Archive for March, 2010

“home-grown” terrorists

Hitting the news has been the story about a group called the Hutaree militia, presumably a “Christian Militia.” This small group is alleged to have been plotting to kill a police officer and then bomb the funeral service in order to kill many more. Assuming that there was an imminent risk to the public, the “federal authorities” stepped in and indicted nine members of the group, eight of whom have been arrested as of this moment, with the ninth being a fugitive.

The host on the talk radio station I was listening to this morning was asking people if anyone could explain the rationale of groups like this that advocate violence against the government. I could not help but think, “You’re asking the wrong people!” The people you should be asking are the friends of Barack Obama, like Bill Ayers, who openly advocated and participated in physical violence against the government and to this day does not regret what he did. They are the people who really understand the psychology of people who join groups like this.

I’m certainly glad that the government is keeping tabs on all terrorists, including the “home-grown” variety. I do not support, in any fashion, any group that proposes violence as the answer to their dissatisfaction with our government. There are rational, legal, and moral ways to create change. Indeed, way back in my college days in 1968 I was a lone voice saying the same thing about all the demonstrations and student strikes taking place on my campus. Of course, no one would listen to what I considered to be my words of reason then, and I doubt anyone will listen now – neither the radical right nor the radical left.

I have to admit that the timing of these indictments against the members of this group is interesting. Certainly if there was an imminent threat, it was warranted. However, given all the distress with which the Democrats reacted to a few threats of violence after the vote on the health care reform bill, one wonders if there was an increased urgency to bring groups such as the Hutaree to the attention of the public. It would be a logical step in an attempt to paint everyone who disagrees with the efforts of the Democrats as wacko right-wingers, giving the government reason to investigate such peaceful, legal groups as the tea-baggers. Perhaps, even, to be used as an argument for the curtailment of free speech. I’m just saying . . . but maybe not for long?

back to the knee

Damn, this getting old shit is for the birds. I’m walking around today like a lame dog that has only two legs. Last Saturday I spent some time helping my son carry a bunch of stuff out to the dumpster as well as walking around several stores with him. I was sore and aching by the end of the day, but that’s to be expected from an old guy who pretty much just sits at a computer all day.

Sunday morning I was a bit stiff and sore, but I managed to do my own grocery shopping without too much trouble walking. Later in the day, though, I sat down to eat a late lunch and watch a little television and fell asleep (no surprise there). When I woke up, I couldn’t straighten my leg. Somehow my left knee had “locked up.” I hobbled around for the rest of the day, hoping it would unlock, but such was not to be. I figured that a couple of ibuprofen and a good night’s sleep would sort it out, but it was just as bad this morning.

So here I am wondering whether I should just wait to see what happens or head to the doctor to have it checked out. Man, this is a pain, in more ways than one. My wish for you in your old age is to not have any structural problems. It’s too late for me.

Edited to add: Well, son of a gun! I woke up this morning (Tuesday) and stretched and – POP – my knee fell back into place. I guess my leg had relaxed enough to let me stretch because I sure couldn’t do that yesterday. So while it still hurts, at least I can walk on it more normally, though most people would probably not consider the way I walk to be “normal.” That knee replacement is starting to look better and better each day.

thoughts from a short trip

I spent a good part of the day yesterday with my son. Getting to his place, I drive through some diverse neighborhoods; some relatively well-off suburban towns, a strongly Jewish community, and a lower income area, mostly blacks (or should that be African-Americans?). Additionally, I went shopping with my son at the nearest Wal-Mart (a regular United Nations when it comes to the people who shop there) and at a grocery store that has a separate kosher deli and butcher shop as a regular part of the store, not just a few kosher items for sale.

I was suddenly struck with how parochial my view of life is, and how much where and to whom we are born defines our perspective. Going back to the old “nature vs. nurture” question, I wonder what I would be writing in this blog if I had been born into a poor, black family, or a traditional Jewish family, instead of a lower-middle class, Caucasian, Protestant family.

I like to think that my basic values would not vary much from what they are now, but who am I fooling? If I had been raised as a traditional Jew, or as a Catholic, or a Mormon, or a Buddhist, or take your pick, the odds are long that I would not hold the same religious beliefs (or non-beliefs) that I hold today. While my family was far from wealthy, I wonder what my thoughts would be on the economy if my parents had been dirt poor, or very well off, for that matter.

Personally, I think that there is an objective reality. I believe that there are natural laws that apply to all people regardless of birth. But how does one discover what those laws are without being misled by the biases of our own cultural heritage? Which of those laws are immutable and which are adaptable enough to fit different societies?

Science is the answer when it comes to matters of the physical universe, but can the human experience be distilled down to irreducible elements upon which experiments can be performed? It must be pretty tough to design such experiments if, for example, some of the subjects believe that pain is a good thing and others believe that pain is a bad thing. How do you create a scale of what is considered to be pain when it must encompass such diverse beliefs?

I know that these questions are nothing new. Philosophers from the beginning of humankind have pondered them. I also know that I will not be the genius to resolve such matters. In the end I think the most important thing – one of the immutable laws for humankind – is that people must be free to live as they wish without the fear of being forced to live as others wish them to live. To make that work, that freedom must be respected by all. Respecting that principal will allow people to rise above their cultural differences and create a better world. Otherwise mankind will continue to chase its tail right into oblivion.

Fascinating what thoughts a car ride can inspire.

a change in sexual perspective

I thought I would take a little break from politics to explore a few random thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head. Since I haven’t had an intimate moment with a woman for almost four and a half years (not that I’m counting), I think I will start off with a few observations about sex and age. Before I begin, let me state that, yes, I know I’m going to upset someone with this. Tough. It’s my blog.

The older I get, the more irritated I get with our general culture. There seems to be a general belief that older people just aren’t interested in sex anymore. Younger people have made us older folk into caricatures that fit more comfortably with their concept of what parents or grandparents (or, god forbid, great-grandparents) should be.

There is almost no easier way for parents to gross out their children than by acting affectionately towards each other in front of them, unless it is to wait until they are teenagers and then say something to them about actually having sex with your spouse. That is guaranteed to send them into paroxysms of “Eww!” Though I am sure there are exceptions, I think that part of the reason for this is that parents tend to keep such stuff private, not revealing too much in front of the kids. But then again, that’s just my background and I don’t pretend to speak for everyone. Maybe there are kids who are used to seeing their parents getting it on on the dining room table, but I think that is probably the exception rather than the rule.

Let’s be clear and to the point – most of us older folks are just as interested in sex as we were when we were young. Yeah, it may not be as great a driving force in our lives now thanks to changes in our hormones and additional responsibilities and priorities, but we sure as heck haven’t lost the urge. The trouble is that as we get older, the opportunities tend to diminish.

This has caused me to observe an interesting shift in perspective. Speaking only as a guy now (obviously I would have difficulty doing otherwise), when you are a young man you potentially have access to women of all ages. If you have the right personality, including the ability to be sincere in your complements, you could become intimate with women anywhere from years younger than you to years older than your mother. (Yes, I know that doesn’t mean all women would be interested in a younger man; I’m just trying to make a point here.) However, it is the nature of (most) young men to stick to women around their own age. As a rule, older women hold no appeal to a younger man. So, a young man has the potential to have a woman of any age, but chooses to concentrate on women close to his own age.

Slowly, the perspective shifts. Now you are an old man. How has the situation changed? You are interested in women of all ages, but only have access to women around your own age. Yes, I know there are exceptions but they really don’t count unless you are a billionaire looking for a hot, young, gold-digging blond, and I’m not even a millionaire. I don’t know if this bothers any other older guys but it does bug me. It’s not really because I can’t “have” younger women, but rather that I am invisible to them as a man. Maybe it’s just an ego thing, or maybe it’s just more handwriting on the wall that says, “Hey, old fart,” but it makes me kind of sad anyways. Hell, maybe it is because I can’t have that young woman.

As I said, I now have an interest in women of all ages, so please don’t just write me off as a “dirty old man.” Hmm, come to think of it, where the hell did that phrase come from? Is an older man who is still interested in sex automatically called a “dirty old man.” Or does this only apply to older men exclusively interested in younger women?  And why aren’t there “dirty old women?” (Um, I think I answered my own question. “Dirty old man” has a certain cultural charm, whereas “dirty old woman” sounds like a bag lady. Forget I asked.) Hell, I don’t know, but if being attracted to a woman, no matter what her age, qualifies me as a dirty old man, then dammit, yes, I am one.

So, to all the young women out there who see us older guys as nothing but human furniture, I have some news. While I’m standing there at the counter in McDonalds giving you my order and all you see is grandpa in front of you, I’m thinking, “Whoa, wonder what she would feel like in bed. Sure would like to see what’s under that uniform.” Of course, at the same time I am wondering, “What in the hell would we have in common? And what makes me think that I could keep up with a young woman like that?” In the end, I sigh, wish I were a younger man, and then accept the reality of the situation. But it’s still depressing.

As a necessary side note, I am happily in a “committed relationship” and not looking for extracurricular activity. I’m just making an honest observation here. And maybe I’m just feeling a little randy after four and a half years.  And boy, am I gonna get into trouble for this post.

Edited to add: I must note that I did not get into “trouble” with my significant other for this post. Sometimes one makes assumptions that one shouldn’t make. That, by the way, tends to be what kills a lot of relationships, but that’s another post.

James Randi (The Amazing Randi), magician and skeptic, has “come out” and posted on the James Randi Educational Foundation web site that he is a homosexual. Followed by his announcement is comment after comment almost entirely devoted to congratulating him on his announcement. To be blunt, I personally could not care less. I admire the man for his mind, his magic and his skepticism; his sexual orientation doesn’t change that one bit.

My first reaction to his announcement was puzzlement over his need to make this statement. It certainly seems like no one’s business but his. But then again, I’m not gay and I don’t pretend to understand the societal pressures that he has encountered over his long life. I suppose that making a statement of this kind probably provides a sense of relief to him, allowing his public persona to conform to his private persona.

Obviously we are not there yet, but I believe and hope that some day our society will evolve to the point where such a “coming out” statement elicits in all people the same yawn that it inspires in me. When people no longer feel the need to define themselves by their sexual predilections we will know that we have arrived at that point. Until then, I suppose we will continue to have “shocking” revelations that some celebrity or other is gay. I still won’t care.

a (probably) final census note

I helped my father-in-law fill out his census form today, but it was different from the form I filled out. At first I couldn’t figure out why it was different. It asked the same questions, but it was a three panel form as opposed to my multi-page version. Then I noticed – it was in English only. My form had English on the left side of each page and the same questions in Spanish on the right side.

This was really interesting. Obviously the government did a bit of racial profiling in their mailing. I’m not sure why they think that the town I live in is more Spanish speaking than the town my father-in-law lives in (his town actually has more Spanish speakers), but obviously they do. I wonder if it was even more fine-grained than just a city by city bias. I wonder if they reviewed names associated with the exact address (even though it was addressed to “resident”) and sent the Spanish forms to addresses that had certain last names.

I’m not suggesting any kind of conspiracy or anything. I’m just curious how they determined who got what form. Oh, and by the way, I did get my follow-up letter, in English and Spanish, making sure that I filled out the census form and mailed it. Three mailings for one census instead of just one. A nice little windfall for the post office.

a price to pay for a vote

I know this is getting old, but I still have to talk about the health care bill. There has been a lot of self-congratulatory blabbering amongst the Democrats and a lot of defeated blubbering amongst those who opposed the bill. It will be interesting to see how events proceed from this point. I’m not sure what the sequence of events is but I’m sure that Obama will sign the bill as soon as possible, probably this week.

I have heard commentators say that once the bill has been signed and put into law, the American people will slowly begin to let go of the issue and that it will have little to no effect on the elections this November. While I have to admit that the typical American tends to be focused more on the matter of the moment rather than on the past (or the future, for that matter), I cannot believe that this will be so on this issue.

Speaking personally, I have never put a political sign in my front yard at election time, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have contributed to any political campaign. My Congressman voted for the health care bill and I am committed to having him defeated in November. I will put a sign in my yard (whatever good those do) supporting the Republican candidate and I will contribute to his campaign, even though I am a Libertarian.

Maybe others will forget and forgive. I will not.

i can’t watch

I can’t stand it anymore. I started to watch coverage of the health care vote today on television and I just cannot do it. I have done all that I can to get this bill defeated but my meager voice is nothing compared with all the pressure that the Democrats have been placing on their members. Since they have the majority in Congress, I believe it is a done deal. I simply cannot watch the pontifications of politicians who are intent on cramming something down the throats of the very people they were elected to represent. I’ll find something else to keep my mind engaged.

Edited to add:

Well, as I expected, every holdout folded and the health care bill has passed. Thus begins months, if not years, of court challenges and legislative efforts to both amend and repeal the bill. This is going to be messy, messy, messy for a long, long time. It will be very interesting, if distressing.

it’s on the Dems

While thinking about the whole heath care debacle, it suddenly occurred to me that I am very glad that McCain was not elected president. While he has been in lockstep with all the other Republicans on this bill, if he were president I am not so sure that he wouldn’t sign this bill. I wouldn’t want this bill, as it is currently written, to have any kind of bipartisan support to lend it any sense of credibility. I’m glad that it is all on the Democrats. I’m more than willing to give them all the credit for the benefits of this bill, and just as willing to place all the blame for its failures and cost on their doorstep.

While I still have a very slim hope that the bill will not pass, I find it hard to believe that any Democrat will be able to resist the amount of arm-twisting and bribery going on behind the scenes. In the end, I suspect it will pass, but it will not be a “done deal.” There will be a massive effort to challenge the bill in court and to repeal it entirely. What a waste of time and effort that will be. The Dem’s can save us all a lot of time, energy, and money by actually listening to their constituents and not pass the bill. Ha ha ha ha! I even made myself laugh over that idea.

Alright, I’m confused. The leaders of the Democratic Party are attempting to force the passage of the health “reform” bill through the House. This bill is the version that the Senate passed. I keep reading about all sorts of changes to the bill that the House wants to have made, but my understanding is that the House has no choice in the matter – they can only vote for or against the bill without making any changes to it. Am I wrong?

The theory, from what I can tell, is that the House says they will pass the bill and then rely on the Senate to modify the bill to reflect the House’s desires before the Senate again votes the bill through for the president’s signature. Hmm, I’m a Representative in the House; do I really think that the Senate gives a rat’s ass about what I want? The Senate is under no obligation to make any changes, and why should they? They wrote it in the first place.

The other theory is to go ahead and pass the bill and after it becomes law they will address the House’s concerns with additional legislation. Yeah, right. Jump off the cliff and after you do, we’ll see what we can do about keeping you from hitting bottom. Ain’t gonna happen, friends.

I have always hated the way they pile all sorts of auxiliary legislation onto a major bill that either must be passed or will likely be passed. Somehow they have managed to attach legislation regarding student loans to this health bill, as well as several other items. This should be a separate legislative matter entirely. It should not be attached to something like this health bill.

In particular I dislike this student loan administration legislation. The theory appears to be that the government thinks it will save a bunch of money by directly loaning money to students instead of funneling the funds through financial organizations such as banks. They are planning on spending the “savings” on colleges that enroll majorities of “minorities.”

I have several problems with this, besides the fact that I think that the government should not be in the business of making student loans at all. First off, savings? Who the hell do they think they are kidding? Right now the private financial organizations are fighting this legislation because they say they will have to cut jobs due to the loss of the funding. In other words, there are people distributing these government loans whose jobs are paid for by the government’s student loan money. The government, in proposing that it take over the funding directly, says it will save the money that is being spent in the private financial organizations for making the loans. In other words, the government will not need to spend any more money to distribute the student loans currently handled by the private financial organizations. If you believe that fairy tale then you are either three years old or should be protected from yourself.

Let’s state it clearly; if the government takes the private financial organizations out of the administration of student loans, the government will create just as many jobs, if not more, to handle the extra work this will cause the government. In other words, they will be no damn savings, and the money they are budgeting for other purposes from these “savings” will wind up having to come from someplace else, namely the taxpayer’s pocket. Additionally, this seems to be tacked onto the heath bill because they say that part of the saving in this provision will reduce the deficit by $10 billion over ten years. What a joke. If the government has money to spend, it will spend it, deficit be damned. If they actually manage any savings on this they will spend it someplace else.

Another issue is the disparate distribution of this funding. The government thinks that only students in colleges that have a majority of minority students need the money? I have news. In this economy there are students at all economic levels who need educational assistance, not just minority students, and all colleges are suffering from downturns in enrollment and funding, not just those with a majority of minority students.

I am also concerned about the objectivity of this funding. If the government gets to decide which colleges or students will benefit from funding they can also make the rules for qualifying. There is way too great an opportunity for the government to press its political agenda upon the students and colleges – whichever party is in charge at the time. Wherever there is funding, there is control, and I don’t trust politicians when it comes to educating our children. Hell, I don’t trust politicians when it comes to anything. I don’t think I’m alone in that.