The Taliban

Just who are the“Taliban”?  The word “Taliban” is the Arabic (and Pashto) plural form of “student.”  The singular form is talib. 

The Taliban is a militant Islamic fundamentalist movement which operates in and is composed primarily of fundamentalist Sunni tribesmen from Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The Taliban favor a strict interpretation of Sharia law (the moral code and religious law of Islam).  “Sharia” means “pathway to be followed” in Arabic.  

The Taliban got its start in Afghanistan in the early 1990’s with the power vacuum left by the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989.  Through 2001, the Taliban were actually supported by the Pakistani ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and some speculate that this support may actually be ongoing.  The Taliban is a political and military force to be reckoned with in these desperately poor areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  The Taliban are violent — accounting for three quarters of all casualties in Afghanistan since the U.S. became involved in that country.  They are especially known for cruelty and brutality toward women.  Religious police beat women on the streets if an ankle shows beneath their full burqa.  Women receive limited medical attention, and schools and work for women are forbidden.  And on and on. . . .  The Taliban has banned music and theaters and has destroyed priceless cultural artifacts which “offend.” 

Al-Qaeda, which also pushes violent jihad, fundamentalism and Sharia law, is distinct – and should not be confused with the Taliban (except perhaps in deserving universal condemnation).  Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Pakistan’s armed forces teamed up in the mid-90’s against the Northern Alliance (mainly Tajiks) who waged a sectarian war over the new political establishment in Afghanistan.       

As I write about these characters, I (and I’m sure many) get angry . . . .  What do you/we do about these characters?  Should we do anything?  Hmmm?  What would you do — if anything?   It occurred to me that Mitch Rapp may be the ideal solution to the Taliban problem (see post of August 25, 2011).

Wrapping Paper

If my wife and daughter bought me a locomotive for Christmas, I’m convinced that they would find enough wrapping paper to cover the thing from wheels to smokestack.  There would be a giant bow on top and the thing would be encircled with red ribbon

 The process of wrapping presents for Christmas for most families takes longer than your typical NFL season.  And I wonder why?   Why do we wrap presents at all?  Just think if we didn’t wrap presents.  We would save a forest of trees, billions of dollars and eons of time that could be devoted to more productive pursuits like playing golf.  I have an idea that could instantly change all that.   It would save billions of dollars, trees galore and that ever decreasing commodity — time.  

My idea is called “The Wrapping Cloth.”  What you do is buy some fancy, highly-decorative cloth squares of varying sizes, cover all of the presents individually with a wrapping cloth and then when the magic moment arrives, the recipient whisks the cloth away revealing a present!  It’s cheaper than paper in the long run and wrapping cloths can be handed down from generation to generation.  When families are gathered celebrating Christmas on the planet AC Bb 1 (which orbits  our closest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centuri), they will use old and venerable wrapping cloths (“This belonged to our family when they lived on Earth!”).   Wrapping cloths can be used for birthdays and even those mind-numbing experiences known as baby or wedding showers.   As it is now, my wife and daughter can discern a gift I’ve wrapped from across a darkened room (“Eeewww. . . did you wrap that?”).  With the wrapping cloth, I will be able to “wrap” presents with the experts. . . .     

Save mankind and send this one around. . . . .    

Grilled Peanut Butter

Did you ever have a special dish added to a restaurant menu?  I did.   Once.                                                                                                      

 When I was in college, I was the proverbial night owl.  I would study until the wee hours.   And often as the second hand approached midnight, I and a few other guys would hitchhike to the Round the Clock Restaurant in downtown Rock Island.  And I would order a grilled peanut butter sandwich. With a dill pickle on the side.  And a tall glass of milk.  The interesting thing was that grilled peanut butter was not on the menu.  

One evening at the Round the Clock, I had noticed a “peanut butter & jelly sandwich” on the menu.  I was not about to order a PB & J sandwich, but it occurred to me that a grilled peanut butter sandwich might be just the ticket.  We slid into the booth and I ordered a “grilled peanut butter sandwich.”  The waitress looked at me like I was a moon rock.  I said “same as a grilled cheese but use peanut butter instead of cheese.”   I felt like Jack Nicholson in the “Five Easy Pieces” diner scene.  She walked away shaking her head.  She used gestures to explain the order at the window to the kitchen.  

Well after a few weeks of this, when I walked in the door, the waitress would give me that knowing look “grilled peanut butter“?  she would ask.  I’d nod and smile “yes ma’am.”  A few months later, “Grilled Peanut Butter Sandwich” made its debut on the Round the Clock’s menu.  And I became a legend.  At least in my own mind. . . . . . .    

The Flat Tax

I’ve had some feedback on my post on taxes.  The response — “so what would you do?”   Being a somewhat simple soul, I look for simple but equitable solutions.  From what I’ve heard, a “flat tax” might be an option.  According to those who have studied the plan, a flat tax if implemented would actually result in a huge boost in revenue.  It works simply:   Everyone pays 15% (or whatever percentage you choose) of their income in tax.   Deductions are allowed up to a certain amount for charities and home mortgage interest.  There could be a graduated/sliding scale up to a certain amount for those lower income people so their flat tax percentage is less (or even zero).  The poor would thus be vested in the system as well as high-income people.  Yet the poor and low income people would still reap benefit.   Everyone would pay their tax but those below the threshold would fill out their tax form to get the money back.  This encourages all members of society to file tax returns (which is not the case now). 

You could then have a V.A.T. (value added tax – or sales tax) of say 10% (again — whatever number you want).  Corporate executives who buy a car or drug dealers who buy a yacht with cash – still pay a VAT.  All sales result in a VAT.   This recovers tax money that might otherwise not be recouped.  Everyone pays the VAT but again, you could make provision to repatriate specific amounts to those who earn below a certain threshold.  Thus you have means testing for tax benefit (which certain people like) yet parity and simplicity.   

According to pundits who have studied this metric, a flat tax would result in revenues the likes of which this country has never known.   The downside is that it would put hordes of lawyers, accountants and government workers out of work.   On second thought . . . . .         


On the Verge of Icky

The day before Thanksgiving, Donna dumped all of the ice from the freezer into the sink. I asked why. She said the ice was “on the verge of icky.” It was stuck together. Hence “verge of icky.”  It occurred to me that this expression would be a great title for a book — “On the Verge of Icky.” It could be a book about Illinois politics or General Petraeus or asparagus.

There are a lot of things that in my opinion are on the “verge of icky.”  Ultimate fighting.  Dirty dishes.  European economies.  Politicians.  Unions.  Certain 4-legged creatures.  Certain 2-legged creatures.   High school (or younger  kid) contact football.  Texting while driving.  Mullets.   Smoking.  Mosquitoes.   Many plaintiffs’ lawyers.   Spitting.   Prejudice.  Intolerance.   Three putting.    Actually, some of these things are downright icky. . . .        


Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country (170 million).  It is a bit more than twice the size of California with only 3% of the population over 65.  It is an interesting country — amazingly wealthy in natural resources (31st in the world in GDP) yet more than 70% of the populace live below the poverty line.  The country’s leadership over the years has been corrupt, venal and self-serving sending billions out of the country for personal bank accounts. 

There are three main tribes in Nigeria:  the Yoruba (21%), the Hausa/Fulani (29%) and the Ibo (Igbo) (18%).   While there are hundreds of indigenous languages, English is the official language of the country.  The majority of Yoruba are Christian though there is a large population of Muslims among the Yoruba.  It is interesting that Muslim and Christian Yoruba get along just fine, they often intermarry and attend one another’s worship services.  The Ibo are primarily Christian.  It’s the Hausa who are 95% Muslim that have caused strife — not only in Nigeria but also in the international community.  Many Hausa are of the Boko Haram school — violent jihadists who want to impose sharia law.   Hausa Muslims do not get along with the Yoruba Muslims (or anyone else for that matter).  This has been a cause for ongoing and well-publicized violence in the North against Christians and non-Hausa Muslims.

There are many Nigerians in Chicago and nearly all are Yoruba.  A large number of cab drivers are Nigerian (see my post of August 19, 2012).   Most seem to be Christian though many are Muslim.  Yorubas and Ibos assimilate well among other Africans.  I have only had Hausa cab drivers on a few occasions.  All – from the north (mainly Maiduguri) – have been in that tiny minority of Christians.  All left Nigeria because of persecution and violence.  Given the strategic location of Nigeria (coastal West Africa) and its tactical resources (mainly oil), this is one country we should really want to understand . . . . .

So You Think You’re Glib?

Can you talk for one minute – 60 seconds – non-stop?  Yeah, I can too. I’m a lawyer.  However, can you talk for 60 seconds, non-stop without saying a word that contains the letter “A”?  Think about it.  Try it. . . . this is a good one for kids. . . . .    

I’m sure there are combinations of words and sentences that will accomplish this objective (Hebrew and Arabic contain no vowels – hence no “a”).  For me though, the easiest way to do this is to go “one two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve. . . .” and on up to one hundred.  The first “a” you will encounter is “hundred and one.”  It’ll take you about 60 seconds to get up to the number 75 . . . .  Ta daaaaah!  

So the Guy Who Wanted a Brownie. . .

So the guy who was on his deathbed called his three best friends together – a priest, a doctor and a lawyer.  “My friends,” he said “I’ve decided that I want to take my money with me.  I’m giving each of you an envelope containing $300,000 in cash.  Just before they close my coffin, I want you to throw in the envelope.  I will be happy because I’m taking my money with me.” 

The friends solemnly agreed and a short time later the man passed away.  At the funeral, each of the friends stepped up and tossed his envelope into the coffin — just as it was being closed.   After the funeral, the three friends gathered to have a drink.  After a moment, the priest broke down and tearfully said “I have a confession.  I took $50,000 out of the envelope to give to a homeless shelter.”  With that, the doctor broke down and sobbed “I have a confession — I took $100,000 for medical equipment for the childrens’ hospital.” 

The lawyer’s eyes narrowed.  His stoic face turned to a frown.  “I am ashamed of you.  Ashamed!  Taking money like that.  I want you to know that I put my personal check in that envelope for the full $300,000. . . . .”