Thursday, April 30, 2009


This headline, from the Scotsman, is an eye-popper. The phrase “swine flu” is gross, even evil. No one calls it “pig flu.” That would sound like a cartoon and would diminish the foreboding. You say someone got the pig flu and everyone grins. You say swine flu and everyone gets quiet.

It's all fun and games until you start the World Swine Flu Pandemic.

“Pandemic” is just plain magical. Putting it together with swine flu is headline genius. “World one step from” gets the clock ticking. It’s no longer just a still frame shot of the guy in the hockey mask with the chain saw. Now it is a movie with the stupid teenagers (the whole world!), walking step by step into the dark doorway.

by Boogieman13

Somewhere in the recesses of my aged brain the Chicken Little alarm bell rang. I hate Chicken Little, and all her friends, Henny Penney, Goosey Loosey, etc. I thought I would check out the latest Chicken Little story.

The Center for Disease Control website has big oozing gobs of Swine Flu information, including the “Swine Flu and You” link and a “Swine Flu Video.” Next there will be Swine Flu cartoons, so kids can panic too.

CDC reported that the first cases in America were two children in San Diego, California. Here’s the innocuous tag end of one of the reports, which the Eternal Optimist thought was fairly astonishing:

The boy received symptomatic treatment, and all his symptoms resolved uneventfully within approximately 1 week.

This means the kid stayed home from school, ran a fever, coughed and puked, and is now back in school.

The World Health Organization has now weighed in with a “Phase 5” alert – the first time ever. “[WHO Director General Margaret] Chan told reporters in Geneva ‘[i]t really is all of humanity that is under threat in a pandemic.’"

Interesting that WHO weighed in with its DEFCON 1 message on the same day the situation in Mexico, where this all got started, is reportedly stabilizing. Depending on who you read, there have been anywhere between 140 and 160 deaths attributed to swine flu in Mexico.

Actually, there are only 26 swine flu deaths in Mexico that are lab confirmed. New pathology reports from Canada, where they are helping Mexican authorities with pathology resources, are finding that relatively few of the suspicious deaths first reported in Mexico actually resulted from swine flu – 7 of 25, about 28%.. Applying that to the figures in the press, say 150, and you get about 42 deaths from swine flu so far.

This in a nation of 109,000,000. That’s probably fewer deaths than from tequila poisoning in Tijuana over the weekend.

Now 42 deaths is bad stuff, certainly for the 42 who died and their families. It deserves our help and our prayers. I am just not ready to get into my “pandemic” EPA suit and hide in the basement with an AK-47.

Some history here. In 1976 there was a huge vaccination effort launched because of a strain of swine flu found in some soldiers at Ft. Dix, NJ. We went with the huge vaccination program because the flu was a close relative of the Spanish Flu that killed tens of millions in 1918.

In December of 1976 the program was halted because it seemed not many people actually got very sick from the flu, but lots of people got sick from the vaccine. About 45 million people were vaccinated.

Imagine how they felt. This, by the way (forgive my digression) is the Federal Health Care Way. It is subject - as with every federal project - to the 7 Mystical Federal Stages:



Turf Wars



Blaming of The Innocent

Rewards and Promotions for The Guilty

Multiply the Swine Flu Innoculation Debacle ($400 Million) times 10,000 (equals $4 Trillion) and VOILA! you get universal health care.

The 1976 vaccination program cost about $400 million, and left thousands of people with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a nervous system break down that is painful, debilitating and sometimes fatal. The federal government, which had to insure the drug companies because private insurers wouldn’t cover the risks on the vaccination program (insurers aren’t always dumb like AIG), paid around $90 million to people who got Guillain-Barre.

So the Eternal Optimist is not ready to throw in the towel just yet and slit his wrists to avoid a slow, horrible death from the “Swine Flu Pandemic,” even if the “World [Is] One Step Closer.”

Right now Eternal Optimist thinks he is “One Step Closer” to a vodka tonic with lime, which I understand prevents Swine Flu, and also prevents Swine Flu Frenzy. Which erupted after Trillion Dollar Deficit Frenzy, which was triggered by Recession of the Century Frenzy, which followed on several years of Global Warming Frenzy and Real Estate Will Always Go Up! Frenzy.

I figure in about three weeks this will all blow over and Obama and me can get back to spending money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oh The Humanity! Drug Kingpins and BabyMoms

Eternal Optimist ran across an interesting article the other day about a drug kingpin (“DK”) in a major city who received a life sentence from a federal judge. It seems the DK had 5 children by at least 3 women. His oldest “baby-mom” complained to the AP reporter covering the story that the DK did not deserve life in jail. Instead, men like him should “rehabilitated.”

A baby-mom is "hoody" for a woman with whom you've had a child, but have no current relationship.

This is just too ridiculous. The problem is, not only the DK’s baby mom thinks this way. You can (almost) laugh it off when the woman who slept with the DK says it, but this nonsense gets put out there by all sorts of college professors who should and do know better. They like to say catchy things like “rehabilitation, not incarceration.”

What makes it so stupid is this: we don’t actually have the power or knowledge to rehabilitate a DK. We do a crummy job rehabilitating drug addicts, despite the billions spent since the '60s trying to deal with the problem. We have no good ideas how to rehabilitate DKs. We have never had any significant success doing it. DKs, by a process of self selection and life-long "achievement," have put themselves at the top of the "least likely to be rehabilitated" chart, along with child molesters and Enron Executives.

Since when does a DK respond to handbag design courses in a prison and become a law-abiding citizen? Is there some 12 step program for drug lords I’ve been missing?

So the baby-mom’s statement is stridently idiotic, like protesting using water hoses to put out a house fire, because we should be using our magic wands instead. Makes all the sense in the world once you make up a magic wand that puts out fires. Ditto for rehabilitation. Makes all the sense in the world once you make believe we actually know how to rehabilitate drug kingpins.

This particular DK had a criminal history with EIGHT PRIOR CONVICTIONS. Now forgive me for not being terribly sanguine about the DK doing an about face because some pasty faced 28 year old social worker talks to him about his troubled childhood. Forgive me also for suggesting that there is something screwy and broken about a society that gives anyone EIGHT CHANCES to commit felony drug and gun violations (and a dog fighting conviction mixed in there) before we can decide to put him away for life.

Just a "for instance" about how others see things. In Singapore, one conviction for dealing drugs with a gun and you are executed. Bottom line - 42 murders last year in a city of over 4 million. That's about a month's worth of carnage in Philadelphia, a city of 1.5 million souls.

Mr. DK was responsible for 3,000 kilograms of cocaine and crack being distributed in the large and morose city where he lived. That’s about 60 MILLION DOSES OF cocaine or crack. That’s a lot of apologizing he’s going to have to do in the 12 step program. Not that he's doing much apologizing, or ever did. Check out the reports from the Philadelphia Inquirer's articles. And more articles.

The feds recovered over $1,000,000 in cash from DK and pals. DK lived in a half-million dollar house. DK said at sentencing that he didn’t think it would come to this. He said he had never done more than 7-8 months in jail. He said he was a product of his environment. He said no one should go to jail for life for drugs. Noticeably absent was any statement that it was his fault, he was greedy, he did something wrong and was sorry for it. It doesn't sound like he's in the rehabilitating state of mind just yet.

So, to those who want to talk about rehabilitating DKs and not giving them life in jail, by all means, get out those Magic Rehabilitation Wands (MRWs) and start a-waving.

Meanwhile, can we keep putting DKs in jail for life plus 55 while we see how those MRWs work out? Magical thinking about sociopaths is not as dangerous when they are in a federal prison and there are armed guards with harsh attitudes around.

Here's my new catchy T-shirt slogan: "More life sentences for sociopaths." I like it. It's got a beat and you can dance to it. I give it an 85.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Things I Have Learned to Like

In the interest of fairness, which as we know is the most important virtue in American life, never mind that no one can define it, I have decided to devote a column to things I have learned to like. Last week's column on things I have learned to hate brought in a ton of viewer mail, most of it focused on how unfair it was for me to criticize “Beijing” (I still say Peking was fine) and Mao Zedong (Mao Tse Dung is the name: always has been, always will be. He killed 70 million of his own people, using super-scientific, compassionate Communism. No name changes for uber-criminals. It's the law). So, a list of things I have learned to like:

(photo by mattlogelin)

This has been a very slowly acquired like, but my wife has succeeded, after 25 years, in showing me the way to bliss. I used to hate it, but I actually like to go food shopping now, and as for Lowes and Home Depot, forget about it. A tip: never go on the Lee Valley website without a “buddy” - you can drown in red ink there. You will buy tools that you will use once in a lifetime, if that often. But they are so beautiful, and when they come in the mail – ach, words do not suffice.

NCIS. My kids got me hooked on this show, and we watched 5 seasons of it in about 4 weeks on DVD. The only problem is that being limited to new shows now is a complete bummer. I was getting used to coming home, taking off my coat and jacket and sitting down with everyone to gorge on NCIS and re-heated spaghetti. Now we have to wait until Tuesday nights, and it is just not the same.

Yard work. I don't know when this happened, and believe me, it is a complete surprise, but somehow I like it now, especially the first big job in the spring, when the winter and the dogs have had their way, unhindered, for 3 months. Clean up is like magic – all of a sudden I like the back yard again. I think this “like” is related to the next one, because most of yard work, at least the first spring cleaning, is throwing things away. YES!

(Photo by Malingering)

Throwing things away. Yes, I am a thrower-outer. My wife is not a thrower-outer. She is a saver. Few things make her happier than saying “look, here it is, I have saved this for 14 years and now I need it, isn't that great?” I think a big part of my fondness for throwing things away is that I am lousy at filing things, and truly horrific at finding them after I have filed them. I hate the whole process, as a result. Whenever I have to put things away I know, in my heart, that this is totally futile, I am never going to find this when I need it. So why not throw it away? It saves me the futility of looking for it in the future. Somewhere down the road maybe I will have a sudden epiphany, and will begin patiently and lovingly filing and labeling things in such a way that I can find them in the future. So far, no dice.

Leaving golf balls that are lost, lost. I don't go golfing to look for balls in the rough. I go golfing to hit shots. As I explained above, I hate looking for things. So I cast my eyes on the rough. If I see the ball, fine. But you won't find me thrashing around in bushes and tall grass looking for a lost ball. Besides, if the ball got lost once, don't you think it is going to get lost again? I would say so. I say there is something wrong with the ball, and good riddance. The shots it will cost me on the score card are well worth the peace of mind generated by casually dropping a ball, rather than searching for 10 minutes. Besides, who am I kidding, as if those lost shots are going to ruin my golf score at the end of the day.

(photo by Richard Carter)

Watching golf.
This is a taste acquired over years. One day one of my children asked me “how can you watch this? It's so boring.” And it hit me then: that's exactly what I like about it. It's boring, quiet, and deliberately slow. All things that my professional life is not. All things I have come to crave, desperately, as I get older. At least it's not as bad as my friend, Will, who said his children criticize him for listening to golf on the radio while they are in the car. That's got to be the best: listening to a golf tournament. Wow.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Maundy Thursday

(photo by palestrina55)

(*This post was delivered to the lazy webmaster on or before Maundy Thursday. The webmaster offer's the webmaster's sincerest apologies.)

A viewer asked why I am called “Eternal Optimist,” since many of my screeds are not overtly optimistic. By the way, isn’t “screed” a great word? Like most great and pithy words we use, including the word “pithy,” it comes from Old English, “screade,” a long strip of cloth. Nowadays it is used for several purposes – the one at hand being a lengthy diatribe or harangue. But enough of that.

Anyway, today is a good day to explain, since it is Holy Thursday, also known in English speaking countries as “Maundy Thursday.” The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum,” the first word in the antiphon during the Mass celebrated on Holy Thursday: “mandatum novum . . .” “a new commandment [I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” John 13:34].

In Catholic tradition, and many Protestant traditions, we remember Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples by a special ceremony, at which the priest washes the feet of some of the lay members of the congregation. We remember how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and told them of his new commandment, to love one another as he had loved them. Since God Incarnate loves us enough to wash our feet, who are we to feel pessimistic about the future? At least on an eternal scale, “if God is for us, who can be against us?”

The foot washing ceremony is quiet and moving, because even in the 21st century washing someone’s feet is a sign of love, respect and submission. We don’t often see it, except perhaps in the context of a mother washing her children’s feet, or a nurse washing a helpless patient’s feet.

Few people are overly enthralled with sharing their feet. In Palestine, circa 33 A.D., where the roads were covered with dirt and dung, and the apostles feet were shod in sandals, a foot washing was something close to wiping someone’s behind. So when Jesus did it, and told the apostle’s his new commandment, he was illustrating in a quiet and profound way the depth and scope of the commandment. We are not only to “put up with” our neighbors; we are to embrace in love the duty of caring for the most odious realities of our neighbors’ existence. Even more to the point, we are to embrace our neighbor’s loving care and attention for our own weaknesses.

We come into contact with the world through our feet, and our feet get dirty on a regular basis. We clean one another’s feet by carefully addressing the “issues” of our neighbor’s life with love and attention, rather than in anger or in spite. Sometimes (too often) Eternal Optimist has to listen carefully to his wife, as she explains to him what his caustic tongue just said to her, and how it hurt. And then Eternal Optimist has to apologize, because she’s right, and she’s just telling the truth, and she loves the Eternal Optimist, despite his obvious shortcomings.

Sometimes Eternal Optimist tries to explain how his tongue is a separate being, and he can’t be held accountable for the unbelievable things that his tongue insists on saying. This doesn’t work, but Eternal Optimist is often embarrassed by what comes out of his mouth. Apparently this is not uncommon, as James’ Epistle addresses the issue quite forcefully.

Eternal Optimist is none too good at administering foot washings, and probably none too good at receiving them. So Maundy Thursday is a special day, when he is reminded of how, after five decades of trying, he is still not so good at essential aspects of following Jesus.

And that’s why I am Eternally Optimistic, because Jesus was God, and he loves even the Eternal Optimist, with his sometimes catastrophic tongue. It is more than enough to inspire confidence in the final outcome of all things. It is more than enough to inspire the EO to continue to perform a task at which he is, frankly, not naturally gifted. But that is not the point, is it? The point is that loving one another is what Jesus did and commanded. That’s what we are called to follow, and it doesn’t matter if we limp, stumble and fall. He said “follow me.” He did not say “gracefully.”

Good thing, too.

See you at Mass tonight? Maybe Confession?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dishonesty is the Best Policy

(photo by leff)

This quote from a local paper, which reports that our Congressman earmarked $4,757,500 for historically black college and university graduate programs:

“The Congressman believes it is critically important for the nation’s energy security that qualified members of underrepresented minorities be recruited to pursue graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, especially given the demographic changes occurring in the nation’s population,” said the Congressman’s spokesman, FNU LNU.

The Congressman resorts to the time honored three-step program for lying to the public about pork:

  • Step One: Identify pork you need to defend.
  • Step Two: Go to approved list of latest hysterical fad “gotta have it” societal priorities identified by New York Times and 100 nuttiest professors.
  • Step Three: Jam pork and hysterical fad priority concepts together in painfully long and poorly constructed sentences that use hamburger helper intensifiers like “critically important.”

Sadly, the Congressman is lying even when he doesn’t have to, the sure mark of a career politician. Can anyone really believe that “the nation’s energy security” depends upon this earmark?

Why couldn’t the Congressman just say something truthful, like this: “historically black colleges and universities have been underfunded for decades. This money is a small but effective investment in graduate programs that will pay for itself many times over by turning out productive and sorely needed scientists, engineers and mathematicians.”

Maybe Congresspersons (I use the turgid impersonal because it sounds funny to me, and also because lots of Congresswomen lie, too) have to lie to justify spending a couple million on hormone replacement technology for bot flies, but why lie about something as obviously meritorious as graduate programs for minorities in science, math and technology?

Because for many Congresspersons, lying about their pork spending is purely reflexive. No higher order functioning needed. Just a simple reflex:

(photo by Leo Reynolds)





Works every time.

Our Congresspersons know they shouldn’t have passed those last couple of spending bills, the ones that created the $1.7 trillion deficit. Remember? That’s $1.7 trillion for fiscal 2009. With the 9,000 earmarks. And by the way, the $1.7 trillion estimate is probably low, per the Congressional Budget Office. Not that anyone is counting, really.

So that’s the gig. Fire-hose the pork grease all over your constituents, let them wallow for awhile, then get your spokesperson to do the three-step “justi-lie.” Dishonesty is the best policy, even when honesty works. 535 national lawmakers can’t all be wrong.

With warmest personal regards,

Eternal Optimist

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Why Such a Long Face?

"Lucy, you got some splanin' to do."

Why such a long face, Eternal?

I am the Eternal Optimist, but my closest friends just call me “Eternal,” or sometimes, just “E.” Some friends ask me why I am so pessimistic about the Obama administration’s economic policies. After all, I am essentially optimistic about people, at least in an eternal sense.

I realized during a conversation yesterday that it may boil down to this: I have had a lot of friends who tried big time deficit spending, and it never worked out well.

Sometimes you have emergencies, and you pay for the heater repairs on a credit card or something, but as a general rule, spending more than you make gets you into big trouble, fast. Those bouts with the credit card better be few and far between, or you’ll get real sad real quick. Chronic deficit spending is a fascinating form of magical thinking, and magical thinking always winds up smashing into reality, sooner than you think, with lots of ensuing tears and gunfire.

A common characteristic of this kind of bender is that you cannot convince the spender that their debt is unnecessary. No matter where you look at their expenditures, you meet with stone wall after stone wall; they insist that their spending habits can't be changed. So much of their spending is so entwined with their emotional needs that you risk rupturing the friendship when you start questioning the expenditures. It’s as if you are attacking their right to life itself when you mention that they could probably do without the $399 per month lease payment on the car.

“Take the bus?? Are you kidding me??” It’s like you just asked them to sacrifice their child to Moloch. Phrases like “I need that” and “I deserve that” and “I just couldn’t live if . . .” pepper their conversation.

Another common characteristic is that their relationship with God tends to be like Basil Fawlty’s, in the scene where he screams “oh, thank you God, thank you so bloody much” while shaking his fist at heaven. They really think God is afflicting them, when most of their trouble is purely their own doing. Being friends with people who spend more than they make is like watching NASCAR for the crashes, except you can’t turn off the TV when things get grisly.

Now, I am quite willing – and even eager – for someone to point me toward an example where sustained deficit spending worked out well. Because that is clearly where we are going while Obama is driving the car. So I would like to get Argentina out of my head, and the Weimar Republic, and Zimbabwe, and put some good examples in my head, like, ummh, ahh . . .

See, this is where things get scary, because I can’t think of any. So help me out here. Maybe someone knows an example where this worked. Or maybe even if there is no good example, you can help me understand how buying up toxic mortgages, and nationalizing banks and the health care industry are going to allow us to pay off the piles of debt we are racking up. Even if it is just a theory. Because for the life of me I can’t even figure out a theory, much less recite an example, of how it works.

Right now I don’t think the Obama administration cares to address the end game. They are just making this up as they go along, and anyone talking about how the police are going to raid this place if we keep smashing windows is not conducive to the party atmosphere. And at least 54% of America seems to be content with this plan – party on dude, Obama rocks. But my experiences with all my spendthrift friends keep running through my mind late at night, and these visions are not reassuring, let me tell you. So let me know if you have some great examples of chronic deficit spending success stories. I could use the encouragement.

Sincerely, and I mean that,

Eternal Optimist

Wednesday, April 1, 2009