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Monday, November 30, 2015

"Chicken" Nuggets or "Greasy, Grimey Parts"?

It's December and the Nugget War has broken out in America. Most likely you've seen the Burger King commercials touting 10 "nuggets" for $1.49. At 15 cents per nugget, about half that item’s regular price of $2.99, according to Bloomberg, the price is also cheaper than the rate that McDonald’s sells its 50-piece chicken McNuggets at ($9.99 for 50 or 20 cents per nugget).

An unbelievable deal for chicken, right? Well, not so fast. My inquisitive and astute brother told me to investigate why the name "chicken nuggets" wasn't an accurate description of Burger King's colossal menu deal.

BK advertises the chicken product like this ...

"Made with white meat, our bite-sized Chicken Nuggets are tender and juicy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Coated in a homestyle seasoned breading, they are perfect for dipping in any of our delicious dipping sauces."

Any, I want to be clear about any potential accusations here. Maria Gody, Senior editor/host of James Beard-award winning blog "The Salt," says ...

"Burger King says its nuggets are made with 'premium white meat,' McDonald's boasts 'USDA-inspected white meat,' KFC touts 'premium, 100% breast meat,' and Chick-Fil-A declares its nuggets are 'all breast meat.'"

(Maria Godoy. "What's In That Chicken Nugget? Maybe You Don't Want To Know."
The Salt. October 12, 2013.)

But ...

A recent paper (2013) published online by The American Journal of Medicine looked at two nuggets from two different, unidentified (for obvious reasons) national fast food chains: Each was comprised of just 50 percent or less muscle tissue, which is what we typically define as chicken, Reuters reported. The rest of the pair of nuggets was made up of a hodgepodge of pure fat, blood vessels, ground bone, nerves and cartilage. The latter is usually stuff that ends up in dog food.

"What has happened is that some companies have chosen to use an artificial mixture of chicken parts rather than low-fat chicken white meat, batter it up and fry it and still call it chicken," lead author Dr. Richard D. deShazo, of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told Reuters Health. "It is really a chicken by-product high in calories, salt, sugar and fat that is a very unhealthy choice."

(Laura Schocker. "What's Really Inside a Chicken Nugget?"
The Huffington Post. October 30, 2013.)

Dr. deShazo says ...

"Our sampling shows that some commercially available chicken nuggets are actually fat nuggets. Their name is a misnomer." 

The chicken nuggets the researchers looked at were a "poor source of proteins" with limited nutritional value.

(Maria Godoy. "What's In That Chicken Nugget? Maybe You Don't Want To Know."
The Salt. October 12, 2013.)

Are the popular nuggets fast food restaurants peddle comprised of white, chicken breast meat, or grey chicken ground into a slurry and poured into molds? You decide. I'm just reporting the news.

Even the seemingly "yucky" chicken parts, themselves, probably aren't harmful says Richard Prayson, M.D., section head of Cleveland Clinic's Department of Anatomic Pathology. Yet, he states, "Chemical additives and preservatives are potentially the issue."

In another study, David Katz, M.D., founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and author of the book Disease Proof, surveyed four fast food companies' nuggets and discovered additives and preservatives were numerous, to say the least. Among those ingredients (generally recognized as "safe" by the FDA but not necessarily proven "unsafe") Katz found were the following:

* Dimethylpolysiloxane, an anti-foaming agent also used in Silly Putty 
* Propylene glycol, a chemical found in antifreeze

Katz speaks about so-called "safe" ingredients the vague, catch-all term "artificial ingredients" ...

"If something is clearly not the way it ought to be, assume potential harm until it's proven to be safe. I would invoke the precautionary principle and say that something that sounds dubious should be considered harmful... If it's not a native part of the food supply, I wouldn't eat it.

"Artificial ingredients' are not really food at all, so they are inevitably a bad idea, adding that this doesn't mean 'natural ingredients' are healthy, either. 'Natural 'doesn't mean good for us; pure lard is natural. (And sometimes 'natural ingredients' aren't what most anyone would consider edible.)"

(Laura Schocker. "What's Really Inside a Chicken Nugget?"
The Huffington Post. October 30, 2013.)

And, of course, nugget studies show the product to be disturbingly high in sugar and sodium.

In defense of nuggets, the National Chicken Council has issued a statement that says you can't really make "scientifically justifiable" inferences "about an entire product category given a sample size of two" (referring to the work of Dr. deShazo).

The Council claims ...

"Chicken nuggets tend to have an elevated fat content because they are breaded and fried. But it's no secret what is in a chicken nugget — most quick service restaurants have nutritional information posted in the store or on their Website, noting that nuggets sold in grocery stores also list a complete nutritional profile."

DeShazo agrees that not all chicken nuggets are created equal. Some grilled or baked ones may be much better. The goal, he says, is to get people to read and understand food labels.

To Nugget or Not To Nugget?

Doesn't some simple common sense lead consumers to logical conclusions about just what nuggets are? I mean, any thrifty grocery shopper knows the best parts of a chicken are more expensive than the low menu price of fast-food nuggets would allow. If a combination of ingredients -- meat parts, additives, and preservatives -- are staring you in the fact for the price of 15 cents a nugget, chances are claims of "pure meat delight" are cackles of puffery. If you're "chicken," just pass, or else eat those mysterious, perfectly formed nuggets at your own risk and don't consider the composition.

On the other hand, you probably don't want to know what is on the inside of that ballpark favorite, the Great American Hot Dog either. How can anyone attend a game without eating at least one of those glorious tube steaks? I know I can't, and I realize hot dogs are just junk food. Yet, people consume dogs as if they are a great delicacy. Go to a Columbus Clippers "Dime-a-Dog" night and watch thousands of hungry fans eat them by the armload ... smiling all the while they swallow the cheap fare.

Mystery meat surprises abound. And, most everyone has at least one favorite. Hell, I'm still wondering what's really in a White Castle slider. No, I'm not -- just give me a dozen and watch me feast while tossing those little boxes aside.

Also, I remember the high school cafeteria serving what they called "Salisbury steak," which came in the form of a circular, thin patty that absolutely defied being cut into pieces with a spork. Most students would simple spear the middle of the meat and eat it from the outside in. A challenge to eat in any mannerly way, the "steak" (which in no way contained the slightest particle of any steak cut known to man), earned the well-deserved title of the "Official Problem-Solving Meal" for its resistance to human consummation.

I know the next time I do eat a nugget, I'll wonder about what the heck it is made of ... but I'll still most likely drown it in one of those assorted dipping sauces and throw the sucker into my mouth. At least, my skinflint mind will rest easy with the meager price paid for the bargain meal even if my stomach does not. Bon appetit. What do you expect for chicken feed?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

"Enough Is Enough" -- Gun Violence Again and Again

On November 27, 2015, Robert Lewis Dear, a 57-year-old man from North Carolina, burst into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and opened fire, launching several gun battles and an hours-long standoff with police as patients and staff took cover under furniture and inside locked rooms. By the time the shooter surrendered, three people had been killed -- including a police officer -- and nine others were wounded.

And, so, once again, America has suffered a horrible tragedy at the hands of a maniac with a gun. And, in the bloody aftermath, once again, President Barack Obama pleaded, "The United States has to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them. Period. Enough is enough."

Of course, the gun lobby will fire up the usual arguments in unyielding defense of their Second Amendment rights all the while declaring gun control proponents are out to take their guns away.

Once more, we will hear gun advocates repeating familiar refrains: "Guns don't kill people; people kill people" and "Murderers can commit heinous acts just as easily with other weapons of choice such as knives."

And, naturally, the NRA will continue to blame those who support gun control for overreacting to the "means" and not centering on the perpetrators of crime.

So, most likely, the national debate on violent gun crime will intensify until enough time passes that allows the issue to return to "simmer" without reform until the next mass shooting reignites the argument.

I, for one, agree with President Obama. Enough is enough. Citizens and lawmakers can no longer ignore the obvious truth. America must make a sea change -- a profound transformation -- to help stop gun violence. We have chosen to make many other sea changes about deadly threats to public safety such as drunken driving, drug abuse, and cigarette smoking. It is past time to face the facts. The killing fields of gun violence are teeming with innocent victims whose spirits beg for needed reform.

We must no longer accept mass murders by guns as things that are just "bound to happen." It is imperative that the gun lobby and the gun control advocates and, yes, the NRA, work together with the aid of recent research to compromise and pass new legislation that will evoke a new, much-needed change that transforms the American culture from a group of people that sees gun violence as routine to a united force that is willing to overhaul gun legislation.


A recent study by Harvard Medical School and School of Public Health, in conjunction with Boston Children’s Hospital, provides evidence that stricter gun control laws work in reducing gun-related homicides and suicides.

States with stronger gun laws experienced significantly lower levels of deaths involving firearms than their counterparts with loose gun laws. 

The strong correlations between firearm laws and homicide and suicide rates are definitely new talking points for gun control advocates. Further, opponents of gun control have often used the argument that the effectiveness of gun control laws has not been proven. This study, if followed by others, may take away this line of reasoning.

The study, by researchers at Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard School of Public Health, uses a measure of state-by-state "legislative strength" of gun control policies tracked by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, including measures to:

(1) curb firearm trafficking;
(2) strengthen background checks on purchasers of firearms beyond those required by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act;
(3) ensure child safety;
(4) ban military style assault weapons; and
(5) restrict guns in public places.

It conducted a detailed statistical analysis (via a clustered Poisson regression) to examine the effect gun control laws on firearms fatalities.

Gun-related deaths were measured per 100,000 people for both homicides and suicides based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, controlling for other factors thought to be associated with gun deaths including age, sex, race and ethnicity, poverty, unemployment, college education, population density, other violence-related deaths, and firearm ownership.

In addition to the general relationship between gun safety laws and firearm deaths, the paper also suggests that increasing the number of gun safety laws increases the reductions in firearm related deaths. So the benefits just get bigger with more laws.

The authors also identify background checks as the most important type of law. And while gun rights groups have already come out in force to criticize the study's methods and lack of cause and effect conclusions, he adds that "the authors are very careful in specifying their models and have done as rigorous a paper as possible with existing data."

(Eric W. Fleegler, MD, MPH; Lois K. Lee, MD, MPH; Michael C. Monuteaux, ScD; David Hemenway, PhD; Rebekah Mannix, MD, MPH. "Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Fatalities in the United States." JAMA Internal Medicine; 173(9). 2013.)

The shock and heartbreak of gun violence tear the very fabric of domestic tranquility in the nation as shooting after shooting kills innocent Americans who merely want to practice peacefully their guaranteed pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Mayhem, tragedy, and murder -- these are the all-too frequent outcomes perpetrated by the angry, the insane, an the quick-tempered who pick up a gun and use bullets to satiate their evil desires.

Let us consider the absolute irresponsibility of continuing to ignore seeking real and lasting solutions to gun violence. Simply letting gun control be a frequently debated, hot-button issue without actually committing to the necessary work and compromise needed to correct the causes of the violence is turning a blind eye to mass murder.

Those on both sides of the issue of gun control can agree upon one basic tenant: Law-abiding citizens must be protected from those who mean to take their lives with bullets. It is paramount that the needless killing stops, no matter that both groups have lobbied Congress for decades to craft legislation in their respective favors. I encourage lawmakers to throw out their unyielding attitudes and help forge a new, better gun mentality.

Continued madness from elected officials that may contribute to a gun violence mentality fuels a rigid, unyielding Congress. Believe it or not, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin recently tweeted (November 19, 2015) that "Jesus would fight for our Second Amendment and explains in her new book that "Jesus is a proponent of carrying" because she found a Bible verse (Luke 22:36) where Christ seemingly encourages his apostles to procure a couple of swords.

I feel confident that the Jesus I have been taught to worship had no desire to carry. He was much too busy spreading love and peace to pull the trigger on his enemies and opponents. To me, the echoes of the President's words ring true and reverberate in a darkening, dangerous landscape. "Enough is enough." Despite the fervent feelings of gun advocates and anti-gun advocates, we must do a better job of stopping bulleted violence. I know Jesus did weep while walking our planet, and I know he must be weeping now as he endures the senseless slaughter of innocent American human beings.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Why People Like Trump: "Look On My Works and Despair!"

As Donald Trump continues to lead all other Republican candidates for president in many polls, many shake their heads in disbelief. It seems every day Trump spits his spiteful venom at new, unsuspecting targets as he denigrates opponents and any others who question his authority. While doing so, he claims he is vastly intellectually superior to everyone else. One tweet reported Trump saying: "Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest – and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, its not your fault."

It seems his goal to become the Republican presidential candidate knows no tactical bounds -- not even funding since the ultra-rich tycoon is bankrolling his own candidacy. He recently boasted that he would be willing to spend $1 billion of his own money if that's what it takes to win the 2016 election. And, in his mind, this money is well spent since he claims, "Sadly the American dream is dead. But if I get elected president, I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again."

Trump mania causes me to marvel at the reason for the mass attraction to a man who possesses a ginormous ego served by unfettered, self-serving vanity. Is Trump a new icon because he flaunts his opinion? Many are said to love him not for what he says, but for how he says it. In other words -- people admire him because right, wrong, or indifferent, Trump takes a stand. These people adore his abundant self-confidence and claim he does not back down in the face of political correctness. Even if he flip-flops, and he does, he claims he has been misinterpreted and exploited by others. Despite his offensive remarks, Republicans still see him as the frontrunner for nomination. 

Still, in a religious sense, vanity is a form of self-idolatry and one of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins.

Vanity is defined as "the quality of excessive pride in one's own appearance or achievements in which that person likens himself to the greatness of God for the sake of his own image." Acting in vain, he thereby becomes separated and perhaps, in time, divorced from the Divine grace of God.

Philosophically speaking, vanity may refer to a broader sense of egoism and pride. American aphorist
Mason Cooley (1927 – July 25, 2002) once stated: "Vanity well fed is benevolent. Vanity hungry is spiteful." Spite may be considered Trump's most successful weapon as he lashes out at all who dare have contrary beliefs and opinions.

To me, this strutting peacock of a man courts the American political arena with ravenous, self-centered desire knowing no bounds. And 37 percent of those polled (Reuters/Ipsos data; November 26, 2015) want Donald Trump to be President of the United States. I find this troubling not only because an egomaniac like Trump has a legitimate chance of leading the Free World but also because a significant number of Americans hold this highly judgmental behavior in esteem.

Exploring the Trump Popularity

Jack Schafer, Ph.D., is a professor at Western Illinois University in the Law Enforcement and Justice Administration (LEJA) Department. He is a retired FBI Special Agent, and he served as behavioral analyst assigned to FBI's National Security Behavioral Analysis Program. Schafer says ...

"Trump says what ordinary people cannot say for fear of losing their jobs, status in their communities, or their reputations. When built-up pressure is finally released, people feel good about themselves. The Golden Rule of Friendship states, 'If you want people to like you, make them feel good about themselves.' When Trump speaks, he makes people feel good about themselves and, as a result, people like him."
(Jack Schafer. "Why People Like Trump." Psychology Today. October 22, 2015.)

In this view of the reason for Trump's popularity, much of society has "dammed-up" forbidden thoughts. And, even with all of the well-intentioned aspects of political correctness, the people long to speak directly without constraint and convention. Trump seems to be a release for the egotistical desires of those who have become tired of thinking before speaking and acting.

Of course, 99.9% of Americans do not have the immense wealth and resources that allow Donald Trump to speak and act freely without fear of reprisal. Money "talks" and Trump lives in an exclusive environment which demands little restraint; he is accustomed to having his ego stroked no matter the hurtful refuse that pours from his mouth. In fact, his tremendous ego is the major component of his personality that drives his unbridled personal actions. In the "real world," the rest of us less fortunate souls must practice consistent virtuous behavior to gain respect and favor. Not so with Mr. Trump. 

Freud contends that the ego develops from the id, the aspect of personality in charge of instinctive and primitive behaviors, and it is the ego that normally ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable in society. I believe Trump has had little exposure for understanding the needs of normally acceptable behavior. His aloofness, though polished, is frightening in its consistency.

What of his superego? The superego, the aspect of personality that holds all of internalized moral standards and ideals acquired from both parents and from society, is the supreme control center of a person's sense of right and wrong. According to Freud, the superego begins to emerge at around age five.

Five-year-old, Donald, said to be energetic and bright, had a privileged childhood as the son of a builder and real estate developer who specialized in constructing and operating middle income apartments in the Queens, Staten Island, and Brooklyn. Later, when he joined the family business, the Trump Organization, he excelled in business transactions. No doubt, Trump has been a highly successful businessman and has used his superego to do what  is "right and wrong" in a business sense.

But ...

It is evident to me that Trump's interpersonal sensitivity is grossly lacking. His apparent lack of control often causes him to react in a hostile nature that alienates others. Ryne A. Sherman, Ph.D. and Florida Atlantic University's "Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award" winner (2013), says this about Trump:

"Although ambitious and sociable ... Trump is low on prudence. He doesn't care much for rules and tends to avoid them. He is independent minded and seems unconcerned with details... While being highly colorful and inquisitive, he seems unusually self-confident, and shows feelings of grandiosity and entitlement. These (type of) individuals tend to make a good first impression, but are difficult to work with because they feel entitled to special treatment, ignore their critics, and intimidate others. He'll (Trump) tend to overestimate his capabilities."

(Ryne A. Sherman. "The Personality of Donald Trump."
Psychology Today. September 17, 2015.)

Schafer believes the big attraction to Donald Trump is the thrill to live "through" him. Perhaps, to his many fans, he embodies the perfect image of a supreme Big Boss in a rich "Disneyland" of control and financial achievement. In a world where a view of personal success depends so much upon accumulation of property and material possessions, Trump is the ideal -- the top of the heap, dog-eat-dog commander. Sherman explains ...

"Most people have little in common with Trump but many Americans live vicariously through Trump. Trump’s success, popularity, and self-confidence fill the secret dreams of ordinary people. To reject Trump is to render the aspirations of most Americans meaningless."

(Jack Schafer. "Why People Like Trump." Psychology Today. October 22, 2015.)

So, the paradox of Trump that is so unbelievable to many Americans is that the more unpleasant his personality is revealed to be, the greater his appeal to his core group of supporters. These people typically say, "Trump as the only candidate with 'the balls' to be aggressive and unpredictably offensive."

Even with a reputation of being boldly outspoken, nothing guarantees he has the political chops to be an effective statesman. And, that is my greatest fear: I believe people are being hoodwinked by a kingly attitude devoid of substance. Trump's blustering is his calling card, and the charisma it creates seems to reek of negativity for compromise and solution. In many ways, he seems imposing and almost tyrannical in his approach, certainly not elegant and dignified.

If people are projecting into Trump what they want to see, does this desire drive an egotistical cult of  personality that encourage "right-thinking" Americans to insult others without regret, break rules of conduct without fear of reprisal, and routinely protest diverse thinking without regard for the good of the general public?

I see this "power means all" attitude as a blight that extinguishes cohesiveness and strengthens partisanship. I despise strong the "I" and "we" cronyism that has led to disrespect and stalemate. Robert Tracinski, senior writer at The Federalist, says ...

"Changing the political system is patient work that takes decades, and most of it is done, not by electing the 'right guy' in a single election, but by promoting the right ideas to your fellow citizens and actually convincing people, which is really annoying work.

"What doesn’t get the job done is, from my experience, the favorite activity of Donald Trump’s supporters: insulting people on the Internet. So no wonder they want to short-circuit the system and indulge the fantasy that they can push through their agenda, whatever it is, just by electing a guy who will insult people on a bigger scale."

(Robert Tracinski. "Donald Trump's Paradoxical Cult of Personality."
The Federalist. November 27, 2015.)

Belittlement -- of his fellow political opponents, of immigrants, of women, of the handicapped, of Muslims, and of any others who do not share his commanding mindset is beyond offensive to those who see through Trump's ego. He may not be a villain or a tyrant, yet he lacks critical leadership skills to be the President of the United States.

Many people evidently are convinced that Donald Trump is a gutsy, homespun hero. In Trump, they may view ideals and liberties they desperately wish they possessed. Oh yes, Trump does promise to give the people what they want -- to make life great. But, to me, what his supporters believe he will deliver is "pie in the sky" akin to buying a lottery ticket with winning odds of one in a million.

So, in my view, Trump is a hollow figure head -- a product of blue-collar frustration -- a frail, straw man so uncomfortable with the slightest opposition that he consistently exhibits his lack of decency and diplomacy without regard or without regret.

Cris Cillizza of the Washington Post relates the following:

"Trump's comments about anyone who stands in his way are pointless, the reflex action of someone who aims to destroy anyone who dares question him... He seems to think that name-calling -- because most politicians don't engage in it -- is somehow consistent with his broader anti-politician image.

"The problem is that his message works when he is willing to say things other people can't or won't about policy matters.  But, name-calling isn't a message. And, simply trying to be as offensive as possible to the largest number of people isn't a message.

"Trump has hit a vein in the American consciousness.  But, he doesn't really know why it is people are responding to him. It's because he's willing to break with political protocol on issues that matter to people, not because he's willing to engage in a verbal food fight with everyone who crosses his path."

(Cris Cillizza. "What Donald Trump gets wrong about why people like him."
The Washington Post. August 08, 2015.)

Simply stated in psychological terms, Trump is P-OED -- Predominantly Over-occupied in Ego Development, which, in his case, prevents his superego from emerging as his saving grace. Like all human monuments to vanity, his legacy is fragile and prone to fall to inevitable natural design.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Jihadism and Islam: Debating Databases and Free Exercise of Religion

"Jihadism is a variant of Islamism. It is the effort to impose Islamist goals—however defined—by force. Jihadists have found or invented theological justifications to attack their enemies, mostly fellow Muslims, for their impiety or disloyalty to the jihadist cause, leading to the rise of jihadist terrorist and insurgent groups and, occasionally, jihadist governments (including the Taliban and the Iranian regime) and quasi-governmental entities (like the Islamic State and some organizations within Pakistan and Saudi Arabia).

"Jihadist movements are quite obviously threats to the national security of states they seek to overthrow, many of whom are U.S. allies; they are also threats to their neighbors because of the expansionist drive inherent in jihadist ideology. Jihadist ideology ultimately seeks the dominance of its brand of Islam over the world."

--Paul D. Miller, PhD in International Relations, Associate Director of the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austinm research fellow at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, veteran of the war in Afghanistan

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, was asked by reporters if he favored implementing a database for tracking Muslims in America. He said, "It would be good management," and later tweeted "We must defeat Islamic terrorism & have surveillance, including a watch list, to protect America."

And, since the Paris attacks, Trump has risen in the polls -- something that could prove that a considerable number of Americans are tired of the other candidates tiptoeing around the issue and caring more about not offending people than watching out for the safety of United States citizens.

It's not just anti-Islamic rhetoric from Trump. Ben Carson has echoed Trump's calls for a database. Marco Rubio has stated Muslim gatherings should be monitored. In addition, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have suggested Christian refugees should be given priority into the United States. Former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh even tweeted: "This is what Islam does. Wake up world!"

Still ...

Many Americans believe capitalizing on fear and the considerable ignorance about the Muslim faith in the United States is driving a stampede of unnecessary, prejudicial proposals such as shutting down mosques and forcing all Muslims to carry a special ID card.

Of course, even a few terrorists in the United States could initiate acts that cause massive death and destruction. But, in fact, they've been rare. An FBI study looking at terrorism committed on U.S. soil between 1980 and 2005 found that 94 percent of the terror attacks were committed by non-Muslims.

In actuality, 42 percent of terror attacks were carried out by Latino-related groups, followed by 24 percent perpetrated by extreme left-wing actors.And as a 2014 study by University of North Carolina found, since the 9/11 attacks, Muslim-linked terrorism has claimed the lives of 37 Americans. In that same time period, more than 190,000 Americans were murdered.

(Dean Obeidallah. "Are All Terrorists Muslims? It’s Not Even Close."
The Daily Beast. January 14, 2015.)

A 2011 Pew Research Center poll found that compared to the general U.S. public, Muslims are more satisfied with the direction of the country and with their own lives. The vast majority of them reject terrorism as a means of achieving political ends.

Gallup defined Islamophobia as "exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civic life." It has existed in premise before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but it has increased in frequency and notoriety during the past decade.

In the U.S., about one-half of nationally representative samples of Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews agree that in general, most Americans are prejudiced toward Muslim Americans. Even among Americans who report no personal prejudice toward Muslims, one-third say they have an unfavorable opinion about Islam (36%).

Fifty percent of those who report a great deal of prejudice toward Muslims say they are Republicans, compared with 17% of those who identify as Democrats and 7% as independents. Those who report no prejudice toward Muslims are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, 39% to 23%, respectively.

Those who report a great deal of prejudice toward Muslims are more likely than those who report none or smaller levels of prejudice to have completed only a high school-level education.Research shows that the U.S. identified more than 160 Muslim-American terrorist suspects and perpetrators in the decade since 9/11, just a percentage of the thousands of acts of violence that occur in the United States each year. It is from this overall collection of violence that "an efficient system of government prosecution and media coverage brings Muslim-American terrorism suspects to national attention, creating the impression - perhaps unintentionally - that Muslim-American terrorism is more prevalent than it really is."
("Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Sentiment in the West." Gallup Muslim-West Perceptions Index.

Essential Understandings: Paul David Miller

I recently read an article title "Is Islam a Terrorist Religion?" by Paul Miller that struck me as a very fair and enlightening piece concerning the relationship of the followers of Islam and jihadism. Please read the entire article, but also allow me to point out strong pieces of it today in my post.

 Miller believes "it is false that jihadism has nothing to do with Islam; but that does not mean that Islam is nothing but jihadism." He says Jihadists use Islamic rhetoric, symbols, and concepts in the construction of their ideology. Miller claims "the falsity of jihadist theology has absolutely no bearing on its existence as a hostile religious ideology fervently believed in by thousands of well-armed people who wish to harm the United States." Its theological status does not change the threat it poses, nor, necessarily, its ability to find more recruits from within the Islamic world.

As religion -- be it Islam or Christian -- powerfully intermixes with politics, its adherents grapple with the question of what politics flows most naturally from their faith. Much as the American founders claimed that civic republicanism was a natural consequence of Protestantism, many Muslim leaders believe in "Islamism" -- the transmutation of Islam into a political ideology.

Miller confirms that the Islamic State (ISIS’s) is “Islamic” He says ...

"The secularist view—that jihadism is the product of frustrated rational actors lashing out at their disempowerment in corrupt, poor, repressive societies left behind by globalizing modernity—is true but incomplete, the shallow understanding of secular modernity unable to come to grips with the enduring power of religious identities."

(Paul David Miller. "Is Islam a Terrorist Religion?" The Federalist.)

How can Americans judge all Muslims by one standard? Islam is a "living" religion - the meaning of Islamic theology and Koranic passages change across time and culture as it is interpreted and lived by different people in different times and places -- 1.6 billion of them. Miller suggests Americans should broaden their understanding of the Islamic theology to better understand just what faction of Islam is the enemy. He explains ...

"There is no single thing called 'Islam' captured once and for all time in the Koran. This is where we might start looking for an interdisciplinary explanation for this broad phenomenon, one that integrates both theological study with anthropology and history and political science. There is so much variance across the Islamic world that we should look at the different cultures, histories, politics, and geographies of the Islamic world to begin to explain things."

The Miller Analogy

Although religious matters and ideas have consequences, Miller believes if we stopped there, we might be tempted to start fearing our Muslim neighbors as a fifth column (a group within a country at war who are sympathetic to or working for its enemies) just waiting to strike when the moment is right.

Here is where Miller says we need to take counsel from the other side of the debate:

"There are 1.6 billion professing Muslims in the world. If we count up every member of every jihadist group in the world, including al-Qaida, the Islamic State, the Taliban, Boko Haram, al-Shabab, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Hamas, Hezbollah, Lashkar-i Taiba, and scores of other groups you’ve never heard of, how many would there be? Let’s assume that we could count one million active jihadists in the world, almost certainly an exaggeration of their true numbers.

"That would account for 0.06 percent of all Muslims worldwide.

"Assume ten million active jihadists worldwide, a wild exaggeration of their true numbers. That is 0.63 percent of all Muslims worldwide.

"Assume that there are one hundred million Muslims worldwide who would count themselves as believers, supporters, fellow-travelers, fundraisers, or sympathizers with jihadism, people who would actively give their time, money, and effort to supporting active jihadists. That still leaves 94 percent of the world’s Muslims who neither participate in nor even sympathize with terrorism.

"According to a 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center, “Muslims around the world strongly reject violence in the name of Islam,” including overwhelming majorities that reject suicide-bombing, a good proxy measure for support for terrorism. By any reasonable measure, Muslims are not terrorists.
The percentage of Muslims who are terrorists is barely higher than the percentage of Quakers who are terrorists.

"Let’s say you went shopping in a very large mall in a cosmopolitan city filled with people from all over. You wanted to know if it was safe. If I told you that 99.5 percent of all shoppers in the mall had no criminal record whatsoever, you should, rationally speaking, feel safe. If, instead, you looked at the mall and declared it to be full of criminals, you would be wrong.

"I loathe political correctness for its arrogance, illiberality, and intellectual oppression. So when I say that Muslims are not terrorists, I say that simply on the numbers, as a quantifiable fact. The percentage of Muslims who are terrorists (let’s say it is 0.5 percent) is barely higher than the percentage of Quakers who are terrorists (which I assume is zero)."

(Click here for the entire Federalist article:

Life and Religion In America

The right to religious freedom is enshrined in the Constitution and protected as a fundamental human right in our democracy. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Freedom of religion is very encompassing. It "includes the rights of worship, observance, practice, expression, and teaching, broadly construed," the 2014 U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report explains. "These include: wearing religious dress or symbols; observing dietary restrictions; participating in rituals associated with certain stages of life; possessing property rights regarding meeting places; and maintaining the freedom to manage religious institutions, possess, publish, and distribute liturgical and educational materials, and raise one's children in the religious teachings and practice of one's choice."

I believe a distinction must be made -- we must understand that Muslims do not become enemies in our midst by merely exercising their right to follow their religion unless they seek to institute Islamic totalitarianism. I believe that a minority religion is fully protected in our democracy, and I think people here should be free to pray to Allah and praise the Koran. But, if any Muslims act to abet the users of force and terror in any way, they then become jihadist terrorists -- undeniable foes of our great nation.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Do You Celebrate Thanksgiving Or Thanksgetting?

"In our culture, we tell our children that it is o.k. to be pleased with what you have done, but never be satisfied. You need to keep your eye on the prize, do not rest content with what you have. To be content is to stop moving forward, to stop moving forward is to quit and winners never quit. Only losers are content and contentment with what you have is the basis of thankfulness...

"To be American is to constantly be in a state of need, of having something else that is required to keep pace. To stop and be thankful for what we have is to fail to appreciate how much we do not have and how far behind that is leaving us."

(Steve Gimbel. "We're past Thanksgiving. Time for Thanksgetting"
USA Today. November 28, 2013.)

Steve Gimbel, professor of philosophy at Gettysburg College, sets forth a sarcastic argument that Thanksgiving is obsolete and that now the true American celebration is the next day, what has come to be called "Black Friday." Gimbel continues ...

"We should at least rename it Green Friday or, so as not to make it seem like another Earth Day we should name it 'Thanksgetting.'  After all, we are not thankful for what we have, but if you are well-mannered, you say "thank you" for what you get. It is the day when the process by which we get things begins and that is really what we are celebrating as Americans."

The third Thursday in November is now heralded as the kick-off of the holiday shopping season.
Projections say 74% of Americans will open their wallets on either Black Friday and Cyber Monday, according to the latest research from The average adult is expected to drop $483.18 on the shopping holiday of holidays, which equates to $90.14 billion -- up $30.57 billion from 2017’s projected spend of $59.57 billion.

Of course, spending stimulates the economy and getting a bargain saves money for consumers eager to gift others as sharing, meaningful part of the Christmas tradition.

Really? OK, At What "Cost""

To jump the gun, many retailers now open on Thanksgiving Day, thus enticing people to leave their homes to shop for bargains instead of sharing their day with loved ones. This practice is changing holiday traditions. The fact is, retailers could stage their sales for any other day less conducive to reducing the importance of a national day -- a day meant for thankful reflection.

Thanksgetting is about products, not people. The products and sale prices drive people to respond in hordes and spend large sums of money -- often causing individuals to buy more than they can afford while mindlessly purchasing products that fuel the insatiable "state of need." Consumers have become so conditioned by retailers and their lust for profits that they actually believe Black Friday and all it entails is a meaningful national observance in itself.

Thanksgetting Origins

The history of the national holiday does reflect commercial and economic concerns. Most people do not realize how consumerism slipped into the American celebration of Thanksgiving.

The modern concept of Thanksgiving is credited to a woman named Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book and author of the famous "Mary Had a Little Lamb" nursery rhyme, who spent 40 years advocating for a national, annual Thanksgiving holiday.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, Hale saw the holiday as a way to infuse hope and belief in the nation and the Constitution. So, when the United States was torn in half during the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln was searching for a way to bring the nation together, he discussed the matter with Hale. Prior to this, each state scheduled its own Thanksgiving holiday at different times, mainly in New England and other Northern states.

Thus, Abraham Lincoln became the father of the traditional Thanksgiving commemoration by creating a formal national holiday in an 1863 proclamation. He designated Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November by giving thanks for the advantages and privileges of living in a democracy.

However ...

Decades later (1939), Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday up a week, to the third Thursday of November, in part to lengthen the amount of time for holiday shopping. It was determined that most people did their Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving and retailers hoped that with an extra week of shopping, people would buy more.

All the while, many believed that changing a cherished holiday just to appease businesses was not a sufficient reason for change. Atlantic City's mayor derogatorily called November 23 "Franksgiving."

In response to the proposed change, some states still insisted on celebrating Thanksgiving on the last Thursday, so eventually Congress stepped in. On December 26, 1941, less than a month after the attack at Pearl Harbor, Congress passed a law declaring the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day.

(Jennifer Rosenberg. "How FDR Changed Thanksgiving." 2015.) 

Then, of course, came the advent of the day after Thanksgiving -- Black Friday. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the day after Thanksgiving has been called Black Friday since at least the early 1960s. The explanation typically given for the day's name is that it is the first day of the year that retailers are in the black as opposed to being in the red.

Early citations in the OED also indicate that the term may have originated among police officers and bus drivers, who no doubt would have dreaded this traffic-heavy shopping day.

Thanksgetting, a term for “Thanks-For-What-I’m-Getting,” has become infused in Thanksgiving observance. The Thanksgiving commemoration our forefathers established was meant to honor God and thank Him for His blessings and His grace. That spirit and meaning do survive today ... as does an increased emphasis on sales and buying and money, money, money.

The question pertinent to all is "Do you celebrate Thanksgetting or Thanksgiving?" Do you thrill to monetary exchange or humbly reflect on gracious blessings? Do you prefer to "get" or "give" on this special holiday? It is clear to me that Thanksgiving has sadly morphed into a time when many Americans enter a self-contrived state of need. Thanksgiving Day and the now well-established link to Black Friday -- isn't enough, enough?

Overhead on Thankgiving in American households near you:

Mom, "Sweetheart, hurry up and finish your turkey. It's half an hour until the stores open and we need to start our shopping. We have lots of things we NEED to GET." 

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

We walk on starry fields of white
And do not see the daisies;
For blessings common in our sight
We rarely offer praises.

We sigh for some supreme delight
To crown our lives with splendor,
And quite ignore our daily store
Of pleasures sweet and tender.

Our cares are bold and push their way
Upon our thought and feeling.

They hang about us all the day,
Our time from pleasure stealing.

So unobtrusive many a joy
We pass by and forget it,
But worry strives to own our lives
And conquers if we let it.

There's not a day in all the year
But holds some hidden pleasure,
And looking back, joys oft appear
To brim the past's wide measure.

But blessings are like friends, I hold,
Who love and labor near us.

We ought to raise our notes of praise
While living hearts can hear us.

Full many a blessing wears the guise
Of worry or of trouble.

Farseeing is the soul and wise
Who knows the mask is double.

But he who has the faith and strength
To thank his God for sorrow
Has found a joy without alloy
To gladden every morrow.

We ought to make the moments notes
Of happy, glad Thanksgiving;
The hours and days a silent phrase
Of music we are living.

And so the theme should swell and grow
As weeks and months pass o'er us,
And rise sublime at this good time,
A grand Thanksgiving chorus.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Why People Remain Partisan Despite the Facts

"I would argue that the sharp decline in American quality of life the last 30 years is not because of Republican policies or Democrat policies, but rather, because we are unable to choose legitimate policies to legitimate problems. Everything is framed as black or white, Jesus-lover or Jesus-hater, yes or no.

"Well, life is more gray area than anything else. Some tax hikes are necessary, to pay for the things that the nation needs. Some spending cuts are necessary, because we spend too much money on things we do not need. Some large military cuts are necessary, because it's ridiculous for one nation to have the army we've amassed. This is not rocket surgery, folks. It only appears to be that way because of how we approach politics — like it is a team sport, a religion, and "our" side is right while "their" side is wrong. That is the kind of attitude that starts wars, that leads to the dark side. That attitude is why we can't get anything done."

(John Thorpe. "Why Are American Politics So Divisive?" Benzinga. November 30, 2011.)

When political writer and analyst John Thorpe speaks of divisive American politics, he proposes that  most people are not "pure Republicans or pure Democrats." But, our political system so encourages such black and white thinking that voters have "nowhere else to go." They must choose a political identity, and their identity as a Democrat or as a Republican means, to them, that they accept a certain set of core beliefs as gospel truth -- "much like how Christians all view Jesus as the son of god."

Thorpe says ...

"You get two packages to choose from, and neither one is even remotely palatable. It is as if you went to pick a religion, and your only choices are extreme insane Islam or Fred Phelps' Westboro Church. You have to pick one, and only one. How the hell can anyone survive like that?"

To me, Thorpe's description of the current divisiveness is accurate. Today, rarely do we find politicians who pride themselves on strong traits of negotiation and compromise. Following the "party view" of policies means everything to officeholders because party solidarity is the best guarantee to reelection in this system of preferential alienation. The predictable results are gridlock in Congress and continuous threats of government shutdown. The citizens of America are left to suffer the consequences of inaction, yet, still, they dutifully align themselves along rigid party lines.

Recent Gallup polls (2013) show Americans' trust in "the American people" to make judgments about political issues facing the country has declined each year since 2009 and, at 61%, is down nearly 20 percentage points from its recent peak in 2005. Americans' average level of trust in the American people during the 1970s was 85%, including a high of 86% in 1976. The average since 2001 is 71%.

Still, that exceeds the 46% of Americans who trust the "men and women … who either hold or are running for public office," which is one point above the historical low from 2011.

The same poll found that Americans' trust in the federal government to handle domestic and international problems, their trust in the news media, and their trust in the three branches of the federal government, and in state and local governments are all at or near historical lows.

Why do we hold ever-higher levels of distrust for our fellow Americans? And, why are we becoming willing members of parties that really don't represent our varied views on important issues or even care to carry out bipartisan solutions to our problems?

At least one very interesting answer makes sense to me. We don't have to look hard to find that individual investigation is a vanishing way of understanding key issues, and, instead, many folks today rely upon editorializing media reports and shallow sound bites for their exposure to key issues and ideas. Doesn't this common acceptance of secondhand interpretation contribute to our quick, lazy adherence of categorical thought?

The editorial staff of the Intermountain Jewish News explains that the decline of our rich and varied political discourse calls for a broader dedication to individual reading. They explain ...

"To us, the ultimate cause is the decline of reading, specifically, of daily newspapers. Reading? you might squint. What does this have to do with acid rudeness between many candidates, widespread animosities on Capitol Hill and the bellicosity on the radio? If news is acquired in snatches and sound bites, if complicated issues are reduced to screed on the Internet, if the quiet of the kitchen or the living room is no longer the crucible of thinking about politicians and political issues, then thinking declines.

"And when thought declines, oversimplification rises. When news is absorbed primarily via the ear rather than the eye, emotion intensifies. When a complex set of facts — laid out in cold, hard, unchangeable type — is not absorbed simply because it is no longer read, the alternative is, well, just what we have. Snap judgments. Aggressive characterization of opponents. The inability to see the other side of an argument. In a word: a non-literate way of being."

(Editorial Staff. "Why Our Political Culture Is So Contentious, Angry and Divisive."
Intermountain Jewish News. December 03, 2009.)

The Jewish News rightly contends that we are moving from a deliberate, fact-driven mode of learning and evaluating to a mode that is driven by quick, superficial impressions. The editors believe this is one of the many consequences of the decline of daily newspapers. They say ...
"People speak of a 'paperless society' without thinking of the consequences. When information is absorbed primarily, or only, on a moving screen; when a difficult set of facts cannot reside in the mind for a period of time, and cannot be returned to for reexamination, as the physical artifact of a newspaper can be returned to, thought declines.

"A paperless society might save on pollution, but, by the same token, it will intensify the breakdown in thinking, thus leading to bad decisions about the environment. Environmentalists need to think twice about ultimate goals before advocating a paperless society."

(Editorial Staff. "Why Our Political Culture Is So Contentious, Angry and Divisive."
Intermountain Jewish News. December 03, 2009.)

And, I believe, even if people read reliable, factual-based, online sources such as unbiased newspapers and journals, they still practice literate, responsible decision making. That is, if they can read political articles with an open mind and overcome the strong desire to be obstinate and cling to their preconceived opinions.

A study at Ohio State in 2009 provides some of the strongest evidence to date that Americans prefer to read political articles that agree with the opinions they already hold. Researchers found that people spent 36 percent more time reading articles that agreed with their point of view than they did reading text that challenged their opinions.

Even when they did read articles that countered their views, participants almost always balanced that with reading others that confirmed their opinions.

The study is important because it is one of the first to record what people actually read and link these findings to their views on the same topics.

Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick conducted the study with Jingbo Meng, a former master’s degree student in communication at Ohio State. Their results appeared in the June 2009 issue of the journal Communication Research.

“We found that people generally chose media messages that reinforced their own preexisting views,” said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, co-author of the study and associate professor of communication at Ohio State University.

People who reported that they read news more frequently, on the other hand, were more likely to avoid opposing viewpoints.

“People have more media choices these days, and they can choose to only be exposed to messages that agree with their current beliefs,” Knobloch-Westerwick said.

And that has real-world implications, she said. “If you only pay attention to messages you agree with, that can make you more extreme in your viewpoints, because you never consider the other side,” she said.

(Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick and Jingbo Meng. "Looking the Other Way: Selective Exposure to Attitude-Consistent and Counterattitudinal Political Information."
Communication Research. March 16, 2009.)

Many media outlets today specialize in shrill, harsh commentary that demonizes opposing viewpoints. If that is all that people hear, it can reduce political tolerance and make compromise less likely.

“That may be one reason for the increasing polarization of American voters,” Knobloch-Westerwick said. “Citizens really should be weighing and monitoring diverse arguments in order to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, that’s not happening as often as it should. In general, they don’t want their views to be challenged by seriously considering other viewpoints.”

The theory of cognitive dissonance finds we find it difficult to hold contradictory ideas in our head at the same time. In fact, cognitive dissonance predicts that given the choice between our emotional ties and facts, we’ll pick emotional every time. Why in the world would intelligent people do so? Researchers Nyhan and Reifler hypothesized that partisans reject such information not because they’re against the facts, but because it’s painful. Their work explains ...

"Why are political misperceptions – which can distort individual policy preferences and undermine the factual basis of democratic debate – so prevalent? We evaluate two factors that may contribute to the persistence of false and unsupported political beliefs.

* "First, many people may not have been exposed to accurate information in a convincing format.
* "In addition, however, the threatening nature of corrective information itself may also cause people to reject information that contradicts their preexisting views.

"Results from three experiments provide support for both hypotheses. We show that providing participants with graphical information significantly decreases false and unsupported factual beliefs, but that affirming respondents’ self-worth can also reduce misperceptions among those who are most likely to be misinformed."

(Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler. "The roles of information deficits and identity threat
in the prevalence of misperceptions." Dartmouth College. June 22, 2015.) says that notion suggested a possible solution: "If partisans were made to feel better about themselves — if they received a little image and ego boost — could this help them more easily absorb the “blow” of information that threatens their pre-existing views?"

The researchers had voters think of times in their lives when they had done something very positive and found that, fortified by this positive memory, voters were more willing to take in information that challenged their pre-existing views.

“One person talked about taking care of his elderly grandmother — something you wouldn’t expect to have any influence on people’s factual beliefs about politics,” Nyhan said. “But that brings to mind these positive feelings about themselves, which we think will protect them or inoculate them from the threat that unwelcome ideas or unwelcome information might pose to their self-concept.”

Two Cents

To me, working NOT to be partisan while reading accurate, current information without political spin would be a Godsend to political thinking. Also, if we were much more receptive to recognizing the apparent deficiencies of black-and-white belief, this realization would lead to fairer, more equitable policies and legislation. And, we citizens and civil servants both must acknowledge that our own personal beliefs and emotions often get in the way of the greater truth -- the need to face and meet the issues in a bipartisan approach. Progress is driven by those who find common ground in positive achievement; it is stifled by those with narrow minds and partisan goals.

I am sick of seeing intelligent people act like automatons controlled by political and religious machinery whose greatest purpose is to put them at odds with the opposition. So many people in our nation now seem very satisfied to choose sides and oppose all concessions by viewing anyone having a contrary thought as a real enemy. The name calling and emotional displays of outright indignation spew daily across social media. It's open season to many -- "us" against "them."

My President is a constant victim of such political vitriol. He has been called a Muslim, a terrorist, even the Anti-Christ. Although nominated and elected to two terms as the leader of America, partisan haters show no respect for the office or for the man. The climate created by extremists who cannot find any good in Obama's policies makes our democracy look more like a country being harassed by a juvenile gang vying for complete control of the turf on which we live.

Of course, disagreeing on issues is to be expected and even encouraged. And, oh how we do that so well. I believe we drastically miss the mark in the areas of compromise and solution. When a righteous "we" becomes a particular party, a particular religious sect, or another group with a particular viewpoint, "we" no longer respect the dignity of others. Make no mistake, no single group escapes the learning curve as it faces the complexity of living in a true democracy. No group has possession of all virtues.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." Although Abraham Lincoln's words from 1858 describe the undisputed effect to a young nation suffering the sickness of human bondage and not partisan alignment, America is now suffering because of selfish, divisive thinking once more. Left unchecked, the hatred and outright loathing directed at people because they choose to disagree or choose to support an opposing view will breed further animosity that will erode the character of a once-great nation.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Opiates: Even With the Facts, Your Child Is At Risk

In the middle of an opiate health epidemic, young Americans are extremely vulnerable. Even though most youth know the dangers of risk-taking behaviors like using dangerous drugs, research confirms they are "hardwired to ignore what they have learned." To view this type of risk taking as inevitable and simply something children will "experiment with" as they develop independence is giving them permission to play Russian roulette with addiction and death. Parents, guardians, and caretakers such as schools must teach abstinence and zero tolerance for recreation use of prescription opiates and heroin.

The University of Michigan "Monitoring the Future" survey reports the abuse of opioid prescription painkillers is high in youth populations. 9.7 percent of high school seniors report using Vicodin in the past year, while 4.9 percent report using OxyContin. The study also put lifetime use of heroin at 1.00 percent for 12th graders.

Consider the "hard-wired" young brain, and also consider the facts of mortality. Indeed, teenagers have the double the risk of dying compared to their preteen selves. Opioid abuse must be stopped, no matter how much precious time, money, and effort are needed to effect significant change.

(Maia Szalavitz. "Why the Teen Brain Is Drawn to Risk." Time.

Dr. Laurence Steinberg, researcher and professor of psychology from Temple University, reports   adolescent brain development shows teenagers seek out risk-taking behaviors because the section of the brain most involved in emotion and social interaction becomes very active during puberty, while the section most critical for regulating behavior is still maturing into early adulthood.

According to Steinberg, heightened risk taking in adolescence is the result of competition between these two very different brain systems -- the socioemotional and cognitive-control networks -- that are undergoing maturation during adolescence, but along very different timetables. During the adolescence, the socioemotional system becomes more assertive during puberty, while the cognitive-control system gains strength only gradually and over a longer period of time.

(Laurence Steinberg. “Risk Taking in Adolescence: New Perspectives from Brain and Behavioral Science.” Current Directions in Psychological Science. April 2007.)

This explains, Steinberg says, why teens are so susceptible to peer pressure and why education and prevention efforts designed to keep teens from engaging in risk-taking behaviors don't work all that well. Steinberg claims teens take twice as many risks when friends are watching. "They didn't take more chances because they suddenly downgraded the risk," explains Steinberg. "They did so because they gave more weight to the payoff."

According to Steinberg's research, the presence of peers even increases risk taking by 50% in college undergraduates, but it does not influence the number of risks older adults took.

Steinberg explains that many simple prevention measures fail ...

"We have tried to prevent these behaviors by educating kids about the dangers of things like smoking, drinking, taking drugs, and unprotected sex. The thinking has been if they know about the dangers they won't do these things, but that is clearly not true."

(Salynn Boyles. "Teens Are Hardwired for Risky Behavior."
WebMD Health News. April 13, 2007.)

Steinberg says programs aimed at persuading teens not to engage in dangerous behaviors seem to have little impact. Just because we give them the facts, that doesn't mean we are changing their behaviors.

The Deadly Dilemma

So, youth typically get the facts about deadly opiates, yet largely due to their propensity to take risks and to give into peer pressure, they view themselves as "bulletproof" and defy the truth to engage in risky behaviors that support their desires for emotional and social interaction.

And, yet, a newer study suggests it may be that teens' notorious risk-taking behavior stems not from some immunity to known risks, but rather, from their greater tolerance to uncertainty and ambiguity. Teens love the unknown. "If the risks are known, adolescents engage (in risk-taking) less than adults do, but if they are unknown, this is reversed," Agnieszka Tymula, lead author of the study says.

Tymula explains: "This tolerance for unknown risks might stem from an underlying biological feature that makes learning about the unknown less unpleasant for adolescents than it is for adults."

She continues ...

"An early part of learning any type of new skill -- from typing to teaching -- is accepting instruction and consciously thinking about all of the tactics and techniques involved in performing the skill.

"While novices need to think step-by-step, however, experts will have incorporated the best routines into their brains to the point that they become automatic. This may be why the teen brain uses the higher-order cortex for risk decisions: it hasn't yet made enough of them to develop an intuitive reaction that it can 'offload' to other brain regions."

(Agnieszka Tymula, et al. "Adolescents’ risk-taking behavior is driven by tolerance to ambiguity." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. May 01, 2012.)

Valerie Reyna, professor of human development and psychology at Cornell University, who has done her own research, agrees with Tymula, and says the study adds to her own findings. This research confirms how excessively teens tend to overestimate risk. Yet, it doesn't prevent them from engaging in risky behavior. They may get lost in the details about specific risks and overly focused on possible rewards, while ignoring the overall "gist" of the problem -- i.e., the ultimate consequences.

Reyna's work has shown that adolescents carefully think about risks most adults wouldn't even consider taking -- like, say, playing Russian roulette -- using their prefrontal cortex. Why are they wired this way? Their greater tolerance for uncertainty and the unknown -- and an increased desire for and focus on rewards -- probably helps them leave the nest.

(Maia Szalavitz. "Why the Teen Brain Is Drawn to Risk." Time. October 02, 2012.)

Fighting A Tough Battle

How can we best fight this flight into irreparable harm? Steinberg says we need to provide more structure to control young people's impulses and to regulate their behavior. That means focusing on ways to keep teens from getting into trouble. But he also says, "Parents have a bigger role to play than government, by monitoring the behavior of their teens and imposing their own rules to protect them from harm."

Tymula suggests that allowing teens opportunities to safely experiment -- for example, a simulator that shows sober teens what drunk driving is like -- could also help, by making an unknown risk seem more real and known. Allowing teens the opportunity to take risks in a safe context could also help them develop expertise that underlies gist-based thinking. Of course, this simulation seems very difficult -- impossible? -- to do when the enemy is opiate addiction.

Reyna has studied how teaching "gist"-based reasoning can help teens avoid dangerous sexual choices, finding that teens who are taught to focus on potential, catastrophic negative outcomes, rather than the odds, make fewer risky sexual decisions and have fewer partners.

Structure, regulation, parental involvement, simulators, focusing on catastrophic negative outcomes -- we must use the best available resources in a research-based commitment to curb opioid abuse in youth. Experts agree prevention is the best strategy.

The most commonly abused opiate drugs are prescription painkillers, but as many as 40 percent of teens don’t perceive any major risk with trying heroin once or twice (NSUDH). According to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, the number of teens who abuse prescription drugs has nearly tripled since 1992.

The most commonly abused opiate drugs are heroin, Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), Darvon (propoxyphene), Diluadid (hydromorphone), morphine, fentanyl, codeine, and other related prescription painkillers.

We must educate ourselves and our loved ones with the best resources while limiting their access to deadly and addictive substances. The National Institute on Drug Abuse makes the entire publication of "Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction" available online. Please, click onto the following link to access their "Preventing Drug Abuse: The Best Strategy" material and begin the fight:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Partisan Politics Stunt American Youth

"Is there any way we can calmly, rationally,  and respectfully work out these competing ideas?  Are we even interested in trying?   Or are both the liberal notion of fairness as equality (people get the same basic rights and basic goods) and the conservative talk of fairness as desert (people get what they deserve), really just empty talk -- something that each side trots out to paper over and disguise their real motives and interests when they are pushed to defend themselves?

"I mean if you really want to have it all, what better way to defend yourself than to appeal to fairness as desert.   And if you really want to take something that belongs to somebody else and redistribute it, what better way to defend your self than by appeal to fairness as desert.  It’s as if the interest comes first, and the justification in terms of fairness is thought of post hoc to disguise the real interest.

"I suspect that there is some deep truth to that disturbing outlook.  I wouldn’t say that partisan politics is all based on pretense and false consciousness.  But I do think that all sorts of hidden and subterranean motives drive us to do the things we do. 

"And that’s why politics is so very unlike like reasoned philosophical arguments.  So very, very little of it is completely above board and transparent.  So very little of it deserves to be taken at face value.  And that’s precisely why we need to into the dark reaches of the human psyche if we really want to understand how partisan politics really works."

(Ken Taylor. "The Psychology of Partisan Politics." Philosophy Talk. 2013.)

In the quote, Ken Taylor, Professor of Philosophy at Stanford University and director of Stanford's interdisciplinary program in Symbolic Systems, addresses the psychology of partisan politics. It is an issue well worth our consideration during the presidential candidate campaigns.

Any young, impressionable person listening to the Republican debate can readily understand that all candidates -- Trump, Carson, Rubio, Cruz, Fiorina, and all the others  -- can agree upon one issue and one issue alone. That believe all of them share is that the country cannot risk another extension of President Obama by electing the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

And, yes, Democrat frontrunners are just as guilty of promoting partisanship over substance. So, I understand the necessity of promoting party lines.

But ...

The messages about politics in our beloved democracy that scream out at young America is that partisanship supersedes all else and that the opposing political party is the hated enemy. Period. Believe in the party without question – just vote for the candidate no matter who gets the nomination because the party, not the government which is comprised of members of both parties, represents all of what you must believe.

Is it any wonder our youth grow up now with a conviction to choose party lines over facts and logical progressive understandings? And, after the election, they are subjected to watching a continuum of uncooperative members of Congress -- Republicans and Democrats --  become gridlocked with very little dedication to working out bipartisan solutions to problems that affect all Americans?

Partisans Hate the Pain of Change

Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan says on a range of issues, partisans seem partial to their political loyalties over the facts. When those loyalties demand changing their views of the facts, he said, partisans seem willing to throw even consistency overboard.

Along with Jason Reifler at Georgia State University, Nyhan said, he's exploring the possibility that partisans reject facts because they produce cognitive dissonance -- the psychological experience of having to hold inconsistent ideas in one's head. Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

Nyhan explains ...

"When Democrats hear the argument that the president can do something about high gas prices, that produces dissonance because it clashes with the loyalties these voters feel toward Obama. The same thing happens when Republicans hear that Obama cannot be held responsible for high gas prices -- the information challenges their dislike of the president.

"Nyhan and Reifler hypothesized that partisans reject such information not because they're against the facts, but because it's painful. That notion suggested a possible solution: If partisans were made to feel better about themselves -- if they received a little image and ego boost -- could this help them more easily absorb the 'blow' of information that threatens their pre-existing views?"

(Shankar Vedantam. "Partisan Psychology: Why Do People Choose Political Loyalties Over Facts?" National Public Radio. May 09, 2012.)

Wow! Isn't this what most of us who are disgruntled with politics want? Despite which party sponsors what initiative, we wish our elected officials would forget about infighting and partisanship, consider all logical alternatives to issues, and work together to compromise and enact workable solutions. They cannot do this by being politically partisan egotists bent strictly on preserving party allegiance and reelection.

And, shouldn't we be teaching our young people the same – to readily accept information that challenges their pre-existing views and to use politics to forge positive changes that benefit the common good, not a select group of individuals. I believe this would would reinforce positive connotations about much-needed bipartisanship to institute a climate of care for all Americans.

Strengthening political effectiveness is grounded in the scientific study of human functioning. Susan G. Kerbel, consulting partner of Cognitive Policy Works who brings a wealth of insight into psychological theories and practices to the political world, says ...

“In its simplest form, it seems obvious: politics is about people, and so is psychology. Understanding the workings of the human heart and mind, it would seem, could only be an advantage in figuring out how to help people make a society that works better for them. All in all, not rocket science, I thought, to sort out the connection.

“Through the use of techniques, we reasoned, progressive values and messages could be articulated in a more effective manner; our policies could be given a fairer hearing by the public; and our democracy, economy, society, and culture could begin the lengthy and difficult process of being restored to more human and sustainable dimensions.”

(Susan G. Kerbel. "From the Couch to the Culture: How Psychological Analysis Can Strengthen the Progressive Agenda." Cognitive Policy Works. 2015.)

Isn't it distressing to find that most politicians are operating as part of the current system that has lost the recognition that civic life is about actual human beings? They seem to have lost the association between people and politics, and constantly divorce the two so efficiently with the aid of their stubborn partisanship.

Kerbel says, “Isn't this supposed to be the United States of America?  The united part seems to be endangered as we watch partisan politics play out in Washington.” Legislators agree only with members of their own party as to the strengths and weaknesses of most legislation.

Then, this adherence begins the ritual of dramatic disagreement across parties as to a bill's merits. If legislators believe that voting with their own political party and against the opposition is more important than seriously considering the merits of the bill, they are putting partisan politics ahead of the national interest.

What Dads and Moms Teach

We raise our children to be respectful of all others and all of their diverse opinions. In doing so, we acknowledge the wide range of accepted opinions in our democracy. We want our sons and daughters to be skilled in critical thinking and wise in independent thought so that they can discern the issues with great skill while practicing open-minded esteem for others.

Yet, “with liberty and justice for all” just does not ring true when these same children watch politicians sell their souls to their parties and preach partisanship above all else. Then, when their parents swallow the Kool-Aid of strict party lines and begin to disrespect those with whom they disagree, the children learn that political sides demarcate “right” and “wrong.” The result is a new generation of indoctrinated citizens who reject the real, necessary “pain” of dissonance and choose to adhere stubbornly to the platform of one party and its extremely limited viewpoints.

Cross party and even inter-party attacks are so common that the political process resembles bloodletting more than statesmanship. John D. Mayer, Psychologist at the University of New Hampshire and author of the Mayer-Salovery-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test, says …

“I am concerned that perhaps we have become a nation of people so disrespectful of one anothers' beliefs that we have lost the habit of respecting those with whom we disagree. Rather, we prefer to demean others so as make ourselves look better, or to amuse one another, or simply because it is so much easier than seeing the other person's point of view.

“If I were a member of the legislative branch and I truly, deeply respected those on the other side of the aisle, I believe I would be deeply disturbed by the sort of inter-party attacks and struggles that are currently taking place... What about their personal principles of respecting not only those with whom they agree, but also those with whom they disagree?”

(John D. Mayer. "On Partisan Politics." Psychology Today. February 15, 2009.)

The constant political spew of aggressive attack, witch-hunting, and dirty tricks is offensive to those who want officials to find common ground.

Mayer sums this up so well when he states ...

“What makes that (finding “common ground”) so challenging at the personal level, however, is that the best compromises often require us to question our own beliefs and our own ideas, to realize that we ourselves are as prone to be mistaken as the next person. Although such self-awareness is challenging, it allows us to better understand what is really more open to pragmatic negotiation than might first appear to be the case.”

My View

I remember how much fun we had in junior high during presidential elections. It seemed that everyone in school wore buttons of support for their candidates, participated in rowdy and opinionated debates, and enjoyed all the political hubbub that culminated in a highly contested mock election.

Without a doubt, partisan spirits ran high during our youth. We generally followed our parents' views, and voted for their choice of candidate. Still, after the election – no matter the result – our parents advised us to respect the office of the President of the United States as the elected leader of the free world. I think those of us who were losers did so grudgingly, but still the order came down.

Then, as we grew just a little older and developed a few more connections in our frontal cortex, the issues took center stage – it was the '60s and the time for ripe for exhilarating social changes and bold, new, political ideas.

Civil rights, voting rights, the Vietnam War, poverty, women's liberation, the space race, the cold war, the counterculture – it seemed suddenly a wave of issues swept into our young lives. It was a new frontier for us, and we mattered … a lot.

Soon, after high school, our campuses become a breeding ground for political activism. What politician took what stand on what issue? We wanted to know. Political parties? With names like Kennedy (John and Bobby), Johnson, McGovern, Nixon, Goldwater, Rockefeller, McCarthy, Humphrey, and Wallace the party lines took a backseat to the issues. Sure, candidates were backstabbing opposing parties, but very little seemed “black and white” about where the Democrats or the Republicans drew their lines of party allegiance.

I believe it is time to think about the significant reforms that took place when politicians still believed in the power of reconciliation, compromise, and needed reaction instead of government shutdown. Supporting a candidate or an issue shouldn't make us sworn enemies of the other political side. This division should make us work even harder to find common ground that benefits our nation. As bad as that feeling of partisanship may have been 50 years ago, I feel it is 50 times worse now. It's junior high; it's juvenile; it's downright ugly. We must teach our children well.