Training Or Education?

I have argued this topic before, but it bears repeating in light of an excellent comment making the rounds on Facebook. The comment was made by Chris Hedges, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and frequent contributor to the New York Times, among other major papers. His comment, in part, reminds us that “We’ve bought into the idea that education should be about training and ‘success’ defined monetarily rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers…” I couldn’t agree more.

Bearing in mind that education begins in the home with parents who have time for their children and are eager to see them learn, there are a number of things wrong with the direction American education has taken since the 1940s at least. We have bought into the progressive education fiction that teaching is about the kids when it is supposed to be about what the kids learn. Robert Hutchins and John Dewey fought over this issue for years and Dewey’s child-centered system of education won the day. But Dewey soon left Columbia Teachers College after his triumph and washed his hands of the whole thing: he didn’t like the way his ideas were being misrepresented by his “supporters.” Educators have further watered down Dewey’s ideas of “child-centered” education.

We like to think that we have placed the kids first when in fact they are forgotten in the jargon-filled nonsense about entitlement and self-esteem. Kids are told they are wonderful just because they breathe in and out, whether or not they have actually done anything worthy of praise. They know this is a lie: they sense lies the way a squirrel senses where the nut is hidden. And they are handed the keys to the educational kingdom rather than having to work for them, forgetting that those things that come too easily are really not worth having — while the nonsense about entitlement leads to rampant grade inflation and passing along kids who have learned nothing. Real learning takes effort and that effort is rewarded by a sense of accomplishment that becomes inner satisfaction and requires no pat on the head. And the subject matter that is learned is of central importance.

But Hedges has his finger on the single most dangerous mistake we have made in recent years: we have confused education with job training. It started in the 1950s when the educational establishment was concerned that drop-out rates were climbing dangerously and needed to be stopped. They did research and discovered that high school and especially college graduates made more money in their lifetimes than did those who dropped out of school. So the marketing machine was set in motion and the theme was developed that kids should stay in school in order to be successful — monetarily, as Hedges says (the terms we have decided are the only ones by which success can be measured). Big Mistake! Education is not about jobs or making money. It is about putting kids in possession of their own minds, helping them to achieve true freedom, the ability to think for themselves, separate truth from nonsense, and not to suffer fools. These are the critical skills Hedges mentions and he couldn’t be more right.

The current presidential contest reveals the consequences of this sort of confusion. Instead of dealing with the major issues facing this country and this planet, about which we hear practically nothing, we are focused instead in “jobs and the economy” as though these things are the only things that matter. But a society made up of miseducated people who have been trained to work and not to think can easily be duped into swallowing this line of nonsense — without even knowing what they have ingested.

What matters are not the jobs and the economy in the end. What matters is the survival of human beings on a planet under siege by corporate greed and a business mentality that has convinced us that money is the only thing that really matters and is solidly behind the misperception that education is all about job training. As Hedges goes on to conclude, “A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” Amen to that!

Advertisements

A Moral Quandary

I was checking out my Facebook the other day and happened to glance at a couple of the ads on the right-hand side of the posts. I saw a brief note about a test that would tell me which candidates for President I was most in agreement with. I thought it would be amusing to find out how close I was to the man I planned to vote for in the election so I clicked on the link and took the test. It consisted of a number of questions in various categories from economics to the environment. A few seconds after completing the test I was told that I was in almost total agreement with….Jill Stein.

Who the Hell is Jill Stein, I wondered? I knew there were other candidates for President besides the Big Two, but I hadn’t really paid much attention. Like so many others in this country my attention has been directed toward the two men who have paid out a nauseating $1 billion apiece to buy the highest office in the land — much of it coming from the hated corporations who are now running this country. I checked Jill Stein’s web page (such as it is) and discovered that she has raised a paltry $300 thousand in her efforts to win the Presidency. Hardly enough to win her a place in the state legislature. But I also learned that she is a remarkable woman. As her web page notes:

Dr. Jill Stein is a mother, physician, longtime teacher of internal medicine, and pioneering environmental-health advocate.

She is the co-author of two widely-praised reports,  In Harm’s Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development, published in 2000, and Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging, published in 2009.  The first of these  has been translated into four languages and is used worldwide. The reports promote green local economies, sustainable agriculture, clean power, and freedom from toxic threats.

It was Dr. Stein’s fierce stand on the environment that placed us close together in our thinking about politics I realized. I have noted, as have others whose blogs I read, that there has been precious little said about the environment by the Big Two during recent months and this has disturbed me a great deal. I regard it as THE most important issue in this election. And yet the two principal players seem to have ignored the issue completely. This places me in a moral quandary.

I was critical of some of my friends back when George W. Bush was running for President because they had determined to vote for Ralph Nader. I felt strongly (as I still do) that this was throwing a precious vote away that would end up landing “W” in the office of President of the United States. I was convinced that this would be a very bad thing, and I was right. So I hesitate to throw my vote away on a Green Party candidate who hasn’t a snowball’s chance of winning the Presidency.  Hence the quandary: it’s a question of throwing away my vote or violating my principles. But then I recall that Dante tells us Hell is a frozen wasteland with relentless winds. A snowball would survive in such an environment, and the environment is the key issue here. So I wonder. What do I do? What would you do? I am eager to get your comments on this difficult issue.

A Pleasant Surprise

It was surprising to read last week that the United States is vying with Saudi Arabia to lead the world in oil production. Surprising but also a reflection of our insatiable thirst for oil and other fossil fuels and our blind determination to do whatever it takes to extract oil, gas,  and coal from the earth. But after attempting to digest that news, it was even more surprising to read the delightful news that Saudi Arabia plans to focus its attention at home on renewable energy — clean energy (if we allow that nuclear is “clean.”) A recent story begins as follows:

Earlier this week, Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, a top spokesperson for Saudi Arabia, said that Saudi Arabia intends to generate 100 percent of its power from renewable sources, such as nuclear, solar, and low-carbon energies.

“Oil is more precious for us underground than as a fuel source,” said the prince, whose country holds approximately 20 percent of the world’s oil reserves, according to the International Energy Agency. “If we can get to the point where we can replace fossil fuels and use oil to produce other products that are useful, that would be very good for the world.”

Nuclear energy is certainly not “renewable” by any stretch of the term. And one could argue that it is not “clean” either; despite the fact that it produces little in the way of greenhouse gasses it nonetheless produces highly toxic waste that we do not seem to be able to hide anywhere (a situation that recently led the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to order the cessation of licensing of new generating plants until further notice). And there is always the danger of a nuclear accident, as we saw recently in Japan.

But putting that aside, we must applaud a nation that sets an example for a world that is currently busy making that nation very wealthy. Given that many in our Congress are reluctant to even admit that global warming is a reality, one might hope that this example from one of our Middle-Eastern friends will have a positive effect on even the thickest skull in Washington. Further, one might dare hope that the oil and gas companies in this country will now read the handwriting on the wall and get on the renewable energy bandwagon and invest some of their huge profits and their considerable political influence in Washington (which is directly tied to their huge profits, of course) to the cause of clean energy. It is the wave of the future, whether or not they admit it.

There are small clean energy steps being taken by various state legislatures around the country and bold investors such as Warren Buffet and T. Boone Pickens. But the Congress has yet to get solidly behind the clean energy movement despite the studies showing that jobs can be created and a weak economy boosted by investing in alternative energy — and there is money to be made, as Al Gore has learned. Fossil fuels, to state the obvious, are a finite resource and at some point we will be forced to “go green.” Better sooner than later for the planet’s sake.

The “R” Word

Much has already been said about Ann Coulter’s ill-advised (and repeated) use of the word “retard” to describe Barack Obama after his debate with Mitt Romney. I will not add fuel to that particular fire, but would prefer to take a different turn and ask the question: what ever happened to respect and civil discourse in this country?

Ann Coulter, of course, reports “news” for Fox “News.” I put scare quotes around the words here because this is a show that just pretends to give us the news when in fact they are simply passing along right-wing propaganda. Most people know that. But apparently there are many people in this country who don’t know this and that is why the programming on that station is worrisome: these people mistakenly believe they are getting actual news reporting when they are not But I digress.

Coulter has borrowed the colloquialism that turned a perfectly good verb into a pejorative noun. Presumably it is vulgar slang for “mentally retarded,” which is not regarded as politically correct even in its extended form. Her comment is disturbing to those who feel the pain of people who are intellectually challenged, as we now say. And this is disturbing indeed — especially since Coulter has been alerted to the fact that the term is offensive and yet she continues to use it. But what about its use in describing the President of the United States? Does no one else find this disturbing? Is there no line that those in the public eye should not cross in voicing their political opinions? It would seem that those who hold the highest office in this country are deserving of respect just by virtue of their office — even though we don’t happen to agree with their politics, or even if we have a personal grudge against them for some reason.

There was a time when this sort of slur would be regarded as more disturbing than the fact that this woman used the “R” word, a time when mutual respect was the rule and there was a sense that certain types of comments are inappropriate. We have lost that sense of propriety. It went out the window with good manners and the other Victorian baggage we were convinced would cramp our style, such things as duty, honor, and respect. But civil discourse lies at the core of “civilization,” and is one of the key factors separating us from the apes. If we must live together in crowded social groups it’s not enough to know how to speak; it requires that we know how to speak civilly to one another as well.

It’s not just bad manners to shout at one another, interrupt, insult, and toss offensive words about at random; it’s offensive and at the very least disrespectful and it even hurtful. Mutual respect lies at the heart of our moral system. The lack of respect we show in the way we speak to one another very easily translates into abuse and even violence to others we regard as inferior to ourselves. We should respect one another enough to at least listen and reply to what the other person has to say, to let them finish their sentences, and to respectfully disagree from time to time. We can even ignore them…..politely. But to address your President as a “retard” takes the problem to a new level. And this is especially so for a newscaster on a public show that is watched by millions who mistake it for the news. I think we know who is the intellectually challenged person here.

Orwell Revisited

An excellent article in Yahoo News by Walter Shapiro raises a number of important questions about why there was virtually no discussion about the ongoing drone attacks in the recent Presidential debates. In a word, it is because “they” don’t want us to know what is going on “over there,” and both Presidential candidates support the attacks in the name of protecting America. So it’s not an issue that separates the candidates. But Shapiro asks a couple of troubling questions:

The Washington Post reported this week that the Obama administration is developing a “disposition matrix” for its next-generation terrorist assassination program. (The adjective Orwellian is over-used, but it is undeniably apt for a kill list being euphemistically reworked as a “disposition matrix”).

During the Vietnam War, George Aiken, a Republican senator from Vermont, suggested that America should declare victory and come home. Eleven years after the Sept. 11 attacks and 18 months after the death of Osama bin Laden, it is time to debate how long America is justified in using drone attacks against the remnants of al-Qaida and other groups of loosely affiliated terrorists.

Is this war without end, amen? Does the bureaucratic momentum of the drone program mean that it will continue for decades? Is there another kind of disposition matrix that will tell us when the costs of the drone program (from terrorist recruiting to collateral damage) outweigh its benefits?

It is a very weak moral system that weighs costs against benefits. But it is done in business routinely — which simply tells us how the business model has permeated this culture. Such a calculation results in strange ethical conclusions, such as the continued production of the Pinto automobile after it has gone up in flames killing or maiming a number of drivers in rear-end collisions. And it “justifies” drone killing in the name of the “national interest.” Weighing alternatives may be realpolitik but it is bad morality: it ignores the victims — like the 16 year-old American son of a terrorist suspect who was in the country looking for his father and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time thereby becoming part of the “residual effect” of a drone killing in Pakistan not long ago.

It has been said, and rightly so, that the President has to make tough decisions and we are not privy to the information available to him through his various secret agencies. All too true. But we like to think that America takes the moral high ground whenever possible and every citizen with a brain and a conscience should join in asking with Walter Shapiro “when will this end?” Let’s face it, it’s terrorism in the name of defending ourselves against terrorism. It is wrong and it is not clear that it is even in the national interest when there are other ways to deal effectively with terrorism. Further, it strikes fear in the hearts of our allies as well as our enemies, and it promotes the image of America as the Big Bully on the block who is out to knock over anyone in his way.

The Best and the Brightest

I have commented before that the founders of this nation must be flip-flopping in their graves when numbers of citizens in this country vote for the President on the basis of brief TV debates that are little more than tailored entertainment that must compete for viewers with more popular programs such as Monday Night Football. But if they were disturbed about that they must be even more agitated to think about the quality of persons running for the highest political offices in this land. I am thinking primarily of the “rape experts,” like Todd Akin a Republican from Missouri, who have been making news insisting that there is such a thing as “legitimate” rape in which “the female reproductive system is able to block conception from an unwanted pregnancy” —  a theory based on what shall hereafter be known as the “New Biology.” Tina Fey got it right recently when she said, “If I have to listen to one more gray-faced man with a two-dollar hair cut explain to me what rape is, I’m gonna lose my mind.”

But, speaking of gray-faced men, a more recent comment may take the proverbial cake. Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, also a Republican, has declared in public that when a woman becomes pregnant from rape it is “God’s Will.” A recent ABC News story quotes the man as follows:

“I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen,” Mourdock said during Tuesday’s Senate debate, choking up. Mourdock’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, opposes abortion except in cases of rape and incest.

Both of these men were speaking out against abortion, of course, and should never have ventured into the treacherous realm of female anatomy and certainly should have avoided entirely the general subject of pregnancy where their credentials would never pass muster. But then perhaps they shouldn’t have been speaking about abortion at all because the founders were quite clear about wanting to separate religious from political issues and abortion is clearly a religious issue.

The founders also wanted what Jefferson liked to think of as the “best and brightest” people in the country to be elected by a carefully controlled process that would guarantee that the people at large, whom they didn’t really trust, were unable to elect others like themselves. If that ship didn’t sink soon after launch, it is assuredly at the bottom of the lagoon by this time.

But I also recall when President Richard Nixon, who once bragged that he had never had a course in political science, nominated G. Harrold Carswell to fill a vacancy in the Supreme Court. When confronted by the charge that the man was “mediocre” and not fit to be on the highest court in the land, Nebraska’s U.S. Senator Roman Hruska famously said “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?” Well, we know that “mediocre” was a euphemism for “stupid,” and it was clear at the time that the mediocre citizens already had someone who represented them in the highest office in the country, not to mention the Senate, and furthermore the Supreme Court is not supposed to be a representative body in the first place. Perhaps Messers Nixon and Hruska both should have taken that course in political science.

In any case, pity the poor founders: they can get no rest in their graves for all the leaping and spinning they must be doing these days given the mess we have made of their great experiment.

That’s Your Opinion!

We are fond of saying “everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion.” In a sense that’s true. But in another sense it is absurd. As George Berkeley once said, all opinions should be tolerated for what they are worth. Why would one be entitled to hold an opinion that is blatantly false? For example, why should a person be entitled to hold the opinion that the earth is flat or that dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time — as an alarming number of high school biology teachers in a recent Texas poll apparently believe? I mean, obviously a person can hold such an opinion, but why on earth would they want to? As Plato noted long ago, there is such a thing as right opinion — and such a thing as wrong opinion. One would think that we would want to jettison the latter and develop the former. I take it that “right” opinions are those that have intellectual support: they are reasonable. At some point right opinions become facts and dispute at that point is out of the question for reasonable people, though Congress will continue to debate their truth.

In the case of the shape of the earth or the time when humans lived on earth vis-a-vis the dinosaurs, opinions can be argued sensibly and evidence can be brought forward. But in the case of art and ethics, it is widely believed, it is open season on opinions: anything goes. I would contend that this is a wrong opinion. In ethics and art there are sound and unsound opinions: some claims can be supported by evidence and argument while others cannot. And like opinions about the shape of the earth, our job is to jettison the unsound opinions and develop the sound ones. Let’s take a couple of examples.

In ethics I might claim that the skin-heads are right to stand up for white supremacy. This is a value judgment and it is clearly unsound. There is no evidence whatever to support this claim: no evidence that whites are “superior” to any other race of humans. We have a value judgment based on a biological falsehood.  In any event, we have an example of an ethical claim that can be argued, defended, rejected, or accepted on the grounds of support and evidence. It’s not JUST an opinion.

In art a case can be made that some works are better than others because of the remarkable craftsmanship and lively imagination they exhibit. But after the case has been made, we can still like the inferior work. No matter how strong a case I make that Vermeer’s “Maiden With A Pearl” is a better work than Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post cover with the family bowing their heads over a Thanksgiving meal, one might still prefer the latter to the former. In that sense there’s no disputing taste. But experts can make strong cases for some works of art simply being truly remarkable and in some sense of that word “great,” whether we like them or not. The same can be said in literature, poetry, sculpture, and dance. Some works are good and some are really quite bad — again, whether we like them or not. In a word, some opinions are simply stronger than others. The evidence can be brought forward and reasons mustered on one side or the other.

In the realm of ethics and the fine arts opinions never reach the realm of facts, strictly speaking. There will always be room for debate because even though we might see the point of the evidence and argument that supports a claim — that Vermeer’s painting is better than Rockwell’s, for example — we might still prefer Rockwell, as mentioned above. The mind might assent, but the heart may be slow to follow. But the point I want to make is that discussion and rational argument have a place at the table of ethics and the fine arts just as do claims made about the shape of the earth, the desirability of certain types of treatment for illness, or the question of climate change. There are facts and there are sound or reasonable opinions and they need to be separated from the trash of half-truths, weak opinions, and absolute nonsense. This reasoning applies to the determination of who would make the better President as well.

Selling The Presidential Product

I swore to myself that I would not kick the dead horse of the debates again, but like New Year’s Resolutions, this one evaporated quickly: I read an opinion piece in Yahoo News dissecting the last presidential debate on foreign policy. I knew going in that Obama should be the stronger voice in this arena, given Romney’s gaffes in England during the Olympics and his untimely remarks after the disaster in Libya. But what I did not anticipate was the degree to which this debate, like the others, is really all about image and making the right impression in order to win a political contest — and what this implies for the rest of us Consider the following remarks by Jeff Greenwald, opinion guru of Yahoo News:

There were times during this last debate when I almost thought I could hear the words of Mitt Romney’s advisers playing in his head:

“Look, big guy, you’re on track to win this thing. What they want to see tonight is a calm, confident leader, unthreatening, informed, unruffled. So don’t get up in Obama’s grill. Bring the conversation back to the economy when you can, and be the reasonable, credible Commander-in-Chief the voters want.”

In a word, create the impression that you are the man who these people want running the country for the next four years. Forget about the truth; forget about principles, and even about foreign policy; forget about strategies for strengthening the tattered reputation of this country in the Middle East; forget about how we might best deal with warring political and religious groups elsewhere in the world. Just smile and look calm and in control. Your audience tonight will be mostly women because their husbands and brothers will be watching sports, so your job is to bring them into the fold. As Greenfield said further on in his analysis:

Rather, his [Romney’s] challenge was to stand—or sit—face to face with the incumbent president and demonstrate that he could credibly argue matters of state, in the face of a debate foe determined to thrust and spar at every opportunity. Without question, Obama came into this last debate knowing that his presidency is hanging by a thread, in large measure due to his remarkably weak performance in the first debate. There was no opportunity he let pass.

If Greenfield is right, and he knows more about this sort of thing than I do, then those who plan debate strategies know that people don’t listen carefully; they just want to get a warm feeling after they watch another TV performance. This debate was carefully staged as one more form of entertainment on a night when the debate itself had to contend with Monday Night Football and the seventh game of the National League Baseball Championship between the Giants and the Cardinals. Know your audience and tell them what they want to hear.

Obama’s election is “hanging by a thread” because he failed to perform well in the first debate. How bizarre! I have always said these debates are about image and impressions. But the really disturbing thought is that the voters in this country buy into this crap; they are willing to be manipulated by image-makers and marketers into buying the candidate with the most sparkle. The debates are really about who a great many voters will cast their vote for — on the basis not of political records and probable performance in the highest office in the land, but about how a man looks on TV in a 90 minute debate with a political opponent who is working hard to create an even stronger impression. The founding fathers must be proud!

Green Jobs

The current Sierra magazine has some interesting and encouraging information that should allow us to bury the myth about how pursuing clean energy will cost the country jobs and how we should continue to support dirty energy “where the jobs are.” Bollocks! Let me quote a part of the brief article directly. (If you want detailed information about the study referred to you can go to this link: rael.berkley.edu/greenjobs.)

“For years the dirty energy industry has warned of massive job losses if the nation switches to clean energy. It’s dead wrong. Max Wei, Shana Patadia, and Daniel Kammen of the University of California at Berkley reviewed 15 recent studies of the job-creation potential of various energy sources and found that renewables generate more jobs per unit of energy delivered than do fossil fuels.”

The article then gives a chart showing the comparisons between the clean energy industries and the dirty energy industries that is quite striking. It reveals that the clean energy industries create 62.74 jobs per megawatt of energy produced as contrasted with the dirty energy industry that only produce 25.7 jobs per megawatt. The contrast is remarkable; clean energy is led by the solar photovoltaic industry which produces 32.71 jobs per megawatt — more than the dirty energy industry taken all together. The jobs in both categories are in construction, manufacturing, installation, and maintenance.

The “clean” energy industries include not only solar photovoltaic but “concentrating solar,” wind, and geothermal. The “dirty” energy industries studied include nuclear, coal, and natural gas. It should be noted that the latter three industries are currently being touted by politicians and the industry itself as “cleaner” than ever because coal has become “clean,” which is not strictly true; nuclear is touted as clean because it doesn’t produce heat — while it produces toxic waste that cannot be disposed of safely and always poses the threat of a meltdown; and natural gas is regarded as clean despite the fact that it is now obtained by “fracking,” a process that uses thousands of gallons of precious water which becomes contaminated and cannot be purified and reused afterwards. So, despite the attempts to pull the wool over out eyes, the word “dirty” is indeed appropriate when applied to these industries.

The fact that the Republicans are nearly united in their opposition to clean energy can only be accounted for by the fact that Big Oil makes such huge profits they can afford to dole out the big bucks to curry political favors, whereas the clean energy industry does not. But I do think that despite the likes of the Koch brothers and their friends clean energy will become the main source of energy in the future in this country and one must wonder when the oil and gas companies will climb aboard. Surely they see the handwriting on the wall?

In any event, let us have a moment of silence in memory of another dead myth. After that moment has passed we can spend another moment wishing like hell that the Congress will get its act together sooner rather than later and throw its support behind a collection of industries that have this sort of job potential. Talk about helping the economy — and the earth at the same time!

Bang You’re Dead!

Just when you think you’ve heard about the most absurd human behavior —  a contest to see who can eat the most worms and cockroaches in order to win a python — you read a story like the one in a recent Minneapolis Tribune article that tells about a couple in a Minneapolis suburb who are making money from having created a “simulated killing of Osama Bin Laden experience.” (Seriously, I did not make this up!) Let’s start with a couple of paragraphs from the story itself:

Six AR-15 semi-automatic rifles are loaded with paint bullets. The Kevlar vests are 25 pounds of light body armor. And the nondescript industrial park in New Hope sits 6,900 miles from Osama bin Laden’s former compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

But the mixture of fear, adrenaline and smell of gunpowder was real enough to jump-start the heart rates of five mock Navy SEALs who cashed in Groupons for this simulated adventure that has transformed a firearms studio north of Minneapolis into a gung-ho war-game night out.

Eighteen months after a team of SEALs killed the world’s most-wanted terrorist, everyday folks like these guys can plunk down $150 for their own vicarious shot at Operation Geronimo.

The story attempts to make the project seem quite reasonable — giving a struggling business in a Minneapolis suburb a boost while helping people learn how to protect themselves under simulated conditions that make the adrenalin flow and the palms sweat, just like the “real thing.” Participants wear plastic body armor and use paintball rifles. But this is not Sheldon Cooper and his nerdy friends shooting paint balls at the pseudo-scientists in the geology department. This is supposed to simulate real life with real villains. The bottom line is that we have people pretending they are Navy SEALs, shooting cardboard cutouts of women who represent Bin Laden’s wives –“who might be carrying a bottle of kerosene” — or they might not. And, of course, there’s the fact that the real-life character they shoot in the end  — a former police sniper disguised to look like Bin Laden — constitutes a racial profile if there ever was one. Needless to say, there are minority groups in the Twin Cities who are deeply disturbed by reports of these goings-on.

So we have several interesting moral issues here in the name of teaching people how to protect themselves: racial profiling; acceptable “killing” of persons who might well be innocent bystanders in the name of “self-defense”; and fostering aggressive impulses in ordinary people who have a spare $150.00 to blow on playing a war game, of sorts. One of the participants was Ben Leber a former Minnesota Viking whose wife bought him a gift certificate for his birthday. Seriously?

I have blogged before about our limitless appetite for distractions, which Aldous Huxley noted many years ago. And to be sure, we need distractions in our stressful world. But isn’t there a point when these distractions start telling us something deeply disturbing about ourselves? Just when you think you have heard the most bizarre example possible you read about this newest attempt to give bored folks something to do in their spare time that will give them an adrenalin rush and make them feel like they have actually accomplished something important. Apparently, participants get so worked up they have trouble sleeping the following night. It does give one pause.