Christopher Merle

Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, but first I need more coffee.

Month: July 2006 (page 1 of 2)

Petro-Euro

The unholy trinity that affects the US are fundamentalists, oil, and debt. When you read American Theocracy by Kevin Philips, each becomes scarier than the next. Debt by far is the biggest threat facing America, public and private. I then thought of the old adage ‘follow the money’. Lo and behold I found it.

Oil is paid for by US dollars (petrodollars) on the international market. Iraq was preparing to make the switch to using euros for oil in 2002. Iran is preparing to make the switch to euros. The Iran Oil Bourse was supposed to go online in March of 2006. It’s now been pushed back to Sept. 2006. The question is will it go online at all or will World events intercede.

I really didn’t think ‘follow the money’ would turn up anything or give me a new perspective on the current Middle East crisis, but the threat of the switch to the euro seems to make some sort of sense out the madness the Middle East is descending into. And where else outside of the US can you find more fundamentalists, not to mention oil?

Socialized Medicine

America has one of the best health care systems in the world. Not everyone, however, has equal access to it. It is not governed by the free market. Some want universal health care which is another name for socialized medicine. We’ve seen how well socialized medicine works in Canada and the UK. That is to say, not. Indian health care and military health care is socialized, as is Medicare and Medicaid. Health insurance sucks. The problem started many decades ago.

My ex said their were two kinds of health insurance, low cost – high crap and high cost – low crap. That is to say the more you pay for your health coverage the less bureacratic crap you have to deal with to get insurance to pay. The question is should a serious illness push a middle class family into poverty? I could say that having crappy health insurance is better than no insurance, but that’s not the solution.

After World War II, employers wanting to hire new workers could not offer higher saleries. To compensate they could offer things like health insurance and other fringe benefits. By doing that it insulated the employee from the true cost of health care. I’m working towards a proposal here. Health is a personal, a familial, and a social issue. And there is a stigma to certain illnesses, not just AIDS. People try to make sense of why some get sick. They think it’s divine retribution, that you are unclean. Leprosy and the Black Death have shown us how people react. The fear and stigma of illness is very deeply rooted in our psyche. It’s part of our survival instinct.

We have to overcome the irrational fear associated with some illnesses. There are geniune fears to deal with like “Bird Flu”. But what if someone breaks a leg. Well that’s a personal issue but a social one as well. If we treat the person’s broken leg and take care of them, we are creating a social contract. Once the person is better they will be a productive member of society again and in turn if someone else breaks a leg they will help tend to that person. Not everyone breaks a leg. So why should they participate?

There is such a thing as economies of scale. We should be able to set aside a small amount of our incoming to create a huge pool to take care of people who get sick. The problem comes when the number of sick and injured becomes greater than the pool of resources available to take care of them. That’s where triage comes in. An unpleasant fact of war is that when a large number of casualties come in the medics have to decide who is savable. Some they know are just going to die, so they devote no resources except maybe some morphine to ease their passing. And sometimes they have to save the morphine for the living those who are going to make it.

The situation is not nearly so grim for our civilian world. Can we create a pool of resources for the poor and middle class that will not push a family into abject poverty when a serious illness or injury occurs? Some type of catastrophic coverage? There are other issues to discuss as well such as prescription drugs and the over prescription of anti-biotics. Obesity, diet, and exercise all play a role here as well.

If we were going to let the free market rule, then we’d have to eliminate all health insurance, private and governmental. We’d have to get rid of medicare and medicaid payments to doctors. It’s interesting to note that specialists get paid more for the same procedure than a non-specialist. Hence we’ve had more specialists since the 60’s. Doctors, nurses, and health care providers should be allowed to make a decent living and considering how much education a doctor has to have they should be able to earn quite a bit. How would a free market system work for someone dying of cancer, AIDS, or multiple sclerosis? Not very well I think.

If someone has a stroke and are almost completely paralyzed, they could live for many, many years as long as they are cared for. They could never be a productive member of society again. They would be a burden on their family and the health care system. We shouldn’t let them die unless they wanted to. And there may be treatments developed to help them live better.  As long as we don’t have to triage and there are enough productive members of society contributing to the resource pool, they shouldn’t be a financial burden on anyone.  It does involve a redistribution of wealth, but I’m not suggesting we have socialized medicine.

Gasoline Prices

I paid $2.82 a gallon at the pump yesterday. I’ve paid as much as $3.09 over the Labor Day weekend last year, right after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In the Scotland last year i paid £1.09 a liter (or $6.79 USD a gallon). If another Katrina or Rita sweeps through the Gulf Coast oil infrastructure that’ll push gas to $4.00 a gallon this summer.

Thankfully, I have a Honda Civic. It gets 33 MPG city and 37 MPG highway, though I’ve gotten as much as 40 highway. I did predict that gasoline would reach 2.50 and 2.75 by Christmas of 2004. I was off by a few months. It was 2.49 when we returned from Scotland last year and 2.79 when we returned from Ireland this year. We didn’t rent a car, but gas prices in Ireland were around € 1.17 per liter ($5.32 USD per gallon). I’ll make a prediction that gasoline will be above $3/gal come November.

If the Republicans are really worried that they will have huge losses in Congress, they will work hard to bring gas prices down. I’ll even make another prediction. Gasoline will go above $4 a gallon in 2007-2008 in the lead up to the presidental elections. We will still have disruptions.What has happened in the last few years are really hiccups in the oil supply. If we have any major disruptions, there is no telling how high gasoline will get. It could spike as much as $6 or $7 a gallon.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Americans are energy hogs, even me with my Civic am still an energy hog. Americans should learn to conserve all kinds of energy resources, not just gasoline, but coal and natural gas. We can still have a high standard of living, but it does require a big change.

More on this later.

Hiberno-Phile

I think it was while Melissa and I were eating at a pub in Galway when her colleague, Bruce, made the comment/question that were quite the Hiberno-philes. Because of the noise, I thought he said Bird-o-philes, which to some extent is also true. Anyway, once I figured out what he said the answer was yes we are. I’d probably have to say that we are more Celt-o-philes because we have as much interest in Scotland as we do in Ireland. Melissa is still preparing the slide-show of our trip and that’ll be posted soon, either here or on her site.

A brief rundown of our trip. She was already in Dublin teaching when I joined her. Most of what I saw she already had or we saw them together. We went to Galway, Inishmore, and the Cliffs of Moher. We saw a bit of the Burren. On our way to Galway we crossed the River Shannon. My parents joined us as well. We went to the Ring of Kerry. Also saw the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough, Newgrange (got to go inside), Hill of Tara, and fields where the Battle of the Boyne took place. In Dublin went to Trinity to see The Book of Kells, Guinness Storehouse, and saw the Natural History and Archeological Museums.

The Natural History Museum is also known as The Dead Zoo. If you’ve been there, you know why. The first floor is nothing but stuffed animals, birds, and sealife found in Ireland. They had several skeletons of the extinct giant deer (and they are Giant). The second floor is full of animals from around the world. There are two levels above that but they are more galleries and have even more stuffed animals.

At the Archeological museum, I saw the bog bodies, the Lurgan Logboat, the Cross of Kong, the Tara Broach, and that chalice, whatever it’s called,of Armagh, I think. I even saw a fair number of ancient Bronze Irish Horns. And the gold. They had lots and lots of it. Anyway, the fascinating items on display are too numerous to mention.

We did another outing to Giant’s Causeway, Bushmill’s and some ruined castle that is supposed to be the most photographed ruined castle in Ireland. The train took us from Dublin to Belfast and we hopped on a bus from there. In the town of Bushmill Unionists were preparing to celebrate the 12th (of July). The date that William of Orange defeated James and the Catholics. Needless to say, it’s a bit like holding a KKK rally in Harlem. We tried really hard to see Carlingford Loch, the train passed by it, but the view was blocked by mountains. We think we saw the mountains that surrounded the loch. It’s the name of this song we heard the Black Watch and Welsh Guard Band play when we saw them on tour in Fort Smith, AR.

We finished our trip with a tour of Kilmainham Gaol (jail) and was perhaps the best tour of anything we visited. Melissa and I did visit the HQ of the ICRC in Geneva two years ago and that was pretty amazing too.

I’ll have more to say about our trip including a few more of the things we did. Oh and I did get to drink a few pints of Guinness whilst there.

Postcript – After returning to the states, I wanted to try Guinness again. I heard a Guinness snob saying how it was so much better in Ireland than in the states. I thought, yeah right. Anyway, I got to Ireland and yes to my surprise it was a little different, but I wouldn’t say superawesomely better. Guinness on tap, and draught bottles and cans comes from Ireland. Extra Stout in bottles is brewed in Canada for the US. Well, I tried the Guinness in both can and draught. It wasn’t quite as good, but I know I’ve had better at that restaurant. I wil say this. If you want a decent Guinness in America go to a place that serves a lot of it like an Irish pub. Generally, if you go to a place that has it, but isn’t known for it it sucks.

Tulsa has four Irish pubs, Kilkennys, McNellies, Arnies, and Paddys. Kilkenny’s makes the claim they are the only ones who inject the Guinness with nitrogen which is what gives it its creamy head when “poured properly.” Whatever.

Underpants Gnomes

That headline got your attention. The Underpants Gnomes appeared in an episode of South Park. They would steal people’s underwear. The boys find out what it’s all about:

  1. Steal underwear
  2. ????
  3. Profit

This seems to be how most companies work. I’m a big fan of capitalism. It works in practice much better than communism, but people are people. Any system can be corrupted. Capitalism is supposed to work under enlightened self-interest. Greed trumps enlightened self-interest. Greed trumps fairness. For day to day barter with your neighbors, capitalism works. What about between total strangers? It works for the most part. But what about addictive drugs?

I’m not talking about Heroin or Cocaine or even Tobacco. Well maybe I am. Don’t forget to include alcohol in the mix. I’m also going to throw prescription drugs into the mix. Most modern medications take years of studies and can be very expensive to develop. But some of them seem to be prescribed for other than it’s intended purpose. Some of it may work. But prescription drugs are like a hammer. Everything begins to look like a nail.

Anti-depressents and anti-pyschotics treat the symptoms. They don’t treat the source they don’t go after the problem. Therapy should be easier with the symptoms relieved. I get the impression that most people don’t get the therapy they need. They just pop a pill.

Profit. The drug company wants to maximize profit. So they look for other uses for their drugs. Hey if these anti-psychotic drugs are good for adults, they ought to be good for children. This may be true, but did they did do studies with the children. I don’t think you should mess with a child’s brain chemistry except under extreme circumstances. Not to sound like a Luddite, but children grew up just fine for the last 6,000 years of civilization without anti-pyschotics. Of course for most of human history, most children didn’t grow to adulthood. So let’s just choose the last century.

For the early part of the last century, children grew up just fine without anti-psychotics, anti-depressents, or anti-hyper (ADD) drugs. What about immunizations? They don’t mess with brain chemistry. Though one fraudster did attempt to cast aspersion on MMR innoculations that it caused autism. Autism is on the rise in this country. And I’ll try to address this issue.

Note – Why am I writing this essay/blog/post/entry? It’s to help me sort my thoughts out out on capitalism, marketing, drugs, autism. I suppose I could say that Greed has unintended side effects. Does Greed cause autism? I’ve written stories about the unintended consequences of new technologies. One of my childhood friends was hyperactive. One of my distant cousins is autistic. So I have some experience with these conditions.

I suppose what I’m getting at is the profit motive in the best interest of the consumer? How does he know he’s getting a fair deal. It’s all about fairness. It’s even been shown in some monkeys that the concept of fairness may be innate. They would reward some monkeys with food and others with a rock for the same task. The monkeys who got the rock were pissed and quit doing those tasks. And there is a difference between the concepts of fairness and entitlement.

Life isn’t fair, but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to be fair. Some people have an entitlement mentality which is often confused with fairness. This is not the best example, but here goes. At a public venue like concert halls there are often long lines to the women’s toilets. They aren’t entitled to have more toilets, but it would be fair to have more toilets available to handle the traffic as quickly as the men’s toilets. OK, here’s a better example. We aren’t entitled to affordable housing, but we should have a fair housing market. We aren’t entitled to affordable prescription meds, but we should have fair pricing. Especially when some developed drugs are developed at public expense.
The consumer needs to be educated and there needs to be a level of trust between the seller and the buyer. Unfortunately, people can make a great deal of money by screwing different consumers. They have a large pool from which to draw. Profit is good. The market is pretty good at determing fair pricing, but certain commodity prices are not determined by market forces and that isn’t fair.

The most extreme example of market forces at work has to be the Irish potato famine. Other countries the Netherlands and Germany shut off food exports to stave off the worst of it. But in Ireland food was still being exported because people could pay more for it elsewhere and there were armed guards to protect the food shipments. Had Ireland done what the continental countries did the famine and exodus would have been much less severe. The next time someone tells you they want laissez-faire capitalism point to that and ask them if that’s what they mean.

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