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.