Friday, September 30, 2011

Watering Down 'Racism'

First, let me establish that in this country, there still exist people of one race, gender or ethnicity that have feelings of fear or hostility toward people of another race, gender, or ethnicity.   With that being said, I think that when people call other people racist, or declare a statement or position as racist, it does no service to the battle to fight racism.  Over my entire life, I have heard that term coined so many times by those that financially benefit from stirring up racist sentiments, and more often than not, there is no validity to the statement.  Racism, as stated previously, is not a disagreement in values or thought by one person of a certain race, gender, or ethnicity by another person of a different race, gender, or ethnicity.  But that is how it is most often used.  If one’s disagreement is motivated by the animosity against another’s race, gender or ethnicity, then you have some validity to the racist label.  To be able to judge with all impartiality, you must either know the motives of the person accused of racism, or the act or word must be such that the racist element would be judged beyond reasonable doubt.  Take our current President.  Few are able to offer criticism of Obama without being called racist.   Most recently, an individual put a sign in their front yard depicting Obama in a diaper saying, “Change me, I stink.”  The cries of racism have been intense, but let’s look at this impartially.  There is nothing in the statement itself that indicates racism.  To make that statement racist, you would have to change it to say, “Change me, I stink and I’m black.”  Now it is a statement beyond reasonable doubt of racism.  Now let’s look at the picture.  There is nothing stereotypical in the picture itself.  You could substitute a leader of any other race and the message is the same.  The only thing you are left with is intent.  There is no known statement of racist intent relating to this sign.  Unless we are willing to get into the business of thought police, we will never truly know the intent, nor should we judge the intent.   The point of this exercise is that those that are crying foul about racism for something like this do a disservice to the fight against racism. 
Imagine if we used the term “murder” the same way.  Suppose every time there is a disagreement between people, one of them says they were murdered.  Suppose these calls all go to the police and the police have to be dispatched to investigate whether there really was a murder.  It would be really easy for the real murders to go unnoticed in this scenario.  The reason why I use murder is because it is a very important charge that deserves our full attention.   For us to use our resources wisely, we need to declare murder only when a murder has happened.  We need to do the same thing with racism.  Right now, the real racism is being lost in the noise. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Dilema For Drug Companies: Big Pharmacutical Can't Win

Drug companies have been the villain amongst the media, politicians, and the consumer for decades.  They are even the villain for those whose lives depend on them. I have been blessed for most of my life in not having to take medication, aside from asthma inhalers, nor has my family been dependent on continued use of prescription medication.  For those who have, and have possibly paid the very high and draining prices for prescription medication, there is really nothing past this sentence that will convince you that perhaps the drug companies are not all evil.   Let me begin by saying that drug companies are for profit businesses.  All of the greatest innovations and products, from healthcare to agriculture, from consumer products to travel, have come from the risk and investment of for profit companies.  Prior to America, the ability for a for profit company to exist was very limited in that most commerce was tied in some way to the government.  For all of man’s time on the earth, we have never seen the explosion of innovation as we have when we removed government from the equation and allowed individuals to take risks, be creative, make a lot of money, and fail.  If the development of prescription medication were left to the benevolence of the federal government, we would not have the medications we have now.   Let me explain why.
Developing a new drug is about as risky of an endeavor as an company can undertake.  The end product alone, a pill or solution that is to be ingested by the body, is so full of risk to the company that the liability costs alone should make it prohibitive.  Imagine having to design something that can be safely taken by more than 6 billion people, none of whom are made exactly alike.  It would be like design a passenger seat in a car without knowing the exact dimension of the car’s body, but expecting it to fit all of the cars, and if it doesn’t, then the car owner can sue the seat maker.  Let me make another car analogy.  If a drug company were like a car company, they could make decent money by delivering the basics of the car, four wheels, seats, body, engine, steering wheel, transmission.  Because these components are widely adopted, the cost involved in developing, testing, and manufacturing these components can be spread across the whole consumer market.  But now suppose there is a need for .5 % of the driving community to need seat warmers.   For automakers, that additional cost is added to the price of the cars that will have those seat warmers added.  While it is a small component, the cost to develop, test, and manufacture those seat warmers is not .5% of the cost to do the other items. 
Drug companies have it much worse than auto manufactures.  The cost to create a drug that might be used by half of the world’s population, but still be compatible with all of it is going to be possibly less than the cost of a drug that will only be used by .5% of the population.  So you can buy a bottle of 50 tylenol for 2 bucks, but the cost to purchase the life-saving drug for that rare form of cancer is going to be exponentially more expensive.  And to make matters worse, there is a real expectation that these “rotten” companies should be spending all of their time and money on discovering new drugs for things that will only ever be used by a limited number of consumers.  So, let’s look at the no-win scenarios they face for pricing their products
1.       The drug company spreads the cost of that new drug across all of its products, making the ones used by most people more expensive.  This means that standard drugs might be priced out of the range of more and more consumers.
2.       The drug company only applies the cost of the new drug development to the new drug itself.  This means that those that might need the new drug can’t afford it, but the other drugs are not affected.
3.       The drug company stops developing new drugs.
Which of these options do you want.  We already know that governments didn’t do this work and if they did, they obviously wouldn’t invest in new drugs because of the start up cost and risk.  Maybe we should look at how our government drives the high cost of these drugs first. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Debt Movie Review

This is one of the few reviews I will do of a movie that is in current release.  The movie is about 3 Mossad agents in 1966 trying to track down the fictional equivalent of Dr. Mengle.   Overall, I think the movie tried doing a little too much.  There was a love triangle between the two male agents and one female agent.  It is as if highly trained professionals just couldn’t keep their hands off of each other.   Many movies interject a love element that only detracts from the movie.  I realize that the outcome of the love triangle is important for other elements of the film, but it could have been more easily written out.   Just as a side note, I think of the big WW2 pics about a decade or more ago, Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor.  I was so thankful they stuck to the brotherly love of combat in saving private ryan over skirt chasing pilots in pearl harbor.  Anyway, another element they introduced was the devious villain, the nazi doctor that was their objective.  He was creepy and you hoped he would get was coming to him.  The story switched from 1997 with the adult agents dealing with some sort of tortured element from their successful mission, especially the female agent, who now has a daughter that has written a book about her mother and father’s daring mission.  The mother, played by Helen Mirren is so reluctant to be a part of the book, you know something isn’t true.  The movie then flashes back to the mission as it plays out.  This was the best part of the movie and could have been the entire movie to better effect.  Spoiler Alert: As you guessed it, the mission doesn’t go according to plan and the doctor gets away, which means that you now know that these agents have been living a lie, and you know why one of the agents killed themselves in the opening 5 minutes.  One element that played out very well was making the doctor, who is now practicing in East Germany, an obgyn.   The Jewish female agent must go and see this doctor claiming fertility problems to confirm his identity.  She must put herself in the absolutely most vulnerable position for the sake of the mission.  This was well done and you as an audience member also felt the discomfort.  Overall, I give this movie two thumbs up for entertainment purposes, not for acting or academy awards reasons. For a really good Mossad movie, I suggest Munich.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Legal Fringe:MO to Ban Facebook Contact between Teachers and Students

I often depart from traditional conservatism in my deep belief in the limitation of government and personal accountability.  Recently, Missouri has been in the spot light for the bill it passed and is now working to revise to limit the possibility of a student child relationship through social media.  Basically, it makes it illegal for a teach to have individual contract with a child through social media, such as facebook.  Posting on the wall would be okay, but doing chat or private message would be illegal.  The purpose here is to keep teachers or students from initiating more intimate contact.  Sounds fair enough and as a good conservative, you should want to keep the teachers in line and children safe. 

But to quote Vito Corleone, I'm a reasonable man.  There is already a law that makes a relationship between a student and teacher illegal, do we need more.  Is this really a deterrent.  I mean, if two individuals are already interested in going down this path, I don’t think a law limiting their contact will do anything to prevent it from happening.  It doesn’t physically prevent them from communicating this way, just punishes the teacher for doing so, which should really only be an issue if the relationship was inappropriate, which is covered under the law already.  To me, it seems like the push for gun control.  The only people that are affected by gun control are those that would purchase and own a gun legally anyway.  The criminals are going to get their weapon one way or another, so why make everyone else defenseless.  I know e-mail and facebook isn’t up to that level, but isn’t it about attacking a constitutional right to speech in the name of protecting us.  Again, the relationship is already illegal outside of this new law.  Why allow such a fringe law that only desensitizes us to other infringements on our speech.  I say no. 
And as a side point, there is a lot of news now about some teacher that called a tea party member a nazi.  While I may not agree, the teacher was not at an official school function, and while there were students there, it wasn’t a mandated class.  If a person becomes a teacher, does that mean they cannot have independent thought.  We have a real problem with this stuff going on in the classroom before captive audiences.  Let’s not water it down by punishing people for what is said outside of the classroom.  One of my most respected teachers in highschool was as liberal as they get, but he never brought it into the classroom, and he never punished me for my beliefs.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Long Distance Warrior: Overcoming Government Monopolies

I watched an interesting documentary last night on William McGowan, the leader of MCI, formerly Microwave Communications Incorporated.   In a nutshell, prior to McGowan and MCI, AT&T had a monopoly on all phone service.  Sure that is hard to believe now with so many carriers, but that is how it was before the 70’s.  William McGowan did a little research and found out that AT&T did not have a government sanctioned monopoly, which meant they could encounter competition.  From his point of view, since they had 100% of market share, they could only go down and the competition he was offering would go up.  Through force of will and much litigation, MCI broke the AT&T monopoly and now we have the information age we have.  The key in his thinking was, just because AT&T has the monopoly, doesn’t mean they should have it. 
As I like to do, I would like to transfer this thinking to our federal government.  Obviously, the government we have now is not the government we had 100 years ago.  There was no social security or medicare 100 years ago, yet we still had elderly and poor.   You see, once the government gets involved in something, they become the monopoly in that thing, such as senior retirement and healthcare.  We can see how the introduction of Obamacare with the promise that nothing will change for those that don’t want it to, will effectively end privately funded healthcare.  This isn’t meant to be a discussion of the merits, or lack thereof, of this project, but merely to show the progression of the government monopoly.  Or look at the student loan program as another recent example. 
The problem with a government monopoly compared to a private monopoly is that a government monopoly carries the full force of law.  If AT&T wanted to collect past payments, they have to go through the court system.  If the government wants to collect, they directly garnish your wages.  So, when we debate the size and scale of government, most people believe it is too large, but they make the suckers choice and say it is too late to change.    Why can’t we act like McGowan and question all of these government programs and say, why should the government be the ones in charge of senior care, or poverty, or you name it.  I’ll guarantee we will do it better.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Netflix Letter to Customers from Reed Hastings: Qwikster Launches

Just when I thought Netflix couldn't make anymore mistakes to try and destroy their business comes the letter from Netflix co-founder, Reed Hastings.  The letter begins by expressing his sorrow for the changes they have made and the impact it has had on their customers, though nothing will change.  He explains the need to focus on streaming in order to maintain relevance, and not become another AOL or Borders.  The dagger point to their business comes later in the letter when he announces the official splitting of the DVD and streaming business.  All of the physical media transactions will take place on their new website, Qwikster, while the streaming service will continue through the Netflix website.  For most successful businesses, like Wal-Mart, the goal is to have a one-stop shop.  I felt I was able to keep my business with Netflix because I could manage both my physical DVD's as well as my streaming content on one website.  You see, webpages have something called tabs and links that allow you to do multiple things on a single site.  They've been around for years.  Netflix, however, feels that their consumers are incapable of navigating multiple tabs within a single page to manager multiple services.  So their solution is to send you to another "store".  When you separate these two services in such a dramatic way, the consumer will then shop around for each service individually, and the value add of doing both services on one site is lost.  If I go to Wal-Mart for years to get my groceries and shampoo, and they suddenly don't sell shampoo and their main store, but instead tell me to go to another store, chances are good that #1, I'll be mad.  #2, while I'm mad at having to go somewhere else, I will be less inclined to go to the other store they own.  #3. I might find that going to another store, I like their services better and maybe stop going to both stores all together.  In summary, Netflix's effort to control the streaming business has caused its consumer base to look for the off ramps and maybe try another stream.  They did lose 600,000 customers over the last couple of months.

Limitless Movie Review

Limitless was an interesting movie.  I found the concept intriguing enough to keep my attention through the end of the movie.  The story follows that an inspired writer with little to no motivation in life bumps into his ex-wife's brother, who slips him an experimental drug.  Through the main characters narration, he finds himself taking a drug that a relative stranger gave him that is experimental.  The drug is designed to allow the user to use more than the normal 20% of his brain.  Upon first use, the main character was able to recall small details of information he had experienced during his life, he was also able to write 90 pages of his stalled novel.   Since the drug only lasts a day, he then hunts down his brother in law to get more.  Unfortunately, his brother-in-law is dead, but that allows him to steal the large supply of this new drug as well as some starter cash for his new brain.  He starts of small, doing things like finishing his book, learning the piano, learning new languages, getting back with his freshly ex-girlfriend.  He then decides to make some money.  To do so, he needs some cash and decides to get a loan from the russian mafia.  He's not worried because he knows he will be able to earn the money back playing the stock market.  Sure enough, he makes a couple of million dollars in no time, catching the attention of some large investors.  He forgot to pay back the mafia who come collecting the cash, which is not a problem.  The problem is that the mafia figure takes one of the drugs off of the main character and becomes addicted.  This is the first issue he now must face.  The other one is that his accelerated use of the drug has made him miss massive periods of time during the day.  He does things that he doesn't remember.  He also finds out that the drug is killing people.  The story arc goes, loser does loser things, then he finds a drug, and he becomes super smart.  He does all the things you think you would do if you had the brain capacity to do it, or the time as in ground hog day.  Learning isn't enough, so he wants power and money, now we get into a cascade of bad issues, with drug addiction, mafia, and intrigue.  In the end, he levels out and overcomes his obstacles.  From an entertainment perspective, I give this movie two thumbs up. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Evangelicals Left Off National Cathedral 9/11 Program: Don't Worry

The knee jerk reaction is to get appalled at the exclusion of the nations largest faith groups, southern baptists and evangelicals.  That was my initial reaction.  Maybe I have grown numb by the continuous onslaught of America by this most un-American President, as well as his apparent distaste for Christians.  After deep contemplation, I simply told myself that God could likely care less whether or not an evangelical is at such a secular event.  And what would an evangelical offer.  How would his attendance further God's kingdom.  Where 2 or 3 are gathered in His name, there He is also.  If remembering the fallen of 9/11 is an important exercise of your faith, simply follow the word.  Gather in your homes or small groups.  God can hear your prayers from anywhere.  Do not get caught up in the trappings of making your faith overly political by wanting it to be part of secular rememberances.  Jesus, in speaking to his early disciples said, let the dead bury their own.  Perhaps the message we can take away from that is that we are to concern ourselves with loving one another and spreading God's word more than getting involved in Obama's divisiveness. 

The Madness of King Obama: Stimulus Redux

This morning I watched as the details of Obama’s big jobs program have come out.  He is going to propose 300 billion in STIMULUS spending, but won’t call it stimulus of course.  It will contain a 1 year extension of unemployment, because nothing stimulates more than joblessness.  It will contain money for public workers laid off due to state budget cuts, you have to reward your base.  And you must also include more “shovel ready” jobs through public works projects.  Oh, and just so you can include tax cuts in the same sentence as big government spending, he will propose a 1 year extension of the payroll tax cut.  One trillion dollars of this stuff didn’t do anything but make things worse, so why not add another 300 billion.   I know I was expecting this, but the audacity of proposing such a thing is madness.
The idea of using such reckless methods to cure the economy made me think about the movie, The Madness of King George.   In the movie, the poor king suffered from porpheria, which, when it was in effect, would cause the ‘madness’.   The funny thing about the movie was watching a trio of doctors attempt to use the treatments of the day to cure him, treatments that we as the viewer know are totally ineffective and actually harmful.  One doctor obsessed about the king’s stool samples.  Another would do torturous physical things to burn or leach the illness out of the King.  So, running on the treadmill, I see this news break, and I thought of Obama and his team as a bunch of crazy doctors trying out their medieval cures for the economy.   We as the country must endure the punishment even though it is actually making us worse, yet the doctors don’t care. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Netflix and STARZ End Contract in 2012

In the spirit of Netflix's radio commercials where valid question receive irreverent answers, I would like to offer this question:  What company has chosen to make its primary route of distribution a route where only 6% of their top 100 items are available, at the cost of upsetting the customer base for the other 94%. Additionally, that same company has its contract with its primary provider of the 6% end in less than a year. Answer, NETFLIX.
Netflix appears to be going down a strange path of self destruction.  I've never seen a popular company make so many missteps and upset its customer base so much in so little time.  In my previous blogs, I have mentioned that it is apparent that Netflix wants to go all in when it comes to being the primary provider of streaming content.  Unfortunately, their drive has come at the cost of upsetting its base of customers that still use physical DVDs.  I'm as in favor of streaming only as they get, but the vast majority of titles a person wants to see, especially new content, is simply not available online.  As I said in my question, only 6 titles out of Netflix's top 100 viewed titles are available online.  That tells me right away that most of what I want is not viewable via streaming.  The primary provider of Netflix's content that is less than 4 years old is STARZ.    You learn this quickly if you search for any decent instantview content, you will see it is through STARZ.  IN fact, when I sorted the instantview option by rating, I couldn't see any 4 or higher star content that wasn't through STARZ.  This is only important when you learn that STARZ and Netflix will be ending their relationship in 2012.  If Netflix doesn't have other more significant deals with other studios for content, then the Netflix strategy is a bust.  If I were a Netflix share holder, I would be more nervous than ever considering the reluctance of most studios to making their content available through streaming.  Could we be seeing the end of Netflix in the wake of the end of blockbuster.