Saturday, May 29, 2010


It's time that I say a thing or two about the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

People's views vary regarding whose responsibility the oil spill is. I can understand that. Some people blame British Petroleum (BP) because it was technically they who were drilling for oil where the leak occurred. Others blame Transocean (the drilling contractor) and/or Haliburton. (How can people NOT blame Haliburton? It's too much fun to blame them for everything!) Still others blame the federal government (the EPA, perhaps?) for allowing this to happen in the first place. Others are angry directly at President Obama for not doing more. (Seriously, though, how can you expect him to have the time to deal with all of this in addition to the many other things on his plate right now? It's hard enough trying to get Arlen Specter re-elected!) Everyone involved in this debacle takes turns pointing a finger at someone else. It's pretty fun to watch.

What is NOT fun to watch, however, is the collection of images of birds who are becoming covered in oil simply by trying to live in their wetlands. The sticky oil makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to fly. The fish that they eat are dying. That means less food for them. If you want a human equivalent to this, imaging going to your local supermarket to find nearly all of the shelves empty. That is what is gradually happening to these birds as time progresses.

It's not just the wildlife who are suffering from this oil spill. People are, too. Fishing for shrimp and other fish is how many fishermen and fisherwomen along the Gulf coast make a living. For them, no fish means no money. The resulting scarcity of fish will also drive up fish prices throughout the United States (and perhaps elsewhere, too). The fish that people will be able to buy might not be entirely safe. Because fish are an excellent source of things such as omega-3 fatty acids, a lack of fish in our diet may mean some holes in our nutrition.

Regardless of whose fault this oil spill is, we need to recognize the urgency of this situation. I think many people who don't live along the Gulf simply don't understand how catastrophic this whole thing has been. To many, this is just as bad as Hurricane Katrina--if not worse. Some are prediciting it could take years to recover from this oil spill.

Instead of playing "The Blame Game," how about focusing on cleaning up the area in the most efficient way possible? Some people, such as actor Kevin Costner, have made very promising proposals about ways we could do that. Still others are presenting their solutions on YouTube, such as moving some straw around in the oily water.

But before we clean up the oil, how about STOPPING THE OIL FROM COMING OUT IN THE FIRST PLACE! There's still oil spilling out, folks! And while BP has tried many things so far, we seem still to have been unable completely to shut the flow down!

Of course, the ultimate question is, do we even still need oil? We live in a world where people have designed solar panels, wind turbines, and various other devices that we can use to harness energy that we need to get things done in everyday life, to power electricity and to power our vehicles. If we really wanted to, we likely could choose to live our lives without any oil at all.

It seems ironic that BP, which recently had ads claiming that they were "Beyond Petroleum," has become a symbol of just how much we really AREN'T beyond petroleum yet in this country. Until we are, there is no real guarantee that a disaster like this won't happen again.

This Memorial Day, in addition to the fallen veterans that we honor, let us honor those animals who did not ask for oil, but whose lives we have destroyed in our quest for oil--oil that we may not even need after all.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Immigration: What IS our problem?

Today I received an email with an article by Arizona State Senator Sylvia Allen. You can read what she has to say here:

I think Senator Allen actually makes a few good points. The Mexican drug cartels clearly are causing a lot of people some very serious trouble. The violence associated with them is often horrific. Ranchers along the border SHOULD be assisted in warding off these hooligans.

Yet the question that I would like to raise here is this: is the problem here really the illegal immigration? Or is the REAL problem the illegal DRUGS?

Many parts of northern Mexico--cities such as Juarez, in particular--have been struggling for quite some time with elevated levels of violence due to the drug cartels. This is not a concern for America alone. This is a concern for both America and Mexico.

So how do we resolve this issue? It's quite simple, really. We just legalize all of those drugs that the Mexicans are smuggling in. If Americans are able to buy these drugs from their doctors or at a drug store, then they won't need Mexicans to smuggle it in to them. The Mexican drug cartels will no longer have demand in America, so they will stop supplying it to America.

Why is there so much violence associated with the drug cartels? It's because drug dealers have a lot at stake. Drug dealing is a great way to get a lot of money very quickly. People who are really addicted to drugs NEED their highs. They will do ANYTHING to get their drugs--and they will PAY anything for them, too. Throw a bunch of different drug dealing businesses into one place, and they're bound to fight. Each wants to be the last one standing so that they can reap the profits of their drug sales at whatever price they want.

Senator Mike Gravel, during the 2008 Presidential Election, emphasized the importance of ending the "War on Drugs." Perhaps he thought it was important to end the drug war because of the absurd prison sentences, such as 99 years for marijuana possession--a much harsher sentence than is sometimes assigned to people convicted of murder! However, could it be that he already knew that if we did not do something, then the Mexican competition in the illegal drug market would turn to this? Regardless of his reasons for recommending this course of action at the time, what is certain is that we really should have listened to him.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is every apple a poisoned apple?

If the tale of Snow White took place today, then it would have been much easier for the evil queen to get Snow White a poisoned apple. She could just buy an apple at her local supermarket and bring it to Snow White!

I remember visiting Portland, Oregon, with my family about ten years ago. Many of the apples grown in the United States come from orchards somewhat near there. As a treat, the hotel we were staying at had a bowl full of apples that guests were invited to take an apple from. I was so excited to bring one of these up to our room. I ate the apple. Then I felt sick. There was some sort of stinging feeling in my stomach, a pain. I got better and didn't think much of it.

A few months later, I ate another apple. I noticed that once again, I felt that stinging feeling in my stomach. I began to wonder whether I was allergic to apples, although this seemed odd, as I had eaten apples as a child and could still enjoy apple juice and apple cider.

More recently, I finally realized what had been happening. I was feeling this sickness from the apples not because of the apples themselves, but because of the pesticides sprayed on them.

Pesticide residues sometimes stay on apples after you buy them, and they can even sometimes leech into the skin. The same holds for fruits such as peaches. Grapes are another fruit that tend to have high pesticide amounts, as their smaller size means a larger surface area of fruit must be sprayed per volume of fruit.

While apples, peaches, and grapes are often the worst culprits with pesticide poisoning, other fruits can be left with such residues as well. Sometimes even washing them and drying them thoroughly isn't enough to stop yourself from being poisoned. So what do we do then?

Some people came up with the idea of organic farming. The idea is to use less of these harsh, chemical pesticides when farming fresh fruits and vegetables. The problem is, however, that organic certifications by the government are sometimes not genuine. Can we really trust an "organic" piece of produce to be organic? Or is somebody just trying to use that label to get more money out of us?

To make matters worse, some organic produce still contain pesticides. While pesticide-sprayed organic produce is in a firm minority, one must still wonder: are those pesticides used by those organic farmers safe? They tend to be natural pesticides, but then again, just because it comes from nature does not mean that it is harmless to us. What about the cyanide in peach or plum pits? That's a totally natural toxin, yet it still can cause illness or even death to people who consume significant quantities of it.

In a world where most of the food at a grocery store has been coated in high fructose corn syrup or processed sugar or preservatives, one would think that the produce section of the store would be a welcome relief for people just looking for nutritious food. Yet the very foods that should be healing most of our diet-based problems may only make us even more ill because of the pesticides in or on them.

The pesticides do a great job of killing the pests. They do such a great job that they gradually kill us, too!

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Health CARE

So I know it's been a while since my last post. I'll admit that I got a bit busy trying to spread the word about my new book, "Zyxwold." But, due to popular demand, and topical relevancy, I've decided it's definitely time to say something again.

We've all heard recently about the new health care bill passed in the United States. We know that most Democrats embraced it and that all Republicans loathed it. And so, which side is correct?

I must caution you that I (like virtually any other person out there) do not know everything that is in the bill (especially the quirky clause about student loans, etc.). I do, however know this much:

This bill will require most people (that is, people who are earning more than some very minimal salary like about $15,000 per year) to buy health insurance over the course of the next couple of years. The cost of medical treatment without health insurance is more terrifying than the worst medical ailment you've ever heard of. It can cost thousands and thousands of dollars for a typical visit to the hospital for surgery or care of some equivalent level. Health insurance companies cover some of the cost so that individuals don't have to pay as much out of pocket. Therefore, by ensuring that all people are insured, we ensure that people can afford any medical care that they need. Most democrats seem to agree that this is a necessary safety net for people to have in case they suddenly get ill.

This all sounds wonderful at the surface, but there is something very disturbing lurking deep within the idea of requiring everyone to buy insurance. Some Republicans are arguing that this law is unconstitutional in that the Federal government is requiring people to buy something. Regardless of the constitutionality of it, one must wonder, is this a good idea at a time when people are already generally strapped for cash? What about the businesses that are already struggling and that must now find a way to pay for at least partial health insurance coverage for ALL of their employees? This seems like an especially large burden to those businesses that are reasonably small and that are still fighting off the larger ones.

The ultimate question is this: why should health insurance exist in the first place? And why would the Federal government MANDATE people to buy it? These insurance companies are FOR PROFIT. They don't even try to hide that fact from people; they are very upfront about it. So the government is MANDATING us to purchase something from a company whose ultimate goal is to REAP PROFITS! You don't need to be a mathematician to understand that if a company needs to have extra money that it can claim as profits, then it needs to bring in more money than if it weren't making profits. In other words, the government is requiring us to spend more money than we need to on health care, in order to take good care of health insurance companies.

Hence the idea behind the public option. While no one can ever be totally certain of what government monies are being spent on these days, at least in principle, a public option would mean something like health insurance by a non-profit company (the government). That should, in theory, be cheaper than the current law that has been passed.

Of course, another question is, why does medical treatment cost so much in the first place? How can other countries offer health care and prescription medication at much less cost than ours?

What it all boils down to is greed. Many people out there go into the medical profession not because they want to cure sick people, but because they want lots of money. And where else can they get so much money for their medical work than in the United States?

As the baby boomer generation ages and needs medical care more so than in the past, the market will naturally do what it has traditionally done in the past and cater to the baby boomers' needs. Because the baby boomers' health needs will only escalate as they grow older, chances are, we will be stuck with a focus on the medical industry for several more decades before the tides finally begin to turn again. Because everyone in the medical industry will profit so much from people's becoming ill, there will be few efforts supported along the lines of preventative medicine. Old and young people alike will be at the mercy of people in charge who want to keep them unhealthy.

I really do have to be fair, though. There are many medical professionals out there in America who take their work seriously and really do care about the patients they work with. If they really could find a cure for disease, then they would. These people are true heroes. If only more of the people in the American medical field were like them, then I know that our health care system would be excellent once again. Remember that it is, after all, called health CARE.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Getting Started

Hello out there! This is my very first blog post!

I have been meaning to start a blog for a while now, but something I read today finally drove me to doing it. I read an article earlier at's news feed about how there's a "shadow inventory" of foreclosures currently looming in the United States. I'd post a link to it here, only I'm not sure how long the link would work, and I wouldn't want to disappoint anyone.

The article basically pointed out that, despite reports of housing prices going up for the first time in a long time, the housing crisis continues to worsen. The idea is that so many people are REALLY late paying their mortgages that all of the mortgage agencies and courts can't keep up with the number of home owners whose houses need to be foreclosed. So many homes WILL be foreclosed--and WILL be for sale--at REALLY LOW prices--in a little while. But how soon? Supposedly, it could take as long as three years before they're done selling all of these foreclosed homes! Yikes!

Just yesterday, the pastor at my local church was telling us about how they are going to have students at the church's school learn about the homeless. He emphasized that it is no longer just deadbeats and drug addicts who are homeless. He is absolutely right.

The number of homes in the "shadow inventory" is supposedly roughly 1.8 million. This could easily account for housing of about 1.5% of the American population. Remember that these are just the homes in that "shadow inventory." The article appears to suggest that this is only about 1/3 of all homes that are or will be foreclosed. Imagine, in the somewhat near future, that 1 in every 20 Americans will have been removed from their homes.

However, things are more complicated than this. There are also apartments to rent. Some of those people whose homes were foreclosed might be able to move into an apartment. However, depending on how badly damaged their credit scores are, that might not be possible even if they would have enough money for monthly rent, as many apartment landlords do credit checks before permitting a tenant to move in.

To make matters worse, foreclosures don't even touch on the numbers of people who have been evicted from their apartments. All in all, it leaves us with many homeless people. And just as our pastor said, it's not just the drug dealers anymore.

I wish this were the entire story. Unfortunately, it is not. We must also confront the possibility of entire regions that effectively become ghost towns or cities. If there are many houses and apartment buildings that are deserted in spite of their being completely safe structures, then what does it say?

My parents live in Providence, Rhode Island. Providence is a beautiful city, likely mostly because of the accomplishments of the former mayor, Buddy Cianci. Nonetheless, in the past few years, the housing market there has really become topsy-turvy, even by modern American standards. Many large apartment towers have been constructed. Most of them contain luxury condominiums. Most of us would not be able to afford those condominiums if the economy were in decent shape. At a time like this, it seems almost no one can. And so there they sit, with much of them empty.

Perhaps an even worse aspect of the feverish construction of these luxury condominiums was the occasional need to knock down other buildings. There were a few businesses in Providence's Richmond Square, for example, that were forced to close down in preparation for demolition of their building so that more condominiums could be put up. That means jobs get lost, too, folks.

So what do we do? If we keep at it as we do now, then will we have a bunch of abandoned buildings that no one is allowed to live in because nobody (except a very lucky few) has enough money to live inside?

The very thought of this possibility sends chills down my spine. I hope that readers of this post understand why and are as concerned as I am about our collective well-being in the future. What can we do to prevent this disaster from happening? Please leave me your thoughts. I value discussion here.