of us, as we can see from a recent Oreo Cookie commercial with Sesame Street graphics that appeared in the New York Times, a publication read almost exclusively by adults.

I would submit that from the hellish Little League parent to the helicopter parent, the greater intrusion of parents into the lives of their children nowadays is a related phenomenon—in a sense instead of adult pursuits, many parents relive their childhoods through their children.

One of the most subtle forms of infantilization of Americans is the “buy now, pay later” mentality that makes people use high-interest credit cards or take loans on their houses to buy something now instead of saving up the money and not having to pay interest later.  Let’s amend the phrase and call it what it really is: “buy now and pay more later” because of what are sometimes exorbitant interest charges.

Infants and children can’t wait.  One of the signs of adulthood is being able to delay gratification.  Buy now, pay more later is about instant gratification.  It’s about behaving just like a child.

I kept thinking about the infantilization of American adults while recently reading a popular book of natural history (AKA evolution) recently, titled Last Ape Standing by journalist Chip Walter. Walter uses the most recent scientific discoveries to trace the rise and fall of the 26 other versions of the human species who inhabited the Earth from about 7 million to about 100,000-10,000 years ago. Why did our species make it and the other 26, including the Neanderthals, did not?

Walter attributes the success of human beings to the fact that our birth canal is so small that we do not come out fully formed, so that we keep growing after birth long after any other species. This concept of slowing down development is called neoteny and it leads to the retention of juvenile characteristics. That’s why, for example, compared to apes and the 26 other human species, we have flatter, broader faces, a larger brain, hairless bodies and face, thin skull bones, legs longer than arms and larger eyes. These are juvenile or prenatal traits in our near relatives, but we retain them into adulthood.

In fact, humans are so undeveloped at birth that they are dependent on their parents far longer than any other species, a force that many believe naturally leads to the formation of societies of humans.

According to Walter, the big payoff of neoteny and the big key to the development of humans is, of course, the bigger brain. Humans are able to keep learning new things—new languages, games, bodies of knowledge—until pretty much the day they die. I’ve read elsewhere that we now recognize that the brain of male human beings keeps growing into his twenties.

On a superficial basis, one could claim that the concept of neoteny demonstrates that adult infantilization is a good thing for our species. After all, it’s retaining our youthfulness that gave us an advantage over our 26 closest competitors.

But quite the contrary—neoteny explains why infantilization is a dangerous trend that threatens our survival. Neoteny offers the possibility of continued learning and continued expansion, constant adaptation to changing conditions. Infantilization means keeping the predilections of childhood. Staying the same is the very opposite of growth. It shows a rigidity of thought process that can be quite dangerous when faced with new and very complex dangers such as global warming and resource shortages.

Infantilization thus takes away the edge that neoteny has given to human beings, because it sets our thought processes in stone at a young age. The infantilized adult is the adult stuck in his or her own past, the adult who has ceased to learn, and having ceased to learn, has less flexibility of mind and thought. Easier to manipulate, to be sure, easier to convince of the need to buy something. But much less adaptable to change.

Thumbs up to Lavabit, Silent Circle for closing, not cooperating with NSA; down to Pres. for wimping out

Two new American heroes have emerged in the fight for civil liberties and they’re both companies that do the same thing. The managements of Lavabit and Silent Circle, two secure email services, have decided to close their respective firms rather than hand over the emails of their users to the
National Security Agency (NSA

The owner of Lavabit, Ladar Levison, made a particularly poignant statement:

“I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on — the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise.”

Bravo to all involved with both companies, who have put their livelihoods on the line to avoid participating in an evil activity—mass spying on the entirety of a nation.

Meanwhile, President Obama has been wimping out. He says that he wants to form a commission to consider scaling back the Patriot Act, yet he continues to have the NSA collect and analyze the personal telephone data of hundreds of millions of Americans.

He expresses concern for the use of drones, but keeps using them.  Why can’t he just say, No!

Just because the executive branch of government has the right to do something, doesn’t mean it has to do it. The Patriot Act does not order the NSA to spy on all Americans; it merely gives it the legal right to do so.

All the President has to do is tell the NSA to stop spying and tell the military to stop using drones. But he won’t do it.

Instead he closes more than a dozen diplomatic posts and intensifies the droning of Yemen based on the so-called intelligence the NSA culled from its vast information sifting machine.
But what was supposed to be a justification for all this spying turned out to be a petard upon which Al Qaeda hoisted the President, claiming that its campaign of terror was succeeding in its mission to terrorize the United States—we were certainly shivering in terror by closing those embassy offices!

Obama seems to be losing his moral compass when it comes to security the same way that all our Presidents since Truman seem to have done, except Ronald Reagan and Bush II. Under the sway of neo-Con and Nativist thinking, Reagan and especially Bush II fully embraced the idea of curtailing civil liberties and spying on citizens as part of their central political agenda from the very beginning.  It’s sad to see Barack Obama continue our drift to a police state.