Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Numbers In My Life

I tend to keep track of things.  As a youngster I found it helpful to keep track of my workouts as I trained for various running races.  When I entered college, I found it helpful to extend this practice to my studies.  And so on.  What follows are the numbers that were important to me at the end of 2013.

          The number of years married to my wonderful wife, Mary Ellen

         The number of workouts for the year

         The number of books read

         The number of rounds of golf played

         The number of concerts played (tuba)

         The number of days played (trombone) at the Salvation Army red kettle

         The number of dollars our Dixieland band received in donations for the red kettle in our two-hour appearance

         The number of words written to date on the new novel

         The number of strokes taken while playing golf

         Number of pages in final draft of Serenity screenplay

         The number of blogs written this year

         The number of blogs written since 12/12/2006

Friday, December 20, 2013

Rethinking my Entire Life

Over my entire life, I have always been one of the best joke-tellers, the funniest joke-teller, I’ve ever known.  My ability to come up with the ideal joke at the right time and place is second to none.  It is true that along the way, I’ve had to endure some taunts from others whose sense of humor isn’t apparently as keen as mine (or sadly don’t possess the ability to appreciate good humor), but those happenings have hardly dampened my enthusiasm for bringing joy, deep insights and laughter into the lives of others around me.  The predicate that laughter is the best of medicines has been the driving force behind my incessant, never-ending desire to observe smiles, followed by hearty guffaws, among those who are fortunate enough to be close enough to me to be able to hear my hilarious jokes.   At least one person has said that my jokes are delivered in a manner somewhat akin to the styles of Johnny Carson, Red Skelton, Chris Rock, Robin Williams and Ray Romano as if I was the only person on earth to possess the ability and talent to take the very best of each and meld these attributes together to form me.  That the person who said that was me is irrelevant, because as we all know, it is the thought that counts, not who said it.
But today, this blog is about the subject of laughter.  Today, I found out for the first time that laughter can be damaging to health.  A study appears this week in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).  Today’s New York Times reports that the BMJ study finds “The force of laughing can dislocate jaws, prompt asthma attacks, cause headaches, make hernias protrude. It can provoke cardiac arrhythmia, syncope or even emphysema (this last, according to a clinical lecturer in 1892).  Laughter can trigger the rare but possibly grievous Pilgaard-Dahl and Boerhaave’s syndromes.  And ponder, briefly, the mortifying impact of sustained laughter on the urinary tract (detailed in a 1982 The Lancet paper entitled “Giggle Incontinence”).  The authors of the study go on to say, “We don’t know how much laughter is safe, . . . There’s probably a U-shaped curve: laughter is good for you, but enormous amounts are bad, perhaps. It’s not a problem in England.”  From my personal experience, it apparently is not a problem for those around me either.
But the thought of someone wetting their pants because of one of my jokes makes me laugh.  I hope I don't get Pilgaarde-Dahl syndrome.
Just saying . . .

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Republicans Are 'Eating Their Young'

E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post recently stated, "The conservatives belief is that the rich will work harder if we give them more, and the poor will work harder if we give them less."  This statement leads me to the ultimate conclusion that it accurately describes Republican policy based upon reliance, either through ignorance or deceit, of a couple of serious errors in thinking. 
Republican spinsters and their ilk (Fox News and Rushbo as examples) consistently lament that everything Obama does increases the deficit.   He spends and it increases the deficit.  He gives money to poor people so that they can eat and it increases the deficit.  The list goes on and on, but there are several hard truths that these sources never mention.  In fact, the deficit has decreased since 2010.  It has fallen by half in that time. More than half of Americans are led to believe by the Republican cabal, quite wrongly, that it has actually risen. Yes, there is 17 trillion dollars of outstanding debt which has accumulated over the last 50 years largely as a result of tax policies tending to reflect the attitude expressed by Dionne above.  Only 17 percent tax rates are paid by the nation's 400 wealthiest people.  The bottom 50 percent of Americans -- 155,000,000 people -- share the same amount of wealth as those 400, but pay tax rates that average 36 percent.   
In spite of this crazy inbalance, the current Republican solution to dealing with financial obligations  involves cutting “entitlements” to poor people while continuing massive entitlement programs that benefit the wealthy among us. The best example is found in issues surrounding the so-called financial disaster looming for Social Security.  Income over $113,700 is exempt from Social Security income taxes. Lifting that cap would keep Social Security solvent for the foreseeable future.  Solving that problem is easy, but defies the ongoing mantra of Republicans everywhere that raising taxes is not the solution.  I submit that treating rich people the same as poor would solve the problem overnight.  Simple as that.
 Professor Paul Krugman states the problem most succinctly; “The average American doesn't believe that they should be put deeper into debt so that the super-wealthy can continue to pay lower taxes than they do. The average American doesn't think that a modicum of security in old age is worth less to someone earning $2,000,000 a year than it is to someone earning $20,000. Hell, the average Republican doesn't believe it! They just have no idea what's going on. None whatsoever.”   Yet, given the current Republican bugaboo about Obama and his reckless spending leading our country to financial ruin (ala Fox and Rushbo) nearly half or the people in the country who are hurt by this thinking will continue to vote for the politicians whose advocate hurting the poor and rewarding their rich Republican friends and donors.  To me, it is roughly akin to animals eating their young.  Krugman notes, “Anyone who tells you that they can cut, cut, cut America out of debt, or even that our debt is caused by massive amounts of wasteful spending in the first place, is dangerously uninformed, blinded by a fanciful anti-government ideology or lying to your face. The entire Republican budget platform -- the one thing Americans voters like about them -- is really quite deranged.”

Just saying . . .

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bad Times for the Little Guy

The “little guy’ in America is average Joe citizen.  It has not been a good year for him.   What this year in American history has seen is a number of significant events which have arrived, like comets hurtling through space on a collision course, at this same moment in time to significantly change the basic concept underlying the entire framework of living in America, the ‘land of the free’.  The reference to the latter phrase has become at this moment the constitutional equivalent of a bad joke.  First, we earlier this year discovered that our government has us under surveillance.  I don’t mean under surveillance like a traffic cop hiding behind a bill board in a speed trap, I mean surveillance as in hard core monitoring of our phone calls, text messages, e-mails, and internet activity of every person in these United States.  The National Security Agency’s indiscriminate surveillance of American citizens contradicts the Constitution’s moral cornerstone.  The right to be left alone is the most cherished right among civilized peoples.  On paper, at least, the Fourth Amendment exists to create and protect this basic right, but the actions of our government has effectively nullified this right in its very essence.  And  in 2013 we found this out due to the heroic actions of a man named Ed Snowden who has had to flee the country to avoid prosecution for revealing this information to America.  Think about it.  Are we to be a society where our government secretly monitors every damn thing we do and say and punishes anyone who tells us about it?  
While we talking and thinking about this abrogation of one of our cherished rights, let’s talk about the Citizens United Supreme Court decision which, for the first time in history, declared that corporations are persons within the meaning of the First Amendment and can secretly spend as much money as they want to control and determine outcomes of elections of critically important issues and people.  Yes, I know this decision was a couple of years ago, but its practical effect of overwhelming the rights of the ‘small guy’ were felt for the first time this year as untold millions of dollars secretly appeared in the coffers of politicians whose only mission appears to be the dismantling of our system of government.  We wonder from afar how assholes like Ted Cruz can hold center stage in an effort to cripple the basic good faith and credit of the United States until we realize that what is backing him and others of his ilk is big money, real big money submitted by a virtual handful of fat cats whose only loyalty is the acquisition of wealth and power. 
Now we find that another basic fabric of our society, the social contract, is gone.  Section 24 of the Michigan Constitution contains the following provision.  “The accrued financial benefits of each pension plan and retirement system of the state and its political subdivisions shall be a contractual obligation thereof which shall not be diminished or impaired thereby.” A bankruptcy judge, Steven W. Rhodes, casually threw aside that constitutional protection this week, ruling that pension benefits could be reduced in a bankruptcy proceeding. This decision involves only the pensions of the retired public workers of Detroit but has significant impact on the rest of the country as a pattern for giving distressed cities leverage to backtrack on their promises.   This action must be taken in the context that most public employees have undertaken public employment often at the cost of receiving a lower wage than in the private sector.  However, they did have the constitutionally protected guarantee from their employer (i.e., the state and its subsidiary units) that their pensions were inviolate.  All that has changed.  Another important aspect of this decision is that these pensioners are thrown in with a group of fat cat monied interests, i.e., banks and other lending institutions who made financial decisions and undertook to loan the city of Detroit money over the years.  From my view, it probably goes without saying that any lending institution always assumes the risk of lending anything to anybody.  To equate constitutionally guaranteed pensions with risky lending practices is unfair and destructive of the social contract of our society on its face.
When these cornerstones are flouted, liberty withers and dies.  We’ve had a sad year in this regard. 

Just saying . . .