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In 1990 I visited England for work. I stayed in a few hotels in the Manchester area and I remember noticing that, oddly, the phones did not always work. This was before mobile phones existed. In America, when you picked up a landline phone, you always got a dial tone. You dialed, and if you had a correct number, you got through. Not so in England at the time. Occasionally you picked up the phone and it was just dead. Or you dialed, and it didn’t go through. Rattling the cradle didn’t work. Sometimes the phone would just not function, and you’d have to wait a while, and try again. I remember being astonished how that was possible in a modern country in 1990. England was the only and undisputed superpower in the world for centuries, until it faded in the earlier part of the 20th century and got replaced by the United States as the dominant military and economic power. But it could not keep its phone system working properly. I don’t know what the reason was exactly, but I attributed it to lack of properly maintained, modern infrastructure.

Now I live in California. It’s thirty years later, almost 2020. California is one of the largest economies in the world. With a population of 40 million people, it is also the size of a larger country. As Californians, we are proud of the progressiveness of the state and its people. Many of the world’s most prominent companies are based in California. It is the undisputed capital of entrepreneurism in the world. Many Californians live in modern, large and expensive homes. Our emissions standards are some of the highest in the world. We try to take care of our environment. Lots of our energy is derived from renewable sources. We are one of the leaders in wind-generated power.

Yet, in recent weeks, millions of Californians had to deal with power blackouts because, ironically, the wind was blowing. In recent years, the large utility companies had been found responsible for creating the sparks that started wildfires during the fire season due to faulty equipment and infrastructure. The resulting lawsuits have pushed those utility companies to the brink of bankruptcy. To avoid further damage and liability, the utilities have resorted to simply turning off the power in areas of high danger. Millions of people found their homes without power in the last few days. Businesses were shut down. Traffic lights went off. Chaos ensued. Contents of freezers spoiled in homes and grocery stores. Restaurants were closed. Enormous amounts of economic activity didn’t happen, and losses are in the billions.

California is now experiencing third-world conditions, where we cannot rely on the power to be on. This is, of course, far worse than the lack of a dial tone in England in 1990. The utility companies have not been keeping their infrastructure sound. Wind, even high wind, should not cause wildfires all by itself. Powerlines should not fall down and spark fires. Trump made it a campaign promise to sponsor infrastructure development, and so far, he has done nothing, or possibly less than nothing.

We are stagnant in this country. Our roads are crumbling. Our bridges are rusting away. Our airports are reminiscent of dystopian movies. If you don’t believe me, fly into Newark or LaGuardia sometime. We have no high-speed rail system. There is no direct rail connection to some of our major airports, like JFK or LAX.

And our power grid in California no longer works when the wind blows. California’s government is misguided, and it has its priorities confused. As Holman W. Jenkins Jr. puts it so aptly in his Opinion column in the Wall Street Journal of October 30, 2019:

Elites subsidize electric cars for themselves while promoting zoning that forces low-income workers to commute three hours to a job or live in their cars. PG&E can’t keep trees off its power lines, but it can supply exact numbers for how many LGBTQ workers it employs.

 

 

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Apparently Trump’s campaign thinks I am a Republican, so it keeps sending me requests for money. They are always accompanied by surveys. Please note, I am not a Republican, but I am also not a Democrat. That does not mean I haven’t voted all Democrat in 2016 and 2018. I usually vote for the character, not the party. But I digress. Here is the survey I received a few days ago.

Check out the questions in the red box (my highlight). It says I should indicate how “important each is to me” by checking Moderately, Strongly or Uncertain. For ease of your reading, I will list the questions here again:

  • Stop Illegal Immigration
  • Protect Our Borders
  • Stop Socialized Medicine
  • Keep Fighting Unfair Trade Practices
  • Continue Appointing Pro-Constitution Judges
  • Keep Taxes Low
  • Always Keep America’s Interest And Security the First Priority

At first look, it’s a list every thinking American should check “Strongly” for all of them. Of course nobody thinks it’s a good idea to have illegal immigration, and we have been wanting to stop it forever. And yes, we need to protect our borders. Every country does. I am not sure I ever met an American who thinks it’s a good idea to have no borders.

Stop socialized medicine is a weird statement. What is socialized medicine. Just today I spent four hours in an emergency room accompanying my sister from overseas who needed urgent care. I watched an endless stream of humanity coming through the doors. Screaming babies. Construction workers with bleeding faces, people limping in on crutches. People with bandaged arms. People with face masks. All were processed, all were treated. I am sure most will get a substantial bill. And I am also sure some won’t be able to pay. But all got help. Does “stop socialized medicine” mean that we have guards at the door keeping out the man with the bleeding face because he does not have an American Express card in his wallet? What is the solution for that? I don’t want to “stop any medicine” but I do think we should have a medical insurance system that does not result in my bankruptcy if I happen to get broadsided in my Prius by an uninsured driver in a pickup truck. I want to make sure I can be hauled through those doors and somebody will set my bones and stop the bleeding and give me IVs so I have a chance to heal and live.

Trump wants to know how important it is to keep fighting unfair trade practices. Hell, yes. It’s important. Unfortunately, I am not at all convinced that Trump knows anything about trade or the economy in general. The stock market has flattened out in the last year. The deficit is now a trillion dollars a year. The deficit and debt have increased in every one of Trump’s three years and the debt is now higher than ever. This is the man who said “I will pay off the federal debt in eight years.” He has done exactly the opposite. We are drowning in debt, both personal and public. The “fiscally responsible” Republicans who screamed about the debt ceiling raises by Obama every year don’t even talk about it anymore now. Trump is running the country like his casinos, and many of them went bankrupt. The economy is important to me, but I don’t think Trump knows what he is doing at all.

Obviously, “Pro-Constitution” Judges is a euphemism. Every sane American will want Pro-Constitution Judges. There needs to be a definition what Pro-Constitution even means.

I want to keep taxes low. But I think that raising the deficit by 26% alone this year so our richest of the richest can keep more of their money does not make sense. How the Republicans were able to convince a majority of this country, mostly working people who live paycheck to paycheck and have no idea what it’s like to have a million dollars in the bank to go along with this is beyond me. But go along they do. They have me baffled.

Trumps handling of Syria recently is, in my opinion, the complete opposite of “Keeping America’s Interest And Security the First Priority.” American soldiers overseas were put into harm’s way. After spending billions every month in the middle east, we just handed Syria to the Russians on a silver plate. I am dumbfounded.

Overall, these questions make no sense to me. Why bother? I suspect they put them there so make people feel better about sending in their money. Checking all those questions with Strongly does not say anything. There is no statistical value to these results even if they were tallied. I don’t think they are.

Trump must think we’re all dumb. Remember when he stated “I love the uneducated!” Go send Trump your money! Watch Trump’s campaign finance practices and observe where the money is going – then decide to write a check.

Why don’t you send a dollar to me while you’re at it? I promise I will put it to good use making America great again.

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Attorney General Barr [photo by Mark Thiessen / AP]

Attorney General Barr to Facebook: We need ‘lawful access’ to users’ digital messages to fight crime.

I say: Oh, no, you don’t, Mr. Barr!

The United States Justice Department wants “lawful access” to our private communications. This is 1984 stuff. This is Nazi SS tactics. This is Gestapo playbook.

Once the government can snoop, it can manipulate, and any one of us is completely exposed to the potential terror machine it might want to unleash.

And do not tell me that we don’t have rogue governments who are in it for their own enrichment and use organized crime tactics to get what they want and extort wealth from the citizenry.

You might call this “overreacting.” Read my lips:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

— Martin Niemöller, a Nazi dissident

Make no mistake about it, my friends. They are now coming for us.

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Germany’s president is Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The president of Germany is a largely ceremonial position, with the chancellor serving as the chief executive. In the U.S., our president serves as both. In Germany, these duties are spread over the two positions. At the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany, when the U.S. president made a serious faux pas by “congratulating” Poland and stating it was “a great country,” Steinmeier asserted at a ceremony:

I Affirm our Lasting Responsibility

— Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Germany did a lot of damage in the world during the last century and it still as an inferiority complex as a result to this day. Contrary to what the U.S. president currently often does when world affairs do not go right, namely blaming his predecessors, blaming his staffers and appointees, or blaming other nations and their leaders, the president of Germany took responsibility for the brutal and unprovoked attack on Poland on September 1, 1939 that started World War II.

Steinmeier and I have a few things in common. His mother was born in Breslau, which is in now a part of Poland and called Wrocław. She was a refugee after the war. My father was also born in Breslau, and he was a refugee. Steinmeier was born in 1956. I was born in 1956. When I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, World War II was ancient history to me. I only know the Germany of the economic miracle of the 1960s. Due to his age, the same would be true for Steinmeier. I am certainly not personally responsible for the atrocities committed by the people of Germany in World War II, even though my grandfather was a German soldier of low rank serving in the Wehrmacht during the war, and several of my uncles from the maternal side were reportedly members of the SS, even though I never had a chance to actually talk about this with them. It was not talked about then.

There are very few Germans alive today that were alive during World War II. Those who are still with us were children then. Nobody of any position of responsibility or authority is still alive. Nobody who has personally committed atrocities is still alive. And yet, the German president affirms the country’s lasting responsibility for damaging the Polish nation, resulting in the deaths of about six million Polish citizens, about a fifth of the country’s pre-war population, both by the occupation by Germany and then the Russians when they attacked from the eastern front. Six million Polish civilians were killed by war crimes, crimes against humanity and by starvation.

The U.S. president congratulates Poland for this.

The German president affirms his country’s lasting responsibility, even though he himself was born 17 years after the event.

Nations carry responsibility for their actions. The United States is currently responsible for millions of civilian deaths due to wars it started in Afghanistan and Iraq, which triggered conflicts all over the Middle East. That responsibility will remain with our nation. I wonder, in the year 2099, when a U.S. president, who is today not even alive yet, gives a memorial speech for the victims of these wars, whether he will exhibit the same sense of responsibility and grace for those victims?

Countries are bigger than people. They can do more good, and they can do more damage. Where does our country rate today? Will we be proud of our actions today come 2099?

 

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Freud is known for the following statement:

“America is a mistake, a gigantic mistake it is true, but none the less a mistake.”

— Sigmund Freud

In his youth, we was reportedly enamored with all things America. He had the Declaration of Independence hung on a wall in his room. He had memorized Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and often recited it. But all that changed when he came to America one time. He never returned after his first visit.

He regarded Americans as poorly educated, uncultured, and backward, and he resented the fact that he had to take on more and more of them as patients in Vienna. He disliked the American system of consumption, and he didn’t respect American wealth and rich people.

He also had trouble with the egalitarianism we practice at America. People of all walks of life called him Sigmund, rather than Herr Dr. Freud or Dr. Freud. Most German speakers have a difficult time in America at first with the apparent familiarity and egalitarian social structure. They like their ranks and class distance as it is built into the language. They have trouble, at first, calling everyone “you” in the familiar form. In the English language, we address each other with you, no matter what the relationship is. We talk the same way to our doctors, our supervisors at work, the president of the country, teachers, relatives, parents, students, playmates, buddies and our dogs. Not so in German, French, Spanish, or Japanese, to name just a few major languages which differentiate the common address based on relationship and status.

Dr. Freud didn’t like the American way.

Is what we commonly call here “the greatest country in the world” really a mistake?

Let’s not ask Freud.

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Vons Supermarket: “Would you like to donate five dollars for people in need?”

Panda Express Chinese Diner: “Would you like to donate your change to Children’s Hospital?”

Carl’s Junior Fast Food Restaurant: “Would you like to donate a dollar to help veterans?”

My answer to each of them: “No.”

Not “No, Thank You.” Not “I have already donated.” Just “No.”

I have no problem with charity for people in need, for sick children, and for veterans. But I have a problem with retail organizations hustling money from their customers, who, in the majority of cases, cannot afford those donation and probably need help themselves. I have always said simply “No” not because I don’t have the money to give, but because I do not believe in the principles applied.

In the case of Vons, who are “people in need?” How do I know my five dollars go there? Who are they accountable to? Where do they determine who is in need, and how?

In each of those cases, they prey on the person in line being embarrassed about saying “No.” Others standing behind or next to them in line can hear the conversation. People will say “Yes” just to get past the embarrassing moment. The young man in front of me at Vons was with his girlfriend. They bought just a few things. He donated more money to “people in need” than his total purchase value, just because he didn’t want to look like a miser in front of his girlfriend.

Why does our healthcare system need to beg for money for the Children’s Hospital in restaurants? Can’t we have a system that pays adequately for healthcare for children?

And what about or veterans? I believe the government that sends our young men and women overseas to get maimed and emotionally crippled owes those people adequate and quality healthcare. We should not need to beg for money in fast food lines for our veterans. Our politicians talk about how fine our military is, and we honor our service men and women by thanking them when we see them at the airport. But when they come back with limbs missing or drug addicted, we discard them. And we can’t figure out how to pay for their healthcare. That is – to me – repulsive.

I resent that we resort to collecting money for their care from those that can least afford it – people eating in fast food places. Our president has spent over $100 million of taxpayer money on golf vacations in just two years, and we beg customers in Carl’s Junior for money for veterans!

Screwed up, we are.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, the King of Thailand:

The King of Thailand – [click to enlarge]

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn was officially crowned last week. The coronation represents the renewal of the monarchy’s power after the death of the king’s father in October 2016. The new king placed the crown on his own head. In Thailand, kings are regarded as almost divine. Like kings before him, Vajiralongkorn is protected by one the world’s strictest lese majeste laws, which make criticism of the king and other royals punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

It turns out, I published a post about the king in October 2016 in this blog. You want to check this out, as it contains some pictures and videos of the king and his consorts that are not very flattering. I just have to make sure that I don’t travel to Thailand now, lest I get arrested at the port of entry and thrown in a Thai prison for 15 years for being critical.

I am fortunate that I am protected as a citizen in a country that cherishes free speech and allows the people to criticize their leaders – at least that’s what it’s been up to this day and age.

 

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With all the press we are now getting about the devastating results of the fire at Notre Dame, I have been thinking more about cathedrals and why they inspire us so. More than 10 years ago I wrote a post about the Cologne Cathedral and the awe I have of it – religious building or not – and what the building of a cathedral meant – and today means – to mankind.

Here is that old post about the Cologne Cathedral – der Kölner Dom

If you have any interest in learning more about the building of cathedrals in medieval times, you might want to read Follett’s series of books starting with Pillars of the Earth. It takes you right into the world and the hearts of the people that built these structures.

And I remain in awe.

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You can judge the character of a person by what the person spends his or her money on.

You can judge the character of a nation the same way.

Our military budget is larger than that of the next 10 nations COMBINED.

The U.S. military is planning on buying a total 2,443 F-35 jets. Since the pricing of each jet is not clear, because they are sold in “batches” where the costs of development are sometimes wrapped into the planes, I find it difficult to figure out how much individual planes actually cost. I have come up with up to $200 million each, but on the low end around $100 million each (source).

Let’s say we’re on the low end at $100 million for each plane.

Trump and DeVos just suggested we cut the entire budget of the Special Olympics – about $17 million a year. We know Trump caved after the public outrage that announcement created. Two billionaires, two kleptocrats, trying to take the Special Olympics out of the government’s budget – in our name!

Let me suggest the following:

I don’t think we need 2,443 F-35 jets. I think 2,442 will do just fine. And we’ll take the $100 million we saved and fund the Special Olympics for about six years straight.

We can live with one less F-35, right?

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When you elect a clown, expect a circus.

The Ukraine is suffering from massive corruption at the top of the government. After Paul Manafort’s protector in the Ukraine was ousted, near-billionaire Petro Poroshenko took over. Most of the candidates for the upcoming election are oligarchs. The voters don’t like it.

41-year-old television comic Volodymyr Zelenskiy is the host of a show called Servant of the People. He makes fun of the political elite. Ukraine is a large country with a lot of resources, great agricultural potential and a highly educated population of 42 million. They are not happy, and the comedian is the front-runner in the election.

Sounds familiar?

Steven Colbert for President!

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This is really hard to watch.

Watch!

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  • The stock market is tanking.
  • GM is shutting down plants.
  • We have no White House Chief of Staff.
  • We have no long-term Secretary of Defense.
  • We have no Attorney General.
  • The president and Congress are shutting down the federal government today.

Happy longest night of the year.

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Hillary Clinton, when you go to prison for defrauding American and perjury, your room and board will be free!

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Trump, and now Nikki Haley, are telling us that “the world” respects the United States and Trump. America is “respected again.”

That’s baloney.

Here is a chart that shows confidence that the U.S. president will do the “right thing” regarding world affairs. The countries shown are Spain, France, Germany and the U.K.

Clearly, Obama was respected, and Trump is lower than Bush. It says nothing about how Americans feel, or what’s good for America. It says something about how other countries “respect” the American president. This must irk Trump, to whom it matters so much what others think. This is probably why he denigrates Obama so much. He is obsessed with Obama and does not understand why he cannot garner the same respect and admiration.

Respect must be earned. It can’t be gained by making outrageous – and false – claims.

Trump lives is a world of his own wishful thinking.

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[click to enlarge – you must]

The picture above shows Alex Honnold, the world’s most awesome rock climber, with El Capitan in the background, the world’s most awesome big wall.

All my life I was an avid hiker and mountaineer, but rock climbing has always scared me. I could never understand what possessed people to climb vertical walls. I was paralyzed by fear just thinking about it.

Then, at the age of 36, I bought shoes, a harness, a few carabiners, a chalk bag, and signed up for a class in technical rock climbing. I learned how to build anchors, to rappel, to belay and to climb.

Once you get off the ground just six feet on a vertical wall, and you look down, it looks far, and it is potentially deadly. You don’t need to go very high to forget all petty thoughts, all worldly problems or issues. You leave the entire “gross national product world” behind, and you focus on what really matters – the next foot or handhold.

Before making that reach, letting go with one hand to reach up to the next handhold, switching from four-point contact with the wall to a temporary three-point contact, you think about your harness and whether you remembered to double-back the buckle properly, you can’t remember if you locked the carabiner that ties into the rope. Could it have a hairline crack? You look down and check your figure-eight knot and make sure it’s done right. How old is that rope anyway? How about the anchor? Is it really going to hold if I fall?

Panic sets in. Hands start slipping. Time to make the reach. Go! Reach!

Whew. It worked. Next step.

Your mind is singly focused on nothing but you, your equipment and the wall.

I probably haven’t been on a rock wall 20 years now, but I still have a passion for the sport, and I have followed the career of Alex Honnold over the years. I have written about him a few times. Here is an example: Look, Ma, no Rope!

In June of 2017, Honnold finally completed his lifelong dream of doing something nobody has ever done before in the history of climbing: free soloing El Capitan, the hardest, most bad-ass big wall in the world. This put Alex on the pinnacle of the climbing world. This feat is celebrated as one of the greatest athletic achievements of any kind, and it sets an impossible standard: Perform perfectly, without a single mistake, for a 3,000 foot climb, or die. It stretches our understanding and appreciation of the human spirit and the power of mental concentration.

The movie is masterfully done. It chronicles Honnold’s life, and it builds the tension, so when we finally watch the climb itself, we are prepared for the various tight spots and challenges, and we sit at the edge of our seat. It is, in the truest sense of the word, a cliffhanger.

My palms started to sweat at the beginning of the movie, and my hands did not dry up until the closing credits played.

Free solo is a documentary you really, really should watch!

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