Sunday, January 20, 2013

Solving the Public Debt Issue for Dummies

OK, everyone, please pay attention:

Raising the ceiling on our public debt is about paying bills already incurred.

By all means: Cut future spending. Raise future taxes. Do what Bill Clinton did to turn budget deficits into budget surpluses. It slows the increase of, then stops the growth of, and - eventually- reduces the size of the public debt.

Deficit budgets lead to burgeoning debt. They are solved by surplus budgets.

The public debt is a particularly stupid crow bar with which to try to pry future spending cuts out of the budget writers at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The cure (diminution of trust in the Full Faith and Credit of the U.S. government) is infinitely worse than the disease (a level of public debt that's about the same, as a percentage of GDP, as at the end of WWII).

Now, can we please talk about:

Things on the taxation side of the ledger like:

corporate welfare,
incentives to expatriate profits, and
special treatment for capital gains,


Things on the spending side of the ledger, like

earmarks for pet projects,
means-testing for public benefits allocated to people with incomes over $250K, and
legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana.

This stuff ain't brain surgery, folks.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Festivus and the Law

Here are pics below are from my local Festivus Pole

And here's a cool story about a Festivus display in Deerfield Beach, Florida..

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Friend, Don

Rock Hard Bagels is a fairly unusual rock band.  Six middle-aged guitar, bass, mandolin and occasional tambourine players, a twenty-something keyboardist who makes what we play sound approximately like music and, until now, an 80-something accordionist.

Like the Ramones (Joey Ramone, Dee-Dee Ramone, etc), despite being unrelated, we all took Bagel names.  I'm Sesame Bagel. The bass player, being a bass player, chose Bialy.

It seemed to me that Don, the accordion player, was a natural to be called "Poppy".  He was having none of it.  He chose "Sun-dried Tomato" Bagel. We enlisted the help of his daughter and eventually convinced him that "Sun-dried Tomato" wasn't a real bagel. So he became Cinnamon-Raisin Bagel.

For the last year-and-a-half, he and I, and a rotating cast of others, played a weekly SCRABBLE game (at least on weekends when we had no gig coming up and therefore no practice.)  He'd been given a terminal cancer diagnosis, and about four-six months to live. Quietly, but with a twinkle in his eye, he defied the actuarial tables for better than a year. 

He'd had careers as an actuary and, in "retirement," as a law student and then full-time volunteer poverty lawyer, so wry satisfaction at beating the grim reaper's odds and quiet defiance came naturally. 

We talked about politics, religion, philosphy, trivia, word origins and a million other topics. He could be sarcastic, but never caustic. He was a skeptic, but never a cynic. He was one of the best people I've ever met, and I'll miss him dreadfully.

But don't just take it from me.  Here's a link to his obituary and, of more significance, the article that was written about him a couple of years ago when he was named a Living Legend of Alexandria Virginia:.

This was shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer.  I was honored sit with Don and his family that night, and every time since.  As we left, he grinned and told me "It's gratifying to hear people say such nice things about you before you're dead." That was vintage Don.  It combined genuine appreciation with hard-won wisdom about human nature.

May his memory be for a blessing.


Friday, December 7, 2012


In the face of all the rotten stuff in the world, a friend commented yesterday that a lot dieties must be falling down on the job. I responded in a comment to the photo that led to the comment and realized I had the makings of an essay:

I believe in a Diety. But not one who's intimately involved in our daily lives as an actor. Philospohers and theologians call it Theodicy - the question of how a god who is good can permit evil in the world.

+Rabbi Harold Kushner, whose son died of progeria, wrote a book about When Bad Things Happen to Good People that addressed the problem this way: We're taught that G-d is Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnibenevolent. At the micro level (the death of his innocent son) and at the macro level (the Holocaust), these three attributes seem irreconcilable. He chooses to discard Omnipotence.

I'm oversimplifying here, but Kushner teaches that G-d weeps with us over the suffering of innocents, but that it's the price of G-d's creating a universe where intelligent beings are free to make moral choices. If we spent less on armaments (and ornate houses of worship) and more on fighting horrible diseases, fewer people would die of warfare AND of horrible deseases.

+Gordon Liddy, who is a remarkably good explainer of orthodox Catholic thought, and a hilarious radio talk-meister if you can stomach his love of ABBA, often calls G-d "The Uncaused First Cause" - a concept he learned as part of a good Jesuit education. G-d created our whole universe out of nothingness, a sure sign that G-d's not restricted by any power in that universe.

It winds up being a pretty close fit with Rabbi Kushner's formulation. Liddy's G-d chooses to restrict His own Omnipotence, where - I think - Kushner sees it as required by the logic of Creation, rather than by a conscious choice by an otherwise omnipotent diety, but they wind up in the same place, as a practical matter.

+I just finished reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Einstein. According to Isaacson, Einstein definitely did not believe in a personal, all-knowing, all-seeing parent figure of a god who rewarded good and punished evil. But he saw G-d in the fundamental laws of a reality that he spent a lifetime trying to describe with thought experiments and mathematical equations.

In the second half of his life, after he'd made the break-throughs which established the General Theory of Relativity and its cousin, the Special Theory of Relativity, he spent his time tring to refute the growing acceptance of quantum theory, because it encompassed Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, demanded paradoxes that defied causality, and left poor Schroedinger's cat-in-a-box in a perpetual state of neither death nor life, unless someone opened the box.

G-d does not play dice with the universe, he proclaimed.

+All of this informs my view and leads me to believe that no diety or dieties are falling down on the job. I don't see G-d in Hurricaine Sandy. I think the insurance company language that calls a hurricaine an "Act of God" is nearly blasphemous.

Where I see G-d is in the inspiration that leads first responders into harms way to help Sandy's victims. And in the outpouring of support neighbors bestow upon neighbors in a storm's aftermath.

And I don't see G-d in the ovens at Aushwitz. I see him in the inspiration that led Jehovah's witnesses - also in the camps, but treated slightly less harshly - divvying up their rations, risking the ire of the Nazis and their own nutritional well-being, in order to try to keep Jews from starving until the deliverence they prayed for arrived. .

Friday, June 22, 2012


I posted this picture of a friend on Facebook yesterday. It was at an event in our youth group days. You can see he’s quite literally passing a torch (or at least some fire) to me at an Installation Dinner near the end of his senior year. It was near the end of my junior year.

We’d wound up President and Vice President of the smaller of two B'nai B'rith Youth Organization chapters in town after an unpleasant bit of teen-age high drama. It had left us on the outs with several guys we’d been friends with in the larger chapter. A very wise regional director suggested it might be a good thing, for all of us, if Slim and I moved to the smaller chapter, which was close to folding, and try to resuscitate it. I jumped at the challenge and the opportunity to put some distance between me and some guys I was pissed at.

Slim bought into the challenge part but, looking back, I realize the distance-putting wasn’t so important to him.

Anyway, this installation dinner picture was him lighting a candle, then lighting my candle with it, signifying that he was graduating and I was becoming President.. A few days later, he told me he’d scored tickets to a Bob Dylan concert by sleeping out at the War Memorial arena the night before. He offered me to sell me a ticket. I was bummed because I’d be out of town on the night of the concert.

I asked if he’d gone downtown overnight alone. It was the sort of exploit he’d have that would have scared the dickens out of me. He always came back from that sort of thing with new friends. But this time, I found, he’d slept out with the two guys I was angriest at from our first chapter. I’d thought (or assumed maybe) that he was still just as angry. He wasn’t.

“C’mon David,” he’d said to me. “They’re ok guys.” He said a little bit more about it not being worth holding a grudge and when he saw it was falling on deaf ears he stopped trying to convince a pebble to fly.

I knew he was taking the better, not to mention nicer, course. But I couldn’t find it in me to do the same.

He did the right thing.

Just a short time later, he was gone. He died one day short of his high school graduation --- in a stupid, random accident. He’s always lived on in the hearts of those of us who loved him. Including the two guys I wouldn’t make up with.

Yup, he did the right thing. And taught me an important early lesson about both life and mortality.

Ever since, I mostly try not to hold grudges.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Watchya Been Up to, DiDC?

The 99% Declaration.

The points in the video are just a draft. I agree with some and not with others. I hope to be in Philly, on the Fourth of July to celebrate the final Declaration.

Check it out

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rocket Scientists Do Stand-Up Comedy?

Michel forwards funny stuff:

"If I could remember the names of all these particles, I'd be a botanist."
— Albert Einstein

"Torture numbers, and they'll confess to anything."
— Greg Easterbrook

"If your result needs a statistician then you should design a better experiment."
— Ernest Rutherford

"No one should approach the temple of science with the soul of a money changer."
— Thomas Browne (1605-82), English physician and writer

"Should we force science down the throats of those that have no taste for it? Is it our duty to drag them kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century ? I am afraid that it is."— George Porter (1920- ), British chemist

And file these last two under: I guess someone who built both Hitler's guided missiles and America's moon rockets would need a sense of humor, just to live with himself:

"Crash programs fail because they are based on theory that, with nine women pregnant, you can get a baby in a month."
— Wernher von Braun

"We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming."
— Werner von Braun

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Jew" and Google

The recurring issue of what pops up in a google search for the word "Jew" resurfaced on an email list I frequent. The perennial proposal of a petition to, or boycott of, google was broached. I think that's dumb. Here's a version of what I wrote:

The google algorhythms work (at least in part) based on how many unique visitors a site gets, using a specific search term. The magic word here is Jew.

Many of us shy away from “Jew” because, in the past, it’s been used as a derogatory verb, i.e. to jew somebody down from a fairer price. And even as a noun, "Jew," said with a particular Southern, western, or redneck twang, almost a two-syllabled “Jee-oo”, we’ve heard as code for “kike” or “hebe” or what have you.

The solution here is for all the people who are comfortable with the words Jewish and Judaism to get equally comfortable with Jew, and put it in their writing on websites, especially about Jewish substance. I do it in speech, as well. I’m much more likely to say “I am a Jew” than “I am Jewish”, although I use both phrases. But it helps reclaim the word from bigots, especially among our non-bigoted neighbors.

It’s my version of the “Black is Beautiful” linguistic jiu-jitsu that worked such wonderful magic in the 60’s and 70’s.

Try this experiment. Try three google searches. One for Jew, one for Jewish, and one for Judaism. Check out the differences in what appears at the tops of the pages.

Right now (these things change):

Jew: Jew Watch is the #2 result
Jewish: It’s not on the first page of results
Judaism: It’s not on the first page of results.

Petitioning google or threatenng to boycott the search engine, as I've heard suggested, is NOT the answer. Justice Brandies put it best, in opining on the 1st Amendment and virulent speech: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant” See

The cure for bad speech is more speech. See

Outside of “fire in a movie house”, troop movements in war time, and a very, very, very limited exception for actual incitement to violence and what the law calls “fighting words,” restraining speech is a bad idea. Rebutting speech makes more sense, both ethically and as a practical matter.

Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising. Everyone tries the thing and never buys it again.- Jerry della Femina