TIGEROWNER MINERALS

 

 

                        RAN(T)DOM THOUGHTS:

 

09/28/2017:  If you've managed to find this page, congratulations (or maybe, apologies....)!  It's my feeble attempt at a manual rant blog.  I am sick of being inundated by opinions on politics, religion, the state of the world, etc. from every quarter, but nonetheless wanted to put down on (virtual) paper a few of my own thoughts on the world in general (not rocks!).  So I've decided that rather than adding my voice to the cacophony of social media, I would throw an opinion or two (or more) of mine out to the vastness of the internet, and hope it sticks (warning - I tend to be long-winded, and I use long sentences at times)....

I may let a few friends and family in on this, but other than that, I'll let the internet do its thing, and whatever happens, happens.....  I'll add my opinions on whatever, whenever, so if you're interested, read on, and if not, sorry for wasting this much of your time!

Just one man's opinions....

INDEX (click on a topic below to view directly):

ON BUYING A TIMESHARE (11/06/17):

ON HEALTHCARE INSURANCE (10/29/17):

ON GLOBAL WARMING (10/05/17):

ON GUN CONTROL (10/03/17):   (UPDATE 11/07/17):  (UPDATE 02/16/18):

ON POLITICS AND ELECTIONS (09/28/17):   (UPDATE 11/20/17): 

ON THE DUMBING DOWN OF AMERICA (11/20/17):

ON RELIGION (02/17/18):

BUYING A TIMESHARE (11/06/17):

In a word, DON'T! I can speak to this with some authority, having made the bonehead mistake of buying not one, but two timeshares.  And therein lies a tale:

Susan and I took a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, in Mexico, about 20 years ago. We got a great deal on the resort accommodations, due in part to the fact that we agreed to attend a one-hour presentation from a time-share company. We decided "What can it hurt? If it's a good deal, great; if it's not, we just don't buy...". So we attended that first presentation, and after 3 hours of non-stop sales pitches, we agreed to buy a 30-year deeded Red week of a one bedroom apartment at Playa Grande, a 5-star resort right on the beach, for a little less than $10000, which worked out to about $45/night, if you don't consider the annual maintenance fees - adding those, and assuming they would never go up, it worked out to about $75 night, still a pretty good deal (we thought).

What we didn't consider carefully enough was that while Cabo is a nice place to visit, the world has a whole lot of nice places to visit, and we wanted to see a bunch of them. Now a part of any timeshare sale is a free (at the time) membership in a service (ours was RCI) which is essentially a place for timeshare owners to "bank" their weeks, in order to exchange them for weeks in other exotic places; so we figured whenever we don't want to use the week in Cabo, we'll "bank" it, and exchange for a week in Bora Bora, or Tahiti, or some similar location. Further, we were told our resort was so great, and our week such good timing (whale-watching!), that we would probably be able to exchange for a much larger place, if we wanted....

Owning a week at a fancy resort every year for 30 years for a fraction of the present day cost does seem like a good deal - but (of course) the devil is in the details... The maintenance fees do go up, a little bit every year. And because you "own" that week, and are responsible for maintenance (the fees!), the only way you can get rid of it is to sell it!  And nobody buys a timeshare on the open market - timeshares have to be "sold", by a professional pitchman (check out eBay sometime - there are lots of timeshares up for sale - for $1!)...  But the real problem for us was, having visited Cabo twice in four years (we "banked" a week to use in Scottsdale two of those four - more on this later), we were looking forward to going somewhere else. What we found was that there are few available timeshare weeks in Bora Bora, or in Tahiti, or any place in the Caribbean or Hawaii; there are plenty available in Branson Missouri and Williamsburg Virginia - nice places which we might visit sometime, but definitely not what we had in mind when we signed up.

Now we have lots of family in the Phoenix area - and Susan and I at the time averaged 3-4 visits a year to that area to see them. We used our "banked" week to stay at a nice place in Scottsdale, the Villa Mirage, and were looking for a way to leverage our Cabo timeshare there (we used RCI as a timeshare exchange medium at the time). The ideal thing, we thought, would be if we could trade our Cabo week for a week in Scottsdale, without having to go through the "banking" process - and so we wound attending (wait for it) another timeshare presentation, at the Villa Mirage.

Long story short, we wound up shelling out another $10K, for another timeshare! But this time, we were smart (we thought!): instead of buying a specific week, at a specific resort, we bought 5000 points per year, which could be used to directly (on the internet) reserve time at a whole list of resorts. Several of their resorts (now Diamond Resorts) were in the Scottsdale area, where we knew we would often want to be in the upcoming years. They closed the deal by saying we could give them our Cabo week every year for another 6500 points! So this gave us 11500 points a year, which they demonstrated would get us from 4-5 weeks per year, in Scottsdale, a place we knew we would want to visit often. As a plus (they said), if you were internet savvy, you could wait until 30 days before your visit to reserve, and get the place you wanted for half the stated point rate. And of course they had access to other places, in Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii, you know, everywhere!

What's the catch? Nothing stays the same, and over a number of years, the maintenance fees on the points climbed twice as fast as those on the Cabo week, and of course we were still paying for those - we needed to, to get those 6500 points.... Also, the number of points needed to reserve a week at our favorite week started climbing, and the availability started falling - as their sales went up, our access went down. They accepted my Cabo week, but only grudgingly, and made it as complex and difficult as possible for me to exchange it for the promised points - we lost several years worth of points because of this...

Let me digress for a bit: at one point in my life I joined a gym, Spa Vita Nova, in King of Prussia. I paid an incredibly small monthly fee ($15!), and used it almost every day - they had a ton of exercise equipment, several pools, a sauna, a steam room, even an ice bath. Their bathroom looked like a Roman villa, and was fully equipped with shaving cream, aftershave, etc., so I made a trip there pretty much every morning before work - that is, until the lines started forming, every day, earlier and earlier! The catch was, they just continued to sell memberships, at $15/month, without any thought as to what would happen to the facilities as hordes of men and women joined up and started coming earlier and earlier to avoid the crowds. The system they set up was (for them) self-correcting: as the facilities got dirtier and more crowded, the sales and attendance slowed down. But for the customers, all of a sudden you were paying $15 a month for something you wouldn't (and couldn't) use any more. And so you - just - stopped - going, and paying. The place went out of business in a few years, and was replaced by a fast food outlet....

Now back to timeshare: the points-based timeshare system works like Spa Vita Nova - you just keep selling more and more points. Unlike weeks or rooms, there is no limit to the number of points you can sell in any given year - it's limited only by how good your sales team is, and they are very, very good. As the number of people with available points goes up, the room availability goes down, or at least gets further and further out. Remember what I said about getting a place for half the stated point rate by waiting until 30 days out before booking? Guess what - now they are suggesting booking a year in advance!  And the kicker is that they usually have availability at these resorts on the open market - even when there is no availability to points owners!  

BTW, because we only purchased the basic membership originally, and haven't purchased more points since, we have been moved down the pecking ladder of perks to the bottom rung: "valued member" status.  Unfortunately, your "value" goes down every year, at the same rate at the value of your points!  And the maintenance fees in the points-based system? They are now double what they were when we originally purchased....  One of the things they now tout is the ability of members to use their points for things such as airfare or renting cars - and if you do that, the value of your points is equal to less than half the cost of just your maintenance fees, at least at our paltry "valued member" level....

As your point's value goes down, you as a customer turn into something else - a prospect! Every year we are beset with repeated phone calls from Diamond Resorts, trying to get us to commit to a one-hour "Owner's Update", a euphemism for a two-hour (minimum) high pressure sales pitch/presentation. When you check in, you are directed to the "concierge", whose real job is make sure you attend the requisite sales pitch.  Both the phone rep and the "concierge" are engaging, friendly, and very well-trained in getting people to say "yes" - you can say "no", which we do about half the time, but we always feel guilty about refusing their offer - they are trained to lull you into a state of well-being, before they go for the kill (OK, that's probably an exaggeration)....

Once you've agreed to attend, and show up, you do get a breakfast and arguably useful information on arcane changes they've made to the points system, the resorts, the user interface, etc.   But then you are always subjected to a sales harangue on why you need to buy more points. These sales pitches are formulaic - first the "good guy" gets to know you, shares how much he/she has in common with you, tells you he's not a salesman, and finally offers you a great deal, "only if you want to buy". When you say "no", the "bad guy" comes in, tries to bully you into buying, and when you say "NO", asks you pointedly why on earth you are so dumb as to not want the great deal.... Finally, when you stand up to leave, the closer comes in with a low-ball deal to try to get at least something out of the money they've just spent on you for breakfast and the "swag".  We've been through these pitches on average every other year for the past 10 years, and it is always painful. This year the "swag" was 1000 points (for this year only, of course) - based on our experience, those points are worth about 2 days at the smallest accommodation at their lowest demand facility, in July, in Arizona (OK, I made that last bit up)....

Finally, here's a tip for those who've already been trapped into buying into this type of situation: you can avoid the ongoing annual sales pitches with one simple trick. Show up at the appointed time, but without your wife - when you get there, just tell them she's ill. She will be grateful you didn't make her go, and they won't let you in! There must be some rule that sales must be made with both spouses present, because I used this gambit with success the trip before last. Despite the fact that this was billed as an "owner's update", and I was an owner willing to listen and then update my "ill" wife, they would not allow me to attend.... I (of course) protested, but to no avail....

 

 

  HEALTHCARE INSURANCE (10/29/17):

I have always had insurance for healthcare costs; before I was on my own, my Dad had us covered through his employer, and since being out on my own, I've always had insurance through my various employers. When I retired, HP offered its retirees a group plan which looked good (they partially subsidized it), and I've taken advantage of that ever since - until this year....

A little digression: there has been a lot of discourse in the media on healthcare for the past several years. It's been clear for quite some time that a ton of people have had a tougher and tougher time paying their medical bills for essential medicines and medical procedures - this is because the cost of drugs, doctors, and hospitals and equipment has been growing at an astronomical rate for decades! That's not to say that these rates are unjustified - the cost of training medical personnel, research into the development of new medicines, and the manufacture and operation of new sophisticated medical equipment is staggeringly huge. But ask yourself this - what is the value of these things? What is the value of being able to walk rather than being bedridden? What is the value of living to 80 or even 100, rather than dying at 60? What is the value of being happy and pain-free, as opposed to depressed and in constant pain? It is my belief that the value of modern medicine to the welfare of mankind is well beyond any cost attached to its development....

That being said, how can the average person possibly pay for the kind of care they might need in the future? Well, the answer is through insurance, where the costs can be made individually reasonable by pooling the resources of a large group of people to deal with the large expenses of the (relatively) few in the group who are going to need them. It's a simple enough concept, but it is made complex by human weaknesses - both on the part of the providers and the receivers of care.  In the U.S., lack of money, carelessness, and/or bravado causes many people to forgo obtaining insurance - while simple greed causes some insurers to deny coverage or claims, or some providers to deny services. The end result is that our healthcare system works for some people, and doesn't for others - because it is a fragmented and complex system with holes and faulty patches which have accumulated for decades.

This year, as a result of a huge increase in my healthcare insurance bill (my HP retirement group costs have gone up 60% in the past 2 years), I decided to investigate the "Obamacare" health insurance exchange market, as an alternative to my group plan. And after at least 16 hours of intensive web and telephone research, I'm going with new insurance. I will potentially save $3-4K on my medical insurance costs this year, without giving up any of my coverage for catastrophic expenses. I say potentially, because I chose what is called a "high deductible" plan, where the insurance doesn't kick in until I've paid a fairly hefty chunk "out-of-pocket". If I need to pay out the whole deductible portion, the annual costs will wind up being close to the higher costs of my old group insurance plan.

Anyway, I think I'm set for next year.  But I now have 4 separate insurance policies for myself and my wife.  Plus, it took me a lot of time dealing with the arcane verbiage in the many insurance plan documents, phone calls to my benefits folks, the exchange people, and the insurers, and a fair amount of web research to finalize my coverage. And I'm pretty proud of my computer, phone, and analytical skills - I consider this effort a real achievement!  All of which leads me to believe that there are a lot of folks out there who are having a devil of a time figuring out where to even begin in their quest to get themselves and their families protected....   How can we make health insurance easier to get and less expensive?

I am convinced that the only answer is to have the federal government be the "single payer" for all health costs, for all people. Every U.S. citizen should have health insurance offered through the U.S. government, and the cost of the program should be a part of the federal budget, funded by Medicare (or something akin to it). The government should negotiate the best prices it can with all the healthcare providers - drug companies, hospitals, doctors, etc. - and pay them their fees directly. All U.S. citizens should need to get the medical care they need, is proof of their U.S. citizenship.

The list of countries who, like the U.S., do not currently provide free healthcare to their citizenry, includes an interesting and varied group of nations: Iran, Iraq, China, Syria, Pakistan, Cambodia, and about half of Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya, to name a few... . But just as interesting is the varied list of countries who do provide free healthcare to all of their citizens: Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Mexico and most of the rest of Central America, Nepal, India, the other half of Africa, virtually all of South America and Europe, and (surprisingly?) North Korea and Russia!  Having free healthcare doesn't mark a country as being all good, and not having it doesn't define them as all bad.  I'm not saying that those countries who provide free healthcare to all their citizens are better countries than we are - far from it - I'm just saying that they have the part about healthcare right, and we clearly don't....  

 

 

GLOBAL WARMING (10/05/17):  We (the U.S.A.) need to figure out this energy thing!  Currently most of the energy we use as a country is obtained by taking oil, natural gas, or coal out of the ground, and turning the carbon in it into heat and carbon dioxide, in power plants, cars, home furnaces, etc.  We ought to be thinking more long-term:  thinking solar, thinking wind, thinking tidal, thinking geothermal - thinking anything but continuing to burn fossil fuels which are slowly but surely turning our planet into a place we won't even recognize a hundred years from now.  The Earth is getting warmer, faster and faster, which is causing our climate to change in unpredictable and sometimes violent ways, and the cause is clearly - us!!  In addition, the techniques we use to get these fossil fuels, and then use to obtain the energy stored within them, pollute our air and water, scar our landscape, and even cause earthquakes (!). 

Why is it that so many people in this country refuse to admit that burning fossil fuels is a bad thing for the Earth?  I understand coal miners, oil riggers, gas drillers, etc., being a bit hard to convince, but what about the rest of us?  OK, I forgot the billionaires who made their fortunes from fossil fuels....  Oh, and I forgot the politicians the billionaires pay for.....  But what about the other 95%+ of our population?  Why do a lot of them continue to deny the "inconvenient truth"?   Well, I think I have the answers:

1)  Our human life spans are too short.  Too short to worry about anything other than being comfortable, well-fed, entertained, and - alive!

2)  Science and mathematics are not highly regarded any more - they're just too damn hard....  It's easier to believe in a magical all-powerful being watching out for his "chosen ones" on our planet, no matter what they do, than what you see happening with your own eyes.

3) Many people like to take the opposite side of a question from that which is taken by people they don't like or with whom they don't identify (like Barack Obama, Al Gore, or Hillary Clinton) - this has nothing to do with racism, politics, or gender bias (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)....

4) Some people still watch Fox News, and believe that what NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, the BBC, and the NY Times are airing or publishing is nothing but "fake" news - after all, that's what our president thinks (at least that's what he says)....

5) Some people believe that global warming is happening, but it is just a natural perturbation in our planet's climate which has nothing to do with our burning fossil fuels.  These people probably also believe that it's just a coincidence that earthquakes are spiking in areas in the Eastern and Central U.S.A. in the same places that fracking and wastewater injection are currently being used heavily by oil and gas companies - WAKE UP PEOPLE!

 

 

 GUN CONTROL (10/03/17):   The horror we just witnessed in Las Vegas is only the latest in a string of incidents which were made possible only because people had access to guns.  I understand the attraction that firearms have for many people - I have several guns myself, for no good reason, other than that they are interesting pieces of hardware.   I grew up on a farm, and learned how to shoot there.  My Dad had an 8mm German Mauser bolt action rifle with open sights which was amazingly accurate - we used to shoot groundhogs at over 150 yds. away with it, and used it to occasionally take a deer for meat.  We grew up with a healthy respect for firearms - there were 2 cardinal rules: A) assume every gun is always loaded, and B) never let the business end of any gun ever point at any part of any person, even momentarily.  I'm amazed at how many gun owners I've known who totally ignore those simple rules.... 

As for gun control, we already have it: we have decided as a country that guns should be controlled by anyone who wants one, and who can beg, borrow, or steal the money to get one.  That goes for soldiers, policemen, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, accountants, priests, burglars, murderers, terrorists, crazy people, basically anyone....  We have done this by allowing gun manufacturers, salesmen, criminals, and gun fanatics to hide behind the second amendment, which was created at a time when guns could only fire one shot at a time, with a minimum of approximately 30 seconds between shots, and was accurate out to maybe 100 feet.  Gee, how times have changed: just yesterday a single nut job managed in 10 minutes to kill 59 people and wound several hundred more, from a range of 500 yards!  You think maybe it's time to change the laws concerning who has access to that kind of firepower?

Here's an idea - all automatic weapons not in the hands of the police or the military should be ILLEGAL, and possessing one should be a FELONY.  Same for all parts and accessories for them (like receivers and high-capacity magazines).  Same for all items like silencers , "bump" stocks, and other items designed to circumvent detection or laws about automatic weapons.  If anyone is caught modifying a semi-automatic weapon to full-auto, same felony penalty....  Now I know there are a lot of these weapons out there, and the people who bought them just because they thought they ought to have a couple, should not be penalized financially - so the government should buy them back!  Give them to the cops, beat them into plowshares, whatever.  Firing ranges should be allowed to rent (on-site only) fully automatic weapons to those folks who simply can't do without firing off a few hundred rounds a minute once in a while.... 

As for gun manufacturers, they are really good at manufacturing intricate mechanisms, so put them to work manufacturing prosthetic limbs for those folks who've lost their originals to war or crime - there is some kind of justice to be had there....

Finally, a word for the NRA - WANKERS!!

UPDATE 11/07/2017:  Shortly after the Las Vegas incident, the media (both sides) leaped into action by glomming onto the issue of gun control as more fuel for our current political bonfire; and now we've had another loon use an assault weapon to kill 26 innocent people in Texas.  This time a ordinary gun-toting citizen was able to help end the incident by shooting the perp, and then (with another ordinary citizen's help) chased him away and tailed him until he crashed and apparently committed suicide.  And apparently this loon was able to buy his assault weapon because of a clerical error committed by the U.S. Air Force.  This whole story has been turned into more media fodder, again on both sides of the issue.  Meanwhile, the politicians (both democrats and republicans) on the NRA payroll, and also our President, have decried politicizing the issue, saying this is not the time (immediately after another shooting), and further, that new laws wouldn't have prevented this because of the clerical error.  

Well, guess what Einstein:  the only new law that makes sense is to ban all assault weapons in private hands!!  And unfortunately, if we honor some arbitrary "mourning" or "consoling" period whenever one of these assault weapon attacks occurs, we run the risk that with them increasing in frequency and severity, we will NEVER act on this issue - and this is exactly the result the NRA and their minions want!  Another argument presented by some politicians living in the deep pockets of the NRA is that if we ban assault weapons, we must also ban trucks and airplanes, since they too have been used to kill people.  I think there's another solution: how about if we ban idiots from holding office?  And I mean all idiots, on both sides of the aisle....

 

(UPDATE 02/16/18):  OK, here we go again - another 29 people (17 killed - school students and teachers) shot by another loon with an AR-15, which he apparently obtained legally....  I listened to media, politicians, and school students voice their opinions on what should be done (or not done).  Apparently the gun nuts in congress and in the general public (you know who you are) feel that any attempt to "politicize" the issue is a bad thing.  I even heard a teenager from the high school where the latest shooting occurred express pretty much the same opinion (guns don't kill people, people kill people, don't politicize the issue, now is not the time, yada yada yada....).  I couldn't help wondering how his parents would have felt if he had been one those shot - it's certainly clear where their politics lie, because he was spouting verbatim Fox News NRA crap....  It is refreshing to hear the high school students demand action from the adults (i.e., congress and our president), but I am very sure that nothing substantive will be done to address the problem of everybody and their crazy brother having an AR-15 and being bored....

I hate to say this, but there may be only two real solutions to our gun problem in the US:

A) We need to make owning any weapon capable of firing more than 6 rounds without requiring reloading (and any weapon which can be re-loaded just by adding a new pre-loaded clip) illegal, punishable by confiscation and a big fat fine, unless the owner is a member of the military or the police!  Now I know that's pretty harsh compared to most proposals, but bear with me a minute.  This would eliminate Glocks, UZI's, AR-15's, AK-47's, etc., but it would also eliminate a lot of hand guns, .22 rifles, maybe a few shotguns, etc.   We could create a government buy-back schedule with per gun prices of from $200-1500 (!) by using just the money currently proposed by president Trump for his border wall....

If we did this, it would make it very, very difficult for one individual to kill large numbers of innocents before police could intervene.   But it would not eliminate the ability of anybody to kill themselves, their wives, their children (unless they had a lot of children), individual random people on the street, etc. - these are things which are apparently important to some people (hello NRA?)....  And it is important to note that it would not eliminate sporting rifles, shotguns, and hand guns - at least those used in recognized target shooting sports, and those used in killing large and small animals by people who enjoy that sort of fun....  Unfortunately, it would also probably piss off a lot of current gun owners, but the compensation for their guns turned in would probably help there.     It has been estimated that there are at least 310 millions guns in the USA - removing just those weapons capable of killing a lot of people in a short period of time would put a serious dent in that (and the best part is we'd still have a per capita gun ownership lead of 2-1 over any other country in the world - USA!  USA!)! 

B)  An alternative solution would be to take the money proposed for the aforesaid border wall, and buy the latest assault-style weapons for every man, woman, and child who doesn't have one currently, and then eliminate all restrictions on where they could be taken, plus offer courses in how to use them effectively.  Once every citizen  is armed and trained, everybody in the U.S.A. will have the ability to defend themselves from domestic terrorism, school shootings, wild animal attack, foreign invasion, home invasion, spousal abuse, cyber bullying, random robberies, government intervention in their affairs, etc.  Unlimited open carry laws would probably eliminate crime altogether!  This would have the added benefits of also eliminating both the NRA and the gun lobby (why would we need either?).  It would boost the economy (although admittedly mostly for the manufacturers of guns, ammo, and body armor - oh, and emergency medical providers).  It would totally eliminate immigration, either legal or illegal (who in their right mind would want to come here?)....  Further down the road, we could eliminate social security, since no one would survive to 65....  We would have no need for police forces (using NRA logic, with every citizen able to repel any criminal attempt against them or their property, crime would cease to exist).  

I hope by now you have realized that I am not in favor of option B - it's easy to poke fun at our attempts to solve our gun problem, but it's really no laughing matter - it's pretty sad when a group of elected officials in the pocket of the NRA (and their chicken compatriots) manage to keep an entire free nation in peril of mass murder by refusing to pass meaningful gun control legislation.  The 2nd amendment was a good thing 200-odd years ago, but now it's nothing but an obsolete piece of crap which the NRA uses to make sure that assault weapon mass shootings in the USA will continue to be a recurring news item for the foreseeable future.  I have no problem with individuals owning guns, but maybe updating the 2nd amendment to admit that things have a changed a bit in the last 200+ years wouldn't be a bad thing.

THE STATE OF THE UNION ELECTIONS (09/28/17):   I, like many of you (on both sides of the aisle), was stunned when Donald Trump was elected.  I don't know him personally, but from what I've heard him say on TV, he appears to be a moneyed, self-serving, unintelligent bullshit artist.  And he's the president of the United States!  But this is only one disturbing facet of the current mess that is our present government:

1) The U.S. presidential election has devolved into a TV reality show.  There are a number of reasons for this, but first and foremost is that the majority of the American electorate are more interested in being entertained than in the future of the country.  And Trump is entertaining, simply because he's willing, on camera, to spout bald-faced lies, insults, and vaguely racist or misogynist crap, and to make grand promises which any 5-year-old knows make no sense at all.

2) Getting elected to office in this country has become a full-time job; this means that our senators, representatives, governors, etc. spend the majority of their time worrying about the next election, rather than the position to which they were elected!  Our current president started running for a second term the minute he knew he'd been elected for the first....

3) Our founding fathers had no way to envision TV and the internet, and the effect that they could have on our nation's elections, when fueled by vast amounts of money from a relatively few rich people and foreign governments.  This means that many (not all) of the elections in this country are now simply a report on who had the most money to spend on advertising.  However, this was not the case in our most recent presidential election (Hillary spent more money than Donald); that was simply a referendum on who the American public disliked least....  The voters in that election could be put into three main categories: those who wanted Hillary to be president, those who wanted Donald to be president, and those who disliked Hillary so much that they were willing to vote for anyone (i.e., Donald or a minor party candidate) who simply wasn't her....

4) Speaking of the founding fathers, they did a really good job of designing checks and balances into the three branches of our government - and that worked well, at the time they designed it.  Unfortunately, over the past 250 odd years, exploitable flaws in this design have surfaced as the result of the passage of time, the march of technology, and the perversion of our electoral process through gerrymandering and voter suppression.   Many of our elected officials and large corporations have been using those flaws for many years, for their own benefit.

5) Our current political environment discourages good people from getting into government - IMHO, there are exceptions, like Barack Obama, John Kasich, and Bernie Sanders, but for the most past, the only people I've seen making a good difference for our country right now are comedians (John Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, John Oliver, etc., ), billionaires like Bill & Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffet, and celebs like Ophrah Winfree and Matt Damon.  And there is little incentive for any of them to run for office when our system is so screwed up....

I think there are a number of steps which might be taken to alleviate these problems:

A) There should be an amendment to the constitution which limits terms for U.S. Senators, Representatives, and Supreme Court Justices.  Yeah, yeah, I know the founding fathers decided to have the justices serve for life, but that was to keep them apolitical - like that's really worked....

B)  And speaking of the Supreme Court, the "Citizens United" supreme court decision was the most destructive blow to our democracy in history, and congress needs to figure out how to fix it!  To cut back on the staggering amounts of money currently spent on electioneering, and to insure "one man, one vote", congress should set strict limits on the amount of money spent on election TV, internet, or social media advertising - elections should not be "for sale" to the highest bidder, whether it's a corporation, a billionaire, a lobbying group, or a foreign government that's providing the cash.  If we need an amendment to our constitution which "modernizes" it to deal with that issue, so be it!  As for the large amount of false information appearing on social media and the internet, and in TV advertising, we need to create laws which provide penalties in line with the damage done.  Free speech doesn't extend to yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater when there is none, and it shouldn't extend to deliberately misleading the American public into voting for or against a particular candidate by telling lies about them either.  Both can be exceedingly dangerous to the public welfare....

C) A clear, standard set of questions on current governmental issues, appropriate to each national elected office or cabinet position, should be prepared for congress by a bipartisan committee on a regular basis; these questions should be designed to enable the public, and congress, to determine the fitness of each candidate for the office or position they seek.   Each serious candidate (qualification criteria could also be set by congress) should be required to formally answer these questions, in person, on camera, and these Q&A sessions should be locally televised on all major networks.  Answering these questions should be a REQUIREMENT for being placed on the ballot, or for being submitted as a candidate for all presidential-appointed cabinet or supreme court positions.   The release of all candidates' recent tax returns should also be a requirement (we wouldn't want to inadvertently elect someone who was being controlled by - oh say, RUSSIA)...  

D) Voting in our elections is both a privilege and a right for U.S. citizens, but it should also be a responsibility - many Americans seem to be becoming more cynical and apathetic toward the electoral process every year, with good reason....  Voting should be easier, available through any of a number of electronic means with a common, secure interface, and should be a requirement for things like getting and retaining passports and driver's licenses, obtaining unemployment or other forms of welfare, receiving Social Security, etc.  Technology is being used by nefarious agents to attack our election processes, but technology can also be used to protect them!

And finally, a little advice for our current President:  stay away from social  media, and try to say as little as possible whenever you're in public - you're embarrassing yourself and the country....  ("Avatar" reference: "Try to use big words...".)

UPDATE 11/20/17:  OK, here's a thought: why not make a number of the highest and most influential cabinet positions elected rather than appointed - I'd suggest the Secretaries of State and Defense, and the Attorney General, for example....  This would require the American electorate to vote on a few key positions which could act as a check on the office of President, something the congress ought to be able to do, but isn't, and apparently can't!  And yes, if Donald Trump had not been elected, and had not then chosen a questionable group of key advisors, I probably wouldn't be making this suggestion!  But he was, and he did, and - WOW!  Now is it possible that the electorate would still have chosen Trump and a slate of advisors he chose en masse - sure!  But at least then the country would have had an opportunity to weigh in on his choices, and perhaps chosen a different group of advisors.  Maybe some different advisors might have had the guts and wisdom to advise him how to help save the planet by avoiding the threat of nuclear war, and by joining every other nation in the world (!) in signing on to cut greenhouse gas emissions.   Who knows - maybe some of them could even help him suggest to congress that they avoid creating a tax cut package which manages somehow to cut taxes for everyone who doesn't need it!!  And suggest that he stop trying to gut a healthcare program which provides health insurance to millions who didn't previously have any....  And - oh, you know - help him avoid embarrassing all of us in America every time he opens his mouth or his Twitter app....

UPDATE 05/17/18:  Well, it seems I soft-pedaled a fairly important detail in my previous musings on this subject:  the huge effect that social media had on our last presidential election (and that will probably happen again, if we don't do something about it)....  It seems that a clever bunch of folks realized that the American electorate could be manipulated into voting (or not voting!) for a candidate in the same way we can be manipulated into buying a product - through advertising!  And the great part - that advertising could be placed anonymously, didn't look like advertising, and was extremely cheap....

The not-so-great part was that the clever folks who did the ad placements (basically troll comments on Facebook and other social media) were Russians attempting to help Donald Trump get elected - and that it worked! 

 THE "DUMBING DOWN" OF AMERICA (11/20/17):  OK, I am going to now share with you my three scary Laws of Intelligence....  The First Law states that an individual's intelligence is directly proportional to the amount that they use it.  The Second Law states that in any population the total amount of intelligence is always greater than the sum of the individual intelligences of its members, except in election years, when the reverse is true....  The Third Law states that over time the total intelligence of any population decreases in direct proportion to the total amount of time its members spend on social media, in listening to or viewing advertising in all forms, or in just being alive without deliberately learning something new!

The scariest part of this for me is that I think I understand the forces at work here, that I have felt them tugging at my brain, and that I believe the processes driven by these forces to be, for the foreseeable future, irreversible.  These forces are Freedom, television, the internet, and social media/"smart" phones, not necessarily in that order in terms of importance.  I define 'Freedom" as the parent process, because our freedom is the force which enabled us, in America, to invent the other three.  Our American Freedom has enabled us as a nation to become both the top consumers and producers of the evils which are the direct result of the other three dominant forces (again, television, the internet, and social media/"smart" phones) in our world. 

Let's start with a quick history review.  Freedom, as we Americans know it, was invented in 1776 - it has continued, pretty much unchecked, to the present day.  Unfortunately, some of our freedoms tend to limit others - for example, the freedom to bear arms (provided by the 2nd amendment) has resulted in a large (and growing) number of Americans losing the freedom to actually stay alive!  Our American freedom has permitted our industry and technology to grow and prosper, which is a very good thing - up to a point.  Unfortunately, I believe that point has been reached - and passed....  Television began ramping up in popularity and availability in the 1950's, the internet in the 1990's - and modern medicine has been evolving for the past 150 years or so..  At first, television was used to distribute entertainment and information - and it was very good at that.  It is still used that way today - but as a sideline.  Its primary use today is in advertising.  The internet was originally a means for science and industry to share information worldwide.  However, its primary use today is in social media, and - wait for it - advertising!  Modern medicine has been getting more and more sophisticated and effective for the past 150  years or so - its primary function is to prevent disease and lengthen human lives - and to make money!  

OK, back to my Third Law:  let's first talk about television.  Full disclosure:  I watch a ton of television!  I'm retired, and lazy, so I watch sports, movies, cartoons, game shows, news - you name it, I watch it....  I'm trying hard to stay in shape, but never enjoyed exercising, so I watch TV whenever I exercise - I've got all my machines and weight paraphernalia arranged so that I can see the TV whether I'm on the bike, or the TotalGym, or free lifting,  or whatever...  And when I watch live TV, the number one thing I see (and despise) isn't athletes, or comedy, or news, it's ads!  Unfortunately, very few ads are educational, because they are usually repeats of an ad you've already seen - so the only thing you learn is what they want you to learn through repetition - that the product, whether it's a drug, or a lawyer, or a car, or a mattress, or a TV, or a whatsis that will make your miserable life better, that product is for sale, and you should buy it!  The number  two thing I hate on live TV is politics - and they're trying to do the the exact opposite of ads....  They are trying to un-sell you - on MS-NBC and the like, on any Republican, and on FOX  and their ilk, any Democrat, plus anything that any Democrat has done for the past several decades.  The technique is the same as selling ads - repetition that (eventually) causes your brain to rot....

How about the internet - surely that is educational....  Well, yes it is - if used properly.  The problem is that using the internet  properly (or for that matter, watching TV and learning anything from what you see) requires something which can't be easily taught - critical thinking!  The reason is very simple - not everything on the internet or TV is true!  Just because something is written down, or you can pull it up on a computer, or you can listen to it on TV, or it sounds plausible and supports your beliefs, does not mean that it is in fact, FACT!  Yet a good portion of the American populace apparently cannot discern the difference between real and "fake" news, or they simply don't care - if it doesn't fit within their world view, it's "fake".  Very distressing (and depressing)....

Finally, there's social media, something I lump together with "smart" phones, something our current president uses to communicate with his "base".   Why anything some twit twitters early in the morning while (probably) taking a dump is news, "fake" or otherwise, is beyond me....  And yet this what we hear every morning: "the president tweeted <this>" or "the president tweeted <that>".  This is certainly something to be concerned about, or annoyed by, but it is not the worst thing about social media:  it's that the vast cacophony of meaningless crap on social media reaches literally billions of ears, and pushes direct, "real-time" human communications out of synch and relevance.   Why visit someone when you can call them?  Why call someone when you can text them?  Why text someone when you can tweet to EVERYONE?  We have made it all too easy to avoid human contact that doesn't come surrounded by interesting little videos about obscure trivia, or ads for things we don't need and can't afford, or agendas being pushed by this party, or this sect, or this - Trump!  I sometimes long for a non-fatal version of an event like the one from the remake of "The Day the Earth Stood Still", where all of our technology is suddenly non-functional.  I would miss TV and the internet a lot, and my cell phone a little, but at least when I made up shit no one would be able to instantly "google" me wrong....

 

RELIGION (02/17/18):  I decided to put something up here about religion because it is a subject of importance to many people, and because I ought to have the guts to state my own beliefs on the matter.  Religion has been responsible for an enormous amount of good in the world, and an enormous amount of bad - unfortunately this applies to every major religion.  Basically, every religion offers something magical - good fortune/happiness in one's present life, and/or life after death - and all one needs to do to  achieve these magical results is believe, and follow the religion's required laws/practices.  It's a pretty sweet deal really, assuming it works....

Unfortunately, by their very nature, all religions which offer these magical benefits require a belief in the supernatural - my mind is just not flexible enough to be able to actually believe in miracles or gods.  I know there are many things in this world of ours which cannot be explained - I just don't choose to invent a supernatural answer to questions I can't answer.  In addition, I refuse to believe that an all-knowing, all-powerful "god" would allow all the horrible things which happen in the world to take place - that makes no sense!  "It's God's will", "it passes our understanding", "God has a higher purpose", "believe as a child" - come on people!

I was baptized, confirmed, and went to Sunday school and church until I was 12 - and that was it.   I remember asking my Dad if I had to go any more, and him saying I was old enough to decide whether  I wanted to continue - and I didn't.  At 12, I was already dissatisfied with the Reverend's explanations of some pretty basic Bible stuff - it all sounded like mumbo-jumbo to me....  I started reading about other religions when I was in high school, even went to few services of other religions  - but they all had one thing in common:  a requirement that I at some point stop asking questions, and just "believe".  And I couldn't!

So here's what I do believe:

1) I believe that Jesus was a great man, and a great teacher, but that he was born and he died (and stayed dead) just like everyone else.  I think most of the things he taught made sense, like not stealing, or killing, or lying.  I try to live my life that way, because I think it works better than the alternative behaviors.  I love the "Golden Rule", because it makes logical sense, not because of some magical end-of-life reward....

2) I believe in science!  I believe that there are lots of things that cannot be explained (yet), but I don't believe that unexplainable things are any reason to believe in any religion.  I've read a fair amount, about many religions - sorry, none of them work for me....

3) I believe that many organized religions do a fairly good job of providing a moral framework for young people - however, the same thing could be provided without religion's necessary suspension of rational thought, by parents providing a good example for their kids, and by simply adding a "this is the way to live a good life" class in school.  Until parents and schools step up to take on that role, I guess religions will have fill that void - I just wish such a load of crap didn't come with the good things they actually do provide...

4) I believe I'm going to die some day.  I hate even saying that, because I love being alive.  I had hoped for some time that I could cheat death by freezing my head - based on Ted William's experience, it doesn't look like that plan is going to work.  I thought maybe that science would find an answer to the "getting old" disease, and I still think they will, but I'm afraid the odds of that happening in my lifetime are "slim and none".  There is of course the chance that benevolent aliens will arrive and save everyone, but the odds of that are probably even longer....  I'm enjoying life, and I'd like it to go on indefinitely, but I just can't get my arms around some magical "God" providing that for me, no matter what good I do or what evil I don't - sure hope I'm wrong about that....

5) I believe that there are many good people who believe in various religions and their tenets, and to them I say "whatever works"!  However, there are also many good people who simply cannot believe in "God", and I hope those good people who can believe will not think harshly of those of us who can't....  Finally, there are all those bad people who believe because they recite scripture and go to church on Sunday, they will go to heaven when they die.  They won't, of course, but I hope they get exactly what they deserve - in this life!

 

"Everyone gets religion - in the end"....