Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sick of the Unions!

Unions have done a lot for the worker class, I'd be the first to admit. They won reasonable working hours, better working conditions, and better pay and benefits for their members. They also got processes that protected workers from capricious firing by managers. Despite the corruption that has plagued unions throughout their history, it's hard to argue that unions haven't been a major factor in the democratization of our country. Unfortunately, they now seem bent on bankrupting our country by standing in front of changes that are unavoidable - changes that primarily have to do with efficiency and accountability.

Hardly a day passes when I don't read another major story that, often unintenionally, describes a union that seems bent on driving its employer base into failure or subjecting its customers to substandard services. These stories are not in republican screeds or shouted out on Fox News; they are on the front pages of local newspapers and on media outlets like NPR. Union leaders have no shame, which apparently is a condition they've mutated into as a result of too many years in a closed shop. In my view, a monopoly of labor is just as pernicious as a monopoly of employers, and in many areas of our economy labor has just such a monopoly.

Today the New York State Troopers Union strongly objected to the state's decision not to have a new troopers class in 2010 to replace troopers who have retired. They complained about the larger geographies that troopers must cover with fewer people, and they criticized the governor for having about 200 troopers assigned to security details. What they failed to mention was that the total number of troopers was at a record level just last year, and that the state is facing a giant deficit for 2010. Could we expect these people to be part of the solution until the budget woes are controlled? No way.

The New York City school system has a "rubber room" where 700 teachers under suspension for a variety of accused misdeeds await their fate while receiving full pay. The cost is $65 million per year. Some of these teachers have been reporting to the "rubber room" for more than seven years while their cases proceed through the labrinthine process that the union somehow negotiated. Change this unwieldly process? No way. The process for dismissing an ineffective teacher also contains so many steps, documentation requirements, and appeals to higher and higher authorities that few principals have the time or interest to use it. It's obvious that teachers unions have little interest in the quality of education that their members deliver, even though bad teachers are often pariahs even in the teacher ranks of their own schools. This is what happens when unions gain so much political power that only candidates who support even their outrageous demands will get their funding support.

Today I listened to a co-worker describe a post office screw-up of a deposit for business reply mail. This was the third consecutive time that this type of transaction had been improperly processed by this local post office. If a private company had screwed up in this manner, it would have been easy to find a manager, explain the situation, and get the problem fixed. When it comes to the post office, you just shrug your shoulders and sigh, wishing that they'd go bankrupt and be sold off to FedEx or UPS after their union contracts were scrapped.

In Rochester, New York, the school system is run by a local school board of hacks who each get a few thousand dollars for their part time efforts. The drop out rate is ridiculous, and Rochester's teenage pregnancy rate leads the nation, so the mayor is making noise about getting permission to take over the system. In addition to citing the poor academic performance, he's concerned about the waste in the central administration of the system. Where is the teacher's union on this? Screaming! They see a disaster coming when an excellent mayor might get into their knickers after replacing a bunch of hacks who are easily bought off. Why should we be surprised?

Last year it cost the federal government over $60 billion to save GM and Chrysler, both of which were crippled by unions who fought the company's effort to become competitive. Well, we haven't seen anything yet. The public employee unions will be the death of the blue states before its over. Maybe unions were once good citizens, but now they are simply out to protect obsolete jobs and poor performers. I'm sick of them, and I'm going to vote for anyone who has the guts to take them on.

Napolitano Should Be Fired

Anybody who's been a manager knows that things go wrong. Policies and procedures can be deficient, or people charged with implementing them can make mistakes. Obviously, in the wake of learning all the information about the latest attempted airline bombing, something went terribly wrong and the process must be fixed. I don't blame Janet Napolitano, head of Homeland Security, for the problem, since she is not personally responsible for every failure within her organization, but I do believe she should be fired for her failure to respond appropriately to the bad news. In short, the system did not work, contrary to her representations on TV this weekend. We cannot accept leaders whose first reaction to bad news is to "purfume the pig".

Napolitano, even in the absence of complete information, should have simply reported that the system did not work and consequently, the lives of hundreds of Americans were jeopardized. She should have announced her plans for a complete and prompt review of the security breach, and her intent to correct the problems that caused the failure. That's what effective leaders do, and she did not do it. The correct response was left to the president, some three days after the incident occurred.

Napolitano's response shows that she does not have the right stuff. Obama should ask her to leave, and he should appoint a replacement who sets a no-compromise, no-excuse tone when it comes to airline security and security in general.

I recognize there will never be a foolproof system in place to safeguard the American people from every terrorist attack. There are too many vulnerabilities, and the resources to deal with them are not unlimited. We are left with "doing the best job that we can", and accepting that a future tragedy will probably occur. That said, there is no way that an identified potential terrorist should have been allowed to board a plane bound for the U.S. or keep his tourist visa. The system was broken, for sure, but Napolitano just didn't have the guts to tell it like it was. It's time for you to go, Janet.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Coincidence

Yesterday morning I needed to stop at the local credit union before driving to downtown Rochester to do some church bookkeeping work.

As I waited at a red light near the credit union, I looked to my left and saw a man slowly walking down the snowy roadside toward me, using a cane. He wore an overcoat, carried a briefcase, and hobbled uncertainly because one of his legs was covered with a large brace. I wondered where he was going at such a slow pace, but then the light changed and I went on my way.

After finishing my banking, I departed by another way and soon approached another nearby intersection. There, waiting for the light to change, was the same man. I pulled over, stopped my car, and shouted, "Do you need a ride?" He replied, "Where are you going?" I said, "Anywhere you want to go! Hop in!" He smiled, hobbled over to the passenger door, and strugged into the passenger seat with his stiff leg. I noticed that he appeared to be of Hispanic origin and that he was well dressed.

"I was going up to Monroe Avenue", he said as I started out again. "Where, exactly, are you headed?", I asked. He said he needed to catch a bus to downtown where he worked. I knew Monroe Avenue was almost one mile away. Quite a walk for a man with a cane on a windy, snowy morning! We chatted some more; he said his office was in the Times Union Building, which was directly on my route to the church. He was happy when I said I'd be delivering him to his office door.

We conversed during the twenty minute drive. He told me he was an attorney in general practice, mostly working with low income people who had legal problems. He said he often took payment in barter services, or took clients who could not pay him. He didn't have a car, which didn't matter since he couldn't drive because of his stiff leg. He laughed when he said he had recently re-injured a chronically bad knee when he made a poor decision to dance at a party. I marveled at his pleasant demeanor, his obvious high intellect, and his courage in attempting the challenging walk to the bus stop. He gave me his card as we approached Times Union Building, and he said, "Please let me know if I can ever do anything for you." I waved goodbye.

Why did I stop for him? Well, as I've walked the Appalachian Trail for many years, I've had to ask many favors of strangers. I've thumbed a lot of rides in and out of small towns, I've had a lady wash my hiking clothes, for free, after she explained there was no laundromat in her town, and I've also been able to help a few strangers that had needs no one else was going to address. I've become accustomed to dealing with obvious needs, whether or not I knew the person in need. I always seem to benefit from these experiences in some unexpected way.

As I look back on yesterday morning, it seems like quite a coincidence that I had a chance to observe this man and evaluate his plight some minutes before I was presented with the choice to either stop for him or go on my way. Was this just a regular coincidence, or was it a Christmas coincidence? I'm still pondering why his destination was exactly where I was planning to go, even though I intended to transport him wherever he needed to go. What do you think?

Monday, December 21, 2009

"The ONE", Examined

I'd be the first to agree that a lot of air has gone out of Obama's balloon. Doing the job is a lot harder than running for it, actually, and idealism must be subordinate to pragmatism when things have got to be done. The Left is raging; their savior has turned out to be mortal after all.

But I like Obama's family image (please, Barack, don't be a Tiger!), his clear statements of American values, and his stamina and ability to deal with lots of big issues at the same time. Sometimes, though, I wish he'd just come on a bit stronger when the bad guys, domestic and foreign, act up. But he's a diplomat, and maybe that's best in the long run.

What really bugs me, though, is all the trash talk from the Right regarding Obama. They've set him up as "the ONE", a Matrix-like persona whose goals are the destruction of America as we know it. You would not believe all the bad things Obama has planned for us!!! Somehow, though, there isn't any evidence that he's pushing any of this stuff. It's the classic case of setting up a false target, then shooting it full of holes - but the fools on the Right love it. It's just what they want to hear, and who cares if it's true or not. Closet racism at its finest!

This would be a joke to me, just another reason to poke fun at the nutcakes who proliferate the red states and infect the blue ones...except that some of my friends actually push this crap. They're neither stupid nor heartless, but they've got it in for Barack. Therefore, I've concluded that everyday exposure to Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity does, in fact, constitute brainwashing. There really is a right wing conspiracy, and it's right in front of our eyes.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Huge Cost of "Prevention"

Rochester, NY, just decided to install 60 red-light cameras to curb the endemic running of red lights in the city. Violators will get a $50 ticket through the mail, and the city will get what's left over after paying almost $4,000 per month to the company that owns and operates the cameras. If the city breaks even, $2,800,000 will be transferred from the pockets of violators to the pockets of the camera vendor. This program is a great example of the many "prevention" programs that drain our economy and go far to make us uncompetitive in the world.

As an ambulance worker, I know firsthand the danger presented by red-light runners. Just before Christmas several years ago, I helped clean up a three car collision caused by a younger man who ran a red light. The injuries were severe, and the Christmas plans of several families turned from celebration to mourning. I still grit my teeth when I think of that young man, and I shudder every time I see an unthinking person run a red light. Perhaps the cameras will prevent some horrible events from occurring.

The problem is that $2,800,000 now will be spent to control reckless stupidity rather than being spent on more beneficial consumption, or perhaps even saved. Certainly the violators would have better options for spending their $50, wouldn't they? And, doesn't the U.S. have more important industries than the one that makes red-light cameras? All those $50 fines, for example, could have been spent on energy-efficient light bulbs or college textbooks.

Formal economics training educates us about the trade-off's we make. "Guns or butter" is the classic example for comparing the choices we must make. Every penny that goes into preventing adverse voluntary behavior represents a penny that could be spent on something more useful to society. So, we understand that every dollar spent on a hugely expensive warplane that never fires a shot in anger could have been spent elsewhere. Similarly, the cost of police posted in schools and any number of other "preventive" measures aimed at curbing voluntary behavior such as school violence precludes spending on other, more useful, programs. In total, the cost of "prevention" represents a huge anchor on our economy, an anchor that countries who have less law-breaking do not need. So, we are less competitive than they.

I believe that we need fewer laws but uncompromising enforcement. In addition to "slap on the wrist" $50 fines for running a red light, we should increase the fine to $500 for the second violation and confiscate the car after three violations. I'd apply the same logic for all other conduct that we truly wish to control, and scrap the laws that we don't wish to enforce with truly punitive measures.

The fact is that the great majority of citizens obey the law, but they bear a huge cost to prevent unlawful behavior by a small minority. This "hidden tax" funds the bloated government bureaucracies that sap our economy by using our money for only symbolic "prevention". If our citizenry really understood this giant problem, maybe we'd change direction and free up an enormous amount of dollars for better uses.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Strong Feelings!

Obama's acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize was one of the best speeches I've ever heard, not so much for the delivery as the content. Obama described the world as it is and the world most of us would like it to be. Unfortunately, war must be the last resort when evil (is there a better word?) refuses to back down, and the world must deal with incipient evil before it gains enough strength to do massive harm. At the same time, it's critical to maintain idealism and strive to accomplish tasks that elevate humanity or safeguard the world. In addition to speaking in philosophical generalities, the president touched on many real problems and described practical ways for addressing them.

Obama's speech was applauded by many on both sides of America's political divide, but this moment of near-unanimity was only momentary. The unbridled competition and angst that characterizes our political discourse continues unabated, thereby itself becoming the subject of debate rather than the underlying problems that politicians are supposed to be addressing.

Strong feelings are a necessary component in the process of making progress. That "fire in the gut" provides the determination to overcome the inertia of the status quo. But, too often in today's America, the strong feelings are aimed at personalites rather than issues. For example, yesterday I was disappointed in the reaction several of my friends had to Obama's speech. They were unable to discuss its content because they were totally focused on their dislike for the man. We need to get past this simple pettiness which I believe our media has caused to flourish.

Is it possible to begin channelling our political objectives in a more positive way? Yes. "Leadership" is the answer. Only if top political figures on both sides of the aisle begin challenging the hyperbole and character assassination practiced by their own side will temperatures begin to cool down and an environment for resolving differences emerge. Sadly, I'm not optimistic about the chances for this change of attitude. Perhaps the stresses created by America's many intractable problems are at the root of the unending animosity. If so, God help us! But God will not do this; it's still up to us.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Reid was Right

I've seen the clip of majority leader Reid comparing the republican senators' blocking of health care reform with those, years ago, who delayed freeing the slaves and allowing womens' suffrage. I've also seen the outrage of those he called out. Reid was right. Health care is no longer a luxury only for those who can afford it; it's a human right.

If you read my blog you know that I don't believe in unlimited rights. Those who abuse the system need to be restrained, and there are many who try to abuse it. I believe that those who fail to put in a day's work don't deserve a job, for example. I believe that those who abuse their bodies shouldn't get expensive care to fix what they have done to themselves. Being responsible is important.

On the other hand, being born into a family with limited means should not prevent any child from getting whatever preventive or corrective care that will improve their chances of being a productive citizen. Being a working class person without company-paid insurance should not prevent an adult from seeing a doctor before their health problems become severe.

We need health care reform. If I had my way, we would go well beyond the legislation now being proposed. For example, I would divert many of the dollars now going to treat older, chronically ill people toward preventive education and care for all citizens regardless of ability to pay.

Reid was right. The republicans have no plan. Their customers are members of the "big money" culture who are prospering under the current system, or they are citizens who have theirs and could care less for those who don't - just like the slave owners. Way to go, Reid!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Bring on the Bold!

We Americans are naive. We think that we should be able to solve all our problems with guaranteed solutions that don't upset our routine too much. We have a low threshold of success.

Yes, most of us get through each day, and most companies and institutions stay in business from year to year. Perhaps many of us count this "muddling along" as success. I don't. Success is accomplishing the big things, the difficult things, the things that are important to achieve but have uncertainties big enough to sink the ship. Few of us, and few organizations, have the stuffing even to attempt these things. We've grown cautious and complacent.

America now has many problems that I would consider "big things". Education, infrastructure, health care, international competition, global warming, and inner city deterioration all call out for solutions that go beyond band-aids. "Muddling along" is always the solution proposed by entrenched bureaucracies and special interests, but it will not result in success. Success will require upsetting the applecart, taking big risks, and changing the rules. Who will lead the charge? Certainly not those to whom we've been entrusting our future.

It's time to support those who bring forth the bold solutions, those who have vision, intelligence, dedication and the willingness to take some risk to achieve great results. Success is not beyond our capability, but it seems to be beyond our comfort zone. That needs to change. We've got citizens who carry genes that crossed oceans and opened a frontier, that got us to the moon. Let's find them and give them more than a little rope. The taste of success would be sweet!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

What if We Don't?

Obama made his speech last night, pledging to beat down the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This morning, critics on the right and left are pounding on him. The right is upset about the withdrawal plan, the left about his not deciding to get out. Who knows who is right?

I've been listening to so many "experts" during the past few months that I may know more about that part of the world than I know about my own town. Unfortunately, I still don't know the right answer. That part of the world has frustrated many great military powers, starting with Alexander the Great and, more recently, the Soviet Union. Will we be the next to fail?

As a former executive, I'm keenly aware that every decision must be based on assessing the benefits and the risks. There are few "sure things", and there are always unintended consequences. Decision makers do their best to come out on the smart side of the big questions. They have a really tough job, a job that most non-leaders fail to appreciate. To think that conscientious leaders don't do their homework or take decisions lightly is crazy; I recall taking many runs around my neighborhood at 3 a.m. as I, unable to sleep, went out to sort my thoughts on major issues as I jogged off the tension. Obama, no doubt, has been agonizing over his choices on Afghanistan.

I've been against escalation because I have little faith in the Afghan people. There has never been an Afghan "nation"; Afghanistan is a collection of local ethnic groups with little allegiance to a central government. Overcoming this obstacle, which is exacerbated by pervasive corruption in the government and illiteracy in the populace, will be extremely difficult. Obama's troops and diplomats will need some magic if they are to create a country out of this mess. The risk is that we waste a huge amount of money and many lives in a failed enterprise.

The stated benefit of escalation is that the Taliban will be prevented from establishing a solid base of operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If their objectives were simply to hold that territory, we should certainly get out of the fight - it would be a civil war. However, there is substantial evidence that Al Queda has objectives far beyond holding ground; they wish to establish fundamentalist Muslim societies after overthrowing governments in the Middle East and other places, and they wish to bend other countries' policies to accomodate them. They are not kidding about being our implacable enemies; hosts of suicide bombers put an exclamation point on their dedication to this cause. Can we give them a secure base by leaving Afghanistan?

Obama has made his decision. He's got more information and more advice on this topic than anyone else in the world, and his decision is not one primarily based on politics. His critics, on both the right and left, are far more subject to criticism for being politically influenced, so I discount them. Obama must be practical, above all, and he knows he'll be personally secure whether or not he succeeds in this war. At the end of the day, he decided that the risk of allowing Al Queda and similar groups a safe haven was too great to walk away from. I can live with that, and I wish him and our military the very best.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Bad News and Good News on China

The TV program last night showed dramatic footage of much land in northern China turning into desert due to overgrazing and over-watering, and the water table is falling fast in some places due to exuberant irrigation. Farmers who thought they had a good thing going are now crying the blues as their fields blow away in giant dust storms. It's sad, and bad for China.

Now the good news. We owe them lots of money, and it looks like they'll be needing to import a lot of food in the coming years. We've got lots of agricultural capacity, and we'll have a lot more when we get out of the silly corn ethanol business. Selling our crops to them might be a winner.

But it still hurts me to see their country disappearing in great brown clouds...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Fireplace

Good Witch and I have been doing some major remodeling lately. Our entire first floor has been transformed with new paint, one new floor, new carpeting, lighting, area rugs, countertop, and chair recovering. After at least a decade, the place needed a facelift. And the most striking change has been the covering of our 33 year old brick fireplace and hearth with natural multi-hued slate tile that complements all the new colors in the room. It's a focal point of beauty.

A decorator showed us a number of tile samples and we mulled them over for quite a while before making our choice. The samples were small, perhaps 3" x 3", and there were about six different tiles in the color palate we chose. Consequently, we had no idea what the fireplace would look like when it was completed. About ten days later the tile came in and the tile guy worked seven hours over two days to do the job. It was not at all what we envisioned; it was far more beautiful than we expected.

When the work was almost done, I asked the tile guy where the tile came from. He scratched his head and surmised that maybe it came from Italy. That made me feel good, thinking about Italian quarrymen cutting out those tiles just as their ancestors had done for hundreds or thousands of years. However, today when I went to the garage to test the sealing process on one unused tile, I saw in large letters on the box top, "MADE IN CHINA".

Now, when I look at the beautiful fireplace, I can't help but think that I am looking at my own little chunk of China, covering American bricks. Perhaps I wouldn't have been able to afford Italian tile, and maybe we don't produce these tiles in the U.S., but I wish it was otherwise. I don't dislike the Chinese, but I do worry about our trade imbalance with them. It's too bad that I just added to the problem. Please, my Chinese friends, buy another bulldozer or something from us!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Facts, Please!

Our leaders and the media must believe we are fools. They feed us pap and we take it for filet mignon. The lack of facts in the information we're given is embarrassing, but we don't protest. The lack of substance in the recommendations they make is also embarrassing, but we don't hold our leaders or the media to a higher standard. Maybe we really are fools.

Here in New York, we have real problem with the state budget. It's short about $4 billion and the politicians have been wrangling for a month, unsuccessfully, to agree on a solution. So, last week a local state senator went on the radio to discuss the matter. He talked with the interviewer for an entire hour without saying anything about what state spending he would cut. But, he achieved his objective: he said a lot about "solving the problem" and "working together", but he didn't offend even one special interest. He just offended me by providing no pertinent facts and no solid recommendations.

NPR this week broadcast a series on traffic fatalities. It highlighted the trucking industry and elderly drivers as problems to consider, but only after saying that traffic fatalities have decreased about 12%, to about 35,000 each year, since the year 2000. It took a caller to the program to point out that 30% of the fatalities are alcohol-related, and nobody said what percent of fatalities were single-vehicle crashes caused by driver errors such as pushing motorcycles too hard. NPR presented a lot of babble with few facts, plenty of opinion, and no simple recommendations as to which new laws would produce the greatest drop in fatalities while being accepted by the motoring public. I expect more from NPR.

Debates on the two current national issues, Afghanistan and health care reform, have also been light on information and recommendations. President Obama will attempt to sell his Afghanistan strategy this coming week, and I expect an excellent presentation; many lives may be lost pursuing his decision. Regarding health care, conversely, the result will be the work of congress - disfunctionality personified. It will be a hash, probably far less positive than what is needed. The fact that discussion of of the health care bill centers far more on the political push and pull than what's in the bill is telling; if we knew what was in that stew, we probably wouldn't eat it.

I'm tired of being treated like a child by government and the media. As Sergeant Joe Friday used to say, "The facts, ma'am, just the facts!" These agencies need to put out hard information, so that we have a fair chance to form our own conclusions and assess their decisions. Then again, maybe that's why we know so little about the important things.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Addendum to "Quid Pro Quo Religion"

Recently I posted about my distaste for religion that expects God to intervene when people bring their problems to God. I said that God already did God's thing by allowing us "to be", and by giving us the ability to perceive the divine. The rest is pretty much up to us, I believe. We have a conscience, right? That conscience is God, speaking to us if we listen.

In this light, I said that I pray about two things: first, I thank God for my life and the greatness of all creation; second, I pray I will listen to my conscience and try to act in the spirit of the great commandment - love God, and your neighbor as yourself. But I left something out.

It's very telling that I forgot to mention confession. I don't always do very well with the first two prayers, so confession to God is important. Sins of commission and omission plague me. My thanks are too infrequent, and my choices are often poor. No one knows this better than God. I owe a bunch of "I'm sorry's", to recognize the omnipotence of God and my poor efforts to contribute to the plan that I perceive only dimly.

In considering "confession", I must also remember the great sins of our species - sins that I participate in or acquiesce to . War. Destroying the ecology of our planet. Letting people starve or die of preventable illnesses. The list goes on and on. As a group, we humans are often stray far from being partners in the creative nature of God. We, and I, share responsibility for all the ugliness in the world. We, and I, need to feel some real sadness about this shameful part of our nature. That is confession, and it is the start of making amends.

I'm sorry I overlooked confession. I'll try to do better.

China and America

President Obama's visit to China is highlighting the differences between the two countries. China is repressive and undemocratic, but its economy is growing at 10% each year and poised to continue this trend. The US is open and democratic, but its economy is staggering and is poised to continue this trend. Perhaps both countries need to move toward the other's system.

The secret to China's rapid progress is unity of purpose. The cause of the U.S.'s slow decline is largely lack of a unified purpose. China sacrifices openness, personal rights, and property rights to accomplish its purposes. The U.S. system allows minorities so many rights that they can effectively block almost any purpose, regardless of its importance. Both countries need to move toward the middle.

I sense that the Chinese know they must loosen up as their population becomes more educated and wealthy; at some point, speaking out becomes a reason for being. However, Americans may only now be concluding that our constitution, our laws, and our legal system have morphed into an almost paralytic maze.

If the U.S. is to have any chance of maintaining some level of parity with China in the coming decades, our political system must change. The battle of "left" and "right" is killing us; what we need is some sort of national unity, and decisions that are important for the long term. But the politicians seem not to care a damn about our future - it's all about them.

On the national scene, the lack of an operational long term storage facility for nuclear waste is a great example of our paralysis. We've spent billions on a Yucca Mountain storage facility, deep in the Nevada mountains, but its use is being held up by endless lawsuits despite general scientific agreement that it's the right answer to the problem. In China, opening this facility would be a slam dunk. Time is money.

On the local scene, New York State is in paralysis because it spends more than residents can afford to pay in taxes. Can our elected representatives deal with this? No way! They play to the folks that bought them their offices, and the general populace suffers. Even the governor is powerless to impose a solution. So, the state crashes but the legislators get all their pay and the immensely overstaffed state bureaucracy lives on. Perhaps it's time for a revolt, since no other solution is remotely in sight.

China needs to allow more freedom while maintaining its ability to implement a national purpose. The U.S. needs to find a way to implement many national and local imperatives while still maintaining freedom. Neither course is easy, but the U.S. is in far greater danger if if does not find a way to break its political and legal logjams.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Major Hasan

This guy has a history. It's not easy to grow up as an "outsider", even if you are talented. I feel certain Hasan experienced a lot of discrimination and harassment as a Muslim in America. That has got to have a significant and lasting effect on one's persona, but it does not justify a mass killing. Hasan took out his frustrations in an unjustifiable manner.

In my view, this mass murder had little to do with Islam. Radical Islam was just a hook onto which Hasan hung his own problems. Hate needs company, and he found it there. He could have gone another way, but he chose the way of vengeance.

Why was Hasan not identified as a psychotic and a dangerous person? There were more than a few significant indicators, and his future in his profession and the Army was debated several times by smart people. What was lacking was the decisiveness to do the right thing with him, to go through a painful and time-consuming process to remove him. Supervisors always consider trade-off's about dealing with problem employees, simply because discipline takes lots of time and energy. In this case, their lack of stomach resulted in a failure to do the right thing, and lots of people died.

In my experience, even following the rules for disciplining or firing an employee often results in far more problems than it should. Here in New York, too many government agencies go overboard in their attempts to stand up for employee's "rights". Employers also have rights, in my view including having employees who show commitment to act in the employer's best interests and follow the rules. When they fail to do so, they should be dismissed after appropriate warning. But, too often the fear of incurring large legal fees and a potential reversal or settlement drives supervisors to overlook extremely negative behavior.

Hasan was terribly wrong. Our employment laws are wrong, too. Hasan will get his just deserts, but will government loosen up it's stranglehold on employers?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Quid pro quo" Religion

Yesterday, while on a road trip with Good Witch, we passed a church with a typical sign outside. It read something like "Follow God, and God will Take Care of You." It made me cringe. It's the wrong message, at least for me. Although I'm a Christian, I don't believe that God is obligated to any quid pro quo deal. But if we can't expect any special treatment in this world, what is the purpose of religion?

For me, the purpose of religion is simply to give God the recognition God deserves. My every thought and breath are gifts from God, and this miracle of existence and consciousness is precious to me. The miracle underlies every moment and every experience of my life. Whether the moment is one of pleasure or pain, it is a unique moment that God has allowed to be. Consequently, God has already "taken care of me". My only response must be to say "Thank you", constantly, without expectation of any additional benefits from my action. Not one day more, not any fewer difficulties, not one penny more of wealth. So, where is the payback?

For the moment, let's forget about the life after death and think about the now. If I believe every moment of my life is valuable, then I've got to believe that every moment in everyone else's life is also valuable. The "Golden Rule" then becomes real and of the first priority. It affects the way I treat every person and how I view the community that is humanity. It makes me want to see the world as God sees it, however limited I may be in this endeavor. And, strange as this may seem, this attitude brings me far more benefits than deficits. I have a positive, non-protective attitude, and people respond to me with a smile. I am content.

The alternative is to see my life as being in competition with everyone else. I am protective, I am reserved, I am calculating. Every person who interacts with me will find out, one way or the other, that they had better watch out for me because my interests always come first. Smiles and hugs are less genuine and less frequent. But, I end up with more stuff. I trade stuff for smiles. That's not a good trade for me. I may be a "Type A" personality, but a smile is worth more than stuff to me.

In my view, God allowed our world to occur and gave us freedom to see what would become of it. Would we get our act together as a species, understand the opportunity that God has given, or would we self-destruct? Each one of us has a role to play in this drama. From time to time, God has intervened to give us some guidance -"Jesus" being one of several of these interventions - but God generally stays absent from the fray. It's our deal to win or lose, individually and as a species.

So, I don't expect God to take care of me. God has already taken care of me by giving me life and enough consciousness to perceive the divine. Whatever happens, happens. But while I'm here, I say "Thank you!" The benefits of that viewpoint make my days worthwhile, and when my days are over I'm willing (and obviously, obligated) to accept whatever God has in store for what's left of what was once "me". That sign on the church has meaning for me only in that respect.

Monday, November 09, 2009


It's been crazy at the Lifehiker and Good Witch house lately. The place had become a bit shabby and dated, but nothing $10,000 (or so) worth of paint, carpet, and "this and that" couldn't cure. But restoring a home is most inconvenient. Maybe, just maybe, everything will be calmed down by the end of November. In the meantime, I've been contributing a lot of sweat equity on the tasks where professionalism is not required.

While all this has been going on in my home, the cretins in Maine have voted down gay marriage rights, the pointy-headed, pedophile-loving Catholic bishops have put down the gauntlet on abortion rights, and a pissed-off Army psychiatrist has shot up Fort Hood. Not a good couple of weeks!

On the plus side, a few days of beautiful weather have descended on Rochester, New York. Any clear and sunny days in the high 60's or low 70's are called "bonus days". I painted my new garage door so that it now matches the primary color of my home, and I happily swept and raked the gajillian leaves from my yard. Maybe some golf is coming up before it's over!

My presbyterian church is slowly dying as aging members or those who lost jobs in the recession relocate, not to be replaced by new members. People seem to be too busy to give God the respect God deserves. I'm not saying this theologically. It just bugs me that so few people these days seem to wonder what it all means, and most of these think they will live forever. And then there are the republicans, who seem to believe in economic evolution while denying natural evolution. I hope God has a sense of humor about being dissed!

As liberal as I feel about many public policy topics, I'm still a bit miffed about the lack of accountability that we tolerate. If you fire somebody who doesn't give a crap about their job, the somebody can find plenty of government people to torture you. Both the Wall Street criminals and their union counterparts have got off pretty much scot-free after torching our economy. Far too many students and their parents think that paying no attention to education is OK, but expect somebody else to take care of them. Can't we have a society that rewards people who put in a full day's work and tells the others to live in a barracks and eat rice and beans once a day? Yes, the rich are too rich - but so are too many of the poor!

Tonight is "Dancing With the Stars", which Good Witch and I watch regularly. We love the incredible coordination of the pro dancers, and we appreciate the effort and achievement that the non-pro's exhibit as they strive to learn these very difficult dance moves. This show beats sit-com's hands down!

Tiger Woods got his hat handed to him this past weekend in Shainghai by Phil Mickelson and a few others. Woods has got a bit spoiled, I think, allowing himself to be distracted by spectator behavior and such. Don't you remember hearing how his father created giant distractions when Tiger was learning how to excel? Seems like Tiger's forgotten how to disregard what's happening around him and just hit the golf ball...but he's still the best.

As much as I like my home, I'm still a bit uncomfortable with all the "stuff" of life. I can identify with those Eastern religion adherents who believe that older folks should shed their stuff and simplify, simplify. I might be happier with a lot less. Something to ponder.

Be kind; do something selfless; say "thank-you" to whatever God you worship; savor the moment; learn something. The days go rushing by, and soon they will be over.

p.s. Get your swine flu shot when you can. If you die of the flu, I'll stand on your grave and tell you "I told you so!". This EMT has seen some ugly bad flu - don't take a chance.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cut the Health Care Waste!

The cost of health care in our country is exorbitant, and it will probably rise as a result of the new health care legislation that I hope will pass. Covering the uninsured and those with pre-existing conditions is costly - but it is the right thing to do. How then can we reduce the cost? Here are four suggestions.

1. Increase the penalties for health care fraud, and hire a lot more inspectors. I recently read that annual Medicare fraud may cost taxpayers as much as $800 billion dollars. Even if it's only half that number, we could pay 50,000 new inspectors $100,000 each for only $5 billion annually and save a bundle. Catch the crooks put them away for a long time!

2. Bust the professional groups that, in effect, are unions that engage in medical featherbedding.

For example, today I read that the New York governor has issued an "emergency" executive order that will allow Swine flu shots to be administered by dentists, paramedics, pharmacists, and other health care professionals, all of whom need to be specially trained for the job. Perhaps I am missing something, but it seems to me that if a paramedic is already qualified to inject powerful life-saving meds, without supervision, they might be qualified to give a flu shot! Can you believe that a PA can't even give a flu shot under normal conditions? The medical "special interest groups" have far too much power, and their featherbedding adds a lot to the cost of health care.

3. Revisit the paperwork and patient confidentiality rules.

Many of us veterans remember standing in long lines to get rapid-fire innoculations. Hundreds of soldiers got their "shots" in no time. Yet in this "national emergency", the paperwork and "confidentiality" crap associated with giving flu shots make the lines move at a snail's pace. Snail's pace processes are expensive.

HIPPA, a law originally intended to stop insurance companies from misusing health care information, somehow morphed into a law that puts sand in the gears of the entire health care complex. For example, a patient being rushed to the hospital with chest pains has to sign a statement saying he's been told that his patient information will not be mis-used? Are we nuts?

4. Make physicians justify why elderly patients with certain terminal conditions should receive certain very expensive treatments rather than moved to hospice care. It's just silly that we spend an immense fraction of our health care dollars on persons who die shortly afterward of problems previously known to be terminal.

Common sense has been absent in many areas of health care, resulting in increasingly expensive processes for doing simple things and a huge medical fraud industry. Who is tackling these obvious problems? It's time to start complaining, and loudly!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

More Troops - More Deaths

Americans seem believe war is like video war games; you play for awhile, lots of characters fall down or are blown up, and then you turn off the game and everyone magically comes back to life. But war is not like a video game. Real people die and never come back to life.

Obama is debating whether or not to send more troops to Afghanistan. What's not said often enough is that if more are sent, more will die. How many American deaths is an Afghanistan "liberated" from the Taliban worth?

Don't get me wrong. I believe that if the Afghanistan war is really in America's best interests to win, then more troops may be necessary. But, we must not be naive about casualites. There will be many of them, and there will also be more Afghan civilian casualties.

While listening to Diane Rehm on NPR this week, I heard an "expert" say that we had killed many Al Queda leaders with Predator air strikes. Diane immediately said, "But there also were civilian casualties!" That was a naive comment, but a telling one. Many Americans just don't understand that war is a messy business.

So, if we increase troops we must also willingly accept more of our soldiers being killed and wounded. We must also accept the idea that Afghan civilians will be in the way and be killed. Our soldiers must not be asked to fight with hands tied behind their back, risking even more danger than they should.

Will the American public support our really "going to war" in Afghanistan? I don't know.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Health Care - My Almost Final Word

The health care debate is slowly coming to a conclusion. Most of the horses have been traded, most of the spears have been thrown, most of the insults spewed, and most of the numbers added. In my mind, the issues still remain rather basic.

1. Will the bill provide a way for a great number of uninsured working people and people who have worked in our economy to get affordable care if they are sick or injured?

2. Will the bill provide means and incentives for health care providers to reduce costs while maintaining or improving the quality of care?

3. Will the bill provide incentives for Americans to adopt more healthy lifestyles and to make informed choices about end of life care?

Every person who has honestly evaluated the American health care non-system understands that it is far too costly and far too inefficient. We need to make progress on solving these problems, or they will simply get worse. This will not be easy, and it may be incremental, but we must make progress. Anything else will be a major failure of government.

Both radical liberals and radical conservatives have staked out positions in opposition to major planks that will likely be in the final bill. Liberals who represent several major unions object to taxes on the high cost "Cadillac" health plans they've negotiated with employers. For example, they support the idea that teachers should be able to get four pair of new eyeglasses each year, for free. Conservatives in hock to the industry object to the idea that working people should not go bankrupt if they happen to get really sick and incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in doctor and hospital costs. Both groups are hindering progress toward a reasonable solution.

On balance, the conservatives have been most outrageous in their objections. If you listen to them, you soon realize that they never describe the problems with the system or suggest ways to solve them. They are almost 100% negative. Some believe (this is true!) that those unable to pay for hospital procedures shouldn't get them; "survival of the financially fittest" is their motto. Others, when asked why they object to health care reform, say they don't want to pay for illegal immigrant health care, something that is not in the bill. The absurdities go on and on...such as, "don't let the government get involved with my Medicare". In short, I only pay attention to those who seem concerned to improve America's health care, and I don't think those who focus only on negatives are interested in that at all.

I've been pretty close to the health care industry for the past 10 years, and I understand it a lot better than most Americans. Our system is broken; it must be fixed. If we don't make some real progress on reforming it, we have shot ourselves in the foot, or maybe even in the upper leg. So, support those who have positive ideas and ignore the others! Let's get something good done, and soon.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Thankfully, Youth Will Prevail

I visited an old friend in a nursing care facility today. I've been helping his family work out the financing for his extremely expensive care. (He's a great commercial for long term care insurance, since he didn't have any.) I've got nothing else to do in my spare time.

This eighty-something gentleman and I have been friends for more than 30 years. He's a staunch Rotarian and a pretty congenial guy, but he shows a strong strain of independence as a result of his upbringing on the sparcely populated and storm-tossed Atlantic coast of Maine. And, he is a radical conservative - almost anti-government - and clearly a right wing radio addict. I love him anyway.

Today I broke the news to him that Obama got the Peace Prize. He was horrified. He said that there's nothing about Obama that he can agree with. So, I pressed him on his views. "What is it, exactly, that you have against the president", I asked. After he responded, "Everything", I asked him what the big problem was. My friend then opened up. "I think he's a Muslim", he said. Well, that was all I needed to hear. Hopeless, this conversation.

American is cursed with an older generation who were in their 30's and 40's before integration was legal. A great number of them strugged hard to come out of the depression, and they got some pretty racist attitudes when they participated in the war. Limbaugh and Beck say things that resonate with them. And, sadly, these folks vote.

Amidst my sadness about this conversation I'm encouraged by Amercan demographics. Every year a lot more people who are not racists, who are not natually fearful of the "other", and who see the world as a small, shared place begin to vote. And people like my friend go on to whatever lies ahead for them. Progress is inexorable, and I'm thankful there's a good chance I'll live long enough to see the group of folks like my friend become an immaterial minority.

Postscript: If Obama is ever shown to be a Muslim, I'll try to walk across the Genessee River with an anvil in each hand. But it wouldn't matter to me if he was.

Obama and Rangel

I'm celebrating President Obama's being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It's surprising, but it's warranted. He's viewed as a person who, by virtue of his pursuit of reconciliation over confrontation, has dramatically changed the tenor of international relations. People everywhere yearn for those in power to take thoughtful and positive action when dealing with matters of life and death importance around the world. I don't doubt Obama's capability to use force when all other alternatives fail, but I believe his emphasis on respectful and honest negotiations sets a tone of hope for the future. If the award helps him to accomplish his agenda, it's a winner.

On the other hand, I'm bemoaning the democratic party's plodding investigation of Rep. Charlie Rangel, who deserves prompt censure for cheating on his tax reporting and other corrupt acts. Rangel represents one facet of the party's seedy side, the facet of entrenched politicians who feel their status entitles them to waivers of laws they enforce on other citizens. The only way for the party to keep the allegiance of many independent voters is to demonstrate its ability to hold accountable its wayward members. The Rangel debacle is doing a lot of damage.

Obama and Rangel. The new and the old. The world needs more of the former and less of the latter.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Another Printer Dies...Help Me!

I'm fed up with junk printers! In the past two years I've had to scrap a fairly expensive Brother wireless printer because the paper feed mechanism was balky, and more recently a Canon printer that seems to have a dead power supply. Both required expensive ink that didn't last long. I've got to get a new one, but my criteria have changed. I want a durable printer that uses ink in a miserly fashion!

These printers were my "downstairs" printers. I have a small desk in the family room where I park my laptop when it's not traveling with me. Good Witch asked me to get it so I'd not be disappeared into my "upstairs" office for protracted periods. Now I check email and Facebook, and do my blog, while she reads her book in the chair not far away. It's TOGETHERNESS! But I digress.

My upstairs printer is an old HP K80 that I've had forever and put to hard use. It is super durable and takes huge ink cartridges that I seldom replace. Of course, HP is not foolish enough to be making that version any more, but I'd buy another one except that it's too large for my tiny downstairs desk. I need a tidy, unobtrusive printer that won't ask me to replace ink every month or two.

Any suggestions, dear readers?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Afghanistan is a Losing Proposition

Obama is weighing his course of action in Afghanistan, but even he can't do the impossible, and that's what Afganistan is. I'm not for increasing troop strength there, and I'm probably for reducing it. It's a no-win situation.

Don't get me wrong. I sympathize with those many Afghan people, especially the young people and women, who've had a taste of modernity and individual rights. If we pull out, they suffer. But, if we stay in, we suffer too much. Maybe it's time to let Afghanistan work out its own future, whatever that is.

Al Queda is a danger to us, and the Taliban have harbored them. Therefore, the Taliban is our enemy and Al Queda can hide as guests among them. As a consequence, we can't just leave Afganistan. We've got to keep the pressure on them, make the lives of the bad guys miserable and always fearful until, if ever, they decide to be more accomodating to us. But we don't need to occupy the country to do that; we can operate from a fairly small footprint and keep casualties down. No nation-building. Search and destroy. I know this doesn't sound Christian, but these guys have stated their aims and self-defense is no sin. Biden is right.

Our generals want a big war. War is their thing; it's what they've trained for all their lives, and they want to be seen as being good at it. And they have lots of cheerleaders, especially the contractors who make fortunes providing the materials of war. Nuts to them! McChrystal may be a top-notch soldier, but we don't need to provide him a big war as his playpen.

Why am I so amadant about this? Two reasons. First, Afghanistan is just too big, too rough, and too backward to occupy and "win over". The cost of trying would be astronomical, and the American people would be right to conclude there are far better places to spend their money. Second, we can fight Al Queda without controlling Afghanistan. We can do it with drones and special forces based near Kabul and major population centers with plenty of guards. We don't need the casualties we'll get if we continue this pattern of making forays through the Taliban-dominated countryside.

It's hard to believe, but our greatest threat to the Taliban might be to decriminalize drugs in the U.S. Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium in the world, and we could take the profits out of their largest market in no time. That would deprive them of the revenue they use to buy weapons and pay their soldiers. I'm for that. Freedom for us (even freedom to rot some of our brains) and no money for them. I'm all for making fundamentalist Afghan boneheads penniless.

So, no more troops. No more grandiose plans for a girls school on every corner and paved roads everywhere. Just find a way to be really nasty to the bad guys and leave Afghanistan to work out its problems mostly on its own. Maybe give them cheap computers and free satellite internet, and let them figure out for if they want to be modern. In the meantime, wreak havoc on any kind of major Taliban facility or meeting center we can find. Perhaps they'll get as tired of hiding out as I'm tired of hearing about IED's and dead G.I.'s who died in a no-win war.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Will Christianity Evolve?

(I read an interesting R World posting about the decline and fall of the medieval church. It got me thinking about the state of Christian churches today, so I wrote a comment that became so long that I decided to post it here.)

I'm wondering if a radical move away from fundamentalist Christianity is not too far away, due to the aging of its adherents and the blossoming of many new information sources that challenge many of its long held precepts.

I recently read that membership in the Southern Baptist Convention, which has been growing for many years, has fallen for the first time. This follows major declines in the mainline protestant churches. If you visit any one of these churches you are likely to see a lot of grey hair. The younger folks are not buying into the religious message.

At the same time, the youth seem to be responding to sources that advocate peace, justice, and care for the earth and its inhabitants of all species - all of which have been part of the Christian outlook for centuries. So, it may not be the message but the messenger that's the problem. Old fashioned liturgies and hymns, or even more contemporary dreamy-eyed "praise" services just aren't cutting it. The kids seem to want "reality" shows, and churches haven't yet identified the new approach that will bring them in.

While the churches are faltering, audiences for The Science Channel, The Discovery Channel, and similar educational sources are growing rapidly. Evidence supporting evolution, and clear explanations of the formation and development of the universe are now commonplace. Humanity's short tenure in the overall scheme of things is becoming common knowledge. Given this information, it's hard to believe that God is homo-centric.

At bottom, one must believe either that there is a purpose to creation, or not. Understanding the workings of the universe does not shed much light on this question - it is a matter of faith. Will the Christian church evolve such that it can deal with this mystery and attract the next generation to a new understanding of what practicing religion should be? I hope so.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Idiocy Lives On!

Some of us were once of the mind that the incredible explosion of information in today's electronic world would free us from idiocy. After all, the answers to lots of questions would be at our fingertips!

And, to some extent we were right. Any number of facts are at my fingertips now. I think of a question, type some keystrokes, and there it is - the answer. What is the population of South Carolina's capital? Got it. But it turns out that most of the important questions don't relate to easily retrievable facts. So, idiocy can still thrive in this modern era.

After church on Sunday I stopped to talk with a young man whose primary claim to fame is that he's a veteran of the first Gulf War. Almost immediately he informed me that he had been placed on a "terrorist watch list". I was shocked, and I asked, "How do you know that?". He replied with a straight face, "Because Glenn Beck said that the government believes Iraq War veterans are potential terrorists!" Actually, I think the guy was a bit proud of his new status as a potential enemy of the Obama administration, but I digress.

I'll be seeing the young man again, soon, and I plan to continue the discussion about "How do you know that?" There are any number of good reasons why putting all Gulf War veterans on a terrorist watch list would become general knowledge in a very short time. There are also some good reasons why doing such a thing would be preposterous from a management standpoint. In other words, it would be a dumb idea that would be almost immediately on the front page of every newspaper in the country if it was implemented. But this guy believed it because Glenn Beck said it, maybe. Beck-speak is more artful than the thinking process of most who listen to him.

In summary, having lots of information at our fingertips does not keep us from being idiots. Critical thinking is still a basic human requirement if one is to avoid living in an Oz-like world or being subject to the whims of every manipulative person who makes one a target. Testing assertions that seem important - such as being put on a terrorist watch list - is something that I'd put in the "critical thinking" bucket. Back to Critical Thinking 101, young man.

As an afterthought, I'd like to close by saying that having the ability to change your mind when presented with new facts is a most valuable quality. People who are not embarassed by new information that affects a previously held position, but who embrace the new and change their behavior or their plans as a result of it, have a competitive advantage over those who don't. When I say, "Thanks for letting me know", I mean it. Information is power, after all.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Disappointed in America

I admit it. I've lived a sheltered life. Although my parents struggled hard to get started and raise five kids, I grew up in a great community and school system, and I was taught mainstream Christian values. After maturing a little in the Army and a little more after being married and having children, I settled down to work in another great community and found a church home filled with bright, caring people. Slowly my religious and social views moderated as I took more seriously what I read in the gospels; "love God, and your neighbor as yourself".

All that happened before the new flavor of self-professed "Christian" leaders took over much of middle America in 1994. From the start, they preached a different gospel from mine. They turned introspective church services into rock concerts. They preached "believe, and get get rich!" rather than "don't take thought of tomorrow". They did a lot of judging, but little confessing, and a few of them did major whoring. Their educational institutions turned their backs on science, and they ridiculed academic learning. But, worst of all, these leaders taught people to turn their backs on the poor, the weak, and the different. And they reveled as the money rolled in and their converts elected ignorance to government.

Now it's 2009. A new man is president, a non-white man who has prompted more "Christian" racism than I could ever have imagined in America. That man has put forward a vision that forwards the historically Christian concepts of responsibility and compassion, but he is being shunned by the new false Christians whose Gods are money or racial pride, and who follow those who appeal to these base interests. Sadly, these latter folks through their electoral power are now able to stand in the way of a new day for America.

Obama is not perfect, but he is more perfect than I. He's the president, but he now understands the limits of presidential power. In our democracy a lot of people must be on board to do anything important, and, probably need the prompting of an emergency as well. FDR, for example, needed Pearl Harbor to get the isolationist Republicans on board. At the present time, we have impending calamities but not yet emergencies in health care, social security, financial regulation, and overall federal and state spending. Obama is capable of leading bi-partisan solutions to these vexing issues, but the false Christians stand in the way because he does not look like them and has more education than they do. Who could have predicted this when I was growing up in America?

I'm disappointed in what's happened to America. We glorify our history but so many of us forget we were founded on the principles of religious and personal freedom. Too many of us have more pride in our colleges' football teams than in the scholars they were founded to produce. Too many of us overlook our own immigrant backgrounds when we spurn those who have immigrated later. Too many of us claim to be Christians but espouse selfish views that Jesus rejected. When the consequences of our foolishness finally overwhelm us, I hope it will be clear that we allowed the worst of us to have power over us. Even God will not save us from this folly.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Feeling Sorry for South Carolina

Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina yesterday provided the latest evidence that his state lives by a different set of rules. He forgot that congressmen are supposed to respect the office of the president even when they disagree with the president himself. He called out, "You lie!", when the president said illegal aliens would not get health care benefits under his health care reform recommendations. This outburst will improve his status on right wing radio and Fauxnews, where he'll get plenty of opportunities to explain that, although he apologized for his lack of respect, he was right to call out the president for what he still considers to be a lie.

Wilson's embarassment follows South Carolina's governor Mark Sanford's exposure as a hypocrite for making several trips to Brazil to visit his mistress despite his campaigning as a religious "family values" man. Sanford continues to argue that the controversy is overblown, although the state he represents is proud to claim it's one of the most conservative in the nation.

Neither of these incidents is surprising. The deep south is well known for its double standards. Those in power often behave like scions of Arab monarchies, who jet off to London and Monaco to indulge in activities that would warrant capital punishment in their own countries. Their conduct is normally kept under wraps because it is so common; to convict one would be to jeopardize many. So it is in South Carolina, except that front page exposure forces the power structure to join together in protest that their leaders' gaffes are exceptions.

One could argue that South Carolinians can't be blamed for making the mistakes of electing people like Wilson and Sanford. These are the people who take pride in Bob Jones University, where students learn that people coexisted with dinosaurs. A place so isolated, poor, and provincial as South Carolina resembles Afganistan more than North Carolina. Perhaps we should give the people a break for simply being true to their culture. It would be a kind act to recognize the sad state of the place and feel sorry for those must live in the land of the double standard.

So, I feel sorry for South Carolina and the majority of the people who live there. They've been conditioned to believe that backwardness is a virtue. As with Afganistan, fixing the structural problems of their society is a task fraught with uncertainty, a task with no end in sight. In the meantime, stay tuned for the next headline from Columbia (that's the capital, in case you hadn't heard of it. Population, 116,000; a major metropolis.).

Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Wonderful Summer - No Local Warming!

Summer is almost over. Even during the mid-day, today, we had a cooling breeze along with the bright sun. The hummingbird feeder became deserted this week, Ma and Pa hummingbird now fleeing to somewhere in South America. One of the maples in the churchyard is just beginning to turn yellow. There's football on TV, and the golfers are winding up their competitive year. I can't say I'm happy about this, because I love to feel the sun's warmth and sweat on my brow. But summer comes and goes, and fall foliage has unforgettable beauty here in western New York.

Every day or two I hear some new outcry about global warming, and I take the news seriously even though I won't be around to suffer its consequences. But weather is more local for each of us, not global. And local weather this summer in Rochester has been cooler and wetter than normal.

My middle son, who grew up here before becoming a denizen of Phoenix, came home to a place he described as a jungle. Our air conditioning bills have been anemic compared to most years, and not once did I get a "burned out" spot in my yard. I heard plenty of complaints from lake cottage owners, though; "not enough rays!" All in all, a very pleasant summer.

At my age it doesn't take much to please me. Seeing a friend, enjoying a cold beer, watching a pretty girl walk by, hitting a solid golf shot, having supper in the sun room with Good Witch while watching the birds at the feeder, or reading a good book... A comfortable summer is a bonus!

Friday, September 04, 2009

A Death in the Family

The family cat got cancer and slowly faded away. The family took heroic measures to prolong the cat's life while shielding it from too much pain. But the end was sure to come, and one day it was time to let the cat go, peacefully.

The vet and her helper came to the house. Mom and dad and the two young children sat down together with the dear old cat. I imagine they talked of life, and love, and the end of life. Then, the cat was eased out of the life that no longer held interest for her...and the cat was no longer the cat, anymore.

It was a sad day in some respects, but a day to learn about realities that even a child can understand at some level and later come to understand more deeply.

My child and his wife are much smarter about some things than I am.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Something for Sunday

One of my oldest friends, an ordained minister who had his own mediation service for many years, preached at our church today. He's the guy who I accompanied to Washington to protest the last Iraq War. He's the lefty that I, a once-righty, have argued with for almost 30 years. He's a fine artist and a tough competitor in a sporting event. And, he's really tough when it comes to talking about how religious people should act: for Christians, Christ-like, or, if you're Jewish, Isaiah-like.

Below is Isaiah 58:1-11, which was the scripture for Jack's sermon. ATTENTION ALL RIGHT-WING CHRISTIANS! This is the Bible speaking ("The Message" paraphrase).

"Shout! A full-throated shout! Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout! Tell my people what's wrong with their lives, face my family Jacob with their sins! They're busy, busy, busy at worship, and love studying all about me. To all appearances they're a nation of right-living people—law-abiding, God-honoring. They ask me, 'What's the right thing to do?' and love having me on their side.

But they also complain, 'Why do we fast and you don't look our way? Why do we humble ourselves and you don't even notice?' "Well, here's why: "The bottom line on your 'fast days' is profit. You drive your employees much too hard. You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won't get your prayers off the ground. Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like?

"This is the kind of fast day I'm after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer. You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.' (This ends the Isaiah quotation)

I'M TIRED OF HEARING PEOPLE SAY "WE ARE A CHRISTIAN NATION". We are nothing of the kind. Those who sputter about the right to bear arms resemble Nazi's more than Christians. As you recall, Hitler attempted to convert the German Christian church into an arm of the militarized Aryan Nation; the radical right seems to be following this example to the letter. Only if these "Christians" start quoting and following Isaiah 58 will we have a lot more Christians in our nation, and that's not something I'm likely to witness.

Here is Jack's unison prayer of confession for this morning. It's simple and direct. It tells it like it is.

"I read in a book
That a man called Christ
Went around doing good.

It is very disconcerting to me
That I am so easily satisfied
With just...going about.

Forgive me.
Help me to change."

When all American Christians can say this prayer together, and then act on it, we will be a nation where many true Christians reside.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Senior Citizen Malaise

I'm driving the volunteer ambulance tonight for the first time in six months. After ten years of intensive volunteering and management activity at the ambulance corps, I took a break. Surprisingly, I found it easy to fill productively the 80-90 hours each month that I had devoted to that activity. Now I've returned, but not to resume that schedule. Mostly, it's because of the "been there, done that" syndrome. As I've aged, I've found that many previously interesting activities fall into that category. Maybe it's senior citizen malaise.

Some people love a routine and feel lost if their schedule is disrupted. Some people are fearful of the new, or of the unfamiliar, or of the difficult, or of the emotionally-charged. Not me. I love the interruption, the unexpected, the challenge, and the conflict. Those things force me to extend myself, to learn, to win or lose, or to settle something. I'm living if I'm doing these things, but age tends to reduce the opportunities for adventures of all kinds.

This summer I've been back on the Appalachian Trail, which has become more of a struggle with the elements and my endurance but is mostly just the same hard slog interrupted by chance meetings with interesting people. I also water-skiied and did not fall, and kayaked, and sailed a little sailboat, and played some golf, and I dove into a lake and swam awhile. I rode a horse for the first time in twenty years yesterday. And, I'm working out on a regular basis and seeing my muscles start to bulge again. But, none of this was new. I enjoyed all of it, but there was no thrill. I miss the thrill.

The season is beginning to change. The sun is setting earlier, and the grass is wet with dew in the morning. Farmers are cutting their hay and harvesting many of their vegetables. Fall brings a change in routine, with activities put on hold for the summer now resuming. But they are the same activities. I need something new.

Maybe I'll try Pilates or yoga, both of which would require concentration and exertion. Perhaps I'll find a way to mentor some kid who needs help. Or, it might be fun to attempt some serious writing, because I know I'd have to study composition in order to produce even a barely acceptable product. And, thinking "out of the box", there's a chance I could learn some mechanical skill even though I'm not very handy; I'd like to know how to make blades very sharp, for example. There's a world of the new out there, so it's just a matter of getting excited about something. I've got to be purposeful about finding that something, or two, or three.

Senior citizen malaise is a common problem. Many of us Medicare-eligible folks seem to be concerned only about our medical problem of the day, or counting our money over and over again, or complaining about why today's world isn't as good as yesterday's. I don't want to fall into that syndrome. If I can stay future-oriented, constantly looking for the next thing, I'll be alive regardless of how long I live. Being thrilled would be a bonus!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Late Summer Vegetables

Upstate New York has a great climage for growing things. Not far from where I live are orchards that produce more apples than any state except Washingon. South and east of my home are miles and miles of lovely hillside and lakeside vinyards that produce a wide variety of wines, some of them quite good. We have a warm sun, cooler evening temperatures, and plenty of rain. But it's the vegetables I'm thinking of tonight.

What's for dinner and dessert? Within a short distance I can find roadside stands selling fabulous local produce at reasonable prices. One such stand is at a small farm about one mile from here. Sweet corn, beautiful big tomatoes, zuccini, cucumbers, green peppers, acorn squash, blueberries, red raspberries ( pick your own, anyone?), peaches, plums, and melons. How about a dozen fresh eggs from the henhouse for $3.00, or homemade peach or raspberry jam? As bonuses you can pet a beautiful old female german shepherd who longs for your touch, or Mrs. Munz will give you some tips on how to best prepare the veggies you just bought.

It's a short season here, but glorious. For a couple months Good Witch and I can't wait to get to the dinner table. It's hard to find room for a small piece of meat on the plate, with all the various veggies competing for space. Plus, I can eat all I want and the needle on the bathroom scale moves in the right direction.

Tonight's hit was fresh tomato slices sprinkled with Italian dressing, crumbly blue cheese, and salt & pepper. Oh, my!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Health Care Plan and Obesity

Listening to an NPR discussion of the health care plan the other day, I heard a libertarian caller come out strongly against the plan. One of his arguments was that it was unfair that he, who takes care of himself, should end up paying for the high health care costs of the obese, who don't take care of themselves for the most part. After thinking about this for awhile, I find it hard to disagree with his contention.

Insurance, which is what the health care plan is, has always taken risk into account. High risk means high insurance cost. If you were the insurer, you wouldn't argue with this. As an insured, you know that if you have tickets or collisions, your auto insurance goes up. If you live where hurricanes are prevalent, your homeowners goes up. If you own a pit bull or a chow, maybe you don't qualify for liablility insurance. If you smoke, your life insurance premium is higher. But nobody's talking about obesity and the cost of health care insurance. Why not?

As I've ranted about in other posts, obesity is a major cause of many chronic diseases that are expensive to treat. And, contrary to what some would say, most obesity is voluntary...put in more calories than you burn off, you get fat. In most cases, obesity is as voluntary as speeding, living in a hurricane zone, owning a pit bull, or smoking. In short, obese people are very high risk for requiring extensive long term health care. Why should the general population pay for the excessive costs of their inappropriate voluntary behavior?

An often-mentioned component of the health care plan would provide coverage for the "uninsurable" or those with "preexisting conditions". Based on my ambulance experience, I'd be willing to bet that a high percentage of people who fit this criteria are obese. Giving these folks insurance at normal rates represents a reward for unhealthy behavior and a financial penalty for those who try to take care of themselves.

I'd be the first to admit that diseases are caused by a multitude of factors, including the genetics that make one tend to be obese. But, even a genetic tendency toward obesity does not cause it; the calories still need to be eaten. It's known that 32% of adult Americans are obese, the highest rate of any developed country, by far. This is a major problem, and not just a financial problem.

If we are to have government get involved in paying for health care, then government needs to manage the spending. Putting a mandatory high premium on the cost of health care for obese citizens is not only the fair thing to do but also the most positive. Insurance is insurance.

"Pre-existing conditions" can be voluntary or involuntary. I'm not asking for high rates on those who have involuntary pre-existing conditions. But obese folks should pay more, and not a little more. Tough love.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

To Thimscool

"Thimscool" is one of my commentors. Yesterday he sent me a poignant poem titled "Brothers in Arms". It echoes my feeling about war, that so much of it is futile and that so many lives are lost or irrepairably damaged for no good reason. Yet it also points out that there is no more solid cameraderie than that experienced by those who fight together. You can read the poem in his comment.

Thimscool is also thinking about theology, as I often do. He wonders why I don't take the Bible literally, and why I think God would allow our world to be destroyed by a natural catastrophe. He must think that I'm a strange Christian!

Regarding the Bible, I'd say that over many years of reading it I realized that there were lots of (meaning, very many) factual contradictions in it. On top of that, and more importantly, it contains plenty of theological contradictions. A lot of this was resolved for me when I learned more about the Bible's diverse authorship and editing. The contradictions were generally due to varying cultural and political views, and the different "memories" of the many writers...not to understate that they were writing about the most difficult subject in the universe, that is, the ineffable creator of it. Given the challenge I think they did a fine job, but if one believes God "literally" inspired the Bible, then God is certainly not perfect. Since I do believe that God is "perfect", it must be true that God tolerates the poor efforts of men and women to comprehend the Godly and write about what God means to them in their own space and time.

A more scholarly review of Biblical contradictions can be found in a book that our friend RWorld is reading: Bart Ehrman's "Jesus Interrupted: revealing the hidden contradictions in the Bible and why we don't know about them". Ehrman is a respected expert on the Bible. I'd also recommend the Old Testament DVD series by Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, who I've blogged about, which explores the various authors and their often divergent purposes in an interesting way. This information informs my Christianity rather than damaging it, makes it more meaningful and less dependent on popular ideologues who in most cases distort what I see as clear meanings of the Bible as a whole. For example, any pastoral speech that does not seem to come from a core concept of "love" I regard as non-Biblical.

Regarding God's willingness to let mankind be destroyed by natural catastrophes, the Bible says God will not destroy humanity with another flood. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of other options wide open. In a previous post I mentioned a dual star system that could explode at any time, sending a huge burst of gamma rays right at our earth, in which case we would be extinct in short order. We are also subject to impacts from large asteroids, the outcome of which would be to destroy agriculture and, thereby, almost all of us. Giant volcanic eruptions, such as those in the Yellowstone Park area, could accomplish the same result; unfortunately, the Yellowstone eruption happens about every 250 million years and is currently due. I don't expect any of these things anytime soon, but then again, any of them could happen this month. So, let me say "goodbye " now, just in case. (There are plenty of reliable science sources for the above information. This is pretty basic stuff.) God made the natural laws that cause these cataclysms, you know.

I believe God created everything, and within that, us. I also believe God is more than just "aware" of us, and I hope that our having the capability to envision God and to respond to God was part of a plan that keeps our souls alive and with God in some way, after our physical death. But there is no reason to believe that we are alone in this situation, or that God has any special interest in the long term survival of our species. I could even envision a scenario where a loving God has given us the ability to survive by our own concerted action, but we die as a species because we've not been able to act in a concerted manner. "Oh, well. I tried", lamented God after reviewing our final failure. Mr. Thimscool, as a person who seems to believe in responsibility, is it impossible for you to believe God would like to see us exhibit some of it? After all, God gave us brains.

I'm 65 now, and every year I feel smaller and God seems larger. I am so grateful for my life, and grateful that, unlike so many other lives, my life has been priviledged and not marred by disaster. I also have to confess that the more I learn, the less I feel that I am special. We are tiny creatures with unbelievable limitations, whether we understand that or not. This is not to say that life is pointless; it is all we have to work with, and all God has given us. Therefore, I will rejoice in it, experience it to the fullest I'm able, try to recognize my total dependence on God's creativity and mercy, and go to my death with a sense of expectation.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

He did not "pass by on the other side"

I had to bail out of my hike this week after 9 miles, unable to cope with climbing Connecticut (Birkshires) mountains in 90+ heat, 90+ humidity, and zero wind. I knew it would be difficult before I started, but I foolishly thought that taking it slow and drinking lots of Gatorade (from powder) would get me through. What I found out is that you lose water much faster than you can replace it.

I won't go into the symptoms that told me I was experiencing heat exhaustion, but they were obvious. I immediately pulled out my map to find the fastest way off the mountain to a main road, and I began hiking my exit, still on the AT. After a few hundred yards I crossed a beautful mountain brook, so I stopped there, prepared another bottle of Gatorade and dunked my feet and lower legs in the cold water for 10-15 minutes to lower my body's core temperature. I was surprised how much better that made me feel! Back on the trail again, I soon found the very steep (meaning, you can fall and die) descending side trail that took me to Massachusetts Route 7. I was careful going down...

Arriving at the road, I saw an entrance to the Housatonic State Park (the Housatonic is a beautiful river) close by, so I walked to within 100 feet of the entrance, put down my pack and hiking poles, and stuck out my thumb for a ride to my car which was parked 10 miles up the road.

A dozen cars and trucks passed me by, but shortly an older large Buick braked suddenly when it reached me. I had a ride! The truck popped open, I dragged my pack and sticks over and into it and parked myself in the front seat where the air conditioner was conveniently on high. I remembered that I had seen a black religious-looking book in the trunk.

The heavy-set driver asked me where I was going, and, upon hearing the answer, said that it was on his intented route. He looked at me and asked if I need to stop to get something to drink, and I answered that I had my Gatorade. I then right off asked him if he was a Christian man, mentioning that I had seen the black book in the trunk. He replied that he was an Orthodox priest who tended to several different Orthodox churches - Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, etc. - smaller churches, he said, and then he mentioned that Rochester, NY, where I live, has several larger Orthodox congregations. He had also done counseling, his explanation leading me to think it had been his way to make a living for awhile.

We chatted briskly as the 15 minutes of our ride together progressed to its conclusion at my blue van. He gave me a minimal synopsis of the four things that he believes make for true religion; contemplation, submission, contrition, and right actions, I believe he said. I told him I was a liberal Presbyterian who sees the model for life in Jesus's actions. We quickly shared experiences of people needing the love and care of others. Then we came to my car, parked safe and sound on the roadside.

My new friend of yesterday was a priest who, upon seeing a stranger needing help on the side of the road, did not pass by. He offered me more help than I requested. He was very much like the Good Samaritan in Jesus's famous answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" As I thanked him and prepared to exit his car, he waved his right hand in the Catholic sign of blessing. But in fact, his ride was the blessing.

Jesus ended his story with, "Go and do likewise." It will be fun to try, and I have a new experience of brotherly love to help me remember the lesson.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The "Death Panel"

I had a wonderful day on the links today, cashing in on a golf outing that I'd bought at a church auction. Two friends and I tooled around the golf course, not paying too much attention to scoring. Then it happened...we did something that ultimately brought our attention to the "death panel".

On the third hole we invited a a single golfer who caught up with us to join our group, and he accepted the invitation. He was a very fit 77 year old of Italian extraction named Joe. Joe could really hit the golf ball despite having a knee replacement last fall. He was amiable, and he helped us play at a slower rate so that we weren't always waiting for the group ahead of us.

On the tenth tee Joe said he was really concerned about the Obama health care plan, especially the "death panel".

"You see", Joe said, "when old people get sick they will have to be reviewed by the death panel to see whether or not they get any treatment! This is no good!"

This was my first personal experience with someone who's been suckered in to the "death panel" scam, the lie apparently first cooked up by a conservative female New York politician who was once Lt. Governor until George Patacki sacked her. She said it, she got quoted by the other conservative shills over and over again, and now Joe thinks it's the gospel truth.

In my world there are gradations of sins. One of the ones on the more unpardonable side is to misrepresent someone else's position. It's one thing to espouse a position that you, yourself, do not believe, and many politicians do this. It's another thing to misrepresent another's views to a third party. It's a despicable thing, a thing that I sincerely hope Ms. Ex-Lt. Governor does many extra years in purgatory to atone for...that is, unless she gets her just desserts in this world before her demise. But for now, she's done her work well. Joe believes her lie.

(Author's note: I have edited out the last line of this post, where in anger I made a rather crude remark regarding this lady's character. I take it back. Instead, I'll just say that I continue to be surprised by the baldfaced dishonestly of some purportedly educated people who, by making false statements, create fear in others in order to influence their position on a matter of importance. There is money involved in these actions, as many of us understand. But is it worth it?)

Sunday, August 09, 2009

An "Eisenhower Republican"

A reader recently asked why I'm still a republican, considering that I rant against the current bunch of republicans and their repugnant spokespersons. Frankly, I'd love to see the republicans come back, since they once stood for something. Here is my answer to the question.

I'm proud of my political roots. Believe it or not, republicans were once honorable. I'm what they call an "Eisenhower republican". In short, we're for fiscal responsibility, non-interventionism in foreign affairs, social moderation, and individual freedom.

Eisenhower republicans would insist on pay as you go budgets, would never have started Vietnam or Iraq War II, would support national health care in this new day and age, and are fine with whatever people do voluntarily as long as they don't directly hurt anyone else. If you recall, Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex as a threat to our democracy, and history has proved him right.

I may be dreaming, but I hope the moderate, thoughtful side of the party has a resurgence when these racist, phony-religionist, know-nothing republicans are finally and totally discredited.

Why don't I join the democrats? Well, they're in hock to some pretty disreputable interests. The big unions, in particular the teachers, public employees, and auto workers, have won concessions beyond reasonability and they have proven to be as selfish as robber barons during this economic downturn. The trial lawyers, another group of big contributors, have made a mockery of our justice system by resisting medical malpractice reform and penalties for frivolous lawsuits. And, the democrat's core consists of radicals in many areas - gay-lesbian-transexual, environmental, animal rights, you-name-it they got'em. Don't get me wrong, I'm for unions, lawyers, sexual freedom, animals, etc. - but, let's not be crazy. Ike was a moderate...all things in moderation. That was my advice to my children, and I stand by it.

If I had to choose between the current crop of so-called republicans, people who disdain education and espouse "Christian" hatred, and the democrats, kind-hearted but owned by the corrupt and the daffy, I suppose I'd choose the democrats and hold my nose. The country might be able to hold the democrats back, but the current republicans (influenced by "C Street") could possibly guillotine their opponents in the name of purity and thereby win out. I like my steak rare, but I'm against capital punishment. So there you have it.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Another Milestone of Learning

As my few regular readers know, Good Witch and I have been pretty regular about taking courses from The Learning Company. We're concerned that our brains might atrophy if someone doesn't force us to think occasionally! Tonight we finished "Great Figures of the New Testament", a 24-lecture course by Professor Amy-Jill Levine.

Professor Levine, a Jew, holds the endowed New Testament chair in the religion department of Vanderbilt University. She's sharp and she's entertaining. She knows her stuff, and now we know a lot more stuff, too. My mind diverts to consider RWorld's recent post about how our culture pays less attention to experts than it should, and it occurs to me that Professor Levine, a Jew, knows far more about the New Testament than most Christian preachers ever will. Vanderbilt University obviously felt she was a prize catch!

Having finished the course, I reflect on its affect on my Christianity. Well, even the gospel writers had considerably different interpretations of Jesus, so I suppose I'm allowed to come to my own conclusions. Jesus was clearly human, and he said and did things so "pure" that it's hard for me to believe he was not "of God". But I have made a commitment never to limit God, so to say that Jesus is the "only Son", or "only Way", just doesn't cut it with me. I'm more comfortable with the idea that Jesus is "my Way". I can live and die with that.

Good Witch and I will next tackle "Shakespeare's Tragedies", a 24-lecture course. We've enjoyed learning history, music, psychology and physiology, hard science and religion from The Learning Company. Now it's time for literature. We'll keep you posted.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Conservative "1984"

Listen to conservative talk radio or bloggers and you hear the idea that Obama and the Dems are bringing us 1984 - big government that does all and rules all. It's a scary thing, to think that government could control all information and thereby mold our hopes and fears. We would then be subject to - dare I say it's name? - MISINFORMATION! The truth is, MISINFORMATION is the hallmark of conservative talk radio, most conservative commentators, and a great many conservative politicians.

RWorld recently did a great job satirizing the conservatives' constant repetition of the proven falsehood that Obama is not a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, his blog doesn't get read in the south, where fewer than half of the citizens believe Obama is truly a citizen.

Conservative misinformation on health care reform is gagging me out. I could live with half-truths, the mother's milk of politics, but these guys are making the Swift-boaters look like Honest Abe. No, I don't believe we'll be counseled to commit suicide when we're old under the democrat's health care reforms, or that the plan will cover full term abortions. These guys have no shame.

In the interest of being fully informed I sometimes turn the dial to my local Clear Channel talk station. I want to hear what's on the opposition's mind and give it a fair chance; after all, I am still a republican and I once considered myself a mild conservative. These days it's rare I can take five minutes of it, maybe ten if there are interesting commercials. It's the lies and constant character assassination that makes me punch in the station change before I begin to scream.

One does not have to be a professional fact checker to get the goods on these guys and gals. In fact, you will notice a distinct lack of facts, i.e., evidence that a statement is likely to be true. In place of fact, one gets repetition; the idea being that a statement made over and over and over is likely to burn itself into the victim's brain. When repetition gets repetitive, they switch to comparisons: "Senator SoandSo's affair, while unfortunate, pales in comparison to Bill Clinton's." How many scummy republican senators and governors can you hide behind one Bill Clinton, I wonder?

Although the constant MISINFORMATION peddled by prominent conservatives tarnishes the republican party, I'm sure there are more than a few notable republicans who have some respect for truth. Unfortunately, they've been all too silent regarding the sins of their fellows. In the long run, this is going to be a big problem for them. Why do I think so? Do you need a fact? OK. They stuck with Bush while the war and the economy went down the drain. The voters remembered...