Life By the Numbers

The largest religions in the world 

1. Christianity — 2.1 billion

2. Islam — 1.5 billion

3. None/Atheist — 1.1 billion

4. Hindu — 900 million

5. Chinese traditional — 394 million

6. Buddhism — 376 million

12. Judaism — 14 million

The 8 languages most spoken 

1. Mandarin Chinese — 1.051 billion

2. Hindi — 490 million

3. Spanish — 420 million

4. English — 510 million

5. Russian — 255 million

6. Arabic — 230 million

7. Bengali — 215 million

8. Portuguese — 213 million

Best health systems in the world according to the World Health Organization 

1. France

2. Italy

3. San Marino

4. Andorra

5. Malta

6. Singapore

7. Spain

8. Oman

9. Austria

10. Japan

18. England

22. Colombia

33. Chile

36. Costa Rica

37. United States

38. Slovenia

Ethnic distribution in the United States 

German                     57.9 million

Irish                           38.7 million

English                      32.7 million

African American    23.8 million

Italian                        14.7 million

Mexican                     11.6 million

French                       10.3 million

Polish                         9.4 million

Native American      8.6 million

Dutch                         6.2 million

Scotch-Irish              5.6 million

Scottish                     5.4 million

Swedish                     4.7 million

Best and worst high school graduations rates 

Best – Wyoming 91.8 and Arizona – 91.4

Worst – Texas 79.9 and Mississippi – 80.4

Greatest and fewest college graduates  

Greatest – Colorado 35.9 and Connecticut 35.6

Fewest – West Virginia 17.3 and Arkansas 18.9


Life is Messy

Every now and then someone relates some of their family history and the crazy things that happen within their family. They present the story as a sort of “see how crazy my family is!”  My response is always the same, “all families are crazy, it’s just a matter of degree.”  By extension, that means all normal families are crazy.  It is just a matter of the details peculiar to that family. But in general, they are just simply crazy.

A few years ago a friend of mine was telling me about a part of her life she was not too proud of.  She had spent a week in jail once.  To say I was shocked is an understatement.  You see, she is someone everyone sees as the all American mom sort.  She is happily married, has two young children, and an MBA degree which helps her to a very substantial income.  When I asked her what she went to jail for, she very nonchalantly said it was for larceny over $200.  It turns out it was actually her boyfriend who had done the theft but she was present when it happened.  She pleaded out and got time served plus two years of probation.  If I were to show you a picture of her today with her husband and kids you would probably say, “no way!”

I had another friend who died about six years ago from lung cancer.   It turns out that his cancer was quite curable but a lack of early treatment, doctor’s fault, caused it to move to other organs.  He sued and won, of course.  I remember saying to him that he must really be angry.  The doctor had served a death sentence upon him.  He told me he was at first and then he came to terms with it.  When I asked him how you come to terms with having your life ended prematurely he said, “life is messy.”  I didn’t get it at first but after a lot of reflection I did.  He had arrived at a point where staying angry served no useful purpose and he wanted to enjoy the time he had left.  He enjoyed it, richly.

I thought about that for a long time, years.  I have come to the conclusion that life, external of human manipulation, is always and ultimately fair.  I hear people say how unfair something is.  A person dies in his 40s from cancer and they say how unfair that is.  But it is fair.  It is not like cancer decides to pick on a particular individual while sparing another.  It doesn’t.  It is not different from the flu.  Some get it, some don’t.  These things can be very sad, but they are always fair.

Most people are good.  They follow the rules, are usually polite, and give when they can.  We all, at one time or another, cross paths with someone who is not good.  They cause us grief and pain.  Sometimes it costs us money, other times health, and other times peace of mind.  These people can cause a serious mess in our lives but if we allow it to be anything more than the messiness of life, then we allow it to have more power over us than is right.

You hear people say “shit happens.”  That is way to negative for me.  I prefer “life happens.”  Some of it is not much fun though.  But I have found that by seeing life as a never-ending series of events, many of which are messy, then it is difficult for life to pitch me a curve ball I can’t handle.

I Call My Higher Power Ralphie

Most of you call your higher power God.  I call mine Ralphie.  If you want an image of Ralphie simply conjure up the character in the movie “A Christmas Story.”  Yup, that Ralphie.  This might sound sacrilegious but it is not.  My higher power is the universe.  If the universe and God happen to be the same thing, great!  But until I find out the truth, I have Ralphie.

But why would I pick a movie character for a face?  A friend of mine, Jean, said her higher power looks like Jack Klugman.  I always liked that.  She said that was because she only had the “God of her misunderstanding” and she understood Jack Klugman.  A lot of people really liked the George Burns image of God.  I kind of liked that one too, in all respects.

I do like the idea of talking to a higher power but when your higher power is the universe, well, I just needed a human name for that universe.  If you read my previous post, “How Big is Big,” you will get a really good idea of how I see myself in the universe.  I am truly insignificant, relatively speaking, but I do count.  If Ralphie ever talks back to me in a way I really understand, well, then I will have to make Ralphie God, and the universe too of course.

Even though this posting is a little bit of tongue-in-cheek, it is also my reality today.  I am just trying to make sense of things, and this is just another step towards that end.

How Big Is Big, and, What About You?

8 minutes — how long it takes light to move from the sun to the Earth

93,000,000 — distance from sun to the Earth

587,000,000,000,000 — distance light travels in one year (587 trillion)

35,000 — number of light years from earth to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy

20,545,000,000,000,000,000 — number of miles to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy or 20, 545 trillion miles

2,540,000 — number of light years to the nearest galaxy (Andrometer) to the Milky Way Galaxy.

The Andrometer Galaxy

13.5 billion — number of light years to the most distant galaxy

Our universe is a really big place!  Go outside and look up at the North Star (Ursa Major).  While you are looking at it consider that the light you are seeing left that star in the year 1582.

the North Star

Now look at the Cygnus constellation and its brightest star, Deneb.  That light left that star over 1400 years ago.  This means you are literally looking back in time depending upon which star you look at.  You are always seeing things as they were, not as they are.

Cygnus constellation

You all remember the first Star Trek movie?  If not, in that movie the Star Trek crew finds the Voyager 1 spacecraft deep in space.  That spacecraft was launched in 1977 and is just now leaving the outer-most part of our solar system.  It is about 11.25 billion miles from Earth and is just barely outside the solar system after 35 years!

Our sun is about 875,000 miles across.  The largest star is about 90,000,000 miles across, or about the distance from the earth to the sun.

Now here is a number for you.  Think about the sand on a beach, any beach.  Think of that sand as a collection of individual grains.  Now, consider taking every grain of sand on every beach on the earth and that is about how many stars there are in the universe.  And the distance between each and every one of those stars is always measured in light years.  The universe must be a really really huge place to hold that many stars and still have that much distance between them all.

My point, next time you think you are the center of the universe, think again.  And next time you think the universe is against you, try looking at an individual atom with your naked eye and know that is exactly how you are seen by the universe.

I Am a Real Pain In the Ass

I spent too many years trying to please people or trying to make people happy.  I have stopped all that as being a rather useless practice.  I am not trying to be a pain in the ass, it just seems to work that way.

What does that mean?  It means I do not opt for any dishonesty at all, even to save my own ass.  I do temper my responses.  If I know saying something will be hurtful and I have not been asked my opinion, I opt to say nothing.  But when asked, I will be honest even at the risk of friendship.  I have decided that you cannot comprise on honesty.  There are a lot of people who do not like that.  They say they wish I had said something a little less honest.

But sometimes I feel the need to speak up when I see something I think is wrong.  This is when my being a pain in the ass seems to maximize.  People do not like being corrected or being told something they do not want to hear.  This does not mean I go around correcting people all the time, I do not.  But if I see someone near to me doing something I consider harmful to themselves, I feel an obligation to say something.  The thing is, I say it once and not again.  It may cause hurt feelings but they will not come back at me and ask why I did not say something.  People get defensive very quickly.  A good pain in the ass, like me, does not take that personally, particularly when the person lashes out.  In a way, it is the price of doing business, the price of honesty.  When confronted about my being such I respond, “What kind of a friend would I be if I said nothing.”  And that is my belief.

There are times, of course, when I am quite wrong.  Times like that are simply an opportunity for me to apologize and move on.  I do not like being wrong but I have no problem admitting to being such.

My belief system today tells me to err on the side of caution.  I believe it is better to be wrong saying something than saying nothing when I am right.

America’s Next Recession Starts March 1

The Dow-Jones today topped the 13,000 mark for the first time since 2008.  That is a fact.   How, then, can I possibly be predicting a recession starting in a little over a week?  The stock market is one of the worst indicators of the future.  On March 9, 1929 the Dow Jones average was 381.70 but by the end of October in 1929 it had fallen to 198.69.  The market lost 48% of its total value, most of that happening in October 1929.  President Hoover looked at the economy he presided over in March 1929 and said that the warnings of upcoming trouble were worthless.

People are going to look at today’s stock closing optimistically.  But they need to look at a single indicator that directly feeds into imminent economic trouble.  Crude oil prices have risen over 30% since September 2011 and show no signs of retreating.  To the contrary, they show every sign of rising to historic levels.  The average person thinks of such a rise only with regard to what they pay for gasoline at the pump.  But all forms of transportation are equally affected.  This means the price of food, durable goods, clothing, and everything else goes up as well if only because they too have to be transported and that cost is reflected in the price of the item being sold.

But have you ever considered how much of everything in your life is petroleum-based?  Consider that everything that is made from plastic is petroleum-based.  That alone should give one pause to consider what rising crude prices mean.  Petroleum is also used in medicines, clothing, and construction.

I believe crude oil prices are going to keep going up because of the continued unrest in the middle east.  Lybia, Egypt, Syria, Iran, and Iraq are all in a more or less unstable condition.  And all are oil-producing countries.  Adding to this unrest are both Afghanistan and Pakistan, neither oil producers, but both home to radical Islamists who have every intention of continuing or raising the level of unrest in all the countries mentioned.

In today’s world economy energy drives those economies.  Whatever is happening to the price and distribution of oil affects all economies to one degree or another.  It is like throwing a rock in the middle of a calm pond.  The waves that rock creates moves outward in all directions, and the bigger the rock, the bigger the waves.  Right now we are feeling the waves of uncertainty in the market.  Consider that most countries in the world produce no oil at all, and two that do, the United States and China, both in the top 20 oil producers, export none of the oil they produce and import even more.  China will benefit from Iran’s decision to stop sending oil to England but of course England will suffer.  And so the rock Iran threw in England’s water will send its waves throughout Europe.

The unrest in the middle east is unlikely to settle down any time soon.  That means the market jitters are likely to continue as well.  That of course means oil prices will remain high with a high likelihood of their going ever higher.  I think it likely that the average price per gallon of gasoline will be at or close to $5 by summer’s end.  People will, of course, cut back on their purchases and with that the economy takes a hit, probably a big on.

What’s Wrong With Movies Today?

I recently went to see the movie “The Artist.”  I had heard all these raves about how it should get awards that would rank it up with “Gone With the Wind.”  Well, I saw it, and I would say it ranks right up there with Godzilla.  This movie is bad, really bad.  I am a movie aficionado and think I have a good feel for the worth of  a movie.  Well, if this movie gets so much praise why did I find it so bad.

You should know before you go to see it that it is a silent movie in its entirety.  I knew this going in but I think there were several people in the theater who did not know that.  They left within the first 10 minutes of the movie.  A part of me wishes I had left with them, but not for the same reason.  The premise of the movie is how two actors deal with the transition of movies from the silent era to the talking era.  That in itself could have made for a great movie but alas, Hollywood, as it tends to be, was so enamoured with itself thought it would be just great to leave out all dialogue.  Maybe that kept the script writing costs down?  Hard to tell.  The movie is not particularly funny, well acted, or riveting.  It was just sort of there.  You got the entire idea by the time the first 30 minutes had elapsed.  But that is not enough for Hollywood.  In their self-congratulatory way they had to continue for another hour or so of over-acting, mugging as they call it.  It got old, fast.  If you have a chance to see this movie on HBO or like television service, don’t bother.  It really is not worth it even on the small screen, let alone having to pay to go see it.

I truly get the idea of an “artsy” movie as “The Artist” attempted.  But the silent movie era died for a reason, and it needed to stay dead.  The reason many actors, mostly men, did not make the transition was their voices.  Screen legend of the silent era Tom Mix could not make the transition because of his high voice.  He did not sound like the masculine cowboy he had portrayed in the silent films.  Other actors were saddled with heavy accents that they were unable to overcome.  And some, like the male star of “The Artist,” simply did not want to make the transition.  For some unknown reason the producers of “The Artist” got this idea in their head that they could make this wonderful silent movie.  They failed.  They were so full of themselves that they failed to realize they were mostly full of shit.

Movies of the 1930s and 1940s were usually wonderful affairs.  In the naive presentations they seldom gave performances of over-acting.  They usually had a fair number of character actors who helped fill out the movie.  And their plots did not require a lot of thought to understand.  Those movies were made to be purely entertaining.  It was not often that movies of that era tried to make a point of some sort.  The truly cleaver of that era knew how to make a point and still be very entertaining.  The Marx Brothers’ move “Duck Soup” was a full on frontal attack of the land speculators of 1930s Florida.  The movie was very clever and very funny too.  You did not have to understand the back story to enjoy the movie.  It was not until the movies “Citizen Kane” in 1941 and “The Best Years of Our Lives” in 1946 that audience were confronted with truly thought-provoking plots.  But each of those movies was a masterpiece unto itself that endures to this day.  “Citizen Kane” was Orson Wells’ parody of publisher William Randolph Hearst and “The Best Years of Our Lives” visited the early after years of veterans who had just returned from World War 2.

The thing about the movies from that era is they did not take themselves too seriously.  They were never movies that said “hey look at us” but were either “hey look at this” or “have a good time.”

Another thing about that era is the actors.  I have a long list of actors from back then whose movies I will watch.  Present day actors who I will always go see is a short list.  Sadly, too many of today’s actors think they are a lot better than they are.  For example, I have given Will Farrell too many chances.  He has made one good movie as far as I am concerned, “Elf.”  In every other movie he has made I see him playing the identical character.  This says to me he is extremely limited in his ability.  At the other end of that spectrum are George Clooney and Meryl Streep who convincingly play a wide area of characters.  But who are today’s character actors?  What actors are not so full of themselves that they willingly play a particular sort of role in every movie?

I read a lot of books and I can name any number of really well-written books that have never made it to the screen.  There is no shortage of script material out there but there is an extreme shortage of good scripts in movies.  Why is that?  Is Hollywood so lacking in motivation that it choses not to go after these stories?  Is Hollywood itself so devoid in talent that it cannot either write a good script or bring a really well written book to the screen?  Maybe Hollywood is really lacking in the acting talent necessary to pull of some of these stories.  Whatever it is, the product Hollywood produces is mostly disappointing.  Wouldn’t it be refreshing if one year at the Oscars the Academy announced that for this year there were no great movies so there will be no “Best Movie” award!