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    Friday, December 30, 2005

    The University IRB System

    This system is one of the worst, most bloated, corrupt beauracracies in America's college system today. At The Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren calls the university IRB system unconstitutional. His premise is this:
    Imagine that I want to write a research article about government abuses of power. I plan to visit a library to look at the public papers of a living person (or a dead person whose papers might embarrass a living person). In most universities, I would be prohibited by federal law--as aggressively interpreted by the federal government--from going to that library without getting PRIOR APPROVAL of a committee set up under federal law, populated with some people outside my university, deciding whether I was allowed to visit the library and read the papers I want to read. If the government had only the desire to check into where I went and what I read after the fact, that would be a serious, though comparatively minor, restriction. No, I am required to get prior approval.

    ... the current system is much like the English 17th century censorship system that the US Constitutional framers wanted to prohibit when they adopted the First Amendment. In late 17th century England, people had to get the permission of censors before publishing books. But in most fields, the 17th century crown did not do the censorship itself; much like today, the government delegated the task to the universities. But 17th century censorship was not as far-reaching as the current system, since only publication without permission was prohibited, not the research itself (as in the current system). And it appears that 17th century censors may have been less intrusive than current-day IRBs. It was precisely to prevent a censorship system such as we have today that the First Amendment was passed.

    ... It is time for the courts to declare the IRB system what it is: unconstitutional.
    I must leave the question of constitutionality to those like Jim who are far more versed in law than I am, but I do have intimate experience with the absurdities of the current system.

    My wife recently applied to her university to do an internship. She is required to do an internship to complete her major. Most students, because of many reasons including ease and the IRB, do their internships at small non-governmental organizations in and around the university. She is studying public health. Through her own initiative, my wife set up an internship working with public policy makers to set policy for children influenced by HIV in their families. However, our university IRB designates these children as a "high risk group" requiring IRB approval.

    Nevermind that she is merely an intern for a major international NGO, which had already set up the study. My wife merely jumps on board an already moving train and learns how to be the conductor.

    And so the IRB board denied her research. They stated that it was not a true research project, and not underneath their purview at first, but then denied it anyway because she could not give them satisfactory questinaires and consent forms. How could she? Those items come from her NGO and they are already doing the research. They will not change their standard forms--forms ok for use with governments all over the world--because one IRB board dislikes them.

    So, somehow my wife qualified for a scholarship because of the merit of her internship, but it wasn't good enough to get IRB approval, and therefore (according to university bylaws) she can't cash in that scholarship.

    What happens at my university? Nobody gets IRB approval. I spoke with a VP over Academic Affairs who told me that she should have been informed of her need to get IRB approval from the begininning genesis of her project. My wife was not. Nobody told her. Why? Nobody wants to get approval. If there is any way to just do the research and ask for forgiveness later, they will do it, because the IRB often denies well setup, credible research.

    If the university setting is an opt-in affair where adults pay an organization to get an education, the university should trust the adults to take managed risks. If the university is worried that something will look bad, it should draft whatever documents make it feel good that it informed the student of all problems and risks and the experiment plus all problems are the responsibility of the student.

    The real loser in all of this is my wife. She is still doing the internship (without the scholarship) and she has no way of retaliating. There is no method for fighting for (what I perceive as) her right to do what research she wants. She have no way of fighting the IRB decision. All she can do is rant, and she leaves that to me. Frustrating.

    Thursday, December 29, 2005

    Holocaust Box Car

    Yesterday I attended a ceremony commemorating the receiving of a fully restored authentic boxcar used for transporting jews during the holocaust. The Holocaust Museum Houston is a great museum--one that I've been to many times.
    100_1517 100_1513 100_1518
    It effectively merges pictures and items from the holocaust with art depicting survivors' feelings. Different rooms used a sundry of media to appeal to museum-goers' various senses.

    The ceremony was short, about 45 minutes, and consisted of the emcee describing the miraculous journey the boxcar made to Houston and setting the stage for the large shindig on March 5 with Pres. Clinton, the mayor of Houston, and over 300 holocaust survivors.
    100_1516 100_1512 100_1511 100_1510
    A protestant priest, Catholic father, and Jewish rabbi all gave prayers and three survivors transported by railcar lit three candles in remembrance of those that died.
    100_1514 100_1515 100_1520
    Ultimately, it was 45 minutes well spent. As I walked around the railcar I couldn't help but grapple with the many impressions that came to mind. All the stencils were so perfect, and the boxcar was made of wood. How could something so normal become the tool of an action so evil? The latch was a simple, black, metal latch. How could something so simple have locked so many people in? So helpless, packed like cattle, on the way to auschwitz...
    The holocaust is possibly the nadir of humanity...I hope that people continue to attend functions like this and never forget what depths humanity can reach--and therefore never attain those depths again.

    Tuesday, December 27, 2005

    Merry Christmas

    I hope everyone had a merry christmas. We came from the state in the union with the most flu sicknesses, and it struck us right before we left. SO, my wife and I have been under the weather this christmas season, but it hasn't stopped us from partaking in the spirit of christmas--the fun, the family, the love, and the Lord. Giving of gifts is always better than receiving--I love to see people's faces when they get what they want.

    For the record, I am now a millionaire--I asked for a million bucks and got it in my stocking.

    Here's my stocking. Hackisack, tangerines, candy cane, book of brain teasers, gift card, and breath mints.

    Also, we saw

    The Chronicles of Narnia, a great children's movie--well, movie of all ages--and a must see. It started out slow, but finishes really strong. C.S. Lewis' christian archetypes are fun to spot in the movie.

    For those of you who celebrate christmas, here's one last Merry Christmas, otherwise Happy Chaunakkah, Happy Kwanza, or whatever you wish to do during the holiday season.

    Monday, December 26, 2005

    Gas Poisons Russian Shoppers

    CNN reported this about one hour ago. Adds fuel to my misgivings for ever going to Russia.

    CNN says
    More than 70 people were sickened after gas was released Monday in a chain store and boxes with glass containers attached to wires were found in three other outlets of the same store. Police said they believed a commercial dispute or blackmail attempt was behind the incidents.

    ...Stepchenko said the gas was preliminarily determined to be methyl mercaptan. The U.S. Health and Human Services' Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says methyl mercaptan is a gas smelling like rotten cabbage that is both naturally occurring and manufactured for use in plastics and pesticides.
    The CDC says Methyl Mercaptan is a naturally occuring gas found in our body, and certain foods like nuts and cheeses. It is, of course, also made in factories as a byproduct and could have been received there.

    Its chemical structure is CH3SH, and other sources highlight that it is found in trace amounts on the brain, and that the one documented case of high dosage produced coma and then death. It seems to work on the nervous system.

    OSHA reports that
    1) As a product of intestinal flora, methyl mercaptan is metabolized to hydrogen sulfide, which in turn, is metabolized to thiosulfate by the enzyme rhodanese. 2) Three worker fatalties at a chemical plant accident involving methyl mercaptan were characterized by sulfhemoglobin levels of 6-15%.
    Interestingly, the Journal of Dentistry, (J Dent. 2004 Sep; 32(7)555-9) reports that it is the predominant cause of bad breath.

    More importantly, this incident combined with the dioxin attacks on Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko highlight possibly a disturbing trend--the use of readily available toxic (but non-deadly) chemicals by groups to disrupt society and blackmail. Especially in Russia, a country with the inability to track the numerous international criminal and dissident groups inside it, we may see terrorist groups using this method to more easily and cheaply affect large groups of people.

    Saturday, December 24, 2005

    High School Football

    Anyone from Texas knows that football is life, and only California and Florida come close to producing great players. So, in commemoration of the hub around which everything revolves from September to February, and another year with Texas holding the #1 High School team in the nation, here's the top 25 HS football teams:

    1. Carroll (Southlake, Texas) (16-0)
    2. Springdale (Ark.) (14-0)
    3. Lakeland (Fla.) (15-0)
    4. Independence (Charlotte, N.C.) (15-0)
    5. St. Xavier (Cincinnati) (15-0)
    6. Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.) (15-0)
    7. Hoover (Ala.) (14-1)
    8. South Panola (Batesville, Miss.) (15-0)
    9. Lincoln Way East (Frankfort, Il.) (14-0)
    10. Warren Central (Indianapolis) (14-1)
    11. Lowndes (Valdosta, Ga.) 14-1
    12. Trinity (Euless, Texas) (14-1)
    13. Highland Park (Dallas, Texas) (15-0)
    14. Lufkin, Texas (14-1)
    15. Middletown South (Middletown, N.J.)
    16. Morris, Ill. (14-0)
    17. Ferndale (Wash.) (14-0)
    18. Homewood (Ala.) (15-0)
    19. Skyline (Sammanish, Wash.) (14-0)
    20. St. Bonaventure (Ventura, Calif.) (14-0)
    21. Katy, Texas (14-1)
    22. Gilman (Baltimore, Md.) (9-0)
    23. Brophy Prep (Phoenix, Ariz.) (13-1)
    24. St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, N.J.)(12-0)
    25. Rose (Greenville, N.C.) 15-0

    By State:

    5 teams -- Texas
    2 teams -- North Carolina, Alabama, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington
    1 team -- Arkansas, Florida, Ohio, South Carolina, Mississippi, Indiana, Georgia, California, Maryland, Arizona

    This is just one reason why Texas is known for its state pride. Come to the land of football, fine honeys, great outdoors, Shiner Bock, and where the Texas flag is flown more than the American flag (and at the same level), and you will become Texan too.

    Thursday, December 22, 2005

    Blogging Hiatus

    Well, we survived finals, moving, and now Christmas is upon us. Sorry if the blogging has been and will be light for awhile -- boxing up a whole house while caring for a wife with the flu and tying up loose ends at work seem to make one busy.

    Anyway, now is the time to sit back, take a deep breath, complain about things, and remember blessings. I'm thankful to have a family to visit for Christmas.

    I'm complaining about the Las Vegas Bowl. First, why does Las Vegas get a bowl? What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so don't tell me. Second, these small bowls are stupid anyway. Does anyone beside me get the anticlimatic feeling of watching nothing when I watch these minor bowls? It's like feeling sad for the kid who tries really hard to get an A on his test hoping that he can get an A in class while you know that even if he gets 100%, he still comes away with a B. All you can do is shake your head and say, "Hey, on the bright side you grew from the effort." Small bowl games are like this. Students and alumni of the teams playing have some small vested interest in the outcome--from pride's sake--but in reality everyone watches the games waiting for the one or two awesome plays they can ooo and ah about while wondering "why does it take so long to get to January 4th"?

    Third, this Las Vegas Bowl sucked. Brigham Young University tackles about as well as a Utah High School team (not a Texas team, because I KNOW high school's in Texas LIVE football), and the referees were horrible. I try to give allowance for missed calls--we are human after all--but the two times they changed calls on replay were unconscionable. Sickening. Easily took 7 points away from BYU on the first call and gave 7 points to CAL on the second. Cal won by 7 points ... so that 14 point swing is huge.

    Either way, I wasted the last 4 hours of my life.

    Well, I wish you all a very merry christmas or whatever you plan on doing with your holiday season.

    Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    What's up with trucks? And guilty cyclist killers should not be let off from responsibility!

    Can someone tell me why truck drivers feel the need to drive on the shoulder of the road? Certain states have laws that require a certain distance between a moving vehicle and a cyclist. How would such a law be enforced? IT WILL NOT BE ENFORCED! If high way patrol men and women do not adequately regulate highway speeds, how will local police forces regulate vehicle/bicycle laws? It appears that local police forces try to hide and catch drivers speeding on roads that have 30 MPH speed limits. Maybe in driver's education an empahsis should be placed on bicycle safety.

    Topic two. If you hit a cyclist with a car/truck and kill them, you should pay your debt to society, cyclists in general, and the public. Don't play the "I was having a neurological disorder and hit a cyclist." NO, NO, NO. If you are driving a car, you should be in FULL mental capacity. If not, DON'T BLOODY DRIVE A CAR! AGAIN, I say. If you don't have a full mental capacity, DON'T DRIVE A CAR.

    Till next time, Happy riding.

    Friday, December 16, 2005

    Could Vietnam have Chinese Riots 2

    There are two Vietnamese sayings that immediately come to mind when I think of politics and economics in the "Mother Country."

    "Gần mực thì đen; gần đèn thì sáng."
    (If you are near ink you will be black; if you are near a lamp you will be light)

    "Đi cho biết đó, biết đây. Ở nhà  với mẹ biết ngày nào không."
    (Go, for in knowing there, you will know here. If you stay at home with mother, you won't know anything.)

    I have heard from many people in America and Vietnam that Vietnam is just China about 10-15 years behind. When you look in broad generalizations, I can see how this assumption is made. However, I disagree and my reasons are primarily the two idioms above.

    10-15 years ago China was just starting on its path of economic freedom and building of its military. At that time, Chinese goods were cheap, but China did not have the infrastructure to build things that America wanted. Hence, American economists and politicians worried about goods from Taiwan and Japan--not China.

    Today, Vietnam does not occupy that situation. It has become one of the world's leaders in exporting rice and coffee, and businesses, after a premature attempt in the 1990s to pump lots of foreign capital into the economy, are increasingly investing in "the star of Southeast Asia."

    How does this fit with the first saying? Well, as I posted earlier, Vietnam does not have the political ability to stand alone. It needs America to protect it from a very hungry China (and one that has tried to eat Vietnam in the past) and help it enter the World Trade Organization. America provides the "mực" (ink) and the "đèn" (lamp). Americanization brings sometimes unwanted cutural changes to Vietnam, but it also brings freedom of thought and acceptance of differences. America's "đèn" has come recently in the form of changes in Vietnamese law to allow greater religious freedom.

    Yes, Vietnam isn't perfect. Local officials sometimes make great blunders. The Center for Religious Freedom recently published pictures of abuse of Hmong Christians. However, I feel that most religious abuse (not all) is centered on minorities, particularly those that have a history of supporting democracy and fighting the government. A large part of the Vietnamese are Buddhist, Catholic, or Protestant and live their religious lives in general anonymity. The government cares nothing about them going to Nhà Thờ Đức Bà (Virgin Mother Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City) as long as they aren't using the time to do subversive things. Therefore most religious abuses are more aptly defined as racism and political abuses.

    In November 2004, Vietnam passed its Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions, with help from a certain law professor I'm familiar with here in America. The Human Rights Watch List has criticized it as tightening controls, but its wording is such that it has already allowed more religions to apply for official recognition.

    I cannot stress how much religion plays a role in Vietnam's difference from China. I didn't touch on it greatly last time, but religion does two things: it provides a stabilizing force for society, and it gives allegiance to a higher power. What are the results of this? First, allegiance to a higher power gives people individual self-worth and the understanding that there is something higher than the government. If they dislike the current regime, they can change it.

    Secondly, and somewhat in opposition to the first point, religion places a lot of responsibility on God. People are more likely to accept reversals and hard times in life as trials from God, or blame God and not the government for natural disasters, when they have religion.

    China does not have this. The percentage of people with an official religion is infinitesimally smaller than in Vietnam, and they are almost all persecuted. China has elminated this potential vehicle for political change, but it has also eliminated this vehicle for social stability.

    Which brings me to the second idiom: "Đi cho biết đó, biết đây. Ở nhà với mẹ biết ngày nào không." It's roughly translated as "Go, for in knowing there, you will know here. If you stay at home with mother, you won't know anything." Intelligence and learning are stressed greatly in Vietnamese culture as in Chinese culture, and the Vietnamese have take advantage of learning in other countries. Many of the sons and daughters of party leaders are learning in Europe and the United States. They are coming over at ever earlier ages--some for junior high even--and that allows both idioms to work on them. They pick up the good and bad of America, but also, they see Vietnam in a different light. By living in the United States and then returning to lead their own country, they understand better where their country stands and what it needs to do to progress.

    These Vietnamese see Ho Chi Minh not as a Communist, but a nationalist. My wife and I had a great discussion about a year ago on Ho Chi Minh's driving force. She feels like many Viets who grew up in Saigon, that Uncle Ho was a nationalist first and communist second. If he had seen what the communists would do to Vietnam in the late 70s and 1980s (hyperinflation and such), he would have gone a different route. Whether people outside Vietnam believe this or not is irrelevant--it shows how utilitarian the up-an-coming generation of Vietnamese view the Communist party. It is a vehicle to progress their country and they will ride it as long as it works. When it doesn't, they have seen the rest of the world and will use their knowledge of "đó" (over there) to better see "đây" (here) and change vehicles.

    That, in summation, is my argument. Vietnam may be 10-15 years behind China, but I doubt it. I think it is on par (for it's size) economically and farther along politically. More importantly, the future is based on decisions, and judging from the outcomes of its young generation's previous decisions, it will slowly transform into the "jewel of Southeast Asia." China's jump will be larger, and heighten the chance for violence and social upheaval. Vietnam's shown the forethought to focus on social stability, and so I think it will probably be gradual and without too much violence.

    Thursday, December 15, 2005

    A Good Laugh

    We all need a good laugh, and any public figure is free game. A friend sent me these videos, so check them out.

    President Bush 1


    Finally, my favorite satorizing of President Bush ever: Black Bush.

    Happy Laughing!

    The Iraqi Elections

    I'm not going to rehash things already said about the new elections in Iraq. It is amazing, democracy at work, and is one small step in the larger road to a free and peaceful Middle East. If you want punditry (and it's good, so read them) you can go to my links below:

    American Future, a Foreign Service Officer blog.

    One Free Korea takes some time out to talk about Iraq.

    The Glittering Eye has a great picture at the start of this post.

    Instapundit, as always, is on top of this with links here, here, here, and here.

    The Seattle Times has a good roundup of what Iraqi bloggers are saying, but I encourage you to go to their sites, Iraq the Model, Messopotamian, Iraq Pundit, and A Citizen of Mosul to find out what it's like from those who live there.

    Finally, to shed an interesting light on all this, read Colossus, by Niall Ferguson, who argues that America has collective ADD. Whereas we used a long time to rebuild Germany and Japan--and achieved great success--we hold our government to ever shorter time frames effecting less and less success each time. I personally haven't read the book yet, but I hope to get it for Christmas, and either way, it's an interesting way to look at the current situation in Iraq.

    I for one, think this is a genuine sign of democracy taking root, America is fixing its mistakes (which it did make), and American presence (militarily) will be in Iraq for the next 50 years. Yes, 50 years. We will pull out large amounts of troops by the end of 2006 at the earliest (probably 2007) and will maintain a smaller presence (probably with bases like in Germany) for quite some time after.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2005

    Could Vietnam Have Chinese Riots?

    The situation in China stems from economic unrest. China Labor Watch reports that
    The fact that China only stresses economic development has led to a host of social problems. In the course of this development, ordinary people who do not have a say in that development to begin with are paying the price.

    We see that there are increasing numbers of strikes and displays of rebellion by workers. Social instability is becoming increasingly visible. In 2003, there were more than 58,000 industrial conflicts. In 2004, that number reached 74,000.

    The gap between rich and poor is increasing; state-owned factories are closing and going bankrupt; workers are being laid off and losing jobs; peasants are leaving the countryside and entering factories where they have no long-term guarantees.
    The problem with globalization is that
    While free trade has proved highly efficient in generating wealth, it has failed to share the spoils, intensifying gaps between rich and poor, urban and rural. In many instances, new wealth is coming at the direct expense of the poor as local governments sell off land for development projects.

    ...A recent study conducted by the World Bank found that incomes among rural Chinese -- about three-fourths of the total population -- have declined slightly in the years since China entered the WTO, while urban residents have enjoyed modest gains.
    So the message from China is mixed. Yes, over the last 20 years, overall extreme poverty has dropped drastically (from 53% to 8% ... albeit the poverty line is set at between 150-300 yuan), but class separation has increased.

    The CIA reports that
    From 100 to 150 million surplus rural workers are adrift between the villages and the cities, many subsisting through part-time, low-paying jobs. Popular resistance, changes in central policy, and loss of authority by rural cadres have weakened China's population control program, which is essential to maintaining long-term growth in living standards.
    however, unemployment is
    9.8% in urban areas; substantial unemployment and underemployment in rural areas; an official Chinese journal estimated overall unemployment (including rural areas) for 2003 at 20% (2004 est.) [and % of population below poverty line is] 10% (2001 est.)
    Consequently, the rapidly separating classes in China, in addition to the relative ignoring of rural Chinese by the government, set the stage for riots and regime change.

    Also, during the cultural revolution, Mao succeeded in killing many people who believed in democracy who didn't make it to Taiwan. Therefore, the number of people in mainland China who remember democracy and want it is small. This means that although China is dealing with foment and insurrection, change will not happen overnight, but may take 20 years.

    Vietnam poses and interesting comparison to China. It also is a communist-governed country trying to exist with a progressively more open, free-market economy. Consequently, it must grapple with the same issues inherent in a free-market economy that China is currently grappling. However, the demographics of Vietnam and it's political situation are quite different. The United Nations Development Programme shows that Vietnam has 74% of its population in rural areas. China has the same % in rural areas, but is undergoing urbanization much faster, and therefore has a higher % of people in the transient category--without stable jobs or homes in either rural or urban areas. Vietnam has only a 1.9% unemployment rate.

    **This is important. If you list countries by unemployment rate, Vietnam ranks 12th out of 196 countries for whom the CIA publishes data. By comparison, the United States of America ranks 48th with a 5.5% rate and China ranks 89th with a 9.8% rate. **

    According to the national poverty line, Vietnam has a little more poor than China, at 12.9%, but according to the international line it is 28.9%. This is higher than China's published rate, but as I reported earlier, poverty is at thought to be at least 20% in underreported rural areas, and so the figures are probably similar.

    Although poverty is still a problem in Vietnam, one must not underestimate the value of a job--even one that does not put a lot of food on the table. A job helps a person to feel he/she has self worth, gives him/her less time to be discontent and as shown in Vietnam, can allow a family to join together funds to help one member gain education and move up the social ladder. That being said, Vietnam has dealt with riots. This was talked about in The Economist, (subscription required) almost five years ago, when The Economist wrote,
    political pressures and criticism will keep bubbling up. Along the main avenue in Ho Chi Minh City, a group of some 100 protesting peasants have been allowed, for months, to voice their anger publicly at being displaced from their land. ...The banners and placards are critical of official decisions—although they avoid direct criticism of the government, and each studiously praises Ho Chi Minh.

    ...Such protests over land could become the most serious flashpoint in Vietnam. In both the cities and the countryside, the rules are unclear as to who owns what. Some minorities in the central highlands can own and sell their land, and may even pass it on to their children. But most Vietnamese are given only leases on their land—which the government may reassess and share out again at a later date. Demonstrations over land claims and corruption, as in China, have erupted in the poorer northern provinces and elsewhere. Now they are spreading to the cities. In mid-October, farmers from the north staged a protest in central Hanoi against corruption.
    Politically, Vietnam does not have the luxury of being a huge 600 lb. gorilla on the block like China, nor the hubris of being the "dragon kingdom." It has a history of being conquered by China--even longer than the French--and therefore needs the help of the United States. It also is not in the WTO yet, and needs America's help to gain entry to the WTO and its economic benefits.

    Socially, Vietnam never underwent a "cultural revolution" like China. The Vietnam war was a war of unification, a civil war. Although many South Vietnamese escaped to the United States and Europe, many stayed in Vietnam. Also, Vietnam in general had more experience with democracy as a colony under France, and then South Vietnam under the United States, than China had before Mao. People who live in the south still remember what life was like. Many have family in Europe and the USA, I would venture to say a larger percentage of the population than in China, and they are influenced by family members sending money back as well as in thought. Even children of party members sent to the US or Europe become influenced by western thought. Then they return and enter public service in Vietnam.

    Finally, and here's the culmination of the argument, it all adds up to people's acceptance of Vietnam in its current state. Vietnam focuses on stability while China focuses on economic power. Nguyen Cong Tan, deputy prime minister, said Vietnam must
    strike a very good balance between economic growth and stability.

    ...We must pay a lot of attention to stability. We have gone through many anguishes and wars. Not every country is stable. We must focus on keeping stable. A gap between rich and poor can lead to instability.
    Sure Vietnam's not perfect, and definitely needs to address certain issues, but it is not undergoing the social insurrection that China is. Its people have jobs, the government is willing to make concessions for economic gain, they have religion (which China does not--and that helps breed freedom of thought and acceptance of differences), and although there is increasing class separation and poverty, Vietnam is slowly combatting these issues.

    Therefore, I could see change coming to Vietnam quicker than China, but I do not see riots and violence as the method. Vietnam deals with those things, but not to the extent China does. I think the new generation will enter the party, assume positions in the government, and govern according to their experiences, that include life in Vietnam as well as life in the USA. By necessity, as they work for less corruption, greater efficiency, and improving quality of life, they will adopt the traits of government that best allow seamless governing and progression. A couple weeks ago, The Economist (subscription required) wrote about this (Nov. 26th edition) mixture of privatization, good and bad, and said,
    There are problems, of course. The authorities have recently conceded that Vietnam will not join the World Trade Organisation this year, as they had hoped. Indeed, Vietnam is in the midst of trade disputes with both the United States and the European Union. It stands accused of exporting everything from catfish to bicycles at predatory prices. But Vietnamese exporters seem remarkably adaptable.

    ...Exports continue to grow at a steady clip of 20% or so a year. Seen in that light, Vietnam's many trade disputes are not so much a concern as a heartening indication of how competitive the country's exports are.

    ...Economists complain that Vietnam has plenty of tiny mom-and-pop outfits and big state-owned or foreign-invested firms, but nothing in between.

    ...[The government] recently announced that it would start selling shares in one of its four banks—but not a controlling stake, and only in small instalments spread out over five years.

    The ultimate goal seems to be a web of partially privatised companies, subject to a certain degree of competition and market discipline, akin to Singapore's government-linked companies.
    As long as Vietnam continues to make human rights and civil rights progress necessary to allow effective governing and gain entry into the WTO plus please the USA, people will not kick against the pricks. If, however, Vietnam reacts to something by clamping down on freedoms already enjoyed by the majority, I could see the process speeding up and including riots.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2005

    A new Writer

    I want to give a hearty welcome to the newest member of The Bleeding Ear--the Anonymous Cyclist. I know him/her well, and we share a love for cycling (albeit he/she's much better and more versed in it than I am). Because of that, I feel it's a perfect match--often our ears bleed as we discuss the idiocies of people in cycling or outside it.

    His/her inaugural post on sharing the road can be found right below this post (here). I will continue to post the typical things that interest me, and more cycling posts will follow -- this will be good during the Tour de France (possibly my favorite sporting event) because of his/her depth of knowledge and backing of T'Mobile (I like Discovery Channel).

    And so, without further ado, The Bleeding Ear welcomes the Anonymous Cyclist.

    Cyclists, Vehicles, and Why pieces of forged metal cost SOO much!

    What do you get when you place a one ton car driven by an underaged driver, an infinately long road, and a cyclist riding a sweet Dura-Ace 10 and sub-1 kilo carbon frame?


    For some odd reason, I never read in the driver's handbook that cars have COMPLETE reign of the road. Why can't the cars move over? What does it take to give 3 feet to a cyclist? maybe only 2 feet! Or do you all love BLOOD of cyclists running freely in the streets? Is it because you can't take the sight of a healthy cyclist who'd rather sit on a 8 inch by 2 inch saddle instead of an armchair? Or is it the lycra? Or maybe it is the cost of buying and maintaining a bike?

    Cost. See that wonderful little picture I placed in this article. Imagine that you would have to work over 160 hours at McDonalds to pay for just those parts of a VERY good road bike. Now let's add the cost of a frame (sub-1 kilo). 256+ hours. Add the fork. 65+ hours. Why? We are only talking about carbon, aluminum, and a tad bit of titanium. Yeah yeah. I have heard the excuses. Here is a good one. The new Airbus fleet production has limited the amount of carbon to be used in the cycling industry. Meaning. We poor cyclists will have to either pay highly inflated prices or suffer with roads that need to be better maintained all the while being on guard against the underage drivers who believe the ENTIRE road from curb to curb belongs to them.

    Happy riding!


    Saturday, December 10, 2005

    A Homosexual Pill?

    Alright, this and this have finally pushed me to post on a very sensitive topic in America today, but one I have been mulling over the last 3-4 days or so.

    Clearly, homosexuality is changing in America. Currently, best estimates show people who define themselves openly as gay or lesbian at around 8% of the populace--statice since numbers were first taken.

    However, as shown in Brokeback Mountain, homsexuality is becoming far more open in America's culture.

    Is there historical precedent?? Yes. Homsexuality has been around since historians first started writing. Ancient Greece was known for its rampant homosexuality, pedophilia, and bestiality. Young boys were expected to be lovers to the men for whom they apprenticed, and marriage ages often meant the child was closer in age to the mother than the father (often 35-40 year old men would marry 12-14 year old girls). This also explains why the oedipal complex wasn't such a big deal back then (or uncommon).

    Rome conquered Greece, and in its leaders love affair with Greek philosophy, they also adopted its Bacchinalian additude about life, including orgies and open homosexuality.

    With the conservative Christian backlash during the darkages, homosexuality became known as "the Greek plague." It never went away, but was definitely stifled socially. Today, as western society again adopts the Bacchinalian attitude of ancient Rome and Greece, our love for life's pleasures has again led to a social acceptance of homosexuality.

    This is not just a western thing. I'm currently watching a pretty good anime called Samurai Champloo (also see here). It's not a history, but it is set in the Edo period of Japan (before the Meiji Revolution). This reminded me of my asian history classes, where the Edo time was also characterized by rampant sexuality. Homosexuality in Japan during the Edo period was regarded as the highest form of love. A recent movie I saw (and did not like) on this issue is Taboo (also see here). Of course, the Japanese culture was always sexual before that, including but not limited to, polygamy, widespread acceptance of mistresses on top of plural wives, etc. Japanese culture went through an anti-homosexual backlash of its own right after the Meiji Revolution.

    So what does this huge tangent prove? Nothing, really. Just what we all know. Homosexuality is not new, nor is social acceptance of it.

    But what is new is science--biochemistry, microbiology, psychiatry, neurology. That is a field I am immersed in every day. At work we frequently discuss the biochemistry of the myriad of mental illnesses diagnosed today. I have intimate experience with manic depression. Coworkers have had family members with various other mental issues.

    Mental problems stem often from a mixture of nature/nurture. What I mean is that life experiences can make people depressed, as can chemical imbalances. Often the two combine in certain ways to exacerbate the issue. For some people it is more chemcial than experience, and for others it is more experience and less chemical.

    Currently, scientists are addressing this issue in alcoholism.
    Serotonergic and anticonvulsant agents promise to play more of a role in the treatment of alcohol dependence. Although not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for this indication, the anticonvulsant topiramate and several serotonergic agents (e.g., fluoxetine, ondansetron) have been shown in recent studies to increase abstinence rates and decrease drinking.
    From ADD/ADHD to manic depression and shizoparanoism, western medicine is using pills to correct chemical imbalances in people and treat these diseases. Now western medicine has taken the step towards treating behavior. Alcoholism has symptomology of a mental disorder, but it also stems from behavior (versus manic depression, which you just have, and affects how you react to situations). Someone may be biochemcially predisposed to alcoholism, but if he/she never drinks, he/she will not be an alcoholic. Alcoholism is seen as socially destructive and society views the action negatively. A drug working on serotonin or another receptor that quenches the desire to drink, and hence stops alcoholism, helps the mental issue, but also attacks a social ill.

    So where does it stop? Should it stop? If homosexuality has a biochemical cause in addition to a "nurture" aspect, then it too could be curbed or changed by pills that target certain biochemical pathways. Not only homosexuals--anyone with a "deviant" sexual prediliction could be "fixed" with a pill--rapists, pedophiles, necrophiles, or people deemed to have an overactive sexual appetite. All it would take is identifying what hormone paths are turned on, and modify them.

    But what about limits? Who defines what is "deviant" and what is not? Obviously, christian religious conservatives believe homosexuality is morally wrong, but I doubt anybody would put it on a footing with alcoholism. Society does not see it as a social ill in that sense. Who are we to determine that homosexuality is deviant and should be curbed (with a pill)? But then, if we can't, why are we justified in doing it for other sexual behaviors such as pedophilia?

    Obviously the current limit is harm it causes another. Homosexuality harms nobody because consenting adults participate. Rape, pedophilia, etc all harm others against their will.

    Should a pill be pursued? Many people are very happy with their homosexuality, and would not want a pill. Perhaps even offended by the notion. But what of others, who have strong religious beliefs in opposition to homosexuality? Would such a pill be a God-send--allowing he or she to live a life in concordance with their personal faith? And then what of the opposite? If a pill curbing homosexual tendencies could be manufactured, could it's opposite also be manufactured? Would it be the right of two homosexual parents to give their adopted children such a pill to make them homosexual as well? Or what of heterosexual parents who notice homosexual tendencies in their children under 18? Do they have the right to give a pill to their children and curb their homosexuality before he or she has the ability to determine for his or herself whether they want to be homosexual or not??

    This issue has been bouncing around my head for days now. I believe that a pill curbing sexual appetites of all variations is definitely feasable, if society wants to make it. And then, all of these ethical dilemmas will become paramount. I definitely have no answers for these questions, but I would like to discuss this with others. What do you think?

    Blogs on the Chinese Riots

    I haven't been successful in finding blogs in China discussing the riots. It's entirely probable that the government is suppressing what little blogs are allowed.

    I have found various different reactions to it. I agree with some, and violently disagree with others. You can decide for yourself.

    Intelligence Summit is a news report.

    Right Wing Dad is just that, a right wing from NY reaction.

    Culture of Life Breaking News is a very liberal reaction from NY.

    Gateway Pundit is doing the usual good job at chronicalling the action, with pics.

    I will post more as I find it.

    Friday, December 09, 2005

    Chinese Killings

    I stayed with a couple in Boston a month back when I went out there to interview. He felt we might have an escalation with China and eventual war. I disagreed for many reasons, mostly political, but one I didn't mention at the time was economic--China will become democratic.

    This is proof. People, even those used to living in a confucian-dominated society of order, will eventually clammer for rights, representation, and decency. The communist party in China has given none of these to its citizens, but now the citizens are becoming wealthier, and have greater access to outside knowledge. There will be a revolution. It's only a matter of time. CNN reports,
    The number of protests in China's vast, poverty-stricken countryside has risen in recent months as anger comes to a head over land seizures, corruption and a yawning wealth gap that experts say threatens social stability. The government says about 70,000 such conflicts occurred last year, although many more are believed to have gone unreported.

    The clashes also have become increasingly violent, with injuries sustained on both sides and huge amounts of damage done to property as protesters vent their frustration in face of indifferent or bullying authorities.

    Today police killed ten demonstrators, wounded 20 more, and many others are "missing" after villagers from a small southern town gathered to protest their low renumeration for land taken to build a wind power plant.

    Thousands of people gathered Tuesday in Dongzhou, in southern Guangdong province, to protest the amount of money offered by the government as compensation for land taken to construct a wind power plant.
    But here's what really got me as typical China and the reason the government won't last forever:
    State media have not mentioned the violence, and both provincial and local governments have repeatedly refused to comment. This is typical in China, where the ruling Communist Party controls the media and lower-level authorities are leery of releasing information without permission from the central government.
    Just like they did with the benzene spill a little while back. The government is inept. It tries to cover up its mistakes and looks stupider. And people in America want to move to socialization like socialized medicine....

    Thursday, December 08, 2005

    Man Shot by Air Marshall

    This is a sad story for all involved. I wouldn't wish it on the man, wife, or the air marshall.

    But there's nothing you can do. We have air marshalls on planes for bomb situations. Regardless of the reason why, if someone says they have a bomb, you must take them seriously. How horrible would you feel if you shot the suspect's leg, or fired a warning shot, just to be sure, and then he/she detonated a real bomb and killed numerous people? An air marshall just can't take those chances.

    If anything it reinforces the unseen verity of air marshalls protecting us on highly trafficked flights. It also shows the very real problems associated with mental disorders. An old girlfriend of mine was bipolar went through a period of experimentation with different medications. It was hard. She was a bright, loving, beautiful girl, but she would be happy and jittery for 36 hours and then depressed for the next 36 sometimes. When she was up, she was the most amazing woman I ever met--able to accomplish anything--a true mover and shaker. But when she was down, I really had to work with her to get her out of bed in the morning.

    And so all this combined in a truly tragic situation. So many "if's." If only they had brought his medication...if only he had followed orders...who knows.

    Wednesday, December 07, 2005

    I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

    Christmas is really here, and these pictures don't even do it justice. It snowed all day yesterday, and these pics are from before that. Tonight I'm going to help my wife make her first snowman.

    100_1442South Provo.

    100_1439BYU Campus.

    100_1438From my bedroom window.

    Tuesday, December 06, 2005

    You Must Watch This

    This is my absolute favorite music video of all time. I've loved it ever since my brother sent me the link to it a couple years back. I found this link to it so I could show it to a coworker. Even if you are not a music video type, you will be moved by this one. Watch. Enjoy. Tell me what you think.

    Bush vs. Clinton

    Often I hear people complain about President Bush and compare him to President Clinton in the same breath. I summarize the two presidents like this:

    President Bush is the mayor of a town. He sees a fire in the woods near the town, and in order to protect the town from the fire, he decides to dig a trench between the forest and the town. However, he uses a bulldozer to do this, and knocks down half the forest to protect the town.

    President Clinton is the mayor of a town. He sees a fire in the woods near the town, and in order to protect the town from the fire, he orders people to build wells and spins it as economic growth. The wells provide water to put out the fire when it reaches the town, however, the forest is lost and some houses on the fringe while townspeople dig the wells and fight the fire.

    People of both sides have their issues. Does Bush really need to use a bulldozer and destroy all that forest?? Did Clinton really need to build a well instead of using the water already available in a nearby stream or previous wells??

    Critics today say Bush has used too much power in Iraq preempting terrorism, and Clinton didn't do enough when there was genocide in Rwanda. No, no whole countries will be annihilated like the forest, my point is to argue that both presidents end up with the same amount of damage, only Bush causes part of it and Clinton allows others to cause all of it.

    I don't think either way is good. I feel that a pit should be dug, but a small, manageable one. Not one with a bulldozer, and not a well.

    Please, opine.

    Happy Day!!

    Two reasons!

    1. Wife finally finished the interview and should get the green card in the mail! (sans some stupid glitches known to inefficient governments...)

    2. I got accepted to the Medical College of Wisconsin!

    Friday, December 02, 2005

    Teen kills cyclist

    I hope he gets the full year in jail.

    China Abuses prisoners?

    I'm glad what seems to be common knowledge is finally corroborated by the United Nations. Now, what will be done about it??

    Call me a cynic, but the USA has known for 50 years that possibly the grossest of human rights violations (at least in scale) have been occuring in China. 9 out of 10 political activists in jail around the world are in jail in China. I don't think much is going to come from this.

    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    Goals Gone Wild

    You have to read this story. I love it. I just wish there was more info, or that I could get a hold of the paper.

    I think people need to lay off. Obviously, for better or worse, "Girls Gone Wild" videos have become entrenched in American culture (I would say worse, but I don't run this country). It is a direct result of the women's liberation movement that women's free sexuality has become objectified and "playboy bunnified." It's no longer taboo. It's no longer wrong for men and womento look at and pose in pornographic magazines.

    So, that being said, I think this shot and article is a great satire of current American society. The bras are sponsored by Big Johnson, a famous in the south brand with obvious sexual connotations, and a stab directly at the phenom softcore voyeur porn that has become entrenched in American college culture today.

    Stop complaining about this picture, and, if you don't like it, fight against the movies that spawn such social commentary. Or even better, the patrons that buy it and the girls that star in it. That's where the problem lies.

    Wednesday, November 30, 2005

    Phony Marriages

    I read this at Fox, but cannot seem to find anything about in in Viet newspapers, specifically the Viet Bao and the Nguoi Viet. Fox reports that
    Federal authorities arrested 11 people in connection with a sophisticated marriage fraud scheme that targeted Asians seeking U.S. citizenship.

    ...The arrests took place Tuesday in Los Angeles and Orange counties and the Bay Area, according to officials who described the operation as one of the biggest of its kind in the country.

    Chinese and Vietnamese nationals were charged up to $60,000 to marry American citizens to obtain green cards, authorities said. Couples were provided with fake wedding photographs, joint tax returns and even love letters.
    This is incredibly common. I can't number the amount of websites I've ran across on the internet that hawk arranged marriages, nor the number of people I know in Orange County who are in them.

    I have always been opposed. This is not specifically a white American thing, either. Many who do this are native Viet men who want the cash or in a slight variation, want a young Vietnamese wife.

    One woman I knew who came over on an arranged marriage was stuck without any legal standing when her husband left her. In order to get a green card, you must have proof that you have been married for two years. I know this intimately, because my wife was born in Vietnam, and we had to go through the process when we got married. However, in the case of my acquaintance, she got pregnant. In many arrainged marriages, obviously, love and even physical attraction are non-existent. The husband figured that since she was his wife, he had right to have sex with her whenever he wanted, even though she didn't love him at all (and he didn't love her) and she protested. Everything was fine in his eyes until she got pregnant, and then he threw her out on the street and refused to deal with her. Although technically still married on paper, she had no copy of the document, and her temporary green card expired, leaving her without the ability to get a job or healthcare.

    Also, in the other type of marriage, I knew a woman, Van, who was forced by her family to marry a Viet kieu 20 years older than her. He was happy to get a young, beautiful wife, but she had no feelings of love for him. He also would not let her get a job or learn English, because he wanted to make sure she stayed dependent (and therefore faithful) on him.

    In either situation, the big problem is the use of the woman. Her decision, her feelings, are lost for a couple bucks. Children born to women in either situation grow up in often disfunctional households. Now, this is not to discount that someone can (and often does) meet another person through a marriage company who they truly fall in love with and have a great life together. Just like online dating services, "mail-order bride" services can be ok. However, in many cases, they are scams like the one reported, or at least result in almost in-house slavery to the woman who entered the marriage not of her own free will and has no skill to give her any recourse in her new country.

    I hope the government continues to crack down on these scams. Also, any other links to more info on this article in other (particularly Vietnamese) newspapers would be helpful. I'm curious as to why they haven't reported it yet.

    Tuesday, November 29, 2005

    Rising Healthcare Costs

    Last month’s issue of Forbes highlights a growing problem in medicine—excessive compensation. What should we do, if anything, to people profiting generously from a $2 trillion dollar healthcare system with costs spiraling out of hand? For example, one New York lawyer works about 40 cases of birthing malpractice a year. He charges routinely that mistakes made during the birth caused a baby’s situation, such as cerebral palsy. Usually, insurance companies settle out of court. In one case mentioned in the article, he made over $10 million for the baby’s parents, took $1.4 million for himself, and then asked the judge to up his cut to $2.2 million citing long hours and complexity of the case—even though both arguments are expressedly forbidden as ways to improve payment in New York’s sliding scale method.

    Today more than a quarter of all Americans are uninsured. I am one of them. My employer offers no coverage, even though I work 40 hours a week. My wife, still a student, gets minimal coverage. This topic has engendered discussion from the white house to my interviews at medical school, as doctors and politicians alike try to grasp the gravity of the situation and direction reform must take. What should we do? A couple weeks ago, in Massachusetts, the House of Representatives passed a version of a bill put forward by Gov. Mitt Romney. It still needs approval by the State Senate before it becomes law. This bill would require employers to provide minimal coverage for workers.

    But on the flip side, surveys show that at least 70,000-90,000 people in Massachusetts make more than three times the poverty level and do not have coverage. These individuals obviously choose not to, because monetarily it is well within their ability. The proposed bill would also require people above the poverty line to have some form of medical coverage. Problem solved, right? Wrong.

    The “taxachusetts” bill (as a Bostonian called his state when I was talking to him on the subway), provides a viable way for the government to help curb the rising number of uninsured. I think it might be the best plan I’ve heard of so far, but that doesn’t make it the right way of dealing with the problem.

    I work with Buruli ulcer. It is a disease endemic in West Africa and Northern Australia. The bacteria enter through a cut in the skin, then causes a bump to form. Eventually that bump opens into a painless skin lesion (ulcer) that gradually gets bigger until it may cover up to 70% of the body. Eventually, the immune system gets a hold of this bug, and the lesions scar over; often resulting in contracture deformities.

    If a doctor put a bandaid on the bump or small lesion then nothing would happen. It might protect the lesion from secondary infections, but not stop its growth or eventual scarring. The only way to treat the disease (since antibiotics do not work) is to cut out the bump before a lesion is formed and stitch up the skin, or cut away the lesion and use skin grafts to fill it back.

    I have a feeling America’s heathcare system is a large nodule about to ulcerate. Public policy initiatives, although great bandaids, are not surgical excisions and will not stop the progression of the ulcer. The heart of the healthcare matter, is two issues. 1) litigation causes huge costs to hospitals and doctors that are passed down to consumers, and 2) as medicine gets more advanced costs rise to pay for the increasingly complex procedures and research.

    If America’s lawmakers and policy wizards can strike to the heart of these two issues, the cost of managed healthcare will decrease, and more people will be able to afford health insurance.

    Attacking these two issues also allows us to bypass the horrid idea of standardizing healthcare like Canada and Great Britain. My coworker Mike’s sister lives in Britain, and when she needed an MRI, she had to wait months because of the waiting list. In medicine, hours and days can mean the difference between life and death, let alone months. Socialized medicine brings medicine down to the lowest level of service possible, because it does not allow for prompt and efficient care, nor give incentives to healthcare workers to enter medicine and succeed. With socialized medicine comes standardized salaries, and the decreased pay will dissuade more prospective doctors from joining the profession. Hence, a lower caliber doctor will practice, and he or she will have less incentive to work their hardest to save a patient because the return on such sacrifice is less, and often futile when a patient must wait long periods for critical tests or treatments.

    So how do we deal with the problems? First, we need better tort reform. My grandfather died due to malpractice. I know it happens, acutely. However, many lawsuits, like Mr. Moore’s cerebral palsy lawsuit, are frivolous. An overabundance of information shows that nothing in the birthing process can cause cerebral palsy, but insurance companies settle out of court because it’s less costly then waging legal war, and the cost is passed on to you and me. All states should pass laws limiting damages juries can award, as well as payment lawyers can make from a verdict. Also, physicians need to create a contractual relationship with the patient that says something to this effect:

    “You, the patient, contract with me, the physician, to provide your healthcare. By signing this contract you acknowledge that there are many physicians and you have chosen me to direct your care of your own free will and knowledge. You consent to all treatments I deem necessary except those that are expressedly forbidden by your faith or creed, and if you refuse tests and procedures forbidden by your faith or creed, you take full legal, ethical, and physical responsibility for the outcome of the whole course of treatment. Also, you acknowledge that human error is part of the fallible nature of man and if you feel that I did not perform to the best of my ability and this caused undue harm to the outcome of the course of treatment, you agree to settle such grievance outside of court via arbitration.”

    Obviously this language is just my own words, but the gist can be put into binding legal jargon. Such a disclaimer would free the doctor to pursue the course of treatment he or she feels is best for the patient and limit liability for errors.

    In addition, government subsidies for increased competition among medical technology companies will drive down costs of tests. Also, physicians need to set up advisory boards that deal with test efficacy. The Anesthesiology society of America did so in the late 1990s and malpractice insurance has only risen along with inflation since then. Test efficacy boards will determine if tests are being order too much, instruct doctors, and find machines that do not fail, or techniques that work better, to lower malpractice incidence and rates.

    Ultimately, this requires a concerted effort by both the government and physicians in tackling these two issues. Doing so will defeat the ulcer at its source, before it festers.

    Sunday, November 27, 2005

    Avian Flu Update 2

    I am constantly impressed with Vietnam's public health response to disease. Vietnam is what the state department calls a "second tier country." Its economy and standard of living is improving, but it has lots of problems--corruption and inefficiency in the government, lack of unified health infrastructure between urban and rural areas, and liquid capital to build transportation infrastructure and buy necessary equipment to fight disease.

    Dealing with all that, Vietnam's Ministry of Health did an amazing job fighting SARS in 2003. They put aside the typical asian "don't want to lose face" attitude and were very open and cooperative with the WHO. It admitted it had problems that prevented Vietnam from effectively dealing with SARS. Its response led to rapid detection, quarantine, and treatment of the disease. Most importantly, it used SARS to learn and prepare for another eventual disease outbreak.

    So, this week Vietnam held a mock bird flu exercise. In it, the faked a human-to-human bird flu in Hanoi, quarantined off that part of the city, set up make-shift triage centers, disinfected buildings and cycles--all with 900 health professionals and soldiers. Obiously, translating a mock drill in one part of Hanoi into reality throughout the country will be difficult, but Vietnam is working on it.

    The bird flu is scary. 68 people have died in Vietnam so far, and the mortality rate is over 50%. That could mean nothing more than a little stronger flu if it went pandemic or a massive killer. It's hard to translate the mortality rate because many do not seek treatment until very sick and come from the rural areas where medical infrastructure is weak or non-existent. What we can know, is that Vietnam is doing amazingly well in making sure it is ready for any eventuality.

    In contrast, China has again shown ineptitude and extreme hubris with its handling of the benzene slick. Today, China returned running water to the city of Harbin, but it still cannot be drunk. Chinese politicians fiddled while Rome burned, and they should be publicly flogger for it. Regardless of political ideology, communist, republic, democractic, no government is allowed to coverup the needless deaths of citizens. Chinese leaders told nobody about the slick until the benzene slick was in Harbin and now five people are dead. Who knows how many more are sick. The city could have been far more prepared if people had known to stock up on water beforehand, instead of fearing the rumors. More importantly, other countries could have helped Chinese authorities deal with the slick before it hit Harbin, possibly avoiding danger all together. Now it is moving towards Russia, and if I was Pres. Putin, I'd be pretty pissed at Hu Jintao for not cleaning up the mess, and demand China pays for its cleanup and any problems it causes Russia.

    Cheers to Vietnam for effective health planning, and many large jeers to China for its bumbling.

    Friday, November 25, 2005

    Avian Flu Update

    It looks like China's finally caught the avian flu bug. Tuesday, China reported it's second death in a few days, a 35-year old woman from the Anhui province. China has over 15 billion birds...

    Vietnam is also undergoing another outbreak in chickens. The latest fatality is a 15 year old boy from Hai Phong. The government has told tour agencies not to take foreigners by places with birds because it cannot handle deaths of foreigners.

    For more information, check this link, but you will need a subscription to the wall street journal.

    Thursday, November 24, 2005

    Vietnam Sex Tourism

    Alright, so Bangkok is bad, not just for the euphemisms, but because of what we ALL know goes on there. Vietnam, for its part, has done, I think, a remarkable job fighting this. However, nothing is perfect, and it still goes on far too often in the motherland. Take Gary Glitter for example. I first heard this from The Rice Bowl and nearly puked. The man has been previously convicted of 54 counts of posessing child pornography, and he's spent time in Cambodia, now Vietnam, and was trying to get to Thailand.

    Adults can be adults, and if someone from outside Vietnam was attracted to a Vietnamese woman, my response would be "of course"! I think they are very attractive, hence I married my wife. But in Vietnam, where the age of consent is already low at 16, do you really have to go for 8, 10, and 12 year olds. Gosh, Vietnam has enough problems as it struggles to overcome the hyperinflation of the 1980s, the vestiges of the Vietnam war (for arguably 50 years before 1975), and the cultural revolution it is undergoing due to MTV. Do you have to throw in sexual predators too? Maybe it's my hatred of pedophiles, or the softspot in my heart for Vietnam, but it sickens me.

    When I was in Vietnam last year, I remember distinctly walking down a street in Hanoi and having two young women on a motorbike ride up next to me (at about 10:00pm) and ask if I wanted "boom boom." What a perfect english euphemism for sex. It's descriptive but leaves you with only the physical inference of sex, not any of the emotional or psychological bonds that develop from a healthy relationship.

    When I met my friends, Phuong and Hai, in Sapa later on, they told me of visiting a massage parlor on the road from Hanoi to Sapa. In it, Phuong talked to his massuse who spoke southern. He was shocked. You don't find many in the North. "Why are you up here"? he asked. She proceeded to tell him that she came from a rural area in the south and her parents sent her and her sister up north to work in massage parlors and make money. They encouraged, even demanded, that she and her sister sleep with patrons to make more money. She confided in Phuong that she and her sister continually angered their parents by not doing that, and they were secretly saving money to buy a house and go to college. When that day happened, they could finally be rid of their parents' evil demands.

    At The Rice Bowl, Pieman makes good comments about the prevalence of the underage sex trade to native Viets. It is not just a westerner thing. Vietnam has outlawed Vietnamese nationals going into hotels with westerners of the opposite sex to try and curb this, and two years ago tried to shut down all karaoke bars (although the nation almost revolted and it was stopped). Although the Vietnamese government is doing good things in its fight against child prostitution, it will fight a losing battle until it tackles the economic disparity between Ho Chi Minh City and the rest of Vietnam that causes parents to urge their children to sell their bodies, and young girls to move to the city and whore themselves.

    America and other countries have extra-territorial laws to prosecute predators oversees, but it isn't enough. Look up Vietnam's status on fighting this here. Here's a link for how you may help.

    Texas High School Football

    Some of you might have seen Friday Night Lights. If so, you may understand, a little, what high school football is in Texas. Football is life. If you aren't playing football, it must be baseball season. If you're not playing either, you may be stuck on a basketball court, but only because you can't get a place big enough for football or baseball. And if you aren't doing any of that, you just ain't living.

    Knowing this, I was not surprised to see four Texas high schools in the top 25 HS football teams in the nation according to Sports Illustrated. I was not surprised to see Texas have 4 teams in the top 25, more than any other state. Carroll HS, from Southlake, TX took #1, and deserves recognition, but Westfield (Spring, TX--right outside Houston and one I've seen play) took 8th, Lufkin took 18th, and Abilene took 21st.

    So, on such a great football holiday like Thanksgiving, props to Texas High School Football!

    What Gmail elicits in people

    This video is great. I agree completely. For now, Gmail is the only way to do email.

    Thursday, November 17, 2005

    Sen. Barbara Boxer

    This woman amazes me. I wonder how californians feel about her...they did elect her. Anyway, I was listening to npr here in wisconsin and caught her being interviewd by the boston affiliate. She said some interesting things.

    First, she lambasted Pres. Bush for misleading America. She said he "cherry picked intelligence." She said Bush should at least apologize to the American people. Then she said she would never judge another senator and say he or she should apologize for their roles in supporting the war in Iraq when it first started.

    Secondly, she said she is prochoice because she doesn't want the government breathing down women's backs. They should have the ability to make the choice that fits their personal morals, and religion, the best. I don't necessarily have a problem with that stance...but the government breathing down their backs?? Actually she said "Roe v. Wade was a very moderate decision ... the constitution provides for the basic right to privacy ... this decision keeps the government off women's backs."

    And I say, so if Roe v. Wade was overturned, the government is in women's lives??? Like I said, I see, and maybe agree with, her point about pro-choice versus pro-life, but the logic is flawed. No Roe v. Wade would keep the government out just the same, only the end result would be different--many orphans versus abortions.

    Anyway, I found her interview very enlightening. She's an eloquent speaker that I enjoyed listening to, but some things were just too funny to not share.

    Finally, she said she would always vote her conscience, even if it was against party lines. I respect that. But I was wondering what she would do if her conscience was different from what her constituents want. This question is the heart of republican government. Does the representative vote the will of the majority of his or her constituents, or vote his or her own personal belief?? I bet every leader on capital hill would answer that one differently, but it's a great question.

    Tuesday, November 15, 2005

    Must watch

    Whether you support the war in Iraq as it is currently being waged or not, it is pretty clear that Democrats in Washington have been changing their tune on the subject--"revisionists" is the term now used.

    Personally, my support for the Republican party has waned greatly over the last year, however, these blatant lies (I studied history in college too, and am very protective of it) have done nothing to persuade me to vote for democrats either. Looks like my votes will still go to independents and libertarians unless things change.

    BUT, this long overdue rebuttal by the GOP is amazing. I can just see the democrats squirm and Karl Rove smirk.


    Listening to a talk by Elder Robert D. Hales, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    "Selfishness stiffles spirtual senses."

    Friday, November 11, 2005

    Personal Experiences

    Today I heard a speech about Maj. Gen. Orville A. Anderson by Dr. Mark Grandstaff. He is a Col. ret. in the Air Force and holds the George C. Marshall chair at the US Air War College. He just got back from meeting with the Sec. of the Army and other armed forces big-wigs as they discussed molding the army to meet the new threats in the world--grand strategy for the 21st century. Last year I took a class of World War II from him and he directed my senior thesis, The Image of Ho Chi Minh in the New York Times, 1945-1975.

    I asked him what the war in Iraq has done, if any, to change the way army planners view conquering and rebuilding. His reply (paraphrased slightly) was:

    They are moving towards more focus on marines and the air force in attack and conquer. The army is changing its fundamental unit to be smaller, more flexible, and able to deal with the multiplicity of situations it faces. They want to get rid of the "plodding" army stereotype. We will be there [in Iraq] for a couple more years.

    Not that any of this is a surprise, but it's always interesting to get it from someone so well known in grand strategy and who instructs all the generals on how to implement it.

    Also, the other day bombers destroyed a couple hotels in Jordan and killed party-goers at a wedding. Ms. H. Madanat, a instructor here, lost two members of her family in that blast. My wife and I know her well and the general strong silent support the college has given is a testament to her, and brought the destruction a little more close to home.

    On a lighter note, I'm currently watching the full season of Full Metal Alchemist. I have it in Japanese with English subtitles. It's amazing. If you like anime, or are looking for something new, try it. Yes, it's a cartoon, but for those uninitiated, anime is far more adult than your child's typical Saturday-morning flick.

    Thursday, November 10, 2005

    France's Indigestion

    Minh-Duc has a good post cautioning about Islamo-terrorism in the wake of the French uprisings over at State of Flux. However, even as I agree such uprisings can lead to wrong actions later, I am one of those people who find myself watching the news and rooting for the rioters...calling on them to continue. Minh-duc calls us "those who see this as poetic justice - something France deserves." Let me explain how I believe it is poetic justice and beneficial.

    First, "deserves." Nobody wants anyone put in bodily danger if another option is available. In this situation, I would use another word (not to quibble over symantics), "sowed." France is reaping what they've sown. Here's a quote from a frenchman:
    All empires die of indigestion.

    Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)
    We have seen this verity in the Roman Empire. Three things (to simplify 1000 years) helped cause "indigestion" -- loss of religion, free bread, free citizenship.

    As the Roman empire grew, it realized that it's volunteer army of "weekend warriors" was inadequate for the job. To combat this trend, it instituted professionalization. However, these carreer soldiers realized that they could gain popularity and status by returning to Rome victorious. This social pressure caused the empire to expand at a rate untenable to the citizens of the empire. In order to continue expanding, it gave citizenship to "barbarians" in exchange for their help in conquering new barbarians. Eventually, this (very prevalent in some eras) giving of citizenship to those not loyal proved Rome's downfall. People with alterior motives became heads of Roman armies, caused civil wars, or ran in the face of not-so-superior foes they held kinship with. And Rome fell.

    Second, as the republic progressed into the empire, senators and other politicians gained votes by promising free bread to the masses of the cities. Rome, like other large cities, had massive unemployment. Over generations, this segment of society became accustomed to (and felt they were entitled to) free bread. The ante went up every generation as the new politicians tried to get elected over incumbents. When Rome ran into trouble, and had no bread, the masses rioted.

    Third, Rome had a strong indigenous religion that slowly gave way in the upper eschelons of society to greek paganism. The Greek ethos held very liberal morals, which allowed many people to believe or not believe wanton and radical things. Such liberalization of religion in the wake of the other two items, caused Rome to lose a valuable stabilizing force in people's lives. Eventually, people did not feel a kinship with each other religiously, they felt entitled to things the state couldn't provide, and those with weapons had the power to change things and no loyalty to the state.

    Rome collapsed.

    France has mimicked Rome to a smaller scale. First, it has lost religion. I am not arguing for any certain religion, but religion in general. A state religion has obvious ubiquitizing overtones, but it is not necessary. Any state that generally encourages people to practice religion has the benefit of it's solidifying properties. In France, many are areligious, losing that benefit, and the large population who is religious happens to be the disaffected one. Hence it's so easy to raise masses of people to riot--there's a kinship.

    Europe is one large welfare state. The rate is currently at 8.9%, expected to hit 9.1% by the end of the year, and worse in some areas. Among the lower class, it has rates of 30-40%, and among lower class, muslim, males, age 18-24 rates are over 50%. And they want their free bread.
    When French people do work, they devote less time to it than their European neighbours. They work an average of 39.1 hours per week, the least among the 25 EU countries, according to Eurostat, the EU's Luxembourg-based statistics office. That compares with 42.2 hours in Britain and 42.6 hours in Poland.

    Unemployment benefits in France equal 57 per cent to 75 per cent of a jobseeker's last salary, capped at €5126 a month. Benefits can last for as long as three years, and sometimes longer for people nearing retirement.

    In the US, the benefits are equivalent of about half the person's last salary, up to $US2000 a month in the highest-paying state, Washington. Benefits expire within six months in most states.

    The French can expect jobless benefits and other government support, such as housing subsidies, to amount to 44 per cent of the former salary, compared with 17 per cent in Britain and 14 per cent in the US, according to the OECD.
    Now that the cost of unemployment is ballooning, the state is running out of the ability to pay for the bread.

    France has built it's reputation on being tolerant, and bringing immigrants in, but still has the reputation of being prideful. If you are not French, you are second rate. Today France has a large group of North Africa (especially) Muslims who on face value have equality but in reality do not. Society looks down on them. They have legal standing in the country, but do not feel a part of it.

    And so, France is dying of indigestion right now. This is a good thing. Another Frenchman, Victor Hugo, said
    "Social prosperity means man happy, the citizen free, the nation great."

    Les Misérables [1862]. † Saint Denis, bk. I, ch. 4
    In 1968, riots spawned general strikes of 10 million workers and changed the government of France. Something better can come from this. I do not think that the rioters want to be suicide bombers. A few bad apples, maybe, but they would do it anyway. France needs to merely reverse it's direction. Social unrest and a new government might provide the impetus to do it. It needs to cut unemployment and jobless benefits, so that the populace has the incentive to innovate and start businesses. No more free bread. It needs to actively throw out those clerics or other leaders of the community who might encourage or preach terrorism. It must also create programs that help the people feel involved in their government. No more cheap citizenship. Finally, it must actively support Islam and other religions. A social change will bring much needed stability where free bread cannot. Freedom of religion is important for it's inclusiveness just as it is for it's protection of exclusiveness. No more absence of religion.

    A France which does those things stands to join Britain and the US as a well-working market with low unemployment and rising standard of living. It stands to lead the EU into a new era of prosperity, where it helps push the world economy instead of draining it. As long as this option is a possibility, I will brave the possibility of future suicide bombers for the hope of a better tomorrow. This is why I hope France gets what it "deserves."

    Wednesday, November 09, 2005



    The absence from blogging stemmed from two reasons.

    First, I went to Houston for a medical school interview.
    Second, my computer gave up the ghost and had to be resurrected.

    My interview at UT-Houston was good.  The medical center in downtown Houston never ceases to amaze me, and it’s hard for me to justify going to a school other than UT-H (where I was interviewing) or Baylor (where I interviewed in October) because there is so much at hand for a medical student in the center.

    Unfortunately, not all went well.  Dennis helped me to get my dvd burner working, but it never did.  He did, however, burn all my movies and some anime onto dvds for me so I could free up my harddrive.

    Also, a note of bragging.  My sister is in the nutcracker ballet this winter.

    Now, my computer gave up the ghost…because I was an idiot.  I downloaded a program I shouldn’t have, and BOOM, next thing I know I have five Trojans and 30 someodd spyware programs on my computer.  Then it crashed.  

    Seven hours later, and after several prayers said, I got it booting again.  Today was the finishing-making sure it’s clean of all unwanted malware and reinstalling certain programs devastated by the attack.  

    Summer of ’04 I was in Vietnam, and I saw a kid, probably about 18, who ran the internet café I was at, log on to his computer and proceed to use a backdoor to send spam to people all over the world.  My stomach turned then, and it does now.  I think it goes back to my post on decency

    Anyway, I am back.  I have read some very good posts that have me thinking and wanting to respond.  I also have a growing backlog of personal posts mulling around my head and itching to get out.  

    Finally, congrats to Thuan, at The Siege Perilous for his first official publication.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005


    ...that's what's missing these days. When you look at all the ills of society, they all distill down to this--decency.

    It is not the color of your skin, or the faith that you adhere to. It is not the state or country that you live in or the school you support. It is not the political party you vote with or company you work for. All problems are ultimately rooted in the lack of decency.

    Take, for example, race relations. Undeniably, and with good excuse, race relations in the United States are still strained. After 300 years of slavery and 150 years of state-sanctioned persecution, can you blame anyone? Things have made great strides since 1965, and the people who have effected this change should be commended. Hence my post on Rosa Parks.

    But if people were truly decent, we would not have these problems. True decency envelopes the utmost respect and esteem for other people, religions, faiths, and creeds. Decency does not require belief. It does not require adopting the ways of another. In America, we like to sum it up as "agreeing to disagree." Yet I think it's more than that.

    Decency is doing the little things with humility because you truly love others. Two Republican and Democrat senators campaigning against each other could embody this virtue if they stayed away from arguing through use of slander and muckracking. Instead, both could praise the good qualities of the opponent, humbly acknowledge that they feel different in the best way to solve a problem, and outline their opposing views. Such harmony results in bonds of strength between people who might possibly be polar opposites.

    Unfortunately, Americans are rapidly losing decency. Nobody is perfect, I don't expect anyone to achieve perfect decency, and I understand that some are much closer to perfection than others. However, as a whole the American people are falling farther away from the ideal. This is seen in the little things--those things people do without fear or expectation of a consequence.

    Today, while trying to park at work, I began to turn into a parking lot. I work at a university, and students were streaming up from their apartments towards campus ... and walking through this parking lot. I slowed to an idle, in order to let those students in front of me pass unmolested. Then, to my dismay, the stream of students kept coming. One after another they cut in front of my car, walking at a leisurely pace, some looking directly into my eyes as they passed. I slowly inched forward, knowing that each pedestrian could easily pass behind my car (as I was the only car) and arrive at the point across the entrance to the parking lot in exactly the same amount of time. Yet they did not.

    After I parked (finally), I walked up from the lot to my laboratory, and watched students as they went to class. Two cars started up a road by my laboratory, and stopped at a crosswalk as a group of four students and I were in the middle of the crosswalk by then. When I reached the other side, I looked back, and saw again to my dismay, that another group of five or six students who were not in the crosswalk when I was in it, jumped out into the street, forcing the two cars to wait.

    How decent it would have been of these students to wait 1-2 seconds for the two cars to pass the crosswalk and then continue onwards? Such lack of decency is not confined to pedestrians. It happens all over America, in the big as well as the little things.

    Perhaps it is the individualism of Americans. We are raised to prize the individual and consider it paramount, and yet we seem to forget that this world is made up of 6 billion individuals who are all paramount. By extrapolation that makes the collective good paramount. Perhaps we must think about it as the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Sun is My Heart, when he says,
    “The presence of one cell in the body implies the presence of all the others, since they cannot exist independently, separate of the others. A Vietnamese Zen master once said, 'If this speck of dust did not exist, the entire universe could not exist.' Looking at a speck of dust, an awakened person sees the universe.”
    I hope we may all see that the importance of the individual is tied into the importance of others, so that we will be more decent to others around us who join in the creation of the universe.