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Tuesday, August 30, 2005


What I learned Playing Solitaire

You know the game I mean, don’t you? Just plain old regular Solitaire, with a solid deck of 52 cards or the computer game, which I much prefer so I don’t have to shuffle the deck after each hand. Lay out 7 stacks of cards from left to right placing the top card of each successively higher stack face up. Play descending cards, opposite colors on the 7 stacks. Play each suit Ace to King on the top and turn over 3 cards at a time from the draw pile, allowing only 3 passes through the pile. I prefer the Las Vegas style of keeping score; $52 to play a game and $5 for each card played on the top, Ace to King. These cards I call counters. I like to play 10 sets of hands and see what my total dollars won or lost is at that point. I don’t keep the first game unless I score at least $55 and start game two a minimum of $3 ahead. That’s just to make the game a little more competitive. Solitaire is a hard game to win so starting in the plus column for the first game is a way to even it up some.

Just some silly rules I came up with to keep it interesting. If I can average 11 counters per game, I can win the set. I think my highest ever score for 10 games was $1115, incredibly high! The highest possible would be $2180 if I won all ten games. My worst score was something like minus $400 which is also incredible because the worst possible would be minus $465, since I don’t start game 2 with less than $3, so I got only about 13 counters in the last 9 games! There would be a total of 520 counters possible in 10 games. I usually win more than I lose, finishing in positive territory more often than not.

The scores and silliness and statistics are an outgrowth of playing the game and some examples of how my mind works. I love statistics which is probably why sports are so much fun for me to watch and follow. Sports of all kinds are filled with all sorts of interesting statistics. I love that! But I digress. My point was that by playing Solitaire I have learned some simple and important life rules. There is a logical method to playing Solitaire effectively. It is a game filled with choices. Certain choices make more logical and mathematical sense than others. And by mathematical, I mean from a statistical probability standpoint, odds. One single wrong move can cost you plenty of counters. Sometimes you can recover from a missed play but you have to learn from that mistake so you are less apt to repeat it.

There is a definite order in which to play each card. You must survey the cards from right to left and top to bottom on each possible play or you will miss something. You must focus on the plays and choose the one that is more likely to cause good results. That’s really all we’re trying to do in daily life. Make the right choices. It takes practice and it takes some reflective thought and studying each and every situation not ignoring any relevant bit of information. In this way Solitaire is exactly like almost every other game or sport we play. There is a definite order to the choices we make in certain situations. Statistically speaking, there is always a better choice to make among the several we usually have before us. Play a game or a sport long enough and you begin to notice the subtleties of each move, how it affects all the moves that come after it.

In Solitaire I have found that you must always play Aces and Deuces on top whenever possible before anything else. You must then play from the stacks going from the right, the tallest stack, to the left, the smallest stack to uncover the cards. You must play from the stacks before you play a card from the draw pile. Missing one play at the time it first becomes available can cause you to miss many plays that the one play might have made possible. It’s the same cascading effect of events and choices that happen in every day life that we sometimes call a chain of events.

The objective is to reduce all stacks to no turned-over cards which will increase the chances of playing all cards on top and scoring big. You are always looking to win, get all 52 cards on top, and if you can’t do that, to get as many counters as you possibly can. If you can move a card or two from one stack to another then play the exposed card on top and turn over a card from the stack, you must do that. If you can move a card from the top, a counter, and play it on a stack to allow you to uncover another card, you must do that, unless it’s near the end of the 10 game set and you are close to losing. Then you are only trying to get as many counters as you can before the cards run out. And you must never stop scanning each and every card for a play until the game is finished. I’ve won many games after the final card has been over on the draw pile and a loss seemed inevitable. You don’t have to give it your undivided attention but you have to give it all your attention while you are making a move, if you want to win. Anyone can play the game, but only if you apply the right rules at the right times, can you win at the game or at least be somewhat successful.

Solitaire is a simple game and I used to think it was pretty mindless. It can easily be a mindless game, of course. It depends on how you approach it. It started out as a mindless endeavor for me about 1992 after I quit drinking. Playing it gave me something to do. But it really isn’t a mindless game if your point is to score as high as you can. Then it becomes a game of intense concentration because you have to be constantly aware of the changing dynamics of all of the card piles. After a while I wanted to be successful at Solitaire. So I studied each and every move and began to create a mental list of which moves to make when. I ranked the possibilities of each move by its statistical probability. As far as I know there are no books written on how to win at Solitaire. It wouldn’t be a very long book if there were. Being successful at Solitaire doesn’t require communication of any kind. There is no teamwork, there is only me and the cards. There are no dire consequences of losing or playing badly. It is a game of no importance except what I happen to ascribe to it. Much like most everything in my life.

I have read the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig several times. The book is loosely centered around motorcycle maintenance but mostly it puts forth a philosophy of dealing with life on a case by case basis, thinking outside the box for solutions to problems and approaching everything you do in a thoughtful manner. Giving your undivided attention to a task, studying all the possibilities, deciding which moves to make or what choices to make and under which circumstances is not an endeavor for the weak minded. Approaching the game of Solitaire as I do is an example of applying my strengths, study and analysis, in the same manner as Robert Pirsig approached motorcycle maintenance.

So it’s no doubt I can find such pleasure playing this simple game. I like to win. I like to be successful. I don’t particularly like to do my best at every single thing I do but I do feel that way about anything that’s competitive. My competition in Solitaire is myself. I don’t mind that. I can take joy at beating myself, too. Or rather, improving myself. That’s what it comes down to, I think. Always trying to improve myself. I never had a chance to win whenever I ran in long distance races in Hawaii and Orlando but I didn’t care. I was happy at my continuing improvement. After about 3 years of that I leveled off and wasn’t improving anymore. In fact I was losing time. I haven’t run long distance since 1986. But since about 1997 I go to a gym and work out 2 to 4 days a week and I enjoy seeing my improvements in strength, stamina and endurance. I’ve also practiced Yoga, deep breathing and meditation practically all of my adult life. I played guitar steadily while I was in the Navy but I reached a point where I didn’t get any better at it. I still play my guitar from time to time but my skills are far less than they used to be. Any improvement now is measured by learning different songs to play and sing. Goals will constantly change but I feel the need to strive for something.

Solitaire is an outlet. It is cheap, easily achieved enjoyment and when analyzed, a means to cope with the trials of every day life. Life is a daily thing. We make choices each and every day that affect us in various ways, some forever. In learning to make the right choices in Solitaire, I can learn to make the right choices in life. Solitaire has no lasting affect on my life but it gives me an opportunity to let my brain function in ways it only can do when I give it the free reign to explore each choice and make the right one. And being a one-person game, I can do that whenever the urge strikes me.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


FairTax Update

I believe in this concept so much that I feel compelled to write about the subject once again. The FairTax Book was #1 on the New York Times best seller list for two weeks in a row and has now dropped to #2. This is a book about TAXES for crying out loud! What causes a book on such a dry topic as taxes to become #1? People are fed up with the current tax system and are beyond ready for a major change. This is an idea whose time has come.

I went to the local Neal Boortz book signing at Borders and was amazed at the number of people there to get their copy signed. Personally, I had six copies and my friend Shannon had another copy. Everyone to whom I have spoken about this issue has had initial misgivings, but once they learn all of the details about the tax, they become very much in favor of it. This is not surprising to me because I don't see much of a downside to the plan at all.

Arguments I have heard against the FairTax are almost always based on misinformation or misunderstanding of the entire plan. You keep your entire paycheck on paydays, no taxes, no Social Security or Medicare witholding. No IRS reporting anymore. No Corporate Income taxes which will reduce the price of goods and services by roughly 23%, the amount of imbedded taxes present in everything we now buy. This means prices overall will be roughly the same with the sales tax as before with the income taxes imbedded, but now we will be receiving our entire paycheck, no taxes deducted. In addition, to counter the regressive nature of a sales tax, everyone will receive a rebate equal to the cost of the sales tax based on the size of your household, up to the poverty level. This means, effectively, that no one has to pay the sales tax up to poverty level.

Poverty levels are already calculated by the Department of Health and Human Services. It would amount to roughly $478 for a family of four per month. The Federal Government already has a massive bureaucracy for check mailing, or bank account debiting, in the Social Security Administration. This agency would be responsible for mailing checks or debiting accounts. This is one thing they are good at.

This issue is not a partisan issue. It is a common sense issue, period. The purpose of taxes in the first place is to generate revenue for government to pay for services it provides to its' citizens. The purpose should not be to coax people to act in a certain way for economic reasons, ie; tax breaks. This is what our tax code has become. And it needs to end. The FairTax Plan does that.

There is no guarantee that politicians would not try to manipulate the sales tax in a similar fashion as the income tax. It is the duty of all citizens to make sure their representatives act in a manner consistent with our wishes. It always has been this way and a different tax will not change this basic fact. A government not watched is one that will fly out of control eventually. The power inherent in governing is a powerful force and we need to be ever vigilant that it remains in check.

Politicians will not want to lose this power over people's behavior through the income tax code. It is up to us, common, ordinary citizens to scream at our representatives to make sure they hear us and heed what we are saying. The recent Supreme Court decision expanding eminent domain can be an example. Since that atrocious decision people have been voicing their extreme displeasures with their representatives and they have listened. Texas, in fact, has already passed anti-eminent domain laws to counter the Supreme Court ruling. Politicians will listen to us in numbers because it means their jobs and their power. Let them know how you feel. I have.

Find and email your representative here. http://www.house.gov/writerep/

Sign the FairTax Petition here. http://www.fairtaxvolunteer.org/opinion/elec_petition.html

Read all about the proposed legislation here. http://www.faritax.org

This is a true grassroots effort to inform and educate everyone about this new and wonderful plan. I see and hear the masses coming to this idea and I think we CAN change our system. It only takes us to make our politicians hear us and they will listen. They will have to listen. Spread the word.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005


My Generation

"People try to put us d-d-d-down. Just because we g-g-g-get around." Many thanks to The Who for giving us this song in 1966. What a wonderful musical time that was. The baby boomers, including myself, were coming of age and we were out to not merely make an impression on the world but to outright change it. "Things they do look awfully c-c-c-cold. Hope I die before I get old." We were dreamers and were ready to make those dreams into reality and do it all before we turned 30. Because once you hit 30, life was all downhill from there.

Boy were we naive! But electric music really came into its own during the Satellite Sixties and many of "My Generation" dove headfirst into the political arena of the time, which mostly consisted of protesting the Vietnam War. "And it's one, two, three, what're we fightin for? Don't ask me, I don't give a damn, next stop is Vietnam." Country Joe and the Fish made some money on that little tongue-in-cheek anti-war protest diddy. I saw both The Who and Country Joe in concerts back then. I even had a chance to see Jimi Hendrix live before he checked out of this reality. His version of The National Anthem played at dawn at Woodstock is one of the most riveting guitar solos and moving interpretations of that song I have ever heard. (I missed Woodstock myself, I was on the way there from Illinois and got sidetracked in Detroit at my nephew's house. Big party, lots of craziness, and nervousness, but in the end life goes on. "Oh Blah Di Oh Blah Dah, La la, how the life goes on", Beatles.)

"Incense and Peppermints, color of time." Strawberry Alarm Clock's only hit record which painted my generation as colorful, peace-loving, kind-hearted folks just trying to get along, "For What it's Worth." Buffalo Springfield, one of my early favorite bands. First record album I ever bought was their first album. A peaceful protest march on Sunset Strip that got out of control. We had grand ideas about loving everyone, "All You Need is Love", Beatles, and through love we could change the world. "I'd Love to Change the World", Ten Years After sang, "But I don't know what to do." That was our problem. We didn't know what to do. So we did what we thought was best and sank all our hopes on ending the war in Vietnam.

Imagine our surprise when Nixon actually did end the war! We managed to get the voting age lowered to 18, but we didn't know much about any issue except the war. Once the war was over, we were virtually lost. And we found out that 18 year olds really aren't going to concern themselves with any issues that don't directly affect them, and therefore, not exercise their voting rights like we expected everyone to do. As is the case with most organizations or groups that tackle an issue and win, the group tends to find other issues to be concerned about rather than just disbanding and moving on. And if the new issues are less than tantalizing to its members, no matter, they will find new members.

My Generation latched onto environmental issues. I applauded those early activists for bringing awareness to our environment and forcing science to reveal and fix problems that were extremely harmful to our planet. Awareness was needed on this front. When victories started piling up for the environmentalists and sufficient attention was being given to these issues, they basically won that war also. But they didn't stop there. They never stop there. Environmental organizations hardened their stances and turned to eco-terrorism to battle the evil corporations who they felt weren't doing enough to protect nature. The good-hearted environmentalists became infiltrated with anti-American folks who use the popularity of environmental issues to push their own agendas to weaken our country. The enviro crowd turned into watermelons, green (environmentalists) on the outside, but red (communists) on the inside.

Most of my generation turned into pretty normal members of society not much different than other generations after all. Some became extremists advocating change almost for the sake of change itself. I feel sorry for these people sometimes. Protest for the sake of protest is sad. My generation, which started out so full of promise, not content with ending the political war in Asia, decided to start sticking their noses into everybody's business. Words became object of our affection. "Words of Love, so soft and tender..." from the Mamas and Papas became daggers in the hearts of otherwise sane citizens.

Sanitation Engineers! That's the first form of, dare I say NewSpeak, to borrow from George Orwell's 1984, that I remember which began the hideous and ever-pervasive idiocy of Political Correctness. Not janitors, but what the hell does that mean? The English language is amazing! So resilient and so prone to the creation of new words! My generation couldn't resist toying with words and today it has grown to infinitely ludicrous proportions. Just like the government in 1984, we have created a whole new set of words which mean practically the opposite of what the original words meant but have become accepted as the proper way to talk. Way to go guys.

I'm basically ashamed of my generation these days. That is precisely why I am writing about this in the first place. We had so much potential, so much energy, so many great ideas and we squandered our opportunities and strength to fight for Political Correctness. Now we seem to be fighting for the right to keep Social Security. Why? Haven't we gotten smarter as we've grown older? I guess not. I see intelligence sometimes but mostly I see people trying to hold onto something they've never even had. Security. The war on terror (you do believe there is such a war going on today, don't you?) has brought the issue of security into our faces. And how do we want our security? From the government. We want government security and we don't want to be involved in it either. Maintain Political Correctness in the face of terrorism and don't profile, that's just not right. BS.

Oh, and when is our damn government going to bring down the price of gas in this country? Forget about the fact that environmentalists have stopped the oil and gas industry from keeping up with the demand for ever more product, just make them lower the damn prices! Geez! What do we have government for anyway? Makes me sick.

Once upon a time My Generation was destined for greatness. Once upon a time the generation before mine, The Greatest Generation, was also destined for greatness. Their victory over the Nazis and Imperial Japan was incredible. They turned out less than great, as has My Generation. As also, I suppose, will Generation X, Y and Z and whatever other generations come around. Perhaps that's the way it will always turn out. Great hope gains a great victory and then quits. Perhaps it's simply human nature. I don't purport to know these things. I am merely an observer.

But one thing I do know is "The World Keeps on Turning", Stevie Wonder, and people are born and people die every day. "There'll be One Child Born in this world to carry on, to carry on", Blood, Sweat and Tears. "Life is just a cherr-a-bowlies" as the Blues Magoos sang in 1967. I've been on one helluva "Magical Mystery Tour", the Beatles(I once toured the bus, in Baltimore, they used to make that movie, which was only shown in Europe and never released in the US) and I still frequently feel like a real "Nowhere Man, sitting in my nowhere land." "No one knows what it's like to be the bad man, to be the sad man, Behind Blue Eyes." The Who knew. Who knew?

I'm rambling now, "Ramble On, sing my song", Led Zeppelin, and thinking in song is making this article less than what it started out to be. Time for me to quit. "Time Has Come Today", Chambers Brothers. "Talkin bout my generation, talkin bout my generation, my generation!"


Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Choices and Consequences

We all make choices regularly and most of the time we barely give them so much as a second thought. This is typically alright because most of our daily decisions do not carry life-altering consequences attached to them. But this simple fact does not mean you should make decisions lightly. Each and every choice does have a consequence and the more often you make a good choice as opposed to a bad choice, the better you will become at making good choices. It's simple practice.

I used to be very bad at making decisions. My common response to questions concerning "What should we do now?" or "What do you want to eat" or something along those lines was always "I don't care. Whatever you want." I've gotten more decisive as I've grown older but still I do not hesitate to use the "I don't care" line today, if I truly do not care. Doesn't matter to me, I'm easy. Easy as a Sunday morning. Commodores.

I think part of my problem at making decisions stemmed from my ability to see several sides of the same argument. I can understand points of view on both sides of an issue and I need a lot of facts to come down on one side or the other. It has taken me many years to learn enough about enough things to be able to hold intelligent conversations and actually take a stand based on my core beliefs. I guess it has really taken me a lifetime to decide what my core beliefs are in the first place.

So by this stage of my life I've become a lot more opinionated than I have ever been before. And my opinions always favor personal choice and responsibility above all other factors. A part of my core belief system that remains constant is the belief that I can manage my own life better than anyone else can. I want to make my own decisions and accept whatever consequences occur as a result of my decision. If I choose badly, I take the blame and attempt to correct the bad choice and not make a similar mistake at a later time. If I choose wisely, I reap the benefits and allow myself a pat on the back to boot. I am in control of myself and destiny has no place in my life.

How often have we heard the mantra, "It's not my fault." Usually it really is your fault. Oh, not every single time. There are extenuating circumstances that are beyond our control, but mainly we are where we are and who we are because of the series of choices we have made throughout the course of our life. Life's been good to me so far, Joe Walsh. Things do not happen to people in a vacuum. There is such a thing as bad luck, but it is highly over-rated. Getting your car repossessed because you have been consistently late with the payments does not qualfy as bad luck. It qualifies as bad decision-making.

My mother used to tell me that everything always works out for the best in the end. I tend to believe this to be true although just what is the end where these things are worked out best can be difficult to see. Does something happen because it is meant to be? Do we meet our eventual spouse because we are destined to be together? I can't really subscribe to this philosophy because I believe in complete free will. If something is meant to happen, it seems to me that free will must be suspended or, at the very least, bent to ensure that the required outcome does indeed happen as it is supposed to happen. This means that we cannot influence that event to result in a different outcome because the outcome is already determined. I can't go along with that train of thought.

I believe we each have choices to make every day and these compounding choices somewhat dictate the course of later events but at each stage we can select a different choice and, therefore, change the outcome accordingly. I don't believe that anything is "meant to happen". Perhaps if I could step outside of time and look at the fourth dimension as a whole, seeing all points of time at the same time, I could agree with the concept of an event that was meant to be. But releasing myself from time is not something I am able to do, so I must view events from my spot on the time-line and from here I see nothing as destined to be. All things are possible and many things can change a result.

The fact that I believe all things are possible does not mean that all things are equally possible. There are probablities surrounding all possible events and good, sound decision-making has to take those probabilities into account to have any real meaning. It's like horse racing. There are odds on the probable outcomes of certain choices, some are more likely to be successful than others but the possibilities are nearly limitless. Obviously your personal chances of success are increased if your choice is aligned with the more probable outcome. Consistently choose the poor odds and you will be consistently disappointed.

I don't have a real hard point to make with this discussion. I am simply trying to explain that choices are everywhere and are a part of everyone's lives. And that there are consequences, both intended and unintended, that occur as a result of each choice. If we can be more open to the list of choices and the odds of each choice and the possible results of certains choices, then we can be better prepared to make more intelligent, rational decisions that do not cause us, or someone else, harm, and in fact, does us and maybe others around us, some good.

I will sum this all up by saying, choose wisely and stand by your decisions. To borrow a carpenter's phrase, "Measure twice, cut once." An informed decision can lead to wonderful things. A choice made in haste can lead you into hell.


Monday, August 01, 2005


There Oughta Be a Law!

For a long time there has been far too many laws on the books that should be erased. Just think about it. For over 200 years Congress has been meeting and crafting new law after new law. How many times have they gotten rid of an old law? Almost never. Typically whatever new law goes into effect will supersede any parts of old laws but the old laws remain in effect. They remain on the law books and there is no reason why we should keep them around once they are no longer useful. Who can possibly keep track of all the laws?

And Congress is only part of the problem. There are 50 states and countless cities and counties and regional law-making bodies that constantly enact new laws governing their constituents. Enough already! Stop the insanity! With 200+ plus years of laws wouldn't you think that practically everything that could be governed and regulated and outlawed and monitored has already been handled in some way or another?

I wish every single law-making entity in the United States would stop enacting new laws for at least one year. Government does not need to be managing every aspect of our lives on a daily basis as it tries to do. We have multiple laws at various levels of government that often times outright conflict with each other. So what do we do about those situations, eliminate one of the conflicting laws? No way! We write another law that puts greater weight to one of the existing laws. Simplification just isn't an option when government is involved.

Do we really need the government telling me who is allowed to practice massage therapy in my city? Or who is certified to give me a haircut? And heaven forbid, no apologies for the use of the word "heaven", if I open up my own restaurant and decide I want to have a smoking section for my patrons who care to puff while they eat. Hell, what if I want to have a "smoker's only" restaurant? Couldn't do it. Law says that's not allowed. Why the hell not? Let people choose to patronize who they want. Government has run amok and the shit is rolling downhill faster all the time.

Not long ago a child died shortly after riding on a ride at Disney World. One person among millions who had been on this ride suffered a bad fate. There were extenuating conditions with this child and not every death, illness or accident can be prevented. Sometimes, shit does happen. Immediately afterwards there is a Congressman screaming that we need to standardize the safety of amusement parks nationwide. How is that helping anything? Government does not need to monitor everything that goes on in the country. Big Brother is big enough already and we need to cut him down a bit instead.

I remember the creation of the Transportation Security Agency that was to monitor airport security throughout the country. A leading liberal, I think it was Dick Gebhardt, said "To professionalize you must federalize." That has to be one of the stupidest things I've ever heard a congressman say. Now, just a couple short years after "professionalizing" airport security, most airports have reversed this trend and are opting for private screeners instead. It turns out the government just doesn't do many things right, including airport baggage screening.

Haven't you had that thought yourself? What does the government do that it does better than any other organization or business? Think about that for awhile. Haven't you found yourself complaining about red tape or bureaucracy or nit-picky rules and requirements when you deal with a government agency? Everyone complains about the inadequacies of government efficiency. Government is not efficient. Never was and never will be. It's part of the nature of the beast. It moves slow and it changes course even slower.

Why then do we want the government to be involved with health care? I want them to stay away from health care. It's bad enough that we've come to depend upon our employers to provide personal health care. Why do we not want to have more control over those issues? We seem to prefer to leave negotiations and such relating to health care to an employer already? I certainly don't want to see a huge government medical bureaucracy making decisions over my medical state. I'm a big boy and I want to decide for myself.

Government does best, Federally at least, in dealing with national defense and the courts. That's their job. That should be their priority. They are already seriously lacking in oversight of our borders which weakens our defense. And the Supreme Court has issued some astoundingly idiotic rulings that defy common sense. So they should concentrate on defense and tighten up the borders and let the Constitution be their guide from the courtroom bench.

Yet legislators seem to always want to legislate. Even when they have moved to the big seat in front of the courtroom. There must be something magically powerful about being able to write and pass laws that other people have to follow. Sometimes we just need to be smarter and let a sleeping dog lie. Just because someone dies doesn't mean we need a new law.

I don't expect to see any government take the time to repeal old laws or to truly assess the need for them. It is too easy to ignore what has been done and simply create a new law and leave it to the courts to interpret as needed. There always seems to be a dire need for another new law. I kind of wish we could make a new law that says there shall be no more new laws made ever! How about one year?

Have you ever thought "there oughta be a law"? Well, there probably already is.


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