Monday, December 27, 2004

Stingy Americans

According to this article, the United States gives just 0.2 percent of its gross national income. As Jan Egeland, undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, says, "politicians 'believe that they are burdening the taxpayers too much and that the taxpayers want to give less. That's not true. They want to give more.'" (

Asia has been hit with what could turn out to be the worst natural disaster of all time. It is the United States' responsiblity to help out, and it would also be in its best interest to do so. There is no point in "bringing democracy" to other nations if we fail to help those in most dire need.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

The Origin of Boxing Day

A lot of people were asking about Boxing Day yesterday and I found a great explanation on Snopes.

"The holiday's roots can be traced to Britain, where Boxing Day is also known as St. Stephen's Day. Reduced to the simplest essence, its origins are found in a long-ago practice of giving cash or durable goods to those of the lower classes. Gifts among equals were exchanged on or before Christmas Day, but beneficences to those less fortunate were bestowed the day after."

Friday, December 24, 2004

Happy Holidays

Irrespective of personal beliefs, everyone should consider those less fortunate during the holiday period.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Virgin Blue

Today we flew on Virgin Blue, a Branson domestic airline based in Australia from Sydney to what should have been the Gold Coast. The flight originally scheduled for 12.45 had been rescheduled for 1.45pm. This was annoying but I didn't complain. After take-off the plane started to level off, suddenly the landing gear deployed and the plane began to violently cavitate. After a couple of minutes the gear was retracted and the flight continued. The pilot said that due to a mechanical malfunction the landing gear had to be tested. I'm not a good flier, I'm easily scared, this flight left me petrified. The announcement came 20 minutes later that the flight would have to make an emergency landing at a larger airport. After a extremely rough landing we taxied to a gate and sat while flight attendants debated whether we should be allowed to use cell phones to inform relatives that we weren't dead just postponed. 30 minutes later we were given the message that we would have to disembark, pick up our bags and grab a bus for our original destination. Given the choice, when flying in Australia, don't fly Virgin Blue.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Time's Person of the Year

Divisive, destructive foreign and domestic policy shouldn't be commended it should be condemned.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Biden on Meet the Press

Of the four Senators on Meet the Press this morning Biden was clearly in a league of his own. More articulate, more knowledgeable and reluctant to spin he really made some good points about Rumsfeld's management of Iraq and what we should expect over the next 12 months. I'm not as optimistic as any of the Senators and I think Russert is starting to feel the inevitability of civil war or a Shiite theocracy. I'm starting to become immune to the bad news coming out of Iraq. I heard today that 60 people died in isolated bombings and it didn't surprise me at all. We will see, but it's obvious the worst is yet to come. Bush needs to heed the advice of all four Senators and embrace any support from Germany and France; old Europe or not.

Multicultural, Isht don't think so

It's been about 4 years since I have traveled to Australia and I always claim to my American friends that Australia is a truly multi-cultural society. Unfortunately I was wrong. It's as mono-cultural as Sweden. Day 2 in Sydney and other than the beautiful weather, fantastic beer and extremely friendly people; I am struck most by the complete lack of diversity. It's important because I often hear people arguing that Australia has solved it's societal inequities through acceptance. In reality there was never much of a problem to solve in the first place...

Friday, December 17, 2004

BOS to SYD via LAX and NAN

Apparently airlines are able to change the scheduled departure time without informing their customers. Our 11.30pm Air Pacific flight actually left at 10.30pm. Our Boston flight was delayed by about an hour due to some comical baggage handlers who thought it would be fun to put the bags on the plane, take the bags off the plane, then put them back on again. This was actually caused by a deluded passenger who thought she mistakenly put something in her bag she shouldn’t have.

Whoever flew the plane from Boston to LA is my hero. He got us into LA by 9.30. On arrival we were confronted with a plane blocking the gate but he barreled back around and into an open position and we were free and at the Air Pacific counter by 10pm.

Interesting side point on human behavior; there were 6 people on our plane that had to make the very tight Air Pacific connection. The flight attendant, sympathetic to our plight, suggested that everyone should remain seated while we rush to get out of the plane. Not one person remained seated.

So we walked right onto the Air Pacific plane at 10.15pm and off we went. And here I am, somewhere halfway between LA and Fiji. Despite the cramped conditions, I can’t completely open my laptop and it’s slicing my gut in two, I am a very happy person. Avoiding the potential hell of losing two days of our vacation in LA (no offense but LA just isn’t a city I want to be stuck in) almost makes me want to thank Someone.

We accidentally had a pair of scissors in our carry on baggage that were completely overlooked in Boston but picked up in LA. Guess Boston isn’t the model of TSA screening after all. One other thing the Fijian flight crew is obsessed with my blackberry, but worried that since it functions as email, internet and telephone it is the ultimate flight radio disruption device. I was just asked whether I thought turning it off was enough. I guess I could offer to open the door and drop it out. I need another whiskey.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Oz Blog

Since I will be spending the next 16 days either in Australia or traveling to and from Australia I will endeavor to bring you a snippet of Aussie culture each day. At the suggestion of a friend I will not limit my posts to political or newsworthy issues. Itinerary is as follows:

Today - Boston to LAX, LAX to Fiji, Fiji to Sydney (About 27 hours and I hate flying)
Saturday December 18 to Wednesday December 22 - Sydney
Wednesday December 22 to Friday December 24 - Gold Coast
Friday December 24 to Monday December 27 - Melbourne
Tuesday December 28 to Friday December 31 - Cudal (I challenge anyone to find Cudal)
News Year Eve - Wagga Wagga (a "b and s" disguised as some black tie event at a vineyard)
New Years Day - Wagga Wagga to Sydney
Sunday January 2nd - Sydney to Fiji, Fiji to LAX, LAX to Boston (About 30 hours and I'm sure I will still hate flying)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Didn't you know?

Liberals hate Christmas.

This Boston Globe article reports of conservative groups attempting to “re-Christianize” the holiday season and to use Bush’s reelection as justification.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to bring Jesus back into Christmas. It is, after all, a Christian holiday that has – for a long time – been more focused on materialism than religion. But there’s no reason whatsoever that this needs to spill into the government arena. Boycotting department stores that use the more marketable “Seasons Greetings” rather than “Merry Christmas” is silly.

Rev. Patrick Wooden Sr., says, ''We're not going to allow the country to continue this downward spiral to the left." Since when do liberals hate Christmas? I find it hard to believe that businesses are renaming their “Christmas” parties as “Holiday” parties because they’re bashing religion. It seems more likely that they are merely trying not to alienate their non-Christian employees.

The Ohio recount

John Kerry supports a recount in Ohio but believes Bush won the election. Ok, enough. When will this guy learn? Kerry needs to take a page out of Yushchenko's book. Here is a guy who may die because he is in opposition to Kremlin policy. Yushchenko knew there were irregularities, not the least of which included this face, and demanded justice. Come December 26 he will get it. Meanwhile Kerry will continue a fairly underwhelming career in the Senate while the rest of us pull our hair out.

I have to admire Jesse Jackson's willingness to fight against a flawed system while being labelled an extremist. All the time the DNC are hiding behind Jackson's bravado. I have no idea whether there was voter fraud in Ohio but we all have a right to know.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Secretary of Health Leavitt

Leavitt did such a good job of supporting industry against environmental groups as head of the EPA that Bush has awarded him with the Secretary of Health position. Now he can support drug companies, insurance companies and healthcare providers and do even more damage. Leavitt has shown himself to be a loyal member of the administration and is being rewarded for that loyalty.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Dean with Russert

Dean on Meet the Press:

"RUSSERT: Could the Democrats have gone after George Bush's foreign policy, national security record more effectively?
DR. DEAN: Well, I think the answer is yes, because we didn't win, so I believe that you go after somebody's strengths, that the president ran as a war president and he ran as a national security president. The truth is, his record on national security is weak, not strong, but we're not spending the money we need to to get the nuclear weapons leftovers out of Russia; that's a budget item the president has not spent the money on. We're not inspecting the cargo containers. I think it would have been a great strategy to do that.
But I think John ran a pretty good campaign. In fact, from a grassroots perspective, we ran the best campaign that we ever have; it just wasn't good enough. It's one of the reasons I'm interested in the DNC chairmanship."

This is good news for Democrats. A Democratic party with Dean at the helm will be resolute in it's policies. It also gives me some hope that the party will nominate the right candidates in 2008. I respect Howard Dean and he speaks to many of my values. I really can't see him making the mistake of taking the Democratic platform further right.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Dioxin not bad sushi

It wasn't bad sushi that made Yushchenko look like Robert the Bruce. The Ukrainians sure know how to run a tough campaign. Now there's a strategy Rove didn't think of...

AP: Before and After

Kerik Out

I guess it's an issue for the head of the Department of Homeland Security to have previously employed an illegal immigrant. He has done the right thing by withdrawing. Bush will have to go back to the ranch for a couple of months to rethink a new candidate.

Friday, December 10, 2004

The Injured

There is an interesting piece in the New England Journal of Medicine regarding US military injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. Apparently only 1 in 10 of the injured troops die from there injuries; a result of an extremely efficient field trauma care system. Medical advances have halved the mortality rate since Vietnam.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Hollow victory?

The $156 million awarded to parent's whose son was shot and killed by terrorists in Jerusalem brings up some interesting issues. Since 9/11 have US Muslim charities been unfairly targeted by the government? It's interesting that as part of the governments faith-based initiatives not one grant has gone to a Muslim organization. The government should investigate links between Muslims charities and terrorist groups, but at the same time it shouldn't lose sight of the large number of non-Muslim terrorist organizations.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Rumsfeld facing the music

It was great to hear US troops in Kuwait standing up for themselves following a Rumsfeld pep talk. I can't even begin to understand the frustration of national guardsmen and reserves who have been forced to serve longer tours with substandard equipment. It makes me ill to think that Halliburton was being over-paid for services in Iraq while troops are still without the necessary armor to keep them safe.

I'm not a supporter of this war, but for every day those soldiers risk their lives they should be given the right equipment and be adequately compensated.

Rumsfeld and Hussein

One Person, One Voice

The Parents Television Council (PTC) has dominated the number of indecency complaints filed to the FCC, according to this article by MediaWeek. Out of all complaints filed in 2003 (with the exception of the infamous and over-hyped Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction”), 99.8% came from the PTC.

Lara Mahaney, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-based group, said the issue should not be the source of complaints, but whether programming violates federal law prohibiting the broadcast of indecent matter when children are likely to be watching. (

Mahaney is incorrect. It does matter where the complaints come from, lest the media become controlled by special interest groups. A handful of people should not have a disproportionate influence over millions of people. One person writing 10 letters to the FEC does not count as 10 voices.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Trippi proposes democratic reform for the Democratic Party

In a recent editorial on MSNBC, Joe Trippi calls for a change in the Democratic party to support a Jeffersonian democracy in which the people, not the lobby groups, dictate law. His points are valid but what will make a population feasting on greed want to adopt selfless laws for the better good of all the people in the country? Nothing. It's difficult to argue with people, whose faith relies on the demise of the planet, that they should make the least amount of sacrifices for the social good of the entire population. It's counterintuitive. The other issue is that people are innately bigoted. Given a chance to profit off another population of people they will. This is a cynical point of view but there needs to be some sense of realism when redefining the Democratic Party's platform.

Monday, December 06, 2004

It's gettin' hot in here...

When is the US going to start considering global warming a serious threat to humanity? Bush seems to understand the necessity to stem the spread of AIDS but his administration has only just admitted the Greenhouse Effect is real. I realize that there are many potential cataclysmic events. The eruption of super volcano, like Yellowstone; a collision with a large meteorite or comet; a massive earthquake in Tokyo; a new viral pandemic. These are all real possibilities in our lifetime that are bound to chance. The only inevitable cataclysmic event that we can prevent is the Greenhouse Effect.

The US is currently responsible for one third of the worlds carbon emissions. Since ratification of the Kyoto Treaty requires countries that produce 55% of carbon emissions to come into force, it is impossible to ratify without the support of either the US or Russia. What would happen if the Kyoto Treaty was ratified? Would we all have to ride around on bicycles and go without heat on cold winter nights? No. It calls for a reduction of about 5% over 10 years. It really isn't much, unless of course all your buddies own energy companies and you don't want them to lose 5% of their billions of dollars in profits.

It's true that the greenhouse effect won't lead to the end of the planet, but it is true over the next couple of hundred years if we don't do something to curb emissions this won't be a planet humans can live on, unless of course you have gills.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Is the UN next?

Saturday, December 04, 2004

The right kind of dictator

Bush's commendation of Pakistani dictator Musharraf is a prime example of the continued failings of US foreign policy. There is a precedent of the US reversing support for Middle East leaders that both Bin Laden and Hussein can attest to. This has left the entire region distrustful of US intentions.

That is most likely why Pakistan is toning down the hunt for Bin Laden. The disaster of the US occupation in Iraq has made it clear to other Middle-East leaders that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, fueled by anti-US sentiment, are a force to be reckoned with. No Middle East leader wants any part of the turmoil in Iraq to infect their own country.

Kerik to replace Ridge

OK did anyone see this Bernard Kerik guy debate Wesley Clark on CNN? He was abysmal and seemed to have an extremely narrow foreign policy understanding. I know that this position is domestic but I have to imagine there is some value in comprehending world affairs when determining terror threats.

Reuters - Bernard Kerik.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Didn't we win that war already?

Things had seemed awfully quiet in Iraq, but as it turns out there are just less people reporting on the violence, not less violence.

"With fewer Western journalists covering the war-torn nation, the true grim picture of continued violence isn’t getting out. Our correspondent reports on the last week."

Reuters - Violence in Iraq on Thursday included a mortar round that slammed into a parking lot in central Baghdad.

Higher and Higher

One of my colleagues was complaining about the cost of his health insurance. As a consultant he is responsible for his own insurance. His Provider is Harvard Pilgrim. Since Harvard Pilgrim is a not-for-profit company it is still is one of cheapest providers of health insurance in Massachusetts. As of December 1 the cost for his insurance rose $50 to $425 per month. He is single, under 30 and healthy.

This prompted me to do some research. The Kaiser Family Foundation has a fantastic website that is a wealth of information. A report released in August 2004 indicated the average cost for a single 30 year old living in New England is $254 and $425 for a family. Given this I called Tufts and Blue Cross Blue Shield indicating I was a 30 year old consultant with a wife and 2 children. I asked for quotes as an individual and for a family. The individual cost for Blue Cross Blue Shield was $469 and for a family $989. Tufts was $501 and $1021. I believe the KFF numbers were from 2002; talk about a price hike!

I had no idea how much people who don’t have group coverage are paying, I knew it was a lot but not a mortgage or car payment. I have a feeling once the government implements tort reform legislation it will do nothing to minimize these annual increases.

Thursday, December 02, 2004


This essay is excellent. Written by Julian Edney, it's long but extremely well researched and really examines the contributing factors leading to the disparity in wealth between the rich and poor. An increasing gap with little chance of reversal.

Media Craziness

NBC, CBS and ABC have banned an advertisement that shows a gay couple being rejected from a church. The reason: "because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples ... and the fact that the executive branch has recently proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast." OK if that's the case then people that support gay rights should drop NBS, CBS and ABC. It's astonishing how much of an impact the administration is having on the larger networks. The networks seem reluctant to show anything that doesn't play to the President's policies. The Murdochization of the media will spread conservative propaganda and Bill O'Reilly. Look out for "Bill and Grace", "Bill's Eye for the Straight Guy" and the "O'Reilly Fear Factor".

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Changing the UN

Following are the proposed UN changes leaked to the Economist:

  • Creating a “peace-building commission” to serve as an early warning system for global hotspots and, if necessary, lay the groundwork for military intervention;
  • Developing a structure for preemptive intervention, but only after five “criteria for legitimacy” are met—the threat must be defined, the purpose of intervention must be clear, intervention should be proportionate to the threat, intervention should improve the situation, and intervention must come as a last resort;
  • Expecting member states to protect their own citizens; failure to do so, the BBC reports, could trigger intervention by the Security Council;
  • Maintaining the current veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council (UNSC)—the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China and France;
  • Expanding the UNSC from 15 to 24 members, with six members from each of four regions—Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe; and
  • Examining the prospect of adding new permanent members to the UNSC but not granting them veto power.

The Rise of Nationalism

In Germany recently a far right German National Party won 21% of the vote in a local election. In Italy the right wing government is battling charges of racism. In France the ultra-nationalistic Front National won 17% of the national vote in 2002. In Britain the British National Party gained more votes in the 2003 elections than it had since the seventies. In Austria the extreme right Freedom Party has formed a coalition with the ruling party. In the US there are more than 500 extremist groups primarily associated with xenophobic ideologies many who openly endorse Republican candidates for government.

The UN recently concluded: “The current realities of racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia and related intolerance should be acknowledged as major threats to peace, security and human development”.

Not that American’s care much for global perceptions but I have to wonder what the rest of the world makes of our support for the “right”. By voting for candidates that run on bigoted platforms it appears the US is embracing the nationalism infecting Europe. Not to be confused with patriotism or Nazism; of course.