Essays, Bitches and Gripes.
As you might have determined by now, I'm a pretty damned opinionated guy. I have been spewing thoughts for several years and have sent a number of them off as letters to editors. I have put together some of these essays and letters, some new and some old.
Food and Prejudice
PC Strikes Again
Murphy Brown's Baby
Clarence and Anita
The Dilemma of Science
I expect most of you are aware by now of the hoohaw about the claim that twelve meteorites found in Antarctica are supposed to be from Mars, and are now believed by some to have signs of fossilized bacteria. I have to ask why there is not more skepticism about the whole concept. Is it because there is such a desire among many pseudo-scientific types for any evidence, no matter how sketchy, for the existence of alien life forms? Is it because so many people firmly believe rot like "The X-files" and "Star Trek," that they're willing to believe anything? A well known radio astronomer named Gerritt Vershur once commented in Sky and Telescope magazine that he felt the search for extraterrestrial life was nothing more than a technological search for God. Of course, SETI researchers were outraged. There are probably several other reasons, equally senseless, but I suppose these predominate.
The first question I have to ask is just how sure are we these rocks came from Mars? There certainly was no return address. We have only had one probe on Mars and it did not return with any samples. From the best we could see, the topography and minerals are very much like we might have here on Earth. The only real evidence of Martian origin is the presumed age of the rocks. I say rocks, because that is what they are. They could be just rocks ,instead of meteorites. They could have been ejected from a giant volcano, or blasted out of the Earth by a long ago giant asteroid that hit the Earth. Hell, they might have even gone into orbit and circled the Earth for millions of years before finally coming down. The scientists claim the rocks are too young to have been created during the formation of the solar system, and so must have been created on a planetary body that has the wherewithal to create relatively recent igneous rocks. But just how damn certain our we of our age determining methods? A rock that's a billion years old looks much like a rock that's five billion years old. Geologists determine the age of rocks primarily by the strata that they came from. Without the perspective of where it came from, dating the age of a rock becomes a much more haphazard guess. There are radio-isotope methods, but at such an age that method becomes very questionable. For me to believe that something hit Mars and blasted out enough ejecta that went into asteroidal orbit for any of it to make it to Earth is having to swallow a lot of coincidence.
There is other evidence though. Supposedly, there are tiny glass bubbles captured in the rock that contained air similar to the air measured by the Viking lander on the surface of Mars. I mean, REALLY! First of all we have to believe that the analysis of air trapped in tiny bubbles is sufficiently accurate to absolutely determine the true content of the gasses inside. Then we have to believe that these gasses did not change in any way in the billion years that the rock existed or even in the length of time since the rock was catapulted from wherever it came from. Then we must believe that this air is so different from what could be achieved by much more reasonable methods as described above that it could not come from anywhere but Mars. Finally, we have to believe that the Viking lander measured the makeup of the air on Mars in an absolutely accurate fashion and this makeup has been consistent on that planet for a very long time. I believe there is a great deal of wishful thinking here.
Then I have to ask, how reasonable is it to even suspect that there was ever life formed on Mars? Mars certainly had a much different environment for most of its history than Earth ever had. It was always far colder than Earth. If it ever had standing water, it had to have been much less than our oceans. It's atmosphere was always much thinner than ours. The solar radiation that fell on Mars was never as great as the radiation on Earth. All these things that we take for granted in the supposition of how life formed on Earth just did not exist on Mars. So how could it possibly be even a theoretical possibility. We have not seen one instance of a separately created life-form on Earth. Everything alive on this planet seems to have evolved from one single creature that came about over a billion years ago. Surely, if the boiling pot that was Earth could not create more than one separate life-form, a relative ice bucket that was and is Mars would not likely have produced anything.
The researchers claim to see minute traces of carbonates in these rocks that slightly resemble the excrement of known terrestrial bacteria. This is akin to finding a pile of smoothly formed stones in a lake bed that slightly resemble dinosaur gastroliths and therefore claim that dinosaurs once lived in the lake. It just don't add up. But then, adding up and making scientific sense are not the reasons these scientists are making the claims. If there wasn't a push on by the scientific community to justify spending billions on a flash in the pan trip to Mars, these notions would never have seen the light of serious discussion.
Conservative estimates are that it would cost between two hundred to four hundred billion dollars for a manned trip to Mars and back. Like all government estimates that is likely low-balling by a considerable amount. This seems rather ridiculous considering we haven't even been to the Moon in twenty years. We don't even have a viable orbiting platform in near Earth space. Fanatics make a big deal about the technological leaps that planning for such a trip would create. That is a bunch of bunk. The notion that we wouldn't have computers if we hadn't gone to the Moon is even worse nonsense. The electronics industry in the early sixties was barreling along just fine without the help of the space race. Of much more importance to that industry was the arms race. More technological innovation was achieved by the desire to more efficiently kill one another than was ever created by traveling to hunk of rock in outer space. People tend to forget that the early sixties was the beginning of the technological understanding of the solid state circuit. The transistor was created in the fifties, well before anyone mentioned going to the Moon. At best I suspect the Moon shot advanced technology by a few years. But now, the technological hurdles of sending a man to Mars would be much different. The electronics and physics of getting him there are simple. We've already sent out probes that successfully landed on Mars and even sent probes down into the atmosphere of Jupiter. The problem is one of simply keeping the man alive for the duration of the trip. Logistics! This is similar to the problems already being tackled by the reach out into near space and even back to the Moon. These are efforts that are a hell of a lot less risky and costly, that will actually achieve something useful.
I say Mars be damned. The chance that there ever was life on Mars is extremely slight and the difference between finding that out in a decade or a century will not amount to a hill of beans. Let's worry about near space and forget the long trip that will cost a fortune, likely fail, and accomplish nothing.
Okay, I confess! I am one of those sick, demented adults who actually like children's cartoons. Tom and Jerry, Bugs, Daffy, Porky, and all the others. They have an intelligence and relevance so missing in today's primetime television. Even Bill and Ted have more innate logic and realism than Dan or Tom, or Peter. But I must protest! Those commercials they fling at me are the most distressingly sexist things ever created. I refer specifically to doll commercials. Why the feminist curmudgeons of NOW don't raise as much hell about them as they did about Clarence Thomas, I'll never understand.
One of the buzz-phrases in the feminist movement today is 'the glass ceiling', as if somehow men erect a barrier against women progressing to the top in business. What they seem to miss is that society has raised that barrier and maintain it with hardly a peep. Ever see a boy in a commercial for Barbie? Little girls are taught from earliest age to adore beautiful brainless airhead heroines. Or to cuddle and coo over baby dolls that wet, cry, kiss, toddle, or say 'Momma'. Ever see boys in a commercial for a doll that says 'Poppa'? No, commercials with boys invariably have superpowered heroes fighting villains or laying waste Ever see commercials with girls playing with 'G.I. Jills'? Girls don't play with aggressive dolls. Not because they don't want to, but because they aren't encouraged to.
Aggression is the chief reason that women encounter a limit to where they might go in business. Business is all about aggression. In seven years in the aerospace business, I have never seen a single woman aggressive enough to crack the whip and make aggressive men quit goofing off, meet schedule, perform better, or do whatever she wanted. Only in businesses with a great deal of female workers have women progressed to levels of real power.
I don't believe this rot about an innate lack of aggression in women. We teach them to not be aggressive from little girls on up. Conversely, little boys are taught to revel in power and aggression. No amount of affirmative action and feel-good measures are going to crack that barrier until women are allowed to become more aggressive. Whining about the need to place women in levels of power won't make them successful managers. Non-aggressive men don't make good managers either.
All levels of our society tend to force women into non-aggressive roles. Girls seldom get into commercials about 'Laser Commando Battle Sets', just as girls years ago did not get into commercials for 'Red Ryder BB guns'. How many parents would be shocked if their little girl even asked for a BB gun for Christmas, let alone give it to them unasked? High schools do not even offer contact sports for girls. Girls who seem to like such sports are shunned as odd and urged to take up something more feminine. Fathers who are avid hunters seldom take their daughters hunting, yet they practically insist that boys must go.
Sometimes, when women do get aggressive enough, they are shunned as nasty or as un-feminine. There is no reason that I can see why aggressive women have to be nasty or un-feminine. I have known male managers that were real jerks, and male managers that were true gentlemen. Managers come in all flavors. Women just need to be taught that when the going gets tough, know that you are right and don't back down. They have to understand that if things get a little 'bloody', well, blood washes off.
Finally, their is a great deal of 'clubbiness' about management. If the man that will be responsible for elevating someone to a higher level doesn't particularly feel comfortable about a person, he will seek another person with whom he is comfortable. Such is the way of life, of two comparably talented people, the advantage goes to the one more like the benefactor. Aggressive people recognize one another and tend to respect one another more. If the desire in elevating a new manager is to get the job done, then the most likely person to fill that job is the one most likely to get the job done. Aggression counts for all.
A while back William F. Buckley wrote an editorial on the futility of the federally mandated drinking age. I agreed with him and wrote these thoughts in response.
I read with interest William Buckley's musing on the futility of Federal drinking age limits. Another aspect that I feel should be mentioned is that these limits are a blatant violation of constitutional rights.
In the 1960's the US government hurriedly pushed through a constitutional amendment giving eighteen year olds the vote, not because they felt young people were wise enough to vote but because of the ammunition it would have given to draft resistance. There can be no doubt that the draft would have been invalidated by the Supreme Court without the 26th amendment. Suddenly, eighteen year old persons were full citizens and could not complain about not having a voice in running the country that wanted to send them to war.
So now the government is saying, you might be wise enough to vote for the president of your choice, and you are wise enough to go to war and kill or be killed but you are too stupid to decide whether or not to have a drink.
Nowhere in the present constitution does the law make a contrast between being eighteen and being twenty-one. They are both equal citizens of this land. So where does Washington get off discriminating between them. I suspect that any determined young person with enough green to press the fight could really trash draft registration laws and raise all kinds of havoc in the courts.
Of course therein lies the rub. Few young people actually have the wherewithal to fight Big Brother and besides, the fight becomes moot in a few years anyway when they become twenty-one. Booze isn't really that hard to get and like Buckley points out, most authorities look the other way. Besides teaching our youth that breaking the law is OK, there is no real harm, right? Not unless you believe that we are a just nation that is governed by a consistent set of laws. Not unless you believe that all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law.
Just wait until the next time we have an unpopular war and try to reinstate the draft. Then we'll see who gets mud in their eye.
Food and Prejudice
People can be so hypocritical! Take food for instance. People are quick to snipe at persons who express a distaste for certain foods. George Bush got a lot of flack because he happens to hate broccoli. I happen to hate a lot of foods too, including broccoli. But at least I hate them because they taste yucky. So many people won't eat certain foods because of where they come from or what they look like. Very few women will eat mountain oysters, i.e., calf testicles, not because they taste bad but because of what they are.
Some foods like squid or octopus get bad raps because of what they look or feel like. Other perfectly good foods are refused because they are not normally used for food. Dogs and cats are prime examples. A lot of the prejudice that is directed towards southeast Asians is based on what they like to eat. I keep looking for a culture that keeps broccoli for pets. Then I won't seem so weird.
I also happen to like anchovy pizzas, the Rodney Dangerfield of pizzas. I've thought of starting a dating service for anchovy lovers because how else can you share an anchovy pizza with anyone.
Wild game is another food that snooty types refuse to eat. The primary taste difference is that it isn't as fat as normal meat and thus takes a different approach to cooking. A lot of this prejudice is the Bambi syndrome. It is supposedly OK to eat ugly animals like cows, chickens or pigs, but cute animals like bunnies and deer are no-nos.
Before you make fun of someone for not liking a food, stop and think of the things that you won't eat. Perhaps they're not as strange as you might think.
Here is a letter on the subject that was published in several newspapers.
Hurrah for George Bush! It's about time someone took a stand against broccoli and its ilk. For years as a child, my parents tortured me with asparagus. "Try just a little bit. You'll learn to like it." To this day, the mere smell of cooked asparagus makes me retch. Same goes for spinach, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage. And broccoli. How many people who make fun of President Bush's pronouncement regularly dine on dog turds. As far as I'm concerned, dog turds are a delicacy compared to broccoli.
Yet there is a serious side to this argument. The human body is a very complex biochemical factory. The number and type of chemicals that are good and bad for us are only now beginning to be understood. We now know that certain common foods are responsible for many behavioral problems in some children. Things that are not as obvious to the casual glance as many more well known allergies. I am sure that, in years to come, many foods that we now consider healthy, will be found to be bad for many people.
Our sense of taste is amazingly sensitive. Just suppose that it developed as a way to tell us that if we taste something that makes us gag, it is really bad for us in some way that we don't know about. Normal people do not continue to eat what makes them gag, when they gain control over what they eat and don't eat. Even wild animals know enough to stay away from plants that are poisonous. They probably stay away from them for the simple reason that they taste bad.
I would love to see some enterprising young biochemistry student choose this subject as a graduate thesis study. Suppose he were to find that something in broccoli increased the risk of heart-attack or cancer in people who absolutely hate the stuff, while people who love the stuff have a biochemistry that does not react in the same way. Then maybe we will have proof that, yes indeed, your parents were trying to poison you.
I have some questions about the recent surge in interest in ecology. I wonder if eco-tourism and pop- ecology can really preserve the current ecology. I wonder if it should succeed.
Species have formed and died out for the last billion years. Sometimes they died out because of a sudden change in their environment. Sometimes they died out because a new species rose up and took over their niche. Every time a species died out, the new species that replaced them were stronger and better able to cope.
This is an ongoing process. Everyday, new species are in the process of being created. We don't see this process because it takes thousands of years to complete. On the other hand, seeing an old non-viable species die out is easier to see and thus causes more consternation.
Evolution requires a forcing function. If life were always easy for all species, they would never change. If we extrapolate this idea backwards, all that would inhabit the earth would be single-celled organisms.
I believe that throughout time the world population has been punctuated by upheavals that caused die-offs of many existing species. these upheavals were followed by durations of relative stability when new species formed and replaced those that died.
Sometimes, these upheavals were as simple as a giant storm that blew a few birds from one island to another. Other upheavals were as devastating as asteroids striking the earth, killing off millions of species. Paleontologists might lament the extinction of the dinosaurs, but that extinction made room for the rise of mammals.
If we prevent the natural extinction of marginal species by using heroic artificial means, might we also be preventing the rise of more functional new species in the distant future.
Consider that the archeological record shows that many millions of species disappeared in only the last million years or so. This was done without the specific intrusion of humans. It is no surprise that the upheaval caused by the sudden emergence of human technological prowess would cause some extinctions. Many of these extinctions would likely happen anyway without our presence.
This is not to say that humans should learn a lesson about the effects of his dominance. Much of today's ecological discussion centers on the actions of long ago and the outcomes we now see. I do not believe that humans during the last five or ten millennia were actually planning in any way to kill off species. They simply did not understand how fragile nature really is. They did not believe that what they did could have the effect on nature that it has
Humankind is like the giant asteroid, we did what we did because that is what we did. Evolution requires that a species grow and adapt using nature to its benefit. We were not conscious of what we did, we just did it.
From a certain point of view, what the asteroid did was beneficial. Form the same point of view, what humans do can be equally beneficial. the difference is that we, the benefactors of the asteroid, can influence the future caused by the emergence of us.
The question then is what should we do. Should we strive to freeze the current situation in place. Or should we recognize that we are an integral part in the future evolution of life on this planet. Are the condor, spotted owl or snail darter integral parts of the future ecology or should they die out so they can be replaced by something more practical? Is the existence of rain forest a critical matter or a transient something on the path to something even better? Are we really big enough to totally unbalance the ecology? I seriously doubt it. If a giant rock striking the earth and killing off half the life can not do it, what chance do a few puny humans stand.
PC Strikes Again
As you may remember, Newt Gingrich's choice for House historian was shot down for her views that we should try to understand the reasons for Nazism in pre-WW II Germany. I was forced to write the following.
PC strikes again! Dr. Christina Jeffrey's opinions on teaching history were right on the ball, but the liberal's outcry sunk the ship of truth before it could even leave the dry-dock.
The whole purpose of teaching history to our citizens is so that we can learn to avoid the pitfalls that our ancestors had to navigate. By understanding what happened and why, hopefully we can avoid similar occurrences in the future. One of the failings of most history curriculums is that in recording conflicts, history is written by the victors. If we only view one side of the conflict, we lack real understanding as to what actually caused it. We accept a moral blindness that says the winner was totally right and the loser totally wrong.
This failing has two consequences. First, the underlying causes that impelled the losers to fight for what they thought was right are ignored. These causes do not go away and often resurface in later conflicts that may take on an entirely different face. If we refuse to acknowledge and study these causes, we lose the ability to modulate them. Ironically, these very same causes often motivate the previous winner on an entirely different conflict. Then they lose and the vicious cycle continues.
Second, without an acknowledgment of their real grievances, losers do not have to surrender. They merely transform into radical groups who continue to get support from the disaffected and disenchanted. If society will not argue to the heart of the loser's argument, then they cannot bring the former enemy over to their side. These grievances can build up and a new war is fought all over again.
The old adage is still very true, those who refuse to learn the entire truth of history are doomed to repeat it.
This essay was written several years ago, but not much has changed.
The recent attempt by Michigan's state legislature to foil Jack Kevorkian points out once again the hypocrisy of today's society. It is perfectly legal and some would say a constitutional right for women to murder another human being because that human being temporarily is an inconvenience to that woman, yet it is illegal in most states for that woman to end her own life when it becomes filled with nothing but pain and horror. Shouldn't suicide fall under the privacy umbrella as well.
For that matter, how about prostitution, drug use, racism, and any number of other so-called crimes. Aren't they all matters of privacy? One might say that they indirectly might affect others but I would assume the fetus isn't pleased at getting chopped to pieces and sucked into a vacuum cleaner. Furthermore should we have the right to interfere in another person's private life because of what his actions might do?
This hypocrisy extends throughout our society. If our nation were truly fair then the Supreme Court should also strike down laws about public nudity, consensual incest, underage drinking, gun ownership, gambling, smoking, etc. Unfortunately, special rights are only given to the most vocal special interest groups. I find it really odd that a woman may elect to murder her unborn child with no consequences but may be prosecuted for other actions that detrimentally affect that child should it be allowed to live.
One might reply that, well, life isn't fair. But that's what justice means. A government that believes it is just also believes that it is trying to be fair. If we believe that absolute privacy is guaranteed by the constitution then all matters pertaining to privacy are thereby guaranteed. There should not need to be special court cases for each one, the Supreme Court could just issue an opinion that privacy is guaranteed and that laws pertaining to personal activities are hereby nullified.
Of course that won't happen because the constitution does not guarantee privacy. The fiction that was used to create Roe vs. Wade was just that, fiction.
Here is another thought on Jack.
Jack and the Technological Dragon
And so it came to pass, the peasants came before the great magician and said, "Oh Great Magician, we beseech you to give us a boon to ease our weary lives and bring us joy to quench our sorrows. Our crops wither and our yield is small. Give us something to make them grow tall and hearty so we do not have to work so hard."
The magician smiled at them in wonder. "I didn't realize your lives were so wearisome or so full of sorrow, but, very well, that is a magician's job, I suppose." He turned to his bag of magic tricks and looked through them before taking out a large green phial.
"I have here a magical dragon. He can make your crops grow and your fields blossom, but you must first learn to tame him and teach him common sense. If you do not tame him properly and teach him to be sensible, he will occasionally do stupid things and cause great harm to some of you."
The peasants agreed to this boon and so the magician set the dragon free. Sure enough, the dragon's worth soon became apparent. As he grew, his powers became even greater and the crops became even more wonderful.
But the peasants did not heed the magician's warning and grew lax in their control over the dragon. He became silly and began to injure the occasional peasant while treating the others grandly. These peasants wished the dragon had never been, for their lives were made even more sorrowful than before. The rest had no sympathy for their lives were still grand.
The dragon did not heed their cries. "Why do you complain? I made your crops grow tall and flourish. Just because it was all weeds is not my concern. Weeds or corn, it's all the same to me."
"It would be better if you destroyed our crop, so we could start over," the unfortunates cried. "Then, at least, our children might not suffer."
"That is not my job," stated the dragon.
Into the land came a man called Jack. He saw what the dragon was doing and strode up to the monster. He took out his sword and slapped the dragon on the nose. "You silly dragon, you were not put here to create harm. Why don't you have some sense." With his sword, Jack then set about destroying the unfortunate peasant's weed patches.
The dragon complained to the other peasants that Jack was undermining his gifts and that the intruder must be stopped. The peasants feared the dragon and were concerned that he might go away if his wishes were not heeded. They arrested Jack but could not decide what to charge him with. He left their presence and went out to destroy more weed patches.
They begged him to stop, but he would not listen. "You fear that the dragon will fly away and you will not have his gifts, but the magician did not give him that power. He is here forever. He cannot leave no matter how angry he gets. You failed to teach him as the magician instructed you, now I must fix his foolish errors."
"But he is angry at you and we must do as he wishes."
"As he wishes?" said the incredulous Jack. "He is your servant. You should make him do as you wish."
"We don't know how," cried the flustered peasants.
"Then I tell you what I'll do," said Jack. "I will stop destroying these patches of weeds and will become the dragon's teacher. I will do what you should have done all along. I will teach him common sense."****
There is a dragon stalking our land and his name is Healthcare. He is an unruly beast at times and given to fits of ego and jealousy. This dragon was given to us as a gift and we have failed to tame him or train him. He has a life of his own. The question that I have is whether he is really a benefit or a burden.
He is often a stupid beast and since he was given to a relatively stupid species, the problems are compounded. In the years since he was given to us, his appetite has grown enormously in proportion to his benefits yet we have grown so dependent on him that it is hard to abandon him.
Now the question has become, do we even have the right to abandon him. Should he be required to help everyone, even though he eats out of other peoples troughs? Should he be forced on people even though they don't want him? Should his desires be considered over a parents when concerning a child? When is enough too much?
Jack Kevorkian has sprung onto the scene as a dragon defyer with no equal. He has angered the monster with his insistence on reason and prudence. The public, in its creative stupidity makes jokes about him and torments him. Others have spoken ill of the dragon, but no one before has put a sword to the monster like Jack.
In the olden days, before Healthcare became so powerful and arrogant, his outrages were not so evident. Few people became as utterly helpless and desperate as we see many today become. The technology was such that most sick truly sick people died instead of wasting away as they do today. Life was more precious because death came more readily.
Suicide was never a really feasible alternative before because it was not really necessary. If you got sick, you either got well or you died. The Christian ban on suicide played little part in the consideration because it dealt mostly with killing oneself out of moral despair, not physical. Neither was it based on ethics but on the conviction that your life and death were ordained by God and to usurp that role was a sin against him.
Even this ban is less stringent than it once was. Suicides formerly could not be buried in consecrated ground. Their sin was such that their souls were immediately doomed to hell, with no forgiveness possible. That attitude has changed throughout most religions.
What has always puzzled me was that if it was so bad to kill oneself, why wasn't it equally wrong to prevent ones death? Surely, medicine and surgery and therapy must violate the intent that God had in making you sick in the first place. Some Christian sects do follow these views and are routinely persecuted for them. Even though I don't share their beliefs, I see their point of view and feel that they are being wronged by Healthcare's insistence that they submit.
Murphy Brown's Baby
Remember Dan Quayle and Murphy Brown's baby? Now many think Dan was right. Here was my response to a liberal columnist's diatribe.
The brouhaha over "Murphy Brown"s baby has stirred up another whole hornet's nest. Unfortunately, the various sides have split in rather predictable ways, and both sides miss some essential points of the whole.
Half the children in the country already live in some form of a single parent family. Over half the black children born today in this country have no legal father. Divorce, crime, and abandonment have made single parent families the rule rather than the exception in this country. And to be truly honest, where this status does not doom the family to a lifetime of poverty, these families are functional. As a rich, successful person as the fictional newscaster is supposed to be, her baby would probably have a better and richer life than most children, father or no father. Father figures are where you find them, uncles, grandfathers, neighbors, and family friends. Hell, plop the kid in front of the television and let him watch Bill Cosby if you need a father figure.
The flip side of the argument is much more devastating. The Murphy Brown version is an extremely small minority of the single mother syndrome. Most single mothers are not rich, educated or successful, and having a child is a crushing burden which destroys whatever hope they may have once had for a better life. It is the singlemost prominent factor in the steady increase in poverty and its attendant hopelessness. Few young, single women actually understand that their lives will be devastated by the responsibilities of having a child. Now that the popular media has implicitly approved of single motherhood any stigma associated with it will be erased.
One of the crowning stupidities of our world has got to be utilizing surveys to decide what we should do. Especially surveys such as those intended to measure the activities of teenagers.
No teenager is going to answer a survey truthfully if that answer is somehow not cool or socially acceptable. It does not matter whether or not the answers are anonymous or open. Certain things are cool in certain settings and uncool in other settings. Sex and drugs are the most prominent areas of coolness or uncoolness. Among boys, being a virgin is especially uncool, even if one is a dweeb. For the sake of his own self image, many boys who are virgins will lie even if the lie is pointless. And today, many girls also consider it uncool and lie just as forcefully. The movie 'Little Darlings' noted that best. In that movie only the characters played by Kristi McNichol and Tatum O'Neal admitted that they were virgins, whereas in truth only one of the girls in their group actually was not. I suspect that in reality, this is also true of the vast majority of both boys and girls.
Of course this changes depending on where and when you are. Prior to the seventies, particularly for girls, the lie was often the opposite. Good girls didn't even if they did. And in more conservative settings that is still true. Catholic schools, in my experience were just as wild and promiscuous as public schools, but it wasn't acceptable, for the girls anyway, to admit it. Boys have generally always tended to exaggerate nonexistent sexcapades regardless of when and where. I know that I did.
One thing that is different is the stigma that it presents. Years ago, back in the good old days, a pregnant girl either married the father or disappeared for six months and then suddenly returned after giving up her baby to adoption. Nowadays it is more likely that they may keep their baby and even show off about it. It is surprising to find out how many middle aged or older couples had to get married. I believe that fooling around amongst kids was just as common in our parents generation as it is today, they just didn't talk about it as much and never admitted it.
Drug use is very similar, the truth of the answer depends on whether or not such use is cool or not. A recent hoopla over a survey showing Kansas high school students having twice the drug use as the national average is an example. Most of the surveys were taken in big city high schools where drug use is much more cool than in rural schools. Not only do big city students tend to have more access to drugs than rural students but those that don't use drugs tend to lie about their drug use because it is more acceptable.
Many surveys are skewed by who agrees to participate in them and who refuses. Subjects that are unpleasant tend to attract participants who have a bone to pick. In areas where the subject is socially unacceptable, people who respond to the survey will automatically tend to support the subject more often than not. Thus the survey is skewed to the pros rather than the antis. The attitude of the surveyor has a great influence on this factor as well. If the surveyor has an obvious bias then the people who agree to participate will tend to be those who agree with him.
Clarence and Anita
Remember the attempted lynching of Clarence Thomas? Here were my thoughts on the fiasco.
After all the commotion, Clarence Thomas has been confirmed as Supreme Court justice anyway. The nastiness was not particularly surprising. Any justice with even a hint of controversy is an automatic target for a democrat lead lynching party. Not only is he an iconoclast in regards to liberal treatment of blacks as victims, but he is an obvious conservative regarding other liberal worries such as abortion rights. Liberals complain endlessly about the republicans packing the court with like minded conservatives. Yet isn't that the expected course of any presidency. Liberal democrats during the Forties and the Sixties packed the court with howling liberals like Warren and Marshall. Did the liberals object when their presidents packed the courts? It would seem instead that the American people objected to the liberal policies of the previous courts and wanted change.
Yet the most depressing part of the Thomas lynching was the negative affect it had on the advancement of women in the business world. Some think that it has had the opposite affect. They suppose that men will be more sensitive to problems with sexual harassment. Yet, the circumstances of the trial suggest instead that male managers may now be more hesitant to hire women. Sexual harassment charges now prove to be an extremely potent weapon for employees to harass their employers. So much that hiring is now like a minefield, one misstep can result in an explosion. The real problem is that the misstep may not even have existed. No proof is required to destroy a person's life. Simply screaming harassment is sufficient to raise a complete hysteria. It needs no proof because it is usually one person's word against another.
Anita Hill's attack on Mr. Thomas seems to be motivated by politics and spite as much as anything. He certainly seemed to do everything in his power to advance her career. By her own admission, he did nothing to damage her career or her life, while she rejected his purported advances. I wonder how the leaders of NOW would react if some solid proof would surface that Ms. Hill completely made up her story. Would they agree to a long prison sentence for her or other people who fabricate sexual harassment charges. Certainly, if she had fabricated charges that he committed murder or some other crime, she would certainly deserve such punishment.
Now let us assume that what Ms. Hill said was true as she saw it. Clarence Thomas asked her several times for a date which she rejected. How else does one get a date? Are we to demand that men simply assume one request for a date is all that is allowed. Was he nasty about her refusal and did he get angry? She also said he described scenes from some favorite porn movies. Did he know that this upset her? Many perfectly nice men and women like to watch porn movies. I have known women who could outgross me about sexual matters any day. I am continually amazed what women friends will willingly talk about and even bring up themselves. Yet I wouldn't think for a minute that their talk about previous abortions and female problems however distasteful, were attempts to harass me. Friends talk about anything.
Should we demand that bosses do not fraternize on any level with employees? Should bosses never consider employees such close friends that they might talk to them like friends do? Male managers like to tell dirty jokes just like everybody else, women included. Should all managers be selected for their blandness?
Sexual harassment can be a serious problem. But until it is more clearly defined, blindly accusing people of such action causes a great deal more societal harm than the act itself ever could.
The Dilemma of Science
The average American seems to me to be extremely stupid, and they seem to be getting stupider. This worries me because we are becoming less able to compete in a world that is in general getting smarter. As an electrical engineer with some knowledge of batteries and electrical vehicles, I get asked quite often: Why is it not possible to design an electric car that can recharge its own battery? This question seems to me to be as idiotic as asking why a starving person can't cut himself, drink some blood and be fine. A rather grotesque comparison to be sure but an accurate one.
It shows an utter lack of knowledge of science or of the physical world. Yet, it's been asked of me by numerous people, people that should know better, electricians, and computer repairmen. I can somehow understand it when the questioners are people who never made it further than the eighth grade, but when somebody who's a college graduate asks the same question, it just astounds me. How can someone make it through four years of college without at least gaining a smattering of physical knowledge? I thought we had dispensed with perpetual motion machines 70 years ago. But, no, the idea keeps popping up time and time again.
The question then becomes: Why in this day and age do non- scientists still have the same concepts about science and the physical world that they did years ago before all these marvels became apparent?
I have to think in some respects that the fault lies partly with science writers and science fiction writers. Much of the writing today about the technological marvels that we see coming out of industry are somewhat of a golly-gosh, gee whiz flavor. Science is not golly-gosh, gee whiz. It is all a logical offshoot of the physical world. Yet, we are led to believe by many science writers, that these are almost miraculous occurrences. It worries me that it will soon be almost 20 years since man has last been to the moon and now we're discussing going to Mars. Where is our sense of perspective? Science is not taken in great leaps and bounds, but little, shuffling steps.
Frankly, we have not made any great advances in science since the advent of nuclear power. Most of the technological marvels and gee-whiz gimmickry that we see today are merely refinements of things we've known about for many, many years. Yet, nonscientists are led to believe that these marvels will continue to march forth unabated and that nothing is impossible. Unfortunately, the social ills of society will not be solved entirely by science. In fact, many of today's ills are indirectly a result of the advances of technology.
Science has almost become a religious experience to many writers. Unfortunately, many science writers are also science fiction writers and they tend to imbue their view of the real world with their imagination and creativity in creating fictional and unrealistic worlds. We have been enthralled by pop-scientists like Carl Sagan and Frederick Hoyle to expect things for which there is no evidence whatsoever of their existence.
Extraterrestrial intelligence is one of the most damaging speculations, I believe, that is currently in vogue. No evidence whatsoever exists for belief in large numbers of extraterrestrial intelligences, yet we are bombarded by science fiction and speculation that would have us believe these creatures are just around the corner.
Likewise, speculation about the possibilities of relativity seem to distort the true picture of the universe. Relativity is still just a theory. Yet, by and large, most writers tend to accept it as proven fact. In the same vein, our knowledge of gravity could be written on the back of a postage stamp with a crayon. Yet, the public is led to believe that practical anti-gravity is just around the corner. We may never understand gravity nor have an anti-gravitation device. These thoughts are seldom expressed to the public.
Much of the view of science that the normal world has is taken from fiction. One of the most popular shows on TV now is Star Trek: The Next Generation and its parent, the original Star Trek. As an avid Star Trek fan, I'm still appalled at the scientific inaccuracy and the bumbling approach to science that these shows take.
Much of written science fiction, too, is done without any attempt to imbue realism in its speculations. Some would say that these are harmless errors, i.e. they are only stories. Bullshit! People are more easily fooled by what they read than we would like to believe. Most readers of science fiction couldn't even begin to wade through a real text on gravity or relativity. The story is the only contact that they will have with the subject. If the story is bullshit, then the only understanding of the concept that they have will also be bullshit. Very few readers of anything are terribly critical of the technical content of what they read, unless it should fall inside the bounds of their own profession or experience. The disease of thoughtless inaccuracy is rampant throughout all modern literature.
As writers, we should recognize our responsibility to society as a whole. Writing about science should be done with restraint and realism. To predict unrealistic expectations and unrealizable goals will only weaken society's trust in science, and make an already brain-dead society even worse.