Monday, July 20, 2015

One Small Step for a man ...

Today was "Moon Day," or so they called it.  The day, in 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin landed on the moon.  I was there, as they say, if only watching on television.

The space program was a big deal to me.  As a child of the 1960s (born in 1957 - my parents called my pacifier "Sputnik") the space program was the stuff of wonder for a child.  I have vague memories of the Gemini missions on TV, and more vivid memories of Apollo.  I would look back on the Mercury program of the early 1960s in the same way I would look back on the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, and the Kennedy assassination(s), and remember with childlike wonder how such things could happen in America.  I saw it, but the child didn't process it.

I guess you have to be my age (57) or older to have any sort of perspective on the Apollo moon landing.  I don't think you could have been any younger than that to have any real idea what was going on.  The 1960s were a turbulent time in our history, but as a child, all I was interested in was the wonder of science and what we were doing in going to the moon.

I built scale models of the Saturn V rocket and Lunar Module, complete with stages and a launch pad. Nowadays, I'd guess there would be a video game.  In my day, we built plastic models with glue that we had to have our parents present to purchase. I also built models of John Kennedy in a rocking chair and Babe Ruth swinging a bat at Yankee Stadium, but I digress...

My mother wasn't  the least bit interested in the whole Apollo 11 affair.  As I stayed awake through delay after delay, she would yell down, "Would you turn that damned TV down?!"  I had the proverbial toothpicks in my eyes waiting for Neil, Buzz, Al Shepard, Alan Bean, et al to step out of the LEM and start the TV show.

The Apollo 12 show was a bit of a disappointment.  I remember the broadcast being staticy and disrupted.  Alan Bean hit the camera with the sample hammer and, for a moment, the picture returned ... but eventually went back to the scrambled mess.

Subsequent missions - excluding the historic Apollo 13 - would be anti-climactic, as Americans we had seen the landing and walkabout before, and were quickly bored with it all.  I wondered what was so boring about it. It's a man on the moon and all - but nevertheless ...

It was the stuff of wonder.  Science come to life. In its time, it was improbable yet possible.  We had trouble believing what we were seeing, yet we understood our capability.  Literally history in the making.

What I fear now is that the children today have no sense of wonder.  They have witnessed so much, yet so little.  What they witness is fed to them... Pornography, marketed links, Tweets, Facebook posts, TMZ -- all the stuff that occupies their minds on their phone while they should be conversing and absorbing life.

I suppose we have turned a corner, and the "small step for a man" isn't a big enough step for mankind today.
Perhaps we expect too much?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Happy Father's Day


Today is Father's Day.  Each year since 1967, it has meant less and less to me - and more and more.

Less, because I draw further away from my father, who died on April 3, 1967; and more, because I cling to the memories of the days we had together and they mean more to me with each passing year.

I have vague memories of the first time he threw me a baseball.  I remember being on the side of our home - where my mother still resides - and for whatever reason, standing at the plate as a left-handed hitter and having him throw me a baseball.  I think I did it because my favorite player, Johnny Callison, hit left-handed and threw right-handed.  It didn't seem like that big a deal.  He didn't try to change me or encourage me to "hit righty" like the other kids, and that would be the hallmark of our time together.  Be yourself, kid.

At some point in the early 1960s he bought a reel-to-reel tape recorder. A Webcor, if I remember.  It was a 4-track.  To a kid, it didn't mean much, other than that he and I could sit in front of it with microphones and read jokes to each other from books.  He laughed - but I suspect that it was just to make me feel better.

As were his stories about World War 2.  He served, albeit in San Francisco - something I wouldn't find out until much later.  As a child, he told me stories about "sitting around, drinking with the Germans," and how "they were great guys."  Either it was his strange sense of humor, a blocking device, or his way of encouraging me not to hate people; it was part of his humility that I inherited.  Whatever it was, I remember telling kids in grammar school how my dad said that the Germans were great guys.  It seemed to equal-out the lies they told me about Santa Claus.

Sunday morning. "Who's pitching today?" he would ask, and we would scan the newspaper for the lineups.  "Koufax," I said.  "OK, let's go!" and we would get into the car, stop at a sporting goods store in Oaklyn, buy a couple of tickets, and me and dad were going to a Phillies game.
When we parked the car, one of the local kids would say, "Watch you car for a quarter, mister." and dad would hand the kid twenty-five cents to make sure our car had 4 tires when we came back.

I remember watching "McHale's Navy" with him.  He said, "If our Navy was like that, we'd have lost the war."

Christmas. Dad's 8mm movie camera had a bank of lights that would make Stevie Wonder squint.  They would come on, and immediately I would hear, "Stop squinting!" as my eyes bled from the 2,000 watts of llight it would take to expose the 1963 film.

"Treat everybody the same, no matter what they do," was one of his mantras.  It didn't matter if it was the head of the company or the guy who changed the toilet paper - you respect people, regardless, unless they don't respect you.  That was a valuable life lesson that I have carried with me.  I went to my corporate grave with it, after I was sent home for 5 days for speaking my mind to our corporate CEO and I related my father's lesson to our former head of our Human Resources Department who told me, "Your father was wrong."

My father was never wrong.

My mother had to sneak me up to his hospital room at Cooper after his heart attack.  She shielded me in her overcoat as we got into the elevator.  There was no reason a boy couldn't visit his father in his hospital room, she thought. I went in, and in his weakened state, I hardly recognized him.  He was frail and gaunt - a shell of the strength I had seen.  Still, he was my dad, and he put on a brave face in front of his son.

He died at home.  The doctors couldn't do any more for him.  The hardening of his arteries had progressed to a fatal state.  Today, they would do a bypass and he'd still be alive.  In 1967, they sent him home with nitroglycerine tablets and told him to eat fish.
The death was slow.  Gradually, he succommed to the illness.  He couldn't climb stairs, so he was forced to sleep downstairs on a cot that was set-up in our living room - at the place where a chair now sits that I feel compelled to sit whenever I visit my mom.
It's the same place where he would kiss me good-night.

Dr. Assante came and did what he could - which was nothing.  I stood in an adjacent room and watched, as my mother held her hand under his nose, proclaiming, "I can still feel him breathing!," and the doctor telling her that it was merely the spare air expelling from his lungs.
That's an awful lot for a 9-year-old to understand, and I didn't understand any of it.

His viewing and funeral took place in a flash of three days.  In the meantime, I was scuttled to neighbor's homes and given to relatives to "keep busy" while the arrangements were made and my Sainted mother went through the slightly medicated procedures associated with burying the love of her life.

It is impossible for all of that to occur and not have an effect on a child - sheltered or not.  In the end, I don't think that the sheltering did anything to shield me from the impact of the event. My father - the light of my life - my hero - my everything; was gone.  I didn't understand what death was.  I didn't grasp, until much later, that there would be no more baseball games, no more jokes, no more squinting at horrid movies.  My childhood was over. At 9.

I miss you, dad. I miss you every day.  I know you would be dead by now, but I miss you seeing me develop into the adult that you trained me to be.  I have made mistakes, but I know that you would have been there to comfort me through them. Mom did a wonderful job of rearing me, but there is a special bond that a father and son have that she could never replace.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Story of Me and Thor

Six years ago, I brought Thor home from the Gloucester County Animal Shelter.  It was the result of a month's old search for a replacement for my last cat, an 18-year-old who had eventually succumbed to kidney disease.

The process was arduous.  I had no idea what I was looking for - only that I was looking for a cat who was looking for me. That is to say, I'd know it when I saw it.
When I saw Thor (the name the shelter had given him) he was a 1-to-2 year-old cat, in a cage with a tag, saying that there was no record of how he came to be in the shelter.  Usually, they know.  Allergies, financial problems, or some other reason why the cats are there.  With Thor, no reason.

I picked him out of the group - mostly because of his handsome features - and partly because he kept staring at me, and when the attendants handed him to me, he reached out with his paw and held it to my cheek.  The attendants were dumbfounded. "He's never done that with anyone!" they exclaimed, and when I heard his purring, I knew I had found my cat.

"He's the one," I said, and I proceeded to take on the task of bringing him home. I figured it would be a short process, but as it turned out, it would take almost 3 days. Each night, I slept thinking about Thor in his cage, and how he should be "home" with me instead of in that PetsMart store. After two days, I called the shelter asking about my adoption process.
They responded incredulously, saying that they were making an exception in my case, and my persistence was leading them to let Thor go home with me a day earlier than they had planned.  "Good for him," I thought.

They gave me a gaggle of paperwork, prompting me to introduce him slowly to his new home. It included locking him in a room for 3 days so that he would "get used to his new surroundings." I knew enough about cats to know that I wasn't going to make him suffer through that nonsense.  I took him home, opened his carrier and let him roam.  He walked through each of my 7 rooms and settled onto the arm of my sofa - looking over his new Kingdom.  And that was it. Thor was home.

His breath stunk. I took to calling him "Mister Stinky." We came to find out that he had gingivitis, which made his breath stink and would require him to have his teeth cleaned. The cleaning made his teeth fall out, to the extent that he died on the operating table and had to be revived.  While spending the night at the hospital, the vet was locking up and noticed that he was lying in a pool of his own blood. She put him back on the table and re-closed his wounds. I could have taken him home that night, but I decided to let him stay with the vet on more night. That extra night saved his life. I can't imagine what would have happened if I had taken him home and he bled all over my bed.

He was much happier without teeth, but who could have known?  He had a healthy couple of years  before his innards would rebel.

In less than a year he went from 14 pounds to 20, which got me to put him on a weight-loss diet food.  In a year, he went back to a svelte 15 pounds, leading the vet to say that he was "The poster-boy for the weight-loss food." One hurdle.

The next hurdle was pancreatitis, which made him stop eating because of the distress.  That ailment led to an Ultrasound that revealed smaller-than-normal kidneys, which set the medical process in motion.

His small kidneys were the reason he urinates so often, and goes through water quickly. They fill-up quickly, and the voiding leaves him dehydrated.  That means that I have to administer sub-q fluids twice a week to keep him hydrated. It's a needle in his neck attached to a fluid bag that hangs from a camera tripod over his head.

The most recent issue is his cholesterol and triglycerides.  His cholesterol is 865 and his triglycerides are over 1100. Both of those numbers are off the charts - which goes to figure for him.  The vet has no medication for feline cholesterol because, "We just don't see it." Of course not - it's Thor. The feline clinic.

Not to mention that his urine shows that he is losing protein and could lead to edema. That means that he will be prescribed Benazepril - which is a human drug that works for cats with this issue.  In addition, he'll need to eat a special prescription diet for cats with coronary issues.  Science Diet g/d, which will cost $80 a month.

So, here I am, with this beautiful cat - so big, yet so fragile - with innards who are resisting his outer strength.
And yet, it is up to me - his companion - to care for this beautiful animal who cannot care for himself. I think that's the idea -- to care for my precious companion. It's how it is supposed to work.

I don't know what else could happen to him. No teeth, small kidneys, bad pancreas, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, losing protein through his urine, and fluids shutting down ...

... Yet he seems happy.  As the Vet said, "He doesn't know how sick he is." That is true, only I know - and you.

He is happy because I make him happy.  And that makes me happy.  In the end, I don't know if he would still be alive if it were not for me.

And, I don't know if I would still be alive it it were not for him.

We are in this together.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Who Cares About Negligence?

While going through some old CDs, I stumbled upon an essay I wrote for college on April 3, 2003.  The title was particularly intriguing, and it might be the best part of the work - although I will allow you to be the judge.  I cannot recall for what or whom it was written or what grade it got.
Since I haven't posted anything new here in a while ... here is something.


Who is responsible for consumer negligence?  If we can define a negligent consumer as one who is irresponsible, then by definition it is not the company.  We also cannot always hold manufacturers responsible for so-called “foreseeable but unintended harm” caused by their products.  So, that leaves us in a legal no-man’s land of product liability, which seems to be precisely where we belong.
          The 2003 version of the Porsche 911 Turbo is advertised as a car to “leave the rush hour behind.”  According to the company, the car has a top speed of 190 miles per hour.  It comes with such luxuries as Porsche Stability Management, VarioCam Plus and something called a Tiptronic S transmission, whatever that is.  The car develops 415 horsepower and will get you to 60 MPH in less than 4 seconds.[1]
          Under what conditions does the car go from being a mode of transportation to an implement of destruction?  Surely one can get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ in a vehicle with far less technology, so can we say that Porsche encourages drivers to risk their lives by designing the car for such extravagant performance?  Combine the Porsche with the latest Nokia cellular phone and the combination could prove to be disastrous, even though the manufacturers of each product had no intention of providing such a calamitous situation.
          The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that driver distraction from various causes plays a role in 20% to 30% of all motor vehicle crashes.  Research has identified three different ways in which the use of a mobile phone can distract a motorist – visual, biomechanical and cognitive.  Try using a phone while driving 190 MPH.  Pay attention, because you won’t be on the road for long.  Even at legal speeds, the combination can be hazardous to your health, but our legislators have yet to help.  In 2001, legislation to reduce mobile phone use by drivers was proposed in 43 states, but passed in only New York.[2]
          Gray areas abound in either the Porsche or cell phone issue.  If we are to rely on consumers’ good sense, we will be disappointed with the results.  In the cases of manufacturer responsibility, we must rely on the law to be our guide.  Porsche should not be held liable for an accident that occurs in excess of the legal speed limit and Nokia should not be held liable for a similar accident in which the driver was distracted by the use of a cell phone.  They should only be responsible for product defects, not user defects.  If the intervening actions of the user result in harm, the manufacturer should not be held liable.
          If so, then all sorts of product liability cases would result.  Knives, baseball bats, chairs and rope are all capable of doing harm, but it is not their intended purpose.  If someone is tied to a chair, beaten with a bat and stabbed, those actions are so far removed from sitting, pulling, playing baseball and carving a turkey that any liable suit should be deemed frivolous.  Certainly the intervening actions usurp the products intended purpose.
          Should the auto industry and cell phone manufacturers decide to lobby governments to limit or eliminate such lawsuits, we would all benefit. Surely a great portion of the cost of such products is going toward attorney’s fees, so any effort to limit the amount of a settlement should keep consumer costs down.  Such actions would be legitimate in the cases of products whose original intent was not to cause harm.
          Gun manufacturers have a responsibility to the consumer merely because the gun has no purpose other than destruction.  Other products like cell phones or kitchen appliances are a benefit to society, and as such, any liability would be limited to product defects.  A manufacturer cannot be held responsible if someone throws a toaster into a bathtub filled with water.  One would hope that the cost of lobbying for such limitations would not outweigh the potential cost savings to consumers.
          I’m sure the National Rifle Association has a powerful lobby in Washington working to assure that gun manufacturers can continue to develop and sell guns with little regard to any moral responsibility.  As does the tobacco industry, whose products are often as harmful, albeit not as immediately.  Both industries lobby heavily to protect their interests.  However, it usually falls to consumers (or their lawyers) to try to force companies to make their products safer.  Unfortunately, all we get are “low tar” cigarettes and “safer” guns.  Hardly a panacea.
          What we are left with are more laws on the books and lobbyists who care more about profits than people.  I can only wonder why cigarettes and guns can continue to be sold while other products that cause far less harm (anything less than death qualifies) are prohibited from being sold.  Perhaps the same folks lobbying for tort reform could push for lobbying reform.  In my perfect world, special interest groups would remain special, and their interest in products that cause harm would be theirs alone.  My gut tells me that if our legislators were tied only to the interests of their constituents, guns and cigarettes would be the least of our concerns.  Instead, they are the cause of excess legislation and destruction.
 





[2] “Cell Phones and Driving:  How Risky?”, David Ropeik & George Gray, Consumers Research, Jan. 2003, Vol. 86, No. 1

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Our Great Society

"And with your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build a Great Society. It is a Society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled."
- Lyndon B. Johnson,  May 7, 1964

That was just over 50 years ago, and I'd assume that Mr. Johnson had no idea of the so-called technological advancements that would take place over the next 5 decades.  Things like cable television, the Internet, microwave ovens, and digital photography that would contribute to our now Great Society.  yeah.

The mid-sixties was a time when we concerned ourselves with issues like civil rights, gender equality, and free speech. In the mid-(I don't know)-14th year of the third millennium, we have other concerns.  Those of legalizing marijuana, same-sex marriages, and where to build our next casino.  It's very sophisticated - and selfish, in most ways.

We walk around with earphones, heads down, oblivious to the rest of the "great society," and our gaze is fixed on our next text message or Facebook "like."  Have we built a Great Society? It says here that we have not.

What we have built is a society based on personal wants and needs, and not the wants and needs of the society, which isn't Great at all.

The more our technology grows, the less our personal contact grows.  We prefer to text rather than talk - e-mail rather than hand-write a card or note - and our Facebook "friends" are not real friends at all, but merely Internet acquaintances we have met because we know somebody that they know, too.

I don't know anyone's telephone number.  In the 1960s (and into the 1980s) if someone wanted me to call them, I immediately knew their phone number and could recite it.  Now, if I don't have my cell phone handy, I have no clue of your phone number.  You are an icon and a click on my Contacts list.

And, this Internet thing.  Well - maybe you have no idea, but I suspect you have some idea.  There is fornication everywhere.  If I was a teenager growing-up in this society, my head would explode over the vast amount of nudity, sex, and other acts going on that are just a click away. Sure, they are "protected," but all one has to do is click "YES, I ACCEPT" and they're in.  If I was a parent, I would literally lose sleep over what my child was seeing on the Internet. I really can't believe that there is that much intercourse and deviant sexual behavior going on in the world - let alone what is being recorded and broadcast over the Internet.  I am by no means naive, but all one has to do is a simple Google search and see the amount of web sites devoted to it to realize - Jeebus, that's a lot of stuff!

You can go pretty much anywhere and see women (and men) in various stages of undress.  In my day, you had to find a stray copy of Playboy magazine in your uncle's trash to get a glimpse of a breast. Now, you can Google-search Vagina close-up and get a gander - for free.  See how easy that was?  And think - your 12-year-old knows how to do that, too.

And then, there is Facebook and Twitter, where you can log-in and insult people at will. That's a bargain compared to what it used to be, where we had to write letters and sign our names and stuff.  Now, you can be Wonderboy1400 and post a comment.  It's easy to offend from afar.  I bet Johnson never saw that coming, either.

Meanwhile, children are still going unschooled.  If you doubt me, just read their Facebook comments and check the grammar and spelling.  As for unfed, I'm not so sure.  They look like they have plenty of food - and perhaps that's another issue.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

The i in Team

One of the benefits of aging is perspective. It isn't always a good thing, though, because it exposes the current time to the past.
In this case, my being a child of the 1960s has given me the perspective of what are called Aging Baby Boomers.  Good for me.

I started to think (dangerous, I know) about the differences in our society between then and now.  We can rule out the obvious ones that even kids could come up with.  The one I focused on is the difference in the way we treat each other.

The 1960s were a time of great social and political turmoil.  There were civil rights issues, protests against the war, and demonstrations demanding women's equality.  Those are all social issues, and to a large extent, have been resolved to the satisfaction of the people involved.

We could say it was a "simpler time," but that is true of any era that we look back on.  Comparatively, the 1930s were simpler, and the decades prior, and so forth.  Society continues to grow in complexity. 

The times in which we live are certainly as complex as any, and not only technologically, although it is the technology that presents the issue I found in my thinking.

I find the biggest difference in society between now and then is the focus on Me.  I know, we've been through the "Me Generation" and all, but this is something different.  What dawned on me is the proliferation of things that have the prefix you, me or i.

YouTube, iPhone, (i-everything), Facebook (a variation of me, concerning your face), Selfies (which, I know were never done with film cameras) and now this Ice Bucket thing, where people challenge other people to pour a bucket of iced water on themselves - all in the name of some charity.  Sure, there is a do-gooder aspect of it, but the bigger angle is me and what I am doing versus what you are doing - which is nothing.

We used to dump our spare change in a bucket, leave "March of Dimes" or fill books of quarters that the local fire house would collect.  Now, we donate a dollar and fill-out a tag with our name on it that gets posted at the Wawa checkout counter; collect money for a charity run or bike-a-thon for illness awareness and wear a t-shirt proclaiming "I DID THIS FOR THAT."  There is no good in anonymity.

Let us not examine the bigger issue of what good the money does for the illness.  Somebody rode a bicycle 75 miles in the name of a deadly disease, and yet, the deadly disease goes on.  It is likely that the disease pays no attention to the amount of money raised to fight it.  In a larger sense, when did throwing money at something ever change it?  The cynic would argue that the corporate end of the disease (the Association or Foundation) that benefits from the money would be ill-served to end the disease, lest its benefactors be out of a job.  The money goes toward propegating the need for the money.  It is a literal death spiral.

You will be sadly disappointed if, at the end of your life, the time and money you have spent and raised for these diseases has been spent and raised in vain - which is the highest probability.  You would be better served - and the victims would be better served - if you gave your time and money directly to them and not to some Association or Foundation who will spend a fraction of your dollars on something that is not closely related to finding a cure or making the victims happier.

You can spread happiness and do good on your own - without Facebook posts, videos, or drawing attention to yourself.

Try it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Birds

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
- Genesis 1:26


Maybe it's that, or maybe it's something else, but I feel a responsibility to the birds.  Dominion, by its definition means sovereignty, and as such, imparts us with a responsibility to the animals the cohabit this Earth with us.

Maybe it's the idea that we are all born to a place, and with some of us, it is impossible to leave that place.  The birds were here first, and as such, they have prominence over those of us who built houses on top of their houses.  We chased them from their place and forced them to live in our place.

Maybe that's too simple.

I have had a bird feeder outside my tiny condo ever since I have lived here, which is now going on its twenty-third year.  The past few winters have been kind to my aviary friends, but this year, not so much.  Snow cover makes it difficult for them to find food, so - to me - and my dominion, I believe that falls on me to find food for them.  It's pretty easy, really.  All I have to do is walk to the grocery store and find bags of food for them. If they had the ability to purchase food, I'm sure they would.  They cannot, so it falls on those of us (me) with dominion.

Whatever the reason, it gives me great pleasure to see the finches, sparrows and the ground-feeding doves feasting on the fruits of my labor.  Maybe I put to fine a point on it, but I think they appreciate it.

Short story:  My previous cat, the late, lamented Kitty, was sick.  I knew he was sick because he didn't move from his spot and didn't touch his food for an entire day.  I wanted to take him to the Veterinarian, but my ex-wife thought that "he'll be fine."  I knew he wasn't "fine,"and told her, "If he could drive himself to the vet, he'd do it. But, he cannot, so it falls on us to do it for him."  I took him, and he was given an antibiotic to cure his problem.  In a couple of days, he was well and I knew that he wouldn't have been any better if we had left him to his own will. It all goes back to the "dominion over animals" part of the thing.  We owe them.

So, here I am, spending good money to feed birds that I do not own nor control.  However, I feel like it makes me a part of the giant circle of life, or whatever thing you want to assign to it.  Suffice it to say, the birds have no control over where they are and are powerless to change it, so it falls on me (or you) to make their lives as pleasant as possible.  It's part of our place here on Earth.

Or, maybe I just like birds.