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Growing Pains

Growing Pains

by Marco M. Pardi

We aim to develop physique, mentality, and character in our students; but because the first two are menaces without the third, the greatest of these is character.” Joseph Dana Allen, Headmaster. Fall 1989

This piece seeks to explore common beliefs about character and is therefore germane to all readers (no matter what other people may have said about you). A fundamental question will be whether character is necessarily “forged” through adverse circumstances. You will note there is a flavor of the old Nature vs. Nurture debate here, but I intend to minimize that. I sincerely hope readers will comment, and I will respond to each.

The definition of “Character” is often more reflective of the biases of the person doing the defining than it is an objective definition. However, the Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary offers a variety of definitions, notably “the complex of mental and ethical traits marking and often individualizing a person, group, or nation.” Of note here is the absence of any etiological reference. So I’m left with memories of Sister Margaret Mary beating my six year old buttocks with a ping pong paddle while telling me she is building my character. Thank you, Sister. Your efforts have been duly noted. Should I have told her I hid handkerchiefs in my underwear before the paddling? Nah. Her efforts at shaping my character resulted only in my efforts at better concealment of my ways, a lasting trait. And that trait developed long before I was put into that school.

In the late 1940’s genes were not part of the everyday lexicon and in my case, since my father was still in Italy and I was in the U.S. no one could say I was “just like my father.” That came much later. Also little known outside academia were the “Eastern” concepts of reincarnation. When I began learning of them in the early 1960’s I recoiled in horror for by that time I was determined to never endure childhood again. One might even say my character was more defined in reaction to externals than in acceptance of them, or in some existential epiphany. Instead of feeling I had identified some internal and ongoing reality about me I was more likely to feel a “because of” reason for my character, an “anything but them” raison d’etre.

I’ve written specifically and extensively on reincarnation so I will not give that rebirth here. I will restate that decades of experience, research and deep thought support my conclusion of the reality of non-corporeal existence, with absolutely no need or logical justification for some kind of god figure. Some Asian philosophies/religions, and the New Age claptrap that arose from poor and partial understanding of those systems, propose that reincarnation is necessary to balance traits and actions of past lives and to “round out the resume” which will one day enable promotion from the cycle of rebirth. While that is internally logical, it is externally indefensible. It implicitly assumes there is some external standard against which we are measured and we must check off all the boxes before we are acceptable. Who devised this standard? And who is keeping score?

So, however much Trump’s mannerisms and behavior suggest the rebirth of Mussolini and his policies edge closer by the day to Hitler’s, we can probably rule reincarnation out as a character contributor.

The first decades of the 21st century have seen exponential growth in our understanding of human genetics. In fact, the pace of these realizations is such that what I might write today may be over written by new information tomorrow. So suffice it to say the mapping of the human genome has opened new areas for discussion of what makes us us. It is still necessary, however, to remember that few complexities such as behavioral traits would arise from a single gene. Instead, we see gene clusters. And where we see those clusters we see variation. I recently finished reading Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind in which he identifies the genetic markers which predispose us to operating either on the basis of intuition or of reason. While it is strongly supportive of an almost Determinist view of human behavior, in my opinion it does not sufficiently account for experience.

So, while my relatives continue to marvel that I am “a clone” of my father in every possible physical and behavioral way – right down to the voice, I am not my father. I have no doubt he would agree.

My childhood and young adulthood years were not pleasant. But I have met people who survived their own such years through conditions I have wondered might have done me in. At times I have waited for them to crack, not quite understanding how they could be so “normal”. Did their strength of character come from those conditions, or did they survive those conditions because they had somehow already acquired that strength of character? I just don’t know.

I think we are sometimes too quick to adopt facile conclusions. Years ago I heard that children of alcoholics grew up to be alcoholics. Then many studies seemed to support that conclusion, especially when the children were raised away from the alcoholic parent. But I’ve personally known people who showed no tendencies to alcoholism yet, by family history, should have been well on their way. How often have we been told domestic violence passes down through generations? That’s certainly the first thing a defense attorney tries to establish in mitigating guilt for his client. But again, there are many for whom that will never be the case. As William James, “Father of American Psychology”, advised us when considering these facile conclusions, “All it takes is one white crow.”

In recent years we’ve seen endless television footage of children in war zones, many from birth to the present day. We are encouraged to consider the long term effects on these children, and I certainly do. But my brother (four years my senior) and I were born in Rome, Italy before and during WWII. Despite Rome’s status as an “open city” we experienced the nightly bombings of strategic targets nearby and we lived through some very close times. Should that have affected our adult views on the military? We each, voluntarily, served in conflict zones, taking on voluntary assignments far riskier than the average soldier. He stayed in the military, and I took my developing skills into federal government life. Were we demented, or were we unfortunate victims? Was it, Crazy Johnny went to war, or Johnny came home from war crazy? Or, neither one? But lots of people did that, and they had never heard the shriek of falling bombs or saw their mothers and grandmothers cower as the buildings shook. It’s easy to presume a person with a happy childhood and no traumas of note will develop into a rather well adjusted, if not bland adult. But is that so?

As a child I tried examining my body from all angles. Using a handheld mirror I stood in the bathroom with my back to the larger wall mirror and tried to see who I was. After several incomplete attempts, and some sore muscles, I decided it’s pretty tough to know who we are.

I’ve always been drawn to ethology, the study of animal behavior. Of course, you can’t ask a non-human animal how it feels or why it does what it does. Not that you would always get accurate answers from humans.

How about you, dear reader? How did you develop “ the complex of mental and ethical traits” that enable people to say, “I know that person”?

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Want to Bet?

Want to Bet?

By Marco M. Pardi

The only way to predict the future is to have the power to shape the future”. Eric Hoffer. The Passionate State of Mind and other Aphorisms. 1954

All comments are sincerely encouraged and will receive a response.

Over the years I’ve known, or at least met many people who claimed to “read the future”. Most of them used props of some kind, tarot cards (78 cards), the I Ching (6 coins), the Gong Hee Fot Choy (32 cards) and other devices right down to the lines in my hand or simple playing cards. I’ve also met those who used no props; they spoke with “the dead” who, presumably, had an overview of my life and doings.

I suppose my initial exposure came early. Both my grandmothers were British, one English and the other Scottish. The English woman was fond of daily tea, with milk, and would “read the leaves” for the little boy left in her care. As hard as I tried I could never make out anything in the scrum of leaves left in the cup. I probably would have flunked a Rorschach. So it was only in my middle teens, when I finally dared to reject the magic of religion, that I also rejected the possibility of anyone reading the future, by any means.

All that changed in my 22nd year when an old woman I met with simply to satisfy my insistent girlfriend spent over an hour using just a pack of playing cards to lay out my past, present, and future in utterly impossible detail and with deadly accuracy. Although I still had no use for religious fantasy, I could not deny the evidence for what this woman had done. But my normal “If you can do it, I can do it” response was still dormant. Instead, I made myself available – under very controlled circumstances for reasons I can’t discuss, for others I happened to meet over the years. Yes, there were a few, even recently, who shrank back and gaped at me so I determined to study this phenomenon anthropologically – as a participant/observer, with emphasis on the observer. For clarity I distinguish the reader as the one doing the divination and the sitter as the one receiving the reading. Among the readers I distinguish two groups: those who use external props or devices; and, those who don’t.

When I say props I do not mean items intended to deceive. I mean items intended to focus the mind of the reader – often through mild trance – and/or to lend authenticity to the process. The authenticity, such as it is, derives from the reader being able to point to the prop and say, in effect, “It’s not me saying this, it’s in the cards. See for yourself”. Of course, not all props provide objective evidence; crystal balls, bowls of water, animal organs, etc. are not necessarily “readable” to the sitter. But the use of props goes back beyond recorded history. Classical Greeks gazed into water – scrying, or hydromancy. And, most people have at least heard of the crystal ball, an offspring of scrying. Etruscans used the organs of animals – haruspicy and ornithomancy – the flight of birds. Another ancient form is osteomancy, the casting of bones, a form of cleromancy, the casting of objects such as coins, dice, or yarrow stalks. Several of these forms later evolved as tarot cards, I Ching (Book of Changes), and Gong Hee Fot Choy (Greetings of Good Fortune), each of which can be accompanied by a text enabling the sitter to read the meaning for himself.

Perhaps the most amusing, and labor intensive prop is the Ouija Board, or the Yes/Yes board – Oui & Ja. This board has the letters of the alphabet scattered in an arc and a planchette device upon which two sitters lightly place their fingers while asking questions of the presumed spirits hanging around who then direct the planchette to spell out an answer. A third person may be required to record the letters as the planchette skips from one to the next. I almost laughed aloud when first shown this board. At the top corners are the words YES and NO. The sitters are instructed to begin by first asking, Is anyone here? Aaah, it should be obvious that if the planchette moves to NO there is a problem. Who did it? Indeed, the most common problem is that each sitter accuses the other of moving the planchette, and each vigorously denies it. Nonetheless, as some parts of the world experience more rainy days there will likely be an increase in Ouija use, domestic violence notwithstanding.

I’m not saying I’ve never seen an apparently prescient message come from the board. I have, on two occasions. But I have no doubt that the origin of the message was in the mind of one of the sitters, even if they were never consciously aware. One was a Guatemalan woman I barely knew, and the other a young Norwegian woman who was a close friend. The Norwegian and I subsequently put bareback pads on a couple of horses and rode into a rather wild area to verify what had appeared on the board. Yes, we found it in a place neither of us had been to before. So, which of us knew of an infanticide and burial some 150 years before? Or was there really a spirit somehow moving our fingers on the board by implanting the thought in a mind?

The Ouija board is largely considered a silly children’s game. But many people take the tarot and the I Ching seriously. How seriously? Next time you see the flag of South Korea you will notice that, arranged around the central Hsiang Sheng figure (what Westerners call Yin/Yang) are sets of trigrams, each composed of three broken or unbroken lines. These are from the I Ching and, when deciphered from the throw of coins, are coupled into hexagrams. The hexagram is referenced in the text of the I Ching and provides the answer to your question. There are two difficult parts here: One must know how to frame a question; and, one must understand “Chinese culture”. The I Ching does not deliver a static This-will-happen-regardless answer, a sort of doomed to your fate statement. It delivers what will happen if you carry through the thinking implicit in your question. The Chinese culture part is far more arcane as it implies a monolithic entity where there is none. There is much of Kong Fu-Xi (“Confucius”) in the reading, but there are other threads as well. So, instead of seeing life as stepping from one stone to the next across a stream (Western), one must feel life as a continuous flow in which prior actions affect the currents one meets in what seems to be the future. Throughout Asia many diplomats will quietly consult the I Ching before meetings and during breaks. It is not so much a factual statement about a future state of being as it is a guide to making a future state of being come to fruition. And that is precisely why it is fundamentally misunderstood so commonly in the West.

The tarot is another matter. The sitter shuffles the cards and the reader lays them out in a preordained fashion, including a place for past, present and future. The reader then guides the sitter through the interpretation of each card, it’s position, and its relationship to the rest of the “spread”. Any time the sitter challenges the efficacy of a card the sitter can point to the card, the position, and the associated interpretation in the accompanying written guide. Of course, some readers expand on the guide, weaving a narrative which they feel ties the whole spread together. Obviously, this is the portal for subjective error.

The devices I mentioned earlier, such as the crystal ball and the bowl of water are in themselves unreadable by the sitter. Even the ordinary playing cards fall into this category. Thus, the “interpretation” must come entirely from the reader, not the sitter. The pack of ordinary playing cards the elderly woman used for me could not possibly have contained the extremely detailed and precise events and issues she matter-of-factly recited to me, with no fluff and no banter. 55 years later they are as true as they were then. And I sincerely assure you there have been many things I did not “make happen”.

But the world is now awaiting yet another binary choice in which voters in the U.S. will, one way or the other, make things happen. In the introduction to the book, Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives (1984) John Naisbitt wrote, “The most reliable way to anticipate the future is by understanding the present”. I would ensure the concept present is inclusive of at least the recent past. And now I will lay out for you a spread of past and present and ask you to consider the future.

Shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union the State, under influence from Putin, sold off publicly owned utilities to a few developing oligarchs for pennies on the dollar. The greatest concentration of wealth was the oil and gas sector, notably GAZPROM. Oil and gas prices were moderately high and promised to go higher. But then, in 2014, Putin militarily annexed Crimea and quickly followed that by unmarked military incursion into Ukraine. President Obama responded by getting the Saudis to greatly increase production, easing restrictions of domestic fracking, and imposing financial sanctions on the Russian oligarchs through measures such as the Magnitsky Act, which he had signed into law in 2012. This combination deeply lowered the world price for oil and directly impacted the oligarchs, including Putin. In fact, the Russian economy is deeply unbalanced in the direction of oil and gas and is suffering the consequences.

But the lower price for oil impacted the American oil companies as well. And while the CEOs of these mega-giants pondered the old “Middle East turmoil” ploy to raise prices, the Obama administration played a key role in developing and formalizing the Iran Nuclear Deal, depriving the oil companies of a boogy-man. Hillary Clinton would certainly maintain, even stiffen, Obama’s measures.

Putin’s answer? Identify and support a populist grifter while funneling money into Republican coffers through various means.

The grifter got the Republican nomination: Enter Trump. Apparently it was easy to appeal to his racism in getting him to reverse and obliterate as much of Obama’s work as possible. He immediately pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, a great boon to the fossil fuel industry. He pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal although all signatories, including the U.S. State Dept., verified Iran was meeting the conditions of the deal. He imposed crushing economic sanctions on Iran, including threats of sanctions against anyone who buys their oil. He has repeatedly issued thinly veiled nuclear threats against Iran while claiming Iran’s hand behind every evil act on the planet. He has goaded Iran toward acting out in a way which would justify military action, catastrophic as that would be. Will the Strait of Hormuz provide him with the next Gulf of Tonkin incident? Even limited military action, if that’s possible, would send the price of oil skyrocketing. Putin and his oligarch friends, including the American oil and gas CEOs who fund the Republican Party will be joyous, in contrast to the families mourning their dead. And the rhetoric of hate and fear, of any “non-White” group, intensifies daily.

We don’t need a deck of cards or a sheep’s liver to see and understand what is right before our eyes. But we will soon face another kind of Ouija board, the voting screen which will record our “choice”. Who do you think guides the hand which selects the choice? In many States the machines do not give a receipt or print out of those choices; they go electronically into the ether and we gather later in front of the television to see we “won”. And we thought the Ouija board was unscientific? Want to bet?

The Memory Monkey

The Memory Monkey

by Marco M. Pardi

Our memories are independent of our wills. It is not so easy to forget.” Richard Sheridan. 1775

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

I’m entering the age when people think I should remember episodes of childhood and youth with perfect clarity, while forgetting what I had for breakfast, or if I had breakfast. Did I take my morning medications? Should I have one of those plastic boxes partitioned like ice trays into sections for the days of the week? Oops, there I did it. I referenced ice trays, items many of our readers have no experience or conception of. I saw them at a garage sale. I did. Honest.

Of course, in our instant fix culture there are over the counter pills and potions for memory loss and other “senior moments”. Currently they generate millions of dollars in yearly sales. With only one problem: they don’t work. A just released study by the Global Council On Brain Health reports that three billion dollars were spent on these “brain” supplements in 2016 and this is expected to nearly double by 2023. Furthermore, since the Trump administration prioritizes making money for a very few people over safety for the many, the FDA and the USDA have each had their budgets cut, leaving many potentially unsafe supplements on the market with little to no oversight. Every science based examination of the claims advertised so freely reaches the same conclusion: “a massive waste of money.”

Since I habitually listen for internal contradictions in cultural messages I find the concerns about memory somewhat amusing. Whatever happened to “forgive and forget”? I can tell you that, for what it’s worth, I don’t forget. And that goes for good and bad. Forgive? I think I don’t forgive so much as I experience a tapering off of the desire to achieve revenge. Actually, I don’t like the word revenge. I prefer restoring balance, what some might call justice. I’m even okay with some other person or other circumstances meting out justice, what some would call karma, although I cannot deny the satisfaction of being the agent.

But what about this faculty of ours, this thing we call memory? Obviously, non-human animals also have it, and the case has been made for a form of it in plants as well. There are even persistent claims of “cellular memory”, citing cases of transplant recipients who find themselves with a talent or preference characteristic of their donor. But does it interrupt their sleep, or intrude on their thoughts “out of the blue”?

There have been periods in my life when I wished there were a pill or procedure to excise the memory of certain periods in my life, or at least specific aspects of them. Part of the attraction of running away when very young was the prospect of being able to “start anew”, with a history of only my own making. But I realized I could not leave my mind behind, and with it came my memories. A package. Deal with it.

Years ago I knew a young woman who, in her then defunct marriage, had become severely clinically depressed. At that time the go-to treatment was electro-shock therapy. I had been a fan of that technique in graduate school, viewing it then as I would later view re-booting my computer. Unfortunately, the procedure in those years was little advanced beyond the Frankenstein approach (“It’s alive! It’s alive!”). As a result of the treatments, rather than missing specific aspects of her past, she was missing whole sections. The procedure has been revised lately and is experiencing a cautious renaissance. But her damage was done.

But now the landscape is changing. As early as five years ago Scientific American, a very highly respected resource, ran an article on editing memory. Although the subjects involved were mice, the techniques employed were transposable to humans. Specific learning was excised from the rats’ brains. The implication is that once this is more refined it can be applied to human PTSD cases, excising the specific memories and even the trigger points if necessary. This is not “brain washing” in the 1950’s Manchurian Candidate sense; it is selective reprogramming of the brain such that the individual does not have a sense of “something missing”, as did the woman cited above.

But two questions arise: any event (as recorded as a memory) has a context. As with cancer surgery which hopes for “clean margins”, how far into the context must we cut to ensure the removal of the memory? And, what are you willing to give up?

For several years now I’ve approached unpleasant memories not as things to be suppressed – that doesn’t work anyway – but as opportunities to learn. Getting into them, and looking around, gives me a better understanding of how the events happened in the first place. This strengthens tactics and strategies to avoid a repetition. But it also offers me an opportunity to question why I keep bringing them up. Is there something not yet resolved? Sure, there have been times when I felt I was in a “snowglobe”, bad memories cascading down with near white-out force, me unable to fully grasp any particular one and fully resolve it.

Buddhist meditation teaches us about the monkey, flitting from limb to limb and chattering at us for attention. That’s the maelstrom of thoughts pouring across our minds at any given moment. Some of them are painful memories triggered, perhaps, by an unexplained association with the previous thought. Novices try to still the mind and have no thoughts, assuming that is nir vana – beyond wind. That simply cannot happen; the brain/mind matrix will continue on its way, with the additional input of the novice’s struggle. So Buddhism teaches us to let the monkey scramble about, but pay no attention to anything it does. In other words, don’t develop perception into conception. Or as the old saying goes, Don’t make something of it. When you’re in a blizzard, don’t try to see each snow flake.

Years ago I tried to learn to control my dreams. Predictably, I slid into the Am I there yet? syndrome. Maybe the best effect was that it was tiring and that helped me get to sleep.

So I’ve decided to let the monkey have its fun. Just as I decided my nightly efforts at On Demand dreams were futile, I’ve decided there are times when ignoring the monkey not only causes me to miss something I should give thought to, but it sets me up for endless re-run loops until I do. But that doesn’t mean I need to have unpleasant reactions to what the monkey is showing me. I learned in grammar school that the best way to deal with a loudmouth oaf is silence. The trick is to not let yourself become someone who “suffers in silence”.

How about you, dear reader? Does your monkey have a name?

Designer Orange

Designer Orange

by Marco M. Pardi

Many Alabamans delight in the chain gangs’ reappearance. Drivers roll down their windows to taunt the prisoners, barking like dogs. Others look on the predominantly black gangs and feel nostalgia for the South they knew as children. “I love seeing ’em in chains,” one elderly white woman said, “They ought to make them pick cotton.” Brent Staples, “The Chain Gang Show: Humiliating Prisoners for Political Profit.” New York Times Magazine. 17 September 1995

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

My use of the term Designer should be obvious; I mean those who designed the concept of privately run, for-profit incarceration, not those who designed the ubiquitous orange jumpsuits. Furthermore, I will clarify a few items. People often interchange the words jail and prison. A jail is a holding area for those awaiting trial, those convicted and awaiting sentence, and those serving short term sentences usually under local law. A classification center is for those who, having been convicted and sentenced, are being examined to determine the level of security required to house them. A prison is for someone sentenced to serve a sentence of greater duration and severity than what would be served in a jail.

The term bail comes from the “Old Bailey”, the central court and jail/prison complex of London centuries ago. A bailiff was an officer of the court charged with keeping order and ensuring that only those properly certified as “barristers” (attorneys) and those accused and transferred from the jail could enter the court to present or defend the case or stand trial. A physical bar separated the court from the jail. Hence the saying, “passing the bar”, a barrister.

My intertwined careers have been somewhat unusual. Over the years I have been the sole or lead investigator responsible for gathering the evidence to successfully send several people to lengthy federal or military prison terms.

I have interviewed prisoners in “road camps” (the “chain gangs” seen cleaning along public roads), and military and state jails and prisons.

The United States is well known as having the world’s largest private prison population. In 2016 8.5 percent, or 128,063, were incarcerated in private prisons. That’s out of a total of 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ):

Approximately 22,660 federal inmates are housed in private prisons, roughly 12 percent of the total inmate population. The Bureau of Prisons paid $639 million to private prisons in fiscal year 2014, averaging $22,159 per prisoner.

CoreCivic, the old Corrections Corporation of America, and the GEO Group run over 170 private prisons in the U.S. Most of the detention facilities currently holding people who crossed the southern border, (most found the Border Patrol in order to seek asylum; they turned themselves in, the BP didn’t find them) are being held in privately owned facilities. The cost to the American taxpayer is $795 per day per man, woman, and child. Yet, the regime is calling for longer detention and far more arcane processes in the examination of asylum requests. It doesn’t take much to understand the motive for this: the Billionaires Club of America, currently running the government and giving itself huge tax breaks, is making a daily fortune from these policies. Privately owned prisons and detention centers. The rush to the border was spurred by these same people, the Club, when they conspired to place Trump in the White House. Trump’s claim of building a wall echoed through the world and people decided if they were going to try to get in and request asylum they had to do it quickly, before the wall went up. Thus, having created the problem, Trump’s club members came up with the answer: privately owned prisons and detention camps with the U.S. tax payers footing all the bills.

By now most readers of this site have seen the published photographs, including those released by DHS, showing crowds of children, some in diapers, caged on bare concrete floors, hundreds of adults packed into standing room only cells with one sink and one toilet, lights left on 24 hours a day and little or no access to running water. The claims women have made of being forced to drink from the toilet, while initially disputed by the regime, have been verified by the FaceBook posts of the 9,500 Border Patrol officers on a site dedicated to denigrating the migrants and U.S. congressional representatives of color.

When I first saw these photos I was reminded of the Lubyanka and the Lefortovo prisons in the old Soviet Union. Each had dozens of prisoners stuffed into cells built for six or at most eight. They were incubators for tuberculosis and other contagious diseases.

At the first release of photos taken and authorized by the Department of Homeland Security the purpose of the release was clear. This was not a confession of wrongdoing. The officials knew fully well the photos would be picked up and broadcast around the world, especially in the countries from which most of the migrants came. In the same way I saw road camps display “the hole” – literally a hole in the ground with a locked cover over it to house a troublesome prisoner – even giving new prisoners a chance to “try it out”, these photos were and are intended to send a message. Gone is the Statue of Liberty, with her “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” message. As the American

Fuhrer himself said (paraphrasing), We don’t want people from shit hole countries. We want people like Norwegians. The photos released by the regime are intended to terrify people in Central America and stop them from seeking even legal asylum. The Muslim ban, the closure of border checkpoints where asylum may be filed for, the detention of people of all ages in conditions worthy of United Nations intervention, and the publishing of photos as warning posters are all part of the White Nationalist agenda which is at the heart of this administration.

Following on Rush Limbaugh’s pronouncement that drinking out of the toilets was better than what the migrants previously had at home, the Fuhrer tweeted today that the migrants were living in far better conditions and fed better in these detention camps than where they came from. No showers for weeks, no diaper changes for the infants, cold “Tex-Mex” food, and no privacy when using the one toilet per cell. That’s better?

In the 1990’s I was contracted to conduct a qualitative study for a joint Pennsylvania State University – Fed. Ctrs for Disease Control & Prevention nutrition study. At three sites across the country, Pennsylvania, California, and Georgia I interviewed groups of women with children between 2 and 5 years old. The separate groups were Anglo (White), African-American (Black) and Latino (newly arrived, mostly Central American and speaking zero English). Spending 90 minutes with each group I probed intensively for information on how and what they fed their young children and how they conducted the feeding event. On each of the indices the Latinos scored far higher on nutritional content and far higher on perceptions of healthy weight and BMI (Body Mass Index). They had little to no knowledge of “Tex-Mex” stuff passed off as “Mexican food” in American restaurants. The peer-reviewed study was published in the late 1990’s.

So what’s the answer? The United States has a long history of providing assistance to other countries. I spent five years on a PASA (participating agency service agreement) placing me with USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and participated in various Embassy sessions with representatives of several countries, including Cuba. With the collaboration of USAID and the State Department it is entirely possible to address the internal problems of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, all of which I have been to. Diplomacy can bring about the removal of corrupt officials and the placement of U.S. police and military advisors can reduce the incentive among local police and military to allow drug trafficking and the problems it causes.

But what about corruption at the top? Let’s be honest. In the 2016 elections the Russians simply played the same game we have been playing for many decades, only they did it better than we ever have. The U.S. intelligence community is not just a passive recipient of information; it puts that information to work, even when it has to manufacture information in order to affect domestic perceptions in target countries. The result: regime change.

Our regime, composed of the billionaires whose construction and support companies will profit immensely from the tax payer funded billions of dollars poured into the wall, has cut the funding for the U.S. State Department by up to 60%. Experienced and brilliant career diplomats have left in droves, replaced by “acting directors” and other people who cannot pass an FBI background check. The same is true across the panoply of U.S. agencies.

For a small fraction of the projected costs of the wall, the United States could fund the diplomacy and the advisors cited above. For a fraction of the costs of the prisons the U.S. could treat drug abuse and addiction as the public health crisis it is and fund treatment centers and prevention programs.

Up until now we have paid the price for our own corruption. Now, major sections of the world are paying the price for our corruption.

I had an orange jumpsuit years ago. But then it was issued to those of us service members who were flying risky missions over water. The color was to facilitate rescue, not capture.

Go To Your Room

Go To Your Room

by Marco M. Pardi

The heresy of heresies was common sense….The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four. 1.7.1949.

Don’t believe what you’re hearing or seeing! It’s all fake news!” Donald J. Trump: 2019

Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” George Bernard Shaw

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All comments are very much welcomed and will receive a response. An easy and safe way to comment is to register as a “follower”. No one will track you, and your family pets will not be molested. Those having trouble may send me email at MPardi@aol.com and I will post your comment for you.

Ah, those were the most joyous words of my childhood. I was not banished, I was freed. Although I shared a room with my brother, he was usually not there until time to sleep. Instead I had many books, including a huge set of the 1910 Encyclopaedia Britannica my grandfather had bought, a radio, and a few adventure comic books. If I tired of reading long and detailed Encyclopaedia entries on how steamships worked or some such subject I could listen to the radio mystery programs while “curling” the huge encyclopaedias to develop my biceps.

As I grew and we moved from one house to another I retained that sense of the room as my sacristy, especially when my brother left for West Point. For many years thereafter my home, wherever it was, served the same role. Especially as I lived alone for so long. But therein lay the benefits and the risks.

Yes, living alone, or functionally alone provided all the joys of solitude: autonomy, my choice in what to do or not do, my selection of television news, shouting invectives at certain politicians, hurling foam nerf balls at the tv, or risking carpal tunnel syndrome from overuse of my middle fingers. What could be better?

The risks should be obvious. I was building my own information bubble, assembling my own igloo with blocks I had cut and trimmed to my satisfaction. Could The Polar Bear of Alternate Opinion come along and bat the whole thing down? I don’t socialize very much, in fact hardly at all. And I’ve written earlier (much earlier) of my impatience with “small talk”. I’m coming to suspect that now, even among those few people I know by name, the old standby – talk about the weather – would quickly morph into an unpleasant circular firing squad about whether climate change is real or a hoax, or a real hoax, or has anything to do with that rainstorm last night.

Then again, what happens when you raise a topic about which the other people in the group are ill informed or even completely uniformed? At a neighborhood chili cook-off I blundered into a group of guys talking about the current efforts to bring back the coal industry, the “clean coal” industry. (I should say here my neighborhood is composed of educated professionals) I said, “There is no clean coal”. Oh yes there is, they said with certainty. I then asked if they were referring to lignite, subbituminous, bituminous or anthracite. Group flat affect. Abrupt change of subject. Not caring much for chili, I went home. I was certain any “lecture” on my part, no matter how short, would have gotten maybe a nod or two and a mass departure for the chili tables. Although some of my college students would likely have guffawed at this, I actually am sensitive to lecturing too much.

Speaking of which, I recommend an outstanding book by Naomi Klein, NO Is Not Enough. It is short, precise, and offers analyses, solutions and action items. For example, in addressing the rule by chaos characterizing our current administration she dispels the common idea that this chaos arises from incompetence. Instead, she makes it very clear that this is a carefully orchestrated tactic. She asks us to imagine standing up to an automatic tennis ball server on steroids; we may manage to hit a few balls back but we will be quickly overwhelmed by the cloud of balls coming at us from various angles. And those balls carry the most damaging policies of this administration, such as canceling the Clean Air Act, eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency, going after every source of fossil fuel on the planet, de-regulating the industries which have harmed us, attempting to ban abortion and even contraception while cutting or eliminating all the supports for people hit the hardest by these measures. And on and on.

And so, we yield. We go to our room, where we can control the input coming to our senses, we can assure ourselves all is really well with the world, or at least it will be in a few years. But is that really what that voice inside us is telling us? If so, does that mean the propaganda machine is working? Blunt force trauma is effective but crude; fine tasting poisons, metered through the educational system, the churches, and other “benevolent” institutions are far more effective, leaving us crippled and thankful for it.

The temptation to withdraw into distractions like televised sports, game shows, “fluff” movies and so on is understandable. Yet when that inner voice tells us to speak up we must first know our subject and know our adversary. Another fine book I’m currently reading is Jonathan Haidt’s, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics And Religion. (Thank you, Rachel). Where Klein gives us insights into the group that fronted people like Reagan, George W. Bush, and now Donald Trump, Haidt brings out the moral psychology of the individuals on both sides of an issue. I want to study this in more detail before commenting.

But it can be said that the readers of my articles are spread throughout a great many countries, large and small, near and so far away as to seem safe. I’ve certainly felt safe in many of those countries, usually having to expend some effort to access American news. But that feeling of safety was a delusion. Sadly, the United States is still the world’s leading economy. It has by far the most powerful military. It exploits and consumes the world’s resources at a rate wildly disproportionate to the world’s population. And when it sneezes much of the world catches a cold.

American policies, be they in food production, energy usage, economics and banking, or any other arena are like prodding the spinning top which is our world. A miscalculation could destabilize and hurl our world into terminal disorder. A child playing with matches in the middle of an empty cement parking lot is the child’s problem; he may burn his fingers. A child playing with matches in the middle of a wood frame house while everyone’s sleeping is a problem of a whole different order. The United States, as portrayed in the Baby Trump balloons, is that child. Everyone on this planet must be concerned, if not for themselves then for their children.

Thinking of one’s far away country as a safe room in which to control reality is overlooking the reality of the planet coming down around us. And, it is, as the trite saying goes, “Drinking the Kool-Aid”, accepting as true one of history’s greatest propaganda coups.

I suggest we get out and talk with those neighbors, even if it means having a bowl of suspicious chili. Go armed with knowledge, but also with understanding. And here’s an idea: If you want to do this but are uncomfortable raising issues, point these neighbors to my blog. That way you can always say, Hey, I didn’t say that. He did.

I’ll be here in my room. But my room is wired to the world.

Talking Heads

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.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. Some readers have told me their comments cannot get through. If you find this to be the case, email them to me at MPardi@aol.com and I will post them for you. 

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?

Analysis: NDEs

Analysis: NDEs

by Marco M. Pardi

Since proofs need premises, it is impossible to prove anything unless some things are accepted without proof.” Bertrand Russell. The Faith of a Rationalist. 1947

All comments and questions are greatly appreciated and will be quickly answered. If I do not know the answer I will direct you to someone who does.

A few weeks ago a television producer of investigative documentaries contacted me to consider enlisting my aid in producing an explanation and rebuttal to the ongoing attempts to discredit NDEs – Near Death Experiences. As of this writing we have agreed to pursue this, although she is currently occupied with other projects and I have projects of my own. Nonetheless, the endeavor should commence in early Summer 2019.

As you may know, I have covered this many times in various ways throughout the many years I taught Death & Dying classes at various colleges and universities. However, I thought this time I might commit to writing my method for analysis and the logic which leads to conclusions. And, I thought, what better venue in which to solicit comments and questions than this site?

Now, since the producer and I had only about a 60 minute discussion we did not explore all the questions and claims which may arise but I will do my best to anticipate them based on experience.

By now you must have concluded I am writing in the hopes of encouraging you, the reader, to participate by providing comments, questions, and your thoughts on the subject. You are correct. Doing so is easy and costs nothing. If you choose to submit an entry you have only to click on the comments and

follow the simple directions. If your comment does not appear, I will find it and post it for you. No name is required, no one will trace you, and your family pets will be safe.

The first step is to clarify what we are examining. NDE report refers to the report a person makes, usually verbally, after a life threatening event they experienced was accompanied by a cognitive episode they conclude was outside of every day experience. Most commonly, they link the life threatening experience and the cognitive episode: e.g. I crashed my motorcycle into a parked car and next thing I knew I was out of my body looking down at myself. The life threatening events span a broad spectrum, on which operating table events (anaesthesia) represent only a very small part. The reports of the cognitive events vary greatly in detail, depth, and intensity; notably, they do not conform to the usual progression of events portrayed in popular media. In fact, those reports that cleave too closely to those portrayals are immediately suspect.

Some people react to these reports by immediately pronouncing them unscientific. These people obviously know little or nothing about science. Science is not simply about asking What is; it is about asking What if. Those concerned only with what is should become librarians. They know where everything is. The history of science, until recently known as philosophy (hence: Doctor of Philosophy degree) includes the contributions of luminaries such as William James, “Father of modern psychology”, who devoted his career to the study of the “paranormal”; Carl Jung, co-originator of psychoanalysis, who wrote extensively on the subject of NDEs and of his own NDE; and current oncologists, surgeons, physicists, anthropologists, and others. Still, there are some who say science cannot apply its methods to this area so it must not exist. It is true that we cannot use the Experimental Method to march an experiencer into a laboratory and say, “Do it again….and again….and again.” But this is not the fault of the phenomenon; it is the fault of those who have forgotten their roots, the roots of logic underlying philosophy. These same roots of logic are the foundation of our legal system. We do not require an accused murderer to go back and “do it again” in order to satisfy ourselves of her guilt, and put her to death.

Next, we must acknowledge that we cannot know the experience described in the report; we did not experience it. We can know only the details as reported. Thus, the substance of the experience, the “then I saw…..”, can be evaluated only on the basis of supportive veridical (demonstrable by an outside source) information. Seeing a predeceased grandparent does not in itself count for anything. Seeing a deceased significant other with provably no prior knowledge of that person’s demise does count for something, and can be objectively verified.

Now we sit down with the experiencer and listen, recording it if permitted. It is critically important that we maintain flat affect and silence. We do not ask questions. At no time can we appear to approve or disapprove any element of the narrative. When someone reports they saw a “bright light…it was God” the analyst is not in a position to say it was or it wasn’t. The analyst can only refer to the Interview (see below) to suggest the reporter may be retroactively applying a belief as a fact.

When the reporter concludes her report we move, without any judgmental remarks on what we have heard, into the questioning phase. We have maintained silence and flat affect throughout the narrative and have asked no questions during that time for a simple reason: We must be careful to prevent any sign or indicator which might cause the reporter to edit her narrative. And, just as many physicians practice “defensive medicine”, we must frame our questions in anticipation of the criticism from others which will surely come our way. We must remain mindful that, no matter how animated or emotional the experiencer may become, the report is a memory not a current experience. We must determine the placement, the nature, and the power of any filters which may alter the way the event is reported from the way the event was experienced.

Some obvious potential filters are: Age, religious upbringing, exposure to print and other forms of media portrayal of NDEs, persons to whom this narrative has previously been confided, and beliefs about “normal” psychology. Contrary to the presumption that “we see what we want to see”, which suggests the person is “front-loaded” to perceive certain things, as each potential filter is discussed and explored we begin to understand how, as a person reruns the memory and tries to make sense of it they might be applying explanations in hindsight.

If the reporter is being honest (some are not) and has examined her own filters and overcome them the experience she describes will more than likely not conform to the media driven progression of events and elements; few do.

Nonetheless, there is currently an intensified effort to “debunk” the elements which are reported. These efforts come from those oriented to the Materialist perspective – nothing immaterial is real and everything can be explained as a phenomenon of material effects. For example, a recent article in a science journal described the contraction of the retinas during hypoxia and proposed it as the reason why an oxygen starved brain perceives a “tunnel” in an NDE. I was shocked that something so clearly absurd was published in a respected journal. The problems?

First, the sense of going through a tunnel is far from universal; it is found almost exclusively in European derived populations. It is statistically absent in Asian, African, and New World populations of non-European descent. Even among European derived populations it is nowhere near as common as the media portrays it. Second, in those cases where an NDE occurs during surgery the patient’s eyes are usually taped shut and shielded against the intense surgical lights; there is nothing for the retinas to see. Third, hypoxia presents as, yes, narrowing vision but it is chiefly confused and blurry images accompanied by confused thinking. Hundreds of NDE reports from surgical patients (and others) around the world begin the narrative with wonder at how clear (“much more clear, real and colorful than ordinary life”) the experience was and how one had what seemed like 360 degree vision. Fourth, this attempt at criticism, and other like it, ignore the mounting and irrefutable evidence of the separation of brain and mind. In hundreds of reports the patient was medically certified as having NO brain activity. That means no perception as well as no memory of perception if the brain is the final arbiter. Yet, in these reports the patient is able to clearly and accurately describe what transpired, who did what, and who said what in the operating room. This, despite having eyes taped and usually a screen occluding vision from the neck down.

Another common claim is that the experience was an effect of the anaesthesia. In fact, of the many thousands of NDE reports surgical reports are a tiny segment. It appears that if you wish to have an NDE, don’t have anaesthesia.

As I have addressed the many Straw Man claims of the Materialists in previous articles, I will not repeat them here. However, if you have any comments or questions about attempts to debunk NDEs you would like specifically addressed, please do take advantage of the comments section and present them. I will respond as quickly and completely as possible. No comment is out of bounds.

I will say that, especially now, I understand at least one of the reasons these Materialist claims are put forward. I think a primary driver of the over-reactive Materialist position is the very realistic fear that the ever present and ever probing religious zealots will find a way to take the findings of science and attribute them to some over arching supernatural being. If the scientific community admits to a non-corporeal reality it could open the door to theocracy and the end of objective science. We need look no further than the current uproar over the frenzy to ban abortion and limit access to contraception now that the residents have taken over the asylum.

I’ve been told that this length is about the limit of a reader’s patience with an article. So, I will close with a brief reminder of my request for comments and questions. They would be most helpful, and nothing is out of bounds.

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