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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Friday, December 23, 2005

Another Parable

Once apon a time there was a man who started a discount general store. His idea was to make a lot of money. When the company started he was able to pay his employees a living wage and pay himself three times what he paid his employees and he was able to sell his goods at a reasonable price.

This man was greedy and he was not happy making three times what his employees made. The man decided that he could raise his own wage if he lowered the wages that he paid his employees. Since lowering the wages would not go over with his employees, he was sneaky and he did not give his employees cost of living raises when inflation caused the prices of things to rise. No one could say that he cut anyone's wages, but he realized that he could raise his own wage. So, after a couple of years his employees were making 75% of a living wage while he was making five times what they were making.

Well, time went on and his employees began to find it difficult to live in proper housing, eat proper food and give their kids what they needed. The people got upset and asked their representatives to help them out. Since many business owners were doing the same thing as this man the representatives decided to tax the people who were making more than a living wage to help out the people who were not making a living wage. With the help from the government the people were now able to live because they effectively made a living wage. And the people who were making 5 times a living wage was now back to making 3 times a living wage.

Of course the greedy man wanted to make more money, so he decided to raise prices. Similarly other businessmen decided to raise prices. This meant that the price of everything began to go up. When the price of things goes up this is called inflation. The greedy man raised his own wages again, but once again he neglected to raise the wages of his employees. Once again his employees were making 75% of a living wage while he managed to make 10 times what his employees made. Once again people complained to their representatives and this time they made a law that the employees needed to be paid a minimum wage that was high enough so that the people could make a minimum wage.

The greedy man continued to find ways to pay himself more. This action continued to cause the prices of his goods to go up. The minimum wage also lagged behind true inflation. The greedy man was also able to get his representatives to cut taxes and the employees soon made even less than 75% of a living wage. The wealthy greedy man told his representative that he would spend money, which would cause profits to go up, and the poor people would make more money. And, the wealthy did spend some of their money. But the employees didn't make more money per hour. They were given the opportunity to work longer hours in an effort to make a living wage. The greedy business people were now making 100 times the living wage.

And the story continues to go on....

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas and Politics

Christmas Parties are a fun opportunity to talk politics.

I remember growing up in Cleveland and going to my maternal grandparent’s annual Christmas party. We would begin by drinking and eating finger foods. My grandparents had some traditions that came directly from the “old country” and they certainly adopted some traditions from the “new country.” My grandfather was born in the “old country” but he was determined to become Americanized as quickly as possible. He changed his name from Enrico to Harry. My grandmother was born in the “new country” but she saw the importance of holding on to some of her mother’s “old country” traditions. And, of course the Christmas season is the time of year when quite a few traditions are brought out to see the light of day.

On tradition that had gone back quite a few years was the political discussion after Christmas dinner. This is where I cut my teeth on thinking about politics. I mainly listened and tried to understand why different people held different views on a wide range of topics. I remember discussing racial tensions and the Vietnam War during the 1960s. I remember discussing energy issues during the 1970s. I remember discussing labor issues eternally. Everyone in my vast extended family was always concerned with their personal employment, and their ability to change the current situation into a better situation.

This year’s company “Holiday Party” began as a typical affair, but after the majority of the company had left there were about ten of us sitting around talking. We enjoyed a very interesting political discussion. But, it still brought back memories of those family political discussions around the table after we had all eaten. The conclusion that I could draw from this discussion is that quite a few of the 2004 election Bush supporters are no longer happy about their choice. Out of the ten guys there only one was strongly pro-American to the point that he believed that America could do no wrong no matter what they did. Everyone had some varying problems with the president’s current policies. Our discussion mainly focused on international business, so people may still be enamored with other Bush policies. The discussion was still fun anyway…

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Saved (revised)

Some Christians have come to the conclusion that the only way to “be saved” is through Jesus Christ. I wrote a short parable yesterday to try to point out some simple problems with this concept. After I posted it I received a very good comment pointing out that there was a third way and perhaps a third son would emulate how Christians should act. But this takes us away from the reality of the situation. The point is that Jesus came to Earth and preached his message. He didn’t write down his message, but those who heard his message wrote it down and we have multiple versions of Jesus’ time on Earth and the message that he preached. If I were to try to address this issue with a third son that spent time with his father the implication is that we should commit suicide to spend time with Jesus. I am certain that most Christians would not advocate such an action. My commenter is implying that we should spend time communicating with Jesus through prayer, or we have the Holy Spirit in our heart. But the question is how do we address the message that Jesus left behind for us to follow.

So, in order to make the parable clearer I believe that I should include a more specific introductory paragraph that makes the parable more parallel to our situation. I have rewritten the entire parable reflecting this insight and I believe it makes the parable both closer to reality and more specific to our struggle in finding our way to God.

There were two twins from a military family. Their mother had been called up a couple of months ago and their father had just been called up to report on November 1. The two young men were seniors in High School and they really wanted to finish their school year and graduate with their High School classmates. Their father thought that these young men were certainly responsible for their age and capable of living at home for the time that they would be away. They were both 18, which meant that they were legally adults, but they had not been away from home to live on their own. The father created an extensive list of instructions for them to follow. He gave them his e-mail address so that they could communicate with him while he was away. On Halloween the three of them dressed up as ghosts to celebrate the new responsibility that they would all face over the next few months. They all hoped that they would be reunited in June for their graduation. One of the instructions that he gave his sons was that they should eat three meals a day without snacks and exercise at least an hour a day.

The one son followed his father’s advice legalistically. He ate breakfast at 7:00 am everyday. For breakfast he usually ate pancakes or waffles with lots of syrup. He was careful to eat as much as he could, because he feared that he would get hungry before lunch. He ate Lunch at noon every day. He ate grilled ham and cheese, a bag of potato chips and a milk shake. He wanted to pack as many calories as he could so that he wouldn’t get hungry before dinner. He ate dinner at 6:00 pm every day. For dinner he liked to go to Joe’s diner where he spent two hours at the “all you can eat buffet.” He went to the tennis or golf club every day for an hour. Most of the time he stood around and talked with the guys at the club.

The other son believed that it was more important to understand how his body was using its food. This son didn’t worry so much about when he ate. Instead he ate a good mix of food over the entire day. He began to understand how many calories he ate everyday and how many calories he burned in his exercise. When he ran hard for an hour he realized that he could eat a few more calories than when he worked out less strenuously.

The father and mother came home for graduation and there was much rejoicing. The first son was about eighty pounds over weight, while the second son was fit and trim. The father accused the first son of not following his advice, although we all know that he technically did everything that the father had told him. The second son was assumed to have followed the father’s advice although he had not. His father praised him.

This is like the Christians who are getting the message from Jesus. They are told to follow the teachings of Jesus and then they will be saved. But, the Christians are focused on the legalistic implications of what Jesus taught and not the life Jesus wants you to lead. Jesus preached for us to love each other and form a Christian community. Jesus preached the importance of feeding, clothing and housing the poor. Jesus taught us to be peacemakers and to heal disagreements among us. However, the Christians that quote that we need to legalistically be saved through Jesus don’t think about the people that God has inspired in other ways.

You can see that adding this to the story clarifies the story and how it refers to the reality of Jesus coming, leaving and returning. It also leaves the opportunity for the sons to communicate in a more realistic way. So, if you were to have a third son who was to wish to spend more time with his father he would be e-mailing to his father continuously, but he is still forced to address the very real situation of everyday life and the issues like eating. The point is not whether or not we spend time with Jesus, who is certainly important, but it is how we take the message of Jesus and incorporate it into our lives. If we do it right we will have a healthy spiritual life.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Some Christians have come to the conclusion that the only way to “be saved” is through Jesus Christ.

There once was a father who had two sons. When his sons were young he told then that they should eat three meals a day, eat no snacks and exercise at least an hour a day. The father told his sons that the three meals a day should consist of breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The one son followed his father’s advice legalistically. He ate breakfast at 7:00 am everyday. For breakfast he usually ate pancakes or waffles with lots of syrup. He was careful to eat as much as he could, because he feared that he would get hungry before lunch. He ate Lunch at noon every day. He ate grilled ham and cheese, a bag of potato chips and a milk shake. He wanted to pack as many calories as he could so that he wouldn’t get hungry before dinner. He ate dinner at 6:00 pm every day. For dinner he liked to go to Joe’s diner where he spent two hours at the “all you can eat buffet.” He went to the tennis or golf club every day for an hour. Most of the time he stood around and talked with the guys at the club.

The other son believed that it was more important to understand how his body was using its food. This son didn’t worry so much about when he ate. Instead he ate a good mix of food over the entire day. He began to understand how many calories he ate everyday and how many calories he burned in his exercise. When he ran hard for an hour he realized that he could eat a few more calories than when he worked out less strenuously.

The sons came home for Christmas one year and the father looked at the two sons. The first son was about eighty pounds over weight, while the second son was fit and trim. The father accused the first son of not following his advice, although we all know that he technically did everything that the father had told him. The second son was assumed to have followed the father’s advice although he had not. His father praised him.

This is like the Christians who are getting the message from Jesus. They are told to follow the teachings of Jesus and then they will be saved. But, the Christians are focused on the legalistic implications of what Jesus taught and not the life Jesus wants you to lead. Jesus preached for us to love each other and form a Christian community. Jesus preached the importance of feeding, clothing and housing the poor. Jesus taught us to be peacemakers and to heal disagreements among us. However, the Christians that quote that we need to legalistically be saved through Jesus don’t think about the people that God has inspired in other ways.

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American Police State

A police state is defined as state regulated by secret police; the police exercise power on behalf of the executive and the conduct of the police cannot be effectively challenged. In such regimes there is no significant distinction between the law and the will of the executive; there is no rule of law.

No country ever claims to be a police state. That is because the implications of being a police state are so negative. Supporters of the regime in power would rather claim that strict authority is needed to maintain control. Obviously the government does not even want the average citizen to even know about the existence of the secret police, let alone what they are bound to do. Secrecy is the key to maintaining the element of surprise. When people suspect that they are being watched, but they don’t know when and where they are being watched they are likely to refrain from anti-government sentiment at all times.

When the New York Times revealed that the Bush administration was spying on its citizens there are two typical reactions. For the people who support the Bush administration there is joy in their hearts. Of course they are part of the power structure and they don’t feel the fear of what a police state can do. Only evil people should fear being spied on and supporters of the president can not be evil, by definition. Its interesting that this was the same attitude that supporters of other police states had. Opposition to the Bush administration rightly has fear in their hearts. The secret nature of spying and the adversary nature of politics can quickly degenerate into spying on your political enemy. Obviously it would be nice to know what your political rival is about to do before they do it. This is what Richard Nixon resigned over.

We now know that Richard Nixon did not only spy on the Democrats. He directed the IRS to audit people that he didn’t like. He told the FBI to investigate Civil Rights leaders and War Protest leaders. Some people were framed on drug possession charges. Some people were threatened. And, at the same time we were fighting a war against communism that was being sold to the public as protection from the totalitarian police state of the Soviet Union. It’s quite ironic that the Nixon administration was using the same tactics in our own country against their political enemies.

Why would we expect the Bush administration to be any different? George W Bush tells the American public that he only has the interest and welfare of the American people in his heart. But, Richard Nixon told the American people the same things. We can only know what is in the heart of George W Bush by the actions of George W Bush, because his words are hollow. The evidence that he believes that he is above the law assures us that he does not believe in Democracy. He only believes in one-party rule and he endorses the typical actions of a police state to maintain his control.

But, there is certainly hope. Police states are not created over night. Slowly more and more power is gradually given to the executive branch where the secret police slowly get more control over political rivals to the executive branch. Excuses are created to persuade the congress to surrender their power to the executive branch. The checks and balances gradually slide to the side of the executive branch. The final checks in the system are the people. If the people are able to recognize Democracy slipping away before its to late they will be able to replace the congress that willingly gives their power to the executive branch. In the next year the American people need to remain vigilant and vote out the enablers of this administration’s effort to create the American Police State.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Iraqi Election Results

Some preliminary election results are in and there is certainly a surprise for the Bush administration. There is no surprise for anyone who actually reads or listens to the Iraqi people. Results from some of the more peaceful regions were released today and the news is bad for the American favorite Iyad Allawi. Iyad Allawi was the secular former Prime Minister who supported a cross-sectarian list of candidates. The US had backed Iyad Allawi in the previous election in order to avoid a religious civil war, but it doesn’t look like that’s what the Iraqi people want.

The people actually want their religious fundamentalism and true Democracy is what the Bush administration claims to want. If the people are actually allowed to have their way Iraq will likely because a second Islamic fundamentalist state allied with Iran, and sworn enemy to the Western Satan that the United States represents.

Of course more election results will continue to come in and surprises may happen, but it is hard to believe that we could expect different results coming from less American friendly regions of Iraq.

America does not have a good history of allowing countries to keep democratically elected leaders that it doesn’t like. In 1953 a CIA lead coupe de tat toppled the democratically elected leader of Iran. In 1954 the CIA toppled the democratically elected leader of Guatemala. In the Congo the democratically elected leader was also toppled with the help of the CIA in 1961. US history shows that the USA would rather support a right wing dictator than a democratically elected leftist. But today we are no longer at War with communism. In fact, we are at War with Terror. Since terror has many faces it isn’t certain how the administration will view the democratically elected leaders of Iraq in the light of their fundamentalist Muslim ideology. After all, terrorist groups like al Qaeda find their roots in fundamentalist Muslim misunderstandings of the Koran.

The official elections results won’t be out for some time, and once they are known Iraq will need some time to form a government. Chances are pretty good that no one group will have an outright majority, so two or more political parties will need to form a coalition and determine how the governmental responsibilities will be sorted out. However the coalition is formed this time around it looks like Islamic fundamentalists will have a major role to play in the government. And, chances are Iyad Allawi will not play much of a role this time.

So, what will the US do? After all, the United States has spent a great deal of blood and money in this effort. If the United States does not interfere with the Iraqi election process chances are pretty high that the new government leaders will not like the occupation of Iraq and call for the US to leave. If the US did leave the new democratically elected government would oppose US foreign policy and some members of the administration might feel that the effort was for naught. And, there could be a possibility that Iranian influence in Iraq could increase quite a bit. If that were to happen terrorists could possibly be welcome in Iraq, as the administration claims they are welcome in Iran. What will the Bush administration feel obligated to do? Democracy or US Security?

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Understanding Insanity

Let me understand the Republicans, if I can.

By a majority vote in the House of Representatives largely along party lines the Patriot Act is extended. This act takes liberty away from American citizens and in return it claims to reward us with safety. The Patriot act allows our government to search our homes and the records of our business transactions among other things. Basically we are saying to the government that we trust that they will use these extra powers to look for terrorists, but we know that you wouldn’t use these powers for another purpose.

Of course one of the most critical aspects of American freedom is our ability to speak truth to power. This means that when we see the government doing something illegal, immoral or harmful we feel safe in voicing that opinion without reason to suspect repercussions.

For example, protesters should feel safe in expressing their distaste for the War in Iraq. The government has no right to disrupt that free speech. When we look at the details however there are a lot of grey areas. Protesters can voice an opinion, but they can not cause undue harm. People can argue that 300,000 people blocking traffic in a large metropolitan area could cause harm. Likewise, the government can argue that they have the right to know who they are dealing with, because some of the protesters may wish to inflict harm under the guise of protesting. Fortunately there are plenty of laws in place that define what each group can and can not do. The Patriot Act has given some additional powers to the government.

Today it has been revealed that the government has actually been cheating. They have been spying on people by listening to phone conversations. Even under the looser restrictions of the Patriot Act these wiretaps needed to be authorized by a secret court. But today’s story says that the Bush administration ordered the illegal wiretaps.

So, why in God’s name would any sane person vote to extend the Patriot Act? It seems to me that the Bush administration is going to cheat anyway. As long as these provisions are illegal we have some recourse. If we give the Republicans more authority it seems that they will only push the envelope further. They can’t be trusted to protect us within the boundary of our laws. They believe that they are above the law. This perception of self-importance will only lead to breaking the law more often. It is no wonder that the Republicans want to legalize as much of this authority as possible, because it lowers to probability that they will be indicted.

For the sake of American Freedom we need to remember that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Don’t allow our freedom to slip away!

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Everyone has faith. No matter if you believe in God or the ancient goddess or space aliens you have faith. Faith is belief, and it is the basis of our existence. Faith is where the known and the unknown meet. Once you delve into questioning the unknown you are left with faith. It is called faith because there is no evidence for it, hence one can only believe it with faith.

But faith is more than believing in the unknown worlds or the supernatural. Faith is also the belief that society will continue to function if we follow the laws. We have faith that people will follow the laws and that’s why we continue to follow them. We have faith that governments will protect their people. We have faith that judicial systems will seek justice. None of these things need to happen and sometimes they don’t. But we have faith that people will follow the laws more often than they do not so that our system of government and our system of society will continue to function.

In American society our faith goes further. We have faith that the economy will continue to function. We have faith that the government will not violate the constitution. We have faith that if someone in the government violates the constitution they will be found out and prosecuted. We have faith that people will respect people’s labor and pay a just wage for a just amount of work. And, in America we have faith that our system of Democracy will work.

Some religious people refer to faith as if there is only one thing that anyone needs to believe in. The word “faith” for them becomes a holy word that refers to “faith in God” or “faith in Jesus.” Faith has an automatic definition that becomes equal to their religion as a whole. Questioning their faith becomes equal to questioning their religion and them words become fighting words.

The problem with faith is also its strength. Faith requires no proof. We take faith based on a belief that it is true and will continue to be true. But, because we have no proof there is no reason why the opposite couldn’t be just as true. People become uncomfortable with the tenuous nature of faith, so they create psychological crutches to help them have faith. In government the fear of punishment is used to make people feel comfortable that the majority of people will continue to follow the laws. In Religion people have written books claiming authority to demonstrate that the faith is “true.” But all this did was shift the place for faith from “faith in God” to “faith in a Book.” Placing faith in a book instead of God takes us one step further away from our direct relationship with God.

Some religions battle this problem with faith by having multiple avenues to God. Each avenue is a different method and requires faith that that method is valid. Some methods are prayer, ritual, logic and religious discourse.

If we try to understand what Jesus did to change the dynamic of faith during his three years of preaching we soon come to understand that he was telling us that the information in the scripture was important, but it is not the final word. Jesus was at odds with the Pharisees about the law and he finally paid with his life. The Pharisees believed that one could not question the law. But Jesus showed us that love was stronger than the law. This means that as far as faith goes we should put our faith in love over the law. When there are contradictions in the Bible Jesus made it clear that one should side on the side of love. When the law is no longer seen as loving in the context of our modern world, love triumphs over the law. The Bible tells us to treat our slaves fairly. However, in today’s world we have become enlightened to realize that slavery in general isn’t a very loving situation. So, instead of saying that the Bible promotes slavery and allows it in its law we wisely have decided to move beyond slavery.

In fact, some Christian religions have gone so far as to say that Jesus has saved us in ways that are much more supernatural than the actual teachings of Jesus suggest. Obviously getting over the hurdle of the law saved many people. For example, before Jesus many people believed that sickness was due to sinfulness. In modern days we may laugh at the idea, but 2000 years ago people did not know what caused sickness and the unknown was relegated to the realm of the supernatural or God. Therefore if you were sick you must have offended God and he is punishing you. People that had serious sicknesses knew that they would die and only God’s forgiveness could cure them. Since people didn’t recover from these illnesses often it was well understood that God did not forgive sins very often. Jesus came and changed that. He changed the image of God from a punishing God to a loving fatherly God. This action saved all those who turned to believe in the teachings of Jesus. When a society began to live by this new understanding of society life changed for everyone on a very deep level. But, since we live in a society that has already been changed by this insight many people don’t realize this and they created a “new” level of saving in order to justify the teachings of Jesus in their own minds. Since this is all based on faith anyway there is no proof and no one can argue against it. It just is!

There shouldn’t be any doubt that people love their heroes. Legends have been created over time to give people heroes that are bigger than life. We shouldn’t doubt that the story of Jesus has be amplified over time, but we should expect it. In fact, each of the Gospels show the amplification of Jesus’ character from the earliest to the latest Gospel. By 325AD the church held the First Council of Nicaea to determine whether Jesus was indeed God. Apparently before this time there was no strict understanding of this. It should noted that nearly 300 years after the fact Jesus was declared to be God. Why wasn’t it done sooner if it was so obvious? Also, the first commandment says that there is but one God you shall have no others tends to confuse the issue that is accepted without question by most Christians now days. But of course all Christians believe this based on faith alone.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bait and Switch - Can Iraq Be “Won?”

George W Bush said so in his speech last week. He didn’t use these words, because that would be suicide. George W Bush likes to intentionally confuse the issue so he won’t be seen as the guy who is giving up in Iraq. He isn’t giving up, he is setting new goals. Just because those goals don’t go as far as the old goals isn’t the point. He is going to stay the course, but it isn’t going to be for as long as we might have thought. He will stay the course until the mid-term elections are about to be held. Then in the few weeks before the election he will declare victory and announce that the US soldiers will begin to pull back and allow the Iraqis to have more responsibility. Isn’t that what John Murtha recommended? Yes, but Murtha was retreating and Bush is pulling back. Those words mean the same thing when they are translated into actions, but to the imagination of the American public who doesn’t think through the details they appear to be very different.

So, George W Bush is changing his definition of victory so that he can still have a victory without winning the War in Iraq. He no longer refers to Insurgents, because 95% of the attacks come from Sunni insurgents. Instead he talks about the 5% of the attacks coming from terrorists. Quelling that 5% of the problem seems doable, so it is the new plan even though he is staying the course. The real question is: “Will the American people realize that George W Bush is pulling the old bait and switch?” Your guess is as good as mine.

It seems to me that George W Bush has determined that Iraq can never be a full and total victory like Germany or Japan, he just hasn’t told the American people in so many words. No, he has chosen his own set of words crafted to give the illusion of success when failure is the reality. At every step of the way in this Iraq debacle George W Bush has come up with an excuse as to why things aren’t going as planned. He has to much pride to admit that he made a mistake but he says that it was his responsibility. Where I come from taking responsibility means that you need to admit that you made a mistake. In fact, the argument used to kill Tookie Williams was that he did not admit his mistake and take responsibility for the murders he was convicted of. The argument was that if he was responsible he needed to admit his mistake. Similarly if George W Bush is responsible he needs to admit his mistake Maybe he didn’t go over the intelligence reports, then he needs to say that he didn’t read them and will in the future. Maybe the people working for him were incompetent, then he should found competent people to replace them. There could be a whole slew of reasons, but Bush has not changed course. I would suggest that if Bush really took ownership of the problem he would create a plan to fix the problem, not just say “we’ll do better next time.” How can things change if nothing changes?

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." -- Albert Einstein

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Health and Life

I don’t really like writing about exercise or health, because it is monotonous and boring for the most part. I do write about it from time to time, because it is part of my life. Well, at least it is part of my life recently, like the last two years. Last time I wrote about losing weight was back in September when I crossed the 40-pound mark. At the time I wrote that I didn’t even realize that I was forty pounds over weight, let alone thought that I could loose forty pounds. So, this week when I crossed the fifty-pound mark I was even more amazed if that could be possible. How could I possibly continue to loose weight?

Basically I have lost about one pound per week over the last 10 weeks. That doesn’t seem to be very much weight over that time period, but it is much faster than the average amount of weight that I have lost over the last two years. It took me about 15 months to loose the first forty pounds, as I lost weight slowly and built my endurance.

How did I do it?

I wrote about how I put the weight on over about twenty years. It was gradual and I really didn’t think that I was getting heavy or feeling unhealthy. I didn’t really eat very much, but I didn’t really exercise much either. Exercise had always been part of my life as I was growing up. I swam on the YMCA swim team from the age of 10 to about 18. After high school I joined the College Swim Team, and I played Water Polo as well. However, school began to take more time and swim team was no longer part of my life. When swim team ended so did my exercise routine. But, the weight didn’t really pile on when I quit the team, I just stayed the same. But, when I went to graduate school I spent more time inside and less time outside because I was now in Texas and its hot there. I believe I put on about ten pounds that first year, but that was about it.

A couple of years later I found myself in the Woodlands, Texas and I began to exercise again. I joined the sports center and I road my bike to work. Even with the hot Texas weather I could go to the pool and swim a few laps and cool off. But, it wasn’t swim team and swimming a mile was a long workout at the time. For those who don’t swim 1 mile is 1720 yards, and a length of the pool is 25 yards. So, 1 mile would be 68 4/5 lengths. Since I am the only one counting lengths I usually use 1750 yards = 70 lengths = 1 mile, just to keep track. Swim team workouts are usually much longer than 1 mile. For example, when I was in college a swim team workout was about 5 or 6 thousand yards for a two hour practice when we were working on distance.

When I moved to Germany I lived in Pinneberg which is a small town about ten miles north of Hamburg. I didn’t have a car, so I decided that I would ride my bike to and from work. For the five months that I lived in Pinneberg I got in very good shape and I never weighed myself, so I don’t know if I lost a lot of weight or not. When we moved closer to Hamburg I also rode my bike, but the ride was less than two miles so I hardly broke a sweat. I know that I put on weight at this time, because I was weighed when I finally got my German Driver’s license.

When I moved back to the United States the company that I worked for gave everyone a free club membership at the gym down the street. So, for three years I went to the pool every other day and swam about one mile. Then I started to play racquetball instead, but I was still staying relatively healthy. When our company moved 10 miles to the south it was no longer practical to workout at lunch and I began to put on weight again. When I started to go out to lunch everyday I managed to get my weight up to 198 pounds.

At this point we took a family trip to Lassen National Park to climb a volcano. For me this was a very difficult trip physically. I hadn’t realized that I had been in such bad shape. I was fine just getting around from the car to the house or even walking around the block, but hiking took a bit more effort. After this trip my wife and I decided that we would try to get in better shape. The key word here was “try.” We started out trying to walk up to the middle school in the morning and walk around the track. We thought that maybe we could gradually increase the speed and distance, but I wasn’t running yet. I thought that maybe I could run a lap or two if I kept at it. Of course when it rained or it was cold we found it difficult to get out there, but at least it was some exercise. But, I wasn’t really loosing any weight.

One day in March of 2003 I was hit from behind when I was stopped at a stop sign. The guy jumps out of the car shaking his fist at me shouting, “Why did you stop there?” Fortunately no one was hurt and the car only had minor damage that was easily repaired at a body shop. And, when I took the car to the body shop I discovered a new pool in town. The health club across the street had put in a new pool, but it wasn’t even open yet. I was first in line to sign up for a membership. Well, the pool had troubles and it didn’t actually open until May and when I finally got the details for our “family” membership worked out it was June.

However, once I got the membership I began to use it every weekday and most weekends. I decided that if I woke up at 5:00am I could get to the pool at 5:30am and work out until 6:45am. Then I could sit in the Jacuzzi for ten minutes to loosen my sore muscles and get home by 7:15am. As time went on I worked my way up to swimming about 4000 yards a day. And, I have followed this schedule ever since.

Once I began to get in better shape my wife who loves to run and hates to swim decided to use the treadmill, ski machine and elliptical machine. My wife suggested that we should enter some of the local races just for fun. In fact, my wife and daughter had run a couple of races in San Francisco before I even started swimming. Since I was beginning to feel healthier I thought that I was game for a short 5K. I could run with the kids, while my wife did the serious running. I discovered that even though I was getting in better shape I was still out of shape as far as running goes. I was sore for days after that short 5K run.

As time went on I ran in more 5Ks, at events where my wife ran 10Ks and even a 10 miles race. But, to my surprise I found myself sore after every race. I swam every day, and I was getting in very good shape, but I was sore after every single race. I began to think that I just couldn’t run these races because of the hobbling that I would go through for four days after the race. Then I decided to use the Internet. After doing some research I discovered that my legs were sore because the muscles were being ripped apart and they were sore over those four days as my body repaired the damage. But, the solution was that if I used those muscles at least once a week I wouldn’t damage the muscles and they wouldn’t go through the four day period of repair and pain. So, I added running to my schedule in order to avoid the pain for the once every couple of months when we enter a race as a family. And, guess what, it works. I have begun to run along the beach once a week instead of swimming. And last week I actually ran ten miles without “much” pain the next day.

So, that brings us to today when I have crossed the 50-pounds lost mark. According to various resources on the web I have discovered my idea weight is 153 pounds. There are actually many different standards used to determine what an ideal weight should be. One web page has a number of different standards so they can be compared. The People Choice Ideal Weight is effected by your actual weight, which is confusing. This is the average weight that other people of your Age, Height, Weight and Gender would describe as their ideal weight. So, heavier people predict heavier ideal weights and lighter people predict lighter ideal weights.

But, this doesn’t tell the whole story. It turns out that muscles have weight and fat has weight. If you have more muscle and less fat, but the same weight we should have a way to determine who is healthier. I found another web page that uses the ratio of waist-to-height to determine your percentage of fat. This assumes that if you have a lot of muscle it isn’t all concentrated in your abdominal muscles because you are a nut when comes to sit-ups.

But this is really cool, because if you go to the explanation of Waist-to-Height Ratio you will find the ratio for a Barbie doll, a Ken doll and a college swimmer. I love it, because now that my waist is 29 inches I qualify as a college swimmer, at least as far as my Waist-to-Height Ratio goes. But, the scary part is that my waist needs to be 25 inches to be a Ken doll.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Truth or Consequences

Fundamentalism like conservatism is based on the belief that there was some time in the past when things were “right” and “good.” Fundamentalist Christians believe that there is one true version of the Bible and there is one true understanding of the text of this Bible. But history isn’t so kind to us. There are many versions of the Bible that have been written over time. And, there are many interpretations of those Bibles that have existed over time. Of course humans have worked together to come to agreements on these writings and interpretations, but no one really knows what Jesus actually said. No one really knows for certain how much of the Bible actually reflects historical events. No one really knows the truth.

A fundamentalist commenter suggested that Christianity began to diverge from the teachings of Jesus about 333 AD. I assume that he is suggesting that Christianity didn’t change during the first 300 years. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is that Christianity changed the minute that Jesus died. Every apostle or disciple listened to Jesus and understood what Jesus had said in his own way. Just like anyone that has ever witnessed any event and told the authorities about it will know that the accounts will not agree with each other at every level. This certainly happened with the account of Jesus’ life as well. The disagreements between the different Gospels should be evidence enough.

And, we certainly know that this is a fact based on evidence that has been passed down to us. The first person to alter the teaching of Jesus was Paul. Paul created for himself the idea that he should go out and teach to the gentile world. Remember that Jesus only taught to the Jews and the group of his followers was considered a Jewish sect for some time. If you look at the specifics of Jesus’ teachings and Paul’s teachings it is clear that Jesus goes against the authority of the Jewish church and is set on correcting the automated following of the law without taking into account the reality of the action. Paul turned the idea around and began to preach about the importance of following the law once again. Jesus made us question the application of the law and Paul asked us to follow it blindly again.

That is the obvious change from the original teachings of Jesus. But, many people wrote about the life of Jesus and those writing’s were passed down by the way of scribe to the present day. There were more writings than the four “official” Gospels, but their disagreement lead to the destruction of these different tales of Jesus’ life. If you truly were interested in “fundamental” understanding why would you stop at some point 300 years after Jesus’ death. Wouldn’t the truth written in the earlier texts give you a more fundamental truth? In fact, we also know that the text of the Bible that we currently have is wrong. We know that scribes have altered and changed the text of the Bible over the years between 33AD and 1600 or so when the printing press gave us the first multiple copies. We know that scribes who were reading the Bible would become puzzled by a sentence and they would change it to make it make more sense to them. However, changing one sentence in one place often made the change obvious to a person who would read the text as a whole.

Many people have claimed that they have the true fundamental Bible, but the truth is that there isn’t one. The earliest scrap of paper from a Bible is from 125AD, but it is only a tiny scrap. As the ages go on more and more pieces of the Bible are in existence. But the fragments of these earlier Bibles can be compared to the more recent versions where it is clear that recent Bibles differ from earlier Bibles. In addition, there are many Bibles that were written at the same time but in different languages that don’t agree with each other. One example is the verse from 1John 5:7-8 that is the only explicit description of the Trinity in the Bible. The Greek version of the Bible never included this statement. So, either someone introduced the text to make a point, or they deleted it to make a point. We now know that much earlier versions of this Book did not include this verse, but it hasn’t been removed from most Bibles yet.

The truth is that all human organizations and activities evolve over time. Languages change. Customs change. Understanding of the world around us changes. There should not be any doubt that Religion and Theology have changed and they will continue to change over all time. Just because some conservatives are afraid of change doesn’t mean that society, religion, and customs shouldn’t change. It is called enlightenment! Jesus was the progressive of his age and his religion and he taught a lesson to the conservative Pharisees of his age. He changed our world and we should follow his example.

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The War on Christmas

The media has a serious case of myopic tunnel vision. Unfortunately the conservatives like Bill O’Reilly has co-opted this disease for their own benefit. They have proclaimed that they are under siege in an all out War on Christmas. I am surprised that Bill O’Reilly didn’t trademark the phrase “War on Christmas” so he could make some cash on the idea as well.

The strategy of the conservatives is to deflect all the bad news about the conservative heroes who have been far from living up to the Christian ideal. Tom DeLay, Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, Jack Abramoff, Bill Frist have all been on the skewer for basically cheating in the game of politics. The solution to this problem has been to shift the attention of the American people to another topic.

However, sadder than the intentional diversion of the attention of the American public by the conservatives is the willingness of Americans to follow in suite. The conservatives at the top of the heap are jumping up and down cheering as the general American public are bombarded with this fake story on the “War on Christmas.” Instead of focusing on the continuation of the investigation into Karl Rove and the CIA Leak Scandal Democrats have begun to defend themselves in this fake War. Why not redirect our energy toward pointing out the continued malfeasance in the Republican funding scandal. Jack Abramoff is the big story, not the “War on Christmas.

And, the big story that is bringing down the Republican Party is the debacle in Iraq. George W Bush continues to stumble and misunderstand the damage that he is doing to a generation of people in the Middle East. But we are worry about a fake “War on Christmas.”

My suggestion is to ignore the conservative charges on the “War on Christmas.” Tell the idiots on the right that they can boycott stores to make them commercialize Christmas if you want, but we have more important issues to deal with. After all it wasn’t too long ago that these very same Christians were complaining that there was too much commercialization in Christmas as the stores used Christmas to sell their goods and create new ones to make more money. Visions of the money changers in the Temple came flooding from the mouths of these so-called preachers. The truth is that these people don’t care about true religion, they care about taking religion into the US government and making their religion more powerful.

So go back to the important issues rind the news from every mountaintop. The Republicans are a bunch of power hungry politicians who want to control the government and they don’t give a damn about you.

The Republican agenda is nonsense!

Es nicht gestiegen und nicht geflogen!

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Culture of Death

George W Bush gets up in front of his supporters and tells them that he is the leader of the Culture of Life. However, this is certainly strange coming from a man who executed 152 people while he was governor of Texas. When did he think about life during this process? How many people did he give clemency to?

But of course we are told that “culture of life” doesn’t really mean all life. The phase “culture of life” refers to unborn fetuses only. In fact, once a child is born the government gives up all responsibility for that child. In the ideal situation under Republican strategy children born to homeless or poor people should get a job and support their families. They should pull their own weight. The government under Republican leadership continues to cut aid to these poor children in an effort to force the lazy bums out to find a job. And, if these children were to die of hunger it is God’s will and we shouldn’t worry about it too much. If you feel guilty, then throw a coin into some beggar child’s hat or buy their Chiclets.

With the Republican agenda, life ends with birth. After a poor person is born they must learn to negotiate the tough times and maybe if they are lucky they will rise to the top so they can be slapped down by some lazy brat born into a wealthy family who has never needed to work a day in his life. But in the culture of life, life isn’t fair. In fact, God didn’t make life fair, because then the wealthy wouldn’t be able to hoard their money and pass it on to the next generation of lazy brats.

So, where can we see this American culture of life? (Besides the effort to save the unborn fetuses so that they can be born into the world and suffer like God intended.)

Maybe we should look at the American foreign policy. Surely killing people in revenge for the horror of 9/11/2001 is what someone who loves life would do? Revenge is the corner of life is it not? Making the guilty pay will make life valuable or righteous or something. So, why haven’t we brought those responsible for 9/11 to meet their maker? Well, just because you believe in a culture of life doesn’t mean that your attention deficit disorder goes away.

So, in an effort to foster a “culture of life” George W Bush sent over 2100 American soldiers to their death. He must be so proud, because he tells us that the soldiers are proud. If he kills 900 more American soldiers he will be even with the number that al Qaeda killed on 9/11. He just stretched his murder spree over two years or so, instead of doing it in one day. But that isn’t all. George W Bush told us yesterday that he killed 30,000 Iraqis. What he didn’t tell you was that he killed 30,000 innocent Iraqi citizens. He actually killed 50,000 insurgents as well. So, in seeking his revenge he has killed 82,000 people. That’s about 28 times as many as were killed on 9/11/2001.

The “Culture of Death” is insidious. When someone is killed their loved ones are sad. This sadness turns into emotion, and that emotion can be expressed in many ways. People feel sadness and despair. People feel rage and anger. Sometimes people don’t know how to handle these emotions and they seek revenge. People think that the revenge will make the pain go away, but the truth is that the pain will never go away. Taking revenge will take another person away from their family and cause the same pain in that family. The more deaths the more pain and the more people seek revenge.

When al Qaeda killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11/2001 America was angry and they sought revenge. They took it out on the Taliban in Afghanistan, the harborers of al Qaeda. But, that wasn’t enough. America didn’t get their revenge. So, the old enemy from the 1991 Gulf War became the object to focus that pain on. Perhaps the death of the Iraqi government would ease the pain? But the invasion and overthrow of Saddam Hussein did not ease the pain. America killed 82,000 people and the family and friends of those people all feel more pain. The pain of death multiplies. Those family members also seek revenge and the “Culture of Death” multiplies. Even when America’s pain is finally eased by the virtue of time the pain of those that America killed will live on and they will seek their revenge and kill more Americans and we will seek revenge again and again.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Food for Thought

I love comments. I even like the comments from those who disagree with me. They give me the opportunity to think and respond to points of view I could never imagine on my own. So, when I pointed out to a reader that I had no problem with Christianity but I had a problem with fundamentalism I received the following comment.

“So whatis your problem with fundementalist Chrisitans? We DON'T whack off heads. We DON'T try to take over governments. And we DON'T force others to convert to Christianity.”

My first thought was, he has a point Fundamentalist Christians don’t usually whack off heads of people. But, I did know a guy that liked to blow the heads off rattlesnakes. And, a completely different guy got a kick out of shooting his chickens in the head with a .22 before he prepared them for a meal. But I don’t think that had anything to do with his Fundamentalist inclinations. It’s more likely the fact that these guys lived out in the middle of Texas with nothing to do in the afternoon.

On the second point, I’d have to disagree. It seems that the Bush administration is the culmination of years of effort in gradually taking power in government. It seems to me that a large number of Fundamentalist leaders would actually like to control government. The Harriet Miers opposition by the religious right actually shows that the power of the fundamentalist Christians have been able to effect the workings of government. Just because a group of armed Fundamentalist Christians didn’t mount a coupe de tat and overthrow the US government does not mean that they would not like to take over the government. Like I said, the Fundamentalists certainly have a bit of control in the Republican Party. And, the Republican Party certainly has control of two of the three branches of government. And, when judge Alito is confirmed to the Supreme Court the Fundamentalists will have control of all three branches of government. If we add to this the efforts of Tom DeLay to redistrict Texas it is easy to see that the Fundamentalists that control the Republican Party are certainly aiming to strengthen their strangle hold on the US government.

The final point is only a matter of wording. Not all fundamentalists are evangelical. Evangelicals do want to convert everyone to their form of Christianity. That is a subtle but important difference. But, fundamentalists certainly want to impose their view of morals on the rest of the country. If fundamentalists didn't care, then the issues of abortion, gay marriage and evolution wouldn't even be issues. Women could make their own choice, which would mean that fundamentalists could opt not to have abortions while other women who wanted to have this medical procedure wouldn't have the government interfere with their choice. Homosexuals who were not fundamentalists could get married without interference from the government. And, Fundamentalists could teach Intelligent Design in Sunday school and the rest of the children could learn the truth about evolution in science class.

But, my main issue with fundamentalists of any ilk is that they are all the same in the long run. They all have their own idea of their religion and there is no compromise on any of their totally illogical ideas. Their supporting evidence is their particular reading of their particular book. Even when a multitude of wise religious leaders can agree to disagree on many readings of these religious books fundamentalists are unbending and refuse to think about the book they are reading. Instead they choose to repeat a faulty analysis that some preacher told them. The fear of loosing faith has torn them away from the ability to think about their religion. Questioning their faith is considered a sin rather than strength. When someone else questions their faith they are provoked to violence in defending the faith rather than a discussion of possible misinterpretations of the faith.

Thanks for the comment, and keep them coming.

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Friday, December 09, 2005

The Son of Man

Who can forgive sins?

This, of course, was a question that the Pharisees asked Jesus straight on. They wanted to know what Jesus would say to this, because they believed that only God could forgive sins. The Pharisees had heard Jesus forgive the sins of those who had professed their faith. In fact, Jesus’ teaching had quite a bit to do with the idea that people should start anew and cleanse the past transgressions. Baptism is a key symbol of this cleansing. Once the sinner is cleansed they are welcomed into the Christian community. The nuance of this entire process divides the Christian community. It is clear from the Bible that Jesus wanted man to start again fresh every time he sinned as long as the person realized that they had turned away from God, but realized that they really wanted to turn back toward God.

If we look at Luke 5 we see a very real incident of Jesus preaching and healing the sick. In those days there was an understanding that sin and sickness were connected, so the people would understand that when Jesus forgave sins that forgiveness would heal their illness as well. But the Pharisees knew that only God could forgive sins, therefore Jesus was claiming to be God by healing the sick. Luke 5:21 puts this problem in a nutshell when Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees. Jesus heals the man by forgiving his sins and answers the Pharisees by saying that the “Son of Man” has the power on Earth to forgive sins.

But, who is the “Son of Man?” “Son of Man” is thrown around to mean Jesus or Christ or the Savior, or Mortal Man. Where else is “Son of Man used in the Bible? Well, if we look at the King James Version of the Bible, Son of Man is used in the Book of Ezekiel Chapter 2. In fact, the New Living Translation also translates the calling of Ezekiel as Son of Man. Jesus surely would have known the Book of Ezekiel and used this reference to Son of Man meaning mortal man. Jesus was referring to himself as a mortal man forgiving a sinner. In Matthew 18:15-20 Jesus tells us a parable in which the conclusion is that whatever we forgive is forgiven and whatever we do not forgive is not forgiven. So, we see that we do have the power to forgive sins. And, in Matthew 18:21-35 he follows that up with another parable telling us that we should always forgive or God may not forgive our sins. After all, Jesus wanted people to understand that forgiveness was key to turning to God.

So, why is it so hard for a reformed sinner to find forgiveness from those who call themselves Christians?

If you haven’t realized already, I am referring to the death sentence of Stanley "Tookie" Williams.

This man founded the notorious “Crips” gang. This may be bad enough to have him put to death, because his life “could” influence others to join this gang and commit murders, rapes and other crimes. But, as it turns out, this man has changed his ways. From his prison cell on death row he has been active in getting kids to turn away from gang violence. He was convicted of killing four people, and those deaths can never be reclaimed. As Mr. Williams lives in prison he has found a way to be productive to the community. He is an example to others of what can be done even after your freedom is taken away from you.

At this point the whole idea of crime and punishment becomes confusing. Society does not want crime. Society believes that punishment detours crime. Therefore punishment is good for society because it detours crime.

How does this work? Some people who may be tempted to commit a crime will fear the punishment, and therefore not commit the crime. This works for most people, end of story. But, there are some people who are not detoured by fear of punishment. These people choose to commit crimes and hope that they don’t get caught. In other words, they assess the risk and they decide that the risk is worth it. These are people who actually think through and plan their crimes like Tom DeLay or Karl Rove. They know that the odds of being caught, and if caught then punished are very small, because they can pull strings and have the charges dropped. Then, there is the third category of criminal that feels cornered by his situation and has no choice but to commit some crime as a matter of survival. For these criminals it doesn’t matter what the punishment is, people forced into a corner will commit the crime regardless of the punishment.

The question becomes, does the death penalty detour crime? All studies have shown that life in prison detours crime just as well as the death penalty. So, what is the purpose of the death penalty? The arguments for the death penalty large go toward revenge. Victims have a right to see the murderer put to death, is the main argument. Should we really be a society of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?” After all, Jesus taught us differently. I believe He said to turn the other cheek. And, like I pointed out above, Jesus said to forgive the sinners.

Maybe we have trouble forgiving those who are not willing to change their attitude. Most likely they don’t even deserve to be forgiven. Those who choose to remain turned away from God. Maybe it’s hard to know what is truly in the heart of a man, and some criminals would be willing to deceive people to save their lives. But, those worries could be addressed in a number of ways if society were willing to recognize the issue. In some cases it is quite obvious that they have changed their lives and turned to God.

How can any civilized society feel justified in committing murder in the name of the people?

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Damage of Lies

Rumsfeld says:

“To spread a lie takes five minutes, to correct it takes weeks.” The News Hour 12/8/2005

It’s funny that this technique has been used over and over by the supporters of the Bush administration, but Rumsfeld is attacking the media today on the “News Hour.” Look at the lies that swiftboated John Kerry during the 2004 election. Look at the lies that sunk John McCain in the 2000 Republican primary in South Carolina. Look at the lies that Condi Rice spread about the Mushroom Cloud being the smoking gun of Saddam Hussein. Look at the lies about WMDs in Iraq that got us into this War in the first place. Look at the lies that have kept us in Iraq after Saddam Hussein fell and no WMD were found, but Democracy became our objective all along.

But, Donald Rumsfeld tells us that the lie about a Koran being flushed down the toilet was a horrible thing. At least that news organization apologized for its mistake. The Bush administration has yet to admit to the lies that it has spread. The Bush administration has yet to apologize for all the deaths that its lies have caused over the duration of the Iraq War.

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Changing Course By Staying the Course

George W Bush has found himself between a rock and a hard place. He has yelled from the roof tops that he is going to stay the course in Iraq. The problem is that Iraq is getting worse. As I posted last week the death rate per day averaged by month has gone from 1.6 deaths per day just after the famous “Mission Accomplished” speech to almost 3 deaths per day last month. The progression is linear with very little change. Staying the course will only assure that the number of deaths per day in Iraq will only continue to grow over time, not decrease as the President claims.

The President may look like a buffoon when he attempts to answer questions in front of the public, but he has people to take care of his image. In fact, the manipulation of his image is done so carefully that his "handlers” don’t allow the general public to attend his speeches. Only supporters are allowed to attend events. He holds speeches at military bases where the military pledges allegiance to the “Commander and Chief.” He requires tickets that only Bush supporters can acquire for his regular speeches.

The result of this careful manipulation of the president’s image is pure contradiction. Opinion polls show that the general public disagrees with the Bush administration policy on the economy, the war in Iraq, Social Security Reform, Health Care, Education and a myriad of other issues. So, when the general public catches a glimpse of the President giving a speech on TV they are puzzled. They hear throngs of applause for the very statements they disagree with. They see the polls and they wonder who are these people at this speech. They certainly aren’t who I am. The closest example of this strange dissonance is when a dictator gets up and gives his speech to a crowd who has been ordered to applaud his policy. By carefully selecting his audience George W Bush has effectively done the same thing.

But George W Bush’s action is even less Democratic than what he would like you to believe. In a Democracy the people are the boss and the leader is supposed to serve the people. In order for the people to know what the boss is doing and have a fair assessment the leader needs to be subject to review. Every employee knows that periodic review keeps the employee in line and on task. In the past it was understood that the people were able to review the leader through the press. The leader was able to answer questions as a way of getting his message out and the press was able to play devil’s advocate to keep the leader honest. With George W Bush this procedure has flown out the window. And, without this procedure the people suffer from lack of review. In this case George W Bush is given the false sense that the people actually support what he is doing and he is never called in question. And the country suffers.

But, the Bush handlers are beginning to see the problem in the way things are being done. The handlers know that things need to change. But they can’t change to fast. In fact changing very slowly is the only way that George W Bush can change while appearing to stay the course. Remember that it is all about appearance, not reality. So, the imperceptibly slow change has begun to happen. George W Bush has set the stage for how the troops will come home - when the Iraqis get control. He has begun to play up how wonderfully the Iraqis are beginning to be trained. Rumors have begun to say that Rumsfeld will be relieved of his duty after the Iraqi elections. Bush is advertising the wonderful successes in some key cities. Even though these things haven’t really changed George W Bush wants the people to believe that things are changing. But, the truth is the death rate for American soldiers is going up and that will not change until American soldiers are brought home. But Rumsfeld is going around today . saying that US troop levels will come down next year. But, as with anything that this administration does they can not be honest with the American people. After all honesty isn’t the point, is it?

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Global Market Place

I was listening to a Commonwealth Club of Silicone Valley broadcast of Clyde Prestowitz hawking his new book, “Three Billion New Capitalists.” Mr. Prestowitz gave a very general and well understood view of how free markets are changing the world. The frightening part is that the Bush administration doesn’t really know what is happening, or they really don’t care.

There are many interesting effects of free markets and globalization one of which I’d like to use to illustrate how things could change as capitalism spreads around the globe.

It turns out that elective surgery can be acquired around the globe at much cheaper prices. In earlier times one might suspect that these surgical procedures would be much cheaper because the surgeons are less competent or the quality of the procedures are lower quality than the same procedure being done in the United States. However, it turns out that the quality in many instances is actually much better than the same care in the US. Health Care professionals are living on borrowed time because of this new industry. It turns out that these types of surgery are so much cheaper that the cost of a round trip air ticket, hotel accommodations, a short tourist trip and the surgery is about 25% of the cost of the surgery alone in the US.

If this is the case today, then what could this mean for the future. Insurance companies with the eye on the bottom line could begin to offer this as an option for necessary surgery as well. We can imagine a patient who needs a procedure weighing the option of paying a co-pay for the operation or having the co-pay waved if the patient were to have the procedure done in India or China. The opportunity for world travel could be enticing to many people.

Obviously the imbalance between these two systems can only survive until the point that a large number of people leave the US system and have health work done in other countries. At that point the income of health care workers and doctors will begin to decrease. True capitalism requires that cost for medical care will be tempered by the supply and demand curve.

What is it that is keeping the obvious flow of patients to India? I believe that prejudice is main reason for the lack of this medical trade. Americans have wrongly believed that the American medical system was the envy of the world. But, knowledge can transcend boundaries. With about four times as many people, India has a larger pool of potential doctors. Training more doctors results in a higher probability of much better doctors. There may be poorer ones as well, but if you are an American you would have enough money to get the services of the best doctors.

If capitalism plays out as it should, the Indian doctors salaries will rise until the cost of medical tourism equals the cost for Americans who have their surgery done in the United States. Or, the salaries of American doctors and health professionals will fall to lower levels until the two options come to some equalization.

Now, imagine that medicine isn’t the only industry that will be effected by these global free markets. We should not fear the new market reality we should embrace it. But, the US needs to form a strategy that allows all Americans to reach their potential. And, the key for anyone to reach their potential is education. Every American citizen should have the opportunity to pursue a college education.

Misconceptions and Misunderstandings

Misconceptions and misunderstandings are all around us. It’s obvious that it happens. It’s obvious that people choose to understand things the way they want regardless of the truth. I have been writing about this over several of my posts in the last week or so. I know that I should drop it and move on, but I don’t feel like I have done this topic justice. I don’t feel like I was able to convey my frustration in a clear and concise way. The big picture has been clear to me for five years now, the Bush administration just lies and they have no shame when they are caught in a lie. In fact, they just become more adamant and voice their lie and deception even louder. The effect of this refusal to admit a lie creates a deep polarization in the country. This is because half of the country will blindly believe the lies and deception, while the other half of the country can’t believe that the administration is getting away with these lines. The key is more along the lines of the deception. The lie is couched in a deception that makes the lie sound plausible. And, even when the lies are proven to be lies with facts, the deception changes just enough to allow the fact to be seen as only a conjecture by an unreliable source. The number of unreliable sources rises in proportion to the number of facts exposed.

One tool of war is propaganda. The Nazi war machine used propaganda to maintain support for the war even when all hope should have been lost. The Soviet Union used propaganda to through out the Cold War to bolster the idea that Socialism was superior to the West. Chairman Mao used his little red book to make sure that everyone knew the propaganda and memorized it so that it could be recited. Propaganda is power to the government. Propaganda is a wall to all those who think differently. Propaganda is an enemy to Democracy, because propaganda quiets the opposition to the government; without which there is no choice and hence no Democracy. On the other hand, propaganda could be seen as free speech of the government and the government has a right to lie to its people.

Yesterday I posted one small battle in the war for truth. I read a letter to the editor from a woman who clearly didn’t know the truth and her writing clearly demonstrated it. Although we don’t know for certain how she came to her conclusions we can surmise that she had been listening to the carefully worded propaganda of the Bush administration and she interpreted what she believed that she had heard. Yesterday I only looked at one aspect of her letter, the vote on the resolution to withdrawal troops immediately from Iraq. The Republicans who submitted the bill wanted a bill that could be used to demonstrate support for the War in Iraq. But, instead of being honest about the intention of the vote the deception of the Republicans in congress was to create a bill calling for an immediate withdrawal. Since the genesis of this debate was a speech by John Murtha, a respected veteran who had called for the US to plan a withdrawal procedure. The subtle difference of course is that a “planned withdrawal procedure” and an “immediate withdrawal” are not the same thing. But, the Republican deception machine would like the general public to believe that they are the same things. Planned withdrawal gives responsibility to the Iraqis in a methodical and planned way. Immediate withdrawal means everyone load up the planes and fly home tomorrow. The Republican deception machine understands very well that the general public does not spend enough time on any one issue to be able to distinguish these subtle differences. “Cut and Run” has become a mantra that the Republicans yell at anyone that wants to create a withdrawal plan. With the lack of a withdrawal plan the troops are stuck in Iraq until the Republicans decide that they don’t want to yell the “Cut and Run” mantra any more. This puts the Republicans in the driver seat on the withdrawal from Iraq.

What I didn’t do yesterday was go through this same letter and point out how the propaganda from the Bush administration and the Republican Party has warped the minds of many otherwise reasonable people in our country. This is quite obvious if you read the letter I posted yesterday. The woman begins her letter by claiming that the newspaper is so liberal that they would never publish the truth. Obviously this gives the person who has been deceived an out for the discontinuity between the facts that are published in the media and deception transmitted by the radical right. In this letter the woman professes a fantasy of an Iraq that had WMDs and terrorist training camps. Maybe she is confusing Iraq with Afghanistan where there actually were terrorist training camps. If Iraq really had WMDs, don’t you think that they would have used them when they were being attacked? And, if they weren’t prepared to use them while their regime was falling, do you really think that they were a major threat? But, all logic has flown out the window with the distribution of propaganda from the radical right. And they like it that way.

So, in the latest deception the religious right has determined that liberals have decided to do away with Christmas. However, the catch-22 is that George W Bush sent out invitations to a “Holiday” celebration at the White House. Shouldn’t the leaders of Right Wing American have planned this a little more carefully? And the deception continues.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Reading the Newspaper

On Saturday I picked up a copy of our local weekly newspaper off my doorstep and brought it inside to read. This newspaper has a good collection of competent columnists and an on going debate about national issues in the letters to the editor section. In fact, the letters to the editor section is normally the public forum for local issues, but the locals in my town also find in important enough to debate the Iraq War and other national issues in our local paper as well.

When I opened to the letters section I read this letter from Karen Ingalls and I saw it as a blatant example of how the deception of our national leaders influences the public’s perception of the national debate on Iraq.

Makings for WMDs found!

The Senate voted 403-3 against a timetable to pull out of Iraq. Just wanted to state this because I doubt that readers will see it in The Pinnacle as an article. So no matter how much garbage the liberals spew about the Bush administration and our presence in Iraq, they do not want to go on official record that they support a timetable for pulling out of Iraq. They know that pulling out of Iraq now is a confirmation to the terrorists that their suicide bombings and disregard for human life is working. Only the disillusioned and disinformed such as Kate Woods think a pullout is the answer. I see this vote as a huge boost of moral for our troops in Iraq - unlike those like Kate Woods that continually undermine the mission against terrorists.

I support our troops and their mission. They have found all the makings for WMD's, they have found the evidence of terrorist training camps, they have found the mass graves of all the human lives that Saddam's regime has taken..the news media and columns from the likes of Kate Woods feel more compassion for the terrorists in Club Gitmo than our American soldier. 99.99% of the time these liberals continue with their anti-Bush agenda without a second thought about it's impact to our soldiers efforts and moral. Friday's 403-3 count proved that no matter how much crap the liberals spew, deep down, they know it's not time for us to pull out of Iraq.

Karen Ingalls

It is quite obvious that Karen Ingalls didn’t read the resolution that was voted on. I actually wonder how she acquired any knowledge of it at all. The tally of the vote was correct but her information about what they Congress actually voted on is warped. But it is warped in the way that the Republicans would like it to be warped.

I responded in the following way, but there were so many possible ways to respond that I don’t know if I did the best job possible. In fact, I may have been to hasty and left things out. The main problem is that there is a limit to the number of words that are allowed in a letter to the editor. Here was my feeble attempt to respond:

Karen Ingalls wrote in the December 4, 2005 Letters to the Editor that the House of Representative voted 403-3 against a timetable to pull troops out of Iraq. I actually believe that Ms. Ingalls believes this, but her response is the result of Republican deception on several levels. The actual text of the resolution voted on was:


Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately. Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.

One should first notice that the word timetable was never mentioned in the resolution. In fact, the resolution does not even coincide with the speech that Rep. John Murtha give the day before this resolution was offered.

So, why would the Republicans offer such a resolution that they knew no one on either side of the aisle, aside from a few protest votes, could support? The Republicans wanted to create the illusion that they were voting against John Murtha proposal of a withdrawal over the next six months or so depending on the situation on the ground in Iraq. I have included the full text but because of word count cannot be published in the letters section.

The key here is that the Republicans are manipulating the way we perceive actions in Washington and based on Ms. Ingalls letter it is working. We should all realize that the Republicans are all acting like Used Car Salesmen selling us a War that we should never have been involved in and they are trying to get us to buy the extended warranty that doesn't cover anything when you actually read the fine print. And, Karen Ingalls is just another sucker that bought the sales pitch.

Michael Forbush

Here is John Murtha's resolution courtesy of Daily kos:

Whereas Congress and the American People have not been shown clear, measurable
progress toward establishment of stable and improving security in Iraq or of a
stable and improving economy in Iraq, both of which are essential to "promote
the emergence of a democratic government";

Whereas additional stabilization in Iraq by U, S. military forces cannot be achieved without the deployment of hundreds of thousands of additional U S. troops, which in turn cannot be achieved without a military draft;

Whereas more than $277 billion has been appropriated by the United States Congress to prosecute U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan;

Whereas, as of the drafting of this resolution, 2,079 U.S. troops have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom;

Whereas U.S. forces have become the target of the insurgency,

Whereas, according to recent polls, over 80% of the Iraqi people want U.S. forces out of Iraq;

Whereas polls also indicate that 45% of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on U.S. forces are justified;

Whereas, due to the foregoing, Congress finds it evident that continuing U.S. military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region, which
were cited in Public Law 107-243 as justification for undertaking such action;

Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That:

Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date.

Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines shall be deployed in the region.

Section 3 The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq through diplomacy.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Lies Seem to Live Forever

People apparently will believe whatever they want regardless of the facts. This is certainly the case with the War in Iraq. People in favor of the war would rather create complex justification for their personal beliefs before they will admit that their initial belief was wrong.

Dick Cheney’s wife Lynne did this yesterday on the Diane Rehm Show. She told us that her husband never said that there was a tie between Iraq and 9/11/2001. There are at least three high profile times where Dick Cheney said that there were Iraqi ties to al Qaeda. Is this just another effort of the administration to spread misinformation? As Think Progress points out on its blog there are at least three times that Dick Cheney said that there was a connection between Iraq and 9/11. On Meet the Press in particular on November 14, 2003 Tim Russert told Dick Cheney that 69% of the American people believed that there were ties between Iraq and 9/11. At this point it is clear that we now know that Cheney knew that there wasn’t any connection between Iraq and 9/11/2001. But Cheney refused to clear up this misconception. He would rather allow the lies to continue to propagate through the media. Now, Lynne is spreading rumors that Dick Cheney never made the connection. But, the real question is, do 69% of Americans still believe that there was a connection between Iraq and 9/11/2001?

Fox News has a new poll out where they tell us that 19% of Americans believe that Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction. How could one fifth of Americans think this? They point out that this opinion hasn’t really changed since the beginning of this War. Does this mean that people don’t read the papers? But, another question is if Iraq had WMD, wouldn’t they have used it when they were being attacked? I would think that having the weapons would have been pointless if they weren’t going to use them. The lack of use alone should prove that they couldn’t be used if they existed, or they didn’t exist at all. Saddam wasn’t afraid to use them as the right tends to point out every time the Iraq War is a subject. What keeps people believing this even though we know that it is not true? Surely some people who believed this at the beginning of the War should have shied away from this idea with lack of discovery. Then again Fox News did the poll, there could be incompetence on either side of the telephone.

So, I guess that it is obvious that people who believe that we are winning the war will continue to believe this no matter what happens in Iraq. As I wrote,the rate of soldiers being killed by insurgents has gone from 1.6 soldiers per day in May 2003 when President Bush declared mission accomplished. Eighteen months later the rate of soldiers being killed in Iraq has increased steadily to 2.9 soldiers per day. Is this evidence of progress? But people who can’t do math will continue to believe the lies that the administration feeds them.

And, now we are learning that the administration’s effort to spread misinformation worked so well in the United States that they are now doing the same thing in Iraq. This causes me to ask the question, what is Democracy? Most people believe that Democracy is based on the idea every citizen has a vote and the population can determine the direction of the country. But, if the citizens don’t have the truth they can not make an honest choice. If the truth is hidden and citizens don’t know the truth they can not vote based on real facts. But, the Republicans don't want what is good for our country, they want what is good for the few wealthy Republicans that are pulling the strings. They could never win an election if the American citizens knew and believed the truth, but lies just keep propagating. And the Bush administration wants to do the same thing in Iraq. We need to pray that the Iraqis are smart enough to NOT believe the propaganda.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Good Or Bad

Are people basically good or bad?

This seems like a pretty straightforward question, but how you answer it says a lot about your life, history, politics, religion and understanding of the world in general. This question seems like it only has two possible answers, but if you take the question seriously you will find that there are many ways to answer this question that involve saying that people are basically neutral, neither good nor bad.

If at first you begin to think that people are generally either “good” or “bad” you will certainly begin to think of the exceptions to your answer. This is because of our understanding of “good” and “bad” in our culture.

However you choose to answer this question in general people answer this question in regards to specific issues all the time. For example, if people are generally “good” we should help the “good” poor people who have fallen on hard times get out of their misery. Or, if people are generally “bad” we should not give handouts to these moochers who will just take advantage of the system.

In fact, if we make the assumption that people are either generally “good” or “bad” we will come to an entirely different set of solutions for each problem that we face. If people are generally “bad” then we can never assume that people can make their own decisions. Therefore, we need to make laws to govern every aspect of their lives. For example, we would need to make laws specifying when people should be quite and when people are permitted to make reasonable noise in their homes, because people can not be counted on to respect the neighbor’s need for quiet. On the other hand, such laws would not be needed if we understand that people are generally “good.” People who choose to make noise would do so at reasonable hours and if they disturb a neighbor then the neighbor could call them and ask them to tone it down a bit and they would comply. Perhaps this is an extreme case of a simple issue, or perhaps not. Perhaps it depends on where you live and what your history is with noisy neighbors, or making noise yourself.

But even when we look at this simple example the understanding of what it means to be “good” or “bad” begins to break down. In fact, how you feel about people in general falling into one of these categories has a lot to do with your understanding of what it means to be “good” or “bad.” Religions make it their job to define what it means to be “good” or “bad.” And, it is not surprising that religions in general make it clear that you need to be a religious person in order to be “good.” It is certainly a rare religion that would suggest that a non-religious person could be “good.” This is because a person needs guidance in order to know what is “good” and what is “bad.” How can anyone be “good” if they don’t know what is “good?” The result of having multiple religions defining what is “good” results in multiple understandings and definitions of what a person needs to do in order to be a “good” person.

On the other side of the spectrum is the non-religious person who has their own understanding of what it means to be “good.” The non-religious person generally creates a personal philosophy to live by. Most of the time this personal philosophy is not written down, but a collection of experiences and stories that help someone know how to do the “right” thing. If you thought that religions had a multitude of understandings of what is “good,” the non-religious has an even more diverse understanding.

Based on the diversity of understand of what is “good” and what is “bad” it shouldn’t be surprising that your understanding of these definitions will have baring on how the above question is answered. And, it turns out that if you believe that most people are fundamentally “bad” and they need some rules to help to know how to be “good,” then you are more likely to be conservative. And, if you believe that people are fundamentally “good,” but they just need to be educated to know what helps the most people then you are most likely to be liberal. The majority of people are actually more likely to be neutral on this question as they think about it.

For example, people are most likely to be “self-interested” instead of “good” or “bad.” They will act in a way that helps them the most as long as it doesn’t hurt other people. If they don’t know that their action hurts another person, then the action isn’t detoured. However, if people know that an action hurts someone else even if they will benefit highly they are likely to avoid the action. But, people don’t take time to think too much about harm that they might cause, because considering these possible harms is non-productive. Ignoring possible harms is not considered “bad” because a person rationalizes that they “just didn’t know.” Does this make a person fundamentally “good” or “bad?”

But, even the self-interested person can choose to be more “good” or “bad” by the decisions they make based on the questions that they ask. This is because we now know that building community is actually a positive result for the individual. The whole idea behind organizing cities, states and nations is to use the organization of resources to make the individual’s life better. This organization means that it actually makes sense to investigate the harms to the community because ignoring possible harms may be beneficial to the individual in the short term, the harm will hurt the community and therefore the individual in the long run.

An example would be allowing a company to pollute the air. An individual may choose to ignore the possibility of the pollution harming the public. The individual saves the company money by not investigating the effect of the pollution. But, the pollution causes the community to suffer higher numbers of lung cancer over the next 30 years each requiring treatment and some resulting in death. The individual can claim ignorance and save money, but did he save money in the long run? Did he do harm? Was he “good” or “bad?”

Well, this has gone on for quite a bit, and it could go on quite a bit longer but I will cut it short for now and pick it up again in the future.