Susan's Musings

This section of my web site is for unstructured self-expression. Sort of a blog. Your comments are appreciated. In any case, I get to vent. Essays, monographs, poems, book reviews, and comments.

Please visit my separate economics blog.

Prior years: 2107 2106 2105 2104 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001
Non-profit lobbyists threaten democracy
The NRA is a legal non-profit organization, and has been since its incorporation in 1944. It has additionally a tax-exempt status with the IRS. The NRA is required to submit a Form 990 every year to the IRS; these can be viewed online.

NRA has a tremendous influence over Congress. While they do pay Congress people, it is their 5 million members who can be directed to vote uncooperative politicians out of office that carries the most influence. In this case the NRA is a non-Constitutional arm of the legislature. Their presence in this position is a direct and present danger to our democracy.

Perhaps we need to rethink lobbying and the non-profit/tax-exempt status of corporations. Perhaps there should be a limit to membership numbers.

Say we limit lobbying organizations to 1000 members. What's to stop multiple such organizations from partnering with each other? The effect could be the same as if there was only one organization with millions of members. So, that's no solution.

Cancelling their tax-exempt status will just cause them to reduce their expenses, by lowering executive compensation and conducting fewer public programs. The NRA will continue its lobbying.

I feel the only alternative that can truly preserve our democracy is to disallow all lobbying. And to make the acceptance of money and other valuable gifts from wannabe lobbyists illegal. Payola was always corrupt.

Our Congress should take steps to prove they are not vulnerable to outside influence (outside their own constituency). Certainly, they can solicit background information from experts, but this information should be submitted in writing and made available to all Congress folk and citizens alike. (2-23-2018)

Gun control
I offer my own proposal for gun control that reflects the basic issues of individual rights and public safety.

It is clear that the worship of violence in our culture has influenced mass shooters, and will continue to inspire some men to appoint themselves as executioners. We cannot wait for cultural changes to stop these mass shootings that so plague us today. We are unable to effect the mind control needed to prevent anyone from shooting another except in self defense. So we are left with limiting the guns in private ownership. (2-21-2018)

Food poisoning returns, and now you know why
Once upon a time public outcry resulted in government regulations about food safety at meat plants. Recently a man campaigned for the presidency on promises to shrink the government and reduce unnecessary and costly regulations. Voila! Foodborne illness returned. What a surprise!

The Guardian reports today on "Shocking hygiene failings discovered in US pig and chicken plants." (2-21-2018)

Vaccination in the news
There's an article in today's The Guardian reporting Robert F. Kennedy's announcement that the Trump administration has had no further contact with him after authorizing him over a year ago to investigate connections between vaccines and autism.

Kennedy's announcement is news, and I was glad to learn about it. I was also put off by some Guardian attitude in the opening paragraphs. I drafted the next three paragraphs hoping to put them in a comment, but The Guardian is not accepting comments on this article. So I will share with you.

"Spurious theories"? In the caption of the lead photo?
Please keep your skepticism to yourself. We love to point fingers at people with whom we disagree, and then we label them conspiracy theorists to deepen the insult. I am beginning to realize that your "newspaper" relies on this behavior for much of your articles — I'm having difficulty recalling true neutrality in your reporting. I am a bit tired of your judgment. I can make my own judgments, but I do need straight facts.

The problem you, or any other "news" organization, face with regards to "news" related to vaccination, is that the subject is fraught with justified fears, industry pressure, legal rights, health dangers, etc. Best to avoid that swamp. People have written worthy books about the dangers of vaccination, you cannot address that in a few paragraphs. And to dismiss or ignore the wider discussion is not good of you.

And on a slightly different note, have you noticed the great number of photos in newspapers, yours and others, that show a needle pressed to skin? Why is it okay when addressing infectious disease but not "recreational" drugs? (2-21-2018)

Are mass shootings inevitable in America?
Oh God, I hope not. Matt Taibbi has an interesting take in his column at the Rolling Stone: If We Want Kids to Stop Killing, the Adults Have to Stop, Too". (2-18-2018)
Is it really just another school murder?
I appreciate the analysis the author has about the endless killings that plague us. It hurts like hell. (2-16-2018)
Selling public assets
This never ends well. Some public entity decides the way to save money by avoiding paying for maintenance, administration, and/or management of some public-owned asset (like a hospital or airport) is to sell it. The buyers suck out all the cash and provide substandard maintenance, administration, and/or management (so much so that the quality of the asset deteriorates). How is that an improvement? Oddly, public contracts with the private companies that take over public assets fail to include legal clauses for oversight and performance standards. One consequence of this is that employees lose benefits and protections, and occasionally their income. (2-12-2018)
Gerber kitchen knives
I have three kitchen knives made by Gerber Legendary Blades of Portland, Oregon. Recently I wanted to learn more about them and how to sharpen them. That proved to be an unexpected project. My report is "Gerber — A Knife and a Family". (2-11-2018)
How much is enough?
We ask each other this question, a bit rhetorically when few of us are truly rich. But here's how the richest man and first ever American billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil, replied: "Just a little bit more."

I am sure American society has classes. I am also sure that it is divided by wealth into the haves and have nots. The haves are now known as the 1%. They have different values and interests than the 99%. There is no point in our applying our values and arguments to them. Better to look for ways to make common cause. (2-11-2018)

Develop wild land?
Should public lands be developed? Do you value wilderness for its own sake? Do you think whatever money developers earn from public lands that is actually paid to the federal government make it worthwhile? Do you think it better that the owners of the developers make a profit? Do you see such a profit as wealth being tugged from your pocket? If not, why not? Might you see the existence of public lands as an artifact of paying it forward? If so, then what makes it worthwhile to cash in? Today's Guardian has an article whose title prompted these remarks: "War on the wildest places: US bill may open pristine lands to development". (2-9-2018)
Where to and how?
The two forces that continue to ravage our society are politics and capitalism. What we need is a marriage of authentic democracy and an economic system that are together capable of producing a society benefitting the majority. (1-26-2018)
Protectionist tariffs
This week President Trump announced the imposition of protectionist tariffs on Chinese solar panels and Korean washing machines citing that America would not tolerate "massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies, and pervasive, state-led economic planning." We know Trump can hold mutually exclusive ideas at once, but . . . if America is in such great economic shape that Trump brags to the attendees at Davos, how is it that our growing economy cannot withstand foreign subsidies and state-led economic planning? (1-26-2018)
The Everly Brothers, Don and Phil
Two brothers born in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky and Chicago, Illinois to a coal-mining-turned-singing family who grew up learning to sing close harmony and play steel-stringed acoustic guitar. Throughout their lives they contended they were hillbillies and that Kentucky was their emotional home. In 1956, at ages 21 and 19, they signed a recording contract as a duo with Cadence Records in Nashville, Tennessee. In early 1957 they released a recording "Bye Bye Love" that quickly became a million-seller and reached No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts, No. 1 on the country, and No. 5 on the R&B charts. It was the first in a long series of internationally popular hits.

The brothers set many records that have yet to be surpassed; their music occupied the top of the charts for decades. Their musical style combined rhythm-and-blues and country, and forged an early and enduring strain of rock and roll. "Everything we call country rock comes from the Everlys." [Bill Flanagan] Their voices were beautiful and their harmonies remain unmatched. Neil Young inducted them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, with an introduction in which he described his efforts to reproduce the brothers' harmonies — with no success.

They never claimed to be singer songwriters, and while most of their recorded material was written by others, they wrote a considerable repertoire.

Phil Everly, the younger brother, died in January 2014. Don continues singing, at a slower pace. The Brothers are recognized as having significantly influenced music groups, especially English groups like the Beatles (whom Dick Clark once dismissed as being "Everly Brothers imitators"), and the endless groups that attempted vocal harmonies, perhaps foremost being Simon & Garfunkel.

In 2013 Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) and Alison Krauss (a solo bluegrass-country singer) released a cover of the Everly's "Gone Gone Gone" Here is an Everly recording from 1964.

Perfect Harmony, a UK radio program about the Everly Brothers from March 23, 2014 (after Phil's death), is a wonderful compilation of their music!

I think the Everlys exhibited two significant skills:
First, at a young age they had developed their own musical voice. It was composed of the sounds they made with their guitars, their individual voices, and their harmonies. It was also composed of phrasing and tempo. They could make a song their own by transforming it with their musical voice. (A good example of this is "Claudette", a song written by Ray Orbison. Once I heard the Everly's version, I found Orbison's recording to be lackluster and boring. The Everly's version is vibrant.)
Second, they had a refined sense of timing and progression. Near the beginning of their career, they had a highly successful sequence of songs that was followed by a dirth of suitable material for the next song. Instead of taking what was offered and making the best of it, they stood back and wrote their own song. Their recording of that song, "Cathy's Clown", went to the top of the charts, with no complaints about how long music lovers had to wait for it.

Why did I write about the Everly Brothers? And why now? Late yesterday afternoon I ate breakfast in a local café that caters to retired people with simple, affordable food and oldies music — music from the 50s and 60s. I listened to Buddy Holly sing "Rave On" with pleasure, glad to remember his name and the lyrics. And then a faint memory assailed me, the Everly Brothers. I came home and typed their name into Google and spent the rest of the evening reading and listening and falling in love with their music all over again. I hadn't known anything of their lives and work since about 1970, if not 1963. I wrote this ode to remind me. If this is your introduction to the Everlys, I am glad to have been of service. (1-10-2018)

Oprah for President?
She gave a stirring speech at the Golden Globes. Now the news folk are suggesting she might be a candidate for president. Why? Because she is an authentic billionaire and a TV star.

Have we learned nothing?

We cannot articulate how an ideal president behaves. What political goals they advocate and pursue.

We are easily conned. We do not demand political experience, nor evidence of sincerity in a candidate's stated goals and values.

We like, perhaps a bit desperately, a knight on a white horse to ride in, take over, and make America right again — all without our having to do anything, even vote.

More of this attitude is going to destroy our personal lives and our democracy. And yet we seem addicted to it. (1-9-2018)

Beware food additives
A new study finds: A sugar additive called Trehalose, commonly added to a wide range of food products, could have allowed certain strains of Clostridium difficile to become far more virulent than they were before. That bacterium is infamous for causing severe diarrhea and death. It is one of the most prevalent hospital-acquired infections. (1-4-2018)
Rising sea levels
It's no theory that sea levels are rising, at least in some places — it's fact. And we are constantly told this is a phenomenon of "global warming," that ugly stepchild of industrial pollution. What catches my attention is that when archeologists discover the underwater ruins of ancient Greek or Roman buildings, buildings that must have been built on dry land, rising sea level is never mentioned. (1-4-2018)
Legalizing pot
California makes the headlines on New Year's Day because this is the day that pot became legal. Well, sort of. The limitations are endless. In reality, legalized pot is a jobs program for folks who want to get in on the ground floor of a new industry. At best it might keep us from ingesting herbicides in our smoke, remember paraquat? (1-1-2018)

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Revision: 1-1-2018.