The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Sorry, you're on your own

I found myself in a predicament the other day. That isn't unusual. I often get into these because I procrastinate, make bad choices, or just ignore the warning signs. But this predicament is not something I let happen or caused.

I found myself in the awkward position of giving advice on marital problems. I am currently batting .500 on the marriage thing. One failed, one still holding together. I know what I did wrong the first time; I should not have married her. I don't know what I am doing right this time. Maybe nothing, maybe it is just that Faye is much more forgiving than Wife V.1

When you get right down to it, marriage is not something I understand. Neither do either of my siblings. My brother has been married and divorced three times. My sister a few more than that. She is still married, though, and that seems to be holding up well enough. None of us can tell anyone how to fix a broken marriage, but we can tell you what to not to do. We did not inherit this from our parents. They were married for 62 years before my father passed away.

I am very glad I met Faye. Unfortunately for her, it was at the end of my first marriage. I actually first saw Faye several years before that. She worked as a clerk at a telephone office where I was attending a class. It was just a glance across a break room, we didn't speak or get introduced. Oddly, she remembered the chance meeting. It may have something to do with the fact that I was a long haired, thick bearded, scruffy guy who looked out of place just about anywhere.

I was still married then and wasn't considering cheating but I also wasn't averse to looking. We met formally at a party given by a mutual friend about a month before Wife v.1 and I separated. The marriage was over, it was just that we hadn't decided who would move out and when. I didn't recognize Faye that night, even after being introduced. She had transferred into the same office I worked at some months before though I didn't know her or see her very often. We worked different shifts in different parts of a large building. The mutual friend also worked there. When I did see Faye at the office, she was dressed to work... jeans, t-shirt, tool belt. At the party, she was dressed in a 3 piece suit, high heels, and was wearing her beautiful red hair up on her head instead of hanging down to her shoulders or tied back like she did at work.

It only took me four and a half years from then to get my divorce. Divorces are simple things if both parties can agree on property, custody, and that a divorce is needed. But if a couple could agree on those things, they probably wouldn't have a need to divorce. Faye was a good sport, she put up with all crap that comes with a guy whose life is in limbo. I have no idea why. But I am glad she did.

Maybe I do have some good advice. Your spouse, your significant other, your "better half", should be... first and foremost... your best friend.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Whither America?

When I was a young boy, first going to school, one of the first things we learned to do was to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. When I first learned it, it did not have "under God" in it. That was added in 1954 but had been used since 1951 by a couple of national organizations but predominantly by the Knights of Columbus. It came from a Lincoln speech, the one at Gettysburg... you may recall that speech, quite famous.

The last sentence (a rather long and convoluted one, we might call it a "run on sentence") goes like this:

"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the
great task remaining before us…that from these honored
dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which
they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here
highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain;
that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of
freedom; and that government of the people, by the people,
for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
[emphasis added]

No one seemed to think it was a bad idea to add that phrase back then. But that was before the onslaught of lawsuits over separation of Church and State began. It could never had been added in 1964, just ten years later.

That's how quickly this nation seems to change. We have changed many times over my meager lifetime. We have now become as fragmented as were were in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Only the lines are not so easily drawn today. The lines are philosophical, ideological, and seem to have no physical demarcation. Now our divisions have no "Mason-Dixon Line". We are divided internally between Progressive and Conservative ideologies. At the same time, we are under assault from the outside by other ideologies.

I am used to the external assault. Being born in the year after the end of World War II, I grew up with the Cold War. I did the "Duck and Cover" drills... as if hiding under a little school desk would protect us against a nuclear attack... like all the other kids. The Soviet Union seemed a real threat. It took about 10 years for that to change. By the mid-60's, most of the youth pretty much felt the Soviets were not likely to invade or to start a war that would, essentially, destroy all civilization.

I had figured out that it would make no sense to achieve a victory that would be entirely Pyrrhic. I might have been a bright child at age 12 (when I first recall thinking much about it) but I figured the people running nations were at least as smart and knew it also. The logic was called "Mutual Assured Destruction" (aka "MAD"). It was working. Because we understood that even the Godless Soviets didn't want to return to the Stone Age. And I think the Soviets didn't really fear an attack from us, they just promoted that as a way to unify their people... much as Castro has done for 50+ years in Cuba and Chavez does in Venezuela. And Iran has done since 1979. As Qaddafi is doing now.

I used to wonder why the Soviets thought we would attack them. But what really bothered me was that there were people who lived here, in the U.S., that seemed to think we would. In the second half of the 60's, a lot of the youth seemed to entertain that thought. I suppose that is understandable. We were embroiled in a pointless war halfway around the world. There were terrible stories coming out of that and no one seemed to understand why we were there. No one saw little Vietnam as any threat to the big old USA. And few under the age of 30 were buying into the Domino Theory.

We have a new Domino Theory developing. Let's call it the "Islamic Dominoes Theory." A bit of chaos morphs into a popular revolt, the revolt topples a long standing dicator or monarch, and out of the resulting power vacuum, the Islamist movement grabs control. You can see it in action in the Middle East and North Africa. You will see it in more and more areas in the next few years. It started in Iran in 1978-1979. That was the model for what is happening now.

Instead of presenting a united front against this, the US is fractured. We are fighting more against each other and ignoring the greater threat.

There are times, I wish someone deeply respected by all sides would stand up and say "Enough! Start behaving like adults! There are worse things in this world than having a Democrat or Republican in charge." But there is no such person today. Ironically, I would probably fear that person as much as I feared Stalin and Khrushchev and Mao in those early Cold War years.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Some feedback could be nice

I suppose I should explain why I installed Disqus. And how it impacts you, the reader. I realize most of you like a certain level of anonymity and this might seem like a threat to that. It isn't. If you have not signed up with Disqus, you can do so either by going to their website or by leaving a comment. Leaving the comment will prompt you to establish a Disqus identity if you do not already have one. You should also be able to post as "Anonymous" or maybe "Guest." I first came across it on the L.A. Times website, I think. It surprised me when I began seeing replies to my posts there sent to me in email. Replying to the replies normally would require returning to the website but not with Disqus. You just reply to the email and Disqus posts your response for you. That impressed me.

Signing up with Disqus has not meant an increase in spam. It has not resulted in email ads. They seem to keep the data to themselves. A good thing.

I am hoping to encourage commentary. After all, comments indicate interest. Not just a boost to the old egos but interest in the subjects about which we bloggers write. I would write about controversial subjects in an effort to increase comments but that is something I don't like to do. What I try to do is evoke memories of your own childhoods and past experiences. What I hope for are responses that tell a story.

I don't kid myself that I am a good blogger or a good writer. I know my limitations.

When you comment, you do not have to stick to the subject at hand; you do not have to be especially witty or clever; you do not have to worry about people laughing at you*. I welcome suggestions for different subjects. I welcome criticism and promise not to snarl in response. I am quite used to criticism. I was the youngest child and I have an ex-wife... I am very familiar with criticism.

If you do not like Disqus, view my profile and send me an email through the "email" button. If I get enough complaints, or the arguments against it are good, I can uninstall it.

And now... it's off to play golf.

* People will laugh at you or with you, regardless. Either way, you created amusement and that, in itself, is a good thing.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

All aboard! (not)

When I was a wee lad in Farmingdale, NY, we lived maybe the distance of two blocks from the Long Island Railroad tracks. I cannot swear to it but I recall a few steam engines rolling along that track. According to the history of steam locomotives, it is quite possible. In any event, the steam whistle was familiar to me and intermingled with memories of the pleasant times of my early years.

Living near a railway is interesting. It is not as quiet as some might like. We were not right next to it, though. It didn't seem all that loud to me. Where the train passed was maybe a half mile from the station there in Farmingdale which means there was always a whistle (and later, horn blast of a diesel engine) and the trains were slowing as they approached and were still picking up speed as they left toward the Big City (New York) And it is a fact that small boys are entranced by the power and majesty of locomotive engines. So my memories may be a bit tainted.

Living near a railroad, or an airport, means living with noise. With trains, the intervals between arrivals and departures are longer than with airplanes at an airport. Which makes tuning the noise out easier, I think. I don't think I could deal with being under a flight path. But a few blocks from a railroad? No problem. In fact, because the sound reminds me of my early childhood, I find it pleasant. Even a bit peaceful.

I write all this because our governor has announced he won't be wanting that federal money (some 2.4 Billion dollars) to start building a high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando. People with an interest in building it are scrambling about either crying over or planning ways around his nixing the project. I am on the side of the governor on this. Not because I don't like trains, I do. But because I think it won't do anything it is purported to do.

Sure, there will be an increase in jobs as the project gets underway and is years in the process. But who will get those jobs? I strongly suspect it won't be Floridians. Well, not most of the jobs anyway. Definitely not the high paying engineering jobs. And, in the end, what will we have?

A way to get from Tampa to Orlando in maybe half the time it takes now to drive it. Does it take you to down town Orlando or Tampa? Not really, from what I can tell it takes you between Tampa's international airport and Orlando's international airport. You would then have to secure transportation (bus or taxi) to your actual destination. And I have this nagging suspicion that the project will end up with a station stop at Disney World.

I fell out of love with trains back in the mid 70's when I took the train from San Diego to Anaheim. Granted it was no high speed rail. It was the commuter train. It stopped in every town along the way. Maybe 8 or 10 stops. Each of which was a 10 minute wait while passengers got off (few) and passengers got on (more). The trip was scenic, though. You got to see some of the worst parts of each town on the route. You also got a few views of the ocean but these were very few.

Trains are nice but they are nice because they are leisurely modes of travel. At one time, you could sit and read the paper (or a book or magazine) with the window open a little bit (depending on where the diesel exhaust would waft by) for fresh air or you could chat with fellow passengers and just relax. I do not see that happening with these "bullet" trains. In the first place, forget opening a window, even a little. They will be sealed. You won't have that rhythmic sound of steel wheels over the rails either. The odds are the cars will be so insulated that you won't hear much of anything from outside.

There'd be no romance. As a child, I could always pretend I was traveling across the untamed west and be on the lookout for buffalo herds and fierce Indians. That's part of the joy of being a child. But I have put most of that behind and I doubt ripping through the landscape at 120 MPH would evoke that kind of daydream anyway.

Sometimes, progress is not so desirable.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nothin' ever remains the same

This will be a short post. It's a golf day. One which starts at 10 AM. Which means I must leave here about 9 AM. Which means I have very little time to write a fascinating post full of wonderful prose. Not that having a lot of time would allow me to produce such a thing but just to warn you today will be worse than usual.

I wanted to introduce Disqus to you and to this site. Disqus is something I have run across elsewhere and have enjoyed using, as a user. It provides a way for the reader to comment, of course, but it also sends replies to your comments to you. You can then reply to those comments as email by simply replying to the email.

You will have to sign up with Disqus the first time so that it knows where to send those emails. If you have never used it before, I am hoping you won't mind that extra effort.

Let me know what you think (he said... trying to entice people into commenting).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Whatever happened to Mr. Spontaneity?

I often write "off the cuff", which is not easy because I only wear T-shirts and polo
shirts... which, as you know, have no cuffs. But I do it. I do it because to plan ahead is not in my nature. I am someone who has set off for destinations thousands of miles away without so much as a map to guide me. I don't make advance reservations for hotels or motels along the way. I don't plan my trip days ahead of time. I just decide when I want to leave, where I want to go, and then just go. All of my preparations have always been last minute ones.

I react more than plan in advance just about everything. I have always been this way, as far back as I can remember. I was fortunate enough to find a job suitable to that nature. I was a troubleshooter. This entailed recognizing a problem and determining its cause and developing a plan of action quickly to keep it from getting worse and then correcting it.

It was a great job for someone who likes to think on his feet and doesn't like routine.

So now I am retired and I have few opportunities to take advantage of those skills and innate talents. I find myself falling into routine all the time. Golf on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. 30-45 minute workouts at the Y on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Couch potato on Sundays (and most of of my other waking time). Blog six days out of seven. This last is the hardest part of my life these days.

The toughest thing about my working life was the routine of going to work 5 days a week. It wasn't the going, I liked the commute most of the time. It was the having to commute that got under my skin. At the same time, I am not one of those "free spirits" who just flits about through life.

Someone once described me as the "most nervous lazy person" she had ever met. It doesn't quite fit. I am not nervous. What I think she met was that I didn't like to just sit around but I also didn't like to make much effort avoiding it.

But now I am becoming an "in a rut" kind of guy. I skip a day of golf or exercise and I feel a bit of angst, guilt, or loss.

I think our whole social system is upside down. We should go through school, retire for 20 years, and then work until we die on the job. This way, we'd have the energy and stamina to have the fun of trying all the exciting things, go to all the exotic places, and be able to sleep on a floor of a bathroom if we had to. Yeah, I have done that. Sleep on a bathroom floor, that is. Also in a couple of laundromats (it's warm and comfy on top of those industrial size dryers), and on various floors of new found friends.... as well as beaches on both coasts.

I miss what little vagabond life I lived. My practical nature wouldn't let me do it full time so it had to be done in spurts, a few days here and there when I had some time off from my job (or, better described, "the yoke of responsibility").

Now I am retired. Barring a few money constraints, I could take off anytime I wished, go wherever I chose, but I don't. I have become addicted to being comfortable. I can no longer live out of a backpack or suitcase.

I have been domesticated.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hold this kite, will you?

It was in 1953 that my brother and I were sent off to summer camp. A modest respite for my parents lasting two weeks, I believe. It seemed longer but I was young then. The camp, called Camp Good News, is (it is still there) a church run camp on Cape Cod nestled in some hills.

We hiked, we learned some outdoor skills, we rode in canoes, and we learned to swim. I was only 7, of course, just a child. This was my first experience away from home but I don't recall being homesick at all. My memories of that time were mostly quite pleasant. If you don't count the Night of the Raging Diarrhea when someone apparently didn't properly wash the dinnerware. We won't discuss this beyond mentioning that I became quite familiar with the outhouse.

One afternoon, we had a thunderstorm roll through. We slept in large tents set upon wooden platforms. I think there were 10 to a tent plus a teenage camp counselor. The thunderstorm was a nasty one with lots of wind and rain and lightning. So windy that the tent flaps, normally open front and back and rolled up along the sides (which made the mosquitoes' access to our blood much easier, I suppose) had to be secured. Even that wasn't quite enough and two of us campers had to hold the flaps together at the front and back even though they were tied together.

As I stood there holding the flaps together in the gap between the ties, glimpsing the fury of the storm outside through that gap, I saw a camp counselor dash by as he headed for the tent just up from mine. Just after he moved out of view to my left, a brilliant flash exploded outside followed immediately by a loud "CRACK!" that almost deafened me. I felt like I bounced up a little bit and then back down. A split second later, my feet were tingling painfully and the ties came loose. The camp counselor I saw was lying on the ground about 20 feet away and ten feet short of a large pine tree that had been hit by the bolt of lightning.

Our tent's counselor ran outside after ordering us to stay inside the tent. I didn't think we were any safer there, just drier. The counselor was dazed and disoriented and was later taken to a hospital to be checked out. He returned the next day, apparently healthy.

You might think that experience at a young age would have left me with a fear of lightning. It didn't. Not any more fear than a normal, healthy, person might have. In my surfing days, I ignored the lightning to stay out in the surf (extremely stupid) and have been out in any number of thunderstorms.

I actually like them. The power, the wind, the smell of ozone, even the aftermath's necessary clean up doesn't bother me. But every time I see the lightning, I feel the soles of my feet tingle.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Can I get a little solidarity please?

My heart is with my brothers and sisters in Wisconsin. The long struggle seems to be just starting, doesn't it? You fight hard to get the things we need, make a little headway, and what is your reward?

A bunch of union thugs try to roll back the will of the electorate.

That's right, my "brothers and sisters" are the majority of the people in Wisconsin. The ones who are stuck with the bills for running the government, the ones who really pay the wages and the benefits and fund the retirement for those teachers and "public" servants who are so dedicated to what they do that they call in sick (when they aren't) so they can march on Madison and demand to remain above the financial troubles the working people, the taxpayers, must endure.

"Let the taxpayer suffer!" seems to be the theme of the public employee's unions. I know they are claiming this is "union busting" but it doesn't have to be. Just make some concessions, pay something of what your private sector employees have to, and you will regain some of that status unions once had.

It's difficult to sympathize with people who make more than you do, who have better benefits than you do, who have better retirement plans than you do, while you are being told (not asked, told) to just be quiet and foot the bill.

So, in a spirit of reducing the rhetoric, of toning down the animosity, the unions gather in in Madison and hold signs up labeling the governor "Hitler", "Mussolini" and so on. They camp out in front of the governor's home and harass other Republicans while their Democratic legislators dash off to some resort in Illinois to avoid doing their job and to delay a vote that would help to balance the state budget... which the law requires.

I once was a union member. I joined in 1970. I quit in 2000. I was being prepped to become a steward in 1984 when I realized my local was corrupt and not working for the members nearly as hard as it was working for its executive board and walked away from that job. But I stayed a member. I had to pay dues anyway (agency shop... California) so I might as well try to have a voice. I finally quit the union when I got fed up with the way they were letting the company screw over the guys with lower seniority in favor of keeping the dead wood employed.

I am not anti-union. I am anti-union_bosses. They are as bad, if not worse, than the corporate bosses they rally the troops against.

Back in the Bush years, the Democrats complained that the administration was not calling on the people to make sacrifices and that was why the people supported the administration on the War on Terror. Well, now it appears they are opposed to the public sector employees having to make any sacrifices to fight the financial crisis the rest of us have to live with.

The very definition of elitism.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Acne of the sun

I am going to be lost today. It seems that a series of solar flares that went off on the 15th sent a bunch of charged solar particles toward earth. They were expected to arrive late last night or early this morning.

Per the BBC (and others),

Solar flare eruptions set to reach Earth

"The waves of charged solar particles are the result of three solar flares directed at Earth in recent days, including the most powerful since 2006."

These charged particles can wreak havoc with any number of technologies. Telecommunications, TV signals, and navigation systems.

Which means, dear readers, we are in for some big problems. Especially me. Let me digress a bit...

I play golf. It's a game of yards and inches. It's a game where the distance to one's target is crucial information. When I first learned to play The Game there was only two ways to measure the distance between where the ball laid (usually behind a tree) and the place you wanted the ball to go (that large but seemingly tiny oasis called a Green): you could walk it off with approximate one yard paces or you could guess at it based on where you were from some marker or landmark point provided by the golf course. Highly inaccurate. Much like my shot making ability.

Time and technology marched on and we now have little hand-held GPS devices to determine how far the green is from behind that tree. Accurately for a change. Well, within a couple of yards anyway which is much more accurate than I used to be able to guessestimate though I was fairly good at it once. Alas, over the course of two years (when I first bought one of these jewels), I have lost all ability to estimate distance.

Now I am informed that this technology may be wildly inaccurate today. Wonderful!

Forget all those people getting lost on the nation's highways and byways because they have become completely dependent on the NAV systems in their cars with the oh so pleasant female voice telling them when to turn and what to think. I am not concerned with them at all. I still use the old method (though I have a Tom Tom unit to avoid asking directions... it's a male thing) of blundering about in the general vicinity of where I wish to go.

But golf? Disrupt my golf? Bah! A plague on you, Sol, a plague!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Open the POD door, HAL

I keep reading about, and watching news clips of, Watson. "He" is a computer and he is kicking butt and ignoring names on Jeopardy. And the thought came to me... "Could he (or something like him) be tapped to be president?" Just think of all the knowledge a President-Computer could have available to it. Think of the ability to study a proposals and strategies, easily discarding distracting and wasteful proposals in favor of cost-efficient and useful ones.

It would be like Utopia.

But perhaps we are not ready to turn over control to a machine on that level. We should maybe try it on a smaller scale first. Google and Facebook and so on could do it first. Replace their CEO's with super-computers. Steve Jobs could even design his replacement at Apple. Or could have.

In the 50's, as I was growing up, there was a lot of fear about automation coming in and displacing workers. The fear was real. The dreamers all painted beautiful pictures of automated houses, automated highways, flying cars, and lots and lots of leisure time. The average worker saw the nightmare of having all that leisure time because he had no job. No way to enjoy the utopia the dreamers envisioned. They could have sold it if the automation would replace the bosses first.

Think how much it costs to hire a CEO, overpay him for a year or two while he destroys the company (or seemingly tries to) and then pay him to go away while the company recruits yet another over-rated replacement at a higher pay and greater benefits and Gold Umbrella to do the same thing.

And then think about that computer on your desktop. Does it cost more than it did 10 years ago or less? Does it do more and faster or less and slower? Yeah, that's right. The quality and efficiency of computers has gone up while the price has gone down. Just the opposite of the average CEO.

So I want to start a movement here. A "Let's Automate More Executives" movement. It's silly to waste these expensive and complex machines to do jobs any schmo who snuck across a border can do. Let's get rid of the CEO's, the COO's, and the CFO's, dump the company boards, and start a Brave New World!

Then we could start electing digital mayors and councilmen then replace governors. Eventually working our way up the food chain to replace the entire Congress and the President.

I see a great future ahead.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Have I seen this lately?

As I was watching "Patton" for the 8th or 9th time the other day, I began to muse about why I watch some movies, or read some books, several times. To be honest, that came to mind last week when I watched "On The Beach" for the umpteenth time. I mean, I know how these movies turn out and I have seen them often enough to have caught all the little things that make the productions so great. I certainly am not surprised by the ending.

I have even watched The Sixth Sense more than twice. The first time with a completely virginal point of view. The second to find the hints that were there throughout the story. And the third? I have no idea. Well, that's not quite true. I believe I do have some idea.


No, just kidding. It's because of what makes a movie or book a classic. It is a great story, full of well played nuances with many that escape conscious recognition the first time around. With great movies, we are captivated by the cinematography and/or by the well played roles by actors we admire.

That doesn't explain why people return to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show, does it? Fans of that flick might view it 30 times in a single year. But it is not for the great acting or fascinating story. They go to be part of the event. Different thing entirely from what I am trying to impart.

I grew up on movies, mostly black and white. I watched movies from the 20's, 30's, and 40's on TV. It being the 50's, I watched most of that decade's offerings at the theater. Some of the reason that I watch Turner Classic Movies is to recapture my youth; to travel back to my youth when I watched the oldies on a big ugly box with a rather small black and white screen. It wasn't until the late 50's that my family bought a color TV. Or one with a screen bigger than 19".

I have watched a lot of terrible movies. These are called "B" movies (though some I have watched are not even up to that level). Some of these I have watched more than a couple of times. They are what one might call classic "B" movies. Faye does not understand this. There are times I don't understand it myself. Most of the time, it is just to get an understanding of the time period during which the film was made. Especially movies made during the late 30's and early 40's. This is my favorite period of the 20th century.

Am I alone? Or are there other, more fascinating, periods that I should investigate?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The wheels of justice grind much like my teeth

I sit here waiting for a conference call from my attorney. My never seen before attorney. The one who took the case when my former attorney passed away suddenly about a year ago.

The case is a simple one. My mother was a legal secretary who worked from her boss for some 35 years as his "Della Street", his right hand. She continued to work part time for him even after they had both retired until her Alzheimer's appeared and caused her wonderful memory to disappear.

The attorney passed away in March of 2002, leaving her a stipend of $1000 per month in his Trust. Unfortunately, she was never informed of this. In fact, she wasn't even informed of his death. After my mother passed away in July of 2008, a chance encounter between my niece and the attorney's daughter in January of 2009 revealed the existence of this stipend. A call to me (I am the executor of my mother's estate) resulted in my contacting the CPA who was overseeing the Trust. He wanted to pay the owed money in $1000 per month installments. He claimed the real estate crunch had crippled the Trust and there wasn't enough in liquid assets to pay it out in a lump sum.

I contacted the first lawyer soon after. The CPA and his lawyer dragged their feet and stalled. My lawyer basically left it in the hands of his para-legals and allowed it to drag out until I went to the office and asked for the file. He took that as a sign I was unhappy and wanted to take the case to another lawyer. I was simply going to try to settle. On my own. Without a lawyer. All of a sudden, my lawyer went into action after promising that he would do so and after profuse apologies for the delays. He filed suit and served papers on the CPA. And a couple of months later, died of a massive heart attack. Thus, I ended up with another lawyer, one who took over most of the late attorney's cases. One suspects these cases were all deemed winnable and fairly simple.

Since then, there has been another year of delays. Another year in which getting information from my lawyer has been almost as difficult as getting information from the CPA.

What has been accomplished? Why, next to nothing. We do not know the actual health of the Trust, we do not have a court date, we still have delaying tactics, and I still have legal fees.

It's always seemed a simple case to me, a non-lawyer. It was called a simple case by both of my lawyers. But nothing is simple when it comes to attorneys, is it?

I have a T-shirt with a picture of the scales of justice on it and the following words on it:

"Talk is cheap... until you hire a lawyer."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday mutterings

Not sure what I want to say today so I'll just write whatever comes to mind. The day started at 6 AM. Well, maybe a little earlier but that is when I climbed out of bed. It's a golf day, one of three each week again now that my knee is properly on the mend. I didn't do all that well but adequately enough, I think. I am back exercising again too so I was a little sore from Saturday's workout.

Popping into the gym at the "Y" Saturday morning, I found it a little too easy to restart my routine just about where I left off two months ago. It was a bit later that evening when I realized I should have throttled back a bit. I had not been doing much exercising for two months. The muscles were slack. Weak. But they didn't know that. Now they do. I am reminded of when we would have the first day of Phys.Ed. after summer vacation. The day after that, I found I had wobbly legs and spasmodic arms. The coach's answer? More exercise, of course. And I shall do that tomorrow. Because I know no other way.

When I was a child, my idea of heaven was to sit about eating cookies, preferably oatmeal. Now that I am long removed from childhood, my idea of heaven is to sit about eating oatmeal raisin cookies. See the difference?

Florida is a strange place in the winter. I woke up this morning to temps in the 30's. I put on shorts, warm up pants over the shorts, polo shirt, sweater, fleece jacket and headed for the golf course. An hour after teeing off, I had removed the fleece jacket. 15 minutes later, off came the sweater. 30 minutes after that, the warm-up pants were removed. The temperature was approaching 70. And a beautiful day was well under way.

I would rather the temperature range was from 50 to 75 but we can't have everything, can we? Even the people down from Canada were complaining about the cold this morning. I just chuckle. This is more polite than muttering, "Why not go back to Toronto then?"

The week is looking good so far.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I am such a pessimist

Like Moses, I come to make predictions about Egypt. Unlike Moses, I was not fished out of the Nile as a baby. And I don't have a staff (though I do own a cane) to use as a prop.

So Mubarak has accepted the fact that he needed to step down. I suppose some sort of deal was made with the modern day Pharoah... perhaps offering him (or maybe just his family) safe passage from Egypt and freedom from prosecution.

What happens now? Egypt falls under a military junta. The top military leader will likely be usurped by some younger officers and those "free and fair" elections the people wanted will be pushed off (in the interests of stability, of course) as indefinitely as the military can get away with. The military council will be a hotbed of intrigue and power struggles which will ultimately decide the fate of the nation.

If the people come out into the street again to protest this rule by fiat, they will not be tolerated.

That's my prediction for the next few years (or, maybe, decades) in Egypt. At least it doesn't entail Biblical plagues.

Friday, February 11, 2011

And the official position today is...

Can we muse? There are strange things going on around the world, don't you think? Especially in the Middle East. I don't want to get into the politics today but I am amazed at the wide range of opinions being voiced about the events.

As I was driving home from playing golf today, the news on the radio informed me of Mubarak's resignation. Never mind that the pundits all over the U.S. were firmly convinced he was going to resign last night. Now we have the mad scramble to spin those positions into some kind of positive light.

Apparently, Mubarak needed the hint from the Egyptian military when the tanks around the Presidential Palace turned their guns toward the Palace and away from the "rabble" in the street. Forget all the heads of state giving him all that advice about stepping down. Once you lose the military in a dictatorship, the show is essentially over.

Maybe Mubarak thought he could pull off a China (think Tiananmen Square) and tough it out. That only worked in China because the military is solidly under the control of the political machine there.

We who live in the West, in free societies with solid democratic principles, do not understand the role of the military in third world countries and in dictatorships. I certainly don't. The general rule is that the military props up the ruling elite. I was stunned by the pundits speaking of the respect and love of the military by the Egyptian people. It seemed so unlike what I thought was the norm.

We had our period of unruly, protesting, crowds in the streets back in the 60's. We had the National Guard turned out to keep order. I don't recall anyone viewing them as a calming influence or treating them with great respect. In fact, the protesters seemed to see them as "jack-booted thugs" for the most part.

What a topsy-turvy world we live in today.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A change of command

I was engaged in a bit of dialogue with someone the other day where I brought up the thought that presidents primary purpose was to inspire. Things kind of went downhill from there with a disagreement over why we elect "leaders" and what "inspire" meant and so on. During that conversation, I thought about something which, to me, illustrated my concept beautifully. It was too long to relate in a comment or short conversation so I brought it here.

Back in the olden days, as some of you know, I was in the U.S. Navy. I joined at the tender age of 19. The Vietnam war was just starting to escalate. It had been a little over a year since the Gulf of Tonkin Incident and the draft was picking up quickly. But this isn't about why I enlisted or that war. It's about the ship I was assigned to after my initial training was complete and, specifically, about its captain.

The captain of a Navy ship is, of course, the leader of the ship and its crew. In some ways, he is the ship. Tradition is that whenever the captain leaves the ship, even for a short period, the ship's bell is rung (4 times, if memory serves) and the announcement "USS [ship's name] departing" is made. When he comes back aboard, he is again announced in a similar fashion. His name and actual rank* is not mentioned. Remember this, it becomes important later.

Captain Gurney was a short man, perhaps 5'8" at most. He was not liked by the crew. I learned that almost immediately. Eventually, the captain and I also did not get along. That story will be told at another time. A ship's crew does not have to like their captain but they do have to respect him. I did not see much of that respect, if any, while I served under him. The crew seemed to dislike him intensely. This seemed to be because he liked to take the ship out to sea. As often as possible. And because he demanded certain standards of behavior.

The crew's morale is what was his downfall, I think. And that morale was low. Abysmally low. The captain was demanding, strict, and a bit of a perfectionist. What he wasn't was attuned to the feelings of his officers and crew. The ship enjoyed high marks in proficiency in every review under his command. We had one of the top gun crews in the squadron. We did well in all other aspects too. But that morale thing? Well, it hurt the captain's standing with the brass.

When it came time for him to move up in rank (he was a full commander), he was passed over each time. We had been his last chance to make that 4th bar. After three passes, the Navy tended to push career officers out. He failed to make the grade that third time. When it came to the end of his command, there was a Change of Command ceremony on board while we were in port. I don't think these ceremonies take place at sea very often, if at all.

The crew was assembled on the fantail (the deck area on the stern to you landlubbers) in dress uniform, all the officers were present, as well as the new captain. We stood at attention facing the hanger deck where the officers stood and the ceremony took place. The ceremony went fairly well, the only glitch being no one had us about face so we would be facing the ensign (the flag) as it was lowered and raised as a symbol of the change of command. Instead we stood at attention with our backs to the flag. You could see his jaw tighten, you could almost hear the grinding of his teeth.

After the ceremony was over, a limo pulled up to whisk him away to whatever desk job the Pentagon decided to bury him under. The captain saluted the ensign (flag) then the Officer of the Deck and then started down the gangway. At this point, the Petty Officer of the Deck was supposed to ring the ship's bell and announce for the last time for this captain, "USS Brinkley Bass, departing" followed immediately by "USS Brinkley Bass arriving" to complete the ceremonial rites. Instead, this is what we heard:

"US Navy Commander Departing."
"USS Brinkley Bass arriving."

It was the equivalent of a slap in the face to our departing captain.

Why was it done? Because in spite of keeping us safe, pushing us to do our best, he did not inspire us at all. We had performed well under his command, better than most other ships in many ways, but he did not inspire us. He pushed us hard, which is needed. But when we came up short, he did not take the blame. It was clear he felt we had failed him. When he praised our efforts, it seemed he was praising himself instead.

There was no inspiration.

Looking back over the years I served him, I think he was a much better captain than we gave him credit for. He just didn't have that certain something which binds a crew to its captain and so we saw things in an "us vs him" manner.

*A commander of a ship in the Navy is always referred to as "Captain" regardless of actual rank. He may have the rank of commander, lieutenant commander, or even just lieutenant, but he will be called "Captain" by the crew. It's tradition and protocol.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

On the beach again

Yesterday afternoon Turner Classic Movies (a favorite channel of mine) played On The Beach. For those unfamiliar with it, it is a 1959 black and white movie starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Tony Perkins and a few others. The main theme is one that was common in the late 50's and early 60's... the end of life on earth due to nuclear war.

It's a rather sad story. The only people left alive on the planet are in Australia. The fallout is headed their way and they all know it. In spite of knowing the end is coming, the people all seem remarkably calm and stoic. I found that the most unbelievable part of the story. There are way too many people who are constrained only by the fact that there might be some retribution for giving in to their urges. Civil society would break down almost completely in a situation the movie presents.

I have watched a lot of movies about the aftermath of a nuclear war or some unnamed apocalypse. Most have been more realistic; chaos, anarchy, the elevation of brutality as a means to survive. But they have been about survivors who had a chance of rebuilding, or believed they did. That is why this story was so different. You knew going in that there was no real hope. Yet people went about their lives, refusing to accept that reality.

Throughout the movie, there is talk of a "pill" which will be distributed just before the end, before the radiation sickness will begin, that will send the taker into a light relaxed, perhaps a bit euphoric, state then into a coma and then... death. Some of the interaction between characters is about that pill.

The final scene is a collage of shots of empty streets with a breeze blowing litter about.

I watch this movie whenever I notice it is on. I have seen it maybe 10 times over the years. It never fails to stir certain feelings, trigger certain thoughts. Maybe it's because I grew up in the 50's when the threat of nuclear war was so strong. Maybe it's a morbid fascination with the end of all things. Maybe it's just my own melancholy which draws me to this particular film. Or it could be that it had Ava Gardner in it as an alluring but somewhat slutty character. Or maybe Fred Astaire without a dance scene.

Way back when, it moved me to find the book and read it. But it has been so long that I have forgotten how the book and movie differ. I suppose I shall have to read it again.

[Footnote: I don't know what's going on with the fonts lately, the changing fonts in the posts are not intentional nor can I seem to "fix" them]

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

We're losing our cover

Forget Global Warming (man-made or cyclical), forget about giant meteors (not much we could do about one slamming into us in the next decade anyway), forget about politics and errant children revolting against their parents, the real worry is a shift in the Earth's magnetic poles.

That's right. We are in a state of flux (pardon the pun) when it comes to the magnetosphere. The magnetosphere protects us from solar winds. And it is never really stable. As it breaks down, as it fluctuates, it affects the weather. On a global scale. This article lays out the argument fairly well. The writer is no scientist, let me say that now. He does not qualify as a climatologist or former vice-president. What he is, maybe, is a bit off the norm. In researching him, I came across an article he wrote suggesting the North Koreans blew up the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. So, we're not talking about total rationality here.

The problem is that I have often wondered (and worried) about a magnetic polar shift. You see, we haven't had one in over 700,000 years. We have no real idea what the immediate or near-immediate effects would be. We know that there have been several over the 4 and 1/2 billion years this planet has existed. The shifts aren't cyclical, they don't happen at regular intervals. And because the last one occurred when it did, there is little evidence of what affects it had on weather, continental shift, plate tectonics, or much of anything else. We have evidence of these shifts in the alignments found in rock strata.

Mr Aym's position is that this change in the magnetosphere is what is driving these massive storms of late. It's an interesting theory but he doesn't flesh it out well enough for me. He does, on the other hand, set the proper hysterical tone that I like. That he takes some valid information and extrapolates his argument well beyond the limits of the data doesn't bother me too much. I am enamored of the rather bizarre theories of Von Daniken and those that who are like-minded. Of course, the ancient astronaut theory can be fairly easily refuted but it is still fun to imagine, isn't it?

Where does this leave me? This waffling between practical reality and fanciful imagination? Right here on this blog, I'd say.

Resources the writer is alleged to have used to formulate his theory:

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pearls of Wisdom

On Fridays my muse, Pearl, predicts the weekend through the Sacred (and all knowing) iPod. I do not own an iPod. I may never own one. Not that I have anything against them (if we discount the hype and the price) but I just do not own one. I do have a couple of MP3 players (one of which doubles as a "thumb drive") but neither of these has the "shuffle" function and so they cannot do the forecasting magic of Pearl's iPod.

In order to steal that idea from her (a habit of which I am loathe to be cured), I had to find another way to predict the future or buy, borrow, or steal an iPod. I have given up thievery, don't wish to buy anything unrelated to golf, and "friends" who do have iPods selfishly refuse to loan them to me for any extended period of time. So I think I have found another way.

Crossword puzzles.

You laugh. I can tell from here, on the other side of that computer screen from you, that you are incapable of keeping that mirth inside. Go ahead and chuckle. It is not my imagination, in spite of what the therapist says. The puzzle must first be solved, of course, and then a pattern needs to be discerned. For instance, Monday's (1/7/11) puzzle had this pattern:

Oafs leap paint lasses silicon bled bob sans desires firsts aspen pate plop gene

Ok, it needs work. Or maybe I missed the right pattern. Let's try:

Oafs ewes hump foil leap setae frau alga paint...

No, that's not working either. How about:

Offal elapsed headlines spieled mer brad cola agog ramps

No, can't make any sense of that either.

I won't give up. I am sure there is wisdom hidden in these puzzles.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I am saddened

As I wander about the Internet, I visit all sorts of places on the Left and on the Right. I find a constant theme from those on the Left that reminds me of the sentiments I heard back in the 60's. America as the source of evil in the world. I don't quite understand how our own citizens can develop that attitude. I can understand someone in another country having that point of view. I wouldn't expect anyone to put a foreign country above their own, or even on an equal level, but why would you dislike your own country's culture and history?

Yes, the U.S. has done some unsavory things in its past. Forcing Mexico to sell us the southwest and California was one. We fought a war and installed a puppet government to get that done. Oddly, even though we essentially controlled Mexico we still paid for the territory we stole. I don't know of any other conquering nation that has done that.

We have slavery in our history. It's shameful but I cannot think of a nation that didn't have it in one form or another in its history. Racism knows no territorial boundaries, either. We have no sole ownership of such evils.

We mistreated and lied to the First Americans, the American Indians. No more so than the Spanish or the French but we continued it after they were no longer in the picture.

But are we really oppressors? We have territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean. We offer them plebiscites so their peoples can determine their own status. All they have to do is petition for them. Gather support for independence and then bring it to a vote. We once owned Cuba and the Philippines. Puerto Rico has voted three times on the question in recent decades and each time has remained a commonwealth under our protection. Guam seems comfortable with being a territory.

No territory is forced to stay under our flag. This is totally unlike any past imperial power. It is anything but imperialist in nature. Yet I hear and read accusations by some of our own citizens that we are imperialistic. I am perplexed. I am puzzled. But, most of all, I am saddened when I read or hear such things.

It is true that we do "invade" other countries economically. And people in those countries feel we are displacing their native cultures. That I understand. But we do not do this at the point of a gun. It is a side effect of being the world's primary economy. It is done by the people of these countries. They bought the things we made. Now, we aren't making as much so we have less to sell. And we buy more from other countries. We have trade deficits. These deficits reduce our power and influence.

In spite of our image as an imperialistic power, as is often alleged, we are called upon to be the world's peacekeeper, to mediate conflicts just about anywhere in the world. We are called first when there is a disaster somewhere in the world. We are met with anger if we do not respond with speed, supplies, and money. Even when we do, complaints about our “heavy-handedness” are rampant soon after.

With the unrest in the Middle East, we are blamed for the existence of petty dictators who oppress their people because we support them, because we do not support their opposition. Yet, where do (such as Cuba), we are blamed for their troubles.

I am afraid I do not understand those who think the U.S. Is the cause of the world's troubles. I am especially saddened by those who live here, in the U.S., who feel that way.

Friday, February 4, 2011

That pain is all in your knee

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That's what I first thought to post. Then I decided against it. After all, I would miss out on a fine opportunity to bore you readers to tears. The real purpose of this blog is to improve your opinion of all the other blogs. I hope they appreciate that.

The surgery went so well yesterday and there was no pain... until about 8 PM. Even then the pain was mild and limited to the incision points. For about 15 minutes. Until I stood up. And then my old friend Excruciating Agony came to visit. And stayed.

Pain medication these days does little for me. A friend who also misspent his youth on drugs and alcohol suggests that we have higher drug effect thresholds than the average human. It's a plausible theory. We are paying the price for our youthful indiscretions.

In any event, the knee hurts. Analyzing it, as I am wont to do, I believe it is entirely the after-effects of the poking and probing the doc had to do to remove the wires. It will pass in a couple of days. One hopes.

But I have the wires as souvenirs.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Knee-ding some work done

If I make less sense than usual, blame the drugs. This morning I went for some outpatient surgery. When the doc put my kneecap together, he used some wires to bind it up while it healed. The hope was that these would not have to come out. Unfortunately, hope just isn't enough sometimes. About 3 months ago, the healing seemed to stop and new pain started in. I put up with it for awhile but it really hurt sometimes, especially when getting into or out of the car. So I decided that we should have the wires removed.

Those are not scribbles on the X-rays, they are the wires. A little arthroscopic surgery to remove them was in order. The toughest part was getting up at 5 in the morning to go to the outpatient surgery center. And then waiting for the doc to show up. He didn't look hungover so I figured my odds were 50-50 that things would go right. And, according to all those who stayed awake, it did.

Now maybe, just maybe, I will get a much more usable knee joint out of it. A bit of rest and I should be just fine. Or not.

They did ruin a pair of shorts for me when they bathed the knee in Betadine and it, of course, ran down the back of my leg. They weren't my best pair and I have a dozen pairs so no great loss.

Nurses have a great sense of humor. They crack jokes while you're in pain but somehow it doesn't come across as rude or uncaring. Doctors make jokes too but those always make me nervous. I prefer my doctors to be serious when they are about to cut holes in me.

I think the anesthetic is starting to wear off now so it is time to go lay down and elevate the leg.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Let's go for a drive!

I get regular emails from various web sites. They generally (and wrongly, I think) call them “newsletters”. One of them comes to me from Rasmussen Reports, a polling company. Polls are interesting to me because they are supposed to reveal how the public thinks and identify trends. Whether they do or don't, I have no real idea. I could examine the polls in detail (the questions, the statistics, the modality, etc) but I have no background in statistical data gathering. I tend to take poll results as “implied truth” and subject to interpretation.

In any event, I signed up to get these updates from Rasmussen. Primarily because the free updates are informative enough.

I received one the other day which polled people on car buying and usage. The headline grabbed my attention: For 53% of Adults, Driving is Strictly for Getting Around.

Following the link, I learned that 43% really enjoy driving. And, broken down by sex (which I have been from time to time... but I digress), it turns out that 53% of men like to drive and 59% of women don't.

The survey didn't get into that aspect so much but I thought the reason behind it might be that men like to be in control while women do not. I would not have guessed the above is true based upon personal experience. I have known many girls and women who loved to drive and who liked the fact that they were in control while doing so. I have also known many men and boys who would just as soon someone else drove.

I am not one who easily cedes that control which comes from being the driver. I am a terrible passenger though I do try to keep my mouth shut and my whimpering to a minimum. I am not always successful. I know people who can sleep while someone else drives. I cannot do that. That I blame on a specific trip I took with my then brother-in-law when I was 17. He cured me of sleeping by going off the road twice in less than 15 minutes while I nodded off against the passenger side window.

I have loved to drive ever since I learned how. I would take my old beat up `52 Studebaker and wander around for hours on various roads. Gas was cheap then. I never got lost because I never had a destination in mind. This willingness to just roam was likely initiated by the Sunday drives my father would take us on. He never seemed to have any destination in mind either. We'd wander all over Long Island, it seemed, much of which was quite rural in those days.

Getting back to that survey, I thought you might be interested in the questions asked. They are:

1- How likely are you to buy or lease a car in the next year?

2- (Answered only by those who are at least somewhat likely to buy a car in the next year - 250 Adults) Will you get a new car or a used car?

3- (Answered only by those who are at least somewhat likely to buy a car in the next year - 250 Adults) How likely are you to consider buying a car from the Ford Motor Company?

4- (Answered only by those who are at least somewhat likely to buy a car in the next year - 250 Adults) How likely are you to consider buying a car from General Motors?

5- (Answered only by those who are at least somewhat likely to buy a car in the next year - 250 Adults) How likely are you to consider buying a car from Chrysler?

6- When you purchase your next automobile, how likely is it that you will buy a hybrid car?

7* How likely is it that you will buy an electric car within the next decade?

8* Are you more likely to buy an electric car because it’s good for the environment or because of high gas prices?

9* Is driving a car something you really enjoy or just something you do to get from one place to another?

Seems to me that the headline wasn't an accurate description.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Your call is very important to us (snicker)

I subscribe to a number of things online. I am a sucker for free things so I tend to not so carefully sign up for various newsletters and notifications while surfing the Net. It isn't really “surfing”, you know. I would rather call it “perusing”. The other term doesn't match up. I know, I used to do the actual surfing when I was a young man of 18 and 19. That would be riding waves along the ocean shore, not wandering through porn sites.

There are some similarities. If you are not careful, you could end up bruised a bit in either situation. But that's about as far as the comparison goes. Maybe we could add in that each induces you to say stupid things. But the dangers in real surfing are physical as opposed to the financial dangers in careless Net surfing. And I don't get the great rush of adrenalin or the pleasant zen like Nirvana from the Net that I once enjoyed at the beach. Not to mention I felt much cleaner emerging from the water than I do withdrawing from the Net.

Anyway, this isn't about surfing of either type. It's about customer service calls. A rather poor segue but bear with me. One of the subscriptions I collected along the way was a Miami Herald offer to send me Dave Barry columns. If you do not know who Dave Barry is, click the link that is his name. A quick explanation is that Dave is what so many of us Bloggers want to be (or think we are). The most recent offering from the Miami Herald was a column Dave wrote back in 2000 (I did not realize when I signed up that Dave no longer did columns for the Herald and that these would be “vintage” columns) about waiting on the phone for customer service.

The column inspired a few comments from readers; only a few of which actually realized they were reading a column written ten years ago. More than a few thought their comments should (or did) equal Dave's humor. And that is where the telemarketers come into play. Most comments concerned telemarketing rather than customer service.

Like Dave, I hate calling customer service. I am sure you do as well. The only thing making such calls tolerable for me is the speakerphone button on my cordless handset. Since I only have one good ear, I risk damaging that by holding the phone to it for the seemingly infinite wait for a customer service representative who is probably on break or dealing with some other angry and abusive caller. So, as soon as I hear the “Your call is very important to us...your wait time is...”, I punch the speakerphone button and set the phone down next to me and go back to whatever mindless game I was playing on the computer, my one good ear all a-twitch waiting for the allegedly live voice of the representative. This way I do not have to actually listen to the recycled elevator music that is being played and interrupted at irregular intervals with the “Your call is important, please stay on the line” announcements which are at least 100 decibels above the music.

I would not make these calls at all if I could find a decent alternative. Sometimes I can just email tech support with a question but I find these rarely result in anything positive. Mostly they deteriorate into my explaining the problem in different ways in a series of emails in a vain attempt to get the recipient to understand the actual problem and why everything he has offered as a “fix” has already been tried and failed. Which is how the phone calls go once I finally get through, now that I think about it.

It is much like the old Complaint Department (now also called “Customer Service”) desks in department stores. The main purpose of which was to fool the customer into believing that anyone remotely connected to the store cared at all.

And they wonder why our landfills are overflowing...