How Low Can America Go?

We’re number 96! We’re number 96! We’re number 96! Feel free to chant along as you read the following discouraging, though hardly surprising, bit of news from Reuters:

US ranks low, just above Iran on new peace index

The United States is among the least peaceful nations in the world, ranking 96th between Yemen and Iran, according to a new index released on Wednesday that evaluates 121 nations based on their peacefulness.

According to the Global Peace Index, created by The Economist Intelligence Unit, Norway is the most peaceful nation in the world and Iraq is the least, just after Russia, Israel and Sudan.

“The objective of the Global Peace Index was to go beyond a crude measure of wars by systemically exploring the texture of peace,” said Global Peace Index President Clyde McConaghy.

He said the inaugural effort proves “peace can and has and will continue to be measured.”

The index was compiled based on 24 indicators measuring peace inside and outside of a country. They included the number of wars a country was involved in the past five years, how many soldiers were killed overseas and how much money was made in arms sales.

Domestic indicators included the level of violent crimes, relations with neighboring countries and level of distrust in other citizens.

The results were then reviewed by a panel of international experts.

“We were trying to find out what positive qualities lead to peace,” said Leo Abruzzese, the North American editorial director of the intelligence unit that is part of The Economist Group that publishes the well known magazine.

He said they found in general the most peaceful countries were the smallest, the most politically stable and democratic.

“Democracy didn’t actually correlate with peace, but a well-functioning democracy did. Efficient, accountable government seems to be the leading determinant of peace. Beyond that, income helps.” [full text]

Car Wash for Peace

The following video, featuring comedian Jimmy Fallon and taken off the website Funny or Die, put a smile on my face:


Feel free to sing along:

Car Wash For Peace

I’m so sick of all the news on T.V.
All this fighting got me going crazy
And someone wrote on my car “Please clean me”
Now I know what I got to do.
Listen everybody I’m talking to you.

Let’s have a car wash for peace.
There’s trouble in the Middle East.
There will be no more wars,
Or dirty cars.
Car wash for peace.

Just remember –
We got to get together
In the parking lot across from WalMart Supercenter
Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, C’mon all you Hindu dudes!
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!

The Studied Ignorance of America

The more I think about it, the more I must regrettably conclude that Americans, as a people, are dumb as a tree stump. Well, not dumb so much as stubbornly unreasoning and incurious. I believe that the studied ignorance of our citizenry is, in many ways, at the root of much of what ails this nation. Logic and analysis be damned, we’ll pretty much believe anything we want to believe. “George W. Bush is a suitable leader.” “Iraq was behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11.” “I’m not fat, just big-boned.” “Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.” “Human beings did not evolve from earlier species of animals.” And on and on it goes.

With regard to Americans’ beliefs about evolution, it is worth noting that a study published last year revealed that, as compared to Europe and Japan, “the United States ranks near the bottom when it comes to public acceptance of evolution. Only Turkey ranked lower.” That’s right. The only country we beat out was one that shares its name with the wattled fowl we consume on national holidays. It turns out that only 40 percent of Americans fully believe that humans developed from earlier species of animals. By comparison, “in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and France, 80 percent or more of adults accepted evolution; in Japan, 78 percent of adults did.” It’s little wonder that this nation can’t produce a decent automobile.

It’s also little wonder that this nation can manage to produce a Creation Museum that embraces the belief that the world is only 6,000 or so years old, humans and dinosaurs previously coexisted, and the Grand Canyon is the product of the Great Flood. Yes, and apparently The Flintstones is not a cartoon but a documentary. Yabba-dabba doo-doo.

Anyway, here’s what Reg Henry of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had to say about America’s monument to ignorance:

Adam, Eve and a fig leaf to cover science

The pursuit of happiness takes many forms and the American people are starved for entertainment. Those two truths taken in combination may explain the Creation Museum, which has just opened in Petersburg, Ky., not far from Cincinnati.

Lacking such an explanation, sensible people might dismiss such an oddity as just another of the devil’s works to lure Christians into making themselves look ridiculous for the amusement of atheists, who are desperate for any sort of fun because they can’t enjoy Christmas.

To the embarrassment of thoughtful believers, the Creation Museum has been built for people who were born yesterday, or more or less yesterday, because they don’t believe in the great geologic periods that spoilsport science insists upon.

It’s enough to make one bemoan the lack of an 11th commandment on the list given to Moses: Thou Shalt Not Be Stupid. But perhaps the Almighty knew that enough sinners would be on Earth without adding the silly, credulous and well-meaning to their number.

Still, the creation of the Creation Museum will give people more entertainment than the usual faith-based attempts to ban such innocent childhood amusements as the Harry Potter books and Halloween as agents of witchcraft. After all, it provides fun for all the family, rather than seeking to ban fun for all the family.

The museum tells a fundamentalist Christian version of Earth’s history, which insists that the Earth is only a few thousand years old and was created in a week. Evolution, heaven forbid, was not involved.

This view poses certain practical problems. According to the Associated Press story, some of the exhibits show dinosaurs aboard Noah’s Ark with the explanation that all animals were vegetarians until Adam committed the first sin in the Garden of Eden.

Dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark? I don’t think so. It’s not as if the sanitation crew didn’t already have its hands full without the larger lizards knocking over the brooms with their tails.

Still, I suppose it could be true. After all, a steady diet of salad makes any creature irritable and mean, as I know from my own experience. Why, on my recent diet, I had turned into a Tyrannosaurus Rex by the second week and I don’t even have huge fangs for the giant celery to get stuck in. [full text]

A Reason to Adore Al Gore

Back in 2000, which now seems ever so long ago, I quite honestly was no big fan of Al Gore. Indeed, in November of that year, I cast my presidential ballot for Ralph Nader (which, granted, was less of a throwaway vote here in liberal Massachusetts than elsewhere). More than six excruciating years later, I can now say that I adore Gore. Well, “adore” may be a tad overenthusiastic, but I like the sound of the phrase. It’s a bumper sticker waiting to happen, as in ADORE GORE, 2008.

Al Gore is clearly a very intelligent man. One could argue that he has single-handedly brought the global climate crisis front and center. In the Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, Gore offered a highly persuasive and reasoned explication of the negative impact humans have had—and will continue to have, absent drastic intervention—on the climate. Gore is a big fan of reason. In fact, he has just published a book entitled The Assault on Reason, in which he decries the increasingly problematic tendency of the American electorate and those they elect to ignore or minimize (or even attack) facts and logic, responding reflexively rather than reasonably to issues of great import.

I could not agree more. And I adore the fact that Al Gore has taken it upon himself to bring attention to this disturbing trend. It makes me wish that he would consider running for President in 2008. (How does a Gore/Obama ticket sound?) I recognize, as Gore himself seems to, that he may be in a better—and freer—position to affect change as a private citizen than as a public servant, but it would be refreshing as hell to have a man of his intelligence and experience and integrity occupying the Oval Office. I suppose that time will only tell whether he decides to roll up his sleeves and enter the political fray anew.

In the meantime, check out the video clip embedded in the following Raw Story article on Gore’s recent appearance (as part of his nationwide book tour) on Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

Olbermann hosts Al Gore on the abuses of ‘mass media persuasion’

Nigeria Takes On Big Pharma

It’s bad enough when powerful nations and corporations in the developed world exploit the natural resources of the developing world. But it’s simply egregious when those same powerful entities seek to further their wealth and influence by exploiting people in the developing world. In today’s Washington Post, Joe Stephens reprises some of his earlier work and reports on how, more than a decade ago, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer illicitly used children stricken with meningitis in Nigeria as guinea pigs to test a new antibiotic medication:

Pfizer Faces Criminal Charges in Nigeria

Officials in Nigeria have brought criminal charges against pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for the company’s alleged role in the deaths of children who received an unapproved drug during a meningitis epidemic.

Authorities in Kano, the country’s largest state, filed eight charges this month related to the 1996 clinical trial, including counts of criminal conspiracy and voluntarily causing grievous harm. They also filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $2 billion in damages and restitution from Pfizer, the world’s largest drug company.

The move represents a rare — perhaps unprecedented — instance in which the developing world’s anger at multinational drug companies has boiled over into criminal charges. It also represents the latest in a string of public-relations blows stemming from the decade-old clinical trial, in which Pfizer says it acted ethically.

The government alleges that Pfizer researchers selected 200 children and infants from crowds at a makeshift epidemic camp in Kano and gave about half of the group an untested antibiotic called Trovan. Researchers gave the other children what the lawsuit describes as a dangerously low dose of a comparison drug made by Hoffmann-La Roche. Nigerian officials say Pfizer’s actions resulted in the deaths of an unspecified number of children and left others deaf, paralyzed, blind or brain-damaged.

The lawsuit says that the researchers did not obtain consent from the children’s families and that the researchers knew Trovan to be an experimental drug with life-threatening side effects that was “unfit for human use.” Parents were banned from the ward where the drug trial occurred, the suit says, and the company left no medical records in Nigeria.

Pfizer and its doctors “agreed to do an illegal act,” the criminal charges state, and behaved “in a manner so rash and negligent as to endanger human life.” [full text]

Additional background on this case can be found in a damning exposé written by Joe Stephens in the Washington Post in 2000, entitled “As Drug Testing Spreads, Profits and Lives Hang in Balance.”

Is Tom DeLay Psychotic?

The following post from The Carpetbagger Report caught my eye, which then rolled at the content:

DeLay’s hearing voices from above

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay told The New Yorker about his future plans, and what’s motivating him to keep up his conservative crusade. (via Ron Chusid)

Earlier this year, [DeLay] published a memoir called “No Retreat, No Surrender� … in which he claimed that as a young congressman he would on occasion drink ten to twelve Martinis at a time. In this period, he earned the nickname Hot Tub Tom. Then he found Jesus and, he said, stopped sinning. In the book, he freely confesses to committing adultery. “I had put my needs first,� he told me. “I was on the throne, not God. I had pushed God from His throne.� […]

DeLay says that when, in the coming years, he is not fighting the indictment in Texas (he insists that he is not guilty) he will be building a conservative grass-roots equivalent of “God has spoken to me,� he said. “I listen to God, and what I’ve heard is that I’m supposed to devote myself to rebuilding the conservative base of the Republican Party, and I think we shouldn’t be underestimated.�

Well, he’s quite the modern-day Noah, isn’t he? An omnipotent God is not only concerned about the future of the Republican Party, He’s specifically worried about the right-wing base of the Republican Party. And this same God is not only interested in the base, but He specifically wants a corrupt exterminator to lead the way in building a rejuvenated far-right movement.

And we know all of this to be true because Tom DeLay received a message directly from God, who told him to take on these challenges.

Remember, when you talk to God, it’s prayer. When God talks to you, it’s schizophrenia. [full text]

Actually, to be more precise, it’s indicative of psychosis, which can be brought upon by any number of conditions, not the least of which is schizophrenia. With DeLay, though, given his disturbed history, I would tend to suspect an acute case of pathological narcissism. In any regard, if God were truly to deign to have a chat with ol’ Tom, I suspect He would (1) politely suggest that the ex-Majority Leader shut his piehole and (2) smite him with a thunderbolt. Anyway, that would be my recommendation.

Linkin’ Log (for 05-29-07)

• The Untold Story of America’s Health Care Crisis—An unsettling excerpt, courtesy of AlterNet, from the recently published book, “Sick: The Untold Story of America’s Health Care Crisis — and the People Who Pay the Price,” by Jonathan Cohn.

• Forget Ethics, Remember Politics—In an editorial, the New York Times decries “the Bush administration’s never-ending push to turn federal agencies into favor-filled partisan clubhouses,” as exemplified by the scandalous actions of Lurita Doan, the head of the General Services Administration.

• Democrats in Washington want to keep impeachment off the table—A report by Steven Thomma of the McClatchy Newspapers on how and why “the push to impeach President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney is gaining a hearing in some parts of the country, but not in Washington.”

• Teen Tests Internet’s Lewd Track Record—An interesting piece by Eli Saslow of the Washington Post on “the unruly momentum of the Internet” and how one 18-year-old female pole vaulter from California found herself overwhelmed by an undesired “wave of attention.”