Thursday, December 31, 2009

Amazing natural phenomena

I got hooked into some fascinating blog posts about just about unbelievable natural phenomena.

Of course, I'm sure you've heard of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights,

Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska — The Aurora Bo...Image via Wikipedia

. . . and if you've been to the Caribbean almost anywhere on the U.S. coastline, you're probably familiar with Red Tides caused by algal blooms.

Red Tide at the Institute of Ocean SciencesImage by Chris Willey via Flickr

Maybe you've heard of Supercells (though if you're like me, you've never either seen one or a photo of one before).

But how about Mammatus Clouds, Fire Whirls, Ice Circles, and Hums? (Check out 10 Most Fascinating Natural Phenomena.)

And better than these, I'm impressed with the virtually eternal "Relámpago del Catatumbo" (Catatumbo lightning) and the Pororoca--a surfable wave that lasts for more than half an hour! (Check out 7 Incredible Natural Phenomena you've never seen.)

. . . By the way: Happy Old Year's Night!

And if you're seeing this on Facebook and can't find the links: you'll find this post on my personal blog.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Thyroid difficulties . . . and the US government

I had my thyroid destroyed back in 1984 as a result of a hyper-hyper case of Grave's Disease. --The lab that did the tests said they had never seen thyroxine levels as high as mine; they were "off the charts."

So my doctor gave me the radioactive isotope Iodine-131 to destroy my thyroid gland . . . and a few months later I had none.

I have been taking thyroxine tablets ever since. For some time, now, I've been taking the "natural" stuff sold under the Armour® brand name by a company named Forest Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals (what, in just the last few days, I found out are desiccated and pulverized pig thyroid glands formed into pills). Most of the time, however, I've been taking synthesized thyroxine sold as generic levothryroxine or a branded product like Synthroid®.

What's the difference between the two? I mean, physiologically . . . for the person like me who is ingesting the stuff?

I will confess that, for me, I haven't really been able to tell the difference. But then, I haven't been all that attentive to my physical condition until the last couple of years.

For many people, however, the difference between the two concoctions is dramatic, though the majority of doctors seem to believe the difference is all in hypothyroid sufferers' heads.

Happily, only one of my doctors has actively opposed my use of the Armour® tablets. But despite his opposition, I've been able to use the Armour® product for the past seven years or so.

This last year, however, I started bumping into supply difficulties. Back in January I was told the pharmacy didn't have 120 mg tablets (the daily dose I needed at the time). . . . Happily, they "simply" gave me the equivalent in the form of two 60 mg tablets per day. No big deal.

Last time I refilled prior to when I began writing this post in mid-October, I still had almost a month's worth of pills left. But for various reasons, at that time I got a three-month supply of 60 mg tablets from our insurer's mail order pharmacy. . . . Then, only a few days after I got my three-month supply, I was told I should reduce my dose to only 90 mg--1½ tablets--a day. So in mid-October, I was just coming to the end of my supply.

Meanwhile, in mid-October I had another blood test to see how my thyroxine levels were.

My doctor wanted to run with the "standard" TSH-only (thyroid stimulating hormone-only) test. I said I believed we really needed the T4 and T3 levels measured as well. (Since then I have found some interesting data on the need for all three tests.)

TSH measures what your body "thinks" it needs in the way of thyroxine. T4 and T3 measure actual thyroxine levels in the blood--and, based on tests I've been having done throughout this past year on the direction of my longevity and vitality doctor, I know that one or more of these numbers can be "out" of range while TSH is "in" range.

My doctor relented.

The tests came back: TSH and T4 levels both indicated a significant deficiency, but T3 was slightly out-of-range on the high end.

"How about bumping your dose back up?" my doctor asked.

"Sounds reasonable," I said. (I had gotten the sense, somehow, that my body was slowing down a bit.)
But what should we make of the T3? Why is that so high?

Is it that kind of anomalous/strange number that got Armour's thyroxine in trouble, here, in the last year [so that it is unavailable for purchase]?

I still have a few weeks' worth of Armour left if I take it at 120 mg/day.
Meanwhile, I asked, "Is there any 'natural' thyroxine that can/will replace Armour while they are out of production?"

I thanked him for any help he could provide.

He replied:
1. I've been in touch with my pharmacologist. She states that since Armour is an animal product, the amount of T3 and T4 will vary from batch to batch which might explain the high T3 and low T4. Synthetic products like synthroid are more consistently dosed.

2. I don't think Kaiser has any of the other brands of the natural thyroid of any kind so we might have to get you to get it elsewhere during the shortage.
Somehow, I had this feeling the pharmacologist was misinformed. I can't imagine Armour/Forest Pharmaceuticals has been able to get away with inconsistent product quality for all these years.

So I did a little research. And then some more. And then a lot more.

I'm astonished at what I have found.
  • First--not terribly astonishing, but worth noting: The pharmacist really was "blowing smoke" about the supposed quality or lack thereof in the Armour thyroid. Armour Natural Thyroid is carefully controlled for potency and purity:
    The amount of thyroid hormone present in the thyroid gland may vary from animal to animal. To ensure that Armour Thyroid tablets are consistently potent from tablet to tablet and lot to lot, analytical tests are performed on the thyroid powder (raw material) and on the actual tablets (finished product) to measure actual T4 and T3 activity.

    Different lots of thyroid powder are mixed together and analyzed to achieve the desired ratio of T4 to T3 in each lot of tablets. This method ensures that each strength of Armour Thyroid will be consistent with the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) official standards and specifications for desiccated thyroid lot-to-lot consistency. The ratio of T4 to T3 equals 4.22:1 (4.22 parts of T4 to one part of T3).
    Beyond that, however, the synthetic hormone manufacturers have faced numerous and "significant stability and potency problems" themselves with their products. It's not as if they are above reproach.
  • Despite the statements about quality control by the manufacturer of the Armour brand thyroid, you can still read claims such as this:
    Armour Thyroid was the only treatment for hypothyroidism for about 50 years, but it was found that the amounts of T3 and T4 varied greatly from batch to batch. Eventually, synthetic T4 (Synthroid) was being produced and widely used because it did not have similar problems of standardization in common with the naturally derived Armour Thyroid.
    You can also find even stranger and more inaccurate information from the American Thyroid Association.

    But, as Mary Shomom notes in the Guide to Thyroid Disease, there may be good reasons for this kind of disinformation even "from the top." Just follow the money--from Abbott Laboratories, maker of Synthroid, to the American Thyroid Association, for example. [Look toward the bottom of this article for the evidence.] --Or how about the payments from all the synthetic hormone manufacturers to the FDA in order to get their products approved in the early 2000s after the FDA threatened them with being pulled off the market due to those "significant stability and potency problems" I mentioned above?
  • Armour REFORMULATED its thyroid product in the spring of 2009--changing its binders and excipients . . . and causing a bunch of problems for many patients.
  • Whether Armour thyroid is efficacious or not, it turns out there really is no source of natural thyroid in the United States as of this moment. And, it appears, the FDA may have actually outlawed--or may be in the process of outlawing--the manufacture of this product in the United States, a product that has been on the market and helping people like me for more than 100 years.

    The more I have read, the more disturbed I have become at this turn of events.
  • Despite the shortage here in the United States,
    Canada has a generic natural desiccated thyroid drug, referred to as 'Thyroid,' which is made by ERFA Drugs . . . [and s]ome of the foreign pharmacies that ship to the US may have some remaining stock of Nature-Throid, Westhroid, Armour Thyroid, or foreign brands of natural desiccated thyroid like Thyroid-S.
    It took a while, but eventually I discovered the natural thyroid preparation made by Greater Pharma of Thailand: a product that goes by the brand name Thiroyd and available in wholesale quantities at a wonderful price. I also found a Canadian source with very good prices of the ERFA Thyroid and in a wide variety of specific dosages.

    I had my doctor write me a highly "generic" prescription for natural thyroid along the lines of the following advice from the article:
    During the shortages, ask your doctor to write your prescription for desiccated thyroid as broadly as possible. For example, a prescription for 'desiccated thyroid, 1 grain' can be filled with Armour, Nature-Throid, Biotech, or a generic. But if they write 'Armour Thyroid, 60 mg' for example, you won't be able to get 'Nature-Throid.'
  • I should have learned these things years ago, but I just now discovered: the synthetic thyroxines normally prescribed by the medical profession supply only one form of thyroxine, "T4"--tetra­iodothyronine--commonly formulated as levothy­ro­xine sodium (a synthetic thyroxine molecule that contains four molecules of iodine bonded by sodium). Our bodies, however, use T4, T3 (triio­dothy­ro­nine--i.e., thyroxine with three iodine molecules), T2 (diiodothyronine--thyroxine with two iodines), T1 (monoiodothyronine), and something called cal­ci­to­nin, a hormone that participates in and/or regulates calcium loss from bone, calcium levels in the blood, and, possibly (proven in rats and monkeys; not yet demonstrated in humans), satiety.

    Not only do our bodies use all five of these hormones, when they are healthy, our bodies manufacture them. If--as happened to me via Iodine-131 therapy--your thyroid has been knocked completely out of commission, the only way you're going to get the T2, T1 and calcitonin is if you take natural thyroid. Yes, your body can convert some T4 to T3, but, I am given to understand, it cannot further break down the T3 to T2, T1, or calcitonin.
  • An article published in the February 11, 1999 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (1999;340:424-429, 469-470) reports that treatment with thyroxine [T4--the commonly prescribed synthetic levothyroxine/Synthroid hormone] plus triiodothyronine [T3--rarely prescribed by American doctors, but available under the brand name Cytomel; a synthetic T4/T3 combination product is also available under the brand name Thyrolar] improved the quality of life for most hypothyroid patients. Indeed, "Among 17 scores on tests of cognitive performance and assessments of mood, 6 were better or closer to normal after treatment with thyroxine plus triiodothyronine. Similarly, among 15 . . . scales used to indicate mood and physical status, the results for 10 were significantly better after treatment with thyroxine plus triiodothyronine [i.e., T4 plus T3]."

    Of course, that is a dispassionate medical/scientific statement.

    A more partisan description comes from the website:
    [I]n nearly ALL patients on T4 meds, the T4 does NOT convert into an adequate amount of T3, leaving you with symptoms that neither you OR your uninformed doctor realize are related to inadequate treatment—poor stamina compared to others, chronic low grade depression, thinning hair or outer eyebrows, feeling cold when others are warm, cholesterol problems, aches and pains, hard or small stools, easy weight gain, memory problems, foggy thinking, a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Fibromyalgia, difficulty conceiving . . . the list is long and pathetic. In other words, healthy thyroids are NOT meant to rely solely on T4-to-T3 conversion!
    (I should note, for full disclosure, a report issued by the British Thyroid Association in 2007 says,
    Since [the] initial study [reported in the NEJM in 1999], there have been a further seven rigorously conducted (“randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled”) studies, encompassing more than 900 hypothyroid patients (summarised in refs. 3 & 4). None of the subsequent studies showed a beneficial effect of combined T4/T3 therapy on measures of wellbeing, health and mental functioning. Three of the seven studies show harmful or undesirable effects of the T4/T3 combination. . . .

    In three of the subsequent studies of combination treatment, the patients were asked which treatment they preferred, and in two of these 3 studies more patients preferred the combination T4/T3 therapy. There is no obvious explanation for these observations, and it may or may not be a reproducible effect.
    [One last note on these statements: I found an article in the journal Thyroid in 2004 that seems to prove at least one of the negative statements, here, wrong. Clearly, at least one subsequent study "showed a beneficial effect of combined T4/T3 therapy on measures of wellbeing, health and mental functioning"!
  • Despite the fact that the medical profession recently tightened the definition of "normal TSH" to no more than 3.04 mU/l (they used to say "normal" went as high as 5 mU/l), a 1997 article in the British Medical Journal concluded, "Thyroid stimulating hormone concentrations above 2 mU/l are associated with an increased risk of hypothyroidism." --And again the author at ups the ante:
    Around 1973, the TSH lab test was developed. Based on a sampling of several volunteers, a so-called “normal” range was established—.5 to 5.0 (recently lowered to 3.0). But volunteers with a history of family hypothyroid were NOT excluded, leaving us with a range that leans towards being hypothyroid! In fact, the TSH RARELY corresponds to how a patient feels [i.e. to actual hypothyroid symptoms]. There is a large majority of patients who have a “normal” TSH, even in the “one” area of the range, and have a myriad of hypo symptoms. There is a complete chapter on the TSH with more information in the Stop the Thyroid Madness book.
I am deeply tempted to continue, but I need to post this, finally, after sitting on the story for the better part of three months.

Perhaps at a later date I can talk about the FDA's apparent war against non-Big Pharma medicine. (Imagine the position we skeptics will face when the federal government begins to dictate all medical care!)

But this is more than enough for one post.

Well . . . maybe not quite.

One last note. There are reasons to consider avoiding the desiccated thyroid pills and taking synthetic T4 and synthetic T3 pills as an alternative. Two reasons that I've found:

1) The ratio of T4 to T3 in the desiccated thyroid pills does not match the ratio normally found in the human body. Indeed, I am given to understand, the ratio of T3 to T4 is higher than is normal in humans. Desiccated thyroid pills give you an approximate 1:4 ratio (T3:T4) as compared to--I have seen numbers anywhere from 1:7, to 1:14, to 1:20! Whatever the "correct" normal ratio, it is clearly different from the standard ratio found in desiccated thyroid pills.

2) Most of the desiccated thyroid pills are made from pig thyroids. If you are allergic to pig, you may have difficulties finding a "natural" product you can use. I am told a few exist, but they are exceedingly difficult to find. (I have not found any.)

For more on the T4/T3 controversy, check out the T4/T3 Thyroid Drug Controversy page.

[NOTE: If you are reading this article on Facebook, it originally appeared on my personal blog.]

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nationalized Health Care

I woke up Christmas morning thinking about this video (0:31):

The people who put the video together obviously believe that a nationalized healthcare system would be/will be a good thing.

Clearly, this family was put into a tremendously difficult circumstance. And then their neighbors came together and bailed them out. Indeed, all the footage and, it seems, all the music, too, is from neighbors' fundraising efforts.

"It took our neighborhood to come together to save us," the narrator says.

But rather than noticing how her family's difficult circumstance were actually overcome through unified community effort. And rather than noticing how truly thrilled participants seem to have been to have helped her, she concludes:
If we can get it in Washington Park [Winston-Salem, NC], then why can't they get it in Washington, DC? Look: "Public Option," "Trigger" . . . --I really don't care what they call it: something's got to change."

And then, finally, a placard: "Isn't it time to put people before politics?"


My morning wake-up dream/thoughts included these things:
  • I would prefer recipients of aid recognize it is a privilege and it is the result of the largesse--the charity, if you will--of those who make it possible for them to enjoy the help they are receiving.
  • If we are receiving services for which we have not paid, that is a gift; it is not a "right."
  • Someone is sacrificing in order to make it possible for any or all of us to receive medical help beyond our means. Those of us who receive that aid should recognize the sacrifices of others and express appropriate gratitude. We ought, certainly, not to take the attitude that the receipt of such aid is our "right" and we have the "right" to "demand" such aid.
Upon further reflection, what really bothers me is the notion that some bureaucrats in Washington can cobble together a better, more equitable, more efficient system--in the space of even a few months--than the free market, with all the competing forces of open competition, has been able to create over centuries.

Beyond that, I am deeply disturbed by what I have experienced within and under the drugs regime of our federal government.

I have meant to write on the problems of thyroid/thyroxine over the last couple of months. I expect I will finally get to it sometime in the next week.

I do not regard our government as my friend in the realm of pharmaceuticals. To put them in charge of our entire health care industry is downright scary to me.


And one last set of comments.

I noted the concluding placard in the video: "Isn't it time to put people before politics?"

My question: Are we really dealing with "politics," here? Aren't we dealing with a bankrupt government, already acknowledging it is in debt equivalent to almost 100% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($12.1 trillion of acknowledged debt in a country with a GDP of just under $14.25 trillion) . . . and, if it were to account for its contracted future obligations the way normal businesses are required to account for such things: its total "unfunded future obligations" amount to just a bit over seven times GDP ($106.5 trillion).

Let's put that into perspective.

The ratio of government debt to GDP is really not as important as government debt in comparison to government revenue. After all, the government can't consider total GDP as grounds for spending--either on new obligations or to pay off old ones. It can only spend its actual revenue. And when we look at the debt-v.-revenue numbers, here's what we're really looking at: a government with revenue of not quite $2.2 trillion and an acknowledged debt of $12.1 trillion already on the books.

Put in terms that you and I might be able to digest, that means a family with a net (post-tax) income of $35,000, has a current debt load of (12.1/2.2=5.5; 5.5 x $35,000 =) $192,500. And if we were to include future obligations not funded, the federal government's obligations, for a family with net (post-tax) income of $35,000 is (106.5/2.2 = 48.4; 48.4 x $35,000 =) $1,694,000.

--And this government--this government, that hasn't been able to balance its budget in more than 30 years--through good times and bad--is proposing to take on additional major obligations?

With what money? Whose money?

Do you think the Chinese, who hold close to $800 billion of our government's debt, and the Japanese, who hold about $700 billion, are going to sit idly by as American congresspeople continue to ratchet up their debt with no reasonable idea of how they ever intend to repay it?

I don't. And so, until the American Congress can come up with a plan to pay off its debt, I say: "No new purchases."
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Monday, December 21, 2009

New Iran-Iraq War? New Iran-US War?

I had not heard about this Iranian incursion into Iraq until I received an email from STRATFOR with a link to this video (the entire story is covered in the first 4:09):

STRATFOR's summary:
The Iranian incursion into an Iraqi oil field just across the border looks like a wake-up call to Washington. George Friedman, founder of STRATFOR, discusses the possibility that Iran is signaling its readiness to act first if an armed confrontation over the nuclear issue looks inevitable. Meanwhile, the price for Russia’s help on the issue has gone up.
Consider signing up for free strategic analysis of international news on the STRATFOR website.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

The future of free speech in the United States?

From the Dearborn, Michigan, Islamic Festival 2009: "Welcome to Sharia--and dhimmitude--in America."

Introduction (1:34):

Follow-through (10:00):

And "the rest of the story" (2:45):

Fascinating and disturbing view of Israel and the Middle East

I have not understood why the UN seems so anti-Israel. I understand it even less after watching the Terrorism Awareness Project's What Really Happened in the Middle East. (Turn your speakers on!)

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Saw this today. Reminds me, for some reason, of many people's de facto definition of "tolerance":
To me consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects. Margaret Thatcher - 1981
How sad!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Semi-universal cancer cure?

I've been sitting on this one for several weeks now. I don't remember how it first came across my radar, but Dr. Evangelos Michelakis, a professor at the University of Alberta Department of Medicine, has shown that sodium dichloroacetate (DCA) causes regression in several cancers, including lung, breast, and brain tumors.

Apparently, the story has been out for well over a year (actually, according to the U of A website, since March of 2007), but it still seems to be a "back page" and "small print" story.

The problem: "The DCA compound is not patented and not owned by any pharmaceutical company, and, therefore, . . . difficult to find funding . . . to test . . . in clinical trials" and, of course, to promote.

For a popularized presentation of what this is all about, here's a Glen Beck TV spot:

For a summary webpage that includes links to almost anything you might be interested in finding, check out "The DCA Site."

Want to buy DCA? Here's your source.

And, finally, a full academic paper published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Michelakis is a quiet and understated man. You can see and hear him on the Glen Beck segment. But how is this for an understated summary (from the BJC article)?
The preclinical work on DCA (showing effectiveness in a variety of tumours and relatively low toxicity) (Bonnet et al, 2007), its structure (a very small molecule), the low price (it is a generic drug) and the fact that DCA has already been used in humans for more than 30 years, provide a strong rationale for rapid clinical translation.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

If you think it's bad in the United States . . .

. . . and I will confess: I am deeply concerned about our runaway federal government--you should get a look at things in other parts of the world.

For example . . . Andhra Pradesh, India.

I received an email this morning from the president of Mission India (United States) who forwarded the following email from a key contact in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India:
We need your prayers for our tomorrow 10th Dec. The panicky state government has brought 9000 para military and rapid action force from New Delhi to meet any challenge in view of the fluid situation in the state. The Joint Action Committee of the Students and some of the political parties have planned to take a big march towards the State Legislative Assembly to present their demands. They are mobilizing people in a large number. There is a possibility that the Maoists might also play mischief in the agitation tomorrow. We are waiting for the update tonight to know more about the situation. I do not know how many of our staff will turn to the office as the whole life in Hyderabad will come to stand still not even an auto is going to ply on the roads. All the roads leading to Hyderabad from all corners have barricades stopping the inflow of any people into the city.

The civil unrest is going to be intensified tomorrow and literally Hyderabad will be under the control of police. The health of KCR who is on fast unto death is deteriorating and the doctors say that he might slip into coma if he continues the fast. Both the central and state governments have not yet made their stand clear with regard to the separate statehood for Telengana.
I wrote back:

Who is KCR who is on this “fast unto death”? –Sorry I'm so “out of it”!
And he wrote to me:
Hello John. No, you are not “out of it.” I don’t know the actual name of “KCR” either! It’s the initials of a politician in Andhra Pradesh who is leading the political movement that is demanding statehood for the Telengana region – which is about the northern third of A.P. Everyone just refers to him as “KCR” – a fairly common practice in India. Another practice that is not unusual is suicides over these kinds of issues. When the Christian leader of AP died in a helicopter accident two months ago, it was reported that in the following days, 50 people committed suicide!

The AP politicians might be over-reacting however this conflict could cause severe disruption.
Another recipient of his email wrote to him, and he forwarded it to me:
Thanks for your e-mail this morning. When reading it I wondered “What’s going on”? I am sure that those of you at the office are in the know. But [the recipients of your email] may not be.

The article below from June 8, 2009 gives some background.

Stratfor logo

India: A Region's Independence Hampered by National Interest

June 8, 2006 | 0013 GMT


India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party recently announced its backing for a Telangana state independent of Andhra Pradesh, reaching a rare accord with the governing Congress party, and challenged the latter to prove its commitment to the cause. The Congress party won the state of Andhra Pradesh in the 2004 general elections as a result of its alliance with the secessionist Telangana Rashtra Samiti party. Although Congress inserted Telangana independence into its election manifesto, it has not acted upon it in the two years since the election, and it has no incentive to do so.


The Telangana region of India’s Andhra Pradesh state has been campaigning for separation from the state for decades. The Telangana separatists claim that the 1956 decision to merge the region — then known as Hyderabad state — with Andhra Pradesh created a state too unwieldy to be governed properly. The movement believes the region has been shortchanged by policymakers and has not developed as the same pace as the rest of Andhra Pradesh. The secessionist movement gained a formal voice with the formation of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) political party, which developed a national presence when it allied itself with the Congress party and won 26 assembly seats in the 2004 general elections.

The Congress party formalized its support for an independent Telangana in its election manifesto, but supporters of the Congress-TRS alliance have been disappointed by the lack of progress towards that goal. As the Congress party itself won 185 seats in the 2004 state elections, it has no electoral compulsion to mollify the TRS. Though Congress won the state of Andhra Pradesh in 2004 as a result of the party’s alliance with the TRS, the smaller party does not have sufficient strength to place any overwhelming political pressure on Congress.

Now, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced its support for Telangana’s independence and challenged the Congress party to demonstrate its commitment to the cause. However, the Congress party has no incentive to seriously pursue an independent Telangana. Doing so would disrupt the party’s larger national objectives because of three factors: the city of Hyderabad, Telangana’s religious demography and the Naxalite problem in the region.

Hyderabad has been Andhra Pradesh’s state capital since the state’s formal creation in 1956. Today, it is one of India’s major economic hubs and has developed into one of the country’s two primary technology centers (the other being Bangalore). Many large multinational firms, such as IBM, Dell Inc. and Microsoft Corp., have established a presence there. In 2004, Hyderabad’s software exports reached the $1 billion mark. The 2005 World Knowledge Competitiveness Index ranked Hyderabad the most competitive of Indian cities. Given Hyderabad’s credentials, Andhra Pradesh would be loath to give up such an important source of economic power and prestige.

If Telangana secedes from Andhra Pradesh, the TRS would be pressured into boosting development revenue for the province’s more rural districts. This could result in new economic regulations and tax laws affecting firms in Hyderabad — which the Congress-led national government does not want. The government has had to strive to persuade international investors that despite its leftist tendencies, it is still business-friendly. Thus, changes that could affect large firms in Hyderabad would be discouraged in New Delhi.

The Telangana movement is predominantly Hindu-led, and local Muslims have been less than enthusiastic about the idea of the region’s succession. Telangana was controlled by a succession of Muslim rulers for centuries before Indian independence, and though the region’s Muslim population is around 12 percent, an estimated 40 percent of the population in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad are Muslim. Muslims in Andhra Pradesh are satisfied with the status quo, and talk of a separate Telangana is disquieting enough to them that an influential Hyderabad-based Muslim political party, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, has made an (unrealistic) call for the city of Hyderabad to be declared a state of its own in the event of Telangana’s secession.

Indian Muslims have traditionally voted for the Congress party, as Congress is viewed as the more reliable guardian of India’s secular traditions. Therefore, it would not be in Congress’ best interests to weaken its support in this constituency. The party is unwilling to deal with the Hindu-Muslim tension that Telangana’s independence would bring.

Yet another factor in Congress’ lackadaisical approach to the Telangana issue is the Naxalite movement. Since the late 1960s, the Naxalites — communist guerrillas — have led a widespread insurgency in hopes of fomenting revolution across India. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has declared the Naxalites the country’s biggest internal security challenge. One Naxalite group, the People’s War Group (PWG), has an established presence in Telangana and has gone so far as to publicly support the region’s independence. PWG claims to have established “special guerrilla zones” in both northern and southern Telangana, and many observers believe that TRS supporters are linked with the Naxalites.

New Delhi would not wish to be seen as caving in on the Naxalites’ demands for Telangana’s independence, especially since the Naxalite threat has consistently hampered India’s ability to attract more foreign investment and continues to wear down domestic security forces. An unwritten rule of Indian politics states that allowing one separatist group’s demands to be fulfilled would lead to a hundred more such groups coming out of the woodwork. Thus, the government’s slow approach could be an intentional choice meant to give regional anti-Naxalite policing strategies time to work.

The BJP, meanwhile, is clearly attempting to win the support of regional parties like the TRS as part of its overall electoral strategy. Therefore, it is not clear that the BJP would be any more likely to move forward toward Telangana’s secession if it were in power.


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Can you imagine?!? If you think politics here in the States is tough! How do you get anything done in India?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Tax avoidance as a civic good

Sarita handed me several file folders full of old papers she thought I could get rid of.

She was right that I could get rid of most of the papers. But one caught my eye. It was a newsletter from March of 2000. The lead article was titled "Tax Avoidance Pays Off" and it is by James Dale Davidson.

"One of the more cloying conceits of the 'Goo-Goos,' the good government crowd, is that tax-avoidance defrauds other taxpayers and harms the economy. Don't believe it," he writes.


Before I go any further, let me note the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. The first is legal. The second is not.

As Wikipedia notes,
Tax avoidance is the legal utilization of the tax regime to one's own advantage, to reduce the amount of tax that is payable by means that are within the law. By contrast, tax evasion is the general term for efforts to not pay taxes by illegal means. The term tax mitigation is a synonym for tax avoidance. Its original use was by tax advisors as an alternative to the pejorative term tax avoidance. Latterly the term has also been used in the tax regulations of some jurisdictions to distinguish tax avoidance foreseen by the legislators from tax avoidance which exploits loopholes in the law.
But back to Davidson's article.

He wrote his article immediately following Team New Zealand's 5-0 win in 2000 over Italy's Prada to retain the oldest grand prize in sport--the America's Cup.

Davidson first tells the story of the America's Cup, and then a little about how Team New Zealand came to own the technology that gave them the winning edge. I'll skip the story of the America's Cup. Let me tell you about Team New Zealand.
Italy's Prada entry, Luna Rosa, funded by fashion tycoon Patrizio Bertilli, to the tune of a reported $120 million, proved to be faster than the yachts entered by all five American syndicates, as well as those from Japan, Australia and elsewhere. But while Prada was the champion among the challengers, it could not take even one race from Team New Zealand.

The puzzle is that a small economy like New Zealand['s] . . . was able to achieve breakthroughs in fluid dynamics and the computer modelling of wind propulsion sufficient to create a super-yacht speedier than any produced in much wealthier and larger economies.
How was New Zealand able to do this? Ultimately, said Davidson, it had to do with a tax avoidance scheme.
A merchant banking firm, Fay, Richwhite had found a brilliant way to satisfy New Zealand tax liabilities at a 90% discount to the taxpayers.

As a result of this scheme, the partners of Fay, Richwhite became very rich.
And it was with these riches that Sir Michael Fay, principal of Fay, Richwhite, engineered New Zealand's rise to prominence in international yacht racing.



But what about all the other New Zealand taxpayers who were forced to pay far higher tax rates? And (this really chapped my hide): How and why could Davidson make the fantastic claim--as he did several times in the article--that Fay's decision to invest in an ultra-expensive yacht racer was some kind of "high value" use for the money he had earned and been able to keep because he was paying relatively low taxes?

Indeed, how could Davidson claim--as he did--that the New Zealand media were foolish and wrong to suggest that Fay and his cohorts had done something dishonorable--or, at least, less honorable--than their compatriots who had failed to use the loophole? Why and how could Davidson suggest it was inappropriate for the media to tell New Zealanders "that they were victims of a terrible outrage [and that t]hey had been 'defrauded' of billions in tax revenue by wealthy corporations"? And why did Davidson suggest that, "[w]hen courts determined that the tax avoidance formula at issue was perfectly legal, New Zealand's parliament [acted against New Zealanders' best interests when it] promptly enacted legislation to close the 'loopholes'"?

Listen to his logic:
As welfare states mature, an ever-larger share of government expenditures around the world is devoted to simple income transfers, which are just about the lowest order possible use of money.

Let me illustrate. One of the more high value uses of money in the 20th century was when Misters Hewlett and Packard started their company with a total investment of less than $400 during the waning years of the Great Depression. In time, that $400 grew to be tens of billions. Clearly, they deployed their money in a way that created a lot of value.

As a counter-example, suppose the U.S. government in the late 1930s had succeeded in taxing away Hewlett and Packard's founding stake, and had used it instead to fund roughly $400 of soup kitchens for the unemployed. The public would have cheered. But the money would have been consumed in short order and little or nothing of value would have been created. Subsidizing the lowest orders of human endeavor generally results in the minimum possible value creation.
He continues:
Tax rates are set at the margin. The greater the degree of compliance, the higher rates can be. If tax avoidance is widespread, governments must lower tax rates in order to raise additional revenues, the so-called Laffer Curve, in action. In that sense, taxpayers who successfully avoid taxes are not forcing others to pay higher burdens in their stead. Rather they are performing a public service in placing downward pressure on tax rates for everyone.

The strongest confirmation of this is provided by the outraged responses of governments to successful tax avoidance. If it were really true that lower tax payments from you simply meant that your neighbors had to pay more, governments should logically be indifferent to tax avoidance. By their arguments they would get the money anyway.

In fact, they treat tax avoidance as a mortal threat.

Note in this respect the ominous efforts by the OECD, prodded by the Clinton Administration to destroy off-shore tax havens. The destruction of tax havens would make tax avoidance more difficult thus facilitating still higher taxes in the world's high tax countries.
Counter-intuitive, but I think Davidson has convinced me: Long live the creative souls who find and utilize every loophole in the tax law!

Oh. And one last comment.

I said it really chapped my hide to have Davidson suggest that entering a yacht in the America's Cup could, somehow, be a "high value proposition." With what I have quoted so far, I'm sure we can see that tax avoidance, per se, offers some strange but very real potential economic benefits to broader society. Kind of.

But how can Davidson suggest, as he does, that the America's Cup investment, per se, was a high value investment?

Listen to his conclusion.
How do I know that the America's Cup has been a high value proposition for New Zealand? The mayor of Auckland and the New Zealand Herald have kindly provided public calculations of the hundreds of millions in benefits accruing to New Zealand as the result of the America's Cup. As Alan Bond said of his four challenges for the America's Cup, it draws a good crowd. "Successful men come to the America's Cup to be with other successful men."

By the same token, it is not solely an elitist activity. No one who was in Auckland on March 2 could doubt the genuine enthusiasm and delight that hundreds of thousands of ordinary New Zealanders experienced from Team New Zealand's victory in what might be considered an anachronistic, rich man's sport.

It probably would never have happened if Sir Michael Fay had not succeeded in mastering the arts of tax avoidance sufficiently to accumulate such great wealth that he could he write the big checks necessary to fund an America's Cup yacht challenge.

The long and short of it is that Michael Fay and his associates can create more value deploying money for their own amusement than governments can with the most sober of intentions. Note that Fay, Richwhite also played a leading role in privatizing Telecom New Zealand and New Zealand Rail, in each case creating a staggering increment to value in the worth of those enterprises.

Counter-intuitive all the way through.
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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Fundamental music education . . .

Oh. My. Goodness.

I was involved with the early stages of a music education project at Sonlight Curriculum several months ago. I was intrigued . . . and inspired . . . and excited about the prospects of the program we settled on, but the developers really hadn't "put it all together" in a way that I felt comfortable promoting . . . yet.

I invested a number of hours in the project, offering input and feedback and critiques of what the manufacturer had done and was proposing to do. But I finally gave up. It was taking too much time. I still loved the concept, but considering the minuscule profit potential for Sonlight and all the other things I have on my plate, I bowed out.

Just this morning, having returned from a "Family Fun Week," I noticed that the rest of the Sonlight team and the manufacturer did not give up and, in fact, took much of my input and put together a tightly integrated, truly complete music education package . . . for preschoolers to adults. Truly.


I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't tried it myself . . . and seen and heard the responses and remarks of other people--from preschoolers to adults.

What a brilliant integration of computer gaming technology and education! Absolutely riveting.


If you've ever wanted to learn how to read music and/or play the piano, I encourage you to check out the truly astonishing special offer Sonlight and the Music Wizard Company have put together.

U.S. taxes . . . and taxpayers

Bob Bauman, former congressman and commentator for The Sovereign Society, published an interesting article back on November 21st about "income taxes" in the United States.

He concludes his brief article with the comment that "democracy is much like two wolves and one sheep voting on what’s for dinner."

The meaning of that phrase becomes clear when you read what he said immediately prior to that aphorism:
[A]n astonishing 43.4% of all Americans now pay zero or "negative" federal income taxes, (negative is a liberal cover word meaning they get welfare payments simply for filing their tax forms for various reasons Congress has deemed to be tax-free worthy).

The number of single or jointly-filing "taxpayers" - the word must be applied sparingly - who pay no taxes or receive government handouts has reached 65.6 million out of the 151 million who do file.

I might remind you at this point of the risks of unrestrained majoritarianism.

That is; should that number make its way from 65.6 million to, say, 75.6 million . . . then a simple majority of Americans who file will be paying no taxes at all.

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) described the prospects of such a world over a year ago,: "I think we've got a major crisis in democracy . . . We assume that voters will restrain the growth of government because it becomes burdensome to them personally. But today fewer and fewer people pay taxes, and more and more are dependent on government, so the politician who promises the most from government is likely to win.”
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Yipes! Scary! "This is your brain on GPS"

I was reading "The Last Word" in a recent The Week magazine.
IN JUNE, AL Byrd’s three-bedroom home, built by his father on the western outskirts of Atlanta, was mistakenly torn down by a demolition company. “I said, ‘Don’t you have an address?’” a distraught Byrd later recounted. “He said, ‘Yes, my GPS coordinates led me right to this address here.’” The incident joined a long list of satellite-guided blunders, including one last year in which a driver in Bedford Hills, N.Y., obeyed instructions from his GPS to turn right onto a set of train tracks, where he got stuck and had to abandon his car to a collision with a commuter train. Incredibly, the same thing happened to someone else at exactly the same intersection nine months later. In Britain, an insurance company survey found that 300,000 drivers have either crashed or nearly crashed because of GPS systems.
What's going on? It seems that GPS's conflict with the way our minds work. I know they conflict with the way my mind works!

Instead of permitting us to generate maps in our own minds, they provide directional "recipes" that actually contribute to the decline of spatial function in our brains.

Find the whole sordid story here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Islam: A religion of violence?

The Sonlight forums have had a fairly lengthy discussion that arose when someone posted the following thesis statement and invitation for response:
From the Mouths of American Muslims: Praising the Ft. Hood Shooter . . . Here is evidence that true Islam is a religion of violence (by CNN!):

Your comments?
It took several hours to wade through the entire "conversation" and to think about what it all meant, but I finally came to a conclusion:
As you may recall, back in May and June of '07 I brought up Mark Steyn's book, America Alone. I was very concerned about the problem that [the original poster in this thread] has attempted to bring up here. And I will admit that, at the end of that set of conversations, I was still not settled at all in my mind. Indeed, I was still perplexed that, it seemed, so many of my forum-mates . . . were so "relaxed" about violent Islam.

If you go to , you will find the ice almost melted through. But, obviously, not quite.

Today I think it did melt. The conversation here finally did the trick.

I wrote back then,
Mark Steyn notes in America Alone that too few of us in the West are aware of the different sects of Islam--Wahhabi, Deobandi, Sunni, Shiite, Sufi. . . .

Steyn points out that Saudi Arabia, the great exporter of Islam worldwide at this point in history, exports Wahhabi Islam--the most "radical" and violent version.
What I realized today, here, is that we must, indeed, distinguish these various sects . . . Just as those of us who are "way" on the "inside" of Christianity recognize there are huge differences between Pentecostals and Baptists, Roman Catholics and Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Eastern Orthodox, Charismatics and United Methodists, Mennonites and Christian Reconstructionists, Old-Earthers and Young-Earthers, Theistic Evolutionists and Six-24-hour-day Creationists, a-millennialists, pre-millennialists and post-millennialists [and so on and so forth] . . . so we who are on the outside of Islam need to recognize the differences between Wahhabis (who are, indeed, the most "radical" and violent) and Sufis (from south Asia, who tend to be way "laid back") and Sunnis and Shias and all the rest. And, yes, even within each sect, and among the members of each sect, we need to recognize that there are going to be individual differences.

I had not thought of that before.

Just as we, if we are of an Old-Earth persuasion, hate to have someone from the "outside" tell us what we "have to" believe about creation, or if we are of a Brethren/Mennonite or even an historical Baptistic perspective on law and politics don't want someone telling us we "must" follow the teachings of Christian Reconstruction, or if we are paedo-baptists (i.e., people who believe in infant baptism) we take issue with those who tell us we are completely ignoring biblical teaching on the subject [and so on and so forth], so, too, we need to be careful about telling Muslims--or speaking of Muslims--as "having" to believe one way or another . . . "because the Q'uran teaches _______."

YES, some Christians are convinced the Bible teaches six-24-hour-day creation about 6,000 years ago. But others among us believe very differently. So, too: YES, some Christians are convinced the Bible teaches that all of civil society should be conformed to the civil law as outlined in the Old Testament. But others among us believe very differently.

So, too, with Muslims.

I see that, now.

And I thank [certain participants in this thread] for pushing the issue far enough . . . and [and certain] others pushing back hard enough . . . that I now see the analogy and think I can understand where I--and, I believe, our society as a whole--needs to go.

My conclusion: Mark Steyn was correct; he is correct: we need to learn far more about Islam . . . 1) so we understand where different people are likely to be coming from and, then, 2) to delve deeper to understand each individual person's perspectives.


Immediately after the above post, I then added the following:
I saw this cartoon in The Week:

I thought it provides a nice hat-tip to what I was trying to say up-thread. Personally, I think there is reason to do some "profiling"; at the same time, there is reason for discernment and caution.

Hope you can enjoy the cartoon!
Oh. And one last comment.

Somehow, what the Muslim guys in the video at the top of this post say reminds me of footage I've seen from (and of) certain demonstrators who claim to be the mouthpieces of the Christian God. Don't they do the same for you?

For example:

If you are reading this post in Facebook, you should know that the original is on my personal blog.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Physicists without common sense? Or some of the greatest cons in history?

Large Hadron Collider quadrupole superconductor electromagnets for directing proton beams to interact.Large Hadron Collider quadrupole superconductor electromagnets for directing proton beams to interact. Image via Wikipedia

Pretty astonished at this story about how a piece of bread, supposedly dropped by a bird, has shut down the Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful particle accelerator.

The article's source said,
machinery on the surface - the LHC accelerator circuit itself is buried deep beneath the Franco-Swiss border outside Geneva - had suffered a fault caused by "a bit of baguette on the busbars", thought perhaps to have been dropped by a bird.

As a result, temperatures in part of the LHC's circuit climbed to almost 8 Kelvin - significantly higher than the normal operating temperature of 1.9, and close to the temperature at which the LHC's niobium-titanium magnets are likely to "quench", or cease superconducting and become ordinary "warm" magnets - by no means up to the task imposed on them. Dr Tadeusz Kurtyka, a CERN engineer, told [The Register ("Biting the hand that feeds IT")] that this can happen unpredictably at temperatures above 9.6 K.
And so what? What would that mean, if the magnets were unable to fulfill their function?

Well, says the article in The Register . . .
At the moment there are no beams of hadrons barrelling around the huge magnetic doughnut at close to light speed, but when there are, each of the two beams has as much energy in it as an aircraft carrier underway. If the LHC suddenly lost its ability to keep the beam circling around its vacuum pipe, all that energy would have to go somewhere - with results on the same scale as being rammed by an aircraft carrier.
????!!!! "Being rammed by an aircraft carrier"? What would suffer the effects of being rammed by an aircraft carrier? And what kind of "ramming" are we talking about? A head-on collision? A side-long glance?

And at what speed would this "equivalent" aircraft carrier be going when it hit?

According to The Register which, in turn, was relying on information provided by Dr Mike Lamont, "LHC Machine Coordinator" at the CERN control center:
Had this week's feathered baguette-packing saboteur struck . . . with a brace of beams roaring round the LHC's magnetic motorway, the climbing temperatures would have been noted and the beams diverted - rather in the fashion that a runaway truck or train can be - into "dump caverns" lying a little off the main track of the LHC. In these large artificial caves, each beam would power into a "dump core", a massive 7m-long graphite block encased in steel, water cooled and then further wrapped in 750 tonnes of concrete and iron shielding. The dump core would become extremely hot and quite radioactive, but it has massive shielding and scores of metres of solid granite lie between the cavern and the surface. Nobody up top, except the control room staff, would even notice.

This whole process would be over in a trice, well before the birdy bread-bomber's shenanigans could warm the main track up to anywhere near quench temperature. Should the magnets then quench, no carrier-wreck catastrophe would result.

According to Lamont, provided the underlying fault didn't take too long to rectify, the LHC could be up and beaming again "within, say, three days" following such an incident.
Reassuring, wouldn't you say?

Meanwhile, back on the Popular Science blog where I first read about the "birdy bread-bomber," as The Register so humorously described the incident, readers question the entire affair.

Writes one: "I don't understand how a 'section of outdoor machinery' can be so sensitive to something being on it. Isn't this going to happen all the time?? Rain will fall on it, leaves will blow on it, birds will crap on it, etc. Shouldn't it be covered if it is so delicate?"

And another replies, reasonably: "Even if normal precautions are taken against leaves and other normal material found outdoors, a piece of bread may overcome them. First, the bread may be soft enough to mold itself to the grill if enough suction is being applied. Then the air will dry the bread effectively making it into a form fitted block. Less air flow means less cooling effectiveness down the line. Again, a cascade affect could become possible depending on how much other devices rel on that source for cooling - either as a primary source, or secondary or tertiary.

"Since a critical component in a machine does NOT have to be large, it may not require a lot of cooling. In these cases, a piece of bread would indeed be enough to cause a failure such that the entire operation has to be shut down to ensure nothing is damaged, or that a more serious problem is not culpable."

"While your analogy to a radiator is persuasive from an engineering perspective, it does not hold water from a design perspective," writes a third.
The more critical the component the more redundant it must be, period. Even in aircraft, where space and weight are of critical concern, some effort in this regard is made.

But and where space, weight, and apparently money, are no object, double, triple, dodecaduple redundancy should be of paramount concern, especially for mission-critical components exposed to the elements.

Atomic reactor design is a good example here, and I defy you to find a commercial power generation facility with a non-redundant heat regulator, much less one exposed to the elements in a way that a piece of toast can cause mission failure.

And let's not even get started about what this says about the maintenance regime that allowed such a critical component not to be monitored in a way that averted thermal abort.

This whole thing smacks of nothing more or less than old-fashioned incompetence, in design, implementation, and operation. Nothing new, just rendered relevant because of the sums involved.
"Talk about a design flaw!" writes a fourth commenter. "You'd think that the brilliant people in charge of accelerating imperceptible subatomic particles would at least consider bird-proofing the place."

Agreed, suggests a fifth:
You guys may all think it quite implausible that a piece of bread could shut this thing down, but there have been some serious inconsiderations from the designers.

In Aug2009 they found a family of rats inside the tube of the accelerator where it is supposed to be a vacuum void of particles... yet a whole nest of rats?! Come on!

I think this thing is one huge money trap.

Billions spent on a "promise" as so often is the case with scientific research. And they will "produce" false results to support their theory that got them all this government money in the first place just so they can screw around for another year. It would be like an animal exterminator breeding rats and releasing them in the community so he can get more work.

Personally, I LOVE SCIENCE, I LOVE the idea of what we MAY be able to discover, but there comes a point where you must ask yourselves, "is this really financially necessary at all? If you prove even 1/2 your theory, would it have been worth the billions and billions spent and to yet be spent? What results/benefits will we realize within the next, say, 50 years, from our billions spent, should you even find what you're looking for?"
On a more humorous (???) note, however:
Obviously, this bird has been talking to the woodpeckers that attacked the Space Shuttle external tank, or the other woodpeckers that stopped a Lockheed Martin laser test -- perhaps relatives of the vultures that got roasted by STS-114. Clearly, Hitchcock was right, and the birds are retaliating against all high technology!
And, finally:
The bird's briefing:

The approach will not be easy. You are required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point. The target area is only two meters wide. It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system. A precise hit will start a chain reaction which should destroy the station.
--Actually, you can find plenty more comments like these--some humorous, some sad, some alarmist, some angry--where these came from. . . .

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Want to invite you to the Strategic Inheritance forums . . .

As you may or may not know, I've been working on a website called, designed to help you maximize your legacy through peer insight, counsel and encouragement.

I've been blogging there for over two years. And I recently added a forum.

I had hoped I might generate some conversations, but so far, everyone seems a bit too shy. I've had a number of visitors, but no one has posted. I'd be thrilled if someone would simply help jump-start a conversation about anything related to the subject matter at hand.

NOTE: as I say in numerous places on the website, "legacy" is about far, far more than money and material goods. It's about family history and values and vision and purpose. It's about passing on who we are as human beings to future generations.

After noodling on this subject matter for going on three years, now, I can assure you: there are "better" ways to do these things, and there are "lesser" ways to do them.

I would hope for all of my readers that they--you--will follow the "better" ways! Please, come join the conversation-to-be.

The fall of the Berlin wall--November 9, 1989

My dad sent me a link to a series of New York Times articles about the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I happened to go first to this 4:43 video: The Man Who Opened the Gate. Rather chilling, first, to realize the momentous nature of the occasion . . . and the implications of one man's actions.

Be stunned yourself at this visual and auditory slice of history centered on the actions of an almost-forgotten East German border guard named Harald Jaeger.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Postmodern confusion . . .

I have to confess: I have not kept up on the details of postmodernism.

Yesterday, in church, I saw a young man handing out some fliers. I asked him what they were.

"They're for the youth," he said.

"Could I have one?" I asked.


And he handed me a couple of sheets of paper with two article on them. One was titled, "Postmodern Kids in the New Millennium . . . Reaching teens who find truth elusive." It's by Steve Schall, president of K-Life, Inc..

He launched his article with a quote from a 1998 news article about a cross-dressing boy in a small private school in Georgia.

Patrick Nelson, a classmate, had heard about this cross-dresser, but couldn't figure out who it was.
One day he was talking about the mystery to a friend, who smiled and pointed to the pretty blonde at the desk next to his.

“I said, 'No way, that's too weird!’” Patrick recalled. "Then I thought about it, and I said, 'So what's so weird about that?’”
Schall comments:
Did you hear the tension in Patrick's remarks? His initial response went one direction. But his next, "think about it" response was 180° in the other direction.

On the one hand, he instinctively reacted to something that was outside of God's natural, created order. But almost before the words got out, he was processing the situation with the skills that his postmodern culture had given him. To each his own. It may not be what I would choose personally, but who am I to impose my values on someone else? It's not what I’m about, but hey - it's a free country!

Imagine living in a world with no real rules, no real boundaries, and certainly no absolutes. No one, single idea is any better, necessarily, than any other. Historical accounts that were once undisputed and widely accepted are now open to revisionist interpretation. Everything centers around one's feelings and personal experience.

What you've just imagined is the very real world of today's adolescent.
I have written in the past (see also this) about some of my concerns with respect to transgenderism and s*xual identity.

[And, in the midst of writing this, I discovered that, though I had drafted the better part of a third article on this subject back in April of '05--along with the second article I reference in the preceding paragraph, I never finished nor published the third article. Considering what I want to say here, I went back and did the best I could to at least summarize (more or less) what I had intended to publish in that third article, and so you can find it here.]

If you pay attention to these stories I've referenced, you may guess what bothers me about Schall's article: While I am deeply concerned about the need to acknowledge and pursue absolute truth, I'm concerned that Schall confuses a potential willingness to acknowledge and affirm unchosen, possibly unwanted, and very real (though disturbing) differences-from-the-expected-- . . . he confuses those things with postmodern relativism.

Indeed, he states, unequivocally, that the story about Matthew Alex McLendon, the "cross-dressing" student, has to do with something "outside of God's natural, created order."

But, I think: What if McLendon is not so much a "cross-dresser" as an hermaphrodite--someone who is inters*xed or inters*xual? Is it appropriate and legitimate for us to think, speak and act as Steve Schall does, equating people's desire to recognize and/or acknowledge unusual but potentially (and sometimes very) real and clear biological distinctions . . . --Is it appropriate and legitimate for us to think, speak and act as Schall does, and equate these things with postmodern philosophical commitments to "no real rules, no real boundaries, and certainly no absolutes"?

If McLendon (by way of example) is, indeed, inters*xed, is it really just "one's feelings and personal experience"--not to mention a commitment to "no real rules, no real boundaries, and . . . no absolutes"--that would lead someone like Patrick Nelson, McLendon's classmate, to acknowledge the difficulties a McLendon faces and, perhaps, to afford him/her the opportunity to express him/herself as s/he feels most comfortable?

I could give you a slew of URL links to consider what others, far more deeply concerned about and involved in the discussion of inters*xuality have had to think and say on the subject.

Consider the basic question of marriage: If you know you are hermaphrodite (or "inters*xed" or "transs*xual" or "transgendered" or suffer from a "disorder of s*xual development"), are you permitted to marry? If so, to whom are you permitted to marry? And on what grounds are you permitted to make that choice? External g*nitalia? Internal? Hormonal levels? . . .

Here's something really strange: When I first thought I should write this article, I hadn't even thought about the issue I have raised above. I was actually more intrigued by a story Schall referenced from a book by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, Legislating Morality: Is It Wise? Is It Legal? Is It Possible?

The modern penchant for "tolerance" has struck me, often, as strange (to put it mildly), but I often find myself without tools to respond.

Geisler and Turek's story, retold here in Schall's words, provides a powerful and highly memorable parable for our time, I think:
[A] professor . . . was teaching a class in ethics at a university in Indiana. He assigned a term paper to his students, allowing them to write on any topic, as long as they had proper research and documented sources. One student who no longer believed in absolute values wrote convincingly on the merits of moral relativism. The student argued, "All morals are relative; it's all a matter of opinion; I like chocolate, you like vanilla."

His paper was well written, properly documented, the right length, on time, and stylishly presented in a handsome blue folder. The professor read the entire paper and then wrote on the front cover, "F. I don't like blue folders!"

When the student got the paper back he was enraged. He stormed into the professor's office and declared, “‘F. I don't like blue folders!’ That's not fair! You didn't grade the paper on its merits!"

Raising his hand to quiet the bombastic student, the professor calmly retorted, "Wait a minute. What's this talk about being fair? Didn't your paper argue that it's all a matter of taste? You like chocolate, I like vanilla?"

The student replied, "Yes, that's my view."

The professor responded, "Fine, then. I don't like blue. You get an F!"

Suddenly a light bulb went on in the student's head, as he finally got the message. He really did believe in absolutes, at least in terms of expecting his professor to be fair. In charging [his professor] with injustice, he was in fact appealing to an objective, "fair" standard of justice. That simple fact defeated his entire case for relativism.

The problem of transgendered identity

I wrote most of the following article back in April 2005. I intended to post it soon after I posted the article titled Coming to a restroom near you.

I never posted it because I had wanted to reference an article--or series of articles--I had read at least a year before.

In April of 2005, I couldn't locate the article(s), so I wrote to some people I thought might know about the author so I could locate what I was looking for. I never received an answer that I could follow up on. And I soon forgot that I had ever even begun the article below.

So you have some idea of what I had read back in 2004, let me quote what I wrote to my hoped-for source:
Last year, when I first came across the subject of transsexuality, I read at least one (and, I think, it was probably several) article(s) by a guy--I believe he was Polynesian or, at least, Pacific Islander--who was born with some chromosomal variant that left him in a very seriously vulnerable position, indeed. What I appreciated about his story (especially for the [Christian] audience I am trying to address) was, as I recall, his religious/faith perspective [he was Christian] and his emotionally open communication. One line, in particular (though I don’t recall the specific words he used) struck me with special force. He said something about feeling as if the world around him said that, because he was neither male nor female, he, more or less, didn’t have a right to live.
It was as if his very existence was an obscenity, an offense against God, a mistake.

Those "messages"--whether spoken or not, whether imagined or real--permeated his psyche. He didn't want to be what he was. But he was born that way.

So what could he do?

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female (not "intersexed" or "transsexual" or "transgendered") created he them." --Genesis 1:27

The issue of transgenderism came up again for me just yesterday. As I was working on a post I intend to make about what occurred yesterday, I found this article and realized I want it as part of the "public record" in anticipation of what I hope to publish later this evening or tomorrow.

So . . .

Written in April 2005

In preparing Coming to a restroom near you, I found the following article about Pauline Park: "Parking rights: Pauline Park is fighting for transgender rights," from the New York Blade.

I've always been a bit of a softie when it comes to people who are "different" and who are rejected by "normal" members of society. That may be, partially, because I grew up asthmatic and was, therefore, unable at the beginning of 5th grade even to throw a basketball as high as a hoop. I expect you can imagine: I was not well-accepted by the majority of more "normal" boys in school.

But for whatever reason I may empathize, I think we need to recognize that,
  1. Though there are those, like Pauline Park, who really and truly do feel more at home "identifying" as women, though they are "trapped," as it were, in male bodies,

  2. There are others--heterosexual men--who dress in women's clothing for the s*xual thrill it provides.
One could wish that all derision, all discrimination, all humiliation could be done away with. But I wonder: How can benevolent members of society protect themselves and others from those who are truly sociopathic?

I grieve for Park. As the Blade article recounts Park's story,
“When I was a young child, I use[d] to have constant dreams, always with the same premise,” she says laughing. “I was alone at night in a big department store in the women’s section. And I got to try on all the clothing that I wanted to.” . . . An adopted son of Christian fundamentalists in Milwaukee, she hid from the world behind stacks of books in libraries
. . . and lived a life of "quiet desperation."

It was in the early 1950s that transsexualism first made headlines in the United States when the press discovered that George Jorgensen, Jr., a 98-pound ex-GI, had undergone surgeries in order to become Christine Jorgensen. Since Jorgensen's time, transsexualism has become relatively commonplace. And those who undergo the surgery and the hormones are at least minimally accepted by a fair portion of the population.

Pauline Park, however, has no interest in undergoing surgery or taking hormones. So as the Blade article puts it, Park "inhabits" a male body but "embraces" a female identity.

This creates some interesting problems for many people.
Side Note

While I'm on the topic of difficulties, let me address one I face right now as a writer.

I am not used to dealing with people like Park. Park wants to be known as a woman. But is it appropriate for me to refer to a person like Park--someone who has a fully male body--as a "she"?

That's how Park wants to be referred to. That's how the Blade article refers to . . . her.

Now that I have confronted the issue, let me say that Park has had years and years to work these matters through in . . . her . . . mind. I have not. But for the sake of consistency in language throughout the remainder of this article, I have decided to refer to people by their self-identified gender classifications, without ellipses or other indications of the personal discomfort and internal hesitation that I feel.

But now let us return to some of the broader issues. . . .
First, I would like to address the issue of sexuality v. gender.

Many months ago, when I was working on my 20th Century World History study, I felt I needed to look into the case of George/Christine Jorgensen. As a result, I discovered some things of which I had been only the least bit conscious before.

So let me begin with the matter of which I had been aware.

There was a furor over one of the female competitors at the 1968 Olympics. I remember this because I was in junior high school, in 8th grade. And we discussed her case in our social studies class. It seemed so odd to us: a woman who wasn't quite exactly a woman. She had the general anatomy of a woman. Though, as I recall, she was described as having a very different muscle-to-fat ratio than most of the other contestants . . . because, unlike 99-point-some-odd percent of women, she had an extra Y chromosome. Most women are XX; men are XY; she was XXY. "Should she be permitted to compete against XX women?" [November 2009 addendum: Of course, this same issue has come up in just the last couple of months as the South African runner Caster Semenya of South Africa has been found to have both male and female characteristics--having external genital expressions of a woman, but lacking ovaries and benefiting (for sports purposes, anyway!) from the presence of internal testes which produce way more testosterone in her body than in any "normal" female.]

This article became of particular interest to me because, as a number of my classmates and I observed, our social studies teacher herself, Miss Drumond (name changed), seemed to have the exact same kind of sinewy, muscular body that the Olympic contestant had. "Might Miss Drumond be XXY?" several of us whispered among ourselves.

But now, as I began my study of George/Christine Jorgensen, I discovered there are other rare genetic combinations and some that maybe aren’t quite as rare as most of us imagine.

Jamison Green, an FTM (female-to-male) transsexual, in the opening pages of his book, Becoming a Visible Man, tells how he often begins a presentation on transsexuality and transgender:
Did you know that 1 in 20,000 men have two X-chromosomes, rather than one X- and one Y-chromosome? They don’t find this out until their female partner can’t get pregnant and doctors eliminate her infertility as the reason. . . . One in 20,000 men is a 46-chromosome, XX male; ten percent of those have no Y-chromosome material. . . . That statistic is from Chapter 41 in the 13th edition of Smith’s General Urology, a standard urology textbook. And what does that tell us about the Y-chromosome? Not that you need a Y to be male, but that you may need a Y to make viable sperm. Maybe! Because there are two species of small rodent-type mammals, called mole voles, in which there is no Y chromosome, yet they are still reproducing both males and females, still procreating just as other mammals [Graves, 2001]. So if you can be a man with two X-chromosomes, and at least 1 in 20,000 men is, what makes you a man? . . . (p. 2)
Besides genetic differences, some studies seem to indicate that there are other biological bases for what practitioners call the transsexuals' "gender dysphoria." Lynn Conway (a MTF transsexual), on her website, references a study published in the May 2000 The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: "Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus" by Frank P. M. Kruijver, Jiang-Ning Zhou, Chris W. Pool, Michel A. Hofman, Louis J. G. Gooren, and Dick F. Swaab:
Transsexuals experience themselves as being of the opposite sex, despite having the biological characteristics of one sex. A crucial question resulting from a previous brain study in male-to-female transsexuals was whether the reported difference according to gender identity in the central part of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc) was based on a neuronal difference in the BSTc itself. . . . Therefore, we determined in 42 subjects the number of somatostatin-expressing neurons in the BSTc in relation to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and past or present hormonal status. Regardless of sexual orientation, men had almost twice as many somatostatin neurons as women (P < 0.006). The number of neurons in the BSTc of male-to-female transsexuals was similar to that of the females (P =3D 0.83). In contrast, the neuron number of a female-to-male transsexual was found to be in the male range. Hormone treatment or sex hormone level variations in adulthood did not seem to have influenced BSTc neuron numbers. The present findings . . . clearly support the paradigm that in transsexuals sexual differentiation of the brain and genitals may go into opposite directions and point to a neurobiological basis of gender identity disorder.
--End of material written in April 2005--
--Beginning of Material written in November 2009--

As a matter of education, I would like to present some of the best information I've found on the matter of hermaphroditism or intersexuality.

The AboutKidsHealth website "article" (actually, an entire series of mildly animated graphic web pages) about children's sexual development provides excellent information about how sexual differentiation can "go wrong." Very matter-of-fact and scientific, but written not only for professional, but lay consumption as well.

For deeper information, however, you may want to study the Consortium on the Management of Disorders of Sex Development's Handbook for Parents.

Then there is the Clinical Guidelines for Management of Disorders of Sex Development in Childhood, a book described by its publishers as meant for professional service providers, "but may be of interest to patients and families as well. You may want to share this book with your doctors."

Then there is the Consensus Statement on Management of Intersex Disorders published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Or the undergraduate-level Teaching Packet on Intersex Issues.

--More later