Brilliance in Humor and the Dark Side of Politicians

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I seem to remember seeing the actual footage of the Marx Brothers, Groucho in particular, acting out a great piece of comedy, although since I cannot find it on YouTube, it must not have ever happened, right? Others claim it was others, but I don’t think I’d remember Winston Churchill in this video memory quite the same way.

The skit goes something like this:
Groucho: Excuse me, miss, would you sleep with me for a million dollars?
Woman: You’re not so bad looking, so, yeah, for a million I’d consider it.
Groucho: Well, since I don’t have a million dollars, would you sleep with me for a hundred?
Woman: Mister! What kind of a girl do you think I am?!
Groucho: We’ve already established that, miss, now we’re just negotiating…
Delivered with cigar in hand, huge┬ámustache, and large rimmed glasses, it’s a classic.
It came up in conversation recently with my wife, but not for a similar reason as the subject of the bit. Herman Cain reminded me of it, actually.
How does Herman Cain, the 2012 Republican primary candidate for President of the United States reminded you of Groucho Marx, you ask?
Actually, Presidents, candidates, and other politicians often remind me of it. The reason is that their great policy that they come out with is generally accepted by the majority of Americans at the time of its inception. Just take a look at a few paraphrased propositions throughout history:
Woodrow Wilson: My fellow Americans, to be able to afford the programs that will cure this economy, would you pay a small portion–just 1%–of your income if you make more than $20,000 (the equivalent of almost $400,000 in 2010 dollars)?
Populous: Well, the poor need help, and I’m only middle class and won’t be taxed at all with this deal, so it sounds good to me.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt: My fellow Americans, to assure that people are cared for after the end of their working years, would you pay 1% of your first $3,000 (about $45,000 in 2010 dollars) of income, with your employer paying an equal amount to provide for the less fortunate among us?
Populous: For the equivalent of about $38 (in 2010 value), I’ll be assured an income after I reach 65? And my parents who are approaching that age will not be a burden to me either? Sign us up!
Barack Obama: My fellow Americans, health insurance is a right. If we all pay premiums, our costs will go down. That’s how insurance works: you distribute the risk. If you already have insurance, you’ll keep your carrier and your doctor.
Populous: I’m already insured, so if you need to force others to buy insurance in order to reduce what I pay, that sounds reasonable.
Herman Cain: My fellow Americans, I propose a new tax structure. Instead of complicated forms and myriad loopholes, let us set the corporate income tax rate at 9%, the personal income tax rate at 9%, and impose a national sales tax of 9%.
Populous: I’d love to only pay 9% income tax and only new products incur the 9% sales tax, so I can control how much tax I pay by controlling my purchases. Sounds good to me.
Of course, Woodrow Wilson eventually left office and Congress and succeeding Presidents saw it prudent to increase the now negotiable rate. Following FDR, Congress raided the Treasury for the trust fund and soon realized they had to bring in more revenues to pay the retirees. Barack Obama’s successors could easily one day make changes to the health care programs, the nature of which can only be speculated. What would Congress do with the opportunity to adjust both a flat income tax and a national sales tax in the years following Cain’s one-day departure from the office?
I like the idea of a flat tax. I prefer the idea of the Fair Tax, the national sales tax, to the exclusion of income taxes. The trouble with the Fair Tax is that you cannot guarantee that there won’t be a return of the income tax one day in the not too distant future. In fact, after thinking this train of thoughts that started with a memory of a video of Groucho Marx, the station at the end of the line is another video, this time out of Star Wars.

Effectively Perceiving Butterflies and the Methods that Catch Them

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Something’s been itching at me the last few weeks, ever since I got back from Chicago for the nutraMetrix training there. One of the trainers had mentioned a reticulating sensor (no, I’m not 100% sure that’s the word she used) that we have that will cause us to see doctors and their offices everywhere we go as a result of our training. This is the same sensory appliance of sorts that our brains use to categorize everything in our lives and we typically become acutely aware of it only when we make a change in our lives. When you buy a new car, you’ll start to see that model everywhere you go. When you change your hairstyle, everyone suddenly seems to have the same.

This phenomenon got me thinking.

It’s fairly common knowledge that you can find support for any side of any argument in both the Bible and on the Internet. This is only possible because our sensor would be looking for the support.

The way I see it, it works with the behaviors of people, too. If someone screws up–even just minorly–at work and it gets picked up at the corporate rumor mill, everyone starts to look at that person’s activity through the prism of the rumors and starts to find falt in everything he does, even down to how he says "good morning."

The political ramifications are broad, too, but we see it happeneing in a practical sense with the way both Conservatives and Progressives become more resolved in their beliefs with every news story–even if it’s the same story! As for campaigning, some say that negative ads don’t work and maybe they’re correct, but if someone can campaign perpetually and constantly denigrate the other side (and have it make sense) without actually having a named candidate as an opponent, maybe even those skeptics would admit defeat.

I think it’s an interesting idea with many far-reaching applications. If nothing else, my hope is that someone’s sensors about sensors will be activated by reading this and they’ll start to wonder what notions they have throughout the day are only had because someone else set up their mind to think that way with another earlier comment. It’s all very Butterfly Effect-y.

Prime AGE Defense Aims to Counter Effects of Aging

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I am one that is amazed by the way the body functions. Each system seeks a balance with all the other systems within the body. When one criteria changes in one system, whether it’s the concentration of an enzyme, the presence of a virus, or a slightly increased pH level, the system changes to adapt and thereby potentially affects other systems.

As someone with a chemical engineering background and one who has trained himself to analyze systems to determine the root causes of failures, I struggle to imagine the complexity of the biological systems that doctors and researchers study to determine root causes of health problems. As an aside, had I known of the existence of the kind of doctor that Dr. House is, a diagnostician, I may have chosen that as my career path instead of engineering.

Perhaps it’s my long-standing interest in medicine that has kept me in loose contact with the research breakthroughs and scientific accomplishments in the medical field. Whatever the reason, I was impressed with some of the latest evidence being discovered in the area of anti-aging.

Apparently there is something called Advanced Glycation End-products, or AGEs, that are being traced to a variety of health problems. Basically, the thought process goes something like this:
Aging is simply the accumulated change to the building blocks of life: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, even DNA. Our environment starts to make the changes to these building blocks as soon as we’re conceived, but the signs really present themselves after we reach puberty. After puberty, the aging discussion turns to biological age versus the chronological age. The two ages begin to differ based on thing like our diets (whether we eat whole foods, fiber, excess processed foods, the hormones and chemicals present in what we eat, and even the serving size) and our lifestyles (whether we smoke, drink, exercise, sleep, have excessive sun exposure, or are subject to chronic stress). Eat poorly and live hard, your biological age will be much greater than your chronological age. We know this empirically; just look around: chronic tanners’ skin turns rough, smokers’ skin loses its collagen, etc.

The questions up to now have been why and what can we do about it?

The answers up to now have been to eat and live well, and/or supplement with things like a strong anti-oxidant, multi-vitamin, and omega 3’s.

Eating well has become more difficult with all the hormones that are pumped into our foods these days. Even organic-corn-fed open-range-bred chicken gets old after a while.

It seems the more recent research would indicate that even the recommended supplementation regimens are addressing the wrong area of the body. As I mentioned earlier, if one system suffers, they all potentially suffer. Well, up to now, supplementation attempted to pull the affected system back to health by pulling the secondary systems back to health.

The new research on AGEs has identified many health problems to be related to the aging process. Things like diabetes and heart disease may be able to be addressed by attempting to support the endocrine system. At the same time, the loss of collagen may be prevented, keeping our appearance healthy as we age.

Such are the claims for a new product from Market America: Prime AGE Defense. The list of benefits is impressive. Anyone who knows someone concerned about the way they will age over the next few decades should certainly investigate this for themselves. I, for one, am eager to “recalibrate” my biological systems.

The Not Guilty Plea

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A few days in a courtroom on jury duty and now reading two articles in the paper today abnout drunk driving may have just eliminated my faith in the legal system–a faith that has bee tenuous ever since OJ Simpson was pronounced not guilty.

The case I was released from for employment obligaions was of a fellow in Trenton who disobeyed police as he continued to ride a Quad-bike/ATV through the city of Trenton, NJ. Just riding an ATV on the streets of Trenton is illegal, but this guy disobeyed officers–nearly running one down–and kills an innocent woman. While he was on bail, he gets picked up for selling crack. He’s currently serving a sentence for the drug charge, but the issue of his ride through Trenton resulted in a hung jury, so he’s getting another trial. Apparently, since he didn’t have the intent of killing the woman, the prosecutor is having trouble convicting him of it. Right.

Today I hear of a woman who is on record admitting that she smoked crack at 2am, did heroin at 9am, had one drink (just 1?) at noon, and hid the crack pipe in "a bodily cavity" after a car crash at 5pm. As a consequence of the crash, two of her four or five foster kids are dead. After admitting the use of mind altering substances, this woman has the audacity to stand before a judge and say she is not responsible for the two children’s deaths? She pleas Not Guilty to the court and is held on $500,000 bail. She also has a history of driving drunk and at the time of the crash was allegedly driving 70 mph. Sounds not guilty to me.

The second story in the paper today covers a drunk driver who was carting around 8 kids. When she crashed, also at 70 mph, an 11 year old was killed. Her 11 year old survived. Several were not even wearing seatbelts. Her lawyer is making the case that his client is not the only one responsible, that the parents of the kids she picked up saw she was drunk and chose to let the kids ride with her. Her blood-alcohol level was .132 ( the limit is .08) and she has plead Not Guilty.

I’m confident that the system will ultimately find these clowns guilty, so maybe my faith in the system isn’t completely ruined yet. Until then, how frustrating is it knowing that our tax dollars have to pay for others’ inability to own up to the consequences of their actions?

First Law of Socialism

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“Socialism” is being thrown around more often these days as the nation discusses the pressing issues of our society: health care reform, social security reform, corporate bailouts, etc. Those citizen against the president’s “spreading the wealth around” cry in the shrillest voices possible, denouncing the ideas presented as socialist in nature. In response, the supporters of those measures like to point out that so many other things in our society are already socialized, and they work well, so why not socialize more? After all, public education is socialism, the Social Security program is socialism, the military is socialism–in addition to a litany of others that various people categorize as socialistic. Let’s take a look at them one by one, shall we?

Public education is built on the principle that everyone pays into it through their local property taxes whether they have children attending at the moment or not. National funding is provided to the states who distribute monies primarily to systems needing assistance for paying for extra programs in distressed districts. Everyone pays into the pot: parents, grandparents, single/childless people, and even businesses that pay property tax.

While no data was immediately available to show how many people pay property tax funding a school vs how many people are attending or has a dependent attending a local school, it is reasonable to assume that the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) applies in any given school year. Overall, the number of people benefiting from the public education system is near 100%, since most people have children eventually and life would be very different if only half of our population was educated even to the 6th grade; however, the only reason public education can succeed is that at no specific point is there much greater than 20% of the population taking advantage of society’s free education system.

On the national level, as money is allocated and distributed through the states to a school districts in greater need, again the Pareto Principle comes into play as fewer than 20% of all schools receive greater than 80% of the additional funding based on need.

Social Security, for some reason, is raised as a successful attempt at socializing our retirements. Even though the program is now bankrupt and totally dependent on future tax contributions into the government’s general ledger account rather than contributions into the Social Security account, somehow it is considered a success because they haven’t missed disbursing any of the payments that have reduced buying power from when the program was initially conceived.

Speaking of how it was conceived, payments were not set to be issued until a participant reached 65 when the life expectancy was only 63. Further, the contribution calculation was based on contributions from the first segment of your income up to a given dollar value. That dollar value has not kept up with inflation, meaning people making more money today, by the original standards, would be paying into the system where today they are not.

The changes in our demographic combined with the lack of changes to the system has resulted in fewer workers year after year supporting each retiree. The original plan was that most people were not going to be able to enjoy the benefits of their retirement being funded by Social Security. The only way the system could work long term was to provide the benefits to as few people as possible. Once the politicians started voting based on what the retirees wanted, the system was made unstable and unless we return to the modern equivalent to the original criteria, this experiment in socialism is doomed to fail. Why? Too many people are benefiting from it.

The third example often offered as socialism is the military. However, the military is a volunteer force paid for in full by the taxes from the entire population for the purposes of national defense. No one individual benefits more than any other, unlike Social Security or even the public school system. The amount you collect from Social Security is determined by the amount you’ve made over the years and whether you decided to get married or not. The amount of money distributed to the school systems is a function of the socio-economic status of the town, city, or neighborhood. When it comes to the military, however, no citizen benefits more than any other because it is not a redistribution of wealth, it is the populace paying for a service provided by those who offer it. In this way, the military more closely resembles private industry when there are no limits to what the customer will pay. Even commanders are promoted and dismissed from assignments based on their performance in the field, just as we are at our jobs (in theory).

From these three examples–socialized education, socialized retirement, and national defense–one can probably draw several conclusions. The conclusion in particular that is foreshadowed by the title of this little article is this: Socialism in a field can succeed indefinitely if and only if the vast majority (80-90+%) does not presently desire its benefits. Education succeeds because so few take advantage of it each year while everyone pays for it year after year. Social Security is failing because it is offering benefits to more people than originally intended because the retirement age is greater than the life expectancy. Dispite the supporters of socialism, the military is anything but and continue indefinitely as an entity of the government offering a service to the people, so long as the people desire to continue paying for it. If socialized health care becomes the law of the land, this law of socialism will prevail and the country will not go bankrupt so long as the vast majority of people don’t want to see the doctor.

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