Friday, December 23, 2011

A National New Year's Resolution

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure the domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Preamble to the Constitution of the United States

While we as a nation have never completely achieved the high ideals outlined in the Constitution, we have got ever closer over the last 224 years. And why is that? Because as a people we have kept our eyes on the prize. And I think that although we still have our eyes on the prize, it has become more of a moving target, and it is moving away from us. Washington is following the new Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rule.
An October report issued by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office spells out who is getting the gold: between 1979 and 2007 the top 1 percent of Americans with the highest incomes have seen their incomes grow by an average of 275 percent; the rest of us saw our incomes grow at a rate of just under 40 percent. During the same period the top one-fifth of earners in America earned more money than the bottom fourth-fifths combined.
And now the Supreme Court has decided that corporations are entitled to free speech (read: political campaign and lobbying contributions) the same as natural persons, except that corporate contributions are unlimited, while those of natural persons are capped at $2,500.
It is not surprising that politicians, Democrats and Republicans, are in the pockets of the wealthy. When your local representative holds a “town hall” meeting, he is listening but he is not hearing. If you wish to participate in the best government money can buy, you need to approach him with a $50K check in your hand.
As a result, the middle class is getting smaller, the homeless class is getting larger, at least five applicants show up for every job opening (although there have been reports of over 50 for some jobs), school budgets and programs are being cut and classes are getting larger, union-busting is going strong, and Republicans now want to privatize Social Security and all other so-called "entitlement" programs.
And Washington's response: "Tighten your belts – we are all in this together." Bullshit! Our current crop of politicians is in it for their puppet-masters; the rest of us can sink or swim. So much for forming a more perfect union, insuring domestic tranquility, yada, yada, yada. Congress almost shut down the country this past summer over a normally routine procedure: raising the debt limit.
So I suggest a New Year's Resolution for everyone: Let's elect representatives who really represent their constituents – leaders who will try to do what is good for the country regardless of whether it fits their ideology. And let's work to pass a constitutional amendment limiting personhood to human persons.

On another matter, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc. was heard saying that, “[Michelle Obama] lectures us on eating right while she has a large posterior herself." 
And here is a quote from Rush Limbaugh: "I'm trying to say that our first lady does not project the image of women that you might see on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue or of a woman Alex Rodriguez might date every six months or what have you." 
Here are pictures of these two gentlemen; I concede that both might be experts on the subject of overweight. We are so lucky to live during a time when there are no more important matters in Washington to discuss than the First Lady's butt.
















In order not to offend anyone, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas and/or a (insert your own holiday).
*****
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Executive Salaries.

     Much heat has been generated on the subject of the huge salaries received by the CEOs of major corporations. One popular method of illustrating the obscenity is by showing the CEO's salary as a multiple of a typical production worker's salary. It is not unusual for the CEO's salary to be equal to 300, 400 or even 600 times the hourly workers income.
     The following table is a listing of the 2010 salary and other income paid to the heads of several of our largest corporations.* Much of the “other“ income is not taxed until it is actually received. Because much of it consists of stock options, it may be considerably more valuable at that time then as shown here; options will be taxed at a maximum rate of 15%.
     Also shown is the executive's total earnings per minute, based on 40 hours per week for 52 weeks.

   Company            Total          Salary         Other        Per Minute
General Electric  21,428,765  7,300,000  14,128,765     171.20
Halliburton         14,893,916  1,358,500  13,535,416     119.34
IBM                   31,718,608  1,800,000  29,918,608     254.16
Gen. Dynamics   13,751,115  4,500,000    9,251,115     110.19
Ford                  26,520,515  4,550,000   21,970,515     212.50

     During the two minutes you have spent reading this article, the CEO of IBM would have earned $508.32. The earnings of a median worker would have been $.54.
     Not too bad.

* Earnings reported by Executive Paywatch.
******
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays

Meaning (mëning), n. what is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated. (Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary).

At this season a large number of letter-writers to the editor of any newspaper express concern over the use of the term “Happy Holidays” instead of the traditional “Merry Christmas.” The writers feel that the holiday is somehow demeaned by the former greeting.
The meaning of any expression is what the speaker intends it to be – nothing more, nothing less. If the listener takes some other meaning from the expression for any reason, e.g, the speaker has expressed it badly, the listener did not hear it correctly, or even if he disagrees with the speaker, it has no effect on the meaning. For this reason, the speaker should be careful to say exactly what he means. If he is a Christian, and Christmas has its usual deep meaning for him, he should say “Merry Christmas.”
In return, if the listener truly intends for the speaker to celebrate the holiday in a meaningful way, he should reply in kind: “Merry Christmas.”
If the speaker means only that the listener should enjoy the spirit of goodwill which the season implies, there is nothing wrong with “Happy Holidays.” The most devout Christian, Jew or Muslim should take the greeting in the spirit in which it is offered: a goodwill wish for joy and celebration.
But what about the banners and signs in business establishments?
Again, it is the preference of the store management which guides the choice. It is definitely not out of line for, say, a Christian bookstore to have a “Merry Christmas” banner. But not wishing to offend any customers - Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc. - a large department store will probably opt for “Happy Holidays.”
Political correctness has been blown way out of proportion. Although a word is only a sound we make to convey a meaning, there are some words which almost all people consider to be offensive, e.g., George Carlin's seven dirty words, or certain other words which are deliberately meant to be racial, ethnic or religious slurs. When these words are used, the speaker has demeaned himself far more than the object of his venomous outburst.
But whatever expression a speaker uses to convey goodwill, peace and joy, the listener should consider the intent behind the expression and accept the offering graciously, even though he might say it differently.
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My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Political Rite.

Rite (rīt), n. Any customary observance or practice. (Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary.)
Rite, n. A religious or semi-religious ceremony fixed by law, precept or custom, with the essential oil of sincerity carefully squeezed out of it. (Ambrose Bierce – The Devil's dictionary.)

The local newspaper recently announced that our district representative to Congress is scheduling a series of “town hall” meetings with his constituents in order to discuss his plans for creating jobs, and to listen to the participants' ideas on the subject. He holds these meetings several times throughout the year, so I feel justified in considering them “rites” under the first definition above, and it has been my experience that they also satisfy the second definition.
His ideas for creating jobs are not really ideas - they are ideology: (1) cut taxes, particularly on higher income taxpayers, and (2) cut government spending. These are the same trite recommendations which he makes in good times and bad, prosperity and depression, war and peace . . . ad infinitum. They are the prescription for any economic condition.
His mantra is, “Government cannot create jobs – only private industry can do that.” This begs the question, “What do you call the positions held by those 19 million people on the Federal, State and Local government payrolls?” (http://www.census.gov/govs/www/apes.html). And if the Federal government decides to order the next generation of fighter plane from Boeing, what do the workers on the project have, if not jobs? How about those involved in building highways or high-speed rail lines?
If his ideas for creating jobs do not constitute squeezing out the oil of sincerity, I don't know what does.
How about his plans for listening to the participants' ideas? The only way this guy listens to the ideas of participants is if they come with large campaign contributions. If you belong to the middle or lower income classes, you might as well talk to a box of rocks.
But he is not unique; on the contrary, he is typical of politicians of both parties. I realize that sounds cynical, but look at the record. The following is a list of President Bush's programs that were supported by big money and opposed by a majority of the electorate. What did President Obama do about them?

  1. Bush wanted tax cuts for all households; Obama and the electorate wanted cuts for 95% of them. Obama continued cuts for all.
  2. Bush supported large deficits. Obama continued them.
  3. Bush bailed out banks and auto companies. So did Obama.
  4. Bush and Obama supported immigration reform. Obama did nothing.
  5. Bush favored nuclear power and deep sea oil drilling. So does Obama.
  6. Bush's advisers came from Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. So have Obama's.

It is not surprising that both parties court big money; the first rule of politics is get elected, which is getting extremely expensive. But when they pretend to be listening to the electorate, whether at town hall meetings or otherwise, that is a rite which falls under definition two.
******
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Monday, November 14, 2011

An Open Letter To Joe Paterno

        Dear Joe,

First I want to congratulate you on your record as a coach, and on the many honors and awards you have received over the years. I especially want to applaud your stressing of academic achievement as well as athletic ability for your players. Such an effort is an important contribution toward the goal of turning out good, well-rounded citizens.
I know that you reported what you heard to your bosses, which is exactly what the law requires. But Joe, you know that as an exemplary citizen that is not enough.
I am reminded of the attack on Kitty Genovese in 1964. She was stabbed, but managed to escape her attacker for a short time. He came back 10 minutes later, raped her, and finished her off. Reportedly, several neighbors heard or saw parts of the attack, but no one called the police - If only one person had, she might be alive today.
I know this is not quite the same, but the principal is similar. Kitty lost her life, and these young boys lost a portion of their childhood.
So what was it, Joe? Sandusky was a friend? You didn't want to get involved? You thought you did your duty by reporting it to your boss? You were afraid it would hurt the team? All of the above?
I feel as if Santa Claus was caught stuffing mom's silver candlesticks into his sack after distributing the toys. Or the Easter Bunny took the garden gnome back to his nest.
To be fair, I don't understand why Mike McQueary didn't pick up a baseball bat and beat Sandusky over the head when he came across him. Mike had to know what was going on – if one sees a grown man with his penis in a 10-year-old's butt, it's as obvious as an elephant in a sock drawer – but he walked away.
Think of it this way: Put the football team on your left and the little boys on your right. Now ask yourself which is more important in the scheme of things: (1) A bunch of big kids pushing around a bag of air, or (2) The well-being of the little boys?
It's all about the kids, Joe.
Enjoy your retirement.
******
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How To Have Your Cake And Eat It Too – Join the GOP

Who said, “. . . more spending is not what California or this country needs,” and “. . .congressional Democrats and the administration continue to insist that we can spend our way out of this recession and create jobs, but the numbers just don't add up?" A Republican? Right.
And who said, "We don't spend money on defense to create jobs. But defense cuts are certainly a path to job loss, especially among our high-skilled workforces. There is no private sector alternative to compensate for the government's investment?" A Democrat? Wrong! Both comments were made by the same person – Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif!
In the first case, Rep. McKeon was speaking about President Obama's $825B stimulus package in 2009. In the second instance, McKeon, now Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, was speaking about the military budget, which faces spending cuts of up to $600B if the bipartisan deficit cutting panel can't find a compromise within the next 18 days. I wonder if he would say the same thing if one of the largest government contractors, Boeing, were not located in his home state.
This also brings up the question: Given that Pentagon spending is as large as that of the next twenty nations combined, how much do we need to spend in order to be safe from such dangerous predators as Kim Jong II of North Korea or Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe?
And getting back to the 2009 stimulus, this past August the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that in the second quarter of this year alone, the spending package increased the number of people employed by between 1 million and 2.9 million.
It seems to me that if either the Federal or state government decides to hire someone to repair a highway, dam, post office, whatever, that person has a job that did not exist before.
But not according to the GOP. Apparently if the government wants to build a war plane, the workers have a job. If the government wants to repair a highway, the workers have a . . . what?
******
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback

or at the Kindle Store.

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Objective For Occupy Wall Street

Since medieval times, corporations have been legal formats created by the government, such as the Crown, Governor, Legislature, etc., to enable citizens to do business as a group. As the American colonies developed and won their independence, corporations for the most part remained in the background. (The Boston Tea Party, wherein the Sons of Liberty dumped 342 crates of British East India Company tea into the ocean, was a notable exception.) The vast majority of Americans at the time lived and worked on small family farms.
The real threat was the unilateral, unaccountable power of King George III, and the founders of a new nation, skeptical of that kind of power, formed a government of checks and balances to prevent any one branch from getting too powerful. Although corporations were not mentioned in the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson famously noted that representative government’s purpose was “to curb the excesses of the monied interests.”
After the American Revolution, corporations remained small institutions, chartered at the state level for specific public purposes, such as banking, education, religion, helping the poor, constructing roads or canals, etc. Corporations could only exist for a limited time, could not make any political contributions, and could not own stock in other companies. Their owners were responsible for criminal acts committed by the corporation, and the doctrine of limited liability for shareholders did not yet exist.
Governments kept a close watch on how these corporations were being run, regularly revoking charters if corporations were not serving the public interest. For example, in 1832, President Andrew Jackson refused to extend the charter of the Second Bank of the United States, and the State of Pennsylvania revoked 10 banks’ charters.
Slowly though, corporations were gaining power. Arising out of the Industrial Revolution, a new wealthy class began influencing policy making, changing the rules governing the corporations they owned. Charters grew longer and less restrictive. The doctrine of limited liability – allowing corporate owners and managers to avoid responsibility for harm and losses caused by the corporation – began to appear in state corporate laws. Charter revocation became less frequent, and government functions shifted from keeping a close watch on corporations to encouraging their growth.
In January 2010, using a logic that defied common sense, in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission five Supreme Court Justices suddenly transformed corporations into human beings, with a power that flesh and blood humans do not have: they can spend unlimited amounts of money in order to buy elections.
It now appears that the only way the Citizens United decision can be overturned is by a constitutional amendment. In January a Hart Research survey found that 87% of Democrats, 82% of Independents and 68% of Republicans favored the passage of such an amendment.
I believe that if the Occupy Wall Street movement were to channel all its energy into calling for a constitutional convention to overturn this ridiculous decision, its goal of breaking the tie between big money and Washington could be accomplished. Passage of such an amendment might even bring a little sanity to the current political climate.
Get more information at www.freespeechforpeople.org
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My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Occupy Wall Street Movement

     It was no surprise that all the articles on the National News page of Monday's newspaper were concerned with the “officially” ended recession and various reactions to it. The major story discussed whether the ongoing “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) movement is here to stay or will just fade away as so many social movements have done in the past. I will get to the other articles shortly.
     The OWS movement is based on the premise that the one percent of households who control the “vast majority” of the nation's wealth do so while the remaining 99% are suffering as they struggle to make ends meet. Just as the Missouri mule skinner had to get his student's attention by hitting him with a baseball bat, I believe the term “vast majority” was picked out of the blue in order to get the attention of potential sympathizers; I do not believe that using fictitious figures will help the movement.
     Don't misunderstand me – the true figures are daunting enough. According to a study conducted by the Sociology Dept. of the University of California at Santa Cruz, as of 2007 the top one percent of households owned almost 35% of all privately held wealth – a substantial amount, but nowhere near a vast majority. However, if one includes the 50% wealth ownership by the next 19% of households, it indeed becomes a vast majority; the bottom 80% of households holds just 15% of the wealth.
     And the situation is deteriorating – another of the articles reports that during the “official” recession – December 2007 to June 2009 – the median household income fell 3.2%; during the period from the end(?) of the recession and June 2011 the median income fell 6.7%. The article speculates that the drop has been a result of (1) an increased number of unemployed people who have given up looking for work, and (2) the pay of the employed has not risen as fast as the inflation rate.
     A third article illustrates what Congress is doing to remedy the situation. Actually, when our representatives could not agree on whether to raise taxes or cut spending, they shuffled the whole problem onto a “Super committee,” which apparently cannot agree on what to do any more than Congress as a whole could. The committee has until November 23 to come up with $1.2T in additional deficit reduction steps to be undertaken over a ten year period. Any such recommendations by the committee are subject to an “up or down” vote by the Congress. If they don't pass, a “trigger mechanism” would automatically make across the board cuts of $1.2T in both military and domestic spending.
     Personally, I don't see how this translates to more stability for the nation's economic situation, but perhaps I don't need to; there is an emergency exit – none of the cuts would take effect until 2013, which means that next year Congress could pass new legislation which would void the whole thing.
     The last article quotes House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi as to the hypocrisy of certain Republican Congressmen. In particular, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is concerned about the “growing mobs,” and criticized “Occupy Wall Street” rooters as supporting “class warfare” by the “pitting of Americans against Americans.” This is the same Eric Cantor who, on September 12, 2009, told Tea Party partisans that they were “fighting on the fighting lines of what we know is a battle for our democracy." Pelosi is correct – when it comes to being two-faced, Cantor puts the god Janus to shame.
     Back to the movement; the mule skinner has an agenda to follow once he gets the mule's attention. According to Adbusters, a primary protest organizer, the central demand of the OWS protest is that President Obama "ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington." Good luck with that – neither the President nor any other politician is going to bite the hand that feeds his campaign.
     Among the rank and file OWS participants there seem to be two lines of thought about creating a formal agenda: (1) Draft specific demands about the unequal distribution of wealth in the United States, or (2) Keeping the agenda non-specific and allow the protest to grow. Hopefully the average voter will be persuaded to elect representatives sympathetic to the movement's central demand.
     All of this is going to require a huge amount of money, and getting money from the very people OWL is opposing, the well-to-do, is tantamount to a gnat bringing down an elephant.
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     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

High-speed Neutrinos

     On September 23rd researchers at CERN, Europe’s main physics laboratory, announced that subatomic particles called neutrinos had apparently sped from the lab’s headquarters near Geneva, through the Earth’s crust, to an underground detector 730km (450 miles) away, around 60 billionths of a second faster than light would take to cover the same distance. If this observation turns out to be true, it will mean that Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, which sets the speed of light as the limit of velocity in the Universe, is in need of tweaking.
     According to the Special Theory, traveling faster than light would open the possibility of travel through time, which would lead to several paradoxes. For example:
There was a young lady named Bright,
Who could travel faster than light.
She took off one day,
In a relative way,
And came back the previous night.
Could a person travel back in time and kill his grandfather before the time-traveler's father was conceived?
And a joke brought on by the neutrino finding:
The bartender says, “Sorry, but we don't allow faster-than-light neutrinos in here.”
A neutrino walks into a bar.
(You can't kick a neutrino out of a bar he has not yet entered.)
     But I digress. Although it could be that the neutrinos took a short cut through another dimension, interacted in an as yet unknown manner with the matter through which they passed, or any of several other exotic possibilities, the smart money is that a more mundane error will be found, e.g., in the synchronization of the clocks used in measuring the velocity.
     Whether or not this discovery turns out to be correct, the whole episode is a beautiful example of the way science works.
     Whenever a new scientific theory is suggested, scientists around the world immediately attempt to confirm or disprove it. Since 1905 Einstein's Special Theory has been confirmed in millions of observations, but as the neutrino finding suggests, scientists are still subjecting it to scrutiny. If even one confirmed result were to contradict the theory, the theory would be expanded to accommodate the finding, or in the extreme case, abandoned and replaced by a new one.
     In this case, it is highly unlikely that the Special Theory will need to be abandoned. Just as it expanded Isaac Newton's theories to accommodate new findings, the Special Theory will probably be adjusted to include the new discovery.
     Although science is built upon a foundation of prior discoveries, it is primarily a method of inquiry – not a structure. It will always be tentative – always subject to correction. Contrary to the other system, religion, for understanding the Universe, that is its strength. Science asks questions that may never be answered – religion gives answers that may never be questioned.
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     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Opinion vs. Knowledge

     Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. - Isaac Asimov.
     Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992) was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. A prolific author and editor of more than 500 books and 90,000 letters and postcards, his interests ranged from science fiction to popular science to humor, and are listed in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System. Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, has stated that it was Asimov's concept of psychohistory that inspired him to become an economist.
     In my opinion, the above quote is one of the most incisive statements Asimov made during his lengthy career. Following are some well-known examples of popular opinions that are contrary to the facts of the situation.

     Climate Change – Millions of Americans believe the opinions of talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are just as good as the knowledge of tens of thousands of climatologists worldwide who have devoted their lives to a study of climate change. It's happening – check it out with people who know.

    Evolution – Some 60% of Americans believe that opinions coming from Rick Perry and the Texas and Kansas boards of education are just as good as the knowledge of over 93% of biologists concerning evolution. In addition, proof of its existence has come from the fields of genetics, biology, bacteriology, physics and almost all other branches of science. This opinion should not have been relevant since 1925, but it is.

     Vaccinations Cause Autism – In 1998 British Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in which he attributed an increase in autism to measles, mumps and rubella vaccines. In spite of the fact that four independent studies have shown that there is no such link, and Dr. Wakefield's admission that he manipulated the data, the opinion persists. As a result, there has been a recurrence of these sometimes fatal diseases. Kids have died as a result.

     Congressional Health Insurance – In the opinion of a large segment of the population, members of Congress have wonderful free health insurance. The fact is that they choose their insurance from the same list of about 300 private plans, such as Blue Cross, Kaiser, etc., which is available to over 8 million federal employees, retirees and their families. The government pays up to 75% of the premiums. Congress persons, but not their families, are eligible for care at military hospitals, and are billed at rates set by the Department of Defense.

     Psychic Phenomena – Psychics, clairvoyants, astrologers, ghost hunters, etc., supposedly are able to converse with the dead, predict the future, control everyday events, cure illness or detect spirits of the dead lurking in all kinds of places. Of all the practitioners who have ever undergone investigation, not one has ever demonstrated an ability beyond normal probability to perform any of these marvelous feats. Yet many people swear by the existence of some or all of these charlatans. As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Demand it!

     This is a short list of popular opinions which, to the extent they supersede knowledge, tend to disrupt the fine-tuned functioning of democracy. Information concerning these and other wide-spread opinions can be found at www.snopes.com and www.factcheck.org.
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     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pivotal Points In Military History (Part 2)

     Session two of the four part series was presented by Mahlon Fuller, the watch supervisor of the Pittsburgh International Airport's control tower and radar room on the morning of 9/11/01. He participated in the shutdown of the nation's air space; with some 4,000 planes in the air, the mission was accomplished in less than three hours.
     Shortly after the Pentagon was hit, Fuller evacuated the radar room and control tower after a hijacked plane, later determined to be United 93, was spotted heading directly for the facility. When he returned to the radar room the plane was off the scope. Although he was indoors and did not see the it, Fuller believes the plane passed directly over the tower before crashing near Shanksville. eight miles beyond Pittsburgh's radar coverage.
     His narrative was accompanied by an NTSB animation of the last three minutes of United 93, showing not only the flight path, but also the air speed, altitude, horizontal situation indicator, compass heading and control position. As the passengers rushed the cabin, the pilot attempted to throw them off balance by rapidly banking the plane left and right.
     During the last thirty seconds the plane turned upside down, then dived into the earth at over 500 miles per hour. The NTSB has calculated that the tail of the plane reached the nose in less than 1/10 second.
     The resulting hole was approximately 40 feet x 20 feet x 25 feet deep. The largest piece found was about four feet long. Bits of wreckage and body parts were even found up in the nearby trees.
     Fuller has gone to the scene at least once every year since the crash, and is active in promoting the memorial. His slide show included pictures of the progress of the construction to date, as well as renderings of the project as it will be.
     He told of meeting many of the survivors' friends and families, and he has had dinner with a pilot who was the best friend of Flight 93's captain. The man told him that he never expected to be a bigot, but that he hopes that every Muslim will die a prolonged, painful death.
     Then Fuller compared that sentiment to that of the Amish after the massacre of five little girls at the Nickel Mine School in 2006. On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, "We must not think evil of this man."
     Another Amish father noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God." One Amish man held the shooter's sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter.
     After 10 years Fuller, a Quaker, is still visibly shaken when speaking of the events of that day. He said that his personal journey has been one of Tragedy, Grief and a Hope that somewhere between those two extremes of attitude we will someday find a way to reconcile our differences and get along together.
     So do I.
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     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pivotal Points In Military History (Part 1)

     The retirement community which I call home is presenting four seminars on the title subject of this blog entry. I attended the first, Flight 93, last Monday. The movie on A & E was nominated for eight Primetime Emmys, and won two of them. If you have not seen it, you should.
     It is the story of one of the four ill-fated airliners that were hijacked by Muslim terrorists on September 11, 2001. Three of them hit their intended targets, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, but thanks to heroic efforts by the passengers, Flight 93 missed its intended target, believed to be either the National Capitol or the White House.
     Through cellphone calls to their families, the passengers learn about the fates of the other three planes, and it gradually dawns on them that they are also on a flight destined to end in death. The scenes go back and forth between the passengers, their families, and the authorities, and the pressure to do something builds along with the tension.
     The passengers finally decide to use one of the plane's service carts to ram the pilots' cabin and try to take over the controls. When they finally put their plan into action, the amateur terrorist pilot loses control as they crash through the door, and the plane slams into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
     The last words to the ground are to the wife of the passenger who is leading the charge: “Let's roll.”
     The movie is available on DVD, and I should warn you to have two handkerchiefs ready when you watch it.
     Our next session is a talk by the watch supervisor of the Pittsburgh International Airport control tower and radar room on 9/11/01. I will keep you posted.
******
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Shades of Gray

     It would be nice if there were just two sides to every question, but it's just not true. For example, if I were to ask what needs to be done to end the current recession, the answers would run the gamut from more government spending to cutting spending to the bone, from increasing taxes on the wealthy to cutting taxes for everyone, and countless other real and imaginary solutions.
     Even in court the question ostensibly is guilt or innocence of the defendant, but we all know that the verdict goes to the attorney who successfully convinces the jury that his analysis of the “shades of gray” is the correct one. If it were not so, no “guilty” party would ever later be set free on the basis of better evidence.
     One of the problems with growing older is that one can discern the gray shades; as a result one's judgment swings back and forth between the “sides” of the question. It can get very confusing.
     Such a case is in the headlines today: Was the killing of the terrorist, al-Awlaki, a native-born American citizen, legal? Amendment V of the Constitution states that “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law . . .” That seems clear enough.
     The government is taking the stand that the killing was justified as “due process in war.” Officials say Awlaki's emails inspired accused Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Hasan. Awlaki also helped plan the failed Underwear bomb attack, and was part of the plot to bring down cargo planes with explosives inside computer printers.
     According to CBS News national security analyst Juan Zarate, ". . . based on the rules of self-defense, based on the principles that we're at war with al-Qaeda and the fact that he was a part of the group, self-professed, all of that suggests that it's lawful and appropriate to go after him and to kill him."
     This begs the question, “Are we really at war.” Referring again to the Constitution, Article I, Section 8 says that, “The Congress shall have the power . . .to declare war. . .” Although the Congress has authorized extended military combat against al-Qaeda, it has not officially declared war.
     But the Constitution does not say “due process of war;” it says “due process of law.” While Awlaki may very well have done all the nefarious things of which he is accused, “due process of law” means “. . . a presentment or indictment of a grand jury . . .” (Amendment V)
     In my heart I feel no remorse over Awlaki's death, but here is another question of black and white: Are we or are we not a nation of law? I hope so, in which case I think this act, although I approve of it in my heart, is constitutionally questionable in my head. As I said, seeing both sides does not clarify the issue – it confuses it.
     What do you think?
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     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Evolution vs Intelligent Design

There is considerable controversy at the present time between the competing “theories” of natural selection and intelligent design. This disagreement has several roots, but I believe one of the most important ones has to do with a misunderstanding of what it is that scientists do. Even many scientists seem to have forgotten.
        When a scientist is doing science, he is testing a theory and reporting his observations. For example, he may have a theory that if he mixes vinegar and baking soda, he will observe that oxygen will be formed. To his dismay he finds that when he actually performs the experiment carbon dioxide appears instead. He must retest and update his theory under all conceivable conditions.
        But when he issues a report of his findings to other scientists, he will not say that carbon dioxide is “caused” by mixing vinegar and baking soda; he will report that mixing the two is followed by the appearance of carbon dioxide. In short, he will say what he observes as a result of his experiment, but he will not hazard a guess as to why. The so-called laws of nature do not state what nature must do; they describe what nature consistently does do. Science is descriptive, not prescriptive.
        If an Eskimo and a central African are placed in a room in which the temperature is 40 degrees, they will probably disagree on whether it is too hot or too cold, but both can read a thermometer and agree that it is recording a temperature of 40 degrees. They can agree on what they observe objectively, but may have widely divergent opinions on what they think subjectively. For this reason science advances on the basis of observations and not opinions.
        This is not to say that a scientist may not have an opinion as to why things appear as they are. He may very well believe that God designed the earth and guides its daily activities. However, the scientist will also realize that this is his opinion, not an observation, and thus outside the purview of science. It is as out of place in a Science class as algebra would be in a Sunday School class.
        He may disseminate his opinion in conversing with friends, in his Sunday school class, or anywhere else he cares to, but not in the Science class that he teaches part time at the high school or university. Why? Because as an opinion rather than as a theory, it cannot be tested.
        There is no reason intelligent design could not be discussed in a class on Comparative Religion, History, or most appropriately in today’s climate, Political Science.
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My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

It Is Possible To Discuss Anything Civilly

     Despite the goings-on in Washington, it is possible for people to disagree substantially on a given subject, and still discuss it openly and civilly. I know our fractured society indicates otherwise, but I attended two events yesterday which supported my contention.
    Event one was lunch with a small group of men, seven to be exact, with whom I worked many years ago. Most of them lean toward the conservative side, although I do not think any of them would consider himself to be a “tea party” member, although one of them did state that Obama is the worst president that has served during his lifetime of, here I am guessing, 85+ years. Disappointed as I am with Obama, I am not ready to go quite that far, although I was unable to muster any argument which I thought would change his mind.
     But I did mention that I thought Senator Mitch McConnell's statement, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” was the worst statement I have ever heard from any politician.
     Even the most conservative members of the group agreed that the most important achievement for any politician should be doing what is right for the nation – not instigating a vendetta.
     The subject of the race for the Republican Presidential nomination came up, and although there were huge disagreements on the qualifications of Perry, Romney, Bachmann, Gingrich, et al, no one got upset, and no one's mind was changed.
     We all parted as friends, and agreed to meet again in two months.
     Later in the day I attended a community forum on the subject, “Is America An Exceptional Nation?” The group of approximately 35 ranged from pastors to agnostics, from far right Republicans to far left Democrats, from farmers to engineers, and from high school dropouts to college graduates - as to be expected, the opinions ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other. And again I doubt that any minds were changed, although I can't be sure.
     The point is that good people can discuss controversial subjects without rancor or bitterness. All it takes is for everyone to realize that the other guy has come through a different set of experiences, which results in a different worldview.
     As Grey Owl is reported to have said, "Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in his moccasins.”
     Smart man, that Grey Owl. I wonder if he could be talked into running for Congress.
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     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Conspiracy Theories.

      Although ten years have elapsed since 19 people from Saudi Arabia, at the bidding of Osama bin Laden, murdered 3,000 Americans in an attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, conspiracy theories about the event still persist. Today I want to examine not only those theories pertaining to the 9/11 attack, but a couple of others which have been around for some time.
     The World Trade Center Attack: The “9/11 truthers,” as they call themselves, claim that the U.S. Government either knew of the attack in advance and did nothing, or else actively orchestrated the attack in order to justify launching wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, curtail civil liberties, and consolidate and extend the powers of the Bush Administration.
      One of the more vocal organizations has been the group Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth. To support its claims, the group points to the "free fall" pace of the collapse of the buildings, the "lateral ejection of steel," and to the "mid-air pulverization of concrete," as indications that the towers fell because high explosives were placed at various spots within them. Investigations by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) have concluded that the buildings collapsed as a result of the impacts of the planes and of the fires that resulted from them.
     Several other organizations have disagreed with the official findings for various reasons, but as Bill Moyers stated, they all "...threw out all the evidence of al-Qaeda's involvement, from contemporaneous calls from hijack victims on the planes to confessions from al-Qaeda leaders both in and out of captivity that they had indeed done it. Then, recycling some of the right's sophistry techniques, such as using long lists of supposed evidence to overcome the lack of any real evidence, the "truthers" cherry-picked a few supposed "anomalies" to build an "inside-job" story line."
     In addition, any government coverup would involve a vast number of people and records. The “truthers” would have us believe that after ten years, not one person who knew about the conspiracy would have become a whistle-blower. But regardless of the facts, 9/11 conspiracy theories will be around for a long time.
     The Roswell Incident: On July 7, 1947, a rancher 75 miles northwest of Roswell, New Mexico, told the local sheriff that he had found a part of a “flying disc.” The next day the Public Information Office of the Air Force issued a press release stating that a flying disc had been recovered. A few days later the Air Force identified the object as a weather balloon with its attached radar target. The fact that the balloon was really part of a top secret US Air Force project code named MOGUL was not released at the time. MOGUL was an attempt to pick up the sounds of Russian nuclear explosions from thousands of miles away.
     In 1984 the Majestic-12 (MJ-12) papers supposedly “leaked” top secret documents indicating that a UFO crash happened near Roswell, and the the government was involved in a conspiracy to hide the saucer and alien bodies from the public.
     The term Majestic-12 had first appeared in a one-page “Secret” teletype message dated November 17, 1980, which came into the hands of author and UFO researcher William Moore. (In 1983, Robert Todd, a competent UFO researcher showed that the teletype message was a hoax.)
     Then in 1983 Moore sought UFO researcher, Brad Sparks', reaction to a plan of his to create counterfeit government reports. Moore told Sparks he believed that counterfeit documents could be used to induce military officers to speak out about what the government really knew about UFOs and the coverup. In 1984 a film cassette with photographs of MJ-12 was mailed to Jaime Shandera, a maker of documentaries. The conspiracy was under way.
     Occam's Razor is a principle that generally recommends that when faced with competing hypotheses that are equal in other respects, accept the one that makes the fewest new assumptions. For conspiracy buffs I am proposing a new principle that I call Macco's Razor, which states that for any event, one should take the simplest explanation and reduce it to its most complex form.
      Marilyn Monroe's “Suicide”: Marilyn Monroe's association with John and Bobby Kennedy is central to conspiracy theories surrounding her death. One scenario claims that the relationship had got too personal, and was jeopardizing the future of the boys, so Joseph Kennedy, or maybe it was Bobby Kennedy, or it could have been J. Edgar Hoover, ordered a “hit” and the ensuing coverup on the blond bombshell.
     Another believes that Bobby went to Marilyn's bungalow for some R and R, only to find her in the throes of a drug overdose. He called an ambulance, but on the way to the hospital, she died. Realizing that his presence would not look good on his and John's resume, he had the ambulance return to the bungalow. The body was laid out on the bed and the room was straightened up, then a call was placed to her psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Greenson, who got official credit for discovering the body. Bobby was long gone by that time.
     There is no doubt that the Kennedys treated Marilyn as a plaything, and there are some unanswered anomalies in the autopsy report that lend some credence to the idea of foul play. But because all the main characters are long dead, we may as well accept the official cause of death: probable suicide. 
     I could discuss conspiracy theories for many more pages, e.g., high-level government authorities were involved in the deaths of Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy, the New World Order or Illuminati controls all major world events, Lady Diana was a sacrificial Satanic princess, etc., etc., ad nauseum. But you get the idea.
     According to Wikipedia, conspiracy theories generally have several common threads:
  1. They claim to explain what institutional analysis cannot. They appear to make sense out of a world that is otherwise confusing. 
  2. They do so in an appealingly simple way, by dividing the world sharply between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. They trace all evil back to a single source, the conspirators and their agents.
  3. They are often presented as special, secret knowledge unknown or unappreciated by others. For conspiracy theorists, the masses are a brainwashed herd, while the conspiracy theorists in the know can congratulate themselves on penetrating the plotters' deceptions.
     I might add that the truth has as much effect upon the conspiracy believer as a mosquito has against a window pane. As someone said, “Belief is the death of intelligence.”
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     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Not In My Back Yard

      According to an old joke, a Missouri mule-skinner was called in to train a very recalcitrant mule. The first thing the trainer did was to take a 2x4 and hit the mule over the head. When asked why he did that, the trainer replied, “Well, first I have to get his attention.”
     If it served any useful purpose, the “tea party” managed to get the attention of the American public regarding the national deficit. Although the timing is bad, the concept of deficit reduction has been accepted by the majority of people. That's “the concept,” but according to a recent Gallup Poll there is very little agreement on the details. In fact, the only item which garnered a majority of public approval for cutting spending was foreign aid.
     The pollsters asked the persons in the sample to “please say whether you favor or oppose cutting government spending in each of the following areas.” Here are the results:

Category
Favor
%
Oppose
%
No opinion
%
Foreign aid
59
37
4
Funding arts and sciences
46
52
2
Aid to farmers
44
53
3
Homeland security
42
56
3
The military and defense
42
57
1
Anti-poverty programs
39
55
6
Medicare
38
61
1
Social security
34
64
2
Education
32
67
2
     Probably most of us expect the savings to come from areas which constitute a relatively small per cent of the total budget. For example, most of the public believes that foreign aid makes up ten percent of the budget. It doesn't; foreign aid, combined with the entire budget for the state department, makes up only one percent of the total.
     The GOP is planning to save trillions of dollars over the next ten years without any revenue increases. The chart indicates that their favorite programs for drastic cuts, i.e., Medicare, Social Security and Education, are the most popular. Good luck with that. NIMBY.

     The dare and double-dare contest continues between the President and the GOP. House Speaker John Boehner has refused President Obama's request to speak to the House to present his jobs program on September 7. The speaker told the President that several votes were scheduled for that time, but it would be OK to speak on September 8. Historians say no previous speaker has ever refused such a request.
     Several major GOP presidential candidates have scheduled a debate on the seventh, and it is believed that is the reason for Boehner's action. But really, a debate among candidates for an election 16 months away takes priority over the President of the United States speaking about job creation during a recession. Give me a break.
     Of course, the GOP is pushing the President around because he allows it. His campaign slogan was, “Yes we can.” We should have asked, “Yes, but will we?”

      Today's newspaper has another case of presidential caving in: At the demand of the GOP and business leaders he has halted the issuance of tighter smog rules that were unanimously approved by a panel of scientific experts. Please, please Mr. President, grow a pair.

      You may have noticed a recent addition to “Thoughts Before The Alarm Sounds”: a weather gadget in the right sidebar. While it gives the forecast for Lititz, where I live, you can get maps, forecasts and radar information for any continental area by clicking on the links beneath the graphic. I hope you will enjoy its many features.
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     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Party Of Non-science

      If you have been following my blog, you know that I am not very happy with President Obama's approach to solving the country's problems. But at least his activities are grounded in reality – I do not believe they are based on a disbelief of modern science. I cannot say the same about any of his Republican rivals, and that has me concerned.
     The recent hurricane has people asking the question: Was Irene a result of global warming? And the answer has two parts: (1) No one knows, and (2) That's the wrong question. It is impossible for anyone to say whether a particular phenomenon is a result of global warming; hurricanes have been around since long before global warming began.
     The proper question is: Should we expect more such catastrophic phenomena as a result of global warming? And the answer is: Absolutely, including not only hurricanes, but also extremes of temperature, droughts, floods and tornados.
     As the glaciers melt, the water level in the oceans rises – as a result, any oceanic surge caused by a meteorological phenomenon, e.g., a hurricane or a tsunami, will cause flooding further inland. In addition, the primary energy source of a hurricane is water vapor; as the oceans warm, more water vapor will be created which will lead to stronger hurricanes.
     A study released in January, 2009, concluded that, “Human-induced global warming is real, according to a recent U.S. survey based on the opinions of 3,146 scientists. However there remain divisions between climatologists and scientists from other areas of earth sciences as to the extent of human responsibility.
     “The strongest consensus on the causes of global warming came from climatologists who are active in climate research, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role... Petroleum geologists and meteorologists were among the biggest doubters, with only 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively, believing in human involvement.”
     "The petroleum geologist response is not too surprising, but the meteorologists' is very interesting," said Peter Doran, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of the survey's authors. "Most members of the public think meteorologists know climate, but most of them actually study very short-term phenomena."
     However, Doran was not surprised by the near-unanimous agreement by climatologists."They're the ones who study and publish on climate science. So I guess the take-home message is, the more you know about the field of climate science, the more you're likely to believe in global warming and humankind's contribution to it.”
     Compare that with recent statements on the subject by the current front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination:

     Mitt Romney (06/04/2011) “I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course,’’ Romney said. “But I believe the world’s getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that … so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.’’
     Mitt Romney (08/24/2011) “Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that but I think that it is,” Romney said, as reported by Reuters. “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans...What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to,” he added. Blogger: Waffles anyone?
     Rick Perry (08/17/2011) "I think we're seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists that are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change. He said some want billions or trillions of taxpayer dollars spent to address the issue, but he added: "I don't think from my perspective that I want to be engaged in spending that much money on still a scientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question." (It's true the theory is being questioned, but not the way Perry means it – more and more climatologists are questioning whether forecasts of dire consequences are strong enough.)
     Perry's home state of Texas releases more heat-trapping pollution carbon dioxide – the chief greenhouse gas – than any other state in the country, according to government data.

     Recently, 97% of biologists surveyed replied that there was no controversy within the field between intelligent design and evolution. Neither intelligent design nor creationism has any scientific support.
     But biology is not the only science dependent upon evolutionary theory for its success. If evolution is not factual, radioisotope decay rates are not constant, and the entire theory of nuclear physics crumbles. A collapse such as that would destroy all of physics, followed by chemistry, biology, geology, palaeontology, thermodynamics and cosmology. What do our candidates have to say about that?

     Mitt Romney (While governor of Massachusetts.) “In my opinion, the science class is where to teach evolution, or if there are other scientific thoughts that need to be discussed...If we’re going to talk about more philosophical matters, like why it was created, and was there an intelligent designer behind it, that’s for the religion class or philosophy class or social studies class.”
     Mitt Romney (05/11/2007) “I believe that God designed the universe and created the universe...And I believe evolution is most likely the process he used to create the human body.”
     He was asked: “Is that intelligent design?”
     “I’m not exactly sure what is meant by intelligent design,” he said. “But I believe God is intelligent and I believe he designed the creation. And I believe he used the process of evolution to create the human body.” Blogger: More waffles?
     Rick Perry (08/18/2011) In response to a question from a little boy in New Hampshire, "I hear your mom was asking about evolution...That's a theory that is out there - and it's got some gaps in it."
     Perry then told the boy: "In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution. I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."

     State education experts told the Texas Tribune that Perry is not quite right about what's taught in the Lone Star state's public schools. David Bradley, a conservative member of the Texas Board of Education, told the Tribune that nothing prevents a teacher from talking about creationism but "it is not specifically in the Texas curriculum."
     Other Republican runners are equally hostile to evolution - Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul support the teaching of creationism.

     It appears the Republican Party candidates, and by inference, the Party itself, has decided to disbelieve the well established underpinnings of modern science. How many science-illiterate students can we graduate before the competitive edge of the United States disappears? Can we afford to regress to the 19th century? It could happen if these throwbacks get control of the educational purse strings.
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My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

We Need A Singable National Anthem


      An article in this morning's newspaper is headlined “Mennonite college drops U.S. anthem.” The article goes on to state that Goshen college in Indiana is dropping the national anthem in favor of “America The Beautiful.”
     The school had never played “The Star Spangled Banner” before sporting events until last year, saying the image of bombs bursting in air was too violent for a college whose motto is “Healing the World, Peace by Peace.” At that time the college opted for an instrumental version of the song, with a review after one year.
     The year is up, the “Star Spangled Banner” is out and “America, The Beautiful” is in at Goshen.
     Of course, this decision is not very popular with many people, who consider it unpatriotic.
     But I don't understand why this is so. Regardless of the song played primarily at sporting events, I still love my country; I see no reason why it cannot have an anthem with beautiful words, and a melody in a singable range.
     Some of you may remember that I wrote about this subject on January 28, 2010. I am taking the liberty of repeating that posting here:
     Congress adopted “The Star Spangled Banner” as our national anthem in 1931, although it had been recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889. For most of the 19th century, “Hail Columbia” was used at official government functions, and “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee” was also used prior to 1931.
     Originally a poem written by Francis Scott Key after viewing the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814, “The Star Spangled Banner” was later fitted to the melody of a drinking song written for The Anacreon, a men’s social club in London. The following are the words to the first of six verses comprising the Anacreontic Song:
To Anacreon* in Heav'n, where he sat in full Glee,
A few Sons of Harmony sent a Petition,
That He their Inspirer and Patron wou'd be;
When this Answer arriv'd from the jolly old Grecian,
"Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
No longer be mute,
I'll lend you my Name and inspire you to boot,
And, besides, I'll instruct you like me, to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine.”
     In my opinion, Congress chose the wrong song, and I know I am not alone in this. An octave and a half in range, there is no key in which to write it that is comfortable for most singers. If it is in a decent range for the sopranos, the basses can easily hurt themselves on the high notes, and if it’s OK for the basses, the sopranos have to be suffering from laryngitis to hit the low notes.
     One song that has been suggested as being “better” is “God Bless America.” There are several reasons why this is not a good choice, but the primary one is that it does not fit the definition: Anthem, n. a song, as of praise, devotion, or patriotism. (Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary.)
     “God Bless America” does not fit that definition - it is more of a prayer than an anthem. Besides, what is the meaning of the phrase “…and guide her, through the night with a light from above?”
     My personal choice is “America, The Beautiful.” It fits the definition, it is a reverent poem of praise set to beautiful music, and above all, it is easy to sing. It’s range is only a ninth, four notes shorter than the “Star Spangled Banner.”
     But that’s just my opinion.

*Anacreon (Greek Ἀνακρέων) (570 BC – 488 BC) was a Greek lyric poet, notable for his drinking songs and hymns.
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     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback, or at the Kindle Store.