Saturday, March 27, 2010

Newt and the Pope: Responsibility has been Shifted

So first there was this issue with sexual abuse of children by a number of Roman Catholic priests in the Boston Archdiocese over many decades but that was just a function of the decadent, permissive society in America. And anti-Catholic propaganda. Don't forget that any negative publicity about the behavior of the Church of Rome is always just anti-Catholic propaganda regardless of how true and accurate it may be.

Then it seems that the same thing happened in Canada and it even had implications for the government of Quebec because they lack total separation of church and state. But that was simply infection from the decadent, permissive society in America which didn't have adequate border controls to prevent French or other Canadian Catholics from independently abusing children. Just more anti-Catholic propaganda inspired from south of the Canadian border even though it mostly occurred before the first story about such abuse appeared in a U. S. newspaper.

Then, horror of horrors, the same behaviors showed up in Ireland. Ireland! Saints preserve us! The Americans have infected the people whose monasteries "saved civilization"! And those horrible anti-Catholics have infiltrated the Irish press too!

And then some German choirmaster named Ratzinger seems to have physically abused choirboys. And those anti-Catholic newspaper people, clearly non-Aryan, not echt Deutsch, and probably under the influence of the Elders of Zion have constructed the falsehood that this choirmaster is the brother of Pope Hitlerjugend I, alias Josef Ratzinger, Benedict XVI.

And worst of all, those decadent, permissive Americans have reared up again, this time in Wisconsin to put forward the obviously contumacious and defamatory charge that Pope Hitlerjugend I himself, as Cardinal Ratzinger, covered up the abuse of deaf children by a priest. These anti-Catholics have gone so far as to dress up some hired shill to pose as the retired Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland to falsely confirm the pope's involvement.

Clearly there is a vast conspiracy of Jews, atheists, Protestants, apostates and (fill in the name of the group that you, as a good Catholic, hate most here) to defame Pope Hitlerjugend I.

So, let me get this right. The Roman Catholic Church covered up sexual and physical abuse of children for decades. Any insinuation that the current pope while Archbishop and then Cardinal of the Munich Archdiocese may have known about the actions of priests, choirmasters or his own biological brothers is clearly defamatory. The current pope, whose portfolio as one of the most powerful cardinals in the Vatican at the time, was the ultimate Vatican official overseeing complaints such as those of the magnitude of the Wisconsin situation against priests had no knowledge of these cover ups. The current pope who, as cardinal, engineered the exit from the Boston Archdiocese to a sinecure in Rome far from the reach of American laws and victim lawsuits of Bernard, Cardinal Law was unaware of any of these egregious abuses. And it necessarily follows, as day follows night, that any doubts about Pope Hitlerjugend I's story are biased and unwarranted attacks on his office and the Roman Catholic Church.

We can't call this "blaming the victim" exactly because the Roman Church has avoided doing so. They leave that to various radical Catholic lay organizations for the sake of plausible deniability. However, it is certainly an absolute evasion of responsibility and a craven form of misdirection.

Simultaneously with this continuing tale of a Roman Catholic Church we have a very similar tale in American politics. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, perhaps the person who best typifies the cravenness, fraud, deception, vileness and lies what are the core of the Republican Party has gone the whole hog. Rather than taking the Vatican route of farming out blaming the victims of abuse, Newt has embraced that role himself.

The lunatics of the Tea Party Movement, whipped up to a frenzy by neo-fascists like of Michelle Bachmann, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Tom Tancredo, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, started making threats against and vandalizing the offices of Congresspersons who voted for the Health Care Reform Bill. They sent envelopes of white powder (hopefully inert) to at least one Congressperson, Faxed and phoned in threats against not only the Representatives but against their families and even grandchildren, all for having the temerity to extend a basic right to health care to all Americans. At this juncture one might think that a group of cool-headed adults might step forward to discipline the out-of-control children before someone really gets hurt. Falsely presenting himself as such a grown-up, Newt came forward to insist that the Democrats who enacted the bill were responsible for the frenzy.

Of course! It should be obvious to everyone. The victims of the lunatics he and his cohorts have been whipping into a frenzy since November 4, 2008 were at fault because they weren't Newt. I expect that his excuse for his adulteries with his employees resulting in his second and third marriages had nothing to do with his ego or psychopathology but rather with the fact that wives 2 and 3 wore provocative clothing or gave signals that they wanted him to violate his marriage vows.

People listen to Newt, this neo-fascist scum bag, because of his position and the cash that ultra-rightist plutocrats keep funneling to him to keep him in the limelight. Yet ultimately he's in the same position as the current pope. Gingrich and Ratzinger are both attempting, through propaganda that might even give Josef Goebbles pause, to misdirect the focus from their own immoral, dishonest and, in some cases, criminal acts to save their own skins. Their standard enemies receive their blame because their egotistical self-absorption cannot admit of the least fallibility on their parts.

And, frankly, I am pleased, even ecstatic in both cases.

Newt and Pope Hitlerjugend I both are bent on the marginalization of their institutions. They are moving farther and farther into the ultra-fascist right both in political and religious doctrine. They reflexively excuse their worst followers while refusing to reform in ways that might gain them broader power. The scandals in the Church of Rome will continue to multiply and fester. Over 30 years of right wing popes have skewed the curia and the College of Cardinals toward fundamentalist hard liners making serious reform of the church all but impossible. The fanatics and con men that Rupert Murdock and Roger Ailes promote on Fox News along with scum like Newt Gingrich, John Bolten, Dick Cheney, Bill Kristol and the Tea Party lunatics are dragging the Republicans so far to the right that they can't even see the territory of Conservatism any longer. Even some of those who watch Fox News are inevitably going to find this extremism distasteful.

Within the Republican's corporate controlled hierarchy the purges have already begun. I have not the slightest mote of sympathy for David Frum. He's an amoral ideologue with no loyalty to anyone but the person who pays his bills. Still Frum's fate this week demonstrates that the Republican's circular firing squad has loosed its first volley. That he is, so far, the only one not to kowtow quickly enough to evade the whizzing bullets indicates the absence of anyone amongst the Republicans who isn't somewhere to the right of Benito Mussolini.

Senator John McCain, one of the very few Republicans who can fool people into thinking he's a moderate even after he opens his mouth, has claimed that Democrats will get even less cooperation from Republicans following the passage of Health Care Reform than they got before passage. How he figures that Democrats will have less than zero cooperation and even more unreasoning opposition I don't quite know but I'm sure that the neo-fascist opposition will figure it out. President Obama this week challenged the Republicans to "bring it on." I sincerely hope that they do.

If the Democrats are smart (always an iffy proposition) and emboldened (which they now are) their next legislative priority will be Senator Dodd's Banking Reform Bill. I eagerly await the spectacle of Republicans tying themselves in knots to defend their masters in the biggest banks.

The Tea Party Movement is an arranged marriage of ultra-rightists, the lunatic Libertarian fringe and some confused and worried people gullible enough to be suckered in by Republican fearmongering. Quite a substantial portion of those folks didn't like giving taxpayer money to big banks and investment houses that had just fleeced them of their retirement funds. Some will be dumb enough to stick with the right wingers but a substantial number are going to walk, run or just drift away as the Republicans insist that this isn't the right time or way to reform the banking system. The status quo in financial markets is a disaster for the small investors, homeowners, parents trying to save for a child's college education and middle-aged folks looking hard toward retirement. I fervently hope that the Republicans will defend that status quo. Such blocking of financial reform will dissolve the Tea Partiers leaving only the hardcore fully brainwashed by Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. I only hope that the Democrats can time exposure of the Republican's suicide pact so that it falls after their lunatic fringe has picked slate after slate of unelectable ultra-rightists giving the Democrats say, 67 Senate seats and about 300 House members.

I wish I could say that I thought that the Roman Catholic Church could save itself. As an institution and as currently organized I wish it the same quick, dramatic, self-inflicted and painful demise I wish upon the Republican Party. Still it saddens me to say so because of the many, many decent, caring priests, nuns and brothers I have known to work and sacrifice for those in need of comfort and of the most basic needs for food, shelter, clothing and respect. I know that those people of sincere and deep religious calling are pained by and ashamed of the actions of their church hierarchy. Most are attached to their church in ways I respect even as I fail to understand them. Still I can feel that pain and shame and wish they did not have to go through it. I'm sure that they know far better than I that they are the source of any vitality in their church and sole hope for its survival if, it manages to survive rotting from both head and core. Pope Hitlerjugend I and his curia and College of Cardinals are the cancer that is killing their church just as Newt and his neo-fascists are the cancer killing the Republican Party.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oiling The Cogs Of Cognitive Dissonance II

BBC listening provides me with a lot of material lately.

First, let me say that there are two uses for the term "holistic". The first definition simply means considering the whole. If we are discussing medicine - which we will be momentarily - the most benign version has the doctor considering interactions of medications, how diuretics might aggravate a patient's tendency to form kidney stones and the like. In that sense, holistic anything is wise practice and a clear boon. But the second definition is a popular one that involves a raft of New Age nonsense about auras, spiritual healing, crystals, copper bracelets, herbalism and the like. It is largely hype, sympathetic magic and con-artistry giving a bad name to those who would practice the first type of holism.

Let me also note that I have some qualms about lumping herbalism in with the other scams. As the existence of Taxol, to cite just one famous instance, proves chemicals naturally synthesized by plants can have beneficial effects on human diseases. Plants from lowly molds (e.g. penicillin) to trees (e.g. Taxol) have provided us with some effective treatments for human disease. That said, however, it give no pass to all the extremist herbalist nonsense put forward by con men looking to separate the gullible and the desperate from their cash. I saw this foolishness first hand some years ago. A very dear friend suddenly collapsed one day. She had a particularly aggressive and nasty cancer. Her doctors told her that this cancer was inevitably fatal. She might live 6 to 12 months longer, sometimes people survived a bit longer. Someone in her circle convinced her that a macrobiotic diet was the answer to surviving longer so she rejected conventional treatments with chemotherapy and radiation. The disease ran its course and she was dead in 11 months. The macrobiotic nonsense did nothing for her. It was a placebo. It neither hastened not slowed her cancer's progress. It was simply worthless though a macrobiotic counselor and "holistic health practitioner" made some substantial cash by peddling their worthless trash and nonsense.

What brings this subject up is a recent report by the BBC that the British National Health Service is considering discontinuing payment to holistic medicine con men in a money saving move. A double blind study found no effect of any kind on any medical condition studied by holistic practitioners' efforts.

The radio report brought together a person involved in the study for Britain's National Health Service  and a holistic practitioner from Germany. What struck me immediately was the German holistic practitioner's insistence that his form of medicine must be valid because it has a more than 200 year history. He also insisted that "school" medicine has a bad track record because 200 years ago it promoted treatments that have since been discredited. Both statements are independently verifiable and true. What he did not say is that the quackery of times past in large part involved exactly the quackery he practices today.

A dear friend of mine has an adult daughter who has a "practice" in Southern California, an area that's almost a cliche for its eager adoption of all manner of quackery and lunatic nonsense. His daughter is a very sweet woman. She styles herself, however, as a spiritual healer and is currently making a nice living by charging clients $150 per hour for "healing" them over the phone. It is flat out quackery that persists because the one positive thing that anyone can say about this con is that no one is poisoned as frequently happened in centuries past. The hurt is simply the extraction of cash from someone stupid enough to pay for foolishness that he or she believe has more than a placebo effect.

But back to our German con man/holistic healer. I would suggest that he cannot argue that his form of medicine is effective and valid because it has been practiced continuously since the 18th or 19th Centuries and in the next breath argue that "school" medicine is less effective and valid because medical practices of the 18th or 19th Centuries were unenlightened and have been shown to be quackery. The fact is that the very practices which modern medicine from Harvey and Pasteur onward have relegated to the dustbin are the practices that our German practitioner, my friend's daughter and others like them who are either dishonest or delusional perpetuate today.

I can't applaud the British National Health Service loudly enough for their decision to call a con a con and stop wasting scarce health care cash and resources on garbage. But don't look for that to happen in the United States. Two decades ago some very well connected con men bought Robert Dole, senator from Archer, Daniels Midland, as their front man in removing many of the restrictions the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had on these snake oil remedies. In the guise of speeding drugs to the market we limited the review functions of the Food and Drug Administration. Much as Phil Gramm shilled for rapacious bankers to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 giving us the multiple banking frauds whose destructive consequences continue to ripple through the world economy, so Dole shilled for Big Pharma (you didn't think he became a viagra spokesman because he was so sexy, did you?) in pulling the teeth from FDA regulations and attacking then FDA Administrator, David Kessler.

Thanks to Dole, the FDA can report that scams like "energy" drinks, cosmetics that can cause permanent damage while effecting unnecessary and minimal changes and snake oil "breathing" remedies are ineffective but can't remove them from the market until and unless they kill people. Thanks to Dole and his corporate sponsors we now have "pro-biotics", the current manifestation of the American fixation on laxatives, that correct the problems that the processed foods with which those corporations stuff us by stuffing us with the bacteria removed from the processed foods. In short, we have less protection from scams, more crap on the market and waste more money on it both in tax dollars and out-of-pocket.

With a reform of the American health care system now enacted into law, we need to take a long, hard look at the British National Health report and start shutting down some of these scams if for no other reason than to control our health care costs. The first step in the process of putting an end to the "holistic" nonsense is to stop assuming that simply because a practice has been going on for hundreds of years it has any validity whatever.