In short, one might conclude that all knowledge, wisdom, and wit are confined to those who inhabit New York City, Washington DC, or Hollywood.
As I creep inexorably toward nearly 70 years of life experience - which was gained in many cities in the U.S. and in about 30 foreign countries, I decided to put down some ongoing thoughts in a series I call "The View From the Outback." That experience has included the U.S. Marines, law school, the ATF, the CIA, Fortune 500 executive, writer, public speaker, educator, editor, and publisher - for openers. For over 20 years, I have written articles off and on for various magazines and newspapers. I've had an enormous number of letters published in major national publications. The Outback is the rural area in Northeast Texas where I have lived for the past 10 years. Each Saturday I will attempt to post a new set of musings from the Outback.
I bow in reverence to Nick Nolte. He was recently quoted as saying that Hollywood studios are motivated only by money, that the "thirty-somethings" who run the studios are ignorant about cinema and literature, and that their films are little more than cartoons. I knew there was a reason that I watch only about five movies a year. I made the mistake the other night of watching "Charlie's Angels" on pay-per-view. I almost switched channels part way into it, but I am too cheap to throw away $3.99. You're right Nick. It was kind of a cartoon, with plunging necklines to display breasts. I am hard pressed to remember the plot. Oh, that's right. I guess there wasn't any plot. Other than to get your money under false pretenses.
Sen. Jesse Helms and Sen. Joseph Lieberman are proposing $100 million in aid to Cuban dissidents and other non-governmental groups. I get mad as hell every time the subject of Cuba comes up. The Cuban people have done nothing to us, Castro has. We are about the only country on earth whose citizens cannot visit Cuba and spend money. I have many friends in Cuba via ham radio and letters. They literally beg me to come and visit - to stay in their home. I am getting very tired of telling them that I am "hoping" to do that. One of the honchos at Radio Havana is a ham-radio-operator and has invited me to tour Radio Havana and go to a ham-radio club meeting. But it is all moot, because of our stupid policies toward Cuba. My Cuban friend writes a monthly column in an American ham-radio magazine. One night on his Radio Havana show, he mentioned that he and I had talked that day via ham radio. Does that make me a Communist sympathizer? Have you read my background? What a weird scenario this whole thing is.
Kimberley A Strassel, in an editorial in The Wall Street Journal for May 17, 2001 says that conservation wastes energy. A couple of points. Since 1970, The U.S. has made cars almost 50% more efficent. In that period of time, the average number of miles a person drives has doubled. If consumers buy more energy-efficient air conditioners, they run them longer because the end cost is the same. She says that people consume based on their pocketbook, so if devices get more efficient, the use goes up. Think about a reduction in the price of an item. Aren't you likely to buy more of that item? I bought 50 blank CD-ROM disks last week that I did not need right now, because the price was so low. Now, I will burn more CDs because I have so many cheap CD disks.
Are you getting strange messages on your car's diagnostic display? Read the Owner's Manual. I changed oil in my 2001 Chevy Silverado pickup at 3,000 miles. At about 5,000 miles, I began to get a message that said "Change Engine Oil." It turns out that when you change oil, you need to reset the engine-oil-monitor, which I did not do. You turn on the key and press the gas pedal to the floor three times within five seconds to do the reset. This truck has a smarter set of microprocessors than the one in the original IBM PC.
Critics of President Bush's energy policy are many and loud. That is what you get when you try to do something constructive. Bill Clinton avoided all this grief by ignoring the problem.
David Letterman Grovels For The Colombians
David Letterman made a joke about Miss Colombia (in the Miss Universe pageant) swallowing balloons filled with Heroin - as one of her "talents." All of Colombia, and many more, were upset. He made some lame apologies. But, for the first time, I could actually see that he was running scared. He knows that he has stepped on the wrong toes this time. Letterman knows how wantonly those in the drug cartels kill people. The news speaks often of car bombings in Colombia. In a strange twist of logic, somebody in that group might be upset enough with Letterman insulting their lovely lady that his life could be in jeopardy. You could see the concern in his eyes and read it in his voice. It was and is a delight to see.
Keep it up, motor-mouth. And take a different route home each night. Park your car in a locked garage. Don't sit by the window. Hire someone to mow your yard. Check with the Secret Service about getting some of those seismic detectors that trip an alarm if someone is walking around on the property. If a goofy lady could get into your house several times, imagine what could be accomplished by skilled professionals.
Grovel: to act in a servile way, showing exaggerated and false respect in order to please somebody - or out of fear.
On Thursday, May 17, 2001, Letterman had as a guest on his show Miss Colombia, Andrea Noceti. She took command from the start and insisted that David wear her COLOMBIA sash. At one point, he asked, "How long do I have to wear this thing?" Andrea indicated that he should wear it until the interview was over. Never has Letterman groveled in front of a guest the way he did with Miss Noceti, who was polite but very firm. She could have asked him to get down on bended knee and ask for forgiveness and he would have done it. She was totally in charge.
After much "kissing up" to her, and kissing her on both cheeks at least three times, he asked her what message she would take back about him and the United States. "You joke about what you shouldn't joke, but you're a nice man," she said. David said that he had "learned his lesson" about telling jokes about Colombia and drugs. Letterman was so flustered that he forgot to give her flowers that he had behind the desk to present to her.
Miss Colombia presented Letterman with a signed photograph from Juan Valdez, the guy you saw for so many years in TV ads for Colombian coffee. Juan Valdez was a fictional character created by an ad agency in about 1960. Valdez was portrayed by Carlos Sanchez since 1969. I heard somewhere that Mr. Valdez (Mr. Sanchez) died some time back. Do you suppose there was any symbolism in Miss Colombia presenting Letterman with a photo of a dead guy? Naw. I'm just trying to be dramatic and absurd, just like on TV and in the newspapers.
I appreciated what Miss Noceti had to say about the majority of the Colombian people being hard working and not involved in the drug trade. Over the past 20 years, I have made many friends in Colombia via ham radio. They are warm and gracious people, as are most people I know in Central and South America, many of whom I met in person in my travels.
Then, in a nanosecond after Miss Colombia left the stage, Letterman reverted to character. Jack Hannah, the animal guy came on. Letterman tried to get him into a discussion about drilling for oil in the wilderness in Alaska. Hannah said he did not want to get into that. Letterman opined that it was a bad idea and snarled that Bush ought to drill on his ranch in Texas. So, Letterman has joined the other celebrity "experts" who say that drilling in Alaska is a bad idea. How comforting to us all to have his opinion on the matter.
To put Letterman's environmental expertise in perspective, David in late 2000 was decrying "the melting of the polar ice cap due to global warming." He apparently was parroting a story that had appeared in the The New York Times. Unfortunately for all the alarmists, the story had no scientific basis. S. Fred Singer, a professor of environmental science, and former chief scientist for the U.S. Department of Transportation, wrote an article in the Aug. 28, 2000 issue of The Wall Street Journal in which he noted that all scientific measurements agreed that the polar regions had not warmed appreciably in recent decades. The channels in the ice which were reported with alarm are normal and seasonal. Mr. Singer was a veteran of two Arctic expeditions, among other qualifications. The NY Times eventually retracted the "polar icecap melting" story. I can't remember if Letterman ever retracted his story about the icecap. I think he did.
David Letterman can apparently say most anything he wants, until he offended a group that might provide him with a new way to get to work - floating down the Hudson River. I doubt that Les Moonves, the president of CBS has much control over Letterman. David has consistently insulted Moonves during the show. Letterman has a contract, which might be hard to break. CBS certainly needs the money brought in by the Letterman show, even though his ratings consistently trail Leno's. Letterman is also independently wealthy, in part due to his production company WorldWide Pants, Inc. He can afford to be about as big a jerk as he cares to be.
So, it took some serious threats from a group that was in no mood for his nonsense to bring him to his knees. It was wonderful to watch. Now, if Dick Cheney would just come on and say, "David, how can you be so cruel as to continue to make jokes about me having heart attacks?" How would Letterman like it if the White House press secretary came to a briefing and was asked for reaction to Letterman's jokes about Cheney heart attacks - and Ari Fleischer said, "Well, Letterman has had bypass surgery. One can only hope that he has a massive heart attack and dies. That would end the Cheney jokes." That would be poetic justice.
As noted, the same night as the appearance by Miss Colombia, Letterman had the zoo guy on with the animals. Jay Leno had some Australian guy on with a bunch of animals. Once again, I ask the question: do the writers on both shows talk to each other about upcoming shows, or is all this just a huge coincidence? Maybe both sides realize that animals are more interesting than the vapid and dysfunctional celebrities that are the stock and trade of talk shows. Do you really enjoy Charlie Sheen telling about how he used to be drunk and stoned all the time? Or the touching testimonials from friends about what a nice guy Robert Downey, Jr. is?
After I had watched enough of network late-night to see the pattern, I switched to C-SPAN and the Senate confirmation hearings for the new FCC commissioners. It was interesting and informative - and there were some good jokes. The new group is very bright and capable and seemed like they will do their best to protect the interests of the consumer. The FCC Commission, by law, must be bi-partisan. You might follow the work of the FCC more closely. It affects every person's life in this country in one way or another.
Robert Blake And The Mystery "Bullets"
The reporting about guns associated with actor Robert Blake and the murder of his wife has been sloppy as usual. Many press accounts speak of "a third bullet" still in the chamber of the apparent murder weapon. And that three "bullets" are allegedly missing from a box of ammunition found at Blake's home "of the same brand" used in the murder weapon. A bullet is the thing that comes out of the barrel when you fire a gun. A "cartridge" is the thing you load into a gun, and is comprised of the shell casing, powder, primer and the bullet. All of this confusion might lead one to believe that the three "bullets" missing from the box at Blake's home were possibly used in the murder weapon.
The weapon believed to be the murder weapon is a German Walther PPK, a semiautomatic pistol. Robert Blake has a permit for a concealed weapon. He applied to carry any one of: two Smith& Wesson .38 caliber (revolvers) and a .40 S&W Glock (semiautomatic pistol). The Walther PPK does not chamber or fire either .38 caliber or .40 S&W cartridges. The box of cartridges found at Blake's home, with three missing "bullets" (caliber not identified in the reports I have seen) were made by Remington Arms. There are millions of boxes of Remington handgun cartridges in people's homes on any given day - in a wide range of calibers.
Many jokes are being make about Mr. Blake saying that he went back to retrieve a handgun he "forgot" in the restaurant. Regardless of whether he is innocent of guilty of the murder, he is guilty of stupidity. Say you went back to get your billfold, your credit card, your glasses, car keys, the dinner receipt, Bobby. But you went back to get a gun! Good grief. I have been carrying handgun for about 50 years, and I have never left one in a restaurant or any other public place.
Some of us remember Robert Blake from his many appearances on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. He was at that time a very disturbed person - "messed up" by his own admission! He made jokes about it. It was not funny then and certainly not funny now.
A few days after the initial reporting about the "bullets" found at Blake's home, it was finally reported that the shell casings found at the crime scene (ejected from a semiautomatic pistol) do not match the ammunition found in Blake's home. So far, I have found only two sentences in the news sources I scanned that tell of this lack of a match. But, there were hundreds of reports out there when several reporters and editors with half-a-brain tried to make it look like the ammunition found in Blake's home implicated him in the crime.
Years ago I was writing some columns on guns and gun crime for The Dallas Times Herald. At a meeting of senior editors, I took them to task for sloppy, inaccurate, and inflammatory writing about guns and gun crime - using many examples from their recent issues. Surprisingly, they all agreed with me. I said that I would write a "Media Guide to Reporting on Guns and Gun Crime." That document (written in 1991) was circulated to all senior editors and reporters who wrote stories about guns and gun crime. It was so well received, that I sent it to several major newspapers, the Associated Press, and others who never seemed to get anything right when they reported on guns and gun crime.
If you would like to have a "primer" on definitions and some thoughts about gun crime, you can find the Guide on my main Web page. Click on "Crime and Firearms" and then on "Media Guide to Guns and Gun Crime." You too can then write nasty letters to the pea-brains in the media who refer to cartridges as "bullets" and call for the Federal government to regulate "automatic weapons" (they have been regulated since 1934). Pardon me for a minute while I e-mail the URL to FoxNews online - among others
What Is The Fuss About "The Sopranos"?
Many people are upset that "The Sopranos" on HBO is providing a stereotype of Italian- Americans. Some are threatening to sue HBO. I don't recall much fuss when the book "The Godfather" came out. Or, the movies. Or, the books by former FBI agents depicting their battle to nail the Mafia. Or, even when a former "boss" wrote a book about his days in the mob. Everyone is smart enough to know that only a small percentage of the Italian-American folks are members of the Mob. Is anybody still trying to deny that the Mafia exists? Ask John Gotti, rusting away in prison. Ask "Sammy the Bull" Gravano, who ratted on Gotti. And is there no Mafia in New Jersey? Please!
When I was a Federal agent in Philadelphia, the Philly mob boss lived in New Jersey - as did I for a time. There was a great dinner theater in Cherry Hill, N.J. where we went to see Harry Belafonte. I remember the comedian looking down at the many older men (many of them mob guys no doubt) accompanied by very young women. "It is so nice to see so many men have brought their daughters to the show," he said. It brought the house down.
Mob guys kind of like notoriety. It feeds their macho image of themselves and adds to the mystique of the Mafia, which is often good for business. I'll bet there is hardly a mob guy in Jersey who does not watch the show. And when some guy gets wacked, you might hear from the privacy of the family den, "Yeah, dats was the M....F..... deserved." Tryouts for Extras on the show had to be cancelled when hundreds of Italian-Americans showed up for the auditions.
Tony Soprano's town is never mentioned by name, but clues lead to the idea that it is either Verona or West Caldwell. Real estate values in the area are soaring. I'm sure business is up in Italian restaurants in Jersey and elsewhere.
A panel on TV was discussing the success of "The Sopranos." Forget the violence, forget the sex, one guy said. The success is the wonderful and complex writing. The family relationships, a mob boss going to a shrink, the seeming contradiction of being a loving father and husband yet being capable of almost unspeakable violence, and so on. This is a real as it gets. I remember standing on a street corner in South Philly one day talking with a burly and tough mob guy named Charlie. He excused himself. "Listen," he said. "My mom ain't feeling so good. I gotta go home and make her some chicken soup." And later that night - who knows?
I have "The Sopranos" listed on my Palm Pilot, so I remember that it is on Sunday night. If only their "season" had more episodes. But it is better have only a little of something good, than too much of something very bad, like we so often find on the networks.
The Drug Companies Continue Their Assault On Your Pocketbook
One night this week, I talked via ham radio to a man who is a pharmacist in a hospital in Florida. He said he thought that the TV ads for prescription drugs were "stupid." I told him that was the same word that had been used by the several doctors to whom I had spoken on the subject. He also noted that there is a huge amount of money spent by the pharmaceutical companies on distributing samples to doctors. Many of these drugs are eventually tossed in the trash. This, along with the expensive ad campaigns on TV drives the cost of drugs way up. In the end, you and I pay for those expenses.
It is true that samples sometimes save a patient from having to buy an expensive new prescription. The doctor can pass on some samples to see "how these work for you." A lot of times, the use of the samples proves that the drug is not the right one for the patient. But, like a computer maker loading Microsoft Word on your hard-drive at the factory, if the patient does use the type of drug which is sampled, it is often the brand that was sampled. And the sample drug might not have been the best one to prescribe. It is what is in the "closet." The whole area of sampling needs to be given a hard look by the FDA and the Congress in the interests of reducing the cost of prescription drugs.
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has told Hoffman-LaRoche to stop showing its TV ad for the weight-loss drug Xenical, partly because the ads fail to provide full information about potential side-effects - of which there are many. The FDA has the power to ban (or allow) drug ads on TV. Only in recent years has it been allowed. It is time for them to bite the bullet and admit they made a mistake - and take all the drug ads off TV.
Aproximately $2.5 billion was spent in 2000 for drug advertising to consumers. An additional $4 billion is estimated to have been spent on marketing to doctors. Although many industries take customers to lunch or to a sporting event, or so on, the drug companies engage in very aggressive "courting" of doctors. Such activities include "conferences" (drug sales pitches) where the the doctors hotel room is paid for, a meal, and often a $300 "consultant's honorarium" (bribe).
The Federal Trade Commision (FTC) is investigating the role that the major drug companies have played in the delay of generic drugs reaching the market. The concept of patents is simple. If you have a unique machine, product, or drug formula, for example, you can apply for a U.S. Patent. If granted, nobody else can make that product for 20 years unless they pay you a royalty on each item made. This is to encourage R&D and new product development - and to allow the company to recover its development costs. (See: www.uspto.gov re patent, trademark & copyright law)
Once a drug's patent has expired, someone else can make a "generic" equivalent of that drug. In the next five years, drugs with a total sales of $20 billion will go "off-patent."
(Definition: A generic drug is a product that the FDA has found to be bioequivalent to a brand name drug. Generic drugs are chemically identical to their branded counterparts, but typically are sold at substantial discounts from the branded price.)
It turns out that many drug patents have expired, but in some cases the generic equivalents have not been brought to the market. The FTC is looking into potentially illegal contracts and behind- the-scenes deals made by the major drug companies to delay the introduction of generics for some expired parented drugs. The theory is simple. If drug company A is making hundreds of millions of dollars on its patented drug, but the patent expires, it can afford to pay a potential generic drug maker a fee not to enter the market. Here is a brief quote from the FTC Web site (www.ftc.gov) about one such case:
"On March 30, 1998, the very day it was granted FDA approval to market its generic terazosin HCL capsules, Geneva contacted Abbott and announced that it would launch its generic terazosin HCL capsules unless it was paid by Abbott not to enter the market. From Abbott's perspective, a launch of Geneva's generic terazosin HCL product would have had a significant adverse impact on Abbott's financial performance. Abbott forecasted that entry of generic terazosin HCL on April 1, 1998 would have eliminated over $185 million in Hytrin sales in just six months. Because Hytrin was highly profitable, Abbott sought to keep from the market Geneva and all other potential generic competition to Hytrin, until at least February 2000.
Over the course of two days, representatives of Abbott and Geneva negotiated the framework for an agreement, whereby Abbott would pay Geneva not to enter the market. Abbott estimated Geneva's revenues from launching generic terazosin HCL at $1 million to $1.5 million per month, but was willing to pay Geneva a "premium" over that not to compete."
Consider a drug like Vasotec (for high blood pressure).The patent has now expired. The brand name may sell for $85 or more for a one-month supply. Even a "co-pay" on an insurance plan may be as much as $30. The generic equivalent, which should reach the market soon, will be only a few dollars for the same quantity. If you multiply the number of does of Vasotec that have been sold over the past 17-20 years times the actual cost of production, the profits are staggering. There is plenty in there for R&D, giving away samples, ads on TV, heavy (and often unethical) spending on marketing to doctors, and enough left over to still make huge profits. Nobody should feel sorry for the drug companies when one of their patents expires.
Now, we have a report that says doctors need to more aggressively treat high cholesterol. The new standards could put as many as 18% of Americans on a "statin" drug to lower cholesterol. Five of the 14 members of the panel that made the new recommendations were either consultants to, or received honorariums from, several drug companies who produce cholesterol-lowering drugs. Sales of statins already are at $9.66 billion a year and will increase dramatically if doctors pursue the new, stricter cholesterol guidelines.
Even if you "need" to lower your cholesterol, there are several alternatives to the statins, which have many potential side effects. Dr. Dean Ornish has shown that a low-fat, virtually vegetarian diet, can lower cholesterol and even reverse artery clogging. I know from personal experience that his diet can dramatically lower cholesterol. There are many natural supplements that can help lower cholesterol. Cholestin (Chinese Red Yeast) is one that is well known. There are many others. Margarines, such as Take Control, have been shown both in Finland and the U.S. to lower cholesterol. Exercise and weight loss can help. A glass of wine a day and exercise can raise the HDL or "good" cholesterol. But most people seem to want to eat chesseburgers and fries and cheesecake and take a "pill" to lower their cholesterol. The drug companies are counting on you being too weak to take charge of your diet, or too lazy to seek out natural alternatives to lower your cholesterol.
The FDA is not without its critics. There are charges that the FDA is "too cozy" with the drug companies, and so on. But, on balance, if you a looking for a bad guy, look to the pharmaceutical companies. They are screwing you royally.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Richard C. Rhodes
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