Friday, April 28, 2006

In the Midst of Life...

My father in law died this morning. It was not unexpected; he was in home hospice care. And yet somehow it was still kind of a surprise; there's a big difference between knowing something will happen, and having it happen. For a number of reasons he meant as much to me as my own father had, and it affected me deeply.

Some of the effects one expects, and some you think you know how it will feel if you have lost a loved one before- but it's never quite the same. Some reactions you surprise yourself with...he had been dead for hours; why was the moment when the sheet was drawn over his head so powerful? Of all things, why would one start crying when trying to order bagels for the family? I guess I don't want answers badly enough to try to figure it out, even if answers exist... as the king of Siam said, "But... is... a puzzlement!"

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

movies you can watch over and over again

The Happy Feminist ( has a delightful discussion going of movies you can watch over and over again, so I thought I’d post my own list. These are not necessarily the best movies I’ve ever seen, but the ones that are old friends I enjoy spending time with- for example, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is a great movie, but would be unbearable to watch too often. The first on the list is one I have in common with HF:

1. Jesus Christ Superstar. In fact, I now have three versions- the vinyl double album, the original movie, and the new production filmed in London. If you have not seen the new re-cast, re-staged version, go out and rent it right now. Not all the voices are up to the original cast, but these people were hired for their acting ability, and it really shows.

2. 1776. Even more delightful when you read the production notes and realize that nearly every word actually came from John Adam’s letters or Congressional records… Lee really was- and ought to be- a cheerful extrovert who punned on his own name; congressional debates really did end up in brawls; Franklin and Dickinson really did employ risqué double entendre jokes in formal debate.

3. The Princess Bride. You’re not a fan? Inconceivable!

4. Caddy Shack. Ok, it’s low humor, but coke still comes out of my nose every time. But avoid Caddy Shack II at all costs- it’s stunningly unfunny.

5. Anything with Rosalind Russell. His Girl Friday, Mame, and The Trouble With Angels leap to mind.

6. Sweeney Todd. Angela Lansbury as a psychopathic cannibal killer- who wouldn’t love that?

7. Kelly’s Heroes. Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Donald SutherlandDonald, and Carroll O'Connor in one movie. Enough said.

8. How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Big Business sure has come a long way since then! Not.

9. S.O.B. and Victor/Victoria. Both staring Julie Andrews and Robert Preston, these are in my top five funniest movies ever made, but they also have poignant moments. The musical numbers are outrageously funny, but in addition they were staged back when Julie could shatter glass with her voice- a spectacular combination.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

On the excessive/windfall profits tax on big oil

A lot of politicians are calling for an excess profits tax on oil in the wake of the current high prices, and a number of people I had previously considered intelligent are echoing the call, so let’s examine the issue.

Would an excess profits tax lower gas prices?
No. Many people confuse profits with profit margins; while the oil companies are making record profits, their profit margin per gallon is the same as it was before- they’re simply selling more gallons. If we have another recession, their “windfall” profits would disappear as quickly as they appeared. This margin is between 7 and 9 cents per gallon- if they made no profit at all it would have no significant effect on prices at the pump… the real windfall profits are being reaped by the government; combining Federal and State excise taxes with State and County sales taxes, government is making an average of 69 cents per gallon- declare a tax holiday, and gasoline prices would be, after correcting for inflation, the lowest it’s been since the Roaring Twenties!

Tangent- if the government is making more money on gasoline than Big Oil, what are we getting for our money? The Department of Energy was created specifically to deal with price shocks and to create alternative energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil… and a third of a Trillion dollars and 30 years later, through Republican and Democratic administrations alike, it’s an abysmal failure. Where’s the public outrage against that?

Who would pay this excess profits tax?
The stockholders. Everyone who has a pension, to start with- even if your Mutual doesn’t have any oil stock, (unlikely), it’s invested in other companies that do… companies like your bank, who needs those earnings to pay the interest on your savings account. Your life insurance company. The place where you got your mortgage. In short, every American. And what a great way to encourage the oil companies to invest in research and exploration- cap their earnings and weaken their stock…

Then who would benefit from an excess profits tax?
There is one and only one class of people who would benefit from it- unscrupulous political hacks who care more for their personal power than they care for their country.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"Think as I think,"

"Think as I think," said a man,
"Or you are abominably wicked;You are a toad."
And after I had thought of it, I said,
"I will, then, be a toad."
Stephen Crane

I was reminded of this poem reading Rev. Sinkford's statement on Immigration Reform. Once again, we have the demonization of the other side: those who agree with him are "people of conscience", and are "called to acknowledge that racism has blinded most Americans." He likens it to slavery- in the same paragraph he mentions his ancestors being brought here in bondage, and says, ".America has, once again, created a permanent underclass."

I say that to people of conscience, this language is intolerable. He knows full well that the reason they “...are refused the dignity and civil protections that come with citizenship.” is that they here illegally; in the first paragraph, he acknowledges that it is illegal immigration that we are speaking of. He confirms that in the last paragraph when he sends his thoughts and prayers to the elected legislators who are struggling to revise immigration law. Call for the law to be changed, by all means- he might even find that “most Americans” want reforms made. But to call most Americans (oh, by the way, Rev Sinkford- Mexicans are also Americans; you should say U.S. Citizens) racists, oppressors, and liken them to slave traders is the kind of language that stops civil discussions from occurring- why would anyone listens to someone who sounds like he hates them?
I’d have hoped that if he were just boiling over with righteous anger, he might have reserved some for the Mexican government, might have called for them to end the corruption and oppression that has 46% of their own citizens saying they’d leave for the U.S. if they could. How about calling for some of the Mexican oil wealth to be spent on the Mexican people, rather than the ruling oligarchy? Oh, wait- that would mean being judgmental; I guess only a toad like myself would think of that.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Peacebang ( has a wonderful post on the resurrection of Christ for Easter Sunday. I do not believe in bodily resurrection, but her post has inspired me to post my beliefs on the subject. What follows is from my personal journals, from a time when I was contemplating the death of loved ones. And yes, I speak to myself in second person- make of it what you well.

I have said that Life comes only from Life, but it is also true that Life can only be sustained by death. I do not refer to the death of our foodstuffs- and yes, even Vegans thrive on death in this manner; I refer to something more fundamental.

Have you heard the myth of the Phoenix? The Phoenix is a fabulous bird that, at the end of its life, bursts into flames and is totally consumed by fire. But when the fire finally burns itself out, among the ashes is a single egg that has been quickened by the fire- the egg from which the Phoenix will hatch anew.

As wonderful as this story is, reality is more wonderful still! The Phoenix is reborn, yes- exactly as before, static, unchanged throughout eternity. The traditional view of reincarnation is much the same, summed up perfectly in a song by Blood, Sweat, and Tears: "And when I die, when I’m gone, there’ll be one child born, in this world, to carry on, to carry on... ". But in reality, the energies released by the dying spark a multitude of new life, an entire flock of Phoenix. This is how a cupful of slime becomes a planet full of life, how a handful of people become six billion.

When a person dies, more dies than the envelope of flesh. Who knows what happens to the incredibly complex patterns of energy that was once the quick wit, the warm soul you had loved? Energy is conserved; it goes somewhere... I choose to believe that the energies of our lives are not dissipated upon our deaths; we release the energies we had gathered into ourselves back into the universe, and we cannot even dream what they will create. Look around you- it is not just the bodies of humanity that grow in numbers and health; new artists, even new art forms spring up every day. New sciences, new beliefs, new concepts, they grow fasters than our bodies. Just as the atoms of my body will someday become part of a flower, so will eddies of my energy inspire a painting of that flower.

When I was younger and a beloved musical group would break up, I would try to figure out who was at fault. I didn’t realize until decades later that frequently no one was at fault; the group as an entity had said all it had to say, and no further growth was possible as an entity. The only way they could say something new was to break up the group and let the members form new relationships that would reveal new truths. This happens to individuals as well as groups. There comes a time when we have said and done all that is new and creative that we can add to the world; there comes a time to release all the components back to the universe to regroup into new truths.

I believe this is how one steps off the wheel; that Nirvana is reached by becoming part of the joyous glow of creation. By dying, we become the ultimate negation of death: new creation. To die is to conquer death.
Most of what we are returns to the universe; personal immortality is a gift we can give to those who have passed before by remembering them. More, this is a gift we share with them, for we are enriched as well.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A genuine act of faith

Our oldest cat, Laurie, is a feral rescue- or perhaps it may be more honest to say she saved herself. The first really cold, wet day of winter ten years ago she presented herself at our patio door and demanded entry. No doubt she had seen the rest of our cats through the glass door and assumed that this was where cats who are cold and wet go.

Fast forward to last night. A record-breaking thunderstorm was pounding the city, a super cell that had spun off tornados just before hitting Indianapolis, and was now dumping hail of near-biblical proportions, mostly the size of golf balls, punctuated with billiard ball sized ones- but worse than the size was that it was not a burst of hail, but went on and on and on, completely covering the yard in white. The noise was phenomenal, making it necessary to raise our voices to talk, and all of God’s creatures were taking the advice of the National Weather Service and staying in the middle of the house, away from windows and doors and glass.

Except for Laurie. I found her in the sunroom, oblivious to the terrifying drumbeat of hail on glass roof so loud your chest vibrated with it. She was calmly sitting in her sling chair, watching the devastation outside with fascination. In her world, weather is an outdoor thing, and warmth and comfort are indoor things, and never the twain shall meet... she was not even bothered when one of the sunroom window screens was torn from its frame and blown over the house to land in the front yard- it was, after all, outdoors. Her faith in The Way Things Are was complete.

This morning we have the start of a bright, warm Spring day. Our neighbors to the north had two windows broken, and our neighbors to the south lost telephone and cable TV lines- but our only casualty was that one screen. Windshields all over the city were shattered- but not ours. West of the city winds capable of blowing over Semis on I74 had driven hailstones horizontally like cannon shot- but not at our house. Do I believe that Laurie’s faith protected our house? Well... not really. Does Laurie? No- that’s just The Way Things Are!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Are our voices being heard? Part 2

I received this email today:

From :
Unitarian Universalist Association
Sent :
Thursday, April 13, 2006 2:13 PM
To :

Subject :
[UUA-L] A Joint Announcement from the Board of Trustees and theCommission on Appraisal of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Article XV of the Bylaws of the UUA mandates a periodic review of Article II,
the Principles and Purposes
( This
obligatory review is now overdue, and, at the request of the UUA's Board
of Trustees, the UUA's Commission on Appraisal has decided to undertake
the review. It must be stressed that the Commission on Appraisal is
independent of both the UUA's Board of Trustees and Administration. The
role of the Commission is described in section 5.8 of the UUA bylaws
( In short,
the Commission on Appraisal shall "review any function or activity of
the Association which in its judgment will benefit from an independent
review and report its conclusions to a regular General Assembly."
The Commission has been doing serious thinking about the Principles and
their place in the life of our Association for several years and has
discussed their relationship to the theological diversity of our
movement in its last report, Engaging Our Theological Diversity
( The
members of the Commission are excited about undertaking the important
work of this review.
The early stages of the Commission's work will be focused on
establishing a process that will maximize the input of Unitarian
Universalists from across the continent. The Commission is profoundly
sensitive to the implications of this review for Unitarian Universalists
and is committed to carrying out this review in a way that will allow
the members of our congregations to feel confident that their opinions
are heard. While the timetable is not yet determined, recommendations
resulting from the Commission on Appraisal review will be brought
forward for consideration at a future General Assembly.
The Commission's first review hearing will be held at the Ohio-Meadville
District meeting in Columbus, OH, on April 22nd. The Commission's
workshop at the General Assembly in St. Louis will also be devoted to
this issue. In addition to these in-person events, the Commission will
be developing mechanisms by which all Unitarian Universalists can
provide input to the Commission during the course of its work.
Information on how to provide input will be distributed by the various
electronic and print resources of the UUA, including the Commission on
Appraisal's website at For further information,
please email .
-- Deborah J. Weiner
Director of Electronic Communication
Unitarian Universalist Association
25 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02108

617-742-7025 (FAX)
UUA-L mailing list

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Minimum wage/Living wage and unintended consequences

The illegal immigrant protests sparked another discussion among some of my friends of a raise in the minimum wage or the “Living wage” (making the minimum wage large enough to raise a family on). I promised my friends an in-depth explanation of why it’s bad for the poor on every level- and then it occurred to me to post that explanation here so I could take flak from a wider audience as well! :)

I’ll begin with the obvious- as a fellow printer said, “Sure, make the minimum wage $50,000 a year; I’ll just charge a dollar a copy instead of a dime, there’ll be a round of inflation, and it’ll sort itself out and they’ll be a little worse off than before.” It’s true, too; the current minimum wage is more than 20 times what my father earned on his first job- not corrected for inflation, but then that’s the point. Additionally, many manual labor jobs will be eliminated- even the making of french fries and drawing of drinks can be automated; the machines already exist, awaiting only the economic necessity. Unemployment among teenagers will increase.

But it gets worse- an already endangered species of job will near extinction: the entry level job. There was a time when people entered a career by starting as a teen at an entry level position; a “gofer”, a cleaner, a pair of hands. As they demonstrated good work habits and attitude and/or aptitude, they would be given a chance to try more challenging duties. If you had no aptitude, you could easily get an entry level job in another industry. In my own field, printing, nearly every press operator my age or older began in this way. But as these entry level jobs disappear, there will be fewer total jobs (more teen unemployment), and those jobs will require technical training somewhere.

So now the poor will have to pay for technical school to get the same job their fathers got on-the-job training for. And, of course, this means that the only way to discover whether you really have the aptitude or will like it as much as you think you will is to shell out the cash in advance. The schools start inflating the program to increase their revenue- a six week course becomes an associate’s degree; the associate’s becomes a bachelor’s. Now you have a huge student debt to go along with the job your grandfather was paid to learn when he took an entry level job as a press loader or cleaner. To make it more ironic, the modern computer controlled machines are far easier to learn and run than your grandfather’s machines. I’ve watched this happen over three decades in the printing industry; there are virtually no entry level jobs in any printing plant- there are certainly none in mine; we can’t afford them. I haven’t had a job applicant who worked his way up in the field in years; they all have degrees and debts. I’m sure you could get similar testimony from many different industries.

The last step is when those tradesmen with student debts they incurred to win low-paying jobs decide to form associations and lobby to outlaw the practice of their trade without that degree. This makes it impossible for the energetic, entrepreneurial poor to start a new business out of his garage. One example of the syndrome that will be familiar to everyone is the hair salon- in most states it’s actually illegal to cut hair without a license from the State. We have had cases, for example, of illicit corn-row braiders being formally served with cease and desist orders by uniformed police when complaints were filed by outraged licensed hairdressers. Once again, it’s the poor trying to pull themselves up who get hurt. And, of course, this drives prices up, hurting the poor from that angle as well. There are valid state interests in some forms of job regulation, OSHA being a sterling example. Any arbitrary interference in supply and demand as it concerns jobs, however, hurts the poor whether they be workers or consumers.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Update to BMI

Speaking about the BMI calculator to my wife and another female friend, I was given another tidbit about the government's reccomendations: an adult female, in the "normal" BMI range, consuming the number of calories reccomended to maintain that weight, and allocating those calories in the manner prescribed in the food pyramid, will not receive the full RDA of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Interesting.

Friday, April 07, 2006


If I have any readers (perhaps I should end the sentence right there) with medical training, perhaps they could explain something about the Body Mass Index to me.

My first love was engineering, before I betrayed the true faith and went into sales. As an engineering student, I was taught that because there are three dimensions, mass is a cubic function, written as (weight / length^3) = k. If you increase or reduce the size of an object while maintaining the same proportions, just blowing up the blueprint, its weight varies as the cube of the change- for example, if you double the length of an object, you also double its height and depth, so its weight is (2^3), or eight times as much. This applies to everything, even complicated devices, because each part follows the same law. It even applies to animals- the way scientists can estimate the weight of a dinosaur is to have a veterinarian examine the bones and tell a sculptor the kind of musculature it must have had, and between them they make a model of the dinosaur… knowing that flesh has about the density of water, they then dunk the model in a tank to get its water weight, and use the formula above to size it up correctly.

Now we come to the Body Mass Index. The formula for that, gotten off the CDC website, is (weight / height^2)(703) = BMI. Notice that this is a squared function, not a cubic! This formula would have the weight of two near-twins, identical in every possible way except height, vary by the square of their height, rather than the cube, as all other masses in the universe do. I can’t figure out what there is about the human body that would have it obey separate physical laws. I even tried charting the weights and BMI of famous people to try and understand.

Knowing that whichever function was correct, the cube or the square, inherent in the math is the fact that they will be closest to true in the smaller numbers, so I started charting at only five feet tall. Using the BMI formula, “normal” for 60” tall is from 94 ¾ lbs to 127 ½- that seemed reasonable to me, so I used that as the set point for the cubic formula as well. I then ran both formulae to 72” tall. The BMI formula gives the low end of normal for six feet tall as 136 ½ lbs… that’s what the late Don Knotts weighed at 5’6”- would Barney Fife have looked normal stretched out to six foot tall?? The "cube of the difference" formula makes the lighter side of normal at six foot tall to be 163 ¾ instead. I started looking for even taller famous people. Two-time MVP of the NFL, Indianapolis’ own Peyton Manning, at 6’5” and 230 lbs, has a BMI of 27.27- well into the “fat” category! But if you use the “cube of the difference” formula, “normal” for that height would be from 200 to 269 lbs. Shaquille O’Neal, at 7’2” and 325 lbs. has a BMI of 30.89- morbidly obese! But the cubic formula would have him right in the center of the normal range of 278 – 375 lbs… which is where most of the 7-footers in the NBA fall.

My conclusion: both theory and observed anecdotal evidence tell me that the BMI formula is fatally flawed, and that the taller you are above five foot, the greater the error will be. If there is a doctor reading this, would you please explain where the flaw in my thinking is?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Psychopath Test

This is the most interesting of the things forwarded to me in email recently- stumped a lot of co-workers with it.

Psychopath Test

Read this question, come up with an answer and then scroll down to the bottom for the result. This is not a trick question. It is as it reads. No one I know has got it right.

A woman, while at the funeral of her own mother, met a guy whom she did not know. She thought this guy was amazing. She believed him to be her dream guy so much, that she fell in love with him right there, but never asked for his number and could not find him. A few days later she killed her sister. Question: What is her motive for killing her sister?

[Give this some thought before you answer, see answer below]

Answer: She was hoping the guy would appear at the funeral again. If you answered this correctly, you think like a psychopath. This was a test by a famous American Psychologist used to test if one has the same mentality as a killer. Many arrested serial killers took part in the test and answered the question correctly. If you didn't answer the question correctly, good for you. If you got the answer correct, please let me know so I can take you off my email list...

Saturday, April 01, 2006


I now need reading glasses. Not for everything, but for things like newspaper comics, the dictionary, etc. I know many will say what's the big deal- I've needed glasses all my life. And I would reply that it's not the glasses that bother me; I wouldn't mind them if I'd always needed them.

What weighs with me is that this is my body's first betrayal... the first scars not earned by injury or battle with nature's microscopic predators. The first confirmation that there are fewer days ahead than behind. In one's first half century, one is of course aware that death can lurk around any corner, but the dangers are usually the understandable and semi-predictable; a traffic accident, a flu epidemic, a mugger, or the foolish chances one takes when young. It is somehow a different thing to accept that you will eventually just spoil, like the carton of milk you forgot to put away.