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Today’s script caught my fancy for two reasons.  One because, here in my corner of the East Coast, we are being paralyzed by snow, like New York City in the script. But I was also taken by what it says about the people of the time and fuel consumption. For my father, the situation led to a discussion about how you can make things sound a certain way, to me it spoke of  the mentality of people after the war. In February of 1946, the country was used to cutting back and doing without to make sure there was enough for all. I can’t imagine New York City of today shutting down all but “essential services” to save enough fuel to see them through the winter. To be asked to turn down your heat and not go to school or work for a day or two seems almost unthinkable now.  Maybe, if we had retained more of that compassion for each other and the common good, we would have decent healthcare and not quite so many dire problems to solve 64 years later, as we move into 2010.

And now, “More of this . . .  And a little of that.”
The entire city of New York was practically paralyzed.  No office buildings, no theatres, transportation was scant . . .It was a tie-up right enough. Radio was classified as an essential industry so we were permitted to come up to the studios and work as usual. It was just another day named Tuesday as far as I was concerned. But there was a good deal of excitement about it. It was all part of the tugboat strike and Mayor O’Dwyer, after taking a quick inventory of existing stocks of coal and oil, clamped down on heat and practically stopped the city dead in its tracks.

Murdoch says he thinks it was strictly a case of municipal jealousy.  New York was afraid that Philadelphia end Pittsburgh, with their transit and power strikes, would hog all the front page space. Things have leveled off some today. Almost everything is functioning again except the schools and I don’t think the juvenile heart of New York is breaking at that prospect.

But when a city like New York stops breathing, it’s noticeable. And it’s an arresting thing to observe how dependent a city of this size can be on a constant supply of fuel. I guess what with the mammoth office buildings and subways and palaces of amusement and canyons of industry, this city uses a hefty supply of fuel every day. . . . . . so much that it’s impossible to store much more than a few days’ reserve.

. . .with the strike as a start . . . some of us suburbanites got to swopping stories on the train going home yesterday and one of the fellows was telling us about his ten room house and how his heater eats oil like Lil’ Abner Yokum eats poke chaps. His windows and doors aren’t weather stripped and when the weather bites down sharp and cold he goes through a thousand gallons of fuel oil in a month! That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? When you say it that way.  And that brought us to the real nub of the discussion which was how things can be made to sound big or little, bad or good, depending on the way you say them.  We got to work with paper and pencil and figured out that a thousand gallons of oil a month works down to a pint every six minutes. Now, instead of saying a thousand gallons a month . . . if you were trying to impress a perspective buyer with how efficient the heating system is . . . you could say, we heat this whole big house for six minutes on just one pint of oil.  Sounds different, doesn’t it?

 And the same trick is employed on prices, too. Think how much cheaper it sounds to say $29.95 instead of $30.  Merchants in this country have learned that trick and have been trading on it for years.  In fact, we’re so used to prices like one a dollar ninety-eight or two sixty-nine that we don’t notice them anymore. 

A couple of boy cousins who were tossed into Australia by the heaving war, told me that when the Americans started getting into that country in sufficient numbers to make them a  considerable buying public, the Australian merchants, who had never gone in for it before, started to do the same thing with their prices. And it was odd to see price tags on merchandise reading instead of a flat two pounds, one pound eleven and nine pence!

And then, of course, ultimately we got around to that old chestnut which really clinches the fact that things can be made to sound the way you want them to sound.  The pessimist looks at the bottle and says, “It’s half empty”, the optimist looks at the same bottle and says, “It’s half full.”

There’s a commercial running these days that gets me riled up every time I see it.

A woman is unloading her car of groceries, complaining about how tough times are and that she doesn’t need “another tax.” I’m not sure what other tax she’s referring to. Perhaps she means the ones on cigarettes. As far as I know, her taxes haven’t been raised recently.

As she’s telling us she has to feed her family on less money these days, we see her plastic bag with 2 bottles of soda. If she’s feeding her family on soda, I don’t think she’s the best authority on this.

The tag is that she can’t afford a tax on soda and juice drinks to help pay healthcare reform.

I completely support this tax. It seems a win-win situation. If this lady will think twice about “feeding” her children sodas and sugary juice drinks, they might be a little healthier and need less health insurance. It’s a small price to pay – a couple of cents on a product we’d be healthier not buying – to make sure everyone gets the healthcare they need.

I’ve felt a need to speak my peace on the healthcare debate. Rachel Maddow summed it up well when she said, this isn’t a debate, it’s “people who want to fix healthcare vs. people who don’t even want this conversation to happen.”

President Obama is a smart man. And I am certain he came to this task of healthcare reform knowing it wasn’t going to be easy. Perhaps he didn’t count on the specific backlash he’s gotten. Who could have? With the craziness and lies, no one could have predicted these particular issues. But clearly, the Administration knew it was in for a fight.

I found this note I made just after President Obama’s Inauguration Speech: “I feel certain all the challenges will be met. He may not be able to solve them all, but he will meet them head on, address them and put his best people to the task of figuring it out, then, with all that knowledge and advice, filter it through his compassionate and principled heart and his brilliant and clear seeing mind.”

There are a couple things I know about Barack Obama. 1) He’s smart; 2) He has a lot of knowledgeable people around him; 3) He listens to others; 4) He has our best interest at heart in his bottom up theories; 5) He believes deeply in his principles; 6) I would like to think, from his experience in congress, that he knows what is involved in getting a bill passed; 7) Barack Obama has proven that he is working for us. Each and every day. (Gee whiz, he’s entitled to a few days off. Like everyone else.)

A lot of this debate has been caught up in absurdity and lies. Seems to me we should be talking more about how much it is going to cost, where the money is coming from and the best way to insure everyone and bring the costs down and the accountability up.

I do get to wondering what all the fuss is about: Death panels and socialism. The opposition seems best at coming up with names, instead of voicing complaints and flinging fear instead of offering ideas. What is it they think Mr. Obama wants to do? What would it serve him, his presidency, his re-election, his family, to make this a socialist country? To institute death panels? Because he wants to help others, is that socialist?

I do not believe there is any working person who doesn’t have something negative to say about the health care in this country (even Glenn Beck), or at least a wish that it could be better.

I feel strongly that President Obama knows what he’s doing and that this is no small goal. Obama’s presidency will be judged, in large part, on his ability to make this happen. Surely, he needs to mend the economic fences, and God willing, put an end to these wars, but central to his campaign promises and his Administration is getting healthcare reform.

It may take some time. I heard it said recently that Social Security took a couple of bills to get it right. Even if Barack Obama’s healthcare visions are not perfectly intact, or slightly off course, it feels likely he will get some (if not most) of what he’s asking for. Something will be done about healthcare in this country. The state it’s in, anything will be an improvement.

I had written a piece about how Evolution doesn’t disprove the existence of God, but my friend Bill pointed out the holes in my logic, showing me I had taken on a much bigger topic than I could handle in a small blog. Thanks, Bill for your clarity.

So, instead I’ve decided to write about Torture. (A much smaller topic?) As a spiritual person I don’t like to label things “good” and “bad.” But Torture seems to be so obviously “wrong” on so many levels. It’s illegal, immoral and, according to some experts in the field of interrogation, pretty much useless.

I can’t deny that there’s a part of me that would relish seeing Bush and Cheney go down for something. After all the ways they abused the American people, caring more for the have-mores and stepping over the Rule of Law whenever they pleased, getting us into a war under false pretenses . . . It seems like, if they were prosecuted and did time, it would go a step further in preventing other administrations from torturing ever again. But I don’t know if there’s a guarantee of that.

Frankly, it could well become a witch hunt, as I am not the only person in this country who would enjoy getting some Justice. But what would be the cost of that Justice? Justice, while a splendid concept, in practice, is not always about what’s Right.

Matt Taibbi, author and contributing editor for Rolling Stone Magazine, said on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” that prosecuting these upper level people would “suck all the air out of the room.” It would take away attention from all that Obama wants to do. Healthcare, Energy and Education are big initiatives. He’s not likely to get anyone to listen if Bush and Cheney are on the chopping block. Maybe later, in his second term, when things have calmed down in this country and we’re on a better path, maybe then we can consider an investigation to set the record straight and tell the truth for posterity. Doing that might offer some healing and make others think twice about doing it again. If we push this now, though, we may not get all the wonderful things on President Obama’s agenda.

There are no “little guys” to protect, as Cheney would have us believe. The little guys have already gone to prison. President Obama has squashed all the fabricated loopholes that made torture possible. There is no chance that anyone will be tortured while he’s in office. We can only hope that future generations will act as wisely.

There are so many good causes these days. Wolves being killed, oceans and newspapers dying, our planet being destroyed, children starving, prisoners being tortured, millions without healthcare, African refugees, Tibetans being mistreated . . . It’s hard to know who to support. They all seem like worthy causes.

I’m working on a chapter for my book about defining your values. Here is a good place to figure out what’s most important to you. Even Bill Gates can’t spread himself over all the needy charities these days. It’s important to know what you believe and value. All our guiding principles of life should be aired out from time-to-time.

I am of the belief that it’s healthy to move every couple of years. It forces you to go through things and get rid of (or move) what you don’t really want. Finding new places for everything you own helps to separate what is useful from what no longer serves. The more stuff you have, the harder it is to control and maintain. The process that needs to happen is a ritualistic cleansing or going through of what I believe, what my values are. I can’t really give well to any of these causes if I can’t refine what I’m about.

How am I going to do this?

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are many different ways to serve a cause. It would pay, I think, to take a few minutes to think about what is important for you to support, but also, how do you wish to support it – in general and/or in particular. I could give of something I can do to one cause. I can dedicate my work to another cause or two, or give money to support another. I can give time (to write, paint, teach, dole out food, whatever) to yet another.

And, like the 31 flavors of ice cream, or the 10 foot shelves of cereal to choose from, it doesn’t much matter which ones I pick. I can easily turn around and support someone else next week.

Yes, there are a lot of worthy causes. It’s impossible to support each and every one of them, but if we all do a little bit here, a little bit there, maybe, like drops in a bucket, we will eventually fill our world with enough love to settle things down.

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