Slow News Day

The Death Star in A New HopeImage via WikipediaAfter I watched Luke Skywalker explode the Death Star for the 20th time I had a very enlightening conversation with my sister about Magic Erasers. She loves magic erasers. She was very happy because she found an “M. E.” that was designed specifically as a “bath scrubber”. She was ecstatic because the magic sponge was saturated with soap scum remover and Febreze. And, saving the best part for last, there were two erasers in the same package, both magic.

(This is not an advertisement, this is an actual event straight from the family living room. I did not experience the “magic”, as I did not use the product, yet.)

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The Mosque Near Ground Zero

I am torn about the Muslim Cultural Center planned for 2 !/2 blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan. I don’t know many Muslim people, only Salman Rushdie who is not a typical Muslim, and who has, I believe, quite a light approach to Islam. He has, in other words, a sense of humor that helps the world connect with Islam.

I have read our Constitution and I know it guarantees freedom of religion. Obviously Muslims have the right to worship as Muslims in America. But why at that particular location in Manhattan? Did they anticipate the hullabaloo this would cause? There are apparently several viewpoints in this debate.

1. Is this a victory dance? I think we have heard that this is not so.

2. Is this an attempt to reach out to Americans of other faiths?

3. Is this just about real estate?

4. Why, now that they see how unhappy other New Yorkers are, can’t they show some sensitivity and look for a new location?

5. If they look for another location will they lose an opportunity to improve understanding and compassion between Muslims and other New Yorkers?

6. Does freedom of religion guarantee the right to locate your religious buildings anywhere you wish in America?

7. Why does the media seem to enjoy finding the worst possible interpretation of whatever Obama says and then really enjoy discussing ad infinitum how this will affect other Democrats?

8. If we want to promote greater understanding between Muslims and other Americans this move does not seem designed to bring about this result. It’s not a school, it’s a mosque. It’s not a multicultural center if only Muslims will be served.

9, Freedom of religion is one of the most basic rights of all Americans. If Muslim New Yorkers will not change their location in spite of the hurt and anger they are hearing from all sides, will it violate the Constitution to force them to choose a different property, and how much will it set back any cross cultural acceptance among religious groups?

Money, Money, Money

Wot's in my walletImage by Joits via FlickrHow are your finances? You hear that question everywhere.

Do you have reserves (which used to be called savings)?
Do you have retirement monies – a 401k perhaps?
If you have children do you have education savings?
Is your credit card debt under control?
Do you own property?
What is your debt to earnings ratio? How much should it be?
Do you keep a record of your spending?
Do you stick to a budget?
Do you have college loans?
Do you look for bargains?
Do you shop with coupons?
Do you buy store brands?
Do you have health insurance?, life insurance?
Does everyone in your family have health insurance?, life insurance?
Do you have pets?, Do you budget for them too?
Do you have investments?
What do you invest in and how do you choose your investments?
Do you use an advisor or a stock broker?
Are you very involved with your investments or do you rely on your broker?
Do you own gold?
Do you grow your money slowly but surely, or are you waiting to win the lottery?
Do you have an accountant?
Do you pay your taxes?, on time?
Do you have someone go over your taxes?

It goes on and on. Trying to be savvy about your finances is complicated and requires good habits and discipline. Some people seem to pick it up naturally. Some of us don’t. Following the steps to good financial health is essential to having a solid future but a percentage of us have trouble with this. Some of us have emotional issues around money and spending. We need financial therapy. Maybe high school would be a great place to teach this, not just in “home-ec” (do schools still have “home-ec”), but as a serious course that continues into college. Maybe we should start in elementary school. Can the everyone be financially health, or does the financial health of some depend on the financial dysfunction of others?

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Books – Sci-Fi

Search for frank herbertSearch for douglas adamsSearch for kurt vonnegutSearch for isaac asimovSearch for arthur c clarkeSearch for heinleinHave you earned your sci-fi chops? Everyone needs the classical underpinnings of a good sci-fi reading background. It must include Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, Frank Herbert, Aldus Huxley, George Orwell, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Margaret L’Engle. It will probably also include Orson Scott Card, H. G. Wells, C. S. Lewis and L. Ron Hubbard. These are the basics.

You could then branch out into fantasy like Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” books (I thinks there are 12 so far). Harry Potter sort of fits in here also. Perhaps The Carlos Castenades ‘Don Juan” books, the “Star Wars” books and the “Star Trek” books.

These books help define where our future will go. Do books predict the future or does the future copy the books? It doesn’t matter. If you have a great sci-fi background you will be there. These books are mind-expanding, like algebra. OK, maybe you don’t like algebra. But algebra is brain training. It sets up certain pathways in your brain that you might not develop from any other discipline (although geometry also helps, and physics). In terms of helping with logical thinking I don’t think there is a more powerful tool than mathematics.

If you don’t read these books you will also fall behind the cultural curve. Certain allusions will elude you. Who are the Aes Sedai? What is a space elevator? What is a Trillium? Suspensor chairs? It will just go on and on, the number of potentially important things you will not know.

Do a search (google or other) for a list of the top 100 sci-fi titles.

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House Shopping IX

I sold my mobile home and moved out of it this week. Selling a mobile home is a very hard thing to do. They do not hold their value so you are always selling at a loss. Needless to say, I did not get what the blue book says my home is worth. But it’s done and I now have the down payment for my house.

Then I had to box up 15 years of my life and move it into storage while I took my cat and sans possessions moved in with family to await the purchase of what will probably be my last home. It was a dreadful move, exhausting and expensive. I have made a huge investment in boxes. After I get my house I want to lighten my load, a lot. The movers quoted the price for moving and storage. They did not include in the quote the charges for moving my possessions into their warehouse. Am I dense, or do people misrepresent costs on purpose? Probably a bit of both. I am feeling quite dense lately, actually flaky is more like it. Anyway after paying almost one and one half times the quote, I am moved to a warehouse which I will have to pay a huge sum to move out of. To think that once all of my “things” fit in my car —

Now I go after the farm house that’s, today, in the middle of a village, and has a policeman living there as a tenant with all his guns. My little cottage full of guns! We’ll see how it fares at the house inspection.

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Political Doppler

Politics is a bit like the weather these days. Although we don’t have triple Doppler we do have polls. Although we don’t have a digital channel showing lazy arms circling we do have digital channels devoted to politics, all day long talking, talking, talking. Right now the most interesting thing happening in politics is the November elections.

I am stunned that the Democrats seem to be in such trouble. I can’t believe voters are so short-sighted. How could they possibly believe that the Democrats could be responsible for our economic woes when they have been in office such a short time? Doesn’t it make more sense to believe that the roots of our difficulties are in the past. I have watched the Republicans work the propaganda mill to turn voters around and I have to say they have been masterful. I honestly thought the voters in America were smarter than this. We’ll see in November who made the most accurate forecast.

Weather Girl

Marestail shows moisture at high altitude, sig...Image via WikipediaI am a weather girl. I love to watch the weather on TV with all those triple Doppler arms making slow circles over different parts of the map. In their wake appear blotches or blossoms of storm cells – green, yellow, orange, hopefully not red. Or maybe the lazy arms reveal nothing. All clear for a beautiful day.

I love digital TV because they have stations where you can watch the Doppler arms all day, see the weather come into being over and over again.

I also like to watch weather the old-fashion way, by day or by night. I love to watch the clouds which sometimes move very fast and sometimes hardly seem to move at all. The night sky is also wonderful, although we can’t see very many stars with all our man-made light. Sometimes there is a ring around the moon, sometimes the moon is huge. What does it all portend? The old farmers used to know. All I remember is “red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Fortunately “in my neck of the woods” (a term used by a famous weather man who we all know) we rarely get severe weather, although we do get inundated with snow. What will the weather be like today? This summer, it’s “old school”: hazy, hot and humid. Yum.

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Three Big Issues

0540Image by jasonpearce via FlickrOf the three big issues America faces right now: gay marriage, immigration and the economy, the only one I feel strongly about is the economy because it affects me personally, as it does every American. The others I have more theoretical feelings about. I believe that, as Americans we have an obligation, a humanitarian duty to be true to our ideals.

If one gay partner is ill in the hospital, for example, the rules require that they be passed over sometimes, because the rules favor “family”. This partner may be, to all intents and purposes the spouse of the patient, but may not be legally family, and may therefore be denied access to information about their partner. What about when a gay couple has children. If the parents are not considered legal partners, how does this affect the children? The American way would seem to back gay marriage. Most arguments against this are religious. Our America guarantees religious freedom.

Immigration – a huge issue right now in tough economic times when competition for jobs is already fierce. I don’t think we had a lot of rules about immigration at first. Regulations were added as our own population swelled. Obviously everyone can’t immigrate. The earth would probably tip on its axis if everyone flooded to North America. Everyone, fortunately would not even want to. So we have rules for immigration. We have quotas etc. and we should enforce them. If we can’t then we should come up with a new plan. It is clear we have “hostile” immigrants, people who are here to take advantage of America’s resources, but who hate America. We could do without these immigrants. While there is a tradition that America furnishes the hopeless with opportunities to succeed we are woefully short on such opportunities. At present Americans feel bad when someone brand new to America is doing better than they are.

Everything points to getting even tougher on new immigration. But when we come to immigrants already here, we are back at the “great divide”, which may not be necessarily a partisan divide.

All I have to say about the economy is “do something smart and do something fast.” Or, (speaking to the cosmos), send us a new Einstein!

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Keeping the Bush Tax Cuts?

Trickle down is not working so why are we keeping the Bush tax cuts? Is this about the election in November? There is an election every two years. If that is the rationale we will have the tax cuts forever.

In the interests of transparency could we know why Democrats (yes, not just Republicans) are suggesting we keep these tax cuts. Are these reasons, however unexplained, reasons that offer greater advantages than just saving butts.

Is this a problem with that dichotomy between the “rich” and the “really rich” that I was talking about last week. Change the tax cuts law slightly. The truth is that $250,000. a year, while allowing for an exceedingly comfortable lifestyle, is not enough to be rich these days. So continue cuts for the “rich”, but not for the “really rich”, the “you-could-never-spend-this-in-several-lifetimes” rich.

Poverty is out this year. When money gets short our governments cut programs for those at the bottom of the economic curve. This leaves a bad taste in our mouths, resting our recovery on the backs of those whose incomes allow for a lifestyle that is way less than comfortable. I guess there is a way to get blood from a stone! Hello, we can’t afford more taxes, we don’t have any money.

The State of NY cancelled the sales tax break on clothing costing less than $110. Who do you think this tax is aimed at? If you don’t tax those at the top, you will have to nickel and dime the people at the bottom. Shameful.

House Shopping VIII

An icon from the Crystal icon theme.Image via WikipediaI promised to “dish” about the shortcomings I have noticed in our system for buying real estate. I promised to talk about the things that make this process “unfriendly” to consumers. All of these shortcomings, I am coming to understand, are endemic to a capitalist system which puts emphasis on competition. I am not anti-capitalist, but I can’t help noticing how many ways the system favors sellers over buyers.

First of all “they” have tinkered with the MLS system, probably to make selling more competitive. For a while realtors had 6 –7 digit code numbers that were universal, in other words the codes were not connected to one specific realty company. Now the system has gone back to the old MLS numbers, which were fine, but the numbers are frequently kept somewhat secret these days. So you often have to search by address. But unless you know the exact address, the property doesn’t come up. Zip codes are helpful, but not foolproof. A real estate search these days can seem like finding sources for your dissertation. You are in real trouble without a real estate person, which I think is the idea behind adopting a more “kludgy” system.

Second, I have learned that if you are the buyer you cannot have properties inspected before you make an offer. This protects the seller but is not really helpful to the buyer. If you need to know the “health” of the systems in a house the buyer must make an offer and then pay an inspector. If the buyer decides that the house is too flawed then the whole process must begin again for a different property. Of course, I can see that it would drive a seller nuts to have all kinds of potential buyers paying an expert to crawl all over their house. And I can see that a central clearing agency which kept impartial inspection info on file would hurt competition. I see no real solution to this dilemma that would allow for proper competition.

Third, real estate agents, who make a commission on the sale, try to steer you to the top of your qualification number, which, if set by their own brokerage representative, may be set too high for your financial comfort.

Recently I made an offer on a home. I finally got to that point. The property expired its contract with the realtor the night before I made my offer. By the time I was filling out the contract, a renter with a 6 month lease was moving into the property. If I don’t want to wait 6 months to move in to the property, I will have to look for something else. I am bummed. Will I wait, will an accommodation be reached, or will I move on to the next property? I’m not deliberately keeping you in suspense. I honestly don’t know.

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