March 29, 2016

100 Words -- Mystery Meat

Scientists wanted to build the simplest cell capable of reproduction. They started with the smallest genetically-endowed bacteria and rebuilt a stripped-down version that could still function, which turned out to have 473 genes. (Humans have about 22,000 genes.) Here’s the interesting bit. Of those 473 genes, 149 or almost 30 percent were mystery meat … unknowns in terms of their biological function. Without them the bacteria misfire; with them the spark of life ignites. Why? We have no idea. Basically, we’re still kids putting together an erector set without the complete instructions. God help us when we figure it all out.

March 23, 2016

My Lai

My Lai. The most painful chapter in the book of sorrows that was Vietnam. Five hundred men, women, and children killed by American soldiers. The allied bombing raid on Dresden killed many more, but that was death from on high with the push of a button. My Lai was more the hands-on brutality of Katyn Forest: men shooting into ditches, killing without mercy.

After seeing a post on Facebook about My Lai, I realized I had never looked it in the eye, so I read several articles and watched interviews of GI’s who were there. (I met one stateside after I got back from Vietnam. A young black kid, he smoked a lot of dope and kept his mouth shut.) From what I can tell, most aimed high or looked the other way. About thirteen to twenty were active shooters, this by Hugh Thompson’s reckoning. He was the helicopter pilot who intervened to put a stop to the killing, the one person that day to take and hold the moral high ground.

Lieutenant Calley took the fall, but other officers were clearly involved. Some threatened to shoot reluctant soldiers if they didn’t get with the program. I ask myself what would I have done? I’d like to think I wouldn’t have killed women and children. I’m pretty solid on that. I for sure would have had no problem telling an officer to go to hell if I decided to exercise my right and my duty as an American soldier to refuse an unlawful order. But would I have stood up or would I have stood by and looked the other way? At My Lai, there is a circle of hell for everyone, even if you weren’t there.

March 20, 2016

100 Words -- Mind Out Of Matter

St. Francis of Assisi talked to flowers and rocks. The idea that mind was a property of all matter -- panpsychism -- was commonplace back then. Modern philosophers view mind is an emergent property, a very special something-out-of-nothing that mysteriously emerges from matter that seemingly doesn’t have mind as a property. Emergent systems are everywhere, so I can buy the idea that mind is an emergent property, but part of me wonders if man can confidently predict the limits on where and how mind might emerge in a universe that is billions of years old.  Yo, listen up rock. I’m talking here.

March 19, 2016

100 Words -- Congress: Our Own Middle East?

During breakfast with some old friends, I had a minor epiphany about the mess in Washington. Think about the Middle East. For decades, the region was dominated by a handful of strongmen who ruled with an iron fist. In Congress, the leadership and a handful of senior committee chairmen ran things with an iron fist. It wasn’t very democratic, but shit got done. Then in the Middle East and in Congress, the strongmen were cast aside. It was hoped that democracy would flourish. Instead, we reverted to bitter power struggles between long-suppressed rival groups. And there’s no end in sight. 

March 13, 2016

100 Words -- I Still Like Ike

I’ve been following presidential campaigns since 1956, a rerun of the 1952 campaign when retired General Dwight D. Eisenhower defeated former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson. I remember my father calling Stevenson an egg-head. That’s about as bad as the name-calling got. That was then. Now, Donald Trump is cheapening public debate and tarnishing America’s reputation, in the process resurrecting the evil that Ike worked so hard to defeat. I can only guess what Eisenhower would say. This might do for starters: "... bad officials are elected by good voters who do not vote." Guess that puts the load back on us.

March 3, 2016

100 Words -- A Poor Role Model

My wife and I are both children of the Nixon years, so yeah, we understand political dysfunction. But, we have seen times when a president and the Congress worked together to get things done. My wife raised an interesting point. If you were born twenty-five years ago and became politically aware at eighteen, then you’ve never seen Congress work with a president. You’ve seen seven years of Congress bent on thwarting the president. All you’ve ever known is dysfunction; never the two parties working together. With role models like that, is it any wonder we’ve lost faith in our politicians?

March 2, 2016

100 Words --The Great and Powerful Donald

How did we get here? How do we wake up the morning after Super Tuesday with Donald Trump poised to win the Republican presidential nomination? The simple answer: he gets more votes. Why? People like his style. They like someone who speaks his mind, who is forceful, who is STRONG. It doesn’t matter what he says, just that he says it with more self-declared authority than anyone else. Trump is the great and powerful Wizard of Oz come to life. It ended when Dorothy pulled aside the curtain and revealed the blowhard behind it.  A woman did that. Just saying.