Monday, December 24, 2012

Does God Go To School?

     It seems that predicting the future is a thriving industry. Forecasters of doomsdays, fiscal cliffs, etc. as well as numerous seers who can predict one's love life, financial success, you name it, are a dime a dozen. I wish I had the ability to write one's horoscope; my financial future would be assured. Oh wait, that requires the gift of BS - not ESP.
     But I digress. The industry goes back thousands of years; the magi who sought the Christ child were astrologers. (Traditionally there were three of them, but the Bible doesn't mention the actual number.) And that was the start of the segment of “prophets” that I am getting very tired of hearing from: those who predict the complete disintegration of society because we have “kicked God out of our schools.”
     Face it, folks, we did not kick God out of our schools. As I understand it, God is everywhere that we are. According to Psalm 139, “. . . if I descend into hell, thou art present.”
     As the Newtown incident demonstrated, in some cases descending into hell would be preferable to going to school, but the point is, the Supreme Court not withstanding, God is present even in school.
     There is not, nor can there be, any prohibition against anyone's praying anywhere, anytime, for any reason. And that applies no matter to whom the prayer is directed, whether it be to God, Allah, Zeus or the Wicked Witch of the West. Nor may the school suggest to someone who doesn't believe in prayer that perhaps the acquisition of religious belief would be beneficial.
     What is prohibited is the school's giving any suggestion, blatant or subtle, as to whom or to what the prayer should be directed.
     It is more likely that our society will disintegrate because of the tendency of religions to separate people into “us” vs. “them” groups, than that kids will not be force-fed prayers over the school intercom system.

     My books, "There Are Only Seven Jokes" and "The Spirit Runs Through It" are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Another Mindless Attack.

     Almost buried in the coverage of the atrocity committed in Newtown, Connecticut, was another story of an act of “rage”: An attack on three elderly Mennonite ladies in nearby Clay, Pennsylvania.
     A young man posing as an insurance salesman gained admission to the residence occupied by three sisters who ranged in age from 84 to 90. Once inside, he donned a mask, and assaulted the ladies with a stun gun; he also punched, slapped and kicked them over a two-hour period.
     During his rampage he indicated that he had been a Mennonite, although people who knew him said that he never was a member of that faith. He also read from the Bible, and vandalized the one belonging to the ladies.
     Finally he spread a variety of household chemicals – bleach, vinegar, pesticides, etc. - throughout the house, and left the ladies tied up. Had it not been for a relative who stopped in four hours later, they might have died. They are expected to recover from their injuries.
     Police reported that the assailant was identified and arrested shortly after the incident. No one knows what set him off. According to one acquaintance he had “a soft heart” and “an inquiring mind.”
      The Mennonite faith as practiced in this area is distinguished primarily by the commitment of its members to service and pacifism. The test scores of students at the Lancaster Mennonite High School are “consistently superior to those of local and state averages for public and church-related schools.” Students are offered a rich variety of activities, including athletics, drama, music and art. All high school students attend daily chapel services and take a theology or Bible class each year.
     Why anyone would find fault with a community of faith such as this boggles the imagination, but like the events in Newtown, it seems to stem from a deranged mind.
     Could it have been prevented? Perhaps. If someone had recognized the symptoms of the young man's disengagement from the real world, treatment may have worked. But our ability to recognize and react to those symptoms is woefully inadequate.
      It is the government's responsibility to protect its citizens. Gun control laws, a hot topic at the present time, are not enough; obviously they could not have prevented the Mennonite atrocity. A systematic approach, covering weapons control, education, and psychological profiling and treatment is indicated. Only the government can organize and finance such a wide-ranging approach.
     Does President Obama have the leadership ability to spearhead such an approach? I hope so.

My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs

Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Mark Of The Beast.

      A recent newspaper story out of San Antonio tells of a 15-year-old student who is fighting her school district's “locator” chip embedded in her student ID badge. According to her, the chip is a “mark of the beast” as described in the Bible's Book of Revelation. This “mark” is a combination of letters and symbols that will be physically and permanently placed on one's forehead or right hand, indicating that the bearer is a follower of “the beast.” There will be severe penalties for refusing the mark and great rewards for getting it. Among other things “. . . no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name."
     Within the church itself, the Book of Revelation has had many different interpretations, ranging from a condemnation of the Roman Empire, an allegory of the ongoing fight between good and evil, or a forecast of the “end times.”
     Throughout the ages conservative Christians have believed in the “forecast” interpretation. To them the beast is Satan himself. In recent times the computer chip, especially when embedded in the human body, has been looked upon as a potential mark of the beast. It is incumbent upon Christians to resist receiving this mark at all costs. The San Antonio student obviously falls into this category.
     In addition to its religious meaning, the school district's ability to ascertain the location of the student at all times raises the issue of invasion of privacy. It is for this reason that an unlikely partnership has been joined between the student and the ACLU, and a Texas state lawmaker has introduced a bill into the legislature prohibiting the technology in Texas schools.
     The school district offered to remove the chip from the girl's ID badge, but still required her to wear it at all times while on school property. Again the family has refused on the grounds that it is “submission to a false god,” and that wearing the badge indicates her participation in the program. One wonders how they feel about drivers' licenses, social security cards and other forms of ID.
     In the event the case goes to court, I believe the family is likely to prevail. Generally a state has to have a “clear and convincing” reason in order to limit a person's religious beliefs. Obviously public safety, human sacrifice, polygamy, etc. meet the test, but I do not think that is the case here. But is it possible that a monetary settlement could be reached?
     One personal observation: It is my personal opinion that no matter how wild, unrealistic and ridiculous a belief is, a justification for it can be found somewhere in the Bible. Also, there are people willing to join in the practice. At what point does a particular religious belief become a superstition? Or is there any difference at all?

My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs

Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Day That Changed The World

There are three dates that stand out in the memories of those of us who were born before 1930: December 7, 1941; November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001. Most of us can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the horrible news of the events that happened on those days. Today is the 71st anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. The following reminiscence of my personal experience may not mean anything to my younger readers, but it is important to me.
It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts-for democracy.

The first Sunday in December was warm for the season. Our family had planned for it to be a special day, but little did we know just how special it would turn out to be.
We were having one of our occasional family gatherings at my Grandparents’ farm. Since we got together only a few times a year, this would be a very exciting day. My parents and I didn’t often get to see Uncle Ross and his family, Uncle Ralph, and Aunt Dorothy and her family (cousin Dale was only a toddler, a little over two years old).
As usual, Grandma had made far too much food, including a roast turkey and a baked ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, candied sweet potatoes, corn, peas, green beans, a sour salad (Grandpa always liked something sour with every meal), and pie and cake for dessert. The wonderful odors alone literally made my mouth water. As the saying goes, the table was groaning with all the food, and by the time the meal was finished, so was everyone at the table.
There was no running water in the house, but the kettle had been put on the coal stove before we sat down, and by the time the table was cleared, the water was hot, so Grandma set out the dish pan and the ladies quickly finished the cleaning up of the dishes, pots and pans.
The men sat around talking and joking until my father turned to the radio sitting between the door to the summer kitchen, and the window overlooking the now dead looking flower garden.
The radio was one of the new floor models with not only AM (regular) broadcast bands, but also several short wave bands, through which we could listen, but not talk, to police and airline calls as well as amateur radio operators throughout the world. For some reason that was not too clearly understood at that time, these bands usually worked best at night, but on this day they were working very well during the daylight hours.
We had listened to some amateurs for only a few minutes when a lady’s voice broke in very excitedly, saying, “Will you please get off the air! This is an emergency! The Japanese are attacking Pearl Harbor!”
As the grownups all gathered around, we quickly switched to the AM broadcasts in order to get the latest news. My father said, “This means we are at war.”
Since I was only twelve years old, I didn’t realize the gravity of the situation, although I knew something important was happening. The next day I listened to the radio as President Roosevelt addressed the Congress. I can still hear him say, “I shall ask the Congress to declah that a state of wah has existed between the United States of America and the Empire of Japan.”
It was truly the day that changed the world.


My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and "The Spirit Runs

Through It" are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Break Bread Together?

     Thursday's Lancaster Intelligencer Journal headlined a story “Break Bread Together?” about a nearby restaurant, Prudhomme's, which offers a discount to customers who present a “current church bulletin.” A local member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, claiming discrimination against non-Christians. The parties received notification of the Commission's ruling during Thanksgiving week.
     The ruling stated that discounts must be given to bulletin holders “from any group oriented around the subject of religious faith.” Note that the word “church” has been eliminated. Because atheists are considered by the Federal Courts to have a religious creed, the ruling covers them.
     At first reading it seems like a reasonable ruling, and it appears likely that no problems will be encountered in the Lancaster County geographic area. But if it is extended to rural areas, there is a problem: There are few organized American Humanist Association chapters or other atheist-oriented groups outside the metropolitan areas. Even in those areas, meetings are not normally accompanied by bulletins. Will the restaurant accept a membership card in the AHA?
     Regardless of what the courts say, among members of some atheist organizations there is an ongoing disagreement about whether or not atheism is a religion. Also, I am sure the ruling covers agnostics, but I know of no group organized around agnosticism.
     If the restaurant were to offer discounts to firemen, policemen, red-haired persons or left-handers, there would be no problems – after all, the owners have freedom of speech.
     Except where religion is involved. I can think of no other concept that is as divisive.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs

Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ideology And Anti-science.

     I am beginning to think that high schools and colleges have discontinued the teaching of science, particularly to Congresspersons. Especially in the Republican Party, a complete lack of scientific education appears to be a requirement for membership. And it's a damned shame, because the world economy runs on scientific knowledge, and to make vital economic decisions on the basis of superstition or lack of knowledge is like driving a horse and buggy in the Indianapolis 500. Here are a few cases in point:

     A perfect example is the recent comment by Representative Todd Akin, the Republican Senate nominee from Missouri. “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Rep. Akin said of pregnancies from rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
     I presume that “legitimate” rape is the situation in which the victim is physically forced to undergo unwanted sexual intercourse. I know there are many physical conditions in which the little wigglers fail to hit the target, but I do not believe that any biological study has ever discovered that fighting one's attacker is one of them. Fortunately, Mr. Akin lost the election.

      According to Scientific American Magazine, Republican Party leaders in the House of Representatives will decide which of three Congressmen, Lamar Smith of Texas, James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin or Dana Rohrabacher of California will be the Chairman of the House Science Committee. At various times each of the three candidates has accused the scientific community of lying about man-made climate change.
     In spite of the statements of the above gentlemen, and other “experts” such as Limbaugh, Hannity, et al, 95% of the scientists who devote their lives to studying climate change are in agreement that man-made change is occurring. But because their findings are not in agreement with GOP orthodoxy, their findings are dismissed.

      Florida Senator Marco Rubio was asked during a recent GQ magazine interview, “How old do you think the earth is?” I submit his reply in full:
“I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”
     Senator Rubio, a potential Presidential candidate in 2016, may find this hard to believe, but there are few things more important than scientific discovery in keeping the world's economy going. Although he may not know in detail the findings of geology, radioactive dating, genetics, astronomy and other sciences regarding the age of the earth, (and it's neither 7 days nor 7 actual eras) he should at least know that great progress has been made in solving his “great mystery.” Theologians who decided the earth was created on October 23, 4004 B. C. at nine o'clock in the morning, Ref., missed it by 4.5B years.
     Senator Rubio's ignorance of the connection between science and the economy is not only appalling, it is scary. And apparently he is not the only one of the GOP's movers and shakers who suffers from the idea that ideology trumps science. How deep is the infection?
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs

Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Schools Have Changed A Bit Since I Was There

There is no question that schools have changed over the years; some changes are positive, some are negative. Here are a few examples:

When I was in second grade, I had a teacher who believed it was her duty to indoctrinate students into Christianity. She offered a Bible to any student who could memorize twenty verses. People who know me today will find it hard to believe that I received a Bible with my twenty verses underlined in red. (I myself find it hard to believe.)
I am sure there were no non-Christian families in the Sporting Hill School area, so there were no objections. But can you imagine anything like that happening today? Americans United for Separation of Church and State would be all over the school board, the teacher and anyone else connected with the school district. Parents on both sides of the issue would be upset, and rightly so. Religion is not the territory of the schools.

Our technology consisted of pencil, paper and a blackboard. Today schools have interactive whiteboards, computers and power point. In order to survive in today's world, a familiarity with current electronic devices is absolutely essential.
In Junior High School kids that demonstrated egregious behavior got their asses paddled. In gym class, those who were deliberately slow getting out of the shower received a whack from the “board of education,” and were usually the first ones out thereafter.
Again, that cannot happen today. I have a relative who taught school for many years, and she tells me that the teacher is not allowed even to pat a child on the back and say “good job.” She was particularly upset when she was aware that the child rarely got any support or approval at home.
I am aware that child molestation is a big problem today, but that is depravity – it is not the same as giving a universal sign of approval. In limiting the discretion of school teachers and administrators, lawmakers have gone far beyond the bounds of common sense.

     Kids have great imaginations, and good teachers knew how to stimulate them. At one time teachers often discussed things that came up in class, but that were not in the books. In addition to the three R's, we learned some things which were useful in everyday living – things that were helpful for all students, college-bound or not.
     Recently I asked a high school student how many days there are in September. He had to Google it to find out. And for a bill of $6.53 at MacDonalds I gave the cashier $7.03. It happened that the cash register was not working; she had to use a pencil and paper to figure the right change.
     Today teachers have to teach to “the test.” There is no time to teach kids to think because thinking is not on the test. I guess it's not important. 

      At one time students who had bad grades didn't move on to the next class. Along came the No Child Left Behind act, which translates to No Child Flunks. Flunking lowers the student's self-esteem. The act's de facto effect is to instill the idea that mediocre work is good enough. Apparently responsibility is unimportant.

      Don't misunderstand me – these problems are not the fault of the teachers. Part of the problems stem from today's litigious society – teachers are rightly afraid that touching a kid will result in a lawsuit.
     Parental attitudes are also a hindrance – when we were punished at home we knew the punishment would be repeated at home. The attitude today is “touch my kid and I'll beat the crap out of you.” It's the dark side of parental involvement.
      And of course there are the legal constraints passed by those “experts” we keep electing.
     I could go on, but you get the idea.

     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Catching Up With The Wonders Of Modern Chemistry

In June, 2010, I was having a problem with my right leg, and the doctor's diagnosis indicated that it was caused by a pinched nerve in my back. Consequently, it was determined that I needed a laminectomy, an operation to remove a small piece of bone in order to relieve the pressure on the nerve.
As far as the operation was concerned, everything went well, but for some reason my bladder stopped operating. It was never determined whether it was due to the procedure or the anesthetic, but in any event I had to learn to use a catheter. The function gradually improved over a three week period, which pretty much coincided with the length of time it took for me to become reasonably adept at performing this rather personal procedure.
One does not use a catheter without a lubricant, normally a water-based compound such as K-Y Jelly, so off I went to the pharmacy. To my surprise I discovered that lubrication is only one of the characteristics available in this product. (You must remember that I was 81 years of age at the time; I was not up-to-date on the wonders of modern chemistry.)
The helpful pharmacist suggested that perhaps I would like to try one of the variations that “enhance” the sensation. Or perhaps I would prefer a flavored variety.
After mentally reviewing how I planned to use the product, I quickly decided there was no way I wanted the sensation enhanced. He looked at me rather oddly when I asked him if there was a variety that would deaden the sensation. There wasn't.
A no-brainer - I opted for the plain vanilla, original, unenhanced, 

unflavored formulation.


My books “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs

Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Zipper Problems In High Places

     One of our biggest military heroes, General David Petraeus, has been caught with his literal pants down! Perhaps I am being naive, but I cannot understand how anyone, particularly a high-ranking government official, can get involved in sexual hanky-panky, and think he can get away with it. What would make Petraeus betray us? (OK, so they can't all be great.)
     I am reminded of the story of a little dog who was crossing the railroad tracks when a train came along and cut off his tail. When he turned around to look at it, another train came along and cut off his head. But he was not the first dog to lose his head over a piece of tail. Think of John Kennedy, Bill Clinton and John Edwards.
     With cell phones as ubiquitous as potato chips, privacy is a thing of the past in today's society.
     But when one is in a position of power or fame, thinking with the wrong head poses an even greater danger. For a man in Petraeus' position, head of the CIA, pillow talk can lead to an inadvertent disclosure of sensitive information. Think of Mata Hari.
     Even a politically non-threatening liaison can tempt the paramour to skyrocket to fame and fortune by means of book deals, television appearances or other modern social phenomena.
     Is adultery prohibited in the Armed Forces? Not specifically. Adultery in the military is actually prosecuted under Article 134, which is also known as the "General Article." Article 134 simply prohibits conduct which is of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, or conduct which is prejudicial to good order and discipline.
     But aside from all that, there is the overwhelming presence of unfaithfulness. If the wife “stands by her man,” between them they can never overcome the presence of the elephant in the room: infidelity. Complete faith and trust is gone forever.
     When one promises to love, honor and cherish, committing adultery is literally throwing that promise into the trash bin; thereafter why would any promise be believed?
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Now What - Us vs. Them, Or We?

     Now that the election is over we will no longer be inundated by all those political commercials; instead we will be swamped by holiday commercials. But it is also a good opportunity to forge a consensus of we instead of us vs. them. After all, are we not all Americans?
     In spite of the fact that we have different opinions on many matters, when I looked out on the morning of November 7, the sun had risen, birds were singing, people were going to work (at least many of them), and the world had not ended overnight.
     Later that morning I attended the monthly breakfast of my high school graduating class, what few of us that are still here, and heard statements such as, “There's not much I can do about it,” and “I'm not sure the country can last for the next four years.”
     Come on guys, what the hell do you think is going to happen? Is the country going to slide into the sea? Oh, I forgot, the Mayan calender predicts the end of the earth on December 21.
     Whatever the outcome of Barack Obama's second term, we have probably endured worse. Think of James Buchanan, U.S Grant and Warren Harding.
     Now that the GOP has failed to hold Obama to one term, let's prod our elected representatives, regardless of party, to find a way to work together for the good of the country.
     We do not have to keep electing these morons.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Stories That The GOP Wants Us To Believe

     (1) Large is small. According to the GOP definition, any business, e.g., a partnership or a Limited Liability Company, that passes its net income through to its owners for inclusion on their personal federal income tax returns is a small business. There is no limit to the amount of income such a company can earn! For example, privately owned companies Cargill and Koch Industries each had over $100B in revenues in 2011, yet qualify as small businesses under the GOP's definition!
     While agreeing in principle that the tax code needs revision, the Democratic Party would limit the definition of small business to one that has a net income not exceeding $250,000. While that figure may be a bit low, it certainly makes more sense than basing it on how the paperwork is set up.
     (2) The estate tax is killing small business. Through 2012, there is no estate tax on estates not exceeding $5M in value. Unless Congress extends the exemption, it will revert to $1M per person in 2013. So unless the estate of a married couple exceeds $2M in value, there is no estate tax. The percentage of truly small businesses falling into that category is very low.
    (3) If the income tax rates were reduced, businesses would hire more people. I was in the accounting business for over 40 years, and worked with hundreds of business owners. I cannot recall a single case where the owner hired or fired because of his tax rate. Lower tax rates simply mean more money in the owner's pocket.
     (4) Lower tax rates stimulate the economy. This past week the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of the Library of Congress, withdrew publication of an economic report that found no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth. The author of the report, Thomas L. Hungerford, is a specialist in public finance who earned his economics doctorate from the University of Michigan. He examined the historical fluctuations of the top income tax rates and the rates on capital gains since World War II, and concluded that those fluctuations did not appear to affect the nation’s economic growth. To no one's surprise, Senate Republicans, who know far more about economics(?) than does Mr. Hungerford, “raised concerns about the methodology and other flaws” of the report.
     (5) Congressmen have far more knowledge of the way the world works than do scientists who spend their lives studying the processes of nature. From Congressman Todd Akin and his knowledge of “legitimate rape,” to his many colleagues who disbelieve the conclusions of 95% of the world's climatologists regarding the attribution of climate change to mankind's activities, they have special knowledge of nature's workings. The problem appears to be that scientists do not spend enough time listening to science “experts” such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter.
      (6) Mitt Romney has a plan to create jobs and stimulate the economy. From his campaign speeches, it appears he has many plans, one for whatever section of the electorate he is courting at the moment.
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Practicing Good Manners To A T(ea)

     Now don't get me wrong – I think good manners are important. I also think they boil down to treating each other with civility, which means respect and politeness. You know, like we treat others who are members of “our” political party.
     We all know that we should treat everyone like that, but with those thick-headed members of the “other” party, we are like the child who came home from his first day of kindergarten.
     When his mother asked what he learned today, he said, “I learned to say 'yes sir' and 'no sir' and 'yes mam' and 'no mam.'
     The mother said, “You did?”
     “Yeah,” was his answer.
     But after reading an article in this morning's newspaper, I am convinced that good manners can be, shall we say, overdone? The article, Follow these manners to a tea, lists some tips on the “correct” way to drink tea, at least in public.
     For example: “Rather than stirring tea, the correct way to incorporate milk is to place the teaspoon in the 6 o'clock position in the cup and gently fold the milk from 6 o'clock to 12 o'clock.” I'm sorry, but if I folded milk from 6 o'clock to 12 o'clock, my arm would drop off. Besides, wouldn't the tea be cold, or at least tepid?
     How about this: “Never leave the spoon in the mug or in an iced tea glass; instead, remove it and set it on a plate or napkin.” Well how stupid do they think we are? If we leave it in the mug we run an increased risk of eventually having to remove it from our eye.
     Another tip: “Sugar should be added after the milk, 1-2 teaspoons is the standard amount.” I suppose if you would like 3 teaspoons of sugar, or none, you could be black-balled. And if you want to be a rebel, add the sugar before the milk.
     And my favorite: “. . . if using a traditional tea cup (what other kind is there?) never loop your fingers through the handle, but rather grasp it with your thumb and first two fingers. Holding the pinkie up helps balance the cup to avoid spills.” I have yet to see a “traditional” tea cup with a handle through which I could loop my fingers. And second, eventually this could lead to a hinkie pinkie, for which there is no known cure.
     I have enough trouble practicing “regular” manners to a T, without trying to practice “elegant” manners to a tea.
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Is Your Mother's Maiden Name? Gdkeref(?)

     Probably the most common “secret” questions by which an online account user's identity is supposed to be verified are:
     What is your mother's maiden name?
     What was the name of your first elementary school?
     Where did you meet your spouse?

      And in these days where everything is available on the world wide web, what is secret about them? Anyone with half an ounce of computer knowledge can often get the answers in a few minutes.
     Recently I called my bank and asked to submit new answers to my secret questions, and was told that once one has the answers established, they cannot be changed. How can your mother's maiden name be different from what it was when you originally submitted it?
     Of course, it isn't different, but that does not mean that one can't change the answer to the question. What difference does it make to the bank if you change your answer from Mabel Smith to Shirley Temple, or even to something like Brom Bones or Gdkeref? As long as you give the same answer every time the bank asks the question, you are identified, and no hacker is going to find your answer on the web in a thousand years. The same is true of any secret question.
     Some organizations have caught on to the problem, and allow one to make up one's own questions. Wonderful! You don't even need a legitimate question. Suppose I ask, “Is it warmer in the summer or in the country?” Answer: Purple. As long as I give the same answer whenever the question is asked, my identity is verified.
     For the password itself, how about something like [Gj4&sD34#6Df]? Coupled with an unsearchable secret question, the account is virtually uncrackable.
     Some financial institutions use one's email address as the user ID. By intercepting the user's email to the institution, a hacker discovers the user's ID.
     A simple way to avoid this problem is to set up an email account which is used only for the user ID. Actual contact with the institution is through the normal email account.
     For example, suppose I set up a special email account, say, which I submit as my user ID. However, whenever I contact the institution, I use my regular email account: A hacker who intercepts my message can try all day to use my email address as the user ID, to no avail. The only time the secret address is ever used, is when the institution contacts me.
     Of course, all this presupposes that one can remember to use the regular email and the answers to the secret questions. Simple enough, write it down and keep it next to your computer – not in it.
     This seems like real cloak and dagger stuff, but with ID theft becoming more prevalent, one can't be too careful.
     PS – My bank is the only institution which would not allow me to change my answers. I'm going to take another crack at them tomorrow.
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Emulating The Founding Fathers

     A few days ago I posted a blog in which I called one of the presidential candidates a hypocrite, and presented an argument which I thought justified the appellation. A short time letter one of my Facebook friends unfriended me. This is fine – he has as much right to do that as I have to express my opinion.
     We do not know each other except through Facebook, but I sincerely hope that if we did, we would display what is becoming a rare faculty these days: disagreeing and yet remaining friends.
     The Bible says: “. . . unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” I am not an expert on the kingdom of heaven, but the statement sounds like good advice in the personal relations field. I have seen children fight as if they meant to kill each other, and an hour later they were again best friends.
     The choice today seems to be between friendship and enmity - there is no middle ground. I have heard of a case in which friends were dining together when one, in jest, called a radio talk show host by a mildly derogatory name. His friend got so angry that he got up and walked out without eating, and to my knowledge they have not spoken since.
     I cannot think of a more suitable adjective to describe this reaction than “unamerican.” Although I am sure he would disagree, Sen. Mitch McConnell's statement: “Making Obama A One-Term President Is My Single Most Important Political Goal.” is a case in point. If the Founding Fathers had behaved like that, our national anthem would be God Save The Queen.
     Friends John Adams and Thomas Jefferson became bitter political enemies, but eventually they overcame their enmity. It is through their writings to each other that we are aware of much of the background of the revolution.
     The point is that even though they were still political opposites at the end of their lives, (they both died on July 4, 1826) they saw the good in each other.
     As long as we consider that “those people” who disagree with “us” are enemies, we differ from radical Islamists only in degree.
     We can do better. In fact, we must do better, or our republic is in danger of tearing itself apart.
     My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mitt: A Rhyming Word For Hypocrite.

     In a September 25th speech at Education Nation, Mitt Romney said: “The largest contributors to the Democratic Party are teachers' unions. And so, if they can elect someone, then that person is supposed to be representing the public vis-a-vis the teachers' union, but actually most of the money came from the teachers' union. It's an extraordinary conflict of interest. That's something I think is a problem and should be addressed.” He added later, “We simply can't have a setting where the teachers' unions are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table.”
     Romney has a point – according to Open Secrets, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association contributed about $5.4M to federal candidates, parties and committees during the 2008 election cycle. About 95% of the contributions went to Democratic causes. Tens of millions indeed!
     However, CBS News reports that at least 26 people or companies gave $1M or more to Restore Our Future, the main Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney. The top three donors to Republican causes gave a total of $72.1M* – over 50% more than the entire total collected by the Democratic Super PACs. I think it is safe to assume that they are expecting a substantial return on their investment.
     Through July, the top two Republican Super PACs have raised a total of $137M compared to $47.5M for the top three Democratic Super PACs.
     If Romney wins the election, he “is supposed to be representing the public vis-a-vis” any legislation affecting the business community. Not a problem? Yeah! Right!
* 1. Sheldon Adelson & Family. Total: $37.5 million
Adelson is CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corp.
2. Harold Simmons/Contran. Total: $18.7 million
Simmons is CEO of Dallas-based holding company Contran Corp. and publicly-traded Valhi.
3. Bob Perry. Total: $15.9 million
Perry is a Houston-based homebuilder and president of Perry Homes.

My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Is 47% The Limit?

According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, 93% of the non-taxpaying freeloading Americans earn $50K or less, 5% earn between $50K and $100K, and the remaining 430,000 nonpayers earn more than $100K per year. The last group includes about 4,000 households with annual incomes in excess of $1M. In spite of what Mr. Romney said, I doubt that all of these “government dependent” people are going to vote for Mr. Obama.
But lately there have been signs that the group of people which the GOP considers unworthy of consideration is much larger than the 47% group. For example, in honor of the Labor Day holiday, Eric Cantor, the house majority leader, sent out the following Tweet: “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.”
This would come as a surprise to Matthew Maguire, who first proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as the secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York, or Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor, who also proposed the holiday about the same time. In 1894, just six days after the deaths of a number of workers (not owners) during the Pullman Strike at the hands of U.S. Law Enforcement officials, Labor Day became a national holiday.
Apparently Mr. Cantor, a leader of the party, would forget laborers in order to honor business owners.
Mr. Romney himself gave an insight into the party thinking in his nomination acceptance speech. In speaking of immigrants, Mr. Romney said, “They came not just in pursuit of the riches of this world but for the richness of this life. . . And yes, freedom to build a business. With their own hands.” Apparently, if they came just to earn a living, they don't deserve recognition.
It appears that the underlying party belief is that only business owners, officers and entreprenuers deserve commendation. Forget the workers.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Small Business Problem

Let's pretend that you are the sole proprietor of a small business – one that employs 15 or 20 people. Suppose you manufacture two products: shirts and widgets. Both lines are selling very well - your bottom line nets out to about $100K, on which you pay about $15K in income tax after deductions.
Now the government, in its relentless pursuit of job creation, lowers your taxes to $13K. How many new employees will you hire with that extra $2,000? (A no-brainer.)
Suddenly your sales of shirts drop 50% because your competitors have outsourced their production to India; do you keep all the employees in the shirt production line, or do you lay some of them off? (Another no-brainer.)
Your accountant tells you that the government will give you a hefty allowance if you install automated equipment (made in China) that will enable you to compete. In fact, you will need even less employees than you have now! Do you buy the new equipment? (This is almost too simple.)
Suddenly a new use is found for your widgets, and the sales double in just a few months. You absolutely must find extra equipment and employees to handle the increased volume. So you hire a consultant who fixes you up with automated equipment which can handle the entire increase, and better yet, can be run by only one new employee. You are back in clover.
Now let's take a look at what happened here. Job creation was dependent upon two variables: it was directly proportional to sales and inversely proportional to operational efficiency. Tax adjustment was useless, at least for the small business.
In the old days the mantra for business success was location, location, location. Not any more – these days success is determined by customers, customers, customers.
Mr. Romney, please take note.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Clint Eastwood, Political Expert.

I have just finished watching Clint Eastwood's speech to the Republican National Convention for the umpteenth time, and since just about everyone else has already sounded off on the matter, I have decided it is now my turn. Although as a liberal I am expected to disagree with everything Clint said, there are a few things with which I agree.
For example, I think it would be a good idea to end the adventure in Afghanistan. Our objective was to get Osama bin Laden, and we have done so. As Clint said, we should have consulted the Russians on the problems of stabilizing that country – if we had, we would have left when we got Osama.
It is not as if we are fighting for the security of the United States; it is extremely doubtful that the Afghans would attack us if we left. The rest of the world knows the tribal situation in Afghanistan, and is laughing at our stupidity.
Clint also mentioned that some of us in Obama's own party are disappointed that the economic problems of the country have not been solved, which is true, but we also realize that the solution is not dependent upon who is in office. As long as there are people in this world who are willing to work for pennies per hour, the jobs will flow in their direction. (Mr. Romney's tenure at Bain Capital is a prime example.) And as long as robots and software continue to displace people, the ranks of the unemployed will grow.
Mr. Eastwood may be correct in assuming that attorneys in government may not be a good thing - I won't speculate on that - but he neglected to mention that Mr. Romney has a Juris Doctorate from Harvard. Perhaps Clint forgot that during a senior moment.
Mr. Eastwood as well as the whole Republican party seems to be confused as to the goal of government as compared to that of business. Here is the difference – the object of business is to inflate the bottom line so that shareholders receive the highest possible return on their investments. Period!
The goal of government, at least that of the United States is to: form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
The last businessman who became president was Herbert Hoover. Clint, ask yourself how that worked out.
As Clint said, [ideally] we - not the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Harold Simmons, Bob Perry nor any of the other billionaires who are attempting through SuperPACS to obtain the best [business friendly] government money can buy - own the country.
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog entitled I Can't Believe Someone Really Said This.” To that list I wish to add the following from no less than Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Citizens United decision: “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” I wonder if he still believes that.
One more thing: To put vulgar sayings in the mouth of an absent individual, president or otherwise, is to my mind the epitome of disrespect. But it is also an outstanding display of the complete lack of class of the individual who does so.
Clint, stick to acting.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

People I Have Forgiven

I am enjoying retirement so much that I have taken to heart a bit of advice from the Talmud: "Live well. It is the best revenge." Accordingly, I hereby forgive all the people who have “done me wrong” over the past 80+ years. Although a few of these events were done deliberately, most of them were so minor that the perpetrators never knew they hurt me.
The following is a list of a few that I remember. If I missed any, I intend for them to be on the list:

The grade school kid who won all my marbles in just five minutes.
The other grade school kid who made me look ridiculous in a “friendly” rough-house on the playground.
The classmate who won the lead in the junior high play. I wanted that part because it including holding hands with the female lead.
Another classmate who beat the crap out of me in a boxing match in gym class.
The fellow soldier who told everybody he thought I was queer. (Gay in today's parlance.)
The boss who fired me on Friday afternoon, then hired me back on a lesser job the following Monday.
The CPA who refused to sign off on my application for certification, even though I had single-handedly performed several audits for him.

I highly recommend following the Talmud's advice. It feels great!
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Monday, August 13, 2012

I Can't Believe Someone Really Said This

What do these three events have in common?

(1) December 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor was attacked. 2,402 Americans were killed and 1,282 were wounded. Eight battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and one minelayer were either damaged or sunk.

(2) September 11, 2001: Four suicide attacks against the United States resulted in almost 3,000 deaths. The twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were destroyed and a section of the Pentagon was demolished. The attackers intended to crash a fourth plane into the United States Capitol, but crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa.

(3) August 1, 2012: The Affordable Healthcare Act required new health insurance policies to include FDA-approved contraceptives, an annual well woman preventive care visit with her doctor, and screening for gestational diabetes, STIs, HIV/AIDS and HPV. Also required are screening and counseling for domestic violence, and breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling, all without cost to the patient.

I am sure almost everyone will agree that the first two events were, as FDR put it, days that will live in infamy. But GOP Rep. Mike Kelly, who, I am ashamed to say, represents Pennsylvania, said, “I want you to remember Aug. 1, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom. That is a day that will live in infamy, along with those other dates.”
Mike has a perfect right not to like the requirements of August 1, but to place them on a par with the loss of lives and property of the other two is absolutely stupid. I am having a hard time getting my head around the fact that someone thinks such a thing, especially someone elected to represent us.

On a lesser note, GOP Rep. Bill Young of Florida recently displayed his understanding of the problems of low-wage workers in a 4th of July discussion with a voter in St. Petersburg. The subject was a bill in Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10.

Citizen: Do you support that?
Young: Probably not.
Citizen: Ten bucks. That would give us a living wage.
Young: How about getting a job?
Citizen: I do have one.
Young: Well, why do you want that benefit? Get a job.

Perhaps the conversation was a bit too complex for Young to understand.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Who The Hell Is Grover Norquist Anyway?...George H. W. Bush.

That's a question that needs an answer, George, so I decided to look it up. And the answer is . . . he's just a guy who is fixated on one thing and one thing only. As he puts it, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” In other words, he wants to eliminate government. Period.
One of the ways he hopes to accomplish his goal is through his Taxpayer Protection Pledge, in which the pledger promises to "oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates."
In 1985 Norquist founded the Americans For Tax Reform (ATR),which he claims was in response to a request by President Reagan. Although the stated primary policy goal of ATR is to reduce government revenues as a percentage of the GDP, ATR also states that it "opposes all tax increases as a matter of principle." As stated by a Reagan staffer, the idea is to “starve the beast.” According to an ATR spokesman, as of 6 July 2012, a total of 539 incumbent lawmakers and candidates have signed the pledge.
Officially Norquist is a lobbyist for ATR, so why does he exercise such a strong influence over Republican Congressmen? Because of the principles he advocates, he is loudly singing the same song as the “tea party,” the all-powerful NRA, the Conservative Caucus and other far-right causes.
The fallacy of the “no-government” group is that there are some activities that only government can perform efficiently. Imagine how well 50 individual state militias would fare against almost any invader. Would we really need several competing highways between Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia? What organization would or could finance basic science research? If there were no educational requirements, would there be communities that decided that public schools were a waste of money? Whose private money would be good nationwide? If banks were unrestricted, what sort of mechanism would be set up to prevent another great depression? (Admittedly, the current mechanism is not operating 100% efficiently, but it beats nothing.) But you get the idea.
As G.H.W. Bush says, conditions change. If your landlord decided to double your rent, would you give up food, or would you look for some way to increase your income?
A nation after government elimination does not enjoy freedom – it suffers chaos.
My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.