Archive for January, 2009

inauguration day 2009

So today is Inauguration Day here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., and a big whoop-de-doo it is this year. It is so over the top that it has become as irritating as the whole damn presidential campaign was. I guess it is to be expected in a nation where people get idolized for the most trivial of reasons.

Is it a milestone to have an African-American elected as president? It sure is. Am I ready to drink the Kool-Aid that has everyone raising Barack Obama to the level of a saint? No. I expect the man to earn my respect by actually doing something constructive for this country. That remains to be seen. As it is, I have seen nothing but bluff, bluster, and vague speeches filled with glittering generalities.

The constant President Lincoln theme of this inauguration really has me turned off. I suppose on the face of it, there are parallels. Both Lincoln and Obama are lawyers from the state of Illinois elected to the presidency. On the other hand, equating a great unknown like Obama with someone whom most people consider to be one of our greatest presidents seems just a bit premature and presumptuous.

Commentators keep talking about how the inauguration is the way that we in the civilized United States handle administrative change – not with violence and revolution, but through the orderly process of law. While I certainly won’t argue that that is the preferred method for regime change, I do think it’s a tad patronizing and self-aggrandizing to hold the U.S. up as the prime example of this in the world. I can image the Europeans rolling their eyes every time they hear some American newsperson haul out that old chestnut.

I wish the new president well. I wish I could say that I hope that he is successful in office, but I don’t think that Obama’s definition of success and mine are the same. My real hope is that Obama learns to see things from a greater perspective than he has in the past, and that he will recognize the folly of his old ideas about “redistributive change.” While they say that hope springs eternal, I’m afraid that my hope in this case will be very short-lived.

Yesterday in Philadelphia, Barack Obama gave a speech, in which he said,

“What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives – from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry – an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.”

I was stunned when I heard that. While I could not agree more that we should all free ourselves from small thinking, prejudice and bigotry, I’m afraid that using the Declaration of Independence as an example for freeing ourselves from ideology is an incredible insult to our founding fathers. There are few documents in the history of the United States that are as relevant to ideology as is the Declaration of Independence.

Specifically, the Declaration of Independence states our grievances against the King of Great Britain, those being “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” In the name of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” we declared our founding as an independent country. We were expressing our intent and desire to rid ourselves of an oppressive government.

Perhaps I am misinterpreting Mr. Obama’s statement, but I have no need for a declaration of independence from ideology. The definition of ideology (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary) –

2 a: a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture b: a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture c: the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program.”

Why would I want to declare independence from ideology? I believe in the principles on which this country was founded, specifically those principles as outlined in the Constitution of the United States. Is Barack Obama saying that we need to abandon those principles? Is he going to declare independence from his own personal ideological beliefs?

I think a more accurate interpretation of our soon-to-be president’s statement is that we who believe in limited government and personal responsibility must free ourselves from our erroneous thinking; that we must open our minds to the possibilities of greater government involvement in all areas of our lives. We, the people who believe in the founding fathers’ principles, need to deny our “easy instincts” – our clinging to those principles – and submit to the appeal to our “better angels” – to be willing to sacrifice our beliefs on behalf of those who would redesign our government once again into an oppressive state.

I hope I am wrong in this interpretation, but I fear I am not.

not lefty enough?

Lately I have been hearing rumbles of discontent among the Lefties in the U.S. It seems that they are concerned that Obama isn’t going to toe the socialist line as well as they had thought he would when they voted him into office. To be fair, there were liberals sending up warning flags even before the election, but faced with a vote for Obama or against Bush (and don’t tell me that every liberal vote against McCain wasn’t really a vote against Bush), the Lefties had no other choice. Besides, being in the middle of an Obamagasm, they wouldn’t listen anyways.

It seems that actually taking on the duties of President of the United States is a whole lot different than campaigning for that office. Even though Obama has yet to be inaugurated, he has shown signs of moderation in many areas. Maybe we won’t eliminate those tax cuts right away, or maybe we will put additional tax cuts in place for business. Maybe we won’t just pull all of our troops out of Iraq right away. We are going to close down Guantanamo Bay right away, but, um, it’s not as easy as it sounds and it may take a while.

It sounds to me like Obama might be as much of a Democrat as Bush is a Republican.

a weighty issue

The subtitle of this blog is “Tales of the Trials & Terrors of Getting Older.” While writing about getting older was to be the primary focus of this blog, I couldn’t keep it to that subject. Indeed, I should probably change that subtitle. However, today’s topic is relevant.

I have become a three chair person. I go from chair, to chair, to chair. Specifically, I sit all day in my chair at work and then come home to sit most of the night in the chair in front of my computer, with the third chair being the one in front of the television. This sitting is killing me, and it’s probably killing a lot of you.

I am sure I am not alone in this lifestyle. I was never interested in athletics and rarely participated, other than the odd family volley ball game or Frisbee throw. In my younger days I walked a lot – and I do mean a lot – and played golf a bit, but bad knees tend to slow that kind of activity down. I imagine that even people who were athletic in their younger years may have slid into the same old “comfortable” sitting routine.

Not only has the level of my activity slowed to almost literally a crawl, my nutrition has suffered the same fate. Living alone, it becomes a hassle to cook anything special and pre-packaged meals or, even better, fast food, is an easy and attractive alternative. Unfortunately, that option comes loaded with a bunch of “extras” that tend to bulk me up, particularly when I don’t do anything to burn the calories off.

Compounding the problem is the fact that as you get older, it gets harder to take weight off. Coupled with the fact that one loses muscle mass with age, it won’t be long before I’m nothing but a quivering blob of old man on the floor. This won’t do.

So, once again, I have decided that I need to “do something.” Don’t you just love those meaningless words? They seem to imply that you are going to actually take action, but in the end it usually means that I’ll think about it, formulate a plan, and then just let it all slide until the next time I decide to “do something” about it. The problem is that at some point in time there will be no way to do anything about anything, and that’s a scary thought.

So scary, in fact, that maybe I will actually act this time. I love cooking, so I need to make some good stuff for myself and not eat it all at once. Portion control, calorie control, carbohydrate control – they all are part of the equation and it’s an equation I know well. I’ve done it before, I just need to do it again.

I hate exercise for exercise’s sake, but with the limited number of physical activities in my usual day, it’s a necessity. Heck, even fifteen minutes a day would be better than what I’m getting, and why not do that fifteen minutes while I’m in front of the television? I’m not doing anything at the time anyways, unless I’m snacking. I might as well make good use of the time.

As I said before, I know I’m not the only one out here in this situation. I hope those of you who have find yourself in the same place will change your ways and do what you can to lose the extra weight and regain some of the muscle strength you once had. All I can do for you, though, is hope, and that is all you can do for me. It will take action – and the only one who can do that is me.

a matter of conversion

Is it any surprise that we in the U.S. are not ready for the analog to digital switchover on February 17, and that we have everyone from consumers to Barack Obama asking to have the deadline pushed back? There are many reasons why this is so, but the biggest finger can be pointed at – surprise – the government.

First, this is a government mandate. The law requiring conversion to all digital television broadcasting was passed by Congress at the end of 2005 and signed into law by President Bush in February, 2006. This gave everyone three years to get ready for the change. Along with the mandate, funding was also legislated – $5 million for education and $1.5 billion (that’s BILLION) for the conversion box program.

Switching to digital broadcasting is not only a good idea, it’s a necessity. With the increasing amount of “over the air” communication devices we are using, bandwidth is a real issue. Digital broadcasting drastically reduces the amount of frequency space required for television. To use a crude (and admittedly problematic) analogy, it is like using a laser as opposed to a flashlight. You light up only one small spot instead of flooding the whole area with light. There never really was a question about switching from analog to digital broadcasting, only a question of when and how.

Was three years enough time? Considering the life span of television sets, perhaps not. It would have been nice to just let the system switch over by itself as more people bought televisions with digital tuners. In fact, the original law addressing a switch to all digital broadcasting was a 1997 law which mandated that analog broadcasting would end on December 31, 2006, or when eight-five percent of households were capable of receiving digital signals, whichever came first. As we got close to that date, there were nowhere near that many households able to receive digital signals, so Congress decided to step in with a new law before that deadline arrived.

When the new law was passed at the end of 2005, there were consumer groups complaining that there was not enough time or funding allowed to achieve the transition without disadvantaging certain groups, such as low-income families and elderly people. While these types of consumer groups always seem to wave a flag of dire warning over even the smallest of issues, in this case they were right, though not necessarily for the reasons they gave.

Some people say that there was not enough education of the public on the change. I’m sorry, but if you watched any television at any time during the last couple of years and still didn’t know about the changeover to digital broadcasting, then you either recorded all your television programs and skipped every commercial and public service announcement or you are dumb as a rock. Quite honestly, I do not know how you could not know about the change and I do not know how the broadcasters could have done anything more to make the public aware of the situation. As a matter of fact, I am downright sick of all the notices, warnings and tests.

The government coupon program that provides up to two coupons per family worth $40 each for the purchase of an analog to digital signal converter box has run out of funding, which really doesn’t matter much because there seems to be a short supply of the boxes anyway. Personally, I’m not convinced that the government should actually be responsible for paying part of the cost of the converter boxes, but I can at least understand the logic, based on the fact that the government is forcing the change. One would think that the government could have seen the funding shortfall coming. Of course, there is no reason that Congress can’t quickly pass a bill to add additional funds to the program. After all, they have no problem handing out money to businesses and banks that come crying to them. A little extra cash for the converter box program should be an easy vote.

Then there is the issue of the 90-day expiration of the coupons. The idea behind such a relatively short expiration date appears to have been that people would act sooner rather than later if the coupons expired quickly. Apparently Congress is no better at human psychology than they are at controlling spending. Almost any idiot, myself included, could have told them that people would wait until the last minute to deal with the changeover, allowing the coupons to expire – and they have – what a surprise!

Of course, the conversion from analog to digital is not as simple as Congress would have it be. It’s not just a matter of buying a converter box and slapping it on the old analog television. Digital signals operate differently than analog signals and people who once received marginal analog signals may be faced with no digital signal, or one so weak as to be useless. In addition to the converter box, many people will have to upgrade their antennas. An antenna that once may have been adequate to pull in a weak analog signal just won’t cut it for digital. Even with a new antenna, there are going to be situations where people will lose their television reception.

So what do we do at this point? Do we delay it, or do we go full-speed ahead. What are the problems with delaying it?

For one thing, the bandwidth that is saved by using digital broadcasting has already been auctioned off and the winning bidders have plans for those frequencies. Pushing back the date of availability of those frequencies will mean a loss of opportunity and income for those companies. If that happens, it seems to me that they should be entitled to a bit of a rebate from the government on their investment. I’m sure that will not happen if the changeover date is pushed back, but it does seem fair.

9/11, hurricanes, and other natural disasters have exposed vulnerabilities in the communications abilities of our emergency response agencies. The additional frequencies being freed up by the conversion to digital broadcasting will help facilitate the efforts to develop unified, or at least compatible, communications systems that are necessary during times of emergency. Pushing the conversion date back will also push those plans back.

And let’s face it – no matter what Congress or anyone else does, there will ALWAYS be people who will not do what they need to do to convert to the new broadcast system. Again, that’s human nature and there is no getting away from it. You just can’t always allow for the lowest common denominator when you are dealing with issues like this. Sad but true, there will be people who will not be able to watch television, or at least not until they get tired of it and they either get up off their butts to take care of the situation or find someone who can help them with it. Because of this human condition, there will never be an ideal time for making the changeover from analog to digital television. Delay after delay after delay will make no difference, since each delay will allow these people to say, “Oh, I guess I don’t have to worry about it now.”

To me, the solution is easy, probably because I have already made sure that I won’t be affected by the switchover. I think that the plan should go ahead as scheduled and let people play catch-up if they have to. Is that going to happen? If I were a betting man, I would bet not. Once again, Congress will do whatever it is that they believe will help them keep the most votes, and that most likely means accommodating those who are not prepared. That will not surprise me at all.

rod and roland

First, let me state that I think that the governor of our state of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, is not now, and never, ever has been, fit for that position. I am one of the minority in this state who can honestly say that I didn’t vote for him. I am more surprised that people are surprised by the actions of our governor than I am surprised by his actions. Any intelligent person should have seen the handwriting on the wall from the first day he took office. Now, having said that, I must ask, “What’s all the fuss?”

Rod Blagojevich was honestly and duly elected as governor of our state. He has not yet been convicted of any crime. He has not been neglecting the duties of his office, though some may argue with what he considers to be his duties. By the laws of this state, he has the responsibility to appoint the person to replace Barack Obama as the junior senator from Illinois. He has done so, and he has appointed a man with at least as much, if not more, governmental experience as  Barack Obama had when he was elected senator. His appointee, Roland Burris, also appears to be untainted by the “pay for play” questions that are plagueing Blagojevich.

Why is it that everyone thinks they can ignore the law when it doesn’t suit them? I thought this was one of our country’s strong points – that we are a nation of laws. Since when did we decide that mob rule was an acceptable substitute for that? There is no doubt that this particular situation sucks, but if the results of our existing laws are unacceptable, then change them officially. Don’t do an end run around them.

It’s not like there haven’t been bad politicians before, even worse than Blagojevich. Once a politician is elected, unless he commits a crime, we just have to wait until the next election to kick him out. There is no guarantee in an election that the winner is not going to be an asshole. Hell, when you are talking about a politician, the odds are good that at least half the people will think he is an asshole even before he takes office. It’s just the unfortunate nature of government.

I say seat Roland Burris as our second senator. If we are unhappy with him in two years when he is up for election, then people can vote him out in either the primary or the general election. But let’s not screw around with this any longer and let’s quit twisting the laws so hard that they will be broken. Sure, Rod Blagojevich may be convicted of a crime yet, and the Illinois legislature may impeach him and throw him out, but as of now the governor has followed the law requiring him to appoint the new senator. As tough as that is to swallow, that’s just the way it is. Choke on it, all you idiots who voted for him.

money for nothing

On the talk radio station that I listen to regularly, they have been running a public service announcement that states that it is sponsored by the Governor’s Office, the Illinois Department of Public Heath and the American Lung Association of Illinois. The sole purpose of this PSA is to “congratulate” Illinois on the one-year anniversary of the Smoke-free Illinois Act, which eliminated smoking in almost all public places in the state of Illinois. This law went into effect on January 1, 2008.

What’s the point? The law is already in affect and there is no reason to think that there is any possibility that it is going to be contested and overturned, so there is no reason to continue to beat the drum. Of course, the American Lung Association won’t be happy until all smoking is banned everywhere, so maybe this is just part of that campaign.

I don’t know who is paying for the broadcast of these advertisements, be it free airtime provided by the radio station, public funds from the State of Illinois or money from the American Lung Association, but I can think of plenty of better ways to spend that money, no matter how large or small an amount it is, and I would think that the State of Illinois and the American Lung Association could, too. Surely the economy can’t be in that bad of a shape if our governmental and non-profit organizations can spend money on inconsequential, non-productive self-promotion. How about finding a cure for lung cancer? Maybe that would be worth spending money on.

alas, no new yankee

I have been waiting patiently for the new season of The New Yankee Workshop to start. Imagine my excitement when I looked at the television schedule and found that the first show of the new season was going to be on today. Oh Boy! Now, imagine my disillusionment as I sat there trying to figure out what the heck was going on. There’s good, old Norm – gray beard and all – telling us about a project he did some time ago and then he says something about going back to visit that project.

Wait a minute! What’s going on? Are they going to revise this project, kind of like they did with the router table, making a new and improved version? Nope. Sponsors advertisements are done and all of a sudden Norm’s beard has turned dark again. After playing with the thought that he has decided to try to recapture his youth by dying his hair and beard, I come to the awful realization that this really is a show from some time ago. I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

To the bat cave I go! Well, to my office and the Internet at least, heading to www.newyankee.com to check out the situation. There it is, season twenty-one, premiering January 3. Oh no! “Each program will feature a popular project from a past season with new introductions by host Norm Abram.” A whole season of re-treads! Shit!

Now, I have no problem if Norm decides that he wants to pack it in. Hell, twenty years is a long time to do anything and I couldn’t blame him for wanting to take a break. But to wimp out by doing a whole season of essentially re-runs? Ach, you’ve wounded me to the quick, Norm. If you want to retire, then just do it for cryin’ out loud. Or would you miss the income from the show too much? Well, I guess your sponsors will have to do without my participation, because I have seen them all, Norm, and I don’t plan on watching them again.

What a sad Saturday this has been.

a nightmare to come

I am unapologetic in my solid support of the American citizens’ unfettered right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed under the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. I am also a proud member of the National Rifle Association. There is no other organization in the world that I support more firmly than the NRA as long as they retain their focus on firearms rights and the shooting sports.

One can imagine my response to the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States – a mixture of dread, fear and weariness. Combined with a Democrat controlled House and Senate, there can be no doubt that there will be major attacks on all of our freedoms, including the right to keep and bear arms. With every new proposed appointment that Obama makes to fill out his cabinet, it becomes increasingly clear that there will be no balance in our government. The scale is being weighted so heavily on the left that I fear permanent damage will be done.

Ever since the presidential election, there has been a run on firearms. Gun stores are doing a brisk business with people like me who can see the handwriting on the wall. Unfortunately, I don’t have the funds available that would let me participate, but if I did, I would. Even ammunition in some calibers is getting scarce on the shelves. Gun owners know they are about to get screwed, but they are not going to go down without a fight, and thinking ahead is an important part of that.

Once again we will be faced with politicians playing on emotion rather than dealing with facts. All of the studies that show that firearm ownership is either a good thing or, at the least, not the cause of society’s ills, mean nothing to those who are simply convinced that they know better and that it is their purpose in life to tell the rest of us what we should think and do. It is a battle we have fought before and one I suppose we will fight all of our lives. It is the battle between those who would take responsibility for their own lives and those who are willing to live as prisoners in their own country, and in their own homes.

I suggest that anyone interested in this issue contribute to the lobbying efforts of the NRA or, better yet, join the NRA. I am no fan of lobbyists, but when the government is intent on destroying our basic constitutional rights, lobbyists are tools that we must use. This is not a case of looking for special favors or pork barrel projects – it is a matter of keeping our country grounded in the principles of our founding. Nothing is more important than that.