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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

I started this day bitterly disappointed. I invested an entire dollar in yesterday’s multi-state two hundred and twenty million dollar lottery drawing and won absolutely nothing. My one correct number didn’t even qualify for a consoling lollipop.

But that’s not the subject of today’s comments.

My ultra-conservative friend Jerry, with whom I exchanged hundreds of "point - counter-point" e-mails between the fall of 1998 and mid-summer of 1999,and who then grew silent only to resurface in May of this year, has been highly critical of some of my recent comments about Jack Ryan, Bill Clinton and the Sunday morning news programs.

Rather than get back into arguing via multiple e-mails, I will, from time to time, address his criticisms on these pages. I don’t expect him to back off of his views one iota, but others who read this blog and who know where I stand on most issues, will get an idea of the inflexibility of some people on the right, of whom I have to assume Jerry is highly representative.

In commenting on my comments on the Jack Ryan affair, he said the following:
Since the Trib wanted to see Ryan's divorce papers, I think we should see Mr Kerry's. Oh and while we are at it, lets look at Mrs Heinz Kerry's tax records.
I responded: Re Ryan's problems and your other suggestions: You're talking apples and left handed screwdrivers. If a convicted murderer happens to be a Republican, should the appropriate reaction of the community be to check the backgrounds of any of his neighbors who happen to be Democrats to see if they have committed any crimes?

His response to that was to repeat what he said in his first message - that since the Chicago Tribune thought it was important for the public to know all there is to know about a candidate, we should petition for John Kerry’s divorce records to be unsealed - and while we’re about it, look at Theresa Kerry’s tax returns!!

Well, I’m not about to petition for Kerry’s sealed divorce records and I have zero interest in how rich Mrs. Kerry is or how much she pays or doesn’t pay in taxes. The issues of senatorial candidate Ryan and presidential candidate Kerry in terms of their respective divorces are entirely different.

In the Ryan case, a staff member of an opponent in the Illinois Republican primary, had obtained or had knowledge of Ryan’s sealed divorce records and was talking about them. Ryan insisted that what was in the records concerned his son and he wanted to keep them sealed to protect his son. The primary opponent was insisting that this wasn’t true. The Tribune and the local ABC television station wanted to get the answer, true or false. Ryan self destructed, not because of what was in the sealed records but because he lied and kept lying about what was in them and why he wanted them kept sealed - even after they were unsealed and he was "answering" questions at a news conference!!!

When Kerry was asked if he would agree to unseal his 1988 divorce records, he said no way. It’s nobody’s business but mine and my ex wife. I agree, and I would have supported Ryan’s right to keep his divorce records sealed if he had adopted the same tactic and said nothing about what was in them. And I would have supported him if he had said either of the things I suggested he should have said in my post of June 25, 2004. Oh, obviously by "support," I don’t mean I would have voted for him. I plan to vote for the Democratic candidate - and not just because he’s a Democrat.

But if any newspaper or television station wants to petition the court to have Kerry’s divorce records made public or any other aspect of his life made public, I wouldn’t object. They have a right to go after the information and Kerry has the right to either say O.K. or "up yours." That’s America Jerry.

I said in my comments the other day that Clinton would be reelected in a landslide if the constitution allowed him to run again. Jerry’s response was that " I’d "forgotten" that Ross Perot was the reason that Clinton got in in the first place and that he had far less than 50% of the vote."

Of course that isn’t a response to my contention that Clinton could win in a cakewalk against almost anyone around today, but let me remind my friend what actually did happen in the 1992 and 1996 elections

In 1992, Perot was something of a phenomenon and managed to pick up almost 20 million votes, but not a single electoral vote. Clinton had 45 million votes to 39 million for Bush and the electoral ratio was 370 to 168. Hardly squeaking by wouldn’t you say? And if it had been a two man race, does anyone believe that more of those Perot votes would have gone to Bush than to Clinton?. It was Bush who was running for reelection and any vote for anyone else was a vote against the sitting president.

By 1996, the Perot phenomenon had lost its glamour and he was down to less than 8 million popular votes and of course no electoral votes. Clinton had 45 ½ million and Dole just under 38 million. And the ’96 electoral split was 379 to 159.

My view is that Clinton could be a more popular candidate today than he was when he was beating Dole. But as for whether or not he could be elected again if it were possible for him to run - of course we’ll never know. Unless maybe Hillary runs and people will think that they’re voting for a presidential team!!

And just to remind my friend, in case he’s forgotten, the 2,000 presidential election results had Gore beating Bush in the popular vote by 50,999,897 to 50,456,002 or 48.58% to 47.87%, and losing the electoral vote by a sliver - 271 to 267.

Responding to my suggestion that the Sunday morning news programs would be better off booking former government officials who could offer unbiased analysis and not feel obligated to spread the administration’s PR line, Jerry responded with:
Jeff... You are losing it for sure.. "maybe former government officials who no longer have to hew to a party line, to offer their unbiased analysis of critical issues". UNBIASED analysis??? Are you kidding? You must be.

To which I responded: "Re: Former government officials being unbiased. Opinion and analysis doesn't necessarily have to be biased opinion and analysis. When you add two and two, there's no "conservative" four and "liberal" four. There's just four."

And Jerry came back with:
I hear the retreads from Clinton and other past admin. and they still have the same views now as then. The former Clinton people in Kerry's campaign are the same and when they are introduced as the former ????? I think, "good god" roll up your pants, BS is going to get deep.
It’s interesting how ultra conservatives see the world in an "us versus them" mode. Forget about former Democratic officials. I think the Sunday morning news shows would be much better off with ex government employees from the current administration. Bring on the Republicans who no longer are obligated to defend each and every Bush policy and see if what they really believe agrees with or is more informative and interesting than the "official" line. And do the same when we get a Democratic president. But give him a couple of years to make mistakes first. Fair is fair.

Finally, on the subject of the Sunday morning shows and PhD’s who refer to themselves and are called "doctor," Jerry almost agreed with me, but couldn’t resist being partisan, saying:
Don't forget, it just is not this White House that has managed the "Sunday" shows, it has been going on for a very long time. So, I think you should be very clear that way things are done is not the BUSH REPUBLICAN White House. So don't pick on Dr Rice just because she is in the Republican White House. As I recall you seldom saw Slick Willy without his crowd of incompetents.
I of course didn’t say that this was a Bush White House invention - just that I had only recently read about the way the spokespeople are assigned.

And as for "picking" on Condoleezza Rice, you’d really have to be a partisan of partisans to read my commentary on who should be called "doctor" as some kind of attack on her. She just happened to be the springboard for the commentary. And referring to Mr. Clinton and members of his administration as "Slick Willie and his crowd of incompetents," when we have Dubya and Cheney and Ashcroft and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Andrew Card and that paragon of everything virtuous, Karl Rove making the big decisions, provides almost enough knee slapping guffaws to make up for not winning that @#$!!&*$!!! multi-state lottery.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I don’t know why, but I get a regular e-mail newsletter from an outfit called Site Pro News, all about how to get and do business on the Internet. As I say, I don’t know how I got on their list because I don’t do "business" on the Internet. I’m not selling anything, even though I hope some people "buy" some of my ideas and opinions.

But it’s interesting to see what kind of stuff these people think is important and at the very top of their list is positioning your site to get a "high ranking" on a search engine.

In their current issue they make mention of Google and say "nowadays, your site must be listed on Google!!

I don’t know about you, but that concept worries me no end.

You’d have to be living on Mars to be unaware of Google - and certainly, if you spend any time at all at your computer and you’re connected to the Internet, you’re aware of the rags to riches story of the two youngsters in their twenties who came up with the basic ideas for the search engine phenomenon while they were in college and of the anxious financial world waiting for their company to go public at any moment.

Google has unquestionably become the dominant Internet search engine, and with hundreds of thousands - probably millions of businesses utilizing the Internet to do business, unless you’re a Fortune 500 company, your ability to conduct business on the Internet is greatly dependent on your ability to be "found" by search engines.

And, as the newsletter said, nowadays, you must be listed on Google.

I don’t have the technical knowledge to discuss how you get "found" by Google or what you have to do to get found and more importantly, to have a high ranking, so that you’re business name doesn’t come up as number 66,210 out of 3,500,000 "hits" that Google produces in .35 seconds when someone types in a word that has something to do with your business.

But when businesses around the world become heavily reliant on the Internet for a goodly portion of their business, along with increasingly large number of companies that do business exclusively on the Internet, the thought of one company dominating what has become the life blood of Internet business, is a worrisome thought.

We already have one company that dominates the computer software industry, and while it claims to be working for the benefit of all mankind by creating more and greater innovations to make computer usage more valuable and more entertaining, they are at the same time, securing a vice like grip on the short hairs of we trusting computer users.

We’re perfectly happy with software that’s doing all we want it to do, but that’s not good enough for the company that dominates the industry. Each year they come out with a different version of that software - and suddenly, parts of the software you’re using don’t work that well. They’re not compatible with the new software - software that stays "new" just as long as Bill Gates wants it to! Meanwhile, you get a "Word" document sent to you that comes out as gobbledygook when you try to read it. Why? Because you have an old version of Word and the sender used a newer version.

That would be a little like pulling into a gas station to fill up your ten year old car only to be told "sorry - our gas doesn’t work in your car anymore."

Google has its own way of ranking Internet sites and the criteria they use is whatever they decide it should be - and from what I read in this and other news letters, it can change in a heartbeat and what worked a minute ago is history!!

I have had some small experience with the vagaries of the Google search engine. Certain words or phrases that at one time would lead a searcher directly to this site, as perhaps one of two or three sites - suddenly became an exercise in futility. It was as though this site had disappeared. Then it would reappear and disappear again. And then it would be back!! So the chances of someone finding this site - assuming it contained what they were looking for - depended on when they did their search. How would you like it if your dictionary functioned that way - a word that you could check yesterday, nowhere to be found today??

The "ranking" on Google’s tool bar, its "measurement of the importance of this page" - your site - is an indication of the vagaries of Google’s search criteria. I’ve mentioned it before but it’s worth repeating because it emphasizes one of many things that are scary about having this tool decide how easy or how hard it will be to find what you’re searching for on the Internet.

I check in on a couple of Israeli English language newspapers on a pretty regular basis. Haaretz - a left leaning paper, gets a seven out of ten Google ranking. The Jerusalem Post, leaning the other way politically, gets a one out of ten!! A Google political statement or some proprietary ranking system that no one outside of Google understands - maybe not even Google insiders?

There are some other search engine out there, including ones that were around before Google was created. I hope they stay in the game. I hope they come up with innovations that can challenge Google’s dominance. In this modern era where computers play such a vital role in almost every aspect of life, the last thing we need is power concentrated in too few hands

I used to think otherwise. When Ma Bell was forced to break up, I thought it was a bad idea. Why mess with something that isn’t broken? I sometimes still get nostalgic feelings about Ma Bell, but then I’m reminded of the days when I would wait until it was after midnight in England to call there because that’s when it was under a dollar (just) for the first minute. To call at a reasonable hour, it used to be $1.65 for the first minute and $0.99 for each additional minute. Now I call England for a few pennies a minute any time of the day or night - for the same as it costs me to call California or New York. And now I can do it on a phone that allows me to have eight portable extensions that also function as intercoms.

I use Google a lot, but I don’t want it to be the Ma Bell of search engines and I don’t want to be told that I must be listed on Google - the implication being that if I’m not, no one is going to find me. That’s way too much power in the hands of too few people.

Monday, June 28, 2004

I watched some of the Sunday morning news programs yesterday and found myself wondering why they bother to spend so much time with members of the administration.

I read somewhere recently how this whole Sunday morning guest thing worked. How someone in the administration would tell each network who they could have. Condoleezza Rice for ABC, Colin Powell for NBC, Rumsfeld for CBS, Wolfowitz for Fox etc. Sometimes, depending on what message the White House is trying push, and through the magic of tape - the same person for two or more networks.

But after you’ve listened to these people week after week, you have to wonder why the networks go along with the charade. What they get from these guests is the party line - the current PR that the administration is putting out. They’d be far better off having knowledgeable people from outside of government - maybe former government officials who no longer have to hew to a party line, to offer their unbiased analysis of critical issues.

ABC had Condoleezza Rice on their "This Week" program, and in a round table discussion on the Iraqi situation following her appearance, former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, made an unsolicited comment about her. He said that she had pretty much given non-answers to George Stephanopoulos’s questions.

What she did was what she usually does - provide no information but demonstrate how articulate she can be saying nothing and often defending the indefensible. She is after all, a former university provost, a gifted pianist, a supposed expert on the no longer existing Soviet Union - and a DOCTOR of philosophy.

She also seems to have a relationship with Mr. Bush that, even though the two of them are in no way related, almost seems incestuous. Her bio says she "resides in Washington, DC," but just every time you see her - except maybe when she’s appearing before one committee or another or doing her PR thing on network news shows, she’s at her president’s side. She’s with him at the White House. She’s with him at Camp David. She’s with him in Crawford, Texas. She’s with him on overseas trips. The woman just doesn’t seem to have a life of her own.

But what I really want to comment on today is that doctorate thing. I’m not sure where this business of calling national security advisors "doctor" began. I haven’t looked into the bios of all of the national security advisers for the last half dozen presidents, but I know that more than a couple of them had PhD’s . But I don’t recall them being addressed as doctor until perhaps Bryzinski. And of course, you could never refer to Kissinger without putting "Doctor" in front of his name. He probably wouldn’t even have cared if you’d called him Doctor Strangelove - as long as that "Doctor" was there.

(As coincidence would have it, Bryzinski was a guest on the PBS News Hour tonight, along with Walter Russell Mead, identified as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. They were discussing the challenges facing the new Iraqi government and Jim Lehrer kept addressing both of them as Doctor!!)

I’m not only sure that there have been National Security Advisers before Bryzinski with PhD’s, but other top level government posts have been filled by people with doctorates in a wide variety of disciplines. Yet I don’t recall any of them being referred to or addressed as "Doctor."

There is of course no necessity to address the holder of a PhD as "doctor." And referring to oneself in this manner is also optional, and I think tells you something about the holders of those degrees. Does one really need to put one’s degrees after one’s name on personal stationary? Or worse yet, put NO degree but just the title "Doctor" in front of your name, leaving the recipients of a note on your stationary wondering what kind of doctor you are - assuming they don’t already know.

In my lifetime, the only people that I’ve ever thought of as having "doctor" - almost as part of their names - are MD’s and DO’s, doctors of medicine, or in the latter case, Doctors of Osteopathy, though both of course are medical degrees. I don’t think of or call my dentist "Doctor," though he is a Doctor of Dentistry. I’ve visited more than one Chiropractor and I don’t think I’ve ever called them "Doctor" either.

I suppose getting a PhD is something of an achievement, but when one thinks of the range of subject matter in which one can acquire such a degree, wanting to be called or referred to as "doctor" often takes on a few shades of hubris.

On the other hand, if people can use the term "doctor" as part of their name, even though they’re not doctors as most of us think of doctors, what would be wrong with other people using their levels of achievement as part of their names?

Even if those level of achievement weren’t that impressive, using a description of them as an honorific in front of your name could certainly help to raise your self image, perhaps making you a more content individual, less likely to find fault with others, more likely to be understanding and compassionate. In other words, to be a better citizen and to make a contribution toward what all understanding and compassionate citizens desire - a fair and peaceful world.

Let me see. I could call myself "Producer Smith." (I have been a television, radio and audiotape producer). "Writer" Smith. (I’ve done some writing.). "Narrator" Smith. (I’ve done lots of narrations). "Blogmeister" Smith. (I do write a blog.) I could even call myself Doctor Smith, since there’s more than one person who considers what I write on this blog as being the work of a "spin doctor."

Wait a minute. Maybe that’s why all the hosts of those Sunday morning news shows call Condy Doctor Rice!!! They’re on to her. They know she’s spinning but they have to make it look like they’re providing their audiences with news and insight, so they go along with it. And they want her to think that they’re just being respectful.

Lord, I hope I haven’t given away any secrets. If you run into Condy, tell her not to read any blogs today. Tell her the moon is in the seventh house or something like that. And if that doesn’t work, tell her it’s bad mojo for the boss. With a name like Condoleezza, I’m sure she’ll understand that.

Friday, June 25, 2004

It seems the Jack Ryan affair isn’t going to go away for a while - at least until he drops out of the race to replace retiring Illinois Senator Peter Fitzgerald - and even then it may be a topic for discussion for a while.

The reason I’m writing about it again is that a lot of people are defending Mr. Ryan and a lot of them don’t seem to know what the affair - no pun intended - is all about.

The two main complaints of the defenders are:

A candidate’s sex life is none of our business.
The Chicago Tribune and WLS TV should never have gone after his divorce records.

Other defenders are saying that he is handling the crisis in a "statesmanlike" manner and that he is exhibiting "grace and class."

You wonder what all these people are smoking. You wonder further about the system of government that allows them to vote.

Of course a candidate’s sex life should be none of our business and of course the media needed to go after his sealed divorce records. The Tribune explained it very well in an editorial today.

The issue of Mr. Ryan’s divorce from Seven Of Nine was never the problem. The problem was that Ryan adopted a stance that many politicians and would be politicians have adopted to their detriment in the past - and he wasn’t able to learn from the history they created.

Instead of confronting a potential problem, he lied about it.

He knew what was in his divorce records and he knew that if they were unsealed, they would be embarrassing to him. So he fought to keep them sealed and lied about his reasons. And when they were unsealed, he expressed amazement when reporters couldn’t understand why he had fought to keep them sealed to protect his son when there was nothing in the unsealed documents about his son.

What amazes me is that people who are defending him either don’t grasp what it is that is giving the Republican hierarchy conniption fits, or are too partisan to admit that they have a candidate too flawed to be elected dog catcher.

For the benefit of those people, who won’t understand but I’m going to say it anyway, here’s what he should have said.

"We had a contentious divorce and a lot of nasty things were said that neither of us would ever have said in public - and that’s why I don’t think the divorce documents should be unsealed. They’d be embarrassing to both of us and they have nothing to do with my ability to represent the people of Illinois as their junior senator. Jeri and I are friends now and she will assure you if you ask her that I was never unfaithful to her, that I never struck her and that I never did anything that was illegal and that nothing of this nature was ever alleged by her during the divorce."

And if that wasn’t good enough, he could have said that "there were things said about our personal life and specifically about our sex life which might make titillating items for super market tabloids - but have no place in a political campaign. But if you think it’s important - by all means petition the court to unseal the documents and I’ll abide by whatever decision the judge makes."

In other words, head ‘em off at the pass. That would have shown some degree of grace and class - even a glimmer of statesmanship. But "I want to protect my son" will not find its way into any future book of quotable quotes.

And before I could post the foregoing, Ryan withdrew from the race. He wasn’t going to win anyway. Now he can stay out of the public view for a while and enjoy his millions. Maybe visit a few sex clubs to take his mind off his sorrows. I wish him well.
And not the last word on Clinton hopefully

By pure accident, I tuned in the Bill Clinton "town meeting" that was broadcast on Infinity radio stations yesterday and on AOL and who knows where else. I had no idea it was going to be on. I hadn’t seen or heard any advance publicity about it as I did for his appearance on "Sixty Minutes" and with Oprah Winfrey. But there I was in the car around 5 p.m., punched in a news station and Harry Smith was introducing William Jefferson Clinton.

Obviously, it was part of the promotion campaign for his book. Smith was asking questions and people were calling in with their questions. Some of the callers sounded like shills. They were pretty articulate and without exception praised Mr. Clinton and said that it was an honor to speak to him. But that might have been a function of screeners. For sure they weren’t going to let anyone through to attack the former president - and some of the people sounded nervous and one actually said he was nervous as he tried to get his question out, so maybe all of the callers were genuine - just carefully selected so as not to rock the promotional boat.

But none of that was important to me. What was important and what impressed me and what kept me glued to the radio, was how this was the same Bill Clinton I enjoyed watching and listening to for the eight years he was in the White House - including the impeachment period.

Articulate. Knowledgeable. Analytical. Free flowing, unhesitating thought expressed in standard English. I pictured George W Bush in the same circumstance and it was painful to imagine how it would have sounded.

I realize that the measure of a President’s wisdom and leadership abilities isn’t confined to his ability to think on his feet and be able to express himself articulately, but it sure instills a measure of confidence when you have a President who does.

In particular, when Clinton was talking about meetings with world leaders and the personalities involved and the issues that were discussed, I conjured up a mental picture of George W Bush in the same situations, and it too was frankly painful to contemplate.

I thought of how Clinton was regarded by foreign leaders throughout his presidency and how much we and our current president are held in disregard today.

I said a few days ago, after watching the "Sixty Minutes" interview, if the constitution allowed him to run again, Bill Clinton would win in a landslide against just about anyone.

Anyone want to join me in proposing a constitutional amendment?

Thursday, June 24, 2004

On June 11, 2004, I wrote about the similarities between Richard Daley, the perennially elected mayor of Chicago, and dictators who are perennially ensconced in their seats of power in a different way.

Today, I submit that a similar comparison can be made between the crazies who are committing horrible acts of terrorism around the world and our own Ralph Nader!!

Nader was in the news the other day because he had picked Peter Camejo, the Green Party’s candidate for Governor of California in the 2002 race, as his running mate for his independent presidential bid.

I was in my car when he was announced as a guest on the NPR program I was listening to and I heard his first few words before I switched away to another station.

I can’t listen to Nader any more. It’s like listening to the ranting of a madman who believes he is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and who laughs at you if you try to convince him that he is not.

And for the life of me, I don’t understand why radio hosts who are supportive of Kerry’s candidacy, insist upon giving air time to this egomaniac and engaging in fruitless arguments with him.

Why do I compare Nader with terrorists? Why is he not unlike the sub-humanoids who kidnapped and slaughtered innocent victims in Saudi Arabia and Iraq? Not that Nader is a terrorist, although there are some who are so distraught at his refusal to give up his candidacy, they think of him as no less than a political terrorist. But what puts Nader in the same category as the Islamic crazies, is that they, like he, are convinced of the righteousness of their actions and no amount of pleading or reasoning can change their minds. They can’t understand why you can’t see how right they are. Neither can Ralph.

Nader knows that he will never be president. He knows that if he manages to get on the ballot in 30 or 35 states, whatever votes he picks up will be meaningless, except that some of them might have gone to Kerry, almost none to Bush. I think it’s more likely that the people who plan to vote for Nader, would sit out the election if the choice was just Bush or Kerry.

I have great difficulty understanding the reasoning of people who would vote for Nader. This election is not about making a statement. If someone points a loaded gun at you and says "die you SOB," you’re not going to stop him from pulling the trigger by making a statement. Voting for Nader is like walking up and down Fifth Avenue in New York carrying a placard saying "Al Qaida: Don’t behead your hostages." It might make you feel good, but it’s not going to do any good. And in 2000 it did a lot of harm.

By now, it’s clear to reasonable people that Nader is running simply because he is an egomaniac. He can mount all the arguments he likes about why it is appropriate and helpful for him to run and how pleas for him to drop out of the race go against everything this country stands for. Madmen can make perfectly logical and compelling arguments too.

Nader refuses to acknowledge that he took enough votes away from Al Gore to throw the presidency to George Bush in 2000, but only people trained in the Enron and Arthur Anderson school of accounting would agree with his arithmetical analysis.

So what can be done about this nitwit to stave off the kind of damage he inflicted on the nation four years ago?

My suggestion is to ignore him. Totally. If you’re a radio or television host and you’re sympathetic to Kerry, don’t give him air time. Don’t waste your time asking him why he’s running and trying to convince him that he’s wrong. It’s an exercise in futility and does nothing but feed his boundless ego.

If you’re John Kerry, don’t have meetings with Nader. Don’t make statements about all the good things he’s done for the nation. You’re not going to switch any of his supporters to your camp. You have to understand that they think they’re making a "statement," and you can’t reason with such people. For sure, you can never tell them that they’re wrong.

If you’re asked about Nader, say that you really have no comment. You don’t have to dismiss him out of hand and sound boorish. Just say that you assume that Mr. Nader knows what he’s doing and what he wants to accomplish but you’re busy concentrating on your own campaign and what you want to accomplish.

Let’s hope that this will be the last hurrah for Nader and that he doesn’t have ambitions to become a latter day Harold Stassen. An election outcome similar to that of 2000, will put him in the history books as a political spoiler, overshadowing the good that he’s accomplished in the past. And it will be a richly deserved legacy.

The Jack Ryan story is national now. Everyone’s talking about the senatorial wannabe who took Seven Of Nine to sex clubs while they were married, and if that wasn’t bad enough, wanted to have sex with her there and have her perform sex acts in front of a viewing audience!!!

I am a happily married heterosexual male, but if I was the husband of Seven Of Nine, I would thank my lucky stars every morning and every evening and twice on any day when she would deign to have sex with me and I would probably threaten bodily harm and worse to anyone who would suggest that such a liaison should be on public view!!

Ryan’s big problem of course is that he wanted to keep the details of his divorce sealed, not because there was anything in them embarrassing to him, but because they concerned his son. But now everyone says that he was lying. The details that were released were all about him, not his son - and were about as embarrassing as it gets.

But here’s something that puzzles me. California is a no fault state. It’s not like the bad old days where someone looking for a divorce had to come into court and lie about a spouse committing adultery or inflicting physical abuse. All you need is to prove to the court that there are irreconcilable differences. Dirt is not required. So one has to wonder why the issue of Ryan wanting to go to sex clubs was part of the divorce at all. Could that have been an "irreconcilable difference?" Or could it be that Seven wanted to show that her husband wasn’t a fit parent to have custody of their son? That maybe he would want to take him to a sex club as an early rite of passage.

I have no access to the divorce papers that were released, but the allegations about sex clubs and sex performances for an audience are being reported as having been made during a custody hearing.

So maybe we’re all being unfair to Mr. Ryan. Maybe the records that he wanted to be kept sealed were about his son after all.

Like the Sears Tower is about suburban housing.

I wish John Kerry nothing but good luck in his bid to unseat George Bush. I think it would be a disaster to have this man in the White House for another four years, and I think that Kerry should use every compelling argument that he can muster to convince voters to send Dubya back to Crawford, Texas.

But I would feel a lot more comfortable if he would stick to attacking Mr.Bush for his faults and for the faults of his policies, and not automatically blame him for everything that goes wrong

For example, I was as dismayed as Mr. Kerry the other day, when the Supreme Court ruled that patients couldn’t go into their state courts to sue HMO’s for damages when they had medical setbacks because they were denied care that their doctors had prescribed.

I think this is one of the worst kinds of situations possible. An insurance group - that’s basically what HMO’s are - protected from having to compensate anyone for damage that its actions or inactions cause. It’s inconceivable that such a thing is allowed to happen.

But apparently, there is an existing Federal law which disallows the filing of such law suits and unless and until Congress changes the laws, that ridiculous situation will prevail.

But in a speech the other day, Mr. Kerry jumped all over Mr. Bush and the Bush administration as though they had made the decision and not all nine members of the Supreme Court.

If Mr. Kerry wants to blame someone for the Federal Law, perhaps he should attack Gerald Ford - though I doubt that he had much to do with its passage in 1974. Mr. Ford was sworn in August of that year.

I was going to write about this decision in a different vein - as part of my ongoing commentary on what’s wrong with our medical system and what needs to be done to fix it. But Kerry jumping on Bush because the Supreme Court upheld a law that was enacted 30 years ago took precedence.

I hate political campaigns for all kinds of reasons and this sort of hyperbolic nonsense is one of them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Sometimes it’s difficult to pick a topic on which to comment. There are almost too many newsworthy things happening nationally, internationally and even locally. But I’ve committed myself to writing something about the passing parade on every weekday that I’m able to spend time at my computer, so I’ll roll a pair of mental dice and pick one.

How about stem cell research?

It’s in the news on and off, but more so now because of the death of Ronald Reagan and the plea of Nancy Reagan for more research.

At the moment, experts on Alzheimer’s say that there’s no evidence that the disease can be attacked by using stem cells, but I haven’t heard of any of them objecting to future stem cell research that might produce some helpful therapies.

The renewed interest brought on by Nancy Reagan’s pleas has also resurrected all of the arguments against using human embryos to advance scientific knowledge.

The antis don’t necessarily identify themselves as so called "pro life," but they advance the same arguments. An embryo is "life" and using it for stem cell research is "destroying" life or "halting the natural progression" of life.

I’m not sure what their argument is against the destruction of "life" when frozen embryos are discarded every day at fertility clinics . You don’t see a flock of "letters to the editor" about such destruction. Perhaps that’s because the antis don’t have any suggestions about saving this frozen "life." They could I suppose, if they are female, offer the use of their uteri to bring that life to its full potential, but I’m not aware that any such offers have been made. The owners of such uteri usually argue that the embryos shouldn’t have been created in the first place.

The trouble with all of the anti arguers is that while they are indulging in their arguments about what life is and when it begins, research that could result in saving humans who are unquestionably alive, is being slowed - and as a result, people who might be cured of a fatal disease, are dying.

I guess which side of the argument you fall on depends upon a variety of personal beliefs, some religious, some ethical, some practical. For my money, the basic argument revolves around how one looks at the world and its human population.

Some of us look up into the sky and see our world as a tiny speck in the cosmos, probably an insignificant speck, other than the known fact that it is teeming with life, something we don’t know about other planetary specks in the cosmos.

Others see our world as a divinely "created" planet and its human inhabitants as creations of a divine being. For the latter I guess, stem cell research would be meddling with one of those divine beings - or at least the embryonic potential of a divine being.

But I’m not going to try to analyze the reasons people are against stem cell research or try to refute the arguments they present. I’m just going to rattle off some thoughts about life in general. And death too,

As I said, the earth is teeming with life. From amoebae to humans, billions upon billions of living entities inhabit the earth. And countless numbers of those living entities die every day. Some barely achieve what we may consider a living state before they die. In some species, premature death seems to be a design of nature.

Humans are different from other life on earth in that we are capable of contemplating our existence and asking questions about it. And we have the ability to sustain and prolong life to a certain extent that is not available to other species.

But apart from those differences, we are not unlike other life. We are a species. We survive as a species.. Every day - every minute, members of the species die and every day, every minute, new members join the species through the miracle of birth and countless other potential members of the species arrive at various stages of development that could lead to birth. And every day, every minute, countless numbers of those countless potential humanoids, expire for all kinds of reasons. Such is the life cycle of species.

Because we are sentient beings, because we are capable of reason and of love and hate and of all the emotions that seem to be exclusive to mankind, potential life that individual humans create, takes on a greater significance to those individuals than it does to the species as a whole.

But let’s face it. We are a species and we survive - or not - as a species. Viewed from outer space, the human race probably looks little different than the inhabitants of anthills do to us. And viewed by higher beings - if such things exist, probably with the same amount of mild curiosity over our activities. Billions of us sprawling all over the planet, new births replacing the losses to the species, some of those losses from starvation and deprivation, some from being slaughtered by fellow members of the species.

From that kind of perspective, whether or not a potential addition to the species in terms of an embryo becomes a human being or is discarded or is utilized to try to advance the quality of life of individual members of the species, doesn’t seem to be any complicated ethical question.

I guess I’m grateful that the embryo that grew to be me in my mother’s womb wasn’t discarded, but had it been, it would have been no great tragedy for the human species and probably no more than a passing disappointment for those who would not have become my parents. Had it been used to extract stem cells that resulted in a way to prolong life in some members of the species afflicted with a debilitating or deadly disease, I would think that would have been a good use for it. Certainly a better use than discarding it.

Life is short for humans and as with many other species that inhabit the earth, not all of the potential for human life comes to fruition. But unlike other species, scientific knowledge has advanced to the point where that particular potential, though never realized, can still make a significant contribution to species Homo Sapiens.

To me, that would seem to be a pretty good argument in favor of moving full speed ahead with government funded stem cell research. You might call it "looking at the big picture," which supposedly is our current president’s way of looking at and managing the needs and problems of our nation.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

I didn’t know anything about the "coronation" of Reverend Sun Myung Moon until I read about it in Eric Zorn’s column in the Chicago Tribune last Sunday.

Zorn is disturbed that Democratic congressman Danny Davis - along with several other members of congress, attended a ceremony in Washington where they fawned over this self proclaimed "messiah," and Davis took an active part in the "crowning" ritual - actually carrying a crown resting on a velvet pillow.

Zorn cites Moon’s history of separating followers of his Unification Church from their families and of making bigoted statements about gays and Jews and says that he is disturbed that Davis not only doesn’t seem to realize what kind of message the Korean newspaper owning billionaire ex-con is spreading, but sees nothing wrong with his participation in the bizarre "coronation" ceremony.

I guess maybe the rest of the Washington bigwigs who attended the ceremony saw nothing wrong with it either.

But I think we can all be grateful that we can talk about it and read about it and see a video recording of what went on. Because without that kind of exposure, Reverend Moon could well be the messiah that our descendants would be worshipping for decades to come and perhaps warring with those who didn’t worship him as their messiah.

I’m not particularly disturbed that this ridiculous ceremony took place or that members of Congress took part in it. Cult figures have come and gone for centuries and Senators and Representatives and Washington bigwigs have been known to lend their support to and to be influenced by some of the nuttiest people and ideas that you can imagine.

But my imagination leads me to a different take on this affair.

This story was reported by journalist John Gorenfeld on his weblog and spread to other sites. But imagine for a moment that we are not living in the age of the blogosphere That there is no Internet. No television or radio. No cameras. No film or video. No newspapers or magazines. No telephone or telegraph. In other words, a primitive age, not unlike the time of another "messiah."

The "coronation" ceremony would still have taken place and still have been attended by respected leaders of our nation. But we wouldn’t hear about it right away. No phones. No television. No Internet. It would take time for the news to reach us. And when it did, it would be a culminating story. Stories of Reverend Moon’s followers and of his pronouncements and very likely of alleged miracles performed by the Reverend, would have preceded the news of his "coronation." Those stories would have come to us in bits and pieces for years, told by "eye witnesses" to eager listeners, who would tell the stories to others, and they to even more eager listeners, each story-teller lending his understanding and his interpretation of what he had been told .

And now we would hear that some of our leaders had gathered to celebrate this great and wonderful event. This coronation. This acceptance of the Reverend Moon as the ambassador of God, sent to save the people of the world. And "Moonism," a religion that had been practiced by only a handful of adherents in the past, would suddenly blossom into a mainstream faith, spreading from farm to farm, from village to village and town to town, until all the people of the nation would raise their eyes to the heavens and sing the praises of Sun Myung Moon, ambassador of God and savior of mankind.

And of course, absent all of the modern tools that I have cited, you could substitute a variety of names for that of the Reverend Moon. Pat Robertson. Jim Bakker, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Schuller just to name a few. They may not proclaim themselves as "messiahs" - but preaching the "word of God," and claiming that they hear the "voice of God," they too could become the raison d’être for the establishment of a new religion.

I’ve written about religion on this blog before and of my difficulty in believing what millions of my fellow humans believe. Not just that there is a God, but that his personal messengers were born as humans anywhere from a couple of thousand to five or six thousand years ago.

Why it took so long for God to send down a messenger - or a messiah as some believe, is difficult to understand. But I find it interesting that God did not wait until the time of a Reverend Moon, where his message could be recorded and spread to all of mankind. Where the miracles that his messengers performed could be witnessed by millions of people. Instead, the messengers that we believe he sent, came at a time when there was no way to record them and to subject them to the kind of testing that is available to us today.

Convenient don’t you think? Or mere coincidence?

What would be wrong with a "messiah" arising among us today? Christians believe that there will be a "second coming" of Christ. But Moon claims that the "founders" of five great religions have endorsed him as the true messiah. So maybe he is what he says he is and we need to try to accept him at face value.

Or do we first need him to turn water into wine, make blind men see, make bodies of water part, be declared dead and shipped to a funeral home, only to return the next day in fine physical condition?

Or is it that such messianic activities can only be achieved in an age where no means exist to record them, other than the word of mouth of eye witnesses?

That’s what the Zorn column got me thinking about. I’m amazed that millions of others don’t think about such things. Or at least don’t seem to. If they do, I wish they’d get in touch with me and tell me so.

I tell you folks. Sometimes it gets very lonely around here, where I’m the one who has to keep asking - what on earth is all this then?? ?

Monday, June 21, 2004

The reaction to Bill Clinton’s book has been pretty negative - at least by the book reviewers. The public may have a different reaction. No matter what you may think of the guy from a political standpoint, he is never uninteresting.

But he also can’t seem to untwist himself.

I watched his "60 Minutes" interview with interest. He’s been out of the public eye for a while and I wanted to see how he looked and whether he had any new takes on old subjects. But it was pretty much the same old Bill.

He’s admitting his past transgressions now of course. Without that, I doubt that anyone would have given him an advance reputed to be between nine and ten million. And without it, a lot less people would be willing to fork over the $21 to $35 asking price. (I guess the official price is $35 but it looks like $21 will be what most people will pay.)

I haven’t read the book, but if the sort of "admissions" he made to Dan Rather are what will be found there, I’ll be disappointed.

He said the Monica Lewinsky affair happened because of the worst possible moral reason. He screwed around with Monica "because he could." That was why he did it.

Come on Bill. What kind of a "reason" is that? Of course you "could" as long as someone was willing , but that’s not the "why" of why it happened. The "why" is because that’s the way you are. You’re a sexaholic, almost unable to pass up any opportunity that presents itself for extra-marital sex. I’ve known people like that. One of my closest friends was like that. A married man who couldn’t even remember all of the women that he’d slept with while he was married. I don’t think his wife ever knew about his philandering - or at least the extent of it. If she did, she turned a blind eye to it. And I guess it paid off for her. They’re still married And he doesn’t sleep around any more as far as I know. But that’s because he’s retired, and doesn’t do the kind of out of town traveling that he used to do when he was working. If he wasn’t retired, I’m sure he’d still be at it. I believe that the disease itself - and that’s what it is - is incurable. Given sufficient temptation, I doubt that Bill could say no even now.

I have heard that in the book, he says he paid off Paula Jones to make the problem go away - not because he was guilty of anything. If he believes that to be true, all it reveals to me is that the man has a flaw that just doesn’t allow him to get out of trouble the easy way - either by telling a version of the truth, or not making any statements at all. But I think when faced with potential embarrassment, Clinton’s natural and instinctive reaction is to lie. I wrote a little bit about what he should have said about the Jones and Lewinsky cases when I was discussing Martha Stewart’s problems back on February 4th of this year.

But despite the foregoing uncomplimentary comments, I agree with what my daughter said when we were discussing the "60 Minutes" interview last night. If the constitution allowed him to run again, he’d win in a landslide.

Dirty Rotten Spamsters

Here’s a question. Would you buy anything from telephone solicitors who called you night and day, pretending to be someone that they’re not just to get your attention so that they could dive into their sales pitch?

To anyone who says yes - read no further. You belong in a rest home.

For sane readers, the follow up question is, can you imagine anyone buying anything from e-mail spam solicitors? But I gather some people must because the stupidly "disguised" spam pitches keep coming. They wouldn’t keep sending them if they weren’t getting some return. And no matter how many "rules" you write for incoming e-mail, the spam artists quickly get around it. For example, I’ve tried to block some spam based on certain phrases that appear in the subject line of these e-mails. It’s a lost cause. Here’s the subject lines from a handful of spam e-mails that came in recently.
all direct deferred bolton pancake
ks Fireworks MX 2004
Gaylord1 balky fluent runyon indisputable
No_Waiting collectible conjunct puffball
check out the best locknut unidirectional barnet
starlet philosophers of 865
Just what do you need?
Re: sapphire gala
toothpick 7252 lunatics
Corel Photo mkrhw Painter 8
jersey cow 3 dissidents
stalactite clodhoppers about 7
rumpus diadem sepoy knoxville johanson dispensary beirut pro
living with 51 because
photon somnambulists around 058

They’re selling prescription medications, software, mortgages, pornography and Lord knows what else. I don’t stay with them long enough to find out.

Of course these are easily recognizable, and even though it isn’t feasible at the moment to create a "don’t spam" list similar to the "don’t call" registry, they’re usually harmless. There is the occasional "you have performed an illegal operation" when you touch one of them with your cursor and your e-mail program closes down. But for the most part, you can delete these annoyances without any trouble.

More insidious are the e-mails that look like they are from a legitimate sender but are totally fraudulent - out to screw you . The latest one that came into my e-mail was something purporting to be from Fleet Bank, displaying the Fleet logo and a URL to click on that looks like Fleet Bank’s address.

It’s obviously an attempt at fraud because it asks you to click on the URL "to confirm your data." About the same approach as the Nigerian philanthropists who want to share millions with you - just a little more sophisticated.

Apparently there is no way to track these people who are committing crimes by sending out these fraudulent e-mails. The originating Internet Provider seems to be an outfit in Romania.

The Internet is a wonderful thing, but like other modern inventions that have come along in recent years, the technology is way ahead of our ability to use and regulate it. If it was - if human development was ahead of technological development - or even could keep pace with it, we wouldn’t have to worry about e-mail spam - or about such things as the existence of " weapons of mass destruction."

Just a thought to start off your week.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

If you’d asked me, I would have said that I’ve written more times about the state of healthcare in this country than I actually have.

After reading an op-ed piece in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune by Thomas M Ryan, CEO of CVS Pharmacy, proposing that the way to lower US drug costs is to import them in bulk from other countries, I had to look over past posts on healthcare to see if any such nutty proposals had been made before and if I’d commented on them.

I didn’t find that particular proposal.

On October 22, 2003, I wrote about the scandalous cost of prescription medications in the US.

On November 25, 2003, I wrote about the new Medicare/Prescription drug legislation which I called Flim Flam. You try to figure it out!!

A few days later, on November 29, 2003, I wrote a follow up on the same topic.

On December 12,. 2003, I gave an example of how ridiculous medical costs are in the US. It was a bill for a fairly simple office procedure that looked like a page from the Federal budget. In other words, not understandable!!

And on February 19 of this year, I wrote about the sneaky way Pharmaceutical companies are now pushing their pills. Directly to you!! Cutting out the middle man. Your doctor!!

And now we have the grand idea of a CEO of a major retail pharmacy chain saying the way to make prescription drugs affordable is to buy them from Canada or any other country where the price is lower than US prices - but not on an individual basis. He says let big time distributors buy in bulk from these countries and deliver to pharmacies, just the way they are now doing with US manufactured - and more highly priced drugs.

As with just about every healthcare plan proposed by politicians and health industry "experts," Mr. Ryan’s "plan" is like a segment of a maze within a labyrinth with a Rubik’s Cube theme. And if you’ve observed that a maze and labyrinth are the same thing - and possibly as difficult to navigate as a Rubik’s Cube, you get the idea that this "plan" is as convoluted as all the other plans that have been proposed and some that are now in effect.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and I’ll keep on saying it. Without a rational, NATIONAL health care plan, available to everyone, not just senior citizens, healthcare in this country will continue to be in a state of crisis. No, let me re-phrase that. Without a NATIONAL healthcare plan, the health of millions of Americans will continue to be in a state of crisis.

Medications - life saving and life sustaining medications , are as important to our well being as water. We cannot live without water. Ingestion of liquids is necessary to sustain life.

But what if a handful of private companies controlled the supply of water to American homes and decided to price that supply the way pharmaceutical companies price their products? The rich would drink heartily. The middle class would cut back on other necessities in order to be able to afford enough water. Many of the poor would get sick and die.

It would be a national scandal and the government would step in to stop it.

I think it’s a national scandal that the ability to overcome serious illness and/or to sustain life in the face of a life threatening medical condition, can depend on what funds you might have available to pay for the drugs that will cure you of your illness or keep you alive.

And for the benefit of conservative readers who are at this moment scoffing at the idea of some sort of "liberal" give away - the taking of wealth from those who have it to give to those who don’t - get over it. I’m not talking about any such nonsensical thing. The disparity between the haves and the have nots - or the have "lesses," in just about any other aspect of life, is part of the natural order of a free society. The have nots and the have "lesses," have the opportunity to become members of the "have" crowd and most strive to reach that goal.

But not being able to afford the mansion that your boss lives in or to dine at the restaurants that he frequents or to take your vacation on the Riviera instead of camping out in your back yard isn’t going to kill you.

Deciding that you can do without a drug that you really can’t afford to pay for - particularly if it’s one that you’re supposed to take forever - can kill you. It’s not hyperbole. The high cost of prescription medication can be the death of some people!!

I know there are various programs through which low cost or maybe no cost medications can be obtained in the case of life threatening illnesses, or serious conditions, but there are lots of people who just can’t face the idea of becoming embroiled in the bureaucracies that administer such programs. There are millions of people who would rather try to muddle through that place themselves in what they think of as demeaning situations. And for some who would deign to lower themselves in this fashion, death might take them before they've had the time to jump through all the required bureaucratic hoops.

There are those who maintain that ultimately "the market place" will determine the price of any commodity. Not here folks. The "market place" is not where a solution to the ridiculously high cost of medications will be found. We have seen what "the market place" has done for prescription drug prices. Sent them through the roof!!

Other countries have found ways to maintain the cost of drugs at a reasonable level - and in some countries, the cost for insured seniors for any medication is zero. Nada!! Zilch!! As far as I know, none of those countries have sunk into the sea. None are bankrupt. Countries that were not Communistic before they solved their drug price problems are still not Communistic. And the skies above those countries have not fallen.

Now comes Thomas Ryan - and I’m sure plenty like him - casting envious eyes at these countries and saying , here’s a wonderful idea. They’ve solved the drug price problem. Let’s buy our drugs from them!!

And I say to Mr. Ryan and all others of his ilk - here's a novel idea. Let’s not buy our drugs from these other countries. Let’s follow their examples and work to make our domestically manufactured medications as affordable as theirs are.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

One of the major topics for presidential candidates is the state of the economy, and one of major aspects of the economy is it’s rate of "growth."

Things haven’t been looking that good for President Bush. A lot of jobs were lost during his first three years, and whether or not you want to blame any of his policies for the unemployment numbers, you can be sure that his opponent will. We all remember how much traction Bill Clinton got out of his "it’s the economy stupid" slogan.

Lately, things have been looking a little better for Mr. Bush. We are getting reports of more people going back to work and of good "growth" percentages in the economy.

But sometimes I wonder just how relevant the arguments are when it comes to economic "growth."

Clearing out things from my basement the other day, I ran across a fading issue of the old Chicago Daily News. In fact, it was the final issue of the Chicago Daily News, dated Saturday, March 4, 1978. The headline, in much larger type than I can reproduce here, was SO LONG CHICAGO.

I began leafing through and some interesting numbers caught my eye.

The Dow had closed on Friday, March 3, 1978 at 747.31. Twenty six years ago, it had yet to hit the thousand mark!

You could see a stage show or a concert at seat prices from $3.50 to $10.00.

An ’87 Plymouth Volare was going for $4,028 and if you wanted something really fancy with all of the bells and whistles available in 1978, there was an ad for a Chrysler New Yorker for $7,282.

At the super market, sirloin steak was being advertised at $1.39 a pound.

Which car you could afford to drive and which steak you could afford to eat would have depended on the kind of job you had. There weren’t too many jobs advertised in the last edition of the Chicago Daily News. But if you were a bookkeeper, there was a job advertised at $12,500 a year. A receptionist position was open at $150 a week. An executive secretary job was available for between nine and ten thousand a year. Maybe they could all qualify for the Plymouth and eat steak at least once a week.

There were some jobs with advertised salaries getting pretty close to twenty grand - and of course a number that just said "excellent salary."

But there was also an ad for a "home attendant," someone to take care of an invalid’s personal needs, plus do the laundry and clean house - all for $2.65 an hour. For $3.10 an hour though, you could work in a snack bar and they’d provide you with a uniform! Bicycles and hamburgers for them I guess.

Of course the contrast was striking between prices and earnings in 1978 and today. There’s been growth since 1978. Growth in everything. The Dow. The price of cars. The price of steak. The price of theater tickets. Salaries. Hourly wage rates. Everything is bigger.

But is it necessarily better?

I’m one of those uneducated people when it comes to economics and one thing that I can never seem to grasp is this need for constant "growth." "The economy grew at a rate of XYZZ percent last quarter." And that’s good or bad or neutral. And I don’t get it.

I can understand the concept of growth as it relates to population growth. The more people we have, the more we need facilities to accommodate those people. The more people we have entering the work force, the more we need to expand the services and professions and industries that provide opportunities for employment.

But other kind of growth, which I guess is the outcome of the kind of growth that I more or less do understand, is more difficult to appreciate.

One of the sillier comments made by people lauding President Reagan last week was that during his term, "average income increased."

(I know just three days ago I titled a post "some last comments on Reagan," but there have been so many silly things said about the man that I’m going to have to come back to the topic one or two more times).

At any rate, I have to challenge the idea that an increase in average income is necessarily a good thing. Not that it didn’t increase during Reagan’s term. I’m sure it did. But did that or does that make people better off?

Back in 1978, a damned good car cost almost seventy three hundred dollars. If you were making a decent salary in 1978 - say $15,000 a year, you’d be splurging an amount equal to almost half of your annual income on a fancy automobile. Today, an equally fancy set of wheels might run you twenty grand, but your 2004 salary equivalent of that 1978 $15,000 would be in excess of $40,000. The ratio of car cost to annual salary - unchanged in a span of 26 years.

It makes zero sense. When we look back at "the good old days," including eras before we were around, we marvel at the low cost of everything. Pennies for what now costs dollars. Houses for far less than we now pay for cars. But wages were equally low, so those "low" prices were appropriate.

Everyone wants to make more money and it’s perfectly natural, if you’re a working stiff, to look for an increase in your salary or in your hourly wage. And when you get it, things are usually better for a while. You can afford a little more of the good things in life. But then you find that you need more money because things are costing a little more. You’re really not that much better off than you were. So you look for a bigger salary or hourly wage. And you get it. And prices go up again.

The vicious cycle continues year after year as it did between March 4, 1978 and June 17, 2004. The economy "grew." "Average income" increased. A lot. But did this "growth" make us better off?

More than 30 years ago, I bought my house for less than 40 thousand. I had reached the point in my earning ability where I could afford to buy a house. Before that, I was a renter. Today, my house would sell for close to four hundred thousand. Growth in value. But am I better off? If I sell my house for four hundred thousand, I would have to spend that much to buy another. My house didn’t appreciate in value in isolation. All housing did. And income increased accordingly so that we could buy those houses. And if you project that trend out a few years, my house will sell for a million dollars. Will that make me a millionaire? Maybe, but it won't have the same meaning as it has today.

To my simple way of thinking, I would be no better or worse off if the prices and incomes of twenty or thirty or forty years ago were frozen in time. The ratio of income to the cost of everything has stayed pretty much the same, so what did we gain from all of the "growth" that has taken place during all of those years?

It seems to me that income growth is a good thing only if the cost of everything doesn’t grow at the same rate. When I reached the point where I had sufficient income to buy my house, if that income had stayed the same for the next 30 years and the price of housing and everything else had stayed the same, I would be as well off today as I am with my 2004 income and 2004 prices.

And since all of this stemmed from running across the final edition of the old Chicago Daily News, I think it’s highly appropriate to close these comments by recalling that 35 years ago, Chicago had FOUR major newspapers. Two in the morning and two in the afternoon. Now we have just two.

We make more money. Everything costs more. And Chicago has gone from four newspapers to two. Now I ask you. What kind of "growth" is that???

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I’m contemplating a blogging break some time in the future to attend to some medical problems. Nothing’s been arranged yet, but the regimen I’m considering will be taking up part of my day, every day for a while, and there may a slow down or a pause to blog posts during that period of time.

So as long as my thinking is running along those lines, it would seem to be an appropriate moment to step back and take a look at my small place in the blogosphere.

Sometimes it’s a little disconcerting to read that there are millions of people doing what I’ve been doing since April of last year, but I take some solace from a post by a fellow blogger, one calpundit, and from an article found on cnn.com.

Actually I have to modify my reference to calpundit as a "fellow blogger." Cal seems to be a blogger in the traditional "I link to you, you link to me" sense. His blog site has a long list of other blog sites, all or most of which I presume, link back to him. I have no such arrangements other than the three links I have for my own convenience, only one of which links to me. I write my blog for my own amusement and for the amusement of a few others that I’m aware of - and I hope a few more that I’m not aware of.

Still, I hope that the statistics that calpundit cites are more right than wrong. It makes me feel a little less like an undiscovered star in a firmament of a billion billion stars.

Just for an experiment, I’ve pulled out a selection of my comments from last year and a couple from this year, to see if any of the suggestions or predictions that I made were in any way prophetic.

Certainly my very first post has been roundly ignored. I told Rush Limbaugh to shut up- and you can see how quiet he’s been since.

I thought for sure that the baseball commissioner would consider the new rule that I proposed on 4/4/03, or at least thank me for the suggestion. But not a peep. And if you read the rule suggestion, you can see how well it would have worked for the Cubs and White Sox this year. I don’t think either team would have lost a game!!!

I’ve published all kinds of suggestions of how to end the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, from a solution for settlements to an ideal two state solution. I even got some response from people who have proposed their own solutions that have received world wide attention - but not a peep from Sharon or Arafat.

I complained bitterly about the way traffic reporters garble their reports to the point where a driver is more confused listening to them than he would be without the benefit of any traffic "information." But did anyone listen? Did any of them slow down? Huh!! Sometimes you wonder if it’s worth the effort. There’s so little gratitude in the world.

Last August, I noted that the "vast wasteland" (television) hadn’t changed since Newton Minnow introduced us to the phrase a thousand years ago. Did TV execs read my blog and rush to make improvements? Have you watched network programming recently? At least they haven’t picked up on my prediction for the next reality show - the S&M Bachelor!!!. We should be grateful for small mercies.

I haven’t traveled much since last August when I wrote about air fares that aren’t - the large print prices in full page newspaper ads that anyone can read, but aren’t the prices you have to pay if you actually need to buy an airline ticket. It hasn’t changed. The "add ons" are in print that only a Lilliputian with the aid of a Hubble type telescope can read. And of course the prices still change by the hour. Sometimes by the minute. I guess airline executives don’t read my blog either.

In September of 03, I wrote about the predicament of Jonathan Pollard, who has been trying to get his day in court for years.

Just a few days ago, a court finally gave him permission to argue against previous court rulings barring him from re-opening his case. Did the court read my blog and become moved to tears? Of course they did. Why else do you think Pollard is getting a chance after all these years? It’s my blog I tell you. I have POWER.

(No I don’t smoke anything. I quit regular cigarettes in 1988 and I never did have any desire for the other stuff. I’m just having fun folks).

I picked out a whole bunch more blog posts to review, but this is getting long - and who’s going to click on all these links and read old posts anyway? Other than the faithful few that is. So I’ll wrap up with just a couple more.

Last November 6, I wrote about the mutual fund scandal that was in the news and made the point that insiders have always taken advantage of the public when it comes to trading stocks, bonds and commodities. And I made a prediction. I said watch the announcement of the next merger and look at the activity of the involved stocks and relevant options in the days before it’s announced. You’ll see the insider activity. And sure enough, on January 20 of this year, I provided my readers with an illustration of what I was talking about. Just call me Nostradamus.

Finally, and this gives me no great pleasure, I’ve written a few times about Air America Radio and my view that their business plan was all wrong and that they were likely to fail if they didn’t wake up and change it. You can look at a couple of these comments if you like. One on April 16, 2004 and one on June 3, 2004.

Just the other day, I saw the news report that what executive management remained of the fledgling liberal radio network, had finally come to realize that what I have said on this blog about their business plan being wrong was right - and they are now trying to change it in mid stream.

No, they didn’t read this blog and see the light. They just came to their senses. I hope it’s not too late for them.

Back to the present tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The old saying "something is rotten in Denmark," comes from the original words spoken in Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 4 when Marcellus says "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark." In the play, what was "rotten" to Marcellus, was that he had just seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father, but the shortened (misquoted to purists) version has come to mean anything out of whack or having the appearance of being out of whack.

Nowadays, there is indeed something going on in Denmark which appears to be "out of whack" to a lot of people and absolutely rotten to some, but intriguing and even pleasing to this old blogger.

I’m referring to the Reverend Thorkild Grosboell, pastor of Taarbaek. I don’t know where Taarbaek is in Denmark and Mapquest can’t find it , but its location isn’t relevant to the story. What is relevant is that the good Reverend, who is a Lutheran minister employed by the State of Denmark, has been suspended by his Bishop, Lise-Lotte Rebel. And he’s been suspended for the second time!!

His first suspension was imposed in May of last year, when he said "There is no heavenly God. There is no eternal life. There is no resurrection." Apparently he said this in an interview, not from the pulpit, but his Bishop heard about it and put him on suspension.

I don’t know whether that was with or without pay, but I would tend to think it might have been the latter, because he retracted the remarks and apologized for them. He also might have been afraid of losing his job. In Denmark, the state employs Lutheran ministers and the state can fire a minister if his supervising Bishop recommends it. There’s no jumping from one congregation to another that might be more tolerant of oddball views.

But apparently, personal conviction trumped job security for Reverend Thorkild, because in a recent sermon, he said the following: "God has abdicated in favor of his son, hence in our favor. Therefore there is no longer a heavenly guarantee of an interfering might, there is only the Godly kingdom (on Earth) that is achieved by us and between us. So if it fails, there is nothing."

I suppose what the Reverend was trying to say could be open to different interpretations, but Bishop Rebel had only one interpretation - that it was incompatible with the state church’s faith - and he’s out on a limb again.

I must admit that I’m not sure exactly what Reverend Thorkild’s beliefs are. He seems a little mixed up himself, first saying that there is no God and then that God abdicated in favor of Jesus. But it seems pretty clear that he believes that all humans can expect is to make life as good as we can while we’re here on Earth, because there’s no other place. When we’re dead, we’re dead.

And that of course flies in the face of Christian belief which preaches that death is just a transitional experience and that nobody really dies. Never mind that we can be blown to bits or burned to a crisp or have our bodies rot away, leaving only a disintegrating skeleton. Christian belief says we’re still alive. Bad luck I guess, if you’re not a Christian.

But putting what I consider to be irrational beliefs to one side for a moment, Reverend Thorkild’s statements raise an interesting question. Is there a role for a clergyman, leading and ministering to a congregation while asserting that there is no heavenly God or afterlife?

There are of course religions where there is congregational worship without any mention or promise of an afterlife. The Jewish faith for example, doesn’t speak of life after death. But all religions, in one way or another, have at the core of their faiths, a belief in a supreme being.

But can there be such a thing as religious services from which participants can draw some spiritual benefit, without acknowledging or believing in the existence of a sentient, communicating God?

My personal belief about the existence of a God who was responsible for the creation of the universe and all who populate it, is that it is a fantasy unsupported by evidence. There is evidence of a lot of things about the universe and about us, but not, in my view, of the existence of a supreme being.

I am more inclined to believe in Gods - plural - beings as far advanced beyond humanoids as we are beyond amoebas. I would like to believe as millions of us do, that there is a heavenly abode waiting for me when I shuffle off this mortal coil. It’s a comforting thing to have such a belief. But I can’t get to that comfort zone. My thought processes get in the way.

Yet I think that one can indeed get some benefit from belonging to a particular faith and a particular church or congregation and attending religious services, even without believing in the existence of a supreme being. There is some strength and comfort that can be gained through the coming together of people for the purpose of expressing love and hope and the acknowledgment of wonders that may be beyond their comprehension.

The Reconstructionist branch of Judaism for example, emphasizes "peoplehood" and non traditional theistic belief. Reconstructionists believe that Judaism is an "evolving religious civilization" and some of its followers are admitted atheists. Yet they are able to draw comfort from their membership and participation in the faith.

The Bahais embrace all religions, emphasizing the brotherhood of man as much as worship of any deity. And it’s hard not to feel soothed and comforted when you sit quietly in one of the beautiful Bahai temples, whether a service is being conducted or not.

So I think Reverend Thorkild Grosboell is on to something and that Bishop Lise-Lotte Rebel should lift his suspension and let him preach his heresy. His church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, is the major religion in Denmark, but only about 5% of its adherents attend church on a regular basis.

I’d be willing to wager if the good Bishop would let the Reverend carry on preaching without supervision and without censorship, his church in Taarbaek, would throw those attendance statistics for a loop.

Heck, if I were a Dane, I’d go to church, just for the pleasure of hearing an ordained minister question the whole concept of a sentient, communicative, active and redemptive God, and inject some healthy discussion into the whole business of dogmatic religious belief.

Monday, June 14, 2004

I don’t know if it’s appropriate or inappropriate to pen further comments on the life, death, days of national mourning and funeral of Ronald Reagan on Flag Day, but it’s obvious from what national and local columnists have been writing about the man and the accolades that have been heaped upon him by assorted politicians and pundits over the past week, that the subject will be a hot one for a while yet.

In my paper this morning for example, there are two opposing views from two syndicated columnists, one by Charles Krauthammer, chastising "liberals" for their lack of appreciation of Reagan’s true qualities and true accomplishments, and an opposing view by Derrick Z Jackson.

My personal opinion is that that the television coverage and the ceremonies themselves were overdone. But apparently, it’s what the Reagans wanted and I gather the Federal holiday was thrown in by Mr. Bush. I am not the least bit knowledgeable when it comes to presidential funerals, so I was surprised to learn that a team of people has been working on the details of the Reagan funeral since the early eighties!! I’m sure it wasn’t a 20 year full time job - but the idea of a team of people laying out elaborate funeral plans for years - fine tuning as circumstances dictated - strikes me as somewhat bizarre.

It’s not quite the same as the news media being prepared for the death of any president way in advance. I’m sure that the newspapers have files on Presidents Ford, Carter, Bush Senior and Junior and Clinton that they update frequently, so that they are ready to go to press with full coverage of their lives, their accomplishments, scandals, failures and triumphs the moment their deaths are announced. And the television networks have archives of tapes ready to go even faster. But I doubt that any of them have anything that would be the equivalent of the "team" that worked on the Reagan funeral for a couple of decades.

I am also surprised at the praise being heaped upon the late President. It’s coming pretty close to deifying the man. He gave forth with a righteous cry and the Berlin wall just collapsed!! (Joshua fit the battle of Jericho) He "won" the cold war?? (Vengeance is mine saith the Lord). He made us all proud to be Americans again and gave us hope for the future?? (He restoreth my soul). I could probably find a biblical commentary on Reaganomics, but I’m not a Bible scholar, so I’ll leave that one to those with appropriate expertise.

Critics of Mr. Reagan who described him as an amiable duffer were probably being far too harsh. He may not have been a detail man. He may not have had a grasp of the intricate details of governance. He may have been a "big picture" president - sometimes used as a euphemism for someone who isn’t very bright and who doesn’t understand the intricacies of all the issues he has to deal with. But I doubt that he was the duffer that his critics made him out to be. Nor do I think he was as venal as Derrick Jackson portrays him in his op-ed piece linked above.

But neither do I buy the idea that he was the great president that his admirers have been describing since his death was announced. There have been a few critical op-ed pieces - not as angry as Derrick Jackson’s piece - but urging a slowdown in the mad rush to put his face on Mount Rushmore and on the ten dollar bill and to broaden the Christian affirmation of faith to the Father, the Son and the Reagan.

O.K. No one is actually suggesting that we include Mr. Reagan as an object of worship in our religious devotions - for those of us who believe in religion - but it came perilously close a few times during the week just past.

Of course, while I don’t buy the idea that he was anywhere near as great as he has been portrayed, I have to admit that I have no way of knowing what the man was really like. Along with millions of other Americans, I knew him only from watching him in movies and, as president, on television. And while I know what occurred domestically and internationally during his watch, I have no way of knowing how much of our domestic and international policy during his eight years was actually shaped by him.

The people who do know that - people who worked closely with him and for him for four or eight years, aren’t likely to say anything critical about him during a week of national mourning - if ever . If he was, as has been suggested in some circles, an upgrade of a Chauncey Gardner, those who made up the palace guard aren’t going to reveal it.

So we are left wondering.

But as I said the other day, what sticks in my mind are those press conferences - those few occasions when he was asked a question for which he did not have a prepared or rehearsed answer. I remember the looks of bewilderment. I remember the opening word of his attempted answers that was used over and over in late night television comedy skits, the long, drawn out "well……." And the morning after, when the press secretary explained what the President meant to say.

Was that the real Ronald Reagan, or was he the person being elevated to near sainthood last week?

Or something in between?

I guess it’ll matter to historians, but it’s not something that I’ll be devoting any more space to on this blog - unless of course something is said or written that absolutely, positively and ‘noblesse obligelly" begs the question - What’s All This Then????

Friday, June 11, 2004

I don’t usually write about local matters on this blog. For one thing, people in Bristol and London in the UK and a few other far off places, wouldn’t understand what I was writing about. Not that they wouldn’t find it interesting. But without knowing the local background, a lot of the subtlety of my brilliant commentary would be lost on them.

For example, on our train ride back from Kansas City to Chicago that I described here some days ago, we saw a lot of cows, grazing, reclining - doing whatever it is that cows do when left to their own devices in the fields. At one point, I turned to my wife and asked if she knew the difference between the cows we were observing and "Chicago cows." It was a rhetorical question of course, which was why she didn’t try to answer. She just waited for the punch line, which was, "Chicago cows can vote."

Non Chicagoans - even foreigners, might get the implication of the quip, but without knowing the history of the Daleys and the Chicago Democratic machine, the flavor wouldn’t be there.

But sometimes, as I sip my evening cocktail, and run over the day’s or week’s news events in my mind, I get a sense of similarity between things local, national and international .

Richard Daley the younger is going to set a record for mayoral longevity that will probably never be surpassed. He just keeps getting elected and re-elected mayor of Chicago. Which is probably why he gets away with performances like the one described on yesterday’s Chicago Tribune editorial page and in a piece by columnist John Kass.

There’s a potential scandal brewing, but the Mayor not only insists that everything is on the up and up, but when asked some pointed questions, says he doesn’t know anything. "I dunno" is one of his favorite expressions when being questioned by reporters about potentially embarrassing matters.

He’s been doing this for years. As one embarrassing story after another surfaces. As people associated with him and below him get exposed as crooks and mobsters and as some finish up in jail, he answers questions about them with "I dunno." He knows nothing about anything that might be an embarrassment to his administration.

At times - too many times - he looks and sounds like a clown. And you wonder, why does he keep getting re-elected?

The simple answer is - people continue to vote for him. The not so simple answer is that he has divided up the spoils of the city and the county among the diverse groups that make up its population. Black, Hispanic, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim. Everyone gets a piece of the pie and they all are beholden to and support Richard Daley. And because of that support, no credible challenger ever runs against him. There’s someone on the ballot at every election - often several someones. But the election is a joke - the outcome a foregone conclusion.

Daley is like a dictator, whose power is such that no insurgent can remove him.

Which got me thinking of the similarities between our great democracy and dictatorships of all stripes around the world.

Daley is a good example.

There’s no question that there are people in Chicago’s political establishment who would like to be mayor. People who think they are smarter, better educated, more articulate and in countless ways better suited to be the chief executive of a major city than Richard Daley.

But they don’t run because Daley has already headed them off at the pass. They are recipients of the "goodies" pie that the mayor has sliced up and passed around. They’ve got a good thing going. It may not be all that they want, but they know that if they run against Daley and lose, they most likely will finish up with nothing.

The same applies to other members of the establishment to whom a potential candidate might look for support. If they support a challenger and he loses, they too might feel the wrath of an angry King Richard.

And the voting public goes along, giving Daley huge majorities over the token opposition that surfaces at every election.

In a way, it’s similar to the power that dictators hold over their populations.

A dictator is just one man, often a cruel and harsh leader. Often feared and hated by large numbers of the people he rules.

So how does he hang on to power? Why can’t the people kick him out?

Usually, it’s because whatever military and police forces exist in his country are in his corner. And usually, they are in his corner because they are the recipients of perks that the ordinary citizen can only dream about. They get the good salaries, the good housing, the good food - and the power to lord it over their fellow citizens.

In most countries ruled in this fashion there are pretenders to the throne - people who think they are better equipped to lead their nation. But they are reluctant to challenge the incumbent leader because they know that if they lose, they might also lose their health, or their freedom or their life.

In the same fashion, the members of the military and the police, without whose support a dictator usually cannot be replaced, are reluctant to switch sides. There may be some among them who would like to support a potential challenger, but they know if that challenger is suddenly crushed in an attempted coup, they would most likely share his fate. For sure they would lose their perks.

So they keep supporting the dictator.

It’s not quite the way that Richard Daley hangs on to his office in Chicago, but there sure are enough similarities to beg the question that I ask almost every day. What’s all this then?

See - I’m not writing about a local story after all.