Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tidbits from my old files: Love and Pain

I don't know how to describe the following, which I wrote on April 19, 1985. Is it poetry?

Love and pain are one, in one direction only

You can't have love without
the possibility of pain;
but pain does not
reciprocate the favor.

The more you have,
the more you stand to lose;
but fear of loss is not
a reason for not having.

The more you love,
the more you can be hurt;
but fear of hurt must not
be reason for not loving.

The key to this dilemma in our lives
may lie in our "impossible" desires
that good things last forever;
but is love a "thing"?
are we a "thing"?

Our fingernails are things
our arms and legs are things
our brains are things,
but I am not my arm or my leg
or even my brain
nor even all these things combined.

Why, then, be downcast?
Why mourn prematurely for
losses that may be less by far
than meets the eye?

Have courage!
Be not afraid:
of departing daughters, in one direction,
or parents, in another direction
or physical universes in still another.

For why assume
that what lies ahead is
less than what we know today?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The school of hard knocks

Last night at the weekly rehearsal of the Corvallis Community Band I learned something, the hard way!

This band plays for Oregon State University graduation every June, much to my initial consternation when I found out about it when we moved to Corvallis in 2000. I had discovered this excellent band when we bumped into one of its weekly summer concerts while casing the city a year or two before moving here. Playing in it was clearly a "must." But after enduring 36 years of graduations as a faculty member at Adrian College, I was sick and tired of the whole business and looking forward to having nothing more to do with it. (Our kids had both already graduated from college.)

So now I get to attend a graduation every year, lucky me! While listening to the boring rhetoric, often from the same script as the year before .... and the year before ... and ..... however, sometimes I get ideas. One such idea came to me several years ago: how about writing some music incorporating the "Pomp and Circumstance" theme for pipe organ to be used at funerals and memorial services, implying a sort of ultimate "graduation." (I tended to find Adrian College graduations a bit traumatic, since students I had finally gotten to know pretty well were leaving and I would miss them. So I would come away from graduation with some of the same feelings with which one leaves a funeral.)

A couple of years ago I finally started trying to write this music, and this month I finally finished it. For the moment I am calling it "Mixed Emotions" though my working title (in French, for some inexplicable reason) was "Marche Funebre Academique." It incorporates three separate musical themes: Taps, Pomp and Circumstance, and Blesst Be The Tie That Binds.

For inclusion in printed programs for a memorial service I will recommend the following verses selected from the various verses from Taps and Blesst Be .... (The words written to go with Pomp and Circumstance, "Land of Hope and Glory," are political and are not appropriate for a memorial service):


Thanks and praise, for our days
'neith the sun, 'neith the stars, 'neith the sky;
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.

Blesst Be The Tie That Binds:

When we assunder part,
it gives us inward pain;
but we shall still be joined in heart,
and hope to meet again.

Now how did last night's rehearsal prove so educational? Well, shortly before leaving for it I got the idea it would be fun to hear how this piece sounds played by a brass ensemble rather than by a pipe organ (possibly with trumpet soloist). So I dashed in to my computer and printed out versions of the score for instruments in F (like French horns) and instruments in Bb, like trumpets. I already had a score for instruments in C (or concert key) which would take care of trombones and baritones. My software can transpose a piece in about 1 second, so this was no problem. But I was in a hurry and neglected to collate the two-page scores and connect each of them with scotch tape.

When enough people had arrived before the rehearsal I knocked together a group of two trumpets, a baritone, a trombone, and a French horn, gave everybody their music (with the two pages for each person not connected together). We started up, with me conducting, and at first it sounded quite good. But about half way through all hell broke out and I stopped the group assuming someone had gotten lost. We started up again right in the middle of the piece, and again it sounded perfectly dreadful! I had gotten a general idea of how it sounded so I stopped the rehearsal, thanked the players and went to gather up the music.

Then we found out what had happened. I had gotten the pages mixed up and given the trumpet players the correct first page but the second page intended for the French horn. Conversely, the horn player got the second page intended for the trumpets! I felt terrible for having suggested that someone had gotten lost, since they are all fine musicians and were just playing the wrong parts very accurately!

The moral of the story is: don't do something like this at the last minute, and be sure to tape all pages for each instrumentalist together before handing the music out!

Next week maybe we can try this piece out again with better results on the second page.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Social Security: Letter to the editor

Last Sunday I sent a letter on Social Security finances to the editor of the Democrat-Herald (Albany, Oregon). If it was to be published it would have been today. It wasn't. I hate to spend time on something and not have anyone read it, so here it is.


To the editor:

Thanks to Dale Coberly for explaining the economics of Social Security so lucidly (letters, April 17).

Of course Coberly’s analysis assumes that the Trust Fund is not a “fraud,” as Gordon Shadle’s letter in the same issue argues.

Shadle’s letter draws an analogy to someone who borrows money from himself, spends it all, and replaces it with I.O.Me’s, “backed by the full faith and credit of himself.” According to Shadle, “He’s too stupid to understand that once money is spent it doesn’t come back.”

There are two problems with Shadle’s analysis. “Full faith and credit” is a concept applicable only to governments, not to individuals or even private organizations. And “once money is spent it doesn’t come back” isn’t always true.

If I deposit money in a bank, it does not put that money in a “lockbox” to secure it until I want it back. It loans the money to someone and that person spends it. But if that person has an income (and if he doesn’t, the bank won’t loan him money) he will pay back the loan. So “spent money” can indeed “come back.”

Government has a constant flow of tax revenues. So if it sells bonds to me, to a bank, or to China, and spends the resulting money, it can pay interest and redeem bonds with those tax receipts. It guarantees to do so, promising the “full faith and credit” of the government to do so.

Because of money borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund, our government has borrowed about 2.6 trillion dollars less from me, the Bank of American, and China. Its obligation to repay this money is no less than its duty to repay other bondholders. And paying this money back to Social Security will not increase the total national debt even if we do it with money borrowed from other lenders. Every billion paid back would increase money owed to other lenders by a billion, but it would also reduce the amount owed to Social Security by the same amount.(After you pay back money you owed, you don't owe it any more.) As Stephen Goss, Chief Actuary for the Social Security Administration points out, the net effect on the total national debt would be a “wash.”

Paul deLespinasse


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Treating deficit, debt seriously

My Adrian College colleague, Ahsan Habib, has written another of his great analyses of our economic problems. It came out in this morning's Daily Telegram (Adrian, Michigan). With his permission, I am posting it here.

By Ahsan Habib

The last election has created a situation where the incumbent president’s party does not control both houses of Congress. As such, neither the budget nor the debt ceiling extensions are getting automatic rubber stamp approvals.

One encouraging result is that the long-overdue deficit discussion is in the national limelight. The issue has been brewing for several decades but our politicians always found it convenient to hide it. My sincere hope is that this time the deficit issue will not receive searchlight treatment. As anyone travelling in a boat at night knows, when a searchlight falls on a spot everyone looks at it for the moment, but their attention shifts to the next spot where the searchlight shines.

President Obama has been continuously trumpeting the message that his plan will reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years. I have several points to make.

First, it has become a custom of all recent presidents to suggest a proposal of fiscal sanity, with one catch. Their plan will bring sanity or partial sanity only after a certain number of years (i.e. after he leaves office)! In the meantime the country has to tolerate more fiscal insanity!

Second, the term “deficit reduction” is disturbing. What America really needs is “debt reduction,” which cannot happen with mere deficit reduction. For debt reduction, there cannot be any deficit. The budget must show a surplus, and a real surplus is something we have not had for a long time. For example, if Mr. Obama’s plan reduces the deficit by $400 billion each year, we may still have an annual deficit of $1 trillion — which in 10 years would still add another $10 trillion to our national debt despite the much-touted “deficit reduction.”

Third, the term “reduction” is also disturbing. Many times the government’s reduction does not mean reduction from current level but reduction from future anticipated levels. By using this gimmick, it is possible to reduce a deficit by $4 trillion and still let annual budget deficits grow.

The Republican Party’s plan also has disturbing notes in it. I am unaware of any serious economic model that suggests that reasonably high tax rates for upper income people will reduce economic growth. On the other hand, lowering the tax rate in the U.S. also did not work during the last 30 years, despite a perception among some that tax cuts created economic miracles in the 1980s. The tax cuts during the early-2000 years clearly failed to produce any noticeable revival of our economy.

It is more conceivable that the growth of 1980s and 1990s were the result of massive borrowings by the federal government and individual households, rather than the tax cuts. These two debts combined were less than $2.3 trillion in 1980 but grew to $20 trillion in 2005. In other words, after living virtually debt-free for 204 years, the United States suddenly added a huge $18 trillion in new debt in a mere 25 years, and created a short-lived boost in the economy.

We can have temporary growth with debt but in the end it is sure to backfire. Debt often creates a semblance of growth and the underlying problems remain hidden.

First, the very fact that a country’s growth is dependent on debt means there is something inherently wrong in its economy. The country is unable to live within its means.

Second, everyone soon becomes used to debt and it becomes hard to get rid of the practice.

Third, and more serious, eventually the burden of debt becomes too heavy to carry.

Fourth, if federal debt to outsiders becomes too much (rule of thumb, more than 100 percent of GDP), creditors may raise the debt servicing fee (interest on debt), which will cause more disastrous consequences to the economy. Currently U.S. GDP is about $14.7 trillion and the federal debt to outsiders is about $9.7 trillion. The remaining $4.6 trillion of federal debt is owed to several federal agencies including the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.
Irrespective of how we try to justify it, living with continuous debt burden cannot be an acceptable solution. European countries have started to see the consequences of this habit, and we may face the same not far from now.

It is sometimes said that the U.S. economy is in fine shape and the problem of debt is exaggerated. This argument would be convincing if the debt were showing signs of decline. Instead, it is growing every day. And, if the recent (and consistent) actions of both political parties are any signal, neither party has any meaningful plan to lower the deficit, much less to create a surplus.

In this circumstance, calling our economy fine is like calling a ship on the ocean fine when in fact the ship is slowly and inevitably heading toward an iceberg some miles down in its course.

Ahsan Habib is a professor and chair of the economics department at Adrian College.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book recommendation: Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialog WIth His Century

I have just finished reading a fascinating biography of Robert A. Heinlein, the (not just "a") science fiction writer, many of whose works I incorporated in my classes at Adrian College, and one of which (Double Star) helped inspire my doctoral dissertation on constitutional monarchy. Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialog With His Century was written by William H. Patterson, Jr., and this book is volume 1 of what promises to be a two volume work. It takes Heinlein up to about 1948, when he married his third and final wife. (It was news to me that Virginia Gerstenfeld was number 3; I had always thought she was number 2.)

It is very interesting to find out how many interesting people Heinlein knew and worked with during his long life, including not only most of the other leading science fiction writers of the mid-twentieth century but also people like Alfred Korzybski, S.I. Hayakawa, and Helen Gahagan Douglas. Douglas had served three terms in the House of Representatives but was defeated in her bid to be elevated from the House to the Senate by Richard Nixon, which is well-known. What I had not known was that she was only the second woman elected to Congress and the first to be elected as a Democrat. (I am assuming the author has it right here but haven't checked it out.*)

I found this interesting because I have done a little writing about the first woman elected to Congress, Jeanette Rankin, who was a Republican and who gained some distinction by being the only member of Congress to vote against declaring both World War I and World War II (against Japan). She had lots of company in opposing World War I but was the only vote against war with Japan in 1941.

All long-time Heinlein fans like myself will be fascinated with this biography, and like myself will be waiting impatiently for Mr. Patterson to finish up volume 2.

* P.S. Douglas was NOT the first Democratic woman to serve in Congress. It is possible that she was the first one ELECTED to Congress, as distinguished from appointed to fill vacancies. I will continue to look into this.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book recommendation: Wrong Turn: A Sympathetic Critique of the CIvil Rights Movement

Now that I have gotten into recommending books, although it may appear to be a little "self-serving," I would like to draw attention to one of my four books, all of which are available for free reading on my companion website to this blog .

Wrong Turn: A Sympathetic Critique of the Civil Rights Movement was apparently not a good title for this work, which no editor was even willing to look at when I looked into publication, even though the work is about 95% sympathetic and 5% critical of the U.S. civil rights movement.

This work examines the problems of race from a principled perspective growing out of my "periodic table of human associations" introduced in two of the other works also available at my website, Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective, and Basic Political Concepts. It shows how the civil rights movement fits into a larger pattern of progress, which has moved parts of the world from from the ugly origins of government as organized crime (protection rackets) towards legitimate governments (protection).

If anyone can think of a better title for me to use on this book, I would appreciate any suggestions. One that would not scare editors would be nice!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why shouldn't non-citizens vote?

It is not generally known that for a good deal of U.S. history immigrants were allowed to vote even before receiving citizenship. This fact makes sense of the fact often mentioned in history books that the political machines in New York City used to greet new arrivals at the dock, help them get settled, help them find work, and then draw on their gratitude when the next elections came along. For some reason, these histories, at least as far as I can remember them, did not draw attention to the fact that this meant people who were not citizens were voting.

This evening I caught a passing mention on C-SPAN that a Ron Hayduk had written a book summarizing the history of non-citizen voting. Since I am very interested in immigration and find the whole concept of an "illegal alien" to be a legal and philosophical abomination, I immediately checked to see if the Corvallis public library has the book---it does not. And when I checked on I found that the book is extraordinarily expensive, about $45, with used copies nearly as expensive.

However I did find a short report in the New York Times which readers of this blog might find interesting for the facts it reports, and it can be read here. Professor Hayduk is quoted in this article, which is about a recent attempt to restore non-citizen voting in New York City.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Tidbits from my old files: A continuing problem

In May 1992, no doubt based on my observations of the world, I jotted down a generalization that I still think is true and extremely timely for today, too:

"It is much easier to get rid of an unsatisfactory order than to eliminate an unsatisfactory absence of order."

It seems to me that this is something U.S. leaders should have thought about before sending troops into Afghanistan and Iraq. In both of these countries we destroyed governments that were vile and despotic without too much difficulty. And both countries now suffer from a very unsatisfactory absence of order which it is probably beyond our power to fix.

With this experience in mind, what do we do? We set out to destroy the current government of Libya! Which is indeed vile and despotic.