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Aggressive rats and monkeys

Gadfly | June 14th, 2017

Red blankets, thousand-dollar pills, and angry Irish

It makes for an interesting week when people, rats, monkeys, and the Irish wave the middle finger with wild abandon toward their erstwhile enemies. The Irish finally showed how fed up they are with the “state” Roman Catholic Church that treated pregnant girls horribly in forced-labor laundries and transferred priests who took sexual advantage of adolescent boys for centuries.

Irish voters sent the Vatican a final goodbye finger when they elected 38-year-old Dublin-born Leo Varadkar as prime minister. Not only is he of Asian immigration descent, he is an openly gay doctor who lives with a male partner -- in a country of 4.6 million once considered to be the most socially conservative in all of Europe.

This acceptance in once-Catholic Ireland? I thought the Irish had sent a strong message when they recalled their ambassador to the Vatican some years ago. In 2015 the Irish voted overwhelmingly to adopt gay marriage.

Other “Christian” churches in the world are not accepting of gays at all. The Word of Faith Fellowship in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is only one of many. Evidently having no idea what Jesus Christ would do in the treatment of gays, this church—supposedly based on Christ and the Bible—believes demons possessing gays can be driven out of homosexuals by beating the hell out of them.

Matthew Fenner was leaving Sunday church in 2013 when 20 members of The Word of Faith jumped him and beat him up for about two hours. They didn’t drive the demons out of his brain but they did succeed in driving him out of the church.

However, he brought charges, and in 2014 a minister and four members were indicted on charges they kidnapped, beat, and grabbed him by the throat, almost strangling him. The case is finally going to court and the female minister Brooke Covington is the first defendant. Fenner testified she had told him, “God said there is something wrong in your life.” Evidently God and Jesus Christ have different ideas about homosexuality—at least in that particular “Christian” church. One critic said: “The trouble with born-again Christians is that they are an even bigger pain the second time around.”

Word of Faith has been in trouble for abuse of children for much of its 40 years of existence. In an investigation by the Associated Press, it was discovered members cannot marry or have children without the church’s permission, are not to watch TV, read newspapers, or eat in restaurants that play music or serve alcohol.

I wonder what the church uses for communion. Perhaps the venom of vipers? The lawyer for the defense tried this unusual line in court: He testified that Fenner appreciated the beatings and strangulation because during the assault “he never told anyone to stop.” That’s a unique argument by the defense!

Why there are so many fights and arguments on passenger jets

As Americans get taller, wider, heavier, and angrier, the seats in passenger jets get smaller and closer together, that is, except for first class. The airlines charge more for legroom. We are flying more and liking it less as the cheap seats are crammed to over-capacity, depending upon how many 350-pound guys are on each side of you.

Last year 719 million flew on domestic flights on the 24,000 flights that take off each day. With luck all of them land. On most days we have 6,000 passenger jets in the air at any one time. Some are diverted to other airports when fights break out among passengers and attendants.

The problems generally start in the airport “reception” area. In one long line the passengers who had to choose tourist class are beginning to raise anxiety levels as people jostle for line positions. The pressures continue to mount as bodies are poked and scanned in embarrassing places by underpaid arrogant torturers seeking the deadly terrorist and other malefactors bringing shoe bombs and shaving lotion aboard.

In the very short first class line smiling agents greet their guests, usually seat them first, and make sure carry-ons, if any, are carefully stored. Science has proven the more you pack animals into ever-tightening places the more violent and aggressive they become. In just the summer months the U.S. airlines are planning to expose about 235 million passengers to this crowded environment.

Over 50 years ago the National Institute of Mental health used rats and mice to dramatically demonstrate how crowding affects behavior. Animals crammed into a small place with nowhere to go become hyper-aggressive and violent toward one another. As a farm boy I experienced horses, pigs, cows, and geese often fighting for a place at the feed trough.

The research proved that the greater the density the more deviant the behavior. If there is a common experience associated with large crowds, such as a popular rock band playing favorites before 50,000 waving and clapping hands, we love being in that atmosphere. But when you have 200 passengers boarding an aircraft, perhaps with a 100 different reasons for flying, the only common experience they have is the confines of the aircraft.

Some are going on vacation, some to funerals of loved ones, some to medical institutions for exams and treatment, some are conducting business in a 1.5% economy, some are just getting the hell out of town, and some are next to a loud guy on a cellphone or noisy laptop. Others want to recline their seats or put the tray down. A few passengers are coughing and sniffling or waiting in line for the tiny toilet. These passengers are ripe for all kinds of transgressions before reaching River City.

Monkeys can teach billionaires a lot about inequality

There is no doubt that inequality is a major problem in all of the world’s societies. The unequal distribution of wealth is only part of it. In the Book of Common Prayer there is a line that is applicable to all sorts of inequality: “From envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness, Good Lord, deliver us.”

We now have more road rage and “air rage” than ever. Could it be because we have seven billion unequal animal-souls on the planet?

New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof covers some of the problems in a June 3 article titled “What Monkeys Can Teach Us About Fairness.” He writes that two researchers examining reports from millions of flights discovered there are more air rage incidents when aircraft have first-class cabins. There are three times more incidents when economy passengers have to walk through first-class cabins to get to their seats than when economy passengers can enter in the middle to main cabins. Fascinating! Is it envy? Is it hatred? Is it malice?

Let’s see if monkeys might be able help us in examining inequality. Researchers taught monkeys to hand over pebbles for cucumber slices. The monkeys liked the food. But when one monkey was offered grapes rather than cucumber slices in view of other monkeys, the crap hit the fan. Monkeys prefer grapes to cucumbers. So do I. One monkey got the grapes and others were insulted with cucumber slices. They would often throw the slices back into the researchers’ faces.

Professor of Psychology Keith Payne of the University of North Carolina has written about how inequality destabilizes societies and is actually creating a public health crisis in the United States.

The One Percent owns more than the bottom 90 Percent. The bonuses given to a few thousand Wall Street bankers are more than the annual earnings of all the millions of Americans working full-time at the minimum wage of $7.25.

In a survey of 40 industrialized countries, the countries with the widest gaps in income, including the U.S., generally have worse health, more homicides, and more social problems. In his book “The Broken Ladder,” Payne cites research of major league baseball that indicates teams with greater equality of pay, even with some superstars making millions a season, are more cohesive and successful over the long haul. Payne adds: “When the level of inequality becomes too large to ignore, everyone starts acting strange….It makes us believe weird things, superstitiously clinging to the world as we want it to be rather than as it is.”

Why doctors make house calls

In an interview last month former Vice-President and Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale mentioned that back in 1966 when he ran for the Senate his campaign spent $700,000. He thought that was a whole lot of money. But he said a person running for the Senate in 2018 in Minnesota would need a minimum of $20 million to make an impression.

Inequality in our society has changed politics and almost every other component of our society. With the One Percent throwing tons of money at politics, housing, hedge funds, Wall Street, medicine, superyachts, private jets, and recreation, they have created the 20 Percent who dominate the 80 Percent.

As an example, we actually rank last among the top 11 developed countries in the quality of health care, according to a 2014 Commonwealth Fund Report. Remember the Republican cry: “We have the best health care in the world!”? In 2015, with a population of 322 million, we spent $3.2 trillion on health care. That means we spent an average $10,000 for every man, woman, and child and still failed to adequately care for the 80 Percent at the bottom of society. That’s almost twice as much per person as the other ten countries spend with universal care.

Our health care system is not a market, it’s a bizarre, baroque bazaar. Stanford University is adding a new wing to a hospital—and it’s not for the 80 Percent or the poor. The wing will feature a rooftop garden and a 65-ft glass atrium designed by a famous architect. All of its 368 rooms will be single occupancy. Stanford authorities raised over $2 billion from Silicon Valley millionaires and billionaires for the wing. When a big donor enters the hospital for exam or treatment, he will be given a red blanket, and he will be told to keep that red blanket near him while he is in the hospital. All hospital employees have been instructed about the significance of the blanket. Take excellent care of this big donor.

This is while the Congress of the United States does absolutely nothing about high medical costs, unequal treatment, and obscene drug profits because it has been drugged by the greatest opiate of all—cold, hard campaign cash from rich donors. We still have well over 20 million people without health insurance.

Remember the scandal over the price of the EpiPen at $609 which holds a whole dollar’s worth of epinephrine to control allergic reaction to nuts? The price is still the same.

Over a five-year period drug companies have shipped 780,000,000 hydrocone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia, enough for each resident to have 433 pills. West Virginia has been decimated by prescription opiates, heroin, and other illegal drugs (read the June New Yorker article “The Addicts Next Door”).

My dad was right: “Congress is as useless as teats on a boar.” Another drug price beyond rage: A $1,000 cancer pill in the U.S. retails for $4 in India.



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