Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Ending" the War

Cracks me up to hear people say that they're going to "end" the war in Iraq, that "we" need to end the war in Iraq. Does anyone with half a brain truly believe that our pulling out of Iraq would end the war there? It's our presence there, I submit, that is actually preventing war.

I guess this is where we as philosophers need to define our terms. There was a war in Iraq. But it only lasted about a week. Since then it's been bombings and mayhem--not what I would call a war. A war is between folks in uniforms, between nation states, between actors who would be recognized as soldiers by the Geneva Convention.

Since then it's really, for us Americans, only been a police action. And that's what's so frustrating. Why do we have to be over there policing them? Why won't they police themselves? Simple. If they had to police themselves, it would become war. Dennis Miller had it spot on when he said on his radio show about a week or so ago that we don't need to get to a point where they like each other, we only need to a point where they stop shooting each other.

They're not there yet. So it's on us to stand in between 'em. Until they can hug it out. We're the teacher on the playground at recess. And like it or not, we're the only super power so it's on us. (Breaking news: the UN can't do it, NATO won't do it.) A terrible sacrifice to pay.

But to say we can "end" the war? How naive. How conceitedly Ameri-centric. As if we have the power to end it. Pull out now and they'll fight it out. And that will be on us. And in the end, that will come back to bite us in the butt.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Lame Duck Pleasures

It must be truly nice for some of the pressure to be off. . . .

And this one's even better.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

When Times Are Good

Peggy Noonan can always be counted on. In reference to Michelle Obama's quote earlier this week, "you really don't want a couple in the White House whose rope of affection to the country seems lightly held, casual, provisional. America is backing Barack at the moment, so America is good. When it becomes angry with President Barack, will that mean America is bad?"

In other words, if Michelle Obama is proud of America now just bc. we're gaga for Hubby and we're demanding change, will that mean she'll go back to being ashamed of America if things go bad for him and his poll numbers drop? Gotta love that question.

Here's the whole read.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Parade for Petraeus

America should hold a parade for General Petraeus and the troops.

Not a victory parade but a parade of thanks. Let's not repeat mistakes of the past: let's say thank to those who have served so successfully. Now is the time and what is more patriotic, more appreciative than a parade?

A parade down Pennsylvania Avenue on the Fourth of July or Veterans Day would give everyone who supports our troops—Democrat and Republican, pro-war and anti-war—a chance to show that support, a chance to say thank you for your service and sacrifice.

So . . . how do we do it? Send your ideas, let's see if this can grow some legs.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Masterpiece One--"Dock of the Bay"

This is the first in what will be a string of posts revealing what IMHO are masterpieces. Songs, pictures, phrases, whatever. I can't define them, but I know them when I see them--better than good, greater than great.

(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay was recorded only hours before the untimely death of the great Otis Redding in December, 1967 and released a month later. At the time I was five years old and living in San Diego. The dock of the bay for me will always be the submarine pier where we would go for an occasional, extra special tour of the boat, sometimes topped by a dinner in the ward room. With Boston cream pie for dessert. A diesel submarine--what an adventure for a five year old boy! All these years later I can still smell diesel and creosote, still hear the sound of the band playing Sousa marches as subs departed and returned from six month WestPac cruises, and still be enthralled by the crispness of orders barked and salutes snapped.

For Redding, it was something completely different, I'm sure. "Two thousand miles I roamed, just to make this dock my home." It can get no better than that.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Because They're They

Who'da thunk that anyone could beat Billary?

Hil. was the apparent shoo-in, world record fund raiser, heir to the Presidency . . . whipped by a lad from Chicago (or is it Hawaii? Cambridge?).

It all came back to what they are--Bill and Hillary--the ultimate Ivy League power couple. What was it she said in the snows of New Hampshire in 1988, elect him and you get me for free? Something like that.

Well it turns out, the reason she lost is that we'd had enough of him, enough of them. Like the adolescent he is, he just couldn't keep out of it. America knew that for Billary, this was as much about him as it was about her. The prob is we don't really like her. And we don't want to return to the snarlin's under the Oval Office desk. Remember, if we were to elect her, we'd get him for free. (And I bet he'd have had a key to the Oval Office for use while she'da been out making life fair for every last American.)

All it took was an alternative who could deliver a promise of hope.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Obama's Soc. Sec. "Coverage"

Hopped on Obama's issues website after hearing the rumor that he wants to eliminate the cap on Social Security wages. If you're not familiar, right now we all pay SS taxes on the first $97,500 we earn. That figure is matched by our employers so that we pay $6045 out of the first $97,500 and the employer pays $6045 more.

The theory behind the cap is that SS was originally intended to be a supplement to retirement. We would get back according to what we put in. It was not meant to be a welfare-type program where the folks who didn't pay much in (or any in) would get back as much as everyone else.

Senator O says this on his website:
"The first place to look for ways to strengthen Social Security is the payroll tax system. Currently, the Social Security payroll tax applies to only the first $97,500 a worker makes. Obama supports increasing the maximum amount of earnings covered by Social Security and he will work with Congress and the American people to choose a payroll tax reform package that will keep Social Security solvent for at least the next half century."

I love the use of the word "covered" here! That's not "covered", that's "taxed".

And then here in a op ed piece he wrote last fall:
"One possible option, for example, is to raise the cap on the amount of income subject to the Social Security tax. If we kept the payroll tax rate exactly the same but applied it to all earnings and not just the first $97,500, we could virtually eliminate the entire Social Security shortfall."

I take that to mean that all income would now be "covered"--the sky's the limit on this "coverage". I also take that to mean that this extra cash from the new "coverage" would be used to "virtually eliminate" the existing shortfall. I guess employers would have to match the "coverage" as well--call it double coverage, like in the NFL.

What might some unintended consequences be?

Let's take Dick and Jane. Dick teaches high school and coaches football in the 'burbs of New Jersey and makes $60,000 a year. Jane sells computer widgets, makes a base of $110,000, and had a great bonus/stock options reward last year of $40,000. I bet that's not uncommon for a good number of folks living in a metro area on either coast. What would Senator O's extra "coverage" mean to them?

An extra $6045 a year in taxes.

Now, how might that affect Dick and Jane's spending habits? Well, they're a little nervous these days bc. their house value is down over the last two years, their 404(k) is down over the last two months, and they're really worried about Jane's bonus this year bc. everyone's talking recession.

My guess is that they'll do two things. First, cut back on the doo-dads. They'll put off replacing the car, building a new deck, or buying that flat screen at Best Buy. They'll go to Six Flags instead of the Grand Canyon. This reduction in discretionary spending will only add to the "recessionary pressure", as it's called it on CNBC.

Second, they'll freeze or cut or, at the very least, give second thought to their charitable giving. They're already one of the decent givers at church with a $4,500 contribution to the annual fund. They were happy to do it. They're being asked to increase their pledge by ten percent. But with with an extra $500 a month going to SS, and house prices still falling, and the market in a tizzy. . . . .

And the YMCA that's doing a capital campaign for an addition? D & J will wait a year to commit just in case the the market hasn't found a bottom yet.

It's easy for Senator O to say he's just going to erase that cap. It might even be true that it's no big deal, Junior's SS in more important and D & J can "afford it".

It might not be so easy to deal with the opportunity costs and unintended consequences $6045 of extra "coverage" for Dick and Jane.

Just another way of looking at things. . . .

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Pain

As the old adage goes, it wasn't the fall that hurt, it was hitting the ground.

My brother the war hero helicopter pilot from Desert Storm says that when helicopters crash it's never one thing. There are always enough safe guards to catch any single mistake. Crashes only happen after a string of failures. (Same thing with revolutions and elections, but that's for discussion on another day.)

In my case, I decided to clean the gutters but it was raining so (1) the paved driveway was slippery wet. The ladder was an old (2) piece-of-crap extension ladder that, if I remember correctly, I picked up for free when I bought an old piece-of-crap house to rehab. I weigh (3) about 250 pounds. I went in to get my 16 year old son to hold the ladder, but he had fallen asleep in front of the TV and looked very peaceful. So (4) I let him sleep. I was only up about four or five rungs, I guess, holding on to the ladder (5) with one hand and (6) trying to stretch the hose up off the ground with the other. I, of course, have been known once or twice (7) not to listen to my wife who suggested once, maybe twice in the past that we should hire cheap immigrant labor to do this, guys who generally weigh only about 140 or 150 pounds and do this sort of thing every day. I, however, too often am (8) a little tight with a penny.

So down I went. A string of little things resulting in complete system failure.

Two broken wrists and a compression fracture of the L-1 vertebrae (tho, that may have been a fracture from an old high school injury that was merely aggravated).

And boy did it hurt. For two days, oxycontin wasn't even good enough to dim the pain.

But I surprised myself. Good Taoist that I guess I've become, it has been somewhat of an adventure in a very odd way. It's all about attitude, taking the bad with the good. I've been pretty lucky in life as far as the health goes. A concussion here and there, the back injury when wrestling in high school, sore knees now and again, and a heel problem for a while. But nothing like this. It really hurt.

For some reason I kept thinking of those who suffered in the Hanoi Hilton. James Stockdale and John McCain are the two whose accounts I've read. I could not imagine the will it took for them to endure years of this sort of pain--broken bones, separated shoulders, hours of beatings, the manipulation of injuries for added effect. Medical treatment withheld and for years. I was up and around in a couple days. But these guys. . . . what horror. Lucky me, I had oxycontin, then vicodin, and the comfort of knowing my doctor was a phone call away. I knew it would be over soon. Stockdale, McCain, and company faced, at the time, a less certain future. Hard to imagine.

So, while it did hurt, it was, like I say, an odd sort of adventure. Learning how to get out of bed. How to brush the teeth, button the pants, eventually how to turn the cars keys to start the car and how to open a jar. Shaking hands was real painful for a while but it seemed that every time I went to shake, it was too late before I remembered it was going to hurt and then I had to be too manly to show in any way that it hurt once I did shake.

The funniest thing? It gave me great satisfaction in an odd way to let people help me. Wifey was up all night one night waiting for me to get out of surgery and then home from work for three days. Middle son actually drove me to the hospital (after I woke him from his nap) and he and number three son were very sweet and caring during my recovery, helpful and with never a complaint. Dad was here for a couple days and then the in-laws for a few more. I got lots of cards, calls from two different minsters, a flurry of concerned emails, and more hugs than ever. It's just one of those things, one of those really good things: they were all happy to help. And I know that they know that, had the shoe been on the other foot, I'd have been happy to help them--and downright angry if not given the opportunity to help.

That's what it's all about, folks.

So thanks go out to all. I coulda really broken my back, coulda cracked my head like a three day old jack-o-lantern. Economically, I could be in a position where laid up means out of work, where the bills would be devastating, where there is not this wonderful family-and-beyond network of support. Yes, yes, it could have been worse.

Friday, February 15, 2008

FISA Nightmare

What the hell is wrong with these people? Have they no filter to separate what's important from what's not? I guess not when there's an opportunity to be on TV with a famous baseball player.

This FISA bill is no joke and shouldn't be a political football. They should be ashamed of themselves.

I hope the GOP beats them over the head with this thing.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Quit Cigs & Kill Yourself

It appears that quitting smoking may make you want to kill yourself. Well . . . no shit, Sherlock.

I saw this Whiney Boy (he had nightmares and thoughts of suicide, oh my!) on CNBC this morn followed by the PR gal from Pfizer, maker of Chantix, a drug used to help people quit smoking. No surprise to me that people who quit smoking may feel like killing themselves. It is, they say, addictive. And in so many parts of the country, few people are shunned so badly as smokers. Being made a pariah may tend to harm one's self-esteem.

Sad part is that while Whiney Boy gets his ten minutes of fame, Pfizer will have to spend bucks defending its drug.

By the by, neither Whiney Boy nor the gal from Pfizer could definitively say if the suicide rate amongst Chantix users is any higher than the normal suicide rate or the suicide rate of people caught in the throes of tobacco withdrawal. The figure mentioned, I believe, was that there were 34 suicides within a population of five million who were taking Chantix. If my math's right that's about one suicide in every 147,000 people taking the drug. Seems pretty low to me. High enough for another Black Box Warning, tho, evidently.

Glad I followed Grandma Ethel Myrtle's advice, "If you don't start smoking, you'll never have to quit."

A Vote for Bill

I live in a safe Dem district. Our guy won over 76 percent of the vote in 2004. 76 percent! That's not because he is so good that he is that much loved. It's because they drew this district just for him.

It pisses me off. The gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts is quite simply a threat to democracy. Districts are too white or too black, too Dem or too GOP--they're simply too safe. They're not drawn to be representative, but to protect incumbents. I find that to be particularly undemocratic.

Our representatives have no incentive to get anything done, no incentive to cooperate with comrades on the other side of the aisle. These districts drive representatives to the extremes of the political landscape. Think about it: if you represent a district that votes 76 percent Dem, what incentive do you have to make decisions based on what's right for the country? None. Instead, you make legislative decisions based on what it is that Dems think is right. Thus the Dems raise money, the GOPs raise money, challengers haven't a prayer, everyone gets re-elected, and nothing gets done. And the folks get frustrated and give Congress a 22 percent approval rating.

If a congressional district is gerrymandered to create a black majority district, what does that do to the surrounding districts? It makes them even more white. Those surrounding districts then are represented by Congressmen who no longer have any incentive to address concerns of the black community because the lines have been drawn to move black constituents out of their districts into the black majority district. Sure, you end up with a black congressman, but you also end up with congressmen in surrounding districts who have no interest in addressing the black agenda. In fact, they probably can raise more money and get more votes by standing against the black agenda.

Worse than any of that is the feeling of frustration and alienation that leads people to do silly things. Like what I did on Tuesday. I doesn't matter what I do in this safe Dem district--it's Democrat. So I switched my voter registration to Dem so I could vote in the Democratic primary. My hope was that I could make a difference and land a blow against the Billary Machine.

Funny thing happened on the way to the polls, tho. People decided (according to the polls, anyway) that they really don't like Billary any more. So my original plan--to vote Obama in order to throw a wrench in the Billary Machine--wasn't working. I couldn't vote for Obama if he had a chance of winning: he's a fluffernutter. I was really, really worried walking up to the polls. Had I been too clever in changing my registration from GOP to Dem? Was I really going to have to vote either for Billary or Obama? What was I going to do?

Imagine my surprise and delight when I got to the computerized voting machine (backed up by a paper ballot, of course) and found out that the other Dem candidates were still on the ballot. Yeeha! One of my fantasies has always been to vote for a dead guy. Here was my shot! I voted for Bill Richardson.

I do think I'll go ahead and switch back to GOP for the general. . . .


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What Happened

What happened was that I fell off the ladder. Broke both wrists and aggravated an old crack in the backbone. I was trying to clean the rain gutters. It's been something.

But that's not why I haven't been posting. It's mostly the mull factor. I've been mulling over where to take this thing called blog, how much time to put into it, how personal I should get. Blah, blah, blah.

An aggravating factor in my case--which I understand is a common thread amongst INTPs--is the struggle for quality. Since I got any good at it, writing has been hard work for me. Every word I'd like to be carefully chosen, every idea cleverly crafted. Unfortunately, too often, it's not worth the effort. So I skip it. And then I skip it the next day, and then the next. . .

What I need to do is not take myself so seriously. My writing should be more like my cooking. Some meals are symphonies, created for true pleasure. Others are thrown together just to get the young uns off my back. We can have both. And I think the blogoshere can endure both types of writing from your humble corespondent.

It's been more than a month since the fall but it's time to get back on with this. There's too much going on in the Worlds of politics and religion to stay quiet. Too much fun to be had.