Sunday, March 29, 2009

Explanation of The Split

By Richard Hamilton-Gibbs

In the scientific world, where experiments can be repeated by other scientists to confirm consistent outcomes, the only question is the integrity of the scientists conducting the studies. Scientific fraud is relatively rare, because it is exposed by the work of other scientists when they do not get the same results. Scientific fraud also disposes of the reputations of the fraudulent scientists once and for all. For example, Korean researcher Hwang Woo-Suk was exposed as a confidence trickster in stem cell research. His findings have been completely discredited, and are not quoted by even scientific nut-cases as "proof" for anything.

In the real world, many world events are "one-time", and will not be repeated. Then, there is simply a question of Belief. Do you believe the event actually happened? 

This is compounded by the acceptance that politicians recounting current events are not held to the same standard of honesty as scientists. In fact, it is common for American politicians to lie, and the American people regard this kind of "flexibility" with the truth as acceptable, for any number of reasons ranging from national security issues to economic stability.

For example, I have long considered the invasion of Iraq as a dreadful error, wrong on so many levels, and justified by non-existent WMD claims  by the Bush White House.

However a conservative friend of mine has suggested to me that there were WMD's in Iraq, and he listens to Republican conspiracy theorists, who turn up on late night radio and claim that they Believe the WMD's were there in Iraq, but they were spirited over the border into Syria during the invasion of Iraq by the US in 2003, or somehow magically concealed.

This is a perfect example of an event that, if it happened, only happened once. If those weapons were spirited away into Syria, it happened in a very tight time window. To test this theory, the event cannot be repeated, and there appear to be no eye-witnesses, just True Believers. 

To reach any logical conclusion requires Investigation, not unsubstantiated Belief, which means examining every information source on the subject, before making your personal judgment of what happened. Along the way, you have to take into account that many people will tell self-serving untruths, or quote unreliable sources themselves.

At the end of this analysis, people will all believe different things, based on the credibility they assign to their different sources. So a committed Bushie will still be saying today that they believe there are still WMD's somewhere that we haven't found, and anti-Bushie's will be saying today that the whole GWB White House line was always a fraud to justify invasion.

I think a lot of this has to do with how fearful people are about the motivations and intentions of the rest of the world, and what they then perceive we need to do to protect ourselves from them.

My conservative friend has conservative instincts that lead him to see the rest of the world as very threatening. This allows him to see GWB in a positive light as doing something about a dangerous world. Now he is not a bad person, but he tends to use information sources that reinforce his existing beliefs, and discount sources that he dislikes. In this, at times he is as susceptible as any Creationist to  the dogma of the True Believer, by discounting any information  from any source he dislikes.

This lack of rigor at times needs gentle correction, and that may be because he is under a misconception of how something works, or the relevance it has in any given situation. He needs to have a clear logical pathway, but getting rid of his Belief System can be an impediment to clear thinking. For example, he so loathes Hillary Clinton (and Bill) that there is no point in discussing anything related to them. There is no way either of them can ever redeem themselves, and any successes they have will always be countered by any bad tales, even fictional tales, to make them look either incompetent or evil.

My progressive friends, on the other hand, make connections of great compassion, and do not see the rest of the world as nearly as threatening. Accordingly, they are much more into outreach and helping, and they see the military interventions that have been committed in their name as Americans as not being justified, and rank them as atrocities. Accordingly, the numbers of Vietnamese who died as a result of American intervention there, they take some responsibility for. Many conservative Americans find reasons to justify America's involvement, and as a New Zealander, we suffer from the same issues, because NZ was there supporting the American effort (with regular NZ Army troops). 

Now at times, either view is correct. There are plenty of instances where people have taken advantage of the caring efforts of others to abuse them. There are also plenty of instances where paranoia has led to heavy-handed mass-murder.

Meanwhile, nothing much is going to change with the US  Military, unless this economic meltdown impacts US spending.
This nicely illustrates the huge disparity of US "defense" spending compared to the rest of the world. The next 14 players all added together still fall about $100 billion short of US expenditures.

I think this is probably the difference between the Left and Right wing. Fear. Left-wingers do not fear the rest of the world so much. When, as a Left-Winger, you express anger at the neocon approach to "peacekeeping", neocons feel even more threatened, and more fearful, and talk about a "more dangerous world", because they feel the need to exert more control at any cost over the elements in the world they perceive as a threat they fear. Left-wing resistance to this control makes neocons very paranoid, and have them perceiving the Left Wingers as part of the problem. Neocons often talk about Liberal Conspiracies, Bleeding Heart Liberals, and Commies, to group the less fearful into the Opposition they have to defeat. And as I mentioned before, True Believers, in their paranoia, regard killing their enemies as a viable solution to their problems. 

Both sides can quote examples of the failed policies of the other. Left- and right-wingers each have their successes and failures, and history always tells the story, and the longer ago the events happened, the more accurate the history becomes, because it is not such an emotional issue to the historian, unless it is a pivotal part of his Belief System. For example, ask a Christian Fundamentalist if Jesus rose from the grave, and he will look at you as if you must be nuts to even ask that question, because for them, the answer is "of course!".

And yet, there are other historians who can equally argue that Jesus never existed. That he was a historical fable, of whom the first writings appeared about 60 years after his death, with no record in the secular record of his ever having even existed!

So this is an example of how Belief Systems are built, and persist, and can continue to be supported by people who are not bad people, just totally different in what they choose to believe.

What we choose to believe is always a personal choice. Changing other people's beliefs is often impossible, and is not something I try to do.

I think Google got it in one with their company slogan, "Don't be evil".

I think we all have to define what we regard as evil, or "intentional behavior that is unacceptable to me personally", and make our case for our positions. Too often, people have these underlying beliefs that they have not thought through, and as a result, build a tower of logic that has no real support even in their own belief system. When they examine their fundamentals, they themselves discover that the logical axioms on which they have positioned their beliefs are so flawed that they need to completely rethink their position.

Unfortunately, it is often an impossible task to get people to examine their basic axioms, because they cannot divorce their examination of their basic axioms from the body of prejudice they have built  based on these axioms.

And I think it comes down to fear. The more fearful we are, the more essential it is that "we kill them before they kill us." It is easier to adopt this path when we have no empathy for the "enemy", and do not take their humanity into account.

I think this topic of reconciling people who have very different world views is becoming more and more important. To get into the real basics of what people believe, and why, and how to sift information from dishonest sources to reach the multiple possible logical conclusions, and evaluate all of them to choose what we believe in.

For a more successful future, we need Americans to become a lot more logical in their information analysis, and less trusting of their beliefs.

13 comments:

  1. Hwang Woo-Suk - - - the name alone shoulda been a dead giveaway.

    To paraphrase the West Side Story lyric - - ...you know whang Hoo Suk that you Suk all the way, from your first Phony post to your last Phony bray...

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  2. Being a European, I constantly see the far too optimistic “progressive” view: We as Germans are so happy that we do not fight wars anymore that we truly believe, everyone else is peace-loving as well.

    No obviously this is not true. While I generally agree it makes more sense not to be afraid of the rest of the world, there are certain factions that absolutely condemn everything we (being a Western country) do and say. They hate us for being at war in Afghanistan, but they would hate us all the same if we pulled out. They hate us for showing muscles, but they'd laugh at us for trying to negotiate.

    Regarding the war in Iraq I think that even the most neocon-hardliner nowadays accept the fact that it did more harm than good. While the reason for war is still to be found somewhere, the war itself destabilized the region and helped islamistic terror organization. The dictator Hussein was replaced by the dictator anarchy and will eventually be replaced by fundamentalists.

    Reminds me of Iran, doesn't it? The Shah was a brutal dictator that suppressed his people. But was he worse than his successor Khomeni? Probably not.

    So yes, I can see that at the time of the Iraq campaign, most of the neocon views were plain wrong. But I feel that some folks in Europe should wake up from their flower power “everyone loves everyone” views, as they might prove equally wrong.

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  3. Just the fact that Saddam used gas on his own people does indicate at one time there was at least one wmd.

    Did it justify invasion? probably not, but Bush and Obama will continue fighting somewhere for a long time. There is lots of money made when we are at war and it consolidates energy and power into the hands of the very few persons who control the presidency.

    Obama as a choice for presidency was decided many years ago by the powerful elite. Who do you suppose supported Obama at all those expensive schools he attended ? His mom ? not likely.

    The bank bailout is Obamas way of paying back those supporters. This must be obvious by now to even the duller of Obamas supporters as evidenced by his very low poll ratings. Much lower at this point in his presidency than Bush's.

    In fact if the mainstream media were not a government run institution there would be reports from all of them about the fact the presidents supporters are falling by the wayside by the tens of thousands.

    More scarry is this brown shirt brigade Obama is starting (like Hitler, Stalin and mao). Please be very wary of this, it is treasonus.

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  4. Note that Lindsey Sue has posted an interesting comment here (after my previous blog post) that relates to Richard's essay.

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  5. I like much of what Richard Hamilton Gibbs wrote, but I don't share his conclusion. I enjoyed his quick overview of Science, and I remind people that in Science, if you can't replicate something you can not make any extensions from your observation, it was essentially wrong.

    I will also point to some forgotten science that examined "Authoritarian Personality" and "Conservative Thought" carried out in a cooperative effort between scientists at Stanford, Berkeley, and U of Maryland. I do so because Gibbs speaks repeatedly of the fears that drive these traits while the point that jumped out at me in the above study is the motivation of fear.

    Now a little review of statistics, you have significance and you have correlation. People who speak of "highly significant results" don't know what they are talking about. The significance statistic either says "there is something here that is very likely to replicate, or it didn't reach confidence levels that are acceptable". Scientists get overly enthusiastic about significance because it tells them if they get to publish (and go to the conference) or not. The other part of stats, correlation, tells us how much this issue we were looking at CO-RELATES to with another issue. So in the case of Conservative thought and authoritarianism there is an astonishingly high correlation with fear. To be sure, I only remember that the Pearson's r was over >.5 (it can only reach as high as r = 1.0). While it has been some years since I have dug through the stacks at a medical library, r >.5 correlations are rare in the very varied world of human behavior.

    I have seen very few psychological theories that are as elegant (that is, state phenomena simply while explaining lots of other observations) as this. When one considers Xenophobia, that is fearing new concepts, people, outsiders, what have you, fear is front and center. When one considers the apparent need conservatives have to make war, or punish "evil doers" in a heavy handed way (lock em up and throw away keys) fear is a strong motivation. Even the prevalence of gun ownership in conservative households tells the same story.

    This becomes particularly interesting when we look at the correlation between conservative thought and need for strong dogmatic religious affiliation. Here the fear of death drives conservatives into the pews of those churches that promise life after death, but few of those church goers ever seem too worried about the founder's admonitions of "social justice". It always astonishes me that the Word of God to FEAR NOT for I am with you just doesn't go anywhere. The many stories in the Christian scriptures, particularly from Jesus himself, tell of how impossible it is for rich people to enter heaven. There is no equivocating the message of Mathew 25 that those who don't take care of "the least of my brethren" will go to hell. In fact, there isn't anything that takes away this cornerstone of the intended message of Jesus. Jesus continues in context to warn people of the end times only in as much as thinking about end times should focus them on staying with their duty towards the poor and down trodden (go and reread Mathew 24-26).

    At this point I will really start preaching and here is why. I have attended Church since I was a child. Because of the inability of people on the right to understand "do not fear" or Thou Shalt not Kill, or how the rich may as well become camels and attempt to get through the eyes of a needles, or the story of Lazarus, or how much people need to take care of the poor rather than worship money (They call it Mammon if you recall), because of all of this I get the strong sense that your religion is fake. I get the very compelling sense that I have been duped all my life, that God couldn't convert your hateful hearts if his very religion were at stake.

    So I say to these people, I think Christianity is very much at stake. I think leaders who told you to lead by EXAMPLE weren't kidding. I think of you as the destruction of the whole religion that once meant so much to those who spread the ideals of peace and dignity to the common persons.

    You see, I don't feel like reaching across. I feel like warning these people of their folly. Here in America the unspeakable expenses that military spending build up have produced a country that can wipe out the rest of the world swiftly. Yet you still fear for your very lives. It is time to stop this idiotic fear, it is only cowardice combined knee jerk responses physical violence. In saying this, I take issue with Gibbs' conclusion that we can do nothing to change these people. We can first work to take away their stupid fears. Console them, but don't let them off the hook, they will quickly fall back on trying to bully others and hurt people who aren't like them. We must be ready to stop that from happening. We should also let them know that they have despoiled the very religion they use as an excuse to tell us how sinful everyone else is. They can't go about polishing their crowns in heaven for bringing people to the fold when their behavior is so abhorrent that many are fleeing their church in disgust.

    Let no one call themselves Christians unless they can answer for what they have done too the poor, the hungry, the homeless.

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  6. [For this to make more sense, see Lindsey Sue's latest comment on my previous blog entry. I'm posting it here as well so it doesn't get missed. It pertains to this blog entry as well.]

    Lindsey,

    I like your stain analogy about Iraq! And I do, for the most part, trust Obama, mainly because he is such a quantum leap above his competition in the recent election--we were an eyelash away, for a while there, from having a very ignorant, dangerous vice president and a violent, short-tempered president--and I just count my lucky stars that we even HAVE Obama. Robert Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast reported 12 million stolen Democratic votes in their Rolling Stone article right before the election. Since we're a democratic republic, and since 60 percent of the people are happy with Obama, and since there is no popular movement brewing or new potential leader gaining in popularity, Obama is IT.

    OK, now about my statement about 46 percent of American voters being mentally ill or stupid. That was kind of a dumb thing for me to say, at least in this context, as a comment related to my own blog entry about HEALING the split. Instead, with statements like this, I'm increasing animosity!

    I want to explain myself a little bit here. Part of me is like Obama, a normal guy who wants to get on with life, make reasonable compromises, live and let live. He has been an incredibly good example to me. Hiring Hillary is something I would never have done, but now that he's done it, it seems brilliant, and now I want to learn to operate that way. Since America IS its people, we DO have to deal with all of its people even when they seem to be at odds with what we think is best for our survival as individuals and as a nation.

    But another part of me is an extraterrestrial scientist. Since I was in my 20's, I've been calling myself an "alien sociologist," and trying to teach myself how to see things from that vantage point. Now you yourself say that people, even the religious ones, have free will. I have the greatest sympathy for children whose thought process is abused by being taught idiotic, illogical religious dogma by trusted adults. But I, too, consider them, once they make it to adulthood, people with free will, people responsible for their actions.

    Now, if an alien sociologist looks at Bush's ban of the most useful kind of stem cell research, the alien has no choice but to conclude that this action was MORE primitive and more harmful than when the Catholic church imprisoned and threatened to torture Copernicus and Galileo.

    Same goes for his ban on condoms for family planning organizations in Africa. This was MORE harmful, more primitive, more insane than the imprisonment of Copernicus and Galileo. In some of the African countries Bush "helped," AIDS actually increased because of his denial of economic aid and condom shipments to family planning organizations receiving aid from the United States that even mentioned abortion as a legal reproductive health option.

    OK, so the nice, normal Jeff (don't laugh!) can hang with people who believe that the creator of the Universe wrote a book, that Earth is 4,000 years old, etc., and even see the good in them. But the alien sociologist Jeff stands AGHAST at them.

    Have you studied the witch trials in Europe? Tens of thousands of women were tried, tortured, and killed as witches. In Salem, Massachusetts, the most learned men of the town pronounced cruel sentences of torture and death on women they deemed to be witches. And in 2008, we had a president banning stem cell research and condoms. In the context of how incredibly much more knowledge we had access to compared to the people who participated in the Salem Witch Trials, it makes the crimes of the modern 46 percent (voting for Bush a second time and then Palin) seem that much more horrible. Making life and death decisions (Iraqi lives, not their own!) based on a medieval mindset is just plain wrong, just like it was in Salem, Massachusetts.

    So part of me is very freaked out and scared of these peasants with pitchforks and torches, who almost elected a man who wanted to nuke Iran and a fundamentalist "Christian" woman who wanted creationism taught in schools and who believed that we should drill baby drill to solve the energy crisis. I want to shame these people, to let them know that we see their cowardice. I think that one of the things these fear-based people are most afraid of is being perceived as the cowards they are.

    People in our culture are really intent on being as cool as possible. I remember in the early 70's when even Republican businessmen started wearing long sideburns, fat belts, and bellbottom jeans. I'm just hoping that somehow the fools who support retro, dangerous political policy will start to conform a bit to the people who are light years more cool than they are.

    Thanks for taking the time to write another great comment.

    Jeff

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  7. In answer to your question of how to close the gap - leading by example, develop deeper understanding of how intellect, emotion, spirituality and the physical interact in the political sphere, stop blaming and start working to communicate effectively.

    The request for an apology is a personal insult to many people. If you don't understand that, then closing gap is not an option.

    "Logic" plays a very minor role in all of this. If you insist that people use their logic to set policy, look at the last 50 years of policy. That seemed logical at the time.

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  8. For those who open minded and wish to consider that they might have inadvertently created a belief system around the commonly accepted "non-existence of WMD," then they might conduct a cursory search on the topic. Such as a Google search on Syria + Saddam + WMD.

    For those who want to read some provocative findings and then later investigate the veracity of these sources try:

    http://www.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=5137

    http://www.frontpagemag.com/readArticle.aspx?ARTID=5148

    For the fearless among you I recommend reading the Huffington post on an interesting corollary story about a bipartisan panel finding that "WMD Attack Likely In Next Five Years, Panel Says."

    The ire and belief systems illustrated in the reader's comments is particularly noteworthy as many object to the Post as engaging in "fear mongering" since these readers (obvious experts as they are in the subject, like Mr. Gibb's) know that there are no WMD to fear. These readers echo Mr. Gibbs naive sentiments.

    I say "naive" because if Gibbs knew anything at all about the subject such as looking into the history of "Dr. Germ" and "Mrs. Anthrax" or how the State Department provided Saddam with Anthrax during the Iran-Iraq war, then he would have not disparaged the antithesis of his views or the person propounding them. But his own belief system precluded taking such care.

    Obviously Mr. Gibbs must "believe" Saddam simply lost (his people were just incompetent) or (beneficent fellow that he was) he destroyed his stash... Tell us another.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/12/02/wmd-attack-likely-in-next_n_147767.html

    But naturally if you have a belief system that there were no WMD, based upon believing the Bush administration saying "oops no WMD found, sorry" and the news media endlessly beating this into everyone, then there is no reason to look further into this subject.

    Obviously Mr. Gibbs did not lift a finger to his keyboard to investigate this or he would actually have reported a more balanced view.

    Pointing the finger at others who he labels as "true believers" illustrates pure hypocrisy. Eric Hoffer is rolling in his grave right now over the use of the title to his great book, which I'd wager Mr. Giggs has not read. Otherwise he'e recognize his own hypocrisy.

    Those who beat their chest to portray their own "balanced belief system" more often than not are simply hiding their excessive ego and pride from others and themselves.

    Such characteristics are found both in the right and left and everywhere else, but particularly in this zen hell site, which serves to buttress the ever expansionary political-economic state over the market.

    If Mr. Gibbs would do some digging he might just find pay dirt that either supports his belief system or negates it. Instead he wastes our time and acts as a shill for the government, the left and the sorry excuse for news media that he must regularly ingest.

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  9. Well, first, the July 12 "Anonymous" is a coward, because he won't post his name, yet he criticizes Mr. Gibbs by name.

    Second, a simple thought experiment shows that July 12 "Anonymous" is simply brainwashed, because he's basically accusing George Bush Jr. of being a "shill for the government, the left and the sorry excuse for news media that he must regularly ingest." Bush's most recent statements about WMD are that we didn't find any. That damned liberal Bush!!

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  10. Jeff, thanks for your thoughtful blog.

    My response is in two parts: it is too long for a single entry. :)

    Anon seems to be a True Believer, and the website he refers to in his reply to support his Beliefs is Frontpagemag.com. Read the Wikipedia article, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FrontPage_Magazine )and check the information they present. I do not see this as a credible source, and I will not counter with other wild conjecture from the Far Side simply to prove that there is lousy investigation everywhere.

    My approach is a willing suspension of disbelief until the facts are in. For example, I have long suspected the Bush - Cheney White House of illegal activities, but since I can't prove anything, and have not seen a smoking gun, I may voice my doubts, but they are not Beliefs. Maybe we are about to see some facts, what with Cheney telling the CIA to mislead Congress.

    As I keep saying, Stop Believing, Start Investigating! I try to get my facts from sources that are not trying to twist my arm so hard to Believe.

    I try to keep an open mind to every theory, and lean towards those with good corroboration. For this reason, I have trouble with Official American Government Conspiracy theories, including 9/11 and the attempts by the White House to sidestep a proper investigation of events.

    I have also heard this old chestnut how "Saddam's WMD's were transported to Syria", again and again. the story goes that the WMD's were spirited across the border to Syria some 6 months before the commencement of the American invasion. I find Saddam's own admission after his capture, that the stories of WMD's were a front, comments made to discourage Iraq's enemies (particularly Iran) from invading Iraq, as substantially more credible.

    I am open to further information, but not simply a regurgitation from the same two players who have been making these assertions, (and making money giving talks to gullible Neocons) for the past several years.

    That the GWB White House did not investigate this better is baffling, because if it was true, it would have helped somewhat in partially restoring White House credibility. The most likely possibility is that the Syrian story wasn't true, maybe a weak White House disinformation 'plant' in the first place.

    Even then, the 'spiriting over the border' took place some 6 months before the invasion. So at the time of the invasion, there were no WMD's there, even if this story if true.

    As well, do not discount Hans Blick and his UN team, who were responsible for policing the WMD's, and also tracking Iraq's legal conventional weapons. They also insisted there were no WMD's around, and they had much better resources than the CIA.

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  11. Continuing my response:

    Yes, Reagan's White House did supply chemical and biological weapons to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. There are great photos of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Hussein, all smiles, in 1983. The Reagan years, selling weapons to Iran, supporting a criminal Government in Nicaragua despite a ban on such activities by Congress, this kind of incredible dealing, which was bound to have blowback sooner or later, was part of an unbelievably arrogant Republican American foreign policy that would reap the whirlwind some 2o years later.

    So to the other Anon reply, of course Iraq had chemical WMD's at one time. The Reagan Administration supplied them! The idea was to help mess with Iran. But after the first Iraq war, the United Nations put weapons inspectors in place as part of the peace settlement to which Saddam Hussein agreed.

    Anon also mentions Eric Hoffer, an American social writer and philosopher born in 1902. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Hoffer

    Jewish and middle-aged at the outbreak of WW II, Hoffer wrote the book for which he is best known, "True believers", in 1951 in which he mostly disparages such people, regarding their causes as interchangeable, and their method of gathering adherents as standardized by promising a glorious (if unrealistic) future. Under this banner fit organizations as diverse as Nazism, Communism, the early Christian Church, yet the principles can also be employed by someone as admirable as Abraham Lincoln.

    Hypocrisy? No. I simply clearly point at the dangers of being a mindless True Believer who will not be swayed by the facts. I am not denigrating the likes of Abraham Lincoln. Please quote the particular Hoffer observation that I am contradicting, that would make him roll in his grave, and I will ponder on it and respond.

    Finally, the last Anon's communication mode is often that of an insulting child, mindless abuse. If you are aware of Transaction Analysis, where there are three modes of communication (parent, adult, child), I would ask that conversation be humorous and respectful, and considerate of other's opinions. In other words, adult.

    Or else it will be spank spank, and off to bed without any supper for you!

    Smile,

    Richard

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  12. so many questions , so few answers, thats good that you and we keep them coming.. i am interested in the revolution that creates, effective change,but do we have the stomach for it>? it is messy, and we have our children and their future to think of. rightfully so... phil h ps, jeff its a crazy world

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  13. Anonymous, I don't think Amerikans will have the stomach for revolution for a very long time to come. We have truly lost our nerve. When Reagan was elected, it was the ultimate sign of sticking our tail between our legs as Americans. That's when we became Amerikans, fake Americans, people sick with the disease of nostalgia. In "Ohio", when CSN&Y sang of 4 dead and Nixon's tin soldiers coming, it was a call to revolution. The hippies said, "Nah, too messy. Let's just get stoned and love each other."

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