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Talking Heads

by on June 12, 2019

Talking Heads

by Marco M. Pardi

Here we are in this wholly fantastic universe with scarcely a clue as to whether our existence has any real significance.” E. F. Schumacher. Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered.

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We are rapidly moving into the full-on era of contestants vying for the nomination to unseat President Trump. Perhaps it will get interesting. That is, if some credible person in Trump’s own Party declares himself a contestant for his role. But as the dreaded season of sound bytes and talking heads swells into a maelstrom there is one principle I would suggest to any candidate. It is a principle I discovered somewhere around age 8: No one ever hears a word you say. People hear what they tell themselves you said.

Understanding this principle means one must make the effort to understand “where the listener is coming from.” For this reason I distinguish among Irrational, Non-rational, and Rational thinking. Commonly, when two people descend into an argument in which Person A simply does not agree with Person B, Person B will say, “Oh, you’re just being irrational.” That is a misuse of the term. Irrational means what is said makes no sense. A prime example is glossolalia, or “talking in tongues”, frequent among certain religious group meetings. The speaker has no idea what he is saying, nor do the listeners. No speaker is able to repeat what he said. It was just an expression of situational psychosis. Non-rational versus rational are exemplified by the following example: A car has crashed into a tree and the driver is dead. The rational investigator examines the scene and affirms the death. She then determines the impact indicates high speed. Looking at the weather conditions and the nature of the road she finds it was a rainy night, twisting road, and slippery surface. Going back further she finds the driver had just left a party where drinking occurred. And, she finds the driver had an argument with his girlfriend and left the party in a rage. Each and every one of these factors is objectively verifiable, that night, the next morning, next year, and ten years hence. She writes her report in a rational manner, citing the contributing factors and the case is closed.

The non-rational investigator follows exactly the same course, finding and citing the same factors, and writes his report. So what’s the difference? Although he may not put this in his report, he concludes, “So this is the way God chose to bring the boy home.” That is non-rational. It is non-rational because it cannot be objectively verified either way. We cannot say it’s true; we cannot say it’s false.

I am not saying non-rational thinking is inferior or bad in any and all matters. It is a fact of life that some people harbor beliefs which, by definition, are beyond objective proof. I am saying, however, that such beliefs, or the propensity to believe, powerfully influence and predispose the listener to hear what is objectively said and to shape it into conclusions the speaker would never have reached.

There are several pivotal issues arising in the early campaigning and preliminary debates. One such issue is Climate Change. We already know that the utterance of that term sparks comments such as, “Oh, global warming. Bah. What about the record cold waves this year”? And so we know there are people who cannot or will not distinguish climate from weather. Their understanding of meteorology peaked as they determined the ice in their Scotch melted at the same rate this year as last.

But speaking of melting ice, we do know polar ice is melting much faster and reforming much thinner each year. We do know that wildfires are more catastrophic, flooding more extensive, and wind related storms more powerful and frequent. Still, some people herald the melting polar ice as a great boon to intercontinental shipping. Some, such as Secretary of State Pompeo recently, advise us to simply move as sea levels rise and drought strikes (is he not aware of the massive and often climate driven migrations already occurring?).

In thinking about that old phrase “a fly on the wall” as it relates to what might be occurring behind the closed doors of policy makers I thought of a particular fly: the sand fly. Sound familiar? I hope not. The sand fly is the vector of a triumverate of diseases known collectively as Leishmaniasis. The three main forms are: cutaneous – the most common (known among U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as the Baghdad Boil); visceral – invading the liver, spleen and bone marrow and often turning the skin black. It is responsible for the most deaths, usually among poor children; and, mucocutaneous – invading the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth and eating away the lips and nose while going on to devour the bones of the face such as the maxilla and teeth. The host population is comprised of a variety of mammals, including your dog and cat. The vector is the sand fly that bites the host, ingests the pathogen and goes on to bite you.

In the twentieth century 29 cases were found in the U.S., all in Texas. But in the 21st century, so far, it has been found in other States as well. Why? That should be obvious; warm temperature clines are moving north. In the late 1990’s Leishmaniasis was found in 50% of the discarded needles used by I.V. drug users in and around Madrid, Spain. (Look on a map and check the Latitude of Madrid) Some readers may say, Good. Let’s increase the number of infections among such people. But think rationally: those people become hosts for the sand flies to feed on and then move to the rest of us.

And along with Leishmaniasis we are seeing cases of dengue fever, Zika, Chikungunya, Malaria, Chagas’ disease and other tropical diseases moving north. We too easily forget malaria, as in Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium falciparum which were endemic in the United States until the invention of DDT, a pesticide which took a staggering toll on wildlife throughout the country as documented by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring. Until recently we could say tropical diseases had little to no chance of survival in the U.S. as the yearly average temperatures were too low to support them. That is changing rapidly. In that context we might remember Richard Preston’s warning: “A hot virus from the rainforest lives within a twenty four hour plane ride from every city on Earth.” (The Hot Zone). There are no vaccines against many tropical diseases; pharmaceutical companies simply didn’t consider making that investment for the health of the world’s poor. And, there are no absolute cures for diseases such as Leishmaniasis; treatments costing $20,000 and up per treatment are available if you find a doctor in time to make the correct diagnosis.

It should come as no surprise that physicians in the “First World” are not well trained in recognizing tropical disease symptoms presented in emergency rooms. During intensive counter bio-terrorism training presented within the Intelligence Community I, and a couple of my colleagues, were seated in the facility cafeteria for dinner when trained professional actors, who had been “made-up” correctly by tropical disease specialists and professional make-up artists, came over and sat down with us. As soon as they sat down the clock started running. Each of us had 30 clock seconds to look at the actor across from us and determine whether the symptoms present on them were (in my case) Chicken Pox or Smallpox and respond accordingly. Could you tell the difference?

SARS, Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome, was a good example of Preston’s warning. Originating in China in 2002 it blasted into 37 countries by 2003 resulting in 774 known deaths. A federal agency to which I was attached asked me to do a 90 day TDY (temporary duty) on the island of Saipan to screen air passengers from Asia heading to the U.S. My wife, a retired senior microbiologist, was fiercely opposed to my going. She had already been quite upset by my 14 day assignment investigating the Anthrax attacks in Washington, D.C. (On my return from D.C. she wanted me to undress in the driveway and burn my clothes. I suggested the neighbors might not like that.) Since I already had other commitments I chose to not go to Saipan, much to my regret.

When I was growing up I heard people say, “Oh, those people in Africa are always dying of some weird disease or other.” Well, here’s the news. As the world climate changes there are now far more areas which are primed and ready for the arrival of those diseases, whether by insect, human migrant, tourist, commercial freighter, or executive jet. The new nests are ready to facilitate the hatch. And hatch they will.

So here we are back to the problem of how to communicate this to people in ways that motivate them to act. The recent measles calamity shows just how entrenched the “anti-vax” people are, even when the lives of their children may be at stake. Talking heads are clamoring for a Green New Deal, a reprisal of how Roosevelt pulled the country out of the Depression with a massive government infra-structure spending program only this time on ways to avert or at least slow Climate Change.

Yes, there are those who say God will take care of us, and many of these same people once said hurricanes were God’s anger over homosexuals and liberals. Yet speaking to them seems to be an exercise in glossolalia; they have no idea of how to make any sense of what we say.

And there are those who seem otherwise reasonably intelligent. Yet they deny climate change and continue the murderous policies of fossil fuel exploitation, over fishing the oceans, laying waste to the planet in search of “precious” metals, etc. Are they coming from a position of one or more of the 7 Deadly Sins? Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and/or Pride? Should we make Short Sightedness the 8th Deadly Sin? Or do they know exactly what they are doing even though the planet they will leave their children and grandchildren will be less and less one on which they could live, much less want to live. When I was in a nuclear strike force in the Air Force we had a saying, “Pity the survivors.”

It seems clear to me Talking Heads won’t get it done. Rationally thinking minds and hard working hands will.

What do you think?

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  1. Dana permalink

    Marco, I just heard a well-known candidate claim once he’s in office he’s going to find a way to cure cancer. His supporters clapped. He seems to be unraveling, although many will vote for him because he’s easily identifiable, or not a woman, or not “the other guy.”

    Although I can’t vote, as you know I’m strongly supporting a candidate who has clearly defined, rational solutions to problems. He uses math/data/logic to support them.

    As “they” say, time will tell.


  2. Thanks, Dana. Unfortunately, the promise of curing cancer has been made before. It is far more complex than a campaign statement would have it seem. But this may signal the candidate has his mind in the right direction.


  3. The following is an email exchange with a woman in Canada. I have concealed the identity for privacy. Marco

    On Thu, Jun 13, 2019, 8:46 AM MARCO PARDI, wrote:
    In the north east U.S. the deer tick carries Lyme disease. Before going for a blood test check for information on Lyme disease. It may also be in Canada. Marco

    Thanks. Pretty sure it was a Dog tick…but ‘ll get a blood test anyway…

    On Thu, Jun 13, 2019, 8:01 AM MARCO PARDI, wrote:
    I wish you had been able to keep that tick for identification. But thanks for providing this example that we can see climate change with possibly deadly consequences even before we see hurricanes, wildfires, and tsunamis.

    Watch that swelling and, if possible have a physician take a look. This is the new normal. Marco

    On Jun 13, 2019, at 7:40 AM,

    Marco – I have encountered a large number of ticks this year – I got one stuck to me before I could find it – I’m pretty sure it was a brown or red legged beast though – hadn’t swelled with my blood but I have a bit of a swell where it used to be. Our dog is on a systemic pesticide so the ticks will quickly die off – but they are omnipresent everywhere – a walk on our trails and even with protection I’ll end up with two or more stuck to me somewhere.

    I have never seen anything like this before. I’m not reluctant to walk the trails given the risks.


  4. Climate change has been the subject of many “discussions” between myself and my husband over the past few years. He says that it is a naturally occurring phenomenon, and he’s at least partially correct, but he refuses to admit that human actions have exacerbated the rate with which it is happening. His problem is that he listens too much to his friend, who is a climate denier.

    You make the point that so many people can’t differentiate between climate and weather. I’m sure you recall when Trump, in the midst of a major snow storm, made the comment that “we sure could use some of that global warming right now”.; idiot! I’m hoping he meant that to be funny. I’ve noticed how many more earthquakes, tsunamis, and wildfires have been happening over the past decade, and how much worse the hurricanes have been. Melting polar ice caps have no doubt changed the salinity level of the oceans, as well as raised their levels. This change of the overall geological makeup of the planet has surely had an effect far beyond that which the average person can imagine.

    All these changes, as well as the increased expansion of humanity into parts of the world which once were havens to our non-human friends, must surely have changed this planet for the worse. I’ve given a lot of thought to the decreased habitats of the animal population, but you have brought to mind the expansion it has caused among the insect range, and the potential danger that brings to human and non-human animals alike.

    We may some day be able to reverse the social and political damage that has been done to this country in the past few years, but not until people become aware that what is taken from one of us has been taken from us all. The physical damage that has been done to this world will never be repaired so long as people ignore that it is happening. Like a child covering his eyes and saying, “you can’t see me”, Trump and his ilk are hoping the problems will go away if they are ignored long enough. THEY WON’T, and refusing to discuss the issues will fix nothing.


    • Thank you so much, Rose. Your comments portray you as having expertise, awareness and the dedication to enforce your words with action. That combination is exceedingly rare these days as more people become more comfortable with their short term surroundings and luxuries. Just today I read of over 150 dead dolphins, their deaths attributed to changes in ocean salinity and the effects on their food supply. But these are only the bodies that were found. How many more whales and dolphins just sink to the bottom of the seas?

      I know I rail on and on about this and probably turn some people off. but I deeply feel morally compelled to speak until I no longer can. I sincerely thank you for your help.


      • That makes me very sad. Not only are dolphins at least as intelligent as most humans, they don’t go about committing hate crimes, or destroying the environment in which they live.


        • Through our ignorance, indifference, and personal greed we are killing off life around us. Sadly, our technology supports us in this, meaning that so many life forms will perish before we even begin to feel the effects.


  5. Your 8-year-old self was most perceptive. I’m reading The Righteous Self, which confirms your perception that people (including ourselves) make moral judgements intuitively and then speak to rationalise and defend, not explore. Fortunately he explores solutions to this exasperating human habit.


    • Thank you, Rachel. I’m glad you’re here. I will look for that book. I’m curious about how one alters a fundamental framework of personality. That is, I think each of us develops as a tangled bush of experiences, lessons, “rules”, etc. making no two people alike. In this developmental process we fail to gain, or we lose along the way, the self perspective which would help us – as in this common example: “Why do you think that?”….”I dunno. I just do.”


      • Then I think you’ll find this book rather interesting. Jonathan Haidt adds an international and anthropological dimension, which adds scale and perspective to our efforts to puzzle this out.


  6. Thank you. I will look for it now.


  7. Found it as The Righteous Mind, at Barnes & Noble. Looks great and will get it this week. Thanks.


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