Robert's Random Ravings

Hillary Clinton – What could have been

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

I am very happy so far with President Obama. I did vote for him in November, but he was not my first choice for President. That would be Hillary Clinton. It is a shame in a way that she did not get the chance to be the Democratic Candidate for President. She kind of got caught up in the sea of change that swept the United States; at least the desire for change. After 8 years of her husband and 8 years of George Bush, I can understand that many people wanted something new – someone whose name did not end with Bush or Clinton. But I think that, in a way, this is a real shame for our country, as well as a lost opportunity.

Barack Obama will probably be much better than George Bush was, but that is not very high of a bar, in my opinion. I disagree with almost every major decision that Bush made over the last 8 years and am very happy to see him gone.

However, I think that Hillary might have been the best candidate for the job. She has much more experience than Obama. She is familiar with life in the White House. She also knows what it is like to be on Capitol Hill. She is a brilliant woman who has lots of good ideas.

Hopefully she will be able to contribute to the Presidency of Obama as our Secretary of State. It probably will end up being a good fit for her, as her area of most expertise is foreign affairs.

What’s done is done – I am not complaining about the election of President Obama. I am actually fairly happy so far with him. I just wonder if it might not have been better for him to grow his experience in the Senate another 4 or 8 years and then make his run for President. We shall see!

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02/22/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Common Courtesy

An interesting thing has been happening around America as the years have gone on. We have gotten less and less friendly to our neighbors and the people we live with. In fact, it seems that many people have become more isolated. One of the symptoms of this is the fact that many people act as if they are the only person in the world. Take the people that are driving, for example, on a highway and are unsure of where they need to go. So what do they do? They slow down and try to “hedge” their bets by being in more than one lane at the same time. That way, once they do figure out where they are supposed to be going, they won’t have to contend with someone else blocking their way.

Or the people that miss their exit on the highway and feel that it is therefore OK to pull to the shoulder and back up to their exit, as opposed to going to the next exit and circling back.

How about the people that walk into a store and stop immediately when they get to the door because they are not sure where they want to go, so therefore no one else should be able to move until they make their decision.

Common courtesy has gone by the wayside in our culture now.

Texting and usage of cell phones is another example. If I am on the street and need to read a text message (or write one), I try to move out of the way and to the side so that I do not inconvenience anyone else. This is not the common way of handling this situation. Most people think nothing of stopping in the middle of the sidewalk and blocking everyone around them, as long as they can do what they need to do.

Or how about when people are talking on a cell phone in a public place. Say a restaurant. When I get a call at a restaurant, I do one of two things. Either I tell the person that I cannot talk (or just ignore the call and let it go to voicemail) or I go outside of the restaurant so that I will not bother other people with my conversation. Again, I think this is just common courtesy, but I would dare say that many people don’t operate that way.

We have lost a step or two over the years in the way we interact with each other, particularly in our large cities. This is one of the first things I noticed when I left Miami and moved to Austin. People were friendly. They were genuinely interested in each other. It was such a pleasant change of pace from what I grew up with in Miami, where it seems that nobody gets along with anyone else.

I think we should all take a moment to reflect on our behavior and to the effect we have on others. It’s not too late to change. Rodney King famously said (after the Los Angeles riots in 1992): “can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?…It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything.” It’s a simple statement, but it has the ring of wisdom.

02/21/2009 Posted by | General | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reach For The Sky

I am not an architect (perhaps I should have been), but I am a big fan of architecture. The styles of buildings that I like run the whole gamut of architecture. From Gothic to Modern; Neo-Classical to Federalist; Arts & Crafts to Frank Lloyd Wright. Frankly, there are probably few styles of building that I would say to you that I don’t like (though I am not the biggest fan of the modern style of housing that came around towards the end of the 20th century).

One particular type of building that has always fascinated me is the skyscraper. They are wonders in engineering and I often wonder what keeps them standing – why don’t they fall over? I am often amazed and awed by a beautiful building that reaches up into the sky and I think of the story in the Bible of the Tower of Babel. The people wanted to build a building that would reach the heavens. Of course, the Biblical account ends with them all suddenly speaking different languages and thus being unable to communicate with each other and finish the tower.

Fortunately, that has not been the case in the Modern World.

When I visit a city that has skyscrapers (and I have of course been to many such cities), I like to find out if the tallest of those buildings has an observatory. Many of them do, and going to these observatories usually provides an unparalleled, panoramic view of the city.

As such, I have been on top of 4 of the five tallest buildings in the US (as of the time of the 9/11 attacks):

    World Trade Center - NY

    World Trade Center - NY

  • The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center – New York. I went to the observatory at the top every time I was in New York up until the terrorists knocked them down. These towers were always a treat. On a clear day, you would be able to see from lower Manhattan into New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. The Towers provided an absolutely gorgeous view of the Manhattan skyline from a perspective that is so unlike seeing the same skyline from street level.
  • Sears Tower - Chicago

    Sears Tower - Chicago

  • The Sears Tower – Chicago. This is another real treat. Located in the Southern part of the Loop, this tower also gives you a view into a number of states on a clear day, including Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. Also, there used to be a wonderful Mexican Restaurant here called Su Casa. I don’t know if it is still there. Their food was really good.
  • Empire State Building

    Empire State Building

  • The Empire State Building – New York. I never started going there until the Twin Towers were no longer an option. The view is similar to that of the Twin Towers, but in my opinion, it is not quite as nice. Now, though, it is probably the best skyscraper view of New York. (The Top of the Rock recently opened at the Rockefeller Center. I have not yet had the opportunity to go to this observation deck, so I do not yet know how it compares.)
  • John Hancock Tower - Chicago

    John Hancock Tower - Chicago

  • The John Hancock Tower – Chicago. I have seen fireworks go off underneath me from Navy Pier while at the observation deck, and I have eaten at the restaurant on the 95th floor, called, appropriately enough, the 95th. From here, you get an exquisite view of all of downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan. It is my favorite observation deck in Chicago.

Chicago is a very important city in terms of the development of the skyscraper. The Chicago Architectural Foundation has several very interesting skyscraper tours, which makes sense because Chicago was basically the birthplace of the skyscraper.

The first one I would do is the Historic Skyscrapers Tour. This tour gives you a background on the development of the Skyscraper and the innovations that made them possible (such as elevators).

Then you could try the Modern Skyscrapers Tour, which shows you about later developments and styles in skyscraper construction.

They are both fascinating tours that I would highly recommend!

Of course, the United States is no longer a world leader when it comes to the tallest buildings in the world. There are cities that I want to visit just so that I can go see some of the wonders.

Petronas Towers - Kuala Lumpur

Petronas Towers - Kuala Lumpur

For example:

Skyscrapers of the World

Skyscrapers of the World

To see a list of the currently built tallest buildings, click here.

Chicago Spire

Chicago Spire


There are some pretty amazing buildings going up around the world, as well. At the site of the World Trade Center is the Freedom Tower, which is supposed to be 1776 feet tall when completed (the old towers were 1350 feet tall). In Chicago, Donald Trump is finishing up a tower which will be about 1170 feet, making it the second tallest building in Chicago. Another building going up in Chicago is the Chicago Spire (also known as the Fordham Spire). The original plan by Santiago Calatrava (who is an AMAZING architect) called for it to be 2000 feet tall, which would make it the tallest building in the US, and one of the tallest in the world. Construction has begun, but the economic downturn in the US is affecting getting the building finished. In fact, it apparently has been halted for now.

In China, several buildings are being built or are just about finished (such as the Shanghai World Financial Center in Shanghai and the International Commerce Center in Hong Kong). A mega-tower is being built in Moscow as well (called Federation Tower).

Finally, two immense projects are underway on the Arabian Peninsula. One of them is the Burj Dubai in Dubai, UAE. Noone knows for sure how tall this building will be. They want to keep it secret so someone else does not beat them out right away. For now, it is planned to be 818 meters, or over 2650 feet tall. That is just incredible.

Another project being built is in Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It is called the Abraj Al Bait Towers . It is slated to be finished in 2010 and will be 595 meters tall (around 1950 feet). It will be the biggest building by mass in the world. It is located across the street from the holiest site in Islam. I am amazed that the Saudis built this in that spot. Oh well.

That is a short tour of some of the most spectacular skyscrapers in the US and the rest of the world.

02/18/2009 Posted by | General | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Politics of Greed

With all of the economic disaster of the last year or so, it is painfully obvious that there is something very wrong with our system. We have a system that is geared to making the rich richer. Sure we offer up the hope for the “average Joe” to “hit it big,” but an old adage rings true most of the time: “You have to have money to make money.”

So is this the right way to do things? Is it fair that people like Bernie Madoff, who swindled (“allegedly”) upwards of $50 billion gets to live at home in his Manhattan penthouse while awaiting whatever “justice” will be handed to him? Would a poor person be given the same treatment?

Or how about all of these Cabinet appointees of President Obama that have not paid their taxes? They get a slap on the wrist, pay their fine, and continue on as if nothing happened. What do you think would happen to the average American if the IRS discovered that they had failed to pay $120,000 in taxes? Remember that tax evasion was how Al Capone was caught.

Capitalism is a fairly simple principle – leave the free market to sort things out. It’s a nice theory, but put into play, it does not work. It is classic strong vs. weak (good vs. evil???) bullying. The ones that are on top try to bully the ones below them, push them out of business, or just buy them out of competition.

That is why we have all of these laws regarding monopolies and other economic situations – to try to level out the playing field a little. Obviously, we have seen that it does not work. When unregulated industries cheat and defraud the American public of literally trillions of dollars, it proves that pure capitalism does not work.

When the idea of derivative securities began to get traction (i.e. packaging a group of mortgages and selling them off to spread the risk), some people saw a great opportunity. And there probably were some good parts to this. But the end effect was to allow loaning far beyond the traditional amount sustainable. When this process got de-regulated, it was like putting the bull in the china shop. When the money is pouring in, the last thing people are worried about is scaling back. So the schemes got bigger and bigger while their foundation got stretched farther and farther. This is obviously a simplification of the process, but hopefully you get the idea.

Many people like to throw out the word “socialism” as if it is a dirty word. Well, the truth is that we are partly socialist. The government takes responsibility away from the free market (such as with Social Security) for some basic necessities. In a true market economy, there would be no government “interference” at all. This is what President Bush was proposing when he wanted to privatize Social Security and allow people to make their own investments. Imagine of that had actually happened? With the fall of the stock market, I have heard figures thrown around of nearly $3 trillion of retirement funds being wiped out. This happened in a relatively short time too. Within a year or so, people saw their portfolios disintegrate. Suddenly, retirement is not a viable option for a lot of people. Unfortunately, the same bad news was hitting businesses and Americans started getting laid off by the thousands, and then the hundreds of thousands. So retirement savings get wiped out and at the same time jobs get wiped out. Where do you turn?

In my opinion, all of this started with basic greed. We all want to make a better life for ourselves and our children. But what is the cost of this ideology? We have become a nation of entitlement. We “deserve” the best, and therefore will acquire goods, whether we can afford it or not. We also reward our biggest crooks, thereby perpetuating the cycle of greed and indifference.

I think we need to take a step back and stop worrying so much about riches and start thinking about each other. We need to remember that we are a community – not a business opportunity.

I believe that things will improve, but each of us has to do our part. We need to live within our means. We need to become active in our government and the policing of our government. We need to not let greed be our main motivation.

02/17/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Republican Party – What is it thinking?

I am beginning to get really disgusted with the way things are going on Capitol Hill now. The Republican Party is busy crying out against a power grab by the White House. They seem to think that President Obama wants to do an end-run around the Constitution and violate the law by having the Director of the Census Bureau report directly to the White House. This position reports to the Commerce Secretary. As anyone reading this may know, the nominee for Commerce Secretary, Republican Senator Judd Gregg, withdrew his nomination for the post, citing “irresolvable conflicts” between his ideology and that of the President.

Gregg was part of President Obama’s attempts to reach out across party lines and include Republicans in his Cabinet. But it seems that the Republican Party is more concerned with thwarting any and all efforts of the new President than it is in actually helping resolve the problem.

The idea of a Republican outcry against a Presidential “power grab” is so ironic. We have spent the last 8 years watching President Bush redefine the role of President and grab as much power as possible for the Executive Branch of the government. No one was crying out against the power grab then.

The Bush Administration inherited a country that was growing very rapidly. We were adding jobs by the hundreds of thousands. We had a budget surplus. Now we have lost over 3 million jobs in the last year, and had a budget deficit of more than $1 trillion last year. That is a number so large that most people probably cannot even conceive of it. I know that I can’t.

Reducing taxes is NOT the solution. Putting up roadblocks and crying that Obama is trying to turn us into a Socialist or Communist state is not the answer. The answer is working together. The answer is NEW ideas, not recycling old ones.

Get with it Congress. Get with it Republican Party. We, the people, are tired of your games, and tired of your vitriol. We want to live our lives in peace and harmony. We do not want to be told that “if you don’t do this, the result is catastrophe.” The economics of fear is so last century. We are in a time where we need hope, not fear. If you are not part of the solution, you need to get out of the way. Pointing out that something is wrong is not helpful unless you can help with a solution to the problem. President Obama is trying to solve problems that were not even of his making. Give him and his plans a chance. They certainly cannot leave us any worse off than the previous 8 year administration has.

02/13/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I love my dogs

Woo, Dorothy and Rex

Woo, Dorothy and Rex

I love dogs. I have three of them. I frankly love them more than people most of the time. Dogs are loyal. They (usually) don’t turn on you. They really don’t ask for so much from us either. A little attention from time to time. Food. A few walks a day so they can do their business. And the rest is all bonus. The love and affection is something that is hard to get anywhere else or from anything else. Cats are great – don’t get me wrong. In fact, I love basically all animals. But there is something very special about a dog.

I remember when I was growing up and my brother and I really wanted a pet. We had a kitten for a little while, but that did not work out. Then we had a German Shepherd that was the runt of the litter. Someone in our temple got it for us. Unfortunately, we did not know too much about caring for dogs, and also didn’t think about how that little bundle of joy and cuteness was going to get really big. So we had to give that one away too.

Claire and Rex

Claire and Rex


But as an adult, I finally got the chance to have a dog. When I moved in with my partner, he had a beautiful little Scottish Terrier (Scottie) named Claire. Claire and I became fast friends in no time at all. She was just an amazing dog and a delight to all (just ask anyone that ever knew her). My partner and I decided that it would be nice for Claire to have a companion so she would not be “alone.” That’s how we ended up with my Westhighland White Terrier (Westie), Rex. He, honestly, is the most beautiful, sweet, loving creature on four legs that G-d ever created! That, of course, is my unbiased, scientific opinion. We got Rex when he was just 8 weeks old. When we brought him home, I am not sure that Claire quite knew what to do with him. But that did not last long. The two of them became very good friends and enjoyed many years together.

Rex as a puppy

Rex as a puppy


In 2001, my partner and I moved to Austin, Texas (from Miami), of course bringing along Rex and Claire. When we first moved into our first house in Texas, our yard was all full of burrs and stickers. So every time we let the dogs out, we would have to comb out all of the burrs from their coats. Rex quickly got into the habit of jumping up on the table on the patio and patiently waiting for us to brush out his coat. It is amazing how quickly dogs adapt to change.

Claire and Rex (as a puppy)

Claire and Rex (as a puppy)

A little over a year after our move to Texas, Claire developed a brain tumor and within a few weeks of that diagnosis, we had to put her down. Let me tell you that having to do that is just devastating. I still can’t fully get out of my head the idea that I killed my own dog. It is a tough thing to go through. But we had to come to the realization that she was not a human being – she was an animal. She was in pain and was suffering. We could have attempted surgery, but it would have been dangerous for her, costly to us, and ultimately would not have gained her more than a year at the most. So we made the decision we made because we felt it was the best thing all around.

Woo

Woo

To help us get over the loss, we went to one of the local animal shelters and found a new dog to come live with us. His name is Woo, and he is still with us now. He is a precious little guy that apparently had some traumas wherever it is that he was before he got to the shelter. We have had him for almost 7 years now yet he has not completely gotten over some of it. He does not play with toys and prefers to be alone or just with his human companions. He doesn’t hate other dogs, he just is more of a loner.

Woo

Woo

About 4 years ago, we decided that we would like to have a third dog, and we wanted another Scottie. We contacted Scottie Rescue of San Antonio and got on a waiting list. One day we got the call that they had a Scottie for us. His name was Collin. So we packed up Rex and Woo and took them for a drive down to San Antonio to meet Collin so that we could see if they would get along. Woo was a little aloof, but Rex just loved Collin. So we decided that Collin would make a nice addition to our home and brought him home with us.

Rex and Collin

Rex and Collin

We did not really know at the time we adopted him that he was actually a very sick little boy. When we first took him home, he developed ehrlichia, which is a tick-borne disease that afflicts dogs. After a lot of time with the vet and pet hospital, Collin recovered from this episode and rejoined the family. Too say that he was a joy to be with is such an understatement. I don’t have kids, so I don’t know what that is like, but I do understand how it is possible to have three pets that you love in very different ways, yet still love equally. Collin was very special. I say was because our time with him was cut way too short when he developed an extremely rare condition that caused his lymph system to leak bile into his chest cavity. We did what we could for him, but once again, we do not believe in extreme measures for an animal. It would only postpone the inevitable and doesn’t do anything for them. So, like Claire, we ended up having to put Collin down.

Rex, Collin and Woo

Rex, Collin and Woo

Losing Claire was tough, but at least with her, we had been able to spend 11 wonderful years with her. Collin, on the other hand, was only with us for about 16 months. It has been several years since he passed and my partner and I still tear up when we think of him. I miss him terribly to this day. But I thank G-d that we had the opportunity, as short as it was, to have him as part of our family. I believe that he was very happy with us. And I know that we were totally and completely smitten with him.

After that, we thought that the pain was too raw for us to go and look for another dog to replace Collin. That lasted about a month before we started talking about going and getting another dog. The hole in our hearts was just too big for us not to do so. So we went back to the shelter where we got Woo.

Dorothy

Dorothy

That is when we met Dorothy, a 7 pound bundle of energy that now completes our household. She is probably part Yorkie and possible part Scottie or Papillon or some other terrier, though these things are hard to tell. She is a little pistol, that one. It is the smallest dog I have ever had, but she is just so much fun. And the other two dogs absolutely love her, to the point where they let her literally walk all over them. It is actually kind of funny to watch the interaction between the three of them.

So that is the story of me and my dogs!

02/11/2009 Posted by | General | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Congress – the height of ineptitude

Millions of Americans are suffering. Hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs every month. Meanwhile, the 435 members of the House of Representatives and the 100 members of the Senate don’t seem to have any sense of urgency when it comes to passing an economic stimulus package that will help our economy. After all, most of them are very well off economically. None of them have to worry about medical insurance or health care, because they all have it.

I am not naïve enough to think that the mere act of spending upwards of $1 trillion will solve our economic problems. But it seems to me that now is the time to think big and stop worrying about party politics and business as usual. The last 8 years have been a complete failure on so many levels, including economics. We have seen that tax cuts for the rich and trickle-down economics are not the answer. It is time to try something else. The American people made it very clear to Congress in November that we don’t like the way things have been going and we want to see change. What we do not want to see is voting strictly on party lines.

I was sickened and very disheartened with the vote in the House last week in which not one Republican felt they could support the economic stimulus. We need bold thinkers – people that will “think out of the box” and not just trot out all the tired old “remedies” and “tricks” that just simply do not work. Will our Congress start to understand that?

Maybe it is time that we started to enact some limitations on our congressmen and congresswomen. I have long been a proponent of term limits for Congress. If it works for the Office of President, why not apply it to the House and the Senate? Maybe if we stopped letting people stay in office indefinitely, they would start actually governing as opposed to spending all of their time trying to get re-elected. Politics should not be a profession. It should be service to the country. In its current form, it is nothing more than a stepping stone. Our government is supposed to be of the people and by the people. Yet the people in Congress cannot possibly relate to the majority of the population because they are really not “of us.” Sure they may start that way, but the power peddling is a corrupting influence on EVERY one of them. I don’t think anyone is free from the “taint” of special interests and this is just not the way it is supposed to be.

02/06/2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Super Bowl 43

Anyone that knows me at all will know that I am a passionate football fan. I have been a fan of the Miami Dolphins as long as I can remember. Unfortunately (for me) I am just young enough that I never got to experience the highs of the Dolphins in the early 1970’s, when they went to 3 consecutive Super Bowls, completed the only perfect NFL season on record and won 2 of those 3 Super Bowls. I did get to experience 2 Dolphin Super Bowls in the 80’s when Dan Marino was the quarterback (neither of which we won). Back then, us Dolfans thought we were going to get to the Super Bowl almost every year. Little did we know that the 1985 Super Bowl would mark the beginning of nearly a quarter of a century of frustration for Dolphins fans.

Dolphins history aside, I still enjoy the game even when my team is not the one playing. Watching the Super Bowl has become a major American tradition, with a TV audience numbering in the hundreds of millions. But for many years, the game was a bore. What has become more entertaining is the commercials. For anyone that either missed them the first time around or feels like watching them again, click here.

There were several that I particularly loved, but I think my favorites were the Pedigree commercial and the Doritos commercial with the crystal ball.

For the last few years, we have also been treated to a genuinely good game. Last year saw the shocker of a heavily favored 18-0 team (the New England Patriots) losing to the New York Giants, who lost 6 games in the regular season.

This year, the Arizona Cardinal made their first appearance in the Super Bowl, and only their second appearance in a championship in their entire history. They were heavy underdogs to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their number one ranked defense. Yet in spite of the overwhelming expectations, the Cardinals very nearly won the game, giving us fans an extremely exciting fourth quarter to the NFL’s 43rd Super Bowl. (To see the results of previous Super Bowls, click here).

The game that was played yesterday is the kind of game that a fan lives for. The Championship of the league should be a competitive game – it is supposedly the best team from each conference. I love when it is a good game – when you can be watching in the 4th quarter and still not know who will win.

So, thank you NFL for an exciting game. Thank you NBC for a pretty good broadcast. And thanks for the opportunity to spend a few hours thinking of something other than what a mess our economy is right now!

02/02/2009 Posted by | General | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment