Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

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Location: California, United States

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Food and Religion

I have been extremely busy the last few days. And, last week I was on vacation, which meant that I dropped everything in order to do twice as much this week. At least, that’s how it feels as this week is beginning to come to an end. Busy in the current American culture means that we have our time completely occupied from waking in the morning until sleeping in the evening. However, all of those activities are still subject to a “priority check.” I mean, I am actually busy all the time without regard for what else is demanding of my time and attention. Even while I was on vacation I was busy. It was just that I found the time to place self interest above my employer’s interest in my time. While I was on vacation I was able to occupy my time from the time I woke up until the time I went to sleep. The only difference was the priority of the things I found to occupy my time and attention.

So, what I was trying to say was that I was busy with priorities other than writing for the last few weeks. While I was on vacation I left my laptop at home, in order to insure that I focused on life experience. One important thing to remember as a writer is to have some life experience in order to write about life experience. It could become too easy to create situations artificially in order to live a scripted experience in order to write about it. Of course I know that the bloggers that I know would never do that. However, I have heard stories that these people do exist.

While I drive my number one priority is to pay attention to the road and traffic around me. But, my next priority is to listen to the radio and learn what the community is saying. While I was listening to the radio I heard a couple of interesting stories about food and religion that oddly enough seem to intersect in a strange way.

The food stories tended to be about how American’s have so much food that the food producers have invented ways to make people buy their cheap food. They make sugar and sweeteners out of corn (high fructose corn syrup) at one forth the cost of other sweeteners. America produces more than 4000 calories of food per person per day, and we only need 2000 or less for a healthy diet. The producers however would like us to buy that extra 2000 calories as well.

Well, the food industry has no self interest in limiting America’s consumption of food. The free market demands reward for consumption. But, massive consumption of food is not in the best interest of society, mainly because of health issues. Market forces may create efficient economics, but unfortunately the assumption is that society wins if every person has more. Market forces have no limits, and if everyone has more than they need, then there is no way to protect society from over-consumption.

If we look at the health side of the equation, maybe there is a way that market forces could regulate the ills of society. Over-consumption of food results in obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes to name a few issues. Over-consumption of food results in more business for the health industry. The health industry sells more drugs and procedures to aid in lowering cholesterol, controlling blood sugar, and reducing weight. The bigger the over-consumption problem, the more money the health industry pulls down. And, in addition to the official health industry there are many people who profit from this issue by selling diet books, and alternative medicines. And, the information in these diet books is recycled back into the food market in order to sell more food.

The conclusion is that everyone knows that they should eat less and healthier food, and exercise more. But, from all of the marketing in our society all we see is buy more unhealthy food because it will make us happy. The health industry tells us that we can’t possible succeed in this futile effort, so we need to buy drugs and diet aids to help us overcome our shortcomings as humans.

Well, oddly enough, some religions offer similar messages. Religions seem to be divided into two broad groups. All religions tend to claim to have some insight into the big picture and offer us understanding of our purpose here on Earth. One group claims to have exclusive authority and demand that everyone needs to adhere to those beliefs in order to find the answers. The other group believes that there are universal values such as love and compassion that are needed to obtain these answers and are willing to accept a wide variety of religions that share these common values.

These two groups tend to have different approaches in the religious market place. The first group believes that the same marketing strategy offered by the food producers is the key. More of my religion is good less of other religions is good. Glitzy marketing campaigns and propaganda are the key to building the world in this vision. Telling people to buy religious books, icons, and philosophies are the key to making one religion dominant and therefore the winning religion.

The second group is different than the first group in that the final outcome is a world where certain religious values are the goals. If religions preach about love and compassion then a world with more love and compassion will result. It doesn’t matter if Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha tell us the importance of this love and compassion. The benefit of more love and compassion benefits society, even if it doesn’t benefit one particular religion. And, that is how these two things, food and religion, are so similar.

If we leave religion to market forces, then the religion that advertises the most becomes the more dominate religion. It doesn’t matter much about how much love and compassion they intend to inject into our society. So, this massive marketing of religion hurts the quality of the religion that we are offered. Similarly, if we leave food to the market forces, then the more food we consume the better the food producers make out. It doesn’t matter whether maximum food consumption is good for our society. Maximum food consumption hurts our society through it cost in our health care system. And, it even hurts our society in the quality of the food we get.

Quality was once believed to be driven by market forces. But, as Bill Gates showed us, marketing can overcome defects in quality. And, the food industry is no exception. Cherries, apples, tomatoes, and strawberries have all been bread to be massively produced without regard for flavor. The consumer had little choice in this evolution, because of the cost differences of massively produced varieties as compared to the flavorful but delicate varieties. So, what is the real quality we look for in food? Is it the flavor, or the convenience? What do we lose in this market driven model?

Similarly, the quality in religion has been replaced with the ability to have quick answers without contemplation. There are Bibles with answers to commonly asked questions written in alternate colored text. Does this enhance the religious experience, or does it take the work of contemplation out of the equation? Do these religions give us the values in the end, or do they give us a list of rules that are derived from someone’s values that were created long ago in the context of a different world? What do we lose in this conversion?

So, in the end the way our food has evolved and the way our religions have evolved we are losing the essence, purpose, flavor, meaning and details that make our experiences special.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Vegas Vacation

First off, I don’t care to gamble. Actually I do like to gamble in certain ways, take risks and expect returns on those risks. But, Las Vegas style risks are high, and the odds for a payout are low, so it doesn’t make much sense to risk my hard earned money on something that has very little chance of offering a return. In fact, if I really cared about making money I would buy stock in companies like Wynn, Bally’s, Harrah’s and the like, because the return on investment is more likely to be positive on that side of the table.

I’ve been told by a number of people that Las Vegas isn’t only about gambling. It’s about entertainment! There are so many things to do up and down the strip that you can go to Vegas and not gamble at all. It didn’t seem likely to me, but I had been to Vegas a couple of years ago and didn’t gamble. So, I knew that a gambling free Las Vegas vacation was possible.

Last time I was in Las Vegas I brought the kids. My daughter was dancing in a dance competition that occupied a large portion of our time. The extent of our time on the “Strip” consisted of driving up and down the strip, going to see a show, and walking around a casino or two. We didn’t really “do” Vegas.

This time was different. My wife and I left the kids at home and we ventured off on our first childless vacation since our oldest was born. Our vacation wasn’t about destination, it was about re-connection. It didn’t really matter where we went; it mattered that we went together and to share the experience no matter what else happened.

We decided to take an offer from a time-share company who would put us up for a week on the “Strip.” A free hotel no matter where it was located was all that we needed. We had never listened to a time-share spiel, so we even looked at that as an experience to share and talk about. The point of the vacation was not about “location,” it was about “destination.” How bad could listening to a two-hour spiel be? We had the rest of the time to ourselves.

Well, we arrived in Vegas Monday evening and realized that the trip might not be as easy as we had imagined. The first floor of our Hotel was a smoke fill dungeon of a casino. The smell of cigarette smoke filled every nook and cranny of this hotel making life miserable at first. The smell brought back memories of times when smoke filled many more aspects of my life. But, since California had made cigarette smoke illegal in so many locations, it was rare for me to even smell it at all for years at a time. My wife had it even worse than I did. Her sinus cavities had swollen shut and she had a massive headache that drugs couldn’t cure. Monday night was miserable as we tried to sleep with the smoke from seven floors down making its way up into our non-smoking room.

The next morning we couldn’t wait to get out of the room. We thought that we might benefit from a little run down the Las Vegas Strip. We figured that the distance from Circus Circus down to Mandalay Bay was about four miles. So, an early morning run of eight miles seemed to be a good way to get the day started.

At about 6:15 AM the strip was a different place than the night before. Most of the people outside at this time of the morning were fellow joggers and a few people looking for a breakfast buffet. A run up and down the strip is an excellent way to see it for the first time, in person and up close. Running early in the morning also enables you to miss the crowds in the streets that block your way later in the day or even late at night.

As we started our run we quickly saw that jogging the Las Vegas Strip was a quite popular thing to do. We passed quite a few people, as quite a few people passed us. Joggers of all sorts came toward us a well. We easily saw over a hundred, and surely there were many more running on the street that we didn’t see. As I saw all of these joggers running the Las Vegas Strip I started to think about Las Vegas in a different way.

What is Las Vegas all about? It is more than gambling, even though gambling has given Las Vegas its power and influence in American culture. But it is a mirror to American culture. But, that mirror isn’t flat. A curved mirror focuses the light, and Las Vegas is a curved mirror that focuses American culture.

There are two questions that I’d like to try to answer here. The first is how does Las Vegas focus American Culture? And, the second is why does Las Vegas focus American culture? The how and the why questions actually tell us a little about American culture itself, and more.

When you run or even walk down the Las Vegas strip you see every aspect of American culture that you can imagine. Actually, “culture” might be modified by the adjective “popular.” The strip contains every aspect of American popular culture. The appeal is to the masses, exaggeration abounds and truth is hard to find. And, it is impossible to find a bookstore or other form of culture that might be associated with something other than popular American culture. Las Vegas mirrors the world as Americans believe that it is, not as it is in reality.

One example of what I am describing is seen at the Venetian. In St. Marks square in Venice, Venezia Santa Lucia in Italian, there is a famous clock. By American culture the clock is strange, because it is a 24-hour clock instead of a 12 hour clock. The clock is reproduced at the Venetian is numbered with twenty four roman numerals, like it’s cousin in Venice. But, the hands on the clock assume the imaginary 12 hours of traditional American clocks. American culture has forced a false reality on the reproduction of this clock. Why? I can only assume that it is because Las Vegas is about encouraging American fantasy, rather than teaching reality to those who would like to learn about other cultures.

The reality of Las Vegas is that it is created for Americans to see the world the way that they believe that the world is. American’s love the circus, and Circus Circus focuses on the activities and entertainment found at a circus. Americans love New York City, and New York, New York focuses on what America culture assumes what New York City is like. American popular culture views Paris, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, and Venice in a distorted way in which the Paris, Luxor, Caesar’s Palace and the Venetian Casinos do.

Las Vegas is what happens when capitalism rules without a check on its power. People want to see it, then Las Vegas offers it for the masses to view the way that the masses expect to see it. This is because the masses are willing to spend their money in places that represent what the masses expect to see. People are attracted to the casinos by what they expect to see. Americans want to see a fake replica of the Eiffel Tower, the Paris offers it to the masses. The people expect the people in Paris to be aloof, speak with French accents and charge a lot of money for French type food, then the Paris once again fits the bill. And, all up and down the Las Vegas Strip it is the same.

How did Las Vegas get trapped into this facade of a world reflection that Americans want to see? I would guess that it must have to do with what attracts people. Obviously sex, food and money attract people. Comfort and familiarity also attract people. And, if you own a casino they are the elements one must use to attract the largest number of people to their casino as opposed to every other casino on the strip. So, the Las Vegas business mantra is “give the people what they want and take their money in return.”

The only thing that Las Vegas doesn’t give people is money. But, instead of keeping money out of the equation, Las Vegas offers the chance, the hope, and the possibility that you might win some free money. The truth is that the casinos exist because the casinos take much more money than they give away. So, the casinos take money off of the free give away table and offer hope instead. That is what gambling is all about.

So, in an effort to offer everything else and in order to take the money of the masses Las Vegas has learned to appeal to the sense of expectation, comfort and familiarity. But not all people know what they should want or desire. And, that doesn’t matter, because Las Vegas tells everyone what he or she should want and expect. It is an enormous feedback loop that tells everyone what American popular culture believes is the most important thing today.

So, by capitalizing on popularity Las Vegas attracts people who are attracted to what the culture has proclaimed to be popular. And, as we know, marketing has jumped in front of this line in order to both proclaim what is popular, then they do everything in their power to convince us that they are right. And, Las Vegas is the center of the universe in the grand scheme of things.

But, as I ran down the Las Vegas strip I began to wonder again. If Las Vegas uses all of this marketing, declamation and appeal to our basic desires, how do all the joggers fit in? No one in Las Vegas is going to claim to insight these people to run up and down the strip. The joggers don’t bring money to the casinos when they probably don’t even have money on them while they are running.

I believe that there is one additional aspect to Las Vegas. That is the addictive nature of gambling. Most people have addictive behaviors. Some people are more compulsive and have more natural tendency toward addictions. Gamble in Las Vegas is the ultimate goal for a person with a gambling addiction. But having one addictive behavior means that one is also likely to have an addictive personality. And, it is clear that all those smokers in the casino of my hotel had another addiction. And, the percentage of smoking gamblers in that casino was much higher than what I perceive to be the national average of smokers among the general population. And, I began to think about other addictions. And, I couldn’t believe how many obese people that there were riding their little scooters up and down the strip, and how obese people moving slowly along the strip.

So, Las Vegas is American pop culture in a nutshell. This is initialized by the casinos use of whatever they can to attract the mainstream popular masses to the city, so that they can take as much of their money as they can. The addicted gamblers come back again and again and bring their addictive behaviors with them. And the people attracted to the pop icons bring some of their own habits and popular culture with them, and the addictive behaviors fill the open space, like smoking, over eating, and even jogging.

All I can say after all that is my Las Vegas Vacation was certainly a learning experience.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Iraqi Police Beaten By US Soldiers

This is a quickie. For me - at least.

I heard this story yesterday, June 5, 2007, on “All Things Considered.” It is a story about a group of US soldiers that approach an Iraqi Police checkpoint and an IED is detonated. The IED was planted within 200 ft. of the checkpoint, therefore the soldiers suspected with good reason that the Iraqi Police must have had some knowledge of the people responsible for the planting of the bomb. So, the US soldiers ran to the checkpoint, handcuffed the Iraqi police, put bags over their heads and proceeded to try to beat the information out of the Iraqi police.

I haven’t seen the story in the main stream media. So, is the main stream media still filtering the news? Or, maybe this story hasn’t been verified and certified by Fox News yet. Or, maybe the mainstream media doesn’t listen to NPR.

I did a few searches through the news stories on the web using key words that would be found in this story, like Iraq, police, checkpoint, IED and came up with nothing - except a rosy picture of how the Iraqi police are helping us fight the insurgents that are setting off these IEDs.

The point is - how often is this happening? Are we building an alliance or destroying it? Are there any adults in the US military? Is the surge working? Who is winning in Iraq? What was the point again?


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Conviction of Convenience

A couple of years ago when our family took our whirlwind trip of the west we pulled into the driveway of our friends from California now living Colorado. I was surprised to see an anti-abortion license plate on their car. Well, actually the license plate said “Respect Life” on it. But, with the polarization of the country on the abortion issue, and the effort of the religious right to equate abortion with murder the message was viewed by me as an anti-abortion proclamation. I am guessing that the lawmakers who created it had that in the back of their minds as well when they passed the law.

It turns out that the plate was created in the light of the Columbine shootings, so one could easily have jumped on the bandwagon after that tragedy and supported the idea. But, I am willing to believe that some people might venture to buy the plates to voice their opinion on the abortion issue. And, it seems a bit nefarious of the government to voice a message that seems to voice opposition to a procedure that is completely legal. But, it was a way to raise money for the Columbine injured victims fund.

My thought at the time was that Colorado has a few extremists on both sides of the aisle, so what else is new. I wondered about my friends who had bought the license plate when they had moved to Colorado, but I didn’t feel comfortable bringing up the subject, which had never come up before. Some people just get crazy about some issues. Talk about mixed messages.

Time has passed and we still talk to our friends who happen to have a daughter in her early twenties. Their daughter has been struggling with the idea of growing up and becoming responsible. She tends to work very hard at trying to remain as irresponsible as she can. So, I wasn’t surprised to hear that she was pregnant.

I was surprised to hear that her parents were trying to persuade her to have an abortion. I thought back to the license plate that I had seen on their car. Had they changed their minds as a matter of convenience? Or, had they never been anti-abortion at all? Can someone who is willing to persuade their daughter to have an abortion honestly believe that they “Respect Life?” What does it mean to respect life anyway?

Now, as I have written before, I am not against abortion. But, also I could never find it within myself to be able to suggest that someone else should have an abortion. I certainly couldn’t find power within myself to persuade anyone against their convictions to have an abortion. I think that I respect life. I don’t think that the government should take away anyone’s right to have an abortion, if that is what they want to do. But, I have trouble with someone else trying to convince a person to have an abortion that they don’t want to have.

Now, on the reality side of the coin we have a young woman who has been opposed to taking responsibility as long as I have known her. Having a child is a major responsibility. If the potential child were to be born to this young woman I am sure that it wouldn’t be a “Leave It to Beaver” existence. Maybe the event of the birth of this child would trigger something in her that would lead to a sense of responsibility that might change her life. But, chances are quite high that this would never be the case. So, I can see the parents’ side of the issue quite clearly. I just wonder what the best solution to this problem would be. And, I am glad that at least for now I don’t need to make that decision.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Greatest Threat

“What is the greatest threat to Democracy?”

That was a question that my daughter asked me yesterday. I thought for a while and I figured that the greatest threat to democracy was ambivalence. Ambivalence for those of you, like my daughter, who are unfamiliar with the word means the lack of caring passionately for or against who leads our country. If the majority in a democracy were to give up on caring about the direction our country should head in, or who should lead it, then those who do care for selfish reasons could easily manipulate those who feel ambivalent about the whole thing.

I can’t think of a more dangerous threat to Democracy than a majority who doesn’t care one way or another what the outcome of any election would be. Maybe apathy would be worse. But apathetic people wouldn’t even care to vote. Ambivalent people on the other hand, might still feel a sense of duty to the country and to tradition to go to the polls every election day. But, if they no longer feel that they should be choosing a leader and really care about the out come, then they will care enough to dig into the details of each candidate. An ambivalent voter just doesn’t care enough to find the facts. If they learn something about a candidate, then it is because they “tripped” over the information that might have appeared on a TV commercial or been broadcast on a Radio advertisement. They might see something as they sort through the mail and toss the junk into the trash. But, an ambivalent population doesn’t care enough until it is too late and the candidate with the most money has won they election by sprinkling the airwaves with “eau de toilet” that we all smell accidentally from time to time.

As I thought about what I had said to my daughter, I wondered how close we were getting to a true breakdown in the Great American Experiment. We already have a large number of people who choose not to vote, because they don’t care who wins. But, if they don’t vote, then democracy is still safe. It is only when those who don’t care enough to study the field and learn what they can that we are doomed. If the people who are left to vote still study the “facts,” then those who do vote still have the power to keep those who want power for selfish reasons in check. If people don’t care they won’t do the required work of the people in a Democracy. If people do care, but they inadvertently vote for some idiot, then at the end of his or her term the caring public will react. So, I wonder how close we are to the death of Democracy.

Of course, as happens with these grand questions I began to wonder some more. Is the threat to Democracy our greatest threat of all? We send our young men into war to fight for “our American way.” These young men proudly give their lives to defend our freedom and our democracy. If it is worth their lives is there anything greater?

The religious among us put something above our country, our way of life and our democracy and that is their religion. They may fight to defend our democracy with their lives, but that is because our democracy protects their religious values. If it was merely a democracy and the religious among us were in the minority, then the religious might no longer defend our country, our way of life and our democracy. It is a question of values once again.

So, we are back to the question of the greatest threat. Is the threat against our religious values a greater threat than the threat against our democracy? That is truly a question of values. In the United States in 2007 we don’t need to answer that question, because we still protect our religions and the religious still protect our country. But, that may not always be the case.

In fact, if our country becomes more ambivalent and people even more easily buy their places in our government those people who buy their positions just may be the religious zealots who seek power for their perceived “greater good.” But, their “greater good” could be an even greater threat to our nation, our way of life and our democracy. What is freedom without the active voice of the people to fix the problems that we face?

If we step back and look at the big picture what do you think is the biggest threat we face? The “War on Terror” is a tiny problem compared to the ambivalent complacency that we all face right here at home. Religious zealots could control our lives without a single bomb or bullet spent if we continue to play into their hands. If only we made the effort to encourage people to look out for their own self interests and learn about the world around them instead of spending billions of dollars, wasting thousands of American lives trying to give Democracy to a group of people who are already ambivalent about their rulers and leaders to even make their democracy work. They need to want it for themselves before they can make it their own.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit