I Wonder What Would Happen to This World

On Thursday, December 7, 2000, I made a pilgrimage. I took the day off of work and then proceeded to make the three hour drive to Huntington, Long Island. At the top of a hill in the middle of the Huntington Rural Cemetary, is the grave of Harry Chapin.

I was nine years old on July 16, 1981, when Harry was killed in a car accident on the Long Island Expressway on his way to a benefit concert, and barely knew who he was at the time. As I grew up, and mainly in high school and college, I came to know who he was, what he accomplished, and why his death at a very young age was such a tragic loss.

I chose the date of the trip because that was Harry’s birthday. He would’ve been 58 then if he were still alive.

I made the drive alone. I know I didn’t have to do it alone; it’s just that the people who understood, couldn’t take the time to go. The people who could take the time to go, didn’t understand.

His tombstone is a giant rock. In the face of the rock is chiseled the opening verse to one of my favorite songs of his: “If a man tried to take his time on earth and prove before he died what one man’s life could be worth, I wonder what would happen to this world.”

I left at about 9 in the morning, got there at about noon, and walked around the cemetery for a little bit. When I couldn’t find the grave on my own, I went to the office, where they looked up the location in the records and I found it with minimal difficulty thereafter.

In all, I stayed by the grave for about fifteen minutes. I spent the time thinking, contemplating how the world had changed in the nearly twenty years since Harry last walked this earth, and how much we still need a voice like his.

I stopped at a pizza place on the way back before I got back on the L.I.E. and found myself wondering if it even existed thirty years before. Judging by the architecture of the strip mall in which it was located, I figured it was safe to assume the answer was ‘no’.

I hinted at this in my previous blog entry about the end of the world, but I didn’t come out and say it outright: the world is always ending, albeit not in the apocalyptic sense of the word. There is something different about the world today, than it was yesterday, and it will be something different again tomorrow.

Someone who is here today, will not be here tomorrow. Someone who is not here today, will be here tomorrow. Think of anyone who has died at any time, and ask yourself: how has the world changed since they died? Think of the musician Aaliyah, who was killed in a plane crash less than three weeks before the September 11 attacks. If we could somehow bring her back to life, would she even recognize the world as it is today?

You don’t even need to look to people who died before major historical events. Just since I wrote the essay about the end of the world (where I said that there were 18 verified people still alive who can be verified to having been born prior to the year 1900), the oldest person in the world — Besse Cooper — died at the age of 116. Now there’s no one left who was born in the year 1896.

Every day is different; the world is always ending. And it’s always beginning. I’m not saying this in an apocalyptic sense of the word. Or, for that matter, an even vaguely spiritual or religious sense. It just is different.

That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It is neither to be celebrated nor feared. If you’ve ever gone somewhere for an extended period of time and then returned home — for example, at college — you know that things change all the time. And it might take some time to get used to what changed.

I don’t particularly care whether or not that pizza place was there in 1981. If Harry Chapin were to return, he wouldn’t recognize the world in which we live today. Could he get used to it? Possibly, but we’d have a lot of explaining to do.

Going back in time…

One of my favorite podcasts, is the Geologic Podcast, a weekly hour-long show hosted by George Hrab, who has assumed a degree of leadership in the skeptical community, primarily due to his relationship with the James Randi Educational Foundation, on top of being a successful musician.

Anyone who has a degree of familiarity with slavic languages, would likely recognize the name Hrab as being Ukrainian. (As are many names that begin either Hr or Hl). In fact, both of his parents were born in Ukraine and emigrated to the United States in the 1940’s. They didn’t know each other in the “old country” but they met here in the US, got married, and raised their children here.

A couple of weeks ago on the podcast, George (or “Geo” as he likes to be called) announced that his parents were going on a trip to Eastern Europe to visit the towns where they were born. These towns, thanks to shifting national borders in the past 60 years or so, are now both located in Poland.

In the most recent episode of the podcast, Geo interviews his mom about the trip. Without going into any details about what was discussed, I found it fascinating, moving, and, well, intensely personal.

My paternal grandparents emigrated to the United States (a generation before Geo’s parents) from a town that was “a day’s horse ride from Kiev” whose name escapes me at the moment. I remember talking to my grandmother about how she carried her infant daughter across a frozen lake to get out of the country.

On my mom’s side, my grandmother was also born in Russia somewhere as well. The story we all heard growing up, was that she was born on the boat on the way over to America, but we have a document dated 1923 in which her parents, her brothers and sisters became naturalized citizens. It listed my grandmother as being 20 years old at the time. Knowing that it takes approximately five years to become a citizen, that means that my grandmother lived at least the first thirteen or fourteen years of her life in Russia.

So, when I was an exchange student in 1993 in Russia, I tried to track down people with whom I might have some kind of relationship.

This is entirely speculation on my part. But there is a very real possibility that, on Monday, November 1, 1993, at approximately noon (Moscow time), I stood alone, in a light snowfall before the grave of a distant relative of mine. Specifically, the grave bore the name Аврам Гольдман (Avram Goldman), who died about three months before my father was born. Under Jewish tradition, newborn children are named for the recently deceased, and this was my father’s Jewish name.

For reference, at that same moment, quite literally half a world away, River Phoenix died.

That was the closest I came to finding anything of my heritage while I was there. And even in not knowing anything with any certainty about what I found, standing before a small grave a few rows away from the grave of Anton Chekhov, I was overcome with emotion then.

I can only imagine the emotions that Geo’s parents went through a couple of weeks ago…..

Flashback: A Complaint to the DMV

In anticipation of the shutdown of Apple’s MobileMe service, I am re-posting some of my old blog entires before they become harder to retrieve.

This entry was originally posted on December 23, 2004.

Yesterday, I dropped a letter into the mail to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (or PennDOT for short). This letter was the result of three weeks worth of introspection, asking myself if I wanted to write the letter. The letter is a complaint, requesting that someone else’s personalized license plate be rescinded.

Every once in a while, someone makes the local news because they applied for a personalized license plate that was granted by a DMV worker who didn’t realize that the plate can be considered offensive. In recent years, the state of New York rescinded 3MTA3 because nobody looked at it in a mirror, the state of Washington rescinded GOT MILF because nobody had seen the movie American Pie, and the state of California rescinded NYX because nobody knew that this, reflected in a mirror, is extremely crude Russian slang for Penis.

(Incidentally, for those who have not seen American Pie, MILF stands for “Mom I’d Like to Fuck.”)

In the case of all three of the above-referenced license plates, I applaud the ingenuity of the people who applied for their plates. Although I was not offended by any of them, I do recognize how some people could be offended.

Similarly, I was not offended by the license plate that I saw. Not being offended is not the same, though, as not recognizing the impropriety of the plate, and I do acknowledge that the three plates cited above are inappropriate. Hence my introspection. What I saw, in Newtown, PA, on the night of Saturday, December 4, 2004, was a Pennsylvania plate that reads JC-DYD4U.

In my letter, I pointed out that nobody speaks of a greater purpose behind the death of Julia Child earlier this year, and that former president Jimmy Carter is still alive. I therefore see no reason to expect that the JC of this plate stands for Jesus Christ, pure and simple. And Jesus apparently died for me (and anyone else reading this plate… ) I don’t know if this plate implies that Jesus died for the driver of that car, too, but I do not consider it relevant.

When I first posed my dilemma to some friends of mine, one person suggested that I complain loudly on separation of church and state grounds. I quickly responded by saying that those grounds do not stand up unless the plate itself is on a state-issued car, and I saw no reason to think that would be the case.

One of the more common responses I got was that I have too much time on my hands. Perhaps, but not really. I agree with Michael Newdow, who attempted to argue before the Supreme Court earlier this year, that the phrase “Under God” does not belong in the pledge of allegiance (although I, personally, think the entire pledge should be done away with…) Furthermore, I do not believe “In god we trust” belongs on our currency, and I will refuse to swear on a bible if called on the witness stand.

So I don’t consider it a bad idea to start somewhere.

I enjoy debating with Jehovah’s Witnesses when they come to my door, however they don’t really like to hang around with me once they realize that I’m trying as hard to turn them off of their religion as they are trying to turn me on to theirs.

And that’s the point. Proselytization and evangelicism are dangerous, because they try to convince people that their interpretation of their god is the one and only right way. So get on the bus or be doomed. (insert maniacal laughter here).

That’s what makes this license plate inappropriate. Not only does this person focus too heavily on the one aspect of the life of Jesus that should be the afterthought, but he’s trying to convince me that I should change my life and my whole belief structure because of it.

I would never ask another person to die for me. Even if someone did end up dying for me, that doesn’t alter the fact that I will die on my own at some point in the future, thus making the request of another person a by and large pointless exercise.

I contacted PennDOT about a week or so after I saw the license plate, asking general questions about getting a personalized license plate. There are four general rules:

1. A one-time $20.00 fee
2. A limit of seven alphanumeric characters
3. Nobody else can have the same plate, and
4. The plate can’t be offensive.

Offensive is a subjective term. 3MTA3 — or “eat me” backwards appears on the cover of the Beastie Boys album, License to Ill, and is one of the reasons why that album cover is often cited as one of the best 100 album covers of all time.

I asked the woman I spoke with about how “offensive” is defined, and the most she could tell me was that the people who process the requests use their judgment. I started by dancing around this point by asking fairly obvious questions: profanity is considered offensive.

I asked if a license plate with a Satanic message (maybe “GO SATAN”) would be considered offensive and if it would be turned down, and my representative simply didn’t know and couldn’t ask anyone.

Too bad, because if that would have been considered offensive, then it would have made my decision a hell of a lot easier. Why allow a statement of one religion while denying another?

Ultimately, I decided to complain about the license plate because it is proselytizing, and it’s an unwelcome intrusion into one of the most private aspects of a person’s life: his or her religion. Bumper stickers are one thing, but a license plate is something completely different.

I dropped my letter in the mail yesterday. Allowing for delivery time in the busiest season of all, I can figure that they will receive my letter early to mid-next week, and then the fun will begin.

Wouldn’t it be funny if this makes the local and/or national news?

Flashback: The Abortion Debate

In anticipation of the shutdown of Apple’s MobileMe service, I am re-posting some of my old blog entires before they become harder to retrieve.

This entry was originally posted on July 6, 2005.

In my “politics of death ” blog entry, I hinted at this point, and I would like to elaborate on it a little bit.

It’s always interesting to read a Supreme Court opinion that may not be popular.

For example:

Kelo v City of New London — which held that eminent domain could extend to areas that are not blighted, solely for economic development — sided with the City of New London for two reasons: first that the court consistently sides with local officials, who may know better than national officials about what is good for a locality, and second, because the city’s plan did not favor a single developer. (In other words, just because WalMart might want to build a store where your house is, that’s not enough to get your local town to condemn your house…)

Texas v Johnson — which held that flagburning is constitutionally protected free speech — questioned why prosecutors didn’t charge Mr. Johnson with other crimes for which he was undoubtedly guilty (inciting a riot, etc…)

And Roe v Wade recognized on its face that there would be people with moral objections to it, however the judgment itself would be based solely on the constitution and that the 9th through 14th amendments, through precedent, would require that laws banning abortion be unconstitutional.

(Incidentally, you can search for all three of these supreme court opinions, along with all of the other opinions, at Cornell’s Legal Information Institute website.)

My problem, though, with the overall abortion debate is that it’s no longer a debate. Neither side is willing to accept any type of compromise with the other, and that’s truly not helping us get anywhere. As far as I’m aware, nobody’s standing on the corner screaming “We’re not performing enough abortions!” On either side of the debate. Not even those who would stand to profit by performing more. It’s just not that lucrative.

The only solution to this issue, therefore, is to fundamentally alter the issue itself. Why not encourage science to produce a process whereby a zygote/embryo/fetus can be removed from a woman’s uterus — with the same level of safety to the mother — without killing the aforementioned unborn? For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll call the process “removal.” For the remainder of this essay, I will refer to the removed zygote/embryo/fetus as a ZEF.

We can assume that the processes would be fundamentally different, depending on how far along the pregnancy is, and they may not even be viable at the same time. I’m fine with that, so long as at some point, all pregnancies can be terminated safely this way.

Once the process (or processes) is (are) tested and deemed safe, the discussion would immediately turn to what is to be done with the removed ZEF, and additional medical and scientific procedures may be needed for some of them. Each one raises ethical and legal concerns that we previously didn’t have to address with traditional abortion.

One option — like it or not — is the destruction of the ZEF. The only reason to favor removal over abortion if this is going to be the end result would be if the removal process is ultimately safer to the mother than abortion. Presumably, the abortion debate would morph into a debate over whether or not the ZEF should be destroyed following the removal. With other options available, though, this would not happen very often.

A second option would be to allow the ZEF to be donated to additional scientific research, akin to stem cell research today. This will have varying degrees of ethical concerns depending on your stance on this type of research and it would also vary between whether the pregnancy was terminated after a month, or six months. Even in the absence of stem cell research, what if the unborn child is diagnosed with some genetic disease? Would it be ethical to allow the removal for research to combat this disease? There is much to be thought about with regard to this matter.

Option number three would be to freeze the ZEF cryogenically for later use. I kind of figure this one would be the option of choice to the 15-year-old girl who gets pregnant, accepts that she might want children, say, ten years later, but would prefer not to have the baby now. This assumes the development of a technology whereby the ZEF can be re-implanted in the mother’s uterus. Might as well be a part of the research being funded. Among the issues raised here are the proper methods for safely freezing the ZEF, the costs associated with storage, and certain intangibles such as whether or not the mother follows through on the decision to have it re-implanted later, or even if the mother dies before having the opportunity to re-implant it. (In the event of the death of the mother, presumably the ZEF would be a part of her estate. For a young girl, here estate might not be very large, so certain protections must therefore be built into probate and estate law.)

The fourth option would be to bring the ZEF to a full gestational term and have someone else raise that child. As I termed it in my “politics of death blog” from a few months ago, we can call it a pre-birth adoption. There are three sub-options — all of which would require a significant amount of additional research not unlike the research needed in the third option — that may be viable depending on how mature the ZEF is.

Option 4a would be to bring the ZEF to gestational term outside of anyone’s womb, at which point it could be adopted and/or placed in foster care, not unlike the current systems.

Option 4b would be to implant the ZEF into the womb of a woman who would otherwise adopt the child once it is born. We would need a fair amount of legal disclosures and agreements, specifically with regard to protecting both sides in the event of a miscarriage, but we could certainly build on the existing adoption contracts.

Option 4c is alternately the most fascinating and troubling. It is the situation where, for reasons that range from health to ability of the potential adoptive mother, the ZEF is implanted in the womb of a third party, a surrogate. In this situation, we would likely need to combine the contracts that currently exist for adoption, plus the contracts that currently exist for surrogate mothers, all with similar protections as we are asking for in option 4b. We could therefore find ourselves in a contract that involves three separate entities: the biological mother (and father, as necessary), the surrogate mother (and any relatives who would take an interest in it), and the adoptive parents once the child is born.

For all three variations on option four, is there room for freezing the ZEF, as in option three, before bringing it to term?

I’m not pretending to have all of the answers here, especially since a lot of this governs minutiae of the law and I am not seasoned in this aspect of the law. But if the government were willing to promote this degree of scientific research, wouldn’t it be nice to actually open up the debate again, and possibly find a reasonable middle ground? Nothing else seems to be working….

Flashback: A Proposed Constitutional Amendment

In anticipation of the shutdown of Apple’s MobileMe service, I am re-posting some of my old blog entires before they become harder to retrieve.

This entry was originally posted on September 11, 2005. Please note that the link in the second paragraph at the time was to my Senator’s web page in the Senate. As he is no longer in the Senate the page does not exist anymore, I have changed the link to the Wikipedia entry on him.

In April, 2004, I wrote a blog entry that covered the five items that occasionally come up as potential amendments to the US constitution. This item covers the one amendment that, as of right now, is most likely to become law.

On June 22, 2005, the US House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill that would enable Congress to pass a law that bans desecration of the United States flag. The following day, I sent an e-mail to one of my senators, Arlen Specter , urging him to vote against it when it comes up for a vote in the Senate.

For some background on this amendment, it was first proposed after the 1989 Supreme Court ruling in Texas v. Johnson, which declared that a Texas state law that prohibited the burning of a US flag, was unconstitutional as it violated the first amendment freedom of speech provisions.

A couple of interesting points about this ruling bear mention:
— first off, the entire law was not overturned; only the paragraph as it pertains to burning a US flag. The rest of the law, which bans destruction of other pieces of property (such as tombstones and religious markers) remains intact to this day. This makes sense, actually, as desecration of a tombstone is vandalism or destruction of someone else’s property. If I burn your flag, rather than my own, you have some recourse against me in terms of arson and theft.
— second, the court questioned why prosecutors chose only to prosecute the defendant based upon this one law, rather than other laws for which a conviction was equally assured (i.e., inciting a riot, destruction of property, vandalism, creating a public danger, etc…)

What this ultimately boils down to is the fact that, the only kind of flag desecration that is not prosecutable under other laws, is the one where I do it to my own flag, on my own property, and with little fanfare or public spectacle. (In other words, one that essentially defies the reason for burning it in the first place…)

I don’t have any love lost for people who would burn the flag. It is an offensive act, to say the least. And they deserve to be spit upon, cursed out, and otherwise made to feel bad for doing it. That said, I don’t have a problem with the fact that they have the right to do it. That’s what makes our constitution so great.

There was a movie released in the early 90’s with Wesley Snipes, Sylvester Stallone, Sandra Bullock, and Benjamin Bratt, called Demolition Man. It envisions a futuristic society where, in the interest of peace, it is illegal to do anything that offends anyone. Wesley Snipes, playing a cryogenically frozen criminal from our time who is brought back to life in this future world, argues at one point that we all have the right to be assholes. I’m an American, and I’m proud that I can be an asshole if I want to be…

I also fear for the people and businesses who unintentionally desecrate the flag by flying it at night, in the rain, such that it touches the ground or the side of a building, or in a state where it would be better served by retiring it. How would they be protected from prosecution in the event that such a law passes?

So I contacted Sen. Specter in hopes that he would have the guts to vote against a proposed constitutional amendment that clearly does nothing more than pander to an ill-advised sense of patriotism. Some people will argue “my country, right or wrong…” Again, that’s one of the great things about my country: I have the right to tell it when it’s wrong…

I was extremely disappointed by Sen. Specter’s response last week. Not only did it come off as a canned response which seemed more appropriate to send to those who support the amendment, but also the only argument he could make was a comparison to yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre.

I always wondered about the fire-in-a-theatre rule. What happens if your seat does happen to catch fire? (I don’t know. Maybe, in lieu of the concession prices, I decide to bring a portable propane grill into the theatre for some burgers and hot dogs, and maybe something slips…) What am I supposed to do? Tap the shoulder of the person sitting next to me and whisper in his/her ear, “My seat’s on fire. Pass it on…”?!?!?

Still, I can respect that any place that gets crowded like that, especially with limited ability to move in two or more directions, can be a death trap when people panic and start to stampede against other people.

But yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre can cause a legitimate danger to other people. Burning a flag, assuming the burn itself is controlled and far enough away from any buildings, will do no such thing. Screaming obscenities at the top of one’s lungs in the theatre is a more apt comparison. People will try to silence the person, ignore him, join him, or worse, but there is nothing inherently illegal about it. Maybe yelling “guacamole” in a crowded Mexican Restaurant is an even better comparison, because then someone might actually have the curiosity to ask why the person did it.

I read somewhere that the majority of flagburning incidents in this country are done in protest of flagburning laws. I don’t know how accurate this factoid is, but it is certainly believable.

I can’t begin to express my disappointment of Sen. Arlen Specter for his support of this amendment.

If you care about this matter, I encourage you to check out Warren Apel’s Flagburning page , which contains a very thorough history of this matter, down to the legal definition of “flag” and why the amendment is such a bad idea. (And it’s frightening to think that a photograph of a child’s drawing of a US flag, with three stripes and two stars, is legally a flag..)

Flashback: The Passion of the Christ

In anticipation of the shutdown of Apple’s MobileMe service, I am re-posting some of my old blog entires before they become harder to retrieve.

This entry was originally posted on March 17, 2004.

I am really glad I’m not a Christian.

I saw the controversial movie ‘The Passion’ the other night (or as some friends of mine and I called it, that snuff film…)

Going into the movie, I had heard what a lot of people were saying about it, the excessive violence, blah blah blah. What struck me as unusual about it was how one-dimensional the movie really is. Even knowing that the movie focussed almost entirely on the torture and execution of Jesus, the fact that there was so little else to the movie really surprised me. I think I’ve seen porno movies with more depth.

A lot of evangelical Christians say that this movie is a good way to help to gain converts. That couldn’t be more false. Anyone who didn’t have an upbringing in Christian mythology would have a hard time understanding some of the nuances of the movie. One character, a pale androgynous person wearing a hood who appeared at various points throughout the movie — had it not been for some of the reviews and commentary I’ve seen on this film, I never would have known that this person was supposed to be the devil.

Charges of anti-Semitism. I can see how people looking to hate the Jews would have leverage in this movie, but let’s keep one thing perfectly clear: the only people in the film who were obviously Jewish were King Herod (who chose not to execute Jesus) and the man who agreed to carry Jesus’s cross when Jesus couldn’t bear to carry it any longer. A little knowledge of history would indicate that Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were also Jewish, but I couldn’t be certain of that from any context in the movie. And the bearded old men who insisted that Jesus be crucified? They were referred to as “priests.” Ain’t no priests in Judaism as far as I’m aware.

If it wasn’t the most violent movie I’ve ever seen, it’s way up there on the list. I have a hard time making that distinction because, with the exception of a fistfight or two, Jesus’s stomping of a snake to death, and the suicide of Judas, all of the violence was directed at one person. None of those other scenes of violence amounted much to anything in comparison. The violence of movies like Caligula, A Clockwork Orange, and First Blood at least spread the violence out among multiple targets.

By focussing almost entirely on the process by which Jesus was captured, tortured and executed, this movie underscores what is probably my biggest beef with Christianity: the fact that Christians put too much emphasis on Jesus’s death and not enough on his life. Read what he had to say, and you might appreciate some of his teachings and you might even be able to become a better person. Read about how he died (or watch it on the screen, anyway) and you see a people who glorify an exceptional amount of violence aimed at one person.

Then there are the logistical inaccuracies of the movie. Judas accepts the silver from the priests to bring them to Jesus, the police ask which one Jesus is (and he answers honestly), and then Judas kisses Jesus on the cheek. Jesus then perceives that kiss as one of betrayal? I don’t think so. And the choice of the word “betrayal” seems a bit off here too. They were his followers, not his bodyguards.

Even better yet: are we supposed to believe — honestly — that Jesus was the only person tortured before being executed? Are we to believe that nobody else, while everyone was allegedly waiting around for the messiah to come, stepped forward to claim to be the messiah? I would presume that the others met up with the same fate as Jesus, so whatever was done to Jesus was hardly unique to him. Why focus solely on one man?

And I didn’t think Jesus ever actually referred to himself as the messiah or the son of god. I may be wrong there, but I know that if I were the messiah (and knew it), I wouldn’t tell that to my followers for the simple reason that I wouldn’t want to come off as an egotist and drive people away. That actually brings me to another point that bothers me about Christian mythology. God sends you a messenger that you are his child and your goal is to cleanse (and die for) the sins of man. If I received a message like that, I would do everything in my power to ensure that my sperm — divine seed if you would — could get passed on to another generation. I sincerely suspect that it wouldn’t be all that difficult to achieve.

I didn’t see much passion, I must admit. A lot of pain and suffering but not much passion . After seeing a movie like this, I am really glad I’m not a Christian.

Flashback: Cost-Cutting Measures

In anticipation of the shutdown of Apple’s MobileMe service, I am re-posting some of my old blog entries before they become harder to retrieve.

This entry was originally posted on September 4, 2004.

The process by which a business brings a product or service to the marketplace is not a short or an easy one. It begins with someone’s idea, followed by the necessary approvals, then resources are dedicated to the development of the product or service, followed by marketing and then delivery to the general public. Depending on the industry, there may also be federal and/or state regulations that need to be accommodated. Marketing includes advertising, testing the general public for how receptive they might be to the product or service, education of the sales force and the actual process of making the sale.

So, with all of those costs in mind, it doesn’t bother me when a company wishes to turn a profit on a product or service that they provide. If it costs a company $1.00 to produce that product, it may not be unreasonable to charge $1.10, maybe $1.50, or even $2.00 to the end consumer, as long as they’re willing to pay for it.

Right now I have my mind set on two specific industries whose processes and policies make them likely candidates for a large-scale consumer uprising. Keep in mind that both of these industries have encountered steadily increasing costs, are heavily regulated by the government, and enjoy a relatively captive consumer base.

And the end consumer has been paying more, at least in part, due to unnecessary marketing.

The two industries I am talking about are the credit card industry, and the pharmaceutical industry.

Credit cards. Not a day goes by when I do not receive at least two solicitations in my mail to take out new credit cards. Add in the fact that most retail stores today offer deals on financing purchases by taking out a new credit card, and all banks and credit unions offer the ability to take out a credit card, I can’t see how direct-mail solicitations — even with postal service discounts — serve any need other than to drive up the interest rates and/or fees charged on credit cards. In the case of one noteworthy bank that I shall not name in the interest of being polite, I receive solicitations to take out a credit card with them, even though I already have a card by them. (But I will link to them. Tee hee.)

As I write these words, I’m thinking of my son, Harry , who was just born 16 days ago. Although I have not yet received Harry’s social security card, I know that he is in the process of receiving his own social security number, the basis of his financial identity as he gets older. I figure it is only a matter of time before he receives his first solicitation to take out a credit card.

In 1993, a new drug was placed on the market, after obtaining FDA approval. This drug was called Rogaine. The baldness cure was the first to market itself directly to potential consumers, in spite of the fact that it was only available as a prescription when it first came out. Furthermore, this drug took the unconventional step of insulting its potential clients by having ads that literally said nothing about it. The handsome men and women hawking the product said “I started taking Rogaine. You know, with Minoxidil…” No, I don’t necessarily know, and if you expect me to know something about your product without giving me any specifics about what it does, there’s no way I’m going to talk to my doctor about it.

The other extreme in drug advertising is saying what it does, and then it goes on to say that if you or anyone in your family has any history of heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, ingrown toenails or lazy eye, you should avoid taking this drug.

To be fair, the pharmaceutical industry is heavily regulated by the government, and with reason. All drugs must be proven reasonably safe before they can be brought to market, and the risks should be well documented, since all drugs have some kind of side effect. Therefore, when it comes to mass advertising, they either have to be so vague as to not reveal what the drug is actually intended to do, or they should give warnings about every potential reaction the drug could have with your body and/or other drugs you might be taking.

I have another suggestion with regard to advertising of drugs: don’t allow them except in medical trade publications and direct marketing to the doctors who would prescribe it, the pharmacies who would dispense it, and the nurses who would give it out. Put information on your company’s website and websites like WebMD , but I don’t need to see or hear an ad in newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio, for a drug that I can’t walk into a drugstore and buy on my own, without a prescription.

Direct mail marketing of credit cards, and mass marketing of prescription drugs are two unnecessary costs for otherwise worthwhile products. These costs are only passed on to the consumer. I have no sympathy for either industry, when consumers try to go about finding ways of doing something cheaper and/or more efficiently.