The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘common sense’ Category

IS AMERICA A GREAT COUNTRY, OR WHAT? (JUST ASK WEIGHT WATCHERS)

Some come to rallies or protests with bull horns.  Others show up armed with brass knuckles and soda cans filled with concrete.  America’s detractors.  The vocal “progressives” throughout the country who sing a song of cacophonous discord.  Their vision of America is that of a country filled with hateful people who are racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and who espouse more phobias than would be needed to fill all five boroughs of New York City’s phone books.

Now it is rather remarkable that these same people are anxious to see America filled with an extensive group of new immigrants from the highways and byways of the world.  The thought occurs to me rather naturally, are these progressives sadists?  Why would they want more people to be subjected to living in the dreadful environment which they describe today’s America to be? And, despite the widespread dissemination of news, are people who believe America to be a cesspool and still want to come here completely insane?  We do not need to import more lunatics to this country.  We already have enough of our own.

For all those who share this view of our country, I have a two word rejoinder.  Weight Watchers.  Let me put that in context.

Back in the ’60’s there were two stocks that traded on the NYSE which were blazing white hot.  The first was Xerox which had developed plain paper copying.  The second was Mead, Johnson  which manufactured a meal replacement product called Metrecal.   Making a Xerox was interchangeable with making a copy.  And having a Metrecal was interchangeable with being on a diet.  But there was one significant difference between Xerox’s achievement and in Mead, Johnson’s.

While Xerox effectively put the smudgy carbon paper industry out of business, Mead, Johnson gave serious impetus to the existence of a brand new industry – the diet industry.

Among the list of the Seven Deadly sins is gluttony.  But gluttony can only exist in an environment where there are the necessities to fulfill it.  In other words, it’s hard to overeat if there’s no food to consume.  The Protestant Reformation in part came into being by criticizing the “cloistered virtue” of Roman Catholic religious orders for depriving their members of the right to exercise free will by removing the temptations that the laity faced and had to deal with on a daily basis.

In America we have no lack of food – and no lack of people who are consciously or otherwise willing to take advantage of that fact.  Inevitably, that has resulted in a fair amount of tummy bulge leading us now to the point where we are “achieving” obesity rates that dwarf those in every other country worldwide.  This is not a new phenomenon – but it seems to be accelerating it’s pace.

We were gaining weight back fifty years ago.  And the marketers of Metrecal (available in four equally repugnant flavors) hit on something big.  Americans were obsessed with their appearance and their weight.  And we were obsessed with our God-given right to get what we want and get it as quickly as possible – including weight loss.  Metrecal was the “miracle product” of the day.  Pop a can open and you too could look like Raquel Welch.  Had its manufacturer been able to make it more palatable to the average person’s taste, it might have been the biggest product ever invented..  At least that’s what stock investors hoped would happen.

While people grew tired of Metrecal, they didn’t get tired of trying to achieve the perfect, svelte body.  Diet books were published by the hundreds – often with diametrically opposed advice on the most effective way to lose weight.  But those books required a lot of effort.  First, you had to read them.  And then you had to implement the advice they contained.  That was a lot of work for many of us – far too much.  But the diet industry came up with a solution, Weight Watchers – another child of the early sixties.

Weight Watchers recognized a principle of weight loss that we still accept today.  A person who consumed more calories than he expended was going to gain weight – the converse resulting in weight loss.  But for us Americans who want instantaneous results, seeing a pound or two drop off after a week of self-imposed dietary discipline was discouraging to many.  So Weight Watchers incorporated support meetings to encourage us on our journey – and to console us when we failed to see progress.  And they charged a weekly fee to participate in their version of a seven step program.

No stranger to weight problems herself, Weight Watchers’ current spokesperson is Oprah Winfrey.  She purchased a ten percent interest in the company in 2015.  The company needed a high profile PR person to represent them since they spawned a number of competitors including Nutrisystem and Jenny Craig  – and a host of diet pills which to some is far easier than having to weigh and measure.  Of course, the latest phase of the diet industry is selling portion controlled meals, available in frozen form, which thanks to the invention of the microwave oven seems to be the way the industry may go in the future.

Weight Watchers has no operations in Burkina Faso or Venezuela or Sri Lanka or Somalia.  The reason is obvious.  The vast majority of people in those countries do not have an issue with being overweight.  Their challenge is to find enough food to sustain themselves.  And if you don’t believe that a nearly endless food supply makes America different and great – just ask Weight Watchers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW MUCH DO TWO POUNDS WEIGH?

Moving into my first apartment was a great thrill for me.  Finally, life in a college dormitory was at a merciful end.  No more waking up at three in the morning because a fellow student was inebriated and decided that it would be fun to pull the fire alarms that appeared in several places on each floor.  Of course, as exciting as this all was, there was a daunting challenge ahead.  Furnishing this new space.

Fortunately, as the organist at the local Roman Catholic church, I had connections.  A number of the parishioners were kind enough to lend or give me some of their old furniture until I could afford to upgrade.  One of these gifts was a double bed frame which came without either box spring or mattress.  So I bought a futon and laid it on the bare frame.  This proved moderately uncomfortable so I soon placed the futon on the floor where it belonged anyway.  But I did make the decision to buy several pillows, slip covers and pillow cases – leaving the purchase of sheets for a later date.

I returned home with my bulky pillow purchase, removed the contents from the large bags in which the store had placed them and began putting the slipcovers on the pillows when I made a discovery.  On both of the standard size pillows there was a tag which had been machine sewed into the welting.  The tag contained information on the content of the pillow, the content of the ticking, the place of manufacture (this was the early 70’s so it naturally said, “Made in the USA”), and then followed an ominous warning which read:  “DO NOT REMOVE THIS TAG UNDER PENALTY OF LAW”.

Reading this warning naturally caused me to wonder what law I would be breaking should I choose to disregard the warning and what was it intended to prevent from happening?  For the life of me, the only logical danger I could see might be that if I were not careful cutting it from the pillow I might accidentally incise into the pillow and expose the duck feathers that were inside.  Well, I decided not to chance bringing about the apocalypse so I slipped the pillow cover over the pillow and then put them into the cases, artfully arranging them on the futon.  Then I stood back and viewed my handiwork, looking forward to a comfortable night’s sleep.

Well, I did get a good night’s sleep that night and for the next several weeks.  But after not too long a while I found that those little tags were getting bunched up from the pressure of my head and were ratting up into annoying little wads.  So I made the major decision to get out my best scissors and eliminate them.  But I took precautions.

I still had not been able to afford window coverings in the living room so I decided that removing the tags there would merely invite government intrusion into my illicit operation.  We were all a little paranoid back then, thinking that the government was spying on us.  Little did we know what the 21st century would bring in that regard.  I retreated to my bedroom, excluded my Irish Setter, Finney from the room as I did not want him to be implicated should this matter ever come to trial.  And I lit a housewarming candle which was dedicated to St. Bonaventure and had been given to me by the parishioner who had donated the somewhat delapidated couch which was the focal (and only) seating in the living room.

I gave the candle a moment for the wick to burn down to the wax and searched my memory to recall what St. Bonaventure was the patron saint of – pardon the grammar. I wasn’t sure which saint was responsible for interceding for those of us who broke laws here on earth – but I was sure that St. Bonaventure would know the correct department to which he would forward my case.

With the skill and adeptness of a brain surgeon, I cut the tag from the first pillow.  I held the wadded up label in my left hand and looked around the room to see if there might suddenly be a water leak or any cracks in the ceiling, caused by my defiance of the regulations prohibiting what I had just done.  I breathed a sigh of relief, quickly grabbed the second pillow and dispatched the other label in the same way.  Still, no signs of structural damage to the apartment and no seismic shaking.

I quickly cut the two labels into a myriad of pieces and flushed them down the toilet in four separate batches over several days so that whoever was in charge of  investigating the removal of labels from pillows would find it difficult to trace this crime back to me.  I also put a portion of the two labels in two separate kitchen garbage bags so that even if the remainder of the labels were retrieved from the sanitation system and pieced back together, a portion of each label would be missing.  I was fairly comfortable that I had covered my tracks and was about to blow out my St. Bonaventure candle when suddenly it hit me.  My fingerprints were all over those two labels.  So I decided to make a novena to St. Bonaventure over the following eight days and I hoped that would save me from arrest.

Well, I ended my novena, much to my relief no one came knocking at my door nor was there any police tape indicating that my apartment was a crime scene.  But it was a full two months after my deed before I began to breathe a complete sigh of relief.  I had gotten away with it.  These days I think of this as my Hillary Clinton moment – but, of course, on a much smaller scale.

Being a curious sort, once my angst had abated, I thought about why this pillow regulation existed in the first place.  That seems like a rational question, don’t you think?  I mean, if there is a rule or a law, it should have some basis in common sense.  When I was in school it was forbidden for us students to run on the stairways.  The faculty explained that doing so could result in a student’s tripping and injuring her or himself. That made sense.  But the only thing that I could see as a result of the “Do Not Remove” tag was that it caused me, and I presume others, to have less than a restful sleep.

It took half a century for me finally to come up with the answer to that question.  These regulations are not intended for the most intelligent of our citizens but for our least bright.  And as sad as that admission may be, I do believe it is the truth.  Had I questioned that hypothesis before, it was completely confirmed by a shopping trip to Target a few days ago.

I had intended to order some Pupperoni for my companion dog, Gracie on the internet.  However, I received a new debit card from my bank and within a week it was already frozen because it had been “compromised.”  So much for the latest and greatest in technology.  As a result, I was low on this favorite treat of hers and I decided to go to Target to replenish our stock until I got my replacement card.  I would bite the bullet and pay a little more than I would have to spend from an internet provider.

Much to my surprise, Target was running a sale on Pupperoni.  The two pound price was reduced from $13.99 to $9.99.  And, by buying two packages, Target was offering a $5.00 gift card on a future purchase.  As I browsed through the numerous flavors that were available I noticed that the product was also offered in a 25 oz. size at the same $9.99 price – except that there was no gift card offer on the smaller size.  I wondered, why would anyone purchase the smaller sized product?  It wasn’t long until I had my answer.

As I was surveying the shelf, a woman I put in her middle thirties came up to the dog treat aisle with a rather full shopping cart.  She walked up to the Pupperoni area and grabbed a 25 oz. bag of the product.  Being the helpful person I try to be, I pointed out that if she purchased two of the two pound product, she would pay the same price as for her smaller package and get the $5.00 gift card as well.  Her response surprised me.

She asked, “How much does two pounds weigh?”

Fortunately, my right knee was paining me fiercely and my long journey through Target to the second to last aisle in the store where dog treats were housed did nothing to ameliorate that.  Otherwise, I would have impishly responded, “Well, it depends.  As you know, feathers weigh less than lead – so it sort of depends.”  But instead, I recovered from the stupidity of the statement to respond, “Two pounds.”

She then followed up with another question which also surprised me, “How many ounces are there in two pounds?”

Forgive me but if you’re over forty years old you probably knew the answer to that question when you were in second or third grade.  Maybe fourth – I’ve forgotten.  Nevertheless, I took a deep breath and answered, “Thirty two.”

Fortunately, mankind is blessed with having five senses, one of which is feeling.  A reasonable person doesn’t even need to know the answer to this shopper’s question.  One could pick up both similarly priced products and determine which is the heavier and therefore the better value.  I felt as though I were on an episode of Watter’s World on the O’Reilly Factor.  You probably know the segment where Jesse Watters interviews people who are so thoughtful that they think that George Hamilton is the president on the one dollar bill.

Despite the pain I was feeling in my knee, I couldn’t leave this alone.  Call it a weakness on my part.  So I followed up with the statement, “You know, you look like the kind of person who is probably voting for the same person as I am for president and that’s the reason I wanted to point out the better value so you could save some money.

This woman responded, “Oh, you’re voting for Hillary too?”

I answered her, “How could you think anything else?”

So she picked up her 25 oz. package of Pupperoni, put it in her cart, and wished me a good day.  I remember shaking my head, picking up my product and leaving the store after I had gone through the self-checkout and getting my gift card.

And so the lesson to be learned here is an old aphorism.

“There’s no fixing dumb.”

“Deus in adjutorium meum intende.”

THE MATHEMATICS OF POLITICS

I remember my first job as though it were yesterday.  I was probably ten or eleven years old when I got hired.  Now I have to admit that I had an “in” getting the position.  My father ran the company.

On many Saturdays my father would go in to his office and take me along with him.  I particularly enjoyed that on days when it was raining and the prospect of spending time in Central Park on the swings had little appeal.  (That was back in the day when a youngster like myself was freely allowed to swing on these wonderful contraptions, before we viewed this as a life threatening exercise and prior to the time when we considered parents who permitted this to be guilty of child abuse and neglect).  Incidentally, with the hundreds of times I played on the swings I never suffered any injury which exactly mirrored the experience of my friends and classmates who similarly played on them.

There we were at Dad’s office.  There was no hustle and bustle as on a normal workday.  At most there were four or five employees in the whole place.  Mr. Chen, who wired lamps, might come in if Dad had received an influx of orders resulting from one of the trade shows that occurred around the country on a monthly basis.  I adored Mr. Chen.  He taught me to count to ten in Cantonese and showed me how to wire a vase and turn it into a lamp.  Under his close supervision I probably made forty or fifty lamps over the years.

I also liked Carmine who was in charge of the shipping department.  He would let me follow him, watching him pick inventory from the metal shelves which housed it, placing each item on one of the carts used to transport the merchandise until the order was complete and ready to go to the packers.  After following him over the course of several Saturdays, it occurred to me that I could pull the inventory and asked him if he would let me fill a small order – just to prove that I could.  After a moment’s hesitation he agreed.

And so off I went with my order and my cart.  By this time I knew in which rows various of the items could be found.  My biggest challenge was reading the handwriting of some of Dad’s salespeople – who would have gotten extra attention from my grammar school teachers who still believed that “neatness counts.”  The other challenge was that the inventory racks were quite high – and one of the items was on the top shelf – way too high for me to reach safely – either for me or the vase.  So I filled the rest of the order and told Carmine that I had left the cart in front of the remaining item but couldn’t get it down.  He smiled at me, I think recognizing that I had been prudent, walked over to the rack and finished the order.  After that he allowed me to help him whenever I asked to do so.

But my favorite department was billing.  Generally, the department was quiet on Saturdays.  But I had gotten an education in how to use the billing machines during a school break from the woman who was in charge of the department.  Her name was Rachael.  She had gorgeous black hair and a beautiful smile and was one of the most warm and friendly people I had ever met.  I asked my father why she was never there on Saturdays.

Dad explained that she was a Sabra, born in what was then Palestine and was an Orthodox Jew.  My father explained that Saturday was the end of her weekly Sabbath and that she was not permitted to do any work on the Sabbath.  My father also explained that he let her go home earlier than usual on Fridays, particularly during the winter, so she could get home before the Sabbath began.

Rachael had fought in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.  That explained the ugly scar that extended down from the left side of her neck to below her very conservative dress.  That wound had happened as a result of her being in the wrong place when one of the Palestinians used a flame thrower against her.  In that same attack her brother had been burned so badly that he died as a result of his wounds.  So I only got to see Rachael occasionally.  But when my father knew that he would be bringing me to the office, she always gathered a number of orders that were ready for billing so that I could keep myself occupied.

Saturdays at Dad’s office usually started at around eight in the morning and by noon he had caught up with his paperwork and was ready to call it a day.  That meant I was going to get paid for my efforts.  That compensation took the form of lunch at Vito’s, two doors down from our office.  Since I’m pretty sure that my father would have fed me anyway, I guessed that I was really working for free.  But that was okay with me since I felt that I was getting on the job training and was, in some indirect way, helping out and making the business more successful.

Vito’s was – well, it was a dump – but the food was terrific.  Vito had figured out that the truck drivers and office workers who worked in the neighborhood and patronized his restaurant were more interested in getting a good meal at a good price than they were in ambiance.  And there was no better food than one of Vito’s meatball sandwiches served in a crusty Italian roll and slathered with a generous helping of his homemade marinara sauce.  This was not food for the chic because there was no way to consume it without getting sauce on your chin and fingers.   Notwithstanding, I think even Emily Post would have approved of a meal at Vito’s.

I hadn’t really thought much about my first job experience until yesterday when I read that San Francisco had voted to phase in a minimum wage of $15.00 per hour over the next few years.  As I thought about it, my father probably violated Federal and NY state child labor laws not to mention the minimum wage laws which were in effect at the time.  While I was unaware of these back then, I am glad to report that despite this parental “abuse” I didn’t suffer any permanent psychological or other damage as a result.  I didn’t realize that my father was taking advantage of me.  I actually looked at the experience as providing me with an education in how business worked.  As it turned out, those Saturdays at my father’s office helped me in my own business many years later.

Now I realize there are divergent views on whether raising the minimum wage is a good or a bad thing.  Those who support increasing the minimum wage make arguments that include “paying a livable wage is a fundamental matter of equity” and often characterize those with a different view as being “cold, heartless people who put profits over people.”  Together with that assessment is the implied or stated view that these same people would be perfectly happy if all these minimum wage workers just died.  Of course, that  takes the issue beyond the boundaries of having a real debate on the merits or demerits of such a raise and turns it into a name-calling event.

Let’s set aside the counter-argument that any raise in the minimum wage will result in further automation of some of those positions, meaning that there will be fewer workers earning more – or, in fact, anything – and focus on the purported cupidity of businesses – interested in maximizing profits – even at the expense of personnel.  If we accept the credo that businesses are simply motivated by profit, we need to consider what the net cost of a wage increase does to the bottom line.

Wages are a fully deductible expense to a business – so any increase in the minimum wage would, to some extent, be offset by a reduction in state and federal income taxes that would be collected.  Perhaps more importantly, we hear anecdotal stories about minimum wage workers who are unable to make it on the income from their employment and who qualify for various welfare programs.  Wouldn’t raising their hourly rate potentially exclude some of them from being the continuing beneficiaries of these programs – thus saving not only their employing companies but all taxpayers from providing these benefits?  If that’s the case, the intelligent business person should eagerly embrace such a wage increase.

Perhaps the greatest flaw in the minimum wage argument is that it suggests by the mere act of guaranteeing a higher minimum wage, whatever that number might be, it will impel the country into a new age of prosperity.  If that were the case, we could eliminate world poverty by suggesting to the governments of Mexico, Sri Lanka and Liberia among others,  that they adopt an American style minimum wage for all their citizens.

The citizens of San Francisco voted in this minimum wage increase overwhelmingly.  They also returned Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a staunch advocate of the measure, to the House with 82.4% of the vote.  I wonder why she never thought of my simple solution to world poverty herself.

TWO BIT INSURANCE

If you’re really old you may have heard the expression, “That’ll cost you two bits.”  Even those who didn’t know the history behind that understood that it meant twenty-five cents – a quarter of a dollar.  This was based on the Spanish real which was the equivalent of our present dollar and was the primary unit of monetary exchange for several centuries in the New World.  The coin was frequently cut into eight pieces, thus two bits was one quarter of a real.

For a moment, let’s consider the underlying reason for insurance of any kind.  Simply put it is intended to protect the purchaser against a specific kind of loss whether that is to a person’s car, home, health or loss of life.  Essentially, in exchange for payment of an agreed on premium paid to a second party, that insurer is assuming the risk to which otherwise the policyholder would be subject.

Perhaps you’ve heard that a compromise is an agreement in which both parties walk away dissatisfied.  The insurance contract is one in which both parties hope for the same outcome.  Both of them hope that an event which would cause a payment under the contract never happens.

The individual who insures his car certainly doesn’t hope to have a crash so that he can make a claim.  The company that insures his car similarly hopes that the insured drives in a safe manner so that no accidents occur and the company can keep the entire premium the insured has paid.

There are certain types of insurance that are almost pure money makers for the insurance company.  Most companies that offer life insurance also mention that for a “small additional premium” the person taking out the contract can add a provision for death that results from an accident which would double the face amount of the policy.  That sounds like a good deal to the uninformed.  The fact is that ninety-eight percent of the premium collected is pure profit to the insurance companies because the number of accidental insured deaths is extremely small.  But are there any forms of insurance which provide a terrific return for a small premium?  There is at least one with which I’m familiar.

What if a potential catastrophe, far beyond Hurricane Katrina or Mt. St. Helens had a reasonable likelihood of happening.  Unlike these localized natural disasters, this catastrophe would effect everyone and everything in the country.  Food and water would be scarce if available at all.  There would be no energy either to heat our homes or provide light or cooling.  Society as we know it would end with mobs looting houses for any scraps of food they could find and the authorities would be overwhelmed trying to deal with the mobs that far outnumbered them.  If civil authority even survived, it would take at least one year, possibly longer, to restore the basic services which we expect when we flip on the light switch or turn on the tap.  But before that happened, as much as ninety percent of the American populace would be dead.

Given the scenario I just described, would you be willing to pay $100 a month to make sure that we could avoid the problem?  Perhaps your budget doesn’t have that much wiggle room, so how about $50?  Still too high?  Would you be able to find $10 a month to stave off disaster?

On April 16, 2013 a Pacific Gas & Electric sub-station was attacked by what authorities now believe was a terrorist assault.  While no lights went out which is part of the reason this story has gained very little attention, it took the utility 27 days to repair the damage to the cut telephone lines and repair the 17 transformers which were disabled.  Some experts think that this was a trial balloon for a larger and more devastating future attack.

There is no question that our electric grid is vulnerable.  One of the most significant worries is that a massive EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) occurs, knocking out our entire grid.  It could take years before the damage caused by such an event could be repaired.  Such an event could be caused by terrorists.  There is no lack of maniacs on a mission in our world.  Or it could be a natural phenomenon – a massive EMP sent out by our sun.  That happens every 150 years or so and is now a few years overdue.  The last one occurred in 1859.

The good news is that we know how to prevent the devestation which might occur if such an event happened – and we don’t have to develop new technology to implement.  We have the technology today.  So what would it cost us to safeguard all of us from societal collapse, starvation and the end of civilization.  The answer is less than two bits per person per month!  The total cost would run about $6 Billion.

There is a bill known as the SHIELD Act which was introduced in Congress in June, 2013 which would require the federal government and local utilities to develop and implement effective standards to protect against an EMP pulse.  The bill is the work of Rep. Trent Franks (R – AZ) but so far has garnered little attention and not a great deal of support.  In part that is because local utilities are concerned about handing over too much oversight to the Federal government.  I understand that concern.

But no matter your political view, there are occasions, albeit infrequently, when something is of such importance and so extraordinary that it falls outside the realm of theoretical philosophy.  Then even the most ardent partisan, in the interest of true public safety, should agree to a compromise however distasteful it might be.  They can argue their philosophy later – but will have no ability to do so if they are one of the victims of an avoidable disaster.

And that may not be two bits worth of information – but it is my two cents worth.

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DINOSAURS

It’s all their fault – the dinosaurs that is.  Well, they had a pretty good run on the stage of planet Earth as masters of the planet for 165 million years.  But then, whack – a cataclysmic event wiped them out about 65 million years ago.  And that started the whole mess – I mean the energy mess.

There’s poor Nemo, your typical male T Rex out one day looking for lunch, a meteor hits the planet and the rest, including Nemo, is history.  Little did Nemo expect when he woke up that morning that one day his transformed remains were going to end up being pumped into somebody’s Hummer so that mom could take the kids to soccer practice in a place called America.

Fortunately for the dinosaurs they had not developed the telescope so their demise was unexpected and probably nearly instantaneous for most of them.  But had they known that the meteor was hurtling on a collision course to Earth they would have had no more ability to alter its path than we are.  They were the victims of true climate change.

Before the first oil well was purposely drilled in Titusville, PA in 1859, oil and natural gas seeped naturally from the ground in various places in the country.  In many cases mining for salt opened veins into these deposits and they were considered more of a nuisance than anything useful.  Then mankind learned how to make kerosene which began to be used for lighting.  In time kerosene became the fuel of choice, replacing whale oil which was formerly used to illuminate our homes.

In 1859 in a virtually pristine America, consider the conundrum of an environmentalist with imagination who foresees the invention of the horseless carriage and how oil will become a potential threat to our planet because its use releases greenhouse gas.  On the other hand, by using it we are doing the right thing in saving the largest mammals on earth, our whales, from hunting and possible extinction.

As we know, there was no environmental agenda 165 ears ago nor was there a need for one.  But things have changed, and while I do not necessarily agree with the hyperbolic rhetoric that those who forecast our imminent doom use, it is hard to deny that our cities with their dense populations contain worse air than our heartland’s wheat fields and that mankind has an impact on the world.  But we do it one person at a time.

The other day I was engaged on this subject by a fellow dog owner at the park.  Both of us were originally from NYC yet despite that, we have diametrically different views of the world.  He introduced the statement that “Ninety-five percent of all scientists believe that mankind is responsible for climate change.”  The following day he brought me a printout that substantiated his position.  I appreciated his follow up.  To me it demonstrated his passion for the subject and his belief in his position.

Now as a rational person it is clear to me that each of us has an impact on the world or, if you prefer the term, the environment.  For example, a person who murders another person has inalterably changed the world.  The victim was about to get married and might have had several children.  Those children will never be born as a result of the murder.  What if one of those children had turned out to be a brilliant inventor who found an efficient, inexpensive way to produce universal renewable energy?  Or what if that child was left as an unborn embryo on the cutting room of an abortion clinic?

The day following our initial conversation I again engaged this chap on the subject.  I asked him whether he had walked to the park.  He replied that he had driven.  I mentioned that I also had driven there,  the three miles one way.  So I pointed out to him that we both obviously put our two dogs’ need to socialize with others of their kind above our concern for the carbon emissions we were going to cause by using our vehicles.  By extension, anyone who uses electricity to light his home or gas to heat it has made a personal decision that his personal comfort is more important than the environment.  I have yet to hear of an environmentalist who operates his laptop by utilizing candle power.

After years of “study,” the news is finally in that the Keystone XL Pipeline does not pose any grave threats to the environment.  Whether this project goes forward or not is now up to President Obama.  He is finally expected to approve it some time this summer – about five years late.

During the course of this hiatus there have been eleven incidents in which oil was being transported by freight trains that derailed.  Some of the contents of the oil cars spilled – sometimes in fiery explosions.  Mankind will never invent perfect solutions to our challenges until we ourselves become perfect.  That may be awhile.

In writing this post I realized how great mankind’s indebtedness is to our dinosaur predecessors, as unanticipated by them as it was.  I would raise a glass in a toast to them, but there’s no hooch in the house.  So I’ll just add this to my blog and in commemoration of their sacrifice turn the heat up a little.  It’s a bit chilly in the house.

SANTA’S WORKSHOP

It was nearly quitting time a few days after Christmas when the door knocker at Santa’s Workshop began sounding.  As he was the nearest of the elves, Godwin walked to the front of the factory, hopped up on a little stool and then on to the stepladder by the door.  When he reached the top rung, he swung open the peep hole and saw the snow blowing fiercely outside.  He was used to that – but what surprised him were all the tanks and other vehicles and the large assembly of men and soldiers who were outside the door.

“May I help you,?” Godwin asked.

A man held up a badge which said, ‘Federal Bureaucracy of Interrogation.  Godwin had never seen one of these before.

“We’re here to see one S. Claus,” the man said.

“Just a minute, sir,” Godwin said.  And he closed the peep hole and quickly scrambled down the ladder.

When he got to the bottom he turned to face the workshop, put his hands around his mouth and yelled, “Santa.  We have visitors.”

Santa was in his office.  He had just finished setting up the “Naughty and Nice” book for the next season.  He grabbed the book and put it on the shelf space which had been reserved for it, next to all the other ones that he had inscribed in years past.  He pulled back from the desk, walked through the workshop and went to the front door.

When he opened the door the agent at the front of the entourage without greeting barged through the door and shoved his badge in Santa’s face.

“Special agent N. Quisitor.  Are you S. Claus?”

Santa, a little startled at the man’s rudeness replied, “I’m Santa Claus.  May I help you?”

“Please, gentlemen.  Come in from the cold.”  And the group waiting outside the door came into the warm workshop, stomping the snow from their boots.

“We’re here because there are some serious problems which have been raised by your operation.  In fact calling them problems is an understatement.  I have a list of violations, an extensive list for which you must answer.”

“Violations of what,?” Santa asked.

“Federal regulations,” Special Agent N. Quisitor replied.

“I can’t imagine anything that we’ve done anything wrong, “ Santa replied.  “What exactly are these violations?”

“Well, to start with, we have no record of your filing any tax returns.  That means that you are not only in violation of the IRC as a non-filer but you have not paid over the FICA tax you are withholding from your employees’ paychecks, nor have you paid your employer’s share of that tax.  And we have no record of your having paid any unemployment insurance for your employees.”

“Well, that’s easy to understand.  You see, sir we don’t pay the elves any salary.  They work for the simple joy of it and receive their room and board in return.  And we don’t make any profit at this business.  We do this simply for the joy of being able to provide presents for the children all around the world.”

A look of shock came over N. Quisitor’s face.  He responded, “Well, in addition to your failure to file the appropriate returns you are also in violation of the Federal Minimum Wage law.  In fact, you’re probably also in violation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery.  Your elves are little more than indentured servants.”

“Indeed,” said Santa.  “Nothing could be further from the truth.  Feel free to ask any of the elves if they are held against their will.  They all share my joy at the work we do and if any of them wanted to leave he is free to do so at any time.  But if you speak with them, you’ll find they have all been with me for centuries and are happy to be here.”

“Then there’s the matter of your violating OSHA requirements that you provide ramp accessible access to your facilities for your vertically challenged and otherwise physically handicapped employees.  You will admit that your elf employees have a height issue, wouldn’t you?  I suspect that you haven’t properly retrofitted your lavatories to accommodate them either.”

N. Quisitor went on.  “Then there’s the issue that there are only male elves here in your workshop.  That is a clear violation of the EEOC requirement that employment be offered irrespective of gender.”

“Well, you see,” said Santa, “the lady elves are all at home taking care of their children.  They are busy rearing them, feeding them and they also are the teachers in Elf School.”

“And what is the curriculum in your so-called ‘Elf School’?   Do you use the Common Core which is now mandatory in all grammar schools?”

“No.  We teach the same thing that we have taught for centuries – toy making,  Since that’s what we do here, that’s what the young elves need to learn.”

“Well, that’s a violation of Article XIII of the ‘Universal Mandatory Education Act’.  You will be held accountable for this gross deficiency and violation of the law.”

“Now, on to the allegation that you have been depositing coal in certain of the stockings which people hang.  Is that true?”

“Well, sadly it is true.  You see, I would rather that no one get any coal but unfortunately … ,” which was as much as Santa could say before Special Agent N. Quisitor cut him off.

“Aha.  You realize that you are in violation of EPA regulation  27399 – Section 124 Paragraph 9.  “The use of coal or making trade in coal whether anthracite or bituminous is hereby prohibited as it is responsible for pollution and global warming.  Are you admitting that you are violating this regulation?  Furthermore, I noticed as we came in that there is a herd of reindeer outside your facility.  Are those yours?”

“Well of course they are.  There’s Prancer and Dancer…”  N. Quisitor interrupted the jolly old man and said, “You realize that reindeer in their droppings produce methane gas – a further violation of EPA regulations – and are one of the  contributing factors to the melting of the polar ice caps.  On these EPA charges alone you have a lot of explaining to do.  I hope you have a good lawyer.”

“Last but not least, it’s our understanding that you make your delivery of these toys by hitching the reindeer to your sleigh, flying around the world.  However, the FAA has no record of your ever having filed a flight plan with them.  Do you realize how you are endangering the public safety by conducting unauthorized flights, potentially compromising the well-ordered routes which licensed airlines fly?”

“Well, you know I’ve been doing this for decades – in fact long before there were airplanes.  And in all that time there’s never been an accident – not one.”

“Mr. Claus.  You’ve been very lucky – but you, sir are an accident waiting to happen.  Get your coat and come with us.”

And they took Santa Claus away – in handcuffs.  And in their hearts they knew they had done the right thing – making the world safer for bureaucracy.

THE DUCK THAT QUACKED

Phil Robertson and “Duck Dynasty” have developed one of the most successful franchises in reality television.  The show, aired on the A & E channel, holds a first place rating among viewers.  Or, at least it did until Mr. Robertson’s interview with GQ magazine was printed.  In that interview Mr. Robertson expressed his personal view on homosexuality which runs contrary to the current cultural trend of acceptance of the LGBT lifestyle.  His opinion was an expression of his fundamental Christian beliefs.

A & E responded to the interview almost immediately by “indefinitely suspending Phil Robertson” from his own show.  They went on to make a statement that, “They (A & E) have always supported the gay community.”  Apparently this has not completely quelled the issue as A & E is getting push back from a large number of their viewers who believe they did not respond appropriately and who are threatening to boycott the network.

There are a number of important issues that this whole controversy raises.

The first, and probably the least consequential, is whether or not a business has the right to conduct itself according to self-imposed standards.  My response to that would be, “Yes it does and A & E made its decision based on its well-established philosophy.”  Of course, if we accept that premise, does that not imply that a company such as Hobby Lobby has the right to refuse to purchase health insurance which mandates that it provide abortion, prophylactics or abortifacients in contravention of its religious beliefs?

The second is whether Robertson’s opinion is protected by the First Amendment and whether A & E is essentially abridging his right to state his beliefs and therefore violating his constitutional protections.  Certainly if he had made his statement in the course of filming an episode, A & E might have the legal right to edit out the comment if if offended their policy.  But to take an interview in a different medium as the basis for their action seems to overreach their authority and to be an infringement on Mr. Robertson’s rights.  We would do well to remember Voltaire’s statement, “I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Whether Mr. Robinson made the statement or withheld it, no doubt it reflects his beliefs.  If we invoke cloture on free speech, whether or not we agree with what is said, what is next – restriction of what a person is allowed to think?

Perhaps the most important point this raises is that proponents of PC thinking are engendering the very thing that they purport to correct.  They define people not as individuals but as mere subsets of some larger group – whether that is based on race, sex or sexual orientation.  Their activities perpetuate all the “isms” and “phobias” which they seek to extinguish.  They presume that all gay or straight people, all men or women, all blacks or whites think and act identically based on the way they perceive the group to which the PC police have assigned them think and act.  That is ludicrous on its face and obviously untrue.  This philosophy strikes at the heart one of their most precious principles – allowing for diversity among members of society.

Whether or not I agree with Phil Robertson is irrelevant.  But I believe that those who see this issue only as a matter which pits one individual against a vocal group are missing the point entirely.  If we are willing to throw someone under the bus because we might disagree with his beliefs, the question is how much faster are we heading toward the point where our own opinions, however mainstream they might currently be, come under fire and we are told to recant – or else.

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