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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Nation Building

We tend to forget the past difficulties, the many false starts, and the painful groping. We see our past achievements as the end result of a clean forward thrust, and our present difficulties as signs of decline and decay.

Eric Hoffer (1902–1983)

It was a hot August, and the dry nature of the business being considered made it extra unpleasant. The everyday gunfire, the hatred and thinly disguised contempt of some representatives for others, made the heat and the continual sniping seem even worse.

For years, these elected representatives – the first free elections held in their nation - had worked under a loosely functioning Confederation. From the day they were first elected, the problems grew worse. There were military dangers attendant upon participating, as insurgent and counter-insurgent shot from behind every rock. Lack of representatives attending Congress, and the relocation of debates for safety purposes prevented continual debate on the Articles. The debates concerning the Articles were prolonged over questions regarding representation in the legislature, land boundaries, and apportionment of taxation. Now, the time to write a binding constitution had at last come.

The delegates debated to redress the deficiencies of the then-current government created by the elections. Many of the delegates maintained that a strong national government was needed to replace the weak central government that existed; others feared a return to the authoritarian one-man rule they had just died to overthrow. Delegates from the north and south almost spoke different languages when it came to their country. Compromises were reached that gave fewer rights and liberties to some citizens than others, based on social and religious beliefs, but unless the compromises were made, the country would fall into anarchy. A special clause even had to be added to the constitution that allowed the free passage of a citizen from one part of the country to another, without a passport or fees being needed.

In mid-September, after a final compromise was reached giving a greater proportion of representation to minorities, a vote to engross the Constitution was taken, and it was sent to the people to be ratified. Those who had lost out in the compromises promised a string of immediate amendments, and some were indeed added later.

Is this a description of Baghdad, 2005? No, of Philadelphia, 1786. And while the Founding Fathers were able to cobble together the Articles of Confederation in two years, it took from June 26, 1778 to September 17, 1786 – 8 years – to go from the adoption of the Articles of Confederation to a final Constitution to be sent to the public for ratification, with slaves counted as 2/3 of a person (as women may be treated under the new Iraqi constitution). In fact, what we think of as our 'constitutional rights' arent's actually in the Constitution, but instead are in those early amendments.

Remember that the next time you read that the process is taking too long in Iraq – it took us eight years.

Porcupine again thanks the National Archives and the National Parks Service for refreshing his memory with specific dates.


Friday, August 26, 2005


I had created this to try to 'keep a good thought' -


Now, we can just say


Your 'vision' from 1997 has finally been realized!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Inwardly Ravenous Wolves

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

John 4:1, King James Version

Religious leaders are currently much in the news. One is the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, Leader of the Nation of Islam.

Here are some of the thoughts currently on the Nation of Islam web site and others.

On Michael Jackson: "We shall see if the slanderous foam that dripped from the mouths of members of the media and “talking heads” who fed the public bitter cynicism and vitriolic lies in the months that led up to the trial will dry up. The character assassination is nothing new, the kangaroo court tactics were expected; but the months of mud that they threw on him will only aid in his restoration. Those of us who supported him did so, not only out of suspicion of the judicial system, but out of love for the sensitive and sincere human being we became acquainted with through his music. "

On the 40th anniversary of the Watts race riots: "When the Jim Crow signs came down and ghetto walls tumbled, more Blacks than ever marched into the corporations, onto universities, and into Congress and statehouses. This gave the false and misleading impression that economic deprivation was a thing of the past for all but a few unlucky Blacks. That was a pipedream, and America soon found it out. "

On the coming civil war: "It appears that there is a genocidal plan against Black people. The desire of many of those in power is the maintenance of White supremacy. Whites and their institutions have created inferior-minded Black people with a slave mentality. There are those who do not wish to see us as equals in the society."

On Jews (Feb., 2005): “Listen, Jewish people don’t have no hands that are free of the blood of us. They owned slave ships, they bought and sold us. They raped and robbed us. If you can’t face that, why you gonna condemn me for showing you your past, how then can you atone and repent if somebody don’t open the book with courage, you don’t have that, but I’ll be damned, I got it.”

On race relations: “White people are potential humans…they haven’t evolved yet."

On the role of women: "The Holy Qur’an teaches that the woman is the consoler of the man. What is consolation? It is to ease the man from the pain and burden of the labor that Allah (God) has imposed upon the man. Allah (God) has given man a female whose duty, by nature, is to ease the burden on man, to console, to give peace and quiet of mind, whether he knows that this demand is in his nature or not." From there the Minister went on to discuss how women were taken out of the home during World War II to work. "Today you hardly know how to boil an egg and you want to get married. Women have become a top breadwinner." After women were taken out of the home, according to the Minister, they began to have a new style of clothing. Hems began to rise. "Gradually he’s taken your clothes off. Satan has created the style to take you down," said the Minister, "Now that he’s taken you down, you’re attracting power is not what you think. The woman is in a degenerative state."

Just last night, here in Dorchester, Mass., according to the Boston Herald, “He claimed roadwork being done on local highways could be the beginning of an invasion of the inner city by U.S. Troops. ``Right now there's work being done on highways. What is that being done for? The more they reinforce the highways, the more tanks they can run over them . . . you are being programmed to rise up so the slaughter can begin.''

I’m not clear on who would be slaughtered here on Cape, but I concede that it will be easier to get tanks across the bridge without the Sagamore Rotary.

Why mention this now?

Because Farrakhan is not the only religious leader making foolish statements. Rev. Pat Robertson also made some inflammatory remarks on a broadcast of ‘The 700 Club’ about the desirability of assassinating Venezuelan President Chavez. He has apologized
; the White House immediately condemned his words. Really, Rev. Robertson is far less a political leader than Minister Farrakhan. The reason for Farrakhan’s appearance in his home town of Boston last night was to lay groundwork for his Millions More March, to be held on the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March this coming October. Boston plans to send 100 busses of demonstrators to Washington.

Will Minister Farrakhan even be asked to apologize to the administration for asserting that they are actively planning to slaughter their own citizens, much less be condemned and editorialized about?

And if not, why not?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Powders of the Merchant

Like a bad doctor who has fallen down sick you are cast down, and cannot find what sort of drugs would cure your ailment.
Aeschylus (525–456 B.C.)

Sometimes, placing two news stories next to one another like puzzle pieces place them both in sharp relief. The Porcupine has no quick answer for this problem, as I come from a day when nostrums were mostly ineffectual. Genuinely curative drugs are a fairly new phenomenon in human history.

First, a story which first ran on the ‘American Morning’ on CNN on August 12, and several times again after that.

As part of a series on cancer drugs, Dr. Sanjay Gupta visited Dr. Eugenie Kleinerman at the Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. Dr. Kleinerman is working with an experimental drug called ImmTher in a clinical trial for Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer which strikes primarily children. Dr. Kleinerman has had very good results with this trial, and children treated with the drug are in remission, and perhaps even cured. However, the drug will no longer be produced, and here are Dr. Kleinerman’s comments on that:
Basically, I was getting the message that our marketing people have done research and we're never going to be able to recoup our research and development costs. And it doesn't matter who we're going to help and who we're not going to help, the marketing people have made the decision that we're not putting any more resources in this.” Further:
Because sarcomas are a very rare tumor, and you have to understand that drug companies, pharmaceutical companies, have to report to their stockholders, and they're interested in their financials, and this will never be a money-maker.”
Dr. Kleinerman has about enough drugs on hand for six months, time enough to complete the current trial and help those children, and then that’s it.

Dr. Gupta of CNN then went on to say:

I think everybody feels the same way. It's really one of these things that sort of boggles the mind. Couple things. There is something called the Orphan Drug Act. This was actually from federal government to try and create drugs for diseases that affect less than 200,000 people in the United States. But what we found as we sort of explored this was the pharmaceutical companies, even with these federal incentives, don't always want to make these drugs. So maybe there needs to be improvements and amendments to the Orphan Drug Act. "

Greedy companies. Makes your blood boil. Here’s a little additional information that didn’t make it on to CNN.

ImmTher began its clinical trials for FDA approval in 1999, so they have been moving through the FDA process for about six years. The drug is made by DOR BioPharma, a division of a small pharmaceutical company called Endorex Corp. which does a lot of cancer research. This year, the 52 week high of its stock was 81 cents, and it now sells for 29 cents. Over the course of the year, it has lost over 40% of it overall value. Before you blame bloated bureaucracy, the company has 9 employees.

The Orphan Drug Act, designed to encourage companies to manufacture medication for obscure diseases, offers tax credits. The company doesn’t need credit to continue manufacture, it needs cash. Of all the 6 billion people in the United States, only about 100,000 have this rare sarcoma, and there are only 12,000 new cases diagnosed per year. So the likelihood of another larger company beginning production with no reward but the tax credit is slim. As Dr. Kleinerman says, this will never be a money maker. And money is needed by drug companies to pay court judgments like the one recently handed down against Merck Pharmaceutical about Vioxx.

This is the second piece of the puzzle. A Texas jury found pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. liable Friday for the death of a man who took the once-popular painkiller Vioxx, awarding his widow $253.4 million in damages in the first of thousands of lawsuits pending across the country. The jury deliberated for a grand total of 10½ hours over two days before returning the verdict in a 10-2 vote. The damage award to the man’s widow Carol Ernst is likely to be drastically cut to no more than $26.1 million because Texas law caps the punitive damages that made up the bulk of the total.

When Merck first learned of the problem with its drug through a blind placebo study, they recalled the drug and issued the following statement:

"We are taking this action because we believe it best serves the interests of patients,” said Raymond V. Gilmartin, chairman, president and chief
executive officer of Merck. “Although we believe it would have been possible to continue to market VIOXX with labeling that would incorporate these new data, given the availability of alternative therapies, and the questions raised by the data, we concluded that a voluntary withdrawal is the responsible course to take.”

Fat lot of good a voluntary recall has done them, of course. The legion of lawsuits is almost certain. In fact, to see if YOU have a case, just visit these web sites, and join in the plundering of Merck:

http://www.viox-heart-attack.com/ or http://www.vioxx-side-effects.com/

By what standard of reason would a jury award $253 million to the family of a man who died of the side effect of drugs which had already passed through the stringent FDA process? Do they understand that by doing so, they lengthen and make more expensive such clinical trials for drugs like ImmTher, and doom 12,000 children a year, by taking the $26 million they might have spent on rescuing such an Orphan Drug and giving it to one widow?

The drug companies can afford it, right? A little company like Endorex has tons of profit, don’t they? I wonder why we think it’s OK to punish drug companies for making a profit, but bemoan the fact that the salary cap prevents out team from getting the players they want.

ImmTher and Vioxx are two sides of a coin that we are loath to spend.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Weighty Matters

Why do we follow the majority? Is it because they have more reason? No, because they have more power.
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

I have read today in the Cape Cod Times that Thomas Bernardo, Speaker of the Assembly of Delegates, is afraid of too much power being given to the Executive Branch of the County Government, a.k.a. the County Commissioners. It is rather the rest of us in the county who should be afraid, as it is only the Executive which shall save us from the Assembly.

At the end of this essay are posted the ‘weights’ given to each town in the Assembly of Delegates. These weights are based upon population, and give single representatives from more populated areas the ability to override the concerns of less populated towns. For instance, the sum total vote of all towns east of the Bass River, including Dennis with the largest vote, is 29.30%. The Town of Barnstable alone has a vote of 21.52%, meaning if it can get a single upper Cape town to vote with it, it can nullify the vote of nine of the Cape’s fifteen towns. At least with Bill Doherty of Harwich, we have 33% representation in the Executive.

These weights are often used in unexpected ways. For instance, this summer we were to have had a Flex Route bus service for the towns on the outer Cape. The busses were donated for the route by the Federal government through the National Seashore. All that was needed for the route to go on line was the acceptance of a final bid for a new storage and maintenance facility to be built in Dennis. At the June meeting of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, the towns of Barnstable, Falmouth and Yarmouth were able to outvote the assembled lower Cape towns, and there will be no Flex Route bus this summer. The Transit Authority uses the same weighted vote as the Assembly of Delegates, which is why it is dedicated to minority rule. Of course, it didn’t help that Dennis, with the most sizeable vote among the towns affected, didn’t bother to show up or vote and had not done so for over a year. By the way, the issue over which the upper Cape towns sunk the bid for the storage facility for the free busses is whether or not one portion should or should not have garage doors – pressing concern, that. The Assembly of Delegates was not party to this vote, but the weighting system allowing upper Cape towns to negate projects of no personal benefit to them was, and that is what is unfair.

Mr. Bernardo is often seen now on public access television, explaining how the Assembly is close to finalizing is Regional Wastewater Agreement (Did you know this? They had three public hearings – how could you have missed them?). The fact that his proposal was hooted out of town by more than one currently sovereign municipality isn’t really relevant – you see, Barnstable is on board for a way out of its chronic mismanagement by tapping lower Cape towns (which do not have the same taxaholic mentality) for their sewer financial problems; so naturally, Barnstable and the upper Cape will be able to outvote the lower Cape, probably 9 to 6. The fact that towns like Dennis (which does not even have a town water department, but has a separate water district with its own town meeting and moderators) and Wellfleet (which does not yet have town water, let alone sewers) want no part of a county-wide MWRA-like system is irrelevant – as is their combined 8.43% of the vote, exactly as much as the town of Bourne alone.

This whole weighted vote scam suffers from one serious flaw. It is modeled on Congressional representation, giving a greater say to more populous areas, but there is no corresponding Executive representation based on town entities. The five outer Cape towns do not have a Commissioner, and the mid-Cape has only Bill Doherty. Before he was elected, ALL the commissioners came from Barnstable or points west for a very long time. It is wrong that Commissioners are elected by an at-large vote giving towns with greater population a grater advantage in voting, and the Assembly has a weighted vote giving more populated areas unlimited opportunity to trample over the nine outer Cape towns. Two advantages out of two! Instead, why not have an Upper Cape Commissioner (Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth, Mashpee and Barnstable), a Mid-Cape Commissioner (Yarmouth, Dennis, Harwich, Brewster and Chatham) and an Outer Cape Commissioner (Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown)? That would give the majority in the Executive to the ten lower Cape towns? Why is that more unfair than allowing a single 21.52% elephant in the Assembly of Delegates to dictate to the rest of Cape Cod?

A while ago, I suggested that the outer Cape towns secede and form their own Pamet County (see April 17, 'A Pamet Divorce' in Archives). Perhaps insisting that the moribund County Charter bill, first filed in 2001 based on a vote taken in 2000 before the Assembly had really gotten underway (refiled every other year with no subsequent vote by the residents of Barnstable County – and I wonder how that vote would go if it were taken again today?), and never passed by the Legislature, should be amended to at least allow for regional Commissioners as a protection for us on the outer Cape. It would be especially desirable if the Executive could also be given a line item veto as well. The Assembly would sill be able to override a veto for something genuinely desired by the entire County instead of a single overweight town.

There is too much power in the County government already, largely beneath the radar of newer residents who have come from other parts of the state where vestigial counties were long ago abolished entirely. Giving them the ability to press their weight upon us must be resisted. Bullies may be big, but they aren’t often right.

Check Below to see how YOUR town stacks up (Statistics are from the web site – any comments about inaccuracies may be directed there).

Barnstable – 21.52%
Bourne – 08.43%
Brewster – 04.54%
Chatham – 02.98%
Dennis – 07.19%
Eastham – 02.45%
Falmouth – 14.70%
Harwich – 05.57%
Mashpee – 05.83%
Orleans - 02.85%
Provincetown 01.54%
Sandwich - 09.06%
Truro - 00.94%
Wellfleet - 01.24%
Yarmouth - 11.16%

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Washed by the rivers, Blest by suns of home.

"A Youth, Who, not inglorious, in his age’s bloom, Was hurried hence by too severe a doom.”
Thus, weeping while he spoke, he took his way,
Where, new in death, lamented Pallas lay.

Vergil (70 B.C.–19 B.C.). The Æneid

The loss of Eric Haas is a sad blow for Cape Cod. A popular and handsome Nauset graduate, the fact that he was appointed to attend the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and put himself through the challenge of becoming an Eagle Scout speaks volumes about his fundamental worth to those not personally acquainted with him or his family. His parents and family have the condolences of their neighbors for their grievous loss.

However, his sad death has brought two issues to the fore for consideration; one is practical and one is societal, and both deserve consideration.

First, the practical. Cellular phone companies need to reexamine their protocols for dealing with law enforcement before legislation forces them to do so. We have all been told too often that our cell phones contain GPS capability, along with a camera, for their front line operators to claim that they have no idea if ‘pinging’ the phone can produce useful results. The standard that there must be a search warrant or evidence of a crime for them to utilize their technological abilities in nonsense. What is especially offensive is the fact that the Brewster and Harwich police chiefs were ignored, but a Channel 5 television producer was able to get results.

These companies need to appoint law enforcement liaisons. In the event the young adult was leaving of their own volition, which seems to be the company’s concern, they could report this back to the police who could communicate the fact to the person reporting them missing. The police have their own regulations regarding this – a person must be gone for a period of time before they will begin to investigate a missing person report. Let the company’s protocol run concurrently, so when the time has elapsed for the investigation to begin, the cellular company can immediately utilize their technology to transmit the last known coordinates to the police who are experienced in dealing with missing persons; some of them, like battered wives, wish to stay missing and the police have policies in place to protect those who wish to disappear.

As people abandon their land lines in favor of cellular phones, and take their old phone numbers with them, it is important to note that the old relationship with law enforcement does not exist with cellular carriers. For instance, with some carriers, for a call to be traced, the police do not have access to these records in an established way as they do with Verizon, but must instead ask the District Attorney to get the record of calls – a potentially dangerous time lapse. Every company can and does have its own policies, and that needs to be both standardized and communicated to the public, and made more available to law enforcement while respecting the privacy of the cell phone owners. It appears that young Eric Haas died on impact – but what if speedier action could have saved his life AND HE DIED DUE TO LACK OF HELP?

Secondly, the societal. Porcupine is disappointed that ‘grief counselors’ were imported to Nauset to work on this tragedy. Have we really become so fragmented as a community that we cannot comfort one another? Every tragedy now seems to bring these ravens of destruction out – when is the last time you heard of a tragedy on the news without the newly mandatory phrase, ‘Grief Counselors will be provided’ falling from the lacquered lips of the vacant young woman reading the news. As if human commiseration and understanding could be produced by a vending machine! We still have families, churches, trusted teachers, wise adults – why are we outsourcing fundamental human relationships to people not from the community, who may or may not have any understanding of WHY the event in question is a tragedy? As a side note, Porcupine has always wondered what would draw a professional into such a morbid specialty, as gypsies of grief, and wonders if their counsel is affected by their choice of expertise.

Do not misunderstand – Porcupine has noting but respect for the psychiatric profession, and for getting proper treatment for depression and inability to cope. What Porcupine decries is the impersonal and facile ‘handling’ of grief as if it were halitosis or bad posture. Tragedy and grief are deeper and more profound than that, and forces one to confront an irrefutable truth – every person now reading this is going to die someday. Bereavement is not only the loss, but the recognition of mortality and coming to terms with the despair felt upon that recognition. It is not a breathing exercise, but an experience that can make you stronger. As a community, we ought to resist trifling with this experience, but instead use it as a way to draw closer to God and to one another. Let us hold out our hands to one another still.

If these two changes can be made, young Mr. Haas has not died senselessly but has rather died to make his community and world a stronger and more human place. From all that is said about him, it is exactly what he would want.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Keep Speech Free!

We Must All Hang Together, Gentlemen, or Most Assuredly, We Will All Hang Separately.

Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), Remark, July 4, 1776, at the siging of the Declaration of Independence

Attention fellow Bloggers! The Officialdom of Washington is after you, and you have scant time to respond!

As part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is preparing regulations to declare blogging to be an ‘in-kind contribution’, and thus subject to Federal election restrictions. This would be unique – there are no restrictions on editorials, on letters to the Editor, on comments made on television, and so on. These are all part of the exempt Mainstream Media (MSM, as we cyber-folk call it). Only online sites and blogging are being considered for these restrictions.

How did politicians like Senator McCain discover this? Well, Howard Dean wasn’t the only cyber-candidate in 2000 – below is a portion of an article from ComputerWorld in March 2000 –

John McCain's Internet success in the presidential primaries will incite sweeping changes in U.S. politics. As television reinvented politics in the wake of the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960, so will the Net change the ways candidates campaign and voters vote.
· It will become the most efficient campaigning channel. McCain's New Hampshire "bounce" spelled an online cash infusion and invigorated an insurgent campaign that four years ago would have had to wait anxiously by the mailbox for donations. The Internet also amplifies the benefits of free media exposure, especially from TV, and lets candidates bypass the party establishment to connect directly with voters and their wallets, which was key for McCain.
Additionally, it lowers the costs of raising money; voters come to the campaign, rather than leaving it up to the campaign to reach out through expensive fund
raisers, mass mailings or TV ads. In the future, candidates will use personalization technology to tailor their messages to constituents, taking cues from dot-coms and offering visitors experiences that match their desires. The "tax calculator" on Bush's site offers an early example of personalization that will become the norm on candidates' sites.
· Hyperinformed voters switch parties seamlessly. The Net further liquefies voters' fluid party affiliations. Voters have a wealth of information available to them online, as well as the ability to seek information on specific issues. Voters can jump quickly to support candidates whose agendas they support. This same widespread availability of information will also allow third-party candidates to quickly gain voters' attention because their campaign messages around narrow issues can be cheaply and efficiently communicated. Already, sites like SelectSmart.com and Candidatecompare.com allow voters to find the candidates who most closely match their views.

It is easy to see why this worries election regulators. Blogging in cheap, largely uncompensated, and almost impossible to track. Additionally, while some candidates do have on-staff Bloggers (the Romney presidential site is run by a person who may or may not be a volunteer, for example), most blogging is – well, let us say undirected is the nicest way to say it. For instance, while I chose to link to the Romney site, I did not notify them, and have no idea if they are even aware that I have. In the same way, I have only a limited ability to find out who ah chosen to link to my site, which then links to the Romney site, etc. If they are over their limit, and a person find the Romney site through me, am I then over limit? Blogs link to blogs – lists like Technocrati, JoeAnt, and Globe o’Blogs. I am currently a Slithering Reptile in the TTLB Ecosystem (proud to rank 9,495 out of 33,421), I am a link on Hub Politics, I have been mentioned on blogs as diverse as Cape Cod Living and Radio Equalizer – have they unwittingly donated to Romney’s effort as well?

The FEC seems most concerned with blogs that accept advertising – which as it happens, I do not. However, it appears this works against me as salon.com and slate.com are being considered for so-called ‘media exemptions’. Humble scriveners such as I, mere volunteers, are to be excluded from this media exemption. This indicates that the discrimination of MSM against blogging is bipartisan and directly related to their bottom lines from advertisers. However, if you view my blog through the prism of Cape Cod Today, where the most excellent Blogfather does accept advertising, am I unregulated for that post?

And what about the poor politicians who have no idea I even mentioned them? How are they to report on their filings my compliment? Is there need to report insults and slurs – or do those merely rebound as a compliment to the opponent who then has to report that derogation?

More information can be found at The Online Coalition -
http://www.onlinecoalition.com/blog. It is to be hoped that the FEC will give up trying to control such as hydra-headed beast as blogs. Blogs will be used in elections, and in other efforts to change government (hello, COG!). It is not going away, and of the quarter million blogs estimated to be in existence – how can any candidate track every chance remark? We are media, and deserve to be exempt. However, in the meantime, please contact our twelve Federal officials, tell them that bloggings should remain free and unregulated, and in the words of the immortal song,

Let us raise up our glasses
Against Evil Forces, singing
Whiskey for my Men
And Beer for my Horses!

Yr. Obedient Servant,
William Cobbett
Peter Porcupine, Scrivener and
Cyber (formerly Inky) Wretch

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