Matters of Opinion

  • On the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination- That Which We Dare Not Think

    Posted: November 27th 2013 @4:05 PM

    Kennedy AssassinationThere probably isn’t an American over 55 years-old who does not remember exactly where they were and what they were doing at 2 PM on November 22, 1963. At this moment, of course, the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was gunned down in the streets of Dallas.

    Lest any American, of any age, miss the commemoration of this mournful anniversary the mass media has done its best to deliver it, front and center. This year alone there have been hundreds of new books, movies, TV shows, and newscasts on every conceivable platform, including the  “JFK Twitter Takeover,” an hour by hour account of the event as if it was unfolding live, right now on social media.

    While far more than half of all Americans—60 to 80%, according to various polls— doLBJ Sworn In On Air Force One not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing the President, the vast majority of these pop culture recreations, including an alternate reality fantasy novel by Stephen King, follow the gospel of the Warren Commission, which has been accused of producing so many falsehoods that a number of them, such as the Lone Gunman Theory and the Magic Bullet Theory have become popular tropes which are synonymous with far-fetched ideas.

    In fact, the assassination of President Kennedy attracts theories of conspiracy precisely because the most basic evidence in the record points directly to multiple shooters. Even the United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations, convened in 1976, concluded that there was “probably” a conspiracy.

    Dallas ReconstructionThe irony is that almost anyone who has presented a divergent opinion has either been ignored by the mainstream media or labeled a conspiracy nut.

    Nevertheless, there are no shortage of them and figuring it all out is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with a blindfold on. You’ve got so many pieces you have no idea how they fit together because you can’t see the big picture.

    You’ve got anti-Castro Cubans working with a factions of CIA that are furious Kennedy pulled the plug on the Bay of Pigs invasion. You’ve got members of the mafia who made a deal with old Joe Kennedy to help win the presidential election but felt betrayed when Attorney General Bobby Kennedy went after them in court. There are the Texas oil billionaires who stood to lose a fortune if JFK ended the oil depletion allowance. There are members of military intelligence who suspected that JFK was cooling to its commitment to the war in Vietnam.

    And if you’re having trouble fitting all those pieces together there are people who say that one man did just that, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had the motive, the means, and the opportunity to mastermind the plot to kill the president. Johnson, according to a new book by a Washington insider, was about to be indicted by for financial crimes and ultimately dumped from the 1964 presidential ticket. In fact, the night before the shooting, LBJ purportedly told his long-time mistress, “After tomorrow those goddamn Kennedy’s will never embarrass me again—that’s no threat—that’s a promise.”

    I grant how threatening all this is to believe, which is one reason why it’s so easy to deny. Scientists have long marveled at the human brain’s ability to suppress apparent danger.

    And what could be more dangerous than a coup d’état –the overthrow of the government by a small group within the government. It’s preposterous. It’s outrageous. That stuff happens in third world banana republics, not the United States of America. You’d have to be nuts to believe something like that.

    You’d have to think that as citizens we really don’t have a voice. You’d have to think that our government is run by higher powers than our presidents; powers with agendas of their own; and that if a principled president stood in their way, he could simply be rendered powerless…or eliminated.

    If you can’t bring yourself to believe that there are forces within our government that will do whatever it takes to get their way…then you have to believe in a deranged lone gunman, a lucky marksman with a magic bullet…and then the world will be good again and we’ll live happily ever after.

    I’m Ira Wood…and that’s not necessarily my opinion.

    Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Ira to tell him what you think.


  • Remembering Howard Zinn on Veterans Day

    Posted: November 27th 2013 @3:57 PM

    HowardMonday November 11 marks the observance of Veterans Day, the official holiday that honors people who have served in armed services of the United States. Since I never served in the armed services, it’s traditionally been a holiday about which I had absolutely nothing to say, or perhaps more honestly, a day about which I thought it best to keep my opinions to myself. I have nothing but praise for veterans themselves, as well as healthy helpings of sadness for their sacrifices and appreciation for their service. But traditionally the celebration of Veterans Day, and it’s sister holiday, Memorial Day, have been occasions marked by marching bands, eulogies, and patriotic rhetoric, a time I thought it best not to raise questions about war but to silently respect the men and women whose lives were often ruined by it.

    But for many of us who stand in reverent silence at such occasions, there is often a very large and unmentionable invisible elephant standing right in front of us. Why, we never ask on these solemn rituals, are we not talking about the causes of the suffering and sacrifice, war itself, only the effects.

    My reluctance to engage the topic is no different this year. I’ve never been to war. I’ve never been in the military so I avoid the issue entirely on days like Veterans Day because I don’t feel I have the authority to address it.

    With that in mind, I thought I’d channel the thoughts and writings of someone who is eminently qualified to take on the topic, a veteran of world war two, and a friend of many years, Perhaps he was a friend of yours. His name was Howard Zinn. Always scholarly without being dense, always impassioned without being a scold, Howard’s writing always seemed to capture the essence of political situations with clarity. On the very subject I’m lamenting, he writes, that “Patriotism becomes the order of the day and those who question the war are seen as traitors to be silenced.” I would add, sometimes even by themselves.

    Howard Zinn called himself “a eager bombardier” in World War Two and in spite of a what he refers to as a “bone deep hatred of war” he was “so anxious to get overseas and start dropping bombs that after his training in gunnery school and bombing school traded places with another man who was scheduled to go overseas” ahead of him. He felt the war was a mission of high principle for the rights nations to independence and self-determination. But after the was he began reading the history and started questioning of America’s own expansion through war and conquest: The Revolutionary War, which was not celebrated by native Americans, black slaves, or many American colonists who felt at least as oppressed by upper-class Americans as they did by the English.

    Howard Zinn tells us that “the people who fight the wars are not the people who benefit from the wars.” This was certainly the case of the Mexican War, in which there were so many disaffected soldiers that General Scott woke up one morning on his final march on Mexico City to find that a full half of his army had deserted.

    He reminds us that a lot of the people who volunteered for the Mexican War did so for the same reason that so many of the poor and working class people volunteer for the military today, because they hope their fortunes will improve as a result of enlisting.

    In the textbooks, the Spanish American War was sometimes called “a splendid little war” because it lasted only three months. We did it to free the Cubans, Howard tells us, because we’re always going to war to free somebody. We expelled the Spaniards from Cuba, but we didn’t expel ourselves from Cuba.”

    In the midst of the Civil War, another quote-unquote “good war” because the slaves were freed in the course of it, one part of the union army was fighting in the south while another was west, destroying Indian settlements and taking over Indian land. During the civil war, in which there were as many American deaths as in all other U.S. wars combined, more land was taken away from the Indians than in any other comparable period in history.

    While Howard Zinn’s many books remind us of our country’s lack of innocence in war, he had no illusions about his own. He recalls a mission that he flew over France in the waning days of World War, in his own words, “unthinking and unfeeling, like a programmed robot.” Since the war was all but won, he suspects there one of the reasons for the massive raid was to try out a new weapon, which he later discovered was the first use of napalm in modern warfare.

    So during veterans Day I’ll be suitably quiet, honoring the sacrifices of the men and women who went to war. But there’s way I’ll ever forgive the people who continue to send them.

    I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.

    Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Ira to tell him what you think.

  • The Health Care Dot Gov Website – Did Anyone Expect This to be Easy?

    Posted: November 1st 2013 @11:49 AM

    frustrationThis past week I found myself smack in the middle of the national zeitgeist: I signed up on-line for a health care policy. Even though Massachusetts has had its own healthcare exchange since 2006 the process was not without its headaches. I’m certainly no computer whiz, but after a weeklong series of back-and-forth e-mails and faxes, I was apparently one of only thirty-five hundred people statewide who managed to survive what critics of ObamaCare are billing as a government technological failure on the level of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

    Although comparing a fatal explosion in space to a computer crash sounds cold, you wouldn’t know it for all the hyperbolic ranting on Fox News and in congress. And there is one similarity. Both situations can be attributed to the design failures of outside contractors working with a government agency that felt pressure to launch.

    Having lived half my life in a world before personal computers were as common as toasters—in a long-ago, far-away world in which no one ever conceived of making French toast in toasters—I’ve always considered computers to be noting more than a nifty tool.

    Are all books better because authors can write them with Microsoft Word? Are all movies better because you can watch them on NetFlix? Are bills cheaper because you can pay them online? Let’s be honest about this.

    Certain things are always going to suck and buying health insurance is one of them. The first time I ever bought a health insurance policy I sat across the desk from a salesman who was either a pathological liar to too stupid to understand the fine print in the policy he was selling. Either way, my first and only claim was rejected because of a pre-existing condition.

    So I don’t really know where the notion came from that signing up for a health care plan was going to be simple, sort of like driving through a tollbooth with Easy Pass; or frankly anything other than a big pain in the butt.

    Is it easy to sign up for a PayPal account? Is it easy to get an on-line upgrade of your phone from Verizon?  Frankly I’d rather have an ingrown toenail removed than go through that again. And by the way, surprise, surprise, one of the government contractors on the website was Verizon’s Terremark unit.

    So for any of you searching for health insurance who are actually considering signing up online, I would have to rate the process as somewhat harder than ordering an on-line pizza but a total breeze compared to getting phone support for my computer.

    The biggest glitch—since I use a PO Box instead of a street address—was actually getting the site to grasp where I live. In Wellfleet, this is a problem every pizza deliveryman has to contend with. But because the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was not Microsoft and they had people answering the help lines whose first language was not Hindi, this was a problem that was eventually solved.

    Now I know there are people whose health care policies were mistakenly cancelled and that’s frightening. I know there are people whose computers froze.

    But on come now, the two operable words we’re talking about here are government and website. Two words that when linked together promise about as much quality as fast and food.

    Has anybody ever paid payroll tax on their computer? Or tried to correct a mistake on their social security account? When I was finally able to renew my truck registration on Registry of Motor Vehicles site I felt so proud I ran around my office pointing to the sky like David Ortiz after hitting a home run.

    ObamaCare is going to make life tolerable for a lot of struggling families, a lot of poor children, and a lot people with pre-existing conditions.

    But it’s being delivered by a partnership of the same type of nitwits who brought you the War in Iraq and iTunes for Windows. And if there’s one thing high-tech companies and government have in common it’s that they over-promise and under-deliver.

    So for now my only advice is, eat an apple a day, wait for the update, and be wary of getting a virus, because that might be something neither you nor health care dot gov could recover from any time soon.

    I’m Ira Wood and that’s my opinion.

    Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Ira to tell him what you think.


  • The Disloyalty Diet

    Posted: November 1st 2013 @11:37 AM

    baseI don’t know about you but I’ve always been on some kind of diet. I was a fat kid and my mother bought grapefruit by the case. She weighed every item she served me on a plastic scale and had a local handyman drill a padlock on the refrigerator door.  She emptied my pockets for loose change before I left the house and cruised the shopping plaza because a neighbor kid told her I sometimes bought a hot dog and devoured it by the dumpster in back of the deli.  She ran her fingers around the waistband of my pants to make sure they weren’t getting tighter–to this day I opt to drip rather than tumble dry, having more than once been the innocent victim of shrinkage—and clicked her tongue in disgust when the clothing salesman led us past the regular sizes to the elephant’s tent of the children’s wear department: the table marked Huskies.

    I was weighed for times a week, always showing far above the Metropolitan Life Average Weight for Children (of India? I wondered) and driven bi-monthly to a diet doctor who prescribed amphetamines.  Before every meal I choked down a black pill whose street value today is six dollars.

    Throughout adulthood I’ve tried Atkins. The Zone. Weight Watchers. South Beach. None of them work without a boring hour of exercise. Weights. Pull-ups. Rowing machine. And the harder you push, the more you’re likely to sprain some muscle, and have stop for while you heal, and gain back everything you lost.

    But I think I’ve hit on the best diet ever. I mean EVER. It involves sports but you don’t have to break a sweat. And you only eat what you

    It all stems from a recent study about whether a football team’s winning or losing effected what fans ate the day after the game.

    Now, in past commentaries I’ve mentioned the behaviors that psychologists call birging and corfing. These are acronyms. BIRG stands for Basking In Reflected Glory. It’s opposite is CORF, whose letters stand for Cutting Off Reflective Failure.

    People are Cutting Off Reflective Failure when they get so upset with their team losing that they’d rather shut the TV off than watch Tom Brady get sacked. They’re Basking In Reflected Glory when they watch the highlights again and again after a team win.

    But get this. According to this most recent study, football fans saturated fat consumption increased by almost 30% following a loss and decreased by 16% percent after a win.

    In fact close games led to even more high-fat pig-outs. It’s all because we identify with our teams and when we feel our identities are threatened we compensate by eating high calorie foods. Now the fact that disappointed fans tend to get drunk, beat up on their domestic partners, and have heart attacks have all been documented but this study was the first to explain why the sizes of Chicago Bears jerseys start at Extra-Extra-Extra-Large.

    But the key here is the effect on fans of winning teams. Fans of winning teams feel good about themselves. They pass up three-cheese nachos for a shrimp cocktail.

    You’ll be happy to know that this phenomenon is not solely American. According to the New York Times, the experiment was duplicated in France, a country not known for fried pork rind binges, but the results were the same.

    So how do we apply this to our own diets? Simple. Just ditch the losing teams and root for the winners.  I don’t know how many Boston Red Sox fans had to pack away their skinny jeans and replace them with overalls in 2011 when the Sox finished dead last in the standings, but I do know that John Lester, Josh Becket, and John Lackey weren’t the only ones stuffing their faces with Popeye’s Fried Chicken. We all got fat when the home team tanked.

    But how easy would it have been to switch our allegiances? Would rooting for the Yankees have been so bad if it meant dropping your LDL cholesterol level by 30 milligrams? And here’s the best part…you can participate in sports without getting up from the couch. No personal trainers. No membership at the gym. No stationery bicycles or push-ups every morning. You don’t have to do anything…but be disloyal.

    This past summer my fitness plan comprised a baseball cap for every team and an MLB Extra Innings package with the Cable Company. As soon as one team started losing I changed my hat and my channel and voila, instead of craving a half gallon of chocolate fudge chunk ice cream I went for a cup of plain yogurt. Hey, okay. I know it sounds disloyal, but at least my pants fit.

    I’m Ira Wood…and that’ my opinion.

    Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Ira to tell him what you think.

  • State Senator Dan Wolf: The Tragic Fall of the Uber Mensch

    Posted: November 1st 2013 @11:22 AM

    DanThere is certainly no one interested in politics on Cape Cod who wouldn’t agree that the biggest story, as well as the biggest political drama, on the Cape this summer was the candidacy of state senator Dan Wolf for governor. Wolf was not only a favorite son, a generous patron of the cape’s non-profits, a progressive voice in the legislature, but a mensch, a genuinely good guy. His decision to call off his campaign this week because the state ethics commission chose not to grant him a conflict-of-interest exemption was received with an intensity of disappointment as strong as the wave of elation that greeted his announcement to run. For progressives of all stripes the news was a tragedy. For a novelist like me, in fact, it has all the elements of a very classic tragedy in the tradition of Aristotle.

    Not to bore you with Theater 101, an Aristotelian tragedy involves a drama concerning a character’s downfall with incidents arousing pity and fear, and ending in a katharsis of emotions. All these elements are apparent in the story of a progressive businessman who attempts to shake up a state government that is ultimately responsible for his demise. Who didn’t feel pity for the candidate, and even more for ourselves? And who didn’t fear that if a guy with Dan’s drive and qualifications couldn’t get on the ballot, we might never see his likes again?

    But the element that really drove home the tragic implications of this saga was what Aristotle called Hamar-tiah, sometimes translated as tragic error; an element in the character of the protagonist that causes him to bring on his own downfall. To my mind this tragic error had nothing to with Dan Wolf’s weakness. Quite the contrary, the tragic error may have been the strength of his belief of the fairness of our system.

    According to the Cape Cod Times Dan maintained that he was blindsided — or tripped up — by the Ethics Commission’s ruling. He said, “My concern is that the system inherently now has trip wires in it that you wouldn’t necessarily see from the outside as you step in.”

    It was a kind of blindness, or tragic error, that has befallen many truly good politicians. Mike Dukakis comes to mind when he was blind-sided by the Willy Horton ads of George Bush and Lee Atwater, his pit bull campaign manager. Ed Muskie. Al Gore. John F. Kennedy. There’s a long list of really good-hearted people who simply didn’t see how low politics can get, or the lengths to which entrenched insiders will go to foil the competition or the campaign of a plucky newcomer who wants to change business as usual.

    Some people thought Dan Wolf’s best recourse was an appeal to Superior Court but according to the Cape Cod Times Dan said he might drop out of the governor’s race and resign his Senate seat rather than take his case to the courts.

    This bespeaks a man who honestly thinks he is right. Someone who feels that if he makes his case in the sunlight, that reason will vindicate him; that our just political system will find its way out of the darkness. Unfortunately, a man who may have been somewhat blind to the way that system really works.

    The final element of tragedy is the catharsis, the experience of deep emotions that make us wiser and able to change. How will we change as a result of watching the saga of Dan Wolf and the Ethics Commission?

    Will we become cynical? Will we knuckle under to the entrenched state machine? Will we lose the “anything is possible” attitude that makes Cape Cod so unique? I don’t think so.

    I think Dan Wolf will stay in the senate. I think he’ll build a state-wide reputation from his good work. I think he’ll earn the respect of the establishment politicians and off-Cape voters. I think this tragedy will open his eyes to the elements that want to thwart real progress.

    I do not believe the candidacy of Dan Wolf for Governor is dead. I think it we will see it again in the future, and everyone knows, what doesn’t kill you just makes you stronger.

    I’m Ira Wood … and that’s my opinion.

    Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Ira to tell him what you think.


  • Finally Proven by Science: Messy People Are More Creative (but didn’t you know it all along?)

    Posted: November 1st 2013 @11:04 AM

    messy Are you a messy person or a neat person? Do you make your bed everyday with tight hospital corners or just smooth out the blankets? Does your couch, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, resemble bleacher seats at Fenway after a twi-night double header? Have you stopped noticing the cobwebs on the ceiling rafters? If you can answer YES to any or all of these questions you qualify as messy. But don’t take offense. That may be a good thing, at least according to the New York Times, in which a recent article says that messy people are not only more creative than their more fastidious counterparts, but also more likely to break with convention and try new things. There’s some good news for you orderly clean beans, too. Apparently you’re more likely to be good Samaritans and follow a healthy diet. Well, I say bully for you, and you probably also iron your underpants.

    Today I’m talking about us creative types, people who use their cars for the same purpose women use their pocketbooks and whose desks, even if they’re located in a cubicle, always seem to look like they’re next to an open window. We know that clutter makes our minds race with brazen ideas and take intellectual risks, or at least I know that now. Before I read the article, I just thought I was a slob.

    The article cites an experiment by psychologists at the University of Minnesota who assumed that since order and disorder are both prevalent in nature and culture, that each environment confers advantages for different outcomes. As you might suppose they thought orderly environments lead people toward tradition and convention, and disorderly environments encouraged just the opposite, breaking with formality.

    They devised three experiments to prove their point. In each experiment the subjects were asked to sit in identical rooms—identical except that one was neat as a pin and the other looked as if it had hosted a fraternity party. The same problems were presented to the subjects in each experiment, choosing healthy snacks versus junk food in the first; coming up with inventive uses for ping pong balls in the second; and in the third, a choice between a classic fruit smoothie or one advertised as more exotic. The results of all three experiments showed that those people surrounded by mess overwhelming thought outside the box and had cravings for fun foods.

    Now I would be the first to question any so-called experiment that bases its findings on ping pong ball ice trays and guava kiwi smoothies. In fact, I’ll admit to skepticism about psychology experiments in general. Almost all of them are performed on students in American and European universities, for one thing, and according to an article in Slate magazine, this means the subjects are weird, that’s W-E-I-R-D, which is an acronym for westernized, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic…in comparison other human beings around the world. A much-publicized experiment on early sexual relations, for instance, filtered out anyone who had been sexually abused or homosexual. Not exactly a universal sampling.

    But I do chose to embrace this experiment because it speaks to a running theme in my life. Which is…well…a messy house.

    To whit. My wife and I are both writers. We both love gardening…an activity that turns our kitchen into a working farmhouse.

    We have five cats…meaning we spend more time on litter boxes and hairballs than polishing the silver. Our offices are forests of books and snail mail, printers, cords, computers.

    Both of us would much rather do our writing than vacuum, dust, scrub, sweep, or polish. We lived together for six years before we got married because neither of us wanted to be the wife. We dutifully hire people to come in and clean the house, but like a newly mowed field it begins to revert to its natural woodland state within hours.

    It’s not that I don’t like clean, quiet, uncluttered places like Buddhist centers and museums. They’re great to meditate in. They’re great to look at paintings in. I love meeting friends for drinks in a swank midtown hotel bar and browsing the stacks in a college library.

    But none of those places inspire my creativity. For that I need a cat on my lap, a stack of newspaper clippings, a few empty coffee cups, open books, a lot of pillows on the floor, oh… and cobwebs. There’s nothing like cobwebs to really get my juices flowing.

    In fact, the word messy is archaic. It’s been replaced it with creative. You don’t have to believe me, it’s in the New York Times.

    I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.

    Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Ira to tell him what you think.


  • The Latest Thinking on Garbage: You can’t just think outside the box…you have to recycle the box

    Posted: September 13th 2013 @5:03 PM

    cc garbageI don’t have to tell you how much garbage is in the news lately since the deadline is approaching that will force every town on Cape Cod to renew its contract with SEAMASS, the facility over the bridge that burns our trash and turns it into energy. Costs are expected to double or even triple. The Cape, of course, is not alone. It’s said that American communities spend more on waste management than on fire protection, parks and recreation, libraries or schoolbooks.

    payt2The good news is that the more it costs per ton to get rid of trash, the more we’re encouraged to decrease the number of tons of trash we get ride of. And to recycle the rest. The hottest new theory on how to encourage people to do that is Pay As You Throw, a system that’s already being used in about a hundred and forty Communities throughout the Commonwealth, some of them here on the Cape.

    Here’s how it works: residents purchase a reduced rate dump sticker as well as town-issued trash bags. These bags are the only ones accepted at the landfill. Recycling is free. You pay only for what you throw away.

    There are some objections. The first is that people will be encouraged to save money by throwing stuff away in the woods. The truth is most towns have not seen an increase in illegal dumping. Probably because all people realize all those old catalogs they throw away can be traced back to them. Maybe because there’s almost nothing you can’t get rid of at the swap shop.

    Some people say that large families are penalized by Pay As You Throw because they have more people, and therefore more garbage.

    But others ask if it’s been fair all these years for a retired couple with a pet poodle who visits the dump with two bags of trash a week to subside the garbage truck driven in by the Brady Bunch.

    pelletsWhen it comes to families with small children, diapers are frequently mentioned. Well, there are companies that create fuel from dirty diapers, both baby diapers and … the other kind. They’re simply deposited into a machine that “pulverizes, desiccates, sterilizes, and then reduces them into a bacteria free, odorless, pellet that can be used in biomass boilers or heating systems.

    The fact that these companies are in Canada and Japan only means there’s an opportunity brewing here on the Cape. It’s well to remember that the first woman billionaire in China came to America as a penniless immigrant. Understanding that her native country suffered a vast shortage of paper, she went all over the Los Angeles area in an old Chevy van collecting used paper and shipping it back to China. I only wish I knew when I was a kid that I could have made more money picking up old newspapers than delivering them.

    Doing my research on diapers I discovered some information on another tricky subject, pet poop. Did you know that in some countries manure is used as furniture polish? It’s smeared by hand onto a table and polished to a high shine. They say that when dry, the dung has no odor at all. Do you have dogs or cats? Me, too. But I haven’t tried this yet so why don’t you let me know how it goes for you.

    Most landfills have a Salvation Army bin for clothes but there are people, myself included, who still think they may someday be able to fit into their jeans from college and are reluctant to throw them away.

    chairNo problem. Just stuff them into plastic mesh modular units that are designed to be strapped together to form furniture. It’s called the Fill-it furniture system. L-shaped couches, easy chairs, ottomans. How about making a slip-cover with the old velvet drapes?

    But the most cutting edge technology I’ve discovered goes way beyond Pay As You Throw. It’s DNA storage. You heard me. Right now at Harvard and Stanford they are storing archival media in molecules of life. They convert information into digital code first and then into the DNA alphabet and then use those sequences to construct genetic material. According to one scientist, it’s compact, lightweight and can potentially remain intact for thousands of years if stored in a dark cool environment. Imagine the contents all your books, CD’s, and file cabinets in a piece of fruit cake.

    So just remember, when it comes to saving the environment its not enough to think outside the box. You have to recycle the box.

    I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.

    Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Ira to tell him what you think.

  • The Nuclear Power Plant and Magical Thinking

    Posted: September 13th 2013 @4:35 PM

    I have a habit most mornings when my smart phone sounds the wake-up alarm of reaching for my glasses, and going straight to the headlines in the email blast of the local newspaper. The most reliable headlines this summer were traffic accidents, at least one everyday, head-on crashes, cars mowing into storefronts, motorcycles careening into trees, truck roll-overs, an SUV in a pond.

    Besides Dan Wolf’s problems with the Ethics Commission and the Red Sox, the only other predictable item in headlines was the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station. We had the massive distribution of potassium iodide pills in case of a meltdown, a tripped breaker cutting off power to pumps that cooled the reactor, two senators writing a letter to urge Entergy to create an evacuation plan just in case, a Department of Defense-commissioned report citing Pilgrim as being one of eight plants in the nation that are vulnerable to an attack from the water, a survey indicating that a full half of all Cape residents would run for the bridges in the event of a nuclear accident, Entergy laying off workers at the plant… and that’s only August.

    I do remember one nut ball defense of Pilgrim in an Op Ed piece, but with such an avalanche of bad press you have to wonder what in the world is keeping people complacent enough not to demand, by the thousands and with every tool at their disposal, that it be shut down.

    All I can come up with to account for this complacency is what psychologists call magical thinking, which occurs when our hopes, fears, desires, prejudices, and beliefs take over our decision-making. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

    In fact, according to a recent book called The Seven Laws of Magical Thinking by Matthew Hutson, most of us not only believe in luck, mind over matter, destiny, karma, jinxes, the afterlife, and totally irrational ideas, but we engage in magical thinking on a daily basis.

    Do you have any lucky objects, like a Brady jersey you wear during Patriots games? Do you believe that what goes around comes around? Do ever find yourself saying, “It was meant to be?” Do you knock on wood when you make a boastful statement like, “I really aced that interview?” None of those actions are rationally defendable but believe it or not, magical thinking has enabled humans to be an evolutionary successful species. It offers us a sense of control and a sense of meaning in an incomprehensible and frightening world.

    Psychologists who have studied magical thinking have discovered that most of us would say we don’t believe in woo woo…but that almost all of us believe in a little bit of it.

    Do you play the lottery? I would generally tell you I don’t, but whenever the TV news people start hyping those interstate mega-jackpots where the prize gets up to hundreds of millions of dollars, I have to confess, I go to the liquor store on Main Street and buy a ticket. Do I really believe I’ll win? Well, other people have, why not me, and besides, could I live with myself if the winner came from Wellfleet and I hadn’t bought a ticket?

    The odds of winning Powerball are long, 1 in 175,000,000. Winning is pure wishful thinking, a lie I tell myself.

    So what is the lie we tell ourselves in order to tolerate Pilgrim? Well, the Op Ed piece that made light of the danger cited the fact that it was a tsunami that caused Fukushima and we don’t have tsunami’s in the North Altlantic. We do, of course, have historically deadly hurricanes, and to deny their ability to level entire cities is a whopper.

    routeHow about the belief that we’ll be okay if they develop an effective escape route? That’s another lie, one that Senators Markey and Warren seem to believe at the moment. Sure, some of us may be able to drive out of harm’s way but what about the land we love and call home? Just google Fukushima to see what Cape Cod might look like after a meltdown and if you really want to face the awful truth, Chernobyl.

    And is it magical thinking to tell ourselves is that the United States government actually cares about our safety, our health, and this magnificent peninsula enjoyed by millions every year…that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would not sacrifice us for the meager profit of a corporation?

    I think that’s the biggest lie we tell ourselves…and the one that hurts the most.

    I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.

    Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Ira to tell him what you think.

  • Conspiracy theories…a valuable tool or political paranoia?

    Posted: September 13th 2013 @3:49 PM

    911September 11, 2013 marks the twelfth anniversary of the world trade center bombings, explosions that continue to echo around the world. While the most of us are content take stock of the causes and effects of the attack and lay blame on those who admitted responsibility, there are others for whom the case is still is open, who believe Osama Bin Laden’s planes were merely a noisy distraction and that the Trade Center buildings were actually wired to explode from the inside by mysterious plotters from—take your pick—the Bush White House, Israel’s Mossad, or a team of Black Ops from the CIA.

    kenNovember 22, 2013 is not only the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy but a marketing opportunity for a profusion of books, movies and docudramas, many of them rehashing the mafia/CIA connection, but some positing theories that are new to me, like Robert Kennedy covering up the purported fact that a bullet from a secret service man’s gun was found in his brother’s skull.

    false flagMore recent conspiracy theories involve the Boston Marathon bombings. Most of them are as implausible as the theory that the bombings, like the moon landings in 1968, were faked and staged by actors. Another one posits that the Tsarnaev brothers actually were CIA agents who were hired to infiltrate Muslim groups but betrayed their mission and went over to the radical Islamists. This one claims to answer the question of why an FBI agent shot and killed a friend of the Tsarnaevs in Florida during a routine FBI interview.

    And that’s the enticing thing about conspiracy theories. They try to answer troubling questions and create rational narratives to explain things we just can’t get our heads around.

    The historian William Manchester explained the Kennedy assassination theories this way: “If you put the murdered President of the United States on one side of a scale and that wretched waif Oswald on the other side, it doesn’t balance. You want to add something weightier to Oswald. It would invest the President’s death with meaning, endowing him with martyrdom. He would have died for something. . . . A conspiracy would, of course, do the job nicely.” Manchester, like Oswald, had been trained as a Marine sharpshooter and believed that Oswald was the lone triggerman.

    Like Manchester, many of us think conspiracy theories are ridiculous—at least until they’re proven correct, such as the one that suggested a President of United States would actually conspire to cover up the fact that he sent goons to break in to the offices of his opponents.

    Americans have always loved a juicy conspiracy, from Freemasons being responsible for the federal income tax to aliens being hidden at Roswell, New Mexico. When I was growing up there was a persistent rumor about Fluoride. The theory was that communists were putting it in public water supplies to control our minds. At the time nobody ever thought TV was contributing to mind control…that would have sounded ridiculous.

    You would think that because there’s so much information on the internet today that wacky theories would be easily be disproved. Think again. According to a poll conducted by Farleigh Dickinson University, 63% of registered American voters believe in at least one political conspiracy theory and the internet increases the tendency to do so.

    Turns out there’s something that political scientists called the ‘backfire effect.’ They say that the more you try to convince people their information is bad, the more they believe in bad information. It’s sort of like talking to your teenager. Conspiracy theorists like to hang out in places where people agree with them and their biases are confirmed. Places like chat rooms. And psychologists say that the more you believe in government conspiracies, the less likely you are to vote, or protest, or join a social change movement. The people who most embrace conspiracies are convinced that social change is hopeless.

    So where does that leave the rest of us? Surely you don’t have to be a psychopathic loner babbling about the New World Order to believe that our so-called democratic process is being manipulated. Not at all. According to studies, being a little paranoid is a normal reaction to feeling politically powerless. In fact, there’s a correlation between conspiracy theorizing and strong support of democratic principles.

    I actually think political paranoia can be valuable tool in the right doses. It keeps you sharp. It keeps you asking the right questions. Because, at least in the words of Thomas Pynchon, “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

    I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.

    Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Ira to tell him what you think.

  • Provincetown Carnival: How to Run Away and Join the Circus

    Posted: August 30th 2013 @7:27 PM

    Mr Phillipino Universes

    When I was a young and disaffected teenager there was a recurring meme that offered a chance of escape from the dull and rigidly conformist world of my parents: run away and join circus.

    Back then, there were lots of novels and movies about this peculiar institution that embraced society’s outcasts and better yet, there were still circuses that moved about the country on trains, drove elephants through the city streets, and erected enormous striped tents.

    Hello Gorgeous

    A conscientious researcher even then, I studied the odds of being accepted. I discovered that life with a travelling circus was pretty rustic compared to my middle class comforts. Nor was I very coordinated. Trapeze, acrobatics, juggling, and tightrope really weren’t my thing and clowns not only had to master stilt-walking but buy their own costumes and make-up. As much as I was aching to bolt, I had to shift my dreams of escape to college, albeit one very far away. This summer, though, I had glimpse of the dazzling life I had imagined back then. It was right here in Provincetown and called Carnival.


    ElvisesThe term circus is often be used to mean a madhouse or a chaotic scene, and since this description fit the rumors I had heard about Carnival I signed up for a very minimal obligation, decorating a truck. But was told I was needed as a marshal, someone whose job it was to shoo away drunks and make sure no one was run over. Moreover I was told to arrive four hours before the parade and that getting home might involve hours of traffic.

    Lady Di

    Pictures I’d seen of previous years Carnival hadn’t made me any more enthusiastic. I was a straight, kind of quiet intellectual guy and didn’t really see myself marching beside two body builders who spray-painted themselves gold or a guy wearing white BVD’s and a pink cone brassiere. Which goes to show how wrong you can be.

    It wasn’t long after I got to the staging ground, the Harbor Hotel parking lot, that I felt right at home. It didn’t hurt to be a given a t-shirt that clearly identified my role as marshal, but within minutes I was also festooned with sparkly bead necklaces—I don’t even remember where they came from—except that I was now decorated like a lampshade and made noise as I walked past a long row of Elvis imitators and a spot-on Barbra Streisand look-alike and a guy dressed as Liberace playing the piano on the hood of a Cadillac Fleetwood. I fell into a conversation with a gang of very buff Asian men wearing gold g-strings and feathered head-bands. I think they called themselves Mister Phillipino Universes, but I know something was lost in translation.

    I bumped into the infamous gold spray-painted body builders who were happily posing for pictures which I quickly uploaded to Facebook. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so many likes in so short a time and suddenly friends from all over the world were commenting and begging for more.

    Apparently Provincetown Carnival is not only well-known but satisfies a very human curiosity to see beautiful bodies in silly costumes. Who knew? All of a sudden I felt like the twitter feed of People Magazine sending exotic photographs to people stuck in offices all over the country.

    But there weren’t only muscular naked bodies there were a lot of ordinary bodies as well, hairy and flabby and wearing high heels, ball gowns and wigs, and in a kind of antipodean unreality that settled over the parking lot with the afternoon fog, they were equally resplendent. I thought of Joel Gray playing the puckish German emcee in the movie Cabaret, who said, “Here, life is beautiful. Zee girls are beautiful. Even Zee orchestra is beautiful!”

    And…I swear this happened…I began to tear up…in the middle of this bizarre and whimsical parking lot, when I realized that this was not just some offbeat show but the place I had chosen to live my life, a place where being different is not only tolerated but celebrated. A place where normal has its own definition, a place where we actually do try to judge people by their character instead of who they love, how they dress, or think.

    And as the dazzling parade of lunatics queued up for the long march down Commercial Street, I understood that I as straight as I looked, which was decidedly in the minority, I was accepted in this scene, these were my people and I had realized a childhood dream…I had run away and joined the circus.

    I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.

    Matters of Opinion are Ira Wood’s short, personal, often rather odd takes on current events. They wrap up the WOMR News on most Fridays at 12:30 PM and are available as podcasts HERE. Feel free to email Irato tell him what you think.