Friday, October 31, 2008

Hey Dads: Check those trick or treat bags carefully

Real Life Adventures comic obtained from the Houston
Chronicle website, although I saw it in this morning's
Chicago Sun-Times.

There may be worse things than booby-trapped apples out there. Lehman Brothers stock, perhaps.

Actually, checking the kids' Trick or Treat bags was a Dad duty in our house... and one I did not try and shirk.

Why, I felt it was vitally important to check each and every piece of candy against tampering.

And to sample. Liberally sample.

For safety reasons only, of course.

What are you for Halloween this year?

This year, as for many years past, I am attempting to pass myself off as a respectable adult.

Even after all this time, it's still not a very convincing portrayal.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Your tax dollars at work: Banks to pay dividends... with bailout money

That's what the Washington Post reports today, in story by Binyamin Appelbaum. You'll recall the set-up: The government would invest up to $250 billion in a representative sampling of U.S. banks, acquiring an ownership stake in the process. When the money is repaid (we can only hope!) the government would release its interest. The money came with some strings (just obviously not enough). As Applebaum wrote:
Among other restrictions, participating institutions cannot increase dividend payments without government permission. They also are barred from repurchasing stock, which increases the value of outstanding shares.
This money was supposed to be lent out by the banks to get the economy moving again. But nobody thought to prohibit the banks from passing the government's money (our money!) directly to their shareholders. Says Applebaum, "The 33 banks signed up so far plan to pay shareholders about $7 billion this quarter. Companies generally try to pay consistent dividends and, at the present pace, those dividends will consume 52 percent of the Treasury's investment over the initial three-year term."

You read that right: More than half of the money printed up by the government to meet this crisis will be squandered on dividends.

Thank goodness we live under a conservative administration, eh? Who knows what those crazy liberals would have done.

It turns out that the Europeans, being more experienced at this Socialism stuff, knew enough to write more restrictive rules into their bailout plans. Says Applebaum:
The [U.S.] Treasury's approach contrasts with decisions by foreign governments, including Britain and Germany, to require banks that accept public investments to suspend dividend payments until the government is repaid. The U.S. government similarly required Chrysler to suspend its dividend payments as a condition of the government's 1979 bailout.

The legislation passed by Congress authorizing the Treasury's current bailout program is silent on the issue.
So even though individual stockholders will get dividend money from banks that received government money supposedly intended for loans to get the economy moving again, they won't get increased dividends. (There, don't you feel better about it now?)

Some of the participating banks have pretty significant stockholders, too. According to Applebaum's article, Obama economic adviser Warren Buffett owns a goodly chunk of Wells Fargo, while Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal owns a big piece of Citigroup.

I hope that exposure of this story forces the banks and/or the government to stop this insanity. There may be a hopeful sign in this Reuters report this morning that the Federal Reserve has ordered a Wyoming bank holding company not to pay dividends. However, the State Holding Co. of Thermopolis, Wyoming operates only the two-branch Bank of Wyoming... hardly comparable to Wells Fargo or Citigroup. And the Reuters story does not make it clear that the ban has anything to do with the acceptance of bailout money. In fact, the article seems to indicate that this prohibition has more to do with the health of this one particular banking company and not with a nationwide prohibition about converting tax dollars into dividends for billionaires.

I promise to stop posting now.

I'm going to be too busy tearing out paving stones and building barricades.

Follow ups: Obama an American after all -- and beginning the analysis of what went wrong for John McCain

In this October 14 post, I first mentioned the case of Berg v. Obama, a suit actually filed in Federal Court in Pennsylvania (I looked) challenging Obama's ability to serve as President because, the suit alleged, he was not born an American citizen, as our Constitution requires.

The suit was shortly thereafter dismissed (on standing grounds, not because I wrote about it). Today comes this article by James Janega in the Chicago Tribune which purports to put the birth certificate rumor to rest once and for all.

It won't, of course.

But I promise you: If there really was something to it, Hillary Clinton would have dug it out and exploded Senator Obama's candidacy long ago. Her 'opposition research' was so thorough, you may remember, that she dug up papers that Obama had written in kindergarten and third grade.

(How much of a paper can one really "write" in kindergarten anyway?)

See, the idea was that Obama would be exposed as an eternally ambitious creature and his followers would melt away.

Yes, it was just as lame then as it sounds now.

The "Kenyan birth" rumor would have been much, much better. But -- obviously -- there was nothing to it because Hillary didn't run with it.

Meanwhile, the vultures are circling over John McCain's campaign. I know that, in the last couple of elections, the race wasn't over until the last chad in Florida had been hanged... but my suspicion is that the Electoral College will this time perform its assigned constitutional task of margin multiplication. The popular vote may be reasonably close, but Obama will win easily in terms of electoral votes.

I don't think this outcome was always as certain as it now seems: I wrote back in August, when McCain's commercials were trying to paint Obama as just a celebrity without substance, comparing him to Paris Hilton, that the McCain people were using footage of the wrong woman.

Yes, you may remember, I said the McCain campaign should have used all that footage of Hillary Clinton decrying Obama's inexperience. Instead, some genius in McCain's camp thought they'd get their own woman and thereby attract all the disaffected Hillary voters.

I do not think Sarah Palin should shoulder the blame for McCain's pending defeat. I believe that vice-presidential nominees are generally irrelevant. But McCain's handlers grossly underestimated the negative reaction -- even within his own party -- to the selection. (Gosh, I guess he really was an outsider, wasn't he?) Then McCain's handlers compounded the error by trying to control access to the Alaskan governor in the first critical days after her nomination.

This was just exactly the same mistake Obama's handlers have made in trying to control access to his birth certificate: Limit access and allow your opponents to crowd the stage. But it hurt McCain more.

Even if McCain felt he needed to select Gov. Palin in order to energize his base, he still could have run Hillary in all his commercials.

Oh, she'd denounce it of course: But what could she say? I was wrong then but now I'm right? Would this have been credible?

But let's start, now, to think about the future -- and thankful for the past. Specifically, could we all pause for a moment and thank our Founding Fathers for the wisdom to create the Electoral College? When the Electoral College works as designed, and a close winner becomes a clear winner, it helps heal the country after a divisive campaign.

And this one has surely been divisive. I hope the former Gore and Kerry supporters will be ashamed, on November 5, that they campaigned openly to abolish the Electoral College. I doubt they will, though.

Christian Science Monitor looks to online future

You may have seen this elsewhere, but here's a link to Phil Rosenthal's October 29 column in the Chicago Tribune. In April, Rosenthal writes, the Christian Science Monitor will cut back from its five day a week press run and focus instead on a "beefed-up Web site, complemented by daily e-mail editions and a weekly print magazine."

I would have provided a link to the Monitor with this post (I'm very considerate that way)... but I couldn't get the page to load this morning, after repeated tries.

The site may need a lot of beefing up.

Meanwhile, this cartoon, which aggravated me in March 2007, when I first found it on this site (NSFW) via a post on Thermal, now aggravates me more:

See, then I was aggravated because there was sort of a grain of truth in it... now I'm aggravated because it may soon no longer be true at all.

And, by the way, in putting this together this morning, I was glad to discover that some new posts have recently gone up on Thermal. I guess, Chris, this working for a living can only hold your attention for so long, eh?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We're trying to get Curmudgeon under control here

The coming election must be starting to 'get' to the Curmudgeon. The crinkly-eyed, humorous stuff seems to have vanished, but fear not: We're doping him up with sedatives and hoping to get him back on track soon.

One possibility is for Curmudgeon to open up a "political" blog -- which people in search of entertainment can avoid like the plague -- and keep this blog open for the lighter, family-oriented, or just plain humorous essays. (At least Curmudgeon thinks some of them are funny. Opinions have differed.)

Curmudgeon thinks that this might be a good solution -- that way, he says, he might get two book contracts. That's when we slip him some more happy juice. But he has instructed me to solicit the readers' input, and, however reluctantly, I do so herewith.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Abortion and the Democrats: Odd bedfellows

Older Daughter, a nursing student these days, was home recently for a wedding.

She and her Boyfriend were sitting in the living room with Long Suffering Spouse and me. I was making small talk with the Boyfriend when I noticed Older Daughter pulling something out of her purse and waving it around in front of my wife's widening eyes.

My eyesight is not what it was. Across the room, without my glasses, it looked like Older Daughter was waving a panty liner. I harrumphed. Daughters may need to discuss intimate things with their mothers, but not while the menfolk are within earshot... or line of sight.

But Older Daughter wasn't waving what I thought she was. It was a diaper. A teeny, tiny disposable diaper she was given at the completion of her neonatal rotation. She explained that, even at this tiny size, she had to fold the diaper in half to get it to fit on the preemie she cared for during much of that rotation.

* * * * * *
This is a picture of Amillia Sonja Taylor, posed next to a fountain pen. This is a small baby. At least at the time of this report (posted on the website of the CBS Miami affiliate), this was the smallest preemie ever to survive. Born at less than 22 weeks' gestation, she weighed less than 10 ounces and was only 9½ inches long at delivery. She was kept in the hospital for four months before being released to her parents in February 2007.

* * * * * *
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) (the link will take you only to the majority opinion, but you can navigate from there to the concurrence and dissent) was still pretty new when I was in law school, 31 years ago. The question of what state regulations on the abortion procedure would survive judicial review was quite fresh and was the general topic one day in our 1L Constitutional Law course at my nominally Catholic law school. The specific topic was whether a statute requiring that a father be notified before his child was aborted could be constitutional.

I didn't jump up and down and wave Rosary beads. I didn't yell 'abortion is murder' or otherwise try and disrupt the class. But I did ask, when called upon, whether it was reasonable that, since the father had something to do with the beginning of the pregnancy, he ought to have some say in how the pregnancy ends.

After class, another student came up to me and asked me, in all seriousness (law students being particularly serious people), "Are you really this reactionary, or were you just playing devil's advocate in there?"

Those were the exact words he used and they are seared in my memory. My classmate was articulating what has become the standard Democratic response to any criticism of abortion on demand: Anyone who challenges this "right" is a "reactionary."

* * * * * *
If this is an extreme position, there is a counter-extreme, too, and some of the most extreme of these counter-extremists claim membership in the same Catholic Church to which I belong. But, as I understand it (and I claim no special expertise) a principal objection that these people have to some forms of birth control is that these methods prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall. I don't know whether this objection can be appropriately extended to all forms of "the Pill" or even the extent to which the question of which birth control methods permit fertilization but prevent the attachment of the fertilized egg to the uterine wall has been subjected to rigorous scientific inquiry.

But I must admit a certain undeniable logic in this extremist position: Nothing other than a fertilized egg can become a human. I do know that at some point in fetal development, that tiny spark of life becomes imbued with an entirely human will to survive. Like Amillia Sonja Taylor, pictured above, or the slightly 'older' preemie for which my daughter cared during her neonatal nursing rotation. Since we don't know where that point is, it is understandable that some people insist that it is wrong to terminate fetal development at even the earliest stages.

* * * * * *
There is also the 'collision course' with science which Justice Sandra Day O'Connor predicted for Roe. Premature babies can be born and hospital staffs will fight for them, while anxious parents hope and pray and exhort from as close to the incubator as they are allowed to stand. Such children are fervently "wanted." But other 'fetuses,' some even more mature than these preemies fighting to survive, may be aborted. Maybe, sometimes, because it is sadly necessary to save the mother's life. But, sometimes, perhaps, simply because their parents don't want them.

* * * * * *
The Democratic nominee (and the almost certain winner a week from today), Senator Obama, has come out strongly against restrictions on abortion. Let me quote from the Wikipedia entry on the Freedom of Choice Act (footnotes and internal links omitted):
The Freedom of Choice Act (H.R. 3719/S. 2020) is a bill in the United States Congress which, if enacted, would abolish all restrictions and limitations on the right of women in the United States to have an abortion, whether at the State or Federal level. Sponsored in the House of Representatives by Congressman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and originally co-sponsored by Congressman James Greenwood, R-Penn., Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Congresswoman Diana Degette, D-Colo., and in the Senate by Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and originally co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the bill was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on Jan. 21, 2004, and in the United States Senate on Jan. 22, 2004. The bills were referred to the Judiciary Committees of their respective Houses. Neither bill has received further action.

Described by NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan as a bill to "codify Roe v. Wade," opponents of the bill assert that that it would, if passed, invalidate every restriction on the abortion of a fetus before the stage of viability, even those previously found consistent with Roe v. Wade by the United States Supreme Court, such as parental notification laws, waiting periods, requirements of full disclosure of the physical and emotional risks inherent in abortion, or restrictions on certain late-term abortion techniques. Opponents further assert that it would challenge the ability of religiously-based hospitals or clinics to refuse to perform abortions, and that it would force the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which restricts the use of Federal funding for abortions. Conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec disagrees with the latter assertion, noting that the Hyde Amendment is renewed annually by Congress and arguing that this legislation would not supercede it.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the Democratic 2008 Presidential candidate, became a co-sponsor of the 2007 Senate version of the bill (S. 1173). Responding to a question regarding how he would preserve reproductive rights in a speech given to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund on July 17, 2007, he declared "The first thing I'd do, as president, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do."
I don't think Wikipedia is considered a pawn of the Religious Right or a Vatican mouthpiece. I realize that Wikipedia can be, and has been, compromised from time to time. But I think this entry is consistent with what I've seen elsewhere in reputable publications.

And I don't understand it.

America has, in its short history, generally resisted extremes. When the Clintons tried to recast their position on abortion as one which keeps the procedure 'safe, legal, and rare,' many people cheered. As one article I read recently put it, Americans frown on abortion but are too pragmatic to ban the procedure entirely.

This, I do understand.

But Senator Clinton is listed as a co-sponsor of the "Freedom of Choice" Act... which apparently would deny all efforts to curtail the availability of the procedure, under any circumstances, for any reason, or even for no reason at all.

I do not understand how a political party, the Democratic Party, that claims to be the champion of the underprivileged and the voice of the voiceless, can turn its back so completely on the unborn. But the least little whispered protest against abortion on demand is heresy and virtually fatal to advancement in the Democratic Party. Dick Durbin, who once was regarded as at least moderately "pro-life," found this out. He recanted his heresy and moved from the House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate from Illinois. He, too, is on the ballot here next week and will almost certainly win in a landslide.

We live in a time when activists want to confer 'rights' on chimpanzees and dolphins and even on cattle. Can there be no rational consideration of whether an unborn human child might also have some rights?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mr. Kass' rant about fearful Baby Boomers a must-read

John Kass' column in yesterday's Chicago Tribune is a must-read. An excerpt:
On those nights when they were young, they smoked pot in the streets and listened to Dylan in the car and dreamed of the risks they'd take.

But now, as Baby Boomers grow old, they welcome those police surveillance cameras on the light poles outside their homes, thinking the cameras make them safe. And they rush toward the warm embrace of big government and promised security.

What happened?

I suppose it's partly a function of age and the caution that comes with it. You see this on the highway. The kid keeps his foot on the gas through the turns. He can't imagine himself as the geezer in the next lane, riding the brakes even when the road runs straight. But age happens, and with it comes uncertainty.
Read the rest. And learn how to capture wild pigs.

And pray no one means to capture us, too.

A depressing comment to a depressing post

Yes, Friday's post was a downer. It's kind of hard to be upbeat and chirpy when writing about the decline of one's own country.

But I offered a suggestion, something that should, if taken up widely enough, would help reverse this depressing trend: Demand math. Demand that serious mathematics be taught in all our schools so that most kids have a shot at placing Algebra I in high school. All such students would potentially be on track to take Calculus in high school. And it is from students that take Calculus in high school that our increasingly shallow pool of engineers is drawn.

Someone named "mister.thorne" had a different idea, which he left in the comments:
I've got a good solution to this problem, and it goes like this: make public education universal and compulsory.

If the government has the authority to tell 18-year-old men that they have to go to war, then it has the authority to tell 12-year-old boys and girls that they have to show up for public school, whether their parents like it or not!

That way, all the educated folks who care about the education of their children will -- once again -- begin to care about the education of all children (including those that their kids will have to live with).

Also this: if we live in a world where a grown man can make millions playing a game, then a public school teacher should earn at least ten times as much.
There is no Blogger profile for "mister.thorne," but I don't suppose I'd be far wrong if I were to guess that Mr. Thorne is a public school teacher, probably in an urban setting.

A public school teacher in Chicago, for example, has a very tough time. Many of the brighter kids are diverted from the public schools to Catholic schools, like those my kids attended, or Lutheran schools or other private schools. Many of those who are left come from households where education and learning are not valued. Those who come to school to learn must often cross disputed gang territories. Your kid may risk a 'C' in Chemistry; some Chicago kids risk death just going to school.

But instead of trying to lift his kids up, Mr. Thorne would bring other kids down. Instead of excellence, he would opt for uniformity. Mr. Thorne would mandate attendance at our failed public schools in the hopes that they would fail a little less. And perhaps, for a time, they would.

But the decline of America, if steep now, would become precipitous. And for what? So that "educated folks who care about the education of their children will -- once again -- begin to care about the education of all children (including those that their kids will have to live with)."

I like to think I might be numbered among the "educated folks." And you better believe I care about the education of my children. But, Mr. Thorne, if I also didn't care about the education of all children (including those that my kids will have to live with) I wouldn't be decrying the state of education generally. I never stopped caring. Even if you ascribe to me the most selfish, petty motives, and say I only care because I pay your salary already, through my real estate taxes. Even if that were the only reason, Mr. Thorne, you would not actually have to destroy my family's best chance for success -- private schools -- in order to command my attention and concern.

If it weren't already obvious, Mr. Thorne's last comment, about teacher salaries, would have given away his profession. But I do not hold this against him. Mr. Thorne, I agree with you that professional athletes make far too much money. But the highest paid among them don't make but a small fraction of what the CEO's of so many of our recently failed financial institutions made. At least A-Rod had to produce to get his salary.

But, yes, I agree with you, Mr. Thorne, that a wiser society would invest more in its future and pay teachers more than they now receive. Still... public school teachers in Chicago make decent money and, unlike say lawyers in private practice, public school teachers have a public pension. Underfunded, yes, but it is there: And public school teachers can retire young enough to take other jobs and add a second career salary on top of a generous pension.

And Catholic school teachers, like my Long Suffering Spouse, make less than their public school counterparts. (And in Chicago, their pension was just discontinued.) Nevertheless, on average, Catholic schools produce better results: Better test scores, admission to better colleges. You, Mr. Thorne, would argue that they have the cream of the crop to work with and I, believe it or not, will concede you have a point. (But, trust me, some of these supposedly cream-of-the-crop students are pretty curdled.)

My point is that money alone is not the answer. A national commitment to -- a national insistence on -- true excellence, to realizing the maximum potential of every student, is the ultimate answer.

But that's too big to grasp today. Today, young parents, look at your kid. Will he or she place out of Algebra I in high school? If not, why not? Start with this.

And build.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Math scores, moon shots, and the decline of America

Isn't that a beautiful shot?

It's a photo of a space capsule returning safely today to Earth. One of those on board was American video game designer Richard Garriott, son of retired American Astronaut Owen Garriott.

How wonderful is that: A son following his father into space! So how does this illustrate the decline of America?

The photo comes from China Daily. You can follow the link to coverage on that site, or this link to Steve Gutterman's AP story published in today's Chicago Tribune. If you do, you will find out that the capsule is a Russian Soyuz TMA-12, landing on the steppes of north-central Kazakhstan. Young Mr. Garriott had to pay for his ride.

It's been a terrible week to be an American -- at least if you're an American who hopes for a bright future in this country. India launched its first lunar mission this week. Chandrayaan-1 left a couple of months later than expected -- last September I wrote that the launch was expected in March or April of this year.

But it's underway now. The first link in the preceding paragraph will take you to the Chicago Tribune story marking this world-shaking event. Now, as a registered Curmudgeon, I still read paper copies of newspapers. The Chicago Tribune still has pretensions of being the newspaper of record in Chicago and the Midwest. And do you know where this story ran in our local newspaper of record? Page 10. In a roughly four column-inch hole.

There was another space-related article opposite, on page 11: NASA, it seems, is whining about "unfounded criticism" of its Shuttle replacement program. Jay Reeves' AP story cites a recent NASA report about decreased morale and fear of budget strangulation at NASA. Yet, he writes, "NASA plans to fly a test version of the Ares rocket in late spring or early summer and retire the space shuttle in 2010. The first missions are scheduled for 2015."

We are giving up the sky for at least five years. I have no confidence that we'll ever get it back.

Why? Because of stories like this one, by Dave Newbart, in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times. Our public schools are turning out kids who know no more mathematics than their counterparts in Third World countries. "Although CPS [Chicago Public Schools] math scores have improved since 2003," Newbart writes, "fourth-graders still tested worse than all but Cleveland and Washington, D.C., in the United States. Just 13 percent of CPS eighth-graders were proficient in math, putting them on par with students in countries such as Bulgaria, Cyprus, Jordan and Macedonia" -- close to the level of students in Slovenia and Armenia and "far below economic competitors such as Singapore, Japan and Taiwan."

Newbart didn't mention India. But he didn't have to, did he? India is going to the Moon. America is going into steep decline.

It doesn't have to be like this. We can make specific, practical demands of our highly ossified education establishment. As I wrote earlier this month, junior high kids need to place out of freshman Algebra I in order to be eligible to take Calculus in high school. Kids who take Calculus in high school have a chance to become engineers. They are the ones who will develop the technologies that will get us back into Space.

Not interested in Space? More interested in "global warming"? Well, who the heck do you think is going to reverse "global warming" -- if it is really caused by humans and not part of the natural cycle of Earth's weather? Al Gore? Al Gore will stretch his mighty tax policy and carbon credits across the land and we will be saved?

Who will save us from high oil prices? Sure gas prices are "down" now -- the cheapest around my house is at $3.19 for regular unleaded as of last night and the national average is down below $3.00 -- but how long will this last? Will tax policies save us from dependence on foreign oil?

We need engineers. We need scientists. We need researchers. We need Algebra I in our junior highs and Calculus in our high schools.

And it has to be real math -- not dumbed down so everybody passes and feels good about themselves.

I don't want my grandchildren to feel good about themselves if it means their grandchildren will be reduced to hunter-gatherers.

I will give you one real-life example in closing. As you may recall, my Long Suffering Spouse teaches in a Chicago Catholic grammar school. Our test scores are lots better than the comparable average CPS scores. But, just the other day, one of my wife's colleagues was fuming. My wife's colleague teaches 8th grade algebra and she discovered, to her dismay, that her kids could not solve problems like this:

5¼ - 2¾ = ?

You'll note: No tricky x's or y's to fool the kids -- no need even to convert quarters to eighths or anything like that.

And her students couldn't do this.

Now she has to go back and address this deficiency when she should be trying to get all or at least some of her pupils to place out of Algebra I in high school. The students' self-esteem is wonderful... but their chances for success in technical fields is already -- at the age of 12 or 13 or 14 -- in serious peril.

Moon shots and math scores are related. Energy dependence and math scores are related. Green technologies and math scores are related. Wake up, America, while yet there's time.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Everything I need to know I get from the comics, part 4,781

(Prickly City comic, which formerly ran in the Chicago Tribune, now available on Yahoo! Comics. Click to enlarge.)

Sad to say, but this is the most sensible explanation of derivatives that I've seen so far.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I prefer to think of it as "frugal"....

"I can't believe you're so cheap!"

Long Suffering Spouse was fuming at me yesterday morning and, I sadly admit, I had it coming.

Youngest Son and I were on our way to his school yesterday morning when my cell phone went off. Since I was driving (we were running late, else Youngest Son would have driven) I handed the phone to the boy. After a few seemingly innocuous remarks, Youngest Son told me, "Mom says to give me some money."

"Mom said that? Put her on speaker," I commanded. When he complied, I asked what this was all about.

"I was going to give him some money," said Long Suffering Spouse, "but I forgot. He needs to have something in his pocket. Do you have any cash?"

I admitted that I did.

"Well, give him some."

Soon thereafter the call terminated.

We were approaching a railroad crossing at the time, and no sooner had we crossed the tracks than the thought of giving the boy money had gone out of my mind. I swear I made no deliberate decision to ignore my instructions; it's just that, sometimes -- well, most times -- the old gears just don't mesh until the coffee kicks in.

In my defense, Youngest Son also failed to broach the topic when I dropped him off.

It was on the way home when the thought came back into my head. The coffee -- I sip from a five gallon drum while driving in the hopes of getting those gears to start turning -- may have begun to take effect. Or it may have been crossing those same train tracks again: Power of association and so forth.

But it was too late to comply. I could only confess. Which led to the dressing down administered by Long Suffering Spouse and set forth at the outset here.

Now we come to this morning: Late again, I drive. There are no phone calls. Youngest Son gets out of the car and is heading into the building when -- amazing! -- yesterday's thought comes into my head again.

I call the boy back to the car. I undo my seat belt and reach for my wallet. Contrary to rumor, there is no combination lock.

When Youngest Son shuffled over to the car I asked, "Did your mother give you money?"

"Yes," he said, so I put the wallet back (resetting the pocket alarm) and rebuckled my seat belt.

Youngest Son walked away saying, "I knew you weren't going to give me any money."

I recounted this all to Long Suffering Spouse when I returned home. If I had been looking for sympathy, I would have been disappointed. "The boy knows his father," she said. Which, closing the loop, brings me to the title of today's essay....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Heads or Tails #61 -- Wire

In today's episode of that industrial-strength meme, Heads or Tails, our chief foreman, Barb, asks us to discuss "wire."

I suppose she didn't necessarily have industrial applications in mind, but I can't think of the subject without recalling a number of cases I've defended, one involving death, and the other leaving the machine operator a near-total quadriplegic.

You see, wire does not grow out of the ground. The wire we see in electrical cords or even coat hangers and shopping carts must be created, drawn through a series of dies, until the desired diameter is reached. (Here's the Wikipedia article on the subject, for the truly ambitious.)

I went browsing across the Internet this morning looking for a picture of a machine similar to the ones that I saw in operation -- ones that were involved in these types of cases -- but I had no luck.

I wasn't entirely surprised. Wire drawing equipment is still manufactured, apparently in Asia at least, but it looks quite different from the American-made machines that I've seen. The machines I saw were old. Surprisingly old. Remarkably old... and the design has understandably changed.

Here's the design I've seen: Imagine a giant turntable on a block that brings the turntable to about waist high. This turntable will rotate and draw rod through a series of dies down to the required thickness and, at the same time, wrap the wire up in a coil. The turntable is shielded a good part of the way around by a tall metal semicircular plate.

Why? Think about how hard the motor must pull to take wire that is THIS thick and squeeze it through an opening that is only this thick. Now think what happens if the wire breaks unexpectedly. If you've imagined a very fast-moving, lethal whip you're dead on.

The dies are positioned along a platform that feeds into the turntable. The dies can be changed -- have to be, because they wear out (are enlarged by the friction of pulling, for example) or break. Lubricant of some sort must be applied to the wire being drawn into that turntable. Here is another hazard point, particularly if the operator attempts to supply a little additional lubricant manually. Loose fitting gloves or sleeves can be fatal here: I'm sure you can see how.

(And Barb thought we were supposed to tell scary stories next week!)

Curmudgeon objects to early voting... what do you think?

My friend Steve's son was home for the weekend. He attends college out of state. When I spoke with Steve yesterday, I asked whether his son had taken advantage of the opportunity to vote early (early voting began in Illinois on October 13) or whether he was voting absentee.

Not only did Steve's son vote early, Steve told me, the entire family trooped over to the local library where an early voting site has been established and all of them voted.

I wasn't sure I approved of this, and I said so. Steve asked why.

It's one thing, I said, for a college kid to do this... because he or she isn't home on Election Day. Absentee ballots can get lost in the mail, going or coming, or might arrive too late to be counted. But shouldn't everyone else exercise the franchise on the appointed day?

Why? Steve asked again. He knew who he was voting for, he was fully informed on the issues and the candidates, and it would be extraordinarily unlikely that anything in these next couple of weeks would change his mind.

I can't argue with this... but I still have reservations.

First, voting on Election Day is something we all do together. Or we have done. Not everyone listened to Jack Benny on the radio... but people could walk down the street during the show on a warm Sunday night and hear the program coming from window after window. Not everyone watched Ed Sullivan when the Beatles appeared... but most of the nation did.

There's something to be said for doing things together... even if we will be voting differently... for different reasons. Will that sense be lost if you vote on Thursday and I vote on Sunday?

And, then, of course, comes my real objection: Voting early brings with it no relief from political commercials. If voting early would carry with it immunity from further bombardment by these... interminable... frustrating... mean-spirited... commercials, I might have been first in line on Columbus Day.

But Steve had an answer even for this:

I will give the idea urgent consideration.

In the meantime, what do you think of early voting? Have you done it? Are you satisfied that your vote has been recorded?

Blogblasting for Peace... now in meme form

I haven't been one for memes and tags. I hemmed and hawed about it for a long time. I subjected my one or two regular readers to a portion of my jumbled interior dialog on the subject, no doubt nearly driving them away in the process. In sum, I figured that, if I was casting away a portion of my billable day, taking food off the family table as it were, it ought to be for posts I wanted to write, as opposed to posts I felt obliged to write.

Even if I missed out on a teeny-tiny Technorati bounce.

Now and then,though, I agree to undertake a meme... as I have generally done with Heads or Tails on Tuesdays. All too often, though, even if I agree to respond to a tag, I slough off in the execution of the task because of the press of other events. So it is with the tag I recently received from Shell who is waiting, patiently, for me to write about blawgs (that's lawyer blogs in English) that I follow... something that I intend to do. Really, really soon.

Yesterday, though, I was tagged by Mimi, the young lady who crowned herself Queen of the Blogosphere. (Oh, snicker if you must, but crowning oneself worked well for Charlemagne... and, for awhile, for Napoleon.) She is again urging the Blogosphere on to a "Blogblast for Peace," the next of these to occur on November 6... when Americans will be basking in the blessed peace of a temporary lull in the barrage of political commercials... and I certainly intend to participate, as I have in the past.

And Mimi made it easy for me: She told me where to start copying and when to stop. And I have done so herewith. Please feel free to pass it on:

Join The Revolution

Here are the rules and the story.
(1) Copy this into a post (2) ADD YOUR NAME to the bottom of the tag list
(3) Tag at as many people as you'd like.

The Peace Globe project began in the fall of 2006 with a simple post from one blog, Mimi Writes. The post ignited a flame in the blogosphere. The flame became a passion. The passion became a movement. It amazingly traveled from blog to blog to blog across the globe. Bloggers wrote passionate articles on what peace means to them, along with the promise of three Latin words scribbled on a globe - Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace) - branded with the integrity of their names or blog names. It was positively inspiring to watch. And it began to happen all over the world - from Singapore to China to Afghanistan to Brooklyn.

It was simple. And powerful.

In less than three weeks bloggers from all across the globe will blog for peace.
We will speak with one voice. One subject. One day.
Won't you join us?
November 6, 2008

How To Get Your Peace Globe In 4 easy steps!

1. Right CLICK and SAVE the peace globe below or choose from other designs here.

2. Sign the globe using Paint, Photoshop or a similar graphics tool. Decorate the globe anyway you wish. You can even include the name of your blog. Click
here for hundreds of inspiring examples from previous BlogBlasts.
3. Return the peace globe to me via email ~ mimiwrites2005 at - Let me know your blog's name and url by leaving a comment
here and signing the Mr. Linky. Your submission will be numbered and dated in the official gallery . Your globe and post will be listed on the Official BlogBlast For Peace website and The Peace Globe Posts page.

Here's the most important part.
4. On November 6, 2008 DISPLAY YOUR GLOBE IN A POST. Title your post "Dona Nobis Pacem". This is important. The goal is for all blog post titles to say the same thing on the same day. Write about peace or simply fly your globe.

Go HERE for the other 3 globe template choices!)

If you'd like to help spread the word, take this button to your site. The code is in my sidebar.

I, Mimi Queen of Memes, hereby royally tag the following.......
(Before you copy this list on your blogs, ADD YOUR OWN NAME to the bottom of the list. )

............................................................................................................YOUR NAME HERE.


Please passing this meme through the blogosphere. Peace + Power
This is Mimi Pencil Skirt reporting from the lovely land of the Peace Globes.
Memeing the Movement.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Curmudgeon smuggling garbage to the suburbs

A few months ago Chicago finally admitted that it's "Blue Bag" recycling program was a failure.

We had always thought it was a fraud. Homeowners were requested to separately bag their paper, plastic or metal recycling. Blue plastic bags were sold in supermarkets and hardware stores for this purpose, which is how the program got its name. Although separately bagged, the blue-bagged recycling was put out with the rest of the trash, collected in the same truck at the same time as everything else, and all smashed together in the back of the truck as the load was periodically compressed.

The bags themselves were nothing special. Although we had to pay a premium for them, the blue bags were more flimsy than most plastic garbage bags. Frequently they'd rip when we'd put them in the garbage bins -- before they were picked up by the garbage truck. Yet somehow, supposedly, people were able to sort the collected garbage and pull out therefrom recyclables, unsullied by their journey in the back of the garbage truck.

I shed no tears when the program was discontinued. Meanwhile, the City promises us that we will someday receive blue recycling carts into which our recyclables may be put. These will be picked up by a separate truck. Golly! Now there's a thought! But we don't have the blue carts in our part of the City just yet. Presumably the division of spoils from the contracts for said blue carts has not been completed. This is understandable, since there are all sorts of federal corruption investigations now pending in the City That Works and people must be cautious.

In the meantime, says the City, go ahead an use your old blue bags. Our contractors continue to sort through it, they say.

But there is a limit, even to my own gullibility.

So we hatched upon another plan, and one that provides an extra benefit.

My mother-in-law lives in an adjacent suburb. They have blue recycling carts there. So we bring her our recycling. (Well, not the newspapers or the aluminum cans I'm now collecting at the office... these will go to the church... but the plastics and so forth.)

And the extra benefit?

Youngest Son has to accumulate 50 hours of parent-supervised driving in order to qualify for his driver's license next year. Some of these hours must be at night. Long-time readers of this blog may recall that my Long Suffering Spouse has interpreted this to mean that I alone must supervise. Riding with a student driver probably never qualified as 'joy riding' -- and especially so at today's gas prices (even with their recent, and probably momentary, decline). So we try and have a purpose when we go out to practice driving.

And now we have a new purpose every Sunday night. Youngest Son fires up the family jalopy whilst I get the bag of recyclables. I sit with it in my lap as we navigate to the nearby suburb... where I jump out and dump our recycling in my mother-in-law's curbside recycling cart.

Saying to myself, "Dignity. Always dignity."

Friday, October 17, 2008

A confession: I didn't watch any of the debates -- and a suggestion for the future

And I'm not really sorry about it.

Everything I've read before and after each of the debates confirms my belief that, whatever revelatory value presidential debates may have had in the past, they are now so programmed and stultified that virtually nothing of consequence emerges from them.

Not like 1976 when Gerald Ford said Poland was a "free country." (Maybe he thought the Warsaw Pact referred to a treaty concluded at Warsaw, Indiana.) Or in 1984 when Ronald Reagan defused growing concern that he was getting too old for the job by quipping that he would not hold Walter Mondale's 'youth and inexperience' against him. Even Mondale laughed.

In the modern debate, though, with its pages and pages of protocol, nothing gets out that isn't pre-packaged or programmed. And McCain backers think their man wins and Obama backers think their man wins and various McCain and Obama backers pretend to be 'undecided' and repeat talking points that support their man to credulous media interviewers. (If you think I've missed something, tell me in a comment... and tell me what I missed and why I should have seen it.)

In the meantime, I propose a reform: Next time out, let's put a couple of cameras in a very small room. A small room with two chairs. Bolted to the floor. Put the candidates inside -- with no notes -- and lock the doors behind them. Don't let them out for 120 minutes and broadcast what happens.

The first half hour will be taken up with each candidate reciting his (or her) prepared stump speech, trying to recast it in Fireside Chat mode. Maybe the next half hour will be taken up with the candidates glowering at each other. But, I believe, eventually the candidates would have to talk, to each other and to the American people.

We might actually learn something about what makes each of them tick.

Because, really, what we should choose in a presidential election is not a candidate's platform, but his (or her) decision-making process. Events always seem to outstrip platforms. It's how a President reacts to these unforeseen circumstances that forms the basis of History's judgment.

Undisclosed Location goes green -- unofficially

Regular visitors may recall that, here at the Undisclosed Location, only paper is officially recycled. The building management gives me a box for this purpose and -- shattering the myth of the paperless office every single day -- I keep it pretty full.

But at my old Undisclosed Location building management also had programs for recycling glass and plastic and aluminum. I thought this a Good Thing, so I attempted to keep up the practice myself when I moved here. There was a time when I would have a can of pop every day with my sandwiches, so I kept these in a separate receptacle. The plan was that I would take these home when the can got full enough. I also keep a bottle or two here of bracing spirits, nearly necessary accessories, I am chastened to admit, for tackling timesheets.

I hate timesheets.

The cleaning people, not all of whom speak, much less read, English, had to be persuaded not to empty my can receptacle (yes, I know I've used the word twice now, but what do you want... can can?) but eventually this was accomplished. I taped a sign above the can can (fine, have it your way) advising that this was for recycling only. Over the past couple of years, I've taken several loads of cans and bottles home to be recycled.

I've been forced to economize in recent months and the pop cans at lunch became a luxury I found I could do without. Thus cans were no longer accumulating -- but those other items were. Recently, I had to do a panic clean-up when I realized a client was coming in and there were several empty scotch bottles... and only empty scotch bottles... in the can.

These were the product of several months of timesheets. But I digress.

The other night, when I was working late, one of the cleaning ladies asked me if I was still collecting cans for recycling. I said I was. She said a tenant on another floor was collecting cans and looking to dispose of them responsibly. Would I take them? she asked.

Sure, I said.

(You really haven't lived until you've been dressed in a suit and tie, lugging a briefcase and a plastic bag full of empty cans and bottles home on the subway. After doing that once, I now try and move my recycling home on days that I drive. Consider it almost like penance for using fossil fuels.)

Well, yesterday morning, the can can was half full.

This morning, it is overflowing.

I'm going to have to drive in this weekend.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It turns out that boys are different from girls... sort of

It was Homecoming at Youngest Son's high school this past weekend. On our trips to school in the morning I would frequently inquire whether he was planning to go to the dance on Saturday night. If I did not broach the topic, he was not about to volunteer any information. Answers came back generally in the range of "maybe," although the grunting of the teenage male in the pre-dawn hour that we drive to school is always subject to interpretation.

By last Friday morning, though, it appeared pretty certain that he would not go. The reasons were not immediately apparent.

Youngest Son contributed to the sophomore football team's victory Friday evening in some small way; he was on the field fairly often when his team was on offense. Long Suffering Spouse and I waited, as is our custom, for him to emerge from the locker room and hit us up for dinner money. Then we could go home and await his call to be picked up, after the varsity game.

Honestly, when the phone went off Friday night, I did not know what it was. Somehow, though, I came out of my coma and got into the car to get him.

"I may need a flower after all," said Youngest Son as he climbed into the van.

"Huh?" I said, or at least something like that. The grunting of the pater familias rudely roused from a deep slumber on a Friday evening is also subject to interpretation.

It seems that, while cheering on the varsity, Youngest Son found time to get a date for Saturday's dance. Or some group of girls figured out that he was not yet committed and assigned one of their own unassigned to be his escort. My brain was working even slower than usual, but this is what I understood to be the gist of his grunts.

Flash forward now to Saturday evening: Modern teenagers do not attend functions in pairs, not usually. It is considered appropriate to band together as a group. This works particularly well where the young man and his escort have an acquaintance of less than 24 hours. Such was the case here. But the young girl was good friends with one of the girls from the neighborhood that Youngest Son has known since kindergarten and he was quickly enrolled in a group of about 20 all going to the dance together.

It was a good thing that Youngest Son alerted us to the need for a flower. Long Suffering Spouse got it, of course, because, after waking up early for a driver's ed class, Youngest Son spent the remainder of the day resting up from his labors on the gridiron of the night before. Meanwhile his escort was apparently (read the following at the much faster pace appropriate for teenage girls now) thrilled to be going and had gone shopping with her mom all day and finally finding just the right dress and there was hardly any time to do her hair or nails or anything....

Gosh, just typing that about wore me out.

And so another Homecoming goes in the books.

So different from our recent experiences with Younger Daughter. (You can read about her 2006 Homecoming campaign here.) Younger Daughter talked incessantly about Homecoming, and later about Prom, and about prospects for dates, and about other people's dates, and who should be paired up with whom. The linked post is but one example.

But that particular post, if read with this one, does illustrate one way in which boys and girls are the same, at least in our family: Things seem to happen at the very last minute.

Blog Action Day 2008 -- Poverty

I guess this would be something of an uber-meme: Visit Blog Action Day 08 to see how bloggers around the world are writing today about the topic of poverty.

And how appropriate today's topic is in the United States as third quarter 401(k) statements start hitting mailboxes. Or, as one wag in the courthouse put it to me just last week, as the market was shedding hundreds of points per day, "How's your 101(k)?"

But this exercise is not for Baby Boomers to whine about their now-insecure futures; the prompt is meant to inspire reflection on the subject of real poverty.

Solving global poverty does not mean throwing taxpayer dollars in increasingly large amounts at, for example, African dictators. Too often, the only ones who benefit from these large-scale programs are the dictators, their immediate family members and cronies, and their Swiss bankers. Microcredit lending schemes and good, old-fashioned missionary schools have worked far better at improving the lot of those whose lives are directly touched by these programs.

One may question the wisdom of $100 laptops to unite persons in isolated communities with the larger world -- but not when those laptops bring agricultural instruction and access to markets. Cellphones can serve this purpose as well. The development of cheap and practical ovens that work on solar radiation -- eliminating some of the need for firewood (or charcoal) in stressed rain forest regions -- is inspirational.

The tricky part, of course, is to avoid causing unintended harm to the people one is trying to help. To help the world, one must learn about the world. I know I'm only a beginner student in this sense, but some of the 'textbooks' I use regularly to help me understand more about the whole world in which I live are The Wilson Quarterly, Smithsonian Magazine, and that old stand-by, the National Geographic.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Obama attacked from right, McCain from left

I will be so glad when this election is over.

Obama accused of being ineligible to serve as President
I first learned about the Berg v. Obama suit at Some Have Hats. Essentially, a Pennsylvania lawyer by the name of Philip J. Berg is suing Senator Obama and the Democratic Party claiming that Obama is not eligible to be President because he is not a "natural born citizen" of the United States. Obama says he was born in Hawaii, but Berg claims that Obama may have been born in Kenya; that even if Obama was born in Hawaii, he lost his American citizenship when his stepfather moved the family to Indonesia; and that, even if Obama didn't lose his citizenship then, he lost it when he traveled to Pakistan in 1981, supposedly on an Indonesian passport since, under Indonesian law, no dual citizenship is recognized and Obama, then 20 (and therefore past the Indonesian age of maturity, 18) would have had to declare himself an Indonesian to obtain the travel document.

There really is such a suit pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania under docket no. 2:08-cv-04083.

However, can we all take a breath here? John McCain has also been accused of being Constitutionally ineligible since he was born in... or perhaps near... the Canal Zone in 1936. On the other hand, both his parents were American citizens, his father a career Navy officer (which was why the McCains were in Panama in the first place). The linked article in the Washington Post says there's a suit pending about this, too, although I've not independently verified that one. So this might be written off as tit-for-tat.

But let's step back just another step, OK? The plaintiff, Berg, claims to be a lifelong Democrat and, in one article I read whilst putting this together, a Hillary Clinton supporter. Yet his suit was filed in late August.

Ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you plainly: If there were any chance that Senator Obama really was ineligible to serve, Hillary would have shouted it from every rooftop, whistle-stop, and street-corner. Her research people dug out papers Obama wrote in kindergarten and the third grade in which he expressed a desire to one day become President of the United States. Remember?

I'm pretty certain that, if Hillary could dig that out, she'd have dug out evidence that Obama was ineligible to serve. If it existed.

Meanwhile, McCain's temper called "national security risk"
My blogfriend Fran, of Where Fibers Meet Mud sent me this link to a YouTube video about John McCain's temper.

He's apparently got a temper. A volatile temper. And the slick video quotes high-ranking military people, political associates (one-time allies, even), and others about it. Keith Olbermann handles some of the narration.

The producers of the video want the viewer to arrive at the conclusion that it would be dangerous to elect Senator McCain because of his temper -- because he might Push The Button. As if The Button were like a cell phone or a TV remote that might be carried about and punched in a fit of pique before anyone could voice an objection.

Again, let's step back: A temper is not necessarily a bad thing. Of course I would say that, since I have a temper, too. But, for me, a temper is like lighting a thin strip of magnesium: There's a brief, white-hot flare-up... but it burns out quickly and leaves little residue. Often, a little guilt, but that's about it. It is almost certainly not pleasant to be in my company at those moments and I am certain that it probably would be unpleasant around Senator McCain when he loses his temper, too.

I bet even Barack Obama has a temper. We'd better hope so: I would think the only people who never lose their temper are those who don't care a feather or a fig for anything. It is fortunate for Senator Obama, I assume, that no video was running when he was presented with the Philip J. Berg lawsuit referred to above.

But let's step back still another step: A hot temper may lead to a punch in the nose, but not to a war. It takes a long time to move troops and planes and ships and supplies forward to places where they can be used against a potential enemy. Longer than even the hottest temper can be held. And, as for pushing The Button, that would take awhile, too.

There may be lots of reasons to oppose the candidacies of Senators Obama and McCain, but their citizenship and tempers aren't among them.

Heads or Tails #60 -- Anything starting with the letter "g"

Today's Heads or Tails, the brainchild of Barb, who lives on Skittles Street, not Sesame Street, is brought to you by the letter "g."

We publish this morning's essay in "Georgia," that being the only g-font (not to be confused, under any circumstances with g-spot) listed among the Blogger font choices. Doesn't appear different than usual, does it?

And what does the "g" in g-spot stand for anyway?

Today's topic is the letter "g" and the g-word I've selected is garrulous.

Mostly because of the guttural, growling noise one can make when pronouncing it. All together now: gar-ru-lous.

My ever-present dictionary advises that garrulous comes from the Latin verb garrire, meaning "to chatter." Garrulous is defined as one who talks "too much," especially "about unimportant things."

Obviously, the author of my dictionary has read my blog.

But, today, we will fool them all, and stop right here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

On Columbus Day, in praise of discovery

When I was a boy we were taught that Columbus' voyages, and the other expeditions of the Spaniards and the Portuguese, and later of the Dutch and the English, were epic, inspirational tales. We learned it was an Age of Discovery, as European eyes were opened to the wonders and the riches of a new and unimagined world.

It has since become fashionable to rethink all this. The Conquistadors were cruel exploiters, robbers, brigands, destroyers of indigenous peoples. Later settlers were invaders, despoilers. Berkeley, California, in fact, does not observe Columbus Day at all: Today, according to its civic calendar, is Indigenous Peoples Day.

Both narratives are too simple. Yes, the first explorers brought death and destruction to the native populations... but the worst devastation was wrought, not by weaponry or military force, but by accident. By forces neither the explorers nor the indigenous peoples were able to understand: Microbes. The result would have been the same if the Spaniards arrived as willing pupils, eager to respect and admire the indigenous cultures.

If Charles C. Mann's 1491 (reviewed on Second Effort at this post) is correct, Indian populations in North and South America alike were far greater at the outset of the Age of Discovery than when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. What early settlers thought of as a pristine wilderness was really a graveyard, peopled by a bare remnant. (Remember Squanto, whose timely assistance saved the Pilgrims? He had escaped English captivity only to return to a home that no longer existed. His people had been wiped out by disease.)

The pre-Columbian indigenous peoples of North and South America tamed nature in ways that Western science is only now beginning to understand and appreciate -- but they were not superior beings ready to ascend to an astral plane. They were people. They quarreled, they fought wars; in some cultures they practiced human sacrifice, sometimes on an almost industrial scale. The Aztecs would never have been defeated by the handful of Spanish soldiers who opposed them, even with the Spaniards' superior technologies. The Conquistadors would themselves have been easily conquered but for the fact that they recruited huge numbers of their own as they marched through the countryside -- willing allies, not subjugated slaves, a truly popular rising to throw off their cruel Aztec masters.

Spanish subjugation came later.

It is too simple, then, to say that the Age of Discovery was only "Good" or only "Bad." There was tragedy as well as triumph. But from this often painful fusion of the Old World and the New, came America, the hope of the world.

Today the whole world is mapped. Spy satellites can read license plates in parking lots and direct missiles down chimneys. Still, we don't entirely understand our world. We know the climate is changing because we've learned that the world's climate has always changed, over time. We reason that our own activities are having on impact on change currently, even if we disagree on how much or what kind. Or whether a particular observed change is the product of a global phenomenon or a purely local one.

Of course, we only have this one example to work with -- even though God has provided us with a seemingly limitless number of stars and planets for us to discover and explore.

Some day, far in an unimaginable future, we may encounter a planet with indigenous sentient beings (even the Vatican acknowledges the possibility). My hope is that we remember what we have learned from the tragedies of our past Age of Discovery and apply those lessons for the benefit of ourselves and those whom we may encounter alike.

And, in the immediate future, as we explore our own backyard, and see how other planets work close up, perhaps we can learn more, too, about the operation of our own. But only if we overcome our new prejudice against discovery and exploration.

Happy Columbus Day.