Robert's Random Ravings

How serious are we about national debt?

This past election cycle saw a lot of talk about the need to reduce the federal budget deficit and the overall national debt. Of course, what we heard was mostly talk. We did not get a lot of specifics from either Democrats or Republicans. The Republicans published their Pledge to America. After reading it, I am left far from impressed.

The items that are addressed are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the $1 trillion dollar + budget deficit. Saving a few billion is not nearly enough. If our lawmakers are serious about reducing the debt and the deficit, real choices are going to have to be made.

The most obvious thing needed is to raise taxes. If we reduce the loopholes, enforce corporate taxation better and let the Bush tax cuts expire, it would make a significant dent in our annual deficit. Our current culture is vehemently anti-tax, however. So people want to continue spending more and bringing in less. I don’t think you need an MBA to know that this formula does not improve the deficit situation. That kind of thinking is what has left the State of California in such a fiscal mess.

Subsidies of various industries is another area that could be looked at. The amount of money spent to subsidize corn, sugar, energy exploration, and several other industries is obscene. We espouse a “free market” ideology, while at the same time we rig the market with artificial subsidies. Corn and sugar are probably the two biggest culprits. I realize that our farmers are very important and that they have to make a living. But it is not the job of the federal government to pay them. It always amazes me that the same people that yell about deregulation and free market also have their hands out collecting federal money. At the very least, the subsidies should be limited to families and not be used as handouts for large collectives (like Mansanto, etc.) I wonder just how much could be saved by the federal government if we re-evaluated the farm subsidies.

Another area that could use some reform is the “war on drugs.” It is a losing battle. The fight is not being won. Meanwhile, people are dying and hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on enforcement that is impractical at best, as well as the incarceration of so called criminals who then get to live on the taxpayer’s dime. This “war” has clear racial overtones and is wasteful, harmful, and ultimately, completely unsuccessful. If we were to legalize marijuana in the US, it would be quite a boon to everyone. It would bring in tax dollars. It would reduce law enforcement budgets significantly. It would lessen the significant overcrowding of our jails and our justice system. I think it is a win-win. The people that want to smoke are going to do so, whether it is legal or not. I am completely unconvinced about any real harm in the recreational use of pot. [Clearly – that is my opinion and others will think differently – but let’s at least have a legitimate conversation]

With the current group in power trying to extend the tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans (the same Americans that have bled the rest of us dry over the last few years in the economic disaster that hit most of the country) is bad policy. It is unjust – even immoral. We end up cutting programs to the people that are most in need so that the people that are least in need can have a higher stack of bills to roll around in.

I am not suggesting that we take a Robin Hood approach. Rich people deserve to enjoy the fruits of their labor. But that should not be at the expense of the ones that cannot afford it. They should pay their fair share. Their income and capital gains should be taxed without loopholes, just like it is for the rest of us. Corporation that do business in the United States should pay taxes on the income generated in the United States. Moving your offices to Bermuda to avoid taxation is a true travesty and perversion of corporate responsibility.

There are so many real things that our Congress can do to benefit all of us. It’s time that they started worrying about that more than getting re-elected.

I have no problem with Americans saying “throw the bums out.” It is our right. We express ourselves through the voting booth. I may be unhappy with the result of this past election, but I believe in our system. I wish more people participated – that’s for sure. I wish the disinformation campaigns were not allowed. I wish that people that put out and pay for political advertisements did not have the ability to do so anonymously. I wish that the Supreme Court had not opened the flood gates of corporate spending on elections. But this is the system we have and as we make mistakes, it is incumbent upon us and our leaders to correct them.

I suggest to everyone that they make themselves a part of the process. Write to, call or visit your congressional delegation. They should be interested in hearing from you. If they are not, maybe it is time to back someone else.

Most importantly, let’s engage in a serious debate – not a shrill shouting match. No one wins when we do that.

11/12/2010 Posted by | General, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Political Firestorms

We live in a “scandal of the day” culture now.  A lot of people complain about the relentless 24/7/365 news culture.  Just about everything gets taken out of context.  Much of the news is more like propaganda than news.  Spin is the name of the game.  Both major parties are to blame.  I like President Obama, but the unending “spin” from the White House is tiring.  Put the facts out there and let us make up our own minds.

I don’t care which side of the political spectrum you are on.  There are right-wing nut jobs as well as left-wing nut jobs.  Unfortunately, it seems that many of them are coming out of the woodwork now. People who hate the government spout off anything they want, convincing uninformed people of their conspiracies, and couching it in terms of “saving” the country.  (Anyone recall the “death panel” discussions?) What are we being saved from? Communism? Socialism? Government Interference in our lives? No one wants the government to interfere until they need it to interfere.

In addition, everything gets politicized.  The BP Oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster for ALL of us.  It is not a Democratic or Republican problem. It is an American, even global, problem.

I wish our “leaders” would spend a little more time trying to solve the nation’s problems and a lot less time trying to get re-elected.  No one has the guts anymore to stand up for what is needed, despite the political cost.  And with corporate lobbyists running amok on Capitol Hill and in our State Capitols, corporations are getting all the attention.  Why is it unfair for BP to have to pay for the damage it has done to the Gulf?  Anyone who thinks otherwise is out of their mind. (Joe Barton, I am talking to YOU!)  It is making them take responsibility for an almost comedic (if it weren’t so tragic)  series of mistakes, cost-cutting measures and downright incompetence.  We should not be apologizing to BP. BP should be worried more about cleaning up its mess than its image.

I am getting more and more disillusioned with our government.  I don’t feel like it gives a damn about me, so I understand the many other people that feel the same way.  But the way to fix that is not to throw out the whole thing.  We need to work on not allowing the almighty dollar to be the determinant in our daily lives.  There is nothing wrong with being successful and having money.  But where’s the compassion?  We can give tax breaks to oil companies and corn farmers and sugar farmers, but those that are truly in need get pushed farther and farther down.  This government should be for the people, not the corporations.  Despite what the Supreme Court says, a corporation is NOT a person and never will be.

Most of all, we should allow people to disagree with us.  A discussion does not need to turn into an argument.  We should be talking about the issues – both with people that agree with us and those that disagree with us.  If you never hear all points of view, how can you really think you are making an educated choice on anything?

07/27/2010 Posted by | General, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Daily Struggle

I often wonder, when I look at the people around me, what is really going on in their heads.  That is not meant to be a snarky comment.  See, I struggle with self-esteem issues and a monumental lack of any social grace.  I am also very reserved and even shy, though most people would probably be amazed to hear that.  I cover it up well, I guess.  But what people can never hear is the never-ending internal dialogue I have running through my head.  “You should have done this,” or “Why did you do that?” and such.

It’s a difficult battle.  You always are second guessing yourself.  Of course, sometimes other people are second guessing you as well, contributing to the feeling.

We think we know each other, but I would say that no one truly knows another human being.  We have filters, shields, defense mechanisms, etc. that we place between ourselves and others.  Some have trust issues too.  Some of us are paranoid (I am).

Perhaps, though, part of the problem is that we don’t really understand ourselves.  Our whole life is spent trying to figure out who we are.  We have so many outside influences giving us input on the subject.  Our parents try to teach us and shape us.  We have teachers at school and rabbis, priests or ministers at our various houses of worship.  All this and more shapes us and how we look at the world and at ourselves.

I had a good childhood.  I was not beaten, abused or anything like that.  But that does not mean that I don’t have “scars” from my childhood.  When I was very young, my parents became very religious.  I grew up in a strict environment that to some extent resulted in my being removed from some normal socialization.  For a long time, I was only allowed to “fraternize” with like-minded people, and there just weren’t that many around.  So I ended up being more introverted.

I have struggled ever since with difficulties in getting along with other people and with tact and grace in social settings.  I am not trying to blame my parents, so please do not misunderstand.  But we are products of our environment.

Sometimes that filter that belongs between what we think and what comes out of our mouths doesn’t work so well for me.  I also have a lot of trouble when it comes to not showing through body language or other cues what I am actually thinking.  It’s not that I want to lie – that is not what I am saying.  But I wish that I had more control over my body language at times.  I have worked on this and tried very hard, but it is a difficult, ongoing issue for me.  As a result, I tend to put people off and drive people away.  It is not what I mean to do, but it is what happens.  I don’t know if anyone else can relate to that.

I just hope that if anyone reads this that is dealing with similar issues, it might give them a little encouragement to know that they are not the only ones.

05/13/2010 Posted by | General | , , | 4 Comments

Aging (not so) gracefully

I don’t really know what has happened.  It seems like just yesterday I was 21 years old and my whole life was in front of me.  Now I find myself north of 40 and wondering where all the time went.  I’m not saying that I haven’t enjoyed my life – I definitely have.  However it seems that I went very suddenly from being young to being middle-aged.  All of you that have been through this – you know what I am talking about.

It is often said that when you are about to die, you see your whole life flash before your eyes.  Well – living through it seems to be about the same experience.

I had some big goals that I set for myself to accomplish before I turned 35. One of those was to speak 10 languages.  I didn’t make it (though I do speak and/or understand 5 or 6).

I also wanted to travel – to see the world.  That one I have certainly made a big dent in.  I have been to 5 continents (only Africa and Antarctica remain).  I have been to 44 of the 50 states, as well as about 15 foreign countries.

I had a dream, as well, to make a living as a musician.  That is one that I am still waiting for – not that it is a realistic goal at this point.

Of course, another area in which I hoped to make an impact was in computers and technology.  That one I have done reasonably well.  My brother and I started a software company and after about 4 years, sold it to a California company. That company then hired both of us as employees.  I worked for that company for an additional 7 years, until I decided to retire at the end of 2007.

So do the dreams and goals of our youth really mean anything?  Are we a failure if we have not fulfilled them later on in life?  I don’t think so because as young people, we really don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be when we get older.  We are constantly inventing and re-inventing ourselves throughout our lives.  That’s a good thing.

03/27/2010 Posted by | General | , , , , | 2 Comments

Flash Forward

I have become a big fan of the ABC drama “Flash Forward.”  In that show, the entire world blacks out for a little over 2 minutes, during which time most of the people have visions that turn out to be visions of events that will happen on a specific date about 6 months in the future.  As people begin to start understanding these visions and believe in their authenticity, it changes the way they act.  They start doing things to either hasten the fulfillment of those visions, or to prevent them from coming true.

Every time I watch this show I start thinking about how people would act if they knew their futures.  It is an interesting thought.  In the show, you have people that are resigned to the future they saw and feel that they have no control over their own lives – everything is pre-determined, no matter what they do.  Then you have others that don’t like what they saw and either get very upset/depressed about it or try to do things to change or prevent what they saw in their vision.

The mere act of being told what will happen in our futures causes us to act differently than we might otherwise act – thereby changing that very future.  It kind of reminds me of looking in a mirror that is placed directly opposite another mirror.  If you place yourself in the middle, looking into one mirror will show you an endless stream of mirror images of yourself looking in a mirror.  I know this all gets a little philosophical.  I personally don’t believe that we can see our futures.  We can try to predict what might happen.  Sometimes we will be correct and sometimes we won’t.  Every minute of our lives is full of decisions that change our future.

Back in the 80’s, a lot of people were getting and dying from AIDS.  The doctors did not know what to do for them.  They told their patients to prepare for death.  Then came a new class of drugs (protease inhibitors) that began to “resurrect” these people.  Suddenly they were not dying anymore.  However, they had been so sure that they were near death that they started doing crazy things since they knew that they would not live.  When they did start to survive and even thrive, they had to now deal with the consequences of those actions – consequences they never expected to be alive to face.

So “knowing” our future can be a dangerous thing.  It can make us do things that we would never otherwise do.  I prefer to live in the present and do my best to “guide” my future into the path that I think would be the best path for me.

12/20/2009 Posted by | General | , , , | Leave a comment

The exploitation of our children

There is a sad state of affairs for children in many parts of the world. It is hard to believe that this could still be the case in 2009, but sadly it is.

Last Sunday, I read an article in my local paper which talked about children being denounced as witches and being beaten or killed because of it. This is happening in some so-called evangelical Christian churches in Nigeria. The article was heartbreaking. How can people be so cruel to defenseless children?

The Catholic Church has been complicit in another type of exploitation – sexual abuse of altar boys by priests. It took a long time to get the accusations out into the open. The Church did everything possible to avoid being found out – including transferring known offenders to other parishes where the priests could molest more young boys and making settlements with the families of the victims which included non-disclosure. This “scandal” has cost the Church millions of dollars and has tarnished the Church’s reputation worldwide (and deservedly so!!).

In many countries, children are forced into labor to help support their families. In other countries, children are forced into military service. When will this exploitation of the world’s young people stop?

Here in the US, our government talks about being for human rights and about spreading democracy around the globe. I would suggest that saving and protecting the world’s children should be one of our highest priorities. They are the most at risk and the least able to protect themselves.

10/25/2009 Posted by | General, Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

Religion and its effect on all of us

Religion is so complicated!

By birth, I am a Jew. Both my mom and dad are Jewish, as are both of their parents (and so on and so on). When I was a young child (about 7), my parents became Christians. For a number of years, we were part of a church in the St Petersburg area (it was associated with the Church of G-d). A few years after this, we became what is called “Messianic” Jews. Messianic Jews believe that Jesus (Yeshua) is the Messiah of the Jews. They celebrate Christianity, but with the Jewish aspect of the original Christians (who of course were all Jews as well). Jewish holidays were celebrated, as well as Christmas and Easter. My mom and dad are still involved with Messianic Judaism, however I am not.

So why am I telling you this? Because “Religion” (yes, with a capital R) is an important part of our identity (whether we participate in it formally or not). Both of my parents became ordained Messianic Rabbis, so my brother and I were raised in an extremely religious way (our upbringing was similar to that of a fundamental Christian). I am intimately familiar with the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament. I am familiar with many streams of both Christian and Jewish thought. Where this has left me is very confused.

I mentioned that religion is an important part of our identity. Though I am no longer practicing any kind of organized religion (and have very little tolerance for it), my religious upbringing is still a part of me. Both Christianity and Judaism are monotheistic religions. They also both share a trait common with many other religious credos – the belief that their way is the one true and correct way. Christianity tends to take this to more of an extreme, though, with their belief that anyone that does not believe in Jesus Christ is doomed to eternity in hell.

Here’s where my problem comes in. A lot of these teachings were drilled into me growing up. And now, even though I no longer believe that way, I still find myself hesitating. For example, I love Asian statues, particularly Buddhas. But Buddha is a “false god” according to my upbringing. The same would apply to Ganesh and other Asian deities. So in the back of my head, I still get a little uneasy when I look at these statues.

Halloween is another example. I was taught that it is a celebration of evil spirits and Satan, and therefore should not be observed. To this day I still have trouble participating in Halloween festivities.

I wish that I could just shed all of this baggage, but it is not that easy. Even though I do not attend services of any kind, I still strongly identify as a Jew, and that still has meaning to me. But I just cannot fall in line with any belief that has at its center the idea that our way is right, your way is wrong and will lead to eternal damnation. How can that possibly be? What kind of a G-d is that?

I think the kind of fundamental Christianity that we see so much of today in the United States is the religion that I have the most trouble with. There has been an ongoing debate for some time now on whether same sex couples should be given the right to marry. Opposition to same sex marriage is almost completely on a religious basis. The Bible says….. But what does the Bible really say? I am not going to get into that discussion here, because I think it would be a waste of time. But what I do find interesting is the ability of modern Christians to pick and choose the parts of the Bible that they want to follow, forget the rest, and maintain that they follow the Bible completely. The same book that is used as the basis for not allowing same sex marriage also talks about the animal sacrifices that are required on a regular basis. It prescribes “eye for an eye” justice for things such as stealing, lying and adultery. It instructs women to be outside the town for 7 days during their period of uncleanness.

I see it as all or nothing. If you say you believe and follow the Bible, it has to be the whole thing. If you do not follow every part of it, then you may as well not follow any of it – it becomes a free for all with each person deciding what to include and what to exclude.

I would love to hear from anyone that reads this post about their own experiences with religion.

09/21/2009 Posted by | General | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Put down your phone

I am not a technophobe. In fact, I am quite the opposite. I love electronic gadgets and computers of all sizes and shapes. And I think that the mobile phone has been a huge leap forward in terms of convenience, safety, etc. for all of us.

The problem is that many of us don’t seem to be able to figure out when to put the blasted things down. The biggest culprit in all of this is text messaging. Sure, it’s neat to be able to communicate with a number of people at the same time in short spurts of about 150 characters or less. Of course, it has ruined the spelling capabilities of a lot of people. It has also ruined the attention spans of a lot of people. We have become accustomed to our interactions taking place in these small dribs and drabs.

When you are walking down the street or in a mall (or airport, etc.) and trying to text at the same time, I guarantee you that you are not paying attention to anyone around you. The world does not exist for you alone. And I think that precious thought can wait a minute or two until you get somewhere where you can step out of people’s way and then do your texting.

Even worse is the affect on driving. Holding a cellphone to your ear while you are driving is distracting. But texting while you are driving can be disastrous. That time that you are looking at your phone instead of the road is putting you and everyone in your general area in danger.

I honestly cannot believe that cell phone use (without hands free capability) and texting while driving has not been banned in all 50 states by now. Everyone knows how dangerous it is. Who can honestly defend this dangerous habit? Is it an invasion of privacy? No more so than requiring that passengers in a car wear a seat belt. No one complains about that because we all know it keeps us safer. Let’s get real here (politicians – I am talking to you!!!!!) Whether it is on a city/county, state or federal level, we need laws that preserve our road safety by banning texting while driving.

Our society has become so selfish. This is just one more manifestation. I want to do such and such so go screw yourself if what I am doing bothers you. That is just not the way to act. Kindness, compassion and just plain awareness of the world outside your own skin is important.

So, to sum it up – “Put down the damn phone!!”

08/05/2009 Posted by | General | , , , , | 2 Comments

Why am I so fearful?

I find myself in a strange position lately. Many years ago, I set about to write a program in a language that I did not know. I immersed myself in books and tutorials and ended up being fairly expert at coding in VBA (Visual Basic For Applications) and then Visual Basic itself. So I know that I am able to learn new things and learn them well.

So why is it that I find myself afraid that I am no longer able to do this?

I have several projects in mind that I want to develop in a completely web based environment. It is different in many ways from the kind of programming I used to do professionally, but the concepts are not all that different. Yet I am almost frozen in apprehension. What if I can no longer pick up new things?

I wonder how many other people have had these kinds of feelings. My guess is that it is fairly common. Fear of the unknown, etc. Just because you have done something before is not a guarantee that you can do it again. On the other hand, the fact that you have should give you (and me) confidence in future abilities.

I am facing the same kind of situation with music. I play the keyboards and the guitar. I was a singer and songwriter as well. I have not really done anything musical in over 15 years. I have keyboards and guitars at home. I stare at them all the time. But again, I find myself afraid to pick them up and play. Why? I wish I had the answer for that.

I like to excel at everything I do and so it can be difficult to go through the awkward learning stage. I am sure that this is one of the underlying reasons. But I have been successful at both programming and music in the past. Why so much lack of confidence?

07/21/2009 Posted by | General | , , , , | 2 Comments

Michael Jackson – the King of Pop

Thriller Cover

Thriller Cover

This past week, the world lost a major celebrity. Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you will be aware that Michael Jackson passed away. The circumstances surrounding his death are still not completely clear and the Los Angeles police are still investigating. An autopsy was performed, but the results of the toxicology tests won’t be known for a number of weeks.

Michael Jackson has been one of the greatest influences on pop music over the last 40 years. As has been said over and over, just about everyone is familiar with his music. Most of us played “Thriller,” “Off The Wall” and “Bad” over and over. I have owned LP, cassette and CD versions of almost all of his albums. Needless to say, I have always been a big fan of his music. It is amazing to me that Thriller can still be so current even after 25 years? I never get tired of listening to it.

Unfortunately, I cannot listen to a story about Michael and his musical legacy without hearing about the darkness that was a constant part of his life. There were allegations of inappropriate conduct with underage boys. There was the drinking and the drugs (pain killers and such). There was the craziness and eccentricity.

Was he a pedophile? I don’t really know. There is so much that seems to point in that direction, but it may be an illusion. This is a man who was never allowed to live his life. Sure, he had what many other people dream of – fame and fortune. But I look at him and I see a sad person. A troubled person. He was in the public eye from a very young age. His father is well known as being a difficult, abusive father. He did not have friends. I heard about an interview where he talked about seeing kids on monkey bars and not being allowed to play on them himself. So I think that it is really possible that he tried to rekindle that lost youth through friendships with other youngsters. Maybe he even thought his sharing a bed with a young boy was appropriate. Obviously, it is not. And whether it was “innocent” or not, it was wrong. But I can’t help the feeling that he might have been a victim in this too.

We have so many examples of childhood stars that have grown up being troubled adults – Liza Minelli, Elizabeth Taylor, to name just a few. Once Michael achieved superstar status, it only got worse. I personally think that he had some serious mental illness issues that were never addressed. The serial surgeries, the pain killers, creating Never Never Land – all of these could easily be just symptoms of his problems.

We will probably never know the extent of these problems. What I do know is that I am very sad about his death. I am sorry that the world will no longer have this gifted artist. Michael – in spite of everything – you were incredibly gifted and your talent touched us all. You are gone, but most certainly will not be forgotten.

I have not been able to stop listening to his music over the last few days. It still touches me to this day. I still am moved by Billie Jean and Beat It and Thriller. Stranger In Moscow, Man in the Mirror and dozens of other songs are also very much a part of my musical journey. He brought black musicians into the mainstream and he touched so many people. As I said before, he will be missed.

06/29/2009 Posted by | General | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment