Is America Going Crazy?


My answer is yes.  And I am sorry to see it happen.  Mitt the Twit is another empty headed GOP goon like G.W. Bush and Reagan, I wonder who will actually run the presidency if he wins.

John Cassidy raises some critical questions about our political life and what kind of life we can expect if the worst happens and Mitt the Twit is elected.

William Olkowski, PhD

Posted by John Cassidy

A writer for the New Yorker since 1995. 

Cassidy raises the following ten commonly held beliefs about America that indicates a widespread mental inability to think deeply about the most important issues facing the country.

So, in comparing reality and these beliefs it is clear there is a disconnect.  My own stick the head in the sand issues are only three:

1. The coming heating of the planet.

2. Widespread pesticide pollution and now this includes genetic pollutants from GMO crops as well.

3. Nuclear accidents/war.  Re:Fukushima.

And behind all these are the ever increasing population due largely to immigrant populations and lack of sex educational programs in high schools due to religious prudery.  And all the while politicos are involved in corporate and embryo personhood rights, homosexual marriage, anti-abortion murders instead of free abortion for all, and now widespread unemployment, uninvestigated fiscal crimes and fiscal irresponsibility about taxing the rich.  Soon the rich will be the only ones who can afford taxes.

Now check out the following beliefs which Cassidy has assembled:

1. Gun laws and gun deaths are unconnected.  How many times do we have to read about some religious nut grabing his god given gun and shooting a whole bunch of people before we do something about it?  Having people with military style automatic rifles as neighbors is a bad trend.  Are we safer with the huge military expenses? Then why do these people fear so much?  Fear everywhere.

2. Private enterprise is good; public enterprise is bad. The largest public enterprise is the military, but nobody who believes in private enterprise talks about reducing this public enterprise.

3. God created Americaand gave it a special purpose.  Of all the horseshit being dropped on the political stage the idea that we should all become Christians is insane.  Those who believe in insanities can make us commit atrocities.

4. Our health-care system is the best there is.  Not according to evidence, but who cares to examine evidence when belief is dominant.

5. The Founding Fathers were saintly figures who established liberty and democracy for everyone.  Sure, believe that and believe that George Washington disliked Cherry trees enough to cut one down.  Myths are easier to believe than what actually happened.

6.  Americais the greatest country in the world.  It certainly has the greatest budget for military and spying in the world.

7. Tax rates are too high.  In countries with higher rates than us there are safety nets, vastly cheaper medicines and health care, better schools, and less crime.  If we want a good life we must pay for it.  A society is known for how it treats its old, young, infirm and disabled.  Ours is near the bottom on all fronts.

8.  Americais a peace-loving nation: the reason it gets involved in so many wars is that foreigners keep attacking us.  That is the most laughable belief, if it weren’t so critical for maintaining our excessive military posture.  We are the biggest bully on the block.

9.  Cheap energy, gasoline especially, is our birthright.  Right, and now we must pay foreign governments for supplies when we could just switch over to solar sources.  And that is not to mention wars for oil.

10.  Everybody else wishes they were American.  That’s another laughable statement.

The contrast between these beliefs and the actual threats is amazing.  A great many Americans are voting against their own interests for imaginary reasons. Maybe it’s the diet that is poisoning their minds and they can’t think enough to understand what’s going on.

The rich get rich, the poor get poorer, the well trodden path of history, and where will that lead? In the past it lead to armed civil wars.  Civil war is the worst type of war, where brother kills brother.  And there are no winners in war.

Read Further:



Letter from My Mom Found in My Things

Letter from My Mom Found in My Things

July 30, 2012

I found this undated letter by chance and thought it helped explain a great deal about my early life so I wanted to include it with my life series, if I ever get to create it.

I found the letter among the best my mother wrote and she passed a copy to me and my wife.  This one was written to Brian, my brother’s son who asked my mom for some info about his roots.  It also covers some of my roots.  [Slightly edited for clarity].

Dear Brian,

Today I wanted especially to devote my energy and time to make this birthday very special.  I heard you express that you would like to know your roots so I will tell you mine.  I am going to be 85 years old on March 9, 2006 and I am happy to tell you my parents were born in what was divided Poland.  I enclose an article my sister Mary sent to me when her daughter did some work to find her mother’s roots [Not part of my copy].  My father came to Ellis Island before my Mom, received his US citizen papers and never even revisited Poland.  This he said was his country.  My Mom took me (age one) and my sister Blanche (age 4) and my sister Mary (age 5) to visit Poland after WWI and left my father to continue working and saving money.  At the time, 1922, many people returned to their homeland bring many dollars hidden on their person and she used me, baby Frances to carry many dollars.

We were in Poland 2 years and I was a delight to my grandmother Rose Wysocki and the times on the farm were great for my Mom who was enjoying her homeland.  Her mother Rose had at that time a beautiful home built close to her parents.  My grandfather was the mayor of the village.  My memory consists of having no bathrooms and grandmother taking me with her when she had to use the open facility outside.  My Mom loved supervising the building of the house.  My special Uncle who was eventually given the house loved my beautiful sister Blanche and I remember him carrying her everywhere he went on his shoulders.  My sister Mary was given to the nuns who taught her Polish.  She today speaks colloquial Polish.  The nuns would take here for the day and return her back to the farm every evening.

The set up for my young Mom was perfect but my father wanted us back as he missed us and he threatened not to send any more money unless Mom promised to return.  The snail mail communication was all we had in those days.  Two years rapidly flew by as time flies and my Mom made application to return to theUS.  We 3 daughters, because we were born in theUS, could return, but Mom was not a citizen of the US and would have to remain in Poland because Immigration laws forbid her to return.  What a fright she experienced as she was torn between love of her parents, love of her husband Joe and her three daughters.  In those days you married until death and you left your parents despite your love of them.

My father, who was living all alone in the cheapest possible cold flat went to the Democratic elected politicians (Hague and his political machine) probably told him to become a citizen and a Democrat.  All his life my father, from that time, voted for the Democratic party. I followed his example which was good as my father always had a job even during the lean years of the Depression.

My father was educated because he always said that even under German rule the Polish who desired an education were allowed to learn.   HisPolandduring that time was under German rule.  My Mom who had come to Ellis Island when as a young girl about 21 years of age did not have an education as under the cruel czar (he who had many children and I believe you know the movie Anastasia) did not allow the Polish people to be educated.  My Mom always told us how lucky we girls and later my two brothers were to get a free public education here in theUS.

She was so wonderful and told of getting a job taking over household tasks for a rich family inNew York City.

However, a relative whom she visited in Brooklyn asked her to come to live with them. This relative, Ciocia Potocki, got her a job in a rug factory. This aunt and everyone we called aunt (polite way we were taught to refer to her) was related to governor Potocki. This aunt took my Mom into her cold water flat where all the men and women from Poland lived.  There,  some slept nights and some slept days in the same bed (no sex allowed).  The one group worked days and the other group worked nights so beds were always used and this aunt worked endlessly cooking and feeding and having all pay her.  She and “uncle” had many children.  She died early in her 50’s if I remember correctly but we young girls often visited Brooklyn and I remember their involvement in politics.

My father, I believe was an alcoholic as vodka was plentiful after a hard day’s work.  However he was so good looking having brown wavy hair and the most beautiful blue penetrating eyes and Mom fell in love with him.  Aunt and Uncle cautioned Mom against this union but headstrong Pauline would not listen.  My Mom was beautiful, had long brown hair and brown eyes and a slender waist and weighed 100 pounds soaking wet.  We used to have a picture of Mom done by an artist in a gorgeous large picture hat and a lovely dress and her with a narrow bodice.  At the time girls and women wore laced corset to tighten their bodies (RE: Gone with the Wind example) and I as a tiny girls was always clinging to Mom and would gaze at her in our 3 room cold flat.

I loved Mom and my Dad, who would try to take me away telling me I had to be on my own.  He was a wonderful father always buying us new clothes and shoes which we wore on Sundays and special occasions.  The rest of the week we wore shoes he repaired as he had an anvil and bought leather by lot which he cut down for soles for the shoes.  This was, of course, later in our lives.  When Mom had my brothers at home with a midwife doing the honors and a pop a worried mess, Dad left to get drunk.  I did not know this at the time as other then this bad habit he loved us beyond reason.  He and Mom had many fights about his drinking and gambling as Mom was stingy about money.

I have inherited so much from both my parents and I loved them dearly.  My father always worked and he believed in the good life for us while Mom believed in security.  I believe in the good life and Dad is my example, however, from my Mom I remember it is important to rely on yourself.  She was a magnificent example and his and her love cannot be measured.  They came as foreigners and became wonderful Americans.

End letter.

Comments from Bill

I never knew my Mom went back to Poland and was almost trapped there, so that helps explain how she knew so much Polish.  I know very little Polish.  Later in her life she told us how she worked as a translator for new immigrants from Poland.  She commented about these new people as being spoiled already as they did not appreciate the benefits of living here.

I had heard about the drinking of my grandfather and I remember the fights he had with his wife, my grandmother, as for many years we lived above them on 45 Livingston Avenue, Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Consequently I did my best to avoid getting hooked on alcohol.  They owned the house and my family paid rent.  I lived in the attic and occasionally crept secretly down to sit on the stairs and hear my mother and father discussing money matters.  It was always a problem to make it to the end of the month food-wise.

The only significant memory I have of my grandfather was one time I joined him by chance as he was walking toward his house.  We walked in silence for a while and I probed for his thoughts about Poland.  After some brief rather unhelpful responses, he sort of stops and sums up his thoughts like this: “Between here and there, here we don’t have to do what our fathers did”.  This spoke volumes to me at the time and even now I feel it helps me understand why he left Poland.  But he must have lived through WWI so that’s enough reason to flee Europe’s political environments with its constant warfare and stultifying prejudices.  Yet today, Europe seems vastly superior in many ways to the US.  Nothing like the benefits of killing 40 or 50 million.  But it’s still awfully crowded.

The only other comment I have concerns politics.  Politics and religion are the two subjects I can no longer discuss with my brother and sisters, unfortunately.  There is just no discussion possible.  My father was a devoted democrat and always reinforced the idea that the democrats helped the poor and the Republicans helped themselves. Those were the rich, and “the rich always get richer and the poor get poorer”.  That’s the lesson of history for the US and probably the world.

I will never forget that my mother voted for McCain before she died.  I felt like this was a violation of a long standing tradition in our family.  And my father would turn in his grave to know this had happened.  So it’s not true what my mother wrote about being a devoted democrat for her whole life.  My mother had a habit of embellishing the truth, maybe for effect.  As a consequence so much of what she writes I suspect on some of the details.

Further, my parents both reinforced the idea that the way a poor person could rise in this society was through education.  In fact, they would say it was the only way to rise and therefore you must get an education and study hard.  I was smart enough to get through high school without too much study so I never really pushed myself.  But college awakened in me such a strong desire to learn that it leads me even to this day to many distractions.  I want to learn everything, which of course, is impossible.

That aside, I did learn some valuable things and me and my wife pitched in to help make our America a better place.  For that I am proud and am proud to have listened to my parents from that standpoint.  But I am not proud of what I see happening today, politically.

However, in some ways my investments in learning are lost to my living family, certainly it was lost to my mother who remained a stout catholic always trying to convert me back into the fold, so to speak.  She never paid attention to what I was learning so her advice seemed empty of content; it was just a good idea to avoid having to work in dangerous jobs or for long hours, which it was.  But it was much much more.  Aside from the long hours which I loved using, my work life was a great joy, being fully engaged in constant learning, reading, writing and teaching.

A particular case in point to emphasis these statements you must know that when she said she voted for McCain, over Obama, I was aghast.  She was going against her own self, her history, even her own country by her very own declarations.  The Vietnam war was another case in point.  She, being immersed in Polish ideology hated the Russians who were traditional enemies.  So her attitude about the Vietnam war, it was a good thing, as we fought against communism.  Wow, what a superficial view of history.  She swallowed the right wing propaganda hook, line and sinker.  I think my living family suffered as a consequence of these beliefs, particularly from being raised as Catholics.  They just don’t know their own history.  So today, we live in different worlds.

Poem from a Friend, Jose Cross (deceased)

My Life: A Friend’s Poem Found Amidst My Stuff

My friend Jose Cross (formally he called himself Jose Manuel dos Santos Cross) passed away just after Helga this year (2012) in the late spring.  He was an iconoclastic artist who did not really care to sell his creations, which were unique wood carvings, paintings (charcoal, oils), sketches, pen and inks, photographs and writings, which included some poems and essays.  He was a Portuguese immigrant who came to the US at age 9, later joined the merchant marine and roamed the world via different boats.  One of his favorite writers was Jack London who wrote stories about the ocean world.  I found some of London’s work gloomy at times which seemed to pervade Jose’s dark house as he built it himself while he and his wife Virginia raised two kids, Amalia and Valon.  He worked building the house by building ramps to hold a wheeled chair he strapped himself to which he would use to move around the structure on ramps as it was built.  This itself was a great accomplishment.  The house constructions too reflected his sculpture work which filled the place on the walls and a whole studio attached to the house.  Many pieces were real masterpieces, which when I showed them, with his permission, to local artists and friends all were blown away.

I joked with him that he should convert to being a paper artist as all his stuff required transporting if anyone else would see it.  And that would be a challenge.  And I emphasized that paper was very light to carry.  He smiled.  There was one piece which the world should see.  He called it: Tootalltabletootall, all one word.  He was a great word smith who loved to make up word combinations and long sentences which produced a sort of twinkle in his personality and certainly in my mind.  The TALL Table was actually a tall table, beautifully constructed and painted (3 coats), about 14 feet tall with a full course meal with wine bottle and roasted pig, something like over 100 pieces of dinner wear all carved out of wood.  The table was too tall to actually view so he installed a mirror so a viewer could see the setting.  I though it deserved to be in the Smithsonian or somewhere important so millions could see it as it spoke vast truths about hunger and the distribution of resources.  It was displayed one time in a local gallery.

Helga knew Jose from her Beatnik days when they would all take various substances together and remembered her friend as a tall delightful handsome guy who had lost a leg in a boating accident involving a rope.  He settled for a one time payment and used it to buy a bar in Oakland which he eventually lost someway.  Then, he became an artist after going through the art college in Oakland, the College of Arts and Crafts.  We gave a talk there once.  These are just fragments of what I learned from him when we talked late into the night as I lay down next to him to view his TV, and watch Jon Stewart, a PBS show or a dance or whatever. And we would talk.




This opportunity to connect up came about when H and I came down the coast on our first big journey after we retired back in 2000, or so.  We followed the West coast up and around the coast of Washington and came back down stopping at various places.  We had a Lance camper on the back of a big Ford diesel pickup then.  The Mendocino Coast seemed to me to be the most spectacular scenery we saw on the entire coast, especially because it was accessible.  The coast was always a fascination for us, and I believe it’s why Jose settled in Mendocino.  In the old days Mendocino was a rather isolated artist colony mostly, but over the years it built up into a tourist local with its group of galleries, small shops and restaurants it became when we visited there from about 2000 to 2009.  Jose let us park and we helped him with food purchases in exchange for an electric supply for our RV.

Jose was what I like to call a Luddite, because he refused to use a computer, and there was no reception for a portable phone, and he had no answering machine, things almost everyone had in those days.  He typed on an old clunker (like Woody Allen) and wrote many funny things which I hope to add to this memorial someday.  But here is the poem I started out to copy.

First a bit about how I found this in my things.  I keep all sorts of things and have accumulated gobs of paper, mostly, all sorted into various categories which I stumble upon now in my decrepitude.  I am determined to not leave a mess when I go, so I have recycled over 60 or so boxes so far.

In this array of stuff I found this poem and thought it was one of mine as I was in the habit of dashing off something now and then amidst the rush of life, and not taking the time to adequately file it so I could find it again someday.  But then I saw Jose’s name on the bottom and realized it was from him.  I tell you this because we had a mutual viewpoint about belief that I don’t think his wife, nor children had, although for that I am speculating from rather meager evidence.  Here’s is the poem I wished I had written: (it has no punctuation nor a title, but I would title it Matter.

No Title

We are doomed or blessed with limited perception about



How Much



Does it matter

Does it really matter

How much does it matter

How much matter is there


Is there enough time to find out

Is there enough space

To encompass time

Is there enough time


And do i care

And do i need to care

And will matter be affected

If i do not care


And will time matter

But matter will be timely

From the beginning

Onward to infinity


And i … and you

Will matter

As matter

Throughout time






Food Gardening Sales Total $3 billion for the Second Year In a Row

Get Rid of that Lawn.

Copied from National Gardening Association Website.

People are doing more lawn and garden activities themselves and hiring fewer services.

Contact: Michael Metallo
National Gardening Association
800) 538-7476, ext. 123

Contact: Bruce Butterfield
National Gardening Association
(800) 538-7476, ext. 113

(June 8, 2011, So. Burlington, VT) According to the just-released results of National Gardening Association’s 2011 National Gardening Survey, consumers spent nearly $3 billion for the second year in a row on food gardening last year while sales for other types of lawn and garden activities saw a small decline. In 2010, sales for vegetable gardening, fruit trees, berries and herb gardening totaled $2.990 billion and $2.989 billion in 2009. ″That’s the highest level of spending on food gardening seen in more than a decade and a 20% increase over the $2.409 billion consumers spent in 2008 before the economic downturn″ said Bruce Butterfield, NGA Research Director.

Total sales for all types of do-it-yourself lawn and garden activities declined by 5% in 2010 to $28.409 billion from $30.121 billion the previous year. Apparently homeowners did more for themselves and fewer hired someone to do it for them last year, but they spent a little less money . The number of households that hired lawn care and landscape services last year declined by 8% from 24 million households to 22 million households. That’s the lowest level seen in households hiring someone to do it for them in the past 5 years. Nearly four times as many households, 80 million, participated in do-it-yourself lawn and garden activities as hired someone to care for their lawns and gardens for them. The nationwide average amount spent on all lawn and garden activities in 2010 was $363 compared to $355 in 2009, a difference of only $8 per household.

″It is gratifying to see that people are directly connecting to their food source as well as taking personal responsibility for their outdoor environments. If one good thing came out of our recession woes, it’s that many people have reconnected with the land and are growing their own vegetables, fruit, berries, and herbs″ said Mike Metallo, NGA President.

For more information about the 2011 National Gardening Survey or to purchase a copy please visit

Founded in 1973, the National Gardening Association is a national nonprofit leader in plant-based education, respected for its award-winning Web sites and newsletters, grants and curricula for youth gardens, and research for the lawn and garden industry. NGA, uses gardening as a vehicle to advance social, environmental, and educational causes, and supports gardeners and educators with in-depth information about gardening and its many benefits. NGA’s mission is to promote home, school, and community gardening as a means to renew and sustain the essential connection between people, plants, and the environment. To learn more, please visit

FROM:  Thanks to Blair.

What will a Christian Nation Bring?

What will a Christian Nation Bring?

Selections by William Olkowski, PhD.  Reissued 7.28.12

Consider what this man said, what happen afterward, and who he sounds like today?

“The national government will maintain and defend the foundations on which the power of our nation rests.

It will offer strong protection to Christianity as the very basis of our collective morality.

Today Christians stand at the head of our country. We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit.

We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theatre, and in the press — in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of LIBERAL excess during the past years.”

— Adolf Hitler;

Taken from The Speeches of Adolf
Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1, Michael Hakeem, Ph.D.
(London, Oxford University Press, 1942), pp. 871-872.



Other Extracts from

The expansion of rights for women and minorities, the spread of democracy and separation of church and state, the rise of science and the Enlightenment — all these undeniably positive trends occurred in the teeth of fierce resistance from religious defenders of the status quo. Every time, the church authorities warned that changing the way things had always been was in opposition to God’s will and would surely bring disaster. And almost every time, once the change happened anyway and no disaster resulted, those same authorities switched sides and pretended they had been supporters all along.

This proves the point that every moral code, whether theistic or atheistic, changes over time as we gain new knowledge and our perspective widens. Churches and religious apologists don’t like to admit this, since it undermines their claim to be in possession of perfect moral truth from the beginning; which is why they’re usually the staunchest defenders of old and unjust systems and the very last ones to bend to the tide of progress, causing much needless human suffering in the meantime. They’d be much better off if they’d simply admit that there is no non-human moral authority, admit that their holy books and doctrines contain moral errors, and then join the rest of us living in the real world and using conscience to figure out how we can achieve the greatest good.

As sociologist Phil Zuckerman has documented, some of the highest rates of organic atheism in the world can be found in Canada, Australia, Japan and Europe, particularly the Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. And many of these same countries show up near the top in worldwide rankings of societal health indicators like life expectancy, child welfare, educational attainment, gender equality, and per capita income. As Zuckerman has found in his research, despite still having state-sponsored churches that they belong to for cultural reasons, most Danes and Swedes are completely indifferent to religion. It simply doesn’t play an important role in their daily lives. And far from collapsing into depravity or anarchy, these societies have remained free, secular, prosperous and peaceful.

And the correlation runs in the other direction as well.  Sociologist Mark Regnerus, among others, points out that in America, the highest rates of teen pregnancy, divorce and sexually transmitted diseases are highest in the religious, socially conservative “red” states (in most of which abstinence is taught to the exclusion of all else), while in the more liberal and more secular “blue” states, young people tend to marry later, start families later, and have lower rates of divorce. The conclusion from Regnerus’ research: “religion is a good indicator of attitudes toward sex, but a poor one of sexual behavior, and… this gap is especially wide among teenagers who identify themselves as evangelical.”

When It Comes to Indiana Creationism Bill, It’s Not Just the Lawmakers Who Are Idiots… It’s the Media, Too!

The miss-education committee of the Indiana legislature recently approved a bill to allow the teaching of creationism in the schools, and now the Indianapolis newspaper approves, with the usual tepid and illegitimate arguments.

Much would depend on how teachers handle the origins of life in a biology or science class.

No, it doesn’t. A bill that inserts garbage into the curriculum is a bill that inserts garbage; it doesn’t matter if you think it could be used to make a lovely collage, or as an exercise in recycling, it’s still garbage. And if you trust teachers to do their job, let them do it without boneheaded cretins in the legislature telling them how.    Read more 

By PZ Myers | Pharyngula
Posted on Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 07:03 AM

Another Religion Misinformation Campaign

Manning is a member of the National Science Teachers Association. Last year an online poll of its 60,000 members found that 82 percent had faced skepticism about climate change from students and 54 percent had faced skepticism from parents. Some respondents added comments: Students believe whatever it is their parents believe. . . . Administrators roll over when parents object. In a recent survey of about 1,900 current and former teachers by the National Earth Science Teachers Association, 36 percent reported they had been influenced directly or indirectly to teach “both sides” of the issue.

“We have been hearing for several years now that teachers were getting pushback on teaching climate change, and some of the playbook used by those promoting teaching ‘both sides’ was very similar to the attempt to have evolution ‘balanced’ by creationism and intelligent design,” said Mark McCaffrey, who is spearheading the Center’s new initiative. “From my experience working with teachers, it is clear that the so-called ‘controversy’ about climate change science is a major impediment to teachers and the polarized political climate around teaching the topic is a big problem.”

McCaffrey is a pioneer in climate change education. He’s cofounder of the Climate Literacy Network and while at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) helped develop the Essential Principles of Climate Science, endorsed by the federal government’s U.S. Global Change Research Program.


The Freedom From Religion Foundation will be suing the U.S. Forest Service over the unconstitutional presence of a Knights of Columbus shrine to Jesus inFlatheadNational ForestinMontana.

Given thatAmericais a Christian nation founded solely on Judeo-Christian principles (a false claim that Christians would have you believe),U.S.presidents have always ended their State of the Union speeches with “God blessAmerica,” right?


As noted by Robert Schlesinger, opinion editor of U.S. News and World Report (and son of historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr.), Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution mandates that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

George Washington gave the first address in 1790. Thomas Jefferson thought a speech in person too “kingly” and gave Congress written ones, as did the next 13 presidents until Woodrow Wilson, who revived the oral address. Franklin Roosevelt was the first to call it “The State of theUnion.”

None of them ended their speeches with “God blessAmerica,” nor did any president until Richard Nixon in a non-SOTU address from the Oval Office.

And we all know how great a moral Christian he was.

A great Rant:

But from where I stand these days, the only thing I see religion doing in the public sector is gay bashing and telling women, mostly poor and desperate and in deplorable financial and personal situations, what to do with their bodies.  I see busybodies deciding what drugs they can dispense to which customers, or deciding that they don’t have to issue a marriage license because of some petty deity that I don’t believe in told them to hate their fellow citizens and ignore the law. In a country in dire financial straits but still spending billions and billions of dollars on education, I see religious folks actively and openly working to make our schoolkids dumber.  I see them shooting people who provided a medical procedure, and I see others rummaging through people’s personal lives to find out who hasn’t lived up the word of God.  I see glassy-eyed fools running for President claiming that vaccines that save lives actually cause cancer, or that if you get raped and are pregnant, you should just lie back and think of Jeebus and make the best of a bad situation.  In fact, everywhere you look these days, if Christianity or religion is getting a mention, it means something ugly is happening and someone somewhere is being victimized, marginalized, or otherwise abused.  Go read some of the arguments against integration and you’ll see the same bible verses used today against homosexuals.  Fifty years from now, they’ll be recycling them again to trash someone else they don’t like or who isn’t good enough for them.

From: By John Cole | Balloon Juice
Posted on Tuesday, January 31, 2012 @ 02:42 PM

Prayer Breakfast at West Point

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has written a Jan. 31 letter to the U.S. Military Academy calling for it to do some “soul searching” overWest Point’s annual so-called “National Prayer Breakfast,” after a controversy about Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin’s invitation to speak.

It is appalling, given this history of incendiary and unprofessional comments, that the U.S. Military Academy would honor Boykin by inviting him to provide an address at aWest Pointevent. His views are off-the-wall, conspiratorial, and advance a tired ‘persecuted’ Christian theme that seeks to pit Christians of his persuasion against everyone else,” wrote FFRF.

Secular Humanism, alternatively known as Humanism (often with a capital H to distinguish it from other forms of humanism), is a secular philosophy. It embraces humanreasonethics, and justice while specifically rejecting religious dogmasupernaturalismpseudoscience or superstition as the basis of morality and decision-making.





Bill Maher: “Atheism Is a Religion Like Abstinence Is a Sex Position”

Bill Maher: “Atheism Is a Religion Like Abstinence Is a Sex Position”

Excerpts by William Olkowski, PhD



During a New Rules segment, Bill Maher noted that “Until someone claims to see Christopher Hitchens’ face in a tree stump, idiots must stop claiming that atheism is a religion.” He goes on:

Not only is atheism not a religion, it’s not even my hobby. And that’s the great thing about being an atheist — it requires so little of your time….

There is a growing trend in this country that needs to be called out, and that is to label any evidence-based belief a “religion.” Many conservatives now say that a belief in man-made climate change is a “religion,” and Darwinism is a “religion,” and of course atheism — the total lack of religion — is somehow a “religion” too, according to the always reliable Encyclopedia Moronica.

To believers he says, “You don’t get to put your unreason up on the same shelf as my reason.” Then he un-baptizes Mitt Romney’s dead father-in-law, because hey — if religious people get to do wacky things like that, why not atheist Bill Maher?

Watch the segment below, via Mediaite:

By Lauren Kelley | Sourced from AlterNet

Posted at February 4, 2012, 8:33 am

Want a short education in politics and religion:


Chaos Gardening.

Chaos Gardening: A New Landscaping Concept, an Alternative to Terrorism?

By W.Olkowski PhD

5.16.12 Part of the Helga Series, 6th.

This thought – about the idea of chaos gardening – may be a response to having a new garden down here in Santa Barbara which is turning out delightful but looks chaotic.  Stuff just comes up here without being planted directly by me.  If I don’t want it I pull it out and have enough carbonaceous material to start another compost pile.  This includes nasturtiums, borage, sweet alyssum, and cow parsley (a weed).  Back in Berkeley I used to let the chard go to seed, at least a portion of the whole crop.  Sometimes this occurred before too long as I used to get sick of chard.  Helga loved it.  I heard that it binds calcium and produces oxalates.  And Helga suffered from oxalate vaginal tissues late in her illness.  Anyway, letting chard go to seed provides an awful number of new chard seedlings.  I pulled it out where I didn’t want it growing up.  But this tactic can be used with other plants.  In fact that’s the chaos in chaos gardening.

People say this area of Southern California is part of paradise, and I have come to believe it is, but you need to train the mind to see beauty even before you can see paradise.  This kind of paradise doesn’t have a bunch of virgins and all the booze I can drink.  That was the story about why those crazies traded their lives to fly planes into the twin towers killing people who never harmed them.  The plane that hit the pentagon was fair game in a war, so warrior to warrior deaths are part of warfare.  War on civilians whether deliberate or as collateral damage is not part of the warrior code.   Yet this aspect of human warfare has been increasing in intensity and horror with successive wars in the 20th century wherever war breaks out.

Paradise and Hate, a Bad Idea Mix

The draw of paradise is not enough alone, hate needs to be combined.  With hate any kind of paradise could be an incentive, make up any story that will do.  The mix can be then a great weapon, as we so have tragically learned.  Then with such a weapon the direction of whole countries can be affected, as we have tragically learned.  Or did we learn anything from this recent set of disasters.  This mix of religious belief focused with hate is a weapon superior to any nuclear missile.  And its vastly cheaper.  More specifically, its cost/effect ratio is low.  Not like million dollar drones, tanks, aircraft and multibillion costs of spying, storing all the emails of all theUScitizens for all the years since Georgie Porgie.  Is email storage another war on civilians?  But who’s the enemy?

Creating Gardening Paradises is the Answer

But gardening does not lead to hate but paradise, and that paradise is here on the earth.  And we can build it ourselves, so if humans survive there will be good stories to share.  The garden is a creative, beautiful thing that returns life from dead plants and waste foods.  It’s the most important food source on the planet.  Participating in the value shift turning waste into the source of life, wow! That’s a high.  Chaos gardening is new because I just made it up as a way to explain what I see in my back yard garden.  Chaos is hip, such a new idea, and combining it with gardening beats even an imagined paradise, certainly one based on hate.  I’ll explain further.

Chaos implies lack of direct manipulation.  I like to think it’s the basis of our universe, behind all the Nature we see, the stuff of energy that runs the earth/sun ecosystem.  Chaos can be seen when  looking at particles seen through a microscope jumping in a drop of water, without on obvious cause.  Chaos is an indicator of the stuff of the Universe.  Chaos like this threatens people who know how the Universe is structured by an omnipresent and omni-beneficient god.  When someone professes special knowledge I want to see the evidence and evaluate where the conclusions made from the evidence is justifiable.  That’s the scientist speaking.  Scientists have never started a war, even though their results are twisted into weapons.  Politicians start wars.

Gardening is Part of The Paradise We Can Create Here

As long as I keep putting compost onto the garden as mulch everything seems to just jump out of the ground down her in the SW US, in Santa Barbara.  This is because we have a mild climate, high levels of sunshine, sandy clay soils, and enough water.  We have a green waste curbside pick up stream and county composting system which makes free mulch available for pick up or delivery (costs).  Watering the garden takes too much water too, even though my plan is to raise the mulch level as high as it will go.  In April we used just over 10,000 gals of city water, cost $80..  That’s over 300 gals per day.  I don’t use toilet water for urine disposal as I poor it into the garden.  Mulches reduce the need for irrigation.  I have seen mulches 6 inches deep with no weeds between planted plants; that’s my goal.  Goals are achievable, ideals always recede, as one approaches them.  So make realistic goals, its more fun.

The deeper the mulch, the greater the insulation against the heat of the sun which would normally dry the bare soil excessively.  The increased evaporation from bare soil robs plants of life stimulating water, which would be conserved with mulches, even at a shallow level.  The soil organisms will take the mulch and chew it up, add their own manures to the soil all feeding the plants via their roots.  The tunnels made by the mites, nematodes, insects and all the others are part of the root respiratory system supporting green plants.  The roots take in oxygen, just like the leaves.  The roots also take in all the nutrients to support their plant lives.  These soil/root tunnels are thus nutrient sources, too.

WATER IS IMPORTANT but Precipitation Patterns are Changing

This water relationship is more accentuated here in SB which is a marginal desert area – with an average of 18 inches of rainfall.  Mediterranean bioclimatic regions have their rainfall in the winter.  This year is very different.  Its now May and expected rainfall is down, which means earlier dry hills than normal.  Its been a dry year all the way to August so far and the threat of fires is high.  Usually the hills dry enough to support a fire by mid June.  By September, certainly by December without rains, massive fast burning fires are more likely.  This is expressible like a mathematical relation: Early dry hills equals early fires.  Early fires are big problems with big costs.  This is especially true for the palace houses on the outskirts of Santa Barbara.  The last big fire here destroyed over 200 Montecito Palaces.  Fewer palace houses would be a benefit.  Insurance rates would be lower.  Mulches help conserve water, the deeper the better.  They may even reduce fire hazards, depending upon their processing and how they are used.

Mesasure Y – A Local Development Issue

Measure Y is now a contentious issue in the local city and county election.  Posters are around on the streets, for and against Y.  I have been asked twice to put up a poster in my front yard.  My place is good for advertising things.  I put stuff out by the curb and it is picked up with in at most 2 days.  I put an old car up for FREE one time and within 20 minutes a homeless guy came and gave me a dollar and drove it away.  There’s more to that story but let’s go back to measure Y and gardening.  I know more about gardening than measure Y, but Y looks like another costly effort to install a few more palaces for our new gazillonaires.

Measure Y will do some good and some bad and that can confuse people, it did me when I first heard about a project to build a bridge over and clean up a creek.  Careful reading also mentions a few high priced homes.  The plot now becomes clear.  We are asked to trade some benefit for somebody to make a million or two, serving the gazillionaires.  We don’t need any more palaces, however.  We need shelters for homeless people.  Can we have both palaces and shelters?  I think yes, but I don’t see the option being developed.

The Weather is Changing but Is it Climate Change?

Gardeners who pay attention know the weather is an indicator of climate conditions.  Things are changing, but don’t worry, paradise waits for you; but not for me.  I don’t want that paradise anyway.  I got one out the back door.

Climate deniers, like the religious crazies talking hate and paradise will kill us all, unless we take the world back and get the hogs out of the creek, like Jim Hightower says.  He says that about the bankers and billionaires who don’t pay their fair share.  The hogs include the public employees who are only working for themselves when they should be working for us.  The hogs in the creek, that’s a legacy from Reagan, maintained by the GOP and the milk toast democrats, ever since Reagan.  He actually removed the solar collectors from the roof of the white house as one of the first acts upon being elected.  What a throwback.  In garden terms, a throw back is what happens in a slow compost pile when hybrid seeds are cross fertilized.  They produce fruit but its useless.

Carter was just too much so had to go, just like the Kennedys had to go.  Once the hogs are out of the creek we may see our democracy work again for all of us, but the hogs will need to be pushed out, nobody gives up power it must be taken from them.  We can take it back with truth and intelligence.  See the talk by Jim Hansen ( the early pioneer government scientist who risked his career in the Bush disaster going against their climate change denier policy.  Another scientist who travelled that path decades ago, Rachel Carson, ran the same gambit of lies and even hate.  And there are whistleblowers all over which need help, power does not like the truth.

Making Compost with Horse Manure

The thing about compost is it must be used as a mulch, placed on the surface of the ground.  Unless the soil is really bad, then turning some compost in upper soil levels can help the first time one reclaims a neglected urban lot, for example.  But on the surface is superior. There never seems to be enough compost so the first and primary activity in gardening on any useful scale is making compost.  I am greatly aided by the local horse people.  That’s another way the wealthy can help: keep maintaining horses.  They are marvelous animals, but I am partial to donkeys which I have more experience with.  Maybe someday horses will be part of my life but now it was donkeys.  Horses give horse manure, which has the perfect carbon/nitrogen ration of about 25 or 30/1.  Bedding mixed with manure is better yet as the urine has urea and with local temperatures water is evaporated, then it is just perfect.

The few experiments, just pilot studies, I have done so far here in SB taught me that adding about 10 5 gal buckets of horse manure to the same number of household kitchen wastes just cooks up fine.  The pile I have going now has been at over 150DF for 3 days, after building 5 days ago.  That’s enough to sterilize weed seed, plant pathogens, any developing fly larvae and decompose any proteins (“denatured”) or fats.

My greatest unknown achievement was to compost a dead sheep one time when we ran a farm.  My piles were bigger then what I recommend for household gardens .  The mix was mostly garden debris and horse bedding/manure mix from local horse stables.  With the right amount of water the pile I built around that sheep decomposed the skin, ribs, all the other tissues leaving the big leg bones, and skull.  I still have the skull, I loved my animals and it reminds me of them.  Sheep taught me so much, that’s for another time.

Chaos gardening makes the work of gardening easier since it occupies niches where weed seeds will emerge, so it reduces weeding labor.  It brings up plants with gobs of flowers, adding to the beauty of the garden.  And Chaos is the character of the behavior of the universe so one feels in touch with the cosmos, always a source of wonder and thoughts beyond just humans, thoughts of sources.  That’s my god.

And with that thought I add, gardening is enough, I don’t need to fly planes to kill others.  Building up something is more difficult then destroying.  Any asshole can destroy, it takes intelligence to build.  Let’s build a new world out of those ashes.  That’s what I am doing.

End episode 6 Helga Series

Paintings Explained: The Island

The Island


The Island, at Fort Bragg, Mendocino, County, CA

Fort Bragg, Mendocino Co.

By William Olkowski, 8/2011

I remember this day as one of those I spent with the Mendocino Plain Aire Group in 2007.  That’s what I will call the group as we did not formalize it with a title.  Each Thursday morning, usually in the fog, we would assemble at the Jewish Community Center in Caspar, a small village south of Ft. Bragg just off highway 1, at about 9:00 am.

After a bunch assembled, decision time came and we had to choose a place to paint.  Hope Stevenson used to come out sometimes but since she moved north I missed seeing her distinctive knife work.  The knife seems the most useful tool to get the texture of the clifts. 

I joined the group to learn about: places to paint.  The Jewish Community Center is nearby off Ocean Rd going North out of Mendocino so the closest places are all used up. But someone knows an unusual spot which she has scouted.

That’s the spot above and I call the painting The Island.  I like it because it does seem to fall off from the nearby cliffs, a difficult illusion to paint. 

There’s small group of houses in view of the Pacific just behind us as we all staked out a place from which to paint something beautiful with oil paints (some used water colors, some acrylics).  Oh, that’s my quest, make something beautiful with oils as they last and don’t need glass like a watercolor, or at least practice, practice, or paint, paint as John Robinson said.

Getting something really beautiful comes along only once in a while, so as long as you keep trying, you get closer and closer to something beautiful.  Anyway, that’s the hope that drives my boat.  Many of these artists were really good, many selling paintings in nearby art galleries.  I learned from them – first of all a good community spirit of sharing knowledge and skills.

After starring at a landscape for 4 plus hours (with adequate sun protection) one thinks one knows a place.  But I have been surprised many times and this was another.  So after awhile I get around to the right side and tackle the tree in detail.  As I do this I notice something – a bird going into my picture and then out to the sea.  Then I see it carry a big fish back and he/she proceeds to tear it apart on the limb which is just hidden below the base of the tree.  That limb was actually going perpendicular to the trunk and made a great perch for an Osprey, the largest fish hawk in North America.

I wonder how much I miss during my usual scamper around.  Here it took 3 plus hours to detect the bird, who must have been there all along.  Nature always surprises me.

In 2009 there was no fog.  I liked to see the trees appear in dark relief as one got closer and closer.  But the fog and the birds knew the world had changed. 

Olkowski Buurnell 1972 Conversastion Biological 10 commadments


An Ecological 10 Commandments

By William Olkowski, PhD


In the Integral Urban House (Olkowski et al., 1972) Dr. Sterling Bunnell and I created an alternative 10 commandments based on the original wording (whatever that was). Now I have modified the list after 30 or so years.


I believe it’s a better summary of what an Ecological 10 Commandments should be like in place of the old one published back in 1972.  And much better than the really old one maybe going back to a mythical year of zero.  That 10 commandments seems more oriented to maintenance of the institutional religion (Christianity – Protestant) than any prescriptions for living the good and ecological life.

1.      Honor the Ecosystem which is your origin.

2.      Do not take more from the Ecosystem than is necessary for survival than you return in materials and services.

3.      Invest in Knowledge of the World, its organisms and elements.

4.      Pass on Learning as its accumulation means a more beneficial living experience for all life forms.

5.      Do Not Kill any organism for pleasure only for defense and food.

6.      Live Honestly without harming other humans and other species.

7.      Follow Good Health Practices to improve your health and public health.

8.      Publish and discuss widely to get feedback and influence others.

9.      Grow and Produce Enough Food for Thrival without causing irreplaceable ecosystem impacts.

10.  Create Beautiful Artifacts (including buildings, paintings, sculptures, books, costumes, ideas, music, dances, software programs, etc.).



A Real Liberal: Rocky Anderson Calls for Bush Impeachment

From Wikipedia

Rocky Anderson is running for President under the Justice Party.  Whatever that is.  But his call for impeachment is a favorite subject. Plus I feel the same as he does about the Democratic Party, except, except, I feel worlds of distance from the GOP.  I learned a tuff lesson with the Peace and Freedom Party back in the Vietnam war days. 3rd party liberal efforts are doomed to enhance the GOP prospects.  Nothing could be worse for this country than another greedy ignorant GOP jerk.  And Mitt baby fills that role to a Tea.

Its not so far fetched to start impeachment, certainly loss of his benefits as a past president. Its never too late to dump on Bush, and I will do so to my dying day.  Mark our drastic decline as a civilized society, whatever that is now, to him and his administration.  He was and will be the worst president in the history of our declining democracy.

Bill Olkowski

Call for impeachment of President George W. Bush

Interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN after an anti-war rally marking the fourth anniversary of the invasion and initial occupation of Iraq, Anderson advocated the impeachment of President George Bush, saying:

“This president, by engaging in such incredible abuses of power, breaches of trust with both the Congress and the American people, and misleading us into this tragic and unbelievable war, the violation of treaties, other international law, our constitution, our own domestic laws, and then his role in heinous human rights abuses; I think all of that together calls for impeachment”.[124]

Anderson also did not spare criticism for the Democratic Party, saying:

“The fact that anybody would say that impeachment is off the table when we have a president who has been so egregious in his violations of our constitution, a president who asserts a unitary executive power, that is absolutely chilling.”[124]

In 2006, he expressed his view of the Democratic Party as follows:

“But what do I have to say about the Democratic Party? I’m ashamed, really, of how little leadership there has been. There has been just tremendous timidity on the part of the party, generally, although there have been a handful of exceptions. But, you know, we had one member of the United States Senate vote against the PATRIOT Act, the blank check that was given by Congress to this president, I think in total abrogation of the role of Congress under separation of powers and under the power to make war, to declare war. They gave that away to a president that didn’t have his facts straight and, I think, was manipulating the intelligence to sell this war.”[125]

Anderson researched, wrote, produced, and narrated a major multi-media piece on the Iraq invasion and occupation, as well as the case for impeachment.[126]

Integrated Pest Management Programs for Schools

IPM for Schools

Some General Considerations.

By William Olkowski, PhD, 2.15.12

Our experiences (wife Helga, self and others when we worked in our former non-profit the BioIntegral Resource Center (BIRC) showed how great reductions in toxic material use could be obtained with a systems approach called Integrated Pest Management.  In applying this concept developed in Agriculture (see van den Bosch 1959) we decided to append the prefix “least toxic” as a further way to characterize and distinguish what we were learning from those who were merely using the IPM idea to time pesticide applications.

Some of our early experiences were in developing and applying least toxic Integrated Pest Management Programs in various school districts in the US, i.e., Palo Alto School District, Palo Alto, CA, Flint, MI, and Washington, DC.  These could be of use and interest for other School Districts contemplating implementing a least toxic IPM program.  There are many parents interested in this sort of effort as they want their children raised in environments that do not expose them to toxicants.  What could be more reasonable?

In all our IPM work in schools, cities, and various departments of state and federal agencies we have found that most insecticides could be eliminated or substituted with non-toxic insecticides.  However, for all pest problems now it may not be possible to eliminate all toxic pesticides (sensu lato).  Weed control is an example as work within this arena as is more difficult to develop non-toxic methods because of how landscapes were originally designed.  Examples of landscapes with built in pest problems are bare areas with no mulches, lawns with the wrong species and standard but badly managed lawns that are cut too low stressing the plants, and which are unreasonably stressed from excessive foot traffic.

Most such areas are overwatered in many cities which can encourage fungal pathogens besides wasting water.  And then too much synthetic fertilizer is used which encourages various insects and pathogens, as well as excessive growth which requires more frequent cutting.  More frequent mowing means more foot traffic, more stress and ultimately more weeds and pests which engender more pesticides.  That scenario is called the pesticide treadmill and it is a common phenomena.

Inside buildings with food and waste storage the same kind of inappropriate designs can be observed.  Consider cockroach control efforts when all the cabinets have hiding places that provide refuges where insecticides cannot be easily placed.  So even if a highly toxic material is used and many cockroaches are killed there are still too many hiding in places where the control methods cannot reach.  The result is excessive pesticide use leading to resistance which again leads to excessive pesticide use.  The solution in such situations is to either replace the cabinets, or alter their construction to prevent roach hiding places.

The tradition of just applying an insecticide to solve a pest problem was developed over the decades but was greatly encouraged during the DDT years, just after WWII.  DDT was a powerful long term nerve poison with relatively low short term toxicity to humans.  It was first considered a panacea but shortly after it initial uses it was clear that it was contaminating vast numbers of food chains in the wild, domestic animals and foods leading to humans.  At that time low levels of poisons were considered to be safe and eliminated from the human body easily by normal detoxification body systems.

What to do First in School District IPM Adoption

First, we got the School Board and, or the superintendent to adopt an IPM Policy that restricted various pesticides, eliminates most, and sets up a review program at the board level.  Each school joined in after one or a few principles decided to pilot the program, again with reports back to the board.  The board needs to be involved because it brings more viewpoints than just the employees tasked with implementing various aspects.  This helps the staff find and apply alternatives as part of their job descriptions and reduce amounts of pesticide used.  This creates an incentive program where instead of defending past actions new ones are favored.

It might not be possible to eliminate all pesticide use, but switching to least toxic ones, like vinegar, soaps, deep mulches, and hand pulling as well as changes in maintenance practices can start the process of elimination of toxic substances in close vicinity of children.

Although these are general comments they were validated in our experiences for many years.  The human factors and how pest control was delivered in the past, and how it is defended is the greater factor, compared to how critical the pest problem is.  There are many least toxic solutions for most pest problems, and even if a toxic material needs to be used, it can usually be so targeted or used in a spot treatment way that for all practical purposes the original problem goes away.  Even then it becomes possible to phase out various pesticide uses by redesign of maintenance practices and landscapes.

Some of our previous reports to school districts are available on my website ( under Science, IPM andSchool Districts. Included are curriculum ideas targeted at various grades and different pests, including roaches, ants, termites, head lice, weeds, gophers, and others.


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GMO Foods Anyone? Or Should we Use Common Sense?

GMO Foods Anyone? Or Should we Use Common Sense?

By William Olkowski, PhD


Yes, biotechnology may bring some great and important changes to agriculture, medicine, and many other fields, even great benefits.  But there are some big BUTS to think about now.  The recent history of the creation, registration and use of such products raises important cautions at least.  Since we mentioned this subject before in our first book, history tells a different story, one with major problems with such crops.  GMO altered plants, especially those with the microbial genes which produce a toxin derived from the bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, are the case in point.  Alone as a microbial insecticide, Bt, is a rare product as it is highly selective.  Marketing such a product is limited to only a few groups of insects.  Further, on theoretical grounds, any continuously dispensing pest control system is bound to fail because the pests so exposed will develop resistance faster than from episodic exposures.  This is because the pest population will be under greater selection pressure from continuous exposures, while the episodic one will have time to repopulate between exposures.  And the repopulation brings back the susceptible portion of the original population to a greater degree than a continuously exposed population.  This is an argument based on genetic reasoning.  But recent history supports this contention.

Genetically modified crops do not lead to less pesticide use.  Such crops created to tolerate herbicides, for example, have now been shown to spread their resistance factors to weeds and other crops, which have become resistant to herbicides requiring greater concentrations to produce the same effects as before without such crops.  Weeds are the main reason why farmers use herbicides and more importantly cultivation.  There are alternatives to cultivation besides GMO crops and herbicides, particularly alternative cover crops which are not used enough.  And such alternative don’t pollute water as do herbicides.  Herbicides do pollute, but now with GMO crops we have added genetic pollution, something far worse than any “cide”.  GMO crops are a bad and unnecessary tool.

And then there is the profit motive to consider.  Once a company latches onto such a product it defends their selling capabilities with all their powers, especially the threat to sue.  Organic or just farmers, who raise a crop near a GMO crop are being sued by the big producers of GMO crops and seeds for selling a product, now contaminated from their GMO crop genes.  Instead of being sued for contaminating their crop with bad genes they are suing those they contaminated.  Incredible!  Is this the same justice system that tolerated slavery, death penalty and bad jury decisions.  The reasoning is twisted to thinking the now contaminated crop is their property since it contains their genetic product.

These GMO crops are not necessary.  People produced food, lots of it without such crops, but a farmer who gets contaminated and gets sued because of it can be put out of farming, a great tragedy.  But the GMO Company goes on selling an ecologically inferior food source which is contaminated.  Such contaminated crops have unknown health consequences.  All pest control products sold on the market should be first proven to be safe before being registered.  That’s what is called the precautionary principle.  One should not assume a product is safe because it is registered as the testing for such registrations has big limitations and leaves many products for sale that later turn out to be hazards.  We don’t need any more hazards in our food supply, nor anywhere else.  First use the non-toxic alternatives until it’s impossible to produce the product without it, then seek a toxic material, then the least toxic.  It’s just basic “common sense” reasoning.


Who Supports Truth-in-Labeling on GMOs?

As we have emphasized repeatedly, the November 6th Right-to-Know Ballot Initiative in California (Proposition 37) is the Food Fight of Our Lives. The popular Initiative, supported by the overwhelming majority of Californians, calls for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods and an end to the unethical practice, unfortunately common even in the alternative food sector, of marketing or labeling GMO-tainted food as “natural.” Big Food understands quite well that once Proposition 37 passes in California it will likely become the law of the land in all 50 states and Canada. This is why Monsanto’s powerful ally, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has characterized Prop 37 as the “most serious threat” to agricultural biotechnology in history. So far over 621 organizations and businesses – including retail grocery stores, consumer, farmer, organic, natural health, environmental, farmworker, and labor groups – have endorsed the California Initiative. Please take a look at this list and make sure that your favorite organization, retail store, or business has endorsed Prop 37.

If not, please approach them and ask them to formally endorse the campaign.

Please thank and support those organizations and businesses supporting our right-to-know by endorsing the Initiative. Help us spread the word by sharing this list on your social networks

More GM stuff


Lit­tle did Willie Nel­son know when he recorded “Crazy” years ago just how crazy it would be­come for our cher­ished fam­ily farm­ers inAmer­ica.   Nel­son, Pres­i­dent of Farm Aid, has re­cently called for the na­tional Oc­cupy move­ment to de­clare an “Oc­cupy the Food Sys­tem” ac­tion.

Nel­son states, “Cor­po­rate con­trol of our food sys­tem has led to the loss of mil­lions of fam­ily farm­ers, de­struc­tion of our soil…”


GMO Crops: Another Catastrophe from Deregulation


Lawrence Wallin, the artist philosopher/muscian lists these beauties among a much longer list.  See his paintings plus on his website:

Among all I viewed were these which hit me hard but in a good way:

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world–this makes it hard to plan the day.
E. B. White:

So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from war, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.
Ray Bradbury


A great war leaves the country with three armies – an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves.
German proverb

Swords and guns have no eyes.
Chinese proverb

No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back.
Turkish proverb

The value of possessing good sense is in using it.
Hausa proverb

When money speaks, the truth keeps silent.
Russian proverb

The believer is happy; the doubter is wise.
Hungarian proverb



By William Olkowski  6.2.12/7.25.12

Well this morning I am going to take on my current main daily subject: grief.  The take will be conceptual rather than emotional although the emotional is the stronger, especially right now.  That’s because grief can overwhelm the senses including the so called sixth sense of conceptualization.  Some people think the sixth sense is telepathy which is a lot of fun to think about.  Fun is great, if you can find it, in yourself and others.  But the evidence for telepathy is rather weak, if there is any good evidence at all.

At dinner last night I met up with 8 other grievers in a group run by volunteers here in Santa Barbara.  There were 5 men and 4 women.  Nobody talked about the main thing on their minds, or better under their minds. Listening to other people’s grief stories makes ones own less important.  There are some people who are marvelous in their reactions to such terrible things my heart goes out of itself in sympathy, but that is hard to share.

One exception was the guy next to me, who made a comment about a Greek movie he had recently seen which explored a great range of the emotion contrasting grief in the young and an older new teacher.  These representative groups were of younger students who lost their teacher and the new teacher who was also feeling the heat too, but the kids gradually learn about his experiences as the drama develops.  I imagine both peoples grew through their particular experiences.  I don’t want to see the movie.  I don’t need to wallow right now, maybe another day.  I look for uppers, especially if I am going to use some time to relax and enjoy.

Through his comments, I thought, hey, this guy is something special and probed further.  And so it turned out.  But from his comments about the movie critics who paned the movie I thought further.  He says the critics were too critical, and had overlooked the special aspects of an excellent drama.  His explanation for why the critics were so critical was that they were just young people who had never yet experienced grief.  That seemed to be the only common agreement the group seemed willing to acknowledge.  And I wondered.

I can’t be so dogmatic and want to see what that idea contains.  Well, the young and the old have different views, and our society seems hell bent on separating the two social groups, mostly by default.  Me, I had grandparents living close for a time in my early youth and that was important to me.  One grandparent certainly complained rather regularly, about infirmaries.  And we had lived very close in the same building for my earliest years, up to about age 4.  I liked my grandmother because she liked me, mostly, and paid attention.  Boys had it good in such immigrant groups, maybe in all groups. That’s another topic.

Plus she used to cook up these giant meals at different holidays.  I loved to eat and still do, but that in itself is not a great accomplishment.  She was an old Polish woman of stocky build with bad legs.  Legs seem especially important to her, maybe it’s an old age thing, so I thought.  I may have been right about that even as a young boy, but with my aging and now leg hurts, maybe its a family thing.

In our society the young and old don’t live together and so the worlds don’t cross very much and consequently the important experiences don’t pass from one group to the other.  My view of the oldies was they seemed depressed and slow moving, although there seemed to be times of joy.  No wonder the two groups diverge.  Who wants depression, especially as a steady diet?

Today I feel very different about that viewpoint from my youth.  I have met many younger people than I, by many decades, who seem very sympathetic and that is a great discovery.  But the element of truth is that grief is certainly highly specific to each person, yet all will eventually experience it.  So why not learn something about it.  Maybe this is a good subject for schools.  Oh, well, we load up our schools with so many desires, no wonder they fail.  Or do they?  The kids seem to learn in spite of the schools, but many do not.  Maybe that can be fixed someday.

Here, my view of life may diverge again from the common experience since I have had a great exposure to the youth of many different species, particularly insects, but also chickens, rabbits, sheep, and donkeys.  Learning about insects is an odd personal feature which arises regularly enough to stun me.  It must be odd for others who know so little about most of the species on the planet. All the hatching egg masses I have seen never hatch 100%.  So, some of every new generation is lost almost just out of the chute.

And so it is with people, too.  In our compassion for suffering, which is an admirable trait, I think we go too far.  Nature creates losses all along the life span.  Loss is part of living.  We must learn this and maybe its part of why religions developed and persist.  Anyway I am always wondering about how and why such silly institutions persist amidst the greatest growth in human knowledge ever seen.  The stories religions tell are so unbelievable it’s hard to see their relevance to today.  And why they conflict with modern learning is a great grief.  But that’s another side trip and a different kind of grief.

The main religions of today seemed to have been fixed thousands of years ago.  So to understand them one must go back in time.  An intimate exposure to history can always be good, i.e., learning history, right? Well I wonder about that too.  In fact I am wondering about a great many things now.  Maybe that’s one good thing about loss and grief.  It certainly makes one hold up and think.

Well, thinking is always a good idea as long as one can make the time.  Thinking, however, can be very faulty.  In grief a thought could be seized like a life saver, good for a time, essential for a time, but to live in a life saver is not possible.  And thinking is needed to build and repair.  I think grief is like a wound, with its own kind of scab.

And it’s a bad idea to keep poking a wound.  The analogy seems most apt.  The question remains however, about how to make healing possible, continuous, and healthy.  Certainly other people, especially friends, play a big part.  Younger friends most likely will certainly outlive you?  So how to get their attention so the old elephant can pass on the knowledge of the water holes so the whole group can find water in the drought.  Maybe grief is a path between the old and young?  That’s an operational idea, now for me.  I will keep you posted.

William Olkowski, PHD





And Notes about World History

By William Olkowski, PhD – 7.22.12

Ronald Wilson Reagan (2011 – 2004) was the 40th President of the United States (1981–89). Prior to that, he was the 33rd Governor of California (1967–75), and a radio, film and television actor. He died of Alzheimer’s Disease, evident even during his last years as president.

Widely praised by the Right he was a disaster for the poor and middle class who do not know they were taken to the cleaners, even today.  But check the graph below and see when the direction of the US changed so drastically.  That’s part of my evidence.

There would not be so many needy today if there weren’t so many greedy.  And those who neglect the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it.  The lessons of history teach that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, until the poor realize there is no reason to live and devote themselves to destroying the society around them.  This escalates into violence and all suffer, until from this chaos, a new world order arises.  All suffer during such times, rich and poor alike, although the poor always suffer more.

This cycle is evident from Chinese history and is explained as the Dynastic Cycle, described in Fairbank’s book on the History of China, Korea and Japan.  The cycle is set at about every 400 years.  The pattern is like this: a new government is formed, usually through a rebellion during which times many die and great destruction is evident.  The new government arises with great relief and does good things, like build dams and levees to hold back the flooding rivers.  Then as the decades pass the government needs more and more money, so increases taxes which fall on the poor farmers.  This gets so onerous that rebellions grow and the existing government is toppled.  Then it starts all over again.

This Dynastic Cycle is described in the Fairbank’s book. It’s a classic history book, written for us “Westerners” decades ago as we are mostly ignorant of this Asian history.  We are ignorant of this history because of the fear of communism so evident as the driving force for most of the 20th century.  This fear produced the cold war, a period one can describe as Put Your Head in the Sand, from the standpoint ofUS history.  This is my conclusion based on what I was taught in college.

When I went to college we had educational requirements for the first two years fed to us if we wanted to graduate.  So I had to take a history course called Western Civilization.  So the focus of my historical knowledge was not world history, nor even human history, but cropped to just Western History.  This can be easily remedied now with the Big History Movement, capsulated in a book by that title.  I found this idea most useful to bring myself up to a rudimentary level about world history.  But one of the oldest civilizations, with a continuous writing record back thousands of years is from China.

Of course, the so called Western Civilizations did their best to destroy this record during its colonial period and the invasion ofChina, particularly by burning the library inBeijing.  But I hope a great deal of that loss has been recovered since that time before WWII.  This library burning is akin to when Roman armies burned the library at Alexandriain Egypt.  Roman history anticipates Western genocidal colonization patterns.  And this was repeated by the Spanish conquest of Central and South Americaand other areas.  The Spanish were very thorough in destroying the written history of Aztec and Mayan civilizations so that now only fragments are available.  The Catholic Church derived from the Romans did the same across Europe and even had a hand in North America andAsia.  Burning books is among my greatest list of civilizations’ sins.

China is probably the most interesting civilization for comparison to the West for a number of reasons: its old, its continuous, and its currently changing very rapidly with a trajectory to easily pass the West through a process I call The Privilege of Backwardness.  This idea is not new to me, but it helps me explain what is going on.  This idea refers to how a country can leap frog over those who innovated previously by adapting the technologies so expensively purchased in resources, labor and intelligence to its own process of modernization.  This is done by study of the innovative culture and adopting various processes to its own culture.  Those cultures which adopted the use of guns, for example, survived over those who did not.  Jared Diamond intimates about this transfer process in his classic Guns, Germs and Steel.

A good example also comes fromJapan, but on a smaller scale than that of China.  When Admiral Perry forced open the Japanese culture by show of force with his armed warshipsJapanwas shocked and forward thinking people there, mostly samurai, made a plan to study and adopt the ideas and technologies, particularly guns, from these barbaric western cultures.  That was the attitude and so a hundred year plan and process was set in motion which we can see in effect today.

Of course WWII helped in many ways to clear out so called dead-wood thinking, just like it did inGermany.  This was vastly expensive in resources and loss of lives to say the least about WWII.  But look atJapantoday (aside fromFukushima).  It makes better cars, better cameras, and better computers than theUS.  Although arguably better, many of the advances made by this small island culture are remarkable considering the devastation produced by WWII which ended only 60 or so years ago.  That’s just 2 generations, using the old idea that a generation lasts an average of 30 years.  Generation time now is a puzzle as it seems to becoming shorter and shorter based on how electronic changes are being adopted.

Chinawas vastly advanced compared to Western Civilization, in the years before 1,000 AD.  Read the book called Enin.  Enin was a monk who visitedChinain the 850’s AD and kept a daily diary of his decade or so in different areas ofChina.  This information comes from the oldest or probably the oldest surviving diary whichFairbankstranslated into English as part of his doctoral dissertation.

Enin was a Buddhist monk from Japan who travelled to visit the Chinese Emperor at that time as was the custom for a small peripheral country to the vast empire ofChina.  Imagine the situation. Enin survived the dangerous passage from Japan to China, although only a few of the five treasure ships sent fromJapansucceeded in landing inChina.  At that time, the only guides for this passage were Koreans, who had mastered the use of the compass in making such voyages.

The seas, at that time, between Japan and China, given the sailing ships and navigational methods of that era, were dangerous places.  And so that accounts for the great losses in making tribute journeys to the Imperial throne ofChina.  These journeys were great efforts and these ships were loaded with all sorts of valuable things as gifts to the Chinese Emperor.  Enin’s daily journal records a massive effort at that time by the Imperial forces to destroy the Buddhist institutions on the proviso that such religious organizations with their unproductive monks and nuns living in lavish style in monasteries were denying taxes to the Imperial Coffers, always in geometric states of need, primarily to support unproductive solders.  This practice accounts for why religion is not so big inChina.  Today’s central government reflects this same emphasis, as did many Chinese governments since that time.

So Enin joined and was protected by hiding out with Buddhist communities.  He records how it was necessary to get permission from the different local authorities and monks for him to move from place to place.  I tell this detail because it forms the basis for my opinion that things inChinahave not really changed that much, even with the existing communist government.

Here is my reasoning.  When we visitedChinain 1991, it was just after The Tianmen Square Massacre and Mao was still in power, although his power was in decline.  Though personal contact made by my colleagues we were visited by a remarkable couple, he was a scholar fluent in Japanese and Russian and spoke English excellently.  His wife was similarly special. We exchanged pleasantries and they gave us valuable gifts as is the custom.

We shared experiences over an hour or so one evening and then they took their leave.  They came on bicycles.  As part of the leave taking process, they apologetically asked us to sign their travel permit so they could leave the compound we were staying in.  I say apologetically, because when one knows how we in the West are able to move around freely without permits within our own countries it is embarrassing for them to ask us to virtually give them permission.

So what was going on was a police state.  And this police state did not just derive from the reaction to the Tianmen Square Massacre, it was a long standing state of affairs.

Enin describes a similar state of affairs, back in 950 AD.  So from the 900’s to the 1990, is at least a thousand years of state control of movements of individuals.  The communist government just adopted the practice set in motion by Imperial Governments of the past.  Things may be different now as I lost daily contact with Chinese changes, but this fact of local control via police type activities is not new, nor confined to China.  Chinais just one of the largest examples of a police state.  To emphasize this point, just after the Massacre (June 6th is burned in the Chinese Historical Memory as Lio si (this “Romanization of Chinese does not have its necessary tone marks), meaning June 6th, Lio is the name of for the month of June using the number 6 (each month is so designated, Shir is 10 for October) and Si is the number 6 as the number.  The short hand for conversation is essentially two 6’s., i.e. lio si)  Our confidants during our visit would only whisper these two sounds to us and cautioned us to reduce our speaking volume so as not to be overheard.  And we could commonly see groups of 4 solders carrying machine guns walking the streets of major cities during our thousands of miles of travel from North to South.  It was a frightening image, certainly a threat to anybody who would raise an objection to government action.

Clearly the country was under the thumb of the military who derived their powers from the government (a group of old men, who appoint each other, something the Massacre demonstrators were hoping to change).  That idea died along with thousands of young people who were demonstrating peacefully to foster democracy.  It’s an old pattern of control by fear.  We saw this type of control activity with the second Bush presidency.  But the recent changes can all be traced back to Reagan.  And to think the Right wanted to put his face on the dime or dollar bill makes me gag.



Genetic Revolution Anybody?


Genetic Roulette, 2007.  Yes!Books, Fairfield,Iowa, 52556. 318 pg.

The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered foods.

By Jeffery M. Smith, author of Seeds of Deception.

Review by William Olkowski, PhD, 7.23.12

No current issue can be more important than contamination of our food supply, especially from genetic pollutants.  Pesticides and industrial pollutants found in foods and the human body are bad enough, but now even those are surpassed by these covert poisons, certainly in delivered dosage.  The whole subject of GM safety has been swallowed wholesale by regulators who believed the myths about genetically modified foods (GM foods) propagated by industry representatives.  GMO refers to genetically modified organisms, of which GM crops are just a subset.  The better label would be GMO as it is more inclusive.  Beer, for example, uses GM bitter reducers derived from modified microbes.  There are lots of such peripheral sources of GM products.

Smith sums up the threats posed by GM foods best:

“Inserting transgenes is like throwing darts that can land in more than a billion possible locations in a genome.  At the insertion site, the host’s natural genes may become mutated, deleted, altered or permanently tuned on or off.  In addition, up to 5% of the active genes throughout the genome may change expression levels.  This is evidenced by laboratory tests.  For example, growing GM cells in tissue culture can cause hundreds or thousands of additional genome-wide mutations.  All this can change RNA, proteins, and other substances, including the countless natural products in plants.  Any one might be harmful.”

Smith has compiled a massive indictment of the whole genetic modification industry.  The industry is headed chiefly by Monsanto’s devious plan to spoil the world’s food supply for the almighty dollar, primarily through forcing the world’s farmers to only use Bt converted crops and other catastrophic biological entities, actually genetic monsters.  Such massive effects are already being realized and that means the story can no longer be controversial.  About 30% of all the food produced in the US is now poisoned with chemical creations from genetically altered food plants.

The list of forming disasters is a truly monumental construction, threatening all life.  This leads one to conclude that we should ban all genetically modified creations (GMC’s) for the foreseeable future.  Mankind has surpassed his/her self in hubris, primarily but not exclusively for the profit of a single corporation, supported by scientists who lie, just like those who did so for the tobacco industry.  If they are not lying by neglect, it must be deliberate.  Maybe it’s believing whatever they create is a good thing.  A belief that does not stand up to rigorous examination is a false belief.  Believing corporations are people, and that an embryo has the rights of an adult, and that even eggs have rights is stretching the idea of free speech beyond belief.  We are moving into religious territory.

This belief stands solely by rigorous disinformation, however.  Such cases have been the focus for lawyers for their own profit, however, so get ready for the fight of our lives.  Actually, is like WWII where we were fighting for our lives.  Who controls living things and who has the right to create living things and hold corporate patents on living things, making food patented, just like medicines, THAT IS THE NEW QUESTION, DEAR SHAKESPEAR.  Its not to be or not to be, but to be what?

Maybe the patent law changes brought about over the last 30 or so years is at the root of things of many bad things.  Changes in patent law might be another path for challenge besides GM labeling.  More attack paths mean more lawyers for defense.  More lawyers cost more and maybe if the costs of liability rise beyond the tolerable point we will get the Giant to work on some other products.  How about investing in alternative fuels so we can continue to support the switch away from fossil fuels.  Now there’s an alternative investment strategy for the Monsanto Take-Over-the-World campaign and their stockholders.

This overall genetic catastrophe can be mostly laid at the feet of the international giant, Monsanto, but not exclusively, as genetic engineering became a big bubble a decade or two back.  But Monstanto has a great, bad track record.  These are the guys who gave us the deadly long term chlorinated hydrocarbon herbicide 2,4, 5 T of Vietnam war fame, the glyphosate (herbicide) tolerant plants (also called Round UP Ready), and Bt cotton, potatoes, soybeans and tomatoes now grown on soils across the US and elsewhere.

A selected short summary of these forming disasters from GM foods includes:

1: Increased in Allergies and the Effects Upon the Immune Response:

Evidence from Brazil nut genes inserted into soybeans cause serious allergic reactions in people who are already sensitive to this nut.  At least 30% of the soybeans in theUSare now produced with GM altered genes.  Soybeans are fed to cattle, and are made into tofu, miso and related products.

2. Increases in Inflammation.

GM produced peas triggered an inflammatory response in mice, suggesting a harmful reaction in humans.  The protein produced is not harmful in its natural state, just from GM peas.  The cause has been traced to the sugar chain components of antibodies, proteins and other molecules, a process commonly called glycosylation.  The accumulation of glycosylated compounds in cells is thought to be one of the main causes of aging.  Faster aging anybody? Plus glycosylation impacts allergenicity badly.

3. Increased Damage to the Immune System.

GM potatoes made with a lectin from the snowdrop caused immune damage in rats.  Rats fed the same lectin were not damaged.  This suggests there were some other changes produced by the gene insertion.

4. Increase in Known Allergens.

Sections of the Round-Up Ready protein produced by the inserted gene are identical to known allergens.  There was a 50% increase in allergic reactions to GM soy when it was first introduced into the UK food supply.  Actual cause has not been determined, but is being pursued. Speculations of other damage pathways abound based on various studies.

5. Increases in the Already Known List of Body Burden Chemicals.

Numerous animal feeding studies using genetically modified (GM) foods showed Bt potatoes and Bt tomatoes damaged rats, mice, sheep, chickens and humans including bleeding stomachs, death and production of allergies.  Pigs and cows become sterile with eating Bt corn.  These studies have lead some to call the GM phenomena “The Thalidomide of Genetic Engineering.”

6. Need to Exclude GM products in manufacture of Foods, Medicinals and Supplements.

The discovery of the genetically modified supplement L-trytophan is a case in point.  In the 1980’s, by a combination of remote chances, a series of contaminates in this supplement were discovered.  “According to CDC officials the GM supplement killed about 100 people and caused 5,000-10,000 others to fall sick or become disabled.  The company producing the tryptophan was Showa Denko (Chinese?), the disease produced is called eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS) which causes a long series of common disease symptoms, but particularly severe muscle pain and highly elevated white blood cells (eosinophils) indicative of a severely disrupted immune system.

7.  Cooking (and processing) of GM foods May Increase the Problems.

It is already known that cooking may increase the stability of the trypsin inhibitor, cause of allergic reactions from natural soybeans.  But this makes the 27% increase in this enzyme from GM soy, even more of a problem.

8. Creation of New Allergens and Other Biochemical Changes.

Among the changes already noted are the creation of new allergens, changes in DNA structures, changes in the molecules of RNA derived from the changed DNAs, and the proteins derived from these coded molecules, all which become potential components of future generations. All are untested.

Why are we Playing Roulette with GMO’s?

If we are already playing genetic roulette with these products as Smith so ably elaborates why are we willing to take this risk?  After all, our genes are our most precious possessions.  Even the religious folks are wondering why we are playing  God, or is it the Devil we are mimicking?

Why Deal With Effects of Unexpected Results?

We already know that enzymes can be transferred from species to species in gut bacteria, and we know that food enzymes can make this jump.  We know that GMO products change enzymes in many ways.  So, with GMO products we are changing the gut fauna in unknown ways.  This affects could effect digestion and introduces new molecules into the blood stream and once there, all parts of the body could be affected, including the brain.  New molecules in the blood stream mean new effects from the immune system.

Evolution at Work

We know that variation and selection are the evolutionary processes which produced us.  We know that most variations are deleterious, so why increase the variation rate?  Why are we forcing ourselves through this genetic sieve?  Who will make it through? Is it worth the risk?  I don’t think so, not for the almighty dollar.  Plus, who gets the dollar is important.  Some of that dollar now needs to be directed toward improving the situation.  And it’s got to be the government that makes the changes.  Industry cannot be trusted to make the effort alone although there are welcome changes afoot in the industry.  We can’t expect Mitt baby to make such changes.  We can hope Obama will, but it’s only a hope.

Combinations With GM Crops and Other Problems

There is an important overlay to all these genetic pollution indications: What are the effects of combinations of GM crops and GM products with existing medicines and pesticides on foods?  These are already known to have numerous side effects and are widely used. Synergistic reactions with GM products can be expected.  Thus synergism can work to improve some physiologically effective molecules, or to damage them directly, or to stop their functions in some ways.

If one is already on a statin, for example, the symptoms could be exacerbated as statins are notorius for producing muscle weakness.  Over 25 million people in the world use statins.  They are widely appreciated to deplete the critical antioxidant Enzyme Q10, for example.

To add fire to the story, why are statins, sometimes in multiple drugs and in various combinations, given to stroke victims, another million per year?  A million or so unfortunate souls just here in the US are so treated, even by ER personnel.  And these people are already compromised from the stroke?  If that is the standard of care for the medical industry, who needs such medical care.

Unfortunately, many can still benefit from a Universal Health Care system like that used by Congress.  Congress’s medical care system is called Medicare like that for all us seniors.  The trick is how can one make choices when there is only one standard of care and many committees tasked with such efforts are dominated by industry scientists who must lie to keep their jobs or their beliefs, always rigorously defended.  Maybe the risks of living without medicines are less than living with medicines, certainly that is true with GM crops.  We don’t need them, only Monsanto does.  You choose, Monsanto, or all human health?  Any takers for all humans?

The Free Market Regulatory Push

The implications of just these studies raise huge questions which have been swept under the regulatory rug.  But there are more studies suggesting a whole host of other changes along the complex chain from DNA, to pollens, sperm and eggs, and the development of plants and animals, including us humans.  Altering our biochemical exposure and increasing potential damage is bad enough, but altering the food supply and then contaminating wild plants and animals is just beyond the pale. Black elk said it best: Whatever we do to the biosphere we do to our selves.

As for the regulatory community which has allowed this unfolding catastrophe to reach such dire levels, it deserves investigation and restructuring, certainly to remove corporate interests.  This is much more important than the gross violations of the banking industry.

And as for the Corporations are People disaster propagated by a Bush dominated Supreme Court I will believe as Bill Moyers quips: When Texas kills a corporation I will believe they are people.  But these corporations with their unlimited ability to buy off congress can fight back with such funds legally now by using their free right to donate to various political compaigns.  All political campaigns should be publically supported totally.  We are witnessing a process where the wealthy alone determine who will lead us.  That is not democracy, its oligarchy.

The quip is effective enough to suggest the state execution of all Monsanto CEO’s, and maybe their scientists for negligence.  So now we must decide, for execution, or just fines AND certainly jail time.  And those guys who head the company should not go to the white color Lompoc jail facility where Martha Stewart took a rest from making millions, but San Quinton, say back in time, a few decades.

So What Can You Do Now?


While we wait for the regulators and the amendment to the Constitution (now in the works) to stop unlimited contributions by corporations (originally and erroneously thought to be established under the Bill of rights granting free speech protections). What can we do?  We can stop buying GM foods.  But who knows what is genetic or non-genetic?

That’s the reason why GM foods must be labeled.  Then the onus is again on the educated buyer, as is currently the vogue.  So we continue the selection process against the young, old, and infirm.  We are a great society, no?  Everybody running for office says this.  It must be true, right?

How can one not assume GM foods are safe for everybody? Certainly young people, old people, stroke and cancer victims, other compromised people, and all those using drugs and even supplements are at risk.  Most of these people already have compromised immune systems.  But that category may also include all the rest of us, if we eat GM foods.  Consider that the crops modified by GM processes include at least the following: soy, wheat, rice, tomatoes, milk, corn, rapeseed/canola, papayas, cotton, farm raised salmon, alfalfa and a host of vegetables which are in the pipeline since Smiths book was published back in 2007.

Sugar beets are also GM modified, suggesting that table sugar is altered.  Add that to the already widespread knowledge that sugar use leads to diabetes.  It should be enough for most people who are paying attention to their diet to skip sugar, if you can design such a diet.

I speculate that the vegetarians who don’t use milk (and milk products), who don’t eat soy, wheat, rice and farm raised salmon have an advantage on those who do.  This is assuming all those products are completely contaminated.  So this should be incentive for those producers of soy, wheat, rice, milk and farmed salmon to back efforts to label foods GM-free, or produced with Non-GM crops.  How about NOT-GMO?  Even more industries would back such a labeling system, maybe?

Meats and Juices, Humanity against Monsanto.

A large portion of the soybean crop is fed to cattle, so non-organic meats are suspect.  Bt corn and herbicide resistant crops join the food chain to animals and humans.  The artificial sweetener, aspartame, is produced by a GM process and is found widely for a long time now in juices and other “foods”.  Just the sugars found is such products argues for their avoidance, whether GM or non-GM.  But even that distinction is lost to most consumers.

Evolution at Work

This whole debacle sounds like Evolutionary pressure to me.  Labels certainly need to be read, and improved.  If what you read has a greater effect on choices made in the supermarket we are selecting against ignorance of the facts.  The fact that vested interests fight back with misinformation campaigns should not be overlooked.  So we are in an evolutionary struggle, human health is pitted against corporate wealth. And corporate wealth is backing disinformation.  Critical thinking is the way out.  But with efforts to undermine science education in public schools critical thinking is to be replaced by imaginatory thinking.

Smith produced another great list of what can be expected by way of industry back-pressure:

1. Premptory strike: see book Seeds of Deception.  Get them before they get me.

2. Silence: “I never saw it”. Like, dismiss Smith’s book.  It’s the head in the sand approach, or is it head up somewhere else.

3. Sweeping dismissal: GM crops are innocent, after all the regulatory bodies have approved it.

4. I haven’t read it: weak defense by CEO’s and their Representatives.  So the guy with the million dollar salary can’t afford the $27.50 as sold by Rincon Vitova (plus shipping) for Smith’s book.  Oh, poverty limits so much, doesn’t it?

5. Invoking scientific organizations: Some of these are just industry surrogates.  But check out the study commission memberships and similar organizations which determine policy for industry reps at the FDA and the EPA, for starters.

6. Selecting subsets of arguments to mislead, e.g. pollens are more important for stimulating allergies.

7. GM crops are the same as other foods.  Standard breeding programs create mutations too, so we are the same as other crop derived foods, so GM foods can’t be bad.  This latter conclusion is usually implied.

8. Totally Incredible Defense: gene therapy is the best way to improve human life, therefore we are blazing new trails in genetic manipulations which as a scientific field is admiral.  This is certainly true, but so far all this knowledge is to the detriment of humanity and the Bioshere, don’t forget to add that too.

9. Personal attack (Also called Ad Hominum to cover up its real nature): This is the same old crap, like that so successfully used against Rachel Carson and well documented by her biographer Linda Lear, in her book Witness for Nature (see Rachel  Rachel Carson is not a great scientist; therefore what she says is false.  Plus she was a female and worked for the government mostly.

9A. A common subset of personal attacks are that the critic is trying to sell books or alternative products, or has particular bias against the industry.  They are, or he/she is a communist, is a good all over standard critique used in my day.  So what communists say must be false.  This can be translated into Environmentalist, today.  “The suffix “ist” is the red flag.  Use the following format: because they are xxxxx-ist, what they say is false.

Ad hominum is a common study unit for lawyers, it’s called Ad hominum because it’s directed at the person not the argument.

All the 20 or so logical fallacies are designed to hide the truth.  Corporate lawyers are hired to be inventive with such campaigns, based on these well known philosophic methods which form the basis of the application of law.  Examples abound: see  In ancient Athens, when Socrates was forced to drink strychnine for showing what idiots the people were who ran things, they got offended and controlled the democratic process, and had him killed.  Today it’s terrorist, or aid to the enemy, or Whatever Floats.  That could be Woody Allen’s next masterpiece, that is, if I don’t write it up first.

Ad hominum still works, too!

Whatever Works is a refrain widely respected and the title of a funny movie by the great director/playwrite Woody Allen.  Practicalism is a good guideline, and according to Woody, a solution to a whole host of romantic problems.  William James was a famous philosophical proponent of practicalism.  Practicalism is practical but may not be true to the evidence.  And what kind of evidence will be used to make a decision?


Box A.  The Psychologist and Philosopher William James (x Wikipedia).

William James 1842 –1910) was a pioneering Americanpsychologist and philosopher who was trained as a physician. He was the first educator to offer a psychology course in the U.S.[2] He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and on the philosophy of pragmatism.

Pragmatic theory of truth refers to those accounts, definitions, and theories of the concept truth that distinguish the philosophies of pragmatism and pragmaticism. The conception of truth in question varies along lines that reflect the influence of several thinkers, initially and notably, Charles Sanders PeirceWilliam James, and John Dewey, but a number of common features can be identified. The most characteristic features are (1) a reliance on the pragmatic maxim as a means of clarifying the meanings of difficult concepts, truth in particular, and (2) an emphasis on the fact that the product variously branded as beliefcertaintyknowledge, or truth is the result of a process, namely, inquiry.

=========== end Box

As of 2007 when Smith’s book was published the US and Canada are the only industrialized countries to not have GM labeling.  The EU requires labeling if GM crops were used in production regardless if it is detected in final products.  But they do not require labeling of milk and meat from animal fed GM crops.

Remember, when the choice comes up in November to have GM labeling be sure to check the box yes.





Are We Following Germany’s Pre-WWII Path?

Four major ways we’re following In Germany’s fascist footsteps

By Robert Cruickshank,

Topics: AlterNet, Conservatism, Germany, Nazis, U.S. Economy

(Credit: AP/Al Grillo/Salon)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

What happens when a nation that was once an economic powerhouse turns its back on democracy and on its middle class, as wealthy right-wingers wage austerity campaigns and enable extremist politics?

It may sound like America in 2012. But it was also Germany in 1932.

Most Americans have never heard of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s democratic interlude between World War I and World War II. Those who have usually see it as a prologue to the horrors of Nazi Germany, an unstable transition between imperialism and fascism. In this view, Hitler’s rise to power is treated as an inevitable outcome of the Great Depression, rather than the result of a decision by right-wing politicians to make him chancellor in early 1933.

Historians reject teleological approaches to studying the past. No outcome is inevitable, even if some are more likely than others. Rather than looking for predictable outcomes, we ought to be looking to the past to understand how systems operate, especially liberal capitalist democracies. In that sense, Weimar Germany holds many useful lessons for contemporary Americans. In particular, there are four major points of similarity between WeimarGermany and Weimar America worth examining.

1. Austerity. Today’s German leaders preach the virtues of austerity. They justify their opposition to the inflationary, growth-creating policies that Europe desperately needs by pointing to the hyperinflation that occurred in 1923, and which became one of the most enduring memories of the Weimar Republic. Yet the austerity policies enacted after the onset of the Depression produced the worst of Germany’s economic crisis, while also destabilizing the country’s politics. Cuts to wages, benefits and public programs dramatically worsened unemployment, hunger and suffering.

So far, austerity in America has largely taken place at the state and local levels. However, the federal government is now working on undemocratic national austerity plans, in the form of so-called “trigger cuts” slated to take effect at the end of 2012. In addition, there’s the Bowles-Simpson austerity plan to slash Medicare and Social Security benefits along with a host of other public programs; and the Ryan Budget, a blueprint for widespread federal austerity should the Republicans win control of the Congress and the White House in November.

2. Attacks on democracy. Austerity was deeply unpopular with the German public. The Reichstag, Germany’s legislature, initially rejected austerity measures in 1930. As a result, right-wing Chancellor Heinrich Brüning implemented his austerity measures by using a provision in the Weimar constitution enabling him to rule by decree. More notoriously, Hitler was selected as chancellor despite his party never having won an election — the ultimate slap at democracy. Both these events took place amidst a larger backdrop of anti-democratic attitudes rampant in the Weimar era. Monarchists, fascists and large businesses all resented the left-leaning politics of a newly democratic Germany, and supported politicians and intellectuals who pledged to return control to a more authoritarian government.

Democracy is far older in the United States today than it was in Germany during the early 1930s. But that doesn’t mean that democracy is actually respected in practice today; it only means that attacks on it can’t be as overt as they were in Weimar Germany. From the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling to Republican voter ID laws to austerity proposals that bypass the normal legislative processes (remember the Supercommission?), American democracy is under similar direct threats now.

3. Enabling of extremists. Well before Hitler was made chancellor in 1933, leading conservatives and business leaders had concluded that their interests would be better served by something other than the democratic system established in 1919. During the 1920s, they actively supported parties that promoted anti-democratic ideologies, from monarchism to authoritarianism. Nazis were just one of the many extremist groups that they supported during the Weimar era. In fact, initially, many on the German right had attempted to exclude the Nazis from their efforts; and as chancellor, Brüning had tried to marginalize the Nazi party. However, his successor, the right-wing Franz von Papen, believed he could control Hitler and needed the support of the Nazi members of the Reichstag. Conservative German leaders ultimately decided their hunger for power was more important than keeping extremists at bay — and their support finally gave the Nazi Party control of the country.

Tea Party activists aren’t Nazis. But with roots in the 20th century radical right, the Tea Party’s attack on the public sector, on labor unions, on democratic practices, and on people who aren’t white mark them as the extremist wing of American politics; and they bear many of the hallmarks that characterize fascist movements around the world. In recent years, Republican leaders have been enabling these extremists in a successful bid to reclaim political power lost to Democrats in 2006 and 2008. We don’t yet know where this enabling is going to lead the country, but it’s hard to imagine it will be anywhere good.

4. Right-wing and corporate dominance. One of the the most prominent German media moguls in the 1920s was Alfred Hugenberg, owner of 53 newspapers that reached over a majority of German readers. The chairman of the right-wing German National People’s Party, Hugenberg promoted Adolf Hitler by providing favorable coverage of him from the mid-1920s onward. Major German corporations such as Krupp, IG Farben and others spent money in the 1920s and early 1930s to support the rise of right-wing political parties, including the Nazis, as part of a strategy to undermine democracy and labor unions. Even if Hitler had never taken power, that strategy had already achieved significant returns on their substantial investment.

Here in the United States, one only needs to look at Charles and David Koch, Fox News and other right-wing funders and their media outlets to see the analogy. By funding right-wing politicians who promote austerity, undermine democracy and support extremism, they are active agents in the creation of Weimar America.

The Road Not Taken

None of this means that the United States is about to fall victim to a fascist coup d’etat as Germany did in January 1933. Remember that no outcome is inevitable. Nor would it be accurate to say that the United States is repeating the exact same events and taking the same course as Germany did during the 1930s, because many other important details are different. For example: Germany was a nation saddled with huge debts and lacking the global political power it needed to reverse its situation; but even with today’s high unemployment rates, the United States remains the globe’s largest economy, and therefore doesn’t face the same fiscal constraints Weimar Germany faced. In fact, a better current analogy may be Greece, which is in a far more similar predicament now.

Yet the underlying similarities ought to be troubling — and are enough to give us pause. The combination of austerity and well-funded right-wing political movements hostile to democracy destroyed Weimar Germany. And Spain and Italy both experienced a similar situation in their slide into authoritarianism in the 1930s. In those cases — and in ours — as people saw their own financial position weaken, and as their democratic rights were increasingly limited in favor of giving more power to the large corporations, the future of a democratic society with a strong middle-class was increasingly jeopardized. Fascism is what happens when right-wing plutocrats weaken the middle class and then convince it to turn its back on democracy.

Will Weimar America face the same disastrous fate Weimar Germany did? On our current path, democracy and shared prosperity are both in serious trouble. We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to our world to look to the lessons of history, find a way to change course, and get to work building something better.

Robert Cruickshank is a political activist and historian, and a senior advisor to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. The views expressed here are his own.




A Great Rant by Poet Appleman: The Meaning of Life

A terrific long essay full of historical facts and patterns along with a short biological history of the species and a critical examination of its social contract.  But above all this is the most succinct damming indictment of religious thinking and the full horrors of its abysmal abandonment of rational thought I have ever seen so far.  Appleman writes so beautifully and wraps up so much in so few words as to stun.  In addition Appleman concludes with the idea that life is all we have and we need to rethink how we live and enjoy what we have.  It’s like his final statement all wrapped up into one essay.  Its long but could be the last word on the subject any rationalist needs.  I found this by following links from Bill Moyers’ interview with Appleman in which he reads and comments on 5 of his poems.

William Olkowski, PhD

The Labyrinth: God, Darwin and the Meaning of Life

July 3, 2012

by Philip Appleman

Reprinted with permission from Free Inquiry magazine, Feb/Mar 2011

The simpler the society, the cruder the problems: we can imagine Neanderthals crouching in fear — of the tiger, of the dark, of thunder — but we do not suppose they had the leisure for exquisite neuroses.

We have changed all that. Replete with leisure time and creature comforts but nervously dependent on a network of unfathomable technologies, impatient with our wayward social institutions, repeatedly betrayed by our “spiritual” leaders, and often deceived by our own extravagant hopes, we wander the labyrinth asking ourselves: What went wrong?

The answers must begin with our expectations: What is it we want? And why? What kind of people are we?

A beast condemned to be more than a beast: that is the human condition. Our anatomy, the fossil record, and our genetic blueprint all make our lineage increasingly clear. As Charles Darwin revealed to us, we are indeed half brothers to the gorilla, cousins to the other mammals, relatives of all the vertebrates (and also distant kin to corn and to corn-borers, to bacteria and to penicillin). The structure of our bones testifies to our genealogy: the hand of a human is formed on the same pattern as the hand of an orangutan, the flipper of a seal, the wing of a bat. Embryology tells us more: the human embryo is barely distinguishable from that of a tortoise or a dog or a chicken. Our DNA defines and identifies us: we share more than 98 percent of our genetic heritage with our close relative the chimpanzee.

Slowly diverging from our forebears in the course of human evolution, we gradually developed a large brain capable of making generalizations and abstractions, of theorizing, of imagining things. Half animal, half aspiration, we were never as big as a bear, as speedy as a wolf, or as powerful as a lion, but we routed all of those competitors because the large brain proved to be the ultimate weapon: it made us the supreme tool-using and arms-bearing animal. The hairy mammoth, so huge as to seem invulnerable, became our prey.

Every gain carries loss on its back. The brain that could imagine a useful tool could also imagine spiritual kingdoms and invent a “divine” creation. In this primal fiction, the human species assigned itself the role of Chosen People. The other animals, our biological family, became in this perspective mere fodder, and we presumed dominion over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air, and every living thing that moves upon the earth.

Our loss of innocence was not because we devoured an apple; it was because we made the chauvinistic assumption that all other living things are expendable and subject to our whims. Once lost, innocence cannot be recovered. It remains to be seen whether maturity or wisdom can replace it; as a species, we have hardly ever tested those qualities.

Divine right is a convenient argument for imperialists. Deus vult, “God wills it,” serves not only aggressor nations but aggressor species, too. The human assault on the plant and animal kingdoms has always been based on the explicit or implicit assumption of divine authority — an assumption so arrogant and so dissociated from reality that it is inherently unstable and self-destructive.

Clinging to our “divine” prerogatives, we cannot avoid that devastation: in our fantasies of godlike superiority are the seeds of neurosis; and when they bear their dragon fruit, we run for the mind-healers.

The mind-healers instruct us in what we already know: that we begin our lives in total helplessness but with boundless desire; that our dependency, and therefore this inner contradiction, persists for many years; that we cannot escape this dilemma unless we develop a sense of objective reality and a willingness to postpone desire, to limit our craving, and to channel our energies in useful, or anyway socially acceptable, activities. We have to acknowledge that there is a world of living things around us deserving our attention and respect.

If we cannot make that adjustment to external reality, we fall prey to anxiety, a straitjacket that restricts our ability to make reasonable choices. Then the unreal becomes our reality, and we grope our way through that labyrinth pursued by the terrors of our own imagination.

The large brain is the ultimate weapon, and sometimes it is aimed at us. We are capable of abstractions and of imagining things; that is part of the problem. We imagine all sorts of useful and pleasant things: wheels, shoes, poems. But the imagination refuses to stop before it is too late and proceeds to invent sinister hells, sumptuous heavens, and miscellaneous hypotheses like “God.”

God is an unnecessary hypothesis, but for many people suffering the terrors of the imagination, it is a seductive one. People in general have never exhibited much passion for the disciplined pursuit of knowledge, but they are always tempted by easy answers. God is an easy answer.

Why are we here? Where will we spend eternity? The brain has become capable of inventing questions to which there are no satisfactory answers. For such questions, God is a convenience: the unanswerable question is referred to the undefinable Being, and lo, we have the impression of an answer, though in fact we know no more than before. This seems to soothe some minds temporarily, as an empty bottle may soothe a crying baby; the nourishment from each is the same. God is a term that deliberately masks our ignorance.

Whenever God is invoked, language and sense part company. For that very reason, God has practical and political uses that partly account for its survival as a hypothesis. Among its other conveniences, God has always comforted aggressors by blessing the carnage of battle: armies carry their own chaplains. God is described as that which knows everything and is all-powerful. If so, then there is no escaping the conclusion that God is ultimately responsible for everything that happens: for the Holocaust, for the carpet-bombing of primitive villages, for the defilement of children, for slavery. Priests have been on hand to sanction all of those activities: God is a serviceable bureaucrat.

The worship of the undefinable is necessarily illogical: “Praise the mercy and goodness of God for saving my life,” says the survivor of an earthquake in which God, with complete indifference, has just brushed away a thousand lives.

The large brain, that masterpiece of evolution capable of wonder but unpracticed in reasoning, throws patterns across the stars: Aquarius, Taurus, Capricorn. To invent these images is poetry; to believe in them is faith. God’s survival depends upon our peopling the heavens with angels and archangels, chimeras of our banal imagination. No wonder the prophets thundered against the sin of knowledge, the sin of pride: God depends upon our ignorance as much as any magician.

Learning is hard work; imagining is easy. Given our notorious capacity for indolence, is it any wonder that school is so unpopular, faith so attractive? So we fumble through the labyrinth of our lives, making believe that we have heard answers to our questions, even to our prayers; and yet, deep down, we know that something is out of joint, has always been out of joint. How long? we lament. How long, O Lord?

The only answer from the clouds is that the Lord thy God is a jealous God. And that’s not all. God is also, judging from his own written record, vindictive, tyrannical, narcissistic, bloodthirsty, bigoted, and irresponsible. It is hard to imagine why anyone would want to be cast in that image. And yet so powerful are the urges of anxiety and neurosis that people quite seriously wish to emulate this moral aberration. Why should that be?

Recall that the essential characteristics of the infant’s personality are selfishness and boundless desire. To grow out of infancy and childhood, it is necessary to adjust to the reality of the outer world, which inevitably means limiting our desires in accordance with conditions in that real world around us. That’s straightforward enough.

Throughout that real world, though, are embedded the booby traps of theology. The most dangerous of these is the seductive promise of an eternity of infinite delight — just what we have been painstakingly weaned away from since our infantile years. Now, once again, the priests deliberately tempt us with these blandishments, exhort us to desire eternal bliss, and persuade us to feel guilty if we do not.

And yet there is no guarantee that we’ll ever get that grand prize, because the distributor of the awards is the same capricious tyrant who flatly refused to explain cosmic justice even to one of his favorites, Job, and who informs us that eternal delight is his to distribute as he sees fit, quite apart from our merits and according to a whimsical quality called “grace.” God either gives grace and rewards us for having it or withholds grace and punishes us for lacking it. EvenLas Vegascasinos give better odds than that.

No wonder, then, that religion, in pandering to our infantile wishes, leaves us unfit for dealing with reality. No wonder that under such pressures so many people become confused and ill, believing they are something they are not. No wonder they are so often reduced to a state of primitive anguish, calling for help to the barren stars.

The fact is that religion is not simply a maladaptive factor in our lives; it was specifically designed by its various priesthoods to be maladaptive, charging us to abjure “this world.” Attention to an afterlife necessarily reduces our interest in this life, but the problem goes deeper than that: the glittering image of paradise breeds actual contempt for “this world.”

So in terms of our personal maturity, the dream of heaven is an outright affliction. Given a fair chance, this life can be well worth living, but in the context of infinite rewards, our small struggles and occasional victories on this blue-green planet always seem like petty stuff. Under the crystalline dome of our medieval theological heaven, life becomes a hothouse that nourishes frustration and neurosis.

Some examples are in order. Consider the religious people we have known all our lives. Consider history. Consider the daily news.

In the U.S. Army during World War II and afterward in the Merchant Marine, I encountered many curious notions. One of my army buddies once solemnly advised me that I could cure my “weak eyes” (i.e., myopia) by washing them in urine, and a Merchant Marine watchmate insisted that “Some people would be real sons of bitches if it wasn’t for religion.”

The seaman who pronounced that bit of piety was, to my firsthand knowledge, a drunk, a liar, a cheat, and an adulterer. Perhaps he thought of these qualities as his perverse credentials for setting moral standards, the seagoing equivalent of the opinionated bald barber or the arrogant, cigarette-smoking doctor. As I enumerate the liars, cheats, and lechers I have known personally, I realize that most of them were conventional believers, whereas my agnostic and atheist friends are mostly honest, kindly, generous, and clean-living.

We may account for this divergent behavior partly on the assumption that religious people can “afford” to be immoral: all they need to do to exonerate themselves from sin, immorality, and undetected crime is to ask forgiveness — rather like the goddess Venus, who revirginized herself after every orgy. If God exists, the old saying should go, then anything is permissible.

Nonreligious people have no such easy out. Their moral accountability is not to some whimsical spirit in the sky, famous for easy absolutions such as three Hail Marys and ten seconds of contrition. They must account to themselves and live with their own conduct; they cannot shift their shortcomings onto God’s shoulders. Therefore, they have to be more careful about making mistakes, and this leads naturally to an acute sensitivity to the plight of their fellow human beings. The social instincts, said the agnostic Charles Darwin, lead naturally to the golden rule.

Another way to account for the morality of unbelievers is that they are less perverted by the antisocial tendencies of religious thinking, including the seductions of fanaticism. Some people professed astonishment at the religious mania of nine hundred devotees of the Reverend Jim Jones, falling face down inGuyanain a mass suicide-murder. And yet that act was a testimony to the very essence of religion: a wholeheartedly sincere belief in a personal redeemer.

InIran, after the Shah was dethroned, his priestly successors sent thousands to their deaths by kangaroo court and firing squads: that was an act of religious fervor, proudly affirmed as such by its perpetrators.

These are by no means isolated or unusual occurrences. To the fanatical mind, the act of pure religion has always been an act of pure violence: the hanging of “witches” by pious Protestants; the massacres of Huguenots, Albigensians, Incas, and Aztecs by pious Catholics; the starvation of Armenians by pious Muslims; the slaughter of Midianites, Amalekites, and Philistines by pious Hebrews; and the slaughter of Jews by pious Christians throughout two thousand years of “Western civilization.”

And of course that characteristic religious fanaticism continues and accelerates today, so that in recent years we have witnessed all of the following:

• Catholics killing Protestants (and vice versa) inIreland

• Christians killing Muslims (and vice versa) inLebanon

• Muslims killing Hindus (and vice versa) inIndia

• Hindus killing Buddhists (and vice versa) inSri Lanka

• Jews killing Muslims (and vice versa) inPalestine

• Muslims killing Christians (and vice versa) inEgypt,Algeria,Azer­baijan,Indonesia, andNigeria

• Roman Catholics killing Orthodox Christians (and vice versa) in the formerYugoslavia— and both of them killing Muslims (and vice versa)

• Sunni Muslims killing Shiites (and vice versa) inIraq, and Shiites killing Baha’is inIran

• Religious fanatics killing tourists in Egypt, unveiled teenage girls in Algiers, subway commuters in Tokyo, thousands at the World Trade Center, yeshiva students in Brooklyn, and doctors and their patients in Florida, New York, Alabama, Massachusetts, and Kansas

Religion stalks across the face of human history, knee-deep in the blood of innocents, clasping its red hands in hymns of praise to an approving God.

World history is full of accounts of fanatical ideologies careening toward human tragedy, but rarely has there been a more forceful demonstration of the disastrous effects of religious ideologies than at this moment. And yet, in the midst of a worldwide bloodbath in the name of religion, Americans are being relentlessly bullied into an uncritical deference to religion by their clerical and political shamans. High-powered censorship campaigns by well-financed religious groups constantly assault our writers, artists, teachers, and musicians and our schools, libraries, films, books, and magazines.

There is also a very personal side to what we must consider “the religion problem.” When we begin to think of our recent roster of ministers of religion, those “holy men,” we encounter a veritable Chaucerian gallery of rogues and felons. For we now have seen:

• the Reverend Jim Bakker imprisoned for fraud and conspiracy

• the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart humiliated in sex scandals and in violation of federal tax laws

• the Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors lusting for the blood of a writer

• his holiness the pope obstructing birth control programs in hungry, vastly overpopulated nations

• Rabbi Meir Kahane making a political career out of religious hatreds

• the Reverend Sun Myung Moon imprisoned for tax evasion

• 162 televangelists under investigation for financial irregularities

• thousands of Roman Catholic priests charged with sexual abuse, child molestation, indecent assault, corruption of minors, and sexual battery

As a certain prophet once said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” To believe that religion keeps people from being “sons of bitches” is about as sensible as believing that a good washing in urine will cure your weak eyes.

But it is not by their deeds that the world’s religions wish to be judged — or usually are judged. The most outrageous “religious” behavior is always absorbed into the spongy justification of means-to-a-good-end, and it is never the victims of persecution and fanaticism who hold the attention of the faithful; it is the towering cathedral, soaring rhetoric, and official parades of good intentions. This perversion of perspective is the triumph of The Ultimate Organization.

Priesthoods begin in vision and prophecy: sometimes benevolent, sometimes cruel, but always somehow “spiritual” — the product of some personal insight. Eventually, however, priesthoods follow the trend of all civilized life, getting themselves organized and losing their personal nature, whereupon the original vision fades or becomes distorted, and The Organization itself becomes the object of self-preservation, aggrandizing itself in monumental buildings, pompous rituals, mazes of rules and regulations, and a relentless grinding toward autocracy.

None of the other priesthoods have managed all this as successfully as the early Christian clergy, which expediently allied itself with the secular powers and modeled its own structure after the most successful empire of its time, complete with top-to-bottom control and a self-selecting, self-perpetuating bureaucracy. Thus the “Roman” church created for itself a kind of secular immortality sustained by a tight network of binding regulations, rigid hierarchies, and local fiefdoms, which people are born or are coerced or seduced into — and then find that confining maze almost impossible to escape from.

But with that pervasive and aggressive organization came the attendant problems. Small organizations may make small mistakes; large ones are in constant danger of making catastrophic mistakes, nationwide and continentwide errors, vast programs of wrongheadedness and social depredation, all enforced by their organizational efficiency. So we look back and see the murderous “Christian” Crusades with their millions of innocent victims; we see the centuries of European Catholic/Protestant wars leaving behind vast landscapes of death and devastation; we see compliance in and justification for genocide against the American Indians; we see mainstream religious support for the institution of human slavery; and we see the brutal religious repression of valuable human knowledge by burning scientists at the stake or threatening them with barbaric tortures.

In our own time, the Roman Catholic Church has made the gravest error of all: setting its worldwide power and influence against the clear and urgent need for sensible population limitation. Largely because of that influence, human populations are now well beyond the carrying capacity of the earth and are rapidly expanding, especially in the poorest countries. As a direct result, we see increasingly devastating human misery: hunger, malnutrition, starvation, poverty, illness, illiteracy, joblessness, and homelessness — not to mention the consequent degradation of our environment and the destruction of countless other species who used to share this planet with us.

In the midst of all this social and moral wreckage, the priests try to maintain a facade of “doing good,” repeating their protestations of love and charity — all while their real activities are wrecking human lives and human hopes on a vast scale. There is a word for this kind of activity, talking about love while blighting people’s lives: it is hypocrisy.

Consider the fruits of hypocrisy: if we truly believed we were being audited daily for an account in heaven and that faith and good works were the outward and visible signs of grace, then of course the uses of this world would seem weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable, and we would turn our full attention to acts of piety. There would be little interest then in such homely satisfactions as good work or good cooking or good tennis. The arts would be viewed as trivial amusements or as temptations of the devil, and music and poetry would wither away for lack of interest. Love would be chastened and sex abjured for fear of irreverent fervor. Weeds would grow up in the cracks of the human spirit.

Fortunately, such consequences rarely occur in real life, because most of the people who give lip service to religion retain a healthy skepticism about it. This is the benevolent face of hypocrisy. Except perhaps for a few cloistered individuals, nobody these days sacrifices many things of this world for the alleged glories of the afterlife, although gurus and holy books exhort us all to do so — and indeed if we were truly counting on an eternal reward, that would make sense. No earthly pleasure, not even a romantic dinner or a Shakespeare sonnet or a painting by Cézanne, is worth the risk of losing heaven. Yet few people are abjuring the world; we are taking the cash and letting the credit go. So much the better.

The trouble is, some of us can’t seem to stop worrying about an afterlife that we don’t really believe in, and as a result the toadstools of neurosis spring up in the dank labyrinth of our psyches. On the one hand, when we momentarily break free from the snaky coils of childhood teachings, we find ourselves fretting about our apostasy. On the other hand, when we sheepishly return to orthodox reverence, our self-respect is automatically diminished, and we regret the opportunities for personal growth and adventure that we are missing.

Most of us need to be much tougher-minded, more resolute in rejecting the bribes of the afterlife. Once definitely done with our adolescent longing for the Absolute, we would find this world valuable after all — and poignantly valuable precisely because it is not eternal. Doomed to extinction, our loves, our work, our friendships, our tastes are all painfully precious. We look about us, on the streets and in the subways, and discover that we are beautiful because we are mortal, priceless because we are so rare in the universe and so fleeting. Whatever we are, whatever we make of ourselves, is all we will ever have — and that, in its profound simplicity, is the meaning of life.

Evolving from an earthy past, from a family line that was hairy, tailed, and arboreal, how can we presume to ponder the meaning of life? Yet the large brain is a restless organ, and it will not stop asking questions, even presumptuous ones.

We are equipped with abstractions, with imagination. The trick is to use these sharp tools without getting hurt. When they help us to understand the world as it is, we must be grateful. When they create destructive fantasies, we must be on guard. According to the old holy books and the old philosophies, we were designed by benevolent gods.Darwinshowed, on the contrary, that we are the product of war, famine, and death. Pre-Darwinian philosophies were constructed on false premises and are therefore basically flawed.

Ever sinceDarwinwe have known that we came this way not by design but by random variation and the directive natural forces of selection and adaptation. To go on looking for design around us, outside us, is a destructive fantasy. It prohibits maturity.

And yet design is one of our fondest imaginings, and we will not abandon it. If it doesn’t exist outside ourselves, we will create it inside, in our work and our loves, in our art and our avocations. This is not a trivial endeavor: we stake our happiness on it. We create the abstraction of love beyond sex and can, with difficulties, be faithful to it. We entertain the notion of truth and set out to test it. We imagine freedom and try to achieve it. We are able to control these designs because we have constructed them and set their rules.

If we come to maturity by recognizing what is outside us, we come to wisdom by knowing what is inside. Balancing our desires and aspirations, orchestrating our responses to the world we encounter and our initiatives to the world we create, we teach ourselves all we will ever know about the meaning of life.

To presume to understand the meaning of life — what arrogance! Just look in a mirror: we are all dying animals, flyspecks on history. Our lives are a speeded-up film, jerkily passing from childhood to maturity to decrepitude to death: the career of a mayfly.

So a philosophy of life must account for death, and so should a psychology of life. To the other animals, death is an accident. Our large brain makes it a tragedy, and tragedy calls for reasons: Why? Why me? And reasons indeed the large brain has, reasons the heart does not know.

Some of them are make-believe, the mumbo-jumbo of theologians; some are other kinds of wishful thinking. But now we are after the truth, nothing but the truth, and this is how it begins: once upon a time, in the cosmic neighborhood of our galaxy, a vast cloud of dust and gases condensed into a mass so hot and so dense that it became a huge thermonuclear reactor — a star. In its gravitational field smaller condensations became planets, and on at least one of these, after it cooled, primitive oceans formed, providing conditions that could subsequently bring forth organic compounds, then molecules, then primitive cells. Some of these eventually began to photosynthesize, and entities were then well on their way to a splendid proliferation that later, by the process of natural selection, became ferns, conifers, herbs, and flowers and also reptiles, birds, insects, and mammals — including us.

As the orderly processes of nature go their ways, genetic discrepancies frequently occur in living things: blips on the screen of uniformity. They are almost always maladaptive and quickly suppressed. Out of many discrepancies, occasionally one is useful or opportunistic, and new characteristics thus enter the gene pool. A dozen or a hundred or a thousand more, and then another accretion: that is how we crept all the way from photosynthetic algae to oxygen-breathing primates.

Nowhere along the way was any all-powerful creator needed to step in and shape things. The process has always run itself and goes on running itself. So here we stand, after billions of years of stability and billions of years of change: human beings, upright and cerebral, capable of anything, the most admirable and despicable animal on Earth, making symphonies and sadism, medicine and malice. With Homo sapiens, a wild card is loose in the deck. We invent names for it: consciousness, intelligence, free will. Like a sub-atomic particle, it is impossible to observe in a pure, unaltered state, but we realize that it is there: we think, therefore we are.

Knowing what we know, suspecting what we suspect about the compelling determinations of our genes and the stern persuasions of our culture, how do we square all this logically with the odd notion of free will? By recognizing that there are no absolutes in nature. A totally persuasive environment is a fairy tale of the mind. The large brain can imagine a hermetic prison of the environment, but in the real world there are too many cracks in the structure of our conditioning to permit it to be a prison for the imagination. We imagine ourselves free, and therefore, within unknown limits, we are free.

We will never know precisely what those limits are. You see, says the mind, you are trapped in your labyrinth. You see, says the imagination, you are free. Both are correct. The Absolute has turned its back.

With that understanding, we can come to terms with the irreducible fact of death.


1881 portrait of Charles Darwin; Credit: John Collier

Charles, after many years of hard work and illness, controversy and honor, lay on his deathbed. A biographer tells us: “During the night of April 18th [1882], about a quarter to twelve, he had a severe attack and passed into a faint, from which he was brought back to consciousness with great difficulty. He seemed to recognize the approach of death, and said, ‘I am not the least afraid to die.’” Those were his last words.

Living among the relentless Victorian pieties, educated to be a clergyman, surrounded by threats of literal burning hellfire: why didn’tDarwinfear death? Part of the answer is that by the time he was a mature man, he simply knew too much about the real world to be frightened by superstitions. The once-orthodox Cambridge undergraduate had, he said, “gradually come . . . to see that the Old Testament, from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos or the beliefs of any barbarian.”

Another reasonDarwindidn’t fear death and hellfire is that he could not take seriously religious threats that were openly sadistic. “I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true: for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that [those] who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother, and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. . . . And this is a damnable doctrine.”

Throughout his adult life,Darwintook a deep human satisfaction in his important work, in the comradeship of his friends, and in the love of his family. That was enough, and he was not merely content with it; ill though he often was, he was a happy man.

And he was not afraid to die.

Death,Darwinknew, is simply a natural part of a natural process. Death is always out there, waiting: only its timing is in doubt. Eventually we will have played our small part in the great system of nature and passed on, leaving the system intact. We are, we have always been, a part of nature in the same way tigers or termites are.

Priests and preachers in most religions refuse to accept this sensible view of things. “Eternal Life,” they cry — thus thwarting all hope of a mature personal philosophy. By promising glory in a glittering but unreal eternity, they sour our satisfactions in a brief but genuine present. They portray a God who supposedly plans all things reasonably and wisely. After all, if we are reasonable, surely God must be supremely reasonable. Our bodies, we are told, are temples, so we treat them with respect and look forward to our threescore and ten years.

But God, it turns out, has something else in mind for us, and eventually we find out that God is not only whimsical but also a vandal. After years of our taking good care of our tidy little temples, God suddenly and without explanation breaks down the door, smashes the windows, rips the paintings, and slashes the furniture. All of our lives we have been prudent: about diet, about drinking and smoking, about doing everything in moderation — and all of a sudden, without any warning at all, God shrieks in our ear: Cancer!

But what if you are not religious when cancer slips up without warning, threatening death? You do not fear death any more thanDarwindid, but you hate it. You hate the loss, and the sorrow of leaving behind bereaved family and friends. So in your mind, and in the minds of those who love you, there is a sharp pain, a conscious rage at being mortal. Ants and alligators must also die, but they do not face that fact with rage or regret; those feelings are human.

Religion says: console yourself, there will be another chance, another life. Two things are wrong with this: first, there is not a shred of evidence for it; second, it is a sop, consciously intended to blunt our rage and regret, thus dehumanizing us. Our anger at death is precious, testifying to the value of life; our sorrow for family and friends testifies to our devotion. Every noble quality we possess depends for its poignant value on our natural brevity. Our final pain is mortal, and our own; we will not have it cheapened by the seductions of an alleged immortality.

Face to face with death, we realize: the meaning of life is inside our lives, not outside them. We cannot impose on our experience a meaningfulness that we have not ourselves built into it. Our true philosophy of life is whatever we choose to do from moment to moment. If we regularly behave honestly and decently to those around us, then our philosophy is clearly a healthy and adaptive one, accounting for our lives in terms of our whole social environment. The sum total of our actions at a given time constitutes our philosophy of life.

Darwinon his deathbed could look back at forty-three years of devotion to a loving wife and forty-five years of devotion to a grand idea. At the end, he had one characteristic regret: that he could not somehow have lived two lives so that one could have been spent in full-time philanthropic work. The mind is tyrannically ambitious: the flesh cannot keep pace with it. Still,Darwinwas content; he had made his commitments, and he had kept them.

If the meaning of life is simply the fabric of our whole existence, then no wonder our brief careers seem to us so illogically precious, so worth clinging to. Self-preservation: even at the molecular level, is there a kind of self-interest in all that nonstop microscopic scurrying? Certainly at the level of the amoeba there is, and “up” through the scale of living things; it’s always there, the fundamental imperative of life: survival. Preachers may sneer at this, but notice: they continue to pass the collection plate.

If we are to make any sense of what we call “moral principles,” we have to begin with the basic Darwinian fact of self-preservation. At all levels of animal life, this of course means looking out for number one; but at “higher” biological levels (not to mention the ants, wolves, and other “social animals”), self-preservation also means extending our perceptions of survival beyond the individual: to the family, to the clan, to the tribe. At a certain stage of our social development, it becomes possible — indeed essential — for people to see that a more effective conception of self-interest includes wider and wider circles of mutual interest: the nation, the continent, the world. At that stage, we come to understand that our personal well-being is substantially dependent on the well-being of people we have never seen and never will.

But even at “primitive” levels of social understanding, human beings (no doubt including proto-humans for millions and millions of years) have recognized that in order to live together in communities — as people must, in order to survive — we have to have some basic mutual understandings, tacit or explicit, some ground rules by which we try to abide. AsDarwinobserved, these always come down to a kind of golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. This very basic idea was undoubtedly worked out, evolved, as a social necessity, a practical understanding independent of mystical insights; its virtually worldwide acknowledgment makes it certain that it is not the unique property of any one culture, much less of any one religion.

Darwin was often successful in his hunches, not because he was lucky but because he knew so much, worked so hard, thought so long and so clearly, and was so smart. Thinking about our social ground rules, he surmised that after millions of years of living together in communities, our social behavior might be to some extent inherited. Darwin called it “social instinct,” the inheritance from our long past not only of the self-preservation imperative, the so-called animalistic urges that often make people extraordinarily selfish and even ruthless, but also our tendencies for “good” social behavior: showing respect for others, fair dealing, honesty — and, by a natural extension, kindness and charitableness. IfDarwinwas right about that hunch, then we all must “intuitively” recognize basic “right” from basic “wrong” in any given circumstance; that innate awareness is perhaps the foundation of what we call “conscience.” But even if it turns out thatDarwinwas wrong, we would nevertheless be obliged to pass along, as part of our collective social experience, those same tendencies.

Once our species had evolved to social consciousness and communal morality, people naturally began to express their social approval with praise and to enforce their disapproval with contempt, anger, and ostracism. The gravest social offenses required sterner measures, so societies everywhere had to prohibit them by custom, taboo, and law, with penalties for violators. The social policing of community ethics thus would have begun as a secular necessity, not as a religious function. By the time the talented Cro-Magnon artists painted the caves atLascaux, those moral sanctions had no doubt long since been part of our evolutionary inheritance — tens of thousands of years before the Bible, before the Vedas, before the Dhammapada, the Zend-Avesta, or the Qur’an.

But as a famous atheist once said, “If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent one.” And of course we did: that is when our big problems began. Evolution on this planet is billions of years older than religion; but when religion finally came along, thousands of years after evolution had developed our social instincts, it co-opted our socially evolved good impulses and encumbered them with a myriad of disparate, controversial, and contradictory gods, priesthoods, scriptures, myths, and dogmas.

Of course, we also retained our so-called animal instincts, right along with our highly evolved social instincts, and some people have always been motivated more by their primitive than by their evolved natures. When religions preempted the job of disciplining such antisocial people, they tried to deal with them both by the promise of heaven and by the threat of hell. But neither of those sanctions has ever worked very well, which is why (among other things) totally immersed Southern Baptists always performed the lynchings for the Ku Klux Klan, nice Catholic boys have always run the Mafia, a devout Jew murdered his peace-loving prime minister, and in a notorious American election, pious white church-going Christians voted 2 to 1 for a declared Nazi. After five thousand years of Judaic Jeremiads and two thousand years of Christian polemics, we find ourselves in what some people choose to call a “Christian nation,” where the prisons are crowded with obdurate felons, most of whom believe in God.

The problem is not that antisocial people don’t know what’s right and wrong or good and bad. AsDarwinsuggested, they may even have inherited that knowledge; in any case, it is all taught and reinforced by our laws, by families, and by schools. The problem is not that they don’t know but that they don’t care. Consider this opinion: “The earth is degenerating in these latter days. Bribery and corruption abound. Children no longer obey their parents, and it is evident that the end of the world is rapidly approaching.” That is from an Assyrian tablet about five thousand years old — but similar laments are common throughout recorded history and under every political and religious regime. Clearly a perennial question must be: how can people be taught, or encouraged, to care about right and wrong? If not simply by precept then perhaps by example?

Our social and political leaders, given their professed religiosity, might be expected to be inspiring social role models, but they have often failed in that service. This is partly because the economic and political systems they represent and embody have customarily been patterned not on our evolved social instincts — our evolutionary golden rule — but on our more primitive survival instincts. Most of us understand that our survival cannot be a matter of simply eat-or-be-eaten; our survival depends upon widening our circle of mutual support. But opportunistic politicians and feral businessmen have almost always set our social tone and social standards, so it is no surprise that our evolved social instincts are so often overwhelmed by primitive selfishness and a callous disregard for the less fortunate. As La Rochefoucauld observed, we all have enough strength to bear the misfortunes of others. Clearly some other role models are needed. Let us look again to science.

We are always moralists, Dr. Johnson said, but only occasionally mathematicians. It is usually assumed that science, strictly speaking, has no ethics, that the gap between what is and what ought to be is broad and unbridgeable. But our ethics, whatever its source, can hardly emerge from a vacuum of knowledge; in fact our knowledge often tempers our ethical inclinations. Scientific knowledge has at the bare minimum a selective ethical function, identifying false issues that we can reasonably ignore — imagined astrological influences on our moral decisions, for instance. Science offers us the opportunity of basing our ethical choices on factual data and true relationships rather than on misconceptions or superstitions; that must be considered a valuable service.

Beyond that selective function, biological information has often been directly used (and misused) to support various types of ethical thinking. Unscrupulous people have sometimes appealed to spurious readings of scientific data in order to bulwark their arguments; that is what happened to Darwinism when Nazis perverted it in an attempt to legitimize their racist ideology. It is an understandable wariness of this kind of perversion that heats up the disputes about race, gender, and intelligence today.

More characteristically, though, the growth of scientific knowledge has tended to have socially progressive implications. Factual knowledge of the physical world has on the whole been a better basis for human understanding, human solidarity, and human sympathy than were folklore or superstition. The old myth-supported notions of tribal and racial supremacy have been superseded, at least among the educated, by the biological knowledge that we are one people, one species, in one world.

Finally, the scientific temper of mind is itself of service to moralists, sometimes supplementary to and sometimes superior to, our social instincts. It is the “objective” scientists, these days, who are often in the vanguard of ethical thought; they are, for instance, enlarging our understanding of the capacities of the higher mammals and of our moral responsibilities with respect to them. The fascinating work of Jane Goodall and others with primate societies in Africahas not only broadened our knowledge of primate behavior, but it has, in the process, illuminated the kinship of humans and the other animals. Human beings, proud of the role of Homo faber, the creative animal, the toolmaker, now have to share this role with the clever chimps who, we have now learned, also have a distinct sense of self, a consciousness of individual personality. No wonder scientists are beginning to ask, quite seriously, as Carl Sagan did, questions like “If chimpanzees have consciousness, if they are capable of abstractions, do they not have what until now has been described as ‘human rights’? How smart does a chimpanzee have to be before killing him constitutes murder?”

There may be no absolute values in ethics, but there are relative values in the various existing ethical systems; one could make a persuasive case that those systems that are not only the most altruistic but also sensitive to the broadest constituencies are, by virtue of those qualities, superior to the others. Richard Dawkins writes, “If I say that I am more interested in preventing the slaughter of large whales than I am in improving housing conditions for people, I am likely to shock some of my friends.” And he adds, “Whether the ethic of ‘speciesism’ . . . can be put on a logical footing any more sound that that of ‘racism,’ I do not know. What I do know is that it has no proper basis in evolutionary biology.”

Our arrogant primal fiction cast the whole human race in the role of Chosen People and reduced all other living things to fodder, subject to our whims. With a growing recognition among biologists of the ugly and self-defeating aspects of that archaic speciesism, we may have reason to foresee a future consensus that a narrowly species-centered ethics is inadequate, not so much to our emotions (which have almost always failed us in this matter) but to our reason, now under instruction by new biological perceptions.

In the truly well-balanced human being (that will-o’-the-wisp of utopian thought), reason and emotion would be always in harmony, indeed in symbiotic function. In the meantime, it is reassuring to discover that biologists, engaged in “objective” research, so often become passionate about their work and about the world it affects. Our cautious and rational perception of truth, it appears, sometimes causes, and sometimes is served by, moral fervor.

None of this would be so evident or so pertinent to our lives if biology were not a science so thoroughly unified by the principle of evolution as to afford philosophical perspectives of its own. We owe that unification, of course, to Charles Darwin. Evolution by natural selection continues to serve biologists in their professional work and to inspire them to earnest pondering about our place in the universe; some of the wisest thinkers writing about the human condition today are biologists.

Could it be that a fuller, broader understanding of our biological condition might encourage people to care about right and wrong? “The moral faculties,” Darwinwrote in The Descent of Man, “are generally and justly esteemed as of higher value than the intellectual powers. But we should bear in mind that the activity of the mind . . . is one of the fundamental though secondary bases of conscience. This affords the strongest argument for educating and stimulating in all possible ways the intellectual faculties of every human being.”

“Many things are at hand,” wrote Pope Gregory the Great in 601 C.E., “wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes . . . [but] let not your mind be in any way disturbed; for these [are but] signs of the end of the world.” In other words, wars, famines, and plagues are not social problems demanding solutions but only ineluctable divine retribution, which makes the other face of religious escapism social irresponsibility. “God’s will” becomes a thin mask for social cynicism.

Writing twelve hundred years later, Charles Darwin supplied an unintentional gloss on that pope’s remark: “To those who fully admit the immortality of the human soul, the destruction of our world will not appear so dreadful.”

The diversions of the Romans were bread and circuses; in our time they are sensational crime, sporting events, the sexual behavior of celebrities, and religious escapism. Nourished on such pap, many people find themselves lost in the labyrinth of neurosis and succumb to easy answers and seductive promises. The priests need not soon fear for their jobs.

Those rare women and men who seriously ponder our own dark ages rarely have illusions about converting the masses to rigorous thought; the poor in spirit have always been with us and will surely be with us for a long, long time. Short of any quick conversions, though, there is still a value in the ranks of thoughtful people speaking out and testifying, for only an utterly hopeless cynic would surrender the distant future along with the present. Every small light in the pervading darkness, from Giordano Bruno and Galileo to Thomas Paine and Charles Darwin and to Margaret Sanger and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, is valuable and necessary. Like characters in a perpetual Chekhov drama, we can imagine a more enlightened future age looking back on our time with distaste and incredulity but nevertheless acknowledging those voices in our wilderness who kept the Enlightenment alive until humanity in general became worthy of it.

The history of law in the West, after all, records our gradual transition away from the traditional religious resort to vengeance and toward a secular and humanistic confidence in reason and social equity; away from religion-sponsored vindictiveness (an eye for an eye) and toward the secular and humanistic reasonableness of non-cruel and non-unusual punishment; away from centuries of religion-sanctioned human slavery and toward the secular and humanistic ideals of freedom of speech, thought, and belief; away from religion-sponsored “blue laws” that required barbarous punishment for trivial offenses and toward the secular and humanistic standard of due process in all things legal; away from the Islamic practice of chopping off the hands of thieves or the Christian practice of burning heretics alive and toward the secular and humanistic goal of separation of church and state, so that the one may not tyrannize over, exploit, or directly manipulate the other, as they always had before the humanistic Enlightenment changed things in the West.

Contrary to the popular cliché, we can and do “legislate morality” in our secular state: it is, for example, both immoral and illegal in most circumstances to kill, to steal, to embezzle, to lie under oath, to rape, or to abuse children. Although various religions proscribe many other offenses as well, our society has not felt all of them sufficiently grave or sufficiently public to warrant legal penalties. The above examples of moral legislation, however, have broad social support, and their moral imperatives are therefore enforced by the police and the criminal courts.

For a law of any sort to be effective, what is minimally necessary is a general awareness of its correctness, its evenhandedness, and its necessity. Attempts to regulate our personal habits by law have had varying fortunes. The attempt to prohibit traffic in liquor failed in this country because there was not a sufficient conviction on the part of the public that drinking was significantly harmful to anyone but the drinker (except when the drinker is driving, which is universally illegal). On the other hand, recent attempts to regulate smokers have been more successful because of the accumulating evidence of harm to others.

As long as laws are reasonable and arrived at democratically, most people will tend to obey them even when they know they can get away with breaking them: not killing, not stealing, not even running stoplights are all normally taken for granted. No matter how reasonable a law seems to some people, however, it will not be honored by all unless the society that sponsors it offers fairness and opportunity. “The law in its majestic equality,” wrote AnatoleFrance, “forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.” Millionaires do not commonly rob candy stores or push drugs on street corners; their offenses are of a more rarefied order. But as long as there is a permanent underclass, a substantial body of people who cannot find a way of sharing in the fruits of society, that underclass will always be a threat to the social fabric because, although human beings can, in difficult times, tolerate hardship, they will not accept flagrant unfairness indefinitely; an aggrieved underclass will always be trying to “get even.” Given that condition, there is obviously no hope of the religious mechanisms (“Be good, and society will improve”) working well in the long run; they will only serve to breed more neurosis. What is required is a secular solution, which works the other way round: “Improve the society and most people will behave better.”

It is never possible to write all of the next century’s laws; our consciousness of social necessity is constantly changing, and in the course of social evolution, we can always expect some degree of controversy and turmoil. In 1860 the major problem in this country was human slavery, a burning issue then, vehemently defended by conservatives, slave-owners, and most religious leaders. Today, no one would defend the slave-owners, and yet our current crop of conservatives is reluctant to allow advances in equity for those who have long been denied it: blacks, other minorities, and women. A generation or a century from now, people will surely think it strange and shameful that anyone should have balked at this natural evolution of rising expectations.

Advances in social equity, however slow and hard-won they may be, help to sustain what we think of as “progress” in what we think of as “virtue.” Humane and liberal societies gradually come to a more sensitized understanding of the plight of the less fortunate and devise sensible ways of assisting them; the underclass then feels less trapped, becomes less confrontational, and is less motivated to break the social contract. Good law and good customs precede good behavior: practicing the golden rule turns out to be not only altruistic but also self-serving.

But an equitable and humanistic society would stimulate something much better than mere conformity to social rules. In such a society, people could be encouraged to ponder their own lives and their place in the world; to acquire full and accurate knowledge of that world, unwarped by myths and superstitions; and to assess human problems and act with reasonableness and compassion. Free from the racking fear of deprivation and from the labyrinth of brutal religious animosities, free from holy nonsense and pious bigotry, living in a climate of openness, tolerance, and free inquiry, they would be able to create meaning and value in their lives: in the joy of learning, the joy of helping others; the joys of good health, physical activity, and sensual pleasure; the joy of honest labor; the joys of the richness of art, music, literature, and the adventures of the free mind; the joys of nature and wildlife and landscape — in short, in the ephemeral but genuine joy of the human experience.

That joy does not depend upon mysticism or dogma or priestly admonition; it is the joy of human life, here and now, unblemished by the dark shadow of whimsical forces in the sky. Charles Darwin’s example, both in his work and in his life, helps us to understand that that is the only “heaven” we will ever know. And it is the only one we need.

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A Musing to Self.

By W.O.  7.15.12

Apologies to Omar Khayyam but …this is how I remember the quote:

“Dead yesterday, unborn tomorrow,

Who cares, if today be sweet.”


Khayyám at work: x Wikipedia:

I have been thinking about these lines ever since I read it.  Sure, today is where the senses detect the world around each of us.  And sure, we all make whatever we will of that sensory information.  And if today be sweet who needs the past and who has time to muse about the future.  Today is where the action is.


While I live all who I can remember live again and again as I recall them.  Sure, what I make of these memories can change and even be improved as time passes and that is interesting.  That makes even a bad experience useful, some times.  And sure, the past is gone, so all the more reason to live today for that is all we have, ultimately.


Without a past, no learning is possible.  Yes, one can learn something new each day, maybe a new mix of colors, or to find a new great paint brush, even meet a new friend, which can change your life.   They can all be  important.  But the past is always present, whether you recall it or not.  Its part of who you are.  Its part of who I am anyway.  Who can forget the beauties of living?  Why forget them if they can live again and again.  It’s easy to forget bad things sometimes, sort of as a deliberate act of neglect.  It’s probably a good thing too.  Why carry mental garbage around, why not recycle it into something useful?


To live without a future means  you are dead already.  Plant a tree and die if you have to.  Seeds in the ground can sprout without you.  Seeds into trees leave a memory for friends.  Who planted that tree?  Someone may ask.  I will say, I did and I didn’t care who gets the fruit.  An old teacher told me: “There is no limit to the good a person can accomplish if he/she does not care who gets the credit.”  It was directed at me, I thought erroneously, but that memory popped up while I was musing about the BIG THREE today.

The Big Three, The Past, The Future and Today are intertwined; we separate them with our words, which divide up inner perceptions for focus.  It’s OK to focus as long as you remember that all three make up a life.  And as for credit, well we can see by our fiscal disaster all can be wiped out in a flash, just like your life.


Like Woody Allen also says: “Whatever Works” to give some modest pleasure, grab it, cultivate it, see it for what it is, and be happy.  For this is all there is.  All life is in your hands, heart and mind.  Sing about it, paint it, mold it, store it, laugh with it all, love it all, for when you are gone, there’s nothing.  Emptiness will descend, and cover all your dreams and thoughts.  This everlasting vast moonscape will not know you or your thoughts and dreams.

“So tear your pleasures with rough strife through the iron gates of life;  and though you cannot make it stand still,  we will make it run.  (Another apology to Andrew Marvell (1621–1678), from To His Coy Mistress).



Old Farts and Flash Mobs


By  William Olkowski, PhD


Somedays you feel old, somedays young.  It’s a puzzle.  But this appellation: “An Old Fart” comes from my youth.  An ignorant youthful view of old people is that they are all wrinkled and smell funny, so that’s the fart view.  But there is one advantage the old have over the young and I will try to describe it with a few stories.

When Reagan was voted in I was aghast and thought it heralded the decline of the US and all the good things we had stood for.  I could even see the decline of civilization from that victory.  Of course I was ignorant of much of US history so knew about some good things like the rebellion against England which set us free.  Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States.[2] filled in the other side decades later.  But back in the old Reagan days with his insipid smile and stupid simplicities I knew we were doomed.

But my father in law, Dave Martin, knew vastly more than me about politics since he followed the daily news via The McNeal Learner Hour on the TV, plus he was in his 60’s at that time.  That was a time when news was news not propaganda, (maybe).  He counseled me to just view Reaganism as the swing of the pendulum, some years it swings left, some right.  So just relax and get ready for the swing back, was his view.  But he could see Alzheimer’s Disease in Reagan right from the start as his wife had it and its early signs are most easily detected.

Flash Mobs

So now it’s my turn to counsel the young, although as for that it’s the young who are really doing the counseling for me.  I spent a few hours the other night looking at flash mob videos.  I loved them.  The last one from Russia came from a friend as so many good things do for me nowadays.  Imagine dozens, hundreds and even now thousands of people dancing together, black, white, yellow, the full spectrum of humanity dancing together.   These are synchronized dances akin to Jane Fonda videos sort of exercise routines you can see at the local gym.

But at the local gym it’s mostly females doing the dance exercises.  I stop like a reflex to watch and wish I was 20 years, even 50 years younger.  There were no females in any of my entomology classes when I went to college.  What a poor history that tells.  The “flash mob” scenes I saw that night even had males and female twirling and gesturing in all sorts of innovative tangles of arms, legs, hips, head throws, you name it.  In fact the moves have no names so you have to see them to know them. Of course our mating rituals mimic many bird displays which couples engage it, so males and females dancing together, that seems normal.  What is not normal is the spirit of glee and enthusiasm demonstrated by the people, even in far off Russia with its interminable cold.  You can see the smoke like exhausts from the participants.

So what do I make of all this?  I catch some enthusiasm from these mass efforts, each of which seems utterly unique and international.  Maybe there’s hope for the world if the youth can force the older folks to wake up and groove on life and living.  So like the proverb says while there’s life there’s hope.

I used to feel this watching my sheep in the spring.  The mothers would watch as their mob of youngsters rush this way and that, in mass with excited abandon.  Some lambs just jumping for joy at being alive.  The older females had a sort of knowing tiredness looking at this sort of display.  Anyway that was what I thought was going on.

What is Going On?

Another learning experience caps my feelings of hope for the future.  This comes out of a long resentment I carried around for decades over my blackballing from the UC Department of Entomology.  When the college kids now doing part time work as fundraisers call me as an alumni of UC Berkeley I told the last one that I no longer felt any kinship with my alma mater, largely because of my treatment years before.  Some background is important.  I showed up at UC, Berkeley with a tiny suitcase to attend to a career as a parasitologist, mostly because of a great teacher I had back in U. of Delaware, Paul Catts.  When I took his medical entomology course I was blown away by his ideas and particularly his drawings on the blackboard.

He would draw the insects on the black board when lecturing about fleas, ticks, flies, mosquitoes, what ever, and he would show the adaptations for parasitism, be they the laterally depressed bodies of fleas which helps them move through fur, or the tarsal adaptations lice had for holding onto hairs.  For me his animated stories were an introduction to evolution I never really understood from my biology classes, which seemed rather sterile presentations of DNA, and how genes made proteins, etc.  These stories were about molecules nobody really sees, just our scientific priesthood.  Teaching biology by talking about molecules just does not carry the story of our evolution.  But life histories of beings who learned how to live unusual lives did it for me.

Going to Berkeley

So I followed his teaching and recommendation to go on to Berkeley.  It was 1967. Berkeley then, was the hotbed of rebellious youth who were objecting to the latest war, Vietnam.  Again I got an education, but this time it was atSproulPlaza, not in the classroom, with speakers from the community and the college, many students and a sprinkle of tenured faculty.  They shouted then as I do now that war is not the answer.  In fact, given our recent history I would say unless a massive invasion of theUSwas eminent war never will be the answer.  Hiltler’s efforts to capture and rule the world, is worth a war, however.  Since then war has been a waste of good people, intelligence, and vast resources.

Even today an invasion of the US is remote.  Yes, cleaver people can use our fragile structural complex organization against us, as the plane hijackers proved.  But it was not an invasion, more like a commando attack, so well developed by the British commandos against the German war machine in the 1940’s.  And we knew about the plane attack but dropped the ball.  $40 billion per year is what we put into spying on the world and we dropped the ball!!  My reaction to these attacks is that we must get smarter, not build a massive military machine which demoralizes us, wastes talented labor and resources better used to improve our lives.

Improvements here in education, liberty and justice, and environmental health can tell a better story of who we are than drones, better tanks, missiles and air assaults.  Although every national bully now knows who is the biggest and baddest bully on the block.  Fighting bullies by becoming the biggest bully is just an inadequate solution like Reagan’s trickle down theory, so simplistic that it trips on itself.  It’s even laughable if it were not so disastrous in murdering by-standers and even so-called soldiers.  It’s like our current presidential race, or should I say endurance contest, with another level of enormous fiduciary and human waste.

Old Age as a Teacher

But my old age is teaching me to look back with a fresh brain and think about what actually happened when the kangaroo court met at the Gill Tract years ago after I got my PHD and told me that my work was not research.  They thought that I should leave the laboratory the head of the Division provided for me, my wife, and student helpers.  The direct personal disparagement was shocking and I tried to defend myself but it seemed like so much hate surfaced that I could no longer look these people in the eye.  My boss, Robert van den Bosch was not there, nor were those professors who signed my thesis so the attack was timed just right.  It was like a sneak commando attack.  I staggered home, told my wife we must leave and started to search for another way to go ahead with what we had started.

Eventually we formed our own non-profit organization after a few years with the John Muir Institute, headed by Max and Julie Linn.  These people were examples for us as to how a couple could make some waves by setting up their own institute and do special research, which no academic organization with its hide bound traditions could even contemplate.  They adopted us and taught us how to operate a non-profit.  In characteristic fashion I thought we could do it all better.

Later we left that organization and set up our own.   We called the new non-profit the BioIntegal Resource Center (BIRC) as we had ideas about a great deal more than just pest control, which was a major and continuing emphasis as the years continued to rush by.

Rest from Saving the World to Save Ourselves

Now after a almost 10 year break with that BIRC effort I can look back over a rest period devoted to travel and art from which my brain got diverted away from saving the world to how to live a good life for me and my wife.  We were lucky to have the support of her family and as always our friends.

So now here is the gist of it all.  Looking back to those dumb bastards who pushed us out of the University, they actually did us a great service.  Without that push I may not have searched out an organizational framework where my wife and I along with our rag tag collection of volunteers and staff gave the world a shake or two.  Integrated Pest Management or its common abbreviation “IPM” was our wagon train and we took the road east from the west and tried to bring up the east coast entomology world up to the standard of the west with its Biological Control history.   We certainly spread the Rachel Carson theme and met some great people doing the same.

And that road has made all the difference as I can see the future day when pesticide reduction will become the law of the land.  It’s already the zeitgeist in the small community of thoughtful people who always lead the sheep.  I just wonder how much time is left to see real changes.  Ever hopeful, let’s shuck off the Supreme Court’s corporate personhood inspired coup and shuck off the moneylenders who dominate our democracy.  Let’s flash dance our way out of the mess.