Maybe instead of fighting for “freedom” to sell junk food to kids, we should instead enter a 12 step program?

As a society, we have generally decided that there is public benefit to enacting laws that limit people’s exposure to products that are known to cause health problems. These laws apply even against our personal will and even if we are not hurting anyone but ourselves. We also consider public health cost associated with disease from known products when making the determinations on a societal level. This is nothing new. How many “drugs” fall into this category on a State and Federal level? How many foods and chemicals? Known carcinogens are also commonly banned from our food supply due to public health concern. We even do this with the pet food industry.

In certain cases like cigarettes and alcohol, we have societally decided that we should at very least, have laws preventing sale to minors and limits to the sale, distribution, and public use. Most people (maybe not Ron Paul) consider these types of laws good common sense for any civilized government.

But when it comes to junk food, high fructose corn syrup or sugar, society seems to lose its ability to critically think. If a municipality, school district, or government makes any attempt whatsoever to mitigate a public health epidemic exactly the way they do all of these other known human poisons you, get public outcry on a significant level.  The interesting thing to me is that the outcry never has anything to do with arguing against the known harmful effect or societal cost of these junk foods. Most will fully admit that they cause obesity, are addictive, etc.

A recent 60 minutes piece even suggests a more far reaching public health epidemic related specifically to sugar including studies showing direct unarguable links to heart disease and cancer. It also points out scientifically how sugar addiction occurs in the brain exactly as it does with drugs such as Cocaine.

But in spite of all of the overwhelming evidence, why are so many people still fiercely willing to fight against any sort of ban including a ban on sale and service to minors?

But no, it is all about our freedom! The government does not have a right to tell me how to live my life or raise my kids the way I choose!

Where are all of the “freedom to live the way we want” people when our government is actually imprisoning citizens for exercising their freedom to do some drugs.  Why are your addictions and “freedoms” more justifiable than someone else’s? Are junk food laws really that different than a bunch of other substances we already make illegal for the exact same reasons? We can’t even get consensus that selling a 64oz soda to a 5 year old should be illegal!

If you do a little critical thinking you will find that most all of the arguments against junk food and sugar sales to minors could just as easily be applied to cigarettes. Why don’t we also allow cigarette sales to minor’s if our freedom is so important? The verdict is out on sugar and junk food and it is hard to justify any argument for that is from an actual health standpoint. Junk food and the results of our societal addictions are having a devastating impact on the economy, public health, and quality of life for a huge number of people including an inexcusable number of children. The statistics are simply undeniable.

Thankfully, society has turned the corner on cigarette smoking. We have known about the harmful effects of smoking for years, but simply having the information was not enough to reduce smoking rates or get people to quit. Enacting laws that limit distribution to minors, marketing to children, adding truthful warning labels and taxing the heck out of cigarettes actually did help a hell of a lot of people kick the habit!  This had nothing whatsoever to do with “freedom”. It was about addiction and the government doing it’s job.

Likewise initial studies do indicate that the small scale initiative and junk food bans are actually making a difference.

Can you imagine the public health impact that could be achieved if soda and high fructose corn syrup were simply made unavailable to minors and children the way cigarettes and alcohol are? I simply see no critical thinking justification as to why this should not be the case.

Make no mistake about it, (I think that is now my official blog catch phrase!) the reason that such a large number of people cry freedom exclusively for sugar and junk food is simple – A very large (no pun intended) number of people are addicted to sugar and junk food!

Anyone that has ever dealt with a person that has addiction issues knows that they will do just about anything to justify the behavior, regardless of the logic. This is exactly why we have the irrational justification for junk food, societally, and on such a large scale. No one wants to admit Soda is an addictive killer because they are themselves addicted.  Admitting that it is, but continuing to drink it, puts you in the exact same category societally as that guy smoking the Marlboro. Unconsciously fighting to keep junk food harmless in the view of society helps the addicted brain justify the behavior. And serving it to kids further justifies the perceived harmlessness, and also further perpetuates the addictive cycle.

Rather we enter a program or not, the sooner a majority of our country takes Step 1 of the well known 12 step program to battle addiction, the sooner we will be to passing necessary laws and ending this public health epidemic.

Step1: Admit you are powerless over alcohol Sugar and Junk Food!

 

Ronald Reagan, a Presidential Hero? Maybe, Depends on who you are.

Ask just about any good Republican and even quite a few democrats or so called “fiscal conservatives” who their presidential hero is and a good number will say “Ronald Reagan”. I am sure you are going to hear more than one cry for a return to the true fiscal conservative ideals of Reagan by the GOP during this election cycle. I even admit myself being fully enamored by his charm, style, and ideology when I was a boy growing up in a conservative white collar household. Trickle-down economics sure made enough sense in my young head. So did the War on Drugs. I also loved having a John Wayne or Clint Eastwood like president that wasn’t about to take crap from any other country. Also, he single handedly ended the cold war with the Soviet Union and brought down the Berlin Wall. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, he was also an accomplished actor and storyteller.

There are a lot of very wealthy people in this country that have done very well under these policies. Many have returned the favor spending an unimaginable sum of money to perpetuate the idealized image of a president that was never actually that popular and that had a pretty questionable overall record on both domestic and foreign policy. Regardless of your overall opinion of the presidency or how you interpret it, how exactly Reagan remains the hero of all the so-called “deficit hawks” remains a complete critical thinking mystery to me. I realize that some of my blogs are probably long enough so I thought this might be a good opportunity to point to a very smart individual that has helped summarize the actual result of some of these policies.

Thom Hartmann’s take on the political ideology and legacy of Ronald Reagan is a pretty informative retrospective from the point of view of the common man, not a billionaire.

We now have twenty four years of these policies to look back on and review. I don’t intend to spend too much time analyzing numbers, you can review Hartmann’s piece on your own or spend countless hours like I have researching, reading, and looking for the truth. Like any good engineer or critical thinker it is now time to review the policies and ideals and judge how well they have actually worked in real world practice. I guess the hard thing about doing this with the Reagan legacy is that, how well the policies worked, has an awful lot to do with who exactly you are.

Let’s start with one of my favorites, the war on drugs. Reagan along with his wife decided that we had enough of the drug problems and that, as a nation, we were going to spend whatever it took to round up all of the drug users and dealers and throw them in prison. Doing some hard time would sure be enough to show people the error of their ways, right? Well, looking back at the statistics as a scientist sure makes it appear that the hypothesis was drastically incorrect. At least if you are an individual or family member of an individual dealing with drug addiction. After all, the drug user hasn’t really dealt with their illness in prison, and they have also likely met all kinds of new friends on the inside. And when they do get out, because they are now felons, they really have little opportunity for productive employment or for assimilation into society anyway. So they instead, they live the remainder of their life on Welfare, as criminals, or they re-enter the prison system as a cruel and expensive cycle of insanity continues with no end in sight. If you are a tax payer paying the unbelievable costs to incarcerate the millions of drug addicts over and over again since the 80’s, it has not worked so well for you either. On the other hand, if you are one of the millions and millions of people that actually profit big time from policing, prosecuting and incarcerating, then the plan is working like a charm.

Let’s talk about foreign policy. Reagan ended the cold war right? He is why we no longer have to worry about the Soviet Union launching a nuclear missile at us. Let’s forget about the fact that Reagan supplied weapons to Iran and the fact that he also supplied weapons to Afghan warlords such as Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban, at least we don’t have to actually lie awake at night worrying about the Russians anymore. Also, Reagan showed us that the United States can fly aircraft right into an “evil” country like Libya and attempt to assassinate their leader. And our bad-to-the-bone President doesn’t even need an act of War or permission from congress to do it. And no other country can or will stop us! Wait a minute, hold the phone! I just flipped on the news and it appears that US Russian relations are still pretty much as “COLD” as ever, Libya’s still a stronghold for unrest and we have troops engaged all over the globe with more new enemies than we could have possibly imagined in the 80’s. Did our country’s new and continued Dirty Harry presidential policies of national “offense” actually make us safer?

And finally let’s talk trickle-down economics. Although the reality is that Reagan actually raised taxes on almost everyone in the United States he is known as the great tax cutter. This is because he did in fact cut tax overall. But make no mistake about it, these tax cuts were not to you and me, these cuts were for the exact same small group of ultra-rich people that the Republican Party has remained focused on to this day. The theory was that if you drastically cut taxes on the rich, de-regulate big business, the money would “trickle down” to the rest of us. Has that theory actually worked? Again, it really depends on who you are.

Back when I was a kid, much like today, a lot of the stores and restaurants that people went to were actually named after a person or the owner. The cool thing about it, was that the person that greeted you when you walked in the front door also had that name. If not the actual owner, probably the wife, husband, son or daughter might be the one working the register or stocking the shelves. That has changed since the presidency and policies of Reagan. The extreme tax cuts, loopholes, and incentives created for the top one percent of earners and giant corporations in this country changed everything. The name of that store owner may still be someone you know, but not likely because you have seen them in the store. More likely, you know their name because you read about them in the Forbes list of richest people in the world. Did Reagan turn mom and pop store owners into billionaire’s? No, the reality is that the ultra-wealthy just got a lot more wealthy and these giant corporations under Reaganomics now were enjoying an effective tax and interest rate that was a mere fraction of the tax and interest rate paid by mom and pop that had to shut their doors when these guys came to erect their Big Box. So yes, the Reagan legacy may be one to stand behind, especially if you are in the business of opening up giant corporations that shut down mom and pop businesses. But that is OK right? Mom and Pop can always just throw on an apron and go to work for these real businesses that make our country great and grow our economy to compete on a world stage. Of course, mom and pop will have to work a couple of these jobs and instead of turning the business over to their kids someday, most will retire much older than planned, sick and penniless. But what does matter as long as the rest of us can still buy junk from China at unimaginably cheap prices?

I could write for days on the illusion Ronald Reagan’s presidency, but the fact is, that the policies of Reagan were not how you grow the economy in the 80’s and that was never the plan or even intended outcome. The policies of Reaganomics have an actual record of growing one thing and one thing only – economic inequality. That is the one measure of growth that cannot be denied when reviewing the actual numbers associated with trickle-down economics and the policies of Reagan.

Yes, there is a debate over the policies of Reagan and no doubt some have done quite well under this economic scheme. If you are a tax accountant, banker, prison warden, or even a middle manager at a giant corporate then I assume Reagan is a hero. But if you are instead a factory worker, small business owner, teacher, snow plow driver, fire fighter, design engineer, chef, or one of the countless other real workers that actually produces something or does something real and useful for society, then things probably are not better for you at all under this scheme.

When our economy was strong, the United States was leading the world in manufacturing and innovation. Not selling billions of hamburgers or Chinese-made crap at unthinkably low prices and unthinkable large profit. I believe we should support a government that has the entire nation in mind. Not just a handful of thin-lipped white guys that like to sip scotch at country clubs and play Russian Roulette with the lives of actual working citizens. Those are Reagan’s guys and we have twenty four years’ worth of evidence to support why this didn’t work for the nation as a whole and especially the middle and working class. Yes, these policies of governmental deficit spending and rich man stimulus did pull us out of a recession, but we are twenty four years later mired in the direct long term outcome of those knee jerk policies.

Now Romney and his new sidekick are going to start resurrecting all of the same exact propaganda about why trickle-down economics, the war on drugs, and our policy of national “offense” should be further expanded in spite of the pathetic results we have seen since Reagan. It is up to the individual citizen to do their own critical thinking and make their own decision about these policies and the misinformation they are spreading. Have they worked?

My grandfather was a coal miner, factory worker, and soldier in the United States Army in WWII. Men and women like him are the true heroes that built our country and made us the strongest nation in the world. He paved the way for people like me to pursue our own dreams. When he was alive my grandfather was not confused in the least about the policies of Ronald Reagan and how devastating they would be on the working men and women of this country. Twenty four years of legacy to review tells me that not only was my grandfather very smart, unfortunately, he was also very correct.

Although I myself was lucky enough to get to go to college, earn a degree and enter the white collar job world, I refuse to forget what my hard working blue collar grandfather already knew all too well. The working men and women of this country are who make us strong. And it is these same working men and women like my grandfather, and mom and pop business owners like me, that our government should be protecting. Not the giant corporations. Hopefully more people will use critical thinking skills to evaluate the legacy of Reagan and trickle-down economic theory.

Has that money trickled down as promised? Or did that money actually dry up in Mitt Romney’s very big and very lucrative years as a venture capitalist working for a giant corporation operating under Reaganomics?

How about you? Has Reaganomics worked as well for you and your family as it has for Mitt and his family? Who are they looking out for and what do you think is their true motivation this election year?

I Bet You Didn’t know the FAA was Privatized – Are we Safer?

I realize that a good blogger’s main goal is getting people to read a catchy article that grabs their attention and makes them think and hopefully, draws a few people in. Since I am not a good blogger I have instead decided to write a 1600+ word piece on the finer points of the aviation certification industry.

If you even casually follow politics you have heard the debate over privatization versus publicly controlled entities. A few that I hear about regularly are: Post Office; Healthcare; Education; Banks; Defense.

I have seen all of the debates and I have evaluated a number of the positions. I am not sure I want to get deep in to each but I think it is a worthy discussion and each could probably be a suitable blog topic at some point. Too often the extreme ends of both parties incorrectly appear to take a position no matter what. Some want to cut everything; others appear to be able to defend about any government program imaginable. I really think the correct critical thinking approach is to evaluate each by its own merit and determine if this particular task would best be handled publicly or privately on a societal level.

There is one privatization initiative in this country that you may be less familiar with, but that I actually am intimately familiar with. That is the privatization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). I have worked my entire 15+ career in the field of aircraft system engineering and certification. I thought it might be interesting for readers to hear about the privatization of the FAA from an insider including, why we needed it, and why I believe it is not necessarily working particularly well.

In my field, the FAA establishes the aircraft regulations and oversees the compliance. They make sure that aircraft that carry public passengers are safe and in accordance with established guidelines. Pretty much standard government stuff, if there is such a thing. I think most agree that aircraft do need to adhere to a certain standard of safety and quality. The debate is rather or not an airline can be trusted to police themselves. I intend to share my experience and will let you decide for yourself.

It is not that the FAA was necessarily doing a bad job as much as they just were not able to act fast enough based on the demand. Companies that had done everything by the book were waiting way too long to receive certification and approval from the FAA on good and new aircraft innovations. Some of the innovations getting hung up in red tape were actually aircraft systems that would themselves increase aircraft safety. Obviously this does affect business, the economy, and safety and it needed to be addressed. But since no one wants to pay taxes in this country, privatization became the push from the industry. So they put in place (and are expanding) a system where the FAA appoints private entities to act on behalf of the FAA for certification. The main crew is still in charge at the Federal level but more and more of the individual inspections, approvals, and data sign offs are now coming from paid outside contractors or from within a company itself rather than the government. Very little changed except that instead of the tax payer, the aviation industry now has the option to directly pay for the FAA personnel that regulates them. But why would the industry be interested in paying for something the government formally provided?

So here is how the whole thing works, at least for me: If a company wants to design, certify and install an electronic system for use on an aircraft, they hire a corporation like the one I own. My company designs the electrical system integration and completes a series of drawings and compliance documents which cover the installation and show compliance to the required FAA regulations for a particular aircraft. One of my sub-contractors with FAA authority to “approve”, signs it off and I pay them for their FAA signature blessing. Even though they are paying more, my customers are happy because they get exactly what they want and because they are paying us, they can stipulate the time frame and make all kinds of other demands that were simply not feasible when dealing with the government. And for me and my FAA private contractors, we were thrilled too. The sky is the limit for what a business jet owner will pay when he needs to get to Honk Kong to close a deal in 24 hours and his jet is hung up waiting on a signature. The Feds didn’t give a crap about that guy’s deal in Hong Kong and they couldn’t take his money anyway. But we could! For a good number of years we have been working ethically and steadily under this model. My corporation and the people I work with are thorough, reasonable and ethical and the model was working, at least for us. We had no incentive to bend the rules whatsoever. We were very busy and turning more work down than we were doing anyway.

Things were great! Limited government backed by private companies working together at their capitalistic best!

Then the economy took a dive , the recession set in and corporate budgets tightened significantly and my industry like so many others took a big hit.  Because of the hit to the big companies and airlines, a great number of previously employed aviation engineers flooded the open consulting market as the layoff and unemployment numbers mounted.

I all of the sudden had a lot more competition in my business and a lot fewer customers to boot. My new competition had been previously unemployed and they got pretty aggressive in their marketing. What happens when supply outweighs the customer demand? Well, like in any capitalistic business, things get competitive between competing companies. Customer incentives drive an increasing picky customer base to the supplier offering the best deal. One problem, this is not Wal-Mart; How do you incentivize your business when your corporation sells regulatory signatures? The aircraft system is either in accordance with the regulations or not. Use your imagination. I am not writing a whistle blower piece but I can tell you that my opinion has soured on the debate over the privatization of aviation certification.

I have absolutely watched dozens of certification decisions made or altered based on purely financial matters. I have turned more work down in the last four years than the previously 11 combined. But it is not because I am too busy it is because the projects were not good and my corporation does not pencil whip an FAA certification. But that is exactly what my customers were looking for; or more accurately, shopping for. We are the FAA and we have an obligation to uphold a standard and abide by the law. Previously, when the FAA was running the show, if they said a project was a “no-go” it was a “no-go”. Now customers that have a questionable project have a new option. They can simply open up a directory and go shopping. They could easily call 20 private certification companies and get turned down 20 times and then find one desperate group that is willing to do whatever they need to, to turn a profit, make payroll, or pay some overdue bills. There are a great majority of us that still do hold ethics and safety as a top priority, but don’t think for a minute that I haven’t had a VIP’s firm grip on my shoulder reminding me of “just how important it is that we get that aircraft in the air tomorrow”.  Believe me; these conversations just do not happen with a direct FAA representative.

Regardless, I don’t know about you, but I don’t personally get to fly on private jets for travel. I fly on the bankrupt ones that can only afford to serve me a quarter of a whole beverage on a three hour flight that I paid $750 for. Do you think they are picky about the FAA personnel that they get to hire to approve their aircraft systems? The big airlines have FAA certification guys with offices right in their airline and they are paid a salary right from the airline itself. How hard is it for a company to buy off or silence the FAA when they are actually direct employees of the airline itself? What if that FAA appointed, but airline paid individual finds a safety problem that would potentially cost the airline millions of dollars and even cost him his own job because the place has to shut down? I would bet the VIP grip on his shoulder is a little tighter than the ones I have had on mine!

There are checks and balances and I pray that the system is still working.  The privatization idea works on paper, but it is hard to ignore the fact that whenever you introduce the all mighty dollar into a capitalistic system, the objective inevitably changes. The actual objective such as “healthcare” or “aviation safety” is now longer the top priority. Now it is a business and a businesses’ job is to make profit not provide healthcare or provide aviation safety. The scary part about it is that the people involved don’t even realize their objective changed over time. But it sure has in my industry. How safe is the aircraft you are traveling on and who should be in charge making sure that it is? Can or should an airline be trusted to regulate itself? That is a question you should ask yourself before your next flight.

Welcome aboard!

 

It is not All About the Economy, Stupid – It is All About Stupid “ME”

One of the truly mystifying aspects of the political discourse in this country revolves around this continued and increasing rhetoric that the only really important issue that we face as American’s is the economy. Both parties are determined that the economy is the primary and really only focus of our current election. It is understandable why politicians tailor their campaign in this fashion in spite of the fact that we have proven time and time again that the economic condition of the country is not actually in the hands of the president. If you need further explanation of that, just ask any right-winger why the economy did so well under Clinton. More often than not, the current economic condition of the day when an election occurs, decides which party gets more votes. If the economy is good and people have money in their pockets they vote to keep the current leaders. If it is bad, they want a change. What we end up with is a political rollercoaster that parallels the economic one. Because the entire current economic/financial system of our country is actually one giant game of craps being played by a handful of very powerful and wealthy men with nothing to lose, the roller coaster is not likely to stop for the rest of us any time soon.

Let’s stop and think about the question a minute. Is it really all about the economy and money? I am afraid, that for quite a few in this country, that is unfortunately the case. The pursuit of the almighty dollar has all but destroyed our society’s sense of what living life is actually all about. How many thousands of Americans have now been killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan over oil? How many other hundred thousand have been wounded? How many that we don’t even know about have irreversible damage from PTSD that may lead to additional death? How many millions of human beings have we killed “defending” ourselves? How many million Americans died this year from preventable disease? How many millions of our youth are obese and have preventable health problems that will kill them at a younger age than when their parents died? How many of our youth don’t learn to read and write in school? How many don’t graduate from high school? How many of our citizens live inside of our penal system? How many are addicted to drugs? How many are malnourished or living in poverty? Why is it that some see these problems so clearly, but to most American’s it is not about any of these issues?

Instead, the main concern and election decider is rather or not gas prices hit $4 a gallon at election time, or the horror of a fast food pizza being three nickels more expensive.

I am not saying the unemployment and the economy, taxation, budget deficits, and recessions are not worthy debate, but we as citizens and human being are not truly living in present minded reality in our day to day lives. We spend countless hours talking about, thinking about, counting, projecting, worrying about, reveling in, working for, and fixating on one thing and one thing only – Money.

The problem is, that at the end of the day, at the beginning of the day, and at any individual moment in present time, money has no actual reality or value.

All of our popular religions have the exact same focus and message. Help one another, heal the sick, feed the poor, and most important, the message that LOVE AND COMPASSION ARE EVERYTHING! It is only when money, greed, and selfishness get involved that these religious messages change. I don’t think accumulating wealth, or being the most prosperous person or nation in the world is even remotely a focus of any religion I have studied. More often than not the teachings are quite the opposite. And in my opinion they are all completely, one hundred percent correct.  Not that accumulating wealth, or being prosperous are bad things. It is simply a goal that cannot be met by going down that path.

For the first time in my life, I can honestly say, I have absolutely no ambition whatsoever to accumulate personal wealth. No ambition to climb the corporate ladder. Not ambition to own a jet or belong to a country club. No ambition to expand my business or beat my competitors. No ambition to be a celebrity or win a reality TV show. No ambition to be a professional athlete. No ambition to win the lottery. Nope, my only ambition is to be HAPPY. Some would say that lazy people like me are the problem in this country. I disagree. I have awakened from my slumber and the teachings of spiritual leaders and my own practice have shown me that achieving my goals will only come through a different route altogether. Truly awakening to the illusion of monetary wealth can actually make you the richest person in the world. Anyone can do it. The path is actually quite simple.

Don’t be fooled by political propaganda and illusion. Let go of the concept of “ME”. If you can achieve that one goal, you will be rewarded with more riches and happiness than you can possibly imagine!

Critical Thinking Education – Everything is bigger in Texas, Except for the Minds of the GOP.

Obviously, since I named my blog the Critical Thinker Blog, I value critical thinking skills and believe that teaching and learning thinking skills is more important than just about anything we currently cover in primary and even higher education institutions.  After all, we live in the information age. A previously unfathomable quantity of information is at the tip of our finger and available to us at any time and place. What seems to not aways be available is the thinking skills required to put that information to good use.

More often than not, throughout my educational career, thinking skills were taught (or learned) more by accident than by a conscious piece of curriculum. I was lucky enough to get to go to college where I was formally introduced to all sorts of things like psychology, philosophy, other world religions, calculus and physics. My engineering degree admittedly challenged me to the very limit of my own intellect, and beyond. I am now gratefully learning to quiet my mind and gain further control and perspective through a practice of meditation. But looking back, the real value of the education and the time I have spent sitting on a cushion has nothing to do with any information anyone presented to me, it was simply learning to think and reason logically. Once that creative problem solver, troubleshooter, critical thinking area of the brain gets activated, there is no stopping it.

But what about someone that has no engineering degree, higher education, or critical thinking background whatsoever? How are we teaching these important skills to our youth? I was very impressed to hear my educator wife talk about the fact that many schools are actually teaching higher order thinking or critical thinking as part of a primary education curriculum! Now what a novel idea that is! Instead of mindlessly memorizing spelling lists, multiplication tables, and Judeo-Christian history maybe we are finally getting somewhere in this country!

Well apparently not if the Texas GOP has anything to say about it. This is an actual excerpt from the official platform of the Texas State GOP in June of 2012.

“Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

How do you even begin to teach science and physics if you are limited to what would not undermine a Texan’s fixed beliefs? I guess if the Texas GOP has its way, you don’t.  I hate to put too much emphasis on the importance of a political party’s platform from a state that I am not a resident, but clearly the GOP of the state of Texas does have an influence on the politics of the world, and clearly they have lost it altogether. Look no further than our former Texas GOP president if you need a reminder of what happens when we elect politicians that prefer to suppress critical thinking in favor of “fixed beliefs”.

I understand what is driving the sentiment. They believe that critical thinking will plant the seed of doubt and question in the minds of children that should instead be learning the information their parents, political and religious leaders want them to learn.

But why exactly? What is the incentive? Why is it so important for some people to stay so detrimentally unable to think for themselves, to question, and to reason logically? Like so many other things in life, the answer is that some things are desirable not because they work or because they are right, but because they are easy.

It is easier to scarf down a cheeseburger in your car than it is to prepare a homemade meal at home, it is easier to pop a pill than exercise to get your numbers down, it is easier to hook up than plan a family, it is easier to despise or reject someone from a different culture than it is to learn from them, it is easier to believe climate change is a hoax than to ride a bike, it is easier to believe mythology than it is to contemplate higher truth, it is easier to keep the television locked on Fox News than it is to read real news from credible sources, it is easier to cower in fear than to stand up with bravery, and most importantly, it is easier to go along with the popular opinion of those around you than it is to question, challenge or take the unpopular opinion. That is, unless you already are a critical thinker. Then those types of previously easy decisions become hard, and the hard decisions become, not necessarily easy, but the only possible decision.

The answer to so many of our society’s problems could be solved if people just stopped a minute to think critically before taking the easy and popular opinion. The GOP in the state of Texas and increasingly across the nation has a vested interest in the vast majority of the country not gaining critical thinking skills. A great deal of their remaining platform crumbles if they fail in this one particular area and they are very accutely aware of “Joe Six Pack’s” strong preference for the easy and popular choice.

How else would Romney be able to claim Obamacare is radical socialism when it was modeled after his own state’s exact program and almost exactly what millions in this country already rely on in the forms of Medicare and Medicaid? How else would they be able to cry for freedom of religion under the constitution and then call for a constitutional ban on same sex marriage based on a single religion? How else do they clamor for the “right” of a company to sell a 64 oz. soda to a child while throwing another person in prison for smoking a joint to relieve the nausea of chemotherapy?How else do you insist upon the absolute cruciality of paying a corporate executive millions in order to “attract talent”, while demanding public school teachers are drastically over compensated? How about crying about the religious persecution of Christians while actively working to persecute Muslims? How else would you get away with demonizing the unemployed working class for taking a government handout while lining your own pockets with tax sheltered money, tax loopholes, and profit from outsourced slave labor? What about creating government mandates on public school performance, and then slashing funding and resources from the very schools that are determined to need the most help? What about lowering taxes, deregulating the financial system to the brink of collapse, and then bailing out the very people responsible for the collapse? What about starting two oil wars? What about being responsible for all of that, but still pointing the finger at the next guy for the unbalanced budget, recession, and complete mess in foreign and energy policy because he hasn’t fixed all of these problems fast enough for your liking? How else would a presidential candidate that has the EXACT SAME platform, political party, and set of ideals as George W. Bush get even a single vote in a primary in this country? Obviously, a critical thinking electorate is not in the best interest of the GOP and this doctrine is the black and white proof.

Luckily more of the country is wising up, and the nuts on the right, including past presidents and current governers, are doing a pretty good job providing examples of what happens when a person has “fixed beliefs” that cannot be changed. Hopefully the momentum is swinging far enough and the reign of influence by the Texas GOP will finally come to an end in this country and around the world.  To those that have kids in the Texas public school system that is run by the GOP and this doctrine; Do your kids a favor and move out of the state!

My Morning Jacket! The Greatest Band you Have Probably Never Heard of!

And that Ever Existed! As I playfully enter the world of writer, I thought I might try my hand at a rock ‘n’ roll concert reviewer, and no better way to start than with my favorite concert and album rock ‘n’ roll band of all time, Louisville, Kentucky’s own, My Morning Jacket.

I have always enjoyed watching live music and attending concerts, but as I have gotten on in years, I sometimes find the whole process of watching a show at a large venue exhausting and somewhat more work than enjoyment, for the price.

This past weekend, my wife and I decided to redeem ourselves from last year’s late show-up and poor seats and pretend we were 25 year old’s by arriving at Saturday’s show at Red Rock’s Amphitheater early, when the parking lot opened, skipping tailgating so we could score good seats up front in the general admission area close to the stage. As the early evening drug on, I admit I had a couple of moments where I was questioning this decision as two opening acts and a few hours of general admission seat protecting ensued. Eight and a half hours later, after one o’clock in the morning, ears bleeding, legs exhausted, voices scratchy, and wallets empty, we were feeling every bit our age. We were also still buzzing from having just witnessed the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of our lifetime doing what they do best, and in their glorious prime! My Morning Jacket rocked a full house two nights in a row, in our home town, in one of the most famous concert venues in the world, and they don’t even have a hit song or hit album. And they never have. I was reminded why we love music, art, and people that have talent we can only dream of!

This isn’t some hippie jam band with a bunch of burnt out space cadets fans, or some techno beat Latin-fusion that only sounds right if you are 19 and have a glow-in-the-dark pacifier in your mouth. This is concert rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form. The unbelievable My Morning Jacket was tight as hell, and the show was worth every penny. You hear all the time that, “music isn’t what it used to be” and that “rock ‘n’ roll is dead”. I don’t believe a word of it.

I am not going to get deep into a typical technical review including set lists and memorable songs. Most of you have never heard of this band anyway. They get no radio airtime whatsoever and I am relatively certain they will not be guest coaches on American Idol any time soon. I seriously, doubt that this will change or ever be a band priority for MMJ, thankfully!

The opening acts, Band of Horses and Trombone Shorty, did the dutiful act of providing entertainment and generating some great spark before and during the show. No disrespect to Band of Horses, this group actually does, deservedly, get some radio airtime and they did skillfully play a few catchy tunes and have some loyal fans in the crowd. But make no mistake about it, from the moment that Jim James’s hypnotic voice cracked the cool mountain air in the beginning of My Morning Jacket’s three-plus hour set, no one in the entire amphitheater was even remotely confused about who was headlining and why.

This is no fancy show. No rotating video screen or laser lights extravaganza. No elaborate choreography, crazy costumes, or funny band-crowd banter. Nope. Just a few flashing lights, a few clouds of smoke billowing from both on the stage and from the crowd, a whole lot of hair, and a band that plays music that cuts right through your soul and transcends the time and space of the moment. You can feel it in your shirt; you can feel it in your heart. You are not watching a concert or listening to music, you are part of a shared energy, a movement and electricity that is one hundred percent, My Morning Jacket, and like nothing else.

I have heard the debate over and over in bars and at parties. What was the best concert in the history of the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado? I am thankful to have had the opportunity to see a few memorable shows there personally. I hear legitimate argument and claims for Hendrix in ’68? The Beatles in ’64? What about U2’s Under a Blood Red Sky in ‘83? Some say Phish, the Dead, or Widespread.

Nope, I saw the best concert in the history of Red Rocks last Saturday night, and you haven’t even heard of the band. Truly One Big Holliday! Can’t wait for next year when I get to see My Morning Jacket do the best show in the history of Red Rocks – again. I have absolutely no doubt they will, and I consider myself truly lucky to live in the time and place where I have the opportunity to witness it first-hand!

 

What if our Healthcare Professionals used Critical Thinking Skills a little more like an Electrical Engineer?

In spite of technological breakthroughs that have radically changed the way the world operates in amazingly fascinating and wondrous ways, the very same technology and innovation seems to have a very difficult time cracking into the thick headed medical community. Chronic health problems such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, depression, cancer, and dementia/Alzheimer’s are on the climb. In spite of all of the information and technology we now have available for prevention, our so called “healthcare providers” continue to fail on a societal level. We have remained steadily focused on how to medicate to treat our problems rather than on how to live a healthy lifestyle that promotes wellness.

You may be thinking, “My doctor tells me to exercise and lose weight all the time”. While I am sure that is true, why don’t they also just say “take medicine to cure your sickness”?  Why do they instead tell you what medicine to take for how long and at what time? The reason is that there actual business is not getting you to lose weight, or be healthy and nor was that part of their training. The business is to sell medicine, to treat sickness and to make a profit.  I am not suggesting some sinister motive of doctors out there, I am more just pointing out how the big for-profit medical machine works very well in this country. Or fails.

Let’s do a little critical thinking. When you challenge an MD in this country about our nation’s chronic healthcare problems most of them would probably admit that their patient’s poor diet and lack of exercise is the number one problem and culprit for these alarming statistics. The always confusing thing to me is that for people that have dedicated their lives to being “healthcare professionals” of the highest level, none of them really take the least bit of responsibility for their own failure in this area. What I generally hear instead is something along the line of: “It is not a Doctor’s job to convince or coach patients to eat right and exercise and we can’t make people make good decisions? We have real sickness and illness to cure and treat.” But how does that match up with the actual goal which is, or should be, societal wellness? What if wellness coaching is exactly what their job as a healthcare professional was all about? Maybe coaching is not the right job for an MD, but what if the very first relationship that a person has in life with a healthcare professional was a wellness coach instead of an illness doctor? I firmly believe, and even a lot of MD’s seem to agree, that the hardest and most crucial aspect of a person’s own healthcare is their own motivation; shouldn’t a successful wellness coach earn even more than a successful MD and receive even higher levels of training in that crucial area? Seems simple enough right? Why isn’t that the case? Why is the reality the opposite? Your insurance company won’t even cover wellness services such as fitness memberships or wellness and personal dietary coaching, and our best and brightest youth are never encouraged into such a field. But, if you need someone to slice you open and tie a knot in your stomach so that you don’t have to learn dietary self-control, your insurance company is more than happy to pay the bill. I could get into further explaining why the for-profit healthcare system works in this backward manner, but if it is really still that hard to understand; no amount of internet blogging is likely to shed any light on the distinction for you anyway.

The biggest issue that I see is how the medical community approaches chronic health problems in the first place. As a scientist and engineer looking at the medical industry from the outside, it is somewhat baffling. Engineers just don’t look at problem solving the same way. When a scientist or engineering has a task to tackle, no goal short of the intended solution would represent an acceptable outcome and we would never simply throw our hands in the air and say “It is not our job” to deal with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Even if we had the best possible theoretical solution that worked well on paper, if we set out to apply the theory, and then got the opposite result, we would scrap it in a second and come up with a new solution that actually met the stated goal.

I sure wish the medical community approached our nations “healthcare” the way an electrical engineer approaches a task. If they didn’t, and instead sought solutions the way the medical community seeks solutions, you would not be reading this at all. You would still be waiting for Sarah, the operator of Mayberry, to patch you through.

Comfort Food? Not so Comfortable for this Critical Thinker

Since we are so heavily into the subject of the Fast Food industry this seemed like a natural topic for me considering my passion. I am an occasional seafood eater that leans toward eating a primarily plant based diet of natural unprocessed food that is hand prepared. (Sometimes more in theory than practice!) I believe in the importance of knowing the source of your food because ultimately, the nutritional value you get is the sum of way more than the numbers tabulated from a label. You are what you eat, including the energy associated with it. The alarmingly drastic rise in obesity rates in my lifetime, in my opinion, clearly demonstrates a link to the increasing typical American meat-based factory-processed, fast-food diet.

Before, someone jumps all over me looking for “proof of my claims”, let me be clear. This is my opinion based on personal experience and my own critical thinking and cumulative reading and study. Ultimately you will believe what you want to believe anyway, and I am only sharing my beliefs in this blog.

The amount of money that people are willing to spend and the pills and diets that they are willing to endure is mind boggling when you consider that simply changing to a primarily plant based natural food diet would solve the chronic problems of so many.  For those of us that enjoy wonderfully diverse and satisfying plant based meals that feed our bodies, minds, and spirit so efficiently and tastefully, it just seems hard to imagine how a diet that results in so many physical and mental health problems could possibly be the easy choice.

How about the planet? I hear so called environmentalists demonizing SUV’s owners while they conveniently and confusingly ignore what is arguably the single largest contributor to harmful greenhouse gas emissions in the world. We could likely feed the world on the amount of energy that it takes to feed the animals that currently feed the world. The extremely harmful pollutant bi-products of factory farms have a devastating effect on the earth, but most of us prefer to stick out head in the sand on this one favoring pointing the finger at someone else because after all: “Pork-chops taste good!”

When discussing plant based diets and vegetarianism most people are very curious and will listen openly and intently when you explain the health and environmental justification of your decision. But then, when you mention the part that no-one even thinks about much less discusses – that’s when they squirm. That is – the absolutely unthinkable and inexcusable way animals in our society are raised and processed for cheap and easy consumption by the giant food industry. Gone are the days when family farms and responsible hunters ethically and humanely brought animals to our table in a natural and even spiritual circle of life. The shortest glimpse into the life of a pig born, raised and processed in a factory farm would likely drive more than a few people to mix in a few more salads. These animals think, process, fear, grieve, suffer, and even understand their fate every bit as much as your beloved family dog or cat would in the same horific scenario. To treat one with so much revere while the other is given so little respect and even basic dignity is beyond comprehension to me. It is not your fault – right? You didn’t personally do that to the animal! Or did you?

I am not suggesting that everyone should immediately go out and become a vegetarian or vegan and I am also sure that there are plenty of others out there that could easily take me to task on my own diet and cheesy indulgences.  What I am suggesting is that people actually know what they are eating and the manner in which it gets to your table.

I am fascinated with the “pink slime” epidemic that has been in the news and the outrage that it has caused. Are people out there really that ignorant about the content of the processed food they eat? What exactly do you think bologna and hot dogs are made of?  At times, it really does seem that society has no idea what the factory meat industry is all about and that is completely inexcusable. The information is readily available if people only cared just enough to make knowledge a priority when it comes to diet.

Ultimately this is simply a matter of will power and mindfulness. People decide upfront what they will like and dislike and our bodies and minds have an unbelievable and fascinating way of meeting our own predetermined expectations.  Some people make the conscious decision that they only like food that causes disease, sickness, and suffering. Others make the conscious decision to like only food that results in health and well-being for themselves and the planet. The only difference is the purely voluntary work that is done between our own ears. Easier said than done – right? What would my friends think? Where I come from, real men eat meat! The sportscaster for my favorite team said so, and all my friends cheered!

Is it really so important that we have food that is so fast and so delicious just to make us happy, to satisfy our perceived cravings, and to fit in with the crowd? How about your personal health? How about the health of the planet? How about the intelligent animal tied motionless, shivering, and crying in pain soon to be the half eaten sandwich that you toss in the garbage on the way to your next super important life event? Next time maybe pause for just a second to consider what the sandwich is actually composed of, how it got there, and what it truly cost.

Does eating it really make you that happy, satisfied, and comforted?

No one makes perfect decisions all of the time and I am not even close to perfect with my own dietary habits. Simply being aware that you do have a conscious choice and that those choices do have consequences can be very powerful in and of itself.  I am not on a mission to convince people to become vegetarians. I have drawn my own line and everyone else has the right to do the same.

I absolutely do support legislation that would drastically overhaul the meat processing industry, but with the ever growing anti-government, anti-regulation sentiment, the very real possibility is that a bad situation is likely to get a whole lot worse for an unthinkable number of animals and people.

Never in history have there been more options and information available to consumers regarding the source of food, including the actual farming practices as well as feeding and animal care practices of the meat you purchase. There are ethical meat farmers and alternatives to the big-box brands and nameless, oozing, Styrofoam containers.

We all have a vested interest in our own health and the health of the planet. Choices we make every single hour, every single day do have impact on the world we live in!

Have We Reached the Tipping Point in the Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement?

It seems I am in the minority, but I actually like the Chick-Fil-A debate. It has become a signal or rally cry of sorts. It is similar to how some people like to have the Confederate Flag all over everything. They will tell you that are just supporting “The South”, but you know as well as they do exactly what they really support. I am not saying that if you eat at Chick-Fil-A it is the same as tattooing the Confederate Flag on your chest, I am just saying, if you are standing in line for two hours, video-taping yourself supporting “Free Speech” or if you are a politician declaring your “Appreciation” on TV, aren’t you really supporting anti-gay/lesbian sentiment? I am sure that for a great number of people the answer is a resounding – Hell Yes! – But for those that are just standing up for “Free Speech” or “The South”, the rest of us do appreciate the wink and nod. It always sucks when you are sitting with a person that you think is nice and normal and then all of the sudden they make a completely inappropriate gay slur and can’t believe you don’t laugh. I think that it is best that everyone be open about their beliefs and prejudices. No need to hide.

Although before my time, I am sure there was a tipping point in the civil rights movement when it became more socially acceptable for Christians to openly favor “equal” over “separate but equal”. I sure hope we are getting closer to that point in the gay and lesbian rights movement in this country. For those that do cite religious beliefs, I get it, and you are entitled to your beliefs, but read your Bible. In addition to homosexuality, and working on Sunday, there are a few other OId Testament abominations you might want to start looking into. Hopefully you did not eat the Chicken Club with bacon at Chick-Fil-A. Then you would be personally committing the atrocity, not someone else! (Leviticus 11:8)

There is more than one way to read and interpret Biblical scripture. You can be a good Christian and still use your own brain to do your own critical thinking!

Chick-Fil-A – Middle Class Crack Cocaine served with a side of bigotry, and animal torcher all in the name of Christianity.

I can’t believe I am weighing in on the Chick-Fil-A debate as my first blog, but since some of our so called political leaders have declared today “Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day”, I thought I might respond. I do admit that it is with some hesitation that I even consider getting sucked into, or even possibly bringing additional awareness to this made for FoxNews television event. In any event, I guess I couldn’t resist.

The fast “food” served at Chick-Fil-A is legalized, middle class crack cocaine and our hospitals, doctor’s offices, oncology centers and nursing homes are packed full of the result of this industry. These companies spend unthinkable sums of money to test, manipulate, and even bio-engineer food so that it is completely addictive and yet extremely dangerous to our health. In fact, the only real difference between Chick-Fil-A and Phillip Morris, is that Chick-Fil-A targets children for their addictive killer using toys and cartoons to lure them in.

This mega chain also has an absolutely deplorable record regarding animal rights. The giant factory chicken processing facilities that supply them are a sickening reflection of our society’s collective ignorance and/or complete apathy regarding how fast food meat gets into that neatly wrapped package that is bought for pennies and scarfed down in seconds.

To top it all off, the billionaires that run and profit heavily from the whole Chick-Fil-A operation likes to use the resultant money, power, and influence to promote the message and agenda of hate and bigotry in the name of Christianity. Don’t be fooled, this is not just some old man spouting off in an interview, these guys have power and money and they are backed up by their reliable coaches – fear and hate. Millions and millions of your chicken sandwich dollars are funding actual anti-gay and lesbian organizations that have boots on the ground and the goal of doing everything possible to ensure that gay and lesbian citizens continue to be discriminated against in open law and demonized as sinners in the court of public opinion. If that is what you appreciate then so be it. But if you do intend to show your “appreciation” for Chick-Fil-A please make sure you know exactly what you are appreciating.

No, the government in this country does not have the right to determine where a chicken restaurant gets opened based on the belief of the ownership. Yes, Chick-Fil-A ownership has a right to spread their beliefs and unfortunately they also have a legal right to use animals raised and tortured in unthinkably poor conditions to serve as legalized human poison.

Thankfully, we also have a right, and in my opinion, obligation to be mindful about the food that we put in our bodies, the restaurants we patronize and the energy we are receiving when we make these conscious choices.

I will personally be giving my own appreciation to restaurants and individuals that are a little more in line with my personal beliefs and values. I hope others do the same and avoid falling into the dangerous trap of believing the propaganda of powerful men with agendas of fear, bigotry and discrimination.