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    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 MisĂ©rables [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 cafĂ© 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.