The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Thursday, January 30, 2003
Science ...

Well, it’s getting close to Valentine’s Day, so it’s a good time to talk about sex. There was an article today on the NY Times web site about some ants that grow mushrooms in their underground nests. Not very sexy, I’ll admit. But the article had a sidenote about the biological origins of sexual reproduction and the evolutionary rationale behind it. It is an interesting question once you step back to ponder it: just why do organisms go to the trouble of mixing up their genes with another member of their species before growing a new version of themselves? Why not just cut to the chase and clone your own genes? That would take less energy (think of all the sweat and money we humans put into the rituals of courtship and mating), which could otherwise be devoted to survival purposes such as gathering more food and better shelter. What was or is the Darwinian point of sex? (Don’t say “happiness”; even if sex does lead to happiness, which is debatable in the long-run perspective, that happiness is a biologically necessary part of the process, an incentive to engage in a complex and otherwise unobvious behavior pattern).

It turns out that the overall point of sex is to beat out the parasites (AIDS being a modern day example relevant to our species). Once bigger and more complex creatures started forming along the evolutionary time scale, little critters like molds and bacteria started making a living by eating them up — that’s what parasites do. The bigger things developed defense mechanisms against the parasites, but the little buggers were able to shift their tactics faster than the big guys could (i.e., they could mutate more rapidly). Therefore, bigger things like flowers and reptiles and animals needed to catch up with the parasite’s ability to shift their genes around in response to environmental changes, and sexual reproduction turned out to be the magic bullet (you guys with the dirty minds, stop snickering). By creating babies with all sorts of genetic combinations, it was more likely that someone would always be able to survive the latest infection or infestation; thus the species that sexually reproduces has more insurance in the survival game.

How romantic.

And how ironic that our species is now developing a technique (cloning) to give away its survival insurance.

Before I go, let me mention a book review and author interview on the Atlantic Magazine web site regarding Nick Cook’s The Hunt for Zero Point: Inside the Classified World of Antigravity Technology. All I can say is, whoa! This is X-Files stuff. My first instinct is to dismiss it, but Atlantic isn’t a sensationalist, crackpot conspiracy-theory rag. I do recall reading somewhere about experiments regarding “gravity reduction” and the quantum energy in the “zero-point field”. But it makes you scratch your head, because gravity and quantum physics are like cats and dogs, their relationship is still one of the biggest mysteries to modern physics. So why does this guy think that Nazi scientists actually had some UFO-like things up in the air back in ’44 (the things that gave the rock group The Foo Fighters their name), and the US Government continues to work on the problem of making this esoteric (at best) area of physics into something useable and controllable (and, unfortunately, deadly)?

I guess that the truth is out there.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:43 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Monday, January 27, 2003
Uncategorized ...

I read somewhere about a group in England that is organizing a “human shield” contingency for Iraq. These folks have organized a group of radical pacifists from the US and Europe who will spend the next few months living in the major cities of Iraq, offering themselves as potential “shame targets” for American bombs and bullets. They hope that the prospect of killing westerners, and the media coverage that it will attract, will deter President Bush from invading Iraq. One guy in his 30s said that he knows he may be killed, but he’d rather die for a cause than live to 80 in desperation about the world as it is.

Wow, that brings some flashbacks for me. Back in the early ‘70s I was about to become a candidate for induction into the US armed services, and thus for assignment to the continuing hostilities in South Vietnam. However, the draft ended just as I became eligible. Still, I had seriously considered declaring myself to be a conscientious objector to armed military service. That was quite popular back in those days, given the unpopularity of the Vietnam war. But I didn’t want to be a “selective objector”, opposed to only stupid wars like Vietnam, which most conscientious objectors probably were back then. I was toying with full objectorship (which is what the draft board required, backed up by solid proof that you seriously held such beliefs for a long time). That required an intellectual commitment to denying the use of deadly force in any and all situations.

Yes, I had some spirited debates with people, as such a radical position invites. I was asked, what would you do if someone was about to kill you without any provocation but you could kill them first. Good old justifiable self-defense. Then they put the limbo bar down a bit lower — what if someone were going to kill your innocent mother and father. Then even lower — what if someone were going to kill a city of 100,000 people, and only you could stop it (by killing the guy)? I mean, come on, couldn’t you live with your conscience if the net gain were 99,999 human lives? And then, of course, they had to bring out Hitler. (Somehow, I don’t remember Stalin coming up in those conversations, even though Stalin killed about 20 million, while Hitler had to settle for around 6 million. History does need to be taught a little better.)

The radical pacifist would respond that the picture is much bigger than one killer and his victims. The whole thing is really a cycle, a sell-out to the cheapness of life. No matter how good the intentions of a “preventative” or “justified” killing are, in reality they uphold the principle that one person can find justification to prematurely shorten the life of another. From then on, it’s a slippery slope down to a cruel and brutish world. The otherwise-virtuous policeman or soldier who gallantly kills a bad guy unintentionally inspires the child who grows to become the next bad guy. The border between good and evil is thin. The only way to stop the cycle is for the truly good people to offer themselves in sacrifice to the bad ones, such that the children of the bad may remember and imitate their goodness (given that kids always rebel against their parents).

Well. To be honest, after years of thought on the subject, I really don’t know which idea is right, or even closer to right. Can we aspire to angeldom, or is the best we can do some sort of balance of terror? I can’t say. But I can say one thing for Saddam Hussein: he does put the pacifism question into sharp focus. There’s hardly been a lower, more cold-blooded example of depravity and human cynicism since Adolph and Josef. (I never went for that bizarre anti-war delusion that the enemy isn’t so bad; even in the depths of my anti-Vietnam war cynicism, I thought that people like Jane Fonda, who cozyed up to Ho Chi Minh, were nuts.)

For now, I’m going to duck the pacifist question by saying that we should at least ask whether the upcoming invasion of Iraq will be an “intelligent” war, whether it really is in our interest or not (hard to say that any war is really “intelligent”). Going back to the 40’s, Josef Stalin did some horribly uncivilized things, even more horrible than Hitler did; and yet for him, we decided to use an alternative to war, something called “containment”. It was expensive and not completely bloodless, but after four decades, it finally worked. There may be ways to keep Saddam Hussein pinned down for a decade or so, until old age or a military coup resolves the situation. And why is North Korea, a nation that brags of its development of weapons of mass destruction in violation of international agreements, getting off so easy? Why can we live with “Dear Leader” and not Saddam? What is our plan there? (Probably something like containment).

There is a very real possibility that America will take Saddam out without too many casualties, but as we raise the stars and stripes over Bagdad, the bloodshed in Iraq will just have started. Without a master of terror keeping a lid on all the various tribes and religious factions in Iraq, the place may get nuttier than Yugoslavia after Tito. We could even see an anti-western Muslim fundamentalist regime take power as in Iran, unless we keep our troops tied up there for years. If we do stay on, our soldiers would be caught in a lot of crossfire for a long time, requiring a constant supply of body bags and maybe even the resumption of the draft. And wow, pacifism amidst the college crowd might become popular again! Maybe those guys from England won’t have died in vain.

P.S., Al Qaeda’s ultimate aim is to install fundamentalist regimes throughout the Arab world. If we shake things up in Iraq too quickly and then leave too quickly, which seems to be the American way, we may be playing right into Osama’s hand.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:17 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, January 25, 2003
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SUNRISE:   There was an article today on The Economist Magazine web site about the Internet as the revolution that wasn’t. Back around 1996, a lot of techno-idealists thought that the net was going to become a utopian, borderless civilization unto itself. The article cites the “Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace” of Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow. Mr. Barlow felt that the users of the net “inhabited a new world of creativity, equality and justice”. But as we know, along came e-commerce and pornographers and copyright lawyers and big corporations like Microsoft and AOL/Time-Warner, and so went the techno-utopians. Mr. Barlow has reportedly “lost heart” about the web, and so did I after reading the rest of the article.

But wait. Does it have to be that way? I’ve noticed that a lot of people are shelling out real money to maintain non-commercial sites just to put their ideas out there and offer the chance for public comment. I myself am doing it. There are a lot of non-profit sites with mailing lists and discussion boards, places where people are talking and interacting. The Internet can yet become a Wall of Democracy, if we teach our children well. That’s why an old fogie like me, someone who was around during the Summer of Love, someone who remembers the chants of “peace, pot, microdot”, stays interested in the net. Because it’s the last chance to get in on a real revolution before I die. The one from the 1960s stalled out pretty quickly, but this one could still happen. Sure, Napster is gone, but there’s much more to a revolution than free music. We can still fight the power on the web and find common threads of humanity, and thus help our world get past its addiction to stuff like prejudice, exploitation and war. But it’s gonna take some patience.

SUNSET:   In my January 4 blog entry, I talked about the horrors of diminishment, i.e. about what happens to you when you get old. I guess that I was reflecting a bit on my Mom’s situation. Mom is over 80 and gets noticeably weaker every few months. She’s in a wheelchair now and needs help doing just about everything. Thanks to a lot of sacrifice on my brother’s part, along with the help of some visiting caregivers, she’s still living at home. What’s wrong with her? Nothing much, other than being old and a bit overweight (which is true for about half of American adults these days).

There was a recent episode of The West Wing (on NBC) where C.J., the fictional White House Press Secretary, visited her father in Ohio, only to find his life falling apart due to Alzheimer’s. The theme was the same: the horrors of diminishment.

I’m not a senior citizen yet, although I’m now closer to retirement (or hoped-for retirement) than I am to college graduation. And even though my mind still doesn’t quite believe that I’m middle aged (I still listen to that zippy music that the young people seem to enjoy so much, e.g. the Red Hot Chillis and ИickelBack, still think that the opening to Ozzie’s “Shot In The Dark” is pure musical genius), my body is quite certain that I’m no longer 20 years old. I regret it most on Friday nights, when I get home from work and need to crash; when I was a youngin’, Friday evenings were for piling into a car with friends and driving long into the night, on a weekend road trip. Now a days, I just want to get to sleep by eleven.

Yes, getting old sounds pretty horrible, especially once you find out what it really involves. But you know what? A lot of people who are actually there, who really are old and are indeed falling apart, aren’t any more miserable than the rest of us. The worst part is when things change quite suddenly, just like the weather. Right now where I live, we’re having a cold spell; for the past few days everyone was griping about it and feeling awful, myself included. But after a while, you just get used to it and keep going. Same in the summer with the heat.

Diminishment sure isn’t fun, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy life anymore. It certainly is more of a challenge to enjoy life when you’re feeling weak or sick or tired a lot of the time; you’re certainly not going to find your kicks the same way as when you were 20 and went skiing or camping or partying all weekend. But people are amazingly adaptable creatures, and even when the air is colder and the shadows are longer (and you hair is gray or gone), people can still find ways to make life worthwhile. Believe it or not.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:00 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Current Affairs ... Society ...

Two weeks ago, the press gave a lot of attention to Sherry Murphy, a middle-aged go-go dancer in Newark, NJ who was starving three of her young nephews in her basement, one of whom died before being rescued. While I feel the same shock and grief that most everyone feels for Faheem, the boy who died, and for his brothers Raheem and Tyrone, who will live, I’ve been noticing some adjacent tragedies in the stories of the other characters in the case. One of them is Fuquan Williams, the 11-year old brother of the victims, who was no longer living with his aunt; another is Wesley Thomas, the 16 year old son of Murphy, who recently told authorities about his involvement in the death of Faheem (he claims to have unintentionally knocked Faheem out while wrestling with him, from which the 7-year old never recovered).

Both Fuquan and Wesley experienced the same pattern of neglect and abuse that eventually killed Faheem: parents and guardians with criminal records and substance abuse habits, inadequate attention, physical and mental abuse from family and visitors, lack of health care, shuffled frequently between various relatives and caretakers, fathers either unknown (in Fuquan’s case) or infamously known (a registered sex offender, in Wesley’s case), intermittent schooling at best, and a broken-down child protection agency that prematurely closed their case. In sum, a highly chaotic nightmare for an adult, hell to a child (recall the Pat Benatar song, Hell is For Children).

Unfortunately, this is a story of urban poverty, even if Sherry Murphy and her cousin (Melissa Williams, the fugitive mother of the children) did hold jobs and lived in relatively pleasant surroundings (they were not welfare queens living in the projects). They were people that could have made it in the working world, but some sort of psychological and emotional instability, the kind too often found amidst the inner-city poor (and many other groups, of course), infected their lives and found its way to their children. This is the cycle of poverty hard at work, reaching even those who seemingly have the resources to escape it — although one must admit, the aunt and the mother were not simply innocent victims of forces beyond their control. They must stand accountable for what happened. They are not poster-children for the urban poor, most of whom are honest, hard-working and conscientious caregivers; nevertheless, this is a repetitious social infection that is still too common in the city. And the results are young criminals in the making.

Wesley has already graduated; at age 16, he has a police record involving weapons and drugs, and now faces assault charges regarding Faheem. (And yes, he is a parent). As to 11 year old Fuquan, his life could go either way. Not surprisingly, he has severe emotional and learning problems, and exhibits angry and erratic behavior. However, he is now in the legal custody of a seemingly stable, regularly employed uncle who has him enrolled in a special institution. With enough stability and guidance, and in the company of a male role model, Fuquan might have a chance to pull himself out. But then again, most of the special programs for troubled youth like him tend to “graduate” their participants at age 16, due to limited resources. Fuquan may not be ready at age 16 to face the world, even with his uncle’s well-intended help. He may never be able to go back to a regular high school, and would probably have little chance of succeeding in the typical “non-professional” career tracks of today, which require either technical acumen (e.g., an office equipment repairman) or a flair for customer relations (e.g., a bank teller). The call of the gangs and the streets may be too much for him. Along with Wesley, Fuquan may be another Native Son. Another American tragedy slowly unfolding itself in the city.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:13 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, January 19, 2003
Uncategorized ...

I’ve have a listing on a penpals site for the past two years, and I’ve gotten a lot of disappointing responses. Out of maybe 35 replies so far, only one person still writes me regularly (Deb in Colorado, who is definitely OK in my book). Most of the other responses came from normal people who just weren’t on the same wavelength with me (or so I guess; it was they who stopped writing). Hey, that you expect. Some of the other responses were a bit raw; some older guy out West said “sounds like you need a friend, so I’ll talk to you if you want”. Yea, buddy, well I don’t need a friend THAT bad. And then there’s the sad stuff from distant shores, the people from poor lands looking for economic sympathy. Or economic stupidity — yes, I was one of the thousands who got an e-mail from the alleged widow of the ex-dictator of Nigeria, who supposedly needed someone to park a few million for her, all for a 20% cut. I think they called that one a “409 scam”.

Recently I got a note from an otherwise nice person who said that she “hates organized religion with a passion”. Hmmm. I’m not exactly big into organized religion myself these days, but I don’t hate it. “The Church” never hurt me the way that it hurt a lot of people (victims of sexual abuse by priests and ministers being the most obvious example; it’s probably more accurate to say that people are hurt by the un-religious acts of those who strongly profess to be religious, and the victims wind up hating the religion as much or more than they hate the hypocritical perpetrator). In a lot of ways, I still sympathize with organized religion. Their liturgies are quite beautiful, and there is something inherently good when people gather to share their belief in something greater than themselves. Religions have some very good social outreaches that help the poor, and they occasionally challenge the government on peace and justice issues. And then there are the monasteries, where solitude and devotion to spiritual centering (sometimes) occur.

It’s just that I have found that every organized religion, including the most liberal ones, are much too focused on: 1.) preserving ancient myth or tradition; 2.) taking care of real estate; and 3.) enforcing social order, by regulating rituals for marriage, childbirth, educating and socializing children, and burying the dead. Hey, somebody has to do all of those things, and the Soviet Union proved that the state doesn’t do those things very well. I can understand why the churches take their social-regulation roles seriously, and why they fulfill their mission to preserve ancient teachings, and also preserve the many old and modern buildings that they own. But in focusing all of their energy on that stuff, the organized churches aren’t able to reach out to a lot of people like myself whose spiritual needs are outside of the traditional molds that they focus on. They don’t seem to have the time to rethink what they preach against the needs and realities of today.

The more traditional churches expect their adherents to uphold a literal belief in myths that are in the same league as Santa Claus. These churches convey a strong spirituality to their members, but they require the faithful to split their minds so that during the week they make a living in a science-oriented world of computers and TVs and other high technology, and on Sunday (or whenever) they profess the literal truth of things written in an ancient time when science and intellectual rationality were mostly unheard of. The modern religions like Unitarianism are more sympathetic to modern thought, but they seem afraid of the word “God”, or any other representation of a strong personal and spiritual relationship with something more than physical reality. But yes, I know there is good reason why God is either wrapped in unchangeable ancient doctrine or is mostly ignored. If you let people form their own spiritual interpretations, you can get wacky results, extending into superstition, sexual stupidity and self-aggrandizement.

Being the eternal student, I think the answer is education. Religion should be a life-long learning process, whereby adults are eventually allowed and encouraged to form their own relationships with the Divine, once they know enough to avoid the wacky stuff. Religion should absolutely proclaim the existence of the Divine, but be honest about the leap of faith involved. It should affiliate the Divine with that which is best about being human, i.e. love, community, art, learning, forgiveness, selfless accomplishment, etc. It should maintain the beautiful liturgies and preserve the ancient texts, but should not let myth and tradition become a handcuff and prison cell. It should maintain the preferred option for the poor and the focus on social justice and human need. It would also have to maintain its social-regulation role, balancing that off with a renewed prophetic mission. As to all of the old and new church buildings, I personally think that some can stay and some should go. If some people want a religion centered around a grand old building (and are willing to pay all the bills involved), then fine. But give some options to those like me who don’t (admittedly, I’m trying to get out cheap; but if organized religion was worth it, if it got closer to my own spiritual and social needs, then I’d consider paying my “tithes” or “love offerings”).

For example, I once knew a Catholic priest who was a “floater”, who didn’t belong to any parish, who would celebrate mass where ever he was, wouldn’t ask questions about who could or couldn’t receive communion. If there were more like him, I might still be in the fold. He was also sympathetic to the idea that the ancient church doctrines about the virgin birth and the resurrection and Jesus as God and Savior didn’t square with modern scientific viewpoints, and that the concept of “Christ” had to be reinterpreted in a more spiritual and less literal historical sense. And he would admit that the whole Catholic thing about women not being able to be priests was bogus, and that outreach and social justice was one of the most important things that a religion can be involved in. And he didn’t have that judgmental attitude that priests often seem to have, or the idea that “the church says that I’m above you”. Unfortunately, I never met another one like him (he works down in the Washington DC area, where I lived for a few years back in the late 70s). And from what I heard, even he isn’t quite as “radical” as he once was (but what can you expect for a guy out alone in such a regressive organization). Still, a younger Father John once gave me a glimpse of what religion could be like, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

PS, as to faithful penpals from other listings, thanks go out to Jean in Mississippi, Mary in Illinois, and June in California.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:45 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Art & Entertainment ... Society ...

As an eternal student, I’m responsible to read some books. Lately, I’ve lacked the discipline to devote myself to any one book. Thus, I’m hunting and pecking through three or four titles at a time. The line up right now: Complexity, Mitchell Waldrop; Greek Ways, Bruce Thornton; Complete Idiot’s Guide to Taoism, Brandon Toropov and Chad Hansen; The Presidency of Jimmy Carter, Burton Kaufman; The Changing Face of Jesus, Geza Vermes; and Disarmed & Dangerous (The Berrigan Brothers), Murray Polner and Jim O’Grady. I’ve also been taking an occasional look at Lila by Robert Pirsig and The Cosmic Code by Heinz Pagels. This isn’t exactly the best way to get through a book, but it does allow some intellectual cross-fertilization.

I’d like to offer a few comments on two recent deaths. First off, Maurice Gibbs of the BeeGees. Yes, the BeeGees. Not exactly the most brilliant musical talents of the past thirty years, but they certainly did have staying power. I wasn’t exactly thrilled by their disco opportunism, nor by Barry’s post-disco pretensions as a classy singer who could complement the likes of a chanteuse such as Barbara Streisand or whoever. Nor by Barry’s pretensions to still have a falsetto after 1983. Nor by Barry’s pretensions to still have long hair and good looks. I guess that I wasn’t exactly thrilled by Barry in general. Robin was OK, although he put too much intensity into his lyrics — his songs weren’t all that profound! Maurice was about the best you could do with a group like the Gees. He pretty much stuck to his supporting role and didn’t complain, no matter what phase the group was in. He kept doing his job, even during their long decline. He went bald, but instead of messing with pretentious hair-weaves, he just wore a hat on stage. And actually, he didn’t look bad with it. I suppose that I should have stopped taking the BeeGees seriously after 1970, but even in their disco phase there was a certain romantic idealism to their songs that was so schmaltzy that you started believing in it again. Maurice’s quietness lent the band some gravitas, some credibility. He kept the group from becoming a complete joke. He was the one good man that could save a city. Maurice Gibbs, hats off to you.

The second death of note? Faheem Williams, the seven year old boy who was found dead in his aunt’s home in Newark, New Jersey after years of complete family neglect. All of the usual child protection systems of our society broke down on Faheem: the courts involved with his mother and aunt, the state child protection agency who investigated his mother, the school system that didn’t notice his absence, and the other family members who knew something but didn’t step in. I work for a prosecutors office (called a district attorney or states attorney in other places), and it will be people like us who administer the criminal penalties involved. Hopefully, the prosecutors will do their job properly, although that certainly won’t bring Faheem back. The Governor is quite incensed, and is calling for big changes to make sure this doesn’t happen again. But I myself have only one little change to suggest for now. And that is this: everyone who hears about Faheem should bow their head for a moment and think about the poem “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. Put aside the fact that Faheem was an African American child living in a dysfunctional family succumbing to the pressures of urban poverty. Just think of him as another human life that perished tragically. Much like the people in the World Trade Center, or in a plane crash, or any other place where life turns into a nightmare. Let me mention another case that we got just a few weeks before Faheem’s case hit: a highly dysfunctional young woman gave birth, wrapped her baby in a plastic bag and stowed it away. A near-by county has a 20-year old who dropped her one-year old child into the river. I have no real answer to such horror. All I can say is, ask not for whom the bell tolls.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:00 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, January 12, 2003
Current Affairs ... Politics ... Technology ...

Little Thing: Mechanical pencils — wow, they’re back, and they’ve really gotten better! They’ve been around since the 50’s, but they were always clunky and nerdy, with thick leads that wrote like an unsharpened wooden pencil. Now they’re light and comfortable and the leads are thin and they don’t break when you press down. You used to have to twist the tip to adjust the point, but now you just click the top. I’m using a Pentel 0.7mm Champ and some Icy’s. It’s nice to see that an old idea can be brought back and finally made to work right.

Big Thing: The Bush Tax-Cut. OK, here we go again, Republican voter candy… Let’s chop down the overgrown government forest and put the money back into the average family’s pocket. Yea, fine, but there are a lot of things that need doing by the government these days, like rebuilding our highways (have you driven an Interstate lately? Unless you’re in one of the many slow-down work zones, you’re cannon fodder for an armada of haul-ass double-trailer rigs barreling along at 80 with drivers zonked on uppers, trying to fight off the ZZZs). Or fixing our schools. Or properly training teachers how to teach. Or figuring out how to have homeland security while preserving our personal dignity and Constitutional rights at the same time. Or getting ready for all the medical bills that the Baby Boom generation are going to incur as they reach their Golden Years. Oh, yes, and being the policeman to the world, with all the aircraft carriers and stealth drones and anti-missles and helicopters and laser-guided anti-tank munitions that takes.

But hey, I can understand why the average Jane and Joe will fight any tax increase idea tooth and nail, and will welcome any tax cut. That’s because, over the past 30 years, average real income has hardly gone up at all; average income after inflation has increased about one-third a percent every year. At the same time, the after-inflation gross national product of the USA has increased on average about 3 percent each year. OK, so where is all this wealth going, if not into the pockets of the average family? Who is pocketing the difference? Well, there was an article in the October 20, 2002 New York Times Magazine by Paul Krugman that gave a rather clear answer. Over the past three decades, the rich have become filthy rich (and darn, I wasn’t one of them!). When you look at the winners in terms of real income increases over the past 30 years, the top 10% of families clearly did much better than the rest (and, of course, the bottom 10% got poorer). But then, if you look at the top 1%, they did tremendously better. And if you look at the top 0.1%, they did stupendously better.

And now comes our President, with a tax cut that promises to benefit the average family around $300 per year (per the Brookings Institution). But, with its carefully crafted provisions to cut taxes on stock dividends and capital gains, the family in the top 10% is going to benefit more than that. And the family in the top 1% saves over $20,000 per year. This tax cut is clearly a gift to the rich (now gee, why would Mr. Bush want to help them? It isn’t because he and his family are rich too, is it?). But it gets the support of the middle class, as it throws some scraps at them. Too bad that the middle class isn’t asking what the ultimate consequences of this little gift to them (and big gift to the mansion set) are going to be. For one thing, there will be an increased federal deficit, causing higher interest rates, which will increase mortgage rates for average homebuyers. For another, there will be cut-backs in school aid, Medicare, highway maintenance, and high-cost, non-intrusive security measures. Not that the rich care; they have Gulfstreams and don’t need to drive the Interstates; they send their kids to private academies, so they don’t care about break-downs in the public schools; they can pay for their own doctors when they get old, and won’t need to wrangle over HMO restrictions; and again, with their Gulfstreams, they don’t need to go thru airport security with the masses.

Oh well, just a little liberal rant. There are so may conservative rants out there in Blog-land, I thought I’d try to balance things out just a bit.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:28 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Tuesday, January 7, 2003
Art & Entertainment ... Current Affairs ...

I was surfing thru some “Man From UNCLE” sites recently (was a big fan, way back in ’65) and saw an interesting quote from the March, 1967 “Man From Uncle Magazine.” Substitute Al Qaeda for THRUSH, you-know-who for the “mad despot”, and some kind of super-AIDs virus or genetically enhanced anthrax for the “dreadful secret”, and you have a pretty good description of the worst nightmare of modern times:

“Born of madness, nurtured by hate, THRUSH had found the ultimate threat to put the world in its power. Fighting against time, Solo and Illya seek to find the mad despot who has in his hands the key to a dreadful secret — which, once released, spells doom!”

The story in that issue was called “The Hungry World Affair”. Quite prophetic, I’d say.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:45 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
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