Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas cookies...

Even though I'm pretty much a heathen these days, I do appreciate Christmas stories and am moved to tell one that took place back in December, 1988, our first Christmas in California. 

My mom used to make these great cookies. They were peanut butter with a Hershey Kiss in the center of each cookie. They rocked. They were like their own food group. Row loved them as well. That year my mom told us she had sent a box of them to us in Mountain View and we were jazzed when the box arrived. My dad had packed the box. He was the packing guy. He could pack anything to withstand a direct hit from a bazooka. 

Anyway, upon unwrapping and opening the box, we noticed this dreadful, wafting, evil aroma of rubber. Really nasty. (Like walking into a tire store or a modern-day Harbor Freight. If you've ever done either, you know that smell.) Her legendary McFadden olfactory sense operating perfectly as ever, Rosemary immediately made a face and backed away, but I --- not wanting to believe what I knew in my heart was the real truth of it --- grabbed one and popped it in my mouth. How could I not? It was one of those cookies and... it was made by Rita O'Brien! You guessed it, that cookie tasted exactly how the box smelled, only a whole lot worse because it was in my mouth. It was dreadful. I had a boot in my mouth, but a boot I was, nevertheless, yearning to chew and swallow. It was beyond dreadful. It was whatever word that "dreadful" uses.

We examined the box and sure enough it was a box in which a pair of rubber boots had been shipped from some factory and in which those (or other) boots had been stored for what was probably a very, very, very long time. My dad had, no doubt, found the box, had probably thought, "This'll be perfect!", and had then faithfully worked his usual packing magic, all the while never noticing (or simply ignoring) the delicate-as-a-hammer fragrance of Eau de Firestone. Well, not being the brightest bulb at times, I had to try another, only to remove it from my mouth every bit as fast as I had removed the first one. I even tried airing out the cookies, but to no avail. The odor was in each cookie, forever. In fact, wherever those cookies are now, they probably still reek of rubber. Eating those cookies was a non-starter from the moment Harry found that box. Those cookies were doomed.

The word "heartbroken" doesn't quite cover it.

At any rate, being the kind person my folks made sure I was, I told my mom and dad that the cookies were great, told them thank you, and told them that I loved their thoughtfulness. I never told them the true story. There was no need. The simple acts of baking them, packing them, and sending them to us were better than all those cookies ever could be, times 1000 boxes. In retrospect, it was just as well, because that single box probably contained more useless calories than any 20 people needed in a week, let alone the two of us.

I thought I'd share.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

They're definitely not a JV team...


Before I begin, please know that I'm a naive idealist. One more thing. I employ a logical fallacy by engaging in ad hominem (name-calling) argument. I admit all this freely. Enough preface. 

Back in 2014, the conservative media were beside themselves when President Obama compared Da'esh to a junior varsity (JV) sports team. Was that a glib remark on his part? Sure. Should he have never said it? Probably not, because that sort of blithe statement always seems to come back to bite. But regardless of the spun/counterspun defense by supporters, or of the hateful invective of detractors, his was a fair comparison between real teams versus faux teams; however, his analogy was unfair to JV teams everywhere, because when a JV team does compete, it has the self respect and good grace to do so against other JV teams, head to head, team to team, evenly matched. What Da'esh has been doing, conversely, is surprise-attacking target-rich, non-militarized environments, such as civilian aircraft, magazine offices, small Iraqi and Syrian towns, and French shopping malls, theaters, and restaurants. 

This is akin to a fully suited-up football team scrimmaging with children from a daycare center and then bragging about a victory that was never a contest and not anything even remotely close to a fair fight. 

Oh, bravo and well done you. 

Clearly, I'm facetiously straining this army-as-competing-sports-team analogy, but it does accurately describe things: Da'esh has yet to go head to head with a real army, with a real fighting force, with another evenly matched group on an even playing field. The Iraqi army is a living oxymoron, unworthy to be used as a comparable entity. It truly is the "daycare kids' team." A possible exception? the Kurdish Peshmerga, with whom Da'esh has had its hands full; if the Peshmerga could get the weapons they need to be on an equal footing, Da'esh would be in big, big trouble. Da'esh seems to realize this, too, because what they've done in response to it is lash out at the defenseless and unarmed and claim, in so doing, to be heroes for their cause. 

Look, it must be absurdly and understandably frustrating (as admittedly understated as this word might seem) for anyone to have had to live under the results and effects of the poor decisions made by Britain and France when the ridiculously arbitrary and unfair Sikes-Picot Agreement was struck back in 1916. Yes. Agreed. No argument from me. These two countries were nothing but invaders and colonialists, and it is inarguably and always wrong for any outsiders to lay claim to any land that isn't theirs and to dictate policies to that land's sovereign people. The Brits tried it with us and look where it got them. The French tried it in Indochina, which we 60-somethings know as Viet Nam. Some might argue that the Israelis have been doing something similar since the late 40s with disastrous effects. The USA pulled similarly heinous stuff with the North-American Indians in the 18th and 19th centuries. And it was equally unfair and unwise of the USA to invade Iraq in 2003 under the false flags of a connection with the 911 attackers and the presence of non-existent WMDs.

But before you get your gung-ho hackles up, be completely honest: how would you feel as an American if some other country came into the USA and set up an unjustified, uninvited presence in, say, Arizona or Montana or Oklahoma, simply because that invading country claimed that doing so was necessary for A) its national interests and B) your country's own good? Precisely. You'd be pissed. Allow me to further suggest that even the most vitriolic Obama-haters would probably go out of their minds if a foreign entity attempted to come into the USA and depose him by force, but this wanders from the point. 

The point is, we are not even close to blameless in this regard, and no matter the actors, them or us, all such examples have largely been a function of making huge mistakes, resulting in bad decisions, yielding terrible outcomes. We aren't doing ourselves any favors when we continue to prop up (or depose) dictators who mistreat their own people and who will inevitably be replaced by, you guessed it, more dictators. The other side-effect of laying down with dogs is waking up with insurgencies; some have suggested that Da'esh is just one such insurgent result of our incursion into Iraq. Does anyone doubt that a home-grown insurgency would rise up here if another country invaded the USA?

Yet even as bad as these historically and objectively terrible decisions were, and they were all really terrible decisions, none of them is an excuse for throwing grenades at unarmed people at a rock concert or murdering unarmed diners in a restaurant or slaughtering unarmed children in their schools or selling women and children into slavery or beheading dutiful journalists or burning innocent people in cages. You want a real fight? You want to show how tough you are? Then man the fuck up and fight with real combatants who are just as well armed as you are, and stop killing innocent people who are blameless, unarmed noncombatants. Seriously. If someone slaps you, only an asshole kicks the cat in response.

Barrack Obama's critics were correct: Da'esh is definitely not a JV team. Nope. What it is, though, is a psychotically delusional death-cult of pathological pricks who think it's heroic and noble to slaughter innocent, unarmed men, women, and children. The day will come that Da'esh gets the fair fight it so richly deserves, and when it does, it will have its collective ass handed to it.

For reasonable, sensible, fair-minded (and naively idealistic) people everywhere, that day can't come soon enough.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Does any GOP candidiate know about Article VI?

Last Thursday evening's three-hour-plus GOP debate was nothing short of a pander fest. And before anyone takes umbrage, I know, I know... Dems pander all the time as well; it's what politicians do. But pandering for something that is counter to the spirit and, quite literally, the letter of the US Constitution is another thing entirely. 

If the GOP's candidates weren't consuming CNN airtime praising Ronald Reagan, slamming Planned Parenthood, or showing just how much they loved Israel, they were trying to show their potential voters just how Christian they were, and very little could matter less in real terms. 

In a recent Politico story, Donald Trump was said to be actively courting the evangelical vote in order to bolster his sagging poll numbers, even after he has publicly stated he doesn't read the bible or ask God's forgiveness for much of anything. Former Governor Huckabee, one of the many GOP candidates and a former Baptist pastor, is telling his followers that, if necessary, he'll ignore man's laws in order to adhere to God's laws, even as he decries the supposed rise of Sharia law in the USA. (Apparently the word theocracy has more than one meaning for the Huckster.) Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz, who's also running, launched his campaign at Liberty University (to a captive audience, quite literally), which was founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, and Cruz recently crashed Huckabee's pander party at the rally for Kim Davis without much success. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana's Governor and yet another GOPer on the campaign trail, has recently mimicked Rick Perry's "Response" rally with one of his own

And the list of candidates attempting to show their close and personal connection to Jesus goes on and on. But even as these same candidates admonish voters to follow the constitution ΓΌber alles, they, and the folks who support them and tacitly require them to proclaim their Christianity, all seem to ignore an important part of that very same constitution, which they all claim to love so, so dearly: Article VI.

Next time you hear or read something about someone questioning whether any political candidate or office-holder is Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or Zoroastrian, or WhatEVERist, feel completely free to remind him or her of the following: "...no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

And as you remind them, know that their doing otherwise is simply pandering. 

Updates, 10/27/15: Don Gump is now saying, "I don't know about that" when it comes to Dr. Ben Carson's religious beliefs, which happen to be founded in Seventh-Day Adventism. In other words, Don is impugning Ben (and pandering to his base, and please remember that "base" has more than one meaning) simply by pointing out Ben's religion and, thereby, calling it into question y way of a rhetorical statement. For a guy who professes to be so smart and know so much, it's difficult to believe he doesn't truly know about this. 

Meanwhile, Jeb! just met with Pat Robertson in a blatant pander to secure the evangelical vote in Bush's run for nomination. It. Just. Does. Not. Matter. Why? Because Article VI says so. Would that the same folks who constantly wail about the need to adhere to the constitution actually adhered to the constitution. 

Look, I don't give a rip who believes what, but this sort of practice and behavior represents exactly the type of mealy-mouthed garbage that Article VI of the US Constitution was intended to preclude. If you're running for office in the USA, it just doesn't matter what you believe.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Offer help to those who might need help...

Although this post will probably be taken by some as an opportunity to editorialize against what is, to them, a hot-button issue, to me what this post demonstrates is that yet another aspect of the ACA is working. (And yes, in saying this I am editorializing, but it’s my post… ;-) …go write your own.)

When we signed up for a 2014 healthcare policy under the ACA in November of 2013, we estimated our 2014 income based solely on information available to us at that time, but after doing our 2014 taxes, we found we were off in this estimate. We were low. As a result, we have to pay back 100% of what we received in 2014 policy-premium tax credits. 

So be it.

We both believe this scenario is proof that the ACA is working. Why? Because thanks to the ACA, we received A) healthcare coverage for which we otherwise could not have qualified, because of preexisting conditions or that we would not have received via an employer, because we're both retired, and B) the premium tax credit to help pay for it; however, due to a better-than-expected 2014, we ended up not being eligible for the premium tax credit after all.* Meanwhile, though, others who do qualify for this tax credit will also receive healthcare and will, subsequently, also be able to pay a little less for it. Moreover, still others who are on the cusp will have the chance to receive premium tax credits at the end of their tax year when they file, thereby reducing what they will have paid in healthcare premiums for healthcare they need, just like everyone else who needs it.

You bet this is wealth redistribution, but so what? What’s the alternative? the invisible hand of the market reaching into its invisible pocket and pulling out invisible cash? People who can't even afford feeding themselves somehow finding the cash? Or worse, people going without even basic, subsistence-level healthcare, like some bizarre, Darwinian imperative made flesh? You can only pull yourself up by your own bootstraps if you can afford boots in the first place.

Having applied twice now, I can tell you the ACA is nowhere near a perfect system, but right after you suggest it needs to be repealed/eliminated, please also suggest a viable alternative, because we have US citizens who are one severe illness away from total financial collapse, and these are people who are neither freeloaders nor welfare kings/queens. Who are they? They're our parents, our grandparents, our uncles and aunts, our brothers and sisters, our friends, and complete strangers, many of whom were maybe not as fortunate, maybe not as able to provide for themselves. 

Look, I realize healthcare is not free. I get this. It isn't free because it can't be free. Doctors aren't free. Nurses aren't free. Hospitals aren't free. Procedures aren't free. Prescriptions aren't free. Even free clinics aren't free because donations help pay for them. I am not advocating for free healthcare, because it's an impossibility, by definition. Even the countries that provide healthcare to their citizens offer anything but free healthcare, because their citizens pay the taxes that pay for that healthcare. Free healthcare? No such thing.

What I am suggesting, though, is simply offering a "healthcare hand," so called, to people who might need it, and not an invisible hand with its invisible middle finger raised, either. A real hand. One these folks can grab and use to pull themselves up a little. 

But wait, you say, can we afford this? 

By way of an answer, ask yourself what we actually choose to afford, then ask the previous question again. Sure, the US spends money it doesn’t always have. I know this as well as you. But this is about priorities.

So, as just a few possible ways to help pay for the ACA's tax credits, maybe there are some...

...military bases or NSA listening posts we can close… or 

...giant corporations that aren’t paying their fair share of income/property taxes (corporations are people, after all, right?)… or 

...esoteric weapons systems we can resist having… or 

...giant piles of scrap metal we can sell in the form of obsolete weapon systems we no longer use… or

...badly needed infrastructure projects that, in being repaired/replaced, would generate  revenue through new wages and new sales taxes...or

...millionaire congress people who can forgo their pensions or who, in retirement, can afford to provide their own security… or 

...billionaire/millionaire Americans who can forgo their social security checks in retirement… or

...wealthy athletes, coaches, actors, actresses, directors, producers, agents, or publicists who advocate for wealth redistribution and who can, instead of just talking about it conceptually, simply write a couple of large checks now and again ... or

...gun owners/enthusiasts who buy/use/hoard guns and ammo --- as is their undeniable 2nd Amendment right, and mine --- maybe paying a little something extra for the privilege of buying/using/hoarding all those guns and all that ammo (one of the prices of freedom)... or 

...obscenely giant estates that can afford to pay higher inheritance taxes… or 

...little-used presidential libraries --- and don't we have enough already? --- that can shut their doors completely or just reduce their hours… or 

...ginormous sports organizations that routinely don’t pay for their own sports facilities, and yes, I'm talking to you FIFA, NFL, NASCAR, NCAA, IOC, et al. (see also, “corporations are people, after all”)… or 

...high-risk hedge fund and derivatives investors who might not be paying their fair share of income taxes... or 

...churches/temples/mosques/synagogues that sit on all-too-often-enormous tracts of currently untaxed city and county property… or 

...any number of other ways to come up with the cash.  

The undeniable fact is that we’re an aging country with people who need help now and will need some in the future. From whom will this help come? From those who can most afford to help, that’s who. Folks in need can always refuse help, but we can at least ensure we have the ability to offer it to them in the first place.

We claim to be exceptional, but why do we so often have such difficulty behaving that way?

* We have consequently opted out of premium tax credit assistance, going forward.