Archive for April, 2010

bookmark: on the road

On the Road – by Jack Kerouac

Just the type of book that appeals to me. Said to be one of the defining works of the “beat generation,” it is more a character study (actually, characters) than the typical novel with a well defined structure, plot, etc. On the face of it the book covers the road trips that the main character and his friends and acquaintances make over several years, which are based on some of the author’s real life experiences. While this is very interesting in itself, it is the psychological portrayal of the characters that is most compelling.

(Finished 4/26/10)

bookmark: the blue flower

The Blue Flower – by Henry van Dyke

A book of short stories, all of which are religiously oriented. I wanted to read some fiction and the only unread fiction I had in my house at the time was this book, which was owned by my grandmother. You may have already heard of or read one or more of these stories without even knowing the author. I had read “The Third Wise Man” before and was surprised to find it in this volume.

(Finished 4/18/10)

bookmark: the 5,000 year leap

The 5,000 Year Leap – by W. Cleon Skousen

This is Skousen’s history of the United States Constitution. There is some interesting information here, but as I read I began to think that the author was putting a lot more emphasis on the Christian origins of the Constitution than the society of the times warranted. Researching the author, I found my suspicions confirmed. Definitely a biased book, but worth reading. For something to balance this viewpoint, try Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers.

(Finished 4/14/10)

a little overkill

Good grief! Something is wrong with this picture. I just received a new 8GB Toshiba USB flash drive that Amazon was offering for only $14.99 as a “Lightning Deal,” and a good deal it is. Picking up the sealed, plastic package that everything seems to come in today – and that you need a chainsaw, hardhat with face shield, and cut-proof gloves to open – it felt awfully heavy for a thumb drive. Hmm, seems awfully thick, too.

Well, no wonder. Inside the package, besides the drive and packaging copy, are four – count ‘em, four! – folded, multi-page tomes, one of which is a user guide and the other three being warranties. Being a detail-oriented kind of guy, I just stacked, compressed and measured them; they are 3/16” thick, more than half as thick as the flash drive itself.

Having once been in printing, I bet the stupid flash drive probably cost less to produce than the packaging, including literature. I guess I can understand the user guide if someone has never in his life used a USB flash drive, but three massive warranties? Like I am going to bother sending a fifteen dollar flash drive anywhere to get it replaced if it goes bad. It would cost me more than that in packaging, shipping and aggravation than it would to just order a new one.

I guess I can understand it in this age of legal “gotcha”-ism. After all, most of the warranty stuff is explaining how they are not liable for the loss of any data you stored on the flash drive. I guess they have to allow for idiots who think all data storage devices are 100% reliable, 100% of the time. Still, it speaks volumes about the ridiculous lengths to which manufacturers must go today to protect themselves. In the end, all it does is drive up the price of things. Oh well, what else is new? Kind of reminds you of “defensive medicine,” doesn’t it?

vat chance

Where, oh where, oh where, do I begin with this? Maybe a better question is, where will this all end? Yesterday, Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Chairman and current economic advisor to President Obama, floated the administration’s trial balloon on a VAT – value added tax.

This is a particularly pernicious tax that gets added to a product as it moves from one stage of production to the next. That iron ore gets taxed as it goes to the steel mill, then the steel gets taxed as it goes to the foundry, which then has to tax the widget it just made out of the steel, which then gets put into a sub-assembly that is taxed again when it is shipped to the final manufacturer of whatever the end product is. The end purchaser – the consumer – never sees the tax directly; the tax is rolled into the retail cost of the product. Depending on the product and the percentage of the VAT, this can be hundreds of dollars on things like cars, appliances, computers, etc.

Only a fool would think Volker was speaking off the cuff or only representing his own thoughts. This was one of the first salvoes to come out of the Obama administration in their pursuit of additional income to support their expansion of government programs. There is no expectation that Obama intends to stick to his promises of no new taxes on the middle class. Indeed, that idea was tossed out the window with the passage of the health care reform bill that includes all sorts of taxes, direct and otherwise.

This kind of tax is what politicians just love. It’s not in the open like a sales tax or an income tax. All the consumer sees is higher prices on the products he wants – and needs – to buy. Not only that, but this kind of tax soaks everyone, from rich to poor. This is obviously required if Obama’s additional programs go into affect. There is no way that taxes paid only by the rich will be able to cover the massive costs of these programs. We are all going to pay the piper on this one.

I have heard politicians commenting on Volker’s suggestion of a VAT. For some reason, which I cannot fathom, there seems to be an air of resignation that something like this is going to be necessary. This same situation exists in my home state of Illinois. The state government is spending more than it is taking in, so our governor’s solution is to raise the state income tax. Everywhere you turn, government entities are complaining that they are suffering from a downturn in tax receipts, a natural result of the downturn in the economy. Time and again, the only solution they can find is to raise taxes.

There is a political fear of cutting government programs. Someone, somewhere, is going to scream loud and long when their favorite program takes a hit, and there doesn’t appear to be a politician alive today who has the courage to lay out the basic truth that spending must be cut even if it means making people unhappy. Yes, someone is going to “suffer” when funding is cut, but are you willing to bring everyone down to that level of suffering for the benefit of the few who would be affected by program cuts?

Let’s not even talk about program cuts. What politician in his or her right mind would even consider creating new entitlement programs that are going to cost billions and billions of dollars? Why create a deficit that is going to demand some kind of new tax income right from the beginning? Obviously these are rhetorical questions because our federal government has done exactly that with this new health care reform bill. Were they just being stupid? Of course not. They knew that new sources of income would be required, as evidenced by the new taxes included in the bill, but they also knew that even more funding would be required than those provided for in the bill. From the very beginning they knew that they were going to have to rob Peter to pay Paul. Indeed, that is their ultimate goal – the redistribution of “wealth.”

While many politicians seem to almost consider a VAT or similar tax a fait accompli, I am not so sure that the American people are going to stand for it. They have just had a health care bill crammed down their throats and it is still stuck there. If any politician thinks that they are going to be able to slide a tax increase down that same throat I believe they will be in for a very unpleasant surprise when the taxpayer gags and throws up all over them. I certainly hope the citizens of the United States are not going to be so complacent as to allow themselves to be steamrolled again like they were with the health bill. I guess we will see what the mood of the country is after the next election. I only hope it won’t be too late to turn things around by then.

I am sick . . SICK . . SICK to death of Mayor Daley constantly singing his one-note song that it is the availability of firearms that is the principle cause of gang violence in Chicago. He was at it again today after another outbreak in gang violence.

I know that he is not a stupid man, but he has clearly lost his mind about this issue. He is so blinded by his anti-gun passion that he doesn’t even recognize the truth in his own words –

“They [the gangbangers] feel that that gun is bigger than the police badge, that gun is bigger than the police gun.  That’s how they feel.  And they don’t fear the criminal justice system.  They don’t fear the federal government.  They don’t fear the state system.  They don’t fear at all.  They don’t!”  (as reported by Bill Cameron, WLS News)

Well, duh, and double-duh!! Do you not understand the contradiction between your words and your desire for more gun control? Let me spell it out for you simply – the gangbangers do not obey the law – period. So what the hell good would any new laws be in stopping gang violence? NONE!!

Gang members are already breaking a great, big pile of laws. They don’t give a rat’s ass about your stupid gun laws. Putting more on the books only hurts those who need and want to protect themselves from the gangbangers.

Please, Mayor Daley, shut your mouth about more gun laws until such time that your Chicago police figure out a way to stop the people committing the violence. Believe me, you are not going to find a gun on the street shooting itself – it will be in a gangbanger’s hand! Concentrate your efforts on the people and the shooting will stop. It is so much easier, isn’t it Mr. Mayor, to blame the lack of gun control laws for gang violence than to admit your administration’s inability to do anything about it?

so much for that idea

In a previous post I wrote about how I had hoped that there may be some change in my relationship with my wife’s family as a side effect of my mother-in-law’s passing. I had been hoping that I might be invited to the usual Easter gathering with the family, but such was not to be. Though my wife talked to me about the fact that they were going to have the family gathering as usual, and that she was going to host it at her house, at no point in time was there any hint of a suggestion that I might attend.

From what I understand, when an Amish person commits an offense against the group, he is “shunned.” In other words, he is treated pretty much as though he doesn’t exist. Life in the community goes on around him as if he were a ghost. I know exactly how that person must feel.

I know, you probably think this kind of personal stuff doesn’t belong in this blog. However, as you may have noticed, my subject matter is somewhat eclectic and includes personal things that are important to me. Something like this really shapes one’s life. It is a great lesson in unintended consequences and is clearly something that I should just accept and then move on. Indeed, it’s almost to the point, to paraphrase Woody Allen, where I question whether I would want to be part of a group that would have me as a member anyways. Yeah, I guess it’s time to move on . . . to what?

a moment of brutal honesty

It’s Sunday morning, 5:16. I just woke up, in more ways than one.

I am almost sixty years old. I have not been one of those people who embrace their maturity. I have been dragged, year by year, unwillingly into the future. My body is falling apart, my emotions are always on edge, and my personal relationships suffer because of only one thing – me. My most fervent wish is that I could be twenty-one again, knowing what I know now, so that I could correct all the things I did wrong, and do all the things I didn’t do.

While trying to gather the courage to face another day of life I wished that same old wish – to be twenty-one again – and it hit me pretty hard to realize that if that were to happen, and I were to become twenty-one again with the knowledge I have now, I would dread each new day because I would know, I mean really know, that I was going to get old again.

I would see each day slipping by without having accomplished everything that I wanted to accomplish. Of course, the goals I would set myself would be damn near impossible to complete, because having been granted the miracle of being twenty-one again, I would be trying to fit many lifetimes into one. I would remember all the things I regretted I had not done and I would try to do them all, and once again I would be faced with the reality that time is finite; that you cannot do two, or three, or four, or twenty things at one time. Each day I awoke I would feel a little more dead, even worse than I do now each day. It would be like receiving a reprieve on a death penalty; welcome, for sure, but not the ultimate answer of immortality.

So, my wish to be twenty-one again not only will never come true, but if it did I would be almost worse off than I am now. Where does that leave me? Well, right here, right now, right where I was before. In other words, I don’t know where that leaves me.

It does leave me with one thing – the realization that I not only always see the glass as half-full, I see it as only having a couple of drops left in it, even when it is filled to the brim. How do I live the rest of my life that way? Even though I know there is limited time left in my life, I find myself stuck in a quagmire of self-pity, trying to motivate myself to take the next breath, let alone trying to accomplish the things that I have always thought I wished to accomplish. There is not enough time left to do it all and my aging body will not let me do much of it, but worst of all, my mind is locked in despair.

It’s Sunday morning, 5:40. My dream about being twenty-one again has been shattered. My end is forty minutes closer than it was when I started this piece. What have I accomplished in this forty minutes? What should I have accomplished? And what about the next forty minutes, and the next, and the next, assuming that they exist for me? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure I will reach the end of the day no happier than I was when I began it. And they call this living?