Guest blog: “If We Were Emperor!” by jan howard “wombat” finder

Jan Howard Finder died February 26, 2013.  He will be remembered and missed by many people around the world.  I’m proud to say jan was a friend and will leave this entry here as a reminder of his character and convictions.

This is a first for my little blog.  A friend of mine, jan howard finder, wanted to post this piece online and I volunteered to host it on my WordPress blog.  Mind you I did offer to set him up with his own WordPress blog, but here we are.  The topic is how to get the US moving again economically.  I’ll have a comment at the end, but for the moment, here’s jan:

If We Were Emperor!

by jan howard “wombat” finder

[“If We were Emperor” is the style I am using in order to frame my opinions.   I do not advocate the overthrow of the current US government or the Constitution.]

There are several things We would do in order to get the country and economy back on track:

Taxes: 

  1. Repeal the two big tax cuts instituted by President Bush, in 2001 and in 2003.
  2. Stimulus plan:  A cheque for $5,000 to everyone who has filed a 1040-based tax return in 2011.  [Assuming 150 million taxpayers, corporations NOT included, this would cost $750 Billion.] This would put the money into the hands of those who would give a boost to the economy, the consumers, by buying durable goods, paying down mortgages, etc. It would do what The President Bush said we should do, just after Sept 11, “go out and spend money”; it was said to individuals, not to corporations.
  3. Boost for Lower and Middle-classes:  Raise the personal deduction to $7,500, indexed to the Cost of Living.
  4. Cap the amount of taxable deduction for interest on home mortgages to $25,000 to $50,000 per year.  The interest cap could be indexed to the Cost of Living Index for that area.
  5. Cap other governmental agencies at current spending levels for 5 years.

Education:

  1. Grants: We would expand grants to students attending accredited institutions of higher education.
  2. Loans: Students would pay off the Federally Funded Student Loans either: (a)    by paying a percentage of  their GROSS income, 1%, 2%, or other suitable percentage. This allows graduates to accept a lower paying job of their choice rather than be forced to accept a job that will not advance their careers.  (b)   or a standard loan agreement over 10 years at the Prime Rate plus 1%, payment to start one year after graduation.
  3. Tuition Rebates: We would set up tuition rebates for students in Mathematics, Sciences, and Engineering at accredited institutions of higher education who achieve a cumulative 3.5 GPA or better by the end of their 3rd academic year.  The rebate would be up to $10,000 or $20,000 in tuition rebates for the 3rd and 4th academic years.  This tuition rebate would also apply to Graduate Students.

Energy:

  1. Energy Production: Accelerated depreciation [5 years on a plant designed to last 40 years.] on the Capital Costs of creating non-fossil fuel energy production assets, e.g., Wind turbines, Photovoltaic cells, Solar Updraft Towers, Hydrothermal plants, etc.
  2. Equipment Installation: 100% deduction, depreciated over 3 years, for equipment and installation of alternate energy producing units by individuals and businesses in the tax year of installation.

Transportation:

  1. Increase Federal gas tax: Add a10 cent a gallon increase in the Federal tax on petroleum products with the money going to maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure. NO NEW CONSTRUCTION! The Federal tax is earmarked for existing roads and bridges. We would add up to 10 cents every year for 5 years.  Each one cent [0.01] increase brings in about $1 billion dollars in revenue.  This is equivalent about 25,000 new jobs.  Each new job will bring in about 2 or 3 additional jobs into the market.  The 10 cent a gallon or equivalent increase in the Federal tax on petroleum products could result in approximately 500, 000 and 1 million new jobs.
  2. State gas tax fund: Require states to put state gasoline taxes into a separate fund, to be spent on roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure. Most state gasoline taxes go into the General Fund and never get spent on infrastructure.
  3. State funding: All states would be required to spend, not allocate, a minimum of 90% of the previous year’s road transportation budget or lose ALL Federal DoT funding the following year.
  4. The cost of the increase in the tax is about $48 a year to the motorist who drives 12,000 miles a year and gets 25 mpg.  If one drives less and or has a more fuel efficient vehicle, the cost would be less.  What is the cost of a new tire, wheel alignment, wheel balancing, shock absorber, ball joints, etc.? The US’s poor infrastructure costs motorists $67 Billion a year.  [Taken from an ad by Audi.]

Social Security:

Raise the taxable limit for Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax to $250,000.  Increase this to $500,000 24 months after the previous increase.

Currently, someone who earns $102,000 pays 6.2%.  Someone who earns $250,000 pays 6.2% on the first $102,000, and pays 0% on the remaining $148,000.  Someone who makes $500,000 pays 6.2% of the first $102,000, and 0% on the remaining $398,000.

The first change would mean:  Someone who earns $250,000 pays 6.2%.  Someone who makes $500,000 pays 6.2% of the first $250,000, and 0% on the remaining $250,000.

6.2% of that $148,000 is significant. When the limit moves to $500,000:  Someone who earns $500,000 pays 6.2%.  Someone who makes $750,000 pays 6.2% of the first $500,000, and 0% on the remaining $250,000.

If someone currently making $102,000 or less can pay 6.2% of their income to FICA, certainly someone making $250,000 or more can manage.

Health:

  1. Medicare/Medicaid: All Medicare, Medicaid, etc., payments would be frozen at current levels for 5 years.
  2. Health Insurance:  Any US citizen would be allowed to sign up for The Federal Employees Health Benefits [FEHB] plan, the plan that is available to all federal government  employees. (It’s the same one members of Congress use.)  This would be a “Public Option.”  The Federal Government would pay approximate 75% of the premium and the individual-family would pay the other 25%.  The insured would be free to choose any of the several private insurance plans in the insured’s area: Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente, or in my case for example, the Capital District Physician’s Health Plan [CDPHP].  I get to choose my doctors [I easily switched urologists recently]. 

Department of Defense

  1. A 5% across the board increase in pay and benefits for all Military Service personnel.  They don’t get anywhere near what they deserve.
  2. The DoD budget would be frozen for 5 years.  While research would be encouraged, development would be limited to proof of concept prototypes.
  3. DARPA would be encouraged to expand  its challenge programs: Set standards and let private inventors meet the challenge.  Sort of small X-Prize offer.
  4. Decrease the DoD budget, potentially 5% a year or more, for 5 years:
    1. by evaluating the necessity of building expensive equipment simply because it’s “new”, when existing equipment is more than adequate for current and near-future projections of enemy capabilities (we’re not fighting the Soviets any more);
    2. by evaluating the necessity of building more of the expensive equipment that no longer meets the operational needs against current and near-future enemies (how many aircraft carriers do we need to fight, or support fights, in small towns in the Middle East?);
    3. and by bringing our service personnel and materiel back home. The ability to mobilize quickly, to transport personnel and materiel needed for quick strike missions, no longer requires the tremendous expenditures of overseas bases.

X-Prizes:

We would set up a series of Federally funded X-Prizes in areas of  need, i.e., energy, space exploration, engineering challenges.  The money would go to the winning teams, not to the institutions for whom they may work.  X-prize funds are not paid out until the established goals are met!

[This is my opinion.  I encourage you to write your own screed.]

—————————

This is Mary again. It’s an interesting proposal. I think an open debate would probably not decrease the DoD budget, most of which goes to pensions, as I understand it. And if we want to encourage R&D, in my humble opinion we need to invest in it, not offer prizes to be awarded when the work is done, since it may never be economically possible to provide a proof of concept.  Still, lots of these things are good ideas.  Your thoughts?

While I’m on the topic, if you do a Google Images search for “jan howard finder” you will find lots of photos from Science Fiction conventions and other places which are the natural habitat for wombats. The lower case spelling is traditional for jan, although they have it wrong on Wikipedia. But then they didn’t mention jan as fan guest of honor at a Sci-Fi convention in Metz, France, either… when Robert Bloch was the guest of honor… or lots of other things, so maybe he’ll write a memoir!

Autobiographical Musing on Music

We all have a special place in our hearts for the music we listened to as young people.  Broadway Showtunes, Rock and Roll, Jazz, Gregorian Chant, and the occasional Classical piece were part of my DNA from the beginning.  Folk music, old and new, took its place while I was in high school and college.  And I’ve been pretty happy with that mix for a long time.

As a young person, my parents thought it would be good for me to learn to play the piano, more specifically my grandmother’s Steinway which had taken up residence in our living room.  So, when I was old enough, I began years of piano lessons from the good Benedictine nuns.  Piano seemed an especially great instrument to me because I could sing as I played.  And I enjoyed that.  I also enjoyed learning fast, complex pieces because, when you play like that, your fingers actually blur before your eyes and it has a sort of psychedelic effect with the music and all.  In time I moved out of my parents home and pretty much let piano playing drift away.  I tried a guitar for a bit, and again found a delightful

instrument that could be played while you sing.  I  played a steel string Goya, and I did love it, but I never considered myself a musician.  And my fingers never seemed to retain the requisite calluses for a steel string guitar.  (It looked a bit like the one above.)  Another brief attempt at keyboards involved a

KORG 01/W which I bought in 1993 along with a super little plug-in cartridge that could change the sound from a concert grand to an upright to a honky tonk, and several other very cool alternatives.  (I have always wished that Frank Zappa had stayed around long enough to play with the next generation of electronic instruments, but it was not to be.)  The KORG is still in my basement.  That didn’t “take” either. So today I play the radio.  And my iPod.

To quote Dennis Miller: “How many times am I going to have to buy the White Album?” I have lived through several music formats and find myself switching pretty much – make that completely – to digital these days.  Digital takes less storage space.  It’s hard to abandon the old vinyl or cassettes or CDs.  But vinyl singles and albums sit in the basement taking up space alongside cases of cassettes and CDs and the “massive” electronics that support them… including an imposing set of Advent speakers.  Can’t even move those things at a yard sale these days.  An MP3 player is just so much lighter and easier to manage.  (Then there’s the battery operated boom boxes without which we would be completely cut off during power failures.)  I think the family at one time had 3 Sony cassette based Walkmans (all Sport models).  Nobody’s touched them in years. They were great for skiing in their day.  Huey Lewis is the best ski music, IMHO.  You do your turns with the beat.  Yeah.  (Toto’s AFRICA will also get you moving to the beat.  Heck, R&R just does that.)

That reminds me, housekeeping note, while vinyl and CDs are fairly long lived media, cassettes need to be played or wound and unwound every now and then or they get muddy.  The IRS learned years ago that the magnetic media they stored tax information on would bleed ones and zeros into each other after maybe 10 to 25 years.  If you have something you love on tape, either convert it to digital or do the wind and unwind thing to keep the tape alive.  Or, of course, you can keep buying the White Album.  But often things we all have on tape or even vinyl aren’t available digitally, so keep your own counsel on that matter.  Once a tape is gone, it’s gone for good.  (The same is true for old family videos on 8mm film.)

Now then, hubby claims that guitars are going out of favor these days because rap music doesn’t use guitars.  That would be sad.  Music keeps evolving, so I hope something musically interesting will develop to replace rap.

Which brings me to the point of this post: something I read once  left more of an impact on me than I anticipated at the time or I would have made a note of who wrote it and where I found it.  (Sorry.)  The underlying message was that music has evolved around the increasing dominance of rhythm.  I liked the Roman High Mass, Gregorian Chant, and all manner of simple, ancient music with minimal melodies and gentle rhythmic chanting.  Secular folk music evolved melodies more complex than that of Church music, still a gentle rhythm. Then there’s so called classical music with the exploration of more complex melody and rhythm by folks like Vivaldi, Mozart, Hayden and so on. This traditional music has strict underlying rhythms to coordinate musicians and choirs.  Jazz is a melodic riff on traditional melodies but uses similar disciplined rhythms I think.  (I have a serious fondness for the orchestral version of Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending.)  Showtunes have strong melodies and simple rhythms.  The goal was to have folks leave the theater singing, after all.

Eventually we come to Rock and Roll, the heart of which – according to both The Beatles and Huey Lewis – is the beat.  Melody and a strong back beat.  If music truly evolves to stronger rhythms, is it only natural then that the next step would be rap…. mostly beat and modest if any melody?  Maybe it had to progress that way.  What’s interesting to me is that African drums, and music derived from them, are wildly physical and wonderful.  Drums are all beat, and

the beat makes you move.  African drums (and Mickey Hart) make the very bones in your body vibrate.  You have to move to drum music.  It’s not optional.  But loud rap music is boring and flat.  Why is that?

PS:  I wrote the above on May 23, 2011. Very shortly thereafter my 2001 Prius blew its big battery, prompting me to evaluate spending as much as the car was worth to repair it and knowing this would have been the beginning of several expensive repairs to come. Long story short, I now have a Nissan Cube. It is a great deal of fun.  And it came with a 3 month free subscription to XM Satellite Radio.  Although this is not something I normally would have considered, I chanced upon a series of radio stations, one of which plays music from the  1950′s, followed by one playing 60′s, then 70′s, then 80′s.  There may be more in that vein, but it’s been very interesting switching between them and listening to samples from the playlists. I can hear jazzy swing influences in the 50′s and am surprised to discover it’s my favorite station.  I’ll partly explain that by admitting to a secret love for doo wop music.  60′s are a real grab bag of different influences,  the 70′s often have a hard heavy metal sound, and the 80′s get very whiny at times.  Well those are observations from flipping through XM’s playlists, so take it for the simplistic statement it is.  I listen to see where melody begins to fail and the beat takes over.  It is there.  I don’t know if I would have stated it that way had I not read that article some time back. Interesting.  I’d love to hear the opinion of somebody who knows more about music and music history than I do.

Movement for a 28th Amendment to the US Constitution

I received an email today which asked me to forward it to still another 20 people.  I thought this might be more useful.

It’s time for another Amendment to the US Constitution.  I do believe this.  And I like everything in the proposal below.  See what you think and you are more than welcome to copy and forward it to your friends and Congresscritters.  It will take a huge amount of effort to get this passed because it is not in the best economic interests of the members of Congress.  But it’s worth raising the possibility.

 

“Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.”  –Theodore Roosevelt

 

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” –Theodore Roosevelt

 

The rest of this post is the content of that email:

“The 26th Amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took only 3 months and 8 days to be ratified.  Why?  Simple!  The people demanded it.  That was in 1971… before computers, before e-mail, before cell phones, etc.

“Of the 27 Amendments to the US Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less to become the law of the land… all because of public pressure.

“I’m asking you to forward this email to a minimum of twenty people on your address list; in turn ask each of those to do likewise.

“In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message.  This is one idea that really should be passed around.

 

 

Congressional Reform Act of 2011


1. Term Limits.

An elected Congressperson may serve a maximum of 12 years only, defined as one of the possible options below:

A. Two 6-year Senate terms

B. Six 2-year House terms

C. One 6-year Senate term and three 2-Year House terms

2.  No Tenure / No Pension.

A Congressperson collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when they are out of office.

3.  Congress (past, present, and future) participates in Social Security.

All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately.  All future funds flow into the Social Security system, and Congress participates with the American people.

4. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all Americans do.

5. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise.

Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

6. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

7. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people.

8. All contracts with past and present Congresspersons are void effective 1/1/11.

“The American people did not make the current contract with members of Congress.  Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves.

“Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back to work.

“If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only take three days for most people (in the U.S. ) to receive this message.

“MUCH OF WHAT WE FACE IN TERMS OF PRIVILEGE AND SELFISHNESS IN THIS COUNTRY MIGHT BEST BE CHANGED STARTING FROM THE TOP DOWN.”

Me again.  I poked around on the web and found the organization which is working to make this happen.  Amendment to Reform Congress is on Facebook.  And their website is here. In my humble opinion it’s time we got together and agreed on some, most, or all of these changes to our representative government.  The current approach creates a divide between the governed and the government which is hurting our country.  With this Amendment can can continue to be a government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people.

It’s time to align the self-interest of Congress with that of the American people and not with that of lobbyists.

The Downside of Reusable Shopping Bags

I will admit to not having thought this subject through until a bit too late… but for the benefit of my friends and relatives I will write this one out for you.

Don’t let the bagger at the grocery store fill your reusable shopping bags with too much weight per bag.  OK?

Which leads me to the observation that many of these ecologically responsible, reusable bags of ours are bigger and stronger than the old paper supermarket bags and surely larger than the plastic supermarket bags.

And that means… these reusable bags can become much heavier than some of us (cough) might imagine.

So three days ago I brought five reusable shopping bags (much like the green one above) to the supermarket and wound up with a lot of very heavy stuff in each bag.  No big deal. Right?

Let’s see… I picked up these heavy bags and lifted them from where they were being filled, across my shopping cart, piled them into the cart, took the cart out to the car and lifted the bags (more than one at a time) into the trunk, drove home, and then brought the bags, my purse, and the mail into the house in two trips.  Hey, I’m strong.  Right?  Well… that’s as may be, but there’s such a thing as not lifting things correctly.  By not paying attention, I wound up pulling muscles in my lower back.  I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, but I’ve been lying around the house moaning and groaning for three days now.  And expect a few more of the same.

LESSONS LEARNED: I should either (1) get smaller reusable shopping bags for the supermarket and/or (2) watch how much weight is packed into each bag, and/or (3) be careful how I lift and carry these things.  That’s all.  Just a friendly little reminder that we may not be as tough as we think we are!  Hoping you won’t make the same mistake!

Updogs, Downdogs, Marketing, and Politics

Yoga gives you time to think. And updogs and downdogs get me thinking. Thinking about optimism and pessimism.  Thinking about how we view the world, ourselves, and each other.

Mothers are traditionally considered nagging, restrictive, etc. by their children. All of that is true, of course, and the species benefits by the concern of the mother (and father) for the welfare of their offspring.  “Look both ways before you cross the street.” “Don’t talk to strangers.” “Wear your coat.”  “Be careful.”  Sometimes negative sounding words are said with love and concern.  On the other hand, mothers cheer their children on, applauding every step forward, marveling at their beauty and cleverness. Downdogs and updogs?

When we are an updog, we bubble humor and positive vibes, let’s say. We look to the sun as we bend upward. We’re optimistic. Then we have to do something nearly the opposite, designed to stretch an entirely different set of muscles and ligaments. The downdog brings blood to our head, focuses our attention on the ground, and might be considered the narrow, pessimistic, protective position.

Actually both positions remind me of the Village People making large letters, but that is neither here nor there. (Peter Minister gnomes below)  Yoga is fun and I’m easily amused.

So, my thinking drifted towards the difference between blogs that are light and amusing and those which are serious and about subjects which are important to the future of life as we know it.  Various marketing analytics have proven pretty conclusively that the most popular blogs are positive.  Let’s restate that to simply upbeat and downbeat posts: updogs and downdogs.  We all have enough stress in our lives, it seems, that we do not actively go seeking more.  So it would appear that the best advice for bloggers and marketing folks is to emphasize the positive.  Dwell on the solution, not the problem so much.  And, whatever you do, do not disparage the competition.  Ignore them.  Point out how your product is strong in an area, not how theirs is weak.  Your customers aren’t dumb, they’ll figure it out.  Know what?  It works.

But this is an election year.  And while it’s true that gunfights and fisticuffs rarely break out on the floor of the US Congress today, the verbal equivalent is everywhere, all the time.  The scandals that arise, the anger expressed on all sides are amazing to me.  I’m wondering how anyone can conceivably consider THAT candidate when they are obviously a perverted, arrogant tool of corporate interests with a massive negative advertising budget.  How can that be?  In the political world, “going negative” is done repeatedly, because everyone believes it works in the political sphere.

Why would “going negative” work in the political sphere but not in business to business sales and marketing?  Even consumer products rarely go “very” negative.  A taste test, perhaps, but Tide would never say that Arm & Hammer is terrible laundry soap and just plain doesn’t work.  (And it makes you fat!  Actually I recall a beer company years ago that set up a hotline phone number you could call and they would say things like that about their competition.  It was a hoot, but it was traded virally, under the table, not advertised. It was funny because it was snarky and underground.) That would be foolish.  Hardly anybody would believe a blatant lie about a commercial product.  But people will believe mudslinging charges thrown back and forth regarding political candidates, according to studies. I don’t find negative ads engaging or educational, but that’s me.

I am much more reminded of Adolf Hitler’s Big Lie Theory, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”  I read that many years ago and rather hoped it was not true.  But time has shown that it is, in politics.  Hitler is also known for having said: “It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge.” And “The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.”  Big, simple, lies, often repeated. Sounds like a description of political ads this time of year.  So how is it that so many people vote against their own best interests?  How do we allow some of these horrible human beings to run for office and actually elect them?

Tis a puzzlement to me. Updogs and downdogs are both designed to do us physical good.  Optomistic and pessimistic blogs may not be equally successful, but they can each have been written with good intentions.  Not every product review on CNET is a glowing tribute.  We seem to have invested so much emotion and faith in our political views, that a party which aligns itself with one important political view of yours would appear to capture your heart without your brain considering ALL the views of that party.  Belief is strong.  And unquestioning.

There is a 2004 book (with an awful cover) called Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate — The Essential Guide for Progressives by George Lakoff,  Howard Dean, and Don Hazen.  They raised questions about how the right was so successful in framing the debate and winning the hearts and minds of Americans.  Well, it seems simple enough.  When you control the media, all the media, you are likely to be able to get your point of view across better and more persuasively than any other view.  Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and Lucy were shows of another, more restrained age.  I’m not arguing for their return.  Far from it.  In recent years I’ve enjoyed Chuck, 30 Rock, Psych, Burn Notice, Glee, and bits and pieces of other shows.  I can’t abide the bad manners, anger, and side of humanity I see in so much of TV: reality TV, Fox News, and so on.  These are values we’re transmitting to our children.  We’re teaching them that those behaviors are acceptable…. or they wouldn’t be shown on TV as part of our commonly shared (accepted?) culture, right?  Tipper Gore wanted warning labels on rough rock lyrics.  The  poor woman must faint dead away if she listens to what passes for some “rap music.”  Why do people watch these things?  Why do people listen to these things?  They presumably reflect something already in their lives.  Or their lives come to reflect them.

Is there a conclusion here?  The same one that’s been around for hundreds if not thousands of years: we are each responsible for our vote.  That people are trying to manipulate us and make finding “truth” very difficult is pretty much the human condition. The search for The Truth is an arduous, but worthy goal.  I can’t help but believe that a strong vision of the future and an expression of specifics the person would fight for makes better political advertising than mudslingging.  Or do I mean “better” in terms of how I would like to think of our society, as opposed to what constitutes effective political marketing?  Which is why I like business to business marketing, and not political marketing.  Please vote next Tuesday.