Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ignorance isn't bliss; it's ignorance! And it's on the rise.

Why? My cynical self says that part of the reason is that people are choosing not to acknowledge what they don't like. Facts, no matter how compelling, are not allowed to get in the way of 'the good life' or 'the comfortable life'.


Nine scientists, radicals like meteorological physicists from the state's major universities, gather at Marylhurst for a daylong conference and point out item after item of evidence that global warming is changing our landscape. For example, the Arctic ice sheet this summer lost an area twice the size of Texas. Glaciers are, at best, stable all over North America. Ocean species like abalone off the California coast are being 'eaten alive' by bacteria who survive because the water temperatures are warmer. The list of concrete evidence goes on. Yet there are people who want the debate about global warming to focus on whether we're in a natural cycle or not. Global warming is happening and we have a choice to try to strategize about it or not. America largely seems to buy into 'or not'.

Experts in the oil industry agree that, regardless of other issues, oil production is very close to its peak. After its peak, oil production will decline. Economists agree that the demand for oil, particularly outside the United States, is increasing. These two trends are incompatible. At some point, the lines on the graph intersect and that moment is a moment of crisis for our way of life.

Fewer and fewer Americans can afford to have health care coverage or access to preventative care. The numbers inexorably go down. The social cost behind the scenes- in emergency room visits and people with chronic ailments which are not adequately treated and therefore require massive intervention- goes up. We do nothing to demand that this situation change.

The scourge of Meth? If I recall there are only five labs producing the key pseudophedrine ingredient in the entire world. They are producing a chemical compound that can be replaced by other compounds to make effective cold medecine. The US government (and other governments down the line) are debating controls, prescriptions, etc. etc. as a solution. Given the incredible social costs of this drug and the way it supports drug cartels, I would think that the full weight of American diplomatic and economic pressure would be aimed at a campaign to stop the legal production of the drug completely. But no! That's not the strategy. Why?

I've already stated my feelings on the subject of the 'intelligent design vs. evolution' debate. The fact that non-science can get a hearing to be included in science curricula is astonishing. But the general lack of understanding of the difference, or interest in the difference, is even more frightening.

The television news tends to focus on car chases and heinous murders. But rarely are these the crimes that affect us in our daily lives. White collar crime? It's popular and profitable. Andy Wiederhorn makes millions in jail. The Oregonian reports most white collar embezzlers under $ 100,000 don't do time and don't pay restitution. But the public's attention is on the sensational, not recognizing how much extra we're charged to cover for bank and business losses through higher insurance premiums.

Today's paper says that credit card debt and late payments are steadily on the increase(10-09 American Bankers Assoc). I'm sadly inclined to believe that this too is a byproduct of selective ignorance.

Truth. These things will come back to haunt us.

Why our public school system is eroded...

I was at my folks' house recently. Great and generous and civic-minded people. My dad, in particular, looks that the world with a skeptical eye (something I've inherited a little of) and is the first to notice when things aren't consistent. On this visit, he pulled out a recent copy of the Living Section of the Oregonian. A big article on the front page devoted many column inches and pictures to "Picture Day" at a local middle school. "Look at this," he said. "This should just leap out at people." And I think he's right. His point was that schools are struggling to meet curriculum requirements, cover expenses, and get enough face time with students. So having a day devoted to taking photos for entirely social purposes seemed out of whack.
I had seen the headline and had a different perspective. As a parent of children recently and currently in local schools, I am appalled at the money racket that picture taking represents. The school provides a setting and legitimacy for profitmaking photography companies to come in and sell 'packages' to parents and children. We had school pictures thirty years ago too, but they were a more pro-forma activity to record students' presence as part of the student body. I shudder to think of how hard it is for parents who don't have the money and whose children feel completely left out because all their friends are getting the special package deal with 50 wallet size pictures and an 11 x14 in a gold frame for Grandma.

Neither of these elements help to stir enthusiasm for the school system in a skeptical body politic.

Shameful scary headlines in advance of Halloween....

This morning the front page of The Big O's business section recounts the plight of low income Oregon families in the face of rising heating bills. The first example cited is a working mother with three teenagers who has a 'good' job making over $10 an hour. Fuel price increases have vastly outstripped wage increases and public energy assistance has not increased. The article cites 15,000 households around the state being put on waiting lists last winter and not receiving assistance. The money ran out after 20% of the people were served. Not exactly new news, but a reality we've been ignoring. What grabbed me hard, though ,was turning to the next page which was headed by the news that $ 3.29 billion dollars will be spent on Halloween this year with the AVERAGE person spending $ 48.48 on merchandise. Since I don't spend anything on Halloween since the kids got older I'm not sure I know what constitutes merchandise outside mini Mars bars. But something is seriously wrong when the average person spends more money on Halloween than our struggling families can afford for their October heating bill. And I don't buy the idea that all these people are irresponsible, good for nothings, who've gotten themselves into their own mess. The fact that there are such people doesn't for one minute take away the reality that there are children, widows, mentally ill, under educated, physically ill, and hardworking people who aren't making it.

The Oregonian this week also talked about another sad reality: white collar crime pays. The lead example was Andy Wiederhorn who is in jail but is on retainer for millions from his firm. But more commonly, the paper noted that embezzling of less than $ 100,000 in Oregon rarely leads a first offender to jail time and the State is ineffective in enforcing restitution orders. My guess, totally a gut reaction, is that the enforcement divisions were probably cut in recent legislative sessions in the name of eradicating waste in public spending.

I'll be the first to say that it's easy to oversimplify these themes. Nothing in the world is simple. But we collude in the problems we decry if we don't try to take time to understand them and participate in solutions.

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