Friday, May 14, 2010

Big brother type surveys--no thank you!

Allegedly, graduating doctoral students are required to complete the government's Survey for Earned Doctorates (SED). This document started with seemingly benign questions about my matriculation date, research discipline, university, etc. However, as I progressed to the later pages, this questionnaire began to ask, what I thought, were ridiculously personal questions.

For example, the SED asked how much personal debt you would have at the time of graduation from either undergraduate or graduate education. Then the SED began to probe the nature of your employment status following graduation. Simply asking what sector you would be working in was not enough, the survey went further when it asked what company hired you, where you would be located, and it even had the gall to ask the exact salary you would be receiving for your position. Now, for bashful survey takers (because this was not anonymous) the survey was generous enough to provide an alternative method to answer this question, where you could select narrow salary rangest.

Now, you may ask whether the government survey ended here? Shockingly, it did not. To conclude, the SED asked for the last 4 digits of one's social security number, place of birth and birth date, as well as personal contact information in case the need should arise to communicate with me regarding my answers on this survey.

As a responsible citizen, I understand the need to statistically analyze the work force. It does provide a snapshot about the health of the nation, as well as enable future projections of the economy. Furthermore, much like the national census, I see how it is historically interesting to record trends in the demographics. One day, I may be a data point that historians note was the time where young women with doctoral degrees began outnumbering men.

What I do object to however, is the disturbingly intrusive nature of this governmental SED questionnaire. Now, the majority of graduating students probably willingly provided all of the requested information without blinking an eye. But what concerns me the most is that there may have been many other students that begrudgingly supplied this private personal information despite a feeling of apprehension because of the mandate that this survey be turned in to the registrar's office for completion of one's degree.

My hope is that these fellow students arrived at the same conclusion that I did, which was to leave the intrusive sections blank. Whether it's a government survey, or a private solicitation of personal information, you have the right to not participate. So, don't be pressured to comply when your gut says no, especially when it is not anonymous.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Obama emergency disaster hypocrisy

After the recent water main break in Weston Massachusetts that caused a disruption of clean water to 2 million customers, the Obama administration made an Emergency Disaster Declaration. Essentially, this permits FEMA to send federal aid money to Massachusetts. As a resident of MA was was affected during this incident, I found this response by the White House to be absurd.

First of all, the water supply was never disrupted. Customers could still shower and use toilets as normal. The only precaution necessary during the water main break repair process was that water should be boiled for a few minutes prior to use for brushing your teeth, cooking or drinking.

As a scientist, I was shocked at how ridiculous some people were being as a result of this boil-water order. Local news coverage talked about stores suspected of price-gauging and consumers hording bottled water. Instead of local and federal government assuming a leadership position and telling the public that there should be no fear of drinking the water so long as it was boiled, the state and federal government declared a state of emergency.

While MA was receiving a swift handout of federal tax payer dollars, legitimate catastrophes slowly found their way on the Obama Administration radar map. For example, it took several days for Obama to issue a similar Emergency Disaster Declaration for Tennessee after massive rainfall in that state killed 21 people and caused millions of dollars in property damage. Furthermore, it took over a week for the Obama administration to get involved in the environmental and human health hazard of the ongoing BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

In juxtaposition to these two serious disasters, I still fail to see why the state of Massachusetts merited federal disaster relief money. This begs the question whether Obama loosely grants federal aid to friends of the White House like the Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. Isn't this politics as usual? Doesn't this exemplify everything Obama claims to be against? Is this not the epitome of hypocrisy?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The erosion of American volunteerism

I had an interesting conversation with some co-workers the other day regarding volunteerism. One colleague came from Germany, another from China. Both explained how in their countries there were not opportunities to volunteer for a day, like soup kitchens. They elaborated that there was no cultural understanding of volunteerism because the mentality was that if you devote time to something you should be financially compensated in some manner.

These simple anecdotes made me reflect on how American volunteerism, or individually motivated social charity, is our nation's most commendable asset. Therefore, this trait should be nurtured and instilled in each new generation because it defines everything that is good about America. Knowing this, I think we must rethink the popular political philosophy that it is the government's job to take care of all our social woes.

Let's be honest about the consequences of big government by revisiting the issue of existing insolvent entitlement programs like social security, medicare and medicaid. Politicians have galvanized support for these pieces of legislation with palatable slogans that they are moral and charitable policies. True, the government has identified real problems. But these governmental solutions are fiscally unsustainable.

Also, I think there is a hidden cost to entitlement programs. As the federal government slowly monopolizes the social charity industry, the constituency will be stripped slowly of their personal compassion and kindness. To paraphrase Glenn Beck, "Do you feel more charitable when you personally help someone or volunteer, or when you pay taxes?"

For those that don't understand the opposition from the Tea Party and Republican party toward government expansion, this unintended consequence of entitlement programs which I have just articulated is one justification for the current cultural strife. People, including myself, are deeply concerned that if we do not divert from our current trajectory, future generations will no longer inherit the values that have defined the American spirit of giving. Sadly, this will mean the end of American exceptionalism.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Entitlement will be the death of us?

With federal spending ballooning and the top presidential economic advisor suggesting tax increases are looming around the corner, most responsible Americans are left wondering why should we pay more for what amounts to a false sense of social entitlement? March 18th I wrote about Mitt Romney's book "No Apologies". In that post, I mentioned the exploding costs of social security and the projected bankrupting of American due to Medicaid. To add to that economic insult, Obama's health care monstrosity will dump 30-50 million more people into the already insolvent Medicaid program. While this health care bill wins him short term gains among his base, it has signaled a death toll for future American economic prosperity.

The reason for this rant, is that today I saw advertisements targeting the elderly. This ad encouraged seniors to visit The Scooter Store in order to get their very own scooter. The best part of this ad, is that the scooter is completely free of charge thanks to Medicaid. The advertisement even had the audacity to say to prospective customers not to worry because there would be "no cost to you."

So, if the elderly patient doesn't pay, who does? Oh, that's right, everyone else will pick up the tab for this non-essential device. Sure it might increase the individual's mobility, but who is checking first to see whether the individual truly can not afford this device on their own budget?

I don't know about you, but I'm shocked at our contemporary mindset that is pervasive in popular media. When did it become expected that you should have whatever you want in this world, even if you can't afford it or don't earn it for yourself? Furthermore, when did we start embracing this sentiment that hard working people should have to support free-loaders?

You might have heard people argue that these entitlement programs are the moral thing to do. The next time you hear this mass coddling, tell them the Christian (or other religiously motivated) noble form of charity is based on helping those less fortunate to help themselves. Like a child, the moral way to help the needy is to provide them resources and tools so that they become self-reliant and no longer need your support. Because only in such an upbringing, will the needy acquired character, a work ethic and sense of personal responsibility. When that has happened, then the truly moral end will have been reached, which is that these men will have become uplifted through true freedom. So, the next time you hear this false morality justification of government entitlement programs, tell those pied pipers that what they offer is merely a modern form of slavery that fetters man in a perpetual state of dependency on the state.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Another Obama takeover of the private sector?

Under the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is pushing forward with their calls for "Net neutrality." This policy agenda aims to restrict and regulate internet service providers (ISPs) from making business decisions on how to control their private sector communications networks.

The FCC would like to limit ISPs from making sound business decisions that balance consumer access with product quality considerations. One example is how ISPs, in particular wireless companies, have different service plans that vary in price given the amount of a consumer's data usage. Under Net neutrality, the FCC wants to prohibit this "discrimination." Instead, the FCC argues that all plans are created equal, thus people should pay a single rate for unlimited access. Does this philosophy sound eerily familiar to the health care movement of the Obama administration?

Although, the reality of the matter is that the FCC and the Obama administration have it all wrong. Broadband and other wireless access are limited resources in the sense that at any point in time there is a maximal usage capacity that is defined by the infrastructure that these private ISPs have spent their own capital to create. Therefore, because the network capacity is limited, these ISPs have marketed a product where the consumer pays only for what he uses and not for what everyone else is using. This fair policy based on stratified usage/cost plans is not corporate greed, rather a consumer benefit aimed at maintaining product quality. The principle for this is that as more people pay for higher usage plans, ISPs have more capital to invest in infrastructure improvements.

If the FCC and the Obama administration get their way, private telecommunications, wireless and cable companies may soon find that these new regulations become too costly and or decrease the product quality to an extent that consumer satisfaction is compromised. What happens then? The market self adjusts as consumers bail on sub-par plans, thus leading ISPs to increase prices in order to cover pre-existing network infrastructure costs. At that point you will most likely hear people say "look, the private ISPs can't provide cost effective free press access to the internet so the government should start to provide these services. Because after all, access to information is a right for all Americans." That's when we wake up one day with government controlled internet or state-run free press.

Before we get to this worrisome state of affairs, let's acknowledge how the status quo has been quite beneficial. Specifically, it has grown industries, made jobs and spawned new technologies. These FCC Net neutrality policies are nothing but another governmental intrusion that is simply a domestic form of industrial and economic sabotage. Let's face it, you can't stack the deck against industries and expect them to keep our economic engine going. In order to protect the prosperity of our nation, we have to fight government encroachment into sectors that freely respond to market, i.e. consumer driven forces.

If you want to stop this insult into our nation's economy, share this article and visit before April 8th to petition these policies.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tinnitus remedy or hoax?

As someone who occasionally has tinnitus, a false sensation of ringing, buzzing or whooshing in the ear, I tune in when I hear advertisements regarding this medical oddity. Recently, I've seen marketing strategies for a product called Quietus.

Like so many vitamins or supplements, this homeopathic "remedy" is not FDA approved. Furthermore, I could find no documentation regarding the "active" ingredient or compounds incorporated into the Quietus digestible tablets and ear drops.

What concerns me is the number of people who may actually order products like Quietus. The reality about these alleged panaceas, is that they have not been scientifically scrutinized with regard to their efficacy and safety. There are no data demonstrating that this product targets any biological pathway implicated in the tinnitus disorder. Therefore, this company is selling a product to people without evidence that it does anything beneficial while not causing adverse side effects. This seems downright irresponsible and even criminal. So, buyer beware!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

CNN indirectly endorses the anti-religion movement

Given my recent post titled "Founding fathers rejected virtuous atheism, shouldn't we?" I thought it was relevant to discuss a recent CNN news feature ( This mainstream media report discusses the message of Sam Harris. He studied philosophy at Stanford University, and received his doctoral degree in neuroscience from UCLA. Laudable achievements that I commend, until I discovered the way in which Harris has decided to "help" society.

Harris gained much fame for his books titled "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation." These books topped the New York Times bestsellers list. He even received a literary award. More recently, Harris founded "Project Reason", a nonprofit organization which he has dedicated to marginalizing religious values within society. It is Harris' belief that science has all the answers that rational beings need and secular values are sufficient for a stable society.

Why Harris has received so much acclaim escapes me. His work isn't seminal or novel. In fact, it merely plagiarizes past atheistic sentiment. Most of the CNN video clip shows Harris incoherently rambling from one topic to another, blaming religion for all the world's ills, as well as our inability to overcome them. He belittles the religious for having false certainty without proof, in other words faith. However, he then goes on to make unsubstantiated claims of his own, which is apparently okay as long as he's not religious.

In our current times of uncertainty, it is tempting for people to believe that Harris' message will offer a new pathway forward. But proceed with caution, for such a belief is more likely to lead to societal regression, and consequently, more frightening times. Imagine a world where man is supreme and beholden to none for his actions in this world. Can we say "Lord of the Flies?"

Before one even considers following Harris' message, it is important to point out the fallacious nature of his argument. When one does so, it becomes obvious that the atheist movement is not a loftier more righteous path, but just a more judgmental or elitist one. The reason I say this is because this counter-cultural movement is rooted in the belief that we, the contemporary generation, are superior intellectually to the previous ones. It exhibits complete disregard for the numerous great minds that have spanned the ages from all disciplines like mathematics, science, literature, art and philosophy. This movement is like the dog that bites the hand off the one that feeds him.

In addition to this arrogant belief, Harris makes another unsubstantiated logical leap to arrive at his atheistic solution. If our science and knowledge is truly greater than our predecessors, as he believes, then our forefathers' reverence for religion must surely be inferior as well. Ergo, our modern age has rendered religion defunct and unenlightened. However, I would contend that our society's continued respect for classical art, music, literature, philosophy, law, architecture, mathematics and science is irrefutable proof that Harris's logic is actually flawed. In fact, the old is not dead, but deeply alive and central to everything modern. The only difference that I can see between the modern and past intellectual elites, is that the past ones pursued knowledge and truth with humility.

Sadly, when I was younger and misguided I could see plausibility in Harris' argument. But now, I attribute that to the fact that man's ego distorts reality. In actuality, we are not unique because human nature has changed very little over the ages. We are still driven and motivated by the same good desires, and struggle with the same destructive temptations. The need for religious values is no more obsolete than will air be for our very breathe.

It is true freedom to live in a country where people like Sam Harris can publish and share his viewpoint. However, we should question why CNN and the mainstream mass communications market only ever highlight Harris's atheistic viewpoint. Such practices have the same effect on society as propaganda movements, whereby presenting one view often enough will make it appear that there is only one logical view. After all, when mainstream media demands secularization this inevitably creates a monopolistic control on the public conversation that can only be filled by the views espoused by people like Harris. This propagates the notion that no one intelligent believes in religion because no one is allowed to be publicly seen talking about it anymore. It is the blind leading the blind.

In CNN's article, Harris discusses that religion is detracting us from more pressing geopolitical issues. I think Harris' myopic viewpoint that the challenges we face today are more terrifying than those of our forefathers is the real lie. Like our predecessors, there is fear of the future and uncertainty over whether we can rise to the task. The one true and tested way that human kind has persevered through the centuries of doubt has been through men of character shaped by their faith and religious virtue. So next time you hear sentiments like these, ask why the war on religion? It's led us this far.