Social Security Will Be There, But …

An article titled “Will Social Security be there when you need it?” misses the point. Social Security (SS) was not designed to be a total retirement program. Anyone think otherwise is in for a shock, even if Congress manages to avert the current crisis. And they will. How? The way they always do: borrow money and kick the can down the road.

Your grandchildren and their children will pay your social security payments.

As designed in 1930s, you were supposed to pay your own SS, but Congress “borrowed” that money decades ago to fool us into thinking the deficits weren’t so bad. So, it’s reasonable that they pay it back out of the budget. That would shift the burden to your children. But they can’t; they don’t have the political will. Borrowing to pay it back kicks the SS can farther down the road.

Is that fair?

No, but none of us want fair enough to take less SS or later. Because that would cause benefits to be cut—and we think we’re entitled to SS—and/or shifting the onset of payments later (but few are saving for their own retirement)). And, of course, politics will alter the outcome.

So, the can will get kicked.

Book Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Four Stars out of Five

Rarely does the first installation in a series transcend the first, but this bridge book of Grossman’s Magicians series is better than The Magicians. As much better as Lord of the Rings over The Hobbit. The Magicians is a warmed over, but improved Harry Potter. The Magician King has inner and outer conflict and uncertainly that never bothered the inhabitants of Hogwarts or Narnia. The latter reference because mythical land of Fillory is an obvious send up of that fairy land.

The narrative jumps back and forth between two plot lines, one of which obviously finished before the other started. But there’s a reason—and a pay-off—for the tangled tale. (No, I’m not telling.) Where The Magicians followed just Quentin Coldwater and he is The Magician King, the second plot line involves someone else. Hidden in the second plot line is the trigger for the first.

The biggest difference between the two stories is the power of Grossman’s writing. Departing from merely rewriting other stories, though one plot line superficially parallel’s C. S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, most of the story follows the inner struggle of the protagonists with their special abilities and their role in life. The characters are believable and sympathetic. Their struggles are ours.

While Grossman didn’t hesitate borrowing from various mythic or religious traditions, sadly all his Christian references seem based on the Old Testament-based Christianity which gave that faith a bad name in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries. That said, many positive Christian values—as well as those other faith and non-faith communities—are included in the character set of the cast.

Best cover art of the three.

I’m definitely up for The Magician’s Land, the trilogies conclusion.

Running on Empty

Why are Americans so fat? Not because of saturated fat nor refined carbohydrates in our diets. It’s existential. Our live are meaningless.

We try to fill the void with canned excitement. Inane “reality” shows which bear no resemblance to reality. Social networking which cut us off from meaningful relationships. Adulation of sports because at least there the outcome isn’t preordained (usually). Or politics, power, money, things. We obsess over anything and everything. And it all leaves us feeling empty.

So we turn to something that literally fills us.

Food. Hunger is optional, but we eat anyway. We ponder where and what to eat. We worry over taste and presentation. We taste the food. We swallow it. It fills our stomachs. It really happens.

Only it doesn’t satisfy the craving, because the craving has nothing to do with nutrition. So, we eat more. More often and more of it. In the process, we supersize ourselves.

And we’re still empty.

Maybe we’re looking in the wrong places.

What do you think?

Book Review: Thunder by Bonnie S. Calhoun (Three Stars)

Book Review: Thunder (The Stone Braide Chronicles #1) by Bonnie S. Calhoun

Three Stars out of Five

Smashing plot: fast paced and complex with rising tempo toward a satisfying climax. Post-apocalyptic future based on realistic projections of both disasters and saved, renewed technologies from an American culture plausibly in our near future. A flawed main character who the reader comes to care about. Good character development through the first and second tiers of the cast. Ambiguous and conflicting motives. Interesting genetic variations among human groups. She brings the first volume to a satisfying conclusion while setting hooks to draw the reader into the next installation.

Why only three stars? The writing was so mediocre that Continue reading

Why Your Gasoline Costs More

The price of crude is rising because the idiots in the Middle East—that would be, just about everyone—are getting ready to have a war. Internationally traded commodity prices rise on threats of war; threats of peace don’t effect anything.

The speculators use the possible disruption of crude internationally to ratchet up the price of crude.

Even though America is afloat in out-of-the-ground crude (and our supply isn’t threatened), our oil moguls point to the international price of crude (and arcane cyclic factors) to jack the price of domestic gasoline. Makes cents for them.

It’s a lot like those kiddie fantasy movies, where hand waving and magic words make things happen with no logical cause and effect relationship. In this case, supply-and-demand are superseded by war talk. (And if there’s a war, that will trigger another round of price increases.)

And people say they don’t believe fantasy.

Trading Away Our Future

Now they’re telling us that the weakening dollar is raising oil prices. (The “price” of dollars fell 0.2% Tuesday while crude oil prices rose over a percent.)

Bogus. Oh, yeah, it could be true, but it’s really a smoke screen for speculators to bid up the price. Because the fundamentals—i. e., supply and demand—point toward lower prices. What fundamentals? The world is currently afloat in oil, and demand is weak. Through manipulation of buying and selling, international speculators seesaw commodity prices to make money.

There’s a basic flaw in the entire commodities market. It adds no value. It’s just people buying and selling futures (that is contracts to deliver commodities at some future date) to make a buck.

These people don’t produce anything. In fact, they never actually take possession of the commodities. (Where would they put a ship full of oil?) No, they just buy and sell derivatives, not the underlying commodity, to make money. All they do, in the long run, is raise prices. For no added value.

Think of leeches. Clinging to the body of its host, producing nothing, but injected added costs into the process, ultimately forcing us to pay more for every product we buy which is produced from a commodity they trade: oil, orange juice, grain, meat, metals. You name it.

Forget occupying Wall Street, shut down the Chicago Board of Trade.

Remembering History

My brother recently sent an email with all sorts of family background. Interesting how similar and how different our parents’ and grandparents’ lives were compared to ours. There’s a pattern which is slightly eerie.

So much I didn’t know. My mother was the only one who talked much about her childhood and then less about her adult years, partly because they weren’t pleasant early on and also because we were there later. Except, of course, as children we didn’t see or understand things the way she would have. We didn’t see what they saw.

Thanks to the diligent efforts of my brother, we have our genealogy back a dozen generations. But those who touched us–or almost touched us–are a mystery.

And now they’re all gone. My parents, their parents. Most of that generation—called The Greatest—and those before are so much ink or bits of electronic charge. Except, of course, some of them still live in our hearts. Rest in Peace.

Is your parent or grandparent still alive? When was the last time you talked to them? They’ll soon be gone beyond the reach of the telephone, computer or post office.
Is there something you wonder about? Ask.

You may be repeating a pattern you thought was unique with you. Nobody knows the troubles you’ve seen? Don’t bet on it. Perhaps your mother or father saw them, too. Be prepared for stonewalling and even anger. Some of the Good Old Days weren’t.

But ask anyway. You’ll regret not having done so some day.

Book Review: Clash of Eagles by Smale (3.5 stars)

Looking forward to this one’s release.

Misty Midwest Mossiness

Clash of Eagles

by Alan Smale

3.5 to 4 stars

Good but not great.

As other reviewer(s) have noted, this ends up being a one-man show almost exclusively – Marcellinus, the Praetor of the XXXIII Legion, marching west across the Appallacians towards the mighty Mississippi years before Horace Greeley penned the phrase “Go West, young man.”  The Romans, and their Norse scouts, encounter various Native Americans with startlingly advanced technology for a stone-age culture lacking even the wheel*.

Marcellinus is the only truly fleshed out character.  All others – Romans, Norsemen, Native Americans – are barely cardboard cutouts in comparison.  Some of the Cahokians, in the latter half of the book, get more interesting, but not by much.

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Book Review: The Buried Life by Carrie Patel (Three Stars)

Book Review: The Buried Life by Carrie Patel

Three Stars out of Five

Almost flunked the “fifty page test.” The story starts slow—skip the Prologue—and exhibits many logical and storytelling gaffs. But the hook finally sets and the reader is pulled along by the inner urgency of several characters, if not the story itself.

Needs a serious editor. “Half a mile underground”? “stumbled and nearly tripped”? “slid the gun to her feet” thirty yards away? Investigating a murder and never checks the pile of books at the body’s feet? My favorite: “guards gripping bayonets” Ouch. Too many very convenient coincidences. Even as they become more improbably, the reader comes to expect them. Too convenient; too easy.

I’m serious about skipping the Prologue. It detracts rather than adds to the story. It also raises a question which is never again addressed in the entire book.

Why read it? Because it has a ripping good story line and excellent characterization, though this reader cared more about Jane and Rafe than Liesl and Roman, the presumed main characters. Too bad, especially since … but that would be telling.

The story seems aimed at Young Adult readers, maybe even Middle Grade, except for the casual acceptance of violence and death. I realize that the Hunger Games and Twilight series, not to mention Harry Potter, have lowered the bar, but the off-the-cuff dispensing of mayhem (and the characters nonchalant acceptance of it here detracts.

Like the cover art.

I read this book based on the blog recommendation of John Scalzi, whose writing I enjoy. His credibility as a referrer has diminished.

In keeping with my policy of encouraging freshman efforts, I boosted the rating one star. (Do the math.) Patel will be a good writer. Book Two (Cities and Thrones) is done, though this series has so much baggage that I’ll wait until she starts afresh.

Keep your eyes on her.