The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Monday, October 31, 2011

From ghoulies and ghosties...

And long-legged beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!

It's Halloween! Which is the shorthand for All Hallows Evening. Seriously. And it is the evening before All Saints Day. I was once told it was celebrated to drive away evil spirits before the celebration of those who had achieved sainthood. I don't know how true that is. I really don't much care since I do not believe in evil spirits. But it was a lot of fun when I was a child.

Back then, the 50's, it was safer to wander around the neighborhood. Even after dark. And there were a lot of us. The Baby Boom was in full swing. So maybe it was just safety in numbers. I don't recall parents chaperoning their kids over the age of 6. We were pretty much on our own. We'd make the rounds of the neighborhood, passing tips to others ("they've got candied apples at the blue house down the street"), and filling up the pillow cases we used as bags. Very few tricks were played, the worst being toilet papering the person's shrubbery, it was all about the booty.

Returning home after a couple of hours going door to door, we'd dump our bags on a sheet or tablecloth spread out in the living room and do some trading. Swapping candied apples for bags of candy corn, taffy for hard candy (but keeping the Bonomo's Turkish Taffy), and trading the homemade cookies and cakes for just about anything store-bought. Being the youngest, I never made the best trades and often lost a lot to theft (by my brother).

Once we got past 12 years old, the fun changed to tricks over treats. Somewhere around 16, the fun went out of it altogether. That was also about the time that the stories of poisoned treats and razor blades in apples started up. These are myths, folks, and there have been several studies proving that instances are rare at worst. Still, they persist and there is no harm in checking the candy your child brings home.

I used to make my haul last a month or more.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Got a pitchfork and a torch?

I wonder just what politicians are all about. I have mentioned that I thought that politicians were supposed to plead their cases, to tell us what they want to do, tell us what their visions are for the country (or state or county or city), and then let us decide at the ballot box whose vision is best. That was just wishful thinking on my part. It has never been that way. Politicians have always played to the audience in front of them.

When speaking to farmers, they are all country boys at heart. When speaking to city folks, they extol the virtues of big cities. In front of unions, they are pro-union. In front of businessmen, they are pro-business. But no matter what the party, no matter what the audience, they toss in a little fear of their opposition. Or a lot of fear... if they are down in the polls.

If you believe these folks, Republicans want to kill people, starve children, and throw grandma out into the street, while stealing the last penny from the poor. On the other hand, Democrats want to nationalize the few industries we have left, unionize any businesses that aren't already, and pave the way to a socialist state while taxing the heck out of anyone who can afford to put away $100 for a rainy day.

Those seem to be our choices.

People denounce politicians as liars and thieves and then shy away from a non-politician running for office. Big Business is suspect, bankers are suspect, pharmaceutical companies are suspect, insurance companies are suspect, and anyone who makes more than the median income somehow cheated his way there.

We are being lied to. And not only lied to but laughed at. Once again, I am urging you to vote against all incumbents. We need to sweep them out, to "cleanse" all of government of the career politicians. We need to replace them for at least the next three election cycles: 2012, 2014, and 2016.

This is the only thing that will actually frighten them. The only thing they actually fear is an electorate that will no longer be manipulated and ignored.

Let's remind them who is in charge.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A smattering of musings

I have been musing of late. After all, being retired, I have nothing much else to do... not counting playing golf. I muse about most anything and everything and then I try to write it down here so you folks can laugh... at me, usually... or contemplate quietly.

I was first exposed to protests during the 50's. It was about equality for black people. It was pretty clear what was being protested and the cause was pretty popular everywhere but in the south.. Then there was the 60's where equality and the Vietnam War got entangled with protests and sit-ins. My mind started to change about the efficacy and purpose of protests. They went from "noble causes" to "excuses to party." Protests were everywhere, attendance at the bigger (or more notorious) became part of one's "resume." Those years soured my view of protests.

Now I wonder about the motives and formation of the Occupy [fill in the blank] protests. Not so much the random individual involved but not ignoring these either.

Caught an article just now about a "racial gap in marriage". Did you know there was one? I didn't. Here's the full headline:

"The Racial Gap in Marriage: How the Institution Is Tied to Inequality"

As I started in on the article, I found that it isn't so much a racial gap as it is a socioeconomic gap. Here:

"During the past few decades, marriage has become more associated with socioeconomic status than perhaps at any other time in American history. Marriage has declined substantially among poor people of all races, who are both less likely to marry and more likely to divorce than their counterparts from earlier eras. Meanwhile, the affluent and highly educated are more likely to marry (even if a bit later in life than in earlier eras) and less likely to divorce than their less advantaged counterparts."

I should have realized I was being misled by the headline when I read the first teaser line:

"Those who are best positioned economically to live without a partner or to have a child without being married are the least likely to do so."

The "trend" (if it can be called that) is that the better educated (those with college degrees) are less likely to marry young or have children out of wedlock. Later in the article, it begins to reveal the actual racial disparity in marriage mindedness. But, by then, I wanted to see an explanation of why and saw only inference that "black = poor and uneducated" How do we change that perception? Because perception, if not always reality, helps form it.

The Herman Cain campaign for the Republican nomination put up an ad on their website that has caused great controversy. It's not something said in the ad. It is something done at the very end. Mark Block, who is Cain's chief of staff in the campaign, takes a puff on a cigarette. That two or three seconds has created a firestorm. It has also provided the ad the widest possible coverage, much more than it would have otherwise received. Not sure if that was the intent (it is denied by the campaign) but it is the result.

The "Arab Spring", touted as a blossoming of democratic reform in the Middle East, seems to be hitting a few rough spots. I am not in favor of revolutions, few turn out well. The U.S. revolution brought about a positive change in how governments worked. It helped establish ideals. It also had a lot to do with the demise of the American Indian as a force and eventually led to such things as protests. But, overall, it turned out well. What happens more often than not out of a revolution is that the more extreme factions gain power and control which leads to greater oppression and less political freedom. We are seeing that in Tunisia now and I suspect we'll see it in Egypt and Libya soon enough.

And, finally, we have this:

Ohio Teacher Indicted on 16 Counts of Sexual Battery

"The former gym teacher and athletic trainer is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity and claims she can't even remember having sex with the teen boys she invited into her home. To add insult to injury, Schuler's attorneys are claiming she is the victim and was taken advantage of by the boys because she was too drunk from the booze she provided to give consent. " [more]

You cannot make this stuff up...

I think we are living in interesting times... just like the old Chinese curse predicts.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Beware the water sucking aliens!

As I was sitting on my butt watching TV and playing Monopoly on my laptop the other evening... something I do most evenings; I call it "multi-tasking"... a thought drifted into my mind, careened off the walls and got snared in the sticky goo of brain cells. It was something about extra-terrestrials, earth, and whether we might attract said E.T.'s. Of course, some time has passed since then and the idea is not what it once was (which, I believe, was clear, concise, and clever).

Here's how that process went...

The show I was watching was about defining reality and quantum mechanics. There was discussion about reality being something other than what we think it is. The geniuses interviewed couldn't answer the question "What is reality?" and from there we went into atomic structure and how our understanding of the basic building blocks of matter has changed and then quarks and leptons and other weird things, most of which went well over my head.

One of the things I got from this discussion of reality was that theoretical physicists (who, I am told, are involved in understanding it) were surprised to find that there are things smaller than atoms. I wasn't... I think there are even smaller, weirder, things than quarks and such.

As they began to talk about how reality is altered by the act of observing it (I know... heady stuff, right?), I began to think about extra-terrestrials. And whether they might come to earth and why. And that naturally led to water. Because, somewhere, sometime, I read or heard that water might be something which would induce space faring aliens to invade our little planet.

You might recall that some grad students or professors wrote a paper theorizing about space aliens coming to earth to wipe us out for a couple of reasons; that we are a warring and violent and polluting species or because we have some resource that they want or need... such as water. As my mind considered these things and concepts of reality (tossing into the concept of the multiverse where in some reality, aliens may have already invaded), I tried to find something to grab onto before I slipped over the edge.

Something else may have been involved, this article:

Found: A Watery Solar System Being Born — and Clues to Earth's Creation

Scientists looking for life (or at least earthlike life) have always obeyed a simple rule: follow the water. Biology is a wet process, after all — and generally the wetter the better. Now, the Herschel Space Observatory has spotted an infant solar system 175 million light years from Earth that seems fairly awash in primordial water. The finding suggests many more such systems may be out there — and offers tantalizing clues about how our own biologically rich world began as well.

Scientists who study such things theorize our planet has the water it does because comets brought it to us in the early stages of Earth's formation. They are looking at the above discovery as supporting that theory. I am not so sure. I think it suggests that we might be entirely wrong about it. Water may just be common throughout the universe. Which, if true, pretty much shoots down the concept of aliens invading in order to suck the planet dry so they can save their own dusty, desert laden, turf. I mean, why come all the way to our little speck when there are bound to be planets closer to them with the water they need?

At least... in this reality.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Knowing which way the wind blows

As some of you know, I live in a hurricane zone. It's a bit like living in an earthquake prone area but you get advance warnings. I suppose I should compare it to tornado prone areas but we have that too... just north of us... but you get warnings for those, too. Just not very far in advance. And ours are generally smaller. I lived in an earthquake prone state, California, the warning you get is when the dinnerware and glasses in the cupboards start rattling. I never experienced any significant earthquakes. It's a good thing. Mostly because I never knew whether I was supposed to get out of the house or stay where I was. The few shakers I felt proved I would not have the time to make a decision so I suppose it doesn't really matter.

I know what to do for hurricanes... shutter the windows, make sure you have plenty of ice, make sure you have lots of batteries of all sizes, and start inviting people for the hurricane party. We can do that... Have a party, that is... because we do not live on the beach. If you live on the beach, don't throw a party. Get out. Go visit your friends who live inland. The ones with a strong roof and a large emergency generator.

We still have about 6 weeks left in hurricane season. The prediction for this year from NOAA was:

Across the entire Atlantic Basin for the six-month season, which begins June 1, NOAA is predicting the following ranges this year:

12 to 18 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which:

6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including:

3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher)

Each of these ranges has a 70 percent likelihood, and indicate that activity will exceed the seasonal average of 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.


So far, they look to be on track:

Total depressions: 17
Total storms: 16
Hurricanes: 5
Major hurricanes (Cat. 3+): 3

None, I am happy to say, made landfall in Florida so none threatened my little slice of paradise. I am also happy to say most of the storms avoided land altogether. Still, some places were hit and there was a lot of damage and some loss of life.

We are not out of the woods yet, though. As I said, we have about 6 weeks left before the season is officially over. And the late season storms are often the worst... so they tell me.

Another year in which I do not have to board up windows and waterproof the doors is a Good Thing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Learning to be a swabbie

As most of you know, I served in the U.S. Navy. It was during the Vietnam War and the ship I was assigned to after boot camp and a couple of schools made two WesPac cruises. The cruises were interesting, to say the least, and entailed stops at Pearl Harbor, Yokosuka (Japan), Subic Bay (Philippines), Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Sasebo (Japan). Along the way, we spent most of our time in the Gulf of Tonkin.

The time in the Gulf was spent on SAR (Search And Rescue) station, plane guarding (following a carrier), and on the "gun line."

During the first cruise I was on (late `66 - early `67), I got into a little trouble and ended up doing a tour with the "deck force". The deck force was made up, primarily, of those guys who hadn't been given a rating to "strike" for. This meant they weren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. My tour with them was supposed to be punishment, expose me to hard work, and make me appreciate the privilege I enjoyed as a SONAR tech. The deck force, scraped, painted, and maintained the ship and most of its rigging. I spent about 4 months with them and probably enjoyed it more than any other stretch of time in those 4 years I served.

When I was assigned to the deck force, I expected to be put to work and to get some hazing. So I just went along. Instead of sitting in a nice padded chair in front of a scope, I would be standing watch as a lookout or in a gun mount. At least in the gun mount, I could sit down. Not so with lookouts. I was ordered to scrape, paint, and swab decks and bulkheads when I wasn't standing watch or sleeping. I figured I would be a good "deck ape" and see what happened.

What happened was I was rewarded. Within a few weeks, I was pulled aside one morning and told I would be "leading seaman" on the fantail (the stern). From that point on, I did virtually no work. Instead, I spent my time sitting around and directing others. I learned a few things about seamanship, even learned how to handle the motor whaleboat (also called the "Captain's gig").

Once we pulled back into the States, I was re-assigned to the SONAR gang with all the privileges and advantages thereof. My "lesson" having been learned, one presumed. The truth was somewhat different. I had requested permission to either change my rating to Boatswain's Mate or be transferred to another ship as a SONAR tech. The ship could not grant me this without notifying, and getting permission from, BUPERS (Bureau of Personnel) which would have raised a bit of a stink. Their only option was to declare "victory" and put me back where I came from.

And, thus, I learned a great lesson about Naval thinking.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The ebb and flow of population

It's been quiet here in Paradise the past week or so. What am I saying? It's always quiet here, anything exciting would be out of the norm. This is the time of year when our northern friends, the Snowbirds, start trickling in for the winter season. Most won't be here until mid-November. Our (okay... "my") problem is remembering their names. The faces will be familiar but the names will stay hidden away in the dark, musty, regions of my memory.

The first Snowbird I ever met was a boy my age back when I was ten. His name was (is, I guess) Richard Voight. He and his mother would come down each winter to stay at a house just down the block from mine. We had friends in common, classes in common, and interests in common. His father, who I believe was an attorney, would spend a few days each month with his family.

Before we moved to south Florida, we couldn't come down for the winter. We couldn't afford it. My father's bicycle shop was not all that profitable. Financial circumstances dictated that we would be year round residents. I am glad we picked Florida instead of staying in New York.

Most of my Snowbird friends will eventually move here permanently. They'll get tired of dealing with two houses and the treks back and forth, and decide it'd be better to live down here than go back to dealing with northern winters. Not all. Some will continue to go back and forth and a tiny number will stay up north year round.

When I was young and stupid and thought I would be rich (this was before I realized I lacked the ambition), I thought it would be nice to spend each season in a different region. Now that I am older and wiser (or lazier), I don't think I would like to move every few months. I wouldn't even like moving twice a year.

I appreciate the Snowbirds more than they know. They are the people who make our economy work. The money they spend in the winter sustains our businesses through the rest of the year. I try to remember this as I am stuck behind them in traffic or waiting a half hour for a table in a restaurant that had been empty all summer long. I suspect I won't be successful.

Thinking about Ricky, I wonder if he ever found out I used his name as an alias many times when I was stopped by the police?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Something a little different today

This Saturday, I am not going to do my usual posting. Instead, I am going to "borrow" from someone else. I am going to defer to John Stossel. Stossel is a former ABC reporter and producer who now works for Fox Business News channel. I know that putting "Fox" into any post automatically causes some to close their eyes, cover their ears, and shout "I don't hear you... ya ya ya ya ya..." but bear with me. Because, like just about everyone, he makes sense now and then.

His latest column at is well worth the read. Let me offer a few quotes:

They call rich people "robber barons." That term was used by American newspapers to smear tycoons like Cornelius Vanderbilt and John D. Rockefeller. But Vanderbilt and Rockefeller were neither robbers nor barons. They weren't barons because they weren't born rich. They weren't robbers because they didn't steal. They got rich by serving customers well. As Burton Folsom wrote in "The Myth of the Robber Barons," there were political entrepreneurs, who made their fortunes through government privilege, and market entrepreneurs, who pleased consumers.

In many ways, these "Robber Barons" improved life for millions. They also had some unintended consequences which helped more than people.

Poor people used to go to bed when it got dark, but thanks to Rockefeller, they could afford fuel for lanterns and stay up and read at night. Rockefeller's "greed" may have even saved the whales. When he lowered the price of kerosene, he eliminated the need for whale oil, and the slaughter of whales suddenly stopped.

I actually learned the above in school... way back in the 50's. Not that Rockefeller was the "whale savior" but that the discovery of, and exploitation of, oil deposits brought an end to the wholesale slaughter of whales for their oil.

It was an unintended consequence because the oil "barons" weren't out to save the whales, just to expand their businesses and get rich(er). But that is no reason to ignore it, it's still a fact. Fossil fuel may have saved a species. Quite different than what many people seem to believe today.

Friday, October 21, 2011

It's official!

It's not often we get any kind of official confirmation of our correctness. Yet, that is just what I received yesterday. Ok, we got it often enough while in school. Tests and praise from the teacher and all that. But what about when we went out into the cold cruel world to fend for ourselves and seek our fortunes (which, today, may seem like a sack of rotting potatoes)? Bosses rarely acknowledged our brilliant analyses or ideas and, often, would take credit for them when they did.

Ah, but now I have been acknowledged to be right! A true rarity for me these days...I am a husband, after all... and I have proof!

Note the text:

"Hi Douglas,

Your Google Maps problem report has been reviewed, and you were right! We'll update the map soon and email you when you can see the change."

Lemme `splain in detail...

A few days ago, upon orders from my mistress (She Who Must Be Obeyed, aka "Faye"), I went to Google maps to get directions from our house to a doctor's office in Davenport, Florida. As requested (he wrote euphemistically), I printed them out and noticed that the name of our street was incorrect.

You see, back in 2004 or 2005, the county changed the name of several streets in our neighborhood, one of which was ours. Apparently, they do this every few years. I am sure they do this purely for entertainment purposes because there seems to be no other rational purpose. But I digress...

So I sent in a correction in the form they provide via the link at the bottom of the directions.

Imagine my surprise when I received confirmation that Google actually paid attention to these things. So many things are lost in the ether. They said they were investigating my report. Now, in the past, this kind of statement has made me nervous... but, this time, it was not the police or my boss informing me of an investigation so I relaxed... And yesterday I learned they had agreed with me and will correct the error.

You think this is a minor triumph? Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, it is. But I have had deliveries fail to arrive because GPS units have the old street names and the drivers get lost and confused. Still, if the driver is sharp... and has a cell phone AND the order has my phone number on it... I can usually talk them through it and have the item arrive only a few hours late on the day the delivery was scheduled.

This is much better than my former house on the outskirts of West Palm Beach where the streets were often interrupted by drainage canals which were not shown on most maps. Between that little problem and the house numbering system which allowed such things as 15288 being on the same block as 15304 and next door to each other caused much merriment and teeth gnashing by those trying to find their way around. I always provided clear and concise directions for deliveries in those days... not that it helped a whole lot.

All that is past... And sometime, perhaps in the near future (be still, my beating heart), Google Maps will actually have the correct street names for my little neighborhood.

And won't that be grand?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

For what it's worth

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

Buffalo Springfield - For What It's Worth

There's a lot in the news these days about the Occupy Wall Street and its clones around the country and the world. Overlooking the fact that these protests are happening only in the so-called "free world" and not in oppressive nations, the phenomenon is not all that unusual in history. I read a comment in the NY Times just the other day that recognized this. Here's what was written:

"The decline and fall of the Western World has happened multiple times in history. We see ages of prosperity and awesome growth with advanced civilization descend into eras of impoverishment, ignorance and dark ages. Those that have begin to try to protect their enclaves of affluence trying to isolate themselves from the increasing misery and impoverishment, trying to save themselves as the rest of the world descends into dark ages. Then the enclaves shrink because there is too little ability to find ways to replace the attrition of the wealth that had accumulated during the previous times of prosperity. "

It's not a bad analysis. Sometimes, when confined to a single nation, these result in the overthrow of the existing authority. This is what happened here in the U.S. (then the American colonies of Great Britain) but it is also what happened in Russia in 1917 and in China before and after WWII and Cuba in 1959. It's happened over and over throughout the world, most of the time resulting in a worse system replacing a bad system. The "haves" become the "have nots" and the oppression continues. The only change is in who is oppressed.

How will this incarnation turn out? I have no idea, I am no seer. But the forces of change are once again challenging the forces of status quo and the outcome will undoubtedly not please everyone. I suspect that there will not be a great change in the U.S., we tend to play at being revolutionaries but rarely gather enough followers to actually accomplish major change. The closest we came was the period leading to the Civil War and I do not see any issues which remotely approach slavery in importance.

Still, I see a period of upheaval that will last as long as the unemployment rate stays above, say, 6%. So hunker down, we have a ways to go.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On the "Is this actually happening?" front...

It seems a principal in Massachusetts is creating a bit of a stir by suggesting that the Fall holidays not be observed. [link]

A quote from the principal...
"When we were young we might have been able to claim ignorance of the atrocities that Christopher Columbus committed against the indigenous peoples. We can no longer do so. For many of us and our students celebrating this particular person is an insult and a slight to the people he annihilated."

This was in reference to Columbus Day but she followed with, "On the same lines, we need to be careful around the Thanksgiving Day time as well."

There were already orders not to let the kids wear costumes for Halloween. That apparently came from the Superintendent who felt there were connections to "witchcraft."

I did not realize how traumatized and/or misled I had been as a child.

We did not know that Columbus initiated genocide, we just thought he bumped into the islands of the Caribbean while trying to find a shorter route to the Far East. We should have been taught that none of the horrible things that happened to the native populations in the next 300 or so years would have occurred if Columbus hadn't made that journey.

And Halloween? Why, look at the rampant devil worship that this so called "holiday" has spawned! You cannot cross a street without witnessing a human sacrifice or stumbling across a witch's coven dancing nude around a pyre.

And don't get me started on Thanksgiving Day... The eating of flesh and the celebrating of theft of game from the natives. Oh, the horror of it all!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lowering the bar until it trips us up

Ever wonder if standards are important? I suspect they are. The problem is in how we view them. We set them easily enough and we can mostly agree on what they should be. We just seem to have a hard time maintaining them. Or living up to them. Especially living up to them.

When I was a young lad wending my way through the early years of school, we had standards of achievement. I sometimes failed to meet them. Not that I couldn't, I just didn't want to. Those standards were rules of behavior. The scholastic standards I had no trouble with. I often exceeded those. Not always, though. I was probably the only kid in kindergarten to have homework assigned. It was about penmanship. I was pretty sloppy with my letters. I even recall my mother having to talk to the teacher about this.

That hasn't changed. I am just a sloppy guy who has trouble staying within the lines and, on unlined paper, just maintaining a straight line. But typewriters and now computers and printers have saved me me from all that. For years, though, I just block printed (mostly in upper case letters) any notes I needed someone else to read. My handwriting was atrocious. It's even worse now that I am out of practice but there isn't a word for it that's worse than "atrocious."

As a society, we also set standards. I grew up being taught that we should always try to live up to them, to accept them, to respect them. Until the 60's, that is. Somewhere along the line, around that time, we started lowering them. We were afraid we might be setting them too high. Or that we had double ones. They were unfair and kept some people from getting an opportunity. We suddenly discovered that if we lowered the standards, it was more fair. Or appeared to be because more women, more minorities, more of everybody could get the jobs that seemed reserved for the really strong or the really smart or the really white.

It was necessary. There were people being excluded because of those standards and that wasn't fair. Women could be police and fire fighters. Those jobs weren't all brawn, brains were important too. It all seemed so logical. So we lowered some requirements and we expanded the talent pool. And, for the most part, it has worked out well.

The unintended consequence of this was that standards got a bad reputation. They became suspect and were disrespected. The standards of behavior were deemed too judgmental. Different strokes for different folks, you know? This had its logic too. People had self esteem issues if they couldn't measure up to the standards. Self esteem became more important than standards.

Now that I am older and not as smart as I was back then, I wonder if we didn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Standards for a society don't actually have to be met. In fact, it is unlikely they could be met by all members all the time. They are goals more than anything else. But I have come to believe they are essential. Because once they become objects of derision, of disrespect, there is nothing to strive for. And society starts to fall apart.

Or maybe society just does that anyway, standards or not.

Monday, October 17, 2011

You talk funny

I am a lover of accents. Having spent my early years in a small town on Long Island, having a grandmother who pronounced "oil" as "erl" (which was even worse than what I later learned I did), and being blissfully unaware I had an accent, I was shocked to find that accents were rampant in America. I had thought only people from foreign countries had accents. But once I learned this, I embraced it.

Moving to Florida exposed me to a number of accents. There was the Florida "cracker" accent, the general "southern" accent, the New England accents, along with foreign accents like Cuban, German, British, the various Caribbean accents, and many more.

In my teens, I could determine what state a person was from by his accent. I could tell Georgia from South Carolina, New Jersey from New York, Boston from New Hampshire and Maine, and more. The differences are subtle in many of these cases but I had almost no trouble. Alas, over the years, I have lost that talent. I miss it. It was... useful.

We in the US are in love with certain accents. Jimmy Stewart's Texas drawl, for instance. That accent was faked, by the way. He was born and raised in Pennsylvania, even went to Princeton in New Jersey. Where did that drawl come from? In the first few years of the 1960's, we had a president from Massachusetts who had a "funny" accent. The impressionists had a field day with it. But I think the public loved it. After the "British Invasion" by the Beatles, the public fell for the British accent. We still seem to love it. But we have had a love affair with it much further back than the 60's. If you watch the old movies from the 30's and 40's, as I do, you will hear it a lot.

The upper class accent seems so reserved, so in control. I imagined a conversation something like this:

Gent A: I say! You appear to have a problem with your arm, sir.
Gent B: Yes, it would appear to be broken. A minor mishap.
Gent A: Shouldn't you have that looked at?

Gent B: Perhaps I should. Tea?

I know a few Brits, expatriates living here in the former colonies, and they aren't that reserved. Not by a long shot. And I met a few in the Navy on a stopover in Hong Kong, they certainly weren't reserved (I have the tattoo and the memory of a world class hangover to prove it) so it's a just a bit of stereotype.

Accents define us, limit us, and enhance us. Some make us sound more intelligent while others are associated with backwardness. Some suggest carefree risk taking, others no nonsense seriousness.

I have my favorites, I am sure you have yours.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It's Saturday and I must rant

Anyone think Obama's "Jobs Bill" is being held up by Republicans? Apparently, you aren't paying close attention. The Republicans in the Senate have been calling for a quick vote but the Senate leadership (Democrats) don't want that. It also seems that Democrats who are facing re-election next year are not warming up to the bill. Ask yourself: if the bill is really a good idea, why wouldn't you be in favor of it if you are facing re-election?

That's exactly right... because it is simply more tax and spend and won't produce anything near what is being claimed. Instead, it is being used to attack the President's political opponents.

So, on Tuesday, there was a vote for cloture (end debate) and it failed by a vote of 50-49 (with one abstention). Pretty much along party lines, as you might have figured. But there were three Democratic Senators who voted against cloture.

They were:
Nelson (D-NE)
Tester (D-MT)
Reid (D-NV)

That's right, Harry Reid the majority leader, the Democrat's head honcho in the Senate, voted against cloture.

Did I read that anywhere in the media? No, I had to dig deep and go to the source to find out who voted Yea and who voted Nay.

Oh, and that one abstention? A Republican (Coburn of Oklahoma).

I will grant that Reid's vote wasn't a tie breaker (60 votes were needed for cloture) but that is what makes it even stranger. Why didn't he vote in favor? Could it possibly be because he did not want cloture? Could it be he wanted to be sure that the Democrats could use this as "proof" that the Republicans are obstructionist?

I used to be fascinated by politics, now I am just disgusted.

I am not going to let the Republicans off the hook. They only wanted the bill to come to a vote in the Senate because they knew the Democrats did not have the votes to pass it. The fact that I am not in favor of "Stimulus II" (not so cleverly disguised as a "Jobs Bill") does not mean I am in favor of using it as a political weapon.

The only thing I am happy about in all this is that Congress (that would be both houses) isn't getting a lot done. When Congress acts, it usually costs us... Big Time. I prefer gridlock, if I must make a choice these days.

Before I retired, the primary duties I had on my job was troubleshooting. That is, I was tasked (as they say) to find problems and then find solutions to those problems. At least, that's how it was for most of the years I was employed by that huge bureaucracy we called Ma Bell. Traditionally, detecting and resolving problems was left to the individual offices. Then there was a shift in the management paradigm. The shift was toward centralization as a key to efficiency and efficacy. The theory was sound: gather the best and the brightest into a few centers and have them offer assistance to the office crews. But it was expanded (as theories often are) to include the detection aspect of the job. That is, the centers now became "in charge" of detection and repair in the offices within their region.

In addition to creating friction between the centers and the offices, it helped demoralize the office crews.

Replace "offices" with "states" and you might see a metaphor for the growth of the federal government. Granted, in "Ma Bell's" situation, a good number of the offices were run inefficiently and were not very good at either detection or resolution. But the "cure" was not a cure. People did not want to go to the centers, did not want to move, so the centers didn't get the "best and brightest". The inefficient and ineffective is what they tended to get. Because this is what was available. This was what the talent pool consisted of. The end result of all of it was the eventual sale of the "Ma Bell" to one of her better managed (and more successful) "children" (SBC).

That isn't an option for government. We are highly unlikely to turn control of the federal government to one of the states, or even to an alliance of several of them. Instead, the country will become an outdated, inefficient, and failing entity. And subject to a "hostile takeover."

Friday, October 14, 2011

I'm not outraged... I'm saddened

A friend of mine sent me one of those emails the other day. This one was about a welfare abuse outrage. Perhaps it's come around to your inbox?

It contained this picture of a receipt... (click on the pic to get a better view but don't forget to come back)

So, as is my usual wont, I checked it out, first at Snopes and then by Googling the name of the guy involved. I would say "allegedly involved" but... well, you'll see...

Snopes says it is "True" and even provides the name of the perpetrator. See Receipt. So, I then Googled the guy's name, Louis Wayne Cuff, and found a number of hits all saying the story is true:

Charges filed in Bridge Card Case

Menominee man gets jail for food stamp fraud

The interesting thing (and this is mentioned in the articles) is that the buying of the items in that list with food stamps was not illegal (though that violated the "spirit" of the system) only the resale of the items was against the law.

If you read the last article, the one that reports the outcome of Mr. Cuff's case, you will find something interesting... " The judge also said the case would not have attracted such publicity if it weren't for the items that Cuff had purchased."

Why is that interesting, you ask? Well, it reveals what Cuff learned in court: Next time, buy items that won't attract people's attention... or don't drop the receipt!

That last article reveals that Cuff wasn't given much more than a slap on the wrist when you think about it. 45 days in jail and 6 months probation. Here's what his attorney said:

"He wants to be eligible to go out on the work van. That's all that my client wants is the opportunity to be gainfully employed once again. At the present time, he is unemployed."

The judge granted that. So he will get to work, at a job the County finds for him, as his "punishment." And a lesson in how not to get caught next time.

The system works!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Turning inward, we find...?

I know that most of you think I am humble and self-effacing but I often like to brag about some things. In that vein (or should I say "vain"?), I want to boast about crossword puzzling.

There are a few crossword puzzles I do on a regular basis [link]. One of these is from The Puzzle Society and which can be found here [link]. The puzzle has a menu which contains a link to a history of your best times. My best times are all under 5 minutes, 20 seconds. My average time is probably around 7.5 minutes. I will acknowledge that these are fairly easy puzzles to solve. They are definitely not of the Sunday New York Times level of difficulty. But they are great ego boosters.

Egos are terrible things, are they not? They remind me of not well trained Doberman Pinschers. Beautiful and very dangerous. And we all have them. And they must be fed. In my case, it seems, constantly.

I view my Ego as a guard dog, keeping me from getting too close to my Id and Superego. That's probably a poor metaphor and Freud would chuckle quietly while mumbling "hmmmm" as I related this. However, he's dead so I don't much care what he thinks.

I have never undergone psychiatric analysis. I am not rich enough to feed my ego in that way. I have spent some sessions with a psychologist back in the day, though. But it was free to me and didn't provide much in the way of insight. About the only thing I learned about myself was that I could understand myself much better than the psychologist could. Or maybe I was just fooling myself into believing that.

Therein lies one of the problems of dealing with our minds.

My father felt that psychiatry and psychology was quackery. He didn't voice this feeling but it was clear enough when you heard him snort or grumble when the subjects were referenced. This just made things worse for me growing up. I was intensely curious about how my mind worked and thought psychology was interesting and useful as a tool. Talk about conflict and father issues.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mid week ramblings

I am going to ramble today. Not because it's useful or entertaining but because it's my normal manner of thinking. You don't mind, do you?

I was contemplating the term "race" today. It was triggered by a book I am reading, a novel set in Ancient Rome. A character mentions "our race" at one point. We modern and sophisticated people "know" that race is a social construct and that it is a troublesome one. People say (and I include myself in this) that we are all one race... the human race. But that is a misunderstanding of what the word actually means. Race is akin to "breed" and means much the same thing: common lineage and physical characteristics. The downside of the word is that it allows for something called "racism" which is, of course, a bad thing. The weird thing is that we don't think it is a bad thing if we apply that to the so called "lower" animals. Dogs, cats, horses, and such. It's only if we apply it to humans that it becomes a problem. I suppose that's because the aforementioned animals cannot speak to or understand us or they might express some irritation with how we treat them.

I am not trying to justify racism here, I am just trying to give it some context.

When I was a child, we had a dog. Cindy was a poodle terrier mix. A mutt, actually, because her lineage was more mixed than just those two breeds. Most humans are the equivalent of mutts, the rarest thing in the human race would be a "purebred" human, one whose ancestry can be traced back, undiluted, to a single clan in prehistoric times. An impossibility. My own lineage includes Irish, English, and French. I am sure there is much more but those are the only groups I know of and that only goes back a century or so. I am reasonably sure there are many other ethnic groups in my family lineage.

Just something to think about.

I am a bit addicted to the History channel of late. I have always liked history, even as a child in school. Lots of my peers then hated it because it seemed unimportant and full of things to memorize. I suspect a number of those peers are spending a lot of time and money tracing their "roots" today. I had only one history teacher who taught it as I think it should be taught. It was my junior year in high school. He de-emphasized dates and emphasized commonalities between the past and the current. I have long felt that history is distorted as it is usually taught. That is, it is the history of kings and rulers, of "important" people. We should try to broaden that to include the "unimportant" people, the "commoners" and how they lived and struggled, why they joined the armies and fought the wars. This why I like the History channels, they do try to get into that a bit. It's why I liked the book "The Pillars of the Earth" and the one I am reading now ("Imperium: a novel of Ancient Rome"*). They tell history from the perspective of common people, not just the aristocracies. And it is fascinating to me when told that way.

On a related note, I notice that those of my peers who believe in reincarnation and think they have past lives always seem to believe these past lives were important ones, rulers and powerful people. I tend to think mine might have been horse thieves and highwaymen. I am more humble, I guess.

I don't really believe in reincarnation, though. The thought scares me a bit. Especially if I am right about my past lives.

* Thank you, Andreas, for recommending it

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Space trash

While watching something called "Comets: Prophets of Doom" on the History channel, a few thoughts came to mind. One of the things talked about in this documentary was that they were not sent by God as omens but were subject to the forces of gravity. We know this to be true today, as opposed to our ancestors who thought they were mystical objects sent to forecast doom and gloom, thanks to the work of Isaac Newton and Edmund Halley and others.

It makes sense. Halley's comet returns at reasonably predictable periods of 75-76 years. It is a "short period" comet, many others take thousands of years to traverse their orbits. This fact bothers me a little. Probably because I am not a physicist. I do not understand the math and I can't quite grasp the concepts involved. I am sure it is my failing.

A comet is a small thing; tiny, having very little relative mass. Its orbit is an elliptical one which takes it out past Neptune before it returns. What brings it back is the gravitational pull of the sun. At some point in history, it was pulled from its original path by the gravitional pull of Neptune, it is theorized, and was slung toward the sun thereby "capturing" it and restricting it to an orbit within our solar system. All of this had to do with its original velocity, the relative mass of Neptune, and the relative mass of the sun. And math that is so far beyond my capabilities that it may as well be magic.

One thing that bothers me is that in all the millenia that Halley's Comet has been in its current orbit, nothing has altered that orbit significantly that we know about. It's possible that it has been altered many, many times. I just don't know that. The inference I made was that comets are already in orbits much greater than those that orbit within our own solar system and that these occasionally pass by our system close enough to be affected by Neptune because a number of factors happened to be "right" at the time. In simple terms, Neptune had to be at its apogee, the comet at a specific distance (not too close, not too far) that allowed it to be drawn toward Neptune, and the speed of the comet had to be sufficient to allow it to be drawn into a trajectory that will send it toward the sun but not into it. In summary, everything had to be just right.

What was the original orbit of, say, Halley's Comet? What are the orbits of other comets that have not yet been captured by our insignificant little solar system? What are they currently orbiting around, if anything? Doesn't that imply that there is some greater mass out there attracting these things? Are they orbiting around the galactic core, for instance? If the core is a black hole then that makes some sense.

As I said, I don't know enough to even ask intelligent questions or understand the answers if I did.

It still piques my curiosity, though.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's due when???

Once more I sit in front of my keyboard wondering what will come to mind. This is an almost daily process. It would be a daily process except I take a day off each week and I sometimes find a couple of subjects to expound upon in the same day thereby allowing me an additional day away from the blog duties.

Oh? You don't think blogs are duties? Then you have not written one... or attempted to. Think back to when you were in school and the teacher assigned you an essay to write. Even though she (or he... how easily we stereotype) likely gave you a specific subject to explore or a list of subjects from which to choose, you likely waited till close to its due date, didn't you? I certainly did. Now, recall that angst and think of it happening daily.

Now consider that report your boss wants you to write. Do you cheerfully accept the assignment and rush off to take care of it? Not unless you are a good actor and the deadline is 4 o'clock that afternoon, you don't. You just didn't make the sour face you wanted to and you hoped (or were pleased to learn) you had a week to write it up. And then you jammed it together the night before... just as you did that essay in school.

What? Am I the only one? Somehow I doubt that. I am different but not that different.

There are times, though, that I would like to have a teacher or boss assign me a subject rather than have to think of one on my own. When left to my own, the image of walking into a dark and empty arena comes to mind. Anything I think of sounds like a shout in that darkened arena, echoing off the walls until it makes no sense at all.

It is a struggle. The only worse struggle I have faced is getting up before a group of people and making a speech. I really dread that.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ravings of a political lunatic

It's been an interesting week in politics... Obama is castigating the Republicans for not passing his "jobs bill" while the Democrats are not bringing it to a vote in the Senate (which they control). The "usual suspects" are "occupying" Wall Street without a clear idea what they want (something about "those greedy bankers" that Obama gave money to in the bailouts).

I never knew it was a crime to be rich before. I thought everyone wanted to be rich. My dear mother always wanted to be rich. Heck, I'd like to be rich. I just never wanted to make the effort required. Now that I think about it, I have never met anyone who would have minded being rich. When I was living in West Palm Beach, I had a friend who used to rant and rave about sports stars getting millions of dollars. He thought they were grossly overpaid. I used to just ask him how his life would have been any better if they weren't paid so much. That usually shut him up.

Everyone seems to be complaining. I'm not. Well, maybe a little. I am not unhappy with the division in politics, I figured that's how the system was designed. That was based on my knowledge of history. I always thought the worst thing that can happen to a nation is when all the politicians agree and cooperate. That's how it was in the old Soviet Union (and may soon be again if Putin gets his way) and how it is in China and Cuba. We could have that here... all we need to do is outlaw all political parties but one. Then everyone in Congress will get along and cooperate.

Back to the rich... They are the ones who run the businesses and employ people. And start and fund charities. And buy the high end items that other rich people's businesses make using the labor of the rest of us. You know that flat panel TV you just bought? You know how it got cheap enough for you to buy it? Because rich people bought them first for outrageous amounts of money and created a demand which meant that other rich people who ran electronics companies would try to meet that demand. Then, of course, they ran out of rich people to pay the high prices and had to make them cheaper so the rest of us could buy them which would keep those electronic businesses alive.

On the one hand, we have people protesting the rich and, on the other, we have people mourning the passing of a Very Rich man named Steve Jobs. Know how he got rich? He sold very innovative products at high prices and controlled his patents well, suing anyone he thought was infringing on them. Did you know that Apple has some $70 Billion stashed away? Have you noticed those protestors are using iPhones and iPads and Macbooks to arrange their protests?

And people wonder why I am cynical...

Friday, October 7, 2011

I hope you aren't offended

Halloween is coming. Do you believe in ghosts? Goblins? Demons? Just curious.

Someone asked me today what I thought about religion. I assumed he meant as a concept but perhaps he was asking about what I believed. I answered the latter and the former as best I could in a short space. Religion is a very complex subject and quite volatile. At least today I do not have to worry about Inquisitions or heresy charges.

I stepped outside the religion debates many decades ago. The subject came up recently in a Dexter episode (the season opener) when Dexter is at an interview at a preschool for his son Harrison. It's a Catholic preschool and Dexter is confronted with images and icons of Jesus. The nun doing the interview (after the interview) asks him about his religious affiliation after he tells her he's not Catholic. Dexter was faced (seemingly for the first time in his life) with other people's assumptions about religious beliefs.

You see, we tend to think that everyone believes in one religious form or another. I admit, I do that also for the most part. I rarely run into actual atheists or ones that will admit it. I ran into this myself when I was 13. I wrote about it in "The Outing" where I was asked about my religious affiliation in school.

I made one of my doctors a bit nervous when I asked him if he was a Muslim. I was merely curious, he was from Pakistan. He evaded answering and I didn't push it. He could have been evading it for any number of reasons and I could see the question bothered him.

A few are very religious Christians. I do not push my atheism on them nor do I denigrate their belief. In fact, I admire it. Most of the people I know are agnostic. A few of them know I am atheist and seem unwilling to accept it, they seem to think I really meant to say "agnostic". It's rather easy to be agnostic, I think. No commitment needed. It's a bit like being a political Independent, I guess. A moderate about God.

Personally, I think human beings (in general) need religion. We are uncomfortable with the unanswered questions.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Psst...Joe sent me

Are you as fascinated by history as I am? I especially enamored of the period between 1920 and 1945. A friend mentioned last Friday a mini-series by Ken Burns on PBS coming up. It turned out to be about (and named) Prohibition. Mr. Burns is a great documentary producer and anything he produces is well researched, well made, and entertaining as well as educational. One of the things I learned was that it wasn't the 18th Amendment outlawing the importation, manufacture, and sale of alcohol that was the problem but the Volstead Act which it gave birth to that caused the havoc that followed. That and human nature.

The adage that "you can't legislate morality" was repeated fairly often in the second part but that's not true, we have done it many times successfully as well as many times unsuccessfully.

Prohibition was an interesting period in U.S. history. The idea started out, as most disastrous policies do, with good intentions. But when you ban something, you just increase its desirability. Really. We know this but it never seems to stop us. Says something about common sense, doesn't it?

So far, I have watched 2 of the 3 parts and have learned quite a bit. Documentaries are an excellent way to learn, especially ones as well done as those by Ken Burns.

Prohibition offered us many lessons about human nature, few of them seem to have taken hold, though. One lesson is that any banned substance will be exploited for profit. The second is that money breeds corruption. There were many other lessons but I believe those are the most important ones.

After 14 years, the Prohibition Amendment and the Volstead Act were repealed. The Noble Experiment was over but the damage was done. Organized crime had expanded beyond imagination; politicians, police, judges, and average people had been corrupted.

Some interesting things came to light in the first part. Prior to the passage of the income tax amendment (#16), alcohol taxes were a very important source of federal revenue.

It's all about the money.

The final episode (subtitled: A Nation of Hypocrites) tells the story of the nation's almost wholesale ignoring of the law and the return to sanity.

If you missed it, you can view it here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I didn't believe them

None of them. They warned me but I said... "Not me!"

I am, alas, getting older. It's not something I intended to do, nor planned for, but here it is. There's an old saying about your knees going first. Well, one of my knees went a bit early (see Oh Snap) purely by stupid accident or inherent clumsiness; which one is unimportant. The point is, we get a bit stiff as we stumble through these Golden Years.

I am noticing that much more these days. But it seems backward. I always assumed it would get harder to bend my knees. I have found that is not the case, even with the (now healed) busted kneecap. It is getting more and more difficult to unbend the knees. It is the standing up that reminds me I am getting older, not the sitting down.

I noticed this last week at our regularly scheduled dinner with friends. After the meal and conversation (which can take a couple of hours) I started to stand up. It became a chore. More than a chore, actually, I was afraid I wouldn't make it. And it wasn't just the bad knee, it was also the "good" one.

All of this and the Snap-crackle-and-pop of my ankles is reminding me that bodies can wear out at some point. And I suspect it is still several decades before we can replace ankles and the various tendons and ligaments that no longer stretch and snap back as they should.

Maybe I should have taken better care of myself...

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Is it high enough yet?

(click on picture to read it a bit easier)

I am confused. I filled my gas tank yesterday and paid only $3.25 per gallon. Actually, I paid $3.259 per gallon but no one pays attention to that "9/10" anymore. What happened to us? We complained bitterly as gas rose and then we stopped. We just accepted the high prices.

We have done this over and over again in the past. I remember my brother-in-law asking me what the price of gas was in West Palm Beach before I moved here. He was angry that he had to pay over $1.85 a gallon for Extra (for his Cadillac). I heard the howls of anger as it climbed over $3.00 a gallon back in the spring of 2008.

And then it dropped. It dropped down to below $1.80 at the end of 2008. Since then it has climbed and climbed and climbed.

But I no longer hear the complaints, I no longer hear the outrage.

It's just another straw for the camel, I guess, and the camel bears it... unlike the idiom.

The chart above was generated at

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rah! Rah! Sis Boom Bah! What does that mean anyway?

I am not a big sports fan. Never have been. I don't follow any teams closely but it doesn't matter. I was a Padres fan while living in San Diego and, since I grew up in Dade County (for the most part), a Dolphins fan. I pay little attention to them most of the time.

Yet I am sitting here watching the Chargers play the Dolphins today. It's a matter of togetherness. Faye is a football fan, specifically a Charger fan. Pretty much a rabid one. When Miami plays San Diego, things can be a little tense around here. I have to watch the game, it's mandatory.

I do not understand sports fanatics, You know them, they can reel off statistics, name players and plays from a decade ago (and not only the notable ones), and tell you the weaknesses and strengths of not only their favorite teams but most of the rest. They might forget their spouse's birthday but they can tell you how many yards the quarterback threw for while in college..

Maybe it's because I never played well when I was a kid. I was a undersized little dweeb and not very coordinated. I was not missed when I dropped out of little league when I was 8. I was the last kid picked in sandlot baseball games. I did not excel at Phys. Ed. I just wasn't all that interested. I could say I had other things on my mind but that wasn't the reason. I think it was just a mutual agreement between me and sports that I not participate much.

This does not apply to golf, of course. Quite a different situation there. But I still can't rattle off stats of the pros or tell you who won the last 25 Masters tournaments. I just don't store that kind of information.

And I am too old to start now.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Whither America?

I miss America. It was a great country; full of hope, ambition, innovation, and confidence. When I was a young boy, we had been the reason that World War II ended the way it did. We had a beautiful future ahead of us. We saw a great future under Pax Americana. We were self assured, movers and shakers, striding about the world like Titans. We provided the cash and the machines to rebuild Europe, to drag Japan and Germany out of the devastation instigated by their leaders, and provided the counter to the threat of Soviet communism. We were building an interstate highway, nuclear power plants, and a world seemed to look on us in awe.

Then, somehow, we became "the ugly American". We were too pushy, we were overbearing, we demanded things be done our way. We were resented. The world thought we wanted to re-shape the world in our own image.

And then came Vietnam. And the grassroots (and not so grassroots) driven political protest 60's. It set parent against child, sibling against sibling, youth against all. My America was tarnished. My peers sided with my enemies. In the late50's, we began to peel away the veneer and what we found was ugly; the racism, the inequality and more. Things that had festered since the birth of the nation. As we tried to deal with it, as we tried to live up to the standards we thought we should, things began to fall apart. We became a nation of factions, each fighting for dominance, or at least a larger share of the "pie."

It had to be done.

Now I watch it shrink, much as the British Empire shrank after World War I. Much as the Roman Empire shrank as it became divided and lost control of itself. America's leaders now oversee its decline. Willingly, it would seem.

Instead of pushing back against our critics, we accepted the criticism and tried to change, tried to be liked again. Any smart person knows you cannot please everyone all the time. But we still tried. We also tried to buy that love with foreign aid and seeking compromise amongst antagonists (resulting in both sides resenting our input). Countries began playing us against the Soviets, collecting from both sides. And we kept pouring blood and treasure into the bottomless pit that is world politics. Why? Because we liked being the Top Dog, we liked being looked up to. We were going to be what no other great nation had ever been, a benevolent and loved oppressor.

I don't know how we can get back the old America, the America of my youth, maybe there was too much wrong with it and it was all illusion.

But I still miss it.

And now, when we kill a bad guy in a foreign land, the ACLU (with concurrence from Libertarian Ron Paul) berates the administration for violating the bad guy's rights under the Constitution. While I understand the ACLU's position, I disagree that his right to due process was violated. The Constitution's power stops at our borders.