Everything I Like Is Illegal, Immoral and Fattening


It’s not true.  Not everything I like is illegal, immoral or fattening, just some things.  But it sounds good!  For example, why is it illegal for me to go out and breaking the knees of some asshole who gets his kicks from beating up his wife?  See what I mean!  It defies logic, right?  If I break his knees I will be arrested for assault and battery while he will just deny he ever did anything and get off scot free.  And I am not going to go into the immoral things.  I have three daughters who sometimes read this thing so I am not about to expand upon this subject.  Just use your imagination and you will probably be right.  As to fattening, well now there is something I can go on about.  I mean, I am seriously addicted to chocolate.  I have absolutely zero resistance over eating it.  So much so that I recent bought a large bag of peanut M&Ms and well before 24 hours had elapsed, I had finished the entire bag!  I got both a sugar high and an upset stomach.  You would think that alone would be enough to keep me from doing it again!  No.

I bought oranges today at Whole Foods, 10 of them.  Navel oranges.  I will eat 2 of them a day until they are gone.  That is actually healthy!  But each time I peel away the outer skin and pull away a section, I can see that it has no seeds.  That really pisses me off!  The solution, you would think, would be to buy navel oranges with seeds.  I challenge you to find somewhere that sells such oranges, of any variety!  Why are seeds so important?  Because the oranges with seeds have not been genetically altered.  They have not been manipulated by corporate America to satisfy those people who are too lazy to pick out the seeds and find swallowing seeds to be repulsive.  And why is the existence of seeds important to me otherwise?  Because oranges, and all foods, that are not genetically altered taste better!  That’s right, they taste better.  Grapefruit, lemons, watermelon, grapes and so many other fruits and vegetables have been made seedless and deprived me of their naturally occurring taste!

If you really want to see the mess science has made from genetically altered foods buy a pint of wild strawberries or blueberries and compare them with the genetically altered bigger and prettier versions.  The taste of the wild version is immensely better.  Wild strawberries are incredibly ugly and much smaller but their taste is always superb!  These “wild” versions I am referring to are actually cultivated and gown on farms, they just have not been messed with.

And that takes me to where I bought those stupid oranges, Whole Foods!   As far as I’m concerned, Whole Foods does about three things better than your generic supermarket, their fruits and vegetables are of better quality and in greater numbers, they have a great cheese department, and their baked goods taste really good.  But after that?  Nada!  You cannot buy Kellogg’s or Post cereals at Whole Foods but have you tasted their version?  Tastes like cardboard!  Horrible!  Who buys that crap besides idiots like me who do not know any better?  Their bread tastes pretty good but it is not any better than say Pepperidge Farm and is a dam site more expensive!  And that goes for almost everything in that store, overpriced!  This morning when I stopped there to get my oranges, and few pears too, the place was a zoo filled with hipsters!  I do not identify with these people.  Why in the hell do I go there?  Because I am naturally lazy and it was on my way home.

It is presently in vogue to buy “free range” and “organic” and other such items.  Supposedly healthier.  Really?  Who says?  Personally, I do not care what farmers use to grow their fruits and vegetables as long as they taste good!  And have seeds.  There is a claim the meat is filled with steroids that were used to fatten the chicken, beef or whatever.  Here is what the FDA says about that:  “Some of the approved drugs are naturally produced throughout life in people and animals, such as estradiol (estrogen), progesterone, and testosterone. These natural hormones are necessary for normal development, growth, and reproduction. People are not at risk from eating food from animals treated with these drugs because the amount of additional hormone following drug treatment is very small compared with the amount of natural hormones that are normally found in the meat of untreated animals and that are naturally produced in the human body.”  I also found out that steroids are not used in chickens at all.  What this all means is that I do not have to pay an additional $3 or more a pound for meat which has not had artificially infused steroids.  I was not buying it anyway.

I want to know who has been screwing with American minds so well that they have made us believe a rather large pack of lies.  Worse, they have spawned groups of people to support their positions.  That is a rhetorical question because I actually do know the answer:  Madison Avenue, the advertising industry.  They sell ice cubes to Eskimos.  They find the niche markets and then create an ad campaign to support that niche, facts be damned!  And for that reason I am not going to worry about the fat content in my chocolate ice cream because really good tasting ice cream must have a high fat content.   Have you ever tasted fat-free anything?  Most of it sucks!

Americans, keep eating that fattening stuff if you really like it!  Just be honest about it and do it in proper moderation.  Buy as much as you can from your local farmer, produce, dairy and meat, and scorn those big chain stores like Whole Foods!  And if you want to lower your carbon footprint, don’t buy a Prius, just drive less and take public transportation.  I know, that last thing has nothing to do with food but I find the Prius to be an incredibly pretentious machine.

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Why We Should Absolutely Accept Syrian Refugees


The political discussion today is whether or not the United States should accept Syrian refugees into this country. The plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty in theory states our general belief of those who want to immigrate to our country. Why, then, should that change now?

Terror – extreme fear. I looked up the definition of this word to verify my belief in its meaning.   ISIS is a terrorist organization by the world’s definition and its own. Their objective seems simple enough: instill as much fear into as many people as they can. And where ISIS exists in significant numbers, they will take our their animosities on innocent civilians. Worse, they do not discriminate. They are more than willing to visit their form of evil upon those who, in theory, embrace their religion! That is nothing new as Al Qaeda did the same thing in Afghanistan. The difference here of course is that while Al Qaeda, for the most part, 9/11 being the exception, practiced their form of evil mostly within the borders of Afghanistan, although they did extend it to northwestern Pakistan.

ISIS has decided to take their fight to the entire Middle East, and to a lesser extent the rest of the world. They are terrorists in every sense of the word and to the extreme. Their war has forced thousands of innocent Syrians to flee the own country for fear of their own lives. And as we have seen, these refugees have gone through Turkey and the Balkans seeking refuge in Austria and Germany.

The United States is insulated from these refugees because of the Atlantic Ocean and the ability of the refugees to travel, which is quite limited. And some would argue that the European nations should be able to absorb all the refugees who show up at their door. But is that the right thing to expect? No!

The argument against accepting these Syrian refugees is that they may well include ISIS terrorists. But that argument feeds directly into the intention of the ISIS terrorists. That is exactly how ISIS wants us to feel.

I believe that if the U.S. were to accept 10,000 refugees, as President Obama has suggested, that the the possibility of one of more terrorists gaining access to our country is close to a sure thing. So what? Are we so cowed by this possibility that we are not willing to take the chance? Do we have so little faith in our civil police, Homeland Security, and the FBI that we cannot trust them to maintain the peace for us? Are we really going to let ISIS revel in the fact that they have placed enough fear into us that we refuse refuge to thousands of deserving people? I really hope that is not what we have become. I absolutely think we should welcome 10,000 refugees or more! And I believe that the governors of the 20 plus states who have said they absolutely will not take Syrian refugee should be ashamed of themselves because they have shown their fear. Fear is exactly what ISIS wants them to feel.

Dealing With ISIS


The terrorist attack on Paris is despicable, to say the least. The group that calls itself ISIS claims responsibility. Those are all the facts, there are no more. Politician in this country, and probably all others, debate what sort of response should be taken. The responses I have heard from politicians in this country have been anywhere from measured to outrageous.

The good thing about this country is we get to say whatever we believe and the government cannot restrict that. That works well until you enter the national and international arena. Once you find yourself on the national stage this wise response is always the measured response. Many of the Republican presidential candidates have made the decision that the best and only response the U.S. can make to terrorist attacks is by sending in the army. Such remarks are not only ill-considered but irresponsible.

Governor Christie has said he would send in the troops. Trump, Rubio and Bush have said as much. It is this kind of thinking that gets the United States into trouble over and over.

The military of the United States, and of any country, is an extension of that country’s political system. The two prime reasons for having a military is first to defend your country against those who attack you and second, to take the battle to those countries which present a real and present danger to your well-being. A secondary reason is going to an ally’s aid and defense.

That ISIS presents a real and present danger in the world is unarguable. ISIS, however, it not presently claimed by any country in particular nor has any country come out in support of ISIS. It is my belief that there is not a country in the middle-east, North Africa, southeastern Europe, the Balkans and probably all of central Asia which does not have a contingent of ISIS living within its borders. This makes attacking ISIS problematic, at the least, because of where it exists. For example, ISIS probably exists substantially in Lebanon and Lebanon borders Syria. Right now, neither of those countries have invited the U.S. inside its borders.

Former President Bush used the pretense of weapons of mass destruction the attack Iraq. We now know for fact that we were fed half-truths and absolute lies when the real motivation was to remove Saddam Hussein from power. I only mention that to pre-empt the idea of entering Syria to eradicate ISIS, and oh by the way, we remove Assad from power.

Right now the only nation that has an iron clad reason to attack ISIS with troops on the ground is France, and so far they have shown no desire to do such. Why? Because they probably realize that their chances of successfully destroying the entire central leadership of ISIS with infantry is minimal at best. And even if France were to decide to use ground troops, I think anything beyond existing NATO agreements and UN agreements is unwise. And anything beyond logistical support would be going too far. And that logistical support would exist only in Iraq in the Middle East.

The greatest threat ISIS is to the world now is mostly peace of mind. It is obvious that Europe has got to figure out a way, quickly, to secure its borders. The U.S. is already doubling down on its security, really the only thing we can do. The next right step the leadership of the world has to figure out is how to contain ISIS. For all the Middle Eastern countries this means they will have to use a combination of civil policing and military actions within their borders. For the U.S. this means we are going to have to secure the borders of both Afghanistan and Iraq. That may require additional infantry troops. Neither country is strong enough by itself to provide for its own security against the likes of ISIS.

The United States has a lot of experience in attempting to deal with an unseen enemy such as ISIS. That enemy was called the Viet Cong and the war, of course, was Vietnam. We failed miserably trying to root out the Vietcong with conventional military. ISIS is no different.

The bottom line is simple: we are already stronger than ISIS, we just need to be smarter than them to defeat them.

 

Reflections of a Veteran on Veterans Day


As United States holidays go, Veteran’s Day is one of the newest. As a holiday by this name, it came into being in 1954. Prior to that, Veterans Day was known as Armistice Day commemorating the end of World War 1. World War 1 officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Shortly afterward President Wilson declared November 11th a national holiday. Then World War 2 happened followed by the Korean War. As a veteran, President Eisenhower decided that rather than remembering a peace treaty for a single war, the day would be better served by recognizing the service of everyone who had ever served in the Armed Forces of the United States. But there are two additional groups of veterans who did not serve within the Defense Department who are also veterans and they are the members of the Coast Guard and the Merchant Marines. The Merchant Marines were a vital force during World War 2 transporting goods and troops to the European Theater of War. And the Coast Guard, whose primary mission is the protection of the U.S. Coast lines, was deployed to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam among other missions.

I entered the U.S. Army on February 19, 1968 and served on active duty until November 10, 1979. After that I served in the Massachusetts National Guard for several years. My years of service in the U.S. Army are many of my proudest moments in life. I am the son of a World War 2 veteran, my father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in North Africa, Italy, and France. Two of my daughters are veterans as well. My eldest served as a U.S. Army Nurse in Kosovo and my next daughter has served in the U.S. Air Force in both active and reserve duty. She is still serving.

I am of the Vietnam era which many view as a low point of the U.S. history in war. But this needs to be put into perspective. All military forces, not just American, are a natural extension of a country’s political system and honors the decisions of the country’s political leadership. My experience in the Army is that we never discussed politics except maybe to criticize what we viewed a lack of support from time-to-time.   But I never once knew nor discussed the political persuasions of any of my brothers in arms. Such discussion served no purpose. I know from experience that at the highest levels of the military establishment, politics is very much a part of a soldier’s daily life but below the level of flag officers, generals and admirals, politics was generally non-existent. That was always a good thing.

All soldiers are required to complete basic combat training. Basic training is the great leveler. That is, regardless of a person’s background or appearance, the most important thing is learning how to be a soldier and what it means to serve with pride. It is a unique system found nowhere else in society, not even the police forces which copy many of the training techniques of the military. All members of the military are instilled with the concept of “duty, honor, and country.” That means that each member of the military has sworn to put his life on the line to protect his country from those who would do harm to it. This oath of allegiance has been in place since the Revolutionary War. It is an absolute and cannot be compromised.

Only the Civil War divided this country more than the war in Vietnam. When I volunteered to join the Army I did not say that I would only join if I would not be sent to Vietnam. There is no such option nor has there ever been one. Most veterans never saw combat duty but every veteran was eligible for it. I was sent to Korea in 1968 which was a war zone in those days. It was certainly not as hot as Vietnam but U.S. soldiers were still dying there. Why? Because they were doing their duty.

War does funny things to men. Greatness arises out of some of the most unexpected places. During the Civil War at the battle of Gettysburg, a former college professor from Maine, a very humble man, so distinguished himself that he became one of the first recipients of the Medal of Honor. He was Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. During World War 1, a former blacksmith and pacifist from Tennessee distinguished himself in battle to become a Medal of Honor recipient. Most recently a young man from Long Island, Lt. Michael Murphy, distinguished himself in Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor. Each of these men had one thing in common, they joined the service out of a sense of duty and in the worst of conditions their concern was completion of the mission and protection of their comrades. And I can assure you that none saw themselves as heroes. To a man they would tell you if asked that they were just doing their job. And in that sentiment is the common thread for all veterans. We did our job in difficult situations because it was the right thing to do and our sense of honor and patriotism were driving forces.

During my time in Korea we came under the threat of attack many times. The attack never came but maybe that was because we were there. We were enough of a deterrent. I seldom talk of my time in Korea mostly because I do not remember most of the details. But those who served in Vietnam are even more guarded in their speech. If you find a vet who served in Vietnam, the Gulf Wars or Afghanistan you will probably get a lot of resistance from them in the telling of their experiences. Why? Because war is and always has been an ugly affair. People at home hear of the deaths of soldiers and grieve them. Soldiers see the deaths of non-combatants, women and children, and mourn that. My personal experience with that came in the form of a visit to a Korean orphanage where the casualties of the ongoing conflict resided. To say it was heartbreaking is to minimalize the reality.

For 20 years following the Vietnam War the experience of veterans was something no one wanted to discuss. But the Gulf War changed that and the phrase “thank you for your service” came into being. I hope that such sentiment never goes out of fashion because as a veteran I am grateful whenever I hear it expressed. If you know a vet, give him or her a call on this Veterans Day and thank them for their service. When you see someone in uniform on the street where you are walking, thank that person for their service, after all, they have sworn to put their life on the line for you. Finally, most cities and towns in the United States have a war memorial. Take the time to visit it, look at the names listed, because they are the ones who gave their life for you.

It Is Time to Expand AMTRAK


During the first half of the 20th Century, Americans could travel virtually anywhere by train.  But as early as the 1920s, the American automobile was making inroads on travel by rail.  The US Government set on an ambitious goal of a U.S. Highway system which would crisscross the county.  Notable routes of that system still exist today.  U.S. Route 1, which travels from Northern Maine to Key West Florida is one.  Portions of the venerable U.S. Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles also still exist.  This paved road system coupled with affordable automobiles forced the nation’s railroad to abandon passenger traffic on many routes and eventually rip up those rail lines entirely.

In the 1930s intercity bus travel came into being. This is where companies such as Greyhound and Trailways found their beginnings.  Then in the 1950s, air travel boomed with the development of long distance air routes and a reduction in fares.  Also the 1950s saw the beginning of the Interstate Highway system.  These final two things nearly spelled the death knell for all rail travel.  To their credit, the nation’s railroads went on a spending spree by buying new equipment in the hope that a modernized fleet of rail cars would be enough to attract passengers.  That never succeeds and by the mid-1960s private railroads were petitioning the Interstate Commerce Commission on what seemed a daily basis, to abandon part or all of the passenger rail service.  They were losing money and in some cases threatening the company’s viability.  Even the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central Railroad were losing money in the highly used northeast corridor.  Both went bankrupt and with several other smaller bankrupt railroads were combined into what was known as the PennCentral Railroad.  The PennCentral continued passenger service but quickly went bankrupt itself.

Congress knew that abandoning all passenger rail service in the Northeast was a bad idea. Therefore, Congress passed the Passenger Service Act of 1970.  This act brought into existence Amtrak.  Amtrak began service on May 1, 1971.  Only a small handful of railroads that provided intercity passenger rail service declined to join.  Their issue was mostly surrounding the government using its rails to conduct business.  Those railroads, none of which exist today, were the Boston & Maine Railroad, the Southern Railroad, the Chicago, Rock Island, & Pacific Railroad, and the Denver, Rio Grande and Western Railroad.

The pictures below show the extent of passenger rail service in 1962, 1967 and then a picture of the Amtrak system at its birth and finally a map of today’s system. Even a cursory look at the earlier maps shows a much more robust passenger rail system.

1962

1967

amtrack 1971

Picture below, Amtrak System in 2015

2015

In 1990 the State of Maine desired that Amtrak extend its service to its largest city, Portland, from Boston. Boston to Portland rail service had ceased in the mid-1960s.  The Maine Department of Transportation put forth a meager $37 million to return rail service to the 120 mile route.  It has since extended the route from Portland to Brunswick Maine with plans of a further extension to the state Capitol of Augusta and then to Bangor.  Service began in 1996 with four round trip trains which has since been expanded to 5 round trips.  Two trains continue from Portland to Brunswick.  This route has been declared a success that exceeded all expectations.  Even though this route does not travel through particularly populous areas, it attracts substantial passengers.  And one of the hoped for benefits of initiating this route, provided commuter service from Maine to Boston, has been successful.

Over the decades the anti-Amtrak debate has centered on its costliness, subsidies, and expected low ridership. The trains to Maine show that this need not be the case.  Central to making intercity rail travel attractive is frequency.  That is, when private railroad companies wanted to make a case for eliminating rail service completely on any particular route, they reduced service to a single train a day and made travel time long.  Outside of the Northeast Corridor, an Amtrak money maker, there are only a few routes in excess of 200 miles which see more than a single train a day.  I have made a list of some of those routes in the chart below.  All of these routes have been designated “high speed rail corridors” by the U.S. Department of Transportation.  Simply put, studies have shown these routes support a high volume of travelers.  It is believed that as our airways become more clogged, rail travel between these points should become more desirable providing the trains run both frequently enough and fast enough.

The chart below shows many of the designated high speed routes and the number of trains which serve those routes.

ROUTE EXISTING TRAIN SERVICE
NEW YORK – CLEVELAND – CHICAGO 1
NEW YORK – MONTREAL 1
NEW YORK – PITTSBURGH 1
PITTSBURGH – CLEVELAND 1
CHICAGO – DETROIT 4
CHICAGO – INDIANAPOLIS 1
CHICAGO – ST. LOUIS 5
CHICAGO – MIAMI 0
CHICAGO – MINNEAPOLIS 1
DETROIT – CLEVELAND 0
CLEVELAND – CINCINNATI 0
CLEVELAND – ST. LOUIS 0
ATLANTA – MIAMI 0
ATLANTA – MEMPHIS 0
TAMPA – MIAMI 0
DALLAS – LOS ANGELES 0
DENVER – LOS ANGELES 0
LOS ANGELES – LAS VEGAS 1
LOS ANGELES – SAN FRANCISCO 1
LOS ANGELES – BAKERSFIELD 0
SAN FRANCISO – SEATTLE 1

The chart above shows just how limited long distance intercity rail service is, and in some case non-existent.

Right now America is experiencing very low gasoline prices. There is a glut of crude oil on the world’s markets.  American oil companies have greatly increased production of American crude oil through technology.  But all these things are temporary.  While it is possible the “north coast” oil fields of Alaska may someday be mined and provide much larger reserves than now thought, that impact has its limitations.  The fact is, crude oil is finite and will one day become too expensive to drill, run out altogether, or the price of refined oil be prohibitive.  It is possible that at least ground transportation needs can be filled by electric motors but right now, those electric motor have serious distance limitations because of battery capacity.

Today, the overwhelming majority of railroad locomotives are run with diesel oil. But the technology, and in certain places the physical plant, for fully electric locomotion exists.  When other forms of transportation struggle with declining fuel availability, railroads will be able to make the switch with relative ease.

What all this has to do with existing passenger rail is simple. Sooner than later the price of gasoline is going to rise and with that the demand for alternative transportation.  Where air transportation is concerned, even though aircraft obvious do not need a road system, they still rely upon air corridors.  For example, there is a limited amount of airspace for aircraft traveling along the eastern and western seaboards.  Those airways are close to capacity right now.  The airspace of most large metropolitan areas is also clogged as anyone who has traveled by air has experienced when even though their flight takes off on time it fails to arrive at its gate on time.  That simply means airport capacity has been reached.

Conversely, rail travel seldom experiences such problems. The ability of Amtrak to carry passengers from Boston to New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC is almost limitless.  To its credit, Amtrak has done an excellent job addressing this but even more can be done.  For example, the Acela train, Amtrak’s high speed train, travels well below its top speed for most of the route for a variety of reasons.  Between Boston and New York, that reason is the rail line has too many curves which require rebuilding to allow higher speeds.  But this is the least of the intercity problems.

I find it amazing how little rail service there is between New York and Chicago. It is important, however, to remember the large cities along this route: Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, Toledo and Chicago.  The New York City to Buffalo route sees a goodly amount of trains.  But from Buffalo onward there is but a single train.  It would seem reasonable that passenger travel between any two of the cities named should be more than enough to support half a dozen trains a day.

The lone train which travels beyond Buffalo to Chicago is the Lakeshore Limited. It arrives at Erie PA at 1:50 AM, and at Cleveland at 3:30 AM.  New York bound train arrives at Toledo at 3:20 AM and at Cleveland at 5:30AM.  These times are hardly convenient to the traveler.  The end-points for this train has trains from New York arriving in Chicago at mid-morning having departed New York in the early evening.  On the return trip the same is true, the train departs Chicago mid-morning and arrives in New York in the early evening.  The train is very convenient at its end points but of lessening convenience at intermediary points.  A person who wants to travel from Erie to Toledo will probably opt for bus travel over the train even though the train is far more comfortable and possibly even quicker.

If you consider the routes which have no rail service at all it is reasonable to wonder why, particularly in the Los Angeles to Bakersfield and Detroit to Cleveland. It is certain not for a lack of rails, they exist and in abundance.  I must assume the Congress is simply making excuses for not funding such projects or service expansion.  But if you return to the Boston to Portland Maine example, you will find that Congress’s excuses start to fall apart.  It really is the “if you build it, the will come” saying.

For most of its existence, certain groups of Congress has lobbied for discontinuing all long distance Amtrak Routes. What they are referring to, mainly, are four routes all emanating from Chicago and ending in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, with the fourth route originating in New Orleans and terminating in Los Angeles.  These routes are the most heavily subsidized of any Amtrak route.  The New Orleans to Los Angeles route only runs 3 days a week.  But if you focus on only the end points, you fail to recognize the intermediary stops and the importance the train has to those cities.  Many of these cities have seen the airlines abandon them leaving only bus and rail service.  It is hard to imagine anyone would argue that long distance bus service is equal to rail.  Simple comfort would seem to dispute that but also the fact that such a passenger most likely would have to change buses to achieve his final destination where rail service would likely not require such a move.

Compared to the rest of the world, third world countries and all, America has some of the worst passenger rail travel in terms of availability and speed. Most of Europe, which rivals America in individual affluence, long ago saw the need for reliable and frequent rail service.  Anyone who has traveled those rails, as I have, has found the experience both easy and enjoyable.  Why then cannot America do the same?  Are we so in love with our automobiles that we refuse to consider alternatives?  Not when convenient service is offered as in the Boston to Washington corridor.  Today, many people who used to rely up air travel to go from Boston to New York, or New York to Washington are now opting for the train as not only is it far more convenient, but in terms of time spent traveling, it is a wash with air travel.