Bullies Have to be Dealt With

I heard today that the price of gas somewhere in Florida is $6 a gallon.  At the gas station closest to where I live, the price is near $3.50.  There are many reasons why the price of gas has gone up lately.  Some of these reasons I understand while other reasons are not so clear to me. One reason in particular is crystal clear. A large percentage of the oil that the world depends upon is exported from the Middle East. You add that to the fact that there is instability in that part of the world, and you have one of the major factors in the crazy high gas prices.

It seems as if talk of Iran, and its strivings for nuclear weapons (yes, I know they are saying they intend it for power only, but does anyone really believe that) is in the news constantly these days. The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, denies the Holocaust, and repeatedly says Israel should be wiped off the map.  Yet, he is allegedly the more rational when compared to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who holds more of the power.  It has been rumored that at one point the Supreme Leader overruled Ahmadinejad when he was ready to compromise in a nuclear dispute.  So you have two lunatics who can’t even agree with each other about how to run a country. That country has long been known to be a sponsor of terrorist organizations, has committed acts of terrorism, and has regularly burned American flags while cursing the country. Now, according to some reports, that country, Iran, is on the verge of creating a nuclear bomb.

The leaders of our country, however, tell us in so many words, not to worry. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “We are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor.”  I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination – just a guy who reads the newspaper, but I have to say, ‘are you kidding me?’  These two people mentioned above are rational?  Is he saying we should just talk to them as President Obama said we should do when he came to office which failed miserably? Some people can’t be spoken to. It reminds me of a Brady Bunch episode.  Peter gets into a fight trying to defend his little sister, Cindy, from a bully.  His parents, Mike and Carol tell him to go back to the bully and talk with him – he will listen to sense, they believe.  When this doesn’t work, Mike tries talking to the bully’s father. When that doesn’t work, Carol tries talking to the mother of the bully certain that women can talk things out reasonably.  This fails as well.  In the end, they give Peter boxing lessons and he ultimately ends up knocking the teeth loose of the bully who clearly will not be bothering Cindy anymore.

Sometimes countries, like bullies, are not reasonable. We expect people to be rational if we are. That expectation is naïve and can lead to greater damage in the long run.  I don’t know what the answer is in dealing with Iran, but I do know that a military strike needs to be a real consideration.  Six dollars for a gallon of gas stinks. A bully with a deadly weapon capable of causing massive amounts of casualties stinks a whole lot more


I know, I know. Not everyone is good at everything. In fact our whole economy is like a large scale bartering system. I am good at this so I work here, you are good at that so you work there. We both get money for the work provided and then go and buy the product of each other’s work. So, no more churning butter or baking bread for this guy. Despite this relief of certain responsibilities, there are a few more things I wish I had a talent for.

This past weekend my plan was to put up a new door (the same one I broke out of frustration a couple of weeks ago). I bought the door, somehow managed to get it home on the roof of my Honda Accord – there are times when I want a minivan -, took down the old door, and borrowed the necessary tools from a friend. Sunday morning came, and I put on my work clothes – yes, I have work clothes. I was in the garage sawing by 9:00.  There was grunting, sawdust, and power tools – I felt manly – unga bunga.  However, by 11:00, I had failed – the door did not fit, the screws were not tightening – and I was dejected.  I wanted to overcome my general lack of carpentry skills and through determination and willpower hang the door. I am jealous of those who have these type of skills.

There are many reasons for this desire which has grown since I became a homeowner.  Ever since that day when I went into major debt, I have had a twang of nervousness.  I am nervous for my house – perpetually praying that nothing will break.  This past week we had a plumber come to the house. I was prepared for a big bill – even had some money saved. However, there was that chance that the cost would be outrageous. I held my breath the whole visit till the estimate came. It was much lower than I expected – another bullet dodged. Yet, what if I could do it myself – wouldn’t that be cool? Forget it I might as well churn butter.

A Time of Uncertainty

I recently watched the movie The Company Men.  The movie, which came out last year, follows the lives of three men who have lost their jobs due to downsizing at a large transportation company, GTX.  It stars Ben Affleck, who was a rising star in the company, Chris Cooper, who had been with the company for years and has risen to middle management, and Tommy Lee Jones, who was an executive manager and was the first person hired by the company.  The movie got good but not great ratings and did not do particularly well at the box office.   However, I found it compelling. The character’s dilemmas, both internal and external, felt very real.

The movie remains timely. Unemployment is still high, the job market remains tight, and talk of downsizing is often in the news.  I recently got together with some friends of mine. Each of us have a family, is somewhere in our 40s, and gainfully employed. It should be a time where we are talking of promotions, bonuses, and exciting opportunities. None of that came up.  Fear seemed to be the topic – no one uttered the word, yet it stayed on the edge of conversation. We talked of being happy to still have our jobs, the issues our employers are going through, and how we hoped that we would continue to stay employed. One friend added, “I just don’t know what jobs will be around when our kids grow up.”  Though the hour was late and we each had had a couple of drinks, the lack of response was because no one had a good answer.   

My wife and I are both in traditionally secure work fields. However, the concerns and repercussions have creeped into the education and non-profit worlds. They have already completed three rounds of layoffs (they don’t call it that anymore – but everyone knows what I mean) at my wife’s workplace. She is concerned another one is coming, and she is not the only one.  Education, which seems to be under a microscope these days and is often on the lips of politicians and the pens of journalists, does not provide a comfortable atmosphere.  My colleagues and I feel under fire as we are perpetually bombarded with memos, instructions, and changes. Combined with the fact that students actions and abilities are accepted with out question leaves many teachers feeling under the gun.  However, we grin and bear it as the knowledge of being potentially excessed and shuffled about looms.

What’s next? Where are the jobs coming from? What will be for the next generation, our children? I don’t know. There has to be something better. We are ready and willing to work.

Turn Out the Light

I am good at budgeting – runs in my blood. As I mentioned before, I am perpetually budgeting. This habit comes from my parents. My father was an accountant, and my mother is perpetually budgeting, though these days it is about time. (“Larry, we need to leave the house in 5 minutes so we can get to the train by 8:20!”)  Having to be careful to make ends meet instills that sort of thing in you.

I walked down to my basement when I got home today, minutes before 2:00 pm.  The television was on and it took some strength for me to not get very annoyed.  I quickly deduced that the television had been on since 9:00 am, when my four-and-a-half-year-old son Shamai came upstairs and instead began watching in my room.  He also needs to be reminded to turn off lights.  Kids!  I’ll have to remind him about the memo. “What memo?”  He said that too. While I did not actually send out a memo, I certainly thought about it.   It would have said something like, “We appreciate you being particularly aware of your electrical usage. Make sure to turn off lights when exiting a room, do not keep the refrigerator open for excessive amounts of time, and turn off the television upon exiting the room. Thank you in advance for your cooperation. The Management.”

The politicians finally came to an agreement and the debt ceiling was raised. They raised the debt ceiling by over 2 trillion dollars and are supposedly cutting 2.5 trillion dollars off of future debt.  It does not seem to make sense. Instead of cutting the deficit, it will just not be growing as fast as it would have been.  Well, that’s not so comforting.  Remember the movie Dave?  Kevin Kline is called on to become president after the real president had a serious medical issue.   The big joke is that the President and Dave are played by Kevin Kline.  So when Dave, the regular guy becomes president, no one except for the inner circle realizes there is a new president.  Anyway, I remember a scene where Dave’s accountant, played by Charles Grodin, is called to the White House. He spends the night and by the next morning when he leaves, after going through the budget line by line, he has balanced the budget.

I think we should give that guy a call about the budget.  I would give it a shot, but I’m still trying to reduce our line item on electrical usage.