Monday, December 31, 2007

Plans for 2008

I won't be in bed, or partying, at midnight tonight. I'll be at the ambulance base waiting for someone to need me. I'm just a lowly EMT, but I've been out about 1,800 times now, so New Years Eve probably won't present me with anything I haven't seen yet - but you never know. Right now, as I listen to the New York Philharmonic's concert on PBS, I'm thinking about what I'd like to do next year.

It's hard for me to believe, but I'll be 64 in 2008. Fortunately, I've got good genes and am in pretty good shape, so my options are wide open - knock on wood. Yet my time is limited by many commitments, the primary one being the bookkeeping work I do for four different non-profits. I have to schedule everything else around their financial calendars, but that still leaves time for quite a lot. After all, as they used to say in the army, "there's 24 hours in a day", so maybe I can fit all of the activities below into 2008.

1. Start hitting the elliptical trainer and the weights hard for four months. I'll stay at 180 pounds, but the weight will move to all the right places. It's fun to see the kid muscles come I can...

2. Hit the AT again, even though last year I vowed I was done after experiencing heat exhaustion. This year I'll go out in April and risk some cold days and nights in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Maybe Maine is still possible...

3. and when I get back from the AT, golf season will be starting. I finished last year at a USGA 13 handicap but wanted to get to 10. Now I've got new Mizuno irons, so perhaps those pesky greens will be easier to find on second shots.You've got to have a goal if you want to get better.

4. My three sons, three grandsons, and one granddaughter need to know their grandfather. I'll spend some quality time with them, with the bonus of traveling to Phoenix just when the Rochester winter seems like it will never end.

5. Good Witch and I will take at least three more "Teaching Company" courses. We've ordered "Great American Music: Broadway Musicals" by Professor Bill Messenger of the Peabody Institute of Music. (Come on, readers! Try one!)

6. I need to do a good job as Clerk of Session at Christ Clarion Presbyterian Church this year. It's not a power position, but I will be in the middle of some important tasks including finding a new permanent minister. I love my friends at Christ Clarion because they are quietly sincere about living their faith and so many of them have great talents. They inspire me.

7. I need to find a few more great authors. The more I read, the harder it is to find an interesting book. I just started "The Worst Hard Time", a non-fiction work about the families who rode out the 1930's Great Plains dust storm era. That won't last long. Any suggestions?

8. (A resolution I will likely break.) My home is now 30 years old, and even though it's had several major renovations and additions, it's getting shabby in a few places. This would be a great year for some major maintenance, but that's the activity that tends to fall to the bottom of the list. Maybe I'll have to hire some of the work out to professionals.

9. I'd like to improve my blogging style - get more creative, less preachy. Perhaps I need to improve my perception of daily life episodes that can be employed as springboards to more generalized commentary. Some of my blogger friends have real talent in this area.

10. I hope to continue treasuring each day, being sensitive to the needs of others, and remembering to thank that great power who made my consciousness possible.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Clerics - Maybe a Bad Idea

As I look at the world today and review the history that I've learned, I've begun to doubt the value of religious professionals. Overall, they seem to cause more problems than they solve, and their antics often seem to divert our attention from God. On balance, I think I prefer philosophers to those who wear garments that signify a special, "godly" status.

The underlying problem is that God is a mystery, an incredible being of some sort who is behind everything and has a purpose that we mortals will never truly understand while we live. Yet, at the same time I give much credence to the general conclusion of most religions that God wants to be recognized (honored) and wants creation to move in a positive direction, the latter idea being that God wants the creative potential in the universe to be achieved as far as possible without God's intervention. So, for example, it's bad for us to waste energy killing each other when we could be using that same energy to further everyone's well-being and creative potential. The Golden Rule is one of many positive concepts that seem to fit with this general idea.

Clerics, and their many "scriptures", most times seem to over-complexify and over-specify the "will of God" to the detriment of creation. Most of the hate in the world today seems to emanate from clerics pushing their own view of God's will and creating sub-groups that conflict with each other. Moreover, clerics seem to spend much of their time protecting their own special status vis a vis the rest of us. I'm tired of it, and it makes me profoundly sad. Jesus said "Love God, and your neighbor as yourself", and this thought pops up in religions, generally. Clerics seem to be the reason this does not happen in far too many instances, so perhaps they are more of a problem than a solution. Garry Will, in his recent book "What Jesus Meant" says much the same in more eloquent terms.

I think it's time for the status of clerics in general to be reduced. I'm not advocating the abolition of formal religion, but merely its simplification and the elimination of the priestly class's sub-deity status. Who can deny that these people are exactly like the rest of us, with all our strengths and weaknesses? They must be given the same level of scrutiny as the rest of us and be held accountable when they over-reach in speaking for God or expect respect based solely on their position in the ecclesiastical world. Some religions have made far more progress than others in achieving these goals, but Islam and Christianity seem to have a long way to go.

Does all this mean that I have a blanket antipathy for those who have chosen a professional religious occupation? Far from it. Many clerics in all religions have spoken the simple message of loving God and your neighbor, and they live in accordance with it. They don't claim any special status, and they tend to focus on positive directives that unite humanity rather than negative ones that divide it. However, I would fault even many of these people for allowing the structures of which they are a part to accomodate the incendiary and authoritarian clerics who so damage our world.

Formal religions, with their wonderful stories, seasons, festivals,times of reflection and penitence, and, most important, with their simple requirements, can do much to help us humans keep an eye on the ball. It's the leaders who we've got to be wary of and keep in check - otherwise, there is often hell to pay.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Democracy Beats Party Politics

Less than a year remains until the next national elections, thank God. I'm already sick of the incessant political crap from the politicians and the media. Republicans and Democrats alike are wasting my time with their petty concerns, waffling, and sucking up to their core constituents. None of them are focusing on the issues and talking truth. So why pay the election going to boil down to the lesser of two evils? Most likely, it will.

The republicans are banking on the tried and true politics of fear, greed, and ersatz religion. After seven disastrous years, why would anyone with a brain want to keep them? John McCain talks "straighter" than any of them, but if he was for real he would admit that the Iraq war was a terrible mistake at best. There's nobody there to vote for.

The democrats are out-doing each other in pandering to the unions and the lower classes. "Tax the rich", "grow the government", and "pay people more" seem to be their solutions to every problem. Not a one of them is asking anyone to do anything different or make any sacrifice needed for progress. There's nobody there to vote for, either.

The problem is that our party-based political system is broken. The parties are perfect targets for those with money or power, and they have both been corrupted beyond repair. Our democracy needs to be changed, and it's time for change. The internet is the perfect vehicle to accomplish this change, and perhaps its time will come when the American people realize they're being left out of the debate. A bit more direct democracy would revitalize the political process.

I'd like to see someone like Bloomberg run for the presidency on a promise to open up the democratic process. There's no reason why we should not have national initiatives and referendums on the big issues that politicians fear to touch.

What are the pro's and con's of the "war on drugs"? Do we want to continue it or legalize the stuff?

Should we have a "guest worker" program or a path to citizenship for illegal aliens?

Should Medicare pay for expensive operations on people with Alzheimers or dementia or terminal conditions? Do we want national health insurance?

Should all students have to stay in school until they graduate?

Let's find out what the people want rather than depend on 100 senators and 435 representatives to agree on laws that have been watered down so badly that they never seem to get the results they promise. That is, if they can agree on anything at all...

I'm thinking of becoming radicalized for democracy instead of lining up behind any of the special-interest-backed party candidates. We can do better as a country if we worry about specific issues rather than groupthink. It's past time for change.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Deer Denoument

Hunting season is over. First, there's bow season, then shotgun season (no rifles in southern New York), then muzzleloader season. Altogether, about eight weeks of deer hunting time for some hunters, but only four weeks for me. I ended up with three deer, one of which went to Foodlink and two into my freezer. They were a nice big doe and two smaller "button bucks".

There's a big pot of vegetable soup with chunks of venison cooking on the stove right now, simmering in wait of Christmas Eve dinner. My son Kevin will take home a couple of roasts, some chunks, and some ground venison when he leaves after Christmas. We'll have plenty of venison chili and spagetti sauce for the next year, and a few crock pot roasts, too.

I figure I spent about 35 hours in the woods to get those deer, often in temperatures in the low 20's, and once it ranged from 11-18 degrees for five hours. I still have many little brush wounds from pushing through scrub where the deer hide, usually successfully. And I never saw a buck with antlers in all that time.

You might think deer are scarce in the country south of Rochester, New York. Wrong. They are everywhere. The roads are littered with deer that have lost battles with cars and trucks. There are deer tracks through the snow in virtually every yard of the suburbs, and you pass herds of them in the parks at sunset. Unfortunately, when winter comes early and we get a heavy snow cover, like this year, many of the deer may not make it to spring.

I talked to a woman this morning as she walked her dog down our snow-bordered street, and I mentioned my hunting outcome. She said, "Well, at least they got to roam the forest for their life, and not live in a feedlot waiting to be trucked to the slaughterhouse." First time I ever heard that kind of comment, and maybe there's something to it.

This year we saw several coyotes as we hunted. This is a new thing. The coyotes are breeding here because prey is plentiful - too many deer. Of course, the coyotes also eat all kinds of other wildlife and unfortunate house pets.

Years ago, getting a doe permit was an iffy sort of thing. There were many hunters and deer were scarce. Now, each hunter is allowed from two to four does in addition to a buck. But because there are many fewer hunters, the deer population continues to grow. At some point nature will take care of this problem by creating a deer disease or bringing a totally devastating winter. In the meantime, I'll do my part to keep nature in balance and put really fine meat in the freezer.

November, 2008 is coming. Look out, deer! I'll be back, I hope.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Steroids and Conservatives

Within the past day I've heard "conservatives" present two diametrically opposed opinions regarding the"steroids in baseball" scandal. The first was presented about 10:30 last night on our local "Clear Channel" 50,000 watt conservative mouthpiece, and the second was on NPR radio this morning. Can you guess which one was on which station?

Conservative "A" said that Bud Selig and Doug Fehr and just about everyone involved with baseball (including President Bush) has dodged the steroid problem since the mid-1990's. This speaker referenced Tony Guynn's and one other future hall-of-famer's concerns, voiced at that time, that performance-enhancing drugs were changing how baseball was played, cheapening records, and depreciating the value of players who didn't "juice". Conservative "A" opined that Selig, the owners, and the players union loved the fan interest and profits that resulted from the steroid-induced home run derby and oddities like the ancient Roger Clemens throwing 95 mph fastballs, so they all just looked the other way. "A" concluded with a statement that illegal immigration is wrong because it is lawbreaking, and steroid use by athletes is equally wrong because it gives unfair advantage in a competitive environment.

Conservative "B" said that the entire hubbub about steroids was much ado about nothing. "Who cares?", he said - not the owners, not the players, not the broadcasters, not the fans. They all loved the achievements of the "juiced" athletes, and that is all that matters. Those who are making a big deal of it are just goody-two-shoes types who don't understand the real world.

You've probably guessed correctly that Conservative "B" was on the Clear Channel station. That's the station that airs all the guys who believe that those with wealth and power should do whatever they have to do to keep their competitive advantage, fair or not. They hate the estate tax, they love Bush's raping of the constitution and his war of choice, and they will even switch their allegiance from a hard core Southern Baptist to a Mormon to a multiple divorcer if the candidate will buy into their "me first" agenda. "Law and order" is something that applies to other people.

This little "compare and constrast" exercise points out that there really are two entirely different types of people who call themselves conservatives. One type believes in a level playing field, one does not. One type believes that government should step in when egregious violations of public trust occur, one does not. Given all the illegalities that the "Conservative B's" have committed or tolerated in the past 13 years, I have a feeling that a lot of "Conservative A's" will be holding their nose and voting for a democrat next fall.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

#@%&^**# Democrats!

Another $70 billion with no strings attached! I'm with ThomasLB on this one, and I had my dinner before I read the news, unfortunatly.

The democratic party is a bunch of gutless girly-girls (OOPS!). Actually, they're not even as gutty as gutless girly-girls. No showdown at the OK Corral here, they just roll over, willing to spend $70 billion and more in future Iraq installments while they wait for the next election to put them in power.

Politics trumps morality again...and what's another $70+ billion, except an exclamation point on the Bush deficit? THEY ARE STILL GUTLESS.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

What Does Government Do Best?

What does government do best? Now, that's a loaded question, because most of us feel that government is often cumbersome and unresponsive. We individuals have very little influence on what government at any level really does. We simply continue to elect and re-elect public officials who, mostly, look at who elected them and try to perform the actions demanded by that group. And, we are often subjected to unelected bureaucrats who prefer their regulations to common sense.

But all in all, the results of the government process are not too bad. Our country is generally safe, the infrastructure works almost all the time, and we are pretty much free to say and do anything that doesn't inflict real harm on someone else. But, I think that what the government does best is a problem.

What government does best is say "yes" to its own perceived needs. Got a big constituency in the "red" states? A bloated farm bill will keep their allegiance. Got a military whose mission is grandiose, even when no other country can come close to matching us? Fund all the toys that the best military designers can conceive, whether they are "needed" or not. Got an island in Alaska that a few people can't get to conveniently? Build a bridge to nowhere. The biggest problem of government is one of resource allocation. It tries to satisfy everyone, and it taxes people to the maximum that they will accept. Any normal organization could never survive if it lived by this principle, but government is a different animal entirely.

A much smarter approach would be for the government to rank the country's needs in priority order, identify and fund an appropriate level of resources to each need in descending order, and stop funding when the tax revenue was exhausted. This would require quite an effort, since the U.S. government is the largest organization the world, by far. But it would be a worthy effort. Over time, our government has become bloated and inefficient, wasting a significant portion of its resources in "grandfathered" programs that should have been killed off years ago. The "sugar subsidy" is a prime example - a blatant slap at the free market economics that the current administration reveres publically but forgets when it comes to bankrolling its cronies.

Will government ever be run like a family, a business, a small town, or even a well-managed corporation? Probably not possible...but perhaps it would be wise for us to elect a hard-nosed president who could put a red pencil to the federal budget for a term or two. The country would likely be much better off when the carnage was over.

Friday, December 07, 2007

He Slept Thru Economics Class

I have to admit that my car radio pre-sets only have to have NPR and Air America (or whatever it is), since that's all I listen to while driving.

Today on one of these stations I heard Iowans (?) questioning presidential candidate John Edwards at some kind of open forum. A male questioner made a little speech about gas prices, and then stated the conspiracy theory that many share with him: "the automakers have technology that would deliver 50 miles per gallon in an SUV but they have conspired with oil companies to suppress it."

John Edwards didn't react directly to the questioner's speech, probably because he didn't want to call the guy a nutcase in public. But, since this is my blog, I can say directly to this guy, "You slept thru economics class, bonehead!"

So, you ask, do I have inside information about auto companies and oil companies? No, I don't. I can't prove they haven't conspired to bury some magical technology. Why, then, am I so sure this guy is a bonehead?

The answer is simple. A technology that would enable a 50 mpg SUV is worth more bilions of dollars than I can imagine. It's the holy grail of technology. It's the invention that would enshrine the inventor aside Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein. It's the dream of every chemical and mechanical engineer in the world, and it's the dream of every smaller car company. Can you imagine what the patent on such a device would be worth? It's incalculable! And that's why this guy is a bonehead.

The simple answer of economics is that things of great value are sought by many very smart people and many powerful organizations, and, once discoved, cannot be hidden for long. It's extremely likely that if such a techology existed it would have been "discovered" multiple times already, and if it was, then everyone associated with each "discovery" would have to be dead. Have you heard about any mass killings or disappearances of chemical or mechanical engineers?

It's convenient to blame the gas prices on a conspiracy, but it would be smarter to learn the law of supply and demand as it applies to both oil and the American dollar. This poor Iowan must have slept thru economics class.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bhagavad Gita for Christians

Last night I came home from choir practice,walked to my bookshelf, pulled out the Bhagavad Gita, and read for awhile. Why in the heck is a Christian like me drawn to this ancient holy book of the Hindu's? Simple. It's good.

I have a popular translation by Stephen Mitchell. He's translated other religious books, too, and he's very talented. I recommend it highly.

OK. What is it that I love about the Bhagavad Gita? First, the initial scene, which finds Krishna (God) educating Arjuna, the prince. Arjuna faces a terrible dilemma: how can he kill his enemies, since they too are men with homes and families? Arjuna concludes that he would rather die than fight, but Krishna convinces him that, for him, fighting the battle is the right thing come what may. It's an interesting argument that you need to read for yourself.

Secondly, the Gita defines God better than any other book. If you want to contemplate God, chapter 7 of the Gita will take you to another place of awe, adoration, and comfort. "All worlds, all beings, are strung upon me like pearls on a single thread." "Those who know me, and the nature of beings, of gods, and of worship, are always with me in spirit, even at the hour of their death."

Last, the Gita has a unique analysis of human nature. What is wisdom, what is freedom, why is selfish desire to be resisted? How does one find peace? I find the answers illuminating. "He who is pure, impartial, skilled, unworried, calm, selfless in all undertakings - that man is the one I love best." The Gita calls us to a lives of purpose and positive action, but as acts of worship rather than a striving for outcomes and pleasure.

Like other religious books including the Bible, the Gita has cultural influences that moderns see as strange. The most noticeable is the strong support for a caste society even though the Gita also sees equality in humankind. It's a paradox. Yet this one area of oddity is far overshadowed by the incredible wisdom within its pages.

Try the Gita when you have the luxury of some quiet time and you feel relaxed and contemplative. It's one more of the many ways God has tried to reach us folks - even us Christians.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

It's Bambi Time Again!

The American whitetail deer is an elusive critter. Even though there are millions of them in the northeast, and often several in my back yard, they have been bred for millions of years to be elusive, fast, and, thank goodness! TASTY!

Today marked my fourth day in the woods this year. All day last Monday, then Thanksgiving morning, all day Friday, and half a day Sunday. I have one small doe to show for many hours of marching through brush or sitting quietly in the cold. It was 25 degrees when I went into the woods on Friday morning, but, thanks to modern techology, I was relatively comfortable. Tonight, as I write this post, both index and middle fingers are still numb from today's hunt. It was a little colder than I felt!

My #1 hunting buddy scored a first yesterday - three deer at once. He was stationed above the end of a large, wooded gully that three drivers were pushing deer toward. He got the second first, the first second and the third last. As I sat about 200 yards away, a deer passed behind me, making noise that got me to spin around and see her disappear into the bush. I later field dressed one of my friend's rare "triple".

My only kill was on Friday afternoon - a button buck spooked by another hunter several hundred yards away. It ran right past me at full speed, coming from my rear, too fast for me to do anything. I watched it stop quite far from me, turn and move toward some other hunters in another area of the woods. I alerted them with my radio. A minute later I saw the same deer running back the way it had come, then, amazingly, it turned 90 degrees and came blazing down its prior path directly at me. I leveled my shotgun as it came, and at about 20 yards distance fired straight at its oncoming chest. It dropped at the spot and did not move again. There must be "deer highways" in the woods that are perceived only by them, and it died because it could not leave the road.

As an Appalachian Trail hiker, I know a lot about long and often painful days of vigorous effort. Hunting in cold weather in dense and hilly terrain is equally demanding. But the reward is a wonderful kind of "tired" and, sometimes, many packages of beautiful meat in the freezer. The season has two weeks to go, and I have two more tags to fill. I look forward to the effort.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Longing for Leadership

It's easy to be pessimistic about America. Both our country and our society have been muddling along for a few years.

The Bush administration's "accomplishments" have been generally negative but - even more important - they've been done with a minimum of popular support. Can you remember even one Bush speech that aroused the citizenry to action? Yet Bush's negative accomplishments were possible because there was no leadership in the opposition. Sadly, congress's ratings are worse than the president's.

Society-wise, we seem to be focused on our own entertainment, on celebrities' antics, and on staying ahead of the bill collectors from the credit card companies. Nothing seems to excite us as a populace - not global warming, nor illegal immigration, or the Iraq war, or even gas prices over $3.25 a gallon. We're not happy about anything, but we seem to be placidly accepting whatever comes to us or is done to us.

Unfortunately, merely laughing at John Stewart's comedy is not an active response to the problems in our government or our society. What we need is some vision and a good kick in the pants, and that is what effective leadership is all about.

Good leaders create a vision by comparing "what is" with "desired state", and then develop a step-by-step plan for moving toward that state. The populace must either accept the desired state goal on their own (it's obvious!) or be educated to see its importance. Once the desired state is accepted, the step-by-step process is communicated and sold, one step at a time. Since almost all choices involve trade-offs, the pain required for each gain must be justified. Thus, a vision is useless without constant, effective communication. Absent a clear emergency, only a great leader can marshall a significant majority of citizens to follow a vision for the time needed to achieve it.

As the next election nears, I'm hoping that several clear voices will emerge to "talk turkey" (a very obscure expression) to all of us. Of all the current candidates, Ron Paul appears to be the most plain speaking and results oriented. Maybe Obama is showing a little straight-shooting as well. If we're going to get a true leader as our next president, we should see that leadership ability during the campaign. So far, none of the front runners have shown me much. I'm longing for leadership. Without it, America will be little better off in the post-Bush era.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Another Course Completed!

Good Witch and I just finished "Sensation, Perception, and the Aging Process" from The Teaching Company - 24 lectures, 30 minutes each - covering how each of the senses work and how the brain processes the input from them. Fascinating! Our senses and brains are nothing short of miraculous in their complexity and power.

We learned that we have a "kinesthetic" sense that I was previously not aware of. It turns out that our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints have sensors that continually tell the brain what they are doing and also get input from the brain. That's how we judge the weight of things and the angles of our joints, among other things. Top athletes have far better kinesthetic senses that us normal people.

We also learned how important it is for infants and toddlers up to age three to get continual verbal input in order for them to acquire language skills - pay attention, parents! Also, since each language group has different "phonomes", people who hear a different language as a child have a much greater ability to learn that language as an adult.

These "Teaching Company" courses are the best thing since sliced bread for those of us adults who are interested in improving our understanding of just about any topic.
Take my word (another unpaid commercial) for it! You won't be disappointed.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A "Funny" Emergency

Yesterday was not a routine day at Pittsford Volunteer Ambulance, where I was the medic for the morning shift with my driver, Dave.

Late in the morning we had a true emergency - an SUV rollover with five teenagers in the vehicle. It was not as bad as it might have been, and all five are with us still.

But my first call was a gem. I got a bit worried when the 911 dispatcher called over the radio, "Pittsford, a call for a man in a garbage truck, screaming for help."

Most of you know that garbage trucks use powerful hydraulics to lift and crush trash, so my mind was processing scenarios of mayhem as we rushed to the scene. (It's not true that experienced EMT's desire tough calls; every one we don't get is a blessing.)

A few firemen were standing around the garbage truck, looking somewhat bemused, when we arrived. I pulled my medic bag from its compartment and walked quickly to the side of the garbage truck, calling out "Are you in there." A voice replied, "I'm in here." I asked, "Are you hurt?". He replied from somewhere, "I'm not hurt. Just get me out!" He then explained the controls on the side of the garbage truck.

Like a good EMT, I waited for the fire rescue truck to come and extricate the unfortune man, which they did with their ladders and reinforcing chocks.

Once out of the garbage truck bed, the man explained. "I put in recycled items, then I tried to close the clamshell but it stuck. So I got inside and pulled out the paper that had jammed it. I didn't realize that the pressure was still on the hydraulics, so the clamshell then closed and trapped me inside. Fortunately, a homeowner heard me yelling and called you guys."

I took the happy garbageman into the ambulance for a quick check-up, then released him back to his work. Thank heaven that some "emergencies" bring a little levity into the often sad job of a lowly EMT!

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Truth of the Dollar

The American government is holding out on us. It is not telling us the truth about the state of our currency and what that means. It does not want us to know that truth, because the truth is an indictment of those who we have elected to lead us, and also an indictment of ourselves.

In 2001, the EURO was worth $0.84; now it's worth $1.36. What a great investment it would have been to just buy EURO's and bury them in the ground. But buying and burying dollars in 2001 would have been a disastrous investment. What has caused this dramatic fall in what our currency is worth around the world? It's us, and our government, both of whom have been irresponsible from a financial standpoint.

Why us? Because we don't save. In fact, we live on credit, owing money we've yet to earn. And we spend that money on imported goods. The truth is that our national credit is only as good as the sum of our personal credit. If we have a serious recession, most of us have nothing to fall back on and our economy will tank. Why should anyone want our currency when it is so subject to devaluation due to our own failure to protect it?

Why our government? Simply because it owes far more than the sum of its current reserves and its expected future revenues. When you combine our current debt with the unfunded entitlements for Social Security and Medicare, and then add the current deficits that the Bush administration and congress are allowing, our credit deteriorates every day. Any rational observer of our government's spending habits should be racing away from our currency, since it will likely be worth even less each year.

What is the result of all this? Everything we import is going to cost more - oil, toys, electronics, flowers, you name it - if it comes from overseas, the price will go up because we are paying in increasingly cheaper dollars. Our standard of living will go down because we get less for each of our dollars.

Some say that the devalued dollar is a U.S. government strategy to pay back our huge foreign debt with cheaper dollars. That may work for a short time, but we will still need to borrow from foreigners since we don't save enough ourselves. This will force interest rates up to compensate for our deteriorating currency. These higher interest rates will affect all of us by increasing our government's interest costs and by raising the rates at which we can borrow on credit. There is no free lunch.

What can we do about this? The answer is painful. We need to save more and borrow less. We need to cut back on growth in government entitlements - smaller increases in Social Security outlays and higher prices for Medicare coverage. Our government needs to balance its current budget, or even generate a surplus. All of this will reduce the growth rate of our economy and force wages down. People will have to work for less and spend less if our nation is going to survive over the long run. At the same time, we'll need to rely less on migrant labor that sends much of its earnings across the border - Americans need to do the work currently performed by these people, even if the work is unpleasant. And lastly, we will need to improve educational performance across the board so that we can compete more effectively in the world economy down the road. The answers are multifaced and not easy, but we have no choice.

Will our politicians ever start telling the truth about our dollar? Its deterioration is a direct reflection of the confidence others have in our country. Are they right? Absolutely. If America - that's all of us - doesn't get serious about controlling our economic future, then it will be a bleak one. It's time to get started!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mercenaries - A Big Mistake

I'm saddened by America's use of mercenaries in Iraq. These people act as guards, truck drivers, cooks, and a host of other occupations in jobs that support our military and diplomatic presence there. There may be as many as 100,000 of them getting paychecks indirectly from Uncle Sam, supporting 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. In previous wars, soldiers did these jobs. What has changed? Is this a risky business?

One major change is the volunteer army. How many people volunteer to be cooks or truck drivers or supply clerks or ammunition carriers? Not many. Once upon a time these jobs were done by draftees who learned their jobs in 16 weeks, did these jobs for 1.6 years, and were then replaced by more draftees. They didn't earn much. Now, highly paid "mercenaries" do these jobs, and some of them, like the truck drivers, carry weapons for defense. Others, often retired Special Forces or other crack troops, guard diplomats and carry out other high profile assignments. It's strange that these people typically make a lot more money, sometimes a whole lot more money, than the "troops" the Presnit is always talking about.

Another change is the lack of regular soldiers to fill the ranks in time of "war". Even with maximum use of the reserves and National Guard, the Preznit can't keep the surge going. Fortunately for him, these mercenaries don't have hitches that expire or families who are pissed off at tour after tour of combat duty. If GBW makes the price right, new mercenaries will always be ready to go - and if one of them gets killed, it's not one of the "troops" GBW"s always talking about. Unfortunately, the mercenary is just as dead.

I'm saddened because mercenaries constitute a "shadow army", an army motivated more by money than by love of country and the country's values. Mercenaries, therefore, are likely to follow orders that regular soldier's won't follow. This, coupled with the fact that a mercenary's legal status is unclear (are they covered by the Geneva Convention?), leaves the American people at risk for atrocities done both by them and to them. Bush has opened Pandora's Box with his heavy reliance on mercenaries in Iraq. It's a bad mistake. It's war by proxy, only the proxy army is mostly American.

The next administration should close down mercenary training camps in the United States. It may also be a good idea to revoke the citizenship of any American who fights as a mercenary in a foreign country, or, at a minimum, disallow embassy or councillar support for such persons if they get into trouble. I just don't want Americans going around the world shooting people for money, regardless of the "cause". It's time we got serious about accountability for all those who do our military dirty work. They've got to be actually in our military, or they don't belong in a combat zone fighting for us.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Science and God

I'm betting on God. I have a bumper sticker that says "Darwin", then a "plus" sign, then a Christian symbol, an "equals" sign, and lastly, a stick figure of a person. The wife of a friend had these done after her minister husband told her of a discussion that he and I had one day. My theology admits both God as the "designer" of the universe and "evolution" as the process by which I ended up writing this blog.

I'm not alone. In the past day I've had a conversation with a very bright science teacher who said "the more I know about creation, the more I believe that God made it possible", and with a very bright clergyman who felt the same way. Two other scientist friends, one an expert in microwaves and another an eminent chemist, are also convinced about God largely because of their scientific knowledge.

The Good Witch and I are currently watching the DVD series "Sensation, Perception, and the Aging Process" from The Teaching Company. I've been brought up to date on the latest research about how the sensory systems work and how they deteriorate as people get to be my age - 63. The combination of physical structures and brain function that enables our sensory perceptions is awesome, but I can accept that a billion years of evolution could account for who we are today.

I recently mentioned that I had read Carl Sagan's "Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God". Sagan, a brilliant man, was an atheist who demanded testable proof of God's existence. But I think God has left plenty of clues, and proof would spoil His party.

But simply admitting God is a rather dry admission. What's it all about? One could have a negative point of view after pondering how much of the created universe has already been destroyed in giant cataclysms, and understanding that our sun will someday vaporize the earth - fortunatly, in a few billion years.

I hang my hat on the positive idea that God wants to be known, and I believe that I will someday be allowed to know God in some way. I also believe that God is interested in seeing how we can "perfect" the creation by making the most of what we've been given by God and the evolutionary process. If we wreck our world with a nuclear war or indiscriminate carbon emissions, we will have failed to make good on the potential we've been given. We need to expect much from each other.

Do I have any proof for what I believe - absolutely not! But I find comfort in the fact that so many smart people over the millenia have also believed that "in the beginning God". And if God was there at the beginning, there's no reason to assume God has been on vacation since then. In fact, as I look past the Good Witch and out the window to the trees and sky, I think I see God's signature all over my view. The science of the person, trees, and sky is God's design.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

My Guess on the Economy

It's a dismal science, but that's what my MBA at the University of Rochester was all about - economics.

I retired before age 54 and I've toiled at a lot of volunteer jobs since then. I'm pretty secure, barring a catastrophic long term illness or a serious meltdown of our economy. Neither are likely, but nothing is impossible.

My prognosis for the American economy is far less rosy. Although the stock market is flying high due to the good profits being made by American corporations, the financial lot of main street Americans is on a downward trend and will likely continue on that trajectory for a long time. Why?

Two major hammers are poised to fall on the average American citizen - the impact of the cheap dollar, and the impact of tax increases to pay for entitlements.

The first hammer is falling as I write, and that is oil prices over $80/barrel and rising. If oil is valued in dollars, and the dollar falls in value, it takes more of them relative to other currencies to buy a barrel of oil. In other words, part of the gasoline price rise at the pump has nothing to do with supply, demand, or insecurity - it is simply that a dollar is not worth as much to those who sell oil. Soon we will be feeling the impact of dollar depreciation in the prices we pay for imported items from many countries, or in the prices we pay in dollars if we travel overseas to a country with a strong currency. Canada is no longer the land of a bargain vacation!

This week the first of the "baby boomers" retired, and 80 million more will follow her in the next 12 years. Unfortunately, there is no chance that Social Security and Medicare will be able to fund the benefits that these people feel they have earned. Either taxes will go up, or benefits will be cut. In either case, these funds will come out of the economy as reduced purchasing power - which means a lower standard of living for both working people and retirees.

Where did these hammers come from? Did they suddenly appear and catch us unawares? No. The first hammer, the depreciating dollar, reflects our government's lack of budget discipline especially during the Bush administration which has lived on a credit card. The lower dollar also reflects creditor nations' awareness that because the U.S. has not funded its entitlements, the U.S. economy will pay a significant future price to catch up.

The second hammer, the unfunded entitlements themselves, also became much more serious during the Bush administration. The president made a halfhearted effort to "fix" Social Security with a privatization scheme, but he retreated from the issue when this plan was not supported. We have now lost almost seven years of "catch up" time because the current administration has not settled the entitlements problems.

Lynn Cheney, speaking on NPR today, said that history would judge the current administration's economic record to be very good, especially considering 9/11. My view is that the administration will be viewed as having spent and dawdled away our economic future. How far can the dollar fall before Bush leaves Washington?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Great Hypocracy of the Christian Right

I just finished reading the late Carl Sagan's "Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God". His wife, Ann Druyan, edited this compilation of his lectures at a well-known conference on "Natural Theology". It was an excellent book.

It seemed odd that Sagan, an athiest, would be invited to give these lectures. I suppose it shows the open-mindedness of the inviting organization. Sagan's premise was simply that he couldn't believe in something that there's no evidence of. He dismissed the "First Cause" argument because he knew nothing about what really caused the big bang, and he believed that religions exist primarily as hierarchical structures that produce the kind of order that humans seem to need. Even though I profess my own version of Christianity, much of what Sagan said resonates with me.

The book's punch line has to do with nuclear war, which Sagan feared could annihilate humanity. At the time he gave the lectures there were more than 50,000 nuclear weapons in the world and the saber-rattling was ominous. Although the chance of large-scale nuclear war is much less now than then, his description of its likely impact on the earth is chilling and sobering. How could we ever have gone so far down this road?

Sagan savages right-wing Christianity in his discussion of nuclear weapons. He points out that primary Christian theology includes the "Golden Rule" as well as Christ's commandment to "love your enemy", yet many Christian countries have nuclear weapons and threaten to use them. How hypocritical!

All this brings me to the world of today and the Christian right wing's rabid aggressiveness, warmongering, and unwavering support of the military-industrial complex. Our media allows these self-described Christians to blatently support the U.S.'s "war of choice" in Iraq and its torture of prisoners without pointing out the total inconsistency between their religion's core beliefs and their own behavior. If Jesus was here today I doubt he would have anything to do with these faux Christians - except perhaps to take a whip to the book-selling tables of their leaders. Since he's not here, we are the ones who should be outraged about our own government's two-faced behavior.

Sagan pointed out that at the time he gave those lectures the world's countries were spending a million million dollars each year on armaments, and he claimed this was prima facie evidence that "religion" had failed us. Nothing has changed.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Socially Responsible Investing - It's Hard to Do

Some people think that socially responsible investing means that they should divest themselves of stock in companies whose business activities they disagree with. Don't like smoking? Sell Philip Morris. Wrong. If Philip Morris is making money, somebody else will buy it, happily. You have accomplished nothing.

I'm involved with a small group of very experienced people who are looking to spearhead true "socially responsible investment". Just to clarify things, "investment" means getting a return on your money. "Investment" is not charity, is not a contribution. Our idea is to identify people or organizations that need money to accomplish socially useful goals, and then loan them the money at below-market rate, say 5-6% for an investment that normal banking channels would not touch.

For example, we'd like to find someone who knows how to rehab inner city housing but does not have the capital to buy the home or purchase the materials needed for the rehab. We could provide the capital and assist the person in learning and performing the skills needed to administer the project. When the home is completed and sold, we get our money back and do a loan to cover his/her next project. The hope is that at some point the person has enough personal capital or credit to do the work independent of us. The benefit is that homes get fixed up, someone builds the skills needed to support a family, and some workers in low income areas get jobs. This would be a good "social investment".

The most interesting outcome of our work to date is that it's hard to find people who fit our criteria. The entrepreneurial spirit is a rare commodity, it appears. But we are continuing the search, and perhaps we'll find an immigrant with spunk who will take our money and do something good with it. I'll keep you posted if something good happens.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


You've heard the saying, "Everything is relative". Well, I think some things are not relative. Especially the basic things like a roof over your head, clean water to drink, something nourishing to eat, primary medical care, and the opportunity for education to the high school level. Either you have them or you don't.

If you have this basic stuff, the quantity and quality of it really doesn't matter too much. You can have a life without excessive worry and you can enjoy the pleasures of family and friends. Being warm and dry, safe, well-fed, and aware of the world is all most people need in order to wake up without crying every day. And if you have all these things, the first item on your bonus list is having something useful to do.

If you don't have this basic stuff, life is a bitch. It is generally really uncomfortable, really painful, really difficult, and really unfulfilling. Life without the basics is often a competition to obtain them by whatever means, even if that means taking them from others who also have substandard lives, or taking great risks to get to places where those basics might be obtained. This kind of life is precarious at best.

We like to forget that billions of people live (to stretch the meaning of the word) without these basics, and that a few of them even live in the United States. Talk about "human rights" is empty unless these billions are front and center in our conversation and concern. Their problem, generally speaking, is that they were unfortunate enough to be born in the wrong place. They are not just screwed relative to us, they are just plain screwed. (And if the effects of global warming are anything like what is predicted, before long we will have many fewer of these unfortunates to worry about.)

I must admit that I've not done much, personally, to address this problem of humans having to live in sub-human conditions. That's changing - I'm adding my drop to the bucket of compassion. I have begun to understand the concept of things not being relative.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

$195 Billion More? No.

President Bush has put forward a supplemental budget request of $195 billion to fund the Iraq occupation and the Afganistan war for the next year.

Just to put that number in perspective:

- It is roughly twice the annual budget for the entire state of California or seven times the budget of Pennsylvania.

- It's also roughly the combined total annual budgets of the U.S. departments of education, transportation, and energy.

- It's greater than the 2005 Gross National Product of Iran ($187 billion).

What else could be done with this incredibly large sum of money? How about:

- Buying every student in the United States a really nice laptop computer?

- Building many desalination plants to provide the American southwest with water from the sea?

- Your suggestion here...

But the problem is that we don't have the $195 billion. Bush is going to borrow it by selling our bonds to the Chinese, or the Arab, governments. They're the ones who have dollars to lend. After they lend it, they will own more of us.

That's right. Bush is going to borrow money from the Chinese and Arabs, then blow it on a war in Iraq. We'll get nothing for it, but we'll owe it.

This insane president needs to be turned down flat! Or, impeached.

Friday, September 28, 2007

$14 Trillion and Friends

The most recent projection of the Social Security deficit (unfunded liability) is over $14 trillion dollars. That's the difference between what has been, and will be, paid into Social Security by us and our employers and what the current benefit plan says must be paid out to us in future years. What this means is that our government is worse than Enron, worse than the biggest scammer you can think of, and that every federal politician, but Bush most of all, should be tarred and feathered for not dealing with this elephant in the room. Cowards and bastards/bitches all! Their negligence is going to kill our country in the long run. Better put your own money away, Woozie, 'cause the government won't have anything for you.

And on a brighter note, I'd just like to point out that the best things in life are the people you love and the people who love you. Your spouce, your true friends.

The Good Witch and I just got home from a casual dinner with three old friends in a small cottage on Lake Ontario. The wind came straight into the windows off the white-capped lake below the clouds that showed through the moonlight, and we drank wine, ate salad, chili and cornbread, and had grape pie, fresh peaches, and vanilla ice cream for dessert. It was a beautiful evening in every way, but it would have been nothing without the friendships that we celebrated. Cultivate your friends!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Celebrating Course Completion!

The Good Witch and I last night completed the 48th, and last, 45-minute lecture of "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music", by Professor Robert Greenberg of The Teaching Company. I'm a little sad, since Greenberg seems like an old friend who I won't see again soon.

How can I adequately explain to you that I will never again listen to music in the same way I did before I took this course? That's the funny thing about learning from someone who knows and loves the subject they are teaching - your life is changed. Although I have always loved music of all periods and listened attentively, I now listen with a brain that decodes much more about the sound I'm hearing. I won't get into the details - I'll just say that the experience of music is much richer to me than it was before.

Maybe music is not your thing, but learning should be. If you are not in school, consider going online to "", checking out what's "on-sale", and purchasing a course that interests you. You won't be disappointed, and you will be smarter and happier for the experience.

We've now completed "The History of Western Civilization - Part I" and the course mentioned above. The next one in line is "Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition". In a few weeks the Good Witch will understand the theory of relativity, and I will understand it even better. If you're not learning, what are you doing?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Global Warming Hysteria - Coming Soon?

I've been reading a new (2007) book by Fred Pearce entitled "With Speed and Violence - Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change". I do not recommend this book for reading immediately prior to bedtime. It's scary.

The author, who does not appear to be a kook but has some real credentials as a reporter, interviewed many scientists who are looking at various aspects of climate change. The chapters describe how each driver of climate change is behaving now, and how it is likely to affect our future climate. I've learned what these experts believe is happening with CO2, methane, peat bogs, permafrost, the albedo, clathrates, ocean currents,and other stuff.

I'm only halfway into the book and the news is all bad, so I'm done reading. If these people are right, we've put the global climate change train on the track, pushed the throttle on full, and retired to the club car for a few drinks while we wait for the inevitable and totally horrific wreck of our planet. Worried about over-population? Fuggetaboutit! Mother Nature will take care of this problem shortly, and the many fewer remaining humans will live in a much different fashion than we do now. We are quite adaptable, you know.

Who knows where this will go? We may have already started that train, or perhaps there is some time left to mitigate our climate-changing activities. But one thing I know: we humans are quite resistant to change. If inconvenience will be required to head off the end of the world as we know it, well, the world is going to end at some point anyway... Our best hope is that all this gloom and doom has been over-hyped and some compensating factors will keep our planet from overheating.

Stay tuned. It seems that the answers to almost all these questions will become apparent in this century, or perhaps in its first half. In the meantime, have another drink on me.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Iraq War Cost Update - Your Share is $1,523 Plus Interest

The National Priorities Project has calculated that the "incremental cost" of the Iraq War will hit $456 billion on September 30, 2007. This is money already spent, and does not include any future costs such as the medical treatment and disability benefits for soldiers wounded in Iraq - costs that will be giant in their own right.

"Incremental" means money that we would not have spent if we had not gone to war. For example, regular salaries of troops are not incremental, but combat pay is. Buying vehicles to replace those that have been worn out early or blown up in combat is incremental. You get the idea.

In 2003, when we invaded Iraq, that country had a population of about 25 million men, women, and children. As of September 30, 2007, the U.S. will have spent an "incremental" $18,280 for each of them in our effort to create a working, friendly democracy in Iraq. Or, to put it another way, George Bush has already spent $1,523 on Iraq for every one of the 300 million Americans.

Maybe you don't think this is a lot of money. Here's yet another way to think about it. George Bush could have taken the $1,523 and put it into a Social Security lock box for each one of us, to compound until we retire. If we were 18 this year, that money would grow by about $8,500 until we retired at 65. Now, here's the really bad news: since Bush borrowed this money and added it to the national debt which will not be repaid, we and our children will be paying out $8,500 in interest on this $1,523 over the next 47 years - and a good chunk of that will be going to Chinese investors.

The next time you meet an Iraq War Hawk, remind him or her of the amount his family has spent on the war to-date. For a family of five, that's $7,500, not counting the future medical costs or interest on the debt. Have the results been worth it?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright!

It's Sunday afternoon. I went to church this morning where a tiny female substitute minister also played a beautiful Chopin variation on her violin together with a large black female guitar player who was excellent. Afterward I went to the ambulance to prepare financial statements for tonight's board meeting, but I took a call shortly after I finished the statements since no other medics were around. Now, after an interesting call, I've been home for awhile watching Tiger Woods win the Tour Championship tournament by an outrageous number of strokes - and also win the very first FedEx Cup. Just another day for Tiger...

2007 is Tiger's 11th year on the PGA tour since he left Stanford University after his freshman year to turn pro. He's won 61 tournaments and over $70 million, and he owns so many records I couldn't begin to relate them. His golf game is unique - no one has ever had as complete a game as Tiger. He hits it far; he hits it straight; he recovers from bad shots; he plays from sand like it isn't there; his short game and putting is possibly the best ever. But none of these things is the #1 reason I'm a great Tiger fan.

My #1 reason for admiring Tiger is that he has an unrelenting drive to excel. His golf game today is nothing like his golf game in 1997, where he won the Masters by 12 shots and embarassed every other top pro golfer. In those days he combined great talent and "feel" with youthful exuberance and confidence. Now though, he's much stronger, smarter, and "technical" - he dissects golf courses like a top-flight surgeon, and he can win even when he's not hitting the ball perfectly. He's changed his swing several times since 1997, struggling to do it a new way and willing to have some dry spells as he changed over. Tiger has never said "I'm good enough", and he's worked as hard as any other golfer to play his best. As a result, he's still as far ahead of the other golfers as he was 10 years ago, even though all his competitors have also improved their skills.

We can all learn a great lesson from Tiger, the lesson that improvement is a continuous goal regardless of our level of success. Even if our objectives fall short of being world class at anything, we can always try our best to do better every day. And that is the #1 reason why Tiger is a more admirable person than I am: he's worked harder and sacrificed more to maximize on his natural ability than I have worked and sacrificed to maximize on mine. Excellence in human activities, even in sports, is important to our species. In golf, Tiger burns bright because he brings in the fuel and keeps it lit at all times.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Munitions from Iran? Golly, What a Surprise!

The latest outrage reported by U.S. Army spokesmen is a 240mm mortar round, likely from Iran, that caused the death of one of our soldiers. Its terrible that those dastardly Iranians let one of their big boomers get into the hands of our Iraqi enemies!

Well, guess what? The U.S. and the Iranians both have engaged in arming friendly militias for as long as I can remember. In fact, old Ollie North once sold arms to the Iranians in order to get cash to support the Nicaraguan "contras". Ollie wasn't on official business when he did this (until it was shown that he and Reagan lied about our involvement), and neither are the shadowy Iranians who just happen to have access to weapons that make their way into Iraq. Also, the U.S. just happened to lose a whole bunch of shoulder-fired missles in Afganistan about the time the Russians occupied that country. Apparently it's OK for us but not OK for Iran.

The fact of the matter is that all kinds of weapons tend to leak into irregular war zones. Al Queda is getting its arms and high-tech explosives from outside suppliers, probably in return for cash that came from Saudi Arabia. The Sunni militias are getting more sophisticated arms from their supporters, and the Shiite militias from theirs (Iran chief among them, most likely).

Arms are simply a commodity that follows demand, and the U.S. has created a huge demand in Iraq by destabilizing that country. Why the U.S. administration was clueless about this, and about the giant stockpiles of arms that it left unguarded early in the war, is baffling. Obviously, those in charge were naive at best.

There are reports of semi-organized resistance forces inside remote areas of Iran. If they do exist, do you think for one minute that their weapons were acquired absent clandestine U.S. support? Remember this when you hear the next complaint about Iranian meddling. It's just par for the course in the messy business of sub-rosa Nation -vs- Nation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering 9-11

Yes, today is a sad day. The bad guys broke through our pitiful defenses, killed many Americans, and scored a huge PR victory on 9/11/01. Unfortunately, our government had been much more concerned about a North Korean missile attack (and spending huge dollars on an anti-missile defense) than about heeding the Clinton administration's concerns about an attack on America by Islamic radicals.

It's also sad because our president and commander in chief, George W. Bush, that day sat in a gradeschool classroom after the second tower was hit and read a book about a goat while looking rather dazed, then ran and hid in a bunker for awhile, until he felt safe.

It's also sad because 9-11 (going after Al-Queda) was used as a pretext to go after non-existent terrorists in Iraq, costing us Americans $1 trillion and almost 4,000 lives.

It's also sad because we remember how many first responders broke every rule in the book by running inside the Twin Towers, only to die there. And we also remember how, just this year, the sadly stupid firemen did the same thing again when an unoccupied building next to the Twin Towers caught on fire - some of them died, too. This may seem heartless, but maybe it's time to expect firemen to obey their own rules. As an EMT, I may break the rules about scene safety, but if I die I don't expect to be named a hero - just call me a brave but stupid guy.

It's also sad because this entire "terrorism" thing is wasting an incredible amount of resources that should be used to deal with a whole bunch of serious world-wide problems that threaten humankind in general. Like Peanuts said, "We have met the enemy and it is us!" It's time for some serious conversation and a halt to all this bullshit.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Liberal Libertarianism

Leading politicians, republican and democrat, are doing Americans a disservice by limiting our choices regarding the role of government in our lives.

Republicans, by and large, favor a status quo which allows wealthier Americans and large corporations to prosper. They focus on cutting taxes, subsidizing the agricultural, pharmaceutical, banking, and oil industries, and weakening regulations on business. Their "family values" mantra attracts votes from social and religious conservatives who would otherwise not fit the criteria to be republican. Republicans seldom talk about their vision for the future, since they resist changes other than regressive ones.

Democrats, on the other hand, are oriented to changes that purport to favor the lower classes. They focus on increasing government benefits, regulating just about every aspect of life, being scared of just about everything,and further solidifying the power of public bureaucracies and unions. They talk incessantly of "fairness", but they have no credible plan to fund the immense cost of the socialized society they envision.

Neither of the major parties is addressing the fundamental issue that faces America in the 21st century: how to stay competitive in the world economy. The simple fact that neither party chooses to state in outright fashion is that the wealth of a society is what provides for the general welfare of its citizens - and wealth is either accumulated or frittered away in the impersonal worldwide economy. Although America's wealth is currently decreasing at an alarming rate, neither republicans nor democrats want to talk about the actions needed to reverse this trend. We need "liberal libertarians" to come to the fore.

Liberal libertarianism combines the social goals of the democrats with the philosophy of personal responsiblility that was the original (now lost) theme of the republicans. The goal, simply stated, is to create an economy powerful enough to rebuild America's wealth and thereby generate the funds to pay for the high standard of living that Americans expect for their children and grandchildren. We need to reverse the current trend of increasing national debt by harnessing the power of a new America filled with highly educated, motivated and self-reliant citizens. This will be achieved only if government policies are dramatically modified.

The most important policy modification deals with education. Americans need to be told, unequivocally, that they are responsible for ensuring they become educated to the full extent of their abilities - and hopefully, in areas of interest to them. Educational opportunties need to be provided on the basis of student ability and commitment, regardless of social background, but those who do not show interest in formal or technical education need to be given some clear understanding of what their future will definitely hold: manual labor, minimal housing, and minimal benefits. Don't want to be productive? You get screwed. Get with the program? You get a life. Just like the American colonists and frontierspeople, and most of our grandparents.

The other major cultural change must address personal responsibility. Americans have gotten used to too many free rides. Are you voluntarily obese? No longer will your insurance rates be as low as those who watch their weight, and you may not get coverage for diseases, like adult diabetes, that are related directly to obesity. Have a child you can't support? Mandatory birth control for you, or no welfare check. Want to take a risky job like coal mining or roofing? You get a good paycheck, but don't think about suing your employer if you get hurt; that's what insurance is for. Want to start a school or send your kids to a neighborhood school co-op? Feel free to do just that, and the government should refund some percent of your school tax. In short, Americans need to get back in charge of their own lives, and there are lots of areas where changes need to be made.

How do the social values of the liberals get addressed? National health insurance, for starters. If you aren't covered by your employer or wealthy enough to buy your own health insurance, the government should provide insurance that you can afford (if you are willing to work at any job offered by the government). Same with minimal housing and food. People who are now the most defenseless, like children and some elderly people, would get much more assistance and intervention than they do now. In short, we need a society where people who are self-sufficient can make their own decisions and people who obviously need help get it whether they want it or not.

Liberal libertarianism. I think something like this is what the founders of America had in mind. Too bad the republicans and democrats don't offer anything like it, because it's the only way to rebuild America for those who follow us here.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Golfer's Nirvana

If you're a baseball fan, wouldn't it be great to play in a pick-up game at Yankee Stadium? If you're a football fan, wouldn't it be great to get your friends to play a touch football game with you at the Rose Bowl? If you're a basketball fan, how about you and your B-ball buddies dribbling and shooting at Madison Square Garden? Well, I just had the equivalent experience for a golfer - Oakland Hills Country Club, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

This past Wednesday and Thursday, courtesy of a true friend from Mt. Lebanon High School's Class of '62, I played the north and south courses at Oakland Hills, site of the 2004 Ryder Cup Matches (we lost!) and 13 championship tournaments. Among the winners of these tournaments were Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus. And, on Thursday, I had my own little championship round and golfed my ball down the same manicured fairways that these legendary characters did.

It was a perfect day, partly sunny with temperatures in the mid-to-high 70's and a noticable wind. My three partners and I warmed up on the practice range and teed up our balls in the shadow of the huge, magnificent white-columned clubhouse. My first drive found the fairway, and that was the start of a round to remember. There were lots more drives in the fairway, several of them over 250 yards, and a few great shots from the fairway and the sand bunkers. The greens, which were severely undulating and cut short and fast, let me take 35 putts on them during the 18 holes. I also pitched my ball onto a green only to watch it roll all the way across and into the water for a penalty stroke. We played from the blue tees (6,819 yards), and I shot 93 with four pars, six bogies and an eight on one par-five. Golfer's Nirvana.

I've played on just about every kind of golf course in existence - burned out Texas tracks where the ball never stops rolling, municipal 9-holers with wire fences protecting golfers from other golfer's errant shots, a bunch of good and better country club courses, and a few of the big names like Oakmont, Harbour Town, Spyglass, TPC Sugarbush, and Oak Hill. Oakland Hills is the big daddy if you count the whole package - the gorgeous grounds, the luxurious clubhouse, and the difficult, perfectly-maintained golf course. Yesterday was a day for the memory book, and I owe my old friend a lot for giving me an experience to savor for a long time.

Some people may quarrel with the idea of exclusive places like Oakland Hills, places that few ever get a chance to experience. Yet the world would be less beautiful without Oakland Hills, and it provides a huge number of good jobs for people in the area. For me, it provided an opportunity to test my golf skills to the utmost in the company of friends. I bet you even those champions mentioned above would have said "good shot" a few times, had they been watching my golfing dream come true.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Wrong, Mr. Archbishop - You Can't Desecrate God!

Kuala Lumpur archbishop Murphy Pakiam recently took on a local newspaper which had published a photo of Jesus with a cigarette in his hand. He called it a "desecration", and he later accepted the newspaper's apology after they suspended the employee who had taken the photo off the internet. Wrong move, archbishop Pakiam!

I'm tired of hearing about "holy cities", "holy places", "holy books", "holy people", and anything else in this world called "holy". Who made this designation? Show me the proof that God has deemed any material thing "holy"! This is just man-made baloney and the source of unending conflict. The truth is that nothing on this earth is "holy", whatever that means.

Archbishop Pakiam should have said, "I'm sorry that the newspaper printed a picture that I believe mischaracterizes Jesus. Let me tell you a few things about him that would indicate he probably didn't smoke. But don't worry about how Jesus would react to the picture...people did lots of worse things to him without making him angry. Jesus just got sad about how we always seem to be hurting each other and forgetting about God."

I'm a Christian, and my religion and personal experience tells me that everything humankind does in this world is imperfect, tinged by our own selfishness or our lack of understanding. Only the creator of the universe is perfect - and also totally impervious to criticism. So we are fools to call anything man-made or man-established "holy". And God, or any manifestation of God, cannot be desecrated or humiliated or lessened in any way. Anyone who thinks so does not understand God at all. What do you think, Mr. Archbishop?

Blame Al-Malaki? No.

So,the Iraq war is not going so well. The root cause, of course, is that there is no political settlement in the aftermath of our invasion. All the other ills of Iraq stem from this one problem. Warring factions who can't agree on a future for Iraq are keeping the country in chaos, each faction holding out for a settlement on their own terms. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has failed miserably, and now is the time when this failure is being explained to Americans.

The administration and several republican senators are floating the proposition that the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, is responsible for the failure of our war effort. Al-Maliki, they say, has been incompetent in getting the factions to agree on a political settlement. He's ruined our government's brilliant idea of Iraqi democracy through his ineffectiveness. He's the problem, they now say.

It's unfair and wrong to make Al-Maliki a scapegoat for our failure in Iraq. Everyone with any understanding of the situation there knows that Iraq never was a "country" in the traditional sense. It was simply a geographic area set up by occupiers and ruled by a succession of tyrants who kept the factions at bay by brutal means. Nobody stated this case better than Dick Cheney in his 1994 interview, which was right on the money. Al-Maliki has simply inherited an intractable mess.

Who is to blame for the Iraq debacle? It's clear that the Bush administration's decision to oust Saddam Hussein rather than keep him in an ever-tightening box was the direct cause of the current situation. This decision was supported and constantly ratified by the republican-led congress. They "own" Iraq.

The campaigns for the 2008 elections will be filled with rhetoric about why our Iraq adventure failed. Pay no attention to attempts to divert blame to anyone other than Bush and his neocon/oil pals and their supporters in congress. They marched in where even angels would fear to tread, and now they must be held accountable for their hubris. A political price needs to be paid, but it's the republicans and not Al-Maliki who should pay it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Another "The Teaching Company" Commercial

My friend RWorld just wrote a post about how few people are reading books these days...not even one-third of our population are readers! Aarghhh! But I digress, since I really want to discuss something even more demanding than reading - learning.

The Good Witch and I are now 2/3's through "How to Listen To and Understand Great Music", a DVD course put out by The Learning Company and taught by Professor Robert Greenberg. It's 48 45-minute lectures, so it takes a bit of dedication to stick with it. But Greenberg is definitely the most passionate and entertaining academic I've ever encountered.

I won't bore you with the details. All I can say is that, as a person who has been involved with music of all kinds for many, many years, I have benefitted greatly from all the revelations about what classical music is and how it works. I even listen to "rock and roll" with different ears, since the principles that Greenberg outlines apply to all kinds of music.

The course cost us $180 "on sale". That's a lot of money, but it has been worth the expense.

Take my advice - go to "" and look over the catalog. Don't buy anything that's not on sale. Curse me out if you don't like what you bought, but I don't think I'll get any curses thrown my way.

This has been an unpaid commercial for a company I wish I had discovered years ago. My current quandary is deciding, with the GW's input, which course we will take when this one is done in three more weeks.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Impeach Our Cowardly, Dimwitted President

President Bush spoke today in front of another friendly audience of addled veterans,and he went through his stock speech about 9/11, fighting there rather than here, etc. Then there was a surprise; he said Iraq would be like Vietnam if we left Iraq too early, intimating that we left Vietnam too early. Is this man dense or what? Everyone knows we left Vietnam way too late and shouldn't have been there in the first place. Now we're repeating that fiasco in Iraq.

Our commander-in-chief may believe he is brave, but he is a coward who refuses to face a neutral audience, never mind a hostile one. How he manages to keep the support of true and brave Americans on the right side of the political spectrum is beyond me. I guess that a true and brave American doesn't have to be intelligent as well...but the mainstream media is also gutless for not calling Bush a cowardly dunce on the front page and thereby educating the brave and true Americans about their idol.

Bush has more than 500 days left in his term - more than 500 days of opportuntity to further screw up our country. I don't know about you, but I think the risk is too great. Impeach the Dick and the Dunce! Let the republican senators listen to the evidence and vote to keep him in office, to their everlasting shame, if that's what they decide to do. I'm sick of listening to Bush's inanity, and embarrassed as well.
Let it be over.

Monday, August 20, 2007

"Playing" Golf

I am a golf nut. Although I have a lot of routine obligations, I have a fair amount of freedom regarding when those things need to be accomplished. Consequently, most weeks I can play 63 or more holes of golf at a lower-tier private club with a challenging, well-maintained golf course, a decent bar, and bare bones amenities everywhere else. In the summer I live for golf.

I first joined this club 12 years ago when I was working full time, but I really started to play a lot after I retired. Slowly my scores improved from over 100 to the low 80's, and I shot two 79's for my best rounds ever. Then, due to over-golfing, I developed so many aches and pains that I had to stop. This year, after a two-year break, I've been playing again and staying healthy. I love it, largely because at age 63 I can still compete with much younger players. My current USGA handicap is 15, and it's going down.

Why is golf such a great game? The #1 reason is that you compete with yourself - everything depends on you alone. Lose your concentration and lose a stroke... make a bad decision and maybe lose two strokes or more... you have nobody else to blame. The #2 reason is that golf requires both power and finesse. It helps a lot to hit a drive 250 yards or more, but it's equally important to correctly read a three-foot breaking downhill putt and put it in the hole. The #3 reason is that you can have a great social time, get good exercise (by walking, like I do), and compete at a high level at the same time. Lastly, the handicap system means that I could play a meaningful match against Tiger Woods, since he'd have to give me 20 strokes or more.

Aside from my own struggles to improve many aspects of my golf game, the thing that most frustrates me about golf is the players who don't have fundamental skills but complain when they hit poor shots. These guys go right from their car to the first tee with no warm-up. They have a poor grip on the club, they position the ball incorrectly, and they swing like they're killing snakes, yet they complain bitterly when they hit the ball sideways. Although laughing at another player's shot is bad manners, I assure you that a full-length comedy could be made on any Saturday at the golf course. I would provide a few laughs myself, no doubt.

My father, who died at 62 from heart problems caused by rheumatic fever, was an excellent golfer. He was strong but he never tried to overpower the golf ball. He often practiced his short game in the back yard and he believed that "scores are really made from 100 yards in to the cup". I can still see him walking to the car on a Saturday morning with his garish yellow pants and a goofy hat, smiling as he waved goodbye while thinking about the fun that awaited him. Only now can I really appreciate all he tried to teach me, and I wonder if he knows I still hear his voice when I step up to the ball. "That's the shot, Dad, just like you showed me!" Thanks for the help, old man.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Financial Katrina - Government Fails!

The sub-prime mortgage debacle has created a world-wide panic and resulted in havoc for individuals, banks, pension funds, endowment funds, and hedge funds. Way too many people were given loans on inflated properties, and often the loans were adjustable or had no down payment. When the properties fell in value or the interest rates were adjusted upward, borrowers could not pay the mortage payment and foreclosure proceedings began. Simultaneously, the value of sub-prime mortgage portfolios fell like a rock, hammering the markets. How could this happen? It happened because government failed us.

Some people believe that the free market should allow people to make stupid decisions such as taking out an adjustable mortgage on an inflated property, and that it should allow investors to buy portfolios of these junk mortgages. That's baloney. That's just like saying the free market should allow people to invest in Ponzi schemes if they want to. There are some kinds of transactions that government needs to control due to the potential harm to individuals and the overall economy, and these sub-prime mortgages certainly meet that criteria. In this case, government's failure to regulate these transactions has resulted in a financial Katrina that government is now frantically attempting to mitigate.

Every newspaper and financial program has been warning for the past two years that these sub-prime mortgages constitute a great risk. There have been many stories warning that the lax credit criteria, the adjustable rates, and the over-valued real estate could cause major problems if the housing market cooled or interest rates increased. Did congress have hearings about this? Did they investigate companies that were not disclosing the adjustable rates to buyers or informing them about the level of risk they were taking? No. Our government failed us, and this financial Katrina is impacting not just those involved in the mortgages but the economy as a whole. Government is supposed to have financial levees to prevent such events from occurring, but it did nothing.

There are many government agencies that could have raised the flag on this or put regulations in place to slow the pace of the sub-prime market. Certainly the executive branch, with the Treasury department and the FTC, had clout here. The congress also has several committees with related responsibilities. They all failed. Apparently those who were profiting from selling these properties and the related mortgages had enough political clout to keep government out of their knickers. So, now that all the cows are out of the barn and trampling the crops, government will punish a few major offenders and pass a few laws. Thanks a lot, you incompetents!

Yes, I do believe in free markets and limited government powers. However, the government's job is to protect the country as a whole from disasters. Just as we need protection from armed enemies, we also need protection from major financial meltdowns. This one was predictable, and we need to hang the failure to get ahead of it squarely on the politicians who didn't have the guts to take on the real estate and mortgage industries. This episode provides one more good reason to go to public financing of political campaigns rather than allowing the fat cats to buy freedom from oversight with their campaign contributions.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


George Carlin has a famous monologue about "stuff", which you have probably heard. The idea is that "stuff" can pretty much take over our lives. As we get more stuff we need a bigger house and garage, which then needs an addition since we now have more stuff. Carlin wonders whether our life is really any better because we have all this stuff, or whether our life is just consumed by managing it.

I've just spent three days doing minor maintenance on a property I own and lease in North Carolina. Even seemingly little things take a long time to accomplish. First you scope out the problem - or attempt to - and then you go to Lowe's, Home Depot, or a paint store to buy the stuff you need. Then you go back and start the work, only to find there is something else you need or something you bought doesn't work. Back to the store. If you're lucky, which is about a 50% probability, you are able to complete the work without further complications. In my case, one last item is going to require an electrician.

Talking about this with my mom at lunch today, she said, "These electric things cause so many problems!" I was immediately transported to Haiti where few people have access to all the electric things, or even to electricity in some cases. At least she followed her comment with "We're lucky to have the money to fix them".

Stuff! It's truly a blessing in many instances, but it sure can rule your life if you let it. And fixing it is a pain in the neck. Simplify!

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Good Decision

Once upon a time I worked as medic on the ambulance and, late in the shift, got a low priority call for a mid-30's man who told 911 that he had abdominal pain and wanted an ambulance with no lights or siren. We meandered over there to check him out. Forty-five minutes later he was in the ER being evaluated for obvious heart issues.

At his home the man told me that his pain had subsided somewhat after he called the ambulance, and that he might not have called for help had he waited a bit longer. This is called "denial" - we know there's a problem but we are afraid to have it confirmed, so we downplay it. It's usually a bad decision.

This post is written to encourage you to deny "denial". If you ever get an unusual pain in your head, chest, back,or abdomen, and it surprises you because you've never experienced anything like it before, call 911 right away. It's a good decision.

Caveat: I'm not a doctor...just a lowly EMT. But I've had plenty of experience seeing how many "denials" were, unfortunately, life-changing. You're probably not a doc, either. So, if you hurt, let a doc make the decision about whether it's something to worry about or not. Thanks for listening!

Six Time Loser

I'm a good driver. I've had one ticket in my life, in 1978 for 62 in a 55 zone (speed trap), and one minor accident in 1965. I drive the ambulance a lot, sometimes for 10 fast miles through dense traffic with lights and sirens, and my partners are comfortable. But when it comes to reverse gear in my minivan, I'm a six time loser. I've hit six different cars while backing up in driveways, the last time being last night.

Minivans have great forward visibility, but visibility to the rear stinks. The tinted glass windows and large rear quarter panels, together with the height of the metal rear door, make backing up an adventure. If something is there, it's easy not to see it, especially at night. Perhaps all minivans should come standard with back-up alarm devices that signal when you are close to something.

I've twice hit my daughter-in-law's van in my own driveway, hit my best friend's car in my driveway, backed into a curved wall at a cellphone store, hit another ambulance corps member's car in the ambulance parking lot, at last night I backed into my best friend's wife's car in another friend's driveway. In total, I've spent about $4,000 repairing these cars. You'd think I'd learn.

Did you know that 95% of all ambulance accidents happen in reverse gear? That's because the ambulance boxes are so wide and long that rear visibility is almost non-existent. We have cameras in our ambulances now, and we're finally able to see what's behind us.

In my case, perhaps I need to set a new rule for myself - never park anywhere that will require me to back up!

Generally speaking, I'm far from being a klutz. I seldom wound myself doing repairs, I'm pretty coordinated, and I tend to think ahead. Apparently, though, I have one major gap in my mental processes - reverse gear. Could any of my readers have patterns of repetitive stupid behavior like this? I'm feeling pretty silly today.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Winning Battles, Losing War

This morning's paper contained a letter to the editor supporting continued war in Iraq. The author, a father of a lieutenant killed in Iraq, claimed that we could win "because we have never lost a battle". That was the same claim made about the Vietnam War, which we lost while (some say) we never lost a battle. Some people just don't understand that the Iraq War is not about battles.

Unconventional warfare, for the aggressor, is all about preventing the defender from achieving its aims. It is not about winning battles. In fact, the aggressor has no interest in fighting battles which it will almost always lose due to its being significantly outgunned and out-maneuvered by the defender. The aggressor attacks in force only when it feels it has a significant local advantage and a good escape route. Mostly, however, the aggressor simply carries out tactics to keep the defender from achieving its aims.

What are these tactics in Iraq? Destroying infrastructure and "holy places". Bombing population centers to create general fear and and a belief that the defender is not capable of protecting the people. Assassinating leaders who might rally the population against them. Disrupting transportation and fuel supplies, thereby significantly hampering the economy. The various fighting factions in Iraq have been successful in carrying out all these operations, and they will continue to be successful because they have safe havens within the country. Consequently, the defender (the U.S.) will be pinned down for the forseeable future and will never "win". The lieutenant's father's hopes are quixotic.

In my view, we should leave Iraq now and let the chips fall where they may. We should not give the Iraqis a single additional weapon with which to kill their countrymen. Will this result in chaos? Of course. And it will be our fault, a blot on our nation that we created this ugly mess and had to walk away from it. In retrospect, having a despotic and sadistic Saddam in power was far better than the current situation. But relative peace in Iraq, which was the status quo under Saddam, will not return until the Iraqis have sorted themselves out and found a new strong man to rule over them.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Infrastructure Panic -VS- Reality

It's not a perfect world, not even in the United States. Today I heard Ed Schultz, commenting on the Minneapolis bridge collapse, state that this was a "systemic" problem and the entire process for reviewing bridge safety needs to be overhauled. One collapse and the world needs to be re-invented. Boloney!

Per Ed, there are 900,000 bridges in the U.S., 115,000 of which have identified structural issues. Listening to him, you'd think that most of them will likely collapse this year. He's wrong by about 115,000 bridges.

Scientists are not perfect. Doctors are not perfect. My spelling is not perfect. Bridge inspectors are not perfect. Even the people who check out the fabulously expensive space shuttle are not perfect. Unfortunately, we have tragedies caused by human imperfection all the time, despite our best efforts. We need to learn to live with them and not panic over isolated incidents, Ed Shultz.

This long bridge was a very complicated structure that was subject to many physical and environmental stresses. Surely it had some corrosion after 40 years of exposure to the elements, and some of the wearing parts, like bearings, had probably deteriorated. I expect the final report on this bridge will conclude that the collapse had no single cause but was the result of a number of interrelated deficiencies and perhaps an unusual stress at the time it collapsed. This kind of "domino effect" failure is extremely hard to predict, since no individual (inspectable) feature of the bridge was deemed a failure risk at the time of its last inspection.

Am I suggesting we do nothing in response to the collapse? No. We need to continue inspecting our infrastructure and writing readable and honest engineering reports about what is found. State governments need to prioritize their infrastructure spending and increase it if necessary. But now is not the time to throw out the baby with the bathwater. If we start getting a major bridge collapse every year, maybe I'll change my mind, but for now let's just grieve for those who lost their lives in a random accident. The bridge inspectors will be on heightened alert, and that is all we need to feel safe.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Traffic Violations and Human Nature

As you may know, I admit to being an accountant. Early in my accounting career an experienced person conveyed this "fact" to me: he said, "One of every 100 employees of a company actively looks for ways to cheat or steal from their employer, and another four will promptly take advantage of an opportunity to cheat or steal if they belive they won't be caught." I guess it's nice that 95 of 100 of us will not cheat or steal even if given the opportunity.

I was reminded of this story when I began to consider the reasons why I'm witnessing so many traffic violations on our local roads. So many more people seem to be running red lights, driving with their cell phones in their ears, or making illegal turns. It's an epidemic of traffic lawlessness, and I've seen the results of it at intersections where my ambulance stopped to pick up the people who've been hit by the latest light-runner.

Things were not always this way on the roads. Traffic law enforcement was once a much more high priority item for government, and traffic cops were everywhere, it seemed. If you were a chronic light-runner you could count on your luck running out and your wallet substantially lightened by fines and higher insurance costs. Now, however, the price of police has gone up and the number of police has declined. Moreover, police have little incentive to write tickets if they have to show up in court to defend them. Consequently, traffic law enforcement in many areas is minimal.

Back to my point, then. Perhaps there always was that one in 100 drivers who would run red lights simply because they were wired to look for opportunities to cheat. Now, though, we are faced with another four of 100 who, due to lack of enforcement, take advantage of the opportunity to cheat because they don't fear being caught. One of these four could kill you, so be wise - check both left and right before you start out after your red light turns green.

Some people believe using cameras for traffic law enforcement is an invasion of privacy. I figure that if we can't afford cops we should use cameras. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words in some situations. The risk of having 5% of drivers running red lights is just too high, and if fear is the only way to get us back to 1%, so be it.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Texas Governor Appoints Creationist - What?

My friend ThomasLB ( ) wrote about the Texas governor recently appointing an adherent of creationism to head the Texas education department. Quotes attributed to this guy clearly demonstrate that he's a bonehead. Check out Thomas's post.

I remember being on a fishing boat in Canada with an older gentleman from Ohio. When asked, I said I believed in evolution. He laughed and said, "You believe your granddaddy was a monkey?" The man had no education, so I was not offended. But one would expect the head of a state education department to be educated. Not in Texas.

This surprising development is just one more indication of America's slow march toward mediocrity. When leaders appoint anti-intellectuals to important posts, all learning is demeaned. We are regressing toward a medieval doltishness where priests, now of the Christian fundamentalist persuasion, spout nonsense that sounds good to those who have no learning. Reducing evolution to "making spiders out of rocks" is a catchy phrase, but it's obscene to me.

America does not need foreign enemies. By making decisions like this one in Texas, our leaders are hastening our downfall without any terrorist assistance. They are killing the brains of our children.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Michael Savage", a Hitlerite of the 21st Century

"Michael Savage", born Michael Alan Weiner, has 10 million listeners of his radio program, and I am one of them for 10-15 minutes most nights as I get ready for bed. The man repulses me, but I'm one of those who believe you must understand your enemies, hence I subject myself to short periods of his vitriol, which is leavened by homey little stories of his childhood and life experiences.

I must admit, Michael is a pretty good talker and a bright guy. His Wikipedia biography explains how Michael Alan Weiner was, during the 70's, a consort of some famous liberals in the San Francisco area. However, in the 80's he turned radically conservative perhaps because of some experiences with the welfare system or his failure to get a job interview due, he says, to affirmative action. He has an earned Ph.D. and, at least to me, he's conversant in many fields of study. Yet the guy comes across as bent beyond belief, so I must conclude either that the "Michael Savage" persona is a purely commercial one or he is nuts.

Two nights ago I listened to a rant where he claimed "liberals" are delighted that 75% of African-American kids are illegitimate. He said this situation was reflected their idea of "freedom". I about choked. Of course, his show consists primarily of rants against liberals, homosexuals, and immigrants, so I suppose the great majority of the 10 million listeners get just what they want to hear. In my opinion, it's a perversion of "freedom" that allows Michael Savage to even be on the air. But I don't blame him - anyone is allowed to be nuts or crassly commercial - I blame the whores who put him on the air.

But I digress. Listening to Michael Savage made me think about the recent Einstein biography that I just read. Einstein was in Germany when Hitler came to power, and Einstein saw firsthand how Hitler and his rabble vilified those who they blamed for Germany's defeat in WWI and the depression that followed - Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, liberal democrats, and non-Germanic people. We all know what happened to these unfortunate folks. Some of the farsighted and wealthier ones, like Einstein, were lucky enough to flee Germany before they were rounded up by those who listened to the crap that the Hitlerites were putting out.

Who, today, is putting out the same kind of crap? None other than Michael Savage, son of a Jewish Russian immigrant. He's found the same kind of audience that Hitler did, and he's milking them for all they're worth. Perhaps he was born too soon...he could have become a top Nazi propagandist had he been in Germany in the 1930's, and he would have achieved the national influence he craves in these more modern days.

But what about the sweet, homey stories he loves to spin? Last night's concerned an incident where a nondescript black man came into his father's store and was treated with respect. The man subsequently bought a load of stuff. The moral? Treat everyone with respect. Great idea. Now listen to Savage talk to the callers who have a different point of view than his. Respect? Not. It's probably a good thing Savage doesn't have a gas chamber at his disposal. Like the Hitlerites, Savage gives a kind of "pat on the head" respect only to those who agree with him.

What is the national media reaction to Michael Savage? He's simply a non-person, a malignancy that nobody wants to acknowledge. Perhaps they feel that ostracizing him is more effective than taking him on and giving him even more publicity. They are wrong. Like Senator Joseph McCarthy, Michael Savage needs to be called out and put out. The 10 million listeners need to hear him get a "fair trial" in the media before those who sponsor him are ashamed enough to give him a permanent vacation on his sailboat. Germany did not need Hitler, and America does not need his intellectual successor, Michael Savage.