About 2011….

It is time for some year-end meditations. I’m not sure they do any good but at least it gets me to thinking on a higher level once a year.

I will start out with a very short list of things I regret about 2011.   (There is no use in dwelling on the negative.)

  • I regret the apparent hold the radical right has gained in the U.S. in 2011. Much of our political agenda seems to have been driven by a small fringe group in this country. I regret that so many of our politicians seem to be totally intimated by this group.
  • I regret that there appears to be a significant portion of citizens in the U.S. who are either very gullible about healthcare issues or very uncaring about their brothers who are financially destroyed by healthcare bills or even die because they cannot afford private coverage. Obamacare as they call it does need some changes but to call for its total repeal is very unchristian and uncaring.
  • I regret that there is not a compassionate one among all those candidates for president in the Republican party. They all seem to pander to the extremes of their party. Our country is in desperate need for a true leader but there appears to be none among this current crop for the presidency.
  • I regret that another 18 million people on this earth have died in 2011 due to hunger or inadequate drinking water! We have the means to stop these totally tragic deaths if only we cared enough.

Here is a longer list of things that happened in 2011 that I am thankful for:

  • First and foremost is that neither my wife or I had any major medical events this year. Things pertaining to health seem to predominate us seniors’ lives. If we can stay healthy we can enjoy our autumn years.  This was a year of staying healthy thank the Lord.
  • I am grateful to finally be on Medicare. My previous employer’s threats to take away the medical portion of my pension now has no effect on me. The Medicare Advantage option he offered was actually no coverage at all so now I am 100% on my own for healthcare coverage but at only one-third the pre-Medicare 2011 costs!  I am also grateful that the radical right has not yet managed to take Medicare away from me and I pray they never will.
  • I am so happy we as a nation are finally out of Iraq, sort of.  Sort of is because we still have thousands of soldiers there to “guard” our embassy. Iraq now has the largest embassy staff anywhere in the world. But at least far fewer of our kids will be in harm’s way in that country. I am praying that we can also get out of Afghanistan in 2012 and not rush into any other conflicts around the world.
  • In a serendipitous sort of way I am happy that the congressional super-committee was unable to come to an agreement on slashing spending in the U.S.   The result, at least until  devious ones in congress find a way around it, is that our military will have to take a 10% cut in its budget. With less money I am hoping that we will manage to keep our noses out of at least a few foreign countries in the coming years and to give peace making efforts a chance where we do.  But like most else in Washington, the 10% budget cut commitment will likely be revoked.
  • I am happy to see at least some of our U.S. citizens are taking to the streets in the “Occupy” protests. This is the most basic form of democracy that can occur. I wish them all the luck in the world at reigning in some of the great disparity in wealth in the country. The super rich in this country should feel morally obliged to give some of their wealth for the common good. If they don’t  choose to do it on their own then we should at least put it back to where it was before Mr. Bush gave them massive tax breaks at the expense of the middle class.
  • I am grateful for being able to spend a month visiting our neighbors to the north in Canada. It was a very enjoyable time even if it did end with a serious cold for both me and my wife.  There is some very beautiful country up there. PEI was probably my favorite. I wish we would learn from them that universal healthcare is a right for all our citizens and not a privilege for a few.
  • I am grateful to have been able to serve another year at Backstreet Missions, our local shelter/soup kitchen and as long as my health holds out I am looking forward to serving again this year.

Will bank branches wither away?

via Will bank branches wither away? – USATODAY.com.

In the past year, the number of bank customers who prefer to bank online has jumped sharply, according to a survey conducted in August by the American Bankers Association. Sixty-two percent of bank customers said they prefer banking online to all other methods, up from 36% in 2010. Only 20% of customers said they preferred using a branch, down from 25% last year.

I can remember as a youngster taking some of my hard earned grass mowing money to the bank to open a savings account. The lady there that handled all the money praised me for saving some of it. After that I regularly visited the lady behind her big counter to add to my account. I don’t remember how much I eventually had in the account or even what I used the money for but the bank itself made a big impression on me. It seems like local banks are going the way of many other institutions in relenting to cyberspace.

I know personally I very seldom am in the door of our local bank. I do visit their bank machine on a regular basis but only go inside when I need to do something with my vault box.  Everything else is done electronically as I seldom even use paper checks anymore. So, I guess I am contributing to this trend. As the article state that last year 36% preferred on-line banking and now 62% do. That is a very drastic increase in a little over a year. How much longer will banks, especially locally owned ones like I bank at, be able to afford keeping tellers behind the counters if no one actually goes inside? I’m sure the local small business owners frequent the bank on a regular basis to get currency for their cash registers so I imagine there will always be someplace to accommodate them but vast majority of the tellers will likely soon disappear. I wouldn’t be surprised if they disappear faster than our local video stores.

It seems that the internet is eliminating quite a few previously well established job opportunities and I expect this trend will continue in the future. The trouble with all this is that there just doesn’t seem to be many newly developed jobs opening up to replace them.  I don’t know what percentage of middle class jobs that are disappearing are due to technology as opposed to off-shore outsourcing. That would be an interesting statistic.

Most middle class jobs today require some post high school education and the U.S. is doing poorly in that category compared to other nations. Are all the kids who have only a high school education or less (almost 1/3 of U.S. kids don’t even finish high school) doomed to working for fast food and retail stores throughout their lives? Their doesn’t seem to be any leadership around today to change these trends and that is the saddest thing about all of this.

As a senior citizen I am mostly an observer in this type of thing. They say the average person today will change jobs about ten times in his/her working life.  I guess I was very fortunate to have worked for one  employer for 30 years and managed to retire with a pension plan.

Just Because You Write a Book…

Source: Ford’s Theatre, citing errors, refuses to carry Bill O’Reilly’s ‘Killing Lincoln’ – CSMonitor.com.

Just because you write a book doesn’t mean you are an expert in something. Fox New’s Bill O’Reilly I’m sure has a large following on his news show. I know he rants and raves just like most do on that network. He often mentions that he is a self-proclaimed expert on Lincoln who was the founder of the Republican party. However, it seems that his book on the subject of Lincoln’s assassination will not be sold in Ford’s Theatre where the killing took place. The historians there say there is just too many errors in the Reilly account to be sold there. They don’t want the historic site to lose credence.

It sounds like Reilly was no more true to facts about Lincoln than the current day Republicans are to the party that he founded.  Lincoln was if nothing else a president for the people. His words and actions backed up that world view. Today’s Republicans have given up that mantle to the Democratic party. I don’t know exactly when that happened but it is fully obvious today. The Republican party’s mantra now seems to be “I got mine so screw you”.  They are now the party of big money, ultra-conservative fundamentalists, and not much else.

But we can’t really put any of the errors in the book on Bill O’Reilly himself as he “co-authored” the book with someone else. Who is to know what percentage of contributions he actually made? I always wonder about that whenever I see two names on a book. Is one there for name recognition only in order to sell more books? I’m sure this is not the first time that errors appear in supposedly historical works. I recently read  the book by Herndon, who was Lincoln’s business partner in Springfield. When it came out it was scorned by many of the current historians as it had places where Lincoln was not shown in the best light. In fact Mrs. Lincoln was depicted at a downright “loony”. It has only been in the last forty years or so that the book has gained respect.

Maybe someday the book by whichever person on the cover actually wrote it will get respect. The current denouncement of it by some noted scholars just gives Fox News something else to yell about with the “liberal” press. As if they don’t have enough 😉

But what do I know….

Say It Isn't So….

Source: Cosmic Log – Faster-than-light neutrinos confirmed.

Goodbye E=m² !!!

It looks like scientists have discovered that matter can travel faster than the speed of light. One of Einstein’s simplest and most dramatic theories postulated that this was impossible. According to the theory when matter approaches the speed of light it turns into pure energy. He also postulated that matter no bigger than an eraser could create more energy than all the stockpiles of nuclear bombs now in existence.

Einstein was definitely one of my heroes as I was growing up. I think I read his biography when I was in my early teens. I loved his attitude on life and his crazy hair! I always dreamed that I would discover something as mind-blowing as he did. Unfortunately I moved off a career path very early on that made that pretty much impossible even if I had, which I didn’t, the intellect and creativity he did. Early on I was convinced that I wanted to be an astronomer when I grew up. I read scores of books on the topic. But when I discovered that almost no one actually got a job in astronomy and that the pay was not as good as a typical engineer I changed career paths. I don’t regret that decision but I do sometimes wonder what my life would have been if I had followed my initial dreams.

So, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that Einstein might have not gotten somethings totally right. But that does open a door for another of my dreams and that is Star Trek. Anyone who has seen any of the movies or TV series know that in order to move through the universe they used a warp drive to go faster than light. If that were not possible it would take thousands of years just to get out of our galaxy. Maybe this discovery is the very beginning of making warp drives possible? 😉

So, sorry Albert that one of your theories might be on the trash heap but it does open up a myriad of other possibilities. Maybe I can put it in my will to use some of my dust in the first warp drive???

Hello Warp Drive!!

I Don't Have Patience for Blah, Blah, Blah….

I will get right to it here. As the title implies I just don’t seem to have any patience for wordy writing or speaking anymore. Maybe I have never had that patience but now I am now old enough and bold enough to finally come out and say it. I read so many things lately and my mind is screaming “Come to the point!” Why can’t people just say what they mean?

I was flamed recently for criticizing N.T. Wright who is a pretty well know theologian at least among my Baptist friends.  In a blog interview I read he gave an eighty word sentence in response to a question where three words would have done the job.  Why did he think it was necessary to go on and on with blah, blah, blah? I was basically told that “who am I to criticize such a well know person!!!”

I thoroughly enjoy reading several different blogs  on a daily basis but when they exceed about 500 words I am usually skimming ahead to find the crux of the topic. Is this something that I have acquired in my old age or have I had it for a longer time? Maybe I just learned to skim successfully at an early age and didn’t know it or maybe I have ADD and need some drugs! (a little to late in my life for that)

The actual answer to my impatience is probably that I see the writing on the wall now about my own mortality and don’t want to spend the time I have left listening to someone blithering out useless drivel in a long drawn out way  (ha).  Maybe that is what I am doing now so I better stop right here!! You get the point. Blah, blah, blah…..

Congress prepares for year-end spending and tax cut bazaar

Source: NBC Politics – Congress prepares for year-end spending and tax cut bazaar.

Complain if you will about congressional gridlock, but right before the holidays is often when the gridlock eases because everyone is focused on getting out of town and back to their families.

The extension of at least some of the 53 tax credits and preferences which Congress created or preserved last December. The platter of tax breaks includes something for almost all tastes: the deduction of state and local sales taxes, which is worth about $2.8 billion to taxpayers who itemize, the economic development credit for American Samoa, worth about $15 million, a tax break for mine safety equipment, worth about $20 million, and many others.

If Windows is a “giant hairball” as Steve Jobs joked that is was I don’t know what you would call the U.S. tax code except maybe “insanity”!  Come on guys, quit adding more complexity and special treatment to our tax codes and do the work necessary to simplify them.

Maybe one enticement to starting the simplification process is to require every congressman and woman to do their own tax returns for 2011. No outside help, no handing it off to an assistant. That is something that none of them have probably done since they gained their coveted office or probably even before.

But What do I know….

Taking Money Out of Social Security

Source: Obama Strikes Populist Chord With Speech in Heartland – NYTimes.com.

The most recent proposal by Senate Democrats calls for reducing the share of Social Security payroll tax paid by employees to 3.1 percent from the already reduced level of 4.2 percent. If Congress takes no action, the tax is to revert to 6.2 percent next month. The cut, under the proposal, would be offset by a 1.9 percent surtax on modified adjusted gross income in excess of $1 million, which would take effect in 2013.

Everyone is saying that the Social Security Trust Fund is on the road to bankruptcy by the year 2030 but they continue to rob it of income. This time it is a Democratic congress withdrawal with the backing of their president!! I know we are in difficult times but this tactic just seems to be making it worse, at least in the future. Politics, and I include both parties in this, has just become a very short term thing.  Those yahoos never look beyond the next election for any of their actions.

What we need now is someone who is a forward looker. I had hoped that Obama was going to be that person but he has utterly let me down in that regard. This current tactic deserves the old label of “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul”. Since there seems to be too many against putting taxes on the super-wealthy back to where they were before Mr. Bush it seems the only way to tackle this is with a complete overhaul of our tax system.  Tax codes have become a giant hairball. They are filled with special exemptions for the favored ones. There are thousands of pages of tax code that single out one small group of people for special treatment. The only way to completely gut these things is a complete re-write and simplification. But the trouble with this approach is that I don’t trust any of the current leadership in congress to do this without a hand out to those who pay their re-election bills and of course that mean some more “special treatment”.

But I do know that it is not common sense to pull money out of the one place that needs it to pay future obligations.

But what do I know….

Bankers, Lawyers, and Politicians….

The banker, the lawyer, and the politician are still our best bets for a laugh. Audiences haven’t changed at all, and neither has the three above professions. -August 11, 1935  Will Rogers

As Will said almost eighty years ago I probably get my best laughs from posts about these three groups. I personally have fairly intimately known at least one person from each of these groups and I must admit I really liked almost all of them 😉   They were all decent and affable people. But the professions in general have a pretty bad PR problem. Another that might be included in this list is used car salesmen. They like the rest of them in this list have a talent for stretching the truth to almost beyond limits.

Many jokes in the past have been about “a priest, a rabbi, and a …” but those are not tolerated anymore so they have been replaced by bankers, lawyers, and politicians. Especially politicians.

But what do I know…

Comic Books Made Me Who I Am???

Cosmic Log – Bam! How comics teach science.

The source article above doesn’t have much to do with this post other than invoking some buried thoughts from my childhood. The comics they talk about in no way resemble the ones I read when I was a kid. I haven’t been around comic books in years so I don’t know what the general contexts are now. In my day it was about Superman, Spiderman, Archie, and hundreds of others. But one thing I am pretty sure of is that I’m sure of is that is where I gained my first real interest in science.

The picture on each comic book frame was just the starting point. My mind would visually make up a hundred more pictures to go along with that one.  I would almost invent my own story with each frame I read.  Of course those were the days before I had all that creativity squashed from my brain by the adults of the world. Reading comic books got me to wondering about what the world was really about and what was possible for the future. I was a weird kid I guess because I actually dreamed a lot about the future. One of my daily things was to pick a date in the future and try to imagine what I would be doing then.

In some regards I guess I was kind of like the kid named Brick in the TV series The Middle. I enjoyed my books more than about anything. It started out with comic books and then grew to the Hardy Boys series. From there it went into SciFi stuff. I, like the character in the TV series always felt a little out of place with the rest of the world. But all that scifi stuff got me really interested in science that would continue even to today.

I am glad I had comic books when I was a kid. They definitely helped make me who I am now. I hope there are still things around that spurn a creative imagination in our youth today and that parents won’t try to drug their kids with Ritalin just because the might be different from what they want them to be. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I allowed others strangle my childhood creativity into oblivion.So here I am more than five decades later trying to rediscover some of that creativity I abundantly had as a child.  I hope I can find at least a little remnant of it left someplace down deep in my brain.

In Service To Others…..

“Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of. ” – Rachel Naomi Remen

Here is another inspirational  message from my daily emails for Sojourners which has become one of my favorite web places.  As usual lets find out a little about the author of these words from Wikipedia. I believe, but cannot be sure that she is a very prominent physician and one of the founders of CCIDD:

 The Cuernavaca Center for Intercultural Dialogue on Development (CCIDD) is a Christian retreat center located in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. Founded in 1977, CCIDD offers Canadian and American students the opportunity to experience the struggle for justice in Latin America.

Making the journey to CCIDD requires not only the proper emotional state, but also the proper intentions. In an open letter concerning the value of service, Rachel Naomi Remen reminds us all to reevaluate our personal positions with respect to the dichotomy that inevitably exists between the notions of service and help. In effect, service can only be performed in “a relationship between equals” while help is based on a relationship of inequality, especially since it assumes that one side of the relationship is “stronger” than the other. CCIDD therefore does not wish for its students to “help” the local Mexican population; let the tourists do that, it wants its students to “serve” the people. This service can either be direct or indirect. Direct service involves projects like painting schools, composting trash, and building houses. Indirect service includes initiating cross-cultural dialogues, visiting local archaeological sites, and reflecting upon the daily experiences that one undergoes.

I am glad that Sojourners pointed me to the direction of CCIDD. I want to learn more about them. But for now the message of Rachel Naomi Remen is enough to inspire me. The crux of this message is something similar to “if you want to know me walk a mile in my shoes”. Her distinction between service and help is almost an epiphany for me. It answers several questions I have had about some those I take to the local homeless shelter/soup kitchen to help me prepare meals there.

I know from personal experiences, although they might be some years ago, what it feels like to go to bed hungry and to be at a point where there is just not enough money for the basic necessities. With those memories in mind I go to the soup kitchen to provide a small service to those who visit.  I will end the post with the same comment that ends the Sojourners quote. I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of. I have learned that there is no shame in any circumstances; there is only shame in how you deal with them.  Lord help me to always know this difference and to get others to understand it.

A Race to the Bottom…

The Republican candidates for President, via their debates, are in a race to the bottom… but that is where their base is.

I can’t give you a name to go with this quote but it is a poignant one. The Republican base makes up about 20% of the total electorate. It seems like it will be a very difficult job to turn around the rhetoric when the primaries are over. I can’t see how they will spin the words of these current times to appeal to the other 80% of voters?  As usual they seem to be against much much more than they are for. I’m just a simple guy but I don’t see that strategy being successful this time around. But then again I have overestimated the intelligence of the voters in this country many times. 🙂

Sometime or another they will have to start being for something than to just get the current Oval Room inhabitant out of office. I’m not crazy about what Mr. Obama has done during his time in the White House but I just can’t see any of his potential replacement there either.

But what do I know…