Dr. Forbush Thinks

Look at the world through the eyes of Dr. Forbush. He leads you through politics, religion and science asking questions and attempting to answer them....

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Location: California, United States

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


If you don’t have health, you don’t have anything.

This seems pretty obvious. I’ve written about health and wellness from time to time, but I continually get frustrated when I read and listen to people who have no idea what they are talking about. Once again, people are talking about health care and once again the conservatives are telling us that a capitalist system of health care provides the best health care for the country. I disagree, and I will explain why this can never be true.

In a capitalist system you get what you pay for. This seems to be a fair way to divvy up goods when money is somehow related to work. If you spend 10 hours in the fields and you are paid $30/hour you should certainly be entitled to $300.00 worth of food. That makes sense, you did the work and you eat the food. If someone else is working as a CEO of a bra manufacturing company, and he works 10 hours and is paid $30/hour he should certainly be able to trade some of that money for food, right?

But, in a capitalist society we also value work differently. So, since we value bras more than food the CEO at the bra company makes about $100,000 per day and the farm worker makes about $100 for the same ten hour day. That makes sense, right. So, this means that the farm worker can buy enough food in one day to feed his family about 35 meals if he is very careful. The bra maker could buy about 35,000 meals with his one day of work. So, since we value bras more than food this makes sense so far, right?

But, the bra maker can’t eat all of those meals, even if he tried really hard, and we all know some of these people who have tried. So, the bra maker will have money left over to do other things. He might decide to make more money buy purchasing other companies that make other important things like tassels or garters. He could also purchase a couple of places to live in various locations near each of his companies. After a couple of days of work the farm worker will have enough money to pay for food for the whole week and he will then use the money to pay for a place to live, perhaps he’ll rent a room or maybe a trailer in a migrant workers camp. And, hopefully before the week is out he will have a bit of money left over to save for a rainy day. On most days the CEO has already paid for food, housing and essentials in the first hour of work. He can save the extra money by loaning it out to those who might need some extra cash, like the farm worker. In this way he gets his money back, and a bit extra for doing no work at all.

So, now we came to health. Both the farm worker and the bra maker are people and they will both eventually die. But, before they die they will most likely get sick multiple times. As they get older they will get sick more and more often. Each time they get sick they will want to be healed so they can enjoy their healthy lives.

The farmer in a capitalist society will go to the doctor and ask to be healed. The doctor will see him if he has the $100, one day’s pay, the doctor charges just to look at him. If he pays for that then he will need to pay another $100, another day’s pay, to buy the drugs to heal him. If the doctor doesn’t succeed in healing him then he will need to go to another doctor and another until he is healed. If the bra maker is sick he pays the same amount, $100, 0.1% of a day’s pay for the bra maker job, 0.0001% of a day’s income including other sources, for the doctor to look at him. This seems fair, right?

However, in the real capitalist world market forces control the prices of goods and services. And, doctors only want to work as much as they really need to. So, the doctor can raise the price of his services. The farm worker may decide that a $1000 is a bit high so he will go to church and pray to God. After all He works miracles and miracles are free. The bra maker can barely notice the difference in cost, and he wants to get well at “all cost.” This is because if you don’t have health you don’t have anything. In fact, the doctor and the drug companies and the HMOs and the hospitals can all ask for an increase and the bra maker will still pay the price for quite some time before he is willing to give up and go to church.

This is the reason why market forces will never cure the health care problem. The wealthy will pay whatever it costs in order to be healed, but the poor can only pay so much before they are forced to go without. Therefore the capitalist society rations health care based on wealth. The higher your income the better your health care will be. And the Republicans were afraid of rationing health care in England? Its actually ironic that the Christian Fundamentalists that live in trailers voted to have ration away their health care to the wealthy. They voted to give tax cuts to the wealthy. They voted to give their pension funds to Ken Lay and Enron. They voted for higher oil prices so Exxon could make record profits this year. Who owns Enron and Exxon? The wealthy! They sure love the wealthy, don’t they? But, they’re Christian and money isn’t everything, your health is. But don’t worry, if you pray to God He’ll work that miracle and you’ll be cured for free.

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Grand Ol' Docket


With all of the corruption happening over at the GOP it is getting quite confusing if you are trying to keep the players straight. The problem has been solved over at Talking Point Memo, where they have created the "Grand Ol' Docket" where they keep track of the players in the ongoing scandals. They promised to keep it up to date as more Republicans are indicted.

Monday, January 30, 2006

National Tragedy

The things that are being talked about are not always the most important issues, and the issues that are left by the wayside are not always the least important issues. There are only a few people or events that have enough influence to determine the topics that are foremost in the national mind. Obviously the president can bring issues to the top of the agenda by mentioning them in his State of the Union address. But, also when there is a national tragedy the public cries out in unison - WHY? So, with the national tragedy of the Bush administration in its 5th year we can hear the public crying out - WHY?

Good leadership has vision. It has a vision to look forward and expect the unexpected. No one can predict precisely what will happen in the future, but everyone knows that some good things will happen and some bad things will happen. That is just the way life on Earth is. So, the job of a leader to find the experts that can calculate the probability of likely and even unlikely events. A good leader should know that the likelihood of a major national tragedy is likely to happen almost every year.

So, it is obvious that a poor leader lacks vision and has no idea what types of national disasters could possibly happen. When Condi Rice lied to us about not knowing that terrorists might fly airplanes into buildings we might have become suspicious that we might not have the best leadership. When catching Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan became a little to tough and George W Bush decided we would try to draw the terrorists into Iraq by placing 160,000 American solders as bate, we should have guessed that there might be a problem with the leadership. When Donald Rumsfeld told us how the Iraqis would welcome us with sweets and flowers turned out to be false we might have suspected a lack of leadership in the Bush administration. When the country of Iraq was looted and descended into chaos after the US exterminated Saddam’s army we should have seen that we have poor leadership in this administration.

But, some of you may have been thinking “ya, he isn’t very good with the foreign policy, but he’s certainly good with domestic policy.” But when the prescription drug plan that the Republican leadership forced on the nation by threatening some of the wiser Republicans to vote for it has now turned into a debacle we should certainly see the poor leadership in the Republican Party. Of course, when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and FEMA failed to respond for days we should certainly know that we have poor leadership in the White House. When Tom DeLay was about to be indicted and the Republicans finally could see the future with some vision, what action did they take? They decided to do away with the law saying that a member of congress could not serve in a leadership role while under that indictment. This vision demonstrates the lack of good leadership in the Republican Party. But, when the self proclaimed “Party of Ethics” continues to be exposed in one ethics violation after another one would think that we would finally realize that the Republican leadership is one of the worst collection of leaders in American History. But, then again half the country still seems to be in denial.

How many more actions of poor leadership will it take before the American people have the guts to fix the problem?

A Gloomy Reflection

It’s cloudy outside and my mood is taking on the characteristics of the weather. I was sick all weekend and I am gradually regaining my strength. While I do this I am beginning to puzzle about the state of our country. This isn’t really unusual, I do it every day. But today I am feeling sad about almost every politician in Washington who is too fearful to look at the reality and think for themselves.

It might be too difficult for the average American to understand the truth about every issue. This is made especially more difficult when everyone including Bill O’Reilly are spinning the facts the way they want them to appear. Truth is only a relative idea and transparency is actually more valuable and more elusive. But, this shouldn’t be a problem in a representative democracy where we elect politicians who then have the responsibility to learn the facts about the issues and vote for laws based on the truth and the facts. The American people have the right to know the details, but they don’t need to be burdened with the details, because the press is sure to keep an eye on what they are doing. If the politicians go beyond the limits the press will make the problem public and the politicians will suffer at the polls.

This used to be the way the system worked. It was a loose system of checks and balances that kept the people informed, but less burdened than necessary. Imagine that if only one person out of a hundred read a news story about a local politician cheating the public in some way; it wouldn’t be long before 95% of the people heard the story from those who had read it in the first place. The details would be there if anyone doubted the truth, but the speed of travel for the story wouldn’t take more than a short quip about the dishonest politician stealing our money, read about it yourself…

But, today no one wants to be the guy who gets the details. Instead everyone wants to hear the short version and pass it on to their friends. That’s great, because now we have the television that digests the news into short pieces a tells the story to you so you don’t need the details. Television seems to have taken the place of the 1% of the population who actually read a story in the newspaper all the way through and told you the short version of the story over the water cooler at work. But, as we all know when you shorten a story you can leave facts out without actually lying. And each person may decide which facts they deem less important. In the old days many people read the stories and retold them in different ways. In fact people would often hear different interpretations from different people and build their own understanding from those conversations. With Television there are only a few people who interpret the news and decide what they want to leave in or take out when they re-tell the story. All of the facts are still there for the initiated, but America is becoming the land of the uninitiated.

So, the picture of our country is beginning to look like the gloomy sky outside. A few people are deciding how the majority of Americans should look at the facts. Up to this point I haven’t said anything about one political ideology or another. I have only criticized the total state of our political system. This is because the state of our political system has nothing to do with political affiliation. In fact, in 1992 the Republicans would be shouting about how broken the system is. The system is the same, only the influence has changed. The Republicans in 1992 exposed the scandals involving some key Democrats. This exposure embarrassed some Democrats into admitting to scandals within their party. Everyone can agree that bribery is bad, and when it causes public money to be spent in ways that are not in the public interest it needs to be fixed. By 1994 the Republicans had convinced the majority of Americans that they could and would fix the system and make it fair for everyone. By saying this they were rewarded with control of the US House of Representatives. And, slowly the power of the Democrats was eroded by the distortion of news retold with key details left unmentioned.

Of course, the Democrats are also to blame for not keeping the Republicans in line. Whether it was fair or unfair, the Republicans changed the rules and the Democrats kept playing the old game. Democrats assumed that deals could be made and the deals would be fair. But, Republicans slowly fought little by little to control more and more government, even though they lied to the voters and told them that they were for less government. The reality is that they are for less “Democratic” government and for more “Republican” government. This is something that the majority of Americans don’t understand yet.

The frustrating part of this entire malaise that has been taking over the country is that there are so few people that even see the problem. Obviously if you side with the Republicans you are happy that you crew controls the three branches of government. But, there are many people siding with the Democrats who believe that the solution is to copy the Republican methods of deception in order to win the zombie vote. But this only reinforces the problem and assures us that the best government will never be part of our country. Instead we will have a government run by those who can be the most deceptive. And, if they campaign on deception, chances are they will rule with deception. How can a free country tolerate a government who rules with deception?

Well, we now know that this isn’t just hypothetical anymore. The current administration uses deception regularly in order to keep it support above the 40% approval rating. However, as the election in November gets closer the Republicans will surely reshape the deception in just the right way to maintain the majority in both houses of congress. This is because people want the short digested bits without the meaty details, because those meaty details are too hard to swallow. The Democrats on the other hand can’t make up their minds if they want to tell the truth in all it’s detail and bore the voters to sleep. Or, use the same deception that the Republicans have been using. When an honest person is faced with this dilemma I would guess that the honest way to go is the boring way. Deception isn’t really in the cards.

But, the one thing that the Democrats could use if they found it in their gumption is to go one step further than pointing out the facts. The facts are all well and good, but a vision of the future is what true leadership is all about. But, we all know that committing to a vision is bound to step on people toes. A vision sets priorities and some people will be disappointed in the order of those priorities. But Democrats need to set priorities in order to show how their priorities differ from the Republicans. The Democrats need to be unified to some degree behind a vision of hope that will contrast the sorry vision of the Republicans where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. But if the Democrats fail to vocalize what most hardcore Democrats already know, then the Republicans will continue to win elections based on deception.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Democratically Elected Terrorists

We are now in Iraq for the sole reason of creating a Democracy in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein is out of power. There are no weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi government is not harboring terrorists. So, the only reason left is for the purpose of nation building, something George W Bush said that he did not believe in during the 2000 presidential election. But, 9/11/2001 changed all that. We are now the world’s policemen and nation building is our top priority.

The United States has always said that Democracy is what the world needs. We fought Socialism, Fascism, Communism, and dictatorships (that disagreed with our foreign policy) wielding the big stick of Democracy for all. But, the people don’t always select the policy that agrees with the United States. When Iran elected a Political Party that didn’t like the British Oil companies stealing their oil the United States through the CIA sponsored a coup de taut that put a Royal Family in charge of the government. One would think that this would be considered a step backward. When the United States didn’t like the socialist policies in the Congo after a democratically elected leader took power the United States sponsored another coup de taut replacing that democratically elected leader with a dictator.

The words on the lips of US leaders has always been “Democracy for all,” but the reality of the situation always includes the caveat, “as long as the people agree with us.” Democratically elected leaders in Venezuela, Brazil and most recently Bolivia are openly disliked by the current administration. One would think that a little diplomacy could go a long way. One would think that a country that is trying to encourage Democracy would respect the will of the people by respect the leaders that they have chosen. But this open disdain for the leaders the administration doesn’t like openly displays the real disregard that the Bush administration has for Democracy. After all, the last two presidential elections were not about Democracy or the will of the people. Instead George W Bush and the people he hired to run his campaign were more concerned with deceiving the American people with lies and fear in order to acquire political power.

With that history, who would expect the Bush administration to respect the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections yesterday? Who really thinks that the Bush administration will respect the will of the Palestinian people? After all, the people chose a terrorist group to lead them. But, in the eyes of many people through out the world the American people did the same thing in 2004. The American people chose a leader that did not respect international law and invaded a sovereign country to further his own agenda.

The bottom line here is that the Palestinian people have elected a terrorist group to lead them. The United States of America has been shouting about the strength of Democracy in the Middle East on one hand and they have been shouting about the dangers of terrorism on the other hand. How will the Bush administration choose to handle this dilemma? The only valid way to do this is by educating the Palestinian people with truth. But, as I posted yesterday, we know that people respond to politics in an emotional way, not a rational way. So, how can people be educated with truth to appeal to their emotions? Can the Bush administration keep their Political Party in check and do the right thing? Or, will the radical right force the Bush administration to attack Hamas in some way in an effort to fight terrorism? And, will the American people care or even be aware of the issue of Democracy in the Middle East?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Palm Springs

“P.S. I Love You” was the tag line the first time I visited this tiny city in the desert more than twenty years ago. I didn’t see that slogan posted anywhere in the city when I visited it over the last few days. This time I went to Palm Springs for business, but the first time I went there to visit a girl. She had moved from Ohio to California following her parent’s dream of living in the desert. She took my heart with her. Now, twenty some years later both of us are happily married to different people and living thousands of miles apart. At least I know that to be true on my side of the equation.

Palm Springs has both changed and stayed the same. The mountains to the west of the city are still a tall and rocky moonscape of grey and brown. The mountains are so tall that the sun sets at about 3:00 PM as it passes behind this pinnacle. Therefore, sunset seems to last for hours with the sun behind the mountain, but the sky not quite so dark.

The downtown area isn’t much longer than 10 blocks of little shops and restaurants on Palm Canyon Drive with a few more scattered on the streets parallel to this road. And, of course there are the resorts and golf courses that lie further to the south and east of the city. If you like golf, or the resort lifestyle, then this is certainly the place for you. Since I don’t really care to much for either I force myself to find other things to do. This time I really didn’t have much free time so I mainly concerned myself with working, eating, running and sleeping.

As it turns out I had the chance to eat at three restaurants, sleep two nights in the Hotel Zoso, go on two hour-long runs and work the remaining time. If anyone can relate to the Saturday Night Live skit that portrays a naïve couple visiting a portentous couple at their apartment will understand the Hotel Zoso. The Hotel is lined with close-up pictures of flowers enlarged to 28X36-inch portraits or larger. It wasn’t clear to me if they were photographs of flowers or photographs of paintings of flowers. The pictures all seem to be intentionally out-of-focus, however it isn’t clear whether it was truly intentional or just bad photography. However, if you remember to SNL skit the people at the Hotel Zoso believe with all of their hearts that if you don’t understand the importance of these “great works” then you shouldn’t being staying at the Hotel Zoso.

The rooms are very nice, after all I was told several times that they just put $20 million into the renovations of the Hotel Zoso. And a lot of the money must have gone into the 42” flat panel TVs that hang on the wall of every room. The bed is unusual as well, and if you don’t understand why a King size bed needs nine down pillows on it, then maybe you don't really belong in the Hotel Zoso. The final annoying thing about the Hotel Zoso is the valet parking. And, obviously if you don’t understand why you need a valet to get your car from twenty feet away and bring it to you in less than fifteen minutes then you certainly don’t need to be staying at the Hotel Zoso.

My favorite part about the trip, besides the working part of the trip was the running. I woke up early each morning and went running. I am finally in good enough shape that I can run for an hour at a pretty good pace, and sightsee. Last year at this time I ran a 5K race and almost needed to be carried across the finish line. Yesterday I was able to wake up early, and run down Palm Canyon Drive for almost three miles without going off of sidewalk and without many busy streets to cross. No-one seemed to be awake at 6:00AM. After turning around I was able to find another road with a slight incline. I ran about a mile up the hill, then I turned around and ran back to the Hotel Zoso. Most likely I ran about 6 or 7 miles in about 65 minutes. The temperature was a little brisk, with a little breeze but it was generally quite nice. And at 7:15 I was able to use the Jacuzzi at the Hotel Zoso, which was quite nice because many Hotels don’t open their pools until 10:00AM or so.

We ate at a couple of nice places, one of which I need to mention only because of the difficulty in finding the restaurant. Palm Springs has a history of city leadership that disliked the idea of large signs advertising through out the town. The leadership wanted a more esthetically pleasing atmosphere that kept the quaint feel of Palm Springs by trying to restrain the commercialism. In fact, the first time I visited Palm Springs I stayed in a Hotel 6, because motels were not permitted in Palm Springs. I guess that is what happens when social conservatives go to the extreme and try to control the moral character of the town by restricting the building of motels within the city. But, the point is that a name does not make a moral character. I am sure that people have had extramarital sex in hotels as well as motels even if it doesn’t look that way from the outside. In fact, when I ran past the Hotel 6 that I had once stayed at I noticed that they had re-named it Motel 6. Apparently someone in the city leadership realized that the evil really wasn’t in the name. So, because of the history of these restrictions on the use of signs some places have very little signage in trying to keep with the tradition, even though the signs have gotten much bigger than the way it was twenty years ago. Therefore, in my case, of course lack of signage correlates with not being able to find a place. So, it took a couple of passes and a cell phone call to the restaurant in order to find the place with the 2-inch high 6-inch long sign. Hopefully they get a lot of repeat customers, because it would be difficult to rely on new ones.

Proof of the Obvious

How often have you picked up the paper and read about the latest scientific study and thought to yourself, “Duh, I could have told them that if they just paid me the millions of dollars in research grants?” Well it actually seems to happen quite a bit. People from the conservative side will argue that research on things that we already know is a waste of money. But, this reaction is based on emotion, not scientific measurements. Lots of science requires the gathering of scientific measurements of things that we think that we understand.

For example, people once thought that if you put a rocket in space travelling at some speed it would gradually slow down. This was based on the observation that when you throw a ball it will eventually slow down. Galileo, Newton and others did experiments that showed us that air influenced the speed of the ball and other experiments told us that there wasn’t any air in outer space. Newton determined that a body in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by another force. The air is that other force that slows to ball down.

People also thought that time was the same for everyone in the Universe, until Einstein predicted that it wasn’t, by his Special Theory of Relativity. Scientists have done experiments on particles that are known to decay with a certain lifetime. The scientists will increase the velocity of the particles and particles appear to live longer in our frame of reference, the lab. However, we know that the particle itself still decays at the same rate in its frame of reference. Scientists have measured these numbers and we know that Einstein, not common sense was right. So, we should understand that even if we believe something is obvious we should still investigate the matter by taking measurements.

This is why this study is so important. It has always seemed obvious to me that politicians and political extremists don’t actually reason their positions on an issue. Instead they react to issues emotionally. This means that it is impossible to change the position of a political extremist by using reason. Well, duh, anyone who has had the occasion to get a comment from a political extremist on their blog and has proceeded to try to convince the person of the errors in their think will soon discover the futility of their effort. The person most likely doesn’t even read your whole reply and uses cut and paste replies to try to cram their opinion down your throat. Of course these people would never concede to reacting emotionally to the issue. They believe that they “know” the truth and have the “facts.” But this study says differently.

Basically, the researchers were able to monitor the brain activity of people with extreme political views. The people were presented with opinions opposite to what their own political view was and their brain activity was analyzed. The results showed that if you had extreme political views to either side of the political spectrum, then they never even thought about the other point of view. Instead people jumped to their conclusion based on emotional feelings.

So, why is this bad? If it weren’t obvious then I’d like to point out how much effort is being wasted trying to spread extremist propaganda. If people base their propaganda on reasoned logic then these groups would not be able to survive. Therefore these extremists use emotional appeals to spread their message. Once the emotional seed is planted, then logic will not shake the person from these extreme beliefs. The far left can use the bloody baby seals to promote their cause emotionally and the extreme right can use a bloody baby fetus to promote their cause emotionally. The extreme neo-fascists appeal to the emotional times to their race and culture while the religious extremists use the emotional ties to the law that God has put down on Earth for us to follow. No logic can shake these positions, because people don’t turn on that part of the brain when they hear a point of view that they are emotionally connected to. It has always seemed obvious to me, but now we have scientific measurements to prove it.

But, this is also an issue in American politics. As our government becomes more and more polarized people become emotionally tied to the politics that they know and believe. You can see this in Washington with all of the party line votes in the House and the Senate. If our representatives actually listened to the arguments of the other side we would see members switching sides from time to time based on reasoning made from the members of congress. People would be persuaded by logic and reason to vote for the best option for their district or for the country. The results would actually be laws and budgets that make sense for the entire country, not just the wealthy and religious special interested groups that control the Republican Party when the Republicans are in control. And, similarly Unions and Environmentalists would also not control the Democratic Party. The people would realize that all of those issue and groups have valid points, but solution is rational logical thought, and not emotional reaction to the events of the day or the even the issue in question. But now we have proof that government is not run in a logical manor, and perhaps it never can be.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Doing The Right Thing

Yesterday I did something that I normally don’t do. What I did might have repercussions with some of my friends and family. I let people see a side of me that I normally don’t expose. I did something that I don’t always like when other people do it to me. But, I did it because I believe it was the right thing to do.

Yes, some of you already know what I’m writing about. I sent out an e-mail encouraging people to take political action. Some may think of this as a form of spam e-mail. Others will see me in the light of my politics. But, I took a leap of faith and tried to reach out to those who believe that there is still hope for this country that we call America.

The conservatives that I know used to tell me about the corruption of the Democratic Party. They seemed to be well meaning people who believed in America. They used to tell me how the Republican Party could clean up the mess in Washington and through out the country. However, as we know the recent revelations about Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, Bill Frist, the Bush administration and other leaders of the Republican Party has shown us that these assertions were wrong. The actions of these leaders have shown that what these people do and what they say are most often miles apart.

I don’t know what else these people have done, but time will reveal even more anti-American behavior in the Republican Party. Since we are only scratching the surface one can only guess what else there is deeper down. The point is that Republicans have created a method of saying one thing and doing another. They tell us that they want to have less government, but they spend more, cut taxes and borrow the difference to be paid back over time. Americans know that the lenders are the only winners in this deal, and the majority of these lenders aren’t even American citizens. Isn’t it strange that the Republican Party who dislikes illegal immigrants taking advantage of our government services is willing to borrow money from non-Americans paying it back with interest? This is a type of corporate welfare for the international bankers.

But this corporate welfare doesn’t stop at borrowing money. The money that is being borrowed is being used to pay companies like Haliburton to support the military in Iraq. A place we should never have gone if the Republican congress had asked the difficult questions before hand.

All of this has been going on for some time, and it is well known. However, recently it has been revealed that the Bush administration has broken the law by spying on American citizens. Now, some spying is legal if one is to follow the laws that were written to protect the American people from the abuse that can easily happen. In fact we know this because Richard Nixon abused the FBI in an effort to learn about Civil Rights protesters and Vietnam War protesters. He abused this resource in an effort to expose the dirty little secrets that we all have in an effort to discredit the movement. Now George W Bush has ordered the same kinds of tactics using the excuse that he is fighting terrorists. But, we should remember that our liberty and freedom must be protected at all times, not just when it is convenient.

It seemed pretty simple to me. The conservatives that I know have told me that they care about our country. And, we now have a president who has admitted that he is breaking the law. He has told us what he is doing, why he is doing it and most legal experts agree that it is against the law. Only legal experts within the administration, or close to the Republican Party say otherwise. This alone should initiate an independent federal investigation. But, the Attorney General, the former Counsel to the President must find it difficult to look at this situation in a non-partisan independent way. In fact this Attorney General counseled the President to break the Torture laws back in 2003. How can he be trusted to uphold the law? But, there must be conservatives out there who believe in the rule of law. There must be conservatives out there who care more about our country than their agenda.

So, I sent this e-mail out to some of the conservatives that I believed had an open mind and a willingness to put the country ahead of their agenda. They may look at the e-mail as just another spam. Or, they may look at me as just another Left Wing Extremist. But, hopefully they will look at me as just another concerned American trying to keep the government honest and following the rule of law.

If you want to read about the petition or maybe even sign it you can go to the Rule of Law Petition.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Bush Lies and the Truth

Just a few of the Bush administration lies and the real truth, with sources.

They have claimed this unauthorized wiretap on phone calls and email was legal because of Congressional resolution.

"Bush Administration's Defense," New York Newsday, December 20, 2005

However, this isn’t quite right because congress has passed no resolution allowing the president to ignore the 4th Amendment and spy on Americans.

"ACLU Letter to Attorney General Gonzales Requesting the Appointment of Outside Special Counsel," ACLU, December 21, 2005

Moreover, Congress explicitly denied this right to the administration.

"Daschle: Congress Denied Bush War Powers in US," Washington Post, December 23, 2005

Then they claimed that they did it because they needed to act swiftly.

"Bush Let U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts," New York Times, December 16, 2005

But, this isn’t right either because, current law allows immediate wiretaping, with up to three days after the tap to get the official court order.

"Bush Officials Claim Spy Court Cumbersome,"
Baltimore Sun, December 20, 2005

They also claimed that Congress was fully briefed and knowledgeable on the program.

"Cheney Roars Back on Spying, Torture, Iraq,"
ABC News, December 18, 2005

However, that depends on how you define congress. Only a handful of Congressional leaders were briefed on the program. Those who attended briefings were ordered to keep quiet about it.

"Surveillance Court Judge Quits in Protest," Seattle Times, December 21, 2005

Some informed Congressional leaders did submit concerns to Vice President Cheney's office about the program, there was no response.

"Letter shows senator raised concerns in '03,"
Chicago Tribune, December 20, 2005

Now, it also seems that the administration wasn't forthcoming on major parts of the program.

"Bush Vigorously Defends Domestic Spying," CBS News, December 19, 2005

Now, they argued that the administrative overhead is too high.

"Bush officials claim spy court cumbersome," Baltimore Sun, December 20, 2005

But they have already answered this in their defense of the Patriot Act. Too much 'paperwork' is not an excuse to break the laws of the land. If it did prove to be too difficult, the president could have sought to fix the law; after all, that's what the Patriot Act is all about.

They said that the spying program was narrow and limited.

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan, January 3, 2006

However, a New York Times article about the program reports that the data from the eavesdropping program was 'swamping investigators.' "The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month. But virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans."

"Spy Agency Data After Sept. 11 Led F.B.I. to Dead Ends," New York Times, January 17, 2006

The president said the person who leaked the spy program to the New York Times caused great harm to our security and now the Justice Department is involved in an investigation to discover their identity.

"Bush Says Leaker Caused Great Harm,"
MSNBC, January 1, 2006

But we all know anyone who brings illegal and unconstitutional activity to light is just doing their job—upholding the laws of the land. Our nation has a rich history of protecting whistleblowers—they are heroes who keep our democracy strong.

The administration is now attacking the Clinton-Gore White House by saying they also engaged in warrantless searches of Aldrich Ames' home.

However, the Clinton White House never violated the law in its searches. Warrants were not required for physical searches at that time, and Clinton supported and signed legislation changing the law to require warrants.

"White House Lobs Accusations Back at Gore,"
Associated Press, January 17, 2006

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The Message is the Medium

I was listening to a talk radio show this morning on the topic of blogging. It was actually more specific, it was on political blogging with several bloggers represented. Bloggers from Daily Kos, Wonkette, Red State, InstaPundit were the bloggers that I remember. Some callers suggested that blogging was a method of spreading disinformation, therefore an invalid form of media. However, one of the bloggers pointed out that any media can be used to spread disinformation. Simply printing leaflets and passing them around town could tell people that a dog has been lost, or that Asians are the super race. The medium is the method for spreading the information or misinformation or disinformation and the medium should not be criticized for the error in the information.

Like all good discussions this got me thinking about this thing that we call blogging.

First I would like to try to put blogging in perspective by looking at a timeline illustrating the history of communication and its social effects. I believe that “social effects” is a broader term than “politics” but in a modern democracy “politics” has a lot to do with “social effects.” The question is basically, how do people have their will done?

In a tribal environment the group is quite small. If the chief is running things the people are freed from making every decision by giving the chief the power to decide for the entire tribe. Individual problems can be solved when an individual personally talks to the chief. As a tribe gets larger the potential for problems gets larger and the chief becomes quite busy dealing with each individual problem. When the tribe gets too large the chief appoints specific individuals to manage specific areas of expertise and each manager communicates the problems to the chief in a condensed form. This process is an example of how some individual’s issues become less important than other individual’s issues. The manager chooses to tell the chief about the problems he believes are most important. The manager has two ways in which he can proceed. He can choose to pay attention to problems of greatest significance to the tribe, or he can pay attention to problems of greatest significance to himself.

In this simple illustration we can see how the agenda plays an important role in what gets done and what doesn’t get done. Politicians can talk all they want about any issue that they believe will get them elected but if they don’t do anything more than talk about it the issue is pointless. Similarly, if politicians ignore difficult issues, then they don’t need to make unpopular choices which would possibly effect their chances to be re-elected. Politicians can easily limit their agenda to issues that will benefit their own electability.

Of course, before democracy leaders found their way to power by force or by heredity and as long as the people didn’t complain to loudly they had very few problems controlling a population. But, “to loudly” is the key here. If people complained, they could influence their neighbors and friends to complain as well. If the population wasn’t frightened of the wrath of the leader they could certainly collect enough support to overthrow the leader and put another leader in charge. Therefore, by controlling the discussion of ideas the leader was more able to maintain control of the population. Keeping the people moderately happy enabled the leader to maintain a higher standard of living for himself and prevent the masses from rebelling. If the masses didn’t know what life could be like they wouldn’t complain about the way life was.

With the advent of the printing press, people were enabled. Besides the printing of the Bible, people were able to express opinions and distribute those opinions to a wider audience. The learned and the educated were the ones who could take advantage of this newfound power. The lower classes generally couldn’t read and this class was still prevented from organizing and revolting. Soon the leadership realized the power of spreading information and control of the printing presses also meant control of the people. Since there were so few printing presses the leaders were still able to maintain control.

And so it was with each new media that was introduced. Whoever controlled the media controlled the power to set the agenda by publishing the issues for the informed readers to acknowledge. Knowing the leaders progress on the issues meant that you knew if you were living the best possible life, or if there was potential for improvement. If there was potential for improvement, then the people could get togther and change the course of things by changing the leadership. Most often this meant by force, but as the structure of democracy was being established, leadership could be selected by other means. This meant by the wealthy property owners, or the educated, or by family connection.

The issues were still controlled by the people who set the agenda. Publicizing the importance of one issue and ignoring the importance of other issues set the agenda, because every issue could never be addressed at the same time. There are just too many issues. This practice takes us to the present day where a few wealthy individuals control the major media. Therefore, only the issues that these individuals find important make it to the top of the list. The right has complained that the left controlled the media. I would suggest that the media owners control the media. Some of these people are on the left, and some of these people are on the right, but all of them are property owners. The media does not address the problems that effect the poor, the minorities, the sick, in other words “the politically weak” because those issues don’t usually rise to a high level of importance for these people. Issues that make money for the media or protect the property owners make it to the highest priority. Since there are more issues than any society could ever deal with there are still plenty of issues that never get dealt with.

But, the good news is blogging. At least that’s what it looks like today. Bloggers can set their own agenda, because each blogger can write about his or her own issues. This means that a large number of people can begin to address issues that bother them. Maybe some of these issues will be the same as the issues that the major media is addressing. This is because even property owners are human and they share issues with the general population, like the desire for clean water. But when one group begins to take advantage of another group bloggers are likely to share and publicize the issue faster than the major media. Major local and regional stories will begin to make it to the web faster than the major media agenda will allow. Even stories that are covered by the major media will be kept alive by bloggers if they are important in the eyes of the people even if they don’t rise to the same level I the eyes of the major media.

Blogging may not be a primary news source for most people. But bloggers have influenced reporters and news people by pointing out embarrassing issues that should rise to higher levels in the mainstream media. Bloggers give different perspectives to reporters who are looking for new and fresh approaches to every day news items. But, the main point is that blogging is a way that the average citizen can be heard in the marketplace of ideas. And if those ideas are on the agenda of the common man they will rise to the proper level of importance again.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006


The Republican Party seems to be bipolar when it comes to government control. When it comes to money and fiscal issues the Republican Party supports the idea that the government should look the other way and let the money travel to the place that it is needed most to the people who will do the most work for the lowest wage. Republicans tell us that it’s a matter of choice, workers can choose to work for the wage offered, or they can choose not to work and suffer the consequences. On paper this seems like a good idea, the most work gets done at the lowest cost. Let people make their choice based on the consequences of their decision, and they will make the right choice for the overall system.

From the wealthy property owner point of view one only spends what one needs to spend to get the job done. And, the Republican Party also supports choice when it comes to using ones property. The government shouldn’t restrict property use. If a wealthy farmer owns a couple hundred acres of land, they should be able to sell 10 acres to a developer to build 40 houses whenever they need the cash. When a cash rich company from Texas buys a timber company in Oregon they should be allowed to cut all the trees down, take the profit and sell the land to a developer. After all, it was their choice, why can’t they do what they want with their property? America is about choice, keep the government out.

But, then the Republican Party goes bipolar when it comes to personal freedom. Suddenly, the Republicans decide that people can’t make the right choice when it comes to schools, drugs, religion, science, pornography, self-expression, or even life and death. The Republican Party has decided that teachers can’t decide what to teach the children in their classes because the lawmakers have determined that they know better. The Republican Party has also determined that people can’t decide whether or not to take recreational drugs. The Republican Party has determined that they would like to incorporate religion into the schools by having the students pray in school. They would like teachers to teach the Bible to the students in science class. They would like to restrict what can be broadcast on TV, radio and now the Internet. They would even like to create laws that control who can marry whom and who can have sex with whom. And, they also want to prevent people who are terminally ill from dying in dignity if they choose to do so.

The bipolar nature of the Republican argument has nothing to do with liberty or freedom as they would have you believe when they make their fiscal arguments. If the Republicans believed in individual freedom, then they would easily come to the conclusion that the government shouldn’t regulate corporations or copulations. Instead, Republicans believe in freedom of the wealthy to exploit the workers in whatever way is fiscally efficient. And, it turns out that controlling social activities is a way the wealthy property owners are able to control the workers. If the workers find themselves in a framework in which their lives are controlled by the government when they are not at work, then they will accept the control by a corporation when they are at work.

Today Republicans proved once again that they believe that government should be in the middle of life and death decisions. In listening to the news stories about the death of Clarence Ray Allen I noticed more hypocrisy from the right. It quite bizarre that Clarence Ray Allen was on a deathwatch in the time leading up to his execution. Why would anyone care if he killed himself? It makes me think about rape. They say that rape isn’t about the sex, it’s about the power. Apparently execution is not about the death, it’s about the power. The Republicans want to show the power of the government in the act of execution. This makes me sick! The Republicans, the Party of Life wants to show its power in the execution of a 76-year-old man. But, the point is that giving the government control over this man’s life is just another way the Republicans wish to demonstrate their power to control life. They are the Party of Control, not the Party of Life as they advertise.

This can be seen in the Supreme Court decision today. Even though the Supreme Court upheld the Oregon Physician Assisted Suicide law, it is clear that the Republican Party was upset about the decision. The most conservative of the Supreme Court Justices, Scalia, Thomas and the newly confirmed Roberts dissented in the decision. In this first major decision all of our fears have been confirmed, Chief Justice Roberts will move the court further to the right. These three justices thought that the government should prevent the terminally ill from using drugs to end their own lives. With the confirmation of Samuel Alito this vote would have surely been 5 to 4 with Alito joining the three conservatives already to the right.

So, if one were to step away and look at the big picture it is clear that the Republicans don’t believe in freedom for everyone. They have always expressed favoritism toward the corporations over the workers. In fiscal decisions the Republicans favor lasse faire economics, but they certainly favor government control of personal privacy and freedom. Basically this means that the Republicans favor a system that allows the wealthy to do what they want, while everyone else is told what the government will allow them to do. Is this really the American dream? Is this really Freedom or Liberty? Is this the America you want to live in?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Evolution of Civilization

There is an idea that I have been kicking around for a while. It pertains to evolution and alcohol use. We know that alcohol was a part of Middle Eastern society. Beer was brewed in ancient Egypt and it was part of the purification of drinking water. We also know that wine was used and added to water through out the Middle East as well. It isn’t clear how far back alcohol use goes, but it is clear that it was part of early civilization. It has been claimed that western civilization was born in the Fertile Crescent in the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now modern Iraq.

But how did the organized structure of society emerge? Many people have stated that agriculture was the key to the rice of civilization. But, maybe agriculture is the ingredient needed to make alcohol, which was the real seed for civilization.

Perhaps we should examine the development of civilization in another way. Maybe alcohol was the key factor to its development. What are the requirements for civilization? Some of the requirements needed are communication, intelligence, and time for discussion incorporating the first two.

Anyone who has any experience with alcohol will acknowledge that drinking it will lower your inhibitions and encourage communication. The communication isn’t always intelligent, but there is certainly increased communication. Throughout human history places created for the purpose of drinking alcohol have also been places rich in communication. One can easily imagine early man, after his discovery of alcohol, creating special places for drinking alcohol and communicating with each other. The existence of these places for drinking and communicating would foster socializing and the early organization of culture and society. But, if early man never left these places, and never evolved intelligence civilization may not have progressed.

So, there is also the question of the evolution of intelligence. I would suggest that alcohol might have had a hand in this as well. We can imagine a group of individuals that have a range of intelligence measured in IQ from less than 70 to greater than 130 or so, where 100 would be the average IQ for an early man, not a modern man. The entire spectrum would be introduced to alcohol, much like the Indians were exposed to alcohol from the European settlers. As we know from experience that some people will be effected by alcohol in different ways. Those of lower IQ and lower ability to socialize may find themselves in more life threatening situations than those of higher intelligence and those more willing to socialize. Over many generations of alcohol drinking in the culture the overall population would have gradually become more intelligent and more prone to socialization. So, the conclusion is that alcohol is the key factor in the evolution of society.

If we accept this rigorous study of the effect of alcohol on society, :-} we can than apply it to the question of the effect of abstinence on society. It is quite clear that those who abstain from alcohol would be less likely to find themselves in life threatening situations. Therefore would make less difference as a matter of intelligence or ability to socialize whether these individuals would survive. Therefore we can agree that members of a group of abstainers who were less intelligent or less socially able would be more likely to survive. And, over several generations the genes responsible for these attributes would be more likely to be found in groups that have abstained from alcohol over these generations.

If we consider the groups that abstain from alcohol over several generations we need to consider conservative religious groups. These groups have a tradition of religion that has been passed down over many generations. Their religion is likely to consider alcohol to be sinful over these same many generations. Therefore these groups are likely to have a higher percentage of lower intelligence members. These groups also are likely to have a higher percentage of members who are less likely to be able to socialize. Therefore it would be likely that a group of Religious individuals who abstain from alcohol over many generations would have a higher number of lower intelligence individuals and a higher number of less sociable individuals if these traits are indeed genetic.

Well, the study to prove that this is indeed true would be to study these groups and compare them to a control group. This is pretty obvious to the most casual observer if you consider the aggression in the Christian Conservatives. There is certainly a higher number of Christian Conservatives that own guns and go out and shoot animals. There are certainly a higher number of Christian Conservative that advocate the reckless aggression that our government is committing in Iraq. There are certainly a higher number of Christian Conservatives that are against an organized government that protects its citizens. And, if you look at the number of Christian Conservatives that advocate Intelligent Design, creationism or a large number of other unsupported ideas it can be argued that the group also includes a higher number of lower intelligence individuals as well.

Disclaimer: This is only meant to be food for thought, it is in no way meant to be a rigorous scientific study into the matter. In fact, this argument is based on about as much scientific evidence as the argument for Intelligent Design is. Well, actually maybe this argument is built on slightly more evidence than the argument for Intelligent Design is, but not much more. :-}

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What is the Harm?

I read a post yesterday by a conservative blogger that got me thinking. This blogger stated that his main principle driving him toward his conservative position is the strength of his traditional values. So, I started to think about tradition. What is tradition and how is it perpetuated? What is the strength of tradition and what is its weakness. Why is tradition important? Can tradition be dangerous? How can we know the difference?

If you have read my blog for a while then you may recall that I am a Texas Aggie. I spent seven years in Texas and four of them in College Station, Texas. This is where I learned about the obsession with tradition. Freshman at Texas A&M University go through a rigorous indoctrination where they are taught the traditions of Texas A&M. They are taught that students stand during football games at all times, except when the other teams band is playing. Why? Tradition! I was familiar with this tradition, because my High School in Ohio shared the tradition. However, in Ohio the reason was because sitting on the ice covered bleachers was uncomfortable. But after a few years the students were standing during the games even on the warm dry evenings.

But, there were many traditions at Texas A&M University and most of them had no basis in reason. Why? Tradition! Students were asked to say Howdy to other students on campus, especially if you didn’t know them. Why? Tradition! Student couldn’t walk on the grass at the Memorial Student Center. Why? Tradition and Respect! Seniors didn’t take final exams. Why? Tradition and Politics! (Texas A&M University ROTC students could get earlier graduation dates and therefore seniority in the military.) Texas A&M University built a huge bonfire before the t.u. game. Why? Tradition! Aggies call the University of Texas t. u. Why? Tradition! There are many traditions at Texas A&M University. And, when you are an Aggie you learn them and they become a fun part of your life. There isn’t anything wrong with these traditions in general and they build camaraderie between the students and alumni of the school. There isn’t any harm in that, is there?

Well, getting a bunch of students going around campus saying “Howdy” to everyone sure makes the campus feel like a friendly place. That is certainly a plus. But, if the people say these things and they don’t feel friendly inside, or they don’t really mean the friendly greeting the façade makes people more fake. Once you discover this you feel like Holden Caulfield discovering the reality of the adult world. Suddenly you become cynical of everyone and everything. You become part of a group that sits around talking about people behind their backs, but you flash the “Howdy” to them the next day. This is the downside of tradition; it tends to make people blindly follow rules without questioning them. People automatically except “tradition” as an acceptable answer.

Of course, tradition has its advantage. Tradition makes leadership easier, because a leader knows how people are going to react to certain stimulus. A leader can count on getting a whole crowd to sing the “Aggie War Hymn” by uttering the first word into the microphone. This is power, and a demonstration that the entire group is behind whatever else the leader might suggest.

The problem with tradition lies in its power. If you can command people to do things without thinking, then how can you get them to think about problems with a tradition? One example might be the tradition of the Aggie bonfire. For years the ROTC had used a traditional structure for building huge structures and then burning them. One tradition was to build a bonfire as tall as possible. Another tradition was to maintain a list of safety procedures. The procedures were followed, but the list was not reviewed, because the list was tradition. New people came and left and the list was passed down by tradition. Tragedy struck one day and the huge pile fell and killed some students. Modern engineers created new safety procedures because of this event and progress was made over tradition, but the attitude of entrenched tradition may have had a hand in this tragedy.

Tradition and progress are the two poles of American politics. Tradition lies with the conservative agenda and progress lies with the liberal agenda. Some people naturally find strength in one over the other, but moderate people realize that there are strengths and weaknesses in both of these approaches. To blindly follow tradition might mean to pass laws that would make it illegal to question tradition. To blindly follow progressive ideas might lead to pass laws that try hypotheses without any basis in fact that could destroy established institutions that were built on tradition and currently work. The adversary form of American government values both measured progress and respect for traditions which most moderate Americans feel comfortable with.

Therefore, I would like to suggest that the majority of Americans respect both tradition and progress. In order to do so means that one must feel free to question tradition while holding respect for it. The danger in being an absolute traditionalist is when tradition becomes more important than the purpose of the tradition. In order to know when this might be the case one must be ready to ask the question - Why do we have this tradition? - And not be satisfied with the answer - Tradition! Similarly the danger with being an absolute progressive is to suggest change for the sake of change. Therefore, one must be willing to honestly ask the question - Why do we need this change? - And the answer should be because it will benefit society and the benefit must be backed up with facts.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Problems with Being Thin

Now I have to admit that after loosing 50 pounds I do feel a lot healthier than I did two years ago. I have a lot more energy than I did two years ago, which seems really strange if you think about how much effort goes into loosing weight and keeping it off. I get up every morning at 5:00 AM and I’m usually at the club by 5:45 AM to put in my 1:15 workout. The people promoting the idea of being healthy tell you all these things to motivate you into doing the workout and watching what you eat. Once you have motivated yourself into working out on a regular basis, which is considered a problem by most people, thin or not you will begin to loose weight. But, what you never hear about are the problems with being thin.

Well, the next and most obvious problem that you will face if you choose to go down the road to getting in shape is the cost. Well, you may be thinking about the cost of buying that new exercise machine that you saw advertised in your e-mail or on TV. But, even without spending money on the unnecessary exercise equipment that will more than likely end up in your garage taking up space there is another cost. You may be thinking about the cost of the membership to the health club, but even that isn’t required if you really want to loose weight, because you can just jog in place in your living room watching TV and loose weight. No, the most expensive part of loosing weight is buying the new clothes after you find out that the old ones no longer fit. I have eight pair of size 36 waist pants that need to be replaced with eight pairs of size 29 pants. And, they don’t sell size 29 pants at the discount stores. I have a choice of going to the children’s section or going to the more expensive stores that actually have tailors taking in the waist to the right fit.

But, replacing my pants isn’t the end of it. My T-shirts don’t fit either. The large and even extra large T-shirts that I had been wearing two years ago now look more like pull over dresses on me. I had two or three old T-shirts from twenty some years ago that were medium, and they are now my most comfortable T-shirts. One is a tie-dye rainbow T-shirt; one is a Kinks concert shirt that I couldn’t part with; and one is an old Ohio State University T-shirt from my high school days when I was still considering going to that school.

But T-shirts are a dime a dozen (actually about $10 at whatever event you spend $50 to attend) so I’ll soon have plenty more at the right size. In fact, now that I have started running in races I’ll have one from every race that I choose to spend $20 to enter. The more expensive part is replacing my dress shirts that I actually wear to work every day. My neck size is no longer 18” but more like 15½” which means that all of my dress shirts look like button down dresses and they need to be replaced.

Clothing isn’t the only issue. One thing that most people don’t realize is that fat is a good insulating material. This means that if you have an extra layer of fat, or as the Inuit call it - blubber - you are more insulated from the cold. Since I live in California most people from back east believe that the perfect California weather lends itself to little worries. Two years ago I could have told you that I rarely ever wore a jacket of any type. The temperature where I live doesn’t go below freezing and when I’m outside in the morning when it is in the 40s I am usually just going from the house to the car or the car to the gym. Well, two years ago I was getting up that early going to the gym. The point is that from the time I moved to California until just recently I had almost never worn a jacket in California. I wore one when I went to the mountains in the winter to visit the snow. And I wore one in the summer when we went to the fogged in beach, but that was about it. I remember one night when I went to an outdoor cello concert without a jacket and some of the people in my party were complaining about the 50 degree temperature, but it was tolerable to me.

However, now that I am thin I can’t stand the cold. I went to the beach on a warm day and shivered for and hour with the heat cranked up in the car trying to get warm. I used to keep the house at 65, but I keep building fires in the fireplace and cranking the thermostat to 72. Did you know that firewood costs about $200 a cord in California? I have dug out all my old sweaters and some of those don’t seem to keep me warm enough.

Two weeks ago I thought that these were the extent of the problems with being thin. However, I discovered that I was wrong. I was in the locker room at the club after my workout. I am usually less than 100% coherent after a workout because I’m an old guy and I take some time to recover. So, when people say things to me I often look at them, smile and nod and go on. So, when this big fat naked guy walked up to me and said, “Nice waist, what size are you.” I just answered, “about a 29,” and I went on. Then two minutes later I thought to myself, “that’s just creepy.” Fortunately the conversation didn’t go on after that, but I was creeped out for a while. I just hope that I don’t run into that guy again. I wouldn’t know what to say.

So, those are some of the dangers and problems with being thin. So, when you are watching the next infomercial for the “Gut Cruncher” or the “Air-Glide Cycle-Master,” just remember that there are problems with being thin. The grass may seem to be greener on the other side, but I’ve been on both sides and I know the problems with being thin.

Disclaimer: For all of the serious health fanatics 85% of this post was written in a sarcastic tone. So, before you tell me that I’m wrong on point X, Y or Z please go back and reread the post and look for the humor. If you still can’t find the humor then please move on to the next blog. But all the same, thank you for reading my blog.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Spirits and Letters

Over the last few years a disturbing trend has emerged in the method of passing and applying the laws of the United States of America. As the Republican congress creates laws and pushes them through the lawmaking machinery they argue that the important aspect of the law is its spirit. The laws are written in such a way that moderate people can look at a law and assume that a moderate interpretation of the law is reasonable. Moderate people will look at the law and assume that another moderate person would use the law in a reasonable way to accomplish reasonable objectives. Since the majority of Americans are moderate they become deceived into believing that a conservative law by the letter is a moderate law by its deceptive description and this conservative law becomes supported by a majority of Americans.

The preceding statement is quite general, so perhaps an example or two would shed light on this. We can remember back to the passage of the Patriot Act. The spirit of this law is quite clear, to protect Americans from another 9/11 terrorist attack. The spirit of the law is emblazoned in the name of the law. Patriots support this law and non-patriots are against it. But, the name is part of the deception. A moderate person interpreting this law would assume that the Patriot Act would only be used to protect Americans - patriots - from terrorist activity. In a rush to protect America the congress quickly passed this into law without taking the time to think about how the letter of the law could be used to undermine American liberty and freedom. The only safety valve to protect America from the abuse of this law was a time limit on the law.

The time limit for the Patriot Act has been extended to the first week in February while the congress discusses the dangerous potential for abuse. Several of these most dangerous potential abuses have been discovered over the last four years and reasonable people are trying to fix the letter of the law before it is extended again, perhaps for a much longer period of time. In fact, some argue that because the law has not yet been abused it does not need to be changed, because it would never be abused.

There are some people who don’t believe that the “good” people in the government would abuse the Patriot Act. They claim that only “terrorists” need to be concerned. But, as the conflict in Nicaragua taught us, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. We all know that the Nixon administration thought that the Anti-War Movement and the Civil Rights Movement were a threat to national security. The Patriot Act does not clearly establish how a person can be considered a terrorist. Under the letter of the law an administration that considers these types of activity a threat to national security could use this law against regular Americans who oppose the agenda of the administration. In fact, it isn’t a far stretch to imagine that an administration could view the opposition political party a threat to national security and apply the Patriot Act against the opposition party. The extreme secrecy of the Patriot Act would prevent the public from knowing that an administration was interpreting the law in this manner. You may believe that the political party that you support would not do this, but do you trust the “other political party” to be this responsible? The Republicans who hate the Clintons should imagine the possibility of a Democratic congress with a Democratic White House with Hillary in charge ordering the use of the Patriot Act to find out what the Christian Right is up to. Remember, the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law is what counts in these legal arguments.

Those who still doubt the dangers of the Patriot Act should consider some of the other recent laws that have been passed in order to deal with the problems in government. Consider campaign finance reform. The spirit of the law is to make elections fair and democratic, by reducing the level of influence of special interest groups that have a disproportionate amount of influence in lawmaking. But, lawmakers have been able to circumvent the spirit of campaign finance reform faster than the time it took to pass the law itself. Perhaps Tom Delay didn’t legally violate the letter of any law, as he recently stated, but he certainly violated the spirit of this law in many of the publicly known activities that he was involved in.

The point of this post isn’t any specific law, but instead the current Republican tactic of passing laws by arguing the spirit of the law. Then when the laws get through the legislature we find out that the letter of the law is actually much different than the spirit of the law that was argued. The administration is certainly guilty of this in the run up to the Iraq War. The argument was that if we didn’t act fast the smoking gun of the Iraqi terrorist threat would be a “mushroom cloud.” The spirit of the legislation used to begin the Iraq War was to protect America from terrorist attack, but the letter of the law allows the administration to go far beyond this protection to overthrow a sovereign state and impose its will on these non-American citizens. The spirit of the law used to convince some of the moderates was that we would have the UN support before we would invade Iraq. The letter of the law has allowed the Bush administration to kill thousands of innocent civilians with no repercussion and a very tenuous argument that it is done in the interest of our national security. The letter of the law let the Bush administration invade Iraq virtually unilaterally. The spirit of the law had a clear goal of protecting the American people from terrorist attacks, but there is no longer any evidence that Iraq is a threat to the United States of America. But, we still have 160,000 troops in Iraq. The letter of the law makes no provision for when our troops will come home.

With this recent history behind us we should be even more critical of what the Republican administration and congress try to push through congress. We can all see what the spirit of the laws are from the Republican marketing campaigns used to get the American people to support these laws. The problem however is that most Americans don’t really know the letter of the law as it is being written. The details of these laws don’t come to light until after the laws are passed and signed into law. In the past, before Newt Gingrich took over the congress with his Contract on American, we assumed that lawmakers took their jobs seriously and read the laws before they were passed. We assumed that lawmakers worried that they would be held responsible if the letter of the law didn’t agree with the spirit of the law used to pass the laws. But, with the current congress and the current administration this has been shown not to be the case. The American people should certainly be wary of anything that these groups say. The current congress and the current administration certainly do not have the American people as the focus of their purpose. Instead, they have themselves for their own selfish agenda. “Stay in power,” is their mantra. The American people should carefully scrutinize every piece of paper written in this government, because these scoundrels can not be trusted.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Opportunity or Photo Op

Yesterday was a day for political repositioning. Republicans are eager to have 2005 far behind in the rear view mirror as the 2006 elections are approaching. This means that appearance is becoming more important than actions. In modern American politics the election cycle dictates political activity. Right after an election politicians feel safe enough to do whatever they want, because they have time before re-election to be forgiven if they make blunders. But as the election nears politicians become responsive to their campaign contributors through their political actions and responsive to the voters through their appearance. Yesterday we had two examples of politicians attempting to reposition themselves.

George W Bush has begun to reposition himself on the Iraq War. Of course, the president is not up for election in 2006, but the Republican Party does not want to be pulled down by the Iraq debacle. Many Republicans have begun to distance themselves from the president in hopes of diminishing this negative effect. The Senate, which is more responsive to moderate voters, has opposed the president’s torture policy and has begun to call for a reexamination of the administration’s Iraq policy.

But how can a man who has a reputation for not listening to critics and staying the course come hell or high water reposition himself on this sacred issue? Yesterday he called for a meeting of the minds. The news media has been calling this action “reaching beyond his inner circle.” This is because Bush has been criticized repeatedly for relying on his inner circle for decision making, which has caused him to be blind to the reality of much of the world. Is this a real effort to learn about the real world, or is this an opportunity to get some photos to be used at a later date? One could imagine the president sitting quietly listening to these experts talk about the Iraq situation. Sitting there does not mean that he is engaged, but sitting there with cameras clicking means that he has documentation of “reaching out.” In September when things are going badly in Iraq and the Republicans are being criticized for “staying the course” and not “seeking wisdom from the experts”, they can flash these pictures in their rebuttal advertisements. Karl Rove is clearly planning for the future.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is also repositioning himself. He, on the other hand, is up for re-election in November. He has just suffered defeats of all the issues that he has been promoting through out the last year. If he didn’t reposition himself he would certainly loose re-election. In his State of the State speech yesterday the Governator told us that he received the message from Californians.

He has proposed some major spending increases on California infrastructure like schools, roads and prisons. He has proposed that the minimum wage be increased by a dollar an hour. He has begun talking like a Democrat. Has he been listening to his wife? And, how is he going to pay for these things? He is going to borrow more money. So, he has taken a page out of the Republican playbook to pay for Democrat spending proposals. Borrow the money now, because the children who are going to pay for this down the road can’t vote.

So, has Arnold turned into a Democrat, or is he just repositioning himself for the coming election. To me it looks like Arnold is acting like a conservative on social issues in order to hold onto his conservative base, and he is acting like a liberal on spending in order to win some union and blue collar support. This seems to be the worst of both worlds. The government is gaining power to dictate what we can do in our private lives, and they are spending money to build an infrastructure that will allow them to do it more efficiently. If we assume that Arnold and George are buddies and they believe that spying on Americans is not only legal, but to be encouraged, then America is certainly moving in the direction toward fascism.

The real question that we need to be asking is what is in the hearts of our leaders. It is clear that they are able to amass power with the public cheering them on, but will they use that power for good or for evil? With the cleverly manipulated marketing of each person campaign and the large scale disinterest in politics by the American people it isn’t likely that we will know what evil lurks in the hearts of these men.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Biotech Investing 101

Back in ’02 I received some money. Of course the details aren’t as simple as that cliché statement, but for this blog that’s all that really matters. I invested this money in a lot of different things, because anyone knows that diversification in the key to holding on to your money. But, taking risk is also part of the American culture and the capitalist way of life. So, I decided to risk a portion of it in riskier but potentially more profitable ventures.

I began to think about the different industries in general, and I tried to imagine which industries were bound to do well over the next twenty years. I was investing for the long term, so I didn’t and still don’t care about the day to day value of the stocks, but it is always nice to see the entire portfolio doing well. Back in ’02 I thought that huge progress was bound to be made in biotechnology at least in the next twenty years. Actually I still think that this is true, but like the high tech stock boom not all biotech companies are the same. I could have bought a mutual fund that concentrates on the biotech sector, but I thought that I’d like to invest in a few biotech companies that I liked. I picked several, but I will write about three of them today.

The three companies I’d like to discuss are Johnson and Johnson, Merck and Vertex. Johnson and Johnson is a big old company that isn’t likely to go anywhere very soon. They are diversified into many areas in addition to drugs. They are like the IBM of the biotech sector. It isn’t going to double your money and it isn’t going to loose your money either. Johnson and Johnson is a blue chip company that pays dividends to its shareholders. Merck is a newer company, they were founded in 1890 and it has a certain company way of doing things. They seem to be a bit more interested in research, and they are willing to risk money to do that research. I look at Merck like the Hewlet Packard of the pharmaceutical world. Vertex is a new company that has had some early success. If they play their cards right they will be able to reinvest their profits and make their company grow to the size of Merck or Johnson and Johnson. But, if they blow all their cash and they don’t strike paydirt then they will end up packing their bags and going home. Or, maybe they’ll go to work for Merck or Johnson and Johnson.

So, I bought a piece of each of these companies. At the end of 2002 Merck and Johnson and Johnson shares were selling for roughly the same price, about $60.00 a share. I bought 100 shares each. Vertex was selling for roughly $20.00 a share, so I bought 300 shares. Basically I invested $6,000 in each company believing that they were all good companies and over time they would all do reasonably well.

Of course no one can predict what will happen over time. Fluctuations in the market don’t really matter much when we are thinking about twenty years in the future. The main thing is to have belief that the companies you own will do the best they can to make a profit and be successful. That’s right, when you buy stock you become an owner in the company and you need to expect that it will do well. When you loose faith in a company, then its time to sell the stock and put the money in a company that you can have faith in. Faith in a company isn’t always reflected in the stock price. The stock price reflects the faith that other people have in the company, not you. If they loose their faith, then they can sell their stock. It only means that you can buy more of it at a cheaper price.

By the end of 2003 the price of Vertex stock had fallen to $13.00 a share from the $20.00 I had bought it at. But I still thought that Vertex was a good company, so I bought 100 more shares at the lower price. I was thinking that in twenty years this little drop in price is going to look like a little blip, the stock will rebound. By the end of 2003 Merck stock had fallen to $45.00 a share, so I bought 100 more shares at this discount price. Johnson and Johnson had fallen, but not quite as much so I didn’t think that the stock was cheap enough to suggest that I buy more. The point is that the value of the stock is relative to the price of all valuable stocks, and also to the price of currency and a ton of other factors. This is why it is difficult to know when a stock is cheap enough to merit purchasing, so one must really believe in the company. Then again belief in a company can also cause you to chase a company into the ground as it goes up in flames. But, that is the risk part of the whole capitalist ideology.

The Viox scandal has had its effect on the price of Merck stock. When the news of Viox possibly causing heart attacks in users of the drug came to light and lawsuits were filed the price of Merck stock sank to around $30.00 a share. As far as Merck goes I lost 50% on the first 100 shares that I bought and I lost another %33 percent on the second 100 shares that I bought. So, I bought another 175 shares at $30.00 a share in 2004. The price hasn’t rebounded much, but it hasn’t dropped either. If Merck is successful in its lawsuits the price will surely go back up to the $45.00 per share level. Also, Merck has a large team of crack researchers working on the next new drug that will revolutionize the health care industry.

Similarly, when Vertex fell to $8.00 a share I bought 500 more shares. Perhaps I had a death wish, or gambler’s fever but I had faith in the company. Vertex reorganized itself and sold off some of its holdings.

And, now at the beginning of 2006 I have begun to look through the old portfolio just to see what is happening. Stock is for the future, so it doesn’t make sense to ponder it continually. But every once in a while it pays to examine the pros and cons of the companies I own. The main question is, are they working for me, or is there another company that could be doing a better job.

Well, as of today the Johnson and Johnson stock is basically where I bought it. I did earn dividends on the stock which amounted to about $360.00 which was worth about 2% per year. The stock price is $62.00; therefore the total stock is worth $6200. Adding the dividends to the current value my total investment is now worth roughly $6560 and I made 9% over the three years that I have held the stock. That isn’t great if you compare it to the Dow Jones or the S&P 500 that is up roughly 20% over the same time, but its better than loosing the money.

Talking about loosing the money, the Merck stock is currently at roughly $33.00 a share and I have lost nearly $4,000 including the dividends paid and the slight rebound in price and the purchase of the cheaper stock.

But, then again the riskiest stock finally paid off. Vertex is now selling for about $30.00 per share. That means that the stock I bought at $8, $13 and even $20 are all worth $30. So, I ended up making $15,000 on this company, which makes up for the $4000 I lost on Merck. So, the question becomes, “Do I own too much Vertex stock?” Maybe I should sell some. Since Vertex was listed as one of the top five mid-cap companies for 2005, there is little expectation that they will repeat this in 2006.

The real point to this whole post is that investing for twenty years down the road still requires some effort if one wants to make a killing in the market. But, the average person who doesn’t want to think about his investments every day should buy stock in companies that they understand and believe in, then they will know what to do as time goes on.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Government Waste

One myth propagated by the right is that there is this thing called “government waste.” I say that this is a myth because this idea is never demonstrated. The right throws this idea into the air and expects everyone to salute it. But, where is the “government waste?”

Well, the California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger ran a campaign on platitudes like, “I will destroy government waste!” During one famous speech he blew up a pile of boxes after making this statement. Of course during his campaign he refused to point to any specific form of “government waste,” but he continued to recite the same platitudes at every speech. During one debate Arnold was asked specifically how he would eliminate “government waste.” His response was to have “experts” come in and go over the books.

Arnold was able to win the election even without giving any examples of “government waste” or any other details on his plans to govern the state of California. People thought that he would blow a big hole in “government waste” and California would be saved. So, he called the Republican leaders and asked them for help. Perhaps Arnold himself had been swindled into thinking that there was government waste to be found. The Republican leadership told him to hire a brilliant accountant from Jeb Bush’s staff to go over the books in California. Arnold did as he was told and remarkably no significant “government waste” was found. The big news was that two people seemed to be doing very similar jobs and perhaps the jobs could be reduced to one job. Obviously an accountant could go into many Fortune 500 companies and “go over the books” and find a couple of jobs where the work was being duplicated. Most companies are not 100% efficient.

But, the bigger question is: Where is the “government waste?”

If I were to venture a guess, I would suggest that the “government waste” is the money that politicians spend to distort the truth. The marketing campaigns that are used to tell the American people that there is “government waste” is a prime example. How much money is being spent on these lies that end up getting into the American psyche to such an extent that people expect the “government waste” to not only exist, but they will vote for the fool that claims he can get rid of it.

But, there really is more government waste. For example, sending 160,000 American soldiers to the Middle East to sit in the desert without any benefit to the American people would be one such waste. Spending money on munitions to kill 30,000 Iraqi civilians is another waste of money. Paying companies like Haliburton millions of dollars for military contracts in a place that we shouldn’t even be is even more of a waste. In fact, the entire Iraq War is a government waste without any benefit to the American people. The only benefit that the Bush administration claims now is that we are creating a democracy in Iraq, and even the success of that is beginning to look doubtful.

The Republican Party used to believe that the government was an investment. You pay your taxes and the collected effort resulted in infrastructure that benefited the entire country. The return on investment could be seen in the improved efficiency of businesses. As time went on the infrastructures were taken for granted and the upkeep of the infrastructure was no longer considered and investment. In fact, the taxes spent on the upkeep of the infrastructure began to look like a burden to many. The right began to look for excuses to stop paying for the infrastructure that had made them wealthy. They created the idea of “privatization,” which would magically make infrastructure “profitable.” Unfortunately these people have lost sight of the purpose of infrastructure, which is to make use of collected resources to make everyone benefit.

To some the government’s involvement in the building of the infrastructure in our country is considered “government waste.” After all, can’t parents just take responsibility and educate their own children? Why should the government be involved? If a man wants a road, why can’t he just build it? We don’t need a military, if we have a well-armed militia. Why are we wasting so much money on these things? If the government just let us keep our own money I could buy guns for my wife and kids and we could protect ourselves from the evil that lurks beyond our yard. If you support the less government mentality then this trajectory leads us to a brave new world that looks a lot like the Middle Ages. Of course some people really like the Middle Ages and they really would want to live there. Most of us however, only want to visit the Middle Ages when we go to the Renaissance Faire on a weekend once a year.