Thursday, August 19, 2010


Eternal Optimist does not believe it when the Congressional Budget Office says our new health care system will be in the black.

CBO reports are not like an audit from an independent accountant. When a company gets audited, the accountants have to follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Of course, the accountants can be bribed, or bamboozled, but there are objective standards to apply. If the accountants have integrity and savvy, they will catch the problems and report them in a way everyone can understand.

CBO logo: is that really a labyrinth?
Photo Credit

Not so the CBO and Congress. Congress makes up its own accounting standards, and then has CBO do the math and issue reports. It is as if Enron got to make up its own accounting standards and have its in house accountants issue "audit" reports.

In fact, one of the great scandals in the Enron case was that Enron pushed and bullied its way to get changes in GAAP that helped conceal billions of real world problems. This was a sobering lesson about how bad it gets when a company hides its rotten financial condition by hi-jacking the auditing process. The lesson applies to Congress, except that Enron was a single-cell protozoa compared to the Congressional Moby Dick.

Congress makes up its own accounting rules, and the very smart people at CBO and other government accounting offices have to accept Congress' rules about how to add up the numbers. This means that whatever crackpot assumptions Congress makes, the CBO has to grin and bear it. If Congress says its new health care bill will cause Martians to invest in the stock market and pay income tax, CBO has to assume that is correct, and add up the new tax revenue from Mars based on Congressional formulas. Which means CBO reports are normally smoke-screens, sometimes more, sometimes less.

It seems insane, but that's how it works. To get an accurate accounting to the mass population, you have to rely on the media to do the hard work of digesting and fairly reporting independent accounting analysis. And if the media wants to believe the smoke-screen, that ain't happening.

Take Medicare. Tim Geithner, Secretary of Treasury, said that Obamacare has put Medicare on the road to financial soundness. But Medicare's own actuary recently said the assumptions on which the program's soundness is being predicted are ludicrous. Based on the assumptions used in previous (less crazy) years, the program is in deep trouble. Read about it here.

Geithner 'splaining. TIMMMMYYYYYY!!!!!
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The actuary said that the Medicare Trustee's Report - on which Geithner based his happy talk - radically underestimates the actual costs of the program and radically overestimates other savings. The Report does this because it is required to accept Congress' scoring and budget rules, however crazy they are.

A smart guy like Geithner comes out and says Medicare is in great shape, people can't believe he would be flatly, clearly wrong. That would be a lie, which simply does not compute. A classic text on propaganda had this to say about why big lies work better than small lies to fool the average joe:

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Eternal Optimist read an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about St. Peter's, a Catholic parish in downtown Cleveland that has decided to defy its bishop by retaining its worship services at a new building after the bishop closed the church. Of course the article's viewpoint is a kind of sympathetic "power to the people" "democracy in action" take. To be expected. The bishop wouldn't comment for the article, which meant all the talking was done by the priest and his congregation.

St. Peter's in Cleveland

Lots of dioceses around the country are merging parishes and closing churches, usually because the parishes and their dwindling congregations can no longer afford to stay open. The closings usually affect inner city parishes, because they are older, their populations have moved or are aging, and they have big, old, expensive buildings to support. They can't make it financially. The closings are usually unpopular and often face vocal opposition.

The bishops take enormous flak for these decisions. I am relatively sure none of them like or enjoy closing churches. The congregations are not simply turned out into the street. Parishes are typically merged with other parishes, and one of the priests involved may lose his pastoral role and be reassigned elsewhere.

The Cleveland situation is made more painful by the open disobedience of a priest. The bishop directed that the congregation not celebrate mass except in a church or other location authorized by the bishop. Under church rules, this is the bishop's right. The priest and the congregation have decided to disobey.

My suggestion to the priest and his congregation is that they are now "protestant." They've found something they can't tolerate about the Catholic church, and are now in revolt.

Famous Protestant.

Having lived most of my life as a Protestant, here are some things you may want to iron out before they become problems. You will be amazed at how quickly they come up.
  • Your priest is now your new Pope. Or something more like a Pope than he was before. That is, there will be some type of authority structure in your church. The question is typically "who," not "whether."
  • From whence does his authority arise?
  • If from his personal virtue, that's good, except who determines what is virtuous? Do you use the norms of the Church? Why?
  • If from God's anointing, when and where?
  • At some point he will exercise some authority to balk someone's good idea for reasons that seem unconvincing to you. What happens then?
  • Why him? Why not a Council of Elders? A Board of trustees? Presbyters? No one?
  • Why not you?
  • What happens when he dies?
  • Bible still authoritative? Why? Historically the Catholic Church wrote and selected the books of the New Testament. Does that part of Church law still apply? Which parts do and don't, and why?
These and many more questions will arise and have to be ironed out. All of them, and 10,000 besides, have vexed Protestantism since its advent in the 16th century.

Another Famous Protestant. Different denomination.

I wish you all well on your journey, and hope you find what you are looking for. My long and painful experiences with church splits suggest otherwise. There are presently about 30,000 separate Protestant denominations out there. So chances are you'll get to experience more than one split during your Protestant career.

Each split will leave its own, distinct taste of bitterness in your mouth, its own distinct aroma of failure.

Double Ditto.

A little insight on how this usually pans out. Some of you will wind up back in Catholic Church, some in a dwindling congregation under an increasingly irascible and bitter former priest, some in another Protestant congregation, and some in no church at all.

Neither Famous Protestant nor famous
Enlightenment Philosopher.

I don't wish this on anyone. But experience - unfortunately, copious amounts of painful experience - tells me I'm right.

Peace be with you all. God has a wonderful way of bringing his children home to himself by ways as diverse as they are mysterious.

PS: A Navy ship saves a man on a desert island, where he has lived for 3 years by himself. The man proudly shows the captain all he has built in order to survive and even thrive. The captain is quite impressed with the man's expansive palm hutch, which contains a kitchen, dining room, living room, bath and two bedrooms.

The captain sees another, even bigger grass hutch a little way down the path. The captain asks what the building is and the man responds warmly "that's my church." The captain sees another grass hutch nearby and asks what it is. The man's lips tighten and he says "that's my old church."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Several weeks ago The Economist had an issue titled "Gendercide."

The lead article documented the increasing practice of selectively killing girl children, mostly through abortion. EO recently ran across another report that indicated the practice of selective abortion is illegal in India, where they are "missing" up to 10 million girl children as a result of deeply rooted cultural antipathy toward girl children that causes a disproportionate number of girl-child abortions.

Here's the difficulty: How can something be "Gendercide" if it doesn't involve killing people?

If abortion does not involve killing another human being, and simply involves making a choice about your own body, then how is it wrong to choose to surgically remove one type of "tissue" you don't like, and leave alone another type of "tissue" you prefer?

I think if you want to deplore "Gendercide" it has to be a "cide" of some sort, first, like "Infanticide" or "Homicide" or "Genocide." Otherwise, the moral position seems incoherent. If girls have a right to life, it must be because they are human, not because they are girls. "Girlness" doesn't have any meaning apart from an underlying humanity.

And if baby girls are human, then so are baby boys. Right?

And we shouldn't be killing any of them. Right?

Just checking the logic. Let me know if I've missed something.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Photo credit.

Went to Pilates last week. Twice. Enjoyed it.

For years I have avoided Pilates. A chiropractor recommended it to me in 2000, but I was concerned about Y2K and didn't want to cause any extra problems. Glad Y2K turned out to be nothing, but who knew?

In the years intervening I was always put off by the name: Pilates. Who names an exercise after one of Scripture's supreme villains? What's next? We go to "Judas" class? or maybe "Judases" class? Why the plural? Wasn't one Pilate enough?

So many questions.

Then I find out the word is pronounced Pie-lattes, which is quite attractive. Pie and coffee with chocolate.

What's not to like?

Pie. Ummmmm.
Photo credit.

Lattes. Ummmmmm.
Photo credit.

Then I find out "wrong again," the name is pronounced "Puh-lattes." Now it sounds like something you mutter in New Jersey, under your breath, but still not the Scriptural villain, so okay.

There was another problem. I had listened in on a yoga session one day at the gym. I couldn't help it; I was on the exercise bike and they were in the same room. It was weird. The lights were turned way down, and the lady leading the class talked incessantly. Everyone else in the class was silent, and was trying to remain perfectly still in an awkward position. The talky lady was very serious, almost urgent. It was so much like my second grade class with Mrs. Stoeller, it was creepy. I had to get away.

I figured that Pilates and Yoga were cousins. So I thought not only do I have to put up with the Scriptural villain, I have to put up with Mrs. Stoeller talking incessantly while I try to hold oddly painful positions with names like "Dog Worshipping Cloud Goddess."

Turns out Pilates and me are perfect together. There was no Mrs. Stoeller, only a former New Yorker who talks almost as fast as I do and knows where Forest Hills is. There were no mystical names for poses, just exercises with names like "roll up" and "half roll up."

And the machines - oh, the machines! - great machines with all sorts of cool springs, slides and pulleys!

No machines in yoga, my man. Only the talky lady that sounds like Mrs. Stoeller. And dogs worshipping cloud goddesses. I relate better to the machines, frankly.

So me and my grumpy back are getting on down to Pilates again soon. Because my back woke up the next morning after a Pilates session feeling "not so bad." Which was a big improvement over "merciful heavens, is this going to go on the rest of my life?"

Sunday, August 8, 2010


One of the great mysteries that swamp the Eternal Optimist's small mind every so often is the question of the stray beer bottles and cans he finds on his morning walk. EO lives in a residential area in a smallish city, and walks down to a coffee shop in the morning to retrieve his extra-special powerful brand of coffee. It's a destination, it's a reward, and it helps limber up EO's cranky back.

I tend to pick up a few of the more obvious beer cans and bottles along the way. I carry the garbage a block or two and put it in a trash can. Every time I bend over (and with the cranky back every bend is a vivid memory) I think "is there something hard about throwing your garbage in a trash can?"

I've been thinking about this, casually, for months. The only answer I could think of is that for some people - apparently a lot of people - holding onto your beer until you get to a trash can involves too much planning and commitment.

I wonder if they drop beer cans around the house?

Possible answer. Good husband material, eh?
Photo credit.

Maybe dropping your beer can where you stand is part of the pleasure.

The other day I found a couple of beer cans about 10 feet from a big green steel public trash can. The kind that has been standing there, immutable, since Coolidge was President. Apparently it was just too hard to take the 3 paces over to the trash can.

And then, a light came on. Maybe Mr. Beer-Can-Man just tossed his refuse out of a car in the general direction of the Coolidge era trash can?

I am guessing the folks that leave half empty beer cans for me are not much into walking. And the air conditioning in their cars probably doesn't work so well, either. So the windows are open. And hell, metal is biodegradable, isn't it? Eventually? And their aim is probably none too good, what with the 12-pack they just chugged.

Plus, there's the whole "crime" thing. The frat boy drinking Heineken in the car solves the evidence problem by tossing his beer out the window. This gives the cranky old guy a reason to bend over in the morning, a kind of Tai Chi with enhanced eco-sensitivity.

All parties benefit from these behaviors in a strange, symbiotic circle of life.

The "beer in the car" theory has satisfied my inquiring mind. I can rest easy now.

Teen driving car, drinking beer. Cranky old man's symbiotic partner.
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