Saturday, November 14, 2015

What in the World?

I don't know what to make of the world today.  The recent terrorist attacks in Paris are the latest example of a world gone crazy.  The Hopi called it koyaanisqatsi - Life out of Balance.  That is precisely what is going on now.

Changing your Facebook profile pic to the France flag colors is nice of you, but pointless.  It's exactly what they want you to do.
You can pray, hope, and dedicate your life to ending terrorism in the world, and it won't make a damned bit of difference.

Pragmatic? Maybe. Realistic? Yes.  Your prayers mean nothing to them. They don't subscribe to our religion, and the fact that you care so much only reinforces their desire to disrupt your life.
Terrorism means that they have disrupted your life to the extent that you now have to arrive at an airport two hours prior to takeoff, can't take certain things on board with you, and your entrance to sporting events means that you are guilty until proven innocent.  That's what terrorism is.

So, go ahead and pray, hope, contribute money ... whatever your penchant. It won't matter. Sorry to tell you.  The evil in the world is bigger than your good.

You can listen to the current presidential candidates when they tell you how they would deal with "those people," but their words will fall on deaf ears the next time ISIS or some other sect blows something up in the name of their religion.

Religion.  That's the thing that got us here in the first place.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What is On My Mind

I've watched the Republican and Democrat debates, and I've concluded that none of these people are qualified to run our country.  They are qualified to qualify, but as far as having the ideas and personality to lead a nation - it's debatable.

They will tell you that their parents or their grandparents came from some sort of poverty or hardship, but the fact is that none of them have come from hardship.  Either they have been given some privilege in life or earned it.  Either way, they have no idea what an average American is going through.  And by average American, I mean a person living on or near the miniumum wage or on a fixed income like Social Security.

They don't know how much it costs to shop for groceries, what cable television costs, or what their cell phone provider is charging them every month.  Put them on the spot and ask them those questions.  I'll bet you a week's pay (Mine, not theirs) that they don't know, or will stammer over the answer.

It's the thing that separates candidates from real people.  They tell you that they are real people, and they want us to believe that they are real people -- but they are not real people.  They are manufactured people created by their parties to sell themselves as being just like us.

They are not like us, and they do not like us.

It is a sad fact, and if you associate yourself with one of them, it just makes you part of the problem.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Thoughts and Stuff

I just became a proud shareholder of the Ford Motor Company, so watch that stock tank over the next few months.  They do everything right, and when the company suffered, they didn't go to the government for a handout.  Rather, they solved their own problems. That's admirable.
There's another opportunity in Sirius Satellite Radio (SIRI).  I just bought a car (a Ford, coincidentally) and it came equipped with satellite radio. I used to think that I'd die before I would pay for radio, but this isn't radio.  It's customized programming over a satellite network. To call it radio is a disservice.  I'm converted, to the point that I am going to extend my free trial period for another year.  The company is growing, and since its merger with XM Radio, it is the lone provider of the product.  The only issue confronting the stock is that Howard Stern's contract expires in three months.  If he renews, expect the stock to gain substantially.  If he doesn't it should still grow, but they'll have to find a catalyst.
I've been buying Alcoa (AA), but at this point I'm waiting to see it settle-in, since it's been going steadily down for the past couple of weeks.
Likewise, Aeropostale (ARO).  It will be a huge turnaround story if they can make it work, but at 65 cents a share, I'd wait for some news that brought it back to the dollar-a-share territory before I spent any more money in it.  There is potential overseas, and the company is pursuing it. Can they make it work? There's the rub.
OK, thus ends my financial consultation. Remember, it was free.

Today, on the road, I encountered an all-too familiar experience.  Traveling along a state highway at the posted speed limit (50) I was pursued and tailgated by a driver.  She followed me for a few miles, her headlights close to my rear bumper the whole way. Presumably, she didn't pass me because there was a double-yellow line on the road, prohibiting passing by law.  Once the lines became dashed, she didn't hesitate to pass, exceeding the posted speed limit by at least 15 miles per hour.
So, one is left to conclude:  There are laws that they obey and laws that they do not.  The laws are open to their interpretation. Don't pass on double-yellow, but exceed the speed limit once the opportunity presents itself.
Strange behavior from the humans.

As humans, we have several masters to serve. We disdain the wealthy, yet praise professional athletes, most of whom are so wealthy that even their wretched excesses cannot erase their fortune. It is only when they run for president that their wealth and status become an issue.  Watching the last Democrat party debate, during their introduction, each candidate highlighted how they came from a life of near-poverty and how their parents worked and slaved to get what they earned.  It's as though we are supposed to sympathize with the candidate because of where they came from.  What they do not want us to know is that their life of priviledge has led them to this lofty state.  The only reason they are running for office is because their personal wealth enabled them to do so.  That is something that they do not want us to know.

One wonders the last time they did grocery shopping, anguished over which bills they could pay, or fought with their conscience over a purchase of less than a hundred dollars.
The people that we are electing to office do not know of our personal struggles, our agonies over how to invest our meager retirement savings, or how Social Security and Medicare will help us in our "Golden Years," which are being tarnished at every turn.

I see what my 91-year-old mother is going through: Filling-out forms for food stamps, a book as thick as a college yearbook explaining Medicare, complicated forms to fill-out to get property tax relief, and a system that makes it more difficult to be elderly and not working than young and poor.

But, we can get breakfast at McDonald's now, so that makes it better, right?

Bread and circuses.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Some Thoughts on Stuff

Cecil the Lion has been killed.  That's a big deal, as it should be, but as you may know ... killing lions and other "big game" has been a sport (sport) for decades - centuries - so it shouldn't have come as such a surprize to the Twitterverse that a lion was killed by a doctor on safari.  The Internet is acting like big-game hunting is a new thing.  That's sad.
What is more sad (sadder) is that big airlines and Senators are jumping on the bandwagon, soliciting public opinion on behalf of an animal with a name.
It makes him seem more human.  The truth is, abominal humans have been killing lions, rhinos, tigers, and giraffes for a long time. It's about time you woke up.

The Pope is coming.  You knew that, right? He's coming, and the city will be shut down for at least two days.  What's odd about that is that a church that pays no taxes will depend on a local government to provide security and transportation at the expense of its citizens - a.k.a. tax money.  And, it appears that nobody is raising a fuss. So, go ahead and have your Pope here.  Include me out.

There are more Republicans running for President than there are churches - which is an odd thing, too.  Most of them have no shot, and it makes me wonder why they bother -- other than the money.  Oh yeah, that's it.  The money. There are so many of them that one - Donald Trump - has the "lead" with 24% of the vote. That's both pathetic and amazing.  It's bad enough that we can elect a president with 51% of the popular vote, among 40% of registered voters - which amounts to about a 30% "majority" -  now, the Republicans will nominate a guy with 24% populatity.  It's entirely possible that our next president will be elected with 25% of the voters in favor.  Is this the government we want, or is it just a national version of "American Idol?"

At least it isn't as hot as it's been over the last few days.  We have that going for us, which is nice.

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