What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

I’m a word puzzle nut - crosswords, acrostics - you name it. I do the puzzles in the Chicago Tribune daily and all the puzzles on the weekend. If anyone wanted to check their crossword puzzle answers or got stuck and wanted to find the answers, there is more than one web site that provides them. But if you get stuck with the Sunday "Quote-Acrostic" in the Tribune, there’s no place to check . You have to wait until next Sunday. I think someone should provide those answers for anyone who gets stuck. I’m too busy to start a new blog with the "Quote-Acrostic" answers myself, but maybe from time to time or even every Sunday if I have the time, I’ll put the answer here. The September 30, 2012 "Quote-Acrostic" answer for example, is as follows.

"Monopoly’s copyright included colored rectangular property spaces, distinctive corner space graphics, the chance question mark, waterworks faucet, electric company lightbulb and iconic railroad locomotives."

I won’t include the answers to the individual clues. That would make it too easy for a word puzzle enthusiast, but of course you can get all the answers by transposing letters from the answer to the appropriate places in the clues. Let me know if you find this useful.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

I am one of Mitt Romney’s 47%. I freely admit my belief that I am a victim. For years I have dutifully invested three dollars weekly in the Illinois lottery. Every week. Fifty two weeks a year. For years. Yet the most I have ever won at any one time is three dollars. Three lousy dollars. After spending three dollars a week!! A hundred and fifty six dollars a year!! For years!!If that isn’t being victimized then I don’t know what victimization is. Plus I didn’t pay any federal tax last year. But I’m not sure that he’ll allow me to keep my membership in the 47% club. I don’t think I really pass muster on the tax matter or on the other basic membership requirements.

My wife and I are both retired seniors and since a substantial portion of our income comes from that well known Ponzi scheme known as Social Security and as seniors we have extra deductions that we never had before, we aren’t paying any Federal income tax which, according to he who would be president, makes us government supported and subsidized 47 percenters . Except for that annoying thing that Bill Clinton talked about at the Democratic convention. Mathematics.

Like a whole bunch of our fellow 47 percenters, we do pay a whole mess of other kinds of taxes, starting with many thousands of property taxes. Peanuts on Planet Romney, but a pretty big chunk in Planet Earth bucks. Add to that sales tax on just about everything we buy and taxes tacked on to things like our utility bills and add to that state and local fees and the total comes to a percentage of income not far removed from what Romney pays in capital gains taxes. But still, not paying any Federal income does at least give us honorary membership as 47 percenters. Except for our lack of other qualifications.

To be a real 47 percenter, we would had to have spent our lives looking to government to provide us with food and housing and medical care. Silly me. Many years ago, while Romney was just a young man struggling to get ahead in life, burdened with the disadvantage of being the son of the CEO of American Motors and later Governor of the State of Michigan, I scraped together all the money I could lay my hands on, (no parents to borrow from) and made a down payment on a modest Georgian in a Chicago suburb. And, silly me, not realizing the extent of government entitlements that were available to me had I had a latter day Romney (no pun intended) to explain the advantages of being a 47 percenter, I made mortgage payments for years until the mortgage was paid off. Still, I’m not paying any Federal income tax and , late as it may be in my life, that makes me a 47 percenter. Except for one more thing. I think. Excuse me for a moment while I refresh my memory on key elements of the Romney 47% doctrine

Well, there are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement and government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49 ... I mean, he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax; 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. He’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Ah yes, health care. A true 47 percenter believes that he/she is entitled to health care and that the government should provide it. And here, both me and my wife come pretty damned close to qualifying for a 47% membership card. Almost. During our working years, we kicked in for Medicare taxes so that now we qualify for free hospital care. Almost. Except for deductibles and usage limitations. Medicare only pays part of the bills and the rest gets billed to us. But there’s no free doctor care so we have to pay a monthly premium for that. And Medicare only pays part of Doctors bills so the rest gets billed to us. So we either dig into our measly retirement income or we buy insurance to cover what Medicare doesn’t pay. Excuse me again for a moment while I make some calculations. Okay. Yeah. We’re chipping in close to six grand a year to help pay for government health care that true 47 percenters consider an entitlement.

So all in all, I think my wife and can claim that we are among the 53% of Americans who take personal responsibility and care for our lives. But we don’t pay any Federal income tax and that would put us in the 47% group. On the one hand we bought our own house, pay substantial taxes of various kinds, pay a substantial buck for our health care and generally take responsibility for our own lives. On the other hand we don’t pay any Federal income tax. Help me Tevye. If I was a rich man, I wouldn’t be caught on the horns of a dilemma.

Anyway, both my wife and I are clear on one issue. We are not going to vote for Romney. It was a decision we made long before he revealed his concept of a divided America. We pretty much decided that he lacked the character to be the leader of the free world when we heard the dog story. Then his primary rivals kept talking about all the different Romney’s who’ve been running for president for years and I figured the last kind of person we needed in the White House was a multiple choice president. And who would want a president who might decide that it was too stuffy in Air Force One and open a window at 40,000 feet and suck himself and the whole White House press corps into oblivion? And no, I’m not going to make any smart remark here. Just that I’m glad to see what the polls are saying and hope for the sake of the country - for the world for that matter, that they stay the same right up to November 6.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Taking a break from politics and the state of the world for a moment to comment on one of my many pet peeves, amply described by the deliberately unfinished title sentence above. From time to time, a niece of mine in England sends me some brilliant piece of computer animation, often accompanied by a note of a tongue-in-cheek explanation that this is what computer geeks do when they get bored and have time on their hands. . But I think those little prancing stick figures or whatever other animated figures that appear in these amusing productions are showing us just a glimpse of one half of the geek mind - the Dr. Jekyll half if you will, designed to lure us into a state of complacency while the Mr. Hyde half is busy designing far less benign computer surprises, I swear designed to send we poor ungeek types into a state of frustrating confusion.

I’ll cite just three examples - the first discovered when I resumed writing for this blog after a four month lay off. Writing here used to be simple. That is to say, once I decided on a subject and had in mind what I wanted to say about it - all I had to do was type it on a Microsoft Word page as I would type an essay or a letter, adding the occasional basic codes that I’ve learned to indicate bold or italic type or a link to some other web site - check my spelling, go to Google’s Blogspot, hit "new post" - paste in what I’d written - - hit "publish" - and voila - another masterpiece hit the Internet. But when I started posting new commentaries a few days ago, I was greeted by a new "improved" Blogspot with a "new" look which to this blogger is little more than some visual juggling and making everything I do at this web site more difficult and slower - such as not being able to hit "publish" and have anything appear the way I typed it. Which is about my experience every time something on the Internet is "updated" to make it new and better.

I have a PC with Windows XP installed and Outlook Express for my e-mail. Geeks would call my OE my e-mail "client." I’m not sure to whom or what the "client" refers - me or Outlook Express - but then we’re dealing with the Geek language which bears little resemblance to English - or any other language for that matter. Any way, I have always found Outlook Express a logically and neatly laid out program and easy to use. Users of OE know what I mean. On one page, the derfault mail boxes are shown on the left of the screen, In Box, Out Box, Sent, Deleted and Drafts - to which you can add any number of subject specific boxes to store. At the top of the screen is the simplest and most logical of toolbars which includes places to click to create mail, reply, reply all and forward. Even the most ungeekiest among us are/have been able to use this e-mail program without adding gray hairs or growing ulcers. So what happened? Of course Microsoft decided to improve/upgrade/better/elevate/refine /enhance and generally frustrate millions of we non geeks by dropping Outlook Express and including, with later versions of Windows - a less understandable and more geekish default e-mail program. So on my laptop with Windows 7, I do not have nor can I download Outlook Express and I along with my fellow frustrated non geek millions would like to know why. OE wasn’t/isn’t broken and thus did not need fixing or replacing, so why did they do it? I’m pretty sure I know why. Microsoft and all the other Geek companies have to be shown as constantly moving forward with "new and improved" versions of programs and products that are working just fine - and in some cases, dump them altogether for something new - partially to sell more stuff to geeks and non geeks alike - the former already programmed to buy anything advertised as "upgraded" and the latter afraid that they’ll be left behind in an outdated cyber wilderness and partially, maybe mostly, because this is what geeks do, and there’s really no way to stop them. I know that’s a hell of a long sentence but I try to fight the geeks with whatever weapons I can muster.

And finally, for this complaint session, because I have a laptop with Windows 7, I have been exposed to a new geek attack launched without warning against the non-geek world. I, along with the millions referred to several times above, have been "programmed" to automatically accept announcements of Windows "updates" and to blithely click away to install whatever protections or improvements Microsoft is sending to us without cost or obligation. But with their most recent "update" unbeknown to we non-geeks was an "update" or complete change of our versions of Internet Explorer. My laptop was suddenly changed from a user of Internet Explorer 8 to Explorer 9, changing the look of my home page and eliminating all of my carefully created and preserved favorites. I immediately rushed to the great and all powerful Google to learn how to rid myself of the unwanted intruder, but none of the solutions offered worked, so I, having learned a few things during my dealings with the world of Geek - clicked on System Restore, picked a date that preceded the last "update" and through the miracle of computer time travel, Explorer 9 was gone and good old Explorer 8 was back in business.

None of these things were broke and none needed fixing but you can be sure that the Geeks will continue to try to persuade us that broke or not, they need to be fixed. All I can say to my fellow non-Geeks is be aware - keep your old programs because they’ll never be available again - and remember, time travel is possible on your computer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Of course, as I predicted below - as I’m sure did any sane person following the presidential campaign - the lies continue and the virtual Pinochio noses of the fact checkers are making quantum leaps in length. The most disgusting lie of the last few days has been the Romney claim that the Obama administration’s first reaction to the death of our Libyan ambassador and other embassy personnel and to the riots in Egypt and elsewhere was to "sympathize with the rioters." And now we have a tape that reveals what Romney really believes about 47% of his fellow citizens. That anyone could consider voting to put this man in the White House to deal with the demands of the office is beyond me.

I had planned to comment on what I believe to be the issues that should be of concern to every American voter, but the reaction of Muslims around world to a crude attempt by an Egyptian Coptic Christian to insult or poke fun at their religion has nudged that plan aside in favor of reactions of my own. In a way of course, what’s happening in Muslim countries is an issue that voters need to consider in terms of how we should deal with these countries and which of our candidates is best equipped to do that - and Mr. Romney has already demonstrated that he hasn’t a clue. Unless of course, each and every comment that he makes on foreign affairs is designed only to win over various segments of the voting population without reflecting any of his actual views on any situation. Hoping to attract Jews for example by alleging that the president has "thrown Israel under the bus" and pretty much saying that as president he’d be ready to bomb Iran. Shades of John McCain singing "bomb, bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys version of "Barbara Ann.".

But the kind of violence we have seen directed against America in Muslim countries that can be precipitated by something as idiotic and inconsequential as a fairly innocent amateur movie - overdubbed with voices that mock or insult the Muslim "prophet" and the Muslim faith, is an issue that our president and future presidents will have to contend with. The reaction of some in this and other countries has been to condemn and attack Islam. While President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton condemned the riots and vowed to bring the killers of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans to justice, both have been careful not to condemn the religious beliefs of the killers and the rioters and the demonstrators. They and the moderate voices of broadcasters and columnists and assorted pundits, hasten to assure us that the actions of a few dozen or a few hundred rioters who claim to be "defending" their religion, does not and should not be seen as representing the views of the vast Muslim world - all 1.7 to 2.1 billion of them. The figures vary but there’s a whole bunch of them - and of course not each and every one of them is ready to attack and destroy America because of some perceived insult of their faith or their prophet. But I don’t think the issue is as simple as the moderates would have us believe.

Yes, the group responsible for the deaths in Libya was small, but the pictures of mass demonstrations in Muslim countries and even in non Muslim countries paints a somewhat different picture. It is not just the relatively small number of extremists who resort to violent that is a matter of concern to the western world but the absence of tolerance and acceptance or understanding of the concept of free speech among hundreds of thousands if not millions of Muslims when it comes to any perceived insult aimed at their religion and/or its prophet.

I have made it clear in the past that I think all religions are crazy but Islam clearly takes top prize for craziness. One could argue that nothing could be crazier than, for example, the Catholic invention of purgatory as a place one goes after death as a stop over on the way to heaven. Or the Jewish myth of ten plagues that descended upon Egypt to persuade them to free their Hebrew slaves. But these are crazy things that don’t consume and take over the lives of Catholics and Jews. I would venture to say that most people born into those two faiths live their whole lives without giving those crazy parts of their faith any more than a fleeting thought.

But Islam is different from those and other religions. In the parts of the world where people are rioting, Islam is not just a religion but a way of life. And you have to wonder how the western world can interact with nations where the punishment for "blasphemy" can be death as can the shaving of one’s beard and where there is disdain for other religions and ways of life to the point of being dangerously confrontational. The other day I heard the former head of the Israeli Mossad who disagrees with Netenyahu on the question of a preemptive strike against Iran, say that he thinks the Iranians are "rational." - meaning I suppose that they would weigh the consequences of attacking Israel with atomic weapons and back away from such an action in the knowledge of the assured response which would result in the deaths of millions of their citizens and vast areas of their nation laid to waste.

I hope he’s right, but over the years we have been exposed to increasing evidence of madness which seems to be an intrinsic part of the Muslim religion. It’s too easy to say that those who are hell bent on waging war with the west have "hijacked" the religion, but the hatred and disdain for all other religions reaches way beyond the small number who have expressed their hatred and disdain with deadly violence - often suicidal violence.

In this modern world if instant communication, the clash between cultures - those of the western world and those of Islamic nations rooted in centuries old concepts and customs are easily communicated and easily magnified. Witness the latest "insult" that provoked violent protest and deaths. Without the Internet it would never have happened. But it’s a world we have to deal with. Islam and all that goes with it isn’t about to go away. Neither are the major religions and the free societies of the western world. Can the two be reconciled? Can modern society coexist with the primitive past? Are the Mullahs who rule Iran "rational" or do they share the same beliefs as those who strap on suicide belts to kill infidels? Or will there be an inevitable escalation of violence that leads to something unimaginably cataclysmic?

I don’t pretend to know the answer to these questions but I do know that they need to be asked by the leaders of the western world and that the possibility of crazed religious beliefs plunging the world into chaos cannot be ignored.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Now that both political conventions are behind us, the serious business of evaluating how bad or good things are and who can/might make things better or worse if elected or reelected begins. Next week the murder numbers are scheduled to be released. You can be sure that if August homicides top 13,000 Mr. Romney will be all over the President for his inability to keep ordinary citizens safe. On the other hand, if less than 91.27% of the murders are not due to gunfire, the President will be able to claim a small victory. Unless of course the drunk and disorderly numbers are up.

Yes its nonsense. Gobbledygook if you will. As are so many of the things that the candidates - particularly the challenger want us to take seriously as reasons to vote for either one of them. The big thing currently is job numbers. I don’t know in which presidential election, the idea of presidential "creation" of jobs became a campaign issue, but it was and is a ridiculous reason for voters to retain or fire a president. Presidents don’t "create" jobs. In times of recession or depression, they can and do - if Congress will let them - formulate policies that can help lift an economy out of the doldrums - but even then, as unemployment decreases, they can’t be said to have personally and magically "created" jobs. Nor does it make any sense for them to take credit for booming economies when their contribution to such times often consists of staying out of the way.

Yes, when times are tough and unemployment high - events that occur cyclically and for far too many reasons to be analyzed in this short dissertation, there is a simplistic tendency for people to look for a Deus Ex Machina to emerge and reverse the downward trends - and we know that presidential candidates take full advantage of it. "It’s the economy stupid" wasn’t the only thing that elected Bill Clinton but here’s no question that it helped. But Clinton’s speech at the Democratic convention comparing the number of jobs "created" under Democratic and Republican presidents since 1961 with Democrats coming out on top is about as simplistically nonsensical as it gets - about as nonsensical as Republicans intimating that Democratic administrations can somehow be blamed for the US becoming involved in world wars - since of course there were Democrats in the White House when both world war 1 and world war l1 broke out.

Equally nonsensical is the "are you better off than four years ago" challenge - as if it is logical for people to cast their vote for president based on their personal circumstances - as if electing a new president will somehow change those personal circumstances. It is perhaps the most simplistic of presidential campaign ploys, but what is so sad about this piece of nonsense for which we have to thank Ronald Reagan - is that now, sitting presidents feel pressured to answer it and "better off" is frequently in the eyes and personal circumstances of the beholder. Of course as a nation we’re "better off." Who would want to go back to where we were four years ago with the banking system in a near state of collapse and people losing jobs at the rate of hundreds of thousand monthly? But the question isn’t aimed at voters who would stop to think and give some version of the answer I just penned. It’s aimed at the gut and for the most part at the non thinking or as some call them "low information" voters.

I suppose there will some campaigning that will not be replete with lies and other forms of assorted gobbledygook, but not enough of it to send the fact checkers into retirement. FactCheck.org , politifact.com and others will be busy web sites between now and November. Those who go to them may not always agree with their analyses and interpretations, but the tragedy is that the voters to whom the nonsense about presidents "losing" or "creating" jobs and whether or not they think they are better off than they were four years ago - are aimed - are less likely than others to go to those sites and check on what they are being told. Which of course is how the dissembling candidates like it.

And we’re the world’s greatest democracy or so both - no - all candidates for office will tell you. I’ll be penning some comments soon on what I believe to be the real issues of our time. Sadly, you’re not likely to hear then from the candidates - at least not in clear unequivocal language.

Monday, September 03, 2012

There have been many events since I began my hiatus more than four months ago that came close to luring me back to these pages - but each time I got the urge I brushed it aside with a "what the hell - what’s the point. I can’t change anything." But I did remember why I started this blog and it was to comment on the passing parade as a sort of personal view of history - and to amuse myself. If anyone else read my words and was amused or influenced or persuaded to rethink their own views, that was a bonus - even if I never heard about it directly from those readers.

I’m back because among the insanity that continues to unfold in the guise of human history, particular acts and words of insanity here in the United States from those among us who we have elected and who wish us to elect them to pass laws and legal judgments must be recorded everywhere where future generations may be able to read them and understand why they live in the kind of society in which they find themselves and I’m doing my bit by recording it here. Hopefully, my generation - or the next one, will reach a tipping point and decide that we can no longer allow mad men and women to be elected to positions of power - and so future readers of this and other commentaries will be living in a reasonably sane society. If we did not, our future will likely be the ages of chaos where death is life, truth is fiction and people worship in the Limbaugh Church of the Eternal Lie.

I am referring to the madness of today’s political and judicial climates , typified by the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the Congress and the Courts, Missouri Congressman Tom Aiken who wants to be a Missouri US Senator and Tom Head, a County Judge in Texas. You know their stories. Aiken is the Senator wannabe who thinks woman can control their reproductive system to protect themselves from being impregnated by a rapist - but that even if that imaginary system didn’t work, we should punish the rapist but not "punish" his handiwork by allowing the victim to abort the zygote criminally implanted in her womb. Head is a judge who presumably renders decisions in his courtroom based on fact and logic and prevailing laws. He has asserted that the reelection of President Obama could lead to civil war - particularly because Obama is planning to cede US sovereignty to the United Nations.

What ties the two together is that they are both elected officials who presumably will continue to present themselves before voters to keep them in office and they might just be the tip of an iceberg of unknown numbers of insane elected officials - national, regional and local. Sometimes these officials manage to avoid revealing their insane ideas and beliefs and so are able to continue to ‘serve" in the offices to which they were elected. But as we well know, they can also make their insanity crystal clear and still manage to persuade voters to reelect them. What better example can there be than the crazed ramblings of Minnesota’s 6th district Representative Michele Bachmann, who has been reelected twice since assuming office in 2007? It’s not just her sanity that needs to be questioned but that of the voters who keep returning her to Congress. Why? Can any of them provide a reason that makes sense?

There’s no point in my refuting the insane beliefs and remarks of such people. That’s easily done but it doesn’t touch on the problem which is that these people exist - in no small numbers and make decisions that affect all our lives based on or influenced by their - in my opinion - insane beliefs. And I include religious beliefs as - again in my opinion - another form of insanity.

When right wing nuts like Aikin and Head and Bachmann make their crazy remarks - Democrats jump on them to seek a political advantage - as well they should. But I am worried that they are among us in such large numbers and that, whatever our political affiliations or preferences, we don’t reject them the moment they provide us with a glimpse if their madness. And let’s face it - we don’t. Aikin may get rejected in the Senate race in Minnesota - but it wouldn’t surprise me if he wasn’t and it wouldn’t surprise me if voters continued to reelect him - along with Bachmann - to their respective House seats.

We are now in the opening weeks of our quadrennial democratic exercise to elect a President and Vice President. Challenging the sitting President is a man who in the past was a missionary for his religion that teaches him that "God" lives on a star or planet called Kolob or that that star or planet is close to "the throne of God" - and in a speech after he was selected, his running mate made clear his belief that "Our rights come from nature and God, not government." (Constitutional Rights? What Constitution? We don’t need no stinkin’ Constitutional rights). I’m not saying that Obama and Biden are devoid of strange beliefs. After all, I think they both claim to be Christians but at least we haven’t heard either of them say, as did Obama’s predecessor, that they consult with a "higher power" when making life and death decisions.

I know politicians feel they have to say crazy things to get elected. They feel they need to spread outrageous lies about their opponents and their policies. We’ve become used to this nonsense and too many of us allow it to work. We buy into the lies and let them influence our voting decisions. But when candidates and politicians don’t just lie but reveal crazed beliefs and we still elect and reelect them, we become the crazy ones and we deserve what we get. It may not result in the chaotic future I suggested - tongue-in-cheek above - but it’s not likely to be the American dream that we used to teach our children is their heritage.