What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017
It's March 29, 2017 and after a four year layoff I may be resuming this interrupted commentary. Stand by.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Ten years ago today, On April 2, 2003, having discovered the blogosphere, I started this blog. At the time, I had grandiose ideas about attracting a host of readers to my words of wisdom. Little did I know that my little creation would be instantly lost in a sea of such creations - millions if not billions of on line journalist wannabes. I did hear from a few people who came upon this site accidentally - likely searching for something that Google somehow connected with something I had written. But for the most part, I wrote for my own amusement and in some measure to vent my frustration with the world and its inhabitants.

We humans are, I suppose, a work in progress, but from my vantage point we have made very little progress. As I recorded my views of the passing parade over the past ten years, it seemed at times that we were going backwards and the news from here and around the world for the past few weeks confirms that we are once again that stage of human history and perhaps as a good a time as any to turn my efforts in a new direction

This will likely be my last post here and while I may not add anything, apparently what I have written will remain here for any and all to see for ever - or at least as long as the world and the Internet survives. If you have come upon this site by accident, I bid you welcome and hope that you will stay long enough to read a few selections. You might find some amusing, others insightful. And if you want to pen a comment on anything, my e-mail in-box would be gland to convey it to me.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Much as I have for the most part enjoyed writing this blog, I am beginning the process of hanging up my computer keyboard. In April I will have completed 10 years of this project and perhaps it’s time to devote my time to other activities. I’d be more inclined to keep going longer if I believed people were actually reading what I write and were finding it of interest. But since I don’t hear from readers I have to doubt that that’s the case. I’ll be making a few more comments before my April 10 year anniversary date, but for now, just two items.

I’ve been away from blogging for less than a month, and as far as I can tell, no one has yet dubbed that football game scheduled to take place on February 3 THE HARBAUGH BOWL, so if I’m right, let me be the first.( O.K. Maybe the one thousand and first. It's everywhere on line when you Google the phrase but not much, if at all, in newspapers or broadcast media) Meanwhile, another year has gone and nothing much has changed since I wrote about year ends on December 31, 2011. "They" still haven’t come and the world is still a stupid mess and shows no signs of improving which is a good reason for them to give us a wide berth for a few hundred more years Click on the link and see if you don’t agree with me.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A quick follow up on the post below. "And suggesting that more guns in the hands of more people will cut down on gun deaths is sheer madness." That was the penultimate sentence of the fifth paragraph of what I wrote on December 20. It was and still is the belief of the putative representatives of the nation’s gun owners that more guns in the hands of more people makes for a safer society - but now the National Rifle Association has taken the madness one step further. Their solution to prevent the next Newtown or Columbine, as voiced by Wayne LaPierre, is to put an armed cop in every school in the nation. It’s impossible of course. The cost alone would be prohibitive. But think of what is being suggested - turning our seats of learning into armed camps. I think we all knew that the leadership of the NRA were zealots in defense of everyone’s right to own firearms and have been for years. Think of Charlton Heston holding a rifle aloft at the NRA convention in 2000 and letting the world know that the only way anyone could wrest it away from him was "From my cold dead hands." I think of the late actor as a Second Amendment zealot but I never doubted his sanity. LaPierre strikes me as one who has lost touch with reality other than that created in his own mind.

According to LaPierre, the answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. The sort of thing you see in western movies. No Mr. La Pierre, the answer to a bad guy with a gun is a bad guy with little or no access to the kind of gun that can kill 26 people in a matter of seconds. I know it will be hard to get anything changed when it comes to gun ownership in America and you can get an idea of how hard it will be when the opening salvo from the leading voice for gun freedom in this country is to call for more guns in more places. You’d think that bit of nonsense would be struck down without a second thought. If we took it seriously, what would come next, armed guards in every movie house, in every shopping mall, at every sports event, on every fire truck - on every street corner? But of course some will take it seriously and moves are already afoot to legislate armed protectors in our schools.

I don’t know how many efforts are underway to make LaPierre look less of a madman or to at least provide him with enough company to make him look no more mad than some others, but at least one legislator has jumped on the idea of putting guns into schools. Bob Marshall, a Virginia State Representatives plans to offer a bill that that would require that at least one person in every school in Virginia to be trained and to carry a gun - ready to fire at invading bad guys.

As I write, President Obama is enjoying Christmas in Hawaii and Members of Congress are spending the holiday break in their home districts. I hope they return to Washington mentally and physically refreshed because they’ll need to be to deal what will await them. Forget about the "fiscal cliff." Think SANITY CLIFF and how to prevent the country from following the leadership of the National Rifle Association over the edge.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Since this blog is devoted to commentary on the passage of history, I cannot, difficult as it is to face such a gut wrenching task, choose not to comment on the horror that took place in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. There are no words to describe the mixture of anger and sorrow that overtook my wife and I upon hearing of this monstrous act. We both watched and listened to the memorial service and the President’s remarks with tears in our eyes. How could such a thing happen? How could anyone, however disturbed, look innocent young six and seven year olds in the eye and pump bullets into them again and again, one after another? There is of course no answer to such a question. There can be no explanation that makes any sense. Yet if we are not to descend into a maelstrom of hopeless surrender to inevitable acts of madness, we must try to do what can be done to at least slow down their inevitability.

The argument is already raging, as it does after every one of these insane acts, about the role of guns. You know the defenders of the gun culture - the "Guns don’t kill people, People kill people" crowd. But people without guns can’t as easily commit mass murder in a matter of minutes as people with guns. And yes I know, crazy people can plant bombs, but that’s not the issue here. Unless we do something, the ticking time bomb that will likely result in another Columbine and Aurora and Newtown becomes closer and closer to exploding - the explosive material being the easy access to all kinds of guns and ammunition - and the fuse a troubled mind.

I remember when I first came to the United States as an adult - I was here as a child younger than the Newtown victims but grew up in England - I was struck by what I sensed as the potential for violence in so many people. It was like an exaggerated expression of the American right to say and do whatever one pleased and not be interfered with - something akin to the rugged individualism of life in the old west. There were times when I felt uncomfortable in some social situations. The feeling faded away as time went by and as I became more "American" but I was still aware - as I am to this day - that violence is more so a part of our culture than it is in any other industrial nation. I don’t know what the murder rate was when I arrived decades ago, but I have seen it grow year after year to the point where, if we had a summer weekend in Chicago without a murder, it would call for at least a small headline in our local papers.

Perhaps the nature of our society and the tendency for many of us to resort to violence to resolve real and imagined problems and inequities can’t be easily changed, but surely we can do something about the easy access to weapons that can swiftly kill from across a room, a street or a school yard by someone mad at some other person or at society - or just mad. There have been calls for some measure of gun control before, most strongly after incidents similar to the one we have just witnessed and they have gone unheeded. But there’s a feeling that this time it’s different, that there will be less resistance from those who see any gun regulation as an attack on their freedom - even from the NRA. There will of course be the argument put forward for the right to own something akin to a machine gun for the purposes of "self defense." Those arguments are usually from those who think of self defense in terms of defending their "freedoms" against government intrusion or a U.N. takeover of our society . There is a slightly more legitimate argument for the ownership of a handgun or rifle to defend against a criminal who might want to inflict bodily harm in the course of a robbery or some other kind of assault or property invasion, but the problem with that argument is that honest citizens don’t usually walk around or sit in their homes with a gun in their hands, the safety catch off and a finger on the trigger, while the criminal against whom they’re proposing to defend themselves is likely to be doing just that. There are occasions when one might be ready to defend as described. That’s when the "one" is a street gang member and those against whom he would be defending, other street gang members, similarly armed and ready.

The restrictions now in place are worthless. A "background check" isn’t going to reveal dangerous criminals. They already have their guns, acquired in one of many ways available to them. Similarly, background checks aren’t going to turn up dangerous psychotics. We’ve seen how guns have been obtained legally and with all the checks and balances in place by madmen who use those guns to commit mass murder. We can’t put armed guards in every school in the country as some are suggesting, nor does it make sense to arm teachers, which is also a suggestion. And suggesting that more guns in the hands of more people will cut down on gun deaths is sheer madness. So what can we do?

The first thing that can be done is to ban the sale of all weapons to the public other than rifles and hand guns that carry a certain maximum ammunition clip and that can only fire one bullet at a time. No weapon that can fire continuously with a single depression of a trigger should be available for public sale. This doesn’t take care of such weapons already in people’s hands so the law would have to ban the possession of those weapons with a grace period to turn them in, say, six months in exchange for reasonable compensation - making their possession beyond that period a felony. The sale of high capacity gun magazines - say anything beyond ten bullets - should be banned immediately, as should their manufacture or importation. There should be no vague description of weapons such as "assault." A simple description of their fire power should be enough to identify them.

Every weapon allowed under whatever law is passed should be required to have an imbedded identification and accompanied by a "title" similar to that required for automobiles and their sale should be registered at some central agency. Buyers should be required to take and pass a test for each kind of weapon purchased and would be issued a firearms license that would need to be renewed periodically like a driver’s license. A sale of a weapon from one owner to another would need to be registered and the title transferred to identify the new owner. And the number of guns that anyone would be allowed to purchase at any one time or within a given period of time would be restricted. All of these should be Federal laws. Leaving them up to the states would result in uneven enactment and application with a crime committed in one state not being recognized as such in another.

None of these restrictions would infringe upon gun ownership rights that already exist other than to limit the types of guns that can be purchased. Requiring sellers to create a title, buyers to qualify for a gun license and the other ideas suggested, would make buying a gun a more regulated process but would not restrict basic ownership or other gun rights. For example, a court has just ruled that Illinois, the only state that does not permit concealed carry, must change its law and join the rest of the nation in permitting gun toting citizens to roam its streets.

I don’t hold out much hope for these laws to be enacted, despite the feeling that the efforts to do something will be met with less resistance than in the past. While we mourn the loss of those little children and feel the agony of the parents who are burying them day after day, we are still a nation in love with guns and that believes the second amendment to the Constitution applies to all citizens for all time and all "arms." The best we can hope for is the ban on the sale of some weapons and perhaps high capacity gun magazines. Citizens would still be able to own guns and carry them almost anywhere, but perhaps their killing capacity would be reduced and the time it would take to cause multiple deaths increased. For the sake of the children who could be the next victims of some crazed gunman and out of respect for the memories of those who died in Newtown, I pray that we can accomplish that much in my lifetime.

Friday, December 14, 2012

I was no great fan of Ronald Reagan and not particularly amused by any of his allegedly humorous quips. But when I look at what has been passing for governance for the past several years - at the national and local levels, one of his lines comes close to having a ring of truth to it. On July 28, 1988, in remarks to representatives of Future Farmers of America, he said:

"The ten most terrifying words in the English language are: Hi, I’m from the government and I'm here to help."
I was reminded of that quip after I got a couple of letters from my Congressional Representative Jan Schakowsky last month. The first, dated November 15, was a letter thanking me for contacting her about agricultural subsidies and childhood obesity. It was very nice of her to thank me, except that I didn’t contact her about either of these subjects. Maybe it was intended to let her constituents know how focused she was, because my letter was addressed to the full name, including initials, under which I’m registered to vote - a name that I never use in personal correspondence or in any other aspect of my life. But I guess I can excuse the error. After all, it didn’t do any harm except waste postage - and if that was the worst money wasting activity of members of Congress, we’d be celebrating Christmas in July - and every other month of the year. But then I got a second letter.

On October 24, 2012, with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, I sent the following e-mail to The Federal Reserve:

Whoop-de-doo. A big fat $1.38 interest just got credited to my checking account. Now my wife and I - both of us seniors - can really get this economy going again.

And in no time at all, the Fed responded.

Dear Mr. Smith:

Thank you for your recent correspondence to the Federal Reserve. We appreciate your willingness to share your views.


JPD Board Staff

More or less as a gag, I sent copies to a few people, including Jan Schakowsky, adding the heading "OUR FEDERAL RESERVE AT WORK SERVING THE NATION." As I said - and what should be obvious to anyone with half a brain, my comment was tongue-in-cheek, though it should also have conveyed to anyone reading it with said half a brain that I was not happy with the Fed’s interest policy. Before they went nuts trying to save the world through close to zero interest rates which has taken countless billions out of the economy, I was earning 50 to 60 bucks a month just on my checking account. Understanding my displeasure with the Fed, Representative Schakowsky took the trouble to respond to her copy of my e-mail. On November 30, 2012, she sent me the following letter:
Thank you for writing to express your frustration with the Federal Reserve Board. I appreciate hearing from you.

I’m sorry the response from the Federal Reserve was unsatisfactory. I’m not sure what your specific question was with regard to the interest you are earning on your checking account. However I would be happy to try to get you an answer for questions you might have if you want to get back in touch about it.

Again, thank you for reaching out to me on this issue. Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance to you in the future.

I think Representative Schakowsky does a fairly good job representing the views of Illinois’ 9th District and she’s a favorite Democratic spokesperson on many progressive radio and television programs. Her November 15th letter was sent under a reproduced signature which would be appropriate for what appeared to be a mass mailing. Her letter of concern about my problems with the Federal Reserve however, was signed below "Sincerely" in thick blue ink with the "J" of her first name curled around her printed name, giving the impression that she actually signed the letter and either wrote it or read what a staff member wrote and approved it, which worries the heck out of me.

Perhaps it’s too much to expect all members of Congress to have a sense of humor similar to my own, but at least I expect them to be able to distinguish between a serious inquiry and a silly comment. If Representative Schakowsky actually read my e-mail to the Fed that started with "Whoop-de-do" and says she isn’t sure what my specific question was - and if she actually read the Fed’s automatically generated acknowledgment of an e-mail and says she’s sorry that the response from the Fed was unsatisfactory, I have to wonder if the strain of sitting on two major House Committees plus being the Democratic Chief Deputy Whip and a frequent guest on radio and television programs has caused a political haze to form around her powers of perception. O.K., I’m kidding, but still it worries me that her office or the office of any Member of Congress could look at a piece of nonsense that comes over the transom or pops up in the e-mail in-box and think that it calls for serious response .

Schakowsky has always seemed to be one of the more reasonable members of Congress and these comments are not meant as some kind of attack on her. But receiving these two letters from her office - the first a response to an "expression of concern" that was never made and the second a response that wasn’t asked or called for to a copy of a gag e-mail that I thought would give most recipients a chuckle - as indeed it did among the rest of recipients, none of whom hold political office - makes me concerned about the kind of personal attention members of Congress or their staffs pay to what they might perceive as the kind of constituent comment or inquiry that can be handled with some basically generic placating response containing the elements of "thanks" and "concern." I wouldn’t put the two letters from Schakowsky’s office in the same category as the disembodied voice telling me how important my call is while I’m on hold waiting to speak with a humanoid at a bank or some other corporate body, but it’s close and doesn’t inspire great confidence in the workings of government at the individual constituent level.

On the other hand, though my nonsensical e-mail exchange with the Fed didn’t seem to strike my Congressperson as amusing, her response to it by way of a letter to me, gave me and few other people one hell of a laugh, so I guess the whole experience with our government at work was a net plus.