Comments and observations on social and political trends and events.

Monday, December 31, 2007

How to say NO?

How do we say No? Why is it so hard to say for many of us? Is there a way of saying no that respects our interests while respecting those of others? Many of us feel uncomfortable telling people no so we take several ways of doing it. Probably the most common way is to avoid saying no by giving in, thus making us feel bad about doing so and begrudging the person who put us into that spot. As one who tests as an Amiable in Social Styles I know it’s hard for me.

On the other hand we all know people who have no trouble saying no and seem to relish in it with the sensitivity of brass knuckles. (Fortunately, this group seems to be a minority.)

Are these the only ways of handling saying no? No! (There, I said it!) William Ury, who has written a number of books on getting to yes [Getting Past No and Getting to Yes] and directs the Global Negotiation Project at Harvard University, tackles the flip side in The Power Of A Positive No.

His book lays out a three-step process consisting of 9 sub-steps. In essence his three steps are yes-no-yes. By that I mean:

  1. Prepare by expressing your interests,
  2. Deliver your no
  3. Follow through by offering a yes that stays true to your interests while acknowledging theirs.

Throughout the book Ury also offers tips on how to word your no. “I won’t be serving on the committee. Thank you for thinking of me.” “I’m saying No now. Thank you.” As for offering an alternative yes, Ury suggests making a proposal that gives the other person a chance to say no to you. The idea behind this is “As Churchill realized, showing respect comes not from weakness and insecurity, but rather from strength and confidence. Respect for the other flows directly from respect for self. You give respect to others not so much because of who they are but because of who you are. Respect is an expression of your self and your values."

This last step – offering a counter-proposal - might seem to be controversial but to me it ultimately makes sense especially for on-going relationships. This proposal might be as simple as saying, “Thanks for the offer to work on this project but my plate is full. Maybe next time?”

There is much more to The Power Of A Positive No than I can cover here. Truth be told, I don’t have the 9 complete steps memorized. Maybe if I took a course on the subject all 9 steps would stick. But I can attest to the effectiveness of packaging my no’s in the yes (to my interests)/no (declining to agree)/yes? (offering an alternative) has worked for me. Plus, Ury’s approach is based on maintaining your objectivity, which appeals to me. By doing so you can clearly express your interests while respecting the other party. Being a proponent of passionate objectivity, Ury’s approach to saying no gets a big yes.

Friday, December 21, 2007

U.S. Senate Report: Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global Warming Claims in 2007

To stifle disagreement with his dire global warming message Al Gore has relied on the mantra that the debate is over. According to Gore there is an overwhelming consensus among reputable scientists that human activities cause global warming. This document with the title shown above, posted on the U. S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works web site, says otherwise.

The Dangers of Undermining Patient Choice: Lessons from Europe and Canada

The Galen Institute has posted an article with the above title that analyzes the health care systems of various European countries. It offers the strengths and weaknesses of each from a free market perspective. Here is a key quote from this document.

But consider: Clothing, housing and food also fill basic needs. We do not want anyone to be without clothes, shelter or food. Yet those sectors are organized differently from health care. We do not have the government outfitter that issues the one-size-fits-all coat. We do not have the central quartermaster who provides standardized housing. Nor do we eat the same menu in the people’s canteen. For all these very basic needs, we let the market do the trick—and, as a society, we help the poor who cannot pay market prices so they can at least enjoy a minimum level.”

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Health Care Analysis

Here is an article on health care from The Objective Standard. Given that health care is likely to be a central issue of the upcoming Presidential campaign this essay is well worth reading.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Competition and sportsmanship

Recently I watched the movie Blue Crush (Widescreen Collector's Edition) with my twin teenage daughters. Blue Crush tells the story of a young lady surfer who wants to compete in an upcoming national event. However, she has to fight her own fears because of a previous surfing accident. Naturally, the plot follows the formula of almost all sports movies. Blue Crush is not a great movie but it’s not bad either. The conclusion of the movie takes a slight detour from the usual. The heroine, Ann Marie, makes it through the first round when her competitor wipes out on a massive wave. (The film takes place in Hawaii where the famous Banzai Pipeline is the scene of major competitions. I visited the Pipeline a long time ago and was impressed by the ferocity of the waves. The movie also uses professional women surfers for the final competition scene including Keala Kennelly.)

In her first heat Ann Marie takes a spill right after her competitor falls and has to leave the competition with a back injury. Ann Marie’s ankle leash gets caught on the reef so that she in unable to reach the surface until she can release the leash. Ann Marie gets to move to the second heat because her opponent can’t proceed but she doesn’t want to go out on the water again. Her romantic interest, an NFL quarterback, stops by the medical tent to check on her. He starts to tell a story how he was blindsided and drilled. She says, “So you got back into the game and won it, right?” He says that his coach talks him into going back in, does not win the game, gets pounded some more but he vividly remembers a perfect touchdown pass. Ann Marie decides to go back in, against Keala Kennelly.

In Ann Marie’s first attempt she wipes out then gets pounded by a series of waves. When she returns for her final attempt Kennelly tells Ann Marie to follow her to a place where the waves break better, tells her which wave to catch then cheers on Ann Marie as she takes the ride of her life and gets a perfect score from the judges. Her score is not enough to overtake Kennelly but Ann Marie doesn’t care because she overcame her fears and rode the wave perfectly. Kennelly gives her a high five afterwards. One of the cameramen watching Ann Marie celebrating her performance with her family and friends asks a colleague, "Doesn’t she realize she lost?”

So why does this sequence stand out for me? I think it points to several key points about competition.

  1. Competing against a strong rival can bring out your best. Speaking from experience, I know that playing tennis against an opponent who is equal or better than me gets more out of me than if I was just working off a backboard or against a weaker player.
  2. Which leads to the fact that competition can be a form of collaboration if both participants share this spirit. They recognize that hard competition can bring out the best in each other. This is why Kennelly cheers on Ann Marie. In essence she is saying, “If you’re going to beat me, do it with your best stuff.” This is where Blue Crush avoids presenting the adversary as evil or nasty.
  3. Winning isn’t everything, but trying to win is. (According to books I’ve read recently Vince Lombardi actually said this, not “Winning is the only thing.”) There is no shame in losing as long as you try your best.
  4. If you have a strong self-esteem then losing to a worthy opponent does not threaten how you feel about yourself. Losing might not be fun and you might feel miserable for a while, especially if you did not perform up to your standards, but it should not lead to resorting to cheating to get the win.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Unstoppable Global Warming from the Chilling Stars

In an earlier post I mentioned two books that challenge the popular thesis that carbon dioxide released by our burning of fossil fuels is driving up the world’s temperature. The first book is Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years by S. Fred Singer, distinguished Research Professor at George Mason University and Professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia. Singer does not dispute that there has been some warming in the 20th century. Instead he challenges the much-publicized theory espoused by Al Gore and his supporters. Singer claims that over the last million years the earth has experienced warm-cold cycles every 1,500 years or so on top of a longer 100,000-year cycle. His conclusion is based on a variety of sources:

  • Ice cores from Antarctic’s Vostok Glacier and from Greenland at the opposite end of the earth,
  • Sea-bed sediment cores from the North Atlantic and South Atlantic Ocean, the Sargasso Sea and the Arabian Sea,
  • Cave stalagmites in Iceland, Germany and New Zealand, and
  • Archaeological analysis of human settlements.

Singer also points out that the 1,500-year cycle correlates very closely with a similar length solar cycle (which is the result of the combination of an 87 year and a 210 year cycle).

Of course, this solar cycle does not directly refute the greenhouse theory. Carbon dioxide released by our activities could add to the natural warming cycle. Singer addresses this by showing:

  1. Warming occurred during the Roman era and the Middle Ages, well before human burning of fossil fuel would have been a significant factor.
  2. Carbon dioxide release doesn’t even explain the most recent temperature changes. The most warming of the 20th century occurred before 1940 while the most carbon dioxide was generated after 1940.
  3. Warming in previous cycles occurs 800 years before carbon dioxide levels increase. In other words, the relationship between warming and carbon dioxide is opposite of what the global warming alarmists claim.
Above I mentioned that Singer reports there is an even longer cycle to the 1,500 cycle. The Chilling Stars: The New Theory of Climate Change by Henrik Svensmark presents a theory he calls cosmoclimatology. Svensmark is a physicist and director of the Danish National Space Center in Copenhagen, Denmark. According to Svensmark, “Cosmic rays control the powerful ‘cloud valve’ that regulates the heating of the earth.” As cosmic rays pass through the atmosphere they create ions which become nuclei for cloud condensation. The clouds that form, especially below 10,000 ft, reflect the sun’s energy and thus cool the earth. In the 20th century the sun’s magnetic field more than doubled in strength and reduced the cosmic rays and, consequently rescued the cloud cover. The reduced cloud cover allowed the earth to warm.

Of course, you could argue that this is just a theory without empirical support. However, Svensmark describes a cloud chamber experiment he designed and ran that demonstrates this mechanism does create nuclei for condensation.

The Chilling Stars ties in nicely with Unstoppable Global Warming on the short warming-cooling cycles but shows there also is evidence of cosmic ray fluctuations on a 145 million year cycle as the sun wanders between the spiral arms of our galaxy.

Bottom line: these books provide a much more plausible explanation of global warming than the Inconvenient Untruth of Al Gore.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Inconvenient Truth about Al Gore

It has been interesting watching Al Gore doggedly fight his battle over the last 15+ years to convince us about the perils and causes of global warming. His battle has hit its stride with a gathering momentum with accolades such as the Academy Award bestowed upon him for his Inconvenient Truth.

Back in the early 1990’s I recall a Boston Globe interview of Gore. At one point the interviewer asked Gore what he thought about the scientists who did not accept the idea of global warming being caused by human activities. He said, “I wish I could find a way to shut them up.” (!) [I don’t have the article and can’t find it online but the quote is burned into my memory.] Over the years Gore and his allies have managed to create the impression that virtually all reputable atmospheric scientists agree global warming is caused by our release of carbon dioxide. Scientists who disagree are depicted as being on the take from the oil companies. Now that the Gore contingent have created the impression of a scientific consensus, Gore claims that fighting global warming is a moral issue. In other words, if you disagree with him, you’re not only wrong but also immoral! Gore’s campaign to “shut up” dissenting scientists has been almost completely successful.

Robert Bidinotto’s work in Reader’s Digest originally convinced me that global warming was sham but for while I started to have doubts based on the constant media claims that climatologists agreed on the human-driven cause of global warming. I decided to conduct my own research from which a different picture emerged. Recently I read two books which I’ll discuss in a separate blog, both of which I found through

I learned that there is no consensus among scientists and that there are other theories which match the data much better than man-made carbon dioxide. The information in these books is not all that hard to find. So why do Gore and his followers persist in advocating that we are to blame? I think the following quote from the former Canadian Environment Minister Christine Stewart sheds light on their motive.

“No matter if the science is all phony, there are collateral environmental benefits…. Climate change [provides] the greatest chance to bring about justice and equality in the world.” Source: Calgary Herald, 14 December 1998.

It all comes down to a new way to make us (the U.S. in particular and the West in general) feel guilty for our material success in order to soften us for their solutions of taxing emissions, changing our life style and bringing us down to the level of countries that don’t suffer from these “problems,” thanks to their policies of punitive taxation, heavy regulation and government control (or strangling) of their economies.

Most Americans buy into some of the propaganda and react maybe by recycling more or car-pooling. But they still buy their SUV’s and dream to live in a large home and maybe even own a private jet. In other words, to live in a style that Gore enjoys!

Health Care Debate

I recently had an e-mail dialog with a friend of mine who wants nationalized health care. Before this exchange I didn’t know much about it except that the health care industry isn’t really a free market. I learned while responding to my friend’s claims (and his recommendation to see Michael Moore’s mockumentary Sicko) how unfree the market really is. Below are extracts of my e-mails to him.

The problem is that we already have a semi-socialized system of health care. Making it fully socialized will only make it worse. The statistics show that people in countries with national health care have to wait for months or years for procedures or tests that we can have done here tomorrow without waiting. As a result, people die in these counties waiting for life saving procedures. My wife’s brother had stomach surgery in Bermuda which has a system modeled on England. The sutures did not hold, allowing his disgestive waste to leak into his body. He ran a temperature for days while his stomach bloated and the doctors took a “don’t worry, be happy” approach. Fortunately his manager chartered a medivac jet from the U.S. and had my brother-in-law flown to Rhodel Island Hospital. Doctors there said he was within 24 hours of dying had he stayed in Bermuda.

I don’t agree that health care is a right for reasons that take too long to spell out in an e-mail. Here it is in a very short nutshell: when you claim a “right” to something you’re basically saying you have a right to the time and abilities of other people, which means basically to enslave them. Third, I don’t believe Michael Moore. Even people on his side of the political fence have major problems with his way of presenting “facts.”

I agree: a caring society SHOULD take care of those who can’t take care of themselves … voluntarily, not by government. It’s too easy for all of us to foist the job of taking care of people onto the government (which means onto others via taxation) instead of doing something ourselves.

I also have a couple of practical reasons why I don’t want the government to run health care.

  1. The government has created a lot of the problems with its attempt to “fix” things. The solution is not to keep adding more “fixes.” (We have nothing like a free market in health care now; it is heavily regulated and getting more so by the day. Medicare causes further problems because the government dictates what it will pay for procedures. Since the government mandated “price” doesn’t cover the hospital’s cost they just shift these costs to us, thus increasing our health care costs. This is a free market? Plus the government with the blessing of the AMA restricts the number of people who can become doctors which results in higher salaries.)
  2. If you’re dissatisfied with something you have the option to switch HMO’s or move to something else like Blue Cross. Having the government run health care means it becomes a monolithic, faceless monopoly. If we don’t like how it’s run where else are we going to go? (In fact, in England and in Canada, people who run into the bureaucratic brick walls of government have resorted to a fledgling and growing alternate market to get what they need, at extra expense.)
  3. The government bureaucrats who run health care would become subject to corruption and influence peddling as companies and the rich use their money to get what they want while we are helpless to do anything about it. I’ve dealt with the bureaucracy of my HMO and with government bureaucracies. I’ll take battling with a private bureaucracy any day because I can always threaten to take my business elsewhere. That kind of threat does not exist with a government bureaucrat. This is the fatal flaw of regulation that is well documented by liberal historian Gabriel Kolko in his book Triumph of Conservatism(which is not a good thing in Kolko’s mind). In his book he shows how businessmen flock to regulators, even campaigning to have their industry regulated (like Melon did with the steel industry), so that they can keep out competition and they can use their money to buy the favor of the regulators and government officials.
  4. The government does such a good job running other things (like building bridges across the Mississippi and the Big Dig in Boston which killed a woman when one of the ceiling panels broke loose due to poor quality epoxy (!?) and crushed her car).