Monthly Archives: February 2016

So you call yourself a “moderate”

Good news! If you consider yourself a liberal or a conservative, you don’t need to read this post. Come to think of it, no one really needs to read it, but if you’re of one of those two political leanings, this post really isn’t for you. Still, feel free to stay with me.

No, this post is intended for moderates, or at least those who consider themselves moderate. Like it or not, our political and social viewpoints play a major part of who we are, whether we’re either outspoken or reserved when it comes to them. And much of the attention – both good and bad – goes to those on the left and right flank of the opinion spectrum.

On the other hand, those in the middle seem to enjoy a more tranquil existence as far as experiencing the slings and arrows of criticism. But just how “middle of the road” are these coveted voters really? If given the choice of two – and only two – worlds of either heavily liberal or heavily conservative, which side would he or she, as a moderate, be willing to embrace? This simple exercise will attempt to answer that.

Let’s suppose we have to societies/countries: the United Liberal States of America (ULSA) and the United Conservative States of America (UCSA). I’ve taken 21 major political and social issues and defined them each into a solid liberal/conservative take. These laws, policies and viewpoints were then assigned to their respective logical places. In doing so, I made sure to remove as much euphemistic verbiage as possible for both sides to eliminate as much bias as possible. For example, on abortion, there’s no “Pro Choice”/”Pro Life” option.

Your job is to choose one – and only one – side for each issue. I know; these issues are far more nuanced than how I’m offering them up. Still, you can’t choose both sides. My exercise, my rules. You can, however, choose neither and skip the issue altogether. The only mandatory choice is the last one – which society/country would you choose?

Keep in mind, this isn’t necessarily about adding up how many from each side you’ve chosen and have that determine the society/country in which to live. After all, you can agree with all but one issue from the ULSA, but the one you chose from the UCSA is so critical to you, that it supersedes the combined values of the issues from the liberal column. Also, I’m not assigning any “points” to any set of choices because we each equate a different level of importance to different issues. For example, one person’s most important concern may be abortion while another’s may be guns, and still another’s may be taxes.

The point is, only you can determine the personal value of each topic with regard to you.

So enjoy. And remember, there are no wrong answers. There are only your answers.

On the issue of _____, I tend to: The United Liberal States of America (ULSA) The United Conservative States of America (UCSA)
Abortion Support legalized abortion Oppose legalized abortion
Guns Support more stringent laws and restrictions, as well as the complete and permanent repeal of the 2nd Amendment Support more lenient laws and restrictions, as well as never repealing the 2nd Amendment
Healthcare Support the single payer model Support the private insurance model
College Tuition Support the single payer model (free tuition) for public universities Oppose the single payer model (free tuition) for public universities
Education Favor public education over private Favor private education over public
Immigration Support amnesty and an easier path to citizenship for illegal immigrants Oppose amnesty and an easier path to citizenship for illegal immigrants
Taxes Support a graduated tax Support a flat tax
Social Security Support expanding it Support privatizing it
Minimum Wage Support raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hr. for 2016 and increasing it yearly to keep up with inflation Support either keeping the federal minimum wage where it is, decreasing it or eliminating it, altogether
Entitlement Programs / Government Assistance (i.e., Unemployment, Welfare, Food Stamps, etc.) Feel they are necessary programs and policies; they help the poor and less fortunate Feel they are unnecessary programs and policies; they discourage productive behavior
Unions Favor them Not favor them
Military Support a downsizing of military funding, expenditures and/or bases Support the current rate and/or an increase of funding, expenditures and/or bases
Gay Marriage Support it Support a Constitutional amendment and/or laws that strictly define/recognize marriage as being between one man and one woman
Faith / Religion Support the complete separation of Church and State Oppose the complete separation of Church and State
Death Penalty Oppose it in all cases, even for convicted mass and/or 1st degree murderers Support it
Financial Reform Support strong financial regulations, including, but not limited to, the full and permanent reinstatement of Glass-Steagall Oppose strong financial regulations, including, but not limited to, the full and permanent reinstatement of Glass-Steagall
Campaign Finance Reform Support publically-financed campaigns only, including the outlawing the funds of the individual candidate Support the allowing of privately-financed campaigns, including permitting the funds of the individual candidate
Elections Support extending voting times/days, as well as redefining the prerequisites to allow more people to vote (i.e., non-violent ex-convicts); oppose requiring a photo ID to vote Oppose extending voting times/days, as well as redefining the prerequisites to allow more people to vote (i.e., non-violent ex-convicts); support requiring a photo ID to vote
Drugs Support the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana and, eventually, all drugs Oppose the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana and, eventually, all drugs
Environment Support strong environmental standards, as well as the complete elimination of all fossil fuels and nuclear power Support more lenient environmental laws and restrictions, as well as the continued use of fossil fuels and nuclear power
Climate Change / Global Warming Believe it is real, man-made and worse than how it’s being portrayed Not believe it is real, man-made and/or as bad as how it’s being portrayed
Which country do you choose? Remember, you can only choose one, and there is no 3rd option. The United Liberal States of America (ULSA) The United Conservative States of America (UCSA)

Scoring the scores

They are as iconic as the stories and characters they’ve accompanied. They are the movie scores that define their genre and, at times, transcend the very films from which they’ve originated. Here, we count down the top ten movie scores that have become just as much a part of pop culture any image that’s appeared on the silver screen.

Number 10: Halloween (1978)
Composed and performed by the movie’s writer/director John Carpenter in three days, the music’s simple, stripped-down piano/synthesizer melody in 5/4 meter creates a perfect atmosphere of tension and fear. As film critic James Berardinelli said, “Despite being relatively simple and unsophisticated, Halloween‘s music is one of its strongest assets. Carpenter’s dissonant, jarring themes provide the perfect backdrop for Michael’s activity, proving that a film doesn’t need a symphonic score by an A-line composer to be effective. Carpenter’s Halloween main title, one of the horror genre’s best-recognizable tunes, can bring chills even away from the theater.”

Number 9: Titanic (1997)
Composed, orchestrated and conducted by James Horner, the music is epic, hopeful, sweet and, in paralleling the ultimate story of the ill-fated voyage, sad. To date, the soundtrack has sold over 11 million copies in the U.S. alone, which ranks it among the RIAA’s Top 100 Albums of all time. And while the list of James Horner’s movie score credits is quite long and impressive (Aliens, Apollo 13 and Avatar, to name just a few), nothing comes close the score that made this movie, at least for a moment, “king of the world!

Number 8: Raider of the Lost Ark (1981)
John Williams makes his first appearance on this list with his composition that is pure adventure. Officially titled “The Raiders March” on the soundtrack, is has become synonymous with the thinking man’s hero in the fedora and beat-up leather jacket. It has been used through the film’s franchise (four movies in all), but this first one is the music that makes us want to be Indiana Jones.

Number 7: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
There were hundreds of European Westerns – better known as Spaghetti Westerns. But the one that stands out, thanks in large part to its music, is the third film of the Dollars Trilogy. Scored by Ennio Morricone, the composition uses gunfire, whistling and yodeling and mimics the sound of a coyote. And while there have been other western scores that evoke more romantic visions of the “wild west” (the theme to The Magnificent Seven immediately comes to mind), it hard to think of a “showdown at high noon” and not have the melody run through your head.

Number 6: The Godfather (1972)
Composed by Nino Rota, the music gave the film a distinctly Italian feel, as if it needed any more. Simply put, the main theme, officially title “Speak Softly Love” and sometimes referred to at “Love’s Theme from The Godfather”, is epically haunting and immediately conjures up the idea of loyalty and betrayal and the consequences that both can bring about. Listen to those famous 12 notes and just to not make someone an offer they can’t refuse.

Number 5: Jaws (1975)
John Williams’ second appearance on the list is the first time he teamed up with Steven Spielberg for a composer-director marriage seemingly made in movie heaven. It’s hard to imagine how any other two notes played repeatedly could invoke as much primal fear as that F and F# sequence. And when Spielberg combined that music with the lack of seeing what was below the water for most of the movie, it’s no wonder that for a large chunk of the summer of ’75 and beyond, folks were frightened stick their toes in a wading pool, much less venture out into the unforgiving ocean.

Number 4: James Bond: Dr. No (1962)
The dispute behind who actually deserves fame for creating this iconic piece can rival any confrontation ol’ 007 has been involved with, himself. The two composers involved are Monty Norman, who is credited with writing the theme and has been collecting royalties in 1962, and John Barry, who arranged the music for Dr. No and went on to write the music for 11 subsequent Bond movies. The matter would eventually see legal action twice, where Norman would come out victorious both times. But for whomever is ultimately credited with it, there’s no denying the cultural love of this piece that beautifully blends surf rock, reggae and jazz with sexuality and danger that is quintessentially Bond.

Before we get to our top three, here are a few honorable mentions (in order of year):

Gone with the Wind (1939) Max Steiner
The Magnificent Seven (1960) Elmer Berstein
Lawrence of Arabia (1962) Maurice Jarre
The Pink Panther (1964) Henry Mancini
Patton (1970) Jerry Goldsmith
Chariots of Fire (1981) Vangelis
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) John Williams
Back to the Future (1985) Alan Silvestri
Hoosiers (1986) Jerry Goldsmith
Jurassic Park (1993) John Williams
Rudy (1993) Jerry Goldsmith
Forrest Gump (1994) Alan Silvestri
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) Howard Shore

Okay, back to the countdown.

Number 3: Superman (1978)
Here he is again. John Williams makes his third showing in the list with his homage to the man of steel. Jerry Goldsmith, an exceptional movie composer in his own right, was originally picked to write the music. However, he bowed due to scheduling conflicts, and Williams stepped in. From its opening horns, which convey the image of great strength, to the incorporation of the sweet and gentle “Can You Read My Mind?”, this composition, written for the superhero of superheroes, leads us into musical world where, as the movie tagline suggests, we really do “believe a man can fly.”

Number 2: Rocky (1976)
Composed by Bill Conti, the score’s centerpiece is the song “Gonna Fly Now”, but it also features two other arrangements titled “Going the Distance” and “The Final Bell” that epitomize the struggles of the underdogs and why we root for them so hard. It’s almost as if we feel the composition the Conti offers us in Rocky could be the soundtrack to our own daily lives – minus the drinking of raw eggs and tenderizing of beef carcasses in a meat locker.

Number 1: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
Tchaikovsky wrote for ballets. Rossini wrote for operas. John Williams writes for movies. And when maestro Williams lays his pen and baton down for the final time, it is this piece that will allow him to be in the same conversation as one of the greatest composers of all time. This score is the closest thing many of us came to experiencing the birth of a classical masterpiece in our lifetime. Only time will tell if we really did. How iconic is this score? In 2004, the Library of Congress deemed it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by preserving it into the National Recording Registry. Oh, yes, the force is strong with this one.

So, do you agree? Disagree? Think a few things are out of order or shouldn’t be on the list at all? Share your thoughts.

Post-script: Check out the American Film Institute’s list of its 25 Greatest Film Scores of All Time.

Single payer, explained with cereal

Bring up the topic of “health insurance” and you’re likely to get a range of reactions from worrisome to frustration to anger. Oh, sure, there are those who you might offer up a pleasant tone toward the issue, but for the majority of us, it’s still the sick elephant in the room when it comes to life. Say the word “Obamacare”, and the mood could get even nastier.

But this entry (and, for that matter, this site) isn’t about stirring up any angst. It’s about suggesting an alternative for the majority of Americans who continue to deal with, and worry about, healthcare coverage. However, the problem is that most people really can’t wrap their head around the general concept of this option, which, in reality, is quite simple. That option is single payer.

When I bring up the idea of single payer healthcare, the reply is almost universal: a tilt of the head, a slight furrow of the brow and the utterance of the words, “What’s that?”

Glad you asked.

First, let’s brake down the phrase “single payer”. It seems that most people can grasp that the “single” part of it refers to the “single” entity of the government. Where they seem to stumble is the “payer” part of it. Too many think that single payer is government taking over healthcare. It’s not. That would be “single provider” healthcare. We’re talking about single payer. That’s where the government would foot the bill for you. You still go to your same privately owned and operated healthcare provider, but at the end of your visit, you just leave. No need to bring out the wallet. Simply keep your money in your purse or pocket.

So how does this work, and why is this the best option? To illustrate, I’ll use a breakfast mainstay. Let’s say you have a favorite brand of cold cereal, and it’s one that’s made in Battle Creek, Michigan. It comes in blue box. Has a cartoon tiger for a mascot. Rhymes with the words “Schmellogg’s Crosted Blakes.” Okay, you know which one I’m referring to.

Now, let’s say you’ve been buying that cereal at your favorite local grocery store – a retail outlet. There’s a certain cost you pay at the register for the entire box and its contents. But that price can also be divided up into a certain amount that you pay per ounce of cereal. Well, the cost of the box is equivalent to what the health insurance company pays for providing you and the rest of its customer base for coverage. The cost per ounce is what you pay for the health insurance.

Now let’s say you visit a wholesale outlet for that exact same brand of cereal (not some off-brand). Here, items are purchased in bulk or larger quantities. But because these are wholesale outlets and not retail outlets, the prices per measured unit (ounces, items, etc.) are lower – in some cases, much lower. That’s basically what single payer is. It’s health insurance at wholesale prices.

I know what you’re thinking, “but that means increasing our taxes!” Well, yes and no. You see, while there would be a new tax, it’s actually a replacement tax. That means it would not be something that’s added on to what your already pay, it would in actuality take the place of it. (Think of it as upgrading your cell phone – when you get a new one, most likely and reasonably, you don’t keep the old one around.) And what you would pay with the replacement tax would be less than what you’re paying now in terms of premiums, deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses. In layman’s terms, that means you would be saving money – perhaps a lot of it.

States are starting to take a concerted look at single payer. Some have even introduced bills in their legislatures. In my home turf of Pennsylvania, a group called Healthcare 4 All PA has even gone so far as to develop two “savings calculators” where a person or business can see how much they would save. It’s based on a bill introduced by State Representative Pam Delissio (D). Even if you don’t live in Pennsylvania, it’s definitely worth checking out both the bill and the calculators just to get a better grasp of the idea.

Simply put, single payer healthcare is, far and away, the most consumer and business friendly model when it comes to health insurance.

So the next time you feel the angst over heath insurance, take a deep breath, and know that there’s a much better option out there. In the meantime, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m suddenly in the mood for a bowl of cereal.

A good tax

A confession to start: I am a “pro tax” person. Let me clarify that statement by saying that I don’t enjoy being taxed. I, like most other people, would prefer to keep as much of my earned money as I can. However, I understand not only the need for taxes, but also the benefits with which they offer.

But I also realize that few three-letter words in the English language can be treated more like a four-letter word than “tax”. So, perhaps we need to take a step back and look at a broader picture of taxation – what it is and how it functions. And maybe we can get a better sense of the ways that taxes truly benefit our everyday lives. In other words, see if there is such a thing as a “good tax” and not just a good tax policy.

First off, what is a tax? In its simplest terms, it is money individuals, businesses and organizations are obligated to pay to various levels of government for the goods and services those governments provide.

The channels through which these taxes are imposed can include income, property, capital gains, payroll, sales and inheritance, to name a few. By the way, few, if any will pay all types of taxes, but everyone will experience at least one type of tax, even if it’s just sales. So nobody gets off scot-free.

What a society gets in return from the different levels of government are the various goods (roads, power grids, police vehicles, state prisons, etc.) and services (education, the military, scientific research, elected officials and their staffs, etc.) that are far too big and complicated for private citizens and industries to handle. In turn, this helps to keep a given locality, be it a municipality, county, state/province or country, functioning on a day-to-day basis – in other words, it helps to maintain civilization.

With all that in mind, what, then, is a “good tax”? What are the things we as a society value enough that a mandatory payment is not only a necessity, but a benefit as well?

Do we value physical security? If so, then appropriations for our military and civil law enforcement would seem to be a good thing.

Do we value knowledge? If so, then it would seem wise to invest in all things related to education of our citizenry.

What about good health? If so, then solid financial commitments to medical research and health care would be an obvious choice.

Do we see the need for good infrastructure and safe transportation? What about workplace safety? Or food inspection? Building codes and adherence to them? City planning? Weather forecasting? Do we value these and other segments of where and how we live, for ourselves and those we love and care about, to the point of being willing, even happy, to make a mandatory financial contribution to maintain them at a high level? If so, then it would seem that there are many “good taxes”.

And it would appear appropriate to invoke the spirit of U.S. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in his 1927 dissent of Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas v. Collector of Internal by saying, “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

The diminutive Indiana Jones

Indian Jones. If ever there were a character that epitomized American ruggedness it’s this Archeology professor at Bennet College (the institution that employs Dr. Henry Jones). He is a “thinking man’s” hero with a bullwhip that has, to date, taken on the Nazis (twice), the Soviets and an Indian cult with an unsavory child-labor practice. Each one hell-bent on world rule, and each one snuffed-out by the virile man in the leather jacket and fedora.

He is handsome. He is intelligent. He is the strong. He is resilient. He is self-reliant. His toughness could go toe-to-toe with any interior lineman in football.

He is also short. And I’m not talking shorter than average. I’m talking short-short. If you need proof, you’ll find it in Raiders of the Lost Ark. And if you have a DVD or Blue Ray of the movie, you can follow along.

Before I explain, let me just say that I am a huge fan of The Indiana Jones movie franchise, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford. So, if you’re reading this, Harrison or Steven, forgive me.

In Chapter 14 of the movie, Indy and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) are at the old man’s place – the old man being the person they’ve asked to decipher the markings on the headpiece to the Staff of Ra. If you recall, the headpiece caps a staff that is to be used in the Tanis map room that will eventually pinpoint the location of the Well of the Souls, where the Ark of the Covenant is buried.

Now, if you can remember, the headpiece that the Nazis have only has markings on one side as it had to be replicated from burn markings Toht’s hand when he grabbed the heated hunk of metal in Marion Ravenwood’s burning bar in Nepal.

Indy asks the old man if Belloq (Paul Freeman), the film’s main villain and Nazi mercenary, got the height of the staff off the headpiece, to which the old man says yes and then explains how high the staff should be. The following is the critical conversation (at about 48:25 of the movie) explaining the height:

Old Man: “This were the old way, this mean six kadam high.”
Sallah: “About 72 inches.”
Old Man: “Wait! And take back one kadam to honor the Hebrew God whose Ark this is.”

So, six kadam is about 72 inches – or six feet. Therefore, one kadam equals about one foot. And if they are to “take back one kadam”, then staff should only be five kadam high – or about 5 feet high. And if you remember from the movie, it is here that they realize that Belloq’s staff is too high and the Nazis are “digging in the wrong place.”

Next, go to Chapter 16, when Indy finally gets inside the Tanis map room. After finding the slot where the staff is to be set, he caps it with the headpiece. Stop the movie at 53:58. There is a full-length shot of our hero next to the staff. Notice how he is at least 12 inches shorter than the staff, even if you don’t account for the height of the headpiece itself, as well as the height of the headwear worn by Dr. Jones.


That means Indiana Jones is, at best, about four feet tall! He’s most likely even shorter than that.

Now, according to Mr. Ford’s page, he is officially listed at 6’-1” (or about 6 and 1/12 kadam). And the height of the staff relative to the main character was merely a decision for visual enhancement.

But isn’t it kinda nice think that this larger-than-life movie hero might have been quite small in physical stature? Maybe size doesn’t really matter. That is, unless you’re an interior lineman.

Turns out, you can be socialist

I’ll be honest, I have no idea who you think of when you hear the word “socialist”. These days, that word can evoke the image of characters on a wide spectrum. If you’re views are more right leaning, perhaps you picture Stalin, Castro or Kim Jong-Il.

If you’re more towards the left, perhaps Che Guevara or Bernie Sanders pop into your head. Come to think of it, those two might come to mind no matter who you are. But more often than not, it’s someone who is seen as a larger-than-life character, whether justified or not.

And that’s where a major problem lies.

It seems to me that in our highly polarized atmosphere we have collectively characterized those with whom we disagree, especially within the principles of politics, faith, social issues and economics. And, yes, we all hold economic viewpoints, even though we may not hold advanced degrees in the subject or, let’s say, be accountants. After all, not everyone who holds religious values is part of the clergy. Not everyone who has a political opinion is an elected official. Not everyone who has a thought or two on societal issues is a member of a social organization. So the same goes for economics. You may not think you possess an economic philosophy, but you do. And for most people I know, it’s capitalism-or-bust. But is it?

Now, before I get started, let me just say that I am not an economist in the textbook sense of the word. Let me repeat, I am not an economist. I hold an economic opinion, but I am no expert on the subject. If you want a highly learned viewpoint from this field, I would strongly suggest you read anything by folks like Robert Reich or Paul Krugman, to name just two respected voices. (Full discloser, I am a big fan of each, even though I may not agree with them on everything.)

But getting back to the matter at hand, if you think something can’t be one thing because of what you think something else is or is allowed to be, you might want to think again.

Here’s just a sampling of what a socialist or a person that holds certain socialistic ideals can be, believe in and enjoy – some of which I’ll expound upon in other posts.

You can be a socialist and:
• Believe in a free and open press
• Believe in free and open elections
• Believe in the right to assemble peacefully
• Believe in the right to dissent
• Be a proud supporter of our men and women in the armed services
• Love a good steak dinner (you know, be a meat-and-taters kind of a person)
• Love a good beer
• Be a fashionista
• Enjoy rock (I love classic rock, and I find folk music exceptionally boring)
• Love country music (I’m not a fan of the genre, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be)
• Love action movies (I can’t get enough of the Die Hard movie franchise, and I can pretty much assume that Bruce Willis, a well-known Republican supporter, would not agree with me on much, if anything)
• Love the latest in pop culture
• Love anything pop culture
• Love and/or play sports
• Watch ESPN (I’m a devoted Pardon The Interruption follower)
• Be an avid fan of the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL
• Love NASCAR and the PGA
• Participate in the office March Madness pool
• Love the beach
• Love Las Vegas
• Hit the nightclubs on the weekends
• Go hunting and fishing on the weekends
• Be a gun owner (I’m not)
• Believe in God (I’m agnostic)
• Be a devout Christian
• Be devout in any religion

But most importantly, you can be a socialist or believe in certain socialistic ideals, policies and principles, and still believe in capitalism. Yes, I know, it sounds strange and counterintuitive. However, there is a very small economic philosophy that exists and to which I subscribe known as “social capitalism.”

Again, we’ll get into this deeper in another post, but the basic premise of social capitalism is that, contrary to popular belief, socialism and capitalism are not competing economic philosophies but rather are complementary economic philosophies. It combines the fairness, equality and security of socialism with the choice, innovation and competition of capitalism. Instead of pitting one against the other, it combines the strengths of each, making them, not the worst of enemies, but the best of friends.

Just some food for thought that might help you realize that the face that appears in your head when you hear the word “socialist” just might be the one you see in the mirror.