Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Has Disney Caved In to Secularism?

Last night my family and I visited Walt Disney World's Candlelight Processional - held at Epcot every year during the holidays.

The Candlelight Processional is a beautiful and moving story told by a celebrity narrator mixed in with wonderful music performed by hundreds of people of all race and ages.

This event is all designed to tell the story of the birth of Jesus and for all of the years we have attended Disney has maintained the same script, music and thematic touches. 

Until this year.

This year the following part of the script was left off:

He was born in an obscure village
The child of a peasant woman
He grew up in another obscure village
Where he worked in a carpenter shop
Until he was thirty

He never wrote a book
He never held an office
He never went to college
He never visited a big city
He never travelled more than two hundred miles
From the place where he was born
He did none of the things
Usually associated with greatness
He had no credentials but himself

He was only thirty three

His friends ran away
One of them denied him
He was turned over to his enemies
And went through the mockery of a trial
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
The only property he had on earth

When he was dead
He was laid in a borrowed grave
Through the pity of a friend

Nineteen centuries have come and gone
And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
And the leader of mankind's progress
All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life.
I can only speculate as to the reasons Disney decided to eliminate this very powerful and somewhat evangelical message.  After all, I was not in the room when the decision was made and no one from Disney told us to expect anything different for reasons X, Y or Z.
All I know is it seems a bit peculiar to change a show about Jesus's birth when its inclusion in all prior years was met with sell-out crowds and standing-room-only audiences. 
No where did it ever seem that leaving this part of the script in was causing the demand for Epcot tickets to fall in December.  No where did we ever see protests outside the gates.
And no where is where we found the greatest part of the greatest human story ever told.
Whatever the reason, Disney owes its customers and answer.  I know I will think twice next year about buying these tickets if Disney has decided to join the legions of Americans who are afraid to pronounce what this season is about.
In fact, if not for the birth of Jesus there would be no profit from an untold story because there would be no Christmas.
You could also argue that without Jesus there would be no such thing as Capitalism, which has certainly benefited Disney.  After all, capitalism is based on the idea that people should be allowed to use their free will to pursue money in a peaceful way.  Adam Smith - a Christian - and our overwhelmingly Christian Founders gave us the right - and Disney the right - to enjoy what they called "God-given" rights.    Without the teachings of Jesus on the concept of free will and serving others we never get Adam Smith or the Founders because we never rise above kings, emperors and dictators.
The least Disney could do is pursue profit with a pure message, rather than a watered-down one that offends fewer people.
On that note, Merry Christmas to all of you.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

There must be hope, there must be hope, there must....

I am grading final exams today.  December is a bad time to grade exams.  Santa is finalizing his list and the words coming out of my office here at Valencia would cause him to reduce my number of gifts by around 93.28%.  Why?

Here is what I just read from one student, who, by the way, is not much different from her fellow students.

As always, what follows is not edited.

"When Ronald Reagan created the new deal in 1933 he caused americans to have the false hope it was o.k to spend and told the gov. to basically spend with the wind and with the government spending, people spending no one saving no new jobs creating because the lack of self enlightment things seem to get out of wack and that is what stagflation does."

Maybe if Santa reads my blog he will understand why I am losing hope faster than I am aging.

Have a wonderful Christmas.  See you in the New Year unless my students succeed in killing me off.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Dear Pope Francis, Please Shut Up....

It is bad enough living in a nation with an economically-illiterate president constantly espousing nonsensical economic theories, or worse, making his theories the basis for law.
Now I have to read in today's paper that Pope Francis, the leader of over a billion Catholics worldwide, has gotten into the act of saying economically moronic things.
In a recent speech decrying what he sees as growing economic injustice around the world, Pope Francis said:
"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.  This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.  Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."
This might be among the most absurd paragraphs in economic history.
If Pope Francis wrote this economic garbage on one of my final exam questions he would receive zero points and I would probably use up a box of red pens correcting the absurdity of his "logic."
Here are the facts. 
First, there is plenty of evidence that so called "trickle-down" economics - the idea that reducing tax and regulatory burdens leads to growth and opportunity from the top down - works beautifully.
I would encourage any and all of you (especially you, Russ Kessler) to go back and look at the Mellon tax cuts of the 1920s, the Kennedy tax cuts of the 1960s, Reagan's 1981 and 1986 tax cuts, the Clinton tax cuts of the late 1990s and evidence from Chile, Sweden, Ireland, China, Germany, Canada, and other nations that have adopted the mantra that letting people keep more of their money will boost all income groups, not just the rich.
The data on upward mobility of the poor and middle class, productivity gains, the unemployment rate, the rate of infation (which robs the poor more than anything), GDP data and tax collections all proves that when it comes down to the question of where your next dollar should go - in your wallet or to the government - if economic growth, justice and inclusiveness is desired, the best way to go about it is to free those dollars from taxation to begin with.
During the 1980s, for example, Reagan reduced the number of tax brackets from fourteen to two and the top rate fell from 70 to 28%.  The result (go get the data, it is free of charge on the Internet) was that all income groups saw a gain in net income and wealth.  Yes, the rich gained at a faster rate than everyone else, but that is called mathematics.  If everyone receives a 30% tax cut, someone making $1 million per year is going to naturally gain more than someone making $20,000 per year.
Pope Francis should look at what goes on in nations that do the opposite - like France, Venezuela, most of Western Europe and in recent times, the United States.  Nations that adopt a "trickle-up" philosophy that argues for an expanded welfare state and higher taxes see sluggish to negative economic growth, a growing number of poor people and a shrinking middle class.  This is simple to understand.  If we tax those who are producing the most for our economy, the incentives to shelter income increases and the desire to expand is diminished.  This inevitably impacts people in the middle and the bottom of the economic spectrum more in the form of fewer jobs and lower incomes.  President Obama has never understood this.  That is why FIVE years into his disastrous experiment with "Hope and Change" the only thing we see is declining hope and less change in our pockets.
Pope Francis should go talk to a buddy of mine in Chicago who happens to be a rich Catholic. 
I met this guy in 1995 when he was in his late 20s.  He grew up in a lower middle income household without his father being around for much of his life.   That would seem to point towards a life where he becomes a victim of society, bad luck and a free market that rewards only those of us who grow up with silver spoons dangling from our mouths.
This guy lived in a tiny apartment, worked at a long-hours, low-paying job but kept digging in, working like a man on a mission, moving from city to city, job to job until he finally landed a job, and a career selling high-end medical technology to surgeons.
Today he lives in a house that is so big you better have GPS when you wander around in it and is married with two kids living a very upper-middle class or even lower wealthy class life.
I wonder what he might think about the Pope's views on what he should have to pay in taxes?  This guy puts in unreal hours starting at the crack of dawn and his Pope thinks more of his money should be stolen so late-sleeping, lazy crackheads in Chicago can have more food stamp funds.
Is that justice?  Is that equity?
Since when did our concern for the poor become no concern for the working stiffs who keep the poor alive?  Since when did it become a good thing to COVET AND STEAL? 
This is what Pope Francis wants.  He wants 20% of the Ten Commandments to be violated in the name of his warped, illiterate view of economic justice.
I would suggest that instead of pretending to be some sort of armchair economic expert, the Pope spend more of his time on the other issues that have surfaced in the Catholic Church over the past several years.  If he really cares about justice and the rights of human beings, there is plenty going on in his church to keep him busy without giving us his half-baked socialistic theories that have never helped the poor achieve any measure of progress.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What Barack Obama could learn from John F. Kennedy

Everyone knows that John F. Kennedy was a Democrat.  Everyone knows he is one of the all-time heroes of the Baby-Boomer generation and of liberals in general.
What few people know is that in December of 1962 he gave this speech.
If you have to, watch it again and really focus on his words.  Notice the sharp contrast between his statements and his philosophical beliefs to that of our current President.  Notice whether he makes a contrast between rich and poor, small businesses and corporations or whether he discusses the distribution of income, "the top 1%" or anything else that comes even remotely close to the beliefs of Barack Obama.
Before there was Reagan and his view of income taxes, there was John F. Kennedy.  A true statesman and economically literate human being.
If you are a Democrat, here is your hero.  It is possible to remain a Democrat, but be an economically intelligent one. 
Kennedy was.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why the NFL may not exist 50 years from now

This evening I watched a two hour special on Frontline (you can watch the show here) that investigated the National Football League and its two-decade battle against various members of the medical community over the issue of head injuries.
The program was especially disturbing inasmuch as both of my sons, ages 14 and 13 are football players, along with several of their friends whose families I essentially talked into playing this sport.
I do not consider myself to be one of these hysterical parents who wants to save his kids from all of life's dangers.  I played football, had concussions and other injuries and still play pretty rough backyards games to this day.
However, it seems we are just at the tip of the iceberg in the question of whether football causes CTE - Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathty.  According to one doctor who has investigated the brain tissue of 46 former NFL players, 45 of them had CTE.  The program also pointed out dead former college and even high school players who had this degenerative disease.
Of course, as other doctors pointed out, there are thousands of former NFL players walking around that are not showing signs of depression, rage, memory loss and suicidal thoughts, but nevertheless, the NFL is in trouble.  Big trouble.
Starting with the $765 million settlement with former players who sued the NFL, claiming the league had known all along about the effects of concussions on long-run health, the NFL is now facing an even bigger threat than lawyers.
Already we are seeing more and more parents of talented athletes picking soccer or basketball or other less violent sports.
All it is going to take is enough parents who are legitimately scared for their son's well-being to pull the plug on football, to cause the pipeline of college talent to the NFL to dry up over time.
Over the next several decades I think we can expect to see fewer and fewer players from better educated families showing up on football fields.  Increasingly, the NFL is going to be filled with players from lower income, less-educated, less concerned families (not that all three of these are connected).  But this may still not be enough of a supply to keep the NFL vibrant over time.
Fifty years from now the NFL may be a fringe sport with MMA/Roman gladiator-type participants, with television audiences that are much smaller and much more in love with the gore and brutality that the sport would continue to bring.
Unless the NFL changes.
Those changes are going to have to center around rule changes, and, if possible, technological changes that have helmet sensors that measure impacts so that players who need to come out of a game can do so without being knocked out cold.
In the meantime, I am going to have my sons watch the Frontline show and listen to them explain what they want to do going forward.  If I just tell them, "Until more evidence comes in, you are not playing", I may be robbing them of their dreams in an irrational manner.
If a former player and huge NFL fan like me is having these thoughts, I can only imagine what other moms and dads are thinking.
The NFL better take notice. 
Or else.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Saying Goodbye to the Losers that are the Miami Dolphins

Last night I had the painful duty of explaining to my oldest son, and fellow fan of the Miami Dolphins, that I will no longer support, or cheer for, or watch, or wear the clothing of our team. 
This seemingly trivial moment in my relationship with this 14-year old was actually an important moment to teach him a lesson about character, honor and civility.
In case you missed it, the Miami Dolphins are in big trouble as an organization - and it has nothing to do with the fact that it has not won a Super Bowl in 40 years and once again sports a losing record.
No, it is all because they have losers who are on record engaging in some of the most disgusting abuse of a fellow teammate you will ever read about.
Sparing you the gory details, which you can read about anywhere, the Dolphins coaches and players - led by a member of the teams Leadership Council decided to make second-year player, Jonathan Martin the target of racist rants, monetary extortion and threats to his life and the well-being of his mother.
The coaches, according to the November 6th edition of The Orlando Sentinel, encouraged offensive guard Richie Incognito to "toughen up" Martin last spring.
It seems that Incognito - who has often been named by other NFL players as the dirtiest player in the league - took this charge as an opportunity to render Mr. Martin incapable of continuing to work as a player for the Dolphins. 
Martin is now gone, Incognito has been suspended by the Dolphins (who are now in panic-mode as the NFL investigates) and shockingly, Dolphins players are coming to the defense of Incognito as being some sort of enforcer of the code of manliness required of NFL players.
You can read the quotes by team stars like Cameron Wake and Mike Wallace for yourself. 
You can also read how Dolphins players routinely force younger players to pay for lavish parties and engage in other humiliating endeavors, all for the "rite of passage" the veterans believe should be imposed upon them.
As a former football player and sports agent with the National Football League Players Association, I have heard about, and know about, the culture of football lockerrooms. 
It is normal for older players to jokingly pick on younger ones for a little while.  Making the rookies sing their school song during lunch, or carry the bags of veterans is pretty common.
Threatening to kill a teammate while calling him a "half-n........" is not common.   Endorsing this behavior is also not common - unless you are lacking in character and virtue, which the Dolphins - from ownership down to the players - seemingly are.
In 1975 I picked the Miami Dolphins as my favorite team.  For exactly 38 1/2 seasons I have watched the Bob Griese, Larry Csonka and Dan Marino teams play with class.  After Marino left in 2000 I spent the next 11 years watching teams led by players like Jay Fiedler and Chad Pennington lose many more games than they won, but always with no sign that the team was filled with characterless losers.
Last year I spent part of August watching HBO's "Hard Knocks" - a documentary about the 2012 Dolphins.  Every night I came in angry, telling my wife and kids that it seemed like the Dolphins had a bunch of undisciplined losers in their ranks, with coaches who did not seem to care about the character of the players.  But still I watched my team through another losing season.
In December of last year I had a chance to go to Miami and meet many members of  the 1972 Dolphins.  I also met and talked with the current owner of the team, Stephen Ross.  When I mentioned to him that the Dolphins seemed to not have the same character and leadership of the old Dolphins he said, "Well, winning takes care of a lot of things."   Wrong, Mr. Ross.  Winning games while losing your virtue means nothing.
Eight games into this season my instincts have been proven to be correct.  The 2013 Miami Dolphins are losers.  Real losers. 
It does not matter than their record is 4-4.  The teams record as men is 0-8. 
I told my son that as long as the Dolphins are owned by, coached by and represented by the current group of dishonorable men I will not watch them for one second.
I hope he understands that, as Teddy Roosevelt once said, "The one indispensable requisite of an individual, and a nation, is character."
As long as the Miami Dolphins have none, they will receive no hypocritical support in my home.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What if we lost 17% of the Private Sector?

What follows is my Op-Ed in the November 1, 2013 Orlando Sentinel.  Enjoy!
Lost in the recent debate over the impact of our partial government shutdown has been perhaps a more important question concerning the role of government in our lives in comparison to the for-profit private sector.

During the recent debacle pitting Tea-Party Republicans against Democrats and the more moderate wing of the Republican party, we all were given a “sky is falling” narrative on how a prolonged shutdown of nonessential government services, combined with a rapidly approaching default date on our national debt obligations, would cause another recession rivaling the “Great Recession” of 2007-2009.

So, with only seventeen percent of the government out of service, we all managed to wake up each day, go to work, pay our bills, find food and gas where it is normally sold and get our television programs delivered each evening.

What, on the other hand, would happen if instead of 17 percent of the federal government closing up shop for a couple of weeks or so, we instead saw the same percentage of the private sector close its doors?

Consider this.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, last year, out of the nearly $16 trillion Gross Domestic Product, $395 billion (2.46%) was money spent on cars and car parts.  3.48 % ($558 billion) was spent on computers and software while $828 billion (5.18%) was allocated to food and drink from stores.

That is only 11% of the GDP, but one can only imagine what life would be life if for 16 days (the length of this year’s government closure) we all had to go without food and drink from stores, computer services and batteries for our cars – to name a few.

What if we lost – for only 16 days – the $434 billion (2.71 %) of our spending on gasoline?  Like you, I survived the closing of Yellowstone National Park.  I am not sure I would survive pushing my car to work.

Losing the $709 billion (4.43%) restaurant business might not sound like a big deal, but one look at the waistline of our fellow Americans would suggest that a 16-day closure of fast-food establishments might create a riot that our $1.8 trillion health care industry would not be able to handle.

Speaking of health care, which is the largest component of our GDP, how many of us would like to see no drug stores, no surgeries, no emergency rooms or new bandage shipments for more than two weeks?

The point of all this is to shed some serious light on the fact that of the two entities – government and the private sector – the latter is much more vital to our day-to- day survival, convenience and happiness.

There is no way we could live without those who do things for profit.  We need men and women to unlock the doors of their businesses each and every day so we can make it through that day.

We have seen that government – the only institution allowed to acquire money by force – tends to supply us with many things that are not essential to our well-being but are punitive to our wallets.  NBC Nightly News also showed how, in the absence of government, many examples of neighbors helping neighbors by delivering food and other household items to families impacted by the shutdown.

Our national debt only 20 years ago did not top $5 trillion.  It is three-times that figure today.  What we have received for that debt – expensive wars, a bloated and liberty-eroding Department of Homeland Security, skyrocketing welfare rolls and failing services in education, health and our basic infrastructure should be ample proof to every American that losing the federal government from time to time is not only not a big deal, but losing more of it, for longer periods of time, but just be the ticket to a more prosperous and productive America.

The same cannot be said if our entrepreneurs don’t show up for work.  They would be sorely missed, and the rest of us would be in big trouble figuring out how to grow our own food and dig for crude oil in our backyards.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why I will NEVER own a Cell Phone, or be on Facebook, or....

While lecturing at Penn State University this week I happened to mention to the audience that I do not own a cell phone and that I am not on Facebook or Twitter. 
Given the looks on the student's faces, I might as well have told them that I am an escaped Martian that has been hiding under the Earth living off of tree roots and cigarette butts for the past 3,022 years. 
So be it.
On the day of, and day after my lecture, I took some time to go hiking in the mountains of beautiful Pennsylania.  It was about 55 degrees outside, the leaves were at near peak in color and on both occasions I was the only living soul on the trail. 
My wife (back home in Florida) knew that I was going to be hiking those days but she also knew that if I fell off the side of a mountain or was attacked by an angry groundhog there would be no last "Goodbye, honey, tell the kids I love them....." over the phone or Facebook update showing the groundhog chewing through by leg.  There would be nothing until some other hiker stumbled across my body and then posted his or her findings on Facebook while cell-phoning the authorities about a dead dude in the woods.
So be it.  That is what life insurance is for.  And that is what life is for....
By the latter remark I mean without a cellphone I am able to - wait for it....... - ENJOY MY LIFE.
Unlike the rest of the 99.99999438% of the world I get to explore the woods, drive down the road, go to the store, watch football games, vacation with my family and a million other things without the constant societal pressure to be "connected" to everyone out there who I am "supposed" to update on what type of granola bar I am eating on top of some mountain.   I get to sit on a rock looking out at a beautiful valley of fall colors, talk to God, think about life and relax (remember that word?).
No one gets to know exactly where I am, what I am doing, what I am thinking, or anything.  I get to enjoy that last vestige of sanity-creating PEACE and QUIET any time I want.
For those of you who are cellphone junkies, you can probably not even remember the last time you got to enjoy a meal, or engage in a meaningful conversation with someone, can you?
Consider this...
Last weekend I went out to dinner with my wife and great friends of ours to celebrate my friends' birthday.
At a table nearby was another couple who NEVER put down their cell phones the entire meal.  I did not see them talk eye to eye once.  All they did was peck away on their phones like mindless chickens in a barnyard.
During our meal we were constantly talking, laughing and carrying on.  At one point, I saw the female at the barnyard chicken table shoot us a hateful glance after one particular loud round of laughing.  I guess our enjoyment of one another as human beings was disturbing her Facebook updates about her date with the guy she was not talking to.
I see stuff like this all the time.  At the airport on my way home I saw many parents, face down in their phones, while their kids went along with no interaction whatsoever.
Of course, I could go on and on but you get the idea.
In case you are saying, "Hey hypocrite, you are blogging right now while you could be hanging out with your family!"
It is 7:58am, they are still asleep, and at no point during their waking hours today will they have to compete with a stupid cell phone. 
You should try my life.  You might find that you will end up having a life.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Abolishing student aid could force schools to lower prices - wisdom from a former student

New Voices:

By Holly Jean Soto (economics major, George Mason University) Special to the Orlando Sentinel
Abolish government financial aid for students.
My dear friend, who is a statistics major and a government-aid borrower, is fearful of this statement.
"Don't try to get rid of that," he says. "I need that money for school."
What he fails to realize, as I am sure many other  federal-student aid borrowers do, is that getting rid of aid would improve the lives of American students today.
The first harsh reality that student borrowers fail to see is that any government giving begins with government taking away. Government is the only institution legally allowed to take by force.
Government does not send a letter to each American saying, "Hello, fellow American, would you like to take a fraction of your income to fund another person's education?" No. It is taken, whether I'm willing to contribute or not.
Another harsh reality of students taking government aid is that progress, efficiency and effectiveness don't begin with someone else's money.
If students had to pay for school out of their own pockets, we would see fewer students hanging around campus on their 100th credit hour still trying to decide on their majors, fewer students accepting C's and D's as passing grades, and more students going into successful majors.
Also, we would see a portion of students concluding at a faster rate that they would benefit more in an occupation than in school.
Why is all this true? Because it is the students' own money on the line.
Now some people may have concluded that students' providing the funds for their own education allows them to reach a better long-term result, but it is still difficult for students to pay out of their own pockets because tuition is too high.
However, the final harsh reality is that when we participate in taking away from another to pursue our own dream of a college education, we engage in the same act that raises the cost of education. Colleges see that more students than ever before are attending their institutions because the students are able to pay for it with someone else's money.
The CollegeBoard Advocacy & Policy Center in its "Trends in Student Aid 2012" report, found that during the 2011-12 academic year, $236.7 billion in financial aid was distributed to undergraduate and graduate students in the form of grants from all sources. Also, students borrowed $8.1 billion from private, state and institutional sources to help finance their education.
The report also states that in 2011-12, undergraduate students received 98 percent of federal grant aid, 99 percent of state grant aid and 67 percent of federal loans.
As long as these statistics remain so, colleges will continue to raise their prices. What do students with financial aid care? They are not the ones paying those fees.
If we were to abolish financial aid for students, at first we would see fewer students going to college because of lack of funding.
However, colleges and universities observing a lower student population on their campuses, and observing that students who pay out of their own pockets would attend their school when tuition cost is low, would now compete with other schools to offer the lowest possible price.
Ultimately, even the poorest of families would attend school at their own expense because getting rid of government financial aid gives universities the incentive to compete, and just as with any product or service, when competition breaks out, suppliers lower their prices.
If a 21-year-old student can understand the harsh realities of federal financial assistance, why can't the rest of American students?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Moral Case for Legalizing Organ Sales

 Several years ago, one of my all-time favorite football players (Walter Payton) died because he was not allowed to use his wealth to fight for his life. What follows is my Op-Ed in today's Orlando Sentinel.  I hope you enjoy it.

I am often asked by students in my classes to address certain goods and services that are illegal to consume in America, but perhaps should be legal.  Of course, when this question - from my mostly teenaged audience comes up, they expect me to dive into drugs, gambling and other vices.
To shake them up a bit, I often begin my answer by asking them a question:

“If a stranger approached you on the street today and offered you $50,000 for one of your healthy kidneys, would you accept their offer?”
My students find this to be an odd way to begin a discussion of government interference in the marketplace, but they end up learning about a law that has helped ruin the lives of countless Americans.

30 years ago Congressman Al Gore offered up a bill that made the buying and selling of human organs punishable by up to five years in prison or a large fine.  The bill became law in 1984 and with its passage the official price of all of the organs in our body equaled zero dollars.
Of course, as we learned in the former Soviet Union, “official prices” and market prices are two entirely different things.  We also learned that when official prices (set by government) are below market prices it is inevitable that shortages and black markets will emerge.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, as of September 27th, there were 119,115 Americans on the national waiting list for transplantable organs.  Data from the Health Resources and Services Administration reveals that of that figure, 97,896 people on the national list are waiting for kidney transplants.  Moreover, the data reveals that 18 people die every day in America while waiting for an organ transplant.

It does not have to be this way.

 The problem is not that there are not enough organs.  After all, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 2 million Americans die every year.  The problem is that the price of organs is not allowed to rise to a level that will encourage more of us to act.
Out of those 2 million deaths, there are probably enough healthy organs buried or cremated to give the 119,000 – plus Americans who are suffering a chance to have a healthy life. 

Relying on moral suasion to get people to donate organs is not working.  When offered zero dollars for our body parts, rational humans often opt to hang on to our organs rather than do the morally-right thing and donate them.

But what if, for example, you could contract to sell your organs after you die, or in the case of kidneys, while you are alive?

Imagine your life insurance carrier offering you an extra $100,000 in coverage for your organs when you perish.  Your benefactors would be better off, as would the insurance company who sells them for say, $150,000 to hospitals in the area.  The hospitals in turn sell them for $200,000 to various patients who would be willing and able to pay.

How many people, if given the choice of waiting and suffering in the hope they find a kidney would buy one for several thousand dollars if they were given the opportunity to do so?  How many people – enticed by money – would gladly offer their organs up for sale?  It is not hard to imagine, given the far greater deaths than there are people waiting for organs, a large surplus that would emerge fairly quickly, suppressing prices and helping even more people afford a chance to survive.

In the case of kidneys, doctors tell us we only need one to live a normal life.  As a free human being I should be allowed to part with one of my kidneys while I am alive for any price I find agreeable.  After all, women can sell their eggs to help create life.  What is the difference then, if I sell my kidney to save a life?

In 2011, after a series of court challenges by a woman whose daughters suffered from Fanconi anemia, the federal government legalized the selling of bone marrow.  People are now allowed to earn $3,000 in the form of vouchers for things like housing and education as an enticement to help save lives.

Unfortunately, for the tens of thousands of other sufferers there is no end in sight to the violation of their rights to offer compensation for kidneys and other organs.  

The time has come to end this suffering by allowing the forces of supply and demand to work.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Thoughts on September 11, 2001 - nine days after..

On September 20, 2001 - nine days after the Twin Towers were destroyed - Valencia College hosted a forum on terrorism that was filmed. 

On this 12th anniversary of the day that changed everything I thought you might want to watch what people were saying only nine days after "the day".

Your comments, as always, are encouraged.

Here is the link:

Friday, September 6, 2013

Our "Safety-first" Society is turning us into Sissies

Yesterday was supposed to be a very fun day in my household. 
At 5PM my two sons were scheduled to play their first football game together as members of a local junior varsity squad.
At 8:30PM we were scheduled to be sitting in my game room as the new NFL season got underway.
So much for schedules.
With about 38 seconds to go in the first half of their game, my youngest son intercepted a pass to give his team a huge momentum swing.
Then, our new age of over-zealous, over-careful, over-protective, over-reaching, "lets all run and hide from everything that might get us" society took over and killed the momentum.
Back to that in a moment.
Back in the 1970's and early 80's when I was growing up in small-town, Oklahoma, I recall that pretty much every day of my life was spent without parents, lawyers, teachers, school officials, police, the FBI or anyone else watching us as we were outside playing.
We played tackle football every Saturday in the Fall and never saw one adult standing by with a first-aid kit or set of rules for us to go by.  We bled, we ached, we sometimes fought, but we were allowed to figure things out on our own, wipe away the blood on our own and proceed in our implicit journey towards becoming young men. 
During the spring we played baseball without thousands of pages of rules and safety precautions.  We were allowed, while one batter was batting, to stand in the "on-deck circle" a few feet away.  We were allowed, while running the bases, to run over an opposing player who got in our way.  I recall once, as catcher for my pony-league team, getting run over by a bigger kid who launched me several feet in the air.
My coach's response?  "Don't stand in the baseline next time."  And that was it.  No ejections, no speed-dialing an attorney, no parents screaming about the unfairness of it all.
During the summers we would get on our bikes and ride - with no helmets - several miles out into the countryside to an abandoned gravel pit.  The company had left years earlier and all there was left was a huge hole in the ground with man-made cliffs surrounding it.  From the cliff to the water below was about 20 feet.  We would take our bikes, ride as fast as we could and do our best Evel Knievel impersonation by flying off the cliff into the sparkling water below.
Years later we would drive our cars and trucks down highway 93 to the Frasier Creek bridge and take turns jumping off the bridge into the creek below.  The distance of our drop?  About 50 feet.
I could go on and on about the times we played outside during lighting, rain, small hail, tornado warnings, dust storms and so forth but I need to get back to my son's game yesterday.
Right after my boys' interception the dreaded "lightning alarm" went off, indicating that somewhere between the field and Northern Africa a lighting bolt had hit.  So, we all were told to take cover for the "mandatory" 30-minute wait before it would be clear to play. 
This being Florida, lighting kept hitting here and there so we waited and waited.  At 7PM the signal was sent to go back out.  4.1 miles away, at about 7:01 one more bolt hit and the game was called due to this "safety concern".  Of course that was the last strike, the sun came out, people sat around chatting and nothing happened but the kids on the team once again learned that "Oh, my gosh, at all cost and no matter what, the safety of our poor children must, did I mention at all cost, come first!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Heaven forbid we ever look at the fact that the odds of being struck by lightning is 1 in 700,000 according to the National Geographic Society.
The odds of being murdered?  1 in 18,000.
It gets better.  73 people a year die in America from lightning.  153 people a year die worldwide from falling coconuts.
The other odds of dying?

Heart disease
1 in 5
1 in 7
1 in 24
1 in 38
1 in 63
Car accidents
1 in 84
1 in 119
Accidental poisoning
1 in 193
MRSA (resistant bacteria)
1 in 197
1 in 218
1 in 1,134
Bike accident
1 in 4,919
Air/space accident
1 in 5,051
Excessive cold
1 in 6,045
Sun/heat exposure
1 in 13,729
1 in 60,453
1 in 79, 746
Train crash
1 in 156,169
1 in 340,733

There you have it folks - My kids had a better chance of having a heart attack while riding in a car driven by someone with the flu who was trying to murder them for lighting fireworks while eating cancer-causing food than they did of being hit and killed by lightning.

By the way, did I mention that when we got home to watch the Broncos-Ravens game we had to wait 33 minutes because of a lightning delay?

Some day, historians will marvel at how our nation went from being one brave enough to fight off the British Empire to one that would eventually have to tell our enemies to please wait until it stopped lighting before resuming battle.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

America’s Critical Shortage of Character


What follows is my column from today's Orlando Sentinel
By now the entire world is well aware of the story of the three teenagers who gunned down Christopher Lane, a 22-year old Australian attending college in Oklahoma.

That such a cold-blooded, senseless killing could take place is numbing to the mind of any rational, decent human being.

The problem is, rational, decent human beings are becoming increasingly scarce in the United States – and I am afraid our modern definition of human liberty is partly to blame.

I often ask my students to define the word “liberty” in short essay form. Predictably, most of the answers dovetail towards the idea that we all have the right to do whatever we want to do in a free country. When I ask them where the phrase “personal responsibility” and the rights of others enters into their definition of liberty I most often get blank stares.

A few students will manage to eventually say that liberty means our right to do anything peaceful as long as we do not harm another human being. Even fewer get the connection between liberty and bearing responsibility for all of our choices.

In essence, many Americans today believe that we should be allowed to do anything we want – and someone else should take responsibility for the poor decisions we make. Moreover, it means that in today’s America, we believe we should be able to pursue whatever makes us happy without consequences, commentary or criticism.

How else, for example, do you explain how many of today’s young male Americans dress and entertain themselves? They walk around with the tops of their pants around their thighs, their skin covered with tattoos, ill-fitting baseball caps on their heads and various body piercings. They drive cars that incessantly blast all sorts of vile music at ear-splitting decibel levels.

Meanwhile, as economists have increasingly observed, more of those young “men” are failing to finish school, are often only marginally attached to the labor force while being significantly attached to their parents homes, the criminal justice system and/or the welfare state.

Unfortunately, the story is not much better for young women. How often have you heard girls of today using language that would make a sailor blush? When was the last time you saw a younger female dressed with anything approaching modesty? You get the point.

It is not just the young folks who seem to have abandoned any sense of honor or integrity.

How often do we read about the failings of our business leaders, politicians, public servants and parents in carrying out their duties in an honorable fashion?

While I am the first to defend businesses and the profit motive, I must admit that these are not good times for liberty-loving supporters of capitalism.

Today, our economy has been high-jacked by the Crony-Capitalists – those corporations who have learned how to rig the formerly free enterprise system into one where lobbyists line the halls of Washington, D.C. to steal the taxpayers money or rig the economic system to keep other competitors out of the market.

This is accomplished, of course, with the assistance of politicians from both parties who actively create laws, regulations and taxes that punish the virtuous and rewards those who have learned how to effectively engage in legalized plunder.

Today, over 47 million Americans live on food stamps. Almost half no longer pay any income taxes. Fully two-thirds of all federal tax dollars received by the Treasury end up as a transfer to another person in our growing welfare state.

While we have only 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of its prisoners.

Our public schools continue to rank at, or near the bottom, in scholastic achievement. And on and on…

Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Alike for the nation, and the individual, the one indispensable requisite is character - character that does and dares as well as endures, character that is active in the performance of virtue no less than firm in the refusal to do aught that is vicious or degraded."

The teens who murdered an innocent man for doing nothing more than jogging are simply symptomatic of a nation that has stood by and tolerated the erosion of virtue in our homes and in our institutions in favor of a definition of freedom that is devoid of personal integrity.

Until that changes, expect more senseless crimes in our “free” country.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

When Summer was Easy

As I prepare to take a break from, well, everything, I came across this terrific article that puts modern America in an interesting perspective.  I hope you will take the time to read it, reflect upon it, comment on it and pass it around.  Enjoy the rest of the summer.  If I am alive when September arrives I will chat with you again then...

By Dave Shiflett, July 5, 2013 Wall Street Journal

[image]Of all the seasons, summer seems to evoke the most childhood memories, probably because of its singular status as the Season of No School! Ah, the freedom to frolic beyond the reach of scolding teachers and paddle-wielding assistant principals, to pursue the idle arts of cloud-gazing, star-counting, making firefly lanterns and perhaps even skinny-dipping with an adventurous cheerleader (or, more likely, her less-glamorous cousin).
As we grow older (I was born in 1955, during Eisenhower's first term), we are naturally inclined to compare summers then with summers now. To no one's surprise, many of us, from the heights of our knowledge, wisdom and middle-age distemper, find that summers aren't what they used to be.
Let us count a few of the ways.
First off, most of us born in the '50s spent summers in the raw, sweltering bosom of Mother Nature, which, with all due respect, wasn't exactly paradise, especially when the mosquitoes started feeding. Home air-conditioners were rare; only about 10% of homes had them by 1965 (around 80% of modern homes are climate-controlled). When it got hot, you turned on a fan. When it got real hot, you prayed for a thunderstorm.
People prayed a lot more back then, at least publicly, perhaps in part because it was still legal. At my public school in Roanoke, Va., we started each day with the Lord's Prayer, and heads bowed prior to most sporting events, weenie roasts and any other occasion where food was consumed. We were also likely to Praise The Lord when the DDT-spewing antimosquito fogger appeared on the horizon (haven't seen one of those in a while). This was, of course, the era of Mutual Assured Destruction, so it was important to have your bases covered at all times.
Also unlike today, we didn't watch much television during summer break. There were only three channels, and TV played a far-distant fiddle to the preferred vehicles of entertainment and enlightenment: books. We might be out of school, but we had summer reading lists, which these days don't seem to be as rigorous. A National Education Association newsletter noted a couple of years ago that middle-school students in the Arlington Central School District outside New York City were required to read at least one book during the summer. One whole book!
I recall (dimly) reading 40 books one summer—some assigned and some part of a local library program. This wasn't our only bookish experience. For many children in our neck of the woods, Vacation Bible School was a requirement of citizenship (VBS participation is also down). Besides dispensing cookies, watermelon and Kool-Aid, these programs focused young minds on talking snakes, parting seas and Jezebel's dangerous allure. We still sang "Onward Christian Soldiers," which was excellent preparation for many an afternoon's chief activity: playing war with toy guns.
Contemporary gunophobes will gasp, but guns were as common as iPhones are today. Most boys I knew had at least one toy rifle, pistol or submachine gun (preferably, one of each). We took our marching orders from guys like Kirby in "Combat!" (Kirb was the Baryshnikov of the Browning automatic rifle), Illya Kuryakin of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." (played by David McCallum, who has devolved into the mild-mannered Ducky of "NCIS") and of course the indomitable Sgt. Rock of comic-book fame. As we grew older we got BB-rifles, which were used (one cringes to recall) to reduce the local bird population and harass squirrels and other creatures further down the Great Chain of Being (we were all devout speciesists). We later graduated to .22s and shotguns; summer camps had rifle ranges and offered National Rifle Association gun-safety courses.
These days—when a 14-year-old West Virginia student can be arrested and suspended from school for refusing to take off his NRA T-shirt—a high body count would be assumed. I am happy to report that no member of my heavily armed circle ever shot anyone, though honesty requires the admission that one summer afternoon I did manage to shoot myself.
It happened after a small but heavily armed platoon of us was dropped off at a rural lake for an overnight camping trip. As I was taking a drag from a cigarette (essential to looking cool back then), my pistol fell off a nearby bench and discharged, blasting the Marlboro from between my fingers, cutting a groove in my right index finger and nearly trimming the tip of my nose.
Some readers may wonder why parents weren't hauled into court for sending their sons into the woods with loaded weapons. As it happens, my parents, who had earlier been traumatized when my older brother threw a spear into my back (it stuck, but only for a few seconds), are learning of the shooting incident for the first time as they read this article.
The larger fact is that, by today's standards, most parents of that era deserved to do time at Leavenworth. What sinners they were! They sent us outside without sunscreen, let us ride bikes without helmets and jump on trampolines without "safety barriers," and smiled as we vied with our siblings for the premier spot in the family sedan: the ledge underneath the back window, where you could stretch out and take a nap.
This isn't to say that they didn't run a tight ship. When we got out of line we were "corrected" with the help of leather belts or expertly wielded hairbrushes (known in some households as "Officer Porcupine"). If we cussed (about which more in a minute), we got our mouths washed out with soap. If someone had told us that a few decades hence parents could be arrested for such manifestations of concern, we would have assumed the commies had made good on their promise of world domination.
Yet back then, fixating on possible death and injury would be seen as neurotic. Perhaps this was because our parents had been through the Great Depression and World War II, which made postwar life seem relatively placid. Accidents happened, but they were accepted as part of life.
Another personal story illustrates the point. One summer I got a job on a local farm, where I was soon run over by a tractor and hay trailer, which drove ribs into both my lungs. Though I was initially thought to be dead, a crack team of surgeons revived me. Being young and resilient, I was out of the hospital in a little over a week.
We never sued the farm owners. Lawsuits were far rarer than today. "Ambulance chaser" was an epithet with a significant societal sting. Fewer than 90,000 civil cases were filed in 1970, according to public policy analyst Jürgen O. Skoppek, a number that by 1986 had risen 192%. These days we're suing each other over mold, hailed as the "next asbestos." None of which, to my mind, represents progress.
Summers past also looked a lot different. Around 13% of Americans were obese in the early 1960s, as compared with 36% today (about two-thirds of contemporary Americans are considered overweight or obese), which can make a trip to the beach a jarring experience.
The seashore of my youth was populated by people who were, relative to now, fairly thin. Huge people were rare: If you weighed in at 350 pounds or more you had a good crack at getting a job at the freak show (a staple of traveling summer carnivals). Nowadays beaches are covered with human manatees (I should disclose that I could be considered a junior manatee). This may be a testament, in part, to the self-esteem movement, which routed the notion that body size should be a cause of shame. Or maybe it's simply another reminder that there's safety in numbers.
Another cosmetic change: tattoos, which were largely confined to men with military or maritime experience, and bikers. Nowadays, according to a Harris Poll, 38% of adults 30 to 39 have tats, as do 30% of those 25 to 29 and 22% of those 18 to 24. Inked women slightly outnumber men. By comparison, only 11% of Americans 50 to 64 say they have tattoos, a number that drops to 5% for Americans 65 and older.
Why the proliferation of body ink? Twenty-five percent say tattoos make them feel "rebellious," like growing long hair back in the 1960s, while 30% say that they make them feel more sexy, 21% more attractive or strong and 8% more intelligent. Meanwhile, 45% of Americans without tattoos believe those who have them are less attractive, while 39% say they're less sexy and 27% less intelligent.
Of course, you could always cut your long hair if you got tired of it or faced an unexpected court date. Getting rid of a tattoo is not so easy, though 86% of tattoo bearers said that they have never regretted their decision, perhaps belying the idea that the younger generation has commitment issues.
Modern beaches are also different intellectually. When I was a kid, you saw lots of thinner people reading fat books. Now you see larger people staring at thin phones. Many are no doubt chronicling the adventures of their favorite literary character—themselves—updating their Facebook accounts with descriptions of eating Oreos, watching a seagull peck the eye out of a dead fish and spending 15 minutes the prior evening flushing the sand from between their massive glutes. It's almost enough to make one pity the NSA snoops who might be called upon to monitor these communications, thus putting themselves at extreme risk of acute inanity poisoning.
Which brings up another significant change: the rise of the wildly popular salutation/exhortation/denunciation/benediction known as the F-word, which not so long ago was the hydrogen bomb of obscenities, used primarily by men in combat, stevedores and golfers. Now it traipses lightly off the tongues of 14-year-olds at the slightest provocation—should that seagull, for example, hop over and steal a potato chip. Should cell coverage lapse, the oratory might match that of a pirate whose beard had caught afire.
Many oldsters blame rap music and Hollywood for this loss of a great tradition of selective cursing, but I would point instead to the deeply mundane existence of today's adolescents, nowhere more in evidence than during the long months of summer. Could the F-infestation be, at least in part, an attempt to dramatize lives made dull by design—a design requiring mandatory bicycle helmets, risk-free trampolines, pools without diving boards and now an attempt to drop the presumptive drunk-driving alcohol level to 0.05%, which some people can reach with a single glass of wine?
As always, proponents argue that if one life can be saved, it's worth it, though if that's their key concern, they might also focus their hysteria on such threats as falling out of bed, which claims around 600 American lives a year, according to Time magazine, and autoerotic asphyxiation, which takes another 1,000 citizens to early graves, according to WebMD.
Hypercaution has saved lives, but it has diminished life in the bargain.
Summers saw other enormous changes. In August 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, which became as familiar to my generation as the Declaration of Independence. The Summer of Love in 1967 spread the gospel of getting high, enlightening some and blighting others, while in July 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the moon, a testament to aiming high. Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974, AIDS was formally recognized by U.S. health authorities in June 1981. Along the way, summers saw the passing of national figures, ranging from Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford to Judy Garland, Jonas Salk, Jim Morrison and Jerry Garcia.
There were also personnel changes closer to home. Adults who seemed immortal in our youthful summers had their brushes with disease and death. Ditto for some cousins, friends and siblings—and ourselves. We rarely know the names of current bands, usually go to bed when we used to be going out, and say things like "I'd rather get a colonoscopy—make that a double colonoscopy!—than go camping."
Still, for all our nostalgia, we have accepted some of the changes that make modern summers so different from summers past. Should the sun suddenly blink off, for example, we might acknowledge this as a significant setback for our species—but a giant leap forward in the battle against sun-related cancers and premature wrinkling.
And just the other day, I was thinking that if my family had more progressive ideas about lawsuits when I got run over that long-ago June, I might today be living on a very nice farm.