Lance Armstrong and the Media

So Lance Armstrong is all over the news again, this time because he allegedly confessed to Oprah yesterday in an interview to air at a later date that he did use performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) during his cycling career.

Honestly I think this illustrates a problem that has more to do with our media and how we judge what is important than it does with Lance Armstrong and what he did.

Of course I should say here for the record that no cyclist should rely on the use of PEDs to advance their career blah blah blah, and that it was wrong, blah blah.

The thing is that all cyclists who are well-known probably use PEDs. And the events with Lance Armstrong occurred many years ago. Some as long as 15 years ago. Lance was really good at not getting caught. And most likely he has a huge ego-driven urge to prove himself because of the extent he went to to sustain his lies. That is his issue and now his karma to deal with.
Lance Armstrong Headshot (BlackWhite)

However, since that time, Lance Armstrong took the money that he got from cycling and he used it to create the Livestrong organization that has helped millions of people to overcome their own cancer and to improve their lives.

In the main Lance Armstrong has done a lot of good for the world. By comparison his cheating in a sport and lying about it afterwards are pretty minuscule. It’s a sport in the end.

People say well the organization is based on a lie! How can I believe him now he lied to me! But the truth is, even with the PEDs he still overcame cancer and he still had to ride the races and win them. He still had to create the organization and run it.

So I wonder why the media is all over this, their need to air the details hourly, and crush Lance Armstrong like a bug into dust until he confesses in a fit of tears or whatever in a press conference and pays back the money and we can all go righteously on our way because we saved the world from a guy who cheated in a sport and then lied about it.

I want the same news coverage for the corporate CEOs and financial business people and military hawks who truly do bad things to the world. Who decimate our planet and plunder its resources, and who indiscriminately kill innocent people all over the world to advance some agenda they have and satisfy their greed. And then lie to us and say it’s to further peace in the world, and to spread democracy, and we all have to sacrifice.

Those are the people who are truly bad. They are the ones killing the planet and the people who live here and there is not a word of real coverage about this, and they are not going to have to go to prison or pay back the planet or the families of the dead people. Where is the righteous indignation for these guys?

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Lance Armstrong is just a guy with a big ego problem and he did some questionable and wrong things on a public stage. But in the main he’s not that bad a guy, and the media should focus on more important things.

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Rx Insanity

I haven’t posted in awhile, it’s been busy around here all through this long hot summer. Today I wanted to share this experience with you because it seems insane to me and I don’t understand why things have to be this way.

I take a prescription medication for an underactive thyroid. I have to take it every day for the rest of my life.

Over the past year I have been filling this prescription through a pharmacy in Canada because they let me have 100 pills for $34 dollars and they send the prescription to me through the mail. I can order 200 hundred pills at once.

That’s .34 cents per pill.

Today I decided to fill the prescription at the local pharmacy because it is so hot outside I think it may affect the the integrity of the dosage to have it mailed and sitting around in postal trucks and mailboxes. Thyroid medication has to be precise or you get really sick so this is an important consideration when the temperature in the sun is over 120 degrees.

At the pharmacy they informed me that if I use my insurance they can only let me have 30 pills at a time, and that these 30 pills will cost $22.17. So I can go down there every month to refill the prescription, and altogether using this system 100 pills will cost me $73.87.

This is approximately .74 cents per pill.

It’s also a major pain for me to have to do this over and over for no good reason.

When I informed them that I wished to have 100 pills like the doctor wrote on the prescription and not use my insurance, they charged me $127.67.

This is the same rate somebody who didn’t have insurance at all would pay. It’s $53.80 more than somebody who has insurance will pay, and $93.67 more than I can get them for by ordering them from Canada.

It’s $1.28 per pill.

Keep in mind that the US first sells these same pills to Canada at a profit before Canada sells them back to me at the .34 cents per pill price. It’s the exact same stock bottle with the American label on the bottle.

This is insurance in America and it sucks. There is no possible way that health is a more important consideration than profit.

Health Care

Recently I discovered Roger Ebert’s blog. I think most people know who he is, but in case you don’t, he used to have a TV show where he and his partner Siskel rated movies. Roger Ebert got cancer and got to where he couldn’t talk. Now he types. His blog is really good.

On August 20 he wrote a piece about the health care debate that pretty much sums up what I think. He called it “I’m Safe on Board. Pull up the Life Rope” . I like how he fights back against the christians who like to hide behind their religion while proclaiming their morality. You know, the ones who don’t walk their talk.

Anyway, I’m copying the text here in it’s entirety. You can click the links above to find his original entry.

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I’m Safe on Board. Pull up the Life Rope – by Roger Ebert

Having read through some 600 comments about universal health care, I now realize I took the wrong approach in my previous blog entry. I discussed the Obama health plan in political, literal, logical terms. Most of my readers replied in the same vein. The comments, as always, have been helpful, informative and for the most part civil. My mistake was writing from the pragmatic side. I should have followed my heart and gone with a more emotional approach. I believe universal health care is, quite simply, right.

It is a moral imperative. I cannot enjoy health coverage and turn to my neighbor and tell him he doesn’t deserve it. A nation is a mutual undertaking. In a democracy, we set out together to do what we believe is good for the commonwealth. That means voluntarily subjecting ourselves to the rule of law, taxation, military service, the guaranteeing of rights to minorities, and so on. That is a cheap price to pay.

As I’ve read through of those comments (and I’ve posted all but two I received), one thing jumped from the page at me: The unusually high number of comments from other countries. Canadians were particularly well-represented. Although we’re assured by opponents of the Obama legislation that Canada’s system of universal care is a failure, all of these Canadians, without exception, reported their enthusiasm for their nation’s system. One reader said her mother choose to fly to California to get a knee replacement more quickly, but even she praised the Canadian system.

They said reports of waiting times may be true with semi-elective surgeries, like hip or knee replacement, especially in more populous areas. But they’re able to see a physician with a minimal wait in cases of need. They are treated quickly and competently, at very little cost other than personal expenses and the graduated scale of quarterly premium payments. Similar messages came from the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Holland, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Greece and Germany. Everyone is pleased.

But that, too, is an argument to reason. What so many of these messages also made was an argument to morality. They were astonished that the United State is alone among all developed nations in refusing such coverage to its citizens. A Canadian wrote that it benefits his entire society that its citizens have access to universal care. By making preventative medicine freely available, it lowers the cost of chronic illness. By making early diagnosis possible, it prevents many diseases from reaching a fatal stage. By making mental health care and medication available to those who need it (and who are often unemployable), it avoids the American system where many such people are abandoned to the streets or to the care of their overtaxed families.

Many of my readers opposed the Obama plan, some of them in great detail. I will not try to simplify their arguments; you can read them for yourself. But here, in broad outline, are some of their most common statements, and my responses:

It is “socialized medicine.” Yes, it is. The entire society shares the cost. It does not replace private medicine. Just as in the UK and Canada, for example, we would remain free to choose our own insurance policies and private physicians. But it is the safety net for everyone.

It is “socialism.” Again, yes. The word socialism, however, has lost its usefulness in this debate. It has been tainted, perhaps forever, by the malevolent Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who succeeded somehow in linking it with the godless Commies. America is the only nation in the free world in which “socialism” is generally thought of in negative terms. The only nation in which that word, in and of itself, is thought to bring the discussion to a close.

It is wrong for ideological or philosophical reasons. Readers have written about their belief in Federalism, Free Market Capitalism, strict Constitutionalism, personal liberty, Libertarianism, and so on. To one of these readers I wrote something like: “Do you think your views on federalism will be of much interest to unemployed wage-earners unable to obtain coverage for their families?” To another, I wrote: “I hope your philosophy will be of comfort if you develop a serious illness.”

One reader said that the only things the Constitution guarantees us are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and Congress should enact no laws about anything else. Actually, it’s the Declaration of independence that mentions “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but never mind. Some might believe universal health care would be of great assistance in enjoying life and the pursuit of happiness. It is a peculiarity that some of those happiest to cite the Constitution are the least interested in its Bill of Rights.

Good health is a responsibility of the individual, not the state. One reader wrote that he doesn’t smoke, drinks in moderation, watches his diet, and exercises regularly. I applaud him. Statistically, this promises him an extended life span. I have never smoked, haven’t had a drink in 30 years, and walked an average of 10,000 steps a day for the five years before I underwent my first cancer surgery. A doctor once told me: “If you never get any other disease, sooner or later you will die of cancer.”

My reader says he neither has nor desires insurance coverage. He will bank his premiums in a savings account dedicated to his own health care, instead of spending them on the care of anyone else. He must have no idea what it costs to have a serious illness in this country. It will take a lot of savings. I’ve been assured by some readers, however, that I’m a rich man and have no financial worries.

A guy gets run over by a bus.

Another guy runs over and says, “Oh my God! Are you comfortable?”

First guy: “I make a living.”

True enough, I’ve earned some nice money in my life–all by paycheck, which is no way to get really rich. Also, I had group health insurance plans through my unions at both jobs. They were good plans. But during the course four major surgeries–no, make that five–I maxed out one, and so much for that policy. I’m approaching the cap on the second. Most policies aren’t unlimited, you know. Luckily, I now qualify for Medicare.

Federal Death panels would decide who lives or dies. This, very frankly, is a lie. The nearest thing we have to a death panel in the United States is an insurance company claims adjuster. Some readers wrote that they or their loved ones were denied tests or treatment by their insurance companies, especially in the case of “pre-existing conditions.” One, who had a brain tumor, says he was denied coverage of the treatment by an adjuster, as if he’d known about the tumor at the time he took out his policy some time earlier. Think about this. Unless we die violently or in an accident, we all die of a pre-existing condition. The condition is called “life.”

The Obama plan, in simplified terms, would make Medicare available to everyone. Yes, even the senior citizen at that Arizona town hall meeting who screamed at his congressman: “Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare!” He didn’t know Medicare is a federal program, and he didn’t want to know.

When I wrote my original entry, I thought there were 40 million uninsured Americans. I’m informed the number is around 47 million. Some readers have informed me: “That number is inflated!” What would be an acceptable number? Thirty million? Twenty million? How many uninsured Americans are you comfortable with?

It seems to me that universal health care is a win-win proposition. It provides an umbrella of protection for those who cannot afford or qualify for health insurance. This helps us all. Every time you learn from the news about our latest jobless statistics, consider this: A newly jobless person who was insured through an employee health plan is about to become a newly uninsured person. It’s for our mutual good that we live in a healthier society. To provide universal coverage is the moral thing to do.

I was informed that my entry was “typical liberalism.” This is correct. I am a liberal. If you are a conservative, this appears to be a difference between us: I think you should have guaranteed health insurance.

Matthew 25: 31-46

31 When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.

32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

33 and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.

34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?

38 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?

39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?”

40 And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,

43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?”

45 Then he will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.”

46 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

The Cove

One of my favorite TV shows when I was little was Flipper. It was about a wild dolphin who befriended this family and did amazing dolphin stunts for them while enforcing the law, rescuing people at sea and taking care of Sandy and Bud, the two main characters in the show.

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Here’s Flipper, actually Flipper was played by 5 different dolphins,
most of the time by a dolphin named Cathy

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Sandy and Bud

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Ric O’Barry, the trainer who personally caught all the dolphins in the show

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The TV-show house which in real life was Ric O’Barry’s house located at Miami Seaquarium

I liked the show so much I wanted to be a marine biologist for awhile. So many people liked the show so much that it started the whole industry of Seaworld and all the other sea aquariums where dolphins and whales put on shows for the public.

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The show ran for 3 years and during this time Ric O’Barry got really rich. He was considered the top dolphin trainer in the world.

He said about the show:

I captured the five dolphins that collectively played the part of Flipper. I trained all of them, from the very beginning of the first show to the last show. I lived with all five of them in the Seaquarium. And on Friday nights, at 7:30, I would take the TV set, with a long extension cord, out to the end of the dock, so Flipper could watch Flipper on television. And that’s when I knew they were self-aware. I could tell when the dolphins recognized themselves and each other. Cathy, for example, would recognize the shots she was in, Suzy would recognize her shots, and so on. Dolphins are hard to read, because you have to look at body language. Almost all other animals you can read by looking at their faces. But dolphins have this built-in “smile” that makes it look like they’re always happy.

The truth was, and still is, that dolphins in captivity are miserable. They spike their fish with Tagamet and Maalox to help relieve the pain of their ulcers from the stressful conditions they live under.

Anyway, the turning point for Ric O’Barry came when his favorite “Flipper” dolphin Cathy died. He explains this in the movie The Cove, and here is an excerpt from an interview in New York Entertainment where he explains how.

How did your ideas about captivity turn around?
Cathy died in my arms, of suicide. It was just before Earth Day, 1970. The next day, I found myself in a Bimini jail, trying to free a dolphin for the first time. I completely lost it.

How do you know it was suicide?
You have to understand, dolphins are not automatic air breathers like we are. Every breath for them is a conscious effort. She looked me right in the eye, took a breath, held it — and she didn’t take another one. She just sank to the bottom of the water. That had a profound effect on me.

And now, for the last 30 years, O’Barry has been trying to undo what he basically started. He goes around the world trying to free as many dolphins as he can in as many places as he can and tries to bring as much awareness as possible to the horrors that lie behind these businesses.

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Photo from The Cove, produced by the Oceanic Preservation Society

The movie The Cove talks about all of this in general, but focuses mostly on the Japanese city of Taiji, where dolphins are rounded up between September and March in huge numbers.

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In these fishing boats they round up the dolphins by putting long metal pipes into the water and banging on the pipes with hammers – because dolphins are hyper-sensitive to sound, and because it is their primary sense, it is easy to herd them in the direction they want

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No doubt they want to keep everyone away from the area

The first day the dolphins are caught they are sold to sea aquariums. Trainers and buyers come from all over the world to select the animals they want, usually young females, and pay $150,000 apiece for them.

The Cove in Taiji, Japan tucked away in a National Park and is a

On the second day, the dolphins who are not sold are rounded up into this cove

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Under the cover of darkness they begin to kill EVERY SINGLE DOLPHIN

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It’s sick and disgusting. Seriously, what is wrong with humans? To get these photos the team of people working on the movie had to cross over rows of razor wire using night vision goggles and hide cameras in fake rocks so as not to be discovered. Literally they made this movie at risk to their lives.

They kill 23,000 dolphins every year in Taiji, Japan.

After this, the nightmare continues as the dolphin meat is unknowingly sold to the Japanese as whale meat. The allowable level for mercury in fish is .4 parts per million. Dolphin meat from Taiji has a 2000 ppm contamination level of mercury. One of their government plans to get rid of the meat was to give the food to their school children as part of their compulsory school lunch program. In interviews the Japanese public were unaware all this was going on.

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Toward the end of the movie O’Barry walked into an International Whaling Commission meeting with a TV strapped to his chest playing a loop of the carnage that goes on in Taiji. A really brave way to stage a peaceful protest.

Anyway, this movie deserves support and the word needs to get out about this. To find out more about what you can do go to takepart.com/thecove .

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Ric O’Barry today, who said if he had really been aware of what was going on at the time during the TV show Flipper and where it was all headed, he would have not looked away but would have, and should have, set all the dolphins free

Food, Inc.

Yesterday we went to see the movie Food, Inc. It’s not exactly a fun light-hearted movie, but on the other hand, if you eat food and live in America you should try to see this movie as soon as possible.

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The movie exposes the industrialized food system in America and the effect it has on the environment, our health, the economy and worker’s rights. It ain’t a pretty picture, as they say.

You’ll never look at dinner the same way.

If you don’t know what industrialized food is, it’s mostly everything sold in the middle part of a grocery store that comes in a box. Estimates are there are 47,000 food products in the average supermarket. Most of it is industrialized food that is created in a chemical laboratory and is designed to have long shelf life and never rot. While normal food spoils in a few hours or days if left on a shelf,  industrial food can sit in your pantry for months virtually unchanged and show almost no signs of degradation.

All the following pictures are from the movie.

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This is the owner of Polyface Farms, where cows live in and eat grass like they were designed to do.

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These are feedlot cows standing in piles of manure. This is where US beef comes from. (Not sure why I could only find a picture like this with the lines across.)

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This lady was a Perdue Farms chicken grower. Perdue wanted her to change her barn with the windows to the new type where the chickens live in complete darkness their whole lives. She didn’t want to and ended up losing her contract after allowing the film crews into her chicken barn.

The movie talks about a lot of different topics including high fructose corn syrup, treating chickens, cows and pigs as commodities instead of living, breathing animals, the growing prevalence of E Coli 0157 and it’s relationship to cows eating corn instead of grass, Monsanto, federal farm subsidies, how the ability to buy healthy food in America (ie. not industrialized or fast food) has more to do with economic status than anything else, how all this affects the environment, etc. It’s a pretty bleak picture.

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Chickens as commodities: in 1950 it took 68 days to grow a chicken, in 2008 it takes 47 days to grow one that is really huge thanks to hormones and antibiotics. The 2008 chickens can’t stand up because their bones are too weak from growing so fast and having to support so much unnatural weight.

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Inside a processing plant.

Then at the end the movie leaves you on a positive note by giving you 10 things you can do to help change this. Some of the most important ones are to buy local, in-season, organic food and reduce your intake of animal flesh.

As they say in the movie, you vote 3 times a day by the food you eat, and consumer choice is the biggest factor by far to make changes in the US food system.

They also provide a web page where you can find out more information about the issues on these and related topics.

A good, thought-provoking movie.

Space Debris

Recently US and Russian satellites collided in space. Supposedly it made a huge debris field which is now putting other satellites at risk. The US government tracks all space debris larger than a football, but they missed that this would happen.

The European Space Operations Centre has put together some images showing just how much stuff is orbiting around earth. In the picture below all the little whitish blotches and the big smudge circling close to earth all represent objects floating in space:

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Between the launch of Sputnik on 4 October 1957 and 1 January 2008, approximately 4600 launches have placed some 6000 satellites into orbit; about 400 are now traveling beyond Earth on interplanetary trajectories, but of the remaining 5600 only about 800 satellites are operational… Space debris comprise the ever-increasing amount of inactive space hardware in orbit around the Earth as well as fragments of spacecraft that have broken up, exploded or otherwise become abandoned.

A closer picture:

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A view of the polar orbit:

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These are amazing pictures and after seeing these it is surprising there are not more satellite collisions.

You can read a longer article about this here.