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The Therapy Sessions
Saturday, December 31, 2005
 

Perspective


With all the gloom and doom out there, you'd get the impression that everything is getting worse...

It's a good thing we have the census to set us straight:

New reports by the Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve Board on the economic well-being of the typical American family reveal that over the past three decades, the vast majority of families have experienced a rapid growth in their income and wealth. Now that nearly six out of 10 households own stock and two out of three own their own homes, the average family -- for the first time ever -- has net worth (assets minus liabilities) of more than $100,000. Median family income has climbed to more than $54,000 a year...

...But it's not just the rich that are getting richer. Virtually every income group has been lifted by the tide of growth in recent decades. The percentage of families with real incomes between $5,000 and $50,000 has been falling as more families move into higher income categories -- the figure has dropped by 19 percentage points since 1967. This huge move out of lower incomes and into middle- and higher-income categories shows that upward mobility is the rule, not the exception, in America today.


What we consider "poverty" in America is a relative thing. Relative to other nations, our "poor" aren't poor at all:

When I lived in Magburaka, Sierra Leone, I was invited to dine at the house of the richest family in the region. They were a Lebanese family that lived in a large house in the center of town. They owned a Mercedes. There were many African servants running around everywhere, but their living room was dingy and filled with old tacky furniture. Goats and chickens occasionally wandered in, and the floor was covered with their droppings. The had an old TV and VCR on which they watched videotapes of British TV shows. Their electricity came from a single generator, enough power - a proud daughter boasted to me - to power their prized possession: an electric refrigerator. Their water came from a well out back and had to be drawn one bucket at a time. The oldest daughter Sheba told me that the meal would be special that night - they would have MEAT - to celebrate dusk in the final days of Ramaddan.

We also need to keep in mind that the quality of the items we take for granted has been increasing. Twenty years ago, most American families did not have computers or CD's; no one had internet, DVD players, mp3's or digital cameras. The cable TV "universe" boasted all of FIFTEEN channels (when you counted C-Span), and most of those channels were owned by Ted Turner. In medicine, you did not have the statins (cholesterol reducing drugs) or many of the drugs we now take for granted; many surgeries that were rare then are commonplace now. Our supermarkets today are filled with food that Americans simply weren't even aware existed back then. Our houses and cars are - on average - much bigger, more filled with technology and safer than they were back then (but alas, they use more energy).

Poverty - real poverty by any international measurement - is extremely rare in the US. Indeed, the greatest health problem of American poor is obesity. This is why so many people try to get to America, where they can live in our version of poverty.

In Africa, my Lebanese family was considered very wealthy (easily in the top tenth of the top one percent in terms of wealth), and their neighbors, the native Africans, greatly resented their wealth. In America, they would be among worse off then the worst of our poor. Imagine, a family living with only a TV, a VCR and refrigerator, having meat once a week with an outhouse for a bathroom!

In a society where we live such insulated lives, we forget these things all too easily. In many cases, we never knew them to begin with.

Take a little time this new year to count your blessings.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005
 

Real wasabi


Most "wasabi" in sushi restaurants is fake. It's a mixture of horseradish, mustard and green dye.

It is damn good, but I was interested in trying the real stuff. The real stuff is is notoriously hard to grow, and it is very hard to find.

I found it. Real wasabi, grown by a biotech pioneer.

I've read about it. About how it tastes so different and so much better....And now I know what they're talking about.

How does it taste?

Well, it tastes about the same the as regular (fake...) wasabi: The same tingle, the same feeling in the sinuses. The only difference I was able to perceive was the tiny fiberous pieces of vegetable matter that crunched on the tooth - like fine pieces of celery - but were flavored with the potent punch of wasabi.

But overall, it was really the same. And its color was duller than the dyed stuff.

So it will be failure in the market?

No.

I must say, had I been given the opportunity to invest in "real wasabi," I might just have thrown in a few hundred bucks.

Why? It tastes the same! Well, I know sushi people. I know people who think they know sushi.

If you tell these these folks that something is "authentic," they will demand it. In this way, they are like wine afficionados: at any party, there is always some jackass swirling wine on his glass, speaking of its bouquet and talking up its floral attributes.

For all he knows, it could be Taylor California Cellers. But he just wants to look classy.

Sushi eaters are the same way, and even the neophytes want to look like they know what they are doing.

Mark my words: in five years, most sushi restaurants in the US will have a "real wasabi" option. It might cost a few bucks more, but people will pay for it.

If for no other reason than they want to be just like the guy swirling his glass of Chateau Luzerne.

Sunday, December 18, 2005
 

Points of view


A journalist embeds with the military in Iraq and her views on the conflict change:

The view from on the ground:

Think about everything you’ve heard about the conditions in Iraq, the role of U.S. forces, the multi-layered complexities of the war.

Then think again.

I’m a journalist. I read the news everyday, from several sources. I have the luxury of reading stuff newspapers don’t always have room to print. I read every tidbit I could on Iraq and the war before coming.

Everything I thought I knew was wrong....

One of the most frustrating things about this war for me has been the disconnect between what Iraqis say, what our soldiers in Iraq say and what the media says.

Polls consistently show that 70% of Iraqis say their country has improved and will get better in a democratic future. Large majorities in both Sunni and Shiite areas see their future as unified and democratic.

Yet our pundits and armchair generals insist that the war is unwinnable.

Our military's morale is high, and many of our troops voluntarily blog about their experiences. By and large, they insist that the work they are doing is just and must continue.

But the media sees what it wants to see: the wounded and the dead, and a demoralized army that can't meet its recruiting for two straight months (when it exceeded those goals in the follwing two months, the story was largely ignored.)

Blogs are the only way to explain the other story.

And in this case, the story is not of a failing effort in a forgotten region of the world. It is one of the most important wars we have ever fought. If we lose, we will fight many more costly wars in this region in the future.

Insurgencies win by not losing: They simply wait for the other side to give up.

Our soldiers know this. Iraqis know this.

But many Americans don't want to think about that, and the media is encouraging them with its sorry rhetoric. Many Americans seem to think the problem in Iraq is us, and if we leave, everything will be OK again.

This view needs to be challenged.

This is why blogs exist.

Friday, December 16, 2005
 

NIMBY Jackass


Robert Kennedy doesn't want people to look at him and see an out-of-touch idealist. He just doesn't want his sailing grounds off Nantucket to be home to an icky wind farm.

It would distract from the beautiful sunrises that the Kennedy clan has enjoyed for a century. Boats would have to go around it. And it would kill birds.

But Kennedy would tolerate the diverted boat traffic and the dead birds if he didn't have to see it. Can't we put it somewhere else where it might affect poorer people - not me?

Kennedy demonstrates that "out-of-touch" is exactly what he is:

As an environmentalist, I support wind power, including wind power on the high seas. I am also involved in siting wind farms in appropriate landscapes, of which there are many. But I do believe that some places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development. I wouldn't build a wind farm in Yosemite National Park. Nor would I build one on Nantucket Sound, which is exactly what the company Energy Management is trying to do with its Cape Wind project.


Pity. Too bad you can't put your wind farm in a ghetto.

I think wind power is great (but it is a shame about the birds). If some company wants to make a go of it making it economical, let them have a try (although I think expensive oil is more important to the growth of these companies than federal help).

But people like Kennedy will kill off the idea just about anywhere promising, just as they have done to nuclear power.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005
 

Beyond parody


I saw the movie "Team America World Police" a while ago.

I appreciate its biting humor, though the movie is a little on the offensive side and it is deifinitely not one for the kiddies.

The songs are great. I like the lines from "Freedom Isn't Free:"
Would you think about all them people
Who gave up everything they had.
Would you think about all them War Vets
And would you start to feel bad

Freedom isn't free
It costs folks like you and me
And if we don't all chip in
We'll never pay that bill
Freedom isn't free
No, there's a hefty fuckin' fee.
And if you don't throw in your buck 'o five
Who will?

Yes, sentimental rednecks take thier licks.

But the film is particularly biting when it focuses on the media, as in the star-studded pity party that cries on cue about the tragedy of AIDS.

Now I agree AIDS is terrible. Preventing it, though, is fairly strightforward. A man who contracts AIDS in the US in 2005 will get as much sympathy from me as the drunk driver who kills himself in a car crash.

They both knew they were taking a serious risk, and well - that's the breaks.

I have far more concern for what AIDS is doing to the children of the world, particularly in Africa. They ARE innocent, and AIDS has become one of their biggest killers.

But so is diarrhea, and I'm not kidding. Diarrhea is still - by far- the world's leading killer of children. One performance of Hollywood's brightest could save thousands of children. Hydration kits and information are cheap.

But do celebrities pack Manhattan theatres to raise money to buy hydration kits?

No, there is nothing glamorous about the real business of saving lives in the Third World. It's much more fun to tweak homophobic conservatives and pester heartless pharmaceutical companies.

Parker and Stone mock these people and their gala "awareness raising" events mercilessly in song:

Well I'm gonna march on Washington
Lead the fight and charge the brigades
There's a hero inside of all of us
I'll make them see everyone has AIDS

My father (AIDS!)
My sister (AIDS!)
My uncle and my cousin and her best friend (AIDS AIDS AIDS!)
The gays and the straights
And the white and the spades

Everyone has AIDS!
My grandma and my dog 'ol blue (AIDS AIDS AIDS)
The pope has got it and so do you (AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS)
C'mon everybody we got quilting to do (AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS)
We gotta break down these baricades, everyone has
AIDS! x 20

But Hollywood-types are irony proof, and many of these people clearly didn't see the movie.

This is a real campaign:




Hat tip: my brother-in-law.

Monday, December 12, 2005
 

Global warming...


I think stories like this like this are humorous:
MONTREAL -- Tens of thousands of people ignored frigid temperatures Saturday to lead a worldwide day of protest against global warming.

I think it is funny that whenever Al Gore goes on one of his global warming speak-a-thons, the nation is afflicted by record cold frigid temperatures and once-in-a-decade blizzards. It gives me the giggles when I hear otherwise intelligent people say global warming is the cause of dessicating droughts AND soaking rains.

Desertification? Global warming. Devastating hurricanes? Global warming. When the lakes dry up and the soil cracks? Global warming. When the streams turn to rivers and the fields flood?

You guessed it: global warming.

When tsunamis kills hundreds of thousands? No, they didn't say it, but it was on the tips of their tongues.

Regarding global warming: I'm willing to stipulate all these points:

I'll grant that the Earth is getting warmer. Ah, what the hell: I'll ignore the solar and historical data that might indicate temperature change is a regular cyclic phenomena, and I'll allow them to say that humans are the sole cause of this warming trend.

I'll even let you draw your dreadful conclusions about what it all means: rising sea levels and high temperatures that will devastate the globe, destroying our food base and impoverishing us all.

But I'd like to hear somebody explain to India and China that they cannot have cars, gas ovens and electricity because we - their betters - think it is a bad idea. I just have a sneaking feeling that the two billion Indians and Chinese are not going to buy that.

There is no getting around it: every drop of accessible oil will be pumped, every chunk of coal will be mined and every cubic foot of gas will be compressed.

If humans can get it, humans will get it. If we don't do it, then it will be done by others. Cheap, accessible energy is not going to go unused, no matter how cleverly you write your laws.

Anyone care to argue? I thought not.

So let's stop farting (methane is a greenhouse gas!) around with this Kyoto bullshit.

(Story via Everything I Know Is Wrong)

Saturday, December 10, 2005
 

A big NO to a-la-carte channels on cable or satellite


There is an idea currently going around Congress that cable and satellite television offerings would be vastly better - cheaper and less offensive - if customers were given the right to buy only the channels they wish to watch.

Of course, I could be a curmudgeon and point out that Congress shouldn't have the right to interfere in the pricing of someone else's product.

But...I'll limit this to my own self interest.

Reflexively, my first response to enforced a-la-carte cable channels is HELL YEAH.

I wouldn't have to pay for the ghastly MTV, the useless ESPN, or the sleep inducing boredom of C-Span. I'd pay for the History Channel, the Food Network, Comedy Central...Hell, I might even throw in WPN for the wife.

And my bill would be cut down to size.

Or would it?

I actually don't think that it would go down very much. I have Direct TV, and I get about 300 channels. I only watch a dozen or so of these.

The smaller channels I watch pay their bills largely from advertising. The reason that people pay to advertise on the smaller networks is because of viewers like me. I might not be regular viewer, but I am a potential viewer.

The potential viewership of the Travel Channel is around ten million viewers. Only a small fraction of those people are acually watching the Travel Channel, but they could watch - and that is what attracts the ad dollars, particularly to a network's high draw shows. People could channel surf in and watch for a few minutes before departing. They might see your ad. And that sells ads. Late at night, the smaller networks can air only infomercials for advertisers eager to get a small slice of several million potential viwers.

If the Travel Channel was subscription only, those potential viewers go down dramatically. Are you going to spend $25,000 to put an ad on a channel that only has a potential viewership of 20,000 people, and a real viewership of a few hundred people?

No, that won't work. Smaller channels will try to pass on their costs to the cable viewer. How much would you pay to have the Travel Channel? Right now, I get it for about a nickle. In order to help it pay its costs, it will be likely to cost me several dollars a month.

I wouldn't pay that much for it, and I doubt many others would either.

This scenario played out large would dramitically thin the herd of cable channels Americans have grown used to. The smaller channels would die, and with them would perish the vitality of the cable television universe.

Part of the fun of cable is there is practically a channel for everything, and new ones are constantly coming out. Where there was once only a Food Network, now there is a DIY Network, HGTV, the Leisure Channel, and the Travel Channel.

A la carte would kill off these these fledgling networks, and it would effectively prevent new ones from coming out. How would you like to pony up $5 for the brand new Woodworking Channel? Odds are you wouldn't bother.

Had a la carte pricing existed in the mid-80's, you would only have a dozen networks to choose from: CNN, Turner Broadcasting, MTV...By today's standards, cable in 1985 blew chunks.

The History Channel, Comedy Central, Food Network...these all came later as add ons. They were all laughed at in their turn - (Who would watch people cooking all day?) - but each has been quite successful. History Channel has spawned several related networks: Wings, History International, the Military Channel...

None of that would have happened with a la carte.

We all know that cable is more expensive than it was in 1985. But we forget that now get several hundred channels and not just ten.

Go to a la carte, you will have your ten again. And chances are they aren't going to be the ten you want: they will only be the ten you can stand of the twenty five that are available. And they will be almost as expensive as the deal you currently get now. The popular channels will be cheap - maybe a dollar or so a month - but the smaller channels will be dear - $5 dollars a month. The even smaller niche channels will be too expensive to make them worth your while.

In the end, you don't have a right to your favorite dozen channels, because there will no one there to sell them to you.

20 a-la-carte channels for $30 a month with little diversity (You'll get your choice of the biggies: CNN, CNN Headline News, FOX NEWS, Turner Network, MTV, Comedy Central, ESPN, BRAVO, Food Network, History Channel, Oxygen, Lifetime, VH1 and Turner Classic Movies).

OR

300 diverse channels - with more coming - for $40 a month?

Face it, cable is giving you a pretty good deal.

 

Misrepresentation


Every now and then on Blog Explosion, I come upon a truly great post. Today, I was lucky enough to see this one, from Nervous Rodent's View From the Bottom.

I reproduce it in full, with Kudos to him:

Guess The Headline

Each of these facts was presented by Iraq Vice President Ghazi al-Yawer, an elected representative of the Iraqi people, at a press conference. Can you guess which was used to title the AP article that described the conference?


Iraqi Vice President insists that the Iraqi people need US forces to protect them from terrorists.

Iraqi Vice President dismisses calls for a withdrawal timeline, saying "I wish it were that simple."

Iraqi Vice President asks US military to monitor polling sites to ensure fair voting.

Iraqi Vice President says UN ineffective, asks US to take over UN duties

The correct answer? None of the above. AP chose to the this story with the headline "Training of Iraq Forces Suffers Setback."

I know what you're thinking. Of course Yawer wants the US to stay. He's a Shia Muslim that's finally been able to take control of the government with the help of the US. If we leave, Sunnis will overthrow the government and he'll be back on the street. Nope, Yawer is a Sunni Muslim, who advocates peace and secular politics. Despite being a Sunni Muslim, he's no fan of Saddam Hussein. The "setback" he referred to? Some of the newly trained Iraqi forces are using Saddam-era tactics, indicating it will take longer than expected to develop an army that fights fair, with minimal damage to civilians.

Come on, AP. How hard is it to write a headline that isn't full of negative spin? If you wanted to say Yawer disagreed with Bush's assertations that the Iraqi forces are growing strong, what was wrong with "Iraqi Vice President Asks US Not to Withdraw Troops"? A headline like that might convince people that staying the course is the right thing to do. A "setback," on the other hand, sounds like something bad is happening -- and maybe we should pull out.

Iraq is a sovereign nation ruled by an elected government. Since when has America turned a blind eye to free democracies asking for help from terrorists and those who wish to build dictatorships? Regardless of why we went to Iraq, it is our duty to protect freedom and democracy, wherever it grows.


This kind of thing happens so frequently in our media it is tiresome to keep pointing it out.

 

Despair,INC


I love Despair,INC - a company that makes ripoffs of those cheesy motivational posters that managers tape up in your local Burger King.



Check 'em out.

Friday, December 09, 2005
 

The Arab civil war


I've said this many times before, but I never seen it expressed so eloquently (Via Best Of The Web):

Writing in the liberal New Republic, Harvard law prof William Stuntz draws an interesting analogy between Iraq and the Civil War:

Toppling Saddam and seizing his chemical and biological weapons probably wasn't worth the sacrifice of 2,000-plus American lives (as long as nuclear weapons weren't in the picture). Similarly, control over the Mississippi wasn't worth the bloodletting across the length of the Confederacy's border that took place in Lincoln's first term.

Thankfully, Lincoln saw to it that the war's purpose changed. George W. Bush has changed the purpose of his war too, though the change seems more the product of our enemies' choices than of Bush's design. By prolonging the war, Zarqawi and his Baathist allies have drawn thousands of terrorist wannabes into the fight--against both our soldiers and Muslim civilians. When terrorists fight American civilians, as on September 11, they can leverage their own deaths to kill a great many of us. But when terrorists fight American soldiers, the odds tilt towards our side.

Equally important, by bringing the fight to a Muslim land, by making that land the central front of the war on Islamic terrorism, the United States has effectively forced Muslim terrorists to kill Muslim civilians. That is why the so-called Arab street is rising--not against us but against the terrorists, as we saw in Jordan after Zarqawi's disastrous hotel bombing.

The population of the Islamic world is choosing sides not between jihadists and Westerners, but between jihadists and people just like themselves. We are, slowly but surely, converting bin Laden's war into a civil war--and that is a war bin Laden and his followers cannot hope to win.

Yes, this war stinks.

I hate seeing all the lives that have been cut short by its horrors. I read the stories of shattered lives almost masochisticly, reminding myself all the time that good people are dead because of the war I have supported from the outset.

I remind myself that Iraq was just as violent before this war; it is only that the gunshots were muffled and the victims were silent. People who think Iraq was at peace prior to the war need to take a good look at the hundreds of thousands of boides that fill the mass graves of Iraq.

I'll take responsibility for the dead of the war.

But for just once, I'd like to see them take responsibility for the dead of the peace.

They weren't silent about these dead before the war. Organizations that screamed about "5000 children a month dying in Iraq" under the UN's Oil For Food Program are today decrying the war that ended that senseless loss of life.

But enough of the past. We are here now: the only way Al Qaeda can win is if we give up, and the price of that will eventually be far worse for the US.

We couldn't see the effect that our retreat from Somalia would have on Al Qaeda in 1993: they became the heroes of the Arab world, and our reticence in acting against them led directly to September 11th.

So we cannot see the effect that our withdraw would have on them now.

It may be politically expedient.

After all, Americans would love to go back to halycon days before September 11th. The biggest news in Washington was Gary Condit, everyone wanted to meet Regis and get their chance to be a millionaire, Pets.com was a company worth billions, and people fretted over whether there were too many shark attacks in Florida.

Nobody was paying attention to the murderous regimes in the Middle East. Osama was biding his time unmolested in an outlaw state.

Political expediency does not make withdrawal right. Or smart.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005
 

Bad Poetry


Pakistan is purging a poem from its school textbooks.

Apparently, the first letter of each line spells out "PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH," and this is causing an uproar in Islamabad.

The people who approve textbooks missed the "error," and the poem is being removed because it was anonymous and copied from the internet.

Copied from the internet. Could there be a better place to find quality poetry to teach the kiddies?

"The official said the concerned wing of the ministry was probing how a number of committees that sift through all textbooks, failed to take notice of the glaring blunder.

According to the paper, the unidentified official also wondered as to why the writer was kept nameless."

I'll take a stab at that mystery: The writer was kept nameless because his work was an embarrassing piece of shit that no student should be allowed to read, much less forced to learn.

Look:

You can think Bush is an evil, chimp retard who is bent on destroying the world.

OR

You can think Bush is a champion of good fighting tyranny.

(Or you can agree with me: Bush is the champion of a lucky retard club - bumbling into the presidency by running against people who are even stupider and more spineless than he is.)

But can we all agree, this poem is really a piece of shit?

The Leader

Patient and steady with all he must bear,
Ready to accept every challenge with care,
Easy in manner, yet solid as steel,
Strong in his faith, refreshingly real,
Isn't afraid to propose what is bold,
Doesn't conform to the usual mold,
Eyes that have foresight, for hindsight wont do,
Never back down when he sees what is true,
Tells it all straight, and means it all too,
Going forward and knowing he's right,
Even when doubted for why he would fight,
Over and over he makes his case clear,
Reaching to touch the ones who won't hear,
Growing in strength, he won't be unnerved,
Ever assuring he'll stand by his word,
Wanting the world to join his firm stand,
Bracing for war, but praying for peace,
Using his power so evil will cease:
So much a leader and worthy of trust,
Here stands a man who will do what he must.


Man, I think I might be sick.

Monday, December 05, 2005
 

It's a mystery!


The New York Times unleashes its seasoned, genius economics reporters to explain a conundrum: why is the US economy doing well?

Nothing is simple or obvious for these folks:

"Gasoline prices - the national average is now $2.15, according to the Energy Information Administration - have fallen because higher prices held down demand and Gulf Coast supplies have been slowly restored."


Higher prices have held down demand and encouraged production?

Keep digging, intrepid reporters!

You may be about to discover something important - like "The Law of Supply and Demand."


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