Kevin Trudeau: Snake Oilman Par Excellence

01/31/2006: People like Kevin Trudeau give capitalism a bad name; he is to marketing what Ken Lay is to finance.

Over the years, Trudeau has charismatically pitched a myriad of products, making millions of dollars by providing false advertising. Today, he is peddling a book about natural cures.

BS detector alert: anyone who tells you they have natural cures for almost everything is selling snake oil.

Trudeau is no stranger to the government, either.

In 1998, he had to cough up more than $500,000 to settle an Federal Trade Commission complaint.

In 2004, the FTC banned him from appearing in infomercials. This was part of a settlement of another complaint.

In peddling his new book, Natural Cures THEY Don’t Want You To Know About, Trudeau plays on a common rub: public disdain for drug companies. The argument goes something like this: doctors don’t want you to be healthy, otherwise they’d be out of a job; drug companies don’t want you to be healthy, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to sell their products.

There is a good reason people go to doctors and purchase (often expensive) drugs: they usually work. If natural cures worked for cancer more than chemo, surgery, or radiation, then people would be flocking to them. Trudeau overlooks this little tidbit.

We can always find quacks in every segment of society. Evangelicals have Falwell and Robertson; scientists have Huang Woo Suk; Republicans have Nixon; Democrats have Ted Kennedy.

Marketers have Kevin Trudeau.

Postal Worker Goes Postal! :(

01/31/2006: A former postal worker opened fire at a California mail distribution facility last night. She killed six people, then herself.

In the process, the assailant broke several local, state, and federal gun laws. California has among the strictest gun laws in the country; in addition, it is a federal felony to carry a firearm onto a U.S. Postal facility.

Rebecca Peters will undoubtedly use this as a springboard to promoter her Gestapo campaign against firearms.

I plan on buying an extra 1,000 rounds for my .308.

Alito’s In

01/31/2006: In a close vote (58-42), the Senate confirmed Samuel Alito as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court (SCOTUS). This was the closest vote since Clarence Thomas, in the wake of the Anita Hill debacle, secured confirmation by a vote of 52-48.

In this case, 4 Democrats voted for Alito. One Republican–Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island–voted against Alito. The lone independent–Jim Jeffords–also opposed Alito.

While most of the debate has centered around the abortion issue, Alito will likely have little impact, as there are still five pro-Roe justices on SCOTUS.

However, Alito could have a significant effect on business and corporate cases, in which support can sway considerably. In addition, Alito would be instrumental in sure-to-be-addressed cases involving the war against Islammunists. Alito would also be a factor in keeping gun grabbers at bay.

If one of the five pro-Roe justices (Stevens, Breyer, Ginsberg, Kennedy, or Souter) retires or dies, the next SCOTUS nominee will provoke the mother of all political fights.

Savings Rates in USA Hit Lowest Level in 73 Years!

01/30/2006: The United States is in serious trouble. Consumer debt is at an all-time high, and–now–savings rates are at their lowest since the Great Depression.

Anyone who looks at this and sees a healthy economy is smoking something that could really help my back pain.

Consumer debt is sinking this country into the abyss. As interest rates continue to rise, consumers will find out–the hard way–that the borrower is slave to the lender.

Debt is as much a threat to our national security as any camel jockey with a bomb strapped to his butt. Hopefully, Americans will wake up and fight off the debt peddlers. Hopefully, it’s not too late.

Mike Adams Challenging Vox Day

01/30/2006: Looks like Vox Day has some competition for the NOW “official columnist” designation. 😉

Seriously, Vox and Adams have been mounting serious attacks against feminism. Vox contends that feminism is nothing but repackaged fascism, while Adams–a professor of criminology at UNC-Wilmington–does a fine job exposing their wackiness and absurdities.

Anyone who cares about the future of America needs to read their reflections on feminism.

Louisville/Jefferson County Raising Math/Science Standards

01/29/2006: Jefferson County (Kentucky) is looking to increase the math and science requirements for high school graduation from 3 years each to 4 years each. At first glance, this appears to be a positive sign: more math and science is better than less.

My only gripe is it doesn’t address some of the most fundamental shortcomings, not the least of which is financial literacy.

Kentucky citizens are at a crossroads. Few people percentagewise are saving for retirement. Very few are budgeting for long-term health care needs. Few understand the nuances of investing and the time value of money.

Those are the kinds of classes that everyone–college bound or not–should take. People should be shown–while in school–the implications of financial decisionmaking.

I’d rather them learn it in school than in the real world. If you screw up in school, you can make up for a bad exam. In the real world, bad financial decisions are far more damaging.

Kentucky Rallies from 18 Down against Arkansas

01/29/2006: The University of Kentucky is an interesting school, especially when it comes to sports. When the football team loses only ten games, it’s considered a success. However, if the basketball team loses ten games, everyone is calling for a new coach! 😉

Let’s just say that UK basketball coach Tubby Smith has been on the hot seat this year. With blowout losses to North Carolina, Indiana, and Kansas, the year had not been shaping up too well. Then with losses to Vanderbilt and Alabama to begin SEC play, Kentucky was only 10-5. The naysayers proceeded to erupt. (This always seems to happen: a large sector of Kentucky fans–I think they’re latent racists–always try to stir up the pot to get rid of Tubby at the first sign of trouble.)

Then, Kentucky seemed to catch some fire. They battled back against Georgia. They fought off a spirited challenge from South Carolina. They beat a hard-charging Auburn team.

Today, they came back from 18 points down to beat Arkansas, 78-76. Down by 12 at the half, UK outscored the Razorbacks by 14 in the second half as Randolph Morris had a breakout game.

While the UK wins are not coming against highly-ranked opponents, the silver lining is this: they are showing the propensity to fight back. They did this against Georgia, and now against Arkansas. They are also grinding out the nail-biters, such as Auburn and South Carolina.

Against Vanerbilt and Alabama, they were not playing effective defense, and shot the ball poorly. They seem to be shooting better now, and–with Randolph Morris getting his game back–they seem to be playing better team ball.

The real test will come when they play teams like Mississippi State and, of course, Florida. UK and Florida have a tough rivalry going, and this appears to be Florida’s year. On the other hand, in the SEC, anything can happen.

If Kentucky continues their improvement, things could get quite interesting come March.

Oprah Winfrey and A Million Little Pieces: Takeaways

01/29/2006: Oprah Winfrey blew it for the same reason Dan Rather blew it.

A publisher–with much to gain–called her and recommended a book, James Frey’s self-portrait of his drug abuse years, A Million Little Pieces. Oprah, being a softie who likes stories where people conquer big nemeses–such as substance abuse–pounced on it and recommended it to her national audience.

Andrew Goldberg of thesmokinggun.com had already exposed Frey’s screed as having the historical reliability of an Oliver Stone flick. However, rather than check the facts herself, Oprah simply called the publisher and inquired about it.

The publisher, with the prospect of losing millions of dollars–stood by the story. Oprah went ahead and endorsed the book. The publisher successfully transferred the bulk of THEIR risk to Oprah, and she even gave them free advertising to boot. James Frey and his publisher took Oprah–and her fans–for a ride.

While Oprah is not a reporter, she wrongly signed off on a story–that was under suspicion by credible sources–that she failed to confirm. She wanted the story to be true. It was irrational faith-based reporting. When she learned the truth, she tried to minimize the damage. To her credit, once she realized the gravity of her blunder, she apologized and even retracted her support of the book.

Oprah was suckered in this case because she provided an emotional response to something that required a rational assessment. That is hardly a sexist assertion–men and women both do this at times. (Anyone who lost money on tech stocks in the debacle of 2001-2002 did the same thing Oprah did.)

I don’t know Oprah, and I don’t watch her show–I haven’t watched television for over a year–but I’d wager that Oprah has a tendency to trust people too much. I can empathize: I’ve made similar blunders, and lost serious money that way.

I woke up and smelled the napalm and realized that everyone was expecting ME to take THEIR risks! Then I got angry–pissed would better describe the severity of emotion–just as Oprah did on her program.

That alone would not have changed anything: I had to fundamentally change the way I did business with people. I used to rarely say no to people. Today, my favorite question is, “What part of the word “no” don’t you understand???

When people seek me to invest in something that they are recommending, I’m always very suspicious. What are they standing to gain in this? How much risk is involved? What is my share of the risk in this? What is the proportion of the risk they are taking? How much compensation do I stand to get for taking that risk? Does it square compared to what I could make taking less risk? What are the known facts? Can I provide a rational basis for supporting this? Am I willing to devote the time to monitor this? Would a rational investor of my risk tolerance and risk capacity invest in this?

If this sounds like investment advice, that is because it is. Whether you are Oprah (who endorses books) or an investor (who endorses stocks by purchasing them) or a reporter (who endorses stories by reporting them) or even a politician (who endorses lobbyists by taking money from them), you are making a business decision, the quality of which can reflect poorly on you if it is a dud.

Oprah will recover from this: she will become a more rational investor and–in the long run–she will do well. I may not be an Oprah fan, but she is–by and large–successful for very good reason: she’s smart and has business savvy.

The real issue is will larger body of Americans take away the lessons that Oprah learned so painfuly?

The Challenger Explosion: 20 Years Later

01/27/2006: I remember exactly where I was on January 28, 1986.

I was a second-semester freshman at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. I had turned 19 a week earlier.

Like the other 5,000 students, I was–and still am–crazy about all things aerospace. Like everyone else, I looked forward to Space Shuttle launches. The faculty often let us out of class early so we could watch the launches from campus: we were about 30 miles downrange from the launch pad. (Of course, night launches were the coolest to watch!)

Only this time we were very surprised that NASA would bother to launch the Challenger. You see, it had been the coldest night of the year. The temperature had dipped below freezing. In fact, at launch time, the temperature was 34 degrees (Fahrenheit).

Unfortunately, as we would find out, the O-rings on the solid rocket boosters were only designed for a minimum launch temperature of 40 degrees.

Because managers overrode engineers, astronauts Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Greg Jarvis, Judith Resnik, and Christa McAuliffe would die less than two minutes into their mission.

If you weren’t watching the close-up footage on television, things looked weird from 30 miles downrange. From our vantage point, an inexperienced watcher would not have immediately realized something had gone terribly wrong. The boosters appeared to have separated. But where was the shuttle????

Reality quickly sunk in among all of us: the Challenger exploded! At 73 seconds, the Shuttle was travelling at a hypersonic speed (about mach 9) when the O-ring failed on the right booster. In fact, the Shuttle was experiencing maximum dynamic pressure, commonly known as “max Q”. Even if the crew had an escape capsule, we figured there was almost no way they would have survived. (However, it was later determined–reported in Aviation Week and Space Technology–that at least one of the crew–Michael Smith–was alive when the crew compartment hit the ocean.)

Within minutes, the sky lit up with the contrails of search aircraft. We all filed into the University Center to watch the developments on television. Seeing the footage on television convinced us that this was a complete disaster.

That event would define the Spring 1986 semester for many of us at Embry-Riddle.

I still wear that mission pin on my jacket.

“Reasons to Abandon Christianity”, #20

01/26/2006: The following is #20 of Chaz Bufe’s “20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity”, followed by my rebuttal:

20. Christianity borrowed its central myths and ceremonies from other ancient religions. The ancient world was rife with tales of virgin births, miracle-working saviors, tripartite gods, gods taking human form, gods arising from the dead, heavens and hells, and days of judgment. In addition to the myths, many of the ceremonies of ancient religions also match those of that syncretic latecomer, Christianity. To cite but one example (there are many others), consider Mithraism, a Persian religion predating Christianity by centuries. Mithra, the savior of the Mithraic religion and a god who took human form, was born of a virgin; he belonged to the holy trinity and was a link between heaven and Earth; and he ascended into heaven after his death. His followers believed in heaven and hell, looked forward to a day of judgment, and referred to Mithra as “the Light of the World.” They also practiced baptism (for purification purposes) and ritual cannibalism—the eating of bread and the drinking of wine to symbolize the eating and drinking of the god’s body and blood. Given all this, Mithra’s birthday should come as no surprise: December 25th; this event was, of course, celebrated by Mithra’s followers at midnight.

Mithraism is but the most striking example of the appearance of these myths and ceremonies prior to the advent of Christianity. They appear—in more scattered form—in many other pre-Christian religions.

As an American of Iranian (Persian) descent, I admire that many of my ancestors were so close to the truth. In fact, it is quite probable that the Mithraites were among the wise men who came to worship Jesus, and sidestepped Herod when they returned. How fitting that would be: God revealing salvation to shepherds (who were societal outcasts), Mithraites (who were semi-Pagan monotheists based in Persia), widows and old men in the Temple, in the midst of a town–Bethlehem–that was the Biblical equivalent of the worst South Central Los Angeles slum!

Actually, Christianity is the result of the logical necessities presented in the OT. (And it is reasonable that Mithraism was influenced by Judaism, as the concept of Satan–HaShatan–goes back to the book of Job, which is arguably the oldest book in the Bible and would predate Mithraism. Conservative scholars date Job at 1500-1400 BC where more liberal scholars have it at the Exile +/- 200 years.)

The premise of the virgin birth was hardly a Pagan or Mithraic one, but rather a Jewish one (Isaiah 7:14). That the Messiah be God in the flesh was necessary for the Messiah to be sufficient to provide ultimate atonement for sin. The resurrection was necessary for God to have ultimate power over death (otherwise Nietchke would be right: God would be dead. Instead, Nietchke is dead, but God still is.)

That the similarities are there indicates that the Persians were closer to the truth than the Pagans around them. In fact, it is quite possible that a number of them embraced Christ, given that they could easily have been among the wise men (from the east) who visited Jesus when He was born.

As someone who opposes Christmas, I have long griped about the December 25 celebration (and also the calling of Resurrection day “Easter” after a Pagan goddess.) The latter are Catholic-imposed holidays. I’m for a Summer celebration.