Wednesday, January 24, 2007

State of The Union

I watched President Bush's State of The Union last night and personally thought that it was one of his best speeches. Instead of spending the whole time trying to get people fired up for the war in Iraq, he spent most of the time on domestic items. I was impressed by his ideas and, if implemented well, I think that they will do some good.

His tax exemption for healthcare will allow millions of people who don't have employer supplied healthcare to purchase their own and have it count as a deduction (it's currently not a deduction if you pay for your own insurance). I think it's a good step forward. It's a bit of a risk as some who pay a lot for insurance may have to pay some taxes on their premiums. On the other hand it may help keep premiums down since people won't want to pay more than what's tax deductable.

I also liked the idea of reducing malpractice suits and of streamlining medical records. Both of those could reduce medical costs and thus insurance premiums.

His goal to cut gasoline consumption by 20% is admirable and I sincerely hope we can pull it off. Increasing ethanol (E85) usage as well as improving hybrid and plug-in hybrid technology have great benefits for the environment as well as the economy (think about the billions of dollars that would stay in the US if we produced all of our own fuel).

I like his commitment to education. I know "No Child Left Behind" is controversial but if math and science scores are improving, I think that's a very good thing. I also think there should be competition among schools. If a school isn't performing well, we should be able to pull our kids out and put them into a better school.

I like his stand on immigration reform and hope that can get passed. I was especially impressed when he stated that there should be an easy test for businesses to determine immigration status. If we can get a system that's easy to implement and easy to audit/enforce, then we can cut off jobs for illegals. Then they'll either get legal status or go home. Either way, it's problem solved.

As for Iraq... Well, we'll see. I'm not too hopeful but what can you do.

Overall, I think his goals are admirable and I just hope that he can get them implemented in a way that actually accomplishes them. However, I'm a realist and so I'm expecting that Congress will have a lot more say on what the next two years are like than the president. I just hope they can work together.

I haven't been that big of a Bush fan but, for the most part, I'm really impressed with his current agenda. I just hope it's still good when the rubber hits the road.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Michelangelo

I just finished reading The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone. It's a biographical novel of Michelangelo (you know, the famous sculptor/artist whose statue of David and the paintings in the Cistine Chapel are super famous) that gives a very interesting view of his life. It seems that while Michelangelo had a very productive life, it wasn't a very happy one.

One of the first things that I noticed about Stone's portrayel of Michelangelo is that he was obsessed with creating sculptures and a true perfectionist. For a large portion of his life (into his 60s it seems) his every action was calculated toward a goal of sculpting marble - either getting a commission or improving his talent (or both). Not only did he want to sculpt, he wanted his pieces to be as real as possible.

His obsession with carving perfect sculptures drove him to do endless studies of the human form. He even spent months sneaking into a morgue to dissect bodies so he could figure out how the body really works. This during a time when, if caught, he would have immediately been executed. He always put his art above himself.

Unfortunately, politics kept getting in the way. It almost seems as though the more famous he got for sculpture, the more he was pressured to do other things. He would have ignored this pressure completely if it weren't for the fact that it was usually the Pope that was pressuring him. At a time when the Pope seemed to control and/or influence most of the world, it was pretty much impossible to refuse a commission (although Michelangelo did try).

However, no matter what he ended up doing, his goal was always to carve statues out of marble. In fact the four years he spent on the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel was simply to get the Pope to allow him to carve marble. Granted he could have finished in a much shorter time except his perfectionist nature wouldn't allow him to paint something that was good enough and/or to allow him to accept help in painting. It took four years because, marble or not, it had to be perfect.

This obsession with marble lasted his whole life (he kept carving until he could no longer even stand - pretty much until the day he died). The only thing that got him to branch out willingly was probably his perfectionism. He was appointed the architect of St. Peter's because he couldn't stand the shoddy job that the current architects were doing.

For all of his amazing talent (and his talent was truly amazing) he never seemed to enjoy life. He spent most of his life either carving or in torment because he wasn't able to carve (for whatever reason). He never married, never had a family, never tried to enjoy life. He was too obsessed with carving - working 20 hour days for two or three years while producing a sculpture - to let happiness intrude on his life. All in all, if someone told me they wanted to be the next Michelangelo, I would tell them to aspire to the talent of Michelangelo but not to his life.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Shocking New Report: Santa Claus Arrested!

In a shocking blow to children everywhere, Santa Claus was arrested on Christmas Day as he returned home from a night of distributing gifts. It seems that these items are not actual brand-name items but high quality knock-offs produced by workers at a secret North Pole factory. Mr. Claus has been charged with thousands of counts of copyright violation, patent infringement, and theft of intellectual property, with new charges being added every day.

Children and teens all over the world are aghast at a deception that has aparently been going on for centuries. Thousands of teen-age and college age girls, especially in the US, were outraged upon learning that the designer clothes they got for Christmas were not authentic. Charity groups and landfills alike have been swamped with tons designer clothes, shoes, and accessories. Several charities have asked that people stop donating and learn to live with the shame of being not quite authentic. After all, they said, you can't really tell.

This reaction, however, was nothing compared to the outrage of several hi-tech companies. Dell, HP, Microsoft, Apple, etc. are up in arms. In several press releases, these companies blasted Mr. Claus for forcing them to spend money to support millions of computers, software, ipods, etc. that they didn't make or sell themselves. One press release stated, "It is completely unethical for somebody to flood the market with so many products and expect the industry to spend their resources supporting them." Another company stated, "We hope that fat old man rots in jail for his wanton destruction of our business models." These companies are trying to track down the Santa Claus fakes and make sure that they don't get any support (though some companies will offer fee-based support for their products). The billions of dollars in percieved losses caused the stock values of many of these companies to drop significantly.

The recording and movie industries are also going after Mr. Claus for allegedly pirating millions of albums and movies. In a joint press release they stated, "Mr. Claus has done more harm to the movie and music business in one night than all of the pre-teen movie and music pirates have done up to this time." The lawsuits being contemplated may spiral into the trillions of dollars.

In response to the charges, Mr. Claus was quoted as saying, "I was just trying to give a little happiness and joy to the children of the world." In response, lawyers representing most of the major retail outlets stated, "It is hard to imagine the arrogance and lack of respect that would cause him to commit such atrocities. Happiness and joy aren't to be given out freely, they're to be bought and paid for like everything else."