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.