August 31, 2010

OK, I know that today’s piece will get me in trouble with some of the folks that are having coffee right now on Calle Ocho in Miami. 

However, I just don’t understand what is the reason for our continuing policy of embargo, isolation and trade restriction towards Cuba. I guess it purely political.

I was about ten years old when Fidel Castro became the dictator of that Cuba. Since that time we have had détente, the collapse of the Berlin wall. We have seen democracies born from the ashes of communist states. Today there are only five communist countries in the world. So is it communism the reason to continue the Cuban embargo?

If so, then why is Red China our second biggest trading partner with nearly $500 billion a year? You don’t get more totaliatarian than Red China.

Maybe the issue is human rights.

But then again China’s record is not all that great. Neither is our pal Putin who runs Russia like a born again Stalin; nor are our friends in the middle east,  beginning with Saudi Arabia.

I know a lot of Americans of Cuban descent hate Castro, and want to wait for him to die.

But Fidel seems to have more lives than a cat.

Isn’t it time we think about  our foreign policy and act  to make it rational and consistent.  Cuba is a logical close market for goods and services and US trade. Hey, it might even help with our own economy.

Let’s make a positive step for both countries.


Patently absurd

August 30, 2010

Every time I read something about how our government works, I find a situation which defies all logic and common sense. Today, I am talking about an instance where government mismanagement has again cost the private sector jobs and delayed  expanding the economy. 

Part of any sustained economic expansion usually includes an advance in technology or finding a better way to do something. When a business or an inventor discovers a new process, they will seek to obtain a patent on the product or process to protect themselves from copycat competitors.

They routinely apply for a patent with the U.S. Patent Office located in Alexandria, VA. They pay fees for the processing of the approval. Once receiving the patent, the business can begin to produce and market its product without fear of a competitor copying the idea.

The process usually does not take very long and is business friendly. I said usually.

Did you know that currently there are about 1.2 million patents pending review  by the U.S. Patent Office?

Did you also know that the majority of these patent applications come from small businesses and inventors?

So it would be a good  to help the economy if we could get these patents approved quickly and out the door.

 Right? So what is the hold up?

Well the Patent Office can’t get enough funding to do its job. Why not?

Because, are you ready for this,

Congress  has diverted more than $750 million in patent fees to other purposes!!!

What a surprise.

The sad, though not surprising, situation is that the patent office can’t get enough funding to do its job because of congressional mismanagement. 

Since 1992 Congress has diverted more than $750 million in patent fees to other purposes, which has created a backlog of  1.2 million applications, more than half of which haven’t even been looked at yet.

Congress again, is  meddling with and diverting sources of cash to serve its own purposes. Congress is using patent office fees to fund other parts of the government. So now the office can not fulfill its mission to review and grant patents in a timely manner… and the economy waits.

Is this government of the people, by the people and for the people?

Or has that government perished from the earth?


August 28, 2010

It is all Sydney’s fault for introducing me to texting. I never would have thought of using it until one afternoon, a text message from her popped up on my screen. She announced she had a new phone and here was her number.  We sent messages back and forth for a while and more the following week.  Her texting   however slowed considerably as the novelty wore off. Not mine.

Personally, I think I was addicted to the activity. I texted all the time. If there was no one to text, I would send messages to myself. And then answer myself!  Last week, I  texted five hours straight until my thumb ached. Occasionally, on some days, I forgot to go to work when I was in the throes of  passionate texting. Forgot that is until my boss texts me, “Where are you?”

It was getting so bad, I was  stealing household wine money to pay for the additional texting minutes on the latest phone bill  which I purloined so no one would see the extent of my problem.

I was considering getting extra phones from different companies and spread my texting around town so no one would suspect how bad my obsession had become. 

 Finally, two days ago Kuno laid the law down and told me if I didn’t stop this evil texting , he was through with me. I was shocked. Kuno my faithful companion what are you saying?  

Only then did I realize  I had hit bottom. The demon smart phone had consumed me and clouded my view of what was important in my life. 

I looked into his sad brown eyes and saw the concern he had for me. I felt ashamed, but somewhat alive again as I let the phone slip between my fingers. It crashed to the floor and Kuno bit it in two.

Patting Kuno’s massive head, I whispered softly to him, “Its OK boy, I am back now”. 

Later, I took Kuno to the store and we got a pad and pencil. My new PDA. I am clean and text free now. I thank Kuno  for helping me overcome the demons of that nasty addiction. I am a lucky man.

However, many teenagers today are not so lucky.  Many can not stop texting. 

A recent study showed that heavily texting teenagers send on average  3000 text messages a month! Further it went on to say the activity was as additive as heroin. This has prompted texting rehab clinics to spring up to assist the teens in breaking this obsession.

When I was a kid, the only rehab I every heard about was when my father’s friend, Bart went to some drying out place because he drank too much beer.  It was all very hush-hush. Now there is rehabbing advertisements for just about everything popping up everywhere.

Texting rehab. There but for the grace of God go I.

Thanks Kuno.

Confidence game

August 27, 2010

Just as nature abhors a vacuum,  the economy hates uncertainty.

The recent tide of bad economic numbers have to be discouraging for the Administration and Congress. They  are for the American people.  The only difference is the Administration’s and Congress have jobs. Ten million Americans don’t and it is the government’s fault!

By not providing a sound certain future, government has put the brakes on any hope for an early economic recovery. By leaving the monstrously complex tax business unfinished before they selfishly took their undeserved summer vacation, Congress left the business climate completely uncertain.  Businesses therefore are reluctant to  invest in the future.  Therefore, no investment, no jobs and no consumer spending.

Additionally, in  threatening to entangle the business climate with additional red tape expense and bureaucratic regulations, the Administration has closed the fuel valve for business expansion.

No amount of government stimulus money, handouts or cash for old cars will spark this economy. Government can not do it with the short-term quick fit it attempts.  Government does not make anything.  It does not produce any goods and services. The best government can do is provide safety and security to the country and an environment that is friendly to business and the consumer. The people must have confidence in their future. There is none now.

If you don’t believe me ask yourself these questions.

If I am uncertain about my job’s future,  will I commit to a major purchase such as a house or car or home remodeling?

If  I am a small business and have $10 million to invest in a new product line, but the tax regulations are unclear, and there is an uncertain government approval and regulation required, will I proceed with hiring and start-up, or wait and see what the government does?

If I am a foreign investor with money to invest, do I favor a dollar troubled by a gigantic Federal budget deficit or look for more financially sound opportunities?

Uncertainty freezes economic activity.

If the government really wants to help the American people and promote economic growth it MUST:

Extend the expired tax cuts.  Make the shameful  IRS code readable and simple (short of revolution, this will never happen!).

Provide incentives for  businesses to invest and produce goods and services by taking a positive helpful approach to the business environment. Oversight  is fine where appropriate but not the smothering attack dog type. 

Manage and reduce  the  deficit, strengthen the dollar and encourage foreign investment.

Promote citizen self-reliance not government  handouts. If you doubt me on this, check out the thriving New Orleans’ businesses that picked themselves up  after  Katrina compared with those that relied on government handouts on this, the 5th anniversity of  the hurricane.

Lift trade restrictions to open markets for US made goods and services.

More government spending is not the answer. It is viewed purely as temporary and does not give American consumers and businesses long term confidence.

Come on Government do your job!  So we can do ours.

Going through the change

August 26, 2010

The other day I got into a discussion with a young  friend of mine about change. He is of the opinion that it is my policy to resist change of most kinds. I guess he thinks that  because I am old, I live in the past and object to all this newfangled stuff.

Well, if the truth be told, I enjoy a great many of the changes that have taken place during my lifetime.  Like  most Americans, I enjoy many of the creature comforts that 21 century living in America includes. 

I like the incredible research power my computer provides me. It is as if I have  thousands of encyclopedia editors at my beck and call 24 hours a day.

I  enjoy the arts and the beauty and bounty that the earth provides. I like the ability to travel and the access to modern medical care.

I like watching baseball games on my new flat screen TV in air-conditioned comfort; although I don’t like the designated hitter rule.

I could go on, but the point is there are hundreds of changes that please me.

However, some changes that have happened, I think are  not so good. Ok, I admit it, I don’t have a lot of time for the whole mall culture and the big box stores. I prefer smaller, individual owned shops that were ubiquitous during my youth. I also lament that today’s young live in a very scary world and don’t have the freedoms I had as a kid.

I am saddened by the documented decline in  civility and humane consideration we have experienced in the last 60 years.

It troubles me that education once a marked measurement, which showed each generation getting better educated than the one before it, has been reversed. Shockingly high percentages of our young people today never finish high school.  

Cultural polarization promoted by government and media is rampant. It leads to civil misunderstandings and hatred. Gone is the idea that America is the ” melting pot ” of values that served it so well for two centuries.

I believe, you can’t  have one America populated by  hyphenated Americans.

  But the reality of  today is that sometimes, I also think we have not changed all that much.

Sure, it is clear and measurable that we have vastly improved in many areas of  life.  Advances in medicine, communication, transportation, scientific research and technology are just a few of the many areas where our day-to-day existence has been altered; mostly toward a better, more comfortable life.

But,  a number of other areas also need to be considered.  In these, I would argue that we have not changed all that much since history began. 

For example, we still have not figured out how to live without war. In the last 100 years, hundreds of millions of people have been killed,  maimed or displaced in wars. We humans still continue to pursue this brutal, barbaric activity.

Religion has been and always will be a source of irritation and conflict to many who walk the earth. Do you find it strange that humans, while being the “smartest” creature on the planet and the only one with a sense of religion, still find it necessary to kill one another in its name?

Government in nearly all forms has been and still  is incapable of throwing off corruption and self-indulgence. In spite of  repeated promises to change the way our government works**, Washington continues to wallow in its wastrel ways. Politicians continue to advance their own egocentric agenda at the expense of  citizens who elected them. And we consider our form of government the “best” mankind has to offer!

Businesses, especially large businesses profess to care about everything good and wholesome under the sun. However,  when a conflict arises, they still are compelled  to act in a self-serving way; virtually unchanged since the robber baron days of the 19th century.

This one I think the French might have gotten right.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. ( The more things change,  the more they stay the same.)




** Latest Promise. “It’s time to fundamentally change the way that we do business in Washington. To help build a new foundation for the 21st century, we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative. That will demand new thinking and a new sense of responsibility for every dollar that is spent”…  Barack Obama

Knowing it all

August 25, 2010

I am not young enough to know everything…Oscar Wilde


Have we become a civilization of  needing to know it all? 

How much information is too much information?

Every day we are bombarded by one medium or another providing us with so much information that we can  get brain overload. For me, it is difficult enough being old and doddering though life without having to worry about the intimate details of  some hollywood starlet’s weekend escapades or that the earth’s moon is shrinking two centimeters a year.

Just yesterday, I was shrinking from the thought of Hurricane Danielle which according to all the charts and graphs, will not come anywhere near me. If  fact it will probably be some time before it affects anyone. Yet, already we have this “Named Storm” hysteria.

Later, in the day, I heard some fresh faced reporter, breathlessly describing what President Obama had for breakfast  while on his vacation.  I really don’t care what the president has for breakfast. But, I do wonder if they are checking  his eggs for that salmonella which is running around; and I do hope he  drinks lots of Florida orange juice. 

By the way,  I had a bagel with a schmear for breakfast. (more useless information)

Then the reporter noted that perhaps the forecast for rain might spoil the president’s golf.  Why do we  need to know this?  Let him do something else. 

 When I was on vacation  in Martha’s Vineyard it rained, so I went to the spot where Ted Kennedy drove his car off the bridge. I then reconstructed events of that night 41 years ago. Based on what I saw,  you would have to be a pretty naive forensic scientist to believe Ted’s tale. Maybe the president should check that out  if the rain spoils his golf.

It is a good thing that I finished my bagel, before the news of the bed bug infestations in New York came on. Why do they have to show these bugs in high-definition?  I think we probably always had the bugs, but because of the 24 hour news cycles we get to hear all about it. I would rather not know.

Social scientists are studying what effect this overabundance of information is having on individuals and society. Some suggest that too much information retards our ability to distinguish what information is important and what is not . This inability to separate the wheat from the chaff causes us to treat all information with the same weight. This might cause people to make bad decisions in their life’s choices.

I think there should be a don’t ask, don’t tell switch on all our media machines.

If we don’t ask, don’t tell us.

Letters to the editor

August 24, 2010

I received a lot of comments and emails last week about “Social Studies” (August 12th  ). Most of the comments lambasted me. The readers thought  I was full of baloney for thinking that a flight attendant’s job was more social involved than their own jobs. They proceeded to point out to me, in unctuous detail,  errors in my thinking.  A sample  response is below:

 “Dear Woody,

 I would like to take your challenge and tell you about a job that is definitely more socially involved then a flight attendant!!

Are you kidding me? Now take all those people you spoke about and make them sick…tell them to undress,and wait…wait…wait.

Now you have 100% of bad angry people. Even the kindest person is mean when they are in pain from heart attacks, car accidents, trauma’s, shootings. Then there are always the drug addicts, and alcoholics. “The Emergency Room nurse” must always remain professional,kind and caring even when she is battered by the bad angry people. Our emergency room treated over 100,000 people last year and I can guarantee that their stay was longer than an airplane ride any where in the US.

So Woody, Lets give a big cheer and hats off to all those kind nurses!!!! “

(Wow 100,000 patients in the ER a year! That is about one every 5 minutes. I had no idea.)

First, let me thank you all for your comments and assure you it was not my intent to slight anyone.  It is quite clear to me that nurses and  medical professionals have to deal with angry and sick or injured people. 24/7. I also am aware that teachers need endless patience as they provide enormous amounts of handholding to their students and parents! 

In addition,  it goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that our men and women in the military perform some of the most difficult and dangerous jobs anywhere. It is obvious that all of these are very difficult jobs, demanding a high degree of professionalism, caring, and social awareness.

The theme  of the blog that day was “social isolation”.  I talked about that flight attendant’s behavior in the context that being “socially involved”  can be worst  than being “socially isolated”  for a person’s health. I was not making a statement on which jobs were more difficult or more professional.

I thought my airy fairy  statistical math calculation was a clue that I was being somewhat tongue in cheek, and fanciful about the whole thing. And in the end, when I said a dose of social isolation would be beneficial, I was talking about a “Time Out” for the attendant.

This notwithstanding, I appreciate that many  people have difficult, stressful jobs that enable all of us to live more civilized, comfortable lives. For this I applaud you.

Thank you.