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The Bangor Daily News (Maine)

Bow Sends Pundits Chattering

Ever heard of the washed potato theory? Ken Keyes Jr. wrote about it in his book "The Hundredth Monkey." Keyes studied the monkeys on Japan's Koshima Island. In 1952 Keyes observed one little monkey who suddenly took her sweet potatoes down to the water and washed them before she ate them - greatly improving the taste. Then the monkey taught her parents and other family members to wash their potatoes and soon a large number of monkeys were enjoying a grit-free meal. About the time the hundredth monkey keyed into this culinary marvel, scientists hundreds of miles away began reporting that their monkeys had started washing food as well.

At first, Keyes' little monkey appeared to have made a conscious decision; it looked like she had invented a food preparation method. But then scientists found monkeys geographically isolated from each other taking this same step at approximately the same time. What had appeared to be cognitive thought was shown to be more like a species awakening, a bump in understanding that happened to all the monkeys at once. Those scientists concluded that this critical-mass behavior was more about evolutionary propensity than it was about intelligence.

That must be what happened to the primates on conservative talk radio this week. When they all started chanting the same vapid rant at virtually the same time, all I could think of was those monkeys washing their potatoes. I knew that their simultaneous whine was not about cognitive thought but about a concurrent bump in their primitive primate consciousness.

Don't know what I'm talking about? Ironically, it's something that happened in Japan just 57 years after our hairy prep cook was observed improving her diet. I'm talking about the chimpanzee-like noises being made by the right-wing political pundits about President Barack Obama's bow to the emperor of Japan.

It's quite spectacular that you can hire a few talk show commentators with opposable thumbs and they'll develop simultaneously, right before your eyes.

Since the cyber fact-checkers have exposed the truth of U.S. leaders such as presidents Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower bowing to other heads of state, this will surely die down. But the fact that a firestorm was swept up in the first place over something as trivial as a leader behaving respectfully should astound us. These talk hosts ran to the water with their respective sweet potatoes on this nonstory to keep us from paying attention to the real point of the president's Asian trip.


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These are tough economic times. The U.S. is desperately in debt - publicly and privately. Look at our debt-to-income ratio, look at the number of people out of work and imagine how we are going to make it through this. Maybe you've personally walked in and out of a bank or lending situation and thought that it might be time to take out just one more loan.

When you are overextended and desperate for cash, you walk into a debt consolidation place and have to explain the unexplainable - that you know you are broke, but if you could just borrow more money you'd be able to get back on the right track.

That's what President Obama is doing in Asia. He inherited a policy of borrowing to pay bills and he didn't want to commit political suicide by sucking it up and raising taxes or reducing spending. He's sticking with that plan. This country is waging wars on the other side of the globe, substantively buying corporations and bailing out our financial system with loaned money. It's the same as a minimum wage earner taking out a loan, buying a mink coat and thinking that's what will make everything all right.

According to The Washington Post, as of November 2008 China owned $585 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds and Japan held $573.2 billion. The folks on the hook for this spending are our children. In 2007, 4.3 million kids were born in the United States. So if those kids equally shoulder the debt to just these two countries, every one of them must pay about $270,000 before interest.

Obama bowed to the Japanese emperor. Big deal. Our debt already has us on our knees.

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Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is an author, activist and advocate. She is the author of "Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States."  Her new novel, The Magic Diary, is due out in late spring.

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