National Geographic Magazine in their March cover story, The War on Science, gives some light on our exacerbated political divide as they try to explain the psychology related to the fight over what to believe about science. The author surmises that the left includes “Those with a more ‘egalitarian’ and ‘communitarian’ mindset,” who are, “generally suspicious of industry and apt to think it’s up to something dangerous that calls for government regulation; they’re likely to see the risks of climate change.” The right, on the other hand, includes “people with a ‘hierarchical’ and ‘individualistic’ mind-set who respect leaders of industry and don’t like government interfering in their affairs; they’re apt to reject warnings of climate change, because they know what accepting them could lead to — some kind of tax or regulation to limit emissions.”

The author believes that climate change has become a sort of litmus test about which of these warring “tribes” — the left and right, you belong to. He believes we are not so much arguing about the issue, but about who we are. On the left, we’re all in it together and must deal with consequences on behalf of all. On the right, we stand as individuals against the world, and must fight for our autonomy of belief against the “science” of the masses. Accepting a belief in climate change, one of those nasty “science things,” could get that hierarchical individualist thrown out of his or her tribe.

The author concludes, “science appeals to our rational brain, but our beliefs are motivated largely by emotion, and the biggest motivation is remaining right with our peers.” We still live in a world where science (read: evidence based) often trumps beliefs (read: tradition based). I’m neither a scientist nor a psychologist, and I see some of the dichotomy in this over-simplified analysis, and so I see that the social definitions of these two tribes often overlap among us.  Yet, when it comes to politics, and after all, politics is nothing more than the quest for power within our broader community, the apparent growing gap in organizing belief systems between these two tribes is threatening our democracy.

The genius of our American society lies in our ability to find compromise and some sense of fairness between our varied personal belief systems, and then move forward as a people, individually and together. That is our democracy. And it is in trouble. The answer: we must rationalize the past, as we remember it, in light with what we know to be the truth, today.

While NBC News tonight bawled about drunk drivers with up to 27 convictions going free, and not to jail, while their victims go into physical rehab, if they are lucky enough to survive, I read in the Lake Geneva Regional News that at 9:05 pm on February 20, a drunk driver was cited for his 4th offense in nearby Elkhorn. Every week, I read locally of drunk drivers being cited for their 3rd, 4th or 7th offense, while retaining their license and remaining free, while thousands are maimed and killed, not to mention intimidated and threatened by intoxicated men and women, old and young.

My first corporate job was at the headquarters of Allstate Insurance, working on national efforts to reduce the blood/alcohol levels at which people could be arrested for drunk driving. We worked with the public, with women’s organization and with state legislatures, and we were largely successful in reducing those levels. But thanks to the pervasive tavern lobby, especially here in Wisconsin, and a culture that still endorses having a half dozen or so drinks and still driving, we are still letting people who drive drunk over and over, and are arrested over and over, to remain on the road. Maybe there should be a blood/alcohol ignition interlock in every car on the road. Maybe it’s worth another 50 bucks to save thousands of lives and injuries. Or more simply, let’s exhort these sleepy state legislators to do something useful for a change, and get the drunk drivers off the road.

In addition to being designated drivers when needed, why don’t we all become designated lobbyists to demand that repetitive drunk drivers be kept off the road, at least for the sake of our loved ones? End the drunk butchering on our roads.

South LSD Viewshed 2015

(click to open article)

In an incredible coincidence, I lost my cars keys at the Enormous Chicago Auto Show this afternoon, and got them back almost immediately due to some wonderful people whom I don’t know.

I had parked in the large indoor lot behind the McCormick Place show building. The place was swamped with kids and others with the day off — President’s Day. When I left, I paid my ticket and stepped into the garage and started fumbling through my pockets for my keys. Not finding them, I walked over to a garbage can and began spreading out the contents of my pockets to complete my self-search. I had also left my cell phone in the locked car, so was contemplating my next step.

Just then, and attractive young McCormick Place employee stepped up and asked if I’d lost keys, and asked what kind of car I had. She asked if there was a micro flashlight on the key ring. Yes! She had already turned them into the office, so we walked the few steps over there, and wa-la, I had my key back. She said a woman leaving the show had handed them to her a short while before.

What were the odds? A show with a thousand cars and thousands more in garages, tons of people crowding everywhere, multiple garage entrances. A responsible person who must have seen the keys on the floor, somewhere, who turned them into this responsible employee, who immediately took them to the office, and then was on the alert for someone who looked like they might have lost their keys! I love these people!

And, by the way, another great auto show, with all the latest on display. The prototype Buick Avenir sedan is the classiest thing to come out of Detroit in years. Of course, the new Mercedes Mayback is even classier.

On Morning Joe today, they discussed the dichotomy of a new NBC-Maris Poll that shows that 64% of Americans would support moderate to heavy commitment of U.S. ground troops to the middle east, while each guest declared that almost everyone they meet of every political persuasion says that we should NOT again commit ground troops to the middle east.

Here’s my theory of explaining this contradiction. When the majority of those surveyed by NBC said yes, we should commit ground troops, they were referring to our professional military soldiers and sailors, not them or members of their own family. But when you ask people individually, they are thinking of themselves, and don’t think we should go.

The military DRAFT is a dirty word, because most Americans don’t want to risk their own loved ones being compelled to serve the nation, but we are less sensitive when polled and think that others (the professional military) would go on our behalf. I don’t love the idea of a draft. I was subject to the draft when I graduated college in 1966, so enlisted and served 3 years as an officer. But I didn’t like the service, and though I called it “my military MBA,” the truth is that it set me back professionally in relation to my friends who didn’t serve, and it caused family disruptions that changed the course of my life.

But I think a draft is a good thing, because it serves to align the thinking of the people with the decisions of our government, and vice versa, and as we know from the Vietnam experience, public opposition ultimately served to get America out of that war that never should have happened. Our military is thinking in terms of a “long war” in the middle east, that might go on over 40 to 60 years! It’s time that the American people think in terms of themselves (their own families), rather than in terms of “other” Americans (a professional military), serving on the ground in such a long war. Then, and only then, will they express themselves clearly to our political and military leadership, and let democracy, rather than bureaucrats, determine our nation’s future.

Famous, adventurous newsman Bov Simon’s death yesterday in a West Side Highway car crash in NYC, raises a probable lesson. he was reportedly riding in the back of a town car, likely a Lincoln, and there were two drivers in the front seat who survived. Having traveled thousands of times in so-called town cars, I do not recall ever being asked or even reminded to put on my seat belt. Why? Perhaps because the perception that riding as a passenger in such roomy vehicles with their living room-like rear seat areas is like being in an office or reception room, where one would not be strapped-in like driving in a regular car. In an accident, the un-seat-belted passenger in such a roomy back seat would be tossed around like a tennis ball in an accident. I don’t have all the facts, but I suspect this is what happened to Mr. Simon, who survived so many dangerous foreign assignments over his stunning career. If so, there is a suggestion for change here.

Williams is an excellent and committed journalist, who is also clever enough to see the irony (read: comedy) in life. What he did was nothing of significance, and those who want to make this a rorshack (sp?) test on television journalists know where they can put it. Williams is much more of a journalist than some of the ciphers on CNN and FOX and elsewhere, who barely qualify as “news readers.”

Let’s get over this, NBC, and move on.

scan0009I’m not much on war movies, but I guess with the Oscars coming up, I finally caught up with Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, Brad Pitt in Fury, and by mistake while looking for Fury, a 2014 film called Ardennes Fury starring no one ever heard of. I had some basis for “expertise,” in that I was commissioned an Armor officer, after graduating from the Armor School at Fort Knox through OCS in 1967, nearing the height of the Vietnam War. I earned my Tank Driver’s License in the M48 and M60 main battle tanks in service at the time, though I never entered the hatch of a tank after Armor School.

Back to the movies, I was struck at how in Fury, depicting Sherman tank action in Germany near war’s end in WWII, that the lieutenant in charge of the tank platoon was depicted as a timid guy in a crisp green uniform (who was blown up early in the film), while Brad Pitt was the seasoned non-com (with a 2015 hairdo) who was the real leader and father-figure of the unit, which was staffed by rumpled ner-do-well’s of low pedigree. The Germans were portrayed as ruthless, which justified the same behavior by the Americans. All were savages, and it was a clear anti-war film, grisly and disgusting, even when desperation and bravery prevailed. The other tank film,Ardennes Fury, was a cheaply produced film with almost no plot, wherin an isolated tank crew at the edge of oblivion in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium’s beautiful Ardennes forest (which we visited last year), break out to try to save an orphanage staffed by nuns. I don’t know how it came out, though I suspect they succeeded.

And then there is American Sniper, where Bradley Cooper transforms into the most famous sniper of our recent set of wars. He suffers from PTSD, yet returns for multiple tours of duty voluntarily. He does as told, because he believes he is saving American lives. He personifies the perils of today’s professional soldiers — estranged from the comforts and safety of civilian lives, and in a final irony, just as he is re-assimilating, a veteran with PTSD he is trying to help, shoots him on a firing range. This too, to me, is an anti-war film, though it appears that to many Americans, it is all about heroism. I just don’t get that. I got nothing out of any of these films, other than a harsh reminder of the rationalized, institutionalized, insane violence called war.

In April last year, we visited Belgium and France, Belgium for the fries and France for the champagne!

Our Belgium visit brought us for a couple of days to Namur, the regional capitol of Wallonia, located on a great confluence of the Meuse River, the world’s oldest river, that winds up from France through Belgium fried potato country to the North Sea. We stayed for a few nights at a novel hotel/spa called the Nest, located in a fine residential neighborhood atop the Citadel, the winding protective precipice above the city and river. It has been cleverly reconstructed from some ancient stone farm dwellings, and contains a handful of suites surrounding a beautiful pool and spa.

The White Suite, where we stayed, was set up like a small deluxe modern apartment, with ancient stone inner walls and modern white furniture. The bedroom, which contained a lounge area and fireplace had a hand-made Swedish bed, called a Hastens, which cost three or four times what the most expensive beds we had known, and was put in the year before for the historic visit to Namur of Prince Albert of Monoco, as the news item below outlines.
NAMUR, BELGIUM – JANUARY 31: Prince Albert II of Monaco attends the 1st Interdisciplanary Congress On Sustainable Development at the Palais des Congres on January 31, 2013 in Namur, Belgium. Topics expected to be covered at the two-day conference, on January 31 and February 1, 2013, include food and agriculture, land use, planning and housing.

We found the bed to be firm and very comfortable, by the way,

P1030929

Giving permission for McDonald’s restaurants to appear in films had been part of my job description for a long time, but when producer Roger Weisberg, who I’d worked with before, approached me on this one, I had to pause. They not only wanted to film at the Museum McDonald’s in Des Plaines, IL, the recreation of Ray Kroc’s first quick service hamburgers and fries restaurant of 1955, but they wanted someone for the controversial host of the film to interview there. I knew this one would be trouble, but I was intrigued, as the host would be Andrei Codrescu, a colorful Transylvanian poet who was burning up the airwaves on National Public Radio  as a social critic of all things American. But I was a fan of his show, and his oblique sense of humor, and I knew that Roger, and hopefully Andrei, had a soft spot for McDonald’s.

The premise of his documentary film, which was being produced for commercial distribution in movie houses, at least on the arts circuit, was that Andrei, who had never before driven a car, would travel from the east coast to the west, driving a 1968 red Cadillac convertible, producing a sort of “On The Road of the 90s” film of his colorful encounters with icons of popular American culture. I volunteered to do the interview with Andrei at Ray Kroc’s 1955 McDonald’s, but told almost no one in management as I was pretty sure Andrei’s controversial take on American culture would not sit easily with the keepers of our conservative corporate culture..So I donned my paper crew hat of the era, straightened my tie and walked onto the set of my first commercial film. When the movie came out, I think in 1993 or so, Vicki and I took our young  niece and nephew with us to see it at a theatre in Evanston. We just told them it would have something to do with McDonald’s. When the McDonald’s segment came up, my niece Amanda exclaimed, “It’s uncle Chuck.” The film, Road Scholar, while winner of a prestigious Peabody Award, only attracted a limited audience, probably mostly hip college students and quirky NPR fans. Around the same time, Road Scholar was produced as a book, with the subtitle “Coast to Coast late in the century.”  Following is the McDonald’s segment from the book (click on title), in which I’m quoted from the film.

Road Scholar

The First McDonald’s ROOF of the power of dreams: Ray Kroc, one man with a single idea, a rounded idee fixe called a hamburger, began to dream an empire and, lo and behold, one day the entire planet is covered by the mighty waves of his single thought…If anybody’s going to get to heaven it’s Mr. Kroc on a ladder of billions of burgers, the number that most approached infinity. Next to rock ‘n’ roll, McDonald’s is the most enduring American creation of the second half of the twentieth century. They are chomping them down in Moscow, Beijing, Des Moines, wearing them in Poughkeepsie and Frankfort…(sing this) CHUCK, a company official, speaking of First McDonald’s (now a museum): This is the only early McDonald’s restaurant that’s been preserved exactly as it opened April 15, 1955. And these days the students who come through Hamburger University over at our McDonald’s campus nearby come over to get a little feeling for the culture. It’s really a cultural experience. It’s a chance to see, touch and feel what McDonald was like at the beginning. .Now we’ve got for you an official McDonald’s crew hat here just as was worn in the fifties. And we make you an honorary crew person. AC: (Pointing to life size replica of early McDonald’s employee) .I could look like him; he’s tall. A hamburger-deficient diet during my childhood in Transylvania must have stunted my growth. Eighty-five billion burgers sold vs. 250 million Americans equals 340 burgers per American…that works out to four extra inches per American versus your average Romanian.

CHUCK; We used to talk about hamburgers in terms of if we stack them all up it would be a stack that would reach the moon and back 16 times. But I think we have gone quite a way beyond that. So we haven’t related it to any more planets lately.

As Chuck and AC converse:, Ray Kroc’s voice is heard beyond the grave: Transfer your fears into faith. Any you will inherit the freedom of the future. And f you believe in it – and believe in it hard – it is impossible to fail.

And now there is the McLean Deluxe, a skinnier version of the Big Mac for the fat-conscious American of the end of the Millennium. McDonald’s has so penetrated out national consciousness we even have McPoems now, which are poems mass-produced  in writing workshops at universities. And McTests, McThoughts, McReactions, McFeelings, and so on.

No meat eater myself, I watch the vast fields of wheat that end up between Mr. Kroc’s buns and the immense lowing herds that lay down  their lives for Big Mac. I can see too the intense flows of these  commodities through the banks and the money markets — the rivers of commerce paralleling  the rivers of wheat and meat, like mind and body.

In the novel The Pit by Frank Norris, a madman tries to corner the wheat market. Like Napoleon he is filled with dreams of glory. Every leaf of bread on earth will be stamped with his name. Alas! The drought he prays for does not come. Instead, there is a plentiful harvest. The earth, which rarely sympathizes with the dreams of Napoleons, buries him in wheat. All his plans go awry. The peasants of Europe are starving, and the wheat he has been hoarding spills over the shores of America and feeds them. The Midwest harbors such dreams occasionally. It must be the immensity of her plains that allows imperial daydreams to roll unimpeded.

March 2015
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