The Wages of Wheel of Fortune

Gambling’s often a bad idea. Take today, when I went in for Old Fart Triple Points Day at the Fiesta Henderson Casino. It’s on Lake Mead Parkway right where it turns into I215. Anyway, I played video poker (Deuces Wild) for about half an hour and lost about three bucks. Not too awful, but nothing great either. For one thing, I lost three bucks. So I pushed the cashout button and collected my ticket (there are no coins used in gambling machines anymore, in case you don’t have a casino handy.) I save that credit slip to use on the occasional Old Fart Triple Points Day. Every so often I get a free meal out of it, which helps make up for those devastating $3 losses. But today I happened to see the 25 cent Wheel of Fortune machines. I never put my credit slip in a regular slot machine, because I know I’ll lose it. But I figured that five bucks wouldn’t kill me, so I put in a fiver. On the second game I got three bars, which pays enough that I now had eight bucks credit. This was bad, because I like to play but my rule is that if I get half again what I start with, I quit. So I cashed out and got my eight dollars. Then I says to myself, what the hey, put the five back in and you can’t lose more than net two bucks. See? Well, after less than ten games on the second time I put the five in I got a spin, which paid 40 quarters. For the arithmetically challenged, that’s ten bucks. This time I cashed and went home, for a net profit of over ten bucks including the three I lost on Deuces Wild.

See how gambling destroys your finances? If I only had the nerve to bet real money I’d be rich, you know? Hah! If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to show you. Of course, I actually am ahead of Wheel of Fortune, because for some reason that game loves me. Same with video blackjack. Want to know my secret?

I quit while I’m ahead. A highly recommended and seldom practiced technique. I’d recommend it to anybody. Hey, ten bucks is ten bucks, right?

Traffique

I’ve written some theoretically funny pieces about traffic, but just for lack of grins I’m inspired to say the same things without the humorous overlay. Sorry if I offend. Oh, no I’m not. Sorry about that. Oops.

Courtesy?

Think you’re courteous on the road? Well, most people are, some of the time. Most people, if you signal that you want to change lanes, will let you do it. Know how to tell the people who won’t? They’re the ones who cut in without signaling. Obviously, if I’m an inconsiderate jerk, I figure everyone is the same, so I get you before you get me. Bwaa-haaa-haaa. Know what? If you don’t signal your lane changes, you’re an inconsiderate jerk and that’s all there is to it. There are other terms for you as well. Asshole comes to mind. A commonly overlooked form of courtesy is keeping out of the way of other drivers. I know people who get righteously indignant that so many people zoom past them as they drive along at 5mph below the speed limit. The thing is, obstructing traffic just so you can feel virtuous about not being a speed demon is just as discourteous as failing to signal. Guess what that makes you?

Other Stuff

Opposite the drivers putting along below the speed limit is the person who tries to drive as if the road were vacant when in fact it’s full of other vehicles. Really now, folks, there’s no reason to drive like you can get to the head of the line. There is no head of the line! What are you, nuts? The US Interstate Highway System is an engineering marvel, involving tens of thousands of miles of interconnected concrete runways stretching sea to sea and border to border. It is also essentially unbounded. That means that if you had enough fuel and a huge bladder you could drive all over the country and never once exit from the Interstate System. That means that there is not a single place on the entire highway that qualifies as “the beginning.” You can’t get there because it doesn’t exist. If you’re in that big of a hurry, get Scotty to beam you in, okay?

If you aren’t skilled enough, well trained enough, or courageous enough to operate your truck or SUV properly and safely, sell the thing and get a VW Beetle or something more your size. You’re not safe in any vehicle that’s being driven in an erratic and unsafe manner. And while we’re on that basic subject, strap your kids in properly and don’t turn around to look at them while you’re moving! Other people have children too, you know.

I could rant on and on because this topic represents a lifetime commitment to frustration. Not that I want to be committed to frustration, mind you, it just happens. That’s because of something I noticed a long time ago: that the flow of traffic is more important than any one driver’s agenda. I read recently about a trend among those responsible for traffic control to use that viewpoint rather than the more rigid attitude exemplified by the decades old “Speed Kills” campaign. It’s true that if you get into an accident at a higher speed you’re going to cause more damage. What that attitude fails to take into account is methods to reduce the number of accidents that are independent of pure “speed.” The idea on an Interstate, for instance, is that everybody is moving at pretty much the same speed. That this is safer was illustrated in Colorado when the accident and fatality rate dropped after the rural Interstate speed limit was raised from 65 mph to 75 mph. At 75 you will need to dissipate one-third more energy to stop than at 65, a fact of nature often quoted by the speed kills campaign. You’ll note that 75 is not one-third faster than 65, but the momentum builds logrithmatically (you square the change.) But what happened in Colorado was that those who insist on never speeding now had official permission to keep up with those who insist on never going less than 75. It’s easy to blame the speeders for the carnage, but it’s easier to simply prevent the carnage by giving the nod to unfortunate human nature.

One thing a surprising number of states do that I’m sure contributes heavily to the overall accident rate is to post different speed limits for different classes of vehicles. Here again the extra weight of a truck adds momentum logrithmatically. But, having large trucks going ten miles per hour slower than cars means that cars are popping from lane to lane trying to pass the trucks, a condition that on its face seems to just ooze collision danger. California does it, Ohio does it, as do other states. Why? Well, those limits are frequently set by the legislature. In Ohio the Turnpike is run by a separate commission, and the speed limit is 65 no matter what you’re driving. Guess which road is easier to drive: the Turnpike or Interstate 75?

I absolutely refuse to believe that this posting will make one whit of difference to traffic conditions or peoples’ driving habits. Nevertheless, it does make me feel better. When I feel better I drive better. So, I guess, in that small way, it’s worked.

And the Terrorists Score a Hit . . .

No, not the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. Those hits were from 2001, and they weren’t the real point anyway, if you listened to what Osama Bin Ladin said at the time. He said that the intent was to disrupt the Great Satan (I sort of feel flattered by that designation — at least we’re the ‘Great’ Satan, and not some run-of-the-mill pipsqueak demon.) He intended, so he said, to get us working against ourselves until our society fails from internal strife. Things haven’t gone exactly how he intended, but overall I think the bearded wonderboy of terror must be fairly pleased with how his scheme has been working.

I just read another article critical of FEMA and the ongoing response to Katrina along the Gulf Coast. Well, yes, it could be a lot better, couldn’t it? But, as an official said, since 9-11 the public focus has been on terrorism, so response to plain vanilla disasters hasn’t gotten the attention or funding that it deserves. That Bin Ladin fellow must be so pleased that he’s redoubled his prayers of gratitude to Allah for delivering the Great Satan to righteous retribution, or whatever in heck he calls it in his warped mind. I don’t know what Allah thinks of all that, but I’ve got an opinion or two. First, maybe we should consider what terrorism really means.

Terrorism is a tactic that uses fear to try to bring the target population under control, or to eliminate the target population if possible. It’s not doing any particular thing other than to try to keep people scared. When people are scared they often act against their own best interest, so by using terrorism you can get your enemy to do the fighting for you, in a manner of speaking. Maybe Osama believes that god sent the hurricane deliberately, but most people think that hurricanes are just one of those awful things that happen from time to time. Or maybe Osama just feels lucky and also doesn’t credit Allah, but either way he wins. By getting us to be so afraid that we concentrated all of our efforts on combating terrorism he also got us to ignore basic domestic safety issues, such as ensuring that FEMA was ready to respond to any emergency. That was FEMA’s charter, and they’ve done a tremendous job in the past. It wasn’t racism that condemned those poor people, it was terrorism. They’re sin wasn’t being black, it was being poor. Poor people are invisible, or else why do we now hear that “nobody knew” about the level of poverty in New Orleans? Anyone who bothered to look saw that it was there; it’s just that there’s no real reason for most of us to look until something like a disaster hits. (I’ll leave it to your conscience to decide about the moral and ethical issues that fact might raise.)

But, what else could the terrorists do, in terms of actual acts of war and destruction? We’ve been assuming the worst all the time, from the series 24 and a nuclear bomb that almost destroyed Los Angeles (and then where would we have gotten our TV shows?) to the nonsense once spouted about plastic and duct tape for your windows. I suppose that somebody could detonate a stolen, or jerry-rigged nuclear device in a city. Somebody could set off a homemade dirty bomb in the Super Bowl Stadium, too. Somebody could probably close down Interstate 80 across Nebraska (don’t think that wouldn’t be a disaster.) But, as a practical matter, could somebody do worse than what Hurricane Katrina just did? In truth, probably not. What we’ve done, by acting out of fear, is forget the basic fact that an emergency is an emergency. The firemen in New York never had specific training in response to terrorism prior to 9-11, but they knew how to act in an acute crisis. That’s what we need, not blather about “terror alert levels.” The real “alert level” is red all the time, if you think about it. Personally I’ll feel safer when FEMA is back to full strength and doing what it used to do well: managing disaster scenes effectively.

This will seem like a digression, but it isn’t. Bear with me for a paragraph. I’ve read about the D-Day landings in France. The Germans were well entrenched and had the high ground. They had every opportunity to wipe out the invading armies, but they could not. One big reason, according to what I’ve read, is that the American troops were each one thinking independently enough to respond appropriately to whatever was happening in his immediate vicinity. If they’d gone up the beach in some centralized lock-step sort of manner, the Germans may have prevailed. Instead, those thousands of individual battle plans, each one with the overall goal of the day in mind, allowed most of the invaders to survive and prevail.

So, back in 2005, I think it’s not such a wonderful idea to centralize our response to terrorism in one agency, even if it does have the attractive name of “Homeland Security.” I’ve never really liked that term ‘homeland’ anyway. It sort of reminds me of the German ‘fatherland’ concept. Creepy. But, my bias about words aside, the folks along the gulf would have been a lot better off if FEMA had stayed independent. Their mission has been to respond to domestic emergencies all along. 9-11 was a domestic emergency, Katrina is a domestic emergency, the Oklahoma City bombing was a domestic emergency. Two out of three were handled well by FEMA. The latest, after FEMA lost it’s autonomy, continues to be criticised for ineffectiveness. I think there may be a lesson here, if we’re up for it.

Let’s relax our paranoia, look at the real situation, and deny the terrorists another victory. Whattya say?

Oh, Sweet Jesus

If you click the title to this post you’ll be taken to Newsweek’s site, specifically an article titled Overturning the Gospels by Melinda Henneberger. The dastardly Liberal press? Maybe, but a dastard is also a coward (look it up.) I don’t think that this particular article is at all cowardly, but read it if you will and judge for yourself. The article talks about something I’ve touched on myself a few times, mostly in a comedic vein: the gap between the public Christianity of the current conservative religious right and what Mr. Nazareth actually taught way back when. I’ll be a little more explicit now, in my ranting venue, so this shouldn’t be confused with mere jokes. (As if any truly good joke could be trivial, but that’s another posting.)

A great many Americans get Jesus pretty much backwards, according to the article. For one thing, apparently they think that Jesus said that “God helps him who helps himself.” Jesus said no such thing. Ben Franklin said that, as befits a cynical and humorous man. It was an observation of how things really seem to work from someone not disposed to give a fig about any god or demon, but it was definitely not in the vein of Jesus’ work. What Jesus said was, for example, to “sell your valuables and give the money to the poor.” That does not even come close to meaning the same thing as Franklin’s observation, in fact if anything it means the opposite. Here are a few other things that Jesus of Nazareth said. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” In other words, pay your taxes, which also doesn’t really jibe with what many fundamentalist Christians think their religion is all about. Anything else? Well, how about “it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven.” Not what the average “screw the poor they must deserve it” American wants to hear, I think. Or how about “Love your neighbor as yourself” or “blessed are the meek?” A bit out of the mainstream Conservative American Christian tradition, I believe.

I can’t presume to interpret Jesus of Nazareth, but I have read the primary books about him, especially those Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ones you find in what Christians call the “New Testament.” You know, that book where they say god reveals himself as loving and kind? Funny that they don’t seem to believe in loving kindness, at least not in their public persona. But, hey, they do have a long tradition behind them. I’ve been watching and greatly enjoying the HBO series Rome. On the HBO web site is all sorts of information not only about the series but also about Rome itself, including a presentation on Roman Gods, titled “The Gods Are Out to Get You,” in which it is said that the Roman attitude toward their many gods was that the gods seemed to say, “If you do everything exactly right, with no mistakes, I’ll make your life and afterlife wonderful. Otherwise, you’re screwed, human.” Substitute the word God for the word gods, and you’ve got the apparent attitude of the fundamentalist Christian movement. Isn’t that odd? Here all these Protestant reformers went to all sorts of trouble and sacrifice, sometimes getting burned at the stake for their efforts, to separate Christianity from Rome, and here’s a major movement in twenty-first century America that’s running right back home, by Jove.

My personal heresy (heresy is asking questions; look it up) began when I read the old family bible that used to live on top of the desk in the front alcove. It was an ornate old edition of the King James text that had a list of ancestors on my mother’s side written in the back. It also had every example of text that was quoted from Jesus of Nazareth printed in red ink, whereas the rest of the text, from Adam to the Beast 666, was in plain black. Once I decided just to read the red text. Imagine my surprise to find out that a whole lot of what I’d been taught about Jesus apparently came from somebody else, because I noticed that he never said a lot of the things I’d heard attributed to him. He did suggest that we be generous, charitable, and loving. He said that the virtuous thing to do was to visit the imprisoned, tend to the sick, give your money to the poor, and comfort the afflicted. Not a word about the virtues of self-reliance. If there’s any evidence that the USA is not a Christian nation, that ought to do it. In spite of what you hear daily, and much like the other disinformation that they spout, the religious right is lying about Jesus, too. Oh, yes, Jesus disapproved of lying by the way.

I’m not the first person to notice this, of course. Tom Jefferson noticed the same thing, and edited a version of the new testament, still in print, where he only put in the parts that he thought Jesus would approve of. (It’s called the Jefferson Bible, and it’s available from Amazon, among other places.) I’m not going to be so presumptuous, but I will point out another version of the new testament, called The Gospel According to Jesus. No, Jesus didn’t write down his own scripture. Would that he had, but then Siddhartha did, including saying that he was not to be worshipped, and you see how effective that was, so maybe it would’ve made no difference. This book, also widely available, is a report on a study in which computerized linguistic analysis techniques were applied to the original documents of the books of the gospel. That is, the texts were examined with an eye to syntax, word usage, quirks in construction and other aspects (explained in this text) to differentiate authorship of the various portions. Surprise, there are quite a few apparent authors. There is one core bit of gospel from one author, writing as Matthew. It begins “When Jesus was about thirty years old he came down . . .” and ends with his execution at the hands of the Romans. The single reported miracle is breathing life back into the dead girl, which you can be trained to do by the Red Cross to this day. This is not the Jesus we’ve come to know over the centuries, but it is the most authentic picture extant of what the man really taught. Unfortunately for the right wing of Christianity, what’s left in still includes the same advice on humility, frugality, and loving enemies. Maybe the rest of the testament, and the other things tacked on over the millennia, really are just rich people’s way to obscure the ugly truth about Jesus of Nazareth. But what do I know? I just read books, I don’t interpret them on TV. I drive my own used car, too.

My point is that I fully agree with the author of the Newsweek article which you can read for yourself by clicking on the title of this post. A whole lot of Americans have got Mr. Nazareth just about totally backwards. Honestly, I’m not advocating for Jesus here, I’m advocating for honesty and integrity. There are arguments for being the way Americans have always been. We’re generous when the negative effects of not being generous hit us upside the head hard enough, like they’re doing right now. Otherwise we tend to get all tied up in the virtues of being industrious and enterprising. That’s fine, and well and good, but it’s not Christian and it never was. I wish people would quit misquoting that poor Nazarene and just tell the truth, is all.

Better Funny Pages

For those who may wish to know, I’ve been doing further work cleaning up my Funny Pages web site. This includes making the front page easier to read and less cluttered, as well as ensuring proper operation of the shared border links. Low bandwidth users can get to my low graphics start page here. Or, to be really lazy about reading the current article go directly to the archives, click on the current year, then on the bottom link furthest to the right. The archives can be accessed right here.

Also don’t forget the FAQ page, right here. I’ve put a better label on the start page, and fixed a problem I didn’t even know I had with the mail link on the FAQ page. No wonder no one ever mailed me suggestions any more: it went to an address I haven’t had in almost three years. If you tried that, I’m sorry. It’s fixed now. Anyhow, be sure to check out the Funny Pages list of Frequently Asked Questions.

By the way, if you have a faster connection or lots of patience and want to go directly to the current article, it’s right here.

The Worst Is Over But Yet To Come

The worst that is over is the damage from Hurricane Katrina. All ready there are people planning to reopen restaurants, re-invigorate New Orleans, rebuild casinos along the Mississippi coast, and generally get back to living life. That’s a step up from the despair of last week, and an indication that, like most people, the people of the Gulf Coast are a pretty resilient bunch when the chips are down, or not down in the case of those casinos (yuk yuk.)

The worst that is yet to come is the political fallout from the whole thing. Public perception of the current administration is in about the same shape as most of New Orleans, and I include the things floating around in the flood water, if you get my drift. Of course, as seems to be typical, everyone within our elected government has a strong opinion about what should be done. Unfortunately, this usually involves hanging the opposition party (opposed to the party of the speaker I mean) for crimes and misdemeanors. The administration “isn’t going to play the blame game” (as their opponents certainly are.) Rather, they’re simply going to point out how the State and local authorities are entirely responsible for the entire mess. Senator Frist proposes a bi-partisan investigation of the problems and Senator Reid tears him a new one. Huh?

I recall a talk given by a Public Relations guy from Quincy Massachusetts who said that the only way to come through a situation where you messed up and be intact is to own up to it and make it good so far as you’re able. It is significant to me that this fellow was also a former Unitarian minister. Somehow the church with no intrinsic fear of hell and damnation manages to get the ethical issues right more often than those who “fear god.” If the administration at any point simply said anything at all like, “Oh, rats, we were wrong. We’re going to do whatever it takes to make up for it. We’re really sorry,” then they’d have no credibility problems. They could do that about the WMDs, about the intelligence failures of 2001, and now about the response to the disaster in the South. Bush did actually admit that something went wrong this time, which makes once, but he failed to go all the way and say he was responsible and was going to try to fix it all up. If he did that, about anything people have reason to doubt about the last five years, Senator Reid would perforce have to shut up. As it is, I guess Mr. Bush is okay with the slippery slope he’s on, and doesn’t mind the thought of being remembered as being a President of similar caliber to, oh, WH Taft, maybe. Teapot Dome, anyone?

I’m not excusing the critics who blame Bush for everything from the flooding to their hangnails. That’s just not possible, although in a way it’s sort of fitting given the amount of poison talk I’ve heard and read about Clinton over the years. But, that poison talk and writing is wrong, and so is blaming the administration for everything. Still, refusing to admit you’ve made mistakes is a dangerous position to take. Just think, if Nixon had said, “Oh, damn! They did what? Man, my bad for hiring those jerks. Heads will roll!” he could have fired a couple of aides and be known today as one of the greatest Presidents of the Twentieth century. So maybe could GW Bush, if he just owned up a bit. I don’t think I’ll hold my breath though. In this case, that could prove fatal.

Let’s Get Real Here

Is there something in the water at Ivy League business schools? Why is it that I see such a pattern with Ivy League MBAs that I don’t see in graduates from any other class of colleges? What pattern, you ask? I thought you’d never.
Actually there is more than one. First is the ethical bit. The ethical bit is that attitude that makes it okay for you to take someone else’s money and lend it to a third party without a reasonable expectation of it ever being repaid. Good for you, if you work it right; maybe it maximizes return for the stockholders even, but ethical? No, not by any reasonable standard. So, for the benefit of any Yale, Harvard or other Ivy League MBA who might read this some day, here’s how it goes: If it isn’t your money, you must be careful to do nothing that would jeopardize the capital worth of the money. In plain non-economic terms, don’t screw around with other people’s stuff.
Then there’s the “Flexibility is good” school of corporate organization. The theory is that being able to react to changing circumstances quickly makes an organization more competitive. That’s probably true. It is frequently interpreted by the MBA as meaning that every time a new idea comes along, you should totally reorganize your operation to adapt to it. There’s nothing in the idea of adaptation that calls for a total reorganization, but every time there is a real or perceived crisis, that’s what you do. If you’re an Ivy League MBA, that is.
As a CEO, GW Bush makes a good doorstop. He makes one doubleplusgood middle manager, though. A middle manager with an Ivy League MBA, no less. Herewith, some examples.
Ethically, I’m not sure Mr. Bush himself is to blame for much. However, he surrounds himself with persons of dubious ethical standards. His party complains, and rightly so, that he is accused of being a liar and a cheat. Fair enough, but his supporters lie and cheat all the time, and have been all along. For instance, I once received an email with a story about a congressional hearing where Al Gore presided, involving Oliver North and his story about a dangerous man in Afghanistan named Osama Bin Laden. Gore, says the story, ignored the warning. That story has been repeated over and over to the point where it’s easy to “know” that it really happened and be really glad that Gore didn’t win that election. Oh, sorry, or that Gore got cheated out of that election (better, my Liberal friends?) In fact, according to Colonel North, the hearings never happened. Certainly Oliver North is no big fan of Al Gore, but the true story has somehow failed to circulate widely, leaving many benighted folks believing the lie. (That’s why I put in that “cheated out of the election” thing. If you’re a Bush supporter, this paragraph has some things for you to think about, such as how not to speak of your opposition.) The number of lies promulgated by Bush’s supporters is amazing. From Ann Coulter with her non-existent footnotes (they’re endnotes and frequently not there) to Rush Limbaugh pulling supposed facts out of his rear end to Bill O’Reilly doing pretty much anything, the tactic seems to be to come up with the most outrageous story possible, back it up with bombast, and let the Internet gossip mill do the rest. With a crowd like that speaking on his behalf, Mr. Bush should expect to be tainted by association, and frequently.
Mr. Bush’s corporate reorganization came in response to the attacks of 9/11/01. A good MBA, he put his corporate smarts to work in deciding to centralize responsibility for planning, prevention, and response to terrorism in America. As is usually the case, this effort has so far led to less efficiency, upset employees, unclear missions, and most distressing, an appallingly slow response to the greatest natural disaster to hit our shores in many decades. In a corporate environment this sort of thing generally yields a few resignations, lowered productivity, and poor morale. This is because, to put it bluntly, enforced change always sucks! When an organization changes properly there is a buy in by the entire workforce, a subtle thing to accomplish at best. Unfortunately, our President may be intelligent enough, but he is not a bit subtle.
So, the score so far includes overreaction to a terrorist threat that is probably considerably less now than it was prior to 9/11, a denser and more opaque bureaucracy with lowered usefulness to the public at large, a perceived diminishing of personal liberties, increased inconvenience in all phases of life, and a severely late response to a terrible natural disaster.
I guess that so far I’m quite pleased with how Mr. Bush has conducted his business. How about you?

Lessons from a Disaster

There’s a tremendous amount of noise being made about the response to the disaster of the Gulf Coast, some of it even true. I even plan to rant a bit myself, but not just here. Check back for a later post when I’ll go ape shit on somebody maybe, but for now, this is more of a philosophical ramble.

The hard core conservative base that seems to have our President where they want him seems to strongly advocate rugged individualism and self reliance. Both virtues, no doubt about it. But like any virtue either one can be overdone to the point of becoming harmful. For those with both intelligence and compassion (the intelligence to know what the word “compassion” means, most importantly) the situation in my country in the past few decades has deteriorated steadily into that very state of rugged individualistic pathology. Remember the 1980s? The “Me” decade, they called it. Michael Milliken, junk stocks, “He who dies with the most toys wins”, even “Shit Happens.” Those things didn’t start out being bad, but the longer they were around the worse people made them. Some background.

“Shit Happens” is true enough. In this case, ‘shit’ is another way to say ‘stuff.’ Some people don’t like words like ‘shit’ but there’s a great deal of it loose in the world. In fact, it’s fair to say we wouldn’t be here without it. I think this phrase goes back to the origins of my generation, which was rising to power in those days. I think Paul Simon was writing about us when he penned the song Born at the Right Time. I know I was, and so were most of us. Even in the 1980s we had to remind ourselves that some things are bad, and they just happen and there’s nothing we can do about it. We keep forgetting that lesson though, witness hurricane Katrina, which is one big ‘ol bunch of shit that happened to the Gulf Coast. Worse, by far, than any terrorist attack could possibly be. New Orleans these days is literally full of shit, as it happened to bubble up out of the sewers for a week. That’s one thing.

Junk Bonds and Penny Stocks? Not a thing wrong with them, until somebody uses them as a means to rob his clients. Those clients were forgetting, in spite of the bumper stickers, that “shit happens.” These stocks will always go up. I’m only paying three cents a share, what could go wrong? A portfolio-churning, weaseling, conniving thief of a stockbroker, that’s what could go wrong. And that’s another thing.

The “Me” decade? Well, there’s not a thing in the world wrong with taking care of yourself so far as you are able. But, can you get petroleum out of the ground, refine it into motor fuel, and put it into the automobile you’ve built yourself from scratch? No? Then I guess you need other people. See, you might be involved in some way with building the automobile. You don’t build them from scratch, but maybe the factory you work in does. You might keep the books, program the robots, or detail the paint job, but you’re involved in making the car. Somebody else is involved in getting petroleum out of the rocks and into the refinery, then converting the petroleum to gasoline and other fuels. Actually, to make the car and fuel it, even one car, takes thousands and thousands of people all working together. I thought at the time that the “Me” thing was an aberration. Oops. My generation was largely misled as they came of age. Dang ‘em.

Finally, a glimmer of hope for those following us Boomers through life. Remember that the phrase is “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That doesn’t say a thing about money. Just “toys”, which means any nice stuff that our parent’s never had. Really, it’s that simple, so if you make sure we have “toys” we’ll let you keep more of your money. I am not making this up.

And it is my generation which is responsible for the past two Presidents. Kennedy had affairs, but he knew how to be discreet. Clinton has one intern go down on him and we all get to hear about it. I’ll bet JFK is laughing, wherever he is, at how inept Clinton was at philandering. And GW Bush? He’s referred to as the “CEO” president, but any CEO who was as sloppy as he is would get fired by the board before he could do any more damage. Like so many, George fails to see the importance of actually doing good works, as opposed to always looking like you’re doing good works. Add that to his well-known C average grades, and you’ve got the picture of a man who will appear, and probably, like all Presidents, be disconnected somewhat from ordinary people.

So when disasters occur, be they natural or manufactured by Saudi Arabians, a president who’s not the brightest will be at a disadvantage when he responds. It’s reasonable to expect some poorly thought out choices. Where, for instance, are those WMDs we invaded Iraq to do away with. (Obviously our attack was extremely successful.) And why not keep reading a children’s book when the country is under attack, and why not take the Secret Service’s word on where to go when you finally leave the school? Leadership, to many a Boomer, is all image and words. Substance is for sissies! When the hurricane devastates one of your major cities, chop some more brush. Hey, it’s your brush, and the city is only yours in name. Got to take care of yourself, right?

But now here’s the really hopeful part. Thanks to a disaster of immense proportions, much larger, as I said, than the disaster of 9/11, it has finally become obvious to all but the most obtuse of my co-generationists that it’s important for people to watch out for each other, and even take care of each other from time to time. That’s why the progressive income tax was introduced: the rich can better afford to pay than the rest of us, so they are taxed at a higher rate. The money goes to programs that benefit all of us, including the rich but also including the very poorest, so we’re all better off because the income tax is progressive. Except the rich, who are no worse off than they would have been if they weren’t taxed at all. The inheritance tax is a similar way to keep the wealth spread around. (Unless your estate will be worth $750,000.00, you aren’t going to be paying any tax after you die.) What taking half of large estates does is ensure that the wealth keeps circulating and not piling up in a few families’ money vaults. Gasoline tax? It pays for the roads. Sales tax? It pays for your local services. Some things paid by taxes include the National Guard, bridges and tunnels, traffic signals, cops, roads and highways, street lights, programs to aid farmers, flood control projects, the entire military, and so on for a long, long way.

I’ve been dismissed on religious grounds (did I throw a single religious reason in that paragraph?), on the grounds that I’m hopelessly naïve (nyah nyah) and simply thrown away as a damned liberal (which I’m not particularly.) But, if you will, here’s a religious reason to go ahead and pay your taxes: Jesus said you should. Jesus also said to sell your valuables and give the money to the poor, but I’m less inclined to follow that bit of advice. What the religious right thinks Jesus said is quite a bit different from those two ideas, but then I’ve never been a fundamentalist, so maybe my reading of the text is flawed. For the record, I seriously doubt it. But, religion aside, which is where I prefer to keep it anyway, events have shown quite clearly why we should concern ourselves with the welfare of our fellow humans. Hurricanes in Mississippi; earthquakes in California; tornadoes in Okalahoma; drought all over the place; landslides, avalanches, forest fires; the world is a dangerous place, and we survive and thrive by helping each other survive and thrive. Simple, but for a lot of my generation, pretty difficult to grasp. Our loss.