Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Less-Kind, Harsher America?

I'm 53, and I'm nervous.

Not for the usual reasons, mind you. My hair started falling out when I was 14, so that's a long-lost battle. Terrorist attacks? Always a possibility, but so are sunspots, the odd mugging, or running into some of my former girlfriends. My physical health is lousy, but I've resigned myself to all that. Actually, a longer life is not high on my Wish List, for reasons that will become obvious in a few minutes.

This happened a day or two ago. I was at my neighborhood convenience store, picking up a few bottles of Diet Pepsi [the only vice I still have worthy of note]. Like many of these stores, the check-out people change regularly. I was waited on by a man in his mid-20's, seemingly nice enough. We got to talking, and the subject of the Japan earthquake/tsunami came up. "I feel bad for the people there", he said, "but putting nuclear power plants in a country that has earthquakes and tsunamis regularly seems like a really bad idea". I pointed out that this particular trembler was of a once-in-maybe-a-thousand-years magnitude. He was certainly sympathetic, but still maintained that Japan was just a bad place for nuclear plants. I did see his point, but did have to straighten him out when he added that whoever put New Orleans where it was wasn't very bright, either.
Now, here's my concern: this man was part of the group of people who'll likely be running the Nation in a generation or so. No matter the knowledge or education level of this group of leaders, they will be seeing a country filled with aging Baby Boomers, crushing his friends with entitlements that will almost certainly suck Social Security dry by the time they would be old enough to draw on it. In an earlier time, we Boomers would have made as much provision as we could do care for ourselves. But, like domesticated animals, we no longer know how to care for ourselves financially, or in any other sense of that term. In a very real way, we need the protections the government has put in place for us. The problem is, the younger generations do not have enough potential workers to keep the money train running.
You might see where this is going; the New Leaders, noting that the Boomers don't have the means to care for themselves, could very possibly choose to put us on the mid-to-late-21st Century equivalent of an ice flow. And I don't care how patriotic they can make that act sound! I've lived my whole life in the Northern United States; when I die, I want to die somewhere warm, at the very least indoors.
A message to my fellow Boomers: be afraid. Be very afraid...
-Mike Riley

Friday, January 14, 2011

this is the dawning of the age of...what?

On my list of "usually harmless hokum", one of the top spots is reserved for astrology. Reputedly created in ancient Babylonia, it uses an analysis of the relative position of certain stars in the sky to predict the future. I suppose it's no more inaccurate a system than the casting of rune sticks, or divination arising from a study of animal entrails., both of which have been accepted means of prediction in history.
The main problem with the zodiac today is that the relative position of the stars has moved since the original charting, about the distance of one whole sign, according to some estimates. Obviously some adjustment was needed. But what to do?
Meet Ophiuchus [symbol, or one suggested symbol, anyway, at right]. One of three dozen possible constellations postulated by the Babylonian wiseguys...sorry, wise men, it has become championed by astrologer Parke Kunkle, who recently noted that the new sign's influence on the existing Zodiac explains many previously mysterious events in history. The rise of Lady Gaga, for instance, as well as the otherwise inexplicable audience for How I Met Your Mother.
Understand, I have no real objection to the update; new nonsense for old hurts a nonsensical system not at all. For the record, I find more truth in the so-called Chinese "horoscope", based around 12 animals. In that system, I'm a Rooster, and a Rooster I prefer to remain.
-Mike Riley

Thursday, January 13, 2011

...just what we need...the Fear Index...

Having been born and raised in Buffalo, NY, and living now in the nearby city of Niagara Falls, there are two things I am expected to be an expert at: losing the championship of the National Football League [see Super Bowls XXV-XXVIII, inclusive], and snow.

While "the streak" is a matter of public record, Buffalo's rep as the Snow Capitol Of America might be a little mis-guided. No one in this area would deny that it snows a lot around here [just over 74 inches of the white stuff last winter]. But that 74.1 inches would be good only for seventh place on last winter's tote board. Buffalo wasn't even the most snow-covered spot in New York State; Syracuse, as it usually does, topped the State roster; it also finished first in the National Snow Bowl with a mind-boggling 106.1 inches of semi-solid precipitation [it's said the Innuit people of the Arctic have more than 200 words for snow. Why is there never an Innuit person available when you need one?].

The difference comes in the area of snow removal. Since the "perfect storm" Blizzard of 1977, blamed for the deaths of 23 people, Buffalo and its surrounding cities seem to have taken a vow that they will never be shut down again as they were in that season [Ironicaly, the average amount of snow that fell was only about a foot, an unusually high amount for one storm, but by no means as crippling in itself as this blizzard turned out to be. The difference was the strong winds that built up drifts as high as three feet in more than a few locations.].

If you were one of many thousands stranded by last month's storm, or are currently cooling your heels in an airport hundreds of miles from where you want to be, curse the lack of equipment and training most airports have. Buffalo's is equipped with state-of-the-art plows and other specialized devices. Airport staffs from around the world come in during storms to watch the Buffalo crew clean up [and presumably, to take notes].

This got me thinking; because of the Blizzard of '77, the Buffalo area has committed large amounts of money to ensure quick snow clearance. Other areas, I would guess, make preparations based on the difficulties they most fear: I would think San Francisco, for example, spends large amounts on earthquake preparedness, while Florida would probably spend heavily on hurricane cleanup equipment and training. It would be a simple mathematic process [not for me, for real statiticians] to calculate what frightens any area in the world by figuring out which area of disaster preparation it spends the most on, exclusive of police and fire prevention and extinguishing [although both would likely enter into a community's disaster preparation expenses]. Anyone interested in finding out the paranoia triggers in their local is free to use this concept, without credit to me [as a matter of fact, the less you mention me in this process, the better]. The only thing I would ask is that the title The Fear Index be used for this process. Let's at least keep the name simple and explanatory...
-Mike Riley

Friday, December 17, 2010

An idea whose time has come...again?

"Tax the rich, feed the poor/Till there are no poor no more"
-"I'd Love to Change The World"; Alvin Lee

I am not a political person, nor am I a fiscal expert. But sometimes someone suggests a course of action that just makes sense. Case in point: if you click on the football picture in the right-hand column of the blog, you will be taken to this site, a recent column by Dr. Michael I. Niman from the weekly newspaper Artvoice. Let it be noted that his "official" fields of expertise are in journalism and media studies. That said, it doesn't take a degree in economics to see that the present system of taxation in the US does not work.

Understand, I have no grievance with the rich, especially those who have worked to achieve their level of success. But the rich of previous generations understood that they needed to bear a much greater tax burden than those in the lower- and middle-classes. Indeed, their acceptance of the principle allowed a strong middle class to form in this country, as well as allowing vital protections for the lower classes.

Google "tax the rich", and you will find many articles, taking one side or the other on the issue. My finance-impaired brain has tried working through as many of them as I can, and I have yet to find an argument against taxing the rich compelling as those in favor of increasing tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. I am particularly in agreement with one of Niman's points: since many of the legal functions of the nation protect the assets of the wealthy, it is in their best interests to help support that system through increased taxation.

Taking one person's opinion as gospel is always a dangerous act. So go ahead and research the idea for yourself. I believe you will come to the same conclusion as I have; we need to tax the rich at a higher rate than currently assessed. The Tea Party came to its current level of influence through grassroots involvement from many people. If you believe that America needs to again "tax the rich", please get involved, if only to tell your friends to read this blog, or research the question for themselves. Sitting on the sidelines could prove fatal to the America most of us believe is our nation at its best.

-Mike Riley

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hard Sell

As someone who considers himself a good American, I believe a first-time voter should affiliate with a political party;your prejudices concerning the political system need to start somewhere. Growing up in the time and place I did, becoming a Democrat was almost inevitable. So I became, and have remained, a member of the Dems for around 30 years now.

Please understand, though, that my affiliation does not include a financial commitment to the future success of the party. Number 1, joining the Democrats is usually not the first step to wealth and prosperity. Not at the level I'd be at, anyway. Number 2, it's not like the Democrats, on those rare occasions they've been in power in Washington, have made any tangible effort to leave me better off. Besides, it's one thing to support a party's stance on issues. But you don't want to encourage them.

So what am I to make of an e-mail I received from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this week, explaining that the party still has hopes of shoring up the results of November's Republican tidal wave at election time, but only if I cough up a few bucks to help out {I don't know who's coughing up the bucks to help me out, but my hopes are frankly set low}.

Let it be said, though, that the Democrats do pay attention to the world around them. Noting how much money PBS takes in by offering little more than beads and trinkets at exorbitant rates, the DCCC has opened something it calls "My Democratic Store", soliciting donations in exchange for, well, why don't I just show you some of them [please believe me, these are actual items from the "Store". I'm not clever enough to make this up]?

Exhibit 1; an autographed copy of [soon-to-be] former Speaker Of The House Nancy Pelosi's book, Know Your Power. Given the Democrats' failures at such relatively simple tasks as passing legislation when they held both Houses of Congress and the White House, what any of them, and especially Pelosi, knows about power is uncertain at best. For a somewhat lower price, you can get an un-signed version of the book [I hate to bash my home town of Buffalo, NY, but the situation reminds me of the contest someone held once; first prize was a week in Buffalo.
Second prize was two weeks, and Third place had to stay all month. My apologies to Buffalonians everywhere].

Staying with Pelosi-oriented memorabilia, how about a three-gallon popcorn tin, celebrating Pelosi's two years as Speaker? Besides the fact that it resembles nothing so much as a trash can, one would note that an item like this is more kit ch than respectful collectible. It reminds me of all those "collectibles" made in England any time one of the Royals marry [If you want even a percentage of all the Prince William and Kate items eventually coming to market, you'd better start shopping now.

Just about everyone in the room recognizes this item, I trust; an exact replica of the "onesies" worn by classic newspaper comic strip star "Li'l Dem" [reading this strip as a child is just one more reason I became a Democrat]. Or am I just mixing this up with the Yellow Kid?

I don't know; I'm hopeful that the Party can find its financial footing without assessing members dues. But knowing how much trouble the Buffalo Bills Team Store is having getting rid of jerseys from ex-players Terrell Owens and Trent Edwards, just to name two, I'm not optimistic.

Happy Holidays, btw...

-Mike Riley

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bloggers Unite For Haiti [But We're Wasting Our Time]

When I came here to write this post, I saw that my last collection of mutterings were about Human Rights Day. Nothing wrong with that, of course; the struggle for human rights, unfortunately, is, and probably always will be ongoing, in one form or another. Still, there are many issues under a topic like that, and plenty of opportunity for a blogger worth her/his salt to fill space in a way that Could Actually Make A Difference.
That noted, WHY IN HELL ARE WE BLOGGING ABOUT A DISASTER SO CATACLYSMIC THAT IT ACTUALLY HAS MADE THE POOREST NATION IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE WORSE? I mean, come on, people! The news media of the world have sent their best reporters, photographers and commentators [where these people were when Haiti was running up an 80% poverty rate is a question these news organizations should ask themselves when this is all over]: stories, reports and images are across every possible information source [so much so, in fact, I'm not even taking time to add them here; if you want to know, you know - if you don't care, nothing anyone presents is going to matter].
The point is, we know. We've seen the destruction. The bodies in the streets [one Haitian official, asked early on for a death toll estimate, started at 50,000. He then went up to a half-million. Let that number roll around your brain for a minute. Then he got to what probably was the only real answer: nobody knows. And honestly, nobody probably ever will...]. The physical and societal infrastructure flattened. We know. Either we do something, or we don't.
If your answer is: we don't, thanks for reading this far. You may as well head elsewhere, though; there's nothing else for you here today. If your answer is: we do, the American Red Cross is a good place to start [if you live outside the US, your local Red Crescent/Red Cross are reliable places to donate money. And, if I understand this right, money donations are the best way to help. Apparently, relief agencies, whenever possible, purchase needed supplies as close to the site of the disaster as possible. It helps the economy of the devastated country by putting money into circulation]. In some areas, banks, stores, and other businesses are taking donations [just be careful that the location you choose is legitimate; scammed money helps no one but the scammer]. On the right side of this blog page, you'll find a link badge for the group Doctors Without Borders, a group I've personally admired and respected since I first heard of them. Please consider them at donation time.
I don't really think you needed this commentary to get you to do what's needed. But, if it was helpful, I'm glad. This is one time we need fewer bloggers and more contributors...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An Open Letter To The World - Human Rights Day 2009

10 December, 2009

Dear Fellow Humans-

Have you ever felt overrun by mixed emotions? That's where I'm at as I write to you. Today, as many of you know, is Human Rights Day, set aside by the UN to commemorate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified this day in 1948. This document was created in the wake of a World War that saw millions of persons killed because of religious, ethnic, racial, or societal distinctions, and millions more oppressed for the same reasons [some of which happened right here in the US]. The Universal Declaration simply and clearly lists the basic rights of every human being.

Now I know that some nations ignore rights that most of the world take for granted. Bloggers around the world, no doubt, will report on individuals who have been jailed, for years, for the simple act of sending an e-mail [China]. Or, perhaps, some will write about religion-based oppression of woman [Afghanistan]. Still others will note police violence against innocent citizens [Brazil], or oppressive laws that deny freedom of sexuality [Lithuania]. But I've got to be really honest here. As much as I am discouraged and disheartened by these human rights violations, I am somewhat jealous of these nations as well. Each one of them; indeed, virtually every civilized nation on Earth, has something that I, as an American, am denied - access to free, government-funded, health care.

If you happen to have a copy of the Universal Declaration [if not, click on the link above], I draw your attention to Article 25. Quoting Heading 1: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care..."[emphasis mine]. The United States is one of many signatories of the Universal Declaration. But it stands out like a sore thumb when it comes to its disregard of this Article. Health care "reform" has been one of the major themes of the almost-ended political year here. But, as our associates at Amnesty International [one of today's sponsors] point out, the "new and improved" health care plan does little to address several major deficiencies.
I guess I would feel better about the American system if it got results. But it doesn't. While spending more money than any other nation, the US ranked 37th in the most-recent World Health Organization's rating of health-care quality [among the nations having better results: Canada, the UK, Oman, Cypress, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco]. Even those "fortunate" enough to have health insurance are frequently beggared by payment of premiums, fees, etc [including Your Friendly Letterwriter].
Maybe it's just me, but until America has its own house in order, perhaps we should have a moratorium on intervention [critical or otherwise] of anybody else. Hey, oppression is bad [we all get that]; but, as Martin Luther King, Jr. noted, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane".
-Mike Riley