Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Management and the Liberal Arts

Part I John Milton

The Bible says that “there’s nothing new under the sun” and that is very true. Any student of history can discover universal lessons in leadership, management, business strategies, and corporate politics. Indeed Nicolo Machiavelli’s book “The Prince” is nothing short of a management handbook for the discerning reader. Actually in practice the modern corporation is really no different than any ancient kingdom. It has its kings, princes, barons, and yeomen. It is filled with courtiers, dissidents, loyalists, allies, and enemies. What is important to the modern manager is to be able to use the histories of these kingdoms as examples of how to deal with the challenges both internally as well as from competition. Admittedly sometimes it requires some thought and analysis to see these examples and a good example is found in Paradise Lost as Satan and his lieutenants discuss their recent fall from grace. With a little imagination you can see the lieutenants Moloch, Belial, Mammon, and Beelzebub as corporate board members discussing with the CEO how to recover their competitive position.

The language – even in the seventeenth century – is high poetry but the arguments and the personalities can be found in virtually every corporate board room today. The first speaker is Satan who offers some motivational remarks before they get down to the business of deciding what to do. It is Moloch who speaks first:

My sentence is for open war:of wiles
More unexpert , I boast not, let us rather choose,
Armed with Hell’s flames and fury, all at once
O’er heavens high towers to force resistless way
Turning our tortures into horrid arms
Against the torturer
Which if not victory, is yet revenge

This is a classic response from a classic personality. This is the response from the “shoot first aim later” manager. He does not recommend analyzing what went wrong and what must be done to correct it. Instead he is the manager whose response is to raise more capital, retool the factories, increase the advertising, retrain the sales team, and attack the market one more time with more energy. Every organization has its Moloch, he’s the one who gets the job done and overcomes all obstacles – as long as he is told what he is expected to do. He is enthusiastic, emotional, and substitutes action for thought and analysis. This attitude is reflected in his last line where even if he fails, he at least will get some emotional satisfaction in revenge. The next person to speak is Belial, the pragmatist. Every organization has its Belial, he is the intelligent one, the realist, the one who acknowledges the defeat and offers another alternative:

First, what revenge? The towers of Heaven are filled
With armed watch that renders all access
Impregnable, this is now
Our doom, which if we can sustain and bear
Our supreme foe in time may remit his anger

Of course this is really not a plan at all, but a recommendation to simply accept defeat. This is your classic risk adverse executive. The company has suffered a major defeat at the hands of a competitor and rather fighting back as the risk taker Moloch advises, Belial wants the opposite. He wants to protect what remains rather than fighting back and possibly losing even more. Risk adverse executives are not effective in highly competitive environments. The next to speak is Mammon, who at least seems to have thought about the situation and offers a valid option:

with what eyes could we
Stand in his presence humble, and receive
Strict laws imposed, to celebrate his throne
With warbled hymns, and to his God head sing
Forced hallelujahs, while he lordly sits
Our envied soverign?
To found this nether empire, which might rise,
By policy, and long process of time,
In emulation opposite to Heaven

This desert soil wants not her hidden luster, gems and gold
Nor want we skill or art, from whence to raise
Magnificence: and what can Heaven show more
To found this nether empire which might rise
By policy, and long process of time
In emulation opposite to Heaven

So Mammon rejects the frontal assault recommended by Moloch, the risk adverse acceptance offered by Belial and offers a realistic appraisal and solution. He recognizes the defeat but believes they can be great again and need to regroup. His option is to revamp, restructure, offer new products so they would emerge as a new and stronger enterprise equal to the competition. Although Mammon captured the feeling of the meeting and offered a strategy, it remained for Beelzebub to offer an alternate approach altogether.

There is a place
If ancient and prophetic fame in Heaven err not
Another world, the happy seat of some new race called man
Thither let us bend all our thoughts, to learn
What creatures there inhabit, of what mould
Our substance, how endured, and what their power
And where their weakness, how attempted best
By force or subtlety

In effect Beelzebub suggests a market survey with the idea of opening another market where they would be stronger. This type of manager is one capable of recognizing the setback, analyzing the situation and formulating a new strategy. And it is this approach that is accepted by Satan.

Admittedly Milton’s prose is compressed and requires some reflection and thought to apply it to modern management, but the lesson is there. What Milton describes are the four possible approaches to a severe shift in the market and competitive position of a company. These are the classic alternatives faced by managers today. Now we turn to management as seen through Shakespeare where the lessons are more visible.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Foreign Policies of President Obama

Recently I was asked to comment on President Obama’s foreign policy. By no means am I a foreign policy expert and what I know – if anything—is based entirely on what I have read and seen on TV. However, based upon that limited foundation, I think President Obama’s foreign policy rests on two key factors. I believe he is first and foremost an “Internationalist” in the sense that he believes in World Government. This translates into a tendency to subordinate America’s interests to those of the UN and the international community as a whole. The second factor is his belief that America is an overbearing arrogant super power that acts unilaterally and without regard for the interests of other nations.

President Obama came to the Presidency with no experience in business, government, or the military but with an activist vision of all of these things. He promised to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to close the Guantanamo Prison, to repair America’s relationship with the Islamic World, to reach out to Iran on their Nuclear ambitions, to reset relations with Russia toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons, to work with the Chinese on global issues, and to make peace in the middle east. In retrospect it is easy to see the naïveté of these goals because of their idealism and failure to account for any of the underlying details. President Obama’s lack of experience left him unprepared for the reality of his position and the constraints on his power. Each of his objectives individually are worthwhile but he did not realize that none of these stood alone but had strings and impacts in Congress and with other countries.

From the outset he found that there were constraints on his power, constraints from congress, from the people, and even from other countries. It seemed to him closing Guantanamo and moving the prisoners to prisons and to civilian trial would only require his order. He was unprepared for the cost, the public outcry, and the legal issues. Ultimately he was forced to abandon this goal and act pragmatically. In fact President Obama’s efforts to achieve the lofty goals he promised have consistently yielded to practical decisions and compromises.

Having been raised as a Muslim or simply exposed to Islam, he came to office perhaps with a greater understanding of Islam than any previous president. Armed with this knowledge he aimed to repair America’s reputation within the Islamic community. This objective formed the basis for much of his foreign policy. This was a policy that not only failed in its objective but seriously damaged his position at home. His actions and compromises have been viewed abroad as signs of weakness and intransigence and at home as examples of his inexperience, incompetence, and subordination of American interests to internationalism.

One of President Obama’s objectives was to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but he quickly discovered that starting a war is much easier than ending one. But there was never a declaration of war so as President he could end them with a stroke of a pen, which he more or less did. This was done over the objections of the military and the result left Iraq dominated by religious conflict, an incipient civil war, a corrupt government heavily influenced by Iran, and with Al Qaeda resurgent. The results in Afghanistan are similar. By announcing a withdrawal date the Taliban and Al Qaeda took that as surrender and have become resurgent. In this instance he fulfilled his campaign promise but his foreign policy failed and the Islamic community saw this as an example of American unreliability and weakness.

As part of his policy of Islamic refurbishment President Obama distanced himself from Israel. To a rational person that might have made sense but the Islamic countries simply saw that as another sign of weakness and a demonstration of how unreliable America is as an ally. Rather than improving the situation in the Middle East President Obama’s policies have left the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda stronger throughout the area. More importantly the policy toward Israel has emboldened Iran and the Palestinians and has made the possibility of another war greatly increased.

The Foreign policy toward China has been one of talk more than action. The Chinese government has consistently attacked our government and industrial computers for the purpose of stealing secrets. The Chinese do not honor copyright laws and manipulate their currency. All of these things are known and reported in the press, yet there has been no action taken to correct or prevent these. This has had a huge impact on the American economy through the loss of jobs and revenues. The idea that problems can be solved through talk is the basis of diplomacy but ultimately diplomacy must be backed up by action and these actions have been missing throughout this administration.

The foreign policies of President Obama have been well intended with the idea that by retreating from an aggressive leadership position America’s image would be enhanced, but clearly this has not been the result.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

AHHH The French

The French just can’t seem to accept that they must actually work for a living and compete in the marketplace just like everyone else. Even more ironic is that Germany started its failed march to European dominance with the Franco-Prussian War and two world wars, but is now poised to achieve that goal without a shot being fired. The Germans live the good life (for European standards) by working hard and living within their means. Alas the French live the good life but seem to expect that the government should pay for it. The people think a 40 hour work week is exploitation and a 32 hour work week is as much as any employer should expect. Of course the problem with socialism is that eventually it cannot be sustained. The proof of this is being played out across Europe as the economies of Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy teeter on edge of financial collapse. The economy of Greece has already imploded and threatens the Euro itself.

Now the French who view themselves as the dominant force in Europe are finding that not only are they not the dominant country, but that it is Germany calling the tune. Faced with the prospect of actually having to give up some of their benefits and actually work a 34 hour work week, they threw out President Sarkozy and elected inexperienced Hollande. Unfortunately Hollande had no real experience, had no real plan, never took Economics 101, but was sure his Gallic Charm would enable him to win over Germany, the tax payers in both Germany and France, without actually having to make any financial sacrifices. Alas his socialist economics seems to have failed him. The reality is that money will gravitate to the highest return and flee extortionate taxes.

Hollande felt that what was needed was higher taxes and that the rich should pay their fair share, a typical socialist position. In his view the fair share of the rich was 75% of their income, after all the rich should be forced to share their wealth with the workers. Not unexpectedly the rich simply moved their wealth out of the country. Renault moved 70% of their manufacturing to low wage Trukey and ArcelorMitta the French steel manufacturer shut down two furnaces in preparation of shutting the plants. The government’s response to this is to introduce a law forcing manufacturers to sell their idle facilities at a price established by the courts. Apparently the socialists seem to think that any sharp entrepreneur would jump at the chance to buy these facilities just to keep the workers employed.

Hollande was elected on the basis that he would preserve “the social model” while engineering an economic recovery. Neither Hollande nor the socialist electorate realized these are conflicting goals, especially in light of the high level of protection the French worker has. Nevertheless French unemployment is at a 13 year high with more layoffs coming. It is very difficult for an employer in France to layoff employees and it is very expensive due to the required severance costs. Consequently, when employers actually layoff people they are very reluctant to rehire and the tendency is to move those jobs overseas where it is cheaper and the rules more flexible. This means that reducing high unemployment is very difficult and takes a long time.

The Euro is in real danger and unless Hollande can get control of the French economy it may be unsustainable unless the Germans are willing to step up and bail him out. However, the Germans are tired of subsidizing the life of the rich and famous enjoyed by so many countries in Europe. Plus the Germans are also feeling the impact of the slowing world economy and may not be able to continue supporting these failing Club Med European economies. The stark reality is that socialism cannot work unless there are enough tax revenues to sustain the government programs. In a slowing economy the government must react in a business like fashion and reduce expenses which means cutting programs. When the people are accustomed to lavish government handouts this becomes almost impossible so it is now up to Hollande to show us how this is done.

Monday, October 01, 2012

White Cavemen

The Theory of Evolution continues to be taught and accepted as factual even though this theory has never met the strict rules of science. The fact is that all of the evidence offered in support of evolution is evidence of adaptation to the environment and not of speciation. How one animal morphs into another entirely different species has never been demonstrated but the glib answer has always been – mutation. That may be but it is not supported by transitional fossils. What have been described as transitional fossils could just as easily be examples of adaptation, so how species emerge remains speculation and is not supported by the fossil record or demonstration. And this brings us to human evolution, where we came from, how we got to be different colors, and why some people are blonde.

The Leaky family has turned human evolution into a family business claiming that humans evolved from a group of hominids in Africa. This claim rests on a series of bone fragments about three million years old and a few primitive tools. Recent discoveries of mostly bone fragments show that hominids are also found in Asia but what relevance this has to human evolution remains a little vague although scientists are convinced that these hominids are really the root species of Homo sapiens. That is the current belief is that these hominids adapted to their environment and through these adaptations they became human. That may be true but somewhere along the line the root species of apes became hominids – a separate species. Precisely how this happened is believed to be through mutation, but when you actually examine the whole series of proto-humans there seems to have been a lot of mutation going on without any real evidence.

In fact a large part of the belief that humans are descendents of these apes and hominids partially rests on the fact that the DNA of chimpanzees and homo-sapiens is almost identical with the chimpanzee’s being 98% human. Of course this proves nothing at all because that is tantamount to saying that Helium (a gas) and Lithium (a metal) are essentially the same because there is only one electron difference. Or to put this into another perspective the entire universal is composed of identical electrons, protons, and neutrons but how these are combined makes things unique and very different. So the DNA argument means nothing and now back to the hominids and why are cavemen white instead of black.

There is no evidence of primitive man in Africa just the hominids and the early humans are found in Europe. These early humans – the Neanderthals are believed to be white skinned. There is no evidence of primitive man in the Americas but there is some evidence in Europe and Asia, but no hominids. The hominids seem to be only in Africa but there is really no evidence of primitive man in Africa – just those hominids, which consist of bone fragments. But if those hominids evolved into humans – even primitive humans – then it seems logical that there would be some evidence of that. Some primitive art, skeletons, weapons, etc, but there is nothing in Africa other than what is believed to be primitive stone tools. However, primitive tools prove nothing by themselves since even some birds and other animals use tools, including Chimpanzees.

For the sake of argument let’s assume that Leaky is correct and that those hominids are in fact the human root species that separated from apes. Well apes are black with straight hair while modern Negroes are black with wooly hair. But all cavemen – that is primitive men in Europe are seen as white with blonde or brown straight hair. So the argument seems to be that the early apes separated into apes and hominids in Africa. Those hominids evolved into primitive humans and migrated to Europe, without leaving any evidence of their evolution in Africa but arriving in Europe as primitive humans with no evidence of their hominid beginnings. On arrival in Europe the black skin and straight black hair they started with became white skin and blonde or light brown hair in Europe. According to the rules of evolution these changes were driven by the European environment.

Black retains heat much better than white so why did the black skin of the hominids change to white in a colder climate? Currently the answer to this question is sexual selection both for skin and hair color. That is those early pre-humans with the lighter skin and hair were more sexually attractive leading to white cavemen with blonde hair. Assuming this is correct then where did the black and brown skins come from? We must believe that these early humans migrated back to Africa with white skin and evolved black skin because the darker people were more sexually attractive in Africa or that their evolutionary changes were environmentally driven. So we must believe that whites evolved through sexual selection while blacks evolved through environmental adaptation. This whole evolutionary structure begins to test the boundaries of credibility.

What about those brown skinned people that inhabit the Americas? All of these people we are told migrated to the Americas as homo-sapiens from Asia or somewhere undetermined. All of these early Americans have straight black hair with brown skin, not black or white. So is their brown skin the result of adaptation to environment, sexual selection, or mutation? What about the Amerindians? These people are seen as the Red Race and are not related to the brown race that surrounds them. What is their origin? There is no evidence they evolved where they are found but that they came from somewhere else, but where since they are not found anywhere outside of North America. Furthermore all of the races (out side of the Australian Aborigines) have black hair while only the white race has blonde, red, and brown hair. If these are mutations then why are these found only in whites? Are the other races immune to mutations?

So we must believe that humans evolved from apes with black skin, they migrated to Europe and evolved into white skinned people, who migrated to the Americas where they became brown skinned. The black skinned people either remained in Africa without leaving any evidence of their early evolution or migrated back to Africa from Europe and evolved back into black skin with wooly rather than straight black hair. The origin of the Australian aborigines and the American Indians remains a mystery unless they are examples of mutation. So the origin on Homo Sapiens remains unknown but speculative. Why Cavemen are white is based on sexual selection while blacks are the result of reverse adaptation. None of this is very convincing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Meaning of Life

Why are we here? What is the purpose of our life? Where did we come from? Where do we go after death? Is there life after death or is that the end? These are man’s eternal questions, questions that we all ask and can never get any definite answers. But is that true? Are there no answers or just answers we don’t like?

The Darwinists believe that we are an accident – a sort of cosmic joke – that some errant cosmic particle collided with some collection of inorganic molecules that created an organic molecule. This molecule then mutated through some equally random process and developed the ability to replicate itself. These new organic cells continued to mutate and change into pond scum and ultimately into scientists but with slightly more intelligence. In effect the Darwinists believe that while we may have more intelligence than Chimpanzees, the cousins they claim, we really are just another class of animals. Like the animals we are the product of mating, the circumstances of our lives are serendipitous, our actions have no impact outside of the boundaries of our lives. We are born, we eat, we mate, we reproduce, and we die. We live and die – like animals – with no purpose other than to reproduce the species. This line of thinking is precisely what the atheist has. There is no God, life has no meaning, no purpose, there is no life after death and to think otherwise is wishful thinking.

That brings us to the other side where some believe that we are divinely created by God. That our circumstances are pre-ordained but it is up to us to lead a good and moral life. Lucifer was and Archangel who rebelled against God, was damned to Hell where he rules as Satan, and tempts mankind away from righteousness. Both Heaven and Hell are real although whether or not they are physical places is a little vague. Within this view of life, we have souls created by God, we are born, we live, and we die. But our soul is eternal and on death we are judged by our deeds and go to Heaven or are condemned to Hell and eternal punishment.

According to this view we have one chance at eternal joy in Heaven or through actions an eternal punishment in Hell. This view holds that the circumstance of our one life is ordained by God –but how God chooses those is unknown. So some people are born into poverty or as savages living in savage lands – while others are born into wealth and blessed with physical comfort. On one hand we have people like Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein who misuse power and commit great crimes. They exercised the free will given to them by God in the most evil way possible and we can imagine they ended in Hell, but what about people like Lenin who commit great crimes while thinking they are doing good? Did Lenin end in Hell or Heaven? Can these people ever redeem themselves? Are these people and their fates just a random choice? A throw of the dice by God where one person wins and another loses? That simply doesn’t sound logical so there has to be some rationale behind our lives and circumstances. God is just and undoubtedly rewards good and punishes bad but he is also forgiving so there must be a pathway out of Hell and to redemption – even for the most evil. And this brings us to reincarnation.

Virtually all religions, other than Atheism, believe in life after death as well as reincarnation. References to reincarnation were stricken from the Bible when it was canonized but some vague references still remain. But there is a growing body of evidence that there is life after death and that reincarnation is real. There has been growing interest in “Near Death Experiences” although what these represent remains controversial. The popular position among scientists is that these are nothing more than hallucinations emanating from a dying brain and prove nothing. But many scientists who study NDE’s are increasingly finding that they truly seem to support consciousness after death.

If we conclude that there is life (consciousness) after death then what does that mean? What is the purpose of our lives? The mystics in various ways tell us that our life on Earth is a form of punishment for leaving God in the first place and then not leading Godly lives. That we come to Earth to develop and educate our souls so that we may one day return to God’s grace. The circumstances of our life on Earth are determined by our actions in previous lives. The law of Karma prevails. We come to the Earth over and over in association with the same group of souls in various combinations but always with the same objective – to correct past wrongs while striving to improve our selves. What is the “Meaning of Life?” This question can only be answered by the individual because the purpose of each life is unique to that individual but over all the purpose is to return to God as his companion.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Characteristics of a Good Manager

Although the title Manager continues to exist in contemporary organizations, the number of people with this title or position is declining and is rapidly being replaced by the term leader. But is the title leader merely a euphemism for manager or is there is a difference between a leader and a manager? If there are differences between these two titles then what are those differences?

If we start at the most basic point, we can state that a manager is process oriented and focused on doing things “right” or at least doing them according to the approved process. In short, the manager “goes by the book”. On the other hand, a leader can be viewed as a people person who is focused on doing what they perceive to be “the right thing”. Therefore, a leader may or may not follow the book. Managers are appointed and leaders emerge is another way of viewing this dichotomy but as we all know leadership is like sex appeal, hard to describe but easy to recognize. Managers tend to do the tasks assigned and rely on doing them by the book rather than looking at the larger picture and adjusting their actions accordingly. It isn’t that managers are uncreative or unimaginative but rather they tend to be cautious. Leaders on the other hand tend to see things from a different perspective and do what they feel needs to be done regardless of whether it was assigned or not. Therefore, leaders tend to be risk takers. The following chart provides some contrasting views of the characteristics that distinguish managers and leaders.

Process and Control Oriented
Asks How and When
Accepts Things as They Are
Focuses on Structure and System
Short Range Orientation

Relies on Trust
Asks What and Why
Challenges the Situation
Focuses on People
Long Range Perspective

Although the above table lists the characteristics of leaders and managers it more accurately describes the actions of managers and leaders. Therefore, these are a broad generalization of the differences between managers and leaders. But when these characteristics are combined with various character traits, then the differences become more distinct .



However, in the final analysis it is not the presence or absence of these traits that distinguishes the leader from the manager; rather it is how they are applied by the individual that distinguishes them because both the manager and the leader will display some of these at some time. But for the moment let’s focus on the manager and what constitutes “good” management.

Not everyone will agree on what a good manager is but there are some basic practices that distinguish good management from ordinary or poor. The first of these skills is perhaps the hardest for a manager to master and that is delegation. Most managers can perform a task better than those they supervise so the tendency is to micro-manage. The challenge is to assign the task with specific parameters and objectives and then to go do something else. This is much more difficult than it sounds because the accountability is with the manager not the individual. What distinguishes a good manager is his ability to clearly define the task and monitor progress without supervising. It is the clarity of the assignment that is crucial.

For the newly minted manager it is important to understand that the performance of the organization will not exceed that of the leader. That means that if the leader is tardy in arriving at work then so will the staff and attendance could rapidly become a problem. If the leader dresses inappropriately so will the staff and the leader’s attitude and conduct will permeate the entire organization, but this is also true for positive things as well. The most important thing for the manager to understand is that how he/she acts will dramatically influence the performance of the organization.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Freedom, Virtue, and Morality

The march of militant atheism continues unabated with the newest attack on God and those ignorant enough to believe in Him, resting on the mistaken belief that it is religion and God that establish the morality of a people. Of course this, like so many positions held by the glitterati rests firmly on ignorance and the absence of critical thinking. It would seem self-evident that the morals of a culture are established by the individuals that make up that culture. For example, (and I am not making this up) it is considered bad form to kill and eat your neighbor in most Western Cultures, but to the Cannibals of New Guinea, this is acceptable and indeed – expected. In some cultures it is an accepted practice for a man to have multiple wives while in most Western Countries it is frowned upon – outside of Utah. The point is that the atheists have started with a false assumption and that is that the morality of a culture is based in religion. It seems more likely that it is the religion that reflects the morality of the culture not vice versa.

Nevertheless, there does appear to be certain universal beliefs that are common to all cultures. For example, murder is not condoned by any human society but is prevalent in the animal kingdom. Adultery is another moral concept that seems to be common, even in those societies where multiple wives are permitted. So while there may be a fundamental moral code common to human society that still does not make morality and religion synonymous. The morals of a society may be related to the religion but the morality of that society is still reflected by those who do not believe in the religion. Thus the question becomes, without religion would a society degenerate into barbarism? This may be an unanswerable question since no known society exists that has no religion, even the Neanderthals seemed to have believed in a higher power. Even the most secular power today, has laws that govern that society that reflect the religious beliefs of the founders.

However, this opens the question “can a religious based society be barbaric” and act in an inhumane way. In effect, can religious people act in an immoral way in the name of God? Obviously this answer is yes, because we have many historical examples from all parts of the world. The Catholic Church persecuted Protestants, the Spanish Inquisition tortured and killed Jews as well as witches and heretics; the Protestants persecuted and killed Catholics. Even the Hindus have a violent record. Since the Western World has separated church and state, these religious persecutions have largely stopped today, except for Islam.

Islam purports to be more moral and virtuous than all other religions and has the objective of converting the world to Islam. Islam does not separate church and state, and the church is the state. Therefore, in the Muslim countries the morality of those countries is rooted directly in the religion. The most visible evidence of this is in the veil worn by women. Even in the more enlightened Islamic countries the women wear head scarves instead of the Burqua. But the question becomes does this enforced “modesty” indicate a higher level of virtue than that shown in Christendom or is it merely a reflection of the lack of freedom? The argument mounted my Muslims is that if freedom permits immodesty then freedom is wrong.

Does a woman who chooses to not wear a headscarf – as in the West – act immodestly? Does a man who chooses to shave his beard less manly or immodest? Do Draconian punishments for petty crimes, like cutting of the hands of thieves, make the Islamic countries more virtuous? Is the person who has the freedom to choose between modesty and immodesty, but chooses modesty more virtuous than the person who is forced by law to be “modest”. Is that person who is acting under duress even modest or is he simply enslaved? These radical Muslims – more accurately Islamofascists – clearly think that their opinions of what is “proper” transcend freedom of the press, speech, religion, and assembly. Clearly, in their eyes enforced “virtue” is to be desired and any person who chooses to deviate from their view of conduct must be harshly punished according to Shar’ia Law.

The reality is that morality is established by the society and while the morality of the culture can stem from religion, that religion cannot triumph over personal freedom. This means that the while the militant atheists are entitled to their opinions, they do not have the right to dominate or eliminate religions practice. It also means that the enforced modest and virtue associated with Islam is equally wrong because religion cannot overcome individual freedoms.

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Day in Paradise

We all look forward to that day when we can take the exit ramp from the rat race and coast into a blissful retirement. A time when our day is filled with trips to exotic places and leisure time spent with our loving children and grandchildren. Of course by the time you get to that exit ramp most of those plans are set aside because you are too busy with everything that you have to do now that you are retired. I’m not talking about all of those big projects like painting the house which you postponed until retirement, because now that you have the time getting on a ladder is impossible unless you are looking for a large insurance settlement. No – I’m talking about all of those simple little tasks like mowing the lawn or shopping for groceries. Of course I really love grocery shopping because I amuse myself as I cruise through the aisles randomly dropping products into the shopping carts of people who I think could use these products. My favorite is finding the person who has filled their cart with mountains of high fiber, low calorie, organic foods and dropping in a jar of Cheese Whiz.

But there are other simple tasks that seem to morph into major projects, like my recent attempt to water the lawn. Now watering the lawn doesn’t require a lot of skill, essentially it only requires placing the sprinkler on the lawn and turning the water on. But yesterday I turned the water on and noticed the hose connector to the sprinkler was leaking. I immediately got out my knife to cut off the end of the hose so I could replace it with a shiny new one. But senior citizens are a little forgetful and what I forgot was turning off the water BEFORE performing major hose surgery. Water gushes out soaking my pants leaving the impression that I might want to consider purchasing some “Depends”. Once I turned the water off and removed the end of the hose – only cutting myself once, I was ready to install the new connector. The connector was in one of those new plastic theft proof packages that require a sledge hammer or acetylene torch to penetrate. I did finally get the connector free – cutting myself the second time – and was ready for the installation – once I loosened the screws, which had been installed with super glue. Nevertheless I did get them loose cutting myself for the third time – except this time there was enough blood to warrant a CSI investigation. But I press on hampered only slightly by the band-aids and bandage, and eventually getting the new connector installed and the hose connected. I turn the water on and VOILA!! Water is squirting from the new connector with enough force and volume to wet me once again from top to bottom giving the impression that I am in the midst of a Depends crisis. I turned the water off (I learn fast) disconnected the offending hose, deposited it in the trash and installed a new hose straight from the store – leaky hose problem solved!! .

One of the major issues facing you in retirement is how to amuse your self once you tire of the Cheese-Whiz gambit. We see on television all of those wonderful retirement communities filled with senior citizens filling their time with exercise and blooming with the health that the average twenty year old would love to have. These advertisements promise a social life filled friends playing tennis and golf in between sailing in your own yacht and catching record breaking marlin. Well some people believe there’s a free lunch too, but the social circle for most retirees consists of bank clerks, the pharmacist, and a variety of doctors – with a couple that are on speed dial. So I don’t know where those senior citizens – as seen on TV – live and play but I strongly suspect they are photo-shopped twenty-something models. Just look at their waists, perfect teeth, tanned bodies and with hair in all of the ‘RIGHT” places. Real seniors have hair in all of the wrong places and haven’t seen a 30 inch waist in decades.

But there are some bright sides to retirement – in sort of a weird way. As we age our vision begins to play tricks on us. That is you see signs that you misread which can lead to some very funny times. For example something flashed across my TV screen that said “…dedicated heroism” except I read “… dedicated heroin” or on FaceBook the posting read “touch a hamster” but I read “touch a teamster” – the brain does pay tricks. So when I noticed a sign that said – in large bold letters – COOK WANTED. I laughed and said to my wife “Did you see that sign?” I think I’ll apply. She rolled her eyes, snickered and said “forgettaaboutit – it’s hard work and I don’t think you’re up for it!!. This ability to communicate is just one of life’s blessings that comes with age.

While retirement has many blessings there are some downsides, for example you lose your cutting edge with current culture and ability to communicate with the young. Recently I stopped into a Starbucks coffee shop for a cup of coffee but that turned out to be a humiliating experience because I hadn’t studied and wasn’t prepared for the test. I didn’t know how to order because I didn’t know that there was a process. . First you have to stand in a certain place to order and a special place to pick up your order – these instructions were administered in a style I that I associated with Nazi like precision. Once I moved to the “order station” I found you cannot just order a cup of coffee because there is a quiz. First you are asked what bean do you want? Very odd question which I failed because the only beans I know are baked or refried. Wrong answer – so the semi-friendly waitress (whom I’m sure was a Hitler Youth commandant) moved on to question two which was “the roast”. “I want coffee” was clearly the wrong answer once again because the young lady (silently named Brunhilda) moved on to the final question which was “whatsizedoyouwant”. With as much dignity as I had remaining I said “small” knowing that I would at least get one question right! Wrong again!! Brunhilda was no longer even talking she just pointed to a series of code words and since the only word I recognize is ‘Grande” I ended with enough coffee and caffeine to power the space shuttle. Later one of my young friends tells me that Starbucks doesn’t have waitresses they are called Baristas. I was amazed because I thought a Barista was a Guatemalan revolutionary.

So my next project for cultural enlightenment is to find out what a Kardashian is? That’s for my next report from paradise.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Marriage and Commitment

While the institution of marriage continues to outpace divorces, the reality is that the number of “common law’ arrangements continues to grow. But for those who actually engage in a true marriage the statistics show there is a fifty-fifty chance the marriage will end in divorce. Of course it is this astonishing level of divorce that is used by those who elect to pursue the common law path to justify their situation. The rationale seems to be that why would I get married because there is a real possibility of a divorce and its just a bunch of words anyway. It’s hard to argue with the statistics on divorce but is the marriage vow just a bunch of words? If they are just a bunch of words then why not say them? In fact why is there such a thing as marriage and how does it differ from these casual relationships?

The reality is that if two people enter into one of these live-in arrangements they are assuming a great deal of risk, risks that they probably don’t recognize or think won’t apply to them. The female in these arrangements is particularly at risk, especially if there are children. Generally the male is the breadwinner in these arrangements and the female may either not be employed or employed at a much lower salary. Thus the male holds the advantage because he can leave anytime taking his income with him and leaving the female destitute or nearly so. The female has no legal rights regarding community property, no claim for spousal support, but she might have a right to child support if a child is involved. Furthermore, the female can easily be manipulated by the male through intimidation and threats to leave. The fact is that these arrangements are conveniences – primarily for the male – that show a shocking lack of commitment and regardless of protestations to the contrary a lack of love as well.

Beyond these obvious risks there is the health risk. Suppose one of the partners suffers some devastating illness. The other partner has no legal right to act on behalf to the other, that right remains with the family and the “domestic partner” is not family in any legal sense. Suppose there is an accident and one of the partners is killed? Unless that partner has been careful to name the other as the beneficiary then the insurance goes to the estate not the partner. Essentially these informal domestic arrangements result in bastard children, legal issues, insecurity, and a shocking lack of commitment because the partners do not bond as they do in a legal and formal marriage.

Marriage requires a commitment – a public commitment that has both religious and legal ramifications. It is a formal ceremony where one person dedicates their life to the other and with this commitment comes numerous benefits, not the least of which is a sense of security that the other person won’t simply walk out and if they do there are some significant ramifications to that decision. At the very least there are the financial issues which govern the division of property and assets, but there are many longer term impacts as well.

Beyond these legal and mundane issues regarding marriage there are some very significant emotional ones as well. The first of these is “love” not the physical love that drives the informal arrangements but the deep and abiding emotional love that only comes with time and dedication to the other person’s well being and happiness. This doesn’t mean that this emotional bonding can’t happen in the common law arrangements but it is much less likely to happen because if this feeling of care and concern for the other person is there the commitment is not otherwise why not say those simple words that would have given legal protection to the other partner.

Certainly marriage is not a bed of roses and every marriage has its ups and downs. As anyone who has been married for more than a couple of years knows, keeping a marriage together requires work and commitment to making it work. Unfortunately that lesson seems to be the one that is missing today as more and more people spring from broken marriages. These people have no role model and what they saw was the going gets tough the solution is to leave and move on to a happier situation. The fact that this decision to place ones self above the other and any children is actually a selfish act is missed entirely. These seem to be the people who believe they are entitled to a life of perpetual happiness and indulgence that requires no sacrifice by them. Enduring marriages rest on the belief that commitment is required, personal sacrifice is required, and that for those who are willing to give up anything for the other partner, then nothing must be given up. Marriage is not a fifty-fifty proposition and on any given day it may be 90-10, but over time it works out to be a true partnership.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Mess in Mesopotamia

It is worth noting that Mesopotamia – now Iraq did not exist prior to the end of WW I, unless you want to consider the Babylonia Empire under Nebuchadnezzar, which was absorbed into the Persian Empire. From that time Mesopotamia did not exist as an independent nation. It is important to understand that Iraq is a creation, not by Arabs, or Muslims, or any indigenous group in Iraq, but was created by the British led by that intrepid self-proclaimed genius and aristocrat – Sir Winston Churchill – aided and abetted by that other self-promoting genius Colonel T. E Lawrence aka Lawrence of Arabia. This was the last gasp of European Colonialism.

It is worth remembering that Queen Victoria had died only 17 years before the end of WW I so the colonial mentality that was so prevalent throughout Europe had not yet expired so the French and English felt it was totally within their right – indeed divine right – to set up the world to suit themselves. So what once had been the Ottoman Empire now became Turkey, Lebanon, Trans-Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. Persia and Egypt had always existed except they were now Iran and Egypt. At the same time that these artificial lines were being drawn Churchill upheld the controversial policy aimed at establishing a Jewish State in what was then Palestine. Palestine, like Persia had ancient roots and had always been a fractious place that had given fits to the Romans who had barely been able to maintain peace there even with massive military force. Nevertheless, Palestine has ancient roots and has long been ethnically diverse and home to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Ironically had you asked a Jew what his nationality was up to the time Israel was created he would have said he was a Palestinian. It was only after the creation of Israel and the schism between the Jews and Muslims that the Jews became Israeli’s and the Muslims became Palestinians. Today there are Muslims AND Palestinians and while to western eyes this distinction seems pretty fine, but Muslims are a very fragmented group and these distinctions are very real to them.

But it was Churchill who was the driving force – along with T.E. Lawrence – who Post WW I, set up the country then called Mesopotamia and now called Iraq. Initially this was a constitutional monarchy and independent democracy from 1925 until 1958. But the bloodletting never abated and these “democratic” governments supported pogroms against the Jews and genocide against the Assyrians. The Shi’ites in Mesopotamia rebelled and were cruelly suppressed by the Sunni’s and the British. The British had occupied the ancient territory of Mesopotamia as liberators of the Iraqi people. In British eyes they were being freed from the oppression of the Turkish Ottomans. And initially the British Army was welcomed as liberators as they determinedly set up a constitutional and democratic government. Unfortunately the people turned on their liberators and killed thousands of the British troops – so the current situation in Iraq is simply an encore of the British experience in the 1920’s. The British ultimately crushed the rebellion but at a cost, the lesson was that it required a massive military intervention applied with an iron hand. This was a lesson lost on the American Military who suffer from the American Disease – this disease is the belief that all peoples are alike, they desire freedom, and that a democratic government will bring peace. The sad reality is that not everyone in the world is prepared for a democratic government either psychologically or culturally and the Muslim World in particular is not ready for democratic government. Democracy has failed every time it has been implemented in the past and the current situation in Iraq shows every sign that it will fail once again.

The western liberals simply cannot let go of the idea that the Arab world is desperate for freedom and democracy. The only Muslim state that has come close is Turkey and that democracy was implemented by force. The Muslim World is actually fragmented by tribes, cultures, feuds, and ironically – religion. They are somewhat unified by their hatred of the West which dates back to the Crusades which is still evidenced by Osama bin Laden and others referring to Westerners and Americans in particular – as Crusaders. Currently the liberal establishment is totally convinced that the American invasion of Iraq was instigated by George Bush for the sole purpose of enriching the oil companies or even worse as a distraction to the failed domestic policies. Both of these are totally false but the truth may be even more pathetic.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a strategic bulwark against the Shi’ite dominated Iran but it was increasingly unstable as Saddam began to have visions of grandeur. But the US policy wonks mistakenly thought that if they toppled Hussein the people would view the US as liberators and immediately establish a stable democratic government. It was as if these highly educated people from all of those liberal elite eastern universities never read a history book. Instead of liberators the US was quickly seen as invaders and Crusaders and instead of following the historical precedent of ruthlessly crushing all dissent with overwhelming force, the Americans held an election. The real question is didn’t any of those fancy universities ever hear of Machiavelli? So instead of bringing democracy and law and order, the US managed to unleash all of the pent up hatred and feuds already present and these were exacerbated by the external influence of Al Qaeda. Worse, the stabilizing influence of Sunni Iraq is now gone and the weakened Iraq is falling under the influence of Iran and fueling their nuclear ambitions.

It seems the mess in Mesopotamia is much worse than anyone realizes. If the US exits Iraq it will be a strategic disaster because it will be seen as a defeat of the US by Al Qaeda. If the US stays it will continue to inflame Muslims worldwide as it will be seen as an invasion of Islamic lands by Crusaders determined to crush Islam. Also if and when the US does leave Iraq it almost guarantees that an enterprising General will rise to power and overthrow the democratic government which is only a sham anyway. If this General is pro-Iranian, which is likely then we will be faced with an anti-American alliance that could destabilize Saudi Arabia and threaten the World’s oil supply. It would be better if the CIA orchestrated this coup and saw to it that a pro-American General became dictator, but it is unlikely any administration would have the courage to do this and face the wrath of the liberal press. Mesopotamia is a mess and it has always been a mess.

The Founding Fathers

From time to time I encounter various quotes attributed to various members of the Founding Fathers of America, you know that group of self-serving hypocrites Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin. More recently as the new Messiah, Barrack Obama, has ascended to power, the number and frequency of these quotes is increasing, especially those attributed to Thomas Jefferson. So precisely what did this slave owning rich hypocrite do – what are his beliefs?

It was Jefferson who inserted into that revolutionary document that forms the very basis of our nation the statement that has stood as a stumbling block to all tyrants and would be tyrants:
“ ...all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these rights Governments are instituted among Men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. Americans are the only people in the world who have the RIGHT to the pursuit of happiness. Not very specific but it was meant to be imprecise because it represents the first separation of government from individual rights. As long as the individual does not break the law Jefferson intended that he should be free to pursue his own pathway to happiness. Even though Jefferson’s words laid the foundation for the elimination of slavery the fact that he owned slaves forever brands him in the eyes of the modern revisionist history professors – a hypocrite and unworthy of admiration or even study, even though he was a driving force behind the Bill of Rights. It is this Bill of Rights that buttress the Constitution, spell out and guarantee the very fundamental rights that Americans take for granted, but it is this same Bill of Rights that is under attack by those Oligarchs in Washington. Perhaps it is time to review these basic rights, which have been so interpreted and distorted by the Congress and the Supreme Court as to be virtually unrecognizable.

Article 1
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Note that Congress is prohibited from making any law the curtails or restricts the free exercise of religion. It does not state that religion or God should be separate from the government if those governed desire to worship God. Congress cannot abridge the freedom of speech but it says nothing about “hate speech” or the use of profanity but the Supreme court acting unilaterally has declared profanity and pornography protected by free speech but God and racial slurs are not. Precisely who is the hypocrite today?

Article 2
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed

Of course this Article is under heavy attack as the Congress and those Oligarchs seek to expand their power. It is to their benefit to disarm the people and it is this precise risk to our freedom that his Article was inserted. The argument is that only the “militia” can be armed which is interpreted as the “National Guard” but it was the Minutemen Farmers who fought and won our independence and it is the well armed citizenry that will and can maintain it. The Constitution specifically spells out this right because the Founding Fathers wanted to protect the people FROM THE GOVERNMENT.

Article 5
No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

This article has been quoted and employed to great effect but more recently the little phrase at the end regarding private property seems to be routinely ignored by the current administration. We see the government taking over private industry and determining unilaterally the value of the property being taken from the share holders and bond holders. The Bond Holders in particular had a contract that guaranteed them “just compensation” but the administration gave preferential treatment to the labor unions – their big supporters while giving the investors – the capitalists—pennies on the dollar-- Jefferson and Madison be damned!!

As President Jefferson reminded America that our happiness and prosperity rested on a wise and frugal government and a government that would remain free of regulating business and industry and that government “shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned”. The time has long past for Americans to return to those fundamental rights and limitations established by the Founding Fathers and increasingly ignored by Congress, the Supreme Court (and Ninth Circuit Court) and the current Administration who are by passing Congress entirely in their drive for power never intended by the Constitution or Bill of Rights.

What Is Art?

The common position seems to be that ART is in the eye of the beholder, meaning a pile of elephant dung painted royal blue is art if the painter says so. Then again what is the value of art? The answer once offered by an artist was that the value of his work was what a purchaser was willing to pay for it. From this we could conclude that nothing is ART unless someone is willing to pay for it. This would eliminate many of the artists whose work we see displayed as art even though they have never sold anything. They have been called an artist by some gallery owner using their elephant dung monstrosity as bait to shock the media into giving them free publicity so they can draw real buyers into their gallery to see real art, which brings us back to the original question of what is ART?

Art of course takes many forms and there is a range from amateur to great art and this applies to virtually every type of art from paintings to music to sculpture and everything in between. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to illustrate this range of artistic endeavor is to look at literature. On the one hand we find Shakespeare, the Greeks, Milton, and other great and famous authors. These are works cherished by the sophisticated and well read but ignored or scoffed at by the average person who may never have read them or having read them not understood them. Then there is the trade literature, the Clancy’s, Cussler’s, Kellerman’s, and that army of authors we find in any bookstore or airport. These tend to be well written, popular, and make their author’s rich and while technically art are they great art – probably not.

Music is perhaps the one art that most people, especially the young and unsophisticated, come into contact with on a daily basis. These contemporary concoctions have hosts of aficionado’s and technically they are art since people pay for their work, but are they great art? How much contemporary music will stand the test of time, probably not much given the historical record for popular music? Around the turn of the century Rag Time was very popular – the Rock and Roll of its day – but the only composer to survive with any degree of popularity and recognition is Scott Joplin. But not all popular music is doomed for oblivion because much of the music from the various decades survives and retains its popularity today, but while art is it great art?

This opens the question of what is “great art”, who determines it, and how is it defined? Unfortunately “great art” is much like quality in that it defies definition but you know it when you see it. If there is an answer to that question perhaps it is that when you see or hear a great work of art you know it immediately. The first time you see a Michelangelo statue you know immediately that this is great work because the people seem to be alive but then these are also well executed and realistic but not all sculpture is realistic. What about Calder’s mobiles and stabiles? These are totally abstract and resemble nothing – they just are. So is this great art? Consider Picasso’s abstractions or Dali’s surrealism – are these great art? Who determines this and on what basis?

There probably isn’t any answer to this question other than a shared and common belief that these pieces are great art. Some of this belief is undoubtedly tied to the originality of the work. After all Calder’s mobiles were original – the first of their kind, Picasso’s cubism was original as was Dali’s limp watches. Those that came after were followers so originality of the work plays a part and then later the name of the artist seems to determine if the work is “real” art. Consider the later works of Picasso and Dali – hardly original and certainly not the quality of their earlier work.

Music seems to be a little easier to classify given that the work of many composers rarely out last their lives. When you look at the classical music scene the great standout but there are few of them. When you look at popular music of any era the amount that survives is really quite limited. The music industry gives out awards every year in too many categories to even think about, but how many of those compositions are popular a few years later? How many people even remember who won what even 5 years ago? Popular music is quite perishable and may be art but hardly the great art of Gershwin or Porter.

So what is ART? I guess it is what the artist said – it’s worth what you pay for it and if it sells it is art. Great art stands alone and is determined by time and the appreciation of generations.

Egypt -- Libya -- Islam

The events in Egypt and Libya taking place today may determine the future of the Middle East for years to come. More importantly these events may affect Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood, Palestine, and most certainly the radical Islamists. Will Islam and Sharia Law become the dominant force in the Middle East or will the more moderate Muslims prevail and turn toward modernism and the world at large? IRAN Perhaps Iran holds the key to any peace in the Middle East. It is a government dominated by a group of radical Shi’ite Clerics posing as a legitimate government. They are funding most of the violence endemic in the Arab World. They are working on the development of an atomic bomb and have already developed the means to deliver that bomb to Israel as well as Eastern Europe. The question is “will Iran use their nuclear capability to attack Israel?” I think this is unlikely because it would lead to the downfall of the current government and end the clerical dominance. Would Iran quietly provide the nuclear weapons to their Hezbollah alter ego? This also is unlikely because the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah is no secret. Would they offer nuclear weapons to Palestine in order to assist the Palestinians in their pathetic war against Israel? This might be a possibility if the radical Islamists truly want to destroy Israel. PALESTINE The first question is “Is Palestine a real nation or is it an imaginary country like Afghanistan? The Arab world pays a lot of lip service to the Palestinian “cause” but after more than 60 years of rhetoric no Arab country seems to provide the Palestinians any substantive support nor has the erstwhile government ever shown any control over the factions ruling and dividing them. True – someone is paying for the weapons used by the Palestinians but either the Palestinians don’t have enough men to use all of the weapons or there simply isn’t enough armament to effectively attack Israel. Either way it appears that the Palestinian problem is nothing more than a way for the Arab world to rally around a cause without getting too involved. As the events in Egypt, Libya, and Syria unfold the question becomes “will the emerging Arab governments opt for a peaceful co-existence with Israel and the world or will they intensify their attacks on Israel and the West? The answer to that question might lie with Saudi Arabia. SAUDI ARABIA This may be the most schizophrenic country in the world. It is a monarchy on the one hand but a theocracy on the other. There is the royal family who are westernized (ignore their traditional dress) and realize their fate may lie with the Western Powers because of their economic dependence. At the same time the Royal family is not totally confident in the support of the people and are afraid of Iran and it’s religious influence over the Saudi people. The Saudi’s are the guardians of the most sacred places in Islam, practice Sharia Law, and are expected to be the model of an Islamic state. So publicly the Saudi’s are opposed to Israel while it has been rumored for years that privately they don’t care about Israel, which raises the question of how will they react to the events in Egypt and Libya. EGYPT The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in the 1920’s as a semi-secret organization with the objective of establishing Islam as the governing authority in the Arab world. They have been opposed and outlawed ever since – at least until the recent elections in Egypt, where they received 51% of the vote. The Egyptian Military does not support the Muslim Brotherhood and has worked with the Egyptian Judicial arm to weaken the constitution and the power of the President. The military dissolved the Egyptian parliament but the new President Morsi in an act of defiance convened it and then adjourned it before the Military could act. This was clearly intended to challenge the Military. On the positive side Morsi has promised to include Christians and women in his government and has promised to govern for all Egyptians. As his first foreign visit he is visiting Saudi Arabia. This is an important visit because how the Saudi Arabian government receives him is important. They could influence him to establish a modus Vivendi with Israel, rein in the Palestinians (who rely on arms coming in from Egypt), lean toward the West and not Iran, or any combination of these. But Egypt and Saudi Arabia cannot ignore the events in Libya either and what happens there could influence what happens in Egypt. LIBYA The Libyans have over thrown Gaddafi whose government was at least nominally Islamic. The question now is will Libya become an Islamic government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood or will it lean toward the West and modernism? The recent elections in Libya have been indeterminate with the more secular National Forces Alliance headed my Mahmoud Jibril claiming victory while the Islamist Justice and Construction Party claims that it will ultimately prevail. This claim is based on the rather complicated political structure which prevents either party from gaining an absolute majority of the Parliament. Mohammed Sawan believes the independent votes in the Parliament will go to the Muslim Brotherhood giving them control of the government. At least some of the Independent parties fear the Muslim Brotherhood and see it as allied with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Other independents are opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood for fear that they would close off Libya from the West and install a conservative Islamic government. The Independent candidate stated that he had rebuffed offers from Justice and Construction Party (Muslim Brotherhood) because "Libyans are ready to experience democracy and only educated liberals with a world view can bring it." SYRIA Syria has yet to come into play due to the de facto civil war raging. The existing government is heavily supported by Iran, shelters Hezbollah, and tacitly opposes Israel. Precisely who the forces opposing the Syrian government are is uncertain. The Iraqi’s have warned that Al Qaeda troops are pouring into Syria from Iraq. If this is true it doesn’t bode well for Syria’s future. If the opposition prevails they could follow Libya and turn westward or they could establish an Islamic state with an anti-west position.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Does God Exist

Can anyone prove that God exists? Perhaps the question should be can anyone prove that God doesn’t exist. The atheists argue that since His existence cannot be proved scientifically then by definition He doesn’t exist, but isn’t that argument just as much of a faith based argument as those that argue for His existence? Of course the corollary to this argument is, was the creation of life spontaneous or directed? Some believe that God created life while the atheists reject that argument while believing that life was a chemical accident and that life on Earth spontaneously appeared. Of course those who believe in this “scientific” argument ignore the first rule of the scientific method which is that in order for something to be true it must be repeatable. To date the various attempts at creating life from inert forms have failed so technically the creation of life remains unproven and those who believe in the scientific explanation do so on faith because it is not based on any scientific fact. But the fundamental question remains – does God exist? Where did everything come from? There must have been a starting point, a time before the creation of the Earth and the Universe. At one time it was believed that the universe was static – that it had always existed but science has proven that to be false. The universe is expanding and the rate of expansion is slowing which leads to the obvious conclusion that like a rubber band it must stop and contract back to its starting point. This means that at some point the entire universe must have had a zero or starting point. Science answered this question with the Big Bang theory, which postulates that the entire universe at one time did not exist but came into being in one enormous explosion. That explosion – the Big Bang – created space, time, and all mass in the universe. Unfortunately this theory has this big hole which is – what created the explosion and where was all of that mass and energy prior to the explosion? The answer to that question is in hot debate so the scientific community continues to come up with theory after theory like parallel universes, multiple Big Bangs, and various other strained explanations each one intended to answer the question without resorting to God. The idea that God might have created the universe is an unacceptable explanation to scientists and atheists because God to them is a myth so there must be a scientific explanation even if no one knows what it is. The fact that this position is as faith based as is the belief that God created the universe seems to escape the atheist and scientific communities. Accepting that the Big Bang happened – whatever the cause – space was created along with every single proton, electron, and neutron in the universe. Each of these particles is exactly the same and everything in the universe from galaxies, to planets, to trees, to people are composed of these exact same particles – combined in different forms of course, but forms randomly created by chance into life according the scientific community. However, this argument relies heavily on evolution which has problems of its own revolving around speciation and adaptation. In the beginning the Earth was a far different place than it is today. Science can trace the evolution of the universe from the first nanosecond to today, but the problem starts when all of those identical atomic particles begin to collect and combine into things and some of those things somehow become self-replicating and alive. This is believed to be true but not demonstrable. Nevertheless the first living thing is believed to be something akin to pond scum and that all of mankind is descended from that pond scum. Precisely how these random particles combined into that living pond scum organism is unknown – speculated and postulated on, but not demonstrable. Theories about the creation of life abound and the scientific community is certain that God was not involved and they believe there is a scientific explanation because they have faith in science. But it isn’t just the creation of life that is in question but the creation of everything that lives. From that first pond scum we must accept that every living thing has sprung from that primordial scum – every fish, tree, bacteria, and animal. All of that may be true but of course but it really can’t be demonstrated or meet the rigors of scientific investigation in the sense that it demonstrates that God played no part in the creation of life or existence. So to those who challenge me to prove God exists, I challenge them to prove He doesn’t.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Middle East Overview

In the last week the Egyptian Military announced that the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate has been elected President with 51% of the votes. Not a mandate by any means but a real milestone. Of course the military has rewritten the constitution to weaken the presidential authority, but there are other encouraging signs. The new president has announced he will pick both women and Christians as Vice Presidents, whether this happens or not remains to be seen but the mere announcement of intent is encouraging. It has been feared that if the MB gained power they would immediately turn Egypt into an Islamist state. Of course that still might happen but with only 51% of the votes it seems that perhaps the MB will actually attempt to establish a unity approach. While Egypt is the very foundation of Islam it is not alone in the Middle East and what happens there can signal changes throughout the region. For example during this same period Palestinians fired 55 rockets into Israel from Gaza, a Turkish Military jet was shot down by Syrian air defenses, three Syrian air force officers have defected to Jordan including one with his aircraft, and Syria has finally spun into an outright civil war. All of these things are interesting but they must be viewed in their totality. Within the Middle East Turkey is the only truly secular government with an Islamic majority, but that majority has been moving toward an Islamic government and a less secular one. Turkey would like to be a larger influence in the Middle East because they need more political stability and less violence throughout the region. The current regime in Syria has lost control as it spends out of control and into civil war, Turkey needs to see a new regime there. After all Turkey is bounded by Iran with its radical Islamic government and Syria whose government is heavily influenced by Iran via Hezbollah, so with a new regime in Syria, Turkey could work with the new government to expand its influence throughout the Arab world and counter the influence of the radical Islamist elements on its borders. The Muslim Brotherhood has been struggling to gain a legitimate political presence since the 1920’s. For much of that time it has been an outlaw regime similar to the IRA in Ireland. It was the MB that claimed responsibility for the assassination of Sadat in Egypt. Now for the first time they are recognized as a legitimate political party with control albeit tenuous control, of Egypt. Now that they have control of Egypt the MB must find a way to not just deal with the military but to reduce its power, reduce its power without violence. What happens now remains to be seen but without doubt Hamas sees the MB and Egypt as an ally in its war against Israel. The Israeli’s are holding back for the time being while the new Egyptian government stabilizes. For the moment it seems that Hamas is escalating its war on Israel on the belief that the MB will abandon the Egyptian – Israeli peace treaty and join in the general Arab war on Israel. However, it seems that the Saudi’s along with several other nations have condemned Israel publicly and played along with Hamas and Hezbollah by giving them lip service but without actively working against Israel. Therefore the probability is that Egypt will seek some sort of Modus Vivendi with Israel and lean on Palestine and Hamas to find a political solution and cease their stupid little war that has achieved nothing, not likely to achieve anything, while reducing the credibility of the entire Arab world. Turkey may be the key to the whole area although it seems they are trying to determine what to do next without actively supporting the Syrian rebels. If those rebels can get organized and show they are not dominated by Iran, Hezbollah, or radical Islamic forces, then Turkey and other nations might come to their aid and end the Assad regime.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

France, The Euro and Beyond

I have been fascinated by the impact of some of the recent events which have rocked the world economy. Of course the first is the reaction by the Greeks to their failed socialist economy which can only be described as denial. The denial being that socialism is a viable governmental form when the costs outstrip the revenues. Their solution is to blame the Germans, blame capitalism, blame the banks, blame anyone and everyone except that person they see in the mirror. So they threw out the government and their austerity program and are now happily returning to their old ways without any idea whatsoever of how to pay for anything. Like all socialists they seem to believe that the “government” will pay for everything by taxing the rich. Of course all of the rich in Greece left a long time ago and when they joined the Euro-zone they gave up their control of their currency, this was a small point which they ignored in their haste to expand their Club Med life style. Now we see the same plan developing in France – that is a total denial that socialism doesn’t work. The French refuse to sacrifice anything to austerity. They feel they are being exploited by being expected to work more than a 35 hour work week and to retire at 62 rather than 60. They know that capitalism is evil and socialism guarantees that the government will always be there for them. Of course they are a little vague regarding where the government gets the money to pay for their benefits other than from the “rich” meaning companies because any individual with any substantial income has already moved his assets out of the country. Furthermore, the socialist government has made it so difficult to lay anyone off that no business will hire new employees. Instead any new jobs are being sent offshore where it is easier to control the staffing. The current thinking in France is that socialism provides for everyone assuring everyone an equitable share of the wealth. Anyone who doesn’t grasp the benefits of socialism must be selfish and greedy, and this brings us to the Euro. Money is an abstraction whose only value is what we collectively give it and the ability of the issuing government to ensure that value, so the dollar, the pound, the yen, and other currencies are monetary instruments guaranteed by their governments but not so the Euro. The Euro is an artificial currency with no specific government guaranteeing it and no specific European government can print new Euros – hence the problems in Greece, Italy, Portugal, and throughout most of the Euro-zone to a greater or lesser extent. The Euro Zone is dominated by socialist governments whose consistent policies have been oriented toward maximum employment with the least amount of work and the most generous benefits. However, the party is ending because none of the Euro-zone countries can sustain these benefits based on their revenues which mean they must be reduced. These austerity programs are not popular but if they are not implemented the Euro-zone can collapse France is the most recent country to refuse to accept these austerity driven reductions in benefits. France was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Euro-zone thinking that they would be the dominant force. This turned out to be a gross miscalculation because their socialist policies focus on employment and not on productivity. . The unintended result ironically has been higher unemployment as companies refuse to hire new people unless forced to. The wages are inflated relative to the output so these companies look overseas for growth which results in a double strike at home—higher unemployment means less tax revenue and higher unemployment costs. The government expands as new government jobs are created and with these jobs comes greater bureaucracy and with that bureaucracy comes lower productivity and an incentive for employers and investors to move overseas. Today the Greeks are voting to decide whether to continue their Club Med economy or to adopt some measures that would keep them in the Euro-zone. Either way the party has ended because the piper must be paid. A return to the Drachma will certainly cause rampant inflation which will create serious problems but staying with the Euro will force serious austerity measures which will effectively demonstrate that socialism cannot be sustained over the long term. Will the French get the message? Will the socialists in Europe get the message? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Is Wealth Zero Sum -- Revisited

There seems to be a whole group of people who view wealth not as an abstraction or even in terms of tangible goods, but solely in terms of “currency” with a sub-text regarding the inequities of wealth distribution. It is this idea that wealth should be shared and that all wealth has been gained at the expense of others, that seems to be the foundation of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement as well the anti-capitalism forces found in academia today. Even the academics and social philosophers admit that wealth can be created and destroyed so they restrict their arguments to currency – usually in dollars and Euros but the argument can be applied to any form of fiat currency. But perhaps the best illustration of this view of wealth is to use art as an example. For example many of Van Gogh’s paintings initially sold for tens of dollars and that same painting today is worth millions, but was wealth created? The value increased but not because of any tangible change, only the demand increased and even that value is not realized until the painting is resold at its greater value. This illustration can be applied to stocks, bonds, or virtually any form of investment. Certainly there was no creation of wealth only a change in demand and the value of the investment as a result of the demand. The point is that when a country prints more currency it is not creating more wealth until that currency is exchanged for some tangible gain or goods, but the law of supply and demand remains. So no wealth is created by increasing the supply of currency but that doesn’t mean that the sum of wealth is finite, it just means the supply may exceed the demand at that specific point in time. For some inexplicable reason some argue that wealth – in terms of currency – is zero sum because printing more money doesn’t create more wealth. Taken at face value that is probably true but only if the law of supply and demand is suspended or held static. That means the value of some tangible asset will be increased because the supply of currency has exceeded the demand – momentarily. Those that subscribe to this fallacious argument then claim the economic policies of a country allow for some to become very rich while some become poverty stricken. Of course this is the very foundation of capitalism because as an economic philosophy it allows for the unequal distribution of wealth. The unasked question of course is how did the rich become rich and how did the poor become poor. Furthermore, how is rich defined and how is poor defined. The reality is that some have taken advantage of the opportunities presented by capitalism while others have expected to be taken care of – by the government, which is the very foundation of socialism and communism. The argument then shifts to the belief – not fact – that the wealth being created in a capitalist society by entrepreneurs, employers, and individuals is not shared or returned to society as a whole. This is a fallacious argument because those individuals with the greatest wealth pay the most in taxes while those with the least wealth pay little or even no taxes at all. It is the taxes of the wealthiest that pay for defense, for roads, for environmental control, energy, and all of the services provided by the government. Does capitalism permit inequality in wealth? Certainly it does, but it also provides equal opportunity for the individual to become wealthy while those who choose not to take advantage of those opportunities remain at a lower income level. I submit that wealth is NOT zero sum and that wealth can be and is being created daily, but that wealth creation is not the result of an increased supply of currency. To equate global wealth in term of currency is a specious argument because the demand for currency is elastic. This means that the total global wealth will wax and wane determined by the law of supply and demand. Therefore, those arguments regarding the inequality of wealth distribution have nothing whatsoever to do with wealth being finite. They are simply a philosophy that believes that wealth should be shared through governmental force, even though this philosophy has failed in every instance that it has been tried. The result has universally been universal poverty for the masses and even greater privileges and wealth for the elites.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Musings on a Wednesday

So many things astonished me today – not because I was surprised at them but because I was so accurate in the expectation of their occurrence. But before I launch into that discussion perhaps we should review the liberal establishment in general. The most basic thing about the liberal establishment is that they love people and want to help them no matter how much they hurt them. Take the black community for example. Under Jim Crow they had intact families and a cohesive community. While this isn’t a plea to return to segregation, the reality is that the death of Jim Crow brought white guilt to the surface. Suddenly we had affirmative action, busing, handouts, and government programs aimed at redressing past wrongs. Then the professional racists like Jesse Jackson emerged along with the Reverend Wright who saw racism in any attempt to enforce the law or expect civil behavior – the result has been a generation dependent on welfare and government handouts along with the demise of the nuclear black family and a cohesive community. The liberal community continues to fight poverty and injustice within the black community no matter how morally destructive their solutions are, because they are convinced they are right. Now we have the Occupy Wall Street movement, endorsed by the liberal community in the form of the President, Nancy Pelosi, the SEISU, Acorn (under various names), and of course George Soros. On May day – the International Communist Holiday – the OWS die hards were out once again – rioting, destroying property, but only on the bastions of liberalism on the West Coast and of course NYC. The turnout was pathetically small but the participants – when interviewed for TV – demonstrated such ignorance of even basic economics that it was astonishing. One young man – representative of them all – came down squarely against any idea of personal responsibility. He wasn’t actually against capitalism because it wasn’t clear that he even understood the term, but he was for government programs. He felt the government should give “free stuff” like food, shelter, healthcare, and “other stuff”. Nothing was mentioned about employment or who was going to pay for all of this stuff – it was the government’s responsibility to just give this “stuff” to the people. This really demonstrates the essential liberal philosophy which is that the government should take care of all people and that the rich should be forced to share their wealth through confiscatory taxes. The of course we have that genius in the White House who has just committed $2B to Afghanistan even though that country is a country in name only and one of the most corrupt in the world. He has just announced his campaign slogan of FORWARD which I presume is intended to prevent people to look backward and to evaluate his track record. That track record is littered with broken promises, unfulfilled promises, and failures. This is a president whose track record is even more pathetic than Jimmy Carter’s. It was easy to predict that he would ignore his track record and simply promise to do better while his opponent will undo all of the giveaway programs and entitlements. The only surprise was that he didn’t blame George Bush as part of his campaign.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Chinese Bubble

The socialists and communists never seem to learn that central planning and government control is a failure, is expensive, and never seems to accomplish any of their objectives. Currently the feeling seems to be that China (formerly known by the politically incorrect but accurate title – The People’s Republic of China) is taking over the world. Everything seems to be made in China and the PRC seems impervious to the economic woes of the world. But is this real? Is the PRC the economic success that they want you to believe or are they practicing the tried and true strategy of the USSR, which is that if you say it’s true then it must be true?

It is important to understand that there is no private capital in the PRC and that everything is controlled by the government. This means that all new construction, production volumes, and imports are strictly controlled and subsidized by the government. Given this strict control and oversight by the government the PRC must be a booming success but alas – it is looking more and more like the PRC may have created a bubble that is nearing a tipping point.

The Central Planning philosophy seems to be “if you build it they will come”. Meaning that if you build a mall or apartment complex the consumption will follow which has left the government holding empty buildings, empty malls, and ongoing construction projects which will yield even more empty buildings and malls. You must remember the bedrock philosophy of socialism is employment not efficiency so the harsh rules of capitalist supply and demand are ignored and not viewed as relevant. The result is that there is a housing glut with substantially more housing available that is needed, but that really only applies to the coastal region. The interior of China continues to be rural with a standard of living equivalent to most third world countries.

But this problem of excess capacity isn’t limited to housing but is prevalent in manufacturing as well. Chinese manufacturers continue pumping out huge amounts of steel, cement, aluminum, and other products to the point that it is unlikely the economy can absorb the output. When the world economy took a down turn China did not cut back but continued churning out massive amounts of product. Now the world economy has cut back and the domestic Chinese market cannot absorb the surplus. In a capitalist economy the individual businesses would simply reduce output, eliminate inefficiencies, and reduce headcount but these solutions are not possible with central planning, because employment is the objective. Furthermore, Chinese industry is heavily subsidized and relies strongly on imported raw materials. The pressure on the Chinese government is tremendous and the question is – how long can they maintain this drain on their economy?

Friday, March 23, 2012

China – A Strategic Threat?

Apparently in an effort to cover up the total failure of Communism and the growing failure of Socialism, the popular press has chosen to forget that China is actually the People’s Republic of China and that it is in fact a troubled communist country. Instead we are treated almost daily to the glowing reports of China as an economic powerhouse that is rapidly taking over the global market. Unfortunately the popular press is not noted for its objective reporting or critical thinking so perhaps it is time to look behind the press releases.

While China is a large country with a huge population, it is not a homogenous population in economics, culture, or ethnicity. Historically China has been a series of fiefdoms or provinces that have not always been comfortable or even friendly with each other. Imperial China was more or less stable but hardly rich and hardly a military threat. But also the coastal regions of China have always been economically stronger than the interior and have prospered at the expense of the agrarian interior regions. It was this economic disparity that allowed Mao Tse Tung to overthrow the Chinese government and to establish what Communist China is today.

However, the reality seems to be that nothing has changed under the communists and the same economic divisions remain. In fact what appears to be a strong and competitive Chinese economy is more of a veneer than a reality. The reality is that two thirds of the Chinese people have incomes equivalent or below third world countries. While the Communists unified China they also once again demonstrated the weakness of communism, which is universal poverty. The current government recognizes the growing instability of their government and has sought to achieve greater stability through mass employment. But mass employment requires industrial growth, subsidies, and expansion of consumption either domestically or via exports. But with central planning – the mainstay of communism – there is no thought given to markets or margins – just to employment. The result is exports become a necessity because the domestic market cannot absorb the output. Therefore, China must export their goods in order to maintain political stability through salaries and the revenues necessary to support the agrarian majority.

The economic downturn has affected the economies of virtually every nation but with its dependence on exports China has been hit particularly hard. China depends on the American and European markets to absorb their exported goods, but with their declining economies the law of supply and demand has taken over. The demand for Chinese goods is down and the competition for those goods is up. China is caught in a dilemma – they cannot reduce their output nor can they reduce their subsidies to the interior and their manufacturing base. They cannot layoff workers because employment is key to their communist principles, but they cannot sustain their current production levels either. The Chinese government is trapped in the inherent flaw of Marxism – central planning and government ownership rather than private ownership. Maintaining stability is dependent on goods flowing overseas while raw materials flow in, but maintaining this flow is a growing challenge because the Communist system ignores profitability in favor of employment which in turn breaks the self regulating law of supply and demand. This problem is further aggravated by inflation, which not only raises the cost of subsidizing the interior but it drives up the cost of the manufacturing output which reduces their competitiveness with other global suppliers. An alternative might be to produce higher cost products like automobiles, which China is attempting, but this requires a different workforce – one with more education and training than what is available today. But even if they are successful in making this transition they will come face to face with Germany, Japan, and the United States. The Chinese government is caught in a situation they cannot control. They are coming face to face with the fatal flaw in socialism, which is employment as the priority rather than efficiency.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Just Another Day In Paradise

It seems all of our lives we look forward to retirement – right up to the time when it actually happens. Then we are faced with the reality that we must fill every day with interest and activity. For some this isn’t a challenge, they simply substitute paid work for unpaid work in the form of volunteering and others choose to travel while others simply go back to work. But then there is that small minority who simply try to withstand the daily adventure and mini-disasters that seem to follow them around, my wife and I seem to fall into that category. I offer a typical day in our retirement paradise.

Being retired we have no reason to rise before the chickens but after 40 years of greeting the sun with mixed emotions, it is now impossible to sleep in. Well not really – we sleep late now and don’t get up before 6 AM, which some see as the reason senior citizens are so crabby – they’re sleep deprived. But not us – we bounce out of bed each day ready for adventure. Of course we must admit there is less bounce than there used to be and some days we have to have a full Homeland Security groping just to ensure all of the body parts are intact, but still we start each day with enthusiasm. But – as the usual day in our retirement paradise progresses our enthusiasm wanes and today was very typical.

As usual we were up with the chickens and skipped downstairs, the skipping was due to having left our glasses downstairs and not being able to see all of the steps, so we skipped a couple. THAT gave us a good adrenalin rush, which we counted as our cardio-workout for the day. And now we were ready for breakfast. Contrary to what we tell our doctors we really don’t eat high fiber, low cholesterol, low carbohydrate, health foods so widely advertised on TV. You know the ones that promise perfect children, tight butts for life, and no need for health insurance. Instead we opt for the traditional breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast, which would send our doctors into cardiac arrest if they knew, so we feel we are actually helping save their lives by telling them that we have given up real food and rely on better living through chemistry. But it isn’t like we are ignoring all aspects of the healthy life style. We no longer fry our eggs in the bacon grease but instead we use real butter – totally natural foods for us – no longer any of that processed junk peddled by the Pillsbury Dough Boy and his junk food pushing buddies like General Mills.

So this morning’s menu called for poached eggs on buttered toast with sausage. This was a simple healthy breakfast – easy to make, which I managed to whip up within minutes, but as usual nothing ever goes according to the plan. So I sat down for my breakfast and poked my fork into my poached egg. POW!!! My egg exploded!! This was not just some little poof – I mean it was like a car bomb. The yoke blew up and threw the yoke all over me, the table, and the floor. I figured I had been attacked by an egg bomb planted by some extremist militant PETA inspired chicken. Or maybe it was my doctor sending me the message to stick to egg whites, I don’t know which but I definitely was left with egg on my face. Well there was the sausage left so I stuck my fork into it. It was like releasing Niagara. It began to shoot a liquid clear across the plate and right onto my chest. I jumped back and yelled “My sausage just pissed on me!!” That turned out to be a poor choice of words because my wife wasn’t clear on just what sausage I was referring to and sort of took the position of “SO--? what else is new?” Another one of my failures in communications, but it seemed clear to me that I had been attacked by my breakfast, but I quickly decided I wasn’t dealing with an attack by PETA, the sausage was just showing solidarity with that Chicken or maybe it was the doctor delivering a symbolic message regarding my health choices.

So as you can see it wasn’t even 6:30 AM and our day was already off to a rocky start. But the sun came up, the day dawned, and so began another day in our little retirement paradise. I began working on my computer while The Commander In Chief (aka the wife) started her usual mysterious banging, tearing, squashing, and talking to herself. Suddenly there was an animal like scream and she immediately activated her emergency -- knight in shining armor alarm – that’s me, although the response time isn’t quite as fast as it used to be. So I dash downstairs – well dash at my age isn’t quite as fast as it once was but I arrive out of breath and in a rush of adrenalin (second cardio for the day). Of course I hadn’t heard the initial cry but I certainly hear the second one. It definitely sounds like an animal and it is in the HOUSE!! We immediately launch a search – well I search while my wife remains barricaded behind the chairs. After searching high and low, I bump into the package of toys she had wrapped for our grandchildren -- VOILA` The package emits this animal like cry!! She shouts “IT’S THE MONKEY!!” and of course being totally involved in all domestic events -- at a casual interest level -- I shout “WHAT MONKEY” Well it seems that as a welcome gift for my new iPhone, Verizon sent a monkey – Don`t ask because I don’t get the symbolism either. It seems my darling wife – had packed this monkey with the other toys destined for our grandchildren. This monkey makes screaming sounds as if it were being tortured (probably by a competitor like AT&T?)when moved or disturbed – mystery solved. So it was now lunch time and we have had two cardio-work outs and enough excitement for another typical day in retirement paradise. How the United Postal Service will react to this package is to be determined.