Thursday, December 25, 2008

Lutherans Rule Christmas!

One of my favorite things about Christmas day is the afternoon entertainment on public television, a procession of musical programs by Lutheran Colleges - St. Olaf's, Luther, and Concordia - although it wouldn't be fair not to mention the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's awesome program during the same time slot.

I love to sing, and I sing bass in our church choir. The Eastman School of Music is in Rochester, so I have year-long opportunities to indulge in hearing excellent choral, orchestral, and instrumental music. That's why I'm so impressed by these three Lutheran colleges; their music "competes" at an extremely high level, and they're just "kids". Musically, they are pro's.

I hear voices in these choirs that could audition successfully at Eastman (or Julliard). But they are not at Eastman or Julliard, they are at St. Olaf's, Luther, or Concordia. Student of practical economics that I am, I conclude there is something about these places that many high quality musicians value over the prestige and excellence of a top-rung school like Eastman.

That high value "something" may be not having to practice roughly seven hours every day, as Eastman kids do. But it's more likely that the nurturing cultural and spiritual element, and the tradition of these colleges is what draws them. I don't know for sure, but I'd also be willing to bet that many of these students have had generations of their family graduating from these institutions. A tradition of excellence breeds excellence.

So thank you, Lutherans, for being so serious about making beautiful music. I suppose it may emanate from the German origin of Lutheranism - the Germans love music and have always put great emphasis on precision and clarity. It's too bad these colleges don't have programs for all the other holidays - I'd watch and listen.

At this time of year I'm reminded that Martin Luther wrote the famous carol, "Away in a Manger", setting the tone for his followers. Martin, you are probably looking down on this Christmas with satisfaction, hearing the angel choirs of the Lutheran colleges you inspired!

(Postscript 12/27/08 - A loyal reader has pointed out that the attribution of "Away in a Manger" to Martin Luther is incorrect. The song was attributed to him 400 years after his birth as a way of according him some additional glory. However, Luther did write a number of carols - just not this one. Truth must prevail!)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Global Warming" Suspended in Rochester, NY!

Just when we Rochesterians were well on our way to the least snowy Oct/Nov/Dec in many years, Mother Nature decided to remind us about who is really in charge. So, I was forced to make the difficult transtion from a weekend in San Diego to a weekend at the southern reaches of the north pole, currently in Rochester.



It's times like this when I bow down and praise the guy who invented the snow blower! It truly saves a person from hours of back-breaking labor and the agony that follows.

On the other hand, the snow is beautiful and I don't mind the cold. As far as I know, the awful roads didn't cause any fatalities - only lots of fender-benders. We had nine calls at Pittsford Ambulance, and thankfully no major heart attacks when our ambulances were having much difficulty fighting through clogged traffic.

The skiiers are in heaven. You see, God provides for all of us at different times! Merry Christmas!





Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A New Man



If you've read me for awhile, you know about the angst I felt when my #1 grandson enlisted in the Marines. Although he had excellent high school grades and test scores, he just couldn't seem to take the next step. Each time he moved that right foot toward a new opportunity, he soon pulled it back. His life was in a holding pattern for an entire year - and then he announced he'd enlisted and intended to be a combat soldier. Surprise, surprise!

Times have changed since I was a soldier. Now, the Marines make you wait for a few months before you report for duty. In the intervening period they expect you to attend pre-reporting training sessions with your recruiter and others. They expect you to get into shape. They give you some idea of what being "screamed at" is like. Then you jump into the real fire. Michael reported about 12 weeks ago to the Marine training base in San Diego, and his transformation began abruptly - no doubt with someone yelling unintelligible words in his face and calling for pushups at every turn.

Mike's first letter, after three weeks there, opened "I hate boot camp!" The second letter, after six weeks there, opened "I love boot camp!" He miraculously recovered from a bout with pnuemonia, earned an expert marksman badge, and finally completed the grueling three-day exercise aptly named "The Crucible". Then came graduation day, which I attended last weekend.

Mike is a new man. He stands tall rather than slouching. He looks you in the eye when he talks to you. He speaks with confidence. His skinny frame is 15 pounds heavier than it was 12 weeks ago in spite of the pneumonia and constant exercise (they put him on double rations for awhile). He's still "young", but a very different kind of young. In the picture, you can see the implacable Marine expression on his face. I like that a lot.

After two weeks of leave and two weeks of assisting a recruiter, Mike will be back to Camp Pendleton for nine weeks of infantry combat training. He'll come out of that a trained warrior, although he will have no idea of what real combat entails. That may come later, and if so, he'll find out that there's no glory in it. It's chaos, fear, suffering, and an aftermath that goes on and on. Hopefully, he'll be able to get through whatever comes.
In the meantime, Marine boot camp graduation is a major production. These Marines look sharper and drill sharper than any of the services. You can sense the individual and group pride that will help them succeed in the small unit combat role they perform. Mike and 450 others became "new men" last weekend, courtesy of the United States Marines.




Saturday, December 13, 2008

Power and Greed, II

A few days ago I wrote about a small group of people whose raison d'etre is accumulating power and wealth by whatever means they can get away with. They are smart, and they generally weigh their decisions carefully, but they are also ruthless. Most of us have never been close enough to people like this to really understand the depth of their lack of principle; they are sociopaths, and they know how to fit into society and manipulate people and organizations to achieve their ends. They are responsible for a lot of the pain in the world.

Since I wrote those words, three more people who seem to meet this description have been exposed. Illinois governor Blagojevich ran on an anti-corruption platform but is now accused of attempting to sell whatever an appointment to the U.S. Senate. Bernard Madoff, the former chairman of NASDAQ, has been arrested for masterminding a Ponzi scheme that may have cost investors a mind-boggling $50 billion. Marc Dreier, a well-know New York City attorney, has been arrested for allegedly defrauding several hedge funds of up to $380 million. They are three very smart and capable people who have likely caused incredible chaos by taking huge risks to accumulate power and wealth.

During the past week I've heard several financial experts claim that regulation can't keep up with the evil creativity of those who are driven to "succeed" at whatever cost. They may be right. But, why aren't the big-time con artists exposed more quickly? I suspect these people succeed largely because their "customers" fail to exercise due diligence when doing business with them. Their personal magnetism or pedigree is such that their proposals are not checked out appropriately for transations of the magnitude they deal in. And, they are not afraid to intimidate or ridicule people who may obstruct their plans. Consequently, one successful fraud serves as the base for the next, by increasing the perpetrator's power and wealth.

You have probably heard the word "transparency" often, lately. It means that the purposes and details of agreements or transactions should be completely disclosed to those who are affected by them. Government officials and corporate managements, in particular, are being encouraged to be more "transparent" because they can often gain unfairly by keeping their purposes and transaction details secret. In some instances, such as in the selection of an appointed senator or the awarding of a major contract, transparency before the act is impractical but a requirement to keep detailed records and submit to post-review may provide adequate oversight.

The primary objection to transparency is that it "slows the process" by creating unnecessary work before and after transactions. In my view, this argument usually comes from prime movers who hate the idea that outsiders would have some power over them. We should be sceptical. Hampering those who might sell senate seats, bilk people out of $50 billion or $380 million, or invest a bank's capital in ultra-risky morgages seems more reasonable every day.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Greetings from San Diego!

The palm trees are swaying gently in the wind. The wind feels warm to me, but others here are wearing light jackets. The early morning clouds and rising sun make for a beautiful sky. It's just another balmy day in San Diego, where I've come to witness my #1 grandson's graduation from Marine boot camp.

Michael gained fifteen pounds, learned how to stand up straight and sit up straight, and how to look you in the eye when he talks to you. He's quite a different young man than he was eleven weeks ago, as I expected. All the young graduates look alert and sharp, very different than their civilian counterparts at this age. Many, many years of Marine experience in transforming kids into obedient soldiers is obviously effective.

I'm here with my #1 son, Michael's father. He's proud of Michael, although one year ago he wouldn't have guessed he'd be here to witness this kind of event. Kids do what kids do, and parents must stand aside and love them as they work out their lives. I think this experience will probably work out very well for Michael, adding some self dicipline and drive to his high intelligence. Time will tell.

Seeing and conversing with the Marine officers and sergeants takes me back to my youth in the 101st Airborne Division. These men are bright and motivated, and very sharp. They are more than a match for typical civilians in their age group. We Americans are fortunate to have armed forces filled with men and women of such quality.

Keep you posted!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Power and Greed

Here we are, hoping the government can somehow pull us out of this deep recession. We're so concerned about the present and the future, we don't think much about the recent past. It's the past, after all. But I've been thinking about how we got to this sorry state, and the answer is "power and greed". Nothing new. Over history, this combination of human drivers has caused more misery than the bubonic plague.

There are some people who are wired differently than most, or they get rewired through their life experiences. They love the feeling of control over others, and they will do anything they can get away with to establish that control. They also love the material trappings of success. The old saw about "What separates the men from the boys is the cost of their toys" is their mantra. These are the people who are primarily responsible for our economy being in tatters.

Looking back at the American financial system, we see a complex matrix of "credit default swaps", "hedge funds", and "nothing-down, no-credit-check, adjustable rate mortgages". Lots of these transactions had little more substance than air, or were simply another way to gamble. Yet the people who invented them, or approved them, or marketed them, or failed to regulate them, were generally very smart people. They knew better; they understood the potential for disaster if the value of these transactions reached a critical mass. So, why did they proceed? Simple. Power and greed. The short term success they achieved gave them great influence, and their large profits enabled plenty of flashy homes and toys. They acted rationally, for them.

The "free-market" zealots just don't understand the risk this small group of talented people presents. Although capitalism seems to be the best way we currently know to achieve innovation and productivity, unfettered capitalism provides the "power and greed" crowd with all the room they need to produce chaos. These people are willing to cross the lines of generally acceptable behavior if they feel they can gain an advantage by doing so. In a worst case scenario, you get a Hitler. In a more typical case, you get the guys who pushed Washington Mutual and Lehman Brothers off the cliff. If you were generous, you'd call them "unprincipled".

I've been up close and personal with members of this crowd. I've seen them make alliances with others of like mind in a large corporation. When they achieved the critical mass they needed, they simply broke the rules they all understood in order to cash in. To add insult to injury, they rigged their company's liablility insurance so that it had to pay the fines they ultimately got charged by regulators. All of them are mighty comfortable right now, their reputations ruined but their fortunes intact. They won the game.

When you hear someone say "Regulation stifles innovation", you can safely respond that "Lack of regulation creates human disasters". The trick with regulation is to get the level right. But, never forget, the "power and greed" crowd is always lurking close by, just waiting to find the chinks in the laws and rules that we depend on to make our society fairly predictable. Better to err on the side of caution.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

I Can't Get Her Out of My Mind

Working on the ambulance , as I do for over 100 hours each month, is the most rewarding activity that I'm involved in. I get back much more than I give.

These times are relatively tough. The news of my town, the country, and the world is disheartening. Problems, problems, problems. My IRA has taken a nosedive, too. I need some Christmas cheer, and the ambulance provides it.

Nothing is so elevating as meeting someone who really has it tough and is somehow staying positive. I met a lady the other day who has pretty much done this, although I expect some days are harder than others.

She had a great career in a big city until, one day in her late twenties, a freak illness almost killed her. For the past thirty years following her slow awakening from a coma, she's been coping with the aftermath. Operation after operation, disfiguring her and making her every day another chance at experiencing a sudden death. Can you imagine living like this?

I saw how her nurse hugged her tenderly when she released her to me for another trip to the hospital. As we chatted on the way and in the hospital triage area, she told me how grateful she was to her long-ago employer for giving her back her job after a year and half away from work. She smiled when she related to me that a female friend of hers was a WWII veteran. She lit up when I complimented her on a beautiful ring she was wearing, and she told me the story of when she got it. She was living in the moment, although she knew that she faced a lot of poking, prodding and deliberating with doctors over what to do with her today.

People like her shape my way of dealing with life's ups and downs. Nothing is guaranteed. There are far worse things than a fading IRA. At the end of the day, survival and the chance to experience a joyful moment, even in the midst of troubling uncertainty, is the core of what life is about. And, as a believer, I have hope even if the worst comes to pass.

Thank you, sweet lady, for making my day!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I "Brined" the Turkey!

The older I get, the more things I find I don't know. Three days ago, while perusing one of my favorite liberal blogs, I found a glowing review of the San Francisco Chronicle's receipe for brining a turkey. After racing to the supermarket for a few ingredients, I did the following in less than 30 minutes:

Put 2.5 gallons of water into the inmost of two large, doubled garbage bags that were placed inside a plastic cooler.

Into the water I put 2 cups of Kosher salt, one cup of sugar, a clove of garlic (all peeled sections), a whole bunch of fresh thyme, 5 crushed juniper berries, and 4 crushed allspice nuggets. I thrashed it all around for a couple of minutes to mix it up.

Into the bag went the turkey, about 5 p.m. the night before Thanksgiving Day. I tied the top of the plastic bags tightly, put the top on the cooler and let it all sit until 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. Then I took out the turkey, dried it, and tossed out the brine mix.

The 20 pound turkey roasted for about 3.5 hours at 350 degrees (until the thigh meat was 165 degrees). No stuffing allowed!

Best turkey we ever ate, by a mile! White meat firm, moist, and flavorful, dark meat delicious! This was the first time I remember the turkey being the food sensation of Thanksgiving.

It's no wonder the Chronicle found this receipe the best of the 28 that they tested. Bon appetite!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Auto Bailout, Part 2

The auto bailout controversy continues to fester. Congress tossed the auto executives out earlier this week. Lobbyists and other advocates and adversaries are out in full force in the media. Information and misinformation abounds! What's the real story?

Well, I'm still hard-hearted. I have no sympathy for the executives, but I have less sympathy for the rank and file exempt employees and the union guys. I've been close to the industry just once in my life, but that was enough to get the ugly picture. Everyone involved in the big three has been complicit in an outrageous wage/price inflation that cannot stand if the auto industry is to survive. They all have to give something up - wages, pensions, health care, all of it. They are sadly out of line.

Much has been made by some commentators of the inaccuracy of the $70/hour or more that's been quoted as the average cost of a union worker. It's true that that number represents the per-worker cost of all salaries, benefits, and pension contributions for both current workers and retirees. The average worker makes much less, actually about $30/hour in wages, plus health care and statutory benefits. Pension contributions go on top of that, making the average fully-loaded cost of an average current union member a bit less than $50/hour. That's crazy. At $30/hour, the gross pay averages $62,400 annually. Fully loaded, the per-worker cost is almost $100,000 each year for a high school graduate who does manual labor. Add another $20/hour to take care of retired worker pensions and health care benefits, and you get the $70/hour that I started with. A union auto worker has a great job. Too great, in fact. And that also goes for all the exempt employees whose salary packages have been pegged to the union contract for 50 years. They're all overpaid.

I have a son who teaches eighth grade math in the combat zone of Phoenix. He's a top teacher, and he has a masters degree and five years experience. He makes less than $40,000 and he gets health care and a pension contribution. His day starts early and ends late, and he has a world of requirements to worry about. His job is far more difficult than an auto worker's job, but he makes much less. He loves what he does, at age 46 and after enduring the strain of several career changes. Before 9-11 he made six figures and drove a nice BMW, but the office he headed closed due to the terrorist attack and the recession that followed. So, he got a new education and adjusted to another lifestyle. That's what some people do, and that's one reason why I have little sympathy for the auto industry employees.

Some time ago I posted about military pay. I mentioned that an Army captain does a lot better than I did when I was an officer. Today that captain with a college degree and lots more training and tons of responsibility makes a base pay of $56,664. He'll also get on-base housing for free, or a housing allowance worth more than $12,000 each year. So, this guy makes just a little more than an average union auto worker, but he may have to lead 120 guys into mortal combat and likely be away from his family for more than a year at a time on several occasions. You think that captain feels sorry for Joe wrench-turner?

Don't get me wrong. I don't hate Joe wrench-turner, and I think he deserves to have a decent life. What's happened, though, is that for many years his unions have been extorting the big three auto companies and have had no concern whatsoever for the long term viability of the companies they work for. Those chickens have now come home to roost. Some auto workers sit around at off-site facilities and get paid for doing nothing. Nutty labor rules let some workers finish their "quota" in a few hours and then sit around for the rest of the workday. Featherbedding abounds. The cars they make are substandard compared to competition, partly because the big three can't compete on price if they put comparable value into their cars in addition to their high labor costs. Unless this entire employee cost base is rationalized, these companies are doomed to fail.

Here's the big question. Will the participants in this failed industry all get together and decide to take the hit? Are they willing to give up some pay and benefits to make their companies competitive? So far, I've seen not a single movement in this direction. They want life as it is today, and that's it. My response is, shut'em down and start over. Sorry, but they had their chance to do the right thing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Deer Season Opens Tomorrow!

Attention all deer! Southern New York's deer hunting season opens at sunrise, Saturday, November 15, 2008. Now is the time to get your affairs in order, 'cause my hunting buddies and I are coming after you!

Opening day is perhaps my favorite day of the year. Even with all the modern gizmo's that hunters now use, stalking a large, fast, smart animal in its native habitat is still a challenging activity. It involves sitting for hours; slogging through mud; walking through cornfields over my head; crossing creeks; walking slowly and stealthily; keeping the snow off my glasses; taking good aim with stiff fingers; field-dressing the animal; and, finally, dragging a heavy carcass back to the van. In one form or another, men have been doing these things for eons. Hunting connects me to history in a very basic way.

I always look forward to performing the other rituals of hunting: assembling the clothing, boots, firearms, ammo, and snacks; sharpening the Buck knife; charging the radio; and, getting up very early in the morning. And, without fail, checking my license and making sure the bores of my weapons are clear.

We four gather near the woods at 5:45 a.m. to say "hello" for the first time since last December. We pull on our tall rubber boots. We drink coffee from our thermos and maybe eat a donut even though we already ate breakfast at home. We check our radio's and confirm our starting positions. At 6:15 we walk out, and by 6:25 we're in position, waiting quietly for the sun to rise and our quarry to, perhaps, blunder into our sights.

When the sunset finally comes, I'll be tired. I'll have walked several miles wearing heavy clothing and boots and carrying a weapon. I may have helped drag a few deer to a road. We'll walk cross country back to our starting place, have a cold beer, and talk about the next hunting day. Some of us will then transport their deer to the processor. My first deer is donated to Foodlink, where it will make lots of meals for those who have a lot less than I. Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Auto Industry Bail-Out?

Our government has already committed $25 billion to the automakers to help them re-tool for the next generation of automobiles. Now, these same companies are coming back to Washington, this time asking for cash to keep them from going under in 2009. I say, "Wait a minute, here! Get your house in order first."

For all too long Detroit has been making inferior cars while paying its employees overly generous wages, benefits, and pensions. (Why should an assembly line worker with a high school diploma make as much or more than a teacher with a masters degree?) Recently some changes have been made in increasing auto workers contributions to their medical plan, but that should be just the start of a major adjustment in auto industry compensation. Until the companies and the UAW can agree on that, I would reject any bailout. We don't need a "bailed-out" auto industry that is still incapable of competing with foreign competition on price.

I don't hate the guys who design and build cars in Detroit. It's just that they haven't made the adjustment to competing in a world economy. Their cost structure has to be competitive in order for them to survive over the long term. If, to incent change, Washington has to threaten the companies and their pension plans by letting them go the brink of collapse, so be it. If we have a simple bail-out, the next one won't be far behind.

The fact is, if U.S. auto companies are competitive, there will be plenty of jobs there. They just won't be quite as cushy as they've been for the past 50 years.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Happy and Sad

Obama won! I'm happy. America voted for a smart, decent, successful family man who just happened to be (in his own words) a mutt. Unfortunately, white America voted for the other guy and his breathtakingly inept sidekick, complemented by Joe the Plumber. This election was a watershed, but the demographics of the win tell me that America has a long way to go. That makes me sad.

Bush has one foot out the door, and those who call themselves republicans (desecrating a proud name) have less influence in congress. I'm happy. Unfortunately, eight years of benighted rule have come to a crashing conclusion. The only good thing is that the crash happened on their watch, but it is a crash par excellance! America and the world are in for a tough time because employment is fueled by spending, and there will be a lot less of that for a good while. I'm sad, but not as sad as those millions who will fall from "barely making it" to a life of despair. Remember when we trusted government to regulate and protect our economy?

The price of oil has dropped precipitously due to the economic slowdown, so it costs less to fill up my van. I'm happy. But, the falling price of oil makes alternative energy sources expensive again. Will we be so shortsighted as to slow down our conversion to green energy? If so, I'll be sad.

World leaders are circling the wagons to come up with a joint economic recovery plan. I'm happy. But, hard times have often caused countries to combat internal distress by conjuring a foreign enemy. Sadly, wars are excellent depression-fighters unless your country is unlucky enough to be on the losing side.

My four daily workplaces (Cameron Community Ministries, Pittsford Volunteer Ambulance, Christ Clarion Presbyterian Church, and Lake Avenue Baptist Church) make me happy because they are filled with optimistic people who try to love their neighbors as themselves. The down economy is going to affect them like it affects everything else. I'm sad.

In times like this one is drawn to consider the long view. Things go up, things go down, things go up. Has the earth shrunk enough that all of us people will be motivated to join hands and work out some new ways to manage how we live on it? It's getting to be that time, and I'd love to see it happen before I die.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A New "New Deal"?

I heard a piece on NPR today that described Franklin D. Roosevelt's run against Hoover in 1932. Public sentiment was so sour on republicans that virtually anyone calling himself (not herself) a democrat would have been a shoo-in for election. Consequently, Roosevelt didn't have to outline much in the way of his policy preferences during the campaign. In fact, the term "New Deal" was coined in his very last speech and the contents of the "deal" were not specified. Could this be the Obama strategy? We've not heard much detail from him, either.

So, what have we heard from Obama? His health care plan...his education plan...his energy plan...his economic plan. All pretty simple, plain vanilla, clearly "not Bush's failed plan". But the devil really is in the details. Will Obama come out slugging, democrat congress in tow, with some big ideas? Maybe. Maybe there will be a new "New Deal". But what will it be?

As the Trail Diary has been bemoaning for a long time, the United States of America is facing some really major challenges. We've got structural issues of immense proportions - giant unfunded liabilities, millions of poorly educated younger adults and children, an aging population with expectations of unlimited health care, and billions of dollars daily being sent overseas to purchase stuff we burn up. And now, horror of horrors, we need to address these issues in the midst of an economic calamity. Poor Obama!

Perhaps now is the time to turn over some really big stones, to put the cards on the table for America to look at and choose. There is no win, win, win, win solution. We're facing the age-old problem of resource allocation, guns or butter. Perhaps there are a few magic bullets, like priming the economy by building a new energy infrastructure or mobilizing an army of unemployed oldsters to tutor the young. But, there must be some big give-ups, too. And that's the rub.

Here are a few questions for your consideration. Can some public pensions and benefits be almost as outrageous as outsize Wall Street salaries? Should wealthy people get hefty medical and social security benefits? Is it really appropriate to warehouse oldsters with severe Alzheimers or dementia, treat their every medical condition with modern medicine, and watch them sit, listless and semi-comatose, for years until something big finally kills them? Should managers of large public companies be compensated like owners, even though they own little of the firms they manage? Are the laws covering personal injury and corporate liability overly tilted toward the plaintiffs, many of whom failed to exercise good judgement?

I'm hoping Obama wins "big-time", but I'm expecting him to live up to his promises for change. I want change that goes past shoveling out goodies to the poor and middle class, because doing only those things will bankrupt our country. I want structural change that will benefit our country for a century. I want a president who has the guts to lay it out, step by step, and push change through, problem by problem. If Obama can do that, he'll go on the same pedestal as Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt II. Go for it, Barack!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Did McCain Throw in the Towel?

Things have gone so badly lately for the McCain campaign that I can't but help wonder if the choice of Sarah Palin was the first sign that McCain wanted to lose this election and was going to make sure he did. Did the rigors of the campaign tell his inner muse that being president was maybe not the best idea after all? Or is he just that dumb? I don't think so.

It's not only Palin. What about the plan for the government to buy people's mortgages and then refinance them at a lesser amount and a lower interest rate? McCain expects republicans to accept this totally socialistic idea that is so over-the-top that even Obama rejects it out of hand? Not. It's just another way to make sure this election is not close.

Granted, with the economy in the tank and going south and the wars unresolved, it's hard for a republican to argue that the party deserves much support in 2008. But, with a top-flight vice president, some tough conservative rhetoric, and a few good economic planks, McCain might have had had a fighting chance to win. Seems like he took care of that problem...

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Magic of the Military

Testosterone! It's one of the things that separate us guys from you girls. Evolution gave us this hormone so that we'll be aggressive about getting what we want, especially the woman of our choice.

I'd be the last to deny that aggressiveness has its plusses and minuses. Many men are challenged to curb their enthusiasm for pushing and shoving, both physically and verbally. But our aggressiveness and macho-ism often push us to take on important challenges and assume risks that a low-testosterone person might logically decline. Like the buck in rut, we at times think only of the objective and minimize the hazards as we singlemindedly pursue our goal.

Young men, peaking in their hormone production, need good outlets for their propensity for aggressiveness and risk-taking. Like the young buck, they need the supervision of older, more experienced and powerful males to channel their energies into constructive activities. That's one reason why I think the military is a really good thing.

My youngest grandson, Michael, is halfway through Marine basic training at Camp Pendleton, California. He's a really smart 19 year old, a saxophonist, and a typically uncertain and often lazy young man. Colleges wanted him, but he was not ready for them. So he joined the Marines.

We've had two letters from Michael. The first, written after three weeks of training, began "I hate basic!" The second, written after six weeks, began "I love basic!" He's already taken on and overcome the challenges of several ordeals, like swimming a distance in his uniform and boots. The Marines are forcing him to look inside himself and understand that his abilities are far greater than he comprehends. They are channelling his testosterone.

Before too long Michael and his buddies will be conditioned to fight together effectively and even savagely. Hopefully, that will be a skill he'll never have to employ (go, Obama!). But for the rest of his life he'll likely be a stand-up guy, someone who will take on life with gusto and do what his gut tells him is important. The era of the introverted, lazy kid is over for him. His testosterone is being channelled.

Some may worry that Michael will become a trained killer. I was once one of those, but the training eventually taught me to respect life rather than discount it. Having your own life in jeopardy or having to face taking the life of another forces thoughtful people to seriously contemplate life's value. I trust that Michael will come to realize, at some point of revelation, that life is precious and that taking it without just cause is a great sin.

Young men need good outlets for the drive that testosterone engenders. Here at Pittsford Ambulance, where I'm writing this post, many young men ride the ambulance for adventure and the opportunity to do something challenging and important. Michael has chosen to experience the magic of the military, which often turns older male children into effective adults. OO-RAH, Michael!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's Landslide Time

What an interesting week! First, Obama gets endorsements from the Chicago Tribune, then the LA Times and the Denver Post. Two old-time, big-time conservative newspapers going for a liberal, mixed-race, young senator! Then the coup de gras - Colin Powell comes out for Obama. McCain's candidacy is becoming a smudge on the history of U.S. politics, where it belongs.

It seems like even Joe Sixpack is getting the idea that we need a younger, steady, communicative, intelligent leader as president, not an older, combative, willy-nilly "maverick" who's had a silver spoon in his mouth except for five years in a North Vietnam prison. And Joe also knows its time for Sarah Palin to return to the job she might be minimally qualified for.

In my view, Obama is not the choice because McCain is so bad. In fact, he's not a bad guy...he would just make a poor president because he's not too smart or up-to-date, and his world view is dated. Obama is the choice because he is a person of high accomplishment and high morals, and because he understands complexity both at home and abroad.

America is not the simple place that many conservatives believe it is; it is really a melting-pot society with looming problems that, if not addressed promptly, will make it a poor and weak nation compared to its place in the world over the last 100 years. America needs a president who will work hard to help Americans understand where we are, where we need to go, and what each of us can do to get us back on track. We also need a president who can go in front of the world and start convincing them that America is on the right side of global progress, not a barrier to it. Obama is that man.

It would be great if Obama could begin his presidency on the heels of a landslide vote in his favor, without any doubt about the overwhelming support of the country. We don't need a disloyal opposition carping about "voter fraud", or "more states went red than blue", or "Obama got elected by blacks", or any other distraction. We need him to have a mandate, and we need a congress that will work with him rather than obstruct him. We need to trust our government to roll up its sleeves and do the hard work of really fixing America instead of simply being a platform for two warring parties to trade insults.

Today the end is clearly in sight. I'm hoping for a national celebration on November 5th!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Hello, Again

I've been away for a few days. Not physically away, but unable to concentrate on any particular topic. Life has been crazy and scary, stressful at such a level that even a warrior-type as I became pretty bent out of shape. It's nice to be back. Here's a retrospective of the past two weeks.

My IRA, which is my primary source of funds for living, has been hemorrhaging even though I thought it was pretty conservative. Ouch! I've stopped checking the balance.

All my non-profit bookkeeping jobs, both volunteer and semi-paid, had a September 30 closing to deal with. Lots of conputer screens and bank reconciliations!

Early one morning I had a vasovagal attack where my blood pressure and pulse plummeted, I began to sweat like being in a shower, and I got dizzy and tingled all over. It went away after awhile but scared the heck out of me and the Good Witch. Stress, I suppose.

I got sent to a cardiologist by my primary care doc, who didn't like my ekg. My blood pressure was too high, so the cardiologist gave me some minimal meds for that. Then I waited a week to take a stress echo-cardiogram...a week of anticipating the worst. Yesterday the stress ekg showed my heart was perfect and very strong for someone my age. What a relief!

Last Saturday afternoon I responded to an ambulance call and treated a lady who had just given birth in the car. She and the baby were fine, and her hubby - the driver - did a great job under duress!

This morning I answered an ambulance call and found a younger man who had fallen and passed away as a result.

Good Witch is romping on me to slow down. Maybe life can be just a bit too exciting. Time to hit the gym and transfer some of that stress into cardio and muscle-building. I'll worry about the IRA later.

At least McCain/Palin are self-destructing. See, a silver lining in an otherwise dark couple of weeks!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

It's Ugly Time!

Here we go! Direct from CNN this evening:

"Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin slammed Sen. Barack Obama's political relationship with a former anti-war radical on Saturday, accusing him of associating "with terrorists who targeted their own country." Palin's comment delivered on the McCain campaign's announcement that it would step up attacks on the Democratic presidential candidate."

Remember when both candidates committed themselves to running clean campaigns? We had a few moments of hope that this election would be fought on issues. Sorry, folks. We're headed for a month of mud-slinging, at least from the republicans who sense that this election is heading south for them.

The nice thing about Palin's claim is that it's true. Obama has had a relationship with a semi-repentant terrorist from the 1960's, a man who has re-integrated with Chicago society and apparently done some good things. Obama can't deny this relationship, nor can he explain it in a few words. It will be interesting to see how Obama and Biden handle this mud, mud that's been around for awhile but is now being given another shot.

Will we be treated by Joe Biden to some juicy tidbits about Palin? Will some particularly juicy McCain anecdotes hit the airwaves in October? One thing's sure - once the gloves are off, there will be blood on the floor. November 5th will be a bitter day for a lot of people, regardless of how this election turns. If the election had been contested on issues, the losing side might find some equanimity. But when ugliness characterizes the fight, bitterness is the sure outcome. Such a pity!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Republican Ignoramusi!

They've done it again! The republicans have this particular talent for acting on emotion and taking our country down. Their feelings are right - nobody felt good about Wall Street and all the pain its junk securities have brought to us. Their actions are wrong; they're willing to trash the country out of anger. I hope they get voted out in droves! But I also hope we find a reasonable way out of this mess before the economy tanks.

The fact is that we, the people, created this problem. We voted for the wrong people (deregulators), we let greed take over in too many households, we accepted government deficit spending, and we sat by and let the lobbyists own Washington. Now, we own it and we got to fix it. There are two ways to do that - the way of chaos and the way of workout. The republicans chose the way of chaos, and chaos is what they are getting - Dow down 777 points today! The only bright side is that it wasn't 666 points, which really would have set off those conservative Christian republicans.

Many ordinary citizens believe that the institutions and people left holding the bags of bad securities should just take their losses or even go under. Well, some of the banks already have, and more will. Some big investment firms have failed. Some foreign banks have failed. Nobody knows for certain what will follow, but Obama, McCain, and almost all the experts are worried that liquidity will dry up and paralyze routine interbank transactions. This could bring the world economy to a halt. But most republican congressmen think this would be just fine. They are ignoramusi! But Faux News loves them, bless their souls! The question is, will ordinary citizens love them by Christmas, or even election day?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Six "P's"

I can't remember where I first heard this saying, "Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance" - the "Six P's". It's true. If you get in front of problems, then you can avoid them or minimize their impact. If you don't see the world as it really is and take proactive steps, then problems grow into crises. That's why the current financial situation represents "piss poor performance" by our elected officials - especially the executive branch.

Fingers are being pointed in all directions - always away from whoever is pointing the finger, which is typical of politicians. The fact is that everyone in a position to have gotten in front of this financial crisis failed us. Republicans, democrats, the executive branch and the congress, the regulatory agencies, and the big companies that dominate the markets who are now crashing. Nobody is clean, except perhaps Warren Buffet, who called derivatives and credit swaps and packaged sub-prime mortages "financial weapons of mass destruction". He was right.

After a week of listening to many points of view on this topic, I have three conclusions:

1. The government "bail-out" is the right thing to do, if it includes appropriate oversight and transparency, and has terms that maximize the government's ability to recover funds. If the credit markets can't function, a serious recession is inevitable.

2. Conservative "small town" republicans have their heads in the sand and are fomenting chaos by focusing on their outrage instead of working toward a solution. They are the "Herbert Hoover's" of the current situation; they are willing to risk a general meltdown over "principle". However, these are the same people who, for years, have had plenty of opportunity to get in front of the problems but failed to do so.

3. The president is primarily responsible for not preventing the meltdown. He is "the Decider", or at least, the captain of the ship. He has 3,000 people in his office; he appoints the SEC chairman, the Federal Reserve chairman, and the secretary of the treasury; he oversees the regulatory agencies. In his role as the primary "defender of the country", it was his responsibility to see the risk of economic chaos building and then take steps to mitigate it, whether or not his message was politically palatable. He did not do this - he looked the other way because his message would have been politically unpopular. He failed us, either because he was not smart enough to understand the problem or he just ignored it.

In the end, the meltdown will be avoided. All the "good Americans" will pay a high price for the actions of the "bad Americans" - those who took unreasonable risks and those who managed the scams that allowed people to take these risks. We have good reason to be outraged, but we have to deal with the situation as it is at this moment - looking forward, not backward.

Will we remember the "Six P's" as we look at the many other major problems that America faces? Time will tell. The November election will have much to say about this.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Boo" Weekley and Kenny Perry Win the Rider Cup

I'm a golf nut. It's like having a disability. This year has been chaotic; I've shot 37 on both the front and back of my difficult course (slope=128), and I've shot almost 100 for 18 holes. I play golf a lot, I subscribe to golf magazines, I have lots of clubs, and I watch golf on TV. Although I have a really busy life, I work something about golf into it whenever I can. So, this afternoon, I sorted hundreds of work documents while I watched the singles Rider Cup matches. As I write, the outcome is still uncertain. Whatever happens, I will always remember two country boys from Kentucky - "Boo" Weekley and Kenny Perry.

Talk about "Country Boys", these two take the cake! "Boo" is the nickname for a guy who qualified for the PGA tour wearing camoflage, a guy who didn't know the rules for match play, a guy who said he'd rather be out hunting or fishing than playing golf, a guy who didn't make it to the PGA tour until age 29, then lost his card, then got it back three years ago. Kenny Perry, on the other hand, is a PGA tour veteran, 48 years old, and wealthy from many years of good performance on the golf course. Can you imagine, a big time golf pro named "Kenny"? He still thinks he's a country boy, and he isn't really interested in the British Open.

"Boo" and Kenny have been great performers in this year's Rider Cup. But they are not "blueblood" country club players. Kenny's dad gave him a hug wearing denim overalls with shoulder straps - farmer's clothing. Golf has been democratized!

These two players say a lot about America. Our country is so varied, but people everywhere have a chance to get in the mix and succeed. Way to go, "Boo" and Kenny.

And, by the way, the Americans just won the Rider Cup! Hip, hip, hooray! And all those rich professional golfers played for zero dollars this week - they played for pride. How sweet it is!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Accountability, Not Finger-Pointing

Our highly organized, many-layered society requires millions of leaders. They may be called chiefs, managers, presidents, executive directors, pastors, or whatever, but they are important people.

In short, here's the deal they make with their employer: "In exchange for a nice salary, some prestige, some perks, and the self-actualizing power of being 'in charge', I promise to understand and attend to the best interests of my employer at all times."

Implicit in the contract is the idea that the leader is capable of doing the job. Responsibilities are outlined, declarations are made, references are checked, other candidates are considered and rejected. Both parties shake hands and the leader starts leading. From that point on, whatever happens in that organization is his or her problem to deal with.

I was a 2nd lieutenant in the 101st Airborne Division at age 20. At age 27 I was in charge of small audits for a large CPA firm. At 38, I managed the financial systems and kept the general ledger for a multi-billion dollar corporation. At one time, my staff and I had 16 critical projects going, simultaneously; millions of dollars in costs, and millions of dollars of risks if the projects went awry. After retirement, I was director of operations for a 100-member volunteer ambulance corps, a group that handled life-and-death situations and was subject to many government regulations. Consequently, I have a pretty good idea of what it means to be responsible.

I recall being taught the three possible responses that a second lieutenant can give a senior officer: "Yes, sir. No, sir. No excuse, sir." No equivocating. You get asked a direct question, you give a direct answer. This is the expectation of leadership. So, if you stay ahead of events, you work smart, you have a little good luck - you get medals or bonuses or cheers. If you don't anticipate, you get lazy, you get a bad break - you get demoted or fired or pillaried. But you are expected to stand up and be accountable for your successes and your failures. Leaders don't weasel, don't equivocate, don't whine, don't point fingers, and don't disappear.

Have you seen any leaders in Washington lately?

And, as a footnote: if one has to choose between two people for president of the United States, one might consider giving merit to the candidate who seems more action-oriented, more attuned to the issues, more able to work with people to achieve solutions, and more willing to stand up and be counted. On the other hand, if a candidate seems consumed with finger-pointing, dismiss him. What you see will be what you get.

An Ugly Denoument

Today the federal government pretty much committed to swallow many hundred billions of dollars of sub-prime debt held by financial institutions. The markets rebounded, with people like me seeing many thousands of dollars of paper losses erased in the comeback...not that there aren't quite a few more losses unrecouped at this point. Should we be happy? Hardly.

This entire fiasco resulted from two primary failures of government. First, the financial regulators somehow forgot that it's bad to allow customers with poor credit to buy overpriced homes with no down payment and commit them to mortgage interest rates likely to skyrocket them into foreclosure and bankruptcy. Second, a certain Mr. Cox, a republican congressman promoted to head the SEC by president Bush, killed a regulation that outlawed naked "short sales", thereby allowing the most unprincipled people to drive beleagured stocks deep into the tank without even owning any of them - and make huge (maybe even billions) of profits by so doing.

Now, the United States of America (also known as the "taxpayers" - you and me) will own the junk mortgages and take much of the losses associated with them. The financial institutions that previously owned them will be bruised but not broken. The real estate agents, mortgage brokers, and financial intermediaries who packaged the mortgages will keep the immense profits they made during the sub-prime mortgage boom. You and me, the average American citizen who pays their taxes and doesn't take stupid risks, will pay the bill. In other words, we're being punished for being responsible, and the greedy bastards are being rewarded. The logic is that if we don't take on this debt, the world's financial stability will be destroyed. Isn't it nice to be the savior?

As I said in a previous blog, it is the responsibility of government to safeguard the country from major disasters. This particular disaster happened on Bush's watch, and many of his major contributors have emerged very rich as a result. But we, and our children, have gotten screwed. In my view, quite a few people in the Bush administration belong in the doghouse or worse. And their backers, those who profited nicely from this debacle, should pay some big taxes on their future income. And the republican party should be put in the closet in November. And, unfortunately, we normal people are going to end up holding the bag. Sorry to give you the bad news if you hadn't heard!

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's the Republicans, Stupid!

It boggles my mind that that the democrats are running against McCain by attempting to connect him with the failed presidency of George W. Bush. Personalizing the great divide between democrats and republicans is the wrong strategy. The right strategy is to focus on the "republican party" as the problem, because it is.

The sad state of America today is largely the result of policies that the republican party has adoped and implemented since 1994, when they took over control of congress. Those policies got far greater support after George Bush's election in 2000. McCain may be a contender for a seat in the oval office, but the much bigger problem is that the many behind-the-scenes party functionaries and their allies will not change if McCain is elected. The basic policies that they have supported all these years will continue, because they have such great influence. That is the problem.

It's easy for Americans to agree on the issues that need to be addressed if America can rebound. Getting the federal budget under control, including the giant unfunded entitlements...implementing a comprehensive energy policy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil...educating our children...moving toward a unified foreign policy stance with our natural allies...rationalizing our health care system. These are the issues that the republicans, as a group, have failed to confront, let alone solve. Who would want four more years of no progress on these critical matters?

Why, given a new McCain presidency, would progress be unlikely? That's easy to answer. It's all about who would gain or lose if change was made. It's obvious the republican movers and shakers don't think fixing these problems are in their best (financial) interests, simply because they've had plenty of opportunity to deal with them during the past seven years. Who would conclude that they've had a major change of heart? Only a fool.

The past few weeks have shown most thinking Americans what the republicans are trying to do in this election - turn it into a soap opera of personalities rather than a discussion of issues. "Problems" don't exist, except for such trivial issues as "earmarks". Their campaigns of outright lies about their own positions and qualifications, along with not-so-subtle appeals to racism and a false claim to ownership of patriotism, are right out there for all to see. Some media are finally getting bold about "outing" this detestable behavior, but there should be a firestorm of outrage!

Obama and his managers need to take off the gloves. They need to put the problems on the front page and explain in simple terms why the republicans have no interest in solving them. They need to call a lie a lie. They need to use McCain's own quotes about "experience" to show how underqualified Palin is. They need to ask the American people if they like the way things are, since a McCain election will bring more of the same. And that's the truth.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Another Course Completed, Another Course Started

The Good Witch and I recently enjoyed our way through Neil deGrasse Tyson's wonderful 12-lecture course entitled "My Favorite Universe", courtesy of a small payment to The Teaching Company.

Where did we come from? Stardust, of course. How many galaxies and stars are there in the universe? 50-100 billion galaxies, each with 50-100 billion stars. That's a lot of stars! How many black holes are there, out there? Billions of them, and don't get too close! Should we be concerned about the earth getting hit by a big asteroid or comet? Might be a good idea.... And much more, delivered in layman's terms by a great communicator. Education at its finest.

That done, we've returned to an old friend, Robert Greenberg. He once lead us through a long (48 lectures of 45 minutes each) course called "How to Understand and Enjoy Great Music". It was truly enjoyable and illuminating. Now we've begun "The Concerto", a 24-lecture course on one of the great formats of music - a solo instrument interacting with a powerful orchestra. The last two lectures covered Mozart's concerti, in Greenberg's opinion the greatest body of work in this format. Perhaps I'll agree, but we've got many great composers to hear before we're done.

Some gerontologists say that people age much faster when they stop learning, when their curiousity wanes, when they get set in their ways. The Teaching Company provides a great way for us simultaneously to keep our minds active and to experience true enjoyment, without leaving the house. So I can walk 18 holes in the afternoon, have dinner and a nice Scotch, and then settle down with my sweet wife to become a little more educated. What a great life!

Of course, tonight may be a long one, since I'm the medic on Pittsford Ambulance from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. Who knows what combination of real emergencies and silly stuff awaits me? The suspense is one of the things that makes ambulance work interesting, even after 2,000 calls. With great luck I may sleep throught the night in my uniform! If you haven't found a way to "give back", think about finding an opportunity. You will get back more than you give.

Friday, September 12, 2008

An Upset Victory

I'm celebrating over the victory, last Tuesday, of an independent democrat who won a 3-way primary, the winner to face a republican for the house seat vacated by Tom Reynolds, who has retired. Her name is Alice Kryzan, and she's an environmental lawyer.

Alice beat an aging millionaire democrat businessman who put a lot of his own money into the race, and she also beat a 30 year old Iraq war veteran put forward by the state and local democratic parties. Now she's beholden to nobody except her own conscience.

I don't live in Kryzan's district, so why should I care? I care because I heard her handle a tough interview from a staunch republican talk show host. She was smart, cool, and verbally astute. Her positions on issues were pragmatic, and she looked forward to helping construct legislative solutions to the issues that America faces. The talk show host was clearly impressed with her. Apparently, working virtually alone in a large geographic district, she convinced a plurality of primary voters that she's the real thing. She won, and she was front page news!

Perhaps Alice's victory is a portent of what will happen in many districts around this country. Maybe people are tired of rich candidates and candidates owned by the special interests who control the political parties. Maybe those candidates who are seen as smart and independent will get unexpected support. I certainly hope so.

Good luck in November, Alice!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

American "Empire"

We Americans hear a lot about our soldiers in Iraq and Afganistan, somewhat less about our soldiers in Korea, and from time to time we hear news of someplace else where our troops are involved in something. And, we know that the U.S. has a bunch of large aircraft carriers that go here or there based on some threat or need. But we really haven't a clue about how ubiquitous American military power is, across most of the world.

Take a look at the following url; it's worth a few minutes of your time. http://aep.typepad.com/american_empire_project/2008/09/going-on-an-imp.html
Thanks to a friend for finding it!

As a veteran, I thought I had a reasonable grasp of what our military was into, but I had no idea that we have so many forces and bases overseas. Is this level of commitment beyond our shores necessary to defend our country, or is it what you get if your country is ruled by a military/industrial complex? Something to think about, something to vote about.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

"Elitist" Needed

Americans are funny. Maybe we're just like people everywhere. We extoll accomplishment in a general way but seem to resent it in a specific way. We like the idea of doing things well and succeeding, but we seldom hold those who have been very successful in high regard. They're "too rich", "too smug", "too distant", "out of touch with average people", "too elitist", or any number of other phrases that we use to describe people who, by way of their own accomplishment, enjoy fame, riches, social status, or opportunities that we can't even imagine.

In this election, all the candidates are playing down their own success. They're defending themselves from their own accomplishments for fear the electorate will feel distanced from them. Obama stresses his upbringing in a poor single-parent family rather than telling us about the $4 million income he reported last year. McCain talks about his POW days rather than his life as the son and grandson of Navy admirals who lived very well, and he never talks about his wife's $100 million fortune. Biden tells of his humble upbringing in Scranton, and Palin trumpets her marriage to a member of the USW. Running away from success! How interesting.

I don't like this behavior. In a conversation with a very successful lawyer friend this morning after church, he mentioned that he wished the president to be a person who he felt "inferior to" in every way. I replied that I knew, personally, at least ten people who were more qualified to be president than Sarah Palin, but that none of them were really qualified for the job. We both felt that our leaders should be very intelligent, very broadly educated and well-traveled, good communicators, morally and ethically straight, and courageous. That is, they should be the most impressive people that America can produce. Unfortunately, such persons could never get nominated or elected. Too "elite", I suppose. Also, too incorruptible.

Although we may never get the very best citizens to be our leaders, we should nevertheless restrain ourselves about judging those who have accomplished much. The fact is that achievers, like Obama, are those who are most likely to achieve in the future. George Bush, conversely, is a great example of a non-achiever who continued to non-achieve in office. Even Sarah Palin, while unqualified for national office, has done well considering her background. Rather than focusing on her "hockey-mom" credentials and her caribou-shooting ability, however, we should be asking about the qualities that make her superior to us in many ways. When it comes to leading the richest and most powerful nation in the world, an "elitist" is just what we need.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

What Century Are We In?

As I left the golf course tonight (shot 39 in our 9-hole league), I picked up NPR and the republican convention. A video was being shown to the conventioneers between speakers, a video outlining all the things McCain would do if he was president.

I was shocked to hear, between such ideas as McCain hastening generic drug approvals and McCain strengthening alliances, that he would bring "20th century information technology" to government. A Freudian slip, no doubt.

The problem is that McCain would champion lots of 20th century ideas as solutions to the problems of the 21st century. He can't escape his generation, and the world has passed him by in more ways than I could enumerate. Not now, not ever, not McCain. For the children.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Gustav a Republican Bonanza

What if you knew you had scheduled a party that was sure to be a dud? It would be embarrassing to just cancel it - you need a good excuse in order to save face. Well, the republicans scheduled a convention that was bound for disaster, and Gustav has saved them.

Why was the convention going to be a dud? Bush and Cheney had to show up, even if they would be early and short, basically out of the picture. What could the party celebrate? Not the economy, not the war, not foreign policy successes, not ethics purity, not constitutional protection. And the nominees? Wooden John McCain and inexperienced Sarah Palin, the latter under pressure from several sides. Where was the inspiration going to come from? Maybe only the dream of continued tax cuts for the rich, but even those seem destined to run out. Time to cancel the party!

Just at the opportune time, along comes Gustav. He's only a run of the mill category three hurricane (now a less threatening category 2), but he's good enough to prompt the cancel. No celebrations when a tragedy is unfolding! McCain's got to get down there and do a photo op in a raincoat. That's a much more effective campaign device than a speech guaranteed to beat Ambien for promoting drowsiness. And, the cancel prevents hundreds of reporters from asking convention delegates questions they can't answer, such as "Why was Sarah Palin the best choice for vice president?", or "How is John McCain going to deal with the deficit?". This year, for the republicans, having a typical convention would have have been a disaster.

Gustav is not living up to his billing, but he'll be good enough. A few cameos and the republicans will be gone from Minneapolis. McCain's poor acceptance speech will be attributed to hurricane fatigue, but he'll be characterized as a fighter who'll be back on his feet in the morning. Maybe it's all for the best. The cancellation saved a lot of us plenty of angst. But, it also prevented the republicans from having to make sense in public - something they find that hard to do these days.

Allegations About Palin's Child

"Daily Kos" recently published detailed circumstantial allegations that Sarah Palin's child is not her own, but is actually the out-of-wedlock child of her oldest daughter. That posting has now disappeared from the web site where it originated. How interesting!

I've looked elsewhere on the internet to find any reference to this allegation, but have found none. No democrat or republican has come out to address the topic. The question is hanging out there, unresolved. Maybe the charge was a lie, maybe not. I expect lots of news organizations, and especially the National Enquirer, are digging for information before they decide to take on this unbelievably hot potato.

Is the question important? You bet! Already, much has been made of this child in the campaign. Palin's decision not to abort her fetus when she was aware it would not be normal has been trumpeted as a personal validation of her "right to life" position. That position would still stand if the child was actually her daughter's. However, if it is confirmed that the child was not Palin's, but instead her daughter's out-of-wedlock birth, the political implications would be major. It would reflect on Palin's success as a mother, and it would reflect on her truthfulness and integrity by claiming she was pregnant in order to avoid an unfavorable public reaction. It would result in many people deciding McCain's choice of her for vice president a terrible mistake, and perhaps finish his campaign.

So, now we wait for this situation to be resolved. It should be a simple matter to confirm the facts one way or the other. There are likely more than a few people who know the truth, and perhaps some who might be in legal trouble if the true mother's name was not disclosed.

I'm torn when I think about this. Based on personal experience I know that the unfortunate actions of children can be dismaying but also require parents to continue unconditional support. If the allegations are true, I feel genuine sorrow for Palin and wish the best for her family. However, if true, the allegations also provide much justification for deeming her unfit for high office. A massive public fabrication of the "facts" of this situation would be totally unacceptable.

The silence is deafening. If Palin suddenly decides to withdraw from the nomination, we will know why. If she files a suit for defamation and and settles the matter in her favor, "Daily Kos" should be and will be pillaried and discredited. But who would deny that this question should be resolved promptly?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Who?

Sarah Palin, that's who. Our latest candidate for vice president, the person who could be one (lack of) heartbeat away from being commander in chief and chief executive of the United States. John McCain's latest joke.

I spent a little time today learning about Sarah's background and watching her appearance with old John. No gravitas. It's an insult to all Americans that John McCain would nominate a person who was mayor of a tiny Alaska town only 18 months ago to be vice president of the United States. McCain dies; would anyone choose Palin to deal with Boris Putin or Iran? McCain lives; can you see Palin as president of the senate, which is one of the vice president's jobs? What has she done to earn the respect of those in high places? She is a child by comparison.

This episode points out the sad truth of our electoral process. It seldom identifies the best leaders because it must attract votes from the lesser educated masses who understand little about policy and the political process. Palin will appeal to many who share her starkly conservative agenda, admire her beauty queen freshness, and don't have the faintest clue about what her job would be if she were elected. However, she terrifies me.

There are only about 63 days until the election. I'm trying to be optimistic about it. It's hard to believe that a majority of Americans could choose McCain and Palin over Obama and Biden, simply because of the latter's giant advantage in experience and accomplishment. It's not about republican -vs- democrat; it's about us turning over leadership of the world's richest and most powerful country to people who we feel have the judgement to move it forward and avoid stupid mistakes. We know what happens when we make a mistake in choosing...America has been slipping in every category for eight years. McCain-Palin would be a worse mistake, not because they are bad people but simply because they are the wrong people.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Southern Exposure

Good Witch and I traveled to Tennessee and North Carolina on Friday and Saturday, and we've been enjoying southern hospitality for the last couple of days. It's great, but clearly different.

The first sign that we're arriving in the south is the appearance of "Southern Exposure" roadside billboards. "Southern Exposure" is the name of the chain of skin bars that dot the interstate, beginning in West Virginia. Their parking lots are populated most times of day, but I can't speak for what's going on inside. Not interested.

After arriving at my brother's nice home near Kingsport, Tennessee, I was soon gifted with a quart Mason jar of nice clear moonshine, made not long ago, and legally, by a friend of his whose family has been in the moonshine busness for a couple centuries. I've not had moonshine since I lived in central Tennessee about 40 years ago. It will put hair on your chest!

For breakfast Saturday morning we enjoyed some delicious pork sausage with our eggs and toast. The sausage came from a 400 pound pig that my brother shot in the head with a .22 rifle before being tutored by the farmer in the fine art of skinning, splitting, and butchering a pig. You may wonder what kind of guy my brother is: he's president of a large high-tech company who spent part of last week in Bangkok dealing with the Thai government, who is a major customer. He just butchers pigs in his spare time...it's a southern thing.

After breakfast we drove across the Smoky Mountains to Hendersonville, NC, just south of Asheville. Every time my car reaches Erwin, TN, and the huge mountains come into view, I'm amazed that I once hiked across them on the Appalachian Trail. They seem almost insurmountable, but actually they are quite traversable one step at a time. It just takes a few weeks to do it.

My 87 year old mother and her slightly younger husband live in Hendersonville, comfortable in a villa that's part of a multi-tiered senior living community. We've been to an Agatha Christie mystery play with them, and also had a fantastic brunch at a 1930's stone mansion, now a B&B, just across the South Carolina border. Tomorrow Bob and I play golf, weather permitting. He's over 80, but he still lives to chase the elusive golf ball.

Tomorrow marks GW's and my 42nd anniversary! It can be true that everything, and I mean everything, about a marriage can still be improving after that many years. In our case, it is. Maybe it just takes a long time to get it right.

Politically speaking, western North Carolina is pretty redneck. There are many transplanted northerners here, but they are still outnumbered by the locals who have been isolated in these mountains for a long time and are subjected daily to a local newpaper owned by reactionaries. McCain will take Henderson County by a large margin. When I reflect on Hendersonville being representative of most of the south, I wonder if the founding fathers were right when they attempted to restrict voting rights to those who were likely to be educated.

We'll hop in the car early on Wednesday morning and I'll drive 800 miles to Rochester in one 14-15 hour stint broken up by short potty breaks every two hours. It's a grind, but Good Witch reads a novel to me for a few of those hours. On our way down we made it halfway through "The Sweet Hereafter", by Russell Banks, and we'll finish it on the way home. Then it will be back to business with a church mortgage closing on Thursday morning, a board meeting Thursday night, and then the overnight shift at the ambulance. But our "Southern Exposure" will have given us a nice break in routine and some interesting experiences. We'll do this trip over and over again until the people we come to visit have moved on for the last time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Will the Oldsters Put McCain Over the Top?

I worry about the world-view gap between septuagenarians, nonagenarians, centenarians, and the rest of us. I worry that this gap may cost Obama the election in November, and I'm not happy that those with little at stake in America's future may make the difference in determining what that future will be.

Yes, it's risky to talk in generalities, and I know that there are grandma's and grandpa's who are rabid for Obama. But, in general, I believe a large majority of oldsters will vote for McCain. Why would they make this irrational choice? Because they think he's the rational choice, of course! McCain appeals to their world-view.

I recently observed a well-dressed, tight-lipped old lady sitting in a car repair shop waiting room reading one of the latest swift-boat books about Obama. She fit exactly the profile of the Fox News watching, Limbaugh-listening senior who lives in a world very different from mine.

If I had tried to chat with this lady I'd surely have found she's ruled by fear. Fear of blacks. Fear of Muslims. Fear of latinos. Fear of Russians. Fear of taxes. Our imaginary conversation would be all about what she's afraid of and nothing about what she's for. Her vision would be a return to the America of the 1950's when she was in her prime and society was not yet homogenized. She liked it when the white cream was clearly on the top, and she identifies with anyone who rants at how America has changed in the last 50 years. And, unfortunately, she votes.

Is this lady a caricature of her generation? Are they all so buttoned-up and sour? Of course not. But her generation certainly leans hard in her direction. Their knee-jerk reactions have little to do with today's realities and everything to do with the programming they received as young people. Less wealthy oldsters fear the democratic party because it represents a multi-colored society, and wealthier oldsters add the fear that their wealth might be redistributed to those who are different from them. McCain looks like them, and he speaks their language. He will get their vote.

My world is also largely caucasian and well-to-do, but it's a world one generation ahead of this older woman's. We've been through the period when other races and women proved they are just as capable as whites and men. We've been through the period when homosexuals "came out", and we learned they are not the scary deviants that they were formerly portrayed to be. We've been through the period when the Vietnam war and the recent Iraq war showed that American militarism can be a cancer on our country. We've been through a period when our government failed to enact sensible energy and fiscal policies. My baby-boomer generation understands that a return to the past would be retrogression rather than progress.

Will the votes of people who live in a world long past put John McCain in the White House? Will we who want to capitalize on America's new strengths have to wait four more years before it's obvious that America's gone down the wrong roads for too long? I hope not. But I worry about the voting power of those who won't be around to suffer the consequences of their fear-filled choice for the republican party and its backward-looking agenda.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Think Twice Before Multi-tasking in Car

I've been a medic on two serious head-on crashes. One resulted in a fatality, the other in a life-changing event for the victim. Both resulted from drivers who attempted to do something else while driving and subsequently crossed the center line.

Unfortunately, the deadly or serious injuries happened to the unsuspecting drivers who were suddenly presented with a car coming at them in their lane at high speed. They never had a chance...

I feel sorry for the victims, but also for the careless drivers. Who would want to have the memory of their stupidity causing such carnage?

Drive your car. Save the cell phone, the text message, or the kid's discipline for when you are safely parked.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Election Fatigue

There's almost four months left until the 2008 elections, and I'm already fatigued. What was once interesting is now turning into a soap opera.

McCain says we need an "economic surge". Obama supports a windfall profits tax. Hillary and Bill are keeping their irons in the fire, just in case. The race card has been played again (by McCain's surrogates). What crap! I can't wait for the next bit of non-news. Four more months of this agony?

Everything McCain and Obama will say from here on is unimportant. The lines have already been drawn, the candidates have already shown their colors. At this point both are reduced to pandering to some small fraction of Americans who are undecided or wavering. And in their pandering, both are reducing themselves. Ugh!

This coming election offers clear choices. We can elect a rich, flag-waving, semi-corrupt, poorly educated old guy who will pursue the corporate agenda, or we can elect a rich, populist, semi-corrupt, well educated young guy who will pursue the center-left agenda (ala Clinton). Each day that the election cycle continues will corrupt each candidate just a little more as they sell pieces of their soul for a few more votes or an endorsement.

The Europeans have a much better system. Call the election and get on with it! I wonder: "Can I die of election fatigue?"

Sunday, August 03, 2008

"ZZ Top" Who?

Last night as I was thumbing through channels I heard this very cool guitar sound, so I stopped thumbing and saw: a guitar player and a bass player with long white beards and a wild-looking drummer generating pulsating music on a very large stage. I pushed the "info" button and found out I was watching MTV and the music-makers were called "ZZ Top". For the next 40 minutes I was mesmerized by their driving rhythms, their creative themes, and their showmanship. They were just plain fantastic and the huge crowd was going wild on every song.

Partway through this adventure I googled "ZZ Top" and found their "wiki" entry. It turns out they are the longest lived original rock band still performing with their original artists. Their first hit was in 1969, they've put out a plethora of albums since then, and the guitar player is regarded as one of the finest players around. I scratched my head...why didn't I know about these guys?

I am a music nut, and I'm not picky about genre. I'll never forget the first time I heard Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Pride and Joy" on the radio late one night, years ago - I had the CD the next day, months before he became a star. From Bach to country and jazz, I like all the good stuff that demonstrates real musicality. How could ZZ Top have escaped my ears?

Well, on reflection I realized that ZZ Top is considered "hard rock", a genre that I just couldn't handle. Every time I tuned in, it insulted my ears with harshness and my mind with lyrics I couldn't even decode. So I tuned out and in the process tuned out ZZ Top until last night.

This experience confirms to me that there is beauty in about every kind of music, including hard rock. I'm sorry I've been deprived of their talent all these years, but I'm also happy that I've now found it for the first time. Life is full of pleasant surprises!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Depression, Revolution, or War

"Which would you rather have, a major depression, a revolution, or a really big war? "

"Quite a choice of ugly alternatives!", you might exclaim in response.

Well, that's what I think are the choices we are likely to face if the U.S. government doesn't get our economy fixed for the long run.

I attended a men's outing one day this week at a lovely "cottage" on Keuka Lake, one of the "finger lakes" south of Rochester...on land worth thousands of dollars per foot of lakefront. The 20 men who attended are pretty smart guys, and we talked about a lot of things as we enjoyed the ambiance of a beautiful scene, plenty of good food and drink, and a respite from the day-to-day pressures that most of us face. Most of the men were either retired or well along in their work life.

The consensus is that our kids and grandchildren will not enjoy anything like the standard of living that we have enjoyed. The America of today is not the stable, rich land of opportunity that we remember, and all signs point to further deterioration. We don't see a large class of younger "middle and upper-middle class" people accumulating enough wealth to live well after their retirement. Rather, we see America being propped up by us older folks as we spend our accumulated wealth, and then falling rapidly as we are not replaced by a large group of relatively well-off older citizens.

Our generation enjoyed significant advantages over our counterparts around the world. Their countries were ravaged by war, their treasuries were depleted, and their cultures resisted change. They had less natural resources to tap, and often, less freedom to be entrepreneurs. But all this is past history now. Our competitor countries have rebuilt, their people have worked hard and saved, they understand entrepreneurship, and their citizens are more free to succeed.
America is no longer the source of most items demanded by consumers, and our competition has virtually wiped out America's participation in some industries.

During the time our economic competitors were gearing up, our government has fought three very expensive wars, set up social programs like Social Security and Medicare without adequately funding them, and has run big deficits and foreign debts despite being the most successful economy in the world for two generations. We have got fat and lazy while our competitors have got skinny and invigorated. At one time America was the world's banker, but now we are the world's biggest debtor. As the value of our currency falls our standard of living will fall and our sense of security will diminish as the years pass. How will our people handle the disappointment?

That's where my choices come in. If we do nothing to fix our problems we will face either a major depression, a revolution, or a big-time war. We will have a depression if the U.S. dollar depreciates even further, since oil and commodities will become extremely expensive. We will have a revolution if our citizens conclude our political system is guilty of selling us out. We will have a major war if our politicians decide that a desperate grab for worldwide power is preferable to America falling via depression or revolution. This is not a very happy set of possibilities. Can they be avoided? I don't know.

What I do know is that America needs to make some dramatic changes in order to compete and survive in the 21st century. Government needs to live within its means, get our entitlements under control, and somehow convince the citizens to endure the lower standard of living that recovering will entail. There is no quick fix; our debts are gigantic and our resistance to change is high. Will our politicians ever wake up to their responsibility to future generations, or will they, like President Bush, paper over the problems until a collapse is inevitable?

Depression, Revolution, War, or major structural change? This is no parlor game question. We don't have much longer before the answer must be given, so pray it's the latter.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

McCain is the Wrong Man

Lately there's been a lot of talk about Obama's and McCain's qualifications to be president. I'd agree with those who say Obama is light on experience, but I have a lot of trust in his knowledge, his instincts and his calm and positive demeanor. On the other hand, I've become more and more convinced that McCain would mean big trouble for our country because he lacks knowledge and seems socially retarded. In these respects, McCain differs little from our current unsuccessful president.

It's no surprise that McCain's supporters focus on his military background and his POW status in order to depict him as a great patriot. In my view, his version of patriotism is about all he has to offer. Like Bush, his education is dated and there's little evidence he's been a dedicated student of world affairs and the cultural, business, and social issues that face America today. There's plenty of evidence that he has a short fuse, speaks before he thinks, and has a penchant for being crude in public and private. Because his family's wealth and his privileged status as a tenured senator have isolated him from the challenges faced by average Americans, he is unable to clearly explain domestic issues or speak coherently about how to address them. And lastly, his mental and physical stamina is suspect due to his age. In short, he's not competent to be president unless you feel patriotism is the sole criteria.

I don't hate John McCain. He is a product of his environment, as we all are, and I doubt he is an evil person like Dick Cheney. But, remember: he is running for the most important and demanding job in the world. McCain is clearly the wrong man.

Friday, July 18, 2008

We Need a United Government

I detest committees, and I hate meetings. Throughout my business career and subsequent volunteer leadership activities I've avoided them like the plague. Why? Because there is usually no imperative to act. "Information sharing", rather than hard-nosed planning, becomes the purpose of most committee meetings. The time is generally wasted, and time is precious.

One of my bosses had a name for people who filled their calendars with meetings. He derisively called them "professional meeting attenders". Their output in real terms was often zero, since their goal was "to discuss" rather than to take responsibility.

Our government, i.e., the administration and congress, seems to be filled with professional meeting attenders. They talk a lot, but accomplish little. "Posturing" to pander to those who elected them takes up a lot of their time. Even with democratic party majorities in congress, the senate filibuster rule prevents the democrats from enacting the laws they propose. This allows for unlimited posturing because all sides know nothing is going to happen. I'm sick of it.

This fall we need to install a united government, a government unencumbered by artificial restraints on action. It seems that Obama and the democrats have the best prospect for achieving a veto-proof or filibuster-proof majority, so bring them on!

The USA has so many problems that prioritizing them is going to be a herculean task, and allocating scarce budget dollars will be painful. Those in power will have to make hard decisions and the enemies that go along with them. This is just what we need, however. We will find out whether our "professional meeting attenders" have the ability to plan and execute. The leaders of the democratic party will be forced to show their true colors, for better or worse.

In my view, our country is under siege from problems of our own making. Foreign wars, over-reliance on fossil fuels, bloated entitlements and government payrolls, poor oversight of financial institutions, and archaic education methods have hampered our development and created a horrific fiscal mess. We are faced with a "wartime" situation, a situation that must be confronted with fast and effective action on many fronts. Only a united government has the potential to put the country on the fast track to recovery.

Will united government be the solution? Maybe, maybe not. We really don't know if those we elect can lead until they are given a chance. But one thing is certain: a divided government has no chance of success unless one defines success as the current status quo. Whatever your views, hold your nose in November and vote for democrats! We need to find out whether government can work or not.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Life Is A Precarious Thing

Several weeks ago my youngest son got a nasty virus or something equally ugly. Within hours his hearing in one ear was gone, and his other ear was also affected. He's a music therapist who's been playing keyboards and guitar for over 25 years; music is a major part of his life, but now he can hardly hear it. Good Witch and I have been trying to deal with this tragedy, but it's hard. Our boy has lived an exemplary life - how could he deserve this? It's an age-old question, a question that is always asked when bad things happen to good people.

If we were living in biblical or medieval times the answer would be easy, but perhaps unsatisifactory. God did it, either as punishment for bad conduct or as a "test" like Job's. Nothing happened by accident for those people. But we are living in the modern world and we need a more sophisticated answer.

My answer is that "things happen" in the natural world. Bad things happen to both good people and bad people all the time, and good things happen to all kinds of people all the time, too. Some people get struck by lightning, others win the lottery. Grief or joy results from these accidents of life, depending on what kind of accident happens to you or someone you love.

My pastor preached on this topic yesterday. His conclusion regarding God was that God has complete freedom to act, but may or may not choose to do so. Consequently, God may or may not have caused this tragedy, but has certainly (so far) felt that corrective action was not the appropriate response. And although he did not say this, he probably would have added that "who are we to question God". I agree with him on that unstated point.

The upshot is that I am left with grief. One of my precious children has a new and painful burden to bear, a burden that I can do almost nothing to assuage. His brave response is one of acceptance; take the blow and go on. That reflects his history, since he once took a severe blow (a broken neck) like a hero as a teenager. I know him well, and I know he will truly accept whatever is the final outcome of this ordeal, and he will go on to maximize his contribution to his family and the world. Yet this knowledge makes me no less angry, frustrated, and depressed. I want to shake my fist at fate and scream "Why him???????" But I know it's to no avail.

I once lost control of my little car on a mountain road in West Virginia, driving too fast. I should have gone over the cliff and died, but somehow I didn't. I came home to my family that night as if nothing had happened. My youngest son, this one, was not yet born. I survived, and he is alive but now challenged by sudden hearing loss. Chance works both ways, and life is a precarious thing. We take the cards that are dealt to us, win or lose, and we wait to see what the next hand brings.

Dear God, who made the universe and my son, hear my prayer: May those who listen to your voice find peace in this life and forevermore.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Democrats Too Focused on Revenge

As I've mentioned a few times, I'm still registered as a republican. It's been several years since I last voted for a republican in a national or statewide race, since my brand of "Eisenhower republican" has pretty much died out in the GOP. That flavor may never return, since the "reformers" in the party are sick of Bush and the neocons but anxious to move even farther to the right. So, I guess I'm unlikely to return to the fold before I die.

As an out-of-the-closet turncoat republican, I listen mostly to NPR and the popular liberal radio personalities. Stephanie Miller, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz , and Ron Kuby are all pretty smart and entertaining despite being repetitive as the hours pass. They beat heck out of Rush and all the other idiots on pseudo-conservative radio. My travel minutes each day are devoted to hearing the latest in left-wing news and commentary, which brings me to the point of this post: liberal democrats are suicidal when it comes to politics.

During the past week Jesse Jackson has expressed interest in "cutting Obama's nuts out" because he feels Obama talks down to black people. Hordes of outraged hard core liberals have been foaming at the mouth over Obama's FISA vote. The Clintonista's still can't get over their primary loss to Obama, some of them even threatening defection to McCain! And, there's all kinds of loose talk about prosecuting current and past members of the Bush administration. This kind of craziness is enough to make me wonder if a filibuster-proof congress and a White House controlled by democrats will result in sane governance. Obama will need to get out the whip in order to keep these folks in line.

If you look closely at the four examples I've given above, each of them is about revenge. Jackson for being marginalized. The FISA radicals about punishing phone company executives and stockholders. The Clintonista's for being outfoxed by Obamamania. The anti-war crowd for being run over by the Bush crowd's fear-mongering and flag-waving. Maybe each of these has some legitimate bitch, but it's time for them to shut up and get on the bandwagon for fixing the big problems America faces. Revenge will fix none of them.

Maybe these hard core liberals will always be outside the tent, content only when they are in opposition to something. I, for one, would like to hear a lot more from democrats who have something constructive to add to the debate. Enough is enough. The democrats need a lot of independents and people like me if they are going to stay in power for more than one term, and their incessant back-biting and hate speech is not something that draws people in. If the majority of Americans ultimately want revenge on the neocons, it will come in due time. In the meantime, a more pro-active outlook would go a long way.

T. Boone Pickens Is on the Right Track

Gee, you mean we could get a lot of our electricity from wind, solar, nuclear, and biomass power and thereby free up our natural gas to fuel vehicles instead of costly oil? And do it in ten years? What a novel idea! You'd think it would come from a giant government organization with a name like "Department of Energy", but instead it's coming from one man who's on a crusade.

How long will it take for the majority of Americans to understand that our government sucks at most of the things we have given it authority to do? Anyone with a brain knows that the hard things have to do with preparing for the likely future rather than reacting to a present that's beset with problems that should have been anticipated. But our governments mostly deal with the latter, and we let them get away with this shoddy performance.

Visionaries like President Carter have been ridiculed by eminent politicians who laughed and said things like "Carter thinks the sky is falling, but there's hundreds of years of oil in the ground!" Soon we'll realize that that nutty old Perot was right about a lot of things, too. If we fail to change our expectations for elected leaders, then we deserve the problems they fail to address.

Even at this late stage of crisis in oil supply our government has little to say and seems to be moving at a snail's pace. Then, along comes Pickens with a pretty simple substitutionary plan that could have been initiated years ago. I hope he riles up a lot of conversation and forces our lead-footed governments to facilitate a rapid migration to alternative energy sources and innovative substitutions. Better late than never.