Archive for December 2009

Happy New Year!

Posted: Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 11:23 pm
By: Ken Blanchard
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I wish a very good year to everyone on the local blogosphere.  Special mention goes to my Keloland colleagues: Cory Allen Heidelberger, David Newquist, Doug Wiken, Joel Rosenthal, Pat Powers, the Radioactive Chief, Tim Gebhart, and Hell, even Todd Epp.  I extend that wish to all our readers.

Sign posts on the journey to dysfunction

Posted: Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 4:56 pm
By: David Newquist
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The attempted bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner has produced a classic epidemic of Monday-morning-quarterbacking.  And we hasten to point out that the term “Monday Morning Quarterback” is not exactly a compliment.  It designates those people whose only sense of consequence is to sit by while other people engage in all the work and action and then bicker and criticize, even though these kibbitzers have never had what it takes to play the game in which they pose as experts.  Monday Morning Quarterbacking is a harmless pretense, unless it is mistaken for informed intelligence.  When it is taken seriously, it becomes dangerous.  It has become dangerous.

Current polls show that few Americans have any confidence in Congress.   Many informed observers have written about the escalating dysfunction of Congress and its inability to do much more than bicker, obstruct, and resolve itself into resentful factions.  The real significance is that Congress is a direct reflection of the American people.  The country that fought World War II, moved forward with civil rights, and produced ideas and products that made it the world leader no longer exists.  The resentment, petulance, and petty malice demonstrated in Congress shows a deterioration of intellectual discernment,  The irrelevant and often foolish quibbling of the Monday Morning Quarterbacks are being taken seriously, probably because members of Congress are so slavishly devoted to garnering votes, no matter what level of inanity.

Discussions of national security are immersed in the muck of that petty  egotism which deludes people into thinking that inane bickering is intelligent discussion.  A survey of of the media and the blogosphere reveals how mired the nation, and therefore Congress, is in the sloughs of contention.  The Dutch government, for example, is planning to subject all airline passengers going through its terminals to full-body scans.  Many commenters decry that this technology has not been put in place sooner.  They forget that when full-body scanners were developed and demonstrated, there was an outcry about their invasion of privacy because the images of the full body included rather detailed scans of the genitalia.  A blocking device could be put in place over the crotch, but savvy would-be bombers would fasten their explosives in the crotch area somewhere.  This is exactly what the Nigerian Christmas bomber did.    The TSA delayed implementation of full-body scans because there was so much opposition to imaging the public’s pudenda.

Then there is much criticism and accusation about the fact that the Nigerian’s father informed the Dept. of State that his son was being radicalized by Islamic terror groups but he was not put on a list that  would have prevented him from boarding a U.S.-bound flight.  While the critics think he should have made the A-list of potential terrorists, they conveniently ignore the ruckus raised about just what criteria must be applied to curtail people’s rights.  Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, has said that we need to practice outright discrimination in order to  prevent Islamic terrorists from entering the country or engaging in activities within it.  Some people have been wrongfully placed on lists and some have been subjected to humiliating searches and interrogations.  These instances show actions taken against people on the basis of false accusations.  With the aborted airliner bombing and the shootings at Fort Hood, we are told that the security measures following 9/11 are not working as well as they should be.  We even have some valid analysis as to why they have not worked.  But the questions of abandoning our fundamental principles of freedom, equality, and equal protection of the law loom over all information and discussions of deterrring terrorisim.

Predominantly, we have the  Monday Morning Quarterbacks sending up their sound and fury. Cogent and valid analysis gets intermixed and lost in the raging babble.  Instead of rolling up their sleeves and asking just what caused the malfunctions of the security system and what is the best way to correct it, the people in charge are busy looking over their shoulders to hear what the pundits will say, how the polls will respond, what the bloggers say, and what kind of political spin missiles they will have to deflect.  Responsible government is confused with responsive government.  And it is dysfunctional.

The loudest voice in all this is those who could care less about what happens to the people of the country as long as they can find some pretext in terror attacks for accusing the Obama administration of dire things which they hope will lead to its defeat.  Former Vice President Dick Cheney is the  loudest cheerleader for failure.   His latest sally can be easily demonstrated to be an outright lie, but truthfulness and accurate representations are not part of his party’s operating standards.  That fact accounts for why government will not in the current intellectual climate be able to formulate a competent and effective means for dealing with terrorists.  A nation possessed by an unstable mentality lacks the capability of dealing with other unstable mentalities.  The insane asylum is being run by the insane.

Dealing with the pathologies in the human personality is the toughest of jobs.  It would much simpler to, as New Gingrich suggests, give in to an open policy of discriminating against anyone against whom we have suspicions.  We would become like Nazi Germany, the Stalinist Soviet Union, and contemporary Iran, China, and North Korea.  We would simply kill or incarcerate those we suspect or dislike.  And, of course, we would lose America in the corrosive mists of our reptilian past.  Those mists are present in the petty and often stunningly stupid discussion about how to deal with terrorism.  They are our biggest national threat.

The difficulties of making sound and justifiable decisions about people who pose possible threats is covered in two Washington Post articles of intensive reporting on the Nigerian bomber and on the Fort Hood shooter.  In both cases, the clues about the directions that these men took are ambiguous and not definitive.  They follow a pattern of men who live in isolated devotion to their religion.  If they were Christian, they would be termed monkish.  The recriminations about missing the clues they presented are demonstrations of how much easier it is to be stupid than intelligent.  People have a right to their opinions, but we have a dire need for cogent criticism of the presumptuous opinions of those who choose to be dummies.

America has gone about the business of defining itself since colonial times.  It wrote itself in lofty and inspirational words and went about the business of growing into those words.  During the last half of the twentieth century, America flourished.  But in the 21st century, the language that dominates American consciousness has changed.  It is the language of bickering, quibbling, carping, and denial.  If one gauges America’s destiny by the quality of its language and the reach of  the words that define its sense of purpose, we clearly live in an age of intellectual decline.  When people become dysfunctional, their language expresses it.

As an old man, I have seen much failure.  I have seen corporations descend into failure.  (I worked for one of the  nation’s most spectacular failures, International Harvester Company.)   I have seen colleges and universities lose their way when the small mindedness of the educational bureaucracy stifled the intellects of its scholars.   I am watching such a case now.  I have seen communities wither away and die when the petty resentment  and bigotry of the carpers in the town cafes characterized the town culture.  And we have entire states, such as California and New York, demonstrating the processes of dysfunction and failure.

There was a time when Americans for the most part could recognize when a job had to be done, such as in confronting Islamic terrorists.  They realized that something had to be done and there were multiple ways of accomplishing any such task.  They also realized that there are a number of ways of accomplishing a task, but that the real goal is to accomplish the task and not get diverted by bickering over just how to go about the task.  America, as in World War II, put aside petty preferences, rolled up its sleeves, and concentrated on accomplishing the task to be done.

As we have seen in the last Congressional session, that kind of cooperation and focus on end results is not possible.  Instead, we are immersed in the language of dysfunction and personal insult and abuse.  This state of affairs is exactly what terrorists hope to accomplish.

The better angels of human nature are being vanquished by its most insidious demons.

The  language what swirls around us foreshadows an age of darkness, a return to those dark ages that the Age of Enlightenment dispelled.  Our country is being rendered incapable of cogent resolve and competent action.  The terrorists are winning because they know how to manipulate the strings of the dummies.

The map to America’s future has been drawn in words and images.  How many will follow it?
[A state employee in Colorado is facing disciplinary action for
circulating this picture  from her office computer.]

Has Ben

Posted: Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 11:10 am
By: Ken Blanchard
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nelsonlieberman

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska may have wheeled and dealed himself out of a job.  In return for his crucial vote for the Senate health care bill, he got a special deal for his home state: extra Medicaid funds.

Well, now he’s getting dumped on from two directions.  Attorney Generals in thirteen states have demanded that the deal be canceled.  It is in fact constitutionally dubious.

But the real problem Nelson has is with the people of Nebraska.  Nelson isn’t up for reelection until 2012, but he is already running expensive TV ads.  From the New York Times:

To explain his vote to critics, he appeared in an advertisement scheduled to be broadcast statewide on Wednesday evening during the one occasion when most Nebraskans were certain to be found before a television — the Holiday Bowl, in which the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers faced the Arizona Wildcats.

Wow.  During the Bowl game!  That wasn’t cheap.  Why it seemed like a necessary expenditure is indicated by a Rasmussen poll.

If Governor Dave Heineman challenges Nelson for the Senate job, a new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey shows the Republican would get 61% of the vote while Nelson would get just 30%. Nelson was reelected to a second Senate term in 2006 with 64% of the vote.

Nelson’s health care vote is clearly dragging his numbers down. Just 17% of Nebraska voters approve of the deal their senator made on Medicaid in exchange for his vote in support of the plan. Overall, 64% oppose the health care legislation, including 53% who are Strongly Opposed.

Ben Nelson is thirty points behind a hypothetical opponent.  Trying to pass radical legislation in the face of unambiguous public opposition might matter.  This is, after all, a republic.

Keystone Kops at the Airport

Posted: Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 12:10 am
By: Ken Blanchard
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costello_keystone_copsFor the second time in two months Federal officials failed to react to obvious indicators of an impending terrorist act, allowing a terrorist to bring his weapons close to his targets.  At Fort Hood this resulted in the deaths of 12 soldiers and one civilian.  The result in the second incident would almost be comical, were it not for the fact mentioned above.

What do you call the second incident and or its perpetrator?  The Christmas Would Be Bomber, as Ruth Marcus has it at Real Clear Politics?  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab managed to board flight 253 in Amsterdam, bound for Detroit, with explosives sown into this underwear.  I say we call him the bloomer boomer.

Fortunately his fellow passengers, apparently not employed by the Department of Homeland Security or any other federal agency, were able to see what was right in front of their eyes (Mr. Adul Mutallab was on fire).  Or at least they understood what he meant when he told a flight attendant that he had an explosive device and somehow seemed to understand that the proper response was to clobber him.  Maybe the lesson here is that when we chose a Secretary of Homeland Security we should pass up the former governors and pick a Dutch film director.

A lot of the post-incident commentary focused on the immediate reaction of the Obama administration, which ranged from the anemic (President Obama’s dispassionate response) to the ridiculous (Janet Napolitano’s statement that “the System worked.”).  This is only important if you think that the primary job of the President is to properly manipulate public opinion.  In fact, that is his secondary job.  His first responsibility is to keep Americans safe without having to rely on Dutch film directors.

Here is how Ruth Marcus puts it:

How can it be that his visa was not revoked after his own father went to U.S. authorities to report concerns about his son’s radicalization? “…How can it be that, after the father’s alert, the most that seems to have been done was to place Abdulmutallab’s name in a database so sprawling as to be nearly useless?… How can it be that British authorities denied Abdulmutallab’s request for a visa renewal — without triggering a comparable review by U.S. officials?… How can it be that an individual passenger (a) traveling from Nigeria, with its known security lapses, (b) not checking luggage and (c) purchasing a ticket with cash was not singled out for additional screening? What did he have to do: wear a sign saying, “You might want to check my underwear”?

How can it be that screening technology is so lacking so long after the 9/11 Commission called for “priority attention” to detect explosives on passengers?… How can it be that our best line of defense seems to have been a combination of incompetence and bravery — incompetence by the attacker whose device failed to detonate properly, and bravery by passengers who acted so quickly to subdue him and put out the fire?

And how can it be, in the face of all this, that the administration’s communications strategy, cooked up on a conference call, was to assure us that they were looking into things but in the meantime we should settle down?

I’ve cut out a lot of the detail in Ms. Marcus’s scathing article.  See the link above and read the whole thing.  When the Administration loses Ruth Marcus, they are near to losing everyone.

It is surely true that President Obama inherited a defective system from his predecessor.  But George W. Bush hasn’t been President for nearly a year.  This mess is solely Obama’s responsibility.  It will be a test of his Presidency whether he can improve the security system to the point that it can recognize a terrorist about to board an aircraft when the terrorist has a dozen red flags duct taped to his shirt.  I predict that he will fail to do so.  I wish I could believe that it is all President Obama’s fault.  But I don’t’ believe it.  I think the flaw goes much deeper than that.

Good Riddance, Aughts! The 10 Best/Worst Of The 2000s

Posted: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 3:18 pm
By: Todd Epp
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Like we all need another “End of Decade” list.  But here goes.

What were the best and worst things, people, events, items of the now nearly completed Aughts?  Here are my picks:

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

The 10 Best of the 2000s

  1. The election Barack Obama as President
  2. iPods
  3. DVRs
  4. Cell phones (smartphones) that do everything like the iPhone and Blackberry
  5. Tom Brady‘s quarterback play
  6. Blogging/bloggers
    Tom Brady

    Image via Wikipedia

  7. The New England Patriots
  8. Tiger Woods golf play
  9. 24/7 news and information
  10. The Sopranos

10 Worst of the 2000s

    George W. Bush

    George W. Bush via last.fm

  1. George W. Bush‘s stealing of the 2000 election
  2. 911 attacks
  3. Hurricane Katrina and aftermath
  4. The 2008-0 economic crash (Thank you greedy bankers and insurance companies and GWB! Not!)
  5. Loss of civil liberties post 911
  6. Smartphones that never let you get away from work
  7. New England Patriots Spygate
  8. Blogging/bloggers
  9. Tiger Woods’ inability to keep his wood in his pants
  10. American Idol

Don’t agree?  Add your own in the comments.

Happy 2010 and good riddance, Aughts!

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Get Serious

Posted: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 10:16 am
By: Joel Rosenthal
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President Obama needs to get off the beach, off the golf course and off the tennis courts, terminate his Hawaiian vacation and get back to the White House and demonstrate that the Government is serious in dealing with terrorism.

While he is at it he should also terminate the Secretary of Homeland Security, former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. The President’s more than initial response (before yesterday when he figured out public opinion believed the bombing is a national security threat) was to show a little concern and dismiss the incident as a possible act of terrorism.

In his first two very brief press appearances on this issue, the President had little to say that indicated that America was doing anything or even taking the bombing seriously. President Obama, always hip and always cool couldn’t even bring himself to put on a necktie.

Governor Napolitano for her part, in her initial (now well reported) response in talking about air traffic security said “the system had worked.” The President’s Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, echoed, saying exactly the same thing.

Democrat spin doctors said that this quote was taken out of context.  Horse Puckey! Those were her words in a live interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Secretary Napolitano and Press Secretary Gibbs now insist they were talking about the system working after the event happened. Without saying it they now are implying that the system failed to provide any prevention.

The President yesterday decided to intervene to put his thumb in the dike of a big political problem – talking as always, as opposed to sending those who would destroy us a message with teeth in it. In various sound bites he said the security system had a “catastrophic breach” and “a systemic failure has occurred and I consider that totally unacceptable.”

The President sees all this as a political problem not as a War.

Do you think that Al Qaeda thinks we are very concerned?  

Mr. President – Actions speak louder than words – Come home NOW, have a real War Council, find out now what failed, and tell the American People and Al Qaeda what we are going to do about it.

To comment on this post go to South Dakota Straight Talk.

What We Are Losing

Posted: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 11:54 pm
By: Ken Blanchard
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GYI0059177556.jpgProponents of the “public option” in health care reform (i.e. expanding the role of government as a direct provider of health insurance) frequently point to polls showing that a majority of Americans support it.  But in every poll I have seen, the public option is mentioned along with the word “competition.”  It is easy to get a majority behind a public option that would compete with private health insurance.

What does the Senate healthcare bill do to competition in the health insurance industry?  Here is Scott Gottlieb in the New York Post:

The plan before the Senate creates a set of 50 state-based insurance “exchanges” that are established as markets for health plans. Consumers must buy policies from their employers or through the exchanges — but, either way, their choice of coverage is limited to one of four basic insurance plans that the government sanctions.

Private insurers will still compete to offer policies but must model their coverage on one of these four templates. In short, the Senate bill explicitly standardizes health benefits and then establishes elaborate mechanisms (including subsidies and penalties) to pay for them.

Under the Senate bill, consumers will be able to choose between higher co-pays and higher premiums.  That’s it.  For all practical purposes, only one insurance policy will be available.  The terms of that policy will be decided by the new “health care czar,” who will effectively control not only the health insurance industry but the health care industry.  “Czar” might be too gentle a title.  “Overlord” would come nearer.

My guess is that most Americans have as yet no idea what is really in this bill.  The legislation is very unpopular because everyone can sense that it is represents a massive expansion of government power and government spending.  When they find out that it virtually eliminates competition in the health insurance industry, well, that might not increase its popularity.

In losing competition, all but the very rich will lose access to any health care not blessed by the new Czar.  If you don’t believe me, ask Bob Herbert at the New York Times.

There is a middle-class tax time bomb ticking in the Senate’s version of President Obama’s effort to reform health care.

The bill that passed the Senate with such fanfare on Christmas Eve would impose a confiscatory 40 percent excise tax on so-called Cadillac health plans, which are popularly viewed as over-the-top plans held only by the very wealthy. In fact, it’s a tax that in a few years will hammer millions of middle-class policyholders, forcing them to scale back their access to medical care.  Which is exactly what the tax is designed to do.

Now, I do not agree with Bob Herbert often.  He loathes pretty much everyone I like.  But he is right on this one.  What is the purpose of this design?

These lower-value plans would have higher out-of-pocket costs, thus increasing the very things that are so maddening to so many policyholders right now: higher and higher co-payments, soaring deductibles and so forth. Some of the benefits of higher-end policies can be expected in many cases to go by the boards: dental and vision care, for example, and expensive mental health coverage.

Proponents say this is a terrific way to hold down health care costs. If policyholders have to pay more out of their own pockets, they will be more careful — that is to say, more reluctant — to access health services. On the other hand, people with very serious illnesses will be saddled with much higher out-of-pocket costs. And a reluctance to seek treatment for something that might seem relatively minor at first could well have terrible (and terribly expensive) consequences in the long run.

The Democrats in Congress can’t say no to the tort lawyers, or the doctors, and they aren’t’ willing to force open the health insurance market to sales across state borders.  The only way to hold down medical costs is to discourage access to healthcare.

The President said that no one would be forced to give up his or her healthcare insurance.  He was lying.  Eventually it will be clear to a lot of someones just how much they are losing.

Five Things Brett Favre Apparently Can’t Do

Posted: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 11:29 am
By: Todd Epp
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I about threw up last night watching the Vikings-Bears game on ESPN.  The announcing crew of Mike Tirico, Jaws, and Chucky tried to out Madden John Madden in their constant praise of Brett Favre.  Brett can apparently do no wrong in their opinions and the Number 4 has super human attributes.

Vikings.com Screenshot Featuring Brett Favre -...Image by DavidErickson via Flickr

Then to make matters worse, every time Favre got knocked on his can by the fired up Bears defense, the NFL referees would help him up.  It wasn’t like the Brettenator was hurt.  I guess even the Zebras can’t help worshiping at the feet of the Scraggly Bearded One.

So, I started wondering.  What can’t Brett do?  It’s actually kind of a short list;

  1. End hunger.
  2. Stop global warming.
  3. Negotiate peace in the Middle East.
  4. Solve the health care mess.
  5. Beat a mediocre Chicago Bears team to insure home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
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B.O. Admin Plan Pushes Ag Rollbacks

Posted: Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 9:41 am
By: RadioActive Chief
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Plan to turn farms into forest worries Obama official

Hmmm. Looks like the USDA in conjunction with EPA is setting up a push in the direction of an at least partial repeal of that environmentally risky 5000 year experiment with agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has ordered his staff to revise a computerized forecasting model that showed that climate legislation supported by President Obama would make planting trees more lucrative than producing food.

The latest Agriculture Department economic-impact study of the climate bill, which passed the House this summer, found that the legislation would profit farmers in the long term. But those profits would come mostly from higher crop prices as a result of the legislation’s incentives to plant more forests and thus reduce the amount of land devoted to food-producing agriculture.

Questions come to mind…how is this plan supposed to work, and what sort of modeling is being used to generate it, and are the predicted changes actually valid? The latter two issues are far from being trivial, given the proven tendency of environmentally oriented (junk-)scientists to fake and distort statistics, and use demonstrably invalid computer modeling in order to prove their (pre-determined) conclusions.

In spite of that, it seems like the first question is shaky enough in its premises that the Ag Secretary is calling the idea into question.

According to the economic model used by the department and the Environmental Protection Agency, the legislation would give landowners incentives to convert up to 59 million acres of farmland into forests over the next 40 years. The reason: Trees clean the air of heat-trapping gases better than farming does.

Mr. Vilsack, in a little-noticed statement issued with the report earlier this month, said the department’s forecasts “have caused considerable concern” among farmers and ranchers.
“If landowners plant trees to the extent the model suggests, this would be disruptive to agriculture in some regions of the country,” he said.

Gee…d’ya think, maybe so? Wonder what the first clue was?

He said the Forest and Agricultural Sector Optimization Model (FASOM), created by researchers at Texas A&M University, does not take into account other provisions in the House-passed bill, which would boost farmers’ income while they continue to produce food. Those omissions, he said, cause the model to overestimate the potential for increased forest planting.

Oh yeah: the pesky bit about invalid computer modeling again!

Mr. Vilsack said he has directed his chief economist to work with the EPA to “undertake a review of the assumptions in the FASOM model, to update the model and to develop options on how best to avoid unintended consequences for agriculture that might result from climate change legislation.”

One HAS to question the outcome of any revision just as strongly as the original scvheme. Given the political realities, it seems not unlikely that the revisions will be crafted to give the APPEARANCE of solving problems, while continuing in effect to “nudge” (in the terms of B.O.’s Czardomry) us in a direction back towards the cave.

The legislation would give free emissions credits, known as offsets, to farmers and landowners who plant forests and adopt low-carbon farm and ranching practices.

Can you say “Cap and Trade”?

Farmers and ranchers could sell the credits to help major emitters of greenhouse gases comply with the legislation. That revenue would help the farmers deal with an expected rise in fuel and fertilizer costs. But the economic forecast predicts that nearly 80 percent of the offsets would be earned through the planting of trees, mostly in the Midwest, the South and the Plains states.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and some farm-state Republican lawmakers have complained that the offsets program would push landowners to plant trees and terminate their leases with farmers.

The model projects that reduced farm production will cause food prices to rise by 4.5 percent by 2050 compared with a scenario in which no legislation is passed, the department found.

Ooops! Maybe THIS is the problem with the projection…it would give ammo to opponents of the overall (pseudo) green policy framework, which after all is built on the foundation of junk-climate science as propounded by the Great Church of St. Gore the Green.

The holiness of mangers

Posted: Monday, December 28, 2009 at 12:07 pm
By: David Newquist
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I admit to being a great admirer of  animals.  They buoy the spirit.  And although I have never been in a situation to own a horse, boy, have I coveted.

Here is a photo gallery in the Washington Post about how the Army horses at Arlington Cemetery that pull the caissons with the caskets of service people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are helping cure and rehabilitate wounded veterans.  Horses, even the ornery ones, can be therapeutic.

During eight years of war that has generated nothing but news of human degeneration, these horses bring a message of beneficence that is alarmingly absent in current human affairs.