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May 23, 2003

Smoke and Mirrors

The 3rd District Court of Appeals in Florida overturned a $145 billion dollar judgement against the five largest tobacco companies in the United States. Unfortunately it was overturned on a technicality which leaves the smokers free to sue the companies all over again.

Before we go any further, let me make this point as clear as I can... I think smoking is a disgusting habit. I don't like to smell it. I don't like to be around it. But, like anything else, people have the right to do what they want. If you want to smoke, do it. I also think that I have the right as a non-smoker to not be subjected to it, which I believe most smokers respect. Now, with that being said, I'll move on to the rest of my commentary.

The tobacco companies make money because people smoke. I also believe that people smoke because they want to. The tobacco companies are not holding guns to the heads of smokers and forcing them to light up. I won't deny that smoking is addictive, but like anything else, I believe that if people have the willpower, they can stop smoking. It is just like anything else... If someone commits to stopping drinking, they can. If someone decides to stop over eating and lose weight, they can do that, too. Food and alcohol can be very addictive as well.

Now, the argument that is made most often is that a person who has smoked for 30 years didn't know that cigarettes would cause lung cancer or they didn't know that it was bad for them. Interesting argument but I don't buy it. Unless you are illiterate or just plain stupid, you have had some sort of idea that smoking wasn't good for you. First of all, most humans know to fear fire and smoke. So, putting something on fire and emitting smoke into your mouth makes sense? No, not really. Also, in 1965
, the government passed a law requiring that all cigarette packaging have warning messages on them saying that smoking is hazardous to your health. Not to mention all of the information in the news, in the papers, from doctors, in schools and in cigarette advertising that says that smoking causes cancer. If after being inundated with all of this information and disregarding your common sense you still smoke, the you either know what you are doing or you don't care about the consequences. Either way, that is your decision.

So, why are people so hell bent on suing the tobacco companies? Two reasons. First of all, money. Well, that one makes sense, I guess. If you can't get rich through hard work, litigate. Find someone with a lot of money and sue them for all they are worth. Secondly, people don't want to take personal responsibility for what has happened to them. They want to point the finger at someone else and blame them for all their problems. People don't want to admit that they have done anything stupid.

If you want to smoke, feel free to do it. The tobacco companies will gladly continue to supply you. You want someone to blame if and when you get sick? Look in the mirror. You did it to yourself.

May 16, 2003

The friend of my enemy...

When we were children, the decision of who was a friend and who was an enemy was easy. You either liked someone or you didn't. You also had an informal alliance with the friends of your friends, whether you knew them or not. The also lead to having enemies, too. If your friend had an enemy, then that person was your enemy, too. If your enemy had a friend, then that person was your enemy as well. You could narrow it down to three rules:

  • The friend of my friend is my friend.

  • The enemy of my friend is my enemy.

  • The friend of my enemy is my enemy.

  • This usually created heated confrontations around the swingset and sometimes made for a bloody nose or a black eye, but it usually worked out in the end. Alliances could, and often did, change at the drop of a hat. There was very little room for neutrality. You were either with us or against us...

    This sort of playground politics worked well when we were children. As we grew up, we began to understand that there is another thing that plays into this whole situation. If an enemy or a friend of an enemy has something that we need, then what? Well, then we have to play the game of diplomacy. In this game, you compromise. Everyone gets something. Everyone gives up something. This is a game that the United States plays on a daily basis with Saudi Arabia.

    The problem that I see is that the United States is doing a lot of giving and not getting much back. Sure, we give them billions of dollars and we get oil from them. According to the Arms Control Association, we also sold them sold them $14.1 billion in arms from 1994 - 2001. We provide them military security to protect their nation.

    What do we get out of the deal? Oil. And that is about it. I'll be the first to admit that I am a consumer of oil. I drive an unnecessarily large vehicle that gets pretty poor gas mileage. I am part of why we have to purchase so much oil from Saudi Arabia. I don't have a problem with the fact that we have to purchase so much oil. Rather, my issue lies in the fact that, while we are bending over backwards to do a lot for Saudi Arabia, they aren't doing much for us.

    You may be wondering what I mean that they don't do much for us. Lets start with this... 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. OK. So maybe that was just a small pocket of people in the entire country that had a beef with the United States. Maybe not.. Last November, it was reported that the wife of Saudi Prince Bandar allegedly gave tens of thousands of dollars to a charity that, eventually made its way to several of the 9/11 hijackers. While this story has been renounced by the Saudi government, it does bring questions to mind that there are more than just 15 or so people in Saudi Arabia that don't necessarily support the United States. Some of these may be very high ranking people.

    Lately, the big story has been the recent terror attacks in Saudi Arabia against apartment complexes known to house Americans and other foriegn nationals. It has come out that the United States had provided intelligence information to the Saudi government of impending attack that was not acted on. The Saudi government decided that the existing security was adequate.

    Lastly, children are taught in Saudi schools to consider Americans to be infidels and thus, their enemy. This teaching provides breeds hate and that hate will eventually become action of some sort.

    The current enemy of the United States is terrorism. While the support for terrorism is not completely in the open, Saudi Arabia is not completely an enemy of it.

    What can we do? I'm not totally sure. We play the game of diplomacy and keep our lifeblood of oil flowing. In the back our minds, though, we should keep in mind that the friend of our enemy is most definitely not our friend.

    "Diplomacy is the art of saying 'nice doggie' until you can find a rock."- Wynn Catlin