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

Friday, August 31, 2007

A Simple Math Lesson

The sub-prime lending crisis is another opportunity for us to test our math skills.

My children never seem to stop asking me the question: “When will I ever use math in real life?” Just the other day my daughter and her friend got into an argument as to which was more useful, statistics or calculus. I could resist the urge to say, “They are both important, we use calculus to calculate some very complicated statistics problems.” But, the truth is that the average American tries to avoid math at every opportunity.

The Christian Science Monitor used the ignorance of the American public to create a shocking graph and fear mongering story on the crisis. I don’t understand the reason for this obvious exaggeration of the lending crisis. Maybe its just to sell more papers. Maybe there is another reason. I honestly don’t know. But the graph and the story make it look like the world is crashing down all around us. The truth is bad enough for the people that this crisis effects. Why do we need to create panic among the rest of the people?

First of all lets look at the graph that the Christian Science Monitor published. It can be found here.

I reproduced the graph from the data presented. It looks like this:

Housing Prices Percentage of Last Year

This graph gives the impression that housing prices are going up, and then suddenly the bottom has dropped out this year. What the graph really shows is the housing bubble. If you read this graph more closely we see that the graph shows the percent increase from the year before. In a good economic situation we would like all objects to hold real value. We don’t like it when our car gets old and we need to buy a new one. The truth of the matter is that things age and fall apart. Similarly houses age and fall apart. But houses age slowly. Another reality is that inflation is real. In an ideal economic situation a house would be bought at a price, and at some time later it would be sold for the same price taking into account aging and inflation. And, a very low constant inflation rate would be the best situation.

When we move away from the ideal situation we suffer. This is because eventually the market catches up to the reality. This action in the housing market is known as bursting of the bubble. So, if we look at the reality of the situation the way that we all think about this we would come away with a calmer outlook on this crisis. I am not saying that there isn’t a crisis. Obviously people who bought houses last year are actually going to have loans for amounts that are greater than the current value of their home. Similarly many people were swindled into borrowing money that they could most likely never be able to pay back. But, the crisis isn’t as dire as the Christian Science Monitor suggests in this article.

Housing Prices - Percent 1987 Value

If we look at this same information in the way we normally would we see something much different. We see a house purchased in 1987 for 100% of its 1987 value. We can see the price of the house rise to over 300% of its 1987 value in 2006. Then in 2007 the price of the house falls to 294% of its 1987 value. These questions must be asked: “Is the person who’s house fell in value from 302% to 294% of its 1987 value really suffering very much? Have these people really lost anything that they deserved to have?”

The point here is that if you bought a house last year, and you want to sell it now you might have a problem. However, if you bought your house two years ago or more you have no problem even if you want to sell it today. Your house is worth less than what it was last year, but last year people were willing to pay more than its was actually worth. Most likely they are still willing to pay more than it is really worth, even though it is less than it was recently worth.

This sounds confusing, because people have a hard time realizing that 2007 dollars and 1987 dollars are not necessarily the same. People also don’t always understand percentages. And, in this case “percentage of change in price from the previous year” is not a clear concept. But, the real question is “Why would the Christian Science Monitor want to confuse the general public with this article?”


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

If They Could Kill Me

“If they could kill me, then I want the government to do anything they can do to put a stop to them.”

I heard this statement from a caller on a popular radio talk show. Was this caller talking about faulty mining practices? Was this caller talking about drunken airline pilots, train engineers, or bus drivers? Was this caller talking about tainted food at the grocer’s store? Was this caller talking about the manufacturer of cigarettes? Was the caller talking about the manufacturer of Mexican candy? Was the caller talking about poorly manufactured SUV tires? Was the caller talking about the mere fact that we have massive gas guzzling SUVs on the road at all? Was the caller talking about the civil engineers that inspect the bridges that we travel across? Was this caller talking about poorly trained policemen? Was the caller talking about fundamentalist Christians Hell-bent on bombing abortion clinics? Was the caller talking about lunatics stalking college campuses with guns? Was the caller talking about drunk and high drivers on the Highway? Was the caller talking about crack addicts breaking it the houses of the inner city looking for stuff to sell to support their habit? Was the caller talking about the poor preparation that many parts of the country are in with respect to natural disasters that will happen sooner or later? Was the caller talking about Islamic Terrorists?

You might have guessed it, she was talking about the Islamic Terrorists.

It might be interesting to note that the people who want the government to do anything possible to stop the Islamic Terrorist threat are the same ones who are also likely to call for less government regulations in almost every other aspect of our lives. These people don’t want to protect us from the poison that our industries put into our air and water. These people don’t want to regulate guns and keep them from the people that have proven that they can’t or won’t handle them with respect. These people don’t want our bridges repaired or our highways fixed. These people don’t want laws to protect the weakest of us who have life threatening asthma attacks when we are exposed to toxins like cigarette smoke. These people don’t want businesses to be required to follow safety standards that might cut into the company profits. These people don’t see pollution as a problem, but instead they see it as a civil right. Our environment needs no protection when the potential for loss of profits is possible.

Why is it that the right side of the political spectrum somehow thinks that the government should spare no expense, blood or treasure, when a terrorist might take a life in order to scare us into doing what they want us to do. I might argue that our war in Iraq is exactly what they want us to do. Our spending of those billions of dollars actually gives credibility to their cause.

Imagine a hostage negotiation where we give into the all of the demands because we are trying to save the lives of the hostages. Somehow the public has been able to grasp this concept. Unfortunately we don’t grasp the same concept on the grander scale of the War in Iraq. We gave into the Terrorist’s demands when we went to Iraq. We gave the Terrorist the credibility that they sought. The people in the Middle East have much higher respect for those who are brave enough to sacrifice their lives to defeat the “American Devil.”

So, what do we do? Do we just sit back and let the Terrorists have their way?

Obviously not! But, what is it that the terrorists are trying to do? Are they trying to kill as many Americans as they can so that they can beat the “Great Satan” in a one on one war? No, a group of rag tag terrorists have as much of a chance of beating the “Great Satan” as Luke Sky Walker had in beating the Great Empire. There is no way that they could beat us - unless they use something other than might. And, that is exactly what they are trying to do. They use big explosions to create havoc and attract the media to their events. Then they spread their message to those who might be interested in their cause. If we fear them we play into their hand. If we give them our attention we have already lost.

If we weigh risk of terror against risk of Hurricane or Earthquake we should easily realize that we should be spending much more money on the more risky inevitable calamity. Imagine for a moment that a terrorist might use biological warfare. They might spread some pathogen that would put large numbers of Americans at risk. Should we fear them because of this potential? No, it doesn’t really matter if they have this planned, because Mother Nature has the same thing planned as well. This epidemic will happen no matter what causes it. We just need to be prepared to fend it off as it raises its ugly but predictable head. Even if Mother Nature beats the terrorists to this, the terrorists are bound to stand up and claim responsibility. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose by making this claim. The terrorists want us to fear them for what they might do, not for what they have really done.

But, going after the terrorists by attacking Iraq or even Iran is just playing into the hands of the terrorists. They want the world to believe that they are important. Invading a country to fight them on the battle field makes those who might listen to them pick their ears up a little bit higher. Not being able to find one of their leaders, Osama bin Ladden makes them more attentive. Broadcasting a War around the world is 24 hour continuous publicity for the terrorists. If Iraq had never been invaded we would have put our resources into finding bin Ladden and he would be dead by now. Iraq was a waste of time, and it continues to be one.

Iraq will become whatever it will become, just like Vietnam has become what it was destined to become. Not one soldier in Vietnam changed it’s course. Similarly, not one soldier in Iraq will change the course that the Iraqis collectively want to follow. We may slow the progress or speed the progress, but the end result will be the same.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Friday, August 17, 2007

Marketing 101

When a person decides that he wants to be elected he begins to figure out how to market himself. Most politicians find that they have an advantage when they emphasize their good qualities while they de-emphasize their “less than good” qualities. A person also needs to get those “good” qualities seen, while avoiding any revelation of character flaw or youthful indiscretion. This of course is simple marketing 101. It works for any product from soap to politicians.

Of course, some politicians push the envelope by creating truthful statements that imply something different that the truth. This illusion is accomplished by the nature of language itself. Many words have multiple meanings, for example, and those meanings could sometimes be used to create truthful sentences that imply different meanings because the generally accepted meanings of a word or phase might not technically mean the same thing as the truthfully constructed sentence. Sentences like this are difficult to construct, so the next best thing is often used instead. Less commonly used synonyms are substituted for emotional words in order to reduce reactions to an idea. And more emotionally charged synonyms are substituted for technically neutral word in order to provoke emotion. These word games are used by politicians in an effort to create the illusion of addressing the public’s needs and desires without actually doing that.

As a deceitful politician ages his constitutes, whom at one time held great hope, begin to realize that they have been swindled. Those who recognize the swindle become less supportive and more skeptical of the politician. The erosion of support may take many years, because the public generally doesn’t pay attention to politics continuously. Generally the public pays attention to a politician only when an issue that is important to an individual comes to the forefront. These issues don’t come up very often for most citizens. Even when a swindle is exposed, it takes a while for the swindlee to recognize and admit the fact that he has been swindled.

Of course, as supporters drop off, and skepticism grows for this politician so it goes for all politicians in general. As people trust their politicians less, the motivation for voting for them decreases. Until new politicians can prove themselves worthy they will continue to inherit this mantle of distrust. The overall distrust of politicians that stems from the urge to deceive the public into voting for them gradually destroys democracy. Any patriotic politician would avoid this deception out of loyal patriotic love of democracy. And, the public should recognize this and vote accordingly.

A deceptive politician, however, serves a term of several years between elections. Deceit at election only gradually rears its ugly head during the political term as people realize the politician’s lies. People gradually become disillusioned and gradually loose faith in the words of that politician. But, the words of a politician are related to the power of the politicians position in government. Words are used to sway opinion and action. Words sway follow politicians in congress and they sway the public opinion. Leaders need to create the vision and map the direction the government needs to go. Without the power of those words the politician becomes weaker.

We have been witnessing the deterioration of a deceitful politician over the last six years. George W Bush won the 2000 election by the slimmest of margins. Therefore it would be arguable that any deception during that campaign could have caused the “key” votes to be cast in favor of him. The deception that he was a “compassionate conservative” may have been the key to some 300 people in Florida casting their vote for him instead of Al Gore. Perhaps the way he said that he was against the Kyoto protocol while in the same breath he said that Carbon Dioxide was an environmental problem. Some 300 Floridians might have chosen to vote for him thinking that he would actually deal with global warming even if it wasn’t through the treaty.

One could argue that Al Gore might have been just as deceptive. But, people knew how well Al Gore lived up to his previous promises based on what he had said and what he did in the previous four years in the Clinton White House. No, the extreme nature of George W Bush’s deception went beyond the Al Gore deception, which was the typical exaggeration that most politicians in recent times have used. With Karl Rove at his side the deception was engineered by the “architect.”
As George W Bush’s actions continue to prove his true nature people have slowly come to realize the true nature of George W Bush’s deceptions. At the beginning of his term in office new situations offered new opportunities for new deceptions. The Republican Party chose not to question or perform any oversight, and therefore Bush was free to do as he pleased. The results were an increase in the size of government by increased borrowing, an unnecessary and immoral war in Iraq, less compassion for the poor and more compassion for the wealthy. Finally his efforts to legalize cheap labor through immigration reform finally showed his true nature to many of his supporters that had been deceived all along.

So, is it any surprise that the majority of Americans believe that Gen. David Petraeus’ September report on the surge in Iraq will be more of the same - lies and deception?

If we expect the report to be an exaggeration of the truth then we will discount the evidence by what we believe the truth to be. And, George W Bush himself is responsible for the American public’s expectation or deception. This is because the American public now realizes how George W Bush uses these opportunities to make his own political gains. The public expects Gen. David Petraeus to tell us that the surge is working, because they believe that the administration will find a way to convey the illusion the surge is working even if the words tell us that it is not. This is because the War in Iraq is the main legacy of the Bush administration. And if the War fails there isn’t anything else for George W Bush to point to as a success of his presidency.

It’s all in the Marketing. George W Bush will be telling us how he saved the United States by his War on terror for years to come. He’ll be still telling us even after the proof of its failure. Karl Rove will be coming up with the plans to make that case as well to the few remaining Bush supporters.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Truth Hurts

In less than a month General David H. Petraeus is supposed to tell congress what the situation is in Iraq. People on the ground in Iraq already have a very good idea as to what is going on. The strategy for the last eight months has been to increase the troop strength in Iraq in order to calm the insurgents and allow the political process to go forward. The increase in American troops in Iraq has a definitive window of time. Without a draft we only have so many troops to dedicate to this plan. We can take away, or reduce leave time, but the long term implication of that strategy is the reduce the moral of the troops. American troops are people too, and they can only sacrifice so long before the pain becomes to great. The suicide rate for American troops continues to increase, which is some abstract measure of the stress involved in this effort.

While the window created for political action is limited the Iraqi government has chosen to withdraw and take vacation. The time is being wasted and it is running out. On the American side, much of the government is also on vacation. The president has taken a break from putting pressure on the Iraqi leaders.

General David H. Petraeus has told us himself that the only solution in Iraq is a political one. We can not use force to make the insurgents give up hope and surrender. The insurgents are driven by moral belief that what they are doing is for the greater good. They believe that the inhuman acts that they commit are worth it in the long run because they believe that they know the greater good. They have the same belief that Karl Rove had in his vision to win at any cost - the election victory is worth the lies and deception used to acquire that win. People who think that they know the right answer believe that the ends justify the means, whatever those means should be.

Of course when there are several groups that all believe that they have the truth, and that truth is not universal, then we have a recipe for civil war. Peace can only be accomplished by compromise. But like the situation in our political world, compromise is not an option for the majority of citizens.

This idea can not be changed over night. We can look at the situation in our own country for an example. Republicans don’t want to compromise, so they vote the party line. Democrats don’t want to compromise, so they vote the party line. We are getting nowhere fast. How then can we expect Iraqis to behave any differently when they look to us for an example?

Well, George W Bush knows this. He knows that we can’t win in Iraq by force alone. He knows that political action isn’t likely to happen. He knows that General Petraeus doesn’t have good news for us in September. So, George W Bush doesn’t want him to testify publicly.

George W Bush doesn’t want the public to hear General Petraeus tells us the truth about Iraq. He doesn’t want General Petraeus to tell us that this war can not be won by the use of American force. He doesn’t want the public to hear the truth about his failure from the mouth of the man who has been put there to make it happen. George W Bush knows that if General Petraeus tells us the truth the Republicans who have been supporting him will finally say enough is enough. A Republican politician would not have a chance in any political race if they continue to support the Iraq War after General Petraeus tells us the truth. So, George W Bush knows that the best strategy is to have General Petraeus’ testimony classified as a national security issue held behind closed doors so that the Republicans that continue to support the war will not be forced to change that support. Is this Karl Rove’s final obfuscation?

I’ve been called a Bush hater in the past. But, that certainly isn’t the case. I have always seen George W Bush caught up in politics like a whirlwind that he couldn’t control. He doesn’t have much of an imagination, so he is the idea candidate for a group of people that have their own ideas to imprint on him. These people wanted an actor to speak to the people while they wrote the script. George W Bush has done that job, even though his reading of the script wasn’t quite as good as Ronald Reagan’s. But, his quirks were accepted by the people who could relate to his inarticulate manor by identification. This is a good strategy for getting a predetermined agenda taken care of. But, when history brings challenges, imagination is the key to success. I sympathize with George W Bush sitting in the oval office as each tragedy hit our country through his term, and he had no answers. He sat there hoping that the people he appointed could come up with something. But, he had no vision and could not know if those ideas were any good. He was eager to flex American power and prove himself, so the Iraq War wasn’t a problem when Cheney or Rumsfeld or Wolfewitz suggested it. I don’t hate George W Bush for this short coming. I hate the sin, not the sinner. And, I have a problem with the American people who couldn’t see through the propaganda created by Karl Rove to sway the people in the elections. I hope and pray that Americans will learn from this failure of oversight and finally pay close attention to who they elect, and why. In that back of my mind I know that this is just a pipe dream.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fighting the Good Fight

Even to this day many supporters of the Iraq War contend that the war is an effort to battle terrorism. The confusing statements from the Bush administration prodded the naïve to believe that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11/2001 attacks on New York and Washington. The more savvy supporters of this aggression believed that Saddam Hussein had dealings with terrorists or supported them in other ways. The implication was that Saddam Hussein was bad and he deserved to be hanged, therefore a guy that bad must have had terrorist connections and deserved to be attacked and held up as a terrorist icon.

Even at the time of the invasion many people knew the truth and spoke out. But, as we all know the leader of the free world gets a lot more press than the academics with the real information. The American people tend to put faith in their leaders and believe what they say until they are proven wrong. And, it takes some time to prove that lies are lies and truth is truth. The sad truth is that it is easier to accept as fact something that someone tells you than it is to weigh the evidence and come to a true conclusion. In this way religion and politics are quite similar. No wonder the old taboo about talking politics or religion has so much support. This is because to challenge someone’s religious or political beliefs is to challenge their faith in what they believe to be true and is often unsupported by strong pillars of fact.

The facts are beginning to come out on many of the Bush administration’s articles of faith.

When it was discovered that the terrorist organization al Qaeda had attacked us on 9/11/2001 many of us already knew that they had terrorist training centers in Afghanistan. We knew this because we had already retaliated against al Qaeda with cruise missiles, and this had been in the news. We had already known that the fundamentalist leaders of Afghanistan were thugs with no respect for ancient culture when they destroyed the giant stone Buddhas. Human rights activists on the political left had been pleading for some action against these people for their treatment of women in their country. So, retaliation against the Taliban and al Qaeda was considered a reasonable reaction by most Americans - left, right and center.

On the other hand, Iraq was singled out from other nations that might not be behaving as we might like them to behave. The majority of the terrorists were from Saudi Arabia. Some funding of al Qaeda came from Saudi royal family accounts. Iraq was actually our proxy against the terrorist supporting Iranian regime. And, al Qaeda moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan where they found safe haven from the long arm of American military forces. Why did we go into Iraq, instead of Saudi Arabia, Iran or Pakistan?

Iran, was mentioned in the President’s “Axis of Evil” State of the Union speech. This means that at least George W Bush thought that they should be a target of our government. But, for some reason it was determined that Iraq was priority number one. The administration went to extremes in order to justify taking action in Iraq. Of course the possibility that Saddam Hussein had begun to develop weapons of mass destruction was the key issue sold to the public. The fact that Iran, North Korea, India, Israel and Pakistan had nuclear programs didn’t come up in the discussion. Of course, Iran and North Korea were singled out as being members of the axis of evil, but Pakistan, Israel and India were left off the list. Of course all three of these countries have extremist groups that would love to have nuclear weapons in order to make the world bend to their will.

Even after the infamous weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq, the administration continued to justify their action in Iraq by claiming that Saddam was not Democratically elected, just like General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. Or, ten years ago Saddam had violated the human rights of his people, just like many of the current African leaders. In fact, just about every excuse that the administration used to defend and justify the war in Iraq could be applied to several other countries. In fact, most of these very claims could be applied to Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. But, for some reason Pakistan never made George W Bush’s list of the axis of evil powers that threaten our civilization.

So, why was Pakistan left off this list? Why was Barack Obama ridiculed for such an obviously rational thought that we should attack the perpetrators of 9/11/2001 where they live - Pakistan?

We have been assured and reassured that Pakistan might have extremist groups, but Pakistan was not a state sponsor of terrorism. This distinction was just about the only thread that could be drawn upon in order to distinguish Pakistan from any of the other countries in the axis of evil. But, today under the Freedom of Information act we now know that Pakistan was actually a state sponsor of terror. Why was is so difficult to get this information? Was this information held back for political reasons.

Personally I am against preemptive war in general. Even if Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction the invasion of a sovereign nation requires some international agreement that we certainly did not authentically have before we invaded Iraq. Therefore I am not making the case that we should attack Pakistan. Instead, I am simply pointing out the hypocrisy of taking action in Iraq when we were even more justified in following al Qaeda into Pakistan and finishing the war against al Qaeda. Pakistan should not be let off the hook in this global war on terror. With Pakistan we have a country we need to be aware of their motivations and actions. Just don’t single out one country and tell us how much more evil they are and then refuse to do anything about the rest of these countries that are just as evil.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Friday, August 10, 2007

Love Apples

Mother Nature has given us many more varieties of foods than we will ever be able to hunt down in a single store. Sometimes a local store will sell food grown locally. However, in the day of major worldwide food magnets selling their products uniformly in their chain stores it becomes unusual to find that locally grown food. Unless you take a trip to the farmers market, what you find in the local store is often selected for its ability to be shipped hundreds or thousands of miles without being damaged.

One way around this dilemma is to grow your own food. Living in California is an advantage to someone who might suddenly get the urge to grow something, because seasons don’t really matter so much. Planting in February or June might yield equally good results when it comes to plants that take 60 to 90 days to mature. Obviously the February plants would seem to yield for a much longer time, but then again they might not.

Growing a family garden and getting the most efficient use of your farm are two different things. I have watched the farmers in the area get three distinct growing seasons of crops from their fields, but I’d be happy to get a few nice extras that I could add to my salad from time to time. I’m in it for the diversity of flavor, not the money.

Well, since we bought our house nine years ago and today we have tried to grow several different things. We grew flowers and peppers and eggplant and fruit and tomatoes. Our usual ritual was to pick a random Saturday sometime in the spring, go to a local store and buy some random plants. Then on Sunday, or maybe the next weekend we decide to plant the plants and we do our best to remember to water them. Sometimes they live and sometimes they die. When they survive they produce some fruit or vegetables and if we remember to harvest them we have a few meals with a few extras.

This year our ritual was altered. And, perhaps this new ritual will last into the future generations. Instead of travelling down the street to the local nursery my wife traveled out to “Love Apple Farm.” First of all, a love apple, if you didn’t know, is another name for a tomato. And, “Love Apple Farm” specializes in heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes are varieties of tomatoes that have survived time, despite the mechanized agriculture of the last half-century that has driven many of the varieties of tomatoes that were once common into obscurity. The truth is that if people don’t know what they are missing, then they just don't miss it.

Well, my wife brought back 12 heirloom tomato plants. We were all excited by what these plants might yield. We cared for the plants by watering and fertilizing them. We carefully staked them with a large fence that we bought. They grew up and over the fence and they have begun to yield more tomatoes than we had ever had. Perhaps this year we have had better weather than previous years. In the past the hot summer would just dry out the soil so much that missing two days of watering in a row would cause the tomatoes to wither. Missing four days of watering could result in a dead plant. This year the weather has been mild and the soil has been holding onto the moister.

In the act of transferring the plants from pot to pot then to garden we lost or misplaced the labeling of these unusual tomatoes. But I’ll try to describe what we have. We have some small tomatoes, about 2 inch diameter, with greenish tops and red. We have two types of cherry tomatoes, one yellow and one bright red. We have pink heart shaped tomatoes. We have bright red Roma shaped tomatoes. We have huge yellow tomatoes with dark red steaks throughout the inside of the tomato. We have large pinkish red tomatoes. And, we have large tomatoes with dark green tops on them. The texture and the taste of the tomatoes vary as well. Some are extremely sweet while others are more acidic. Some have thick hard meat and others are soft and mushy.

We only sampled 12 of the over 100 tomato varieties available at Love Apple Farms. The people at the farm tell us to save the seeds and replant them again next year. Chances are that there may be some cross pollination and we may end up with garbage, or something new and unusual. The point is that we will certainly add that touch of variety to our summertime meals. We are eating food grown locally, and we are excited about it.

Love Apple Farms


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Utah, Minnesota and Iraq

Robert E. Murray the owner of the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah where the miners are trapped exemplifies the stereotype of a Republican business owner from the most conservative state in the union. From the statements broadcast I wonder why anyone in their right mind would risk their lives to work for him. After the Sago mine disaster in West Virginia last year the Government wanted to review the safety procedures at mines across the country. Mr. Murray was upset that the government would interfere with the operations at his mine. Why would any person in his position resent the scrutiny of his operations in the light of the failure in West Virginia?

The main excuse that people like Murray use is “government interference.” But what is the government really doing that would interfere with the mine operations? If the mine owner is already seriously considering mine safety, then the minimum standards that any government agency might demand should not be a problem. A person truly concerned about safety would surely go over the top on precautions taken.

The truth is that a mine owner is more likely to be concerned about making money than safety. Cutting back on the cost of safety is likely to be found in the bottom line in the short term. Taking dangerous risks is bound to result in cost savings, until the law of probability results in a fatal accident. Less government regulations allow mine owners to take more dangerous risks, eventually resulting in a fatal accident.

Let us assume for a minute that the mine owner in Utah was practicing what he was preaching in Utah. He didn’t want the government to impose strict government regulations on his mine. So, maybe he took matters in his own hands and just determined that he wouldn’t follow them. Maybe he thought that his cheaper procedures would be just as safe. Maybe he didn’t care about safety at all. Let’s not consider his reasoning at this moment. Let’s just consider the hypothetical case that he wanted to save money and he disdained the US government regulation of the mining industry.

If this were the case we could assume that he might determine that it was worth the risk to break the law and follow his own safety procedures. And, for years his risk might have paid off with cheaper mining and no apparent harm. But, over the years the infrastructure of the mine might have become weaker and last weak it might have given way and the result might have been a huge cave-in. Obviously this is hypothetical, but it could be a possible result of an attitude that desires less government protection.

The same attitude in government results in less money for the upkeep of current infrastructure. The question becomes - Why spend money on something that we already have? Let’s build something new and better that I could put on my list of accomplishments. The collapse of the I35W bridge in Minnesota may also be the result of ignoring the infrastructure, because the voters take these things for granted and prefer to save money rather than spend it. Less government regulation results in less inspections and less demands to repair and renew the older infrastructure.

Of course, I am only exploring the attitude and philosophy that might result in what we have seen over the last week. Less government means less infrastructure, and it also means less upkeep of the infrastructure that already exists. Less government means less inspection and a higher risk of infrastructure failure.

We could be talking about bridges, or seawalls or even the lakes, streams, and parks that we already have. Less regulation leads to more opportunity for abuse. Which is better, a classroom where the teacher walks up and down the aisles during a test or a classroom where the teacher goes to the teacher’s lounge during the test. The first case may result in lower scores than the second may and the teacher might receive acclamations for the students higher test scores. But the results are likely not to reflect the situation accurately.

Similarly lack of government regulations are likely to result in an appearance of safety when the truth is much further from the appearance.

So, then we have our situation in Iraq. Why would reasonable people be willing to ship boat loads of money to a far away country in the middle of nowhere to create a new infrastructure when these same people are not willing to spend anywhere near the same amount of money on fixing the infrastructure of our country? It can only be because these people don’t worry about spending someone else’s money to fix their own problems. They want a source of oil that will take them into the future. And, a friendly cooperative capitalistic country in the Middle East is bound to give them what they want. And, like Utah and Minnesota the government regulations seemed to get in the way of progress, so they were ignored in favor of a gut feeling. It was a risk that George W Bush was willing to make. The risk wasn’t measured or evaluated and when failure came the responsibility wasn’t accepted.

In fact, Robert E. Murray doesn’t want to take responsibility either. The collapse of the mine was so powerful that the event was recorded on seismic instruments. Scientists who have analyzed the data have told us that the seismic event recorded was the collapse of the mine. But, Robert E. Murray found a scientist that was willing to say that an earthquake could have caused the collapse. And, Robert E. Murray is willing to tell the world that the earthquake and “aftershocks” have caused the collapse of the mine. Of course this takes away all responsibility from the possibility that he might have allowed the mine to operate with few safety precautions. (If Robert E. Murray practiced what he preached.)

From looking at these events it seems to be clear that the Party of “less government” has taken the risk and is beginning to lose. In the short term “less government” depends on the governments that built that infrastructure before they came along. But, after the infrastructure begins to wear out the lack of upkeep begins to pay off and the risks begin to result in loss of life and loss of money. Maybe the people will begin to realize that less government now results in either a poor infrastructure later, or much more spending to repair and rebuild what has failed.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit

Monday, August 06, 2007

Man vs. Nature

In the end Man vs. Nature is the ultimate conflict that we all end up losing. This is because nature is the environment that we all live in. Nature encompasses everything we know. Other men, society, and ourselves can all be reduced to nature itself because all of these are products of nature. In literature when we explore one of these so-called non-nature conflicts we are only peeling off one subgroup of conflict in order to examine it more closely.

Man is always in a battle against nature. This was obvious in ancient civilizations when every danger lie just outside the campfire circle. But, even today the diseases that we fight - be they bacterial, viral or even cancerous - they come from nature in various ways to damage our bodies and age them little by little. Even oxygen and the sun age our bodies little by little. Nature eats away at us every day and no matter how we fight it - we will ultimately loose that final conflict.

We don’t like to think about this fact of life. But, every once in a while death comes a little closer than we might like. Yesterday was one of those days for me.

Yesterday I took on nature by choice. Like I did last year I chose to swim from Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay to San Francisco. The famous island lies about 1.25 miles north of San Francisco in the cold bay waters normally between 55 and 63 degrees Fahrenheit. In these waters hypothermia is a real threat, but swimming hard for less than an hour will generate enough heat for most people to counter this problem. I survived this swim last year with some major chills and shivering, but nothing life threatening. I can normally swim a mile in about 25 minutes - 30 minutes would be a lazy pace. So, I wasn’t very worried about this swim at all.

But, nature doesn’t always cooperate.

About 650 people joined me on a one-way cruise out to Alcatraz. I had no fear, because I had done this before. But, looking back on this short trip out to the island there was some foreshadowing. I began to talk to some of the experienced swimmers. Last year I worried about everything, where to site, how to pace myself. This year I made the sophomore mistake of throwing worry to the wind. Of course most of the swimmers wore wetsuits. I didn’t wear one last year, why would I need one this year?

I met a few guys who also chose to swim “naked” as they call it. Two of them worked out every day swimming in the Aquatic Park. Another guy told me that this was his twentieth crossing. I asked him if there was anything that he had learned from all of his experience. He told me, that the most important thing was that every crossing was different. And that sentiment is still bouncing around in my head today.

As we traveled across the bay, the boat was being tossed around. Someone noted that there were whitecaps on the waves. And, another guy said, “This is going to be challenging.” I began to wonder what he meant by challenging.

Last year it took me 40 minutes to swim this short distance, mainly because I needed to occasionally stop and look around. I was also slow off the boat, which I believe added to my official swim time. This year I was quick to get toward the front of the line. I wanted to get started. Why wait? I jumped into the water, pushing the button on my watch in order to get the perfect boat to beach time.

I swam ahead away from the boat, following the crowd of swimmers that had jumped before me. Like most swimmers, freestyle means front crawl, the easiest and most efficient swimming stroke. I saw the swimmers in front of me and I kept up with them as we began to swim for the shore. Then a large wave hit me. I got my breath, but the wave slammed me into the water hard. I stopped for a second, picked my head up, and swam a few strokes of breaststroke. With my head above the water I could see the waves coming, but of course my progress was much slower. I put my head back in the water and continued on with my front crawl. I was hit by waves again and again. I was slammed into the water again and again. This was different from anything I had experienced before. Then a wave hit me in the face and I sucked in water. I coughed and gagged. I picked my head up and once again began breast stroking toward the shore.
Well, I tried to swim front crawl a few more times, but the waves were killing me. One well-placed wave just might drown me. The safest thing to do had to be breaststroke, but I didn’t do just regular breaststroke, I swam breaststroke with my head up. This was slow and steady, but at least I wouldn’t be drowned by those stupid waves. This was obviously “real” open water swimming. I saw other swimmers around me. One person had their hand up signaling a boat. The boat was a few feet away. They had told us if we needed any help that we should signal the boats that would be along the course.

The waves must have been about three feet high. This might not seem like much, but it was just enough to get you high enough that I could survey the swimmers around me. I felt better knowing that there were other swimmers around me. Last year I felt like I was alone in the sea. I couldn’t see anyone around me until I got pretty close to the finish line. This year I could see heads bobbing all around me. I felt pretty good that I wasn’t alone. But, people were passing me as I did breaststroke, and somehow these people were able to swim front crawl in all of these waves. I imagined that I must be like a runner that grew up in Kansas running quite well on all the flat roads that run around the cornfields. Suddenly I was placed in the Rocky Mountains and told to run a 10K. I’d be dying on every up hill, and trying to slow myself down on every downhill. Obviously I wasn’t prepared for this swim.

I stubbornly pushed myself forward. Breaststroke wasn’t fast, but the swim wasn’t only about winning a race. There wasn’t much chance that I was actually going to win the race. This was man against Nature now, and I was going to win this battle. This swim started out an idea that I would beat my time from last year. And, this time I was going to run after the swim was over. The race was actually to swim from Alcatraz, then run seven miles over the Golden Gate Bridge and back again. It certainly didn’t sound impossible when I started, but it sure was taking me a long time to get to the beach.

Nature, being what it is, isn’t about just one thing. Nature in the traditional sense is about aggressive wild animals, storms, lightening, volcanoes, mountains and more. And, nature in my case wasn’t just about nauseating waves. It was also about the cold water. Putting two things together, the lack of a wetsuit and the much slower pace that I was making due to the waves I was beginning to take quite some time to make this crossing. Occasionally I would panic a bit and begin to push myself a little harder. This was not necessarily the best strategy. I was already doing my best to fight the waves, did I really need to fight the exhaustion. Wait a minute, swimming at the pace I was with my head up avoiding the waves was already exhausting me. The extra time that this swim was taking was already exhausting me. And, the cold water was exhausting me.

I was thinking to myself that I was certainly in better shape this year than I was last year. What would have happened if I had to battle these same waves last year? This could have been worse. Maybe I should have worn a wetsuit? It would have been my insurance policy, giving me the margin that would have made the difference. I was certainly getting colder and my hands and feet were beginning to tingle. I could see the shore that I was aiming for, but it sure seemed to be a long way off. I struggled and pushed myself but it seemed like I wasn’t making any progress. I even tried to swim front crawl again. But, in my tired condition, even the smaller waves near the shore took their toll on me. With about 300 yards to go I finally realized that I should have been swimming sidestroke instead of breaststroke. I got a nice strong scissors kick going, and I started to pass the person swimming next to me. I felt like I was making some progress again. But I was already in a state of hypothermia.

I got out of the water and I ran to the place that I was supposed to change into my running gear. My wife met me there, and she was crying. I had taken an hour and twenty minutes to make this crossing. It took me 40 minutes last year. The difference was the waves, but my wife had seen an ambulance drive up, and she thought the worst. Even after seeing that I was OK, she was still upset, because someone wasn’t. In fact, a 51 year old woman who was swimming this same race had died. They found her floating in the bay and they didn’t know what had happened to her.

I don’t know any other way to explain how I felt after that swim, except that I had “fog brain.” I couldn’t think clearly. I knew that I was supposed to run seven miles, but didn’t know if I could. I probably needed some fluids, but I didn’t feel thirsty. My wife was trying to help me, but nothing seemed to make any sense. I had hoped that by running I would generate some heat and all of this would correct itself. At least that was the plan. I put my shoes and socks on and my wife and I started running. We ran slowly, but I was beginning to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to do this. My fog brain wasn’t going away and I was going into shock. I knew that this was bad, and my wife knew that it was bad. We turned around as we realized that this was just not worth the risk. The race was for fun. I could have run back and drink something and tried again. But, I knew that that would just be stupid. I was sad and dejected. Nature had won this one, but I had lived to fight another day. The fight goes on, even though we all really know that nature will win in the end. We just don’t know when.


Don't forget what Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias."

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit