Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Everybody’s Doing It

Whenever I wanted to do what the crowd was doing, I would say to my mother, “But everybody’s doing it,” to which she would reply, “If everybody was jumping into a fire, would you jump in too?” But in this case, I figure my opinion is as good as that of most people, so I might as well put it out there. In fact, it may be a bit better, because I am calling it an opinion; most people consider their opinion to be a fact.
So I am going to write about three news stories from 2013 that, in my opinion, have the potential to make profound changes in the way Americans look at the world.
 1. Pope Francis – As usual, the new pope’s tenure is severely constrained by his age, therefore the amount of real change he can bring to the church is also limited. His proposal to change the emphasis of the church from personal morality to compassion and service is a good one, but already there is grumbling among the bishops and other hardliners. However, among the rank and file members, as well as non-Catholics, there seems to be approval.
He has also expressed the need for a “theology of women,” but he has made it clear that the ban on female priests is non-negotiable. As always, having the proper genitals is apparently of utmost importance in the selection of religious leaders.
Perhaps his most surprising statement has been “Who am I to judge?” when speaking about gay priests. The bishops are split over the question of ordaining celibate gay priests, so I believe he has no choice but to make a judgment call.
He has spoken out about the need to root out and punish pedophile priests. At least he has not swept that brouhaha under the rug as his predecessors did.
So far he has talked the talk; time will tell whether he can walk the walk. If so, the world will be a better place.
 2.) The US Government Shutdown – Suppose your employer refused to pay the salary that he already owes you unless you agreed to take a cut in pay, and that if you don’t agree, he will shut down the business. That is exactly what the Congress did this past October. When put that way it sounds childish, and it is. It’s like little boys having a pissing contest behind the barn.
Now the pols have passed an agreement that supposedly would avoid such an event until 1915. During the interim they have the opportunity to draft a sensible budget which will be acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans.
But there is a catch which no one is mentioning: The October shutdown held the Federal Debt Ceiling (FDC) ransom – it had to do with unpaid approved liabilities, and had nothing to do with the budget.
The Treasury will again lose its ability to borrow money in February, 2014, and the FDC will again be subject to potential ransom. I would bet the family farm that the Founding Fathers never imagined that a small group of spending hawks (read Tea Party) would advocate default on government liabilities in order to get their way. (I never said that all the changes would be better.)
Clear a space behind the barn.
 3.) One thing Americans have always cherished is their right to privacy, but the National Security Agency has managed to revoke that right. We always knew that if there was a good reason, the government had the right to obtain a warrant to get whatever private information it needed.
Now thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden, we know the government gets all the information it desires, without a reason or warrant, on a routine basis. Not only that, it routinely monitors communications, both public and private, all over the world. The claim is that acts of terrorism are prevented by obtaining such information.
Now I ask you, how many acts of terrorism have been prevented by monitoring the cell phone calls of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, or David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister? As it now stands, no one in the World can be assured that private information is really private. This program definitely needs some controls other than a “secret” court that routinely provides warrants after the fact.
Benjamin Franklin said that he who gives up privacy for security soon has neither. Shades of George Orwell.
Let’s bring Edward Snowden home and give him the Medal of Freedom.

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Some Thoughts on Christmas

This will be my 84th Christmas, so I feel that I am entitled to expound a few words of wisdom(?) on the subject. When I compare the celebrations of today with those we had when I lived on the farm, it does not appear to be the same holiday, at least on the surface.
Of course I was rather young; I was not quite four years old when I moved there, so Santa Claus was still a pretty big deal for me. This was before the days of Xboxes, iPhones and Tablets – even television was 15 years in the future – and even if today’s gadgets had been available, it would have been impossible to show them on the radio. As a result, the variety of “goods” available was limited. Generally I got to choose one major toy, such as a Hoot Nanny, or a cowboy outfit complete with six-shooters, and the rest of my presents consisted of socks, pants and other articles of clothing. (In those days one could buy a pair of jeans for two or three dollars, not $50+.)
After I learned to write I sent letters to Santa, and it was with great satisfaction that I heard him read them on the radio.
But the climax of the holiday was the family dinner on the big day itself. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – everyone gathered around the big table for the feast.
Now I know that families still get together on the holiday, but often it’s at a restaurant. Because today’s families are spread all over the map, it is usually impossible to get them all around one table.
Many families celebrated the holiday by attending church services on Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning. With a few exceptions, the members of my family were not particularly religious, although when I was very young I did attend Sunday school; thus I did participate in a few Christmas Eve programs.
Over the years the advances in communications have led to the celebration of such as events as Black Friday, which starts on Thanksgiving Day, and huge discounts on everything from Barbie Dolls to Toyotas. Although some families still go to the requisite church services, the accent is on reverse giving. (What are you giving to me?)
Of course, as I demonstrated above, post-youths such as myself sometimes indulge in prolonged flights of nostalgia. Please forgive me.
And have the merriest Christmas ever.
 My books, “There Are Only Seven Jokes” and “The Spirit Runs Through It” are available in paperback or Kindle at Amazon.