Friday, January 24, 2014

et ceteras

Perhaps the most manipulated (i.e., lied about) figure in American politics is the unemployment rate.

You would think that calculating the rate would be a simple matter of taking the total number of able-bodied, working-age people who aren't working and dividing it by the number of able-bodied, working-age people who are alive. But then again, even that would create an inaccurately rosy picture by not taking into account the phenomenon of under-employment; for example, it would count as "employed" those who are only working part-time because they can't find a full-time job, without any regard to the fact that their economic "well-being" is anything but.

Unfortunately, calculating the unemployment rate is not that simple because it is hard to know the total number of people in the country to begin with, much less the total number who are able-bodied and working-age, much less the number who do and don't have jobs. And because a high unemployment rate threatens incumbent politicians while a low one threatens their challengers, far too many pols have something to gain by cooking the books.

The most common method used to arrive at a specific number of unemployed people is to use the number of people receiving unemployment benefits. This, however, can be particularly deceiving because not everybody out of work receives unemployment, and those who do receive it can only do so for a limited period of time.

If unemployment benefits in a particular state expire after six months, then everyone in that state who is unfortunate enough to remain unemployed for more than six months will no longer be counted as unemployed after their six months are up. So if in April of this year two million people in that state disappear from the unemployment rolls because their benefits end, while one million people come onto the unemployment rolls, the governor will be able to claim that unemployment decreased by one million when it really increased by one million. Such massaging of numbers is especially odious when you consider that the people it intentionally ignores are the ones who are in the most dire straits because their unemployment is long-term.

Speaking of long-term, however, what I am getting to is this: Do not believe the recent claim by Obama & Co. that America's unemployment rate has gone down to 6.7 percent, for as was recently claimed here by one person who knows far more than most of us, the actual rate is higher than 37 percent.

The Final Frontier
Recently I walked out to my car before dawn to drive to work. I looked up at a sweep of stars and a big, glowing bowling ball of a moon, deliberately exhaling into the cold air so that the fog of my breath would be visible in the moon's light. And I wondered: Where has our wonder gone?

It was Tom Teepen (a man with whom I rarely agree) who 11 years ago described mankind as a "questing animal" in the wake of the space shuttle Columbia exploding during its reentry to Earth's atmosphere. Today we are less than a week away from the 28th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger exploding as it sought to escape Earth's atmosphere. To the question "Why did we stop our exploraton?" I have no answer more true than "We lost our wonder."

When I was a child, space travel was still new and it enraptured our minds. Say what you want about Columbus crossing the uncharted ocean only because Ferdinand and Isabella promised him wealth, or Yuri Gagarin breaching the atmosphere only because Kruschev demanded it -- human beings do such things not because they are paid off or ordered to, but because it is in their nature to push Nature's envelope and experience the great unknown.

I was born less than two years after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. When I was five years old, the United States celebrated its 200th birthday and my parents took me to Cape Canaveral, where rocket ships were laid out to view. On that trip in 1976, I was amazed to see a computer because it was something I had only heard about. It was bigger than most of the rooms in my house yet had less memory than the 16K Texas Instruments PC I would get five years later.

Star Wars hit theaters the next year, followed a year later by Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and somewhere in there our nation flung the satellite Voyager 1 way out toward the great beyond with an LP (of all things!) that included a recording of the Rolling Stones singing "Satisfaction" so extraterrestrials could listen to it.

If you had told me then that our country would abandon its exploration of space before my second child was even a month old, I would have been appalled and lost much of the faith I had in the future. But sadly, that is precisely what has happened, and I can't help but think that a big reason for that abandonment is that we simply became jaded and lost our sense of childlike amazement. This is one area, and perhaps the only one, in which we grown-ups should learn from our kids.

Gun Control
I am against it because I am in favor of freedom. And also because I am in favor of safety. A post I saw today on Facebook said it best: "Gun control: The idea that if you give up your right to defend yourself or others, criminals will no longer have guns." Can I get an amen?

On the one hand, we scream that our professional athletes should play for the love of the game and not be concerned with money, since they all get handsome salaries. Yet down here in Tampa, when Martin St. Louis was recently denied his deserved place on Canada's Olympic hockey team and was noticeably displeased by it, many of my fellow Lightning fans claimed that he should subordinate his desire for Olympic gold to the fact he has a contractual relationship with the Lightning.

To which I say: Are you people schizophrenic?

I don't get it. You can't have it both ways. Would you feel the same way if he was born in New Hampshire instead of Quebec and was seeking to play for Team USA instead of Team Canada? He has brought us a Stanley Cup. He has been named league MVP. Last year he led the league in points -- at age 38! The man deserves to play in Sochi and experience the feeling of a gold medal hanging around his neck. If you disagree, well, screw you.

And with that...
...I am signing off. See you later!

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