September 26, 2006

Philosophy For Traveling

This is Jess's last day, and as such, we are sitting around, a little sad, maybe even moping a bit. Her three weeks has flown by, and even though I'm not leaving today, her departure forces me to consider the inevitable day that will almost certainly be here before I know it, the day I return to the States. It's this type of day that makes people consider the trip that they've had, the events of that trip, and event the philosophy that caused the trip in the first place.

I have a deep personal conviction for traveling, something that I have had for years now. I decided a long time ago that I wanted to live a life extraordinary, that I wanted to have a life that I dictated, that I controlled, that I lived and just didn't observe. Early in my college years, I made a goal of mine that I wanted to leave the shores of America at least once a year for the rest of my life, that I would visit a different country, a different culture, a different people on an annual basis. That was my goal; I have succeeded for more than six years now.

My favorite author is John Steinbeck. In his book, Travels With Charlie, he writes this:

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as matrue, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship's whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet tapping....In other words, I don't improve; in further words, once a bum, always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable.....When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man, and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. He has a built-in garden of reasons for going to choose from.....We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us.

I find this passage to be fitting to my philosophy in many ways, that once you have tasted the world, really tasted it, you can't turn away from it. It requires all of the senses, as we found out walking through the busy center of Mombasa yesterday. It takes seeing all the people and places of a country, hearing the unique sounds there, tasting of all the foods, feeling the textures and temperatures, and even smelling the many various scents of a place, no matter how close that brings you vomiting. Smelling Mombasa yesterday really brought Africa a level closer to Jess's senses and memory.

As a final word, I'd like to quote Robert Frost's famous and familiar poem, A Road Not Taken, which at the danger of sounding generic, I'd have to say has inspired me since high school more than any other written words. I honestly can say that my life has been lived as closely to it as possible.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

That is my philosophy on travels. It's a bit wordy, but then again, travel is important to me, even essential to me. It's the idea of living a life extraordinary, and the realization that the only real limitation we have is the limitation we place on our own imaginations.

September 03, 2006

Tobacco Companies Vs. Basic Respect For Human Life

I was just reading an article in the Raleigh News and Observer about tobacco companies. Recently, they lost in court against the federal government, and a ruling that prohibited the sales of cigarettes that are advertised as "low-tar" or "light" was placed against them. Now, these cigarette companies are trying to have that ruling put on hold pending their appeal. Here the story.

It's a fascinating article, really. There is an industry in the US that sells products that kill people. It's not like the gun argument (i.e. people, not guns, kill people). Here, a product is packed full of ingredients that are known carcinogens, ingredients that hook people and then end their lives, the last days spent gasping desperately for air. There is a distinct lack of morality here, a lack of concern about humanity, for this industry sells cancer. It sells lung disease, in little tube-shaped pieces. This lack of morality is demonstrated so well in this situation.

 The companies against which the ruling was placed don't want to have to abide by it--yet. They actually point out their reasons as being that they would lose millions of money by repackaging their cancer sticks honestly. They'd have to remove the advertising lies about safe cigarettes, and since there are millions of packs of cigarettes out there with this false advertising, it would cost them large sums of money. The audacity!  The ruling stated that these companies violated racketeering laws, that they misled the public about the dangers of smoking for decades, and yet they want this ruling to be put on the back burner for awhile, at least until maybe they can sell as much of their lies as possible.

By this strategy, the Mob could ask judges who convict their members of racketeering to just put those rulings on hold until maybe they embezzle or laundry a little more money. Or maybe Enron could have asked the judge to hold on, don't make that judgment yet, we need to cook the books a little more. Basically, this industry is asking that despite breaking the law for several generations, they want to continue to do just that, regardless of a ruling against them, until they can do some damage control and sell off all the cartons of light cigarettes they have stockpiled.

Some people might be tempted to argue that people should know better, that they should know that light or low-tar cigs aren't any safer. I'm here to tell you that there are a lot of people, generally speaking, who aren't terribly bright, aren't terribly informed, or are a lethal combination of both. Sometimes, after an encounter with someone, I step back and wonder just how we made it to the moon. Then you throw in some clever if deceptive marketing, and the next thing you know, people honestly believe stuff the cigarette companies say about their products.

I really like this quote: "Once forced to make these public statements, defendants will be effectively unable to take them back, even if their anticipated appeal is successful," was what the tobacco industry had to say about the judge's order that they publicly admit that their product kills folks. Even more astonishing is that they really expect that their appeal (i.e. ruling whether or not tobacco is dangerous, and hence whether or not they've been deceiving the public) to be successful. In other words, they don't want to just say what nearly everyone knows to some extent, that tobacco products are deadly.

I think a quote from the judge herself sums up my point nicely: "Kessler wrote that the tobacco companies "have marketed and sold their lethal product with zeal, with deception, with a single-minded focus on their financial success, and without regard for the human tragedy or social costs that success exacted."' Tobacco companies don't care that hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, die each year from their products, that our health system is filled with people diseased from their products, and society itself is greatly impacted by their product. Even when all the knowledge we have about tobacco is laid out in front of them, even when a judge orders them to take responsibility for the damage they have done, they still try to weasel out of it. They still try to find a way to avoid admitting the carnage they cause. And I find that fascinating.

August 19, 2006

Bill Gates - An Opinion On A Man Who Makes $173 Million A Day

I said I'd write an entry on Bill Gates, so here it is.

Really, the point of such an entry is to clear up my opinion about Bill, which has been called unreasonable by some. I should start from the beginning, because he and I have some history.

All that know me know that I am a Mac guy. I have always owned a Mac, never a PC. Currently I own two Macs, three if you count the iBook that doesn't work anymore. I'm not one of the ex-PC folks who turned to Macs just because they realized how cool Macs are, although I take credit for one conversion, and influence in about 3 others. As such a person, I have always taken personal offense to the continued success of Microsoft, have always bought into the (true) conspiracy that Gates stole Windows from the Mac farm one dark night, and have reveled in the decline of Microsoft products and stock prices matched by the blossoming of Mac in the computer world. Bill Gates has represented many things for me over the years--Satan, the Master Thief, the essence of what's wrong with Corporate America.

Perhaps the fact that he ranks as the world's richest man, and has so for years, burns my hide a little. When Warren Buffett announced he was giving all his money to the Gates Foundation, that ground a little into my side: the world's second wealthiest man giving the world's wealthiest man all his money. What sense is there in that? Not that I expected Buffett to give me his money, or do something for the poor with it. In a way, I suppose, he is going to, because the goal of the Gates Foundation seems to be to spread money to the poor. Still...

I've always liked the calculations that people made about Gates' money. Basically, they calculated that the four seconds that it would take for him to reach down and pick up a bill, he would actually be losing money in the deal. It has changed over the years. At it's peak (i.e. the peak of his wealth), he couldn't be bothered to pick up a $600 bill to make it worth his time. His wealth in 1997 represented $300 per second. Nowadays, it's more like $150 a second. I found a great page of calculations based on his wealth, assuming he's worth $24 billion this year.  It's crazy how much money he has; there are endless ways of seeing it.  For example, his net worth is about 800,000 times mine. On the other hand, it's not very satisfying to think about this long; it's actually a little depressing.

Still, one can't hold against him for being filthy rich; given the opportunity, I wouldn't turn down a giant wad of cash myself. And really, a true measurement of a man is how he spends his cash. Warren Buffett didn't do anything particularly good with his money, maybe set up trust funds for the next twenty generations of his family. But Bill has done a lot of good with his money. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced they were giving away $500 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, at the recent 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto. This foundation has really been on the forefront of the AIDS relief movement, something that I appreciate. (Of course, according to the Bill Gates Net Worth page, he makes $173 million a day...sorry, just digressing...)

Perhaps Bill isn't the corporate monster he once was (no, I'm not going to change my mind that he was that way at a time). Perhaps I can take him down a few notches from his current status of Satan. I've got my eye on him, though, my guard's still up.

Further Reading: Bill Gates Biography

August 15, 2006

Clinton Praising Bush On AIDS?

I just read an article following the 16th International Conference On AIDS. Apparently, in addition to the other interesting events of the conference, Clinton stood up and defended Bush's President's Emergency Program For AIDS Relief, which gives $15 billion over 5 years. The catch is that countries participating in the program have to use 30 percent of the money on programs that push abstinence. This part of the program has a lot of critics, in part because it isn't particularly successful in Africa. After all, this is a continent where in some countries, female genital mutilation (FGM) is still common, where in some countries some men have the full-time job of going around deflowering virgins to prepare them for marriage. Africa is a continent where, as the article above states, girls are often forced into marriage or forced to have sex. This is a land of different cultures, different values than of those in the West, and I am not surprised when policies based on our own cultural values are unsuccessful. It's not that I am defending any of the forementioned practices, it is that this is a reality in Africa, and a program requiring emphasizing abstinence can only be successful in ideal circumstances, which is a rare find in Africa.

Another aspect that people criticize is the aspect of prostitution and that Bush's program seeks to have recipient countries oppose the sex trade. I'm certainly not in support of the sex trade, but again, it exists, particularly in the Third World, and who are we to judge people for being in it? Who are we to hold back aid that could save their lives, essentially condemning those in that trade to death for their actions? Consider a woman in India, born into the trade because she is on a low rung in their society: does she deserve to not receive information about condoms, or to receive medical care when she is sick? If you want to change things, if you want to see prostitution ended, then work on the society that allows it. Encourage India to end it's caste system that forces women into prostitution. Work to end the poverty and desperation that creates a need for prostitution. That's how you fight it, not denying women who sell themselves to feed their children the medical care they deserve. Again, pushing our cultural values on a different society is not going to change anything for good.

Still, it's pretty amazing to have Clinton defend Bush's program, being a little rusty on the basics of abstinence himself. People get so carried away at bashing Bush, as I'm sure they were at the conference, that they don't see the nine zeroes in his equation of money. They don't realize that 70 percent of $15 billion is still more money than most countries in the world give towards AIDS. I think that Bush has got an excellent program, and that he is passionate about helping people with AIDS, regardless of his numerous haters think. I watched a show recently that was highlighting what is happening in the fight against AIDS today, and they couldn't help but talk about Bush's program, because it's out there and it's helping people. Regardless how you feel about it, it is in the countries that need care desperately, and it shows how little the rest of the West is behind in providing relief (in other words, most other Western nations are hardly involved at all). At any rate, another person to praise Bush's program was Bill Gates. I have an opinion about Bill Gates, but I'll get to that soon in another posting.

 Further Reading: Health experts look to new weapons to battle AIDS - Reuters

August 06, 2006

NBC Dateline Stages NASCAR Bigotry Act

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