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.
Kerri Strug, the Olympic gymnast, is going to be an Intern in the U.S. Senate. It might be better if she had been an Olympic sprinter or boxer!
Some friends use this column as a check to see if I am still alive and e-mail me if I miss a week. My special thanks to Fred and Sally for your continued support of the Outback and for your compliments on the material.
The Dallas school district is enforcing a new dress code. It is about time. Students must tuck in their shirts, not have visible body piercing, not wear halter tops, or steel-toed boots, and no pants that sag below the waist line, or ripped pants - among other things. Many students are complaining that their rights are being violated and that the rules take away their ability for self expression. To those snot-noses, I suggest a quick induction into the U.S. Marines, where they will have their heads shaved, be issued drab fatigues, and one would hope have their nose rings pulled out with a pair of pliers. Some parents shouted obscenities at the school officials at one high school. Does this tell you what kind of parents they are, and where the problem starts with kids who look like they are from some lost tribe in the Amazon? Poor babies. The world is so cruel to them. Count on the school district being sued over its dress-code.
Walter Isaacson, the new boss at CNN, caused a stir when he reached out to Republicans in an attempt to find out why they did not watch CNN in larger numbers. CNN, of course, has long been accused of having a liberal bias. This is one reason Fox News is gaining so many new viewers. He has also apparently approached Rush Limbaugh about doing a show on CNN! Mr. Iassacson is the former editorial director at TIME magazine. Unless he has had some kind of a religious conversion to balanced reporting, he brings a lot of liberal TIME baggage with him. Mr. Walter Isaacson is a Harvard graduate and a former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Is there anybody who was not a Rhodes Scholar? Besides me - and I'm a Rhodes? While he is obviously an erudite man and a fine writer, it appears that he is another of the Eastern Media Elite (dragged kicking and screaming to Atlanta, one guesses) who has never had a "real" job. In my terms of reference, being a life-long journalist does not qualify as a "real" job. (See: "What Is A 'Real' Job?" Outback, July 21, 2001.)
It should come as no surprise that California leads the nation in "same-sex households." Granted, the published figures are raw numbers, not a percentage of the population - and California has a lot of people. Still, more than 92,000 same-sex households in CA is significant. New York has about 46,000 and Florida about 41,000. I wonder how many there are in Wyoming or Montana? Not very many I bet.
The U.S. House voted to allow limited oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The Senate vote is probably a hard sell. There are many lies and distortions put out by the environmentalists and congressional supporters of a drilling ban. Among others, they portray the part of ANWR where drilling is proposed as some kind of sacred, beautiful, paradise on earth "where the caribou roam." I watched part of the House debate. You would think that the proposed drilling site was somehow our most important national shrine to wilderness beauty. Some of the idiot congresspersons were almost in tears when describing its "pristine, majestic, beauty." The "American Serengeti" and so on. Well. Jonah Goldberg, a writer, decided to go up to ANWR and see what all the hype was about. Once he got there, he described the area of the proposed drilling as "Godforsaken." In an article, Jonah said, "But the pretty mountains and lakes that you see on the evening news are safe from oil exploration by law and by the fact that there is no oil there."
One evening this week I was watching the local news from Dallas on TV and saw a report from a male reporter who has been around for many years. It reminded me of when Gov. Ann Richards used to come to the Honey Grove, Texas, area once a year to hunt doves. One year, the reporter sent me a note and asked if I was going to be at the dove hunt. He was going to be covering the event and thought he and I might get together and tell each other a few lies. My response was: "Dear Doug, I will not be at the dove hunt with Gov. Ann. It is my understanding that one must 'donate' $50 to be included in the group. If I spend $50 to be with a woman, there better be several hours of time alone - and a bottle of wine."
The government in Texas continues to confuse and confound drivers regarding speed limits. First, they raised the limit to 70 mph. Now, in several counties around Dallas/Ft. Worth, using not a safety issue, but one of reducing pollution from cars, the speed limit has been lowered to 65 from 70 and 60 in previous 65 zones. But wait! The Texas legislature has passed a bill that will allow the speed limit to be raised to 75 mph in areas where the population density is less than 10-people-per-square mile. So, move to the country. Drive fast, burn more gas, increase pollution, and increase the chances that you will die in a vehicle accident at the higher speeds. Or, you could drive on the Dallas North Tollway, where people drive up to 85 mph! Those people are crazy. No other way to put it. Where are the police?
A while back I commented on how incongruous I thought it was that Wilford Brimley, the portly actor, was a TV spokesman for a supplier of diabetic testing materials. I suggested that the first rules in diabetes treatment and prevention were weight loss and exercise. Now, a study shows that even a modest weight loss and exercise can cut the risk of developing type 2 (adult onset) diabetes by as much as 58%! The people in the study lost on the average about 14 pounds and exercised for 30 minutes several times a week.
Eyewitness Testimony Is Suspect
For a long time, eyewitness testimony was given too much credibility and weight in criminal trials. I have written several times about the frailty of eyewitness testimony. One was a letter to the editors of The Wall Street Journal. That letter and some commentary by me on the subject can be found at: www.home.earthlink.net/~rickhgtx/eyewit.html (or by going to my Web page and clicking on Letters to the Editor "Gary Graham & Eyewitness Testimony...."). Too many innocent people have been convicted based solely, or largely, on eyewitness testimony. In New York, mistaken identity contributed to 81% of the 74 convictions later proved wrong by DNA evidence.
Most states now allow the defense attorney to call experts to explain the potential flaws in eyewitness testimony. I did not need to wait for DNA evidence or "expert witnesses" to make the case against eyewitness testimony. My first article on the subject was on April 3, 1984 in The Dallas Morning News. Texas did not allow eyewitness expert testimony until the mid-1990s. Finally, my opinions are being vindicated. If you live long enough, some things you say may turn out to be right. One or two, at least.
Baycol Cholesterol Drug Withdrawn From the Market
Bayer AG has withdrawn its cholesterol-lowering drug Baycol from the market. At least 31 patients in the U.S. - and nine overseas - died while taking the drug and many users are reported to have suffered from debilitating pain. There is no evidence yet that other statins, such as Zocor, Mevacor, Paravachol, Lescol, and Lipitor pose significant similar dangers. But, as a layman I will believe that when I see superior data over a long term for all the statins (HMG CoA reductase inhibitors).
For example, "The Merk Manual, Seventeenth Edition," at page 209 states in part: "The statins appear to be similar in their side effects profile and differ only in their maximum potency .... CAUTION: The risk of myositis and rhabdomyolysis that can result in renal failure increases when the statins are combined with cyclosporine, gemifbrozil, clofibrate, or niacin." Rhabdomyolysis is the muscle-weakening condition apparently contracted by many of the Baycol users who died.
So, even thought the industry protests that Baycol was an anomaly, one would not be surprised to see reports of problems with patients taking some of the other statins. In fairness, each statin may approach its chemical job in slightly different ways, but if I were taking any of them (or any prescribed drug), I would be alert for possible side effects. These potential side effects are either printed in the "patient's handout," or you can discover the whole truth by visiting a Web site that has full prescription-drug information. Lipitor has about 15 million users. A Pfizer spokesman said he was aware of only 10 deaths from the muscle disorder encountered with Baycol patients. A number of lawsuits have already been filed against Bayer AG, the maker of Baycol.
We see the unseemly conduct of the drug industry displayed once more. Like vultures, they are homing in on the former Baycol users. Pravachol is offering a month's free supply of their drug. Lescol tops them with a 60-day free supply.
Any patient taking a statin is well advised to promptly report to their doctor any persistent muscle pain. I suggest you might read, or reread, the Outback for July 7, 2001, "The New Cholesterol Guidelines - Everybody Gets A Pill."
Social Security Reform - Politicians Lying Out of Both Sides of Their MouthsI continue to be reviled by the partisanship in Congress. Geo. Bush campaigned on the idea that part of our Social Security taxes ought to be allowed to be invested privately. He got good support for that proposition. Now, we find Democrats using their basic tactic - scare the hell out of the American people. The Democratic mantra is, and always has been, the only way to fix a problem is with more taxes and bigger government involvement.
So, we are being subjected to a massive PR campaign by the Dems and their partners-in-crime the mainstream liberal media, against the "disastrous" idea to take even 2% of SS and invest it in private accounts. You never, ever, hear from the Dems that even socialist and left-leaning countries around the world have been doing partial privatizing for years. Sweden, a leading welfare state (where Hillary Clinton would be an ideal Queen), allows shifts of 2% of earnings into individual investment accounts. Australia has had a similar program since 1986. Germany has recently allowed some money to go into personal investment plans. In England, a mixed system of contributions from government and of the worker into private accounts has been in effect since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. And those are only some of the examples.
The precipitous decline in the stock market has raised some more red flags. The opponents are jumping on "you can't count on the market to make you any money" bandwagon. Get real. Even if you put your money in bank CDs, you could do better than the trifling return that Social Security obtains on its funds.
The burning question is: What do the Democrats know about the perils of private Soc. Security investment accounts that socialist and left-leaning countries all over the world have not discovered? The answer. They don't care. They want to scare the American people and continue to raise FICA taxes, paint President Bush and the Republicans as riverboat gamblers who are really trying to help their fat-cat friends in the financial industry by infusing more money into private investment. Will the public be able to see through the politics and focus on the issues? I think so. This class-warfare thing is wearing a little thin.
Government Waste and Fraud
Back on April 21, 2001, in "The Bush Budget - Fighting Over 4% Versus 8% Growth Is Nonsense," I pointed out that it is probable that the U.S. government wastes about 20% of tax dollars. That's just my wild guess from observations made while working for three government agencies. All the complaints that the recent tax cut was too large and that "we can't afford it," are simply idiotic. If the government would spend our money wisely, and in many cases they don't even know how they are spending it, and cut out the "pork barrel," and root out fraud, there would be room for more tax cuts. And a chicken in every pot.
Now, we are treated to the information that there are 3.1 million government credit cards and the number is growing. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has twice as many cards as it has employees. Such a deal! One bank alone wrote off $58 million in fraud or abuse of credit cards by military personnel. And on and on it will go, as the investigation burrows deeper.
The credit card abuse is but one of hundreds of cases of inefficiency, fraud, and abuse in the government. Once again, Medicare would not be in such a precarious position if there were a lot more investigators working on fraud. In every facet of government, a good fraud investigator can repay his or her salary a hundred, or thousand, or even a million, times over.
Finally, there is going to be some oversight of the FBI after all the years of virtual autonomy and "in house" supervision. How many credit cards does the FBI have? What a fun job it would be to investigate the way the FBI has spent its money for the past 30 years. I would work for nothing - just room and board. What I don't understand is why no person in Congress or the White House seems to be upset with government waste and abuse of taxpayer money.
How can we have any respect for people in Washington when they argue over a 4% spread in budget expenditures and ignore the much larger problem of fraud and abuse - not to mention just plain stupid and irresponsible fiscal policies in most agencies?
Sen. John McCain was on TV this week talking about the "obscene" Congressional expenditures on pork barrel projects for home states and districts. He called upon President Bush to throw down the gauntlet on excessive, frivolous, and pork barrel spending. Good idea. It might take about 20 vetoes, but if the president told the American people exactly where the pork was in each bill he vetoes, most would support him - except those who want a park, or a highway, or a bigger post office in their area.
The Brutal Truth About Our Economic Situation
When I left the government, I was fortunate early on to have been taken under the wing of a Dallas business owner and nurtured as a manager. That friendship has carried for about 30 years. My friend, Fred, has an M.B.A. from Harvard, did some teaching there, spent time managing money on Wall Street, before moving back to Dallas and starting several businesses. I was involved in the management of two of those businesses. From time to time, he posts commentary and financial and fiscal analysis on his Web page. The current column " 'Tis Only My Opinion - August 2001," is a brutally-honest appraisal of the downward drift in the economy. You can find it at www.adrich.com/. A piece of advice. Take a tranquilizer or down a few bourbons before you read it. And make sure you are on the ground floor of your house or building.
LCD Flat-Panel Displays & Dual Monitor Video Boards
The LCD flat-panel computer monitors have been mostly a tantalizing plum being dangled in front of the noses of home computer users. They had sky-high prices. The prices have been freefalling in recent months. Finally, I could stand it no longer. I found a Samsung SyncMaster 570vTFT 15 inch LCD monitor for $369 (after an $80 mfr's rebate). LCD displays work best at their "native" format. The570v's native format is 1024 x 768, which is what I also use on my 19 inch CRT monitor. Higher resolutions, such as found on the 17 inch and larger LCDs, give you lots of material on the screen, but small print, small check boxes, slim scroll bars, and so on. For those who love hi-resolution, be my guest. Your choice.
The clarity of the 570vTFT and depth of color makes my old 19 inch CRT look like it has a haze filter over the screen. Black on white text is just like reading a book, if the book had bright-white paper. When I scroll a web page or a document, the text smears during the movement, but that is more of a distraction than any real problem. For text and static photos and graphics, the 570vTFT is awesome.
I use a Matrox G-400 dual-head video card (there are newer versions). It has connectors for two monitors at the same time. Right now, I am looking at the adrich.com Web page on the LCD monitor and composing this paragraph on the 19 inch CRT. I could reverse that, just by dragging one screen over to the other monitor. I can cut and paste from one monitor to the other. When I click on a web link in an incoming e-mail message, the Web page opens in the other monitor. And on and on. When you drag the mouse to the edge of your monitor, it pops up on the edge of the other monitor. How do they do that? There is also a software utility from Matrox that allows you to do some neat things with Web pages. One example is that you can have a web page open in one monitor, hold down the Ctrl key and click on a web link and it will load in another IE 5.5 window on the other monitor! No more losing track of your home-base page during a surfing expedition.
Gamers complain that the LCDs won't track fast video action. I tried the Samsung LCD on Flight Simulator 2000 Pro. I don't own a "real" game. Using the LCD as the main screen, the buildings did look like they were "tearing" as I banked steeply past them, and so on. But, with the main program in the 19 inch CRT, I was able to open a couple of alternate views on the LCD, such as Chase Plane and Cockpit. This gave a whole new dimension for FS 2000. For example, I could use the Hat and look out the back window at the runway I just left - using the second screen - or look out the left window. And with the Chase Plane in another small window on the second screen, I could see the angle of attack of the aircraft as it neared the runway and see the elevation of the aircraft above the runway. This means less crashes!
I might actually start playing with FS 2000 again. The second screen gives you another set of eyes and a more realistic environment. It has always bugged me that as you made a turn to final, you did not how you were progressing. It was always, ooops, suddenly there's the runway! And rock back hard to get lined up after an overshoot. Now, on the second screen, I can look out the left or right window and see when I need to start the bank to line up with the runway. This is much more realistic and like you actually see the scene in a real airplane. Flight Sim has always had tunnel vision unless you were adept at changing views on the fly.
The bottom line. The prices of the 15 inch LCD displays are now within range of the average consumer. They produce amazing, clear, non-flickering images for text and static graphics. They take up very little space and use less power.
Best Buy in Plano, Texas, had several models displayed side by side, running a rapidly-changing video and text demo. In a short time, two salesmen offered to help me with any questions I had - and talked enthusiastically about the LCD displays. And I went in to buy an inkjet cartridge. At CompUSA, a few LCD monitors were displayed with a puny static screen display of some unforgettable material. And no salesman approached to ask me if I had questions. I did ask one man where the modems for the PDAs were, and he condescendingly waved toward a nearby aisle. How CompUSA stays in business is a mystery. Once it was my first stop. Now, it is last on the list - or not on the list at all.
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:
"Trans Fatty Acids - The Hidden Fat," August 4, 2001
"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
Health - General:
"Your Body Clock," August 4, 2001
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
"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
"Telemarketers, Caller-ID, et al," August 4, 2001
"Rid Yourself of Telemarketers," October 23, 2000
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COPYRIGHT 2001 Richard C. Rhodes
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