Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Christian Nation?

The fundies are carrying on about how the United States is a “Christian” nation, which is their way of saying that we should be a theocracy ruled over by a gaggle of televangelists. Instead of taxes we’d simply send a dollar bill to the address on our television screen. Not only would that fund our public services, it would also get us prayed for.

But let’s say, just for the fun of it, that we were a Christian nation. What exactly would that entail? Well, in Matthew 25:35 Jesus says, “For I hungered and you gave me meat; I was thirsty and you gave me drink.”

I suppose that means that a Christian nation would feed its hungry, clothe its naked and shelter its homeless. That sort of plays havoc with the religious right’s belief that poverty is a sign of God’s displeasure. It also means a Christian nation would have one hell of a strong safety net. In a Christian nation no child would go to be hungry; no family would be homeless; no individual would be denied adequate health care; its prisons would focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment; it would honor humility instead of celebrity; and it would value love over strength.

But it gets tougher. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus enjoins us to “turn the other cheek.” In other words, a Christian nation would only resort to violence as a last resort when all other means had been exhausted. It would also mean that a Christian nation would not maintain an obscenely bloated defense establishment. It would mean that the nation would play nice in its conduct of foreign affairs instead of starting wars of aggression and exploiting Third World countries for their resources.

A Christian nation would see all persons as children of God; there would be no illegal immigrants or racially inferior “others;” it would value people over money or property. A Christian nation would embrace all of creation as a gift from God for which they were expected to be responsible stewards instead of rapacious exploiters.

Instead of the Ten Commandments, a Christian nation would hand the Beatitudes in its public buildings, as Kurt Vonnegut suggested.

Is the United States a Christian nation?

I don’t think so.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Sordid Tale

The sordid story of the Ford Pinto is an instructive study of the corporate mindset. In the late 60s, small foreign cars such as the VW Beetle were giving American automakers a run for their money.

Lee Iacocca, a Ford vice president, told Henry Ford II he could produce a car that would weigh less than 2,000 pounds and cost less than $2,000. And he promised Ford to have the car in dealer showrooms by 1971.

In the auto industry the normal time it takes to go from planning to production is 43 months. Iacocca had the Pinto in production in 25 months.

During the initial design stage, engineers had become concerned over the fact that the gas tank was jammed hard against the back seat. They feared it might rupture in the event of a rear-end collision. In such a scenario, the smallest of sparks could set off a raging inferno.

Iacocca blew off the objections. As one engineer commented, “The company is run by salesmen, not engineers.”

Once the car was in production, actual crash tests proved that matters were even worse than engineers had originally feared. The gas tank would ruptured in rear-end collisions as slow as 25 mph. At 40 mph, the doors became jammed shut and occupants were trapped in a burning car.

What to do.

Hell! That was easy! Ford commissioned a cost-benefit analysis.

They estimated that the Pinto, as designed, would cause 180 burn deaths and 180 burn injuries. At $200,000 a death, $67,000 per injury and $700 per vehicle, the total cost to the company would be $49.5.

Redesigning the car to make it safe would cost the company $137 million.

It was a no brainer. The Pinto hit the market unmodified.

One wonders, in amazement, at the mindset that would let people burn just to save a few bucks. However, that’s the rub. In the corporate world, there are no people, only numbers.

What we have here is an example of corporate sociopaths at work. To the corporate sociopath, quantification is all. In this sterile world, there is no death, no blood, no gore, no charred bodies, no suffering, no cries of pain, no broken lives and no motherless children.

There are only numbers, and if the numbers justify an act, no matter how horrendous, then everything is fine because the corporate sociopaths are meeting their fiduciary obligations to their stockholders.

Life’s easier than way. There are no sticky ethical questions to deal with. All the sociopath has to do is lean back and let the numbers do the thinking for him.

Incidentally, there is a coda to this tale. Ford could have made the Pinto safer for less than the cost o the deaths and injuries. Goodyear had developed a rubber bladder that could be placed inside the gas tank , thus preventing the tank from rupturing. They didn’t consider it because Iacocca wanted the cars in Ford showrooms by 1971, and modifying the car would have delayed its introduction and possibly cost Ford some market share.

It was those pesky numbers again.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Return of Belacqua Jones

Belacqua Jones is returning. Yes, America’s lovable Machiavelli on meth is coming back after destroying the country’s rehab network in a vain attempt to get him clean. His new blog, “Confessions of a Right Wing Stoner” will debut on Monday (unless he’s too stoned to reach the keyboard.)

For those of you new to this site, Belacqua first appeared some years ago when this blog was titled, “Open Letters to George W. Bush” in which Belacqua acted as George’s shadow advisor. When George left the White House, Belacqua went to pieces. His binge made the Guinness Book of Records and has yet to be equaled.

It was only when he realized that Bush had not died but had risen from the dead in the body of Barack Obama that Belacqua sobered up enough to return to the keyboard with his trippy view of world affairs.

Belacqua is a visionary who sees the world through a set of lenses cracked by a neocon ideology run amok and too many controlled substances. So tune in on Monday for the first of his incoherent rants and discover the wisdom that is to be found in madness.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Consumptive Freedom

The commodities economy long ago enslaved Americans and other “developed” capitalist societies. But Americans in particular. The most profound slavery must be that in which the slaves can perceive of no other possible or better world than their bondage. Inescapable, global, all permeating, the commodities economy rules so thoroughly most cannot imagine any other possible kind of economy.
Joe Bageant

It appears to be forever even though it may be coming to an end. Fevers peak just before they break, and the same is true of the orgy of consumerism that that had gripped the American psyche since the Industrial Revolution, which became a frenzied Bacchanal in the decades following World War II.

Delusion always accompanies the end of an era. Any twelfth century noble man would have been aghast had someone suggested that feudalism was coming to an end.

Consumerism won't end with a revolution.. When America revolts, it heads for the nearest mall. We don’t have revolutions, we have fashion statements.

And on those rare occasions when the public becomes so fed up that it begins murmuring about systemic change, our one-party system swings the door opens and invites them in, promising it to fight for the changes it wants. Then it tells the public to take a chair in the corner and keep quiet while the experts and professionals fight for the change it is demanding, which will involve only the most superficial of window dressing. (Before you cite the New Deal, remember that when the Great Depression hit, America had a viable labor and socialist movement, which are no more.)

It’s awfully hard to revolt when you’re glued to a screen or fascinated by the latest celebrity scandal. But then, why revolt when we’re the land of the free? After all, is not our freedom of choice complete? I see a shining example of our freedom every time I visit my supermarket. There I find a seventy-five foot shelf devoted solely to condiments. I can choose from an infinite selection of ketchups, mustards, hot sauces, vinegars, olive oils and marinades. Hell, how much freer can I be?

Yes, we are a consumptive democracy in which slaves are free to choose any commodity they want as long as their plastic isn’t maxed out. It is such a dazzling display of flashing, blinking, beeping toys, gourmet foods, engineered running shoes, T-shirts fashioned out of organic cotton and designer boxer shorts that we never even notice the erosion of our civil liberties. We are comforted by the fact that when the surveillance cameras catch our image we are dressed to the nines. In a consumptive society appearance is all. If you look good, you are good. This is especially true of politicians.

Who needs freedom when there’s UPS at the front door delivering another package?

Life is simpler that way. Why worry about an identity based on character when we can have one defined by the logos we display? Who needs freedom as long as we are free to go shopping?

It will end not because we revolt or because we experience a collective epiphany and return to a life of simplicity. It will end when the oil runs out, when the last credit card is maxed out and when the country is totally bankrupt. In retrospect, future generations will look back on our Age of Consumption and see it for what it was—a slow and gradual suicide in which we mistook decline for ascent.

Puck nailed it when he said, “What fools these mortals be!”