In short, one might conclude that all knowledge, wisdom, and wit are confined to those who inhabit New York City, Washington DC, or Hollywood.
If you study the biographies of print and TV journalists, the majority have never had a "real" job. Scan the biographies of members of Congress and you will find that the majority have never held a "real" job. That is, if you do not count "attorney" as a real job. Many went almost directly from law school into politics. They are, for the most part, career politicians. A quick survey of the C-SPAN 1999 Congressional Directory shows about 40 Senators out of the 100 held real jobs. About seven of the real-job Senators list their previous occupation as "journalist" or "broadcaster." One lists "actor." So, one group is making our laws. The other group is telling us what they think we should know and how we should interpret what we are told. Yet, neither group has spent much time walking in our shoes.
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 had a terrible nightmare. Somebody was calling Hillary Clinton "Madam President." Oh, my God, it was real! Sen. Clinton was presiding over the U.S. Senate the other day, a position that seems to rotate eventually to every member. The presiding officer of the Senate is "President of the Senate." When a female is presiding, she is addressed as "Madam President." Somebody needs to talk to the coach and take her out of the starting rotation. She will get too used to being called "Madam President" and will be unable to resist a run for the White House. That would be a real nightmare.
In my July 21, 2001 Outback, "What Is A Real Job?" I commented on how insightful and articulate Sen. Bill Frist, who is a surgeon, seemed to be. Al Hunt, writing in The Wall Street Journal (July 26, 2001) notes that Dr. Frist spent his recent Senate recess in Sudan, Africa, doing surgeries in a makeshift operating room with no electricity or running water. Sen. (Dr.) Frist also periodically visits free health clinics in Washington, D.C. to treat poor people. Sen. Frist has said that he plans to leave the Senate in 2006, after two terms. Some are talking him up as a V.P. candidate on the 2004 Republican presidential ticket. By then, Dick Cheney, whom I greatly admire, will have had time to give sufficient on-the-job-training to President Bush, whom I greatly admire, in the convoluted ways of getting legislation passed and other arcane political arts. Cheney should welcome a chance to retire - for about the fourth time. The irony will not be lost on many - that Cheney, who has a damaged heart, might be replaced by a heart surgeon.
Jason Alexander, who played George on "Seinfeld," will have his own TV show, "Bob Patterson," in the Fall on ABC. Already, there have been two cast changes and a head writer quit. This reminds one of the inauspicious beginning of the "Michael Richard's Show," (Kramer) which tanked after only a few episodes. I got in late on the "Seinfeld' mania. But I never understood the appeal of Jason Alexander or his character, George. The guy was as dull as dishwater - in a show Seinfeld himself described as being "all about nothing." Jason has a good reputation on Broadway and as a song-and-dance man. Being the star of a sitcom is a different gig. Ask Bette Midler. I suspect that Alexander cannot rise above the comedy dishwater level and his new show will vie with Drano to see which goes down the drain first.
Cut your prescription drug bills in half! No, not a government plan or a nifty insurance plan. In the July 27, 2001 issue of the WSJ, Tara Parker-Pope writes that many prescription drugs cost the same no matter the strength. Thus, at one source, Zocor costs $3.94 a pill for either the 20 mg or 40 mg version. So, if you need 20 mg doses, you buy the 40 mg and cut it in half. This is a savings of 50%! Not all drugs have blanket pricing regardless of dose. And capsules, for example, are not amenable to splitting doses. Plus, there is the investment in equipment. You can buy a small plastic "pill cutter" in the drug store for around $2.50 - less than the cost of one Zocor.
My Dallas past continues to come back to haunt me. Fashion designer Pauline Trigere is getting a spot on the Fashion Walk of Fame in New York. You probably never heard of Pauline. In my checkered past, I dated the couture (hi-fashion) buyer from Neiman-Marcus - and assumed that one day we would marry. I used to baby-sit the two girls while mom was on fashion-buying trips to New York. Leece and Valerie, I love you - wherever you are. One day Mz. Fashion returned from New York to announce, without much fanfare, that she was going to marry the son of Pauline Trigere - and would be moving to New York. The marriage eventually broke up, I am told. Although I have never met Pauline Trigere or her son J.P., I could have gone all week without stumbling across the news about Pauline and dredging up those memories. I remember after my friend left for New York how I would pass by her old apartment, put my cheek to the warm brick wall outside what used to be her bedroom, and cry. And you thought I was a heartless, ex-Marine, Neanderthal, male-chauvinist pig. Until it ended so abruptly, this was a storybook love story. Pass the tissues.
"Body of Secrets" by James Bamford
Normally, one finishes a book before writing a review or recommending a book. But after reading only 150 pages of about 700, I can tell you without fear of contradiction that this book will stun and shock you.
The book is mostly about the National Security Agency (NSA). This is the agency charged with intercepting radio and other electronic messages, breaking foreign codes, and so on. It is more secret than the CIA and apparently has a larger budget. James Bamford has written about NSA before ("The Puzzle Palace" which I read). In this book he trumps himself in digging up secret information about how our government conducts its electronic spying.
What's more, the author reveals many government plots and schemes that are nearly unbelievable. Yet, his research, footnotes and documentation seem impeccable.
We all know that the U.S. Government for many decades has tried to topple Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba. We plotted to assasinate Castro. We conducted the horribly-botched Bay of Pigs invasion, and so on. Mr. Bamford tells us that there was a prevailing opinion among many Generals and others that the only "solution" to the Cuban problem was to conduct a full-scale American invasion and take over the country. One plan proposed by Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer and the Joint Chiefs was to stage a fake attack on our naval base at Guantanamo Bay Cuba and blame it on Castro. Thus, there would be an excuse for an invasion.
President Kennedy and his brother Bobby were dedicated to toppling the Castro regime. Kennedy transferred the planning from CIA to the Pentagon, where all manner of hawks had a go at the planning. I will quote only one paragraph from the book. If you care about your country, I can't imagine why you would then not want to read the whole book. (I do not know the author and have no stake in this book, other than to suggest that it is required reading.)
From page 82, "Body of Secrets":
"Codenamed Operation Northwoods, the plan, which had the written approval of the Chairman and every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats carrying refugees from Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami, and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be hijacked. Using phony evidence, all of it would be blamed on Castro, thus giving Lemnitzer and his cabal the excuse, as well as the public and international backing, they needed to launch their war." (That is, the invasion of Cuba.)
And you thought Ruby Ridge and Waco were bad? "Body of Secrets" will give you many sleepless nights. Maybe you are not up to reading it.
Prozac Gets New Life!
In an earlier column, I reported that the patent for the anti-depressant Prozac, from Eli Lilly, had expired. Lily has now received FDA approval for a new version of Prozac called "Weekly Prozac." It is the same medicine as before, with two changes. The pill is 90mg and is "enteric- coated." The coating is similar to that used on aspirin and other compounds to delay the dissolution of the pill until it reaches the small intestine. As a layman, I fail to see how slowing down the dissolving process for a short time is going to have any long-term (week long) effect. Lily also points out that Prozac is normally slowly assimilated. They hedge their bet by telling doctors that if the weekly version does not work for the patient, they can go back to the one-a- day 20mg or whatever they were taking before.
This new iteration of the same basic drug extends the patent to the year 2017! The original Prozac can now be produced in a generic (much cheaper) form. Weekly Prozac, in the 90mg form, is intended for those whose depression had been stabilized with 20mg-a-day doses. Let's see, 20 x 7 = 140 mg-per-week. Perhaps that means that those who take the 90mg weekly version will be advised to stay in bed on weekends. People who opt to take Prozac Weekly rather than daily doses of the forthcoming cheaper generic are either lazy, perhaps not too bright, or don't have to pay for drugs. But already the ad hysteria on TV for Weekly Prozac has started. They have even been offering a one-month free trial! For a powerful anti-depressant? That is simply unconscionable.
We can thus possibly expect in 2017 (when the new patent expires) to see Bi-Monthly Prozac. The ad pitch may be: "Are you Bi-Polar? Take Bi-Monthly Prozac?" Catchy, what? I missed my calling.
How many of you remember the lawsuits against Eli Lilly in which it was alleged that several of the people who engaged in violent shootings - or had committed suicide - had been on Prozac? What a lovely range of emotions to possibly engender, suicide to homicide. The evidence at the various trials was pretty compelling that Prozac may have triggered violent behavior in many people. Eli Lilly never lost any of the nearly 200 cases. Many cases were settled before trial. The issue quietly went away, but not in the minds of those of us with memories like Elephants.
In 1988 Joseph Wesbecker shot dead seven of his co-workers and wounded 12 others before committing suicide. He was taking Prozac at the time. The victims brought suit and blamed the shootings on the fact Wesbecker was on Prozac. The jury returned a 9-3 verdict in favor of Eli Lilly & Company. But ... the trail judge said that there was evidence that lawyers on both sides made a deal to limit the use of certain incriminating evidence. Eventually, the Kentucky Supreme Court held that "there was a serious lack of candor with the trial court and there may have been deception, bad faith conduct, abuse of the judicial process or perhaps even fraud." In 1997, the status of the case was changed from a verdict for the defense (Eli Lilly) to "dismissed as settled."
The outcome of the Wesbecker case (Fentress, et al. v. Eli Lilly) was such a setback for attorneys working on other Prozac lawsuits, and its conduct and outcome reeked so heavily of misconduct, that lawyers sued the lawyers in the case. In case after case, often where the person exhibiting the violence had been on Prozac for a short time, Eli Lilly managed to prevail in court or settle the case. They could afford to settle some cases. They were making $7 million a day on Prozac.
A man with no history of violence, William Forsyth, started taking Prozac. Two weeks later, he stabbed his wife 15 times, killing her, and then impaled himself fatally on a knife. His children sued Eli Lilly, claiming that Prozac was the proximate cause of their father's violent outburst. Once again, a jury found in favor of Eli Lilly.
There is not room here to recount all of the lawsuits or high-profile violence cases which implicated Prozac or one of its sister drugs. Blood samples from Eric Harris, one of the Columbine High School shooters, confirmed that he was taking Luvox, a mind-altering psychiatric drug in the same family of drugs as Prozac. A family friend of Kip Kinkel, who was the shooter in the Thurston High shootings in Springfield, Oregon, said that Kip was taking Prozac. And on and on. To anybody with any sense, there have been too many instances of violent behavior being associated with the taking of Prozac to pass all of them off as coincidence. Do a search on google.com for "Prozac violent behavior," or "Prozac suicide," and so on. You will uncover an amazing story with legal, medical, moral and ethical overtones.
There is a "smoking gun"! As mentioned earlier, the basic Prozac patent was scheduled to expire in 2001. Eli Lilly was working on an "improved" version of Prozac, for which they were granted a patent. In the patent application, Eli Lily stated that the new formulation would reduce "the usual adverse effects" of the original Prozac, including "nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, inner restlessness (akathisia), suicidal thoughts, self mutilation, and manic behavior." "Akathisia" is a severe form of anxiety and agitation that can lead to violence. Well, when this patent report surfaced in the press, it was a whole new ballgame. Lawyers could see the possibility of winning some of the pending cases or even reopening old ones based on "new evidence that Eli Lilly knew all along there were dangerous side effects from Prozac."
In October of 2000, Eli Lilly announced it was halting development on the "new Prozac." Three guesses as to why. Back to the drawing board. And forward with the "new" Weekly Prozac, which is the same old Prozac in a larger dose and coated so it won't dissolve so fast. Terrific! What a scientific breakthrough! As I said in the beginning; if you are taking about 20mg of the original Prozac and switch to the Weekly Prozac, you are either lazy, not too bright, or rich and don't care what drugs cost. The much cheaper generic version of Prozac should do fine for you, unless you find it just too much trouble to take your meds every day. You are probably taking something else every day. It shouldn't be that hard to remember to take your generic anti-depressant each day. By the way, in one study, it was claimed that 70% of Prozac prescriptions were written by family doctors, not by psychiatrists. That's pretty scary.
DishNetwork's Personal Video Recorder DishPro 501
For several years, I have been tracking the progress of personal video recorders ( PVRs), devices that record TV programs on a hard drive. I did not like what I saw. There were too many unresolved technical and software issues. But the tide is turning, or has turned. Tivo is perhaps the most well known. Replay TV faded away it seems. Apparently, they are concentrating on licensing their technology to others. DirecTV now has a combination satellite TV receiver and video recorder. Since I own a DishNetwork satellite TV receiver, I watched their Dishplayer ( a pretty buggy box) evolve into the new DishPro 501. The customer comments on the forums were always so negative that I waited until now to take the plunge. I have no experience with Tivo.
Although I have had it only a week, and there are some very minor glitches, I am very pleased with the box. It combines a satellite TV receiver, capable of receiving Dolby Digital 5.1 programs, a UHF remote, and a hard drive capable of recording about 35 hours worth of programs.
I had read that you could be recording a program and press the Pause button to pause a program to answer the phone, feed the dog, or whatever - and then pick up the recording where you left off. I was surprised to learn that you can Pause a Live program. Read that again. Pause a Live program. As best as I can understand the technology, it is as follows. The DP 501 contains a small computer along with the hard drive. The DP 501 stores ongoing programs in a "memory buffer" or "cache" on the hard drive. If you are watching a program Live and press the Pause button, the program you see on screen stops, but it continues to load onto the hard drive. So, when you press Pause again, the program picks up where you left off. And at this point, you can press Skip to fast forward ahead in 30 second increments - until you use all the program material stored in the buffer. You then get a message that you are watching Live again. Kind of eerie.
But that ain't all. You can go backward in a Live program. Read that again. You can go backward in a Live program. Once again, the program is being loaded onto the hard drive. When you press Skip Back, the onboard computer takes you back on the hard drive about 10 seconds in the program stored on disk. More presses and you go further back - up to an hour in the program you have been watching. Or you can use the Rewind to go as far back as you want, up to an hour. Then, you can go forward in 30-second leaps. Once the material in the stored buffer is used up, you will again be back to the Live program. It takes some getting used to. It means that I will no longer miss every touchdown or home run while I am fixing a sandwich, as I seemed doomed to do in the past. And if nature calls, I can Pause a Live program and run down the hall and later pick up where I left off. If I am gone ten minutes, I can pick up where I left off, and if there was a commercial while I was gone, I can Skip past it. Incredible.
The unit also has a program guide with a 48 hour program schedule, which will be extended to 7 days in an upcoming software upgrade. You find a program you like, press a button and set that program to record automatically. No more setting VCRs. You can also copy a program recorded to your hard drive over to a VCR tape if you truly want to archive it, or record a program initially to the VCR instead of the hard drive. You can play back a recorded program while you record another one. But, you cannot record one program and watch another live. That is coming in a later receiver. Software updates for existing boxes are sent automatically from the satellite while you sleep.
I have a coax leading to a spare bedroom where my treadmill and a TV are located. While I walk on the treadmill, I can now use the UHF remote to scan through the programs recorded on the hard drive and pick one I want to watch. And when a commercial comes on, I press the Skip button and instantly jump through a short commercial, or a few presses to skip the whole 2- minute+ commercial break.
There is a tendency to record every show you want to watch, since you can get about 35 hours on the hard drive. Then, you can Skip or Fast Forward through the commercials or when some Hip Hop group comes on with Regis and Kelly. Or at the first utterance of the word "Chandra."
When you are finished watching a program, you can leave it on the hard drive to view again later. If you need space for upcoming programs, you can erase the old programs, just as you do files on your computer. If the hard drive gets full, the computer uses FIFO (first in-first out) to erase the oldest program to make room for the new one. I am a technology freak and pretty savvy. But this new black box has me completely mesmerized. It completely changes the way you can select and view programs.
If you are a DirecTV or DishNetwork customer, check out the boxes. Be mindful that new boxes with expanded capabilities are on the near horizon. Or look into Tivo, which is a stand-alone unit. You will wonder how you ever got along without it. None of the satellite PVR boxes are perfect yet, as they are a blend of two complex technologies - digital satellite TV and computers. But they are ready for prime time - finally. Excuse me. I have to run back to see if the contestant on "Weakest Link" ever answered the question when I pressed Pause.
Suggested Reading From Past Columns
Global warming and environmental debate:
"John Stossel And ABC's 'Tampering With Nature,'" June 29, 2001
"The Kyoto Protocol & Global Warming - A Monumental Scam?" June 16, 2001
"Environmentalism For Dummies," April 7, 2001
"Environmentalism For Dummies - Part II," April 21, 2001
"Public Interest Groups With Sometimes Very Little Public Interest," May 12, 2001
Prescription drugs being advertised on TV - abuses in the pharmaceutical industry - supplements:
"The New Cholesterol Guidelines - Everybody Gets A Pill," July 7, 2001
"Bitter Pills To Swallow," June 2, 2001
"The Drug Companies Continue Their Assault On Your Pocketbook," May 19, 2001
"Herbal Remedies, Supplements, And Alternative Therapies," September 18, 2000
"Prescription for Disaster," September 11, 2000
A case history of horrendous abuse by Federal law enforcement:
"FBI Sniper At Ruby Ridge My Be Tried For Manslaughter," June 9, 2001.
Late Night TV Cruel Humor, et al.:
"David Letterman Grovels For The Colombians," May 19, 2001
"Are Leno And Letterman Using The Same CD-ROM For Constructing Jokes?" May 12, 2001
"Late Night Comedians Struggle To Lampoon Bush," May 5, 2001
"Late-Night TV Sick Humor," August 28, 2000
"Late-Night TV Political Comedy," August 14, 2000
Crime, guns, gun-control:
"The AMA Is Losing Its Way," June 29 2001
"What is a 'Real' Job?", July 21, 2001
"President Bush's Excellent Adventure," June 29, 2001
"The Bush Budget - Fighting Over 4% Growth Versus 8% Growth Is Nonsense," April 21, 2001
"Campaign Finance Reform - A Senatorial Catharsis - And National Snow Job," March 31, 2001
"Florida Secretary Of State Literally Begged Networks Not To Call Election Early," March 24, 2001
"The Ever-Expanding First Amendment," January 26, 2001
"Bush Administration Needs To Review The Mission Of Federal Law Enforcement," January 26, 2001
"New York, What Were You Thinking?" November 13, 2000
"Lessons Learned In Election 2000?" November 13, 2000
"How The Federal Government Corrupts The Constitution To Intrude Into Your Life," October 30, 2000
"Rid Yourself of Telemarketers," October 23, 2000
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