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January 27, 2003

Failings of Capitalism

I was thinking the other day about some more failings of capitalism. I was going to the bathroom and began to think about how many products have become generally more shoddy over time. What made me think of the topic was, the corky flapper on the toilet I was using was acting up. Of course there could be many reasons why it was acting up, but it just made me think about it. People, in defense of capitalism, explain how competition, in conjunction with supply and demand, will in the end create better products. They reason that an inferior product won't succeed, even if its cheaper. For a moment, lets assume we're not talking about subjectively inferior products like Microsoft vs. Apple or VHS vs. Betamax. There are all sorts of other parts of those arguments. I'm talking more of products that don't even do what they say they'll do, verses products that really do. For example, say there are two competing basic toilets. One is 2/3 the price of the other, but breaks in less than a year. After a while the more expensive product should prevail as people realize its worth paying a little more. That's what the pro-capitalists would argue and they WOULD be right, if we bought our own toilets... but we don't. The theory falls down when one group buys for another group en mass. For example, back to the toilets, when a large apartment complex has to buy your toilet... they'll buy the cheapest toilet they can because they don't have to use it. Now all this talk of toilets may still seem theoretical, plus its making me need to use one. So lets shift focus to a more common example. Health care. There are large groups who are controlling the buying (prices) of everything health care related, pills, doctor visits, etc... These groups go by names like HMOs, PPOs, etc... You entrust them to negotiate prices for you, not that you have a choice. In turn they make sure you can't get many drugs and medical services. They're goal is to make money, not to help you. So, now Clariton is OTC. Who lobbied to make it OTC? Managed Care. Because now they don't have to pay for it.

My Dad told me another great example of this failing. He owns an optical store. In the past, he dealt directly with the suppliers of the lenses and frames. Later, large chains, who had more buying power, were able to get the same items at a discount. The solution: buying groups. A large number of small stores join a buying group and get the benefit of having more buying power. In turn, you get a 20% discount. It probably worked at first, until everyone had joined a buying group. Now everyone gets a 20% discount and no one can deal directly with the companies anymore. This 20% discount, is no longer a discount, its the regular price. And the buying groups are less friendly than the companies. They have stricter payment terms for example. If you are in any way late, you lose you're 20%, which again is no longer a discount, its the price. So you really get a 20% penalty.

Another similar example are grocery store club cards. Coupons used to be a discount, now, instead of a discount, you are penalized for not to using the card. In other words, the real price is the card price, the higher price is a penalty. Most people don't realize this. Unless you let the stores track you, you get penalized. One last example.

A recent trend is for hospitals to join medical supply buying groups. A buying group will approach a number of hospitals with the promise of lower prices by combining their buying power for all their medical supplies. Sounds like a good idea right? The controversy is that these buying groups have started cutting corners in the products they choose. Choosing sub-par products which the hospital would not have chosen. But the hospital has an exclusive contract with the group and can not by products elswhere. Some hospitals are suing and trying to get out of their contracts, but other hospitals are keeping it quiet. Once enough hospitals join buying groups, it will no longer be a discount, but a penalty if they try to go direct. Again, we see one group buying for another. The buying group has different goals than the final recipient. The buying group also has fewer rules or people watching them. This is capitalism at its finest. There are many more examples which illustrate this same point, many more than I can even think of. What is the solution? I'm not sure. I'm pretty sure that the problem isn't legal, but attitudinal. People just don't care enough about their fellow man.

Posted by wonko at 01:40 PM | Comments (5)

January 25, 2003

Dream Breakthrough!

Last night, or this morning I should say, I had a crazy dream. I don't remember the beginning of it, and I wonder whether the dream wasn't broken up into segments because I had the dream after my alarm went off in between snooze sessions. So I think I might have had the first part in a previous snooze session which set up the rest of the dream. First of all, I need to say I didn't know I was dreaming. In fact, I was sure I wasn't, which scared me a great deal as I will explain later. I was walking up to a building, in a large complex of buildings, which I knew I had been to before. There was some snowboarding comp going on with accompanying seminars (for some reason). I walked in to a large conference room and saw Steve and Gina Davie getting ready to watch a conference as it was going to begin. It was at this point that I remembered I had to get to work. In real life, I was going to go snowboarding this morning, but woke up with stabbing pain in my throat and decided to sleep in a little, come in to work early and let Won ride. For me to NOT ride and NOT let Won off early to ride would be selfish. Thats in real life. I was thinking this in the dream though, so I ran off from Steve and proceeded to try and find out how to get to work from here, which was in a connected building. I ended up in this large Mall which I know I've never been in, but seemed familiar in the dream. So much so that as I was walking around it, I saw things which clued me into the notion that I was going in the right direction, like a set of slot machines. Of course, there are no slot machines, nor a mall where I work, so why I would immediately go, "Ahhh the slot machines, I'm getting close, I just need to go that way," is a mystery to me. There more I walked the more I realized things weren't looking right. Not that I didn't recognize what I saw (because I thought I did), just that things lacked clarity. I tried to think back to when I had woke up and what clothing I had put on for work, and couldn't really remember. As I walked by one shop there was a shiny chrome panel and I could just make out what I was wearing. It looked like I was wearing long sleeve, long legged pajamas. For some reason, in the dream this made sense to me. I had forgotten to change into my work clothing that morning! Of course I don't own those types of pajamas. Finally when I reached P3 and Won (which was a store front in this mall) I saw myself in a mirror and was horrified to find I wasn't wearing pajamas at all, but this shiny gold ensamble that had the same shape and fit as long sleeved long legged pajamas. Why did I not realize I was dreaming at this time? I reasoned in the dream that I had put something on in the dark before I left while sick and delirious, it made sense to me. I went up to Won and told him why I didn't board that morning and my plans to relieve him so he could board, but that in my sickness I had been delirious and not changed. I told him I'd run home and change and come back to relieve him. I ran out of the building hoping to catch the bus. There was this big round area with lots of bus signs marked Green, Red, Yellow, Green/Yellow, which makes sense because these are the colors of the bus lines where I live. I needed the Green/Yellow bus, which is really the bus that goes nearest my place in real life. I realized that it might take a while for it to come and I was in a hurry, so I had the idea that I would find Steve Davie again and either ask for a ride, or borrow his car. I ran off looking for where he was. I ran into this building which I thought connected to the room he was in, but it didn't. So I ran out and ran towards the building I knew he was in, but for some reason had a difficult time getting there. There were all these gates and fences. Somewhere around this point, I started singing a song in my head, in my dream. It was a nestalgic song in its tone and made me sad for some reason. As I ran through this large grey grassy field towards the building I knew he was in, I was reflecting on the day so far and suddenly wondered whether it was a dream.

I need to stop at this point and talk about Waking Life for a sec. There is a scene in Waking Life where the main character is talking to another character who tells him there is no way of knowing whether you are dreaming or awake, unless you know how to recognize the subtleties. For instance, while dreaming, you can't read digital clocks or fine print. Also, flicking light switches, in dreams, seems to have no affect. His suggestion was to randomly flick light switches, even while awake, just to get used to the notion of always checking. To be honest it seemed absurd to me. I feel like I know when I'm really awake, I just don't know when I'm dreaming. You can see the paradox there. How can I really know if I'm awake if I don't know when I'm dreaming. So in the dream, when I wondered whether I was dreaming, I had that same absurd feeling. Of course I wasn't dreaming, if I was awake, I'd know it. I reasoned that I must be awake because everything was so real. Of course, the reality was that none of this was very real. But whatever it is within your brain that differentiates real from unreal was clearly asleep while the rest of my mind wandered. I think what finally snapped me out of it was a believe that I WANTED this to be a dream because the whole situation was so frustrating. It was at this point, still not sure if it was a dream, that I opened my eyes. I was in bed and my alarm clock was playing that song that I was singing. All of that had happened in one 10 minute snooze cycle. The dream, that happened completely contiguously, for what reason says was at least 2 hours without skipping or break, had happened in 10 minutes. I woke up thinking that maybe the idea of flicking light switches while awake wasn't a bad idea. Maybe the habbit would carry over to my dreams and alert me to when I'm dreaming.

I haven't analyzed the dream yet, so I'm not sure its meaning. There are obviously some strong themes of being a slave to time, and maybe thats all there is to it. What I got out of it most, though, was how real a dream can seem because things that aren't real can be accepted as such without question. We don't question memories. When we walk to our front door, we don't ask whether this is our REAL front door, we just know it is because our memory says so. In dreams, our memories can conjure up whatever it wants and we will accept it without question... unless we learn to question. What is the power of knowing you're dreaming? I'm still not sure. I'll keep working on it though.

Posted by wonko at 05:24 AM | Comments (2)

January 21, 2003

Mt. Morrison

Bruce and I had agreed a couple days ago that we would go rock climbing at the Alabama Hills (outside of Loan Pine). This morning at 7am, Bruce called to cancel, saying his arms were to burnt from bouldering the day before. So obviously, I went back to sleep. He then called like 7 times trying to get me to answer, but I was sleeping. At 8am he finally got a hold of me and told me he wanted to climb Mt Morrison. I protested that I was doing well sleeping, but I knew he wouldn't drop it. So thats what we did. Morrison is around 12,500'. You start at around 7500', so its about a 5000' vertical gain. It was snow the whole way, though much of the snow had consolidated. We decided to leave our snow shoes in the car and deal with the consequences. In the end, we didn't need them, though it was deep in some places. We left the trailhead at 10:15 and arrived on the summit at 3:30. There, we were treated with a beautiful view of a large segment of the Sierras. We stayed on the top for a half an hour and walked back, arriving at the car at 6:45, 8 1/2 hours after we left, which was good timing. I wasn't sure how in shape I was, but was happy to summit with some energy left.

With each of these excursions I learn more and become more comfortable in that environment. I'll need a lot more of those experiences before I'm ready for Denali. With Bruce as a partner, I'm sure I don't need to worry.

Posted by wonko at 05:03 AM | Comments (1)

January 20, 2003

Rob Dream

Last night I had a long dream which was mostly just me talking to my old friend and coworker Rob. I can't remember why he ended up coming over, but it wasn't planned. We had a good time talking and reminiscing. We agreed to go to the 3rd St. Promenade to walk around and talk. When I awoke, I immediately felt the meaning of the dream. It was just a reminder of the people I don't see or talk to as much. A reminder that I need to make an effort to keep better contact with them.

I find that I often look for answers as dualities. But, frequently, answers are much more complex. For example, one might reason that the human condition is a struggle for acceptance. The duality being alienation vs. acceptance. But more complex themes can also be layered on that simple duality. There's the search for reason, the problem of mortality and our desire to leave our mark in the short time we have. Being overly idealistic, one might think that the most fulfilling life would be one in which every waking moment would be spent in seeking these answers, and improving oneself. Obviously this is unrealistic. People need to work to make money to feed themselves. So, where can we find meaning in these moments that do not appear to further us as individuals. These moments where we are just doing something for survival? I think the answer is in how we interact with others during those moments. There is a meaning, a purpose found in interaction with others. Not just any interaction, but the type of interaction that furthers yourself or others. Sometimes just listening to others can improve their moment. Often, it improves yours. It gives meaning to the moments. We (read I), often forget this importance as I'm thinking about all the unimportant things I have to do, which seem so important. I often feel bothered when a friend calls while I'm doing some scheduled activity that I have to get done. This is a personal flaw in priorities. People are what matter. That is a holistic decision that must be internalized for it to really become an active part of who you are, that instinctively influences your decisions and feelings. I'm making that choice. Lets hope I can internalize and stick to it.

Posted by wonko at 09:00 AM | Comments (0)

Another Mars Dream

Two nights ago, I had a very strange dream, even for my standards. It was a very long and vivid dream too, though I don't remember a lot of it now. In the dream I was walking around with some friends of mine, when suddenly, we found a way to Mars. That makes no sense I know. More specifically, we found a way underground on Mars. There, we found these metal walkways, like catwalks, above boiling lava. The discovery amazed me! It meant people lived or had lived on Mars (or rather, under Mars). As we explored further we found out who the creators of the catwalks had been. We found some paperwork and eventually a phone, all written in English. What it all of this pointed to was that Americans had been to and built structures underground on Mars. I found the revelation startling. There were so many implications. Why had we done this? When had we done this? Where were the people who had done this? It obviously meant our government had lied to us all on a large scale. Did other countries know about this? What was our plans? The strangest part of all was that all my friends, whom I was with, did not find this discovering interesting in the least bit. After a short amount of time they started looking at their watches and wondering when we could go home. I was completely baffled by their lack of interest. Didn't they understand what a huge discovery this was! Obviously not.

It took a day or so after I'd had the dream for me to figure out what it meant. I realized that the dream was a personification of a feeling I get that I'm seeing things around me that others aren't, or are refusing to see. That there is so much more going on if we just open our eyes, but so few do. I've had the feeling lately that people are content to remain in ignorance, purposefully putting their heads in the sand rather than be accountable for the answers to questions they refuse to ask. Obviously, this feeling is a bit presumptuous. One might even see it as egotistical. But its just a feeling. Because I only have my own perspective to see things from, I can't verify whether my perception is true, or even whether, if being true, it is better to live in ignorance or not. They certainly seem happy in their ignorance most of the time. Alas, its a moot point. I am incapable of this brand of apathy.

Posted by wonko at 08:46 AM | Comments (0)

January 17, 2003

Reflections on LA

--------------------------------------------------------- 10:55am Going back to LA for a couple day's for my nephew's birth has been fun and interesting. Its strange to go to 'visit' a place that was my home for so long. It was REALLY good to see old friends though. Being with Matt and Richard on the Promenade really brought back a lot of memories. Really the only bad part was at the very end of Cnation. The rest will always be remembered very fondly. Its always nice to be with people you have so much good history with. Its like there is this connection you share where you can still finish each others sentences and thoughts, even though you've been apart for a long time. I love living in Mammoth, but unlike Phoenix, I love LA too. Its such an eclectic place with such good weather. Ocean, mountains, trees, people of all types. Even now that I live far from the city, and find much of the city a little overbearing, I walked around Santa Monica comfortably, enjoying its eccentricities. It was good to spend time with my family under such happy circumstances too. I think Caleb will change our family dynamics more than almost anything prior. For the better.

From the balcony of the hospital, I could see the clock tower building on 3rd and Santa Monica where I used to work. It definitely made me nostalgic. I couldn't help but ask myself if I'd go back if I could. I've changed who I am dramatically, from my values to my temprament. But the thought is tempting. I felt such comrodery with everyone there. Thai, Greg, Derek, Matt, Al, Rich, Srithip, David, Colin, Thornton, Rob, Cindy, Zack, Woji, and all the short timers. I felt a very deep sense of acceptance in that place at that time. I remember many times seeing how, even though much of the time was stressfull for one reason or another, we laughed a lot. We laughed a great deal, most all of the time. We enjoyed working together, being together, and learning from each other. Its hard sometimes when there is such a bright spot of fond memories which is now past. It helps to believe life is a series of bright spots, with no necessary rational for how far spread apart they will be. Its not something you can even aim for really. They just happen.

In the end, I feel I've taken some learning from this nostalgic trip. I'm still too uptight about time. I've known this for a long 'time'. I am not totally sure how to cure this, but I've got some ideas. I believe most of my problem has to do with my definition and need to feel constantly 'productive'. When the need oppresses me too much, I tend to get less productive, exacerbating the problem. Balance must be found. Knowing me, I'll attempt to find a solution in some systamatic approach to finding balance. I'll tell you if it works. One of the negative consequences of my obsession with time is that I often neglect to keep close contact with my friends. I need to work on that. Because of all my strong memories, few are of 'projects' or 'deadlines'. Most are of good times with good friends. Friends whom I still care a great deal for. I hope they all know that.

Posted by wonko at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

I'm an Uncle!

I'm driving back to Mammoth from LA right now. I've been sick for a week and a half so Sarah is being nice and driving, which is giving me time to write my reflections. As usually, I have many.

----------------------------------------------------------- 8:15 On Tuesday, January 14, 2003, my brother and his wife, David and Janneane Pisoni gave birth to a beautiful baby boy named Caleb Nicholas Pisoni. For many years I have been deathly afraid of children. My brother used to not like being around children either (much less wanting one of his own). Then, as he was forced to be around them more, he began to warm to them and eventually wanted one of his own. Part of my fear was that just being around them would eventually make me want one of my own, which I didn't want, much less want to want. Well, being with my Nephew ended up being a really great experience. I do not want children now any more than I did before, but I understand David's desire more. It is truly a miracle. I can see how babies might give larger purpose to ones life. Not that people without babies can't or don't have purpose, but many of those purposes seem less significant compared to the goal of raising a child. Truly, raising a child is one of the most philanthropic things a person could possibly do. As I left their hospital room last night, I was actually sad to go and sad I lived so far away. I will very much like to see my nephew grow. I am sure they will be great parents, I can already tell.

Another new entry below...

Posted by wonko at 10:10 PM | Comments (0)