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
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
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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