Environmental “Protection” Agency

Since I was young, I’ve always been something of an environmentalist. I haven’t been a passionate environmentalist for years, and here’s why: I gave up. I eventually realized that a government will enact environmental legislation only when it serves them to do so, and that they’ll ignore it when whatever crisis they were protecting themselves against has passed.

It’s a lucky thing I’m not passionate anymore, because if I were, then I would be up in arms right now, yelling in the streets. And nobody wants that.

Here’s what’s gotten under my skin lately: very recently, California attempted to pass environmental regulations much tougher than those mandated nationwide. As California is one of the most polluted states and, paradoxically, one of the most environmentally-conscious — they were the ones, after all, who mandated a quota of zero-emissions (electric) vehicles, before the industry shut them down — this would seem rather logical. And, of course, logic and government don’t mix well, so something went wrong.

I suppose I should learn to expect such things, in this age of do-nothing, get-out-before-the-ship-sinks government, but what happened surprised even cynical old me: the EPA overruled California. Yes, that’s right, I said the EPA. Those letters used to stand for “Environmental Protection Agency.” Given their recent actions, I would recommend we change their meaning to something more appropriate, preferably with a couple of expletives in there. My suggestion is “Excessively Petty Assholes.”

Many will no doubt think this judgment too harsh, but my sordid tale is not finished. California’s regulations were put in place because Californians complain that global warming threatens their water supplies, their agricultures, and — given the increased incidence of forest fires that warming brings — their population. The EPA’s response? “Not on your life!” The EPA actually attempted to claim that there was not a credible threat to justify such harsh local environmental regulations. What!?!? California, as a coastal state, will probably be one of the first states to face a credible threat from global warming. Hell, they’ve already faced a credible threat from global warming! Didn’t they have a terrible fire a few weeks ago?!

It gets worse. The EPA also said that global warming regulations should be nationwide, not local. Right. Because those nationwide regulations were getting passed in a real damned hurry. To me, this looks suspiciously like the current do-nothing administration just buying time until they can inflate their golden parachutes. I just hope that when the forests star to slowly burn away, the coastlines flood and erode as the icecaps melt, the North Atlantic current breaks down, freezing Britain under an ice-age glacier, and the water-shortage wars in Africa and the Middle East spread worldwide, that the fifty years of environmentally-ignorant politicians we’ve suffered through are mostly still alive, so that with whatever breath the toxic atmosphere will allow us, we can all point and laugh at them.

Hm…that was a bit cynical even for me. Note to self: don’t write any more posts early in the morning.

AT&T: The Evil Empire

Since earlier this year, the telecommunications company AT&T has been expanding at an alarming rate. First, they absorbed Bell South. Next, they assimilated Cingular. Now, they hold the exclusive rights to the iPhone’s network. And yet, even though I listen to enough liberal radio to kill a horse, I haven’t heard a single outcry about this. Somebody has to say something. I guess that’s me, now.

Now, I don’t know just how far AT&T is planning to take this, and perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but it certainly seems that “The Evil Empire” — as I call it — is heading very quickly for monopoly territory. This makes me quite nervous.

First of all, in a monopoly, there is no competition, so there is no reason to set prices at a competitive rate. After all. in a monopoly situation, there is no competition. And since the only viable telecom network is the one that covers a majority of the service area, even if AT&T doesn’t take over every other provider, they’ll still have an effective monopoly, being the only ones that can provide broad-ranging coverage.

Secondly, if AT&T goes monopolistic, then there will be no reason for them to maintain any standard of quality. After all, with no real competition, they have no reason to spare the expense. Who else could their customers go to?

But perhaps the most frightening — and admittedly most paranoid — of the possibilities, should AT&T consume the whole market, is the potential for the abuse of democracy. The Internet is one of the most democratic media of exchange on Earth, and has been since its inception. However, who’s to say how this might change if one company has control over all the Internet access routes? I myself access the Web through a DSL modem now run by AT&T (it wasn’t my idea; when I signed up it was still Bell South). Suppose they didn’t like what I was writing about them. “Oops, Mr. Asymptote, it looks like your phone line has suffered some sort of inexplicable catastrophic failure.”

Think about it.

The Beginning of the End of Free Speech

I made the mistake of listening to the news again…well, at least I got a blog post out of it.

 This week, the Supreme Court (which now has a conservative majority, with John Roberts as chief justice and Samuel Alito on the bench) handed down two decisions that further undermined the American democracy.

In the first decision, the court decided to overturn a precedent set some years back. This precedent held that corporate and union funding of particular political candidates was not a form of free speech, and therefore was not protected by the First Amendment. Well, it was nice while it lasted. Now, corporations, unions, and interest groups can run as many advertisements as they want for a candidate, the only constraint being that they must not use the phrase “Vote for this candidate.” Somehow, I don’t think being unable to come out and say it explicitly is going to stop the corrupt corporate money from influencing the outcome of elections.

With this piece of legislation, some of my greatest fears have been realized. The automotive lobby will now have a much easier time trying to weed out potentially environmentally-conscious candidaes. The insurance lobby will be able to eliminate candidates who support universal healthcare. As if that wasn’t bad enough, now we’re going to be swamped by even more political advertisements than before. By the end of election season, I’m pretty sure I will have gouged my own eyes out.

The second decision to which I referred was, in my mind at least, a greater blow to American political freedoms. The supreme court upheld a decision by a lower court limiting the free-speech rights of students in cases where those rights contradict the policies of the student’s school. This followed on the heels of a court battle that erupted when a student displayed a banner reading “Bong hits 4 Jesus.”

To many people, this may seem completely insignificant. But to someone who was a public-school student not so long ago, this is a terrible blow. For the latter half of my school career, I became more and more annoyed at the serious suppression of the constitutional rights of young people. We were treated like second-class citizens, if we were considered citizens at all. We were continually subjected to meaningless and unfair rules. Every day, we were reminded that we didn’t have any right to free speech, or any right to peacably assemble. It was intolerable.

Now, admittedly, many students would, given these freedoms, simply make trouble. But it’s still not fair to suppress all the students, many of whom are politically conscious and actively want these rights. Now, though, the suppression has gotten even worse. Students are going to feel more and more like their school is a totalitarian prison, which I’m sure many of them already do. How is this conducive to education.

What’s worse, though, is the possibility of government-sanctioned silencing of what is often the most politically-active sector of a society: the young. The young are our only hope for change, for progress, but that isn’t going to happen. Not if we condition them to get used to a system in which they have no rights.

This may seem a bit extreme, and probably quite paranoid, but as usual, it’s just food for thought…

The Generation Incapable of Seriuosness

For years, there have been warning signs that the younger generations are slowly losing their capacity for taking the world seriously. As time marches on, the media decays, and social discourse degenerates into a discussion of which cell phone is the best, which pop star is the most attractive, and which television show is more entertaining, the young are losing their ability to connect with or take seriously anything in their world.

I began to notice this a few years back, when I was in high school. As I rose through the ranks, from freshman, to sophomore, to junior, to senior, I gained the ability to “look back” as it were, at the younger students, to see just what the new generation of freshmen were like. I was appalled.

Something went wrong somewhere between my generation and the one three or four years younger. While I don’t claim that my generation had many noble qualities, it certainly seems that, on average, the younger one is much worse. For one thing, they all think so highly of themselves. Their egos are more inflated even than some of the athletes and pop artists that they idolize. They stride around in faddish, popular, and ludicrously expensive clothes, as if somehow their participation in mainstream consumer culture has given them the right to whatever they ask for.

The second thing I noticed about these young whippersnappers was the increasing proportion of “class clown” types among them. These are young people who not only can take a joke, but can take it so well that they don’t seem to be capable of anything else. Nothing they say can be taken seriously, and they walk around talking jokingly about everything, in their annoyingly sarcastic and matter-of-fact tones of voice.

Now, normally, I’d welcome such levity; I think that my generation and the older ones are, on the whole, in serious need of such levity. I’d welcome the refreshing lack of gravity in everything they talk about, if it did not betray such a rapidly degrading society. These youngsters don’t take anything seriously because everything is a fantasy to them. They’ve bought into, in a big way, the delusion that if they fix their hair properly, buy the perfect clothes, drive the best car, and date the most popular person, that their life will gain meaning and purpose immediately, and that everything will work out. While many in my generation have been permeated for much of their lives by the lies and false promises of the media, these younger folks have been basted in it for their entire lives. Not one waking moment has been spent without a talking box in the room challenging independent thought. Not one waking moment has been spent asking the question “Does the media really portray the world as it is?” Not one moment. This is not innocent capitalism. This is indoctrination.

Take a look at your average television commercial. Look at its gauzy, glossy, rococco illusions. Watch unrealistically proportioned, silicone-fortified, cosmetically-enhanced, over-dressed, superficial drones milling around, promoting low-quality, overpriced garbage that nobody would buy if the artificial need were not created. Look at how many of them are trying to create a need for products that nobody wants, nobody needs, and that are actually often dangerous. With all this in mind, consider this horrifying idea: the young people just a generation behind me see these commercials, and believe in them. They believe that the world should actually be like this: superficial and meaningless, based on transient consumer commodities with no real value. It’s no wonder they don’t take anything seriously.

Insurance: The Silent Evil

Often in this humble blog, I complain about the manipulative evils of various industries: the pharmaceutical industry, the petroleum industry, and a number of others. An industry I hadn’t considered — until recently, that is — is the insurance industry. And in terms of the amount of human suffering they cause, insurers may be the worst industry I’ve ever ranted about. Insurance is not an inherently bad idea. Among the various methods of paying for healthcare, it’s one of the better ones. The problem is greed and corruption. Of late, the insurance companies have been hiking their premiums excessively, making insurance very difficult for many people to afford. So, straight away, insurers cut out anybody who can’t afford their prices. These people, however, happen to be those who would probably most benefit from health insurance: African Americans (who, it is believed, are more prone to heart disease and diabetes), the poor, and the homeless.

There is another slice of the population that the insurance companies toss in the garbage (metaphorically speaking): the chronically ill. The aim of insurance is to help people pay for the ridiculously expensive medical treatments they require, right? Not if you’re chronically sick. If you have cancer or diabetes or heart disease, good luck trying to find any kind of health insurance. Insurance companies simply don’t want to take on the “risk” of people who are in need of frequent, and often expensive, healthcare. So, once again, they cut out another segment of the population who could most benefit from their services.

Do you notice a pattern emerging? It would seem that insurance companies only want to insure those that would cost them the least: middle- and upper-class citizens with little prior history of health problems and little genetic predisposition to them, so that they can take as much of their premiums as possible for themselves. Almost makes the oil companies look tame in comparison.

But wait, there’s more! With the advent of the Human Genome Project, and the ability to predict genetic disease, the Insurers will at last be able to cut out the remaining group that steals their income away from them: the people who even have a chance of getting sick. Imagine: the year is around 2015, and genetic testing is becoming more and more accurate. Suppose you’re a twenty-something woman from a middle-class background who wants to buy some health insurance. Well, you’d better hope that you don’t have any genetic predisposition to disease! And you’d really better hope that the insurance company doesn’t have the legal clout to force you to get tested for genetic diseases! “I’m afraid you’re un-insurable, Ms. Doe, as you have a ten percent risk of developing ovarian cancer within the next thirty years.”

You can probably see why this would be a problem: the insurance companies appear to be moving in the direction of insuring people who rarely or never get sick. Wait a minute! These are the people who need insurance the least! You can see where problems would arise, and how your friendly Insurer might seem just a bit immoral, or at the least, shortsighted.

Think about that the next time you’re feeling under the weather: how sick can you really afford to get?

Contractually Obligated

Ever since 2001, the United States has been spoiling for a fight. Granted, back then, we had a perfectly good reason. But now, six years later, our reasoning is beginning to fall into question. We’ve got a war going in the Middle East that has outlasted almost every other modern war (including World War Two), and several other wars threatening to take hold in Korea and Iran. In light of all this conflict, the phrase “military contractors” has become something of a buzzword among American political pundits. This did not seem, at the beginning of the war, to be much of a problem. It was actually quite nice that there were civilians willing to help out the war effort. But that was then. Now, trouble is brewing.

Let’s go first to New Orleans, which was smashed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina (a name that anybody who listens to the news even occasionally will be tired of hearing). Since the government relief efforts were, shall we say “lackluster,” there was a desperate need for aid, any kind of aid. The military contractor known as Blackwater stepped up and sent people to New Orleans to help in the repair and recovery operations. This was all well and good, until they billed the government for several hundred million dollars. Still, for a great humanitarian effort like the rescue of New Orleans, they certainly deserved some pay. But problems arise when you look at just how the money was broken down. Blackwater billed the government for $950 per person per day. The problem is, the actual contractors who went into New Orleans only reported being paid $650 per person per day. Somewhere along the way, almost a third of the money is unaccounted for. It is not difficult to go from the missing money to foul play on Blackwater’s part.

The problems do not end there, by any stretch of the imagination. The contractors often refuse to release documents to Congress, claiming that they are classified. But aren’t they working as employees of the government? And aren’t most employees obliged to disclose information on the request of the employer? It gets worse still: there have been several reported cases of privatized military forces disobeying congress’s orders. This is a very dangerous situation, exacerbated by the fact that, when they cause or get caught up in a problem, they refuse to abide by, or find legal loopholes in the contracts they have with their employees.

By now, I’m sure, the little alarm bells will be ringing madly in some of my readers’ heads. They ring in mine, too, and here’s why: we have private armies entering war zones and disaster areas, where they have a tendency to get killed, or perhaps to exacerbate an already-serious situation. They then refuse to release the documents concerning these affairs, even to Congress. This has all the makings of an embryonic coup.

Now, perhaps I’m being dismal and paranoid. I’m sure my more conservative readers will agree with this, but I see a truly frightening scenario:

The military contractors refuse to withhold from the government vital documents concerning incidents in which they are involved, thus creating a sphere of deniability. They use some of the money that they report to have spent on their employees in order to buy equipment and train more employees. Before long, the number of members of the United States military is overtaken by the number of soldiers employed by military contractors. We have, at this point, a force capable of overtaking the military forces of the U.S. government. This would make a coup, should the idea cross their minds, relatively easy to execute. Now, I’m sure there are some radical individuals who would like to see the government overthrown, and in any other case, I might agree with them; the only problem in this case is that the contractors are already known for lying, denying, and abusing their power. Were they to get control over the government (that is, assuming they don’t already have it), what kind of totalitarian state could they build?

Just something to think about…

The Standardized Brain

What are the most important things for our children to learn? Most parents will say things like “Life skills,” “Math and science,” “How to succeed in the world,” and other such mighty philosophical goals.

Then, I have a question for these parents: “If you want your children to think, then why are you programming them to become complete drones???

This heated rant was triggered by a segment on the standardized-test-producing No Child Left Behind Act, that I heard on NPR. But, it’s been bubbling in my mind since some time in third grade.

You see, in third grade, for the first time in my life, I took a standardized test. I had no idea what the whole thing was about. Before me, I saw a whole grid of little bubbles. I had been taught extensively the proper technique for filling in these bubbles, and I complied to it. After I answered the questions for a while according to the correct answers. Then, I got bored. I stopped caring whether or not my answers were correct. So what did I do? I filled in the bubbles so that they formed an aesthetically-pleasing zigzag pattern. That may well have been the last twitch of my high-level creative muscles before the horror that followed caused them to atrophy almost out of existence.

What followed was a Ministry-of Love-style inquisition, never-ending, never-relenting, and intellectually paralyzing. No longer did my classes challenge or entertain me. No longer was I expected to think up my own solutions to problems. From that moment forward, I was instructed, directly or indirectly, to do my best to come up with the answers the test-maker was looking for. How, exactly, is this good for developing minds? Well, it’s not. But it’s very good for the newly-minted American Totalitarian State, which has finally cracked the age-old secret of how to create the perfect race of conformist drones who do not question government and don’t dare think outside the box: test them into submission.

As the grades went by, I didn’t notice the subtle change in my own psyche. I didn’t feel my sense of wonder at the world slipping away; I didn’t notice it when my drive to succeed academically began to falter; I didn’t take note when I began to become more and more resentful of school and everything it symbolized. But these things happened, and they brought me to where I am today. And that is not necessarily such a good place. I have, no matter how hard I tried to fight, part drone myself. Every now and then, I’ll catch myself watching television, even when the program in question is a wretched, sex-obsessed, moronic wad of drivel, with which I wouldn’t wipe my own rectum. I find myself surfing the internet without reason, even when I don’t have any information in particular to look for.

Why did this happen? Why did a kid who adored science more than anything else in the world, who loved his teachers, who enjoyed going to school (most of the time), become a struggling, flailing student in an undistinguished university, living the American nightmare? School. It’s always been school that got me down, school that broke me, school that got me to stand up on the podium, in front of millions of followers loyal to the system, and, in an Orwellian fashion, denounce myself for my crimes against the Party. Were this 1984, I might have said something like this: “I am a traitor. An enemy of the party. I have failed tests. I have attempted to think differently. I have resisted the beneficient forces of monotonization and conformization. I have attempted to break the mold. I deserve no mercy. I deserve death.” My true crimes, though, go in the opposite direction: I have allowed tests to depress me. I have obsessed about their results. I have allowed myself to partake in the continuous review so that we can get better and better grades on them. I deserve no mercy. I deserve death.

This only got worse with the enactment of No Child Left Behind. This horrendous act, which created a set of benchmarks, to which all schools must comply or face death, is solely responsible for killing the American soul. No Child Left Behind is, by itself, a good reason to despise the current Administration. Even if you ignore American errors, mistakes, horrors, and deceptions, No Child Left Behind stands as a beacon of insanity, a ray of darkness in a sea of light.

I’m sure some of my readers will not be clear on what this Act actually does, especially those fortunate enough to be in Europe, Asia, or one of the other Americas. The meat of the act is simple: it requires a near-constant battery of tests with which it judges the performance of schools. On paper, like Marxism, it may seem like a good idea: it’s (supposedly) a way to see which schools are doing so dismally that they might be hurting the children. (Of course, this assumes that NCLB has no dark ulterior motives, which I doubt) In practice, it does no such thing. Having experienced its effects throughout high school, here’s what it does:

  • Provides accountability. Translation: requires students to take test after test, so many, in fact, that teachers begin teaching mostly material that will be covered on the test, to the exclusion of all other facts. The focus of education shifts from understanding to rote memorization, and curiosity is ultimately stifled.
  • Judges schools based on their performance. Translation: attacks poor and minority students, despite pretending to help them, by closing down their neighborhood schools and filling them with self-doubt about their own academic prowess.
  • Helps academically-troubled students catch up. Translation: Pulls academically gifted students down to the “normal” level. Gone are the special programs for children who think differently. In their places, the gifted ones get the same crap as the non-gifted ones. It’s like taking the people who are fortunate enough to eat full, healthy meals, and then feeding them the same things as the poor, starving indigents lurking on the street.
  • Prepares students to become competitive in the global arena. Translation: seeks out and destroys creativity, turns unorthodoxy into “deviance,” and warps the minds of its victims, making sure that not a single one of their thoughts strays out of the assigned box, making certain that they live according to rules, schedules, and prescribed plans.

Having finally written all of this down, and finally given it some thought, I’m beginning to feel quite robbed. I don’t have the same analytical mind as a mathematician would have had years ago. I don’t have the curiosity I used to have. I feel as though my soul has been hollowed out with some sort of spiritual melon-baller. The most I can do now is hope to save as many of the younger generation as I can.

So here’s a message for all you young people who are reading this: never, never, NEVER, NEVER let the system get to you. Disobey. Argue with your teachers when you know they’re wrong. Bend the rules. Think differently. Act differently. The moment you start thinking it’s a good idea to be more like everybody else, smack yourself in the face and do something outrageously individual. Don’t learn to the test: seek out more information about things that interest you. Think about your future, because life has no multiple-choice questions. Stop thinking about studying and memorizing and facts. Start working with ideas, and start understanding. Don’t try to save me; I’m pretty sure I’m too far gone. But save yourself while there’s still time! Hurry!