A Plausible Solution for Social Security

Friends, Roamers, and Countrypersons, I have stumbled upon the solution to save Social Security. No new taxes. No benefit reductions for United State seniors. A solution so simple, so elegant, that we’ll have wondered why we haven’t thought of it before.

Expel Florida from the United States of America.

Florida has a large number of people who undoubtedly draw Social Security benefits. If only we would throw them out of the U.S., placing armed troops at the Alabama and Georgia borders if needed, we could reduce the number of benefit collectors to workers paying into the system. The anachronistic New Deal payout could go on indefinitely, or at least until such time as we nation of Double Income, No Kids start retiring.

Sorry to Frank J., you’ll have to shoot your way out.

Also, a personal note to the silver-and-bald gentlemen at the Palm Beach Gardens Gold’s Gym who were lifting multiples of their body weights on the smith machine: Gentlemen, you needn’t fear: I shall supplement your income with monthly checks, mailed direct, if you’ll promise not to beat the snot out of me when the U.S. State Department gives you a Thugs-Fly-Free visa.

Granted, throwing Florida out has some drawbacks. For instance, the boat people trying to reach South Carolina from West Palm Beach. We’d free up the resources that normally guard the long penninsula coastline, though, so we’d be all right on that. As an added bonus, no more addled people who foul up the election process. Aside from regular voters, that is.

Don’t thank me now, and don’t expect the media to run with this idea unless I can put some anti-Bush spin on it. Wait, I got it….One Less Bush In United States Government! Perfection! I have nothing more to say.

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Book Review: Freefall by William Hoffer and Marilyn Mona Hoffer (1989)

I brought this book along on my vacation as some light reading for the flight to Florida. The full title of this book is Freefall: From 41,000 Feet to Zero – a True Story. To make a long book short, on July 23, 1983, a 767 bound from Ottawa to Edmonton ran out of fuel in mid-flight. Somewhere east of Winnipeg, the engines just shut off at 41,000 feet. Fuel starvation, it’s called. But hey, without any explosive fuel, the passengers only had to contend with dropping from eight miles in the sky at 400+ miles an hour–no fireball needed!

Yes, I brought it and yes, I read it on the plane–a 757, thank you, not a deathtrap 767 like in the book. Some people read horror books about clown-looking serpent demons who come out of storm drains, but they’re pikers. You want real terror, put something at stake. Like your life aboard one of those damn contraptions while your read about a hideous plane disaster

You want to know why flying a plane is scary? Because a cascading system of simple failures can lead to disaster. Suppose you’ve got a fuel sensor, redundant of course with two channels, but instead of getting 5v to one channel, it’s getting .9v and the whole sensor blanks out instead of switching to the working channel, and then a mechanic discovers a work-around but the mechanic at the next airport disables the work-around, and the visor-wearing Quebecker fuel guy hand calculates the fuel in the tank by multiplying by the specific gravity of pounds (1.44) instead of kilograms (.8), and suddenly you’ve got 61 passengers and 8 crew watching personal in-flight movies of their lives on the backs of their eyelids.

I’ll admit, the book helped take the edge off of the flight. Its pacing is slow and non-suspenseless. It’s as though the authors took a Reader’s Digest Drama in Real Life and stretched it into two hundred plus pages. The authors manage to work in the biography of all of the crew, many of the passengers, some people in an unrelated nearby plane, and the complete history of the town of Gimli, Manitoba. The fluff, while adding depth to the book, really detracts from the suspense.

Without appropriate apprehensiveness from reading this book, I had to turn to Heather’s uncle in Florida, a former engineer for Pratt and Whitney, for tales of terror. Remember Des Moines? He does, and he can tell you in great detail what happens when a stress-fatigue crack sends a turbine blade through the control cables on the wing.

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Book Review: Bad Business by Robert B. Parker (2004)

As some of you know, I hold Robert B. Parker in the in the highest esteem. Of course I buy his books when they come out, whether they’re Sunny Randall or Jesse Stone, or especially when they’re Spenser novels.

This novel represents the best of the Spenser novels. For those of you who are not in the know, the Spenser character spawned the 1980s series Spenser: For Hire which starred Robert Urich. So they’re crime fiction. This piece finds Spenser working for a wealthy woman who wants to catch her husband in flagrante delecto for a divorce. The husband turns up dead in his office at a large energy-trading corporation while Spenser’s outside tailing, which Spenser cannot abide. Spenser finds himself with an onion to peel; each layer of sex, scandal, and big business leads to another. Red herrings abound. A tightly-crafted plot, and Spenser muddles through with some help from his friends.

Sure, Parker derives some from the Enron scandal and even some from his own previous work, but it’s a damn good read and a damn good thirtieth birthday present to the Spenser character and his fans. ‘Nuff said.

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These Cats Are So pwn3d

In a piece on Slate, the appropriately-named Jon Katz muses on the difference between calling people “pet owners” instead of “companion animal guardians.” The cookie quote:

My IDA packet contained a testimonial from a Michael Mountain of the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. “People of other genders, races and even age groups were once treated as property in this country,” Mountain wrote. “Now, it is time for ‘people’ of other species to be accorded the same simple dignity of being recognized, not as someone else’s property but as beings in their own right.”

Mountain couldn’t have made the point more dramatically—or offensively. I don’t care to jump in with a moral value system that equates my beloved border collies with human slaves. Nothing about this comparison helps animals. It distorts their true natures and diminishes ours.

I will be “guardian” to the fourteen four cats that live here when they start paying the guardian rate. Freeloading entitles you to possession status. Keep that in mind, brother, if you ever find yourself down on your luck and needing a place to crash.

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A Lemay Accent at the Wrong Time

St. Louis denizens will tell you about the peculiar South St. Louis (County) accent that adds terminal Rs to non-terminal syllables, which turn wash into warsh and toilet into torlet.

So as I was in Lemay this morning, speaking with an aunt, she mentioned coming out of retirement to earn a few extra dollars. “But I don’t want another orffice job,” she said.

We in your family salute your decision, dear. Be forewarned we shall remind you of this decision into the unforeseeable future to make sure your commitment remains.

Thank you, that is all.

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Incoming Clue! Everybody Down!

Special message to Roger K. Miller, a newspaperman for many years and a freelance writer who penned this book review in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for The Explainer, a collection from Slate.com. Mr. Miller, you finish your review with the following throw-away line:

  • Finally, the answer to one entry – “What Health Benefits Do Congressman Receive?” – raises another question that is, unfortunately, beyond the purview of the Explainer. Which is: Why don’t the rest of us have that?

Here’s your FREE CLUE!

The rest of us don’t get job benefits for jobs we don’t have. For instance, you don’t get my salary, my health and dental plan, my free, confidential counseling, my 401k match, nor my opportunity to participate in the employee stock purchase plan (ESPP). Hey, you don’t get invited to the Christmas party, either. You know why? Because you don’t work there!

I get your ill-placed point, though. The government should provide all benefits to all people, regardless of their employment situation, personal ability, or drive to succeed. That’s a nice story, Brody I notice you’ve stopped stuttering.

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Book Review: Time Flies by Bill Cosby (1987)

When I drove to Milwaukee, I listened to a couple of Bill Cosby CDS that were originally released as Bill Cosby LPs in the late 1960s, when Cosby was fresh from I-Spy and before he embarked on the Fat Albert thing and The Cosby Show. If you damn kids don’t know what an LP is, Google it. I enjoyed his warm storytelling style of humor and the easy chuckle-style amusement it brings, so I stopped by Downtown Books in Milwaukee and picked up a copy of Time Flies, a book written during the height of his Cosby Show celebrity.

The tone of the 30 year-old Cosby’s stories contrast with the book written by the 50-year-old Cosby; the book deals with Cosby turning 50, and he reminisces about his former glory as an athlete and talks about the loss of memory, physique, and other things that come while the eternal footman goes to the coat check room for you. The essays don’t mourn the loss with disappointment or rancor, but more a nostalgia. I liked the book and read it pretty quickly.

An interesting, extra poignant moment in the book is when Cosby compares his aging physique to that of his son, Ennis, as they play basketball together. The young reaching its prime, the older recognizing the fundamental shift and the nature of the cycle. Ten years later, the cycle was broken when Ennis died, but seventeen years ago, they played basketball together, and the father thought of his mortality while the son didn’t recognize his own.

Unfortunately, the publisher or someone has seen fit to include an introduction by Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D., that really detracts from the book as a whole. Before Cos can start, the doctor has started talking seriously about the prospect of aging and the fears faced by aging people (as opposed, I suppose, to dead people, who are very mellow indeed). We readers could have figured out Cosby’s overall message without some therapidiocy slathered onto the actual text before we read the text. Thanks, doctor, for getting me in touch with my inner senior.

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A Robert J. Samuelson column in the Washington Post about The Future of the Welfare State (registration required) triggered a thought. When Samuelson says:

But Europe relies heavily on a sales tax — the “value-added tax” — that, in theory, falls on consumption and not investment or work effort.

I think, you know, some people want to introduce a national sales tax, or consumption tax, in these United States to replace the income tax. I hadn’t given much thought to the stupidity of the consumption tax, but here’s my epiphany:

A consumption/sales tax rewards people like Scrooge McDuck who throw all their moneys into savings and vaults but don’t purchase things, which keeps the economy going. Of course, when Scrooge McDuck dies, the inheritance tax kicks in and the heirs get less than the sum of Scrooge’s savings, which they can save or spend (with applicable consumption taxation). Holy cow, Taxman!

Perhaps less taxes would spur the economies. But less taxes means less government dole, and how can one get elected with the latter?

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Via The Meatriarchy, we see government largesse funding an artiste who mocks religion:

How about a performance artist who:

“suspended himself naked, filled his mouth with his own blood and assumed the lotus position. In Liaison Inter-Urbain he dug a shallow grave, inserted a vial of blood into his anus and contorted himself so that the blood flowed into his mouth.”

I think governments should pay good cash money only to artists who pry out their own eyes with spoons and hang upside down from trees to gain true knowledge. Put that on my 1040 form; I’d check the box to depopulate artists who suck in more ways than one.

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Ya Think?

In an essay on CNet, Dan Schoenbaum states the obvious:

    Instead of exponentially increasing business productivity and allowing us to realize the full potential of our ever-faster and more powerful hardware, software consistently grows more complex, bloated, cumbersome and slow.

    It is no secret that the majority of IT initiatives fail. Software is hard to write, hard to understand, hard to deploy, hard to use, hard to manage, hard to maintain and increasingly hard to justify. We spend billions of dollars building, implementing, fixing and fighting with our software, and yet we demand little in return, meekly accepting that our investments come with no quality or performance guarantees.


    IT projects fail because we often approach the software development process with reckless abandon. We have thrown the proven engineering principles and processes that other disciplines adhere to right out the window. We are lax in planning, we have few standards and design principles.

The solution is to embrace the concept of total quality throughout the SDLC (software development lifecycle) and hold to the virtues of some other contemporary buzzwords and blah blah blah.

This gets written and discussed ad infinitum, but if ignoring it completely is what it takes to get one more sale in the current quarter, then those are the sacrifices with which we have to live.

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Ten Women in History Who Weren’t Important to Anyone But Modern Journalists

MSN has a bit on Ten Women Who Changed the World, and I didn’t realize it was getting to be chick history month again. Upon further review, perhaps it’s not, since MSN and its content partners iVilliage and/or Lifetime put their logos on this list of important women:

  • Amelia Earhart
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Betty Friedan
  • Shannon Faulkner
  • Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • Margaret Sanger
  • Elizabeth I
  • Mother Jones
  • Jackie Kennedy Onassis
  • Katherine Graham

:: cough, cough ::

Excuse me? That’s the best this particular person could scratch up for women who changed the world? An aviator, the wife of a president, the wife of a president and then the wife of an industrialist, the wife of an aviator, a college student, someone responsible for birth control promotion, a queen, an union organizer, a feminist academic, and a journalist?

This sounds more like Ten Women Who Made A Young Columnist Able to Do A Simple Job She Likes and Sleep with Whomever She Likes on Her Way To Marrying Well. This isn’t Ten Women Who Changed History. This is Ten Women Who Enabled Sex and the City.

The only members of the list with which I agree are Elizabeth and maybe, maybe Eleanor Roosevelt. But jeez, if you want to hit women who have changed world history, here’s a short list of world-wide (and now dead) heavy hitters from the top of my head:

  • Dido, the original, not the pop singer, you damn kids.
  • Elizabeth I, okay, she was tough.
  • Joan of Arc, kept the French from surrendering and speaking English.
  • Boadicea, who led a people.
  • Cleopatra, who ruled an empire.
  • Mother Theresa, who arguably helped a lot of people.
  • Susanna Rowson, who had the best-selling book in early America, until
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote an abolitionist novel that outsold it.

At least the writer of this piece didn’t pick Viola de Lesseps, for crying out loud.

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A Nickel’s Worth of Free Advice

The St. Louis Regional Commerce and Growth Association has commissioned a highly-paid professional to come up with some suggestions about improving the business environment in St. Louis, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The consultant offers a couple of suggestions as well as a couple of head pats for what this charming provincial little city on the frontier is doing right.

To summarize:

Those assets include affordable living, a renowned medical school and several unique cultural and historical amenities such as Forest Park, he said.

That’s the head pat. This metro area of two million people has cheap housing, a medical school, and “unique” amenities like Forest Park. That sounds more like Columbia, Missouri.

The biggest drawbacks?

  • Often, however, talented workers leave the region because its corporate culture stifles entrepreneurs and leaves little opportunity for up-and-coming, creative employees, Kotkin said.
  • But in order to compete effectively with cities like Kansas City and Minneapolis, the region must first address several obstacles, including “standoffish attitudes toward outsiders, as well as a legacy of racial divisiveness,” Kotkin said.

Uh huh. Neckties too tight, xenophobia, and racism. Platitudes, platitudes, and more platitudes for $75,000. I think I want to start a company called PlATTITUDES! and get in on this racket.

Here’s my nickel’s worth of free advice, St. Louis (and I address the city because no one else in the country understands the extreme difference between the city of St. Louis and the rest of us in St. Louis County):

  • Elevate the level of the elected officials in St. Louis. Let’s face it, if they’re peeing in trashcans during debates or pouring a pitcher of water on the adversaries as directed by the voices in your head, they’re not governing, and they’re only serving as trivial punchlines. This is what people from around the country see in your city.
  • Instead of world-class, tax-funded sports facilities for football, baseball, hockey, basketball, la crosse, volley ball, arena football, soccer, and tournament bridge, how about some world-class roads instead of the cheese graters you have downtown? I don’t have an off-road vehicle. And I don’t go downtown.
  • Hey, how about some tax cuts? I mean, I don’t live or work in the city because I don’t want to pay the one percent of vig the city taxes off of my earnings to pay for commissions that recommend world-class sports facilities and then paying for luxury boxes in said sports facilities for said commissions into perpetuity.
  • Hey, has the state removed the accreditation for your schools yet?

Hey, my advice’s free, and it’s better than the stuff assembled as a discussion of the $75,000 answer:

Some ideas already have been developed by a group of young professionals assembled by the RCGA to discuss the report. Those ideas include creating a system to welcome new workers to the area, devising a mentoring process to link executives with younger workers and establishing an annual entrepreneur contest.

That’s what you get when you assemble young professionals whose neckties are too tight.

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Keep Perspective

Via the Ranting Professor, I came across a bit in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (registration required, but go ahead and tell them you’re Bud Selig) about how the coastal upperclass media types view members of their audiences who are not from those silly little states across which you can drive in an hour.

Yummy bits:

Questions are not being asked. Meanings are not being interpreted. Certain neighborhoods are not being visited. Certain lives are not being explored in a meaningful way. And, through the prosecution of basic journalism, agendas are being set that do not reflect the way the other half, without the bulging 401ks, lives.

For instance, how many people on air or in print came from families that had walked a picket line? How many know how to bait a hook or gut a deer? (I’m bad at both.) How many have felt the economic insecurity that stalks the working poor? (And I’m not talking about the few weeks at college on the Ramen noodles diet.)

How many have had real experience with the criminal justice system, who have had home visits from social workers, who have scrambled to call the probation office, who know the awful taste of government cheese?

My feeling about the growing social distance was reinforced most personally during the investment of Wisconsin by the national press. I traveled with the Howard Dean camp, and there saw again how the elite media outlets employ people who, when they dip into smaller places away from Dupont Circle in Washington or the Lower East Side in New York, treat it as some sort of anthropological adventure.

It’s not just the media who do this; it’s any condescending person who thinks that New York, D.C., or Boston is the center of the whole universe, not just the condescender’s. By the same token, we must remember, too, that our Midwestern experience is not the end-all be-all, even if it’s down to earth and touch with physical reality. As individuals, we should keep some open minds toward all kinds of experience, even if it’s Ivy League education; just recognize that each experience offers perspective which might provide insight into different situations. It’s always a good idea to mix a cleric in with your fighters and magic user when you go dungeon-crawling.

And another point: USDA cheese doesn’t taste awful. It tastes like cheese.

Thank you, that is all.

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