Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cotton Hill and Edward Whitacre, Jr.

Cotton Hill and Edward Whitacre, Jr. -- separated at birth?



Tuesday, August 4, 2009

For the Medical Industry, It's Time for a Change

Anybody who thinks the medical industry in this country doesn’t need reforming either has bag loads of money or runs the medical industry. There are two obvious problems with our health care industry. First, the cost of insurance (and the ever increasing costs that insurance won’t pay – like annual checkups for children) is getting out of hand. For years, the cost of medical care in this country has been exceeding the rate of inflationgreatly exceeding the rate of inflation. The rate of increase is having an adverse affect on retirement systems across the country. In essence, the insurance companies, at the heart of the medical industry, have no competition and insignificant regulations to keep down their costs. They are running a protection racket that makes the Mafia jealous. The American Chamber of Commerce has recently argued that reforming the health care industry will put insurance companies out of business. This is like worrying the Mob might be put out of business. And since hospitals know that insurance companies have no incentive to hold down costs because they have a captive market, the hospitals keep raising their prices, outstripping inflation (think about the 10 dollar Tylenol).

The second problem is the high number of Americans who don’t have health insurance, thus often preventing them from getting proper medical care for them or their children. At least 46 million persons below the age of 65 don’t have health insurance, and, of these, over 8 million are children. We, as a nation, are simply letting over 46 million of our fellow Americans, our brothers and sisters, suffer because we can’t or won’t think of ways to help them.

The most common argument against reforming the system is the shibboleth of “socialized medicine” and the exaggerated claims that such national health care systems don’t work. The exaggerated failures in Canada, Britain (and here, and here), Sweden, etc. are the typical scare tactics used to frighten Americans. The argument boils down to, yes, our system isn’t perfect, but if you try to fix it, it will get worse. First, the use of the word “socialized” is simply a way to scare Americans. The typical American believes the mindless equation: socialism = communism. Secondly, in reality, we already have “socialized” medicine in this country. “Socialized” medicine is simply medical care paid for by the government. Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans’ Affairs are examples of government-supported medical care. This is not to say that these services don’t need reforming as well. This does mean that the argument that reforming the medical system will lead to the horrors of “socialized medicine” is simply scare tactics. Call it what ever you want, we need to reform the medical system, and if you want to call it “socialized medicine,” “managed healthcare,” “single-payer universal care,” or some euphemism, it doesn’t matter as long as the obviously broken system gets fixed.

The high cost of a national health care system is trotted out as a reason not to even attempt to provide basic health care to all Americans. However, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the US already spends more on health care than any other country. Thanks to the obscene profits across the medical industry, Americans enjoy paying 16.0 per cent of GDP on healthcare in 2007. In the same year, Canada spent 10.1 per cent, Sweden spent 9.1 per cent, and Britain spent 8.4 per cent (the average cost of health care in the countries surveyed in the OECD report was 8.9 per cent of GDP). Thus, we are paying more than any other industrialized nation, including those with the dreaded “socialized” medicine, for a system that is obviously broken .

Too often, the argument against reforming the medical system is that it’s too complicated to fix. However, just after World War II, Europeans said the quickest way to get something done is to tell an American it can’t be done. With that kind of attitude, we figured out the Marshall Plan and put a human on the moon. Now, unfortunately, when you tell an American something can’t be done, he shrugs his shoulders and watches what he has on the DVR.

We used to have the smartest people in the world. In 1960, President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to put a man on the moon. Americans (and people from all over the world) worked together, without regard to political affiliations, for seven years and achieved a remarkable goal. If we assume that other countries haven’t figured out their version of national health care (and this is a major assumption based on a phenomenal amount of disinformation), that gives us something to learn from. The basic elements of the scientific method are to gather data and make experiments. We have numerous observations and experiments to draw from. Maybe it’s time, once again, to challenge Americans to solve a supposedly insoluble problem.

There is no fast, simple solution to the problem of the looming financial disaster facing Americans, even those currently with health insurance. There is no fast, simple solution to providing basic medical care for all Americans. Admittedly, the typical American is the guy standing impatiently in front of the microwave waiting with irritation for his instant coffee to get finished. Assuming we can fix the health care problems in this country by some arbitrary date a few months from now is a curious mixture of arrogance and idiocy. We need to take advantage of the best and the brightest (especially those in our universities – persons who get paid to think, not bureaucrats who get paid to spend money), examine what works in other countries, and adapt those solutions to our problems -- this will take a reasonable amount of time.

There are no simple fixes, no magic wands to wave. I offer only four observations. The notion that a national health care system will be low cost is nonsense. Therefore, a necessary first step to help keep down the cost of national health care is to control our borders (ht to politicalman for this argument; truth to be told, he doesn't agree with my entire argument). According to some estimates, there are over 11 million illegal immigrants living in this country. We must provide health care for all Americans, but, if we provide health care for illegal immigrants as well, the flood gates will be opened and we’ll be swamped as more illegals, understandably eager for both higher wages and higher medical care, come to this country. At this point, our country could not sustain such a high financial burden . Secondly, to help finance a national health care system, we should institute a national lottery (according to Thomas Jefferson, a lottery is “the tax … laid on the willing only”. Every year, the Powerball turns a profit of millions of dollars. A true national lottery to fund health care would significantly lower the overall costs to the taxpayers.

Thirdly, we should focus on preventative health care. A RAND study indicated the possibility of $81 billion in savings per year with preventative health care. For example, instead of waiting for somebody to become deathly ill with diabetes, it would be more cost effective to send the person at risk for diabetes to a dietician and a gym than to wait to treat the blindness, gangrene, and other issues that result from this disease.

Fourthly, Congress needs to cancel their own, separate medical insurance system . Their system creates a health care utopia for them and their families. With little cost to them and with low or no co-pays, they cannot understand the health care problems of the average American. Most significantly, they and their families cannot be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions. There is also no chance that their policy will be canceled by their company once they retire. If they want to lead, if they want Americans to take them seriously, they should have the same medical benefits at the same cost to them as the average American. Any solutions to the problem with the medical industry must be enjoyed or suffered by our leaders.

There is no quick fix to the problems with the medical industry in this country. However, we have the ability to solve the problem if we approach the situation both rationally and compassionately. As long as the Democratic leadership argues that we must solve the problem within a few months (before elections) and the Republican leadership argues that “socialized” medicine will bankrupt this country (or at least put a dent in the obscene profits of insurance companies and hospitals) the problem will never be solved. As long as the American taxpayers continue to harden their hearts against the suffering of their fellow Americans, we will not solve this problem. As long as we choose not to force the government to perform its basic function of protecting its citizens, we'll have no meaningful health care reform. It’s time that we start taking care of our brothers and sisters.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cap-and-Trade for Idiots

The “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009” (HR2454) has passed the House of Representatives and is now working its way quickly through the Senate. The Act, in part, controls the emission of green house gasses based on the notion of cap-and-trade. The basic idea behind cap-and-trade can be a bit confusing, so here’s a simple lesson in the way it works. Cap-and-trade requires those businesses who produce a great deal of green house gasses while actually producing things (for example, electric utilities powering all the plug-in electric cars ) to buy “credits” from those businesses that don’t produce much so they don’t produce many green house gasses. Let’s say company “A” produces 50 units of green house gasses (what those units are doesn’t matter; let’s call them death bombs). Meanwhile, company “B” produces 20 death bombs. The government decides that no company, no matter what they produce, can make more than 40 death bombs. So, company “A” must buy 10 credits worth of death bombs from company “B.” Has this reduced the overall number of death bombs? Has this reduced global warming (sorry, climate change – the theory that explains everything)? No, merely shuffled them from one place to another. There are still 70 death bombs being produced.

Here’s the fun part. Somebody has to broker the sale of death bomb credits, just like somebody brokers the sale of orange juice or hog bellies. In this case, the death bombs will be brokered by Generation Investment Management, LLP. The chairman and co-founder of Generation Investment Management is Nobel Prize winner (not Irena Sendler), Al Gore.

Of course, Gore will profit greatly from his good work saving us from imminent incineration because of all the death bombs in the atmosphere. But he’s not the only one.

In June 2007 and again in February 2008 Generation Investment Management contributed $28,500 to the Democratic National Committee.

So that’s cap-and-trade for idiots. Some unkind souls might call it money laundering funds extorted from American businesses for the DNC, but it’s really to Secure us from all the death bombs.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

In Memoriam You Idiot

Did you know that Michael Jackson died? It’s been on the news a few times. Now, I understand the hyperbole inherent in funerary orations. After all, a number of idiots spoke about what a great president Richard Nixon had been after he passed on to what I hope is his just reward (think warm). However, the orations at Jackson’s going away party might have embarrassed a Roman emperor.

During the several eulogies, he was frequently called the greatest dancer who ever lived. His signature move was the “Moonwalk.” However, this dance was first performed by tap dancers over 50 years ago. So much for the greatest dancer. Other eulogists, overcome with Jackson’s greatest, asserted that he was the greatest entertainer of all time. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine contained an article entitled, “The Immortals: The First Fifty” listing the top 50 rock-and-roll entertainers of all time. Michael Jackson ranked 35th behind Johnny Cash (#31), Bo Diddley (#20), and The Beatles (#1) among others. So much for the greatest rock-and-roll entertainer (let alone greatest entertainer).

Don’t worry. In the face of reality, we can always count on the government to step in and revise reality. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee has introduced House Resolution 600 recognizing Jackson as “an American legend.” Naturally, this resolution will be debated in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Yes we can – legislate reality.

We have been saturated by the media with report after report of the passing of Michael Jackson. There have been and, for the foreseeable future, there will be tributes to his greatness. This media adulation becomes more disturbing if we compare it to the coverage of the passing of somebody who was … what’s the term? … important. Compare the coverage to that of the passing of Ronald Reagan. Reagan was not the best president we ever had, but he, along with Margaret Thatcher and John Paul II ended the Cold War (see, John O’Sullivan, The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister). It says something about our twisted culture and the equally twisted media that reports on it that somebody who helped end a conflict that could have ended the human race is less worthy of attention than a little, weirdo-bizarro, infantile pederast.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The End of the World (Or Not)

The cover story in the most recent edition of Car and Driver (July 2009) has the bold headline, “Mustang Wins!” I haven’t been a subscriber to Car and Driver for very long, but there are a few things I know. First, the editors don’t particularly like Fords and, secondly, they really don’t like Mustangs. They share the common belief heard on BBC’s “Top Gear,” that the Mustang is slow, it handles poorly, and the steering is “unresponsive.” As the owner of a Mustang (there, I’ve admitted it), I have no idea what they mean by these criticisms. In particular, I don’t know what “unresponsive” or “dull” steering means. Thanks to the addition of a Mazda front end years ago, the Mustang makes great snap turns. Its steering is delightfully quick; it's a wonderful ride.

I have a Mustang because of my wife’s insistence. A few years ago, she said, “You know how men get when they’re your age?” I thought, I’m only 37 . But I said, “Huh?” She said, “You know how men have a mid-life crisis?” I thought, Jeez, I’m only 37. But I said, “Yeah?” She said, “They get a trophy wife or a sports car.” I thought, I wasn’t planning on having a mid-life crisis or a trophy wife. But I said, “Yeah?” – I have a brilliant command of the English language. She said, “The next car we buy should be a Mustang.” I wasn’t about to correct her logic if the end result was me getting a Mustang, so I said, “Okay” – another brilliant statement by me, a true wordsmith.

So, when I started to read the comparo among the Camaro, Challenger, and Mustang, I was ready for some snotty joke, like, the Mustang won at being last, or slowest, or ickiest, or something along those lines. Actually, I wasn’t too concerned about the Challenger. The Dodge is a nice looking car, but, without a supercharger, its weight makes it a dog. However, for years, it seems that car magazines have been falling over themselves to praise the new Camaro. The movie, Transformers was a two-hour-plus commercial for all things GM, in particular the Camaro. What really bothers me about the Camaro is that it’s primary target audience is not drivers but those who want others to think they know something about cars. For example, the overwhelming majority (something like 80 per cent) of the last few years of the old Camaro (1998-2002) were automatics. Anybody who actually enjoys driving knows manuals are preferable to a lousy automatic. These wienermobiles were made for people who just wanted to look good, not actually drive their ride.

Imagine my surprise when I read that the Mustang had won the comparo. The editors at Car and Driver were equally shocked because they wrote, “Yeah, we’re shocked, too, but the Mustang rocks.” Yes, the Mustang beat the new wiernermobile (a car that looks like a cross between the Challenger and the Mustang – nice original design).

Thus, my world was shaken. Surely, the end is near when a car magazine actually admits that the Mustang is better than the Camaro. Shaken to my very core, my outlook on life fractured, I gathered myself when I saw that another article compared five small SUVs, including the BMW x3. Now, as everybody knows, the automobile world has collectively drunk the BMW Kool-Aid. And who could blame them. At every level, BMW makes a model that is the benchmark for all other auto manufacturers. Any time a comparo involves a Bimmer, you read the article to see which vehicles will come in second and third. My worldview would be restored. Everything would be right in the world again when I read that the BMW x3 had won the comparo. What?! The BMW came in second?! Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Resist the panic attack. Start to get right with the Lord because the end is nigh. The walls are closing in … gasp … gasp ….

Wait. Wait one minute. Car and Driver had yet another comparo involving a BMW Z4 sDrive 35i. Okay. Hands shaking, sweat pouring down my face, my heart racing, I turned to page 102 and saw that the BMW had, once again, come in second. The horror, the horror. I now know. The world is over. These are, indeed, the end times.

However, the douche bag North Koreans announcing that they are weaponizing plutonium might be a clearer indication of the end of the world.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

All the News that Fits

The notion of biased media in this country is hardly anything new. There is media bias on “the right” (which, in this country, means the Republican National Committee with no regard to actual political philosophy) and on the “the left” (which, like “the right,” really means what the Democratic National Committee states is “liberal” without any consistent philosophical underpinnings).

None of this is particularly new. Americans accept biased journalism the same way we accept the idea that all politicians lie to get elected and do anything to get re-elected. Sadly, because most Americans accept the inevitability of biased journalism, they simplemindedly gravitate to those sources that merely reaffirm their preconceived notions. We, as Americans, don’t really want to have to think about important issues. Rather, we would rather be spoon fed the same ideas that have comforted (or discomforted) us for years. Perhaps the pandering to set audiences is a result of the efforts by both print media and television media to save themselves as their readership and viewership sharply declines. This policy is a last-ditch effort to maintain the customers they still enjoy.

This distortion of the truth is particularly disturbing to me as a historian. I frequently rely on newspapers as primary documents for my research. The stories and even the editorials of 19th-century newspapers provide me with insights into that time period. In the past, apart from the “Yellow Press,” there was a distinction between editorials and news reporting. That distinction, even in the most prestigious newspapers in this country, no longer exists. This tendency to editorialize the news is part of the media’s efforts to maintain their same customers.

I worry about the ability of future historians to make reasonable conclusions about their past. For example, two recent discussions of Barack Obama’s meetings with Nikolas Sarkozy, president of France, paint divergent pictures of their relationship. According to Jennifer Loven, the Associated Press White House correspondent, in “Obama meets Sarkozy; pay tribute to D-Day fallen,” “While France and the United States clearly have their differences, the relationship that turned frosty under George W. Bush largely because of the Iraq war has seemed to thaw some with Sarkozy and Obama at the helm of their respective countries. Both have expressed fondness for each other.” [italics added] We, and future historians, have a picture of two world leaders on good, if not outright friendly, terms.

However, reporting on the same event, Charles Bremner, writing in The Times of London in an article entitled, “Barack and Michelle Obama decline dinner with the Sarkozys” has a very different appraisal of the relationship between Obama and Sarkozy. He writes, “Mr Obama’s irritation with his French counterpart [italics added] began when Mr Sarkozy tried to grab the limelight at the G20 summit in London in April and talked condescendingly of the US President in private. Mr Sarkozy told colleagues that he found Mr Obama to be inexperienced and unbriefed, especially on climate change. Mr Obama hit back last month, telling a visiting French minister: ‘Please tell Nicolas that I shall do my homework, and in two months I’ll know all about climate change.’”

Admittedly, personal diplomacy, like the belief in the perfectibility of humankind, died in the trenches of World War I (the efforts of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik notwithstanding). Therefore, it’s not a question of whether or not Obama’s and Sarkozy’s relationship will affect their ability to work out diplomatic or foreign policy goals together. Like every other important decision in the world, such issues are worked out by unelected bureaucrats. However, there are certain tendencies. President George Bush and Sarkozy, because of their dislike for one another, did not tend to guide their respective foreign offices to cooperate with the other side. When future historians attempt to interpret the diplomatic interactions between the US and France under the Obama presidency, which one of the two very different analyses of their relationship will they use to make their own analysis? Which of the two competing representations of the relationship between Obama and Sarkozy is closer to the truth? The goal of all historians worthy of the name is the discovery of the truth, no matter how illusive or unattainable. Thus, biased journalism distorts the truth now and forever.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fr. Jenkins is Anti-Catholic

It is not hyperbole to state that Fr. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame University, is anti-Catholic. By inviting President Barack Obama to receive an honorary degree and give the commencement address at Notre Dame, Fr. Jenkins has deliberately set himself up as an authority on Church teachings, superior to that of the bishops (including his own, Bishop John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, who is boycotting the commencement). For Catholics, the bishops possess a certain teaching authority called the Magisterium.

The Magisterium is “the teaching authority given to the apostles by Christ, an authority handed on through the ages to their legitimate successors. The apostles laid the foundation for our Church’s faith life; each generation builds on that foundation. The Magisterium guides this gradual building.” (“The Magisterium: Guiding the Church,” Our Church Week (27 October 1991)). The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that “… this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully.”(Catechism of the Catholic Church, #86). “The pope and bishops are commissioned to teach authoritatively on faith and morals in a way no other teacher in the Church can claim to do.” They are the supreme authority on such matters.” (Kenneth R. Overberg, “Infallibility and Church Authority: The Spirit’s Gift to the Whole World,” Catholic Update (March, 1988). But, demonstrating that this is not some authoritarian dictate, the Catechism eloquently argues that only a true partnership between the Church and its people can make the Magisterium fully functional. “All the faithful share in the understanding and handing on of revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them and guides them into all truth.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #91) “`The whole body of the faithful … cannot err in matters of belief ….’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #92) Thus, “`By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (Magisterium),… receives … the faith, once for all delivered to the saints …. The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #93) This input of the faithful is referred to as sensus fidelium (“sense of the faithful”).

In June 2004, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued “Catholics in Political Life.” The document opened with the statement, “We speak as bishops, as teachers of the Catholic faith and of the moral law. We have the duty to teach about human life and dignity, marriage and family, war and peace, the needs of the poor and the demands of justice. Today we continue our efforts to teach on a uniquely important matter that has recently been a source of concern for Catholics and others.” Clearly, the bishops are speaking in the voice of the Magisterium. Of particular importance to this discussion is their statement, “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” [emphasis in the original] Fr. Jenkins knows about this statement. By ignoring these guidelines, Fr. Jenkins has placed himself in authority over the bishops.

Likewise, he is discounting the sensus fidelium. He is ignoring many student organizations protesting his decision, alumni groups (and this one) , and the 364,000 persons who signed a petition against Fr. Jenkins’s decision.

Fr. Jenkins clearly has set himself above both the Magisterium and the sensus fidelium. Thus, it is not hyperbole to say he is anti-Catholic. At the very least, he has fallen prey to one of the Seven Deadly Sins – Pride.

One of the many problems with Obama’s speech at Notre Dame is that it gives the media an opportunity to misconstrue Catholic beliefs and practices. For example, an article in the Chicago Tribune extols the virtues of those who “keep their personal morality personal” unlike the misguided idiots who put their moral beliefs into practice. The writer of the article, Manya A. Brachear reveals her preconceived ideas in the title (and more clearly in the subtitle), “Obama's Notre Dame invite highlights quiet tension between Catholic teachings and personal faith: How Catholics act on their shared beliefs seems separates liberals and conservatives.” Brachear makes the argument that Catholics have such a wide variety of beliefs that they really don’t care about Catholic teachings. Everybody, according to this article, has their own beliefs, not matter what the Church teaches. “While church teachings unite them, they keep their personal morality personal.” True to the tendency to oversimplify issues, the article contends that those who follow Church teachings are “conservative” and those “cafeteria Catholics” who simply pick and choose what happens to be convenient at the particular moment in their lives are called “liberals.” The Catholics the author holds up for praise, the ones called “liberals” by most journalists, seem more like Unitarian Universalists.

Likewise, the Washington Post, while acknowledging that, according to a recent Gallup Poll most Americans are pro-life, heaps praise on those so-called Catholics who are, like Obama, pro-abortion or “liberal.”

Fr. Jenkins, out of a sense of pride and his manifest inability to admit that he made a mistake (typical of all university administrators) providing Obama with a platform to extol the virtues of abortion and wonderful usages of stem cells from aborted children, and, thereby, giving his tacit support of such ideas, has also encouraged the delightful anti-Catholicism prevalent in our country. Thanks, Fr. Jenkins. Perhaps his next move will be to announce officially that Notre Dame is no longer a Catholic institution. It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened . Once again, thanks Fr. Jenkins for helping the secularists. Maybe after the graduation, Fr. Jenkins and Mr. Obama can take in Angels and Demons , the latest money-making manifestation of anti-Catholicism.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Today, I am Embarrassed to be a Democrat

Today, 9 March, President Barack Obama signed into law a proclamation encouraging stem-cell research on aborted children. The White House’s webpage proudly declares, “President Obama lifts restrictions on stem cell research and ensures sound science will no longer fall victim to politics.” At best, this statement is disingenuous, at worse, it is idiotic. Ever since the Greeks invented politics, humans have recognized that we are political animals. The Greeks and the Romans, who borrowed their cultural ideas from the Greeks, realized that politics, religion, indeed, all the cultural aspects of our lives were inextricably bound together. Obama, an intelligent law professor, is well aware of this fact. Rather, stating that “science will not fall victim to politics” is a dishonest way of cutting off all debate. Anybody who disagrees with the validity of embryonic stem cell research is easily silenced by stating that such concerns are only “political.” Of course, the discussion is political – all social discussions are, by definition, political. The Greeks and the Romans knew this, and so does Mr. Obama.

The magical cure-all of embryonic stem cell research is a nefarious plan to legalize all abortions. Like all magic wands, the benefits of embryonic stem cells is a fabrication. Dr. Wolfgang Lillge has written a number of articles comparing and contrasting the verifiable benefits of adult stem cell research and the purported benefits of embryonic stem cell research. While I disagree with some of Lillge’s political views, he points out three, verifiable problems with using embryonic stem cells: 1.) the greater likelihood of embryonic stem cells creating tumors because they are so undifferentiated; 2.) genetic instability; 3.) the use of embryonic stem cell research to forward reproductive cloning. According to an article in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ”`Makeover’ Sidesteps Stem Cells” by John Fauber (28 August 2008), “After more than a decade of trying to harvest the promise of embryonic stem cells, scientists have hit on a fascinating new approach that sidesteps them entirely.” The scientists used a much more promising approach: adult stem cells which are far more reliable. A similar story, “An Extreme Makeover of a Cell” by Rob Stein appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution Of course, stating this scientific fact is covering up science with that nasty political drivel. But, as Yuval Levin points out in “Obama’s False Choice,” in National Review Online, even debating the merits of embryonic stem cell research has now been quashed by the “no politics” shibboleth. Here's a political question: at what point does the government start to pay people to have children who have interesting genetic traits that might be valuably "harvested"?

After signing this Presidential order, Mr. Obama will undoubtedly work to get the shamelessly named “Freedom of Choice Act” passed into law. The “Freedom” in this act means freedom as long as you don’t mean the freedom of parents to be informed about their daughters’ surgical procedures, freedom not be informed about possible risks of a medical procedure, or the freedom of the citizens of a state to have a say in issues they consider morally important, or the freedom to oppose partial-birth and live-birth abortions , or the freedom of hospital employees to oppose a procedure they find morally reprehensible, or the freedom not have your tax money pay for government-sanctioned murder . Truly, the ability of the federal government to run roughshod over the wishes of a significant portion of society will issue in a Brave New World.

I’ve been a Democrat all my adult life. The Democratic Party used to be the party that worked to ensure equal rights for the poor and disfranchised. The Democratic Party successfully lead the push to enfranchise African-Americans and to gain women equal rights. The Party’s efforts paid off for other minorities as well. Now, the Democratic Party, my party, has well and truly abandoned the weakest of all. Today, I am embarrassed to be a Democrat. The Party of life is making the final transition to the Party of Death.

Some further observations and ruminations. Supposedly, Mr. Obama wants to rescue science from politics. Yet, Michael J. Fox, tragically stricken with Parkinson’s disease,has been the major spokesman in this country for embryonic stem cell research. He was a harsh critic of the Bush Administration’s decision to fund only adult stem cell research and in a few lines of already established embryonic stem cells. Fox, a Canadian citizen, did not become an American citizen until 2000 so he could more readily lobby the government for support of stem cell research. That’s politics.

The answer to the question of motivation for scientists demanding this research, like so many similar questions, comes down to money. In the US, both tenure and promotion decisions for university scientists are reduced to funding. The more grants a scientist gets, the more likely he or she will be tenured or promoted. Universities don’t like to fund research themselves. Embryonic stem cell research offers the possibility of virtually unlimited funding.

The language used to justify this research is not the rational language usually associated with scientific enquiry. Global Warming studies have been generously funded thanks to using the pseudo-religious language of the apocalypse ( . Now, embryonic stem cell research is being proclaimed as our salvation. A useful parallel can be drawn with the current apocalypse/salvation model of scientific funding to a similar alignment in the 1980s. Back then, everything caused cancer (including dimes). If you were a biologist, the easiest way to get bag loads of government funding was to do research on cancer. Obviously, cancer was the apocalypse. The scientific salvation in the 1980s was interferon. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on discovering all the diseases this potential cure-all would eradicate. We still have cancer, and interferon is only of limited value.

So, despite the fact that other countries have been conducting research on embryonic stem cells (including Canada) with little to no significant results, the US government will now fund the world’s salvation. Hordes of scientists will now happily suckle at the teats of the giant sow that is the federal government. Now, that’s politics.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII -- Day Two

Sunday, February 1, was a beautiful day – bright and cool. We got up early, bade farewell to my brother’s friend, Barb, and set out on our first quest – to find a car wash. We couldn’t show up to the Super Bowl in a dirty Mustang. Once that was accomplished, we set off for Tampa. Around Orlando, we stopped and got some breakfast. Seeing us in our Steelers’ finery, a young man in his Sunday best had to tell us that he was pulling for the Cardinals. This has become a recurring story since I’ve got back to Alabama. I’m wearing my newly purchased, official Super Bowl XLIII Steelers’ merchandise and somebody comes up to me and engages me in conversation. The conversation usually goes something like this: “I guess you like how the game turned out, huh?” I think, wow, your powers of deduction are staggering, but I smile politely and say, “You bet.” Then, he shrugs and says, “Ya, well, I was hoping the Cardinals would win, but I guess it’s alright that the Steelers won.” I think, well, I’m glad that you’re dealing so well with the outcome. A few intrepid souls have then told me that the refs handed the Steelers the game. Why do they think I want to hear this? Every time I see a Crimson Tide fan, I think, most, not all, Alabama fans are a bunch of whiney punks. But I have the decency to keep that thought to myself.

Anyway, arriving in Tampa, we went to the parking spot my brother had reserved the day before (at the discounted price of $50; on Sunday it was $100). As we walked to the stadium, it was a repeat of the previous day. Steelers’ fans were high-fiving each other and talking to one another like long-lost friends. The Cardinals’ fans wished us good luck and we, just like all the other Steelers’ fans responded in kind. Once again, I did not hear anybody talking smack to the other team’s fans. Everybody was civil, the way it should be.

Arriving at the stadium, we had to pass through a security check. Thinking ahead, neither my brother nor I had a backpack, binocular case, or camera case since we knew these were not allowed. They had dumpsters filling up with backpacks and other items that were verboten. I only hope that these things were donated to some local charity rather than throne away because there were some nice backpacks in there. I, however, was unknowingly carrying contraband – my eyeglass case. They made me throw it away. I didn’t argue, but what the hell did they think I was going to do with a leather eyeglass case? They didn’t look through my binoculars or my camera, obvious security risks, but that glass case, that had to go. Similarly, when my brother bought some bottled water in the stadium, they removed the bottle caps. Apparently, they don’t want people throwing bottle caps onto the field. Of course, I can through a bottle of water a hell of a lot further than a bottle cap, but that’s another matter.

Once we passed through the security area, we found ourselves in the “NFL Experience” once again. We did our level best to help the local Tampa economy by purchasing more souvenirs. The NBC studio crew was finishing up taping their pre-game show and Jerome Bettis was hustled past us by security. I snapped three pictures of him as he passed.

I swear, Bettis is on the other side of this young woman. Blocked ... by a Cardinals' fan. I hoped this was not an evil omen

I was really itching to get into the stadium, so we went in about four hours before kickoff. Climbing to the top of Mt. Raymond James Stadium with the help of a Sherpa and a few tanks of oxygen, we found our seats. After spending some time rummaging through the official Super Bowl XLIII seat cushion, which, in addition to the seat cushion itself, included a Pepsi bandana, an official replica Super Bowl coin, a free download of some Super Bowl video from I-Tunes, and a tiny flashlight for use during the Bruce Springsteen half-time show, we sat down and gazed out at the nearly empty stadium.

The two best flags in the world.

I don’t care what George Carlin said, I love a football stadium. I don’t want a park, I want to see a struggle of life and death, good and evil, my team versus the enemy. This was a deeply spiritual experience. Sitting there, looking down at the Steelers’ endzone, I think I know how the ancient Egyptians must have viewed the Valley of the Kings, how the Greeks viewed Mt. Olympus, how the Celts felt in the presence of Stonehenge, how my ancestors felt when they saw the Statue of Liberty or when they saw the inclined plane in Johnstown. Yes, it was that moving.

Matt Millen and Phil Simms, aka "The Brain Trust"

Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward spent a good 15 minutes shooting the breeze.

After sitting there awhile, my brother decided that he needed some lip balm. After a little over an hour, he returned without his quarry, but he did have nachos (and the aforementioned capless bottled water). By that time, some of the players were coming out and warming out.

"Big Snack" in the middle.

Big Ben and Fast Willie

Troy auditioning for a new position.

FWP is a blur. Either because he's so fast, or I'm so high in the stands I'm trying to take pictures through an air inversion.

After taking a number of pictures, I realized my camera was running out of batteries. The spare batteries, naturally, were out in the car. So, I left on my own fruitless quest. As I was returning, I heard the PA speaker announce the entrance of the Steelers. Spurred on, I ran (alright, I walked really, really fast) back to my seat. Unfortunately, on the way back, I lost my Terrible Towel. As I’m a firm believer in the jinx, I was deeply troubled by this loss. In fact, I’m such a believer in the jinx, I was wearing my white Jerome Bettis jersey. I had worn the black one earlier in the season, and the Steelers lost, so no more of that. Also, I was wearing my Steelers’ socks, for only the third time ever.

As we sat there waiting for kickoff and as the stadium filled up, we got to talking with folks around us. I can’t emphasize how amazing it was to talk to people from all over the country like we were all kin. Always the same question, where are you from? When the guy behind me asked my brother where we were from, he told the guy that I was living in Alabama and my brother was living in Tennessee, but we were raised in Plum Boro. The guy was raised outside Pittsburgh, but he was living outside Philly. He commiserated with my brother about being surrounded by Titans’ fans, but, he opined, at least Jeff Fisher is a good coach. Remembering that Keith Bullock had deliberately pressed on Tommy Maddox’s neck, temporarily paralyzing him, and believing play like that is encouraged by the coach, I, speaking about Fisher, said, “I hope he gets the Ebola. In the testicles.” It turned out that the guy sitting behind me was a Titans’ fan. Oh, well.

My brother's opinion of the Titans.

Sitting so close to the top of the stadium gave us a great view of the flyover

On with the game. Deferring to the second half, the Cardinals kicked off to the Steelers.

Lining up for the opening kickoff

The kickoff

The opening handoff

The second play from scrimmage and my batteries had all but died

A methodical drive brought the Steelers to the one-yard line. When Ben Roethlisberger fell into the endzone for a touchdown, cheers and high-fives burst out. Then, Ken Whisenhunt challenged the call. Naturally, we believed he was nuts. But, alas, the zebras agreed with him. From the heights of joy to the pits of despair in a few minutes. We thought we had been robbed by the refs. Another game where we’d have to play to two teams. Little did we know the number of bad calls and no calls that would plague both teams – what else could we expect from the worst officiated season across the NFL. Coach Mike Tomlin made the right call and kicked the field goal.

The Cardinals’ first possession ended in a three-and-out. Our defense was on fire. Our hopes were rising. We scored a touchdown on the next possession. Up 10 to 0, out gaining the Cardinals 140 yards to 13 – we knew we were going to clobber the Cardinals. Our joy was climbing exponentially. But, of course, Whisenhunt is a brilliant coach, and he had a great plan. On the Cardinals’ next possession, they moved the ball 83 yards down the field to score a touchdown. 10-7 wasn’t a bad score, but we started to worry.

By this point, I thought I was all screamed out. I couldn’t believe how much noise I could make. And that’s all it was – noise. Like some primal emotion ripped from the Neanderthal part of my brain, when the Cardinals came to the line, I emitted a loud, long, guttural Go-o-o-o-o-o. It wasn’t like the Latin American soccer announcer Go-o-o-al. It was like some Teutonic war chant; it was race memory. The little kid beside my brother kept putting his hands over his ears in a vain effort to drown out the cacophony. Clearly, he could not believe that such sounds could be emitted from the human throat. On at least one occasion, he shot me a dirty look for disrupting his serenity. I smiled sweetly and bellowed Go-o-o-o-o-o-o! I continued for the entire game. Later, on the way up the highway after the game, my brother, his voice hoarse and cracking was amazed that my voice was still intact. I reminded him that, as college professor, I talk for a living.

Then, the unthinkable happened. Big Ben threw an interception when his pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage. With the Cardinals at the Steelers’ 34-yard line, my brother and I didn’t say a word to each other. We could only hope that the great Steelers’ D would hold the Cardinals to three points. Going into halftime tied, after manhandling the Cardinals in the first quarter was bad enough, but going in trailing them would be unbearable. Then, to our utter astonishment, James Harrison (“Silverback”), the Defensive Player of the Year intercepted a Kurt Warner pass and huffed and puffed the ball a hundred yards for a touchdown. I’m sure it felt like an eternity for Harrison. It felt like an eternity for us in the stands. The nagging feeling that he wouldn’t make it clawed at hearts and souls like hyenas at a wounded gnu (or something equally icky). As he began to visibly slow down, Cardinals players started to catch up to him. I think the collective will of the Steelers’ fans coalesced around him as he broke through at least three tackles to fall prostrate in the endzone. Harrison was exhausted … we were exhausted. Breathlessly, we waited to see if the replay booth would take away our touchdown (I say “our” because every fan in the stadium was emotionally and physically spent by the end of his run). In what some are calling the greatest play in Super Bowl history, James Harrison’s 100-yard interception run-back for a touchdown withstood the scrutiny of the replay booth.

I didn’t actually watch much of the Boss’s half-time show. I was too exhausted and too shaky to stand. I had to sit and rest. While everybody around me stood and cheered, I sat, worried, wondering what the second half would bring. I wondered if Tomlin and Dick Labeau would make adjustments for what Whisenhunt and his coaching staff would bring in the second half. I trembled to think what he was about to unleash on us.

Before my batteries did finally give out, I got some good pictures of the rather impressive light show and pyrotechnics from the halftime celebration:

The third quarter was a bit of a mess for the Cardinals. A number of unsportsmanlike penalties helped the Steelers drive down the field to try a field goal. After another personal foul, the Steelers had three cracks at the endzone. The Cardinals’ D, however, despite my best Germanic war whooping, stood stout and kept the Steelers from scoring a touchdown. Up 20-7 late in the third quarter, I was still nervous. At the start of the post-season, I had taken part in a contest picking the brackets and the eventual winner of the Super Bowl. I had the Steelers beating the Cardinals 24-21. I knew, no matter how much I wanted it otherwise, things could change. And I’m just enough of a German Fatalist to know that change is frequently bad.

My worries were confirmed when midway through the fourth quarter Warner hooked up with Larry Fitzgerald for a touchdown to cut the Steelers’ lead to 6 points. The two defenses stood strong, with the Cardinals pinning the Steelers on their one-yard line. Then, in the most idiotic call in the game, the Steelers’ center, Jeff Hartwig was called for holding when he was bull rushed onto his back into the endzone. Since this was holding in the endzone, it was a safety. Once again, it seemed like we were playing two teams at the same time. I thought my head was going to explode. I think my brother’s head did explode (a little bit).

When you’re at the game, you can see the whole field, unlike when you watch it on TV. Also, because the television image is really two-dimensional, the players often look closer to one another than they really are. When Fitzgerald broke through the middle of the field, it was clear to everybody in the stands that he was going to score a touchdown. When you’re in a traffic accident or in your dissertation defense, or some equally horrible event, time slows down. I’m sure there’s a psychological reason for this. You see every little detail and feel every little pain in excruciating, soul-crushing detail. With 2:37 on the clock and the Cardinals leading for the first time, 23-20 (16 unanswered points), I sat down with my head in my hands and thought bitterly, I paid how much for this “Experience”?

I should develop more hope. Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, and Tomlin certainly had hope. Eight plays, 2:02, and one of the most remarkable catches in Super Bowl history later, Roethlisberger and Holmes hooked up for the winning touchdown catch. Fear clutched at my throat the whole two minutes. I could only dare to hope that we would score a field goal and send the game into overtime. That was the only hope I would allow myself to have. And when Holmes made the catch, with three Cardinals’ defenders blanketing him, we knew that he had scored the winning touchdown, despite the fact that it was at the other end of the stadium. But there was the dreaded booth review. With what felt like an elephant sitting on my chest I waited to see if they would take away our touchdown.

This past year I’ve suffered great personal loss and professional setbacks, but, for the first time in five months, I didn’t think about them. I was filled with unbounded joy as the referees confirmed Holmes’ touchdown. Joy. Sheer joy. Clapping and cheering and hand shaking and more cheering and more clapping. And I got to share it with one of my brothers. I only wish my whole family could have been there. Joy.

But, of course, Warner, Whisenhunt, and the Cardinals still had 35 seconds, and they were not going to give up. They, however, had to contend with what got us to the Super Bowl in the first place – our defense. With five seconds to go, LaMarr Woodley knocked the ball out of Warner’s hand, Brett Keisel recovered, and we got to watch the best play in any football game – our quarterback's kneeldown.

My brother and I cheered and yelled to the heavens. The Steelers had won their sixth Super Bowl, and we got to see it in person. It was one of the best days of my life.

The camera on my cell phone isn't the best, so take these shots for what they're worth.

Getting ready for the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy.

Joe Namath presents the Lombardy Trophy to the team

Roger Goodell presents the Lombardy Trophy to Dan Rooney

Mike Tomlin on the team

Ben Roethlisberger on the team

Santonio Holmes' musings

When the Lombardi Trophy was presented to the team, we yelled and cheered some more. And when all of the confetti had been cannoned into in the air, and the team was walking off the field, my brother and I just sat there. We had a long trip home, so we were not in any hurry to rush out of the stadium. Just as we were some of the first to enter the stadium, we were among the last to leave. We gazed out across the nearly empty stadium, this now hallowed ground, the site of our great victory. We could claim it as our victory. I know that some people hate it when fans of a team say “us” or “we,” but we felt that we had contributed to the Steelers’ victory. We had not played the game, but we had contributed our psychic energy, our very being. We were physically and emotionally spent. When we finally did get up to leave, we couldn’t believe how shaky our legs were. It felt like we had run for miles and miles and were about to collapse.

As we made our way through the throngs of fans standing in a line to buy their Super Bowl victor’s merchandise, a line that stretched over several football fields in length, we decided to get our goodies online. Exhausted, but happy beyond bounds, we made our way back to the car for our long trip home. As we passed other Steelers’ fans, we high-fived one another, wishing each other a safe trip home. This had been a great family reunion. And though it might seem obnoxious to say, I would love to do it again some time in the not too distant future.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII -- Day One

I couldn’t believe it. The Steelers had beaten the Ravens for the third time this year. Then, they beat the Chargers to advance to Super Bowl XLIII. They had survived the league's toughest schedule. They had done more than survive – they were on their way to the Super Bowl. I literally couldn’t believe it. As I’m sitting on the couch, exhausted from willing my team to victory, my wife says something stunning – why don’t you go to the Super Bowl. I’m lost for words. After what seemed like a half hour or so, I asked her if she’s serious. Knowing that I’ve been a die-hard Steelers’ fan since I was seven years old in 1968 (2-11-1 baby), she realized how important this was to me. And, since Tampa is only about a 9-hour drive, it was doable. I told her the tickets would be expensive. She asked how much, and I quickly turned to the internets. Chagrined, I told her the nosebleed seats were around two grand. Without missing a beat, she said, buy two and take your brother from Tennessee. He can drive, pay for the food, and the hotel, and I could pay for the tickets. Again, I asked (I’m sure my voice was trembling) if she was serious. She smiled and said yes.

So, my brother and I drove to Daytona Beach to stay with a friend of his. On the way down, I had what would turn out to be a recurring experience – the unbelievable camaraderie of what is usually called “Steeler Nation.” We passed another Mustang all decked out with Steelers’ magnets, flags, and bumper stickers. About an hour later, we stopped to get gas and something to drink. A few minutes later, this middle-aged woman walked in wearing a Steelers’ sweatshirt. My brother asked her if she was in a Mustang. Immediately, her eyes lit up and she said we must be the guys wearing the Steelers’ jerseys who passed them up the road. After just a few minutes of chatting, she asked where we were from. My brother said he was living in Tennessee and I was living in Alabama, but we had both grown up in Plum Boro, outside Pittsburgh. She was from Greensburg, but now lived in Huntsville with her husband. This question, where are you from, turned out to be a standard question among Steelers’ fans. It is some kind of bonding mechanism. It’s like long-lost family members rediscovering one another. There is a joy and a sense of bonding like I’ve never experienced in any other setting or any other fandom. They said they envied us for going to the game. They couldn’t get tickets, but they didn’t want to stay in Huntsville. They wanted to watch the games with their “friends” in the Steeler Nation. Therefore, they were driving to a great sports bar in Panama City, Florida to watch the game. They were driving almost 400 miles, 7 hours, to watch a football game in a bar because they wanted to be with people they probably had never met before, but who they knew would welcome them as long-lost family. This is why Steelers’ fans “travel well.”

Saturday before the game, we drove the 140 miles from Daytona Beach to Tampa to reconnoiter the situation and check out the “NFL Experience.” After paying $10 to park in K-Mart parking lot, we went on a quest for the “Experience.” We finally found it, and proceeded to stand in line for an hour or so. Luckily, we developed a great game – inappropriate jerseys. We took pictures of folks wearing jerseys of teams not actually playing in the Super Bowl. Some people were wearing jerseys of teams that had never been in any Super Bowl. Here are a just a few:

I guess that Adrian Peterson really is, as they say over at KSK "Purple Jesus." Look here, he brought Walter Peyton back from the dead. Unfortunately, he turned Sweetness (and himself) into a white dude.

Here are the two Cardinals' fans we saw at the "Experience." Seriously, there were probably 300 Steelers' fan for every Cardinals' fans. Amazingly, everybody was very cool. The fans of both teams treated the other with respect and good sportsmanship. I know it's only anecdotal information, but I didn't hear anybody talking smack to anybody else.

This Browns' fan appears to be looking for something. If it's a Super Bowl appearance by her team, she might have to wait a long time. (I know that's snarky, but, come-on, it's the Browns. Wait to you see what I have to say about the Ravens).

If your wife sees that you made her kids dress in 49'er's jerseys, she will win the inevitable divorce case. "Momma don't let your babies grow up to be '9ers":

Or Redskins,

Or Cowboys, er Cowgirls. Hey, look, it's Tony Romo after a bender in Juarez!

Making your kid wear an Eagles' jersey might be worse child abuse than the '9ers.

This is just confusing. I imagine the conversation went something like this, "Dad, if you get to wear the jersey of a substitute high school teacher in Minnesota, then I want to wear the jersey of an Eagles safety." To which his brother said, "If you get to wear a DB's jersey, then so do I." I'm not sure of the logic either.

These guys, however, might win the prize for messing up their kids. Could you find enough disparate jerseys to force your kids to wear?

Come on! You've got to wear, at the very least, a jersey of a team that actually exists. This would be like wearing a Bill Belichik replica hoody from a time when he wasn't cheating.

The “NFL Experience” is great if you’re a kid or somebody who likes to play punt, pass, and catch games. If you don’t, you’re s.o.l. (sort-of-out-of-luck). Also, if you think paying $5 for a bottle of Pepsi, $8 for a Budweiser, or $10 for an Italian sausage sandwich is highway robbery, you’re similarly s.o.l.

When you think of heavy industry, you think of that great steel town -- Phoenix.

This is also where people can buy their souvenirs. My brother offered to buy me some things, but I told him I’d take care of that myself – then I saw a painting of Jerome Bettis pancaking the great Brian Urlacher. It was autographed by the Bus. It was on sale for a tad less than $2000. I told my brother I had changed my mind; he demurred.

The "NFL Experience" also had 32 dummies in team uniforms. They were set up so people could stand behind them and get their picture taken like they were a genuine football player. Neat.

Some parents stuck their poor little kid inside the hollowed-out hulk of a Browns player. Child abuse, again.

I was, however, able to achieve some slight revenge against all the crap dished out by Ravens' fans on my two favorite football sites, D.C. Steeler Nation and KSK:

I know -- real mature. But I really couldn't help myself.

After spending several hours soaking up the whole “Experience,” our feet and legs were killing us. We called it a night and drove back to Daytona Beach, eagerly waiting Sunday.

A benevolent Buddha watched over us as we left.