Archive for July, 2009

Say what you will about Americans, when the going gets tough, we start telling jokes.  I suppose that these might be funny if the Congress wasn’t so determined to create a solution.  So:

Father of U. S. Health Care Reform


V. I. Lenin

The Genius of Health Care Reform

With so many pages of enabling legislation, National Health Care Reform in the U. S. was designed to meet every contingency.  Here, the system at work:

National Health Care System

National Health Care System

Note that the system has a fail safe feature; the attendant is present to put out fires when they break out.


The National Health Care System uses advanced features to save costs.  Here, swine flu vaccine is distributed to our customers:

Swinf Flu Dispensers

Swine Flu Dispensers

Customer Care

A team of National Health Care counselors provide health care information for our customers.  Here, they prepare for a day of helping people:

Health Care Counselors

Health Care Counselors

Customer Support

National Health Care also offers assistance for our customers.  Here, a random weight check to insure compliance with National guidelines:

Weight Check Roadblock

Weight Check Roadblock

Here, a random National Health Care identity verification:

Just Checking

Just Checking

New Facilities

National Health Care means new, state-of-the-art facilities:

New Child Care Facility - Miami

New Child Care Facility - Miami

Improved Access to Health Care

Here, National Health Care officials direct a customer to the line for appointments:

Appointments Counseling

Appointments Counseling


Since National Health Care is paid for by taxes, it is important that our customers remain healthy.  Here, a National Health Care customer tries the new Soylent White health bar:

New Soylent White!

New Soylent White!


In spite of the best efforts of the National Health Care system, some customers are unable to meet the basic requirements for a healthy life.  Here, a misinformed customer is educated about the need for healthy choices after buying a dozen chocolate doughnuts at a local grocery store:

You are not eating the correct foods

You are not eating the correct foods

And Remember:

The motto of the National Health Care System is:

When you get hit by a bus, we all pay.


With thanks to English Russia for great photographs.

Что благодаря Английский России большой фотографии..

Read Full Post »

Theater of the Czars

An article in Reuters has pointed out that the current Federal administration has a czar for everything.  As with so many other overused titles (such as being identified by the media as being an “icon”), there is a lot of unintentional humor.  And, the United States is not the sort of place for czars, in the historical sense of the word.

Consider the Wikipedia entry for “Tsar“, which has its origins in the term “Caesar”.  To continue: “Originally, the title Czar (derived from Caesar) meant Emperor in the European medieval sense of the term, that is, a ruler who claims the same rank as a Roman emperor, with the approval of another emperor or a supreme ecclesiastical official (the Pope or the Ecumenical Patriarch).”  In other words, definitely not representative of any sort of elected position in a democracy.  So, the term “car czar” may have far more meaning than was originally intended.  And it may be a lot closer to the truth than modern Americans suspect.

As things roll along, there are even more czars in our future.  As could be expected by the frenzied legislative process surrounding the health care “crisis”, a lot of stuff is being snuck into the thousands of pages of enabling legislation.  Consider the gutting of ERISA, which will give us a new “health choices commissioner”.  And, there is sure to be more of these sorts of surprises lurking, hidden away from public view until everything has been signed, sealed and enacted.

Of course, this denies the revolutionary character of the United States; things have a way of changing and responding to popular sentiment, good and bad.  Beyond that, though, is the larger question of our relationship to our government, and who is in charge.  And, it makes you wonder if we are really ready to be led like a Soviet-bloc country.  All of this makes me pine for the good old days of the Cold War when you pretty much knew who your enemies were.

In particular, I miss a few key guys like Khrushchev (and Mrs. Khrushchev, too), Yuri Andropov and other great Cold War Reds.  As an aside, when Andropov, a former head of the KGB, came into office, the Soviets managed to lay a real sleeper onto the American media.  It was soon reported that instead of being a hard-liner, Andropov was a hidden sophisticate, who would drink Scotch whisky and listen to American jazz after hours.  The diplomats at Foggy Bottom were soon congratulating themselves.  Meanwhile, the boys in the Kremlin were toasting each other with Глупыми американцами!!

Anyway, Khrushchev and the stone-faced Andrei Gromyko played tag team diplomacy at the United Nations; Khrushchev’s way with footwear is a particularly fond memory.  On other occasions, this dynamic duo would sit there in the UN and bang their fists on their desks in protest.  When Khrushchev was evicted from office, he was replaced by the equally interesting Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev.

Although not as colorful as Khrushchev, he was still interesting stuff.  The Tsars might have been gone, but he knew the moves.  Consider his official photograph:


Look at all those awards!  I suspect that at State events he would ease over to a nearby electrical outlet, plug in and those medals would light up like a Christmas tree.

Privately, Brezhnev was apparently quite a fun guy.  The sort of guy you could sit down and hammer a few bottles of vodka with.  You probably didn’t want to play cards with him, and you certainly didn’t want to negotiate nuclear weapons reductions with him.  But if you kept conversation confined to Russian women, you were probably okay.  So, in that light, consider this photograph, from the blog English Russia.

Brezhnev at Play

Brezhnev at Play

Say what you will, for a Communist, he certainly has the capitalist look.  You can just imaging what he’s looking at.  A few cute Russian babes sitting around the pool in bikinis, sipping French champagne and working on their tans.  Off to the side, several security thugs just looking for someone to beat up, etc.  And, who’s on the phone?

Which brings us to a presumably apochryphal story about Brezhnev.  After Brezhnev succeeded Khrushchev as General Secretary, he was very proud of his accomplishments.  So much so that he called his mother and invited her to Moscow to see what he had accomplished.  She was flown to Moscow by private airplane, picked up at the airport by an honor guard that whisked her into town in a luxury Zil limousine.  He took her around the Kremlin, and as they would pass, everybody would snap to attention.  Leonid took mom out to his dacha by a private lake.  She sat there, looking out on the beautiful scene and started crying.  “Mom, what’s the matter?”  “Oh, this is so wonderful, but what are you going to do if the Bolsheviks come back?”

Read Full Post »

We place a lot of value on numbers, especially so in our digital age. There is something comfortable knowing that research says that 47.2% of people in our society want to be a cowboy. Or that 38.8% of women want free health care.  65.9% of men think that baseball can be boring.  The numbers appear to be so exact, so accurate, yet that is often far from the truth.

Consider this column from Jason Zweig of the Wall Street Journal, here.  He’s talking about historical stock prices, but one sentence is key to this discussion: “They cherry-picked their indexes by throwing out any stock that didn’t survive for the whole period, whose share prices were too hard to find or whose returns seemed “inflexible,” “erratic,” or “non-typical.” That is, the authors of a study concerning stock market pricing did what a lot of “studies” do, they selectively chose data which reflected their perspective.

There’s nothing extraordinary about this act; college level research science classes talk about it all the time.  It’s not in the text books mind you, but the fact is that researchers have to choose data and remove those data which may not properly reflect the research.  For example, a chemical sample may have been accidentally tainted.  A research method may not have been properly controlled.  In the case of science, rigorous peer review keeps everybody honest.  Just ask Pons & Fleischmann.

A classic example of errant data is Dewey Beats Truman.  What happened is that political pollsters based their predictions on a telephone poll, at a time when only the wealthy typically had a personal telephone.  In other words, the pollsters missed a significant portion of the voting population.

45 Million Uninsured

The whole question of how many people in the United States that do not have health insurance is a fond reminder of the Viet Nam war, when job performance was measured in the number of dead.  The BDA (battle damage assessment) metric of that era was the body count.  The more dead bodies you reported, the happier was the High Command.  So, there was an inclination to, ahem, slightly exaggerate the number of enemy killed, and perhaps to even include those who weren’t really the enemy.  In short, the casualty numbers from the Viet Nam war were often wildly inaccurate, both upward and downward.

Nor is this an isolated example.  There is the issue of possible increased domestic abuse on Super Bowl Sunday.  Consider this from Snopes.com.  Or About.com.  As could be expected, not everybody agrees.  Likewise, questions are often raised about the numbers of homeless, and about the validity of voters recently registered by ACORN.  Regardless of how you feel about an issue, whenever numbers are being loosely thrown around, you have to take into consideration the motives of those who report the numbers in question.

So, while the number 45 million rolls off of the tongues of many politicians and media people, that number may be inaccurate.  Others have argued that this number is considerably lower, and it has also been suggested that some could afford health insurance if they chose to spend their money for that instead of new wheels for their Chevrolet Vega.

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the overhaul, which appears here, includes this sentence: “…some 46 million people don’t have health coverage. To be sure, that oft-cited number from the Census Bureau is somewhat misleading because it includes illegal immigrants, healthy young adults who don’t think they need insurance and poor people who are eligible for Medicaid.

Who Are the Uninsured?

I’ve blogged about this before.  In part:

To a degree, we already have national health care, it is just that it is an inconsistent series of agreed-upon plans.  So, you have a series of choices:

  • If you are employed there is a good chance your employer offers group insurance and pays much of the premium for it too.
  • If you choose not to take your employer coverage, you may be one of the “uninsured.” More about you in a minute.
  • If you are uninsured and you are poor, you are covered by Medicaid.
  • If you are uninsured and you earn too much to be considered “poor”  by Medicaid, your children (and maybe your whole family) still may be eligible for SCHIP for a low cost.  (The income limit currently in Georgia, for example, is 235% of the 2009 Poverty Guidelines or $51,817 for a family of 4).  And, eligibility is creeping upward every year.
  • If you aren’t offered a group plan by your employer you may choose one of hundreds of individual medical policies, but you must be healthy when you apply.  No one will insure a burning house.  If you lose your group health plan you have the option to continue a conversion plan on an individual basis if you cannot qualify for individual medical coverage due to a medical problem.
  • If you choose not to be insured because you think the premiums are too high, you are risking all of your assets.  You are choosing not to pay an insurance premium and betting that you won’t get very sick.   If you lose the bet, you will spend all of your assets before you become eligible for Medicaid, at which point you will become covered again.  And, you might get your picture on an evening newscast.

It’s all kind of a matter of taking personal responsibility or not.

Universal Health Care Because We Have Universal Education

It has been suggested that we need universal health care for the same reasons that we have universal education.  Personally, after taking a studied look at the state of education in the United States, I don’t think that I would use that as a reason to justify a massive readjustment in our health care delivery system.  If health care became like education, there would a massive bureaucracy, drop outs and extensive union representation.  Hmmh, this may be a good example after all.

Instead, maybe we should look at the first government run health care program, Medicare.  Well, maybe not.

The Benefits of Government Regulation

I’m not sanguine about the current state of health care reform, since it reminds me of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which was created in response to railroad shipper outrage, particularly by farmers (who were a major influence in national politics at that time) in 1887.  The ICC was finally disbanded in 1995.

The nature of the ICC was covered well in an article in the Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2001. In a review of John Steel Gordon’s book “The Business of America”, reviewer John Lilly states:

“More typical is Mr. Gordon’s evident enthusiasm for free and fair markets. In “R.I.P, ICC” he presents an unflattering obituary of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which ended its days in 1995, having “outlived the problem it was created to manage by several decades”.”

That problem was 19th-century railroad freight rates, which could be intensely competitive on major “trunk” lines but virtually without competition on “branch” lines, where high rates made up for low money-losing ones elsewhere. To put an end to such “price gouging”, the federal government set up the ICC. Soon, though, the railroads learned how to manipulate the agency, and politicians too, so that the ICC became a kind of broker for the railroad cartel, stripping away risk and ensuring “regulated” profits. In the 1930’s, Mr. Gordon notes, trucking challenged the railroads’ freight business, but the ICC simply moved over to regulate trucking.

So, the ICC served to both insure regulated rate of return to the railroads and also removed elements of risk for the railroads. At the same time, peculiar inefficiencies creeped into the transportation system. Because freight moving between two points had an established tariff, choice of a particular railroad was not necessary. If two railroads operated between the same two cities, the tariff for that route was the same regardless of the operating company which hauled the freight. The tariff for that route was based upon the costs of transportation between those two points. An inefficient railroad had little incentive to become more efficient, since their rate of return on investment was already locked into the tariff.

It should be noted that the process of disbanding the ICC also marked the end of decades of decline for the railroads.

Oh the Irony of it All

And, as has been pointed out by Glenn Reynolds in the Washington Examiner, there is one further irony here.  In the last several years, we have been told of the vital importance of stem cell research.  Now, the prospect of unlimited stem cell research is going to be tempered by the fact that private enterprise will have little reason to get into such research if there is no prospect for financial success.  Further, from the managed care perspective of the bureaucrats, stem cell treatments have the potential of being very expensive, and thus do not fit into the perspective of the government’s plan.

Gold Rush

Now we have a gold-rush mentality as everyone lines up for their portion of Federal largess; you have to wonder how much pie there is to spread around to those want to get while the getting’s good.  Institutions that previously fought against nationalized health care are now lined up, too.  The American Medical Association, several insurance carriers and even Wal-Mart are jockeying for political position.  They do this as much for the money as they do it to limit their competitors.  And they do it with the belief that they can manage the current administration to their own advantage.  There is no concern for those who are supposed to be benefiting, the patients.

We are in a headlong rush toward a health care “solution”, one that must be passed by August 9th.  The thousands of pages of this legislation are in a constant state of flux; pages that were blank three weeks ago are now filled with words that will be changed again, and again as Congress tries to rapidly work its magic before everybody realizes what is happening.  It is highly unlikely that your Congressional representative knows what they are voting for.

You have to wonder how a problem that has stymied both Republicans and Democrats, the medical establishment, the insurance carriers, employers, patients and all the great thinkers of our time can be so easily solved in three weeks.  The fact is that there is no time for reflection or consideration, there is only the headlong rush to a “solution”, where fast action is preferred over thoughtful action.  It’s like a cattle stampede, and with about the same level of rational thought.

It would be nice to say that the House of Representatives is “tinkering with health care”, but it looks more like they are blowing all the whistles and firing up the boilers just to see what this baby will do.  This is all unnerving.

I’ve been through this all before when my insurance carrier and my primary care physician’s hospital battled it out three years ago about pricing, and what it really comes down to is that those who will be subjected to health care reform are being treated like another piece of meat sitting in the waiting room of the local emergency care facility.  The real question to ask your Congressional representative when you see them at the upcoming break is: “Are you going to be personally participating in this “reform”?  Unfortunately, the answer is that Congress does not have the same type of medical care that is being prescribed as the solution to our “health care crisis.”

Tax & Spend Liberals

For years we have heard the Republican mantra of Tax & Spend Liberals, and now that we have irrefutable evidence of this policy, the Republican party no longer enjoys the moral authority to point out this problem.  Oh, yeah, wait a minute; the Republicans had eight whole years to work on this problem.  Thanks a lot.

The fact is that you and I are going to have to take care of this ourselves.  And the way that we do it is by contacting our representatives and letting them know how we feel about what is being done.  And, the 2010 elections are just 16 months away, and all members of the House of Representatives can be held accountable then for their actions of today.

Read Full Post »

Paul Hemphill’s memorial service was today at noon. It was a sweet and enjoyable tribute to his life and to his words. The room was wall-to-wall with literary talent, lots of ink stained wretches, but as one editorial type observed, “We clean up good.” And, interestingly, there were no television types there, which must say something.

Afterwards, lunch at Manuel’s Tavern and some enjoyable moments with someone whom I had corresponded with for many years but had not met in person.  And then , back to the real world, stuck in traffic on the Downtown Connector.

There’s something appropriate in the fact that Hemphill died around the baseball All-Star break.  Paul loved the game, unsuccessfully tried for a career in the game and followed it for years.  So, right in the middle of the baseball season, there is a game that really decides nothing, one that is played simply out of love for the game.  It’s a boys’ game played by men, and the All-Star game is just that, all stars, chosen by the fans.  Tomorrow, the competition begins again, but for the moment it is just the game.

Paul Hemphill led a full and interesting life.  Lucky us.

Read Full Post »

Paul Hemphill, Writer

Paul Hemphill has died at age 73.  He leaves behind family, friends and a prodigious body of the written word.

It is hard to understate the lasting legacy Paul Hemphill has given to writers yet unborn; whatever we write is built upon what has been written before.  Before you can write, you must read and you must experience.  And to be a successful Southern writer is an even greater achievement simply because the competition is so great.  The Southern writer is a captive of place and people and pain, yet from all that, Paul Hemphill did it all.  His was a clean and elegiac style, vividly remembering what had been.

There are countless stories about Mr. Hemphill, but his epiphany at Emile’s French Restaurant is perhaps the best.  It is far better recounted in his own essay “Quitting the Paper” from his 1981 book, “Too Old to Cry”.  Emile’s was a few blocks walk from the old Atlanta Journal building, around the corner from Herrin’s.  Hidden away on a narrow side street, Emile’s was a perfect place for the conspiratorial gin-fueled meeting which led to his departure from the Atlanta Journal.  It was there that reason and practicality were thrown to the wind and Paul Hemphill cut out on his own.  Emile’s is  long gone, but there should be a plaque on the wall for every writer that contemplates breaking free and going it alone.

Hemphill had set a grueling pace, writing daily columns for years.  The best description I have heard is that the newspaper is a monster that eats writers, and every day it takes another bite.  Of course, what was to happen next is uniquely Paul’s; sixteen books and thousands of newspaper columns and essays show that.

There is no adequate way to explain why people see and then try to put words to what has been.  There are insufficient words to explain the compulsion of writing, but proofs of the skill are self evident by what is put to paper.  With his words and his eye, Paul Hemphill supplied the seeds for future generations of those who aspire to write.  He showed them with his craft.

We are told to write what we know, so in that way, there can never be another Paul Hemphill.  Each generation of writers experience a different world, see different things.  What Hemphill’s generation wrote was often called “The New Journalism“, and it was a clear break from what had been written before.  There are those who consider Hunter S. Thompson to be the most flamboyant example, but those who say that never saw Paul Hemphill and Harry Crews in full sway at Manuel’s Tavern.  And, writing in that style was not necessarily limited to the the confines of the outrageous, George J. W. Goodman’sThe Money Game” is proof of that.

There have been those of the younger generation that drink and act like Hunter Thompson in the expectations that they will then write like Hunter Thompson, but it doesn’t work that way.  Each generation must find its own way of speaking.  Each generation must write through their own experiences.  Each generation builds on what has been written before.

Hemphill’s words were hard and gritty because his life had once been hard and gritty.  Hemphill wrote what he knew, and did it gorgeously.  We no longer have the benefit of his presence, but we have the lasting benefit of his words.  Paul Hemphill is now gone, but his words are still with us forever.

Read Full Post »

Porch View

Porch View

I have always been fortunate enough to have time to just sit and think about things.  Nothing particularly heavy or anything like that, just sit back and consider the events of the day.  This is all facilitated by a wee dram of Maker’s Mark and an ignited Punch Champion.  Fortunately, I have a very nice spot for this sort of thing, up in the trees on a porch outside my office.  In short, a few moments of quiet reflection.


Speaking about Punch cigars and current events in Honduras, I’m a little edgy about my cigar supply.  Here you have a relatively stable Central American country with a Constitution that has presidential term limits.  Along comes a Fidel Castro / Hugo Chavez /  Evo Morales wannabe, who figures that the Constitution doesn’t apply to him.  He gets tossed out of the country by the military, who are following the directions of the country’s Supreme Court.  Or, it could just be another garden variety Latin American coup d’état. [Please see here]  [And here.]  As is so familiar with the United States’ Central American policy, we seem to be backing the wrong side.  Go figure.  Latin America has always had an inclination toward strong leaders; the Wall Street Journal discusses caudillos in depth, here.

So, I’m interested in Honduran events on more than an intellectual basis, but things will work out.  Distribution of one of my favorite vices may become restricted; I can adapt.  As Al Haig once described his Cuban cigar habit: “I view it as burning the enemy’s crops.”  And the political environment in Loretto, Kentucky is stable.

Longevity Research

University of Wisconsin researchers report that a 20-year study with 76 monkeys has determined that reduced caloric intake leads to a longer life.  Well, actually, it may not be longer, but it will certainly seem longer.  And this from Madison, one of the world’s greatest college party towns.  Some people will do anything to try and get David Kessler to smile.

Sarah Palin

For a long while, I have been undecided about Ms. Palin, but I think now that I am over her for a number of reasons.  She’s playing out of her league, and I think that she has become the pet rock of the Republican Party.  In so many ways, her arrival on the political scene was refreshing, but it also had its troubling elements.  Yes, she can field strip a moose with a pickup truck and a chain, but what does that have to do with administering nuclear weapons?  Yes, she brought a fresh view of politics to the campaign; she made John McCain look fifteen years younger.  Her political career went from 0 to 60 in an impressive 4.7 seconds, but is that necessarily a good thing?

The cracks in the veneer appeared early, especially when the Unknown Soundman left Peggy Noonan’s microphone open at an Iowa meeting just after Palin’s candidacy had been announced.  Noonan followed her articulation about Palin with articles, here, and again today.  I’m not slavish about it, but I do trust Noonan’s opinion about things since she seems to have a good-hearted understanding of American politics.

In many ways, Palin was chosen in the same way that Barry Goldwater chose Bill Miller as his vice-presidential candidate.  “He drives the Democrats crazy.”  There’s a lot to be said for that character quality, but in this day and time, it’s not really the skill set needed to win an election and to govern.  Woman from big cities hate her, regardless of political preference.  Women from small towns love her, regardless of political preference.  At the same time, there is the dawning realization that she may never be right for the position of President of the United States.  Yes, she has elements of Reagan, but she also has elements of Andrew Jackson.  Granted, there isn’t much Millard Fillmore or James Buchanan there.

The media love her because, regardless of how you feel about her, she keeps the viewers tuning in.  A recent ABC interview of Palin took place on a fishing boat.  Just exactly what does going fishing have to do with public policy?  On the other hand, we would do better if our government leaders took some time off to fish and think.  In any case, if the phone rings and the Caller ID says “Sarah Palin”, you are quite likely to pick up and take the call, regardless of your political persuasion.

Demographics & Politics

There is an electronics store that has developed an elaborate set of consumer profiles based upon extensive market research.  They have given them cutesy names such as Buckhead Betty or Midtown Eddie, and they have developed elaborate marketing scripts to address the needs of various customers.  Unfortunately, they don’t have a profile for “Old white fart looking for an HDMI cable”, and it shows whenever I go into their store (well, it showed to me during the period that I actually considered going into their store).  Which is to say, they ignore me, even if the store is empty, which it has been a lot in recent months.  I’ve moved on to other vendors.  The point of their profiling is that they want to achieve the most success with those who are best prepared to spend in their store.  They want to select those that they can dazzle with their sales pitch, leading to an upsale for higher dollars.  Nothing wrong with that, but it comes with the additional possible penalty of losing the “Old white fart looking for a big screen TV who can actually pay for it on the spot.”

Years ago, some bright writer noted that political campaigns had become advertising campaigns, and that they could just as easily have been selling a box of soap as a political candidate.  This was supposed to make us feel guilty enough to enact campaign reform.  Well, that didn’t work and, if anything, the campaigns have become even more product oriented, because that does work.  Yes, it doesn’t really seem to be the right way to elect powerful politicians, but that’s the way that it currently is.

With the efficient political campaign comes the necessity for market research.  In-depth studies consider which words will gain political traction.  Neal Boortz has lamented the fact that the political elites are using pretty words to persuade the electorate to succumb to nationalized health care.  These would be words that make us feel better, like stability and security.  In fact, it would be nice to believe that this is a new idea, but it goes back quite a way, probably first covered by Vance Packard in “The Hidden Persuaders“.  There is little reason to believe that anything has changed, except the efficiencies of the words used.

Now, instead of tax expenditures, we have “investments”.  Instead of neutron bomb, we have “enhanced radiation weapon”.  Waterboarding will soon be described as a refreshing way to clear your sinuses.  The language has become shaded and marginally dishonest, and we are poorer for it.  In a similar manner to my least favorite electronics store, there has been extensive market research for political end, with psychological profiles being of great interest.  Like the electronics store, the politicians want to make the easy and high value sale.

Generally speaking, if you have a fixed set of political beliefs, you are going to vote for certain types of candidate most of the time.  Of course, if your favorite politician gets caught in a compromising position with a barnyard animal, this may not be the case, but given the direction that acceptable deviancy has been going, one never knows.  Of course, after such an event, the politician’s PR person will rush out and state that the politician has always had a long term interest in agriculture and that they were actively involved in animal husbandry research.  You know that it’s true.

Anyway, a certain part of the electorate is going to vote a certain way most of the time.  What you, as a potential politician, should be interested in is the middle, where votes can swing either way.  The recent Presidential election proved to be a harmonic convergence of disaffected conservatives and Obama’s childrens army.  It will be that way again.

What I don’t understand is that when a specific political party gains absolute power, they feel the need to punish the vanquished.  It just seems to be so contrary to the wholesome sense of American fairness.  And, it flouts the fact that absolute power eventually implodes, and then the opposition party gains absolute power and proceeds to punish the vanquished right back.  There can be little wonder as to why the general population holds Congress in such low regard.

Social Security

In that vein, Social Security is, once again, in crisis.  It has been in crisis for much of my life, and as it always has been, it seems ready to explode.  Let’s face it, if actuaries had been given control over Social Security, there would be no problem.  However, Social Security has been handled by politicians, which serves to greatly explain the problem.  Actuaries would have invested in conservative financial vehicles and been careful to dole out no more than was fair.  Politicians, instead, use the subterfuge of spending the Social Security receipts and saying “We’re just borrowing the money.“  This pernicious notion has completely occupied the American psyche.  There are those who point proudly to the fact that several years of the Clinton administration operated at a “surplus”; what they conveniently forget is that those surpluses were as a result of the Social Security revenues that were borrowed against to pay for spending, uhhh, excuse me, investments.

Now, of course, those who started this practice have long since left the political scene, and the current politicians claim innocence “because it’s always been done that way”.  It’s like when one of the family cats knocks over a table lamp; you go to investigate and little furry paws are pointing at the other cats.  It’s hard to tell if we have a spendthrift Congress because we are a nation of spendthrifts, or are we a nation of spendthrifts because we see our elected best & brightest spending like there’s no tomorrow.  If they can do it, why can’t we?

This does serve as a cautionary example related to pending legislation.  If Congress could not get Social Security right, why does anyone think that they will get nationalized health care right?

Waning Baby Boomers

It is my firm belief that the last Presidential election was also the turning point for the Baby Boomers.  It was at this point that my generation’s relevance began to dwindle.  Certainly as the nation’s financial fortunes become more dire as we retire, there will be the political temptation to play one generation off against the other.  And, our generational vanity will play right into that.  Already, there are those who are apologizing for the Baby Boomers in graduation speeches; fortunately, most people don’t remember their graduation speeches, much less the names of those who deliver them.  Alas, I remember my high school graduation in lurid detail, but that is the material for another item on another day.

In any case, our day is beginning to dwindle and it will largely be a question of how we will exit.

Kids Today

I’ve been going to the same barbershop for decades.  Barber shops are one of the last bastions of dive-bomber conservatism; getting your hair “styled” is a different milieu.  In any case, this shop has been there forever; it is my attitude toward the shop that has changed.  In the long-haired 1960’s, going to the barber was an adversarial, but necessary, experience.  By the 21st Century, it has become a male-bonding event.

The scene is classic.  Chair 1 is youngish and probably Libertarian.  Chair 2 is the owner and is definitely conservative.  Chair 3 is a retired Marine.  Chair 4 is the wild card.  Over the years, Chair 4 has been: a resident loud mouth red neck, an illegal alien that eventually was found out as not having his barber credentials and now is a struggling guy with few stated political opinions.  Chair 4 is a tough spot.

Chair 3’s vacation replacement did recently express his disgust with the current crop of “kids”, but I quickly shut that down.  I feel that the current young generation is a great one.  They volunteer for military duty in Iraq and Afghanistan to serve freedom.  They work hard for their families and they show respect for their elders.  We could use a lot more of that.

And, I look back at photographs of me at that age and snicker.  Seeing me at that age, it is a wonder that fathers even let me into their homes, much less allowed me to take their daughters out of the house.  The kids are okay.

Read Full Post »

Independence Day

Today we celebrate our independence from the British Empire.

There are those who are embarrassed to be citizens of the United States of America.  I am not one of them.  There are those who do not believe in the future of the United States.  I am not one of them.

There are differences between many of us, but we leave discussion of our differences for another day.  Rather, consider what we have in common:

  • Freedom of Thought & Expression.  You are pretty much entitled to whatever cockeyed opinion that you have.  And, you can express it; just don’t expect that I should necessarily agree with it.
  • Freedom of Religion.  The same applies here, too.
  • Freedom of Movement.  You don’t need travel papers to drive from Georgia to California.
  • We are a nation of laws.  It is the law that protects us from the predations of others.  You don’t wake up one morning and discover that someone in power has changed the rules that we play under.
  • Our young people are strong and good.  Many of them have voluntarily put their lives at risk, traveled to foreign countries for the purpose of defending democracy.

We are able to guide our own destiny, we are able to live our own lives free of foreign rule.  Many, many people have died to support this country.

We are a fortunate people.

Read Full Post »

Memento moriIn ancient Rome, the phrase is said to have been used on the occasions when a Roman general was parading through the streets of Rome during the victory celebration known as a triumph. Standing behind the victorious general was a slave, and he had the task of reminding the general that, though he was up on the peak today, tomorrow was another day.

Now, of course, we are a modern society and slavery is no longer common in most parts of the world.  Yes, there is still the nagging issue of credit card debt slavery, but, on the whole, there is no longer a supply of people willing to stand behind our leaders and remind them of their own mortality.  There clearly is a crying need for this service, but I have no expectations that a Mortality Czar will be emerging from the current administration.  Perhaps the closest thing that we have to slaves are now called interns; perhaps we’re on to something here.

In any case, never has there been a more compelling argument for being reminded of one’s own mortality than the recent events of the Governor of the great state of South Carolina, one Mr. Mark Sanford.  What  long and rumbling slide that this has been.  Barely a day passes without new revelations of marital infidelity.  This matter has been greatly discussed in other quarters, and there is little  reason to discuss the specifics, since you probably know them anyway.

To be sure, there are those who are savoring this scandal like a fine glass of Romanée-Conti; they don’t even need to drink it to enjoy it, they are just taking in the aroma with deep heartfelt gratitude for another Republican scandal.  At the same time, there are others, such as myself, that have tired of being mortified with Republican behavior; whatever moral and fiscal high ground that they once enjoyed has been squandered away.

The Sanford, ahem, affair does have the hallmarks of a certain school of Republican thought; that is, he has outsourced his extramarital affair.  Presumably there are some efficiencies in there somewhere, but I don’t see how.  His Argentine fling has been followed by an embarrassing series of revelations of other illicit activities, and I’m wondering how long it will be before Governor Sanford reveals that he has slept with Hillary Clinton.

The practical fact of the matter is, however, that our elected officials are flesh and blood mortals, subject to all seven of the Capital Vices of the mortal world.  And, in many cases, it’s going to take more than a trip to Lourdes to fix things.  In any case, the Presidents and Governors and Senators and Representatives all have the same proclivities as those who elect them, and it is unreasonable to expect more or less from them than the general population.

In looking back, it seems that a goodly number of our former Presidents were wanderers.  Truman is an exception because of his general moral tenor.  Carter only lusted in his heart, which may have actually been a harbinger of his presidency.  Nixon probably didn’t wander, for reasons obvious to older readers of this piece; for the younger readers, trust me when I say that even a $400.00 haircut would not help our 37th President.

In point of fact, however, had Richard Nixon been of the roaming eye, there would have been plenty of women, and perhaps a few men, who would have been willing to service his needs outside of the bounds of marriage.  It’s just one indicator of the problems that occur with the exercise of political power.

One recent president was a serial philanderer, and had a high-profile fling with an intern.  At the core of it was the sexual harassment issue of powerful men exploiting vulnerable and impressionable women.  Yet, the reaction to these flagrant indiscretions fell into two major categories.  If you were a supporter of the President, then it was a case of “Oh, well, you know…..”, even though your public position on harassment matters was different.  For another part of the political spectrum, there was justifiable outrage; of course, Mark Sanford’s activities have put the lie to that stuff.  Your reaction to this sort of discovery depends upon your political inclinations and the public official who is being indiscreet.  And through it all are the long suffering spouses.

In a former career, I met an individual who also was a serial philanderer.  Extremely talented in several different areas, he seemed to be incapable of sticking with one paramour.  He was bright, and in that way, had a well developed theory about sleeping around.  His working theory was that you should be messing around with someone who is an equal.  That is, if you are a 40-year old, married with two children, then the person whom you are seeing illicitly should also be a married 40-year old with two kids.  This approach is based on a balance of power; each party to the illicit affair has as much to lose as the other.  I leave the calculus of the various combinations of imbalanced relationships to you.

Assuming the normal bell-shaped curve of the general population, this means that if you are so inclined, there are plenty of other married 40-year olds with two children out there that provide ample opportunity.  It is when you get out to the ends of the curve, the asymptotes, that things become more problematic for those inclined to cheat on their spouses.  There are just so many Presidents of the United States, which probably serves to explain the choice of bimbos and interns for sexual partners outside of marriage by the elected.

Back in the larger portion of the bell-shaped curve, the truth is that most people don’t cheat on their spouses.  It is the rarefied atmosphere of elected office that makes things difficult.  Add to this the fact the Congressional travel spending has tripled since 2001; there are a lot of no-tell motels overseas, and the likelihood of running into a constituent is fairly low.  Likewise, the unfortunate symbiotic relationship between the press and the government has not helped either.

Events such as Governor Sanford’s recent peccadilloes, make the Europeans look at us askance.  I’ve already discussed the fact that we are fundamentally different from the Europeans (please see here).   We are a nation of idealists; the extramarital affair is, at its heart, cynical.  Marriage vows are the ultimate in verbal contracts, so much so that an extensive body of law has emerged to address the issues of such an agreement, but there is also the sense that a politician who cheats is showing a state of mind about other things.  If they cheat on their spouses, what else are they cheating on?

Perhaps the greatest indication is, however, that high profile extramarital affairs simply point to how disparate the elected have become from those who elected them.  If ever there was an argument for having someone stand behind elected officials and remind them of their mortality, this is it.

Remember, you are mortal.

Read Full Post »