Random Thoughts
Archives: 2006, 2005


NOTE: The following discussions contain some strong opinions. If you don't want to read controversial, personal opinions, please do not read on. I do not like "knee-jerk" liberal or conservative philosophies. I try to be open-minded, but certainly have my own biases. I hate "political correctness" and tend to overreact against those who practice it. - Bill McArthur, aka Hungry Mother (hungrymother) and Computing Doc (computingdoc).

12/31/07 comments (cheerleaders especially welcome)

[Note: I'm heading toward Florida today to attend the Orange Bowl. The campground in Hollywood, FL might not have Internet facilities, so I might not be back online until January 5. Have a safe New Year's Eve.]

Tips for Cheerleaders - Choreography

My wife, Scrambler, was a cheerleading coach in two different high schools during her career as an English and French teacher. As a public service, she has agreed to provide this end-of-the-month feature to share her expertise.

1. Use grapevines and twirls as the foundations for your routines.

2. Don't let the fans see you sweat.

3. Always be positive, keep smiling.

4. Use a spellchecker before any complicated spell-out routines.

5. Be a team.

Next month: Grooming

12/30/07 comments

Tomorrow, New Year's Eve, is one of the biggest drinking occasions of the year. Since tomorrow I'm committed to one of my "Tips for Cheerleaders" posts, I'm going to dedicate this post to drinking. I started drinking in 5th grade, quit for a couple of years when I was 12 and 13 and then drank until I was almost 50 years old.

The day I quit drinking was a big event in my life and, as others have also said, one of the best things I've ever done. I come from a long line of alcoholics on my Mother's Monahan side, and my Scotch Father was a problem drinker himself. It was natural that I would tangle with the sauce and kind of unnatural that I would untangle myself from it.

I've got to say that I've had a lot of drinking and drunken fun in my life, and not all of my drinking was negative or anything I'm ashamed of. I've also had my share of bouts with drinking that I'd rather have back and not have done. For example, one time in NYC when I was 20, I fell down a set of marble stairs at a hotel, was declared dead on the scene (but wasn't), and ended up in St. Vincent's Hospital for 3 nights.

College professors tend to act like college students, so my colleagues and I were involved in some classic drinking parties over the years. Most of my social activities became drinking-centric. When I gave up drinking, I consciously gave up my social life. I had found that former drinking buddies don't appreciate it when you go on the wagon, and they will actually try to help you fall off.

I was so entrenched in habit when out for dinner (2 martinis before dinner, wine during dinner, cognac or Gran Marnier after dinner), that I thought that I couldn't dine out without drinking. One time, during a Villanova Homecoming weekend, I faced a dinner out followed by a long drive home. I decided to try to go through the evening without any booze. I was amazed that the evening went well and learned that I wasn't as hooked as I thought I was. I made up my mind to quit. On Tuesday, as I was home grading papers, a pair of Mormon missionaries showed up at the door. I always invited Mormons in and talked with them for a while about how I admired their lifestyle and family values. I took their visit as a sign that I should quit drinking then and there, and I did.

I've found that over the ensuing 17 years that I have enhanced my life. I have no problem with the fact that my wife continues to drink moderately. I drink non-alcoholic beer on occasion because I like the taste. I'm not worried about accidentally going back to drinking any more than I worry about accidentally going back to eating meat, but that's a different story.

12/29/07 comments

With all that's happening close to me during the holidays and far from me with Bhutto's assassination/accident in Pakistan, I couldn't help but wonder this morning what Paris Hilton is up to. So I did a little research.

1. Her grandfather, Barron Hilton, has pledged 1.2 billion dollars to charity, cutting her inheritance.

2. Her brother, Barron, was caught up in a sex scandal.

3. Rosie O'Donnell beat her out for "most annoying celebrity."

So, it isn't such a good time for our little trust fund girl.

12/28/07 comments

The Philadelphia Inquirer took a big step today by publishing Congressman Wexler's op-ed piece concerning the impeachment of Dick Cheney. If you agree with the concept, please register here to help Wexler's case to the Judiciary Committee. If you don't agree, then I feel sorry for you in your ignorance of the recent history of this administration.

12/27/07 comments

Not that I have to choose a favorite, but I've been considering the relative merits of "Family Guy", "The Simpsons", and "South Park." The fact that I can download uncensored versions of "South Park" from iTunes gives that show a big edge. It's not that I have to constantly hear F-bombs, but somehow the language makes it more natural. I love the humor of all of the shows and a major New Year's resolution for me is to watch as much of each of them as I can.

12/26/07 comments

DrowseyMonkey put up a lovely old Christmas photo on her blog. I thought that was a fabulous idea, so I dug up this photo from 1963 of a short-haired version of me just hours back from a year in Thailand with the Army and this photo from 1971 of a long-haired version of me with my older daughter and son. Present (no pun intended) experiences and past memories are what makes Christmas so special.

12/25/07 comments

Happy redneck christmas from georgia

12/24/07 comments

We arrived at our son Bill's house in Cumming, GA, north of Atlanta, during mid-morning. We didn't have any problems with the RV today, for a welcome change. We found in the neighborhood and in the house, that people decorate for Christmas in a variety of ways, such as this, this, and this. It was fun watching my son read "The Night Before Christmas" to my granddaughter and grandson, just as I did to him and his sisters. We got the kids snuggled in their beds, got out the presents, and watched "The Christmas Story." Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.

12/23/07 comments

This trip is turning out to be a comedy (or tragedy) of errors. Last night, as I was watching TV, running the electric heater, and surfing the web on my computer, my wife finished her shower and turned on her hair dryer. We fried a 15 AMP circuit breaker! What made this worse was that we fried a whole circuit of outlets on our previous RV last winter with the same scenario. Repeating mistakes isn't a sign of intelligence. I also found out that all of our outlets in the RV are on the same circuit that was put out of business until I put in another breaker. Luckily, everything else works.

Today, we drove in the rain most of the day. About 20 miles down the road after a gas stop, I saw in the mirror our gas cap banging against the side of the RV as we motored at 70 mph. I got off at the next exit and screwed the cap on, hoping that not too much rain got in the gas tank. It's OK to laugh at me, my wife does.

When we drove into South Carolina, the sky was clear blue and the temperature was 62 degrees. This is the South I was looking for. We finished the day in a KOA campground just north of the Georgia border. My wife was thrilled with the TV cable reception. I devised a workaround for the electrical problem with an extension cord running in one of the cabs doors. I had bought a 3 plug splitter, so it was like having 3 of our outlets back.

The sun went down and a beautiful moon came up over the RV in the photo I snapped. Life is good (and funny, at times).

12/22/07 comments

Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It is a day of hope since the days get longer for the next six months. We drove the RV over to Glen Mills, PA for an afternoon of present opening at our daughter Alex's house. I took a photo of the Christmas tree with 3 of my granddaughters in front of it. I also took a photo of one of my grandsons in his own little niche. During mid-afternoon, we took off in the RV and headed west and south to a campground in Winchester Virginia. We finally got some miles behind us and we're heading south. I had the RV rolling at 70 mph on the interstates and felt very comfortable behind the wheel.

12/21/07 comments

We drove to Doylestown, PA yesterday in a caravan consisting of our RV and our XTerra. The only problem came when I left the RV steps out and discovered my mistake when I heard them scraping going through a toll booth of the Commodore Barry Bridge over the Delaware River. I found a cross hatched area to pull over in to bring in the steps. We arrived at our daughter Katie's house and got a photo of my wife with our granddaughter Rachel in front of the Christmas tree. Today was a two Starbucks day for me since I'm on vacation (from being retired with no job).

12/20/07 comments

With a flurry of last minute activity, we're off for our winter trip. We've got stops at all 3 kids' homes on the way to the Orange Bowl and then our campground trailer park in Naples, FL. I'll be online most of the time while we're away.

12/19/07 comments

I'm getting the RV prepared for our annual escape to a warmer climate. We leave tomorrow and will have some family stops as we make our way toward Florida. We will be staying in several campgrounds, which my wife calls "trailer parks", so I will have the chance to take the pulse of the underrepresented population of trailer trash. I'll try to get a sense of some of their ideas about politics and other important topics of the day.

I was looking forward to reading Lynn Spears book on parenting this winter to compare her philosophy with my own. Unfortunately, a slight glitch has delayed the publication of this important addition to the literature of parenting.

Maybe Hannah Montana's mother will step into the vacuum and put out a parenting book that I can enjoy on the beach.

12/18/07 comments

Yesterday, I received an email greeting from friends of ours from two RV trips to Mexico, here and here, who now spend the winter in a campground in Mazatlan. We were supposed to join them there last winter, and were on our way, but we got stopped by food poisoning from a Chinese restaurant. When we thought about going to Mexico this winter, we also thought about all of the reports of violence in Mexico stirred up by drug gangs. I told my wife that the Mexican government might be able to straighten out the situation, especially when they realize that tourism is affected. But then I thought of how futile it is to fight against drug gangs wherever in the world they happen to be.

So, I returned to a thought I've had often, "Legalize Drugs!" I wondered if my favorite Presidential candidate agreed with me and I found this document from 1988 that contained Dr. Paul's thoughts on legalizing drugs in America. I think that the document provides a solid argument for the concept. Here's some more of Dr. Paul on the war on drugs. There's a book coming out in 2008 that might raise the public consciousness about this issue.

I'd sure like to go back to Mexico in my RV.

12/17/07 comments

Taxi Tales 4 - The Runoff

This story assumes the background of the first part, the second part, and the third part for the context. I really tried not to drive in North Philadelphia because of its reputation as a rather lawless area, but one night I picked up a fare who took me into that area. As I've said before, the rules were that once you dropped off a customer, you were supposed to drive to the nearest empty cab stand, call in, and wait there until you are assigned a job. On the way to that nearest empty cab stand, you had to stop for anyone who hailed you on the street.

So, I decided to play by the book and was driving to a cab stand, when I was flagged down by a young man on a street corner. He jumped in and told me to take him to a bar two blocks up the road. This seemed pretty stupid, but cabbies don't have the authority to refuse a customer, so I drove him to the bar. He jumped out and started walking toward the bar door. I rolled down the window and yelled at him to pay me for the ride. He ignored me and continued to walk; I continued to yell. He ducked in the door of the bar, leaving me with a decision. Did I want to go into the bar after the guy and try to get the money? Or, did I want to leave and pay 60% of the fare, out of my pocket, to the company? Did I want to die or lose money? If I had gone into that bar, it would have been like Eddie Murphy walking into the bar in "48 Hours", with the colors reversed, and no Nick Nolte with a gun for backup. My decision was easy: lock the doors, put the "off duty" light on, and get the hell out of there.

From that night on, whenever I found myself in North Philadelphia, I high-tailed it back to what I regarded as a safer place to drive. I was often the target for thrown beer cans and bottles as I sped along with no intention of stopping. This was against company policy, but I wasn't about to let another runoff happen.

I was never robbed and never had another runoff while I drove a cab.

Next: the drunk.

12/16/07 comments

I found this link to Congressman Wexler's campaign to impeach Cheney on Eye of the Dolphin. It felt good to sign up. Let's get rid of Cheney and then we can safely get rid of Bush.

12/15/07 comments

A Litmus Test

I used to wonder if we could have a President who would be a good guy to spend the night with in a bar, drinking and messing around. Well, I got such a President in 2001 and he was the worst ever in the history of the U.S. Now I wonder if we could have a President who would enjoy "Clerks", "South Park", "The Daily Show", and "Old School." Is it possible? Who would it be? Would he be another disaster? John McCain seems to enjoy "The Daily Show", but I don't know whether he likes the other three on my list.

If you tried to describe someone who really enjoys the four, what would the characteristics be? If you could have a world where everyone in it would like the four, what would it be like? Would "Idiocracy" describe it?

Suppose instead, we picked the four works, "Wings of the Dove", "Desperate Housewives", "Survivor", and "Dancing with the Stars." Does Hillary Clinton like all four? Does a person that likes all four have to be a woman?

What if we tried to find four works, enjoying which would ensure an ideal President. What could those four works be? How about, "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", "American Dreamz", "Frontline", and "Atlas Shrugged?" BTW, Angelina Jolie is going from one classic to another as she follows "Beowulf" with a movie version of the aforementioned Ayn Rand tome.

12/14/07 comments

I was just reading over an old journal entry from April 29, 1998:

There was a stiff breeze in the 50 degree air of morning. The Bay was too choppy for comfortable kayaking so I took the 8:40 AM ferry on my bike. I met the Bingo player who works at Colliers Liquors (I don't know his name) on the ferry. He was out to buy some lottery tickets worth $44 million. Since I needed cash, I stopped at the Lewes market to use the ATM. I also bought a $1 PowerBall lottery ticket. On the way to CIB [ed: where I was consulting], I pondered what would happen if I won. As I thought it through, I realized that my life would be ruined. So, I donated the ticket to CIB. I took the 5:00 PM ferry back. My foot remains swollen. I either have a stress fracture or a gout attack.

When I tell people about that day, they can't believe how weird I am. I bought one other lottery ticket on the first week of the Pennsylvania Lottery. I tossed the ticket in a drawer and never checked it.

This story is even much weirder. I don't want to be rich and I believe that nobody that's rich is happy.

12/13/07 comments

Today, I just want to repeat my first blog posting in 2005:

Organized religion is the root of all evil.

12/12/07 comments

I've had too many people say, "Kevin who?", when I've talked about the great New Jerseyan, Kevin Smith. I just bought and have begun to read Kevin's diary, "My Boring Ass Life." As I write, my computer area is watched over by Buddy Christ, which I bought at Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash some years ago. I am by no means an expert on Kevin's body of work. In fact, I'm not even the most knowledgeable in my family. My son Bill has far more knowledge and can quote lines from the Kevin Smith's films at length. Here are the important films:

Chasing Amy
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Clerks II

To fully enjoy these movies, get the DVDs, watch the movies, watch all of the special features, and watch the movies again. When you're done, take the following brief quiz:

1. What is a "snowball?"
2. What is the "Unwritten Book of the Road?"
3. In which Ben Affleck movie was he "da bomb?"
4. Who is "Finger Cuffs?"
5. What species are involved in the "Interspecies Erotica?"

12/10/07 comments

I've been thinking about trying to rank the presidential candidates by their degree of scariness, as did Kelso on 12/6. Before trying to do my ranking from some sort of algorithm, here's my gut feeling from most to least scary:


I have omitted candidates for which my only thought is, "who?" Of course, I know about Dennis Kucinich's hot wife, and that he looks like Peter Pan, but that's about it.

To go beyond gut feelings, here are some factors I will need to consider:

Does the candidate think that this is just a waiting room for paradise?
Is the candidate a totally owned subsidiary of some special interest?
Is the candidate likely to be as bad as or worse than Bush?
Is the candidate more likely to talk or shoot first?
Will the U.S. look better in the world with this candidate?

to be continued...

Just a note on the mathematical illiteracy front: John Roberts, on CNN this morning, talked about Huckabee's rapid climb in Iowa as showing logarithmic growth. Did he mean exponential growth? Logarithms climb like old men, exponents climb like rockets. You get one curve from the other by flipping on the diagonal.

12/09/07 comments

Olga, the Traveling Bra tagged me with the Crazy 8 Mega-meme:

8 things I'm passionate about:

8 things I say often:
   the crossword puzzle was hard today
   what's the weather forecast?
   I don't need to do that right now
   could you drive any slower?
   what an asshole!
   I hate commercials
   you decide
   here's my plan for today

8 books I've read recently:
   Founding Fish
   Yosemite's Half Dome
   The Wild Muir
   Kerouac's Crooked Road
   Eiger Dreams
   Player Piano

8 things I want to do before I die:
   Walk the Keys
   Enjoy my 50th wedding anniversary.
   Learn to express myself through art.
   See Machu Picchu
   Kayak the Napali Coast in Kauai.
   Walk the Pilgrims Way to Santiago De Compostela
   Visit Antarctica
   See the Nothern Lights in the Arctic Circle

8 songs I can listen to over and over again
   Melody of Love
   Lost in Love
   Nights in White Satin
   A Whiter Shade of Pale
   My Way

8 things that attract me to my friends:
   depth of thought
   sense of humor

8 things I learned in the last year:
   Bush is the worst President in history
   South Padre Island can be cold in winter
   Naples, FL is an awesome place
   Naples, Italy is an awesome place
   Rio is a beautiful, but dangerous place
   Africa needs condoms more than food
   Turkey is a cheap place to visit
   Canada is an actual country

I'm giving a limp tag to any of the folks on my list blogs that I read that want to do it.

12/07/07 comments

Taxi Tales 3 - The Prostitute

This story assumes the background of the first part and the second part for the context. I didn't drive in Center City very much, just because I didn't often get fares that led me there. One Friday night, I found myself driving on South Broad Street and I stopped at a taxi stand to call in to the dispatcher. I was given a job to pick up a customer at one of the big hotels on Broad Street. I pulled up in front of the hotel and a women walked from the lobby out to my cab. The women was gaudily dressed with a fake fur, heavily made up, slightly overweight, and in her 40s. For a 21 year old guy, she really wasn't eye candy, but she was a customer, so I had to deal with her. She told me that she wanted to go to another Center City hotel. From her slurred voice I got the idea that she was a bit drunk, on drugs, or both. On those rare occasions when I watch HBO's "Taxicab Confessions", I think of this situation. I was curious, so I decided to pry a bit. I think I asked, "How's it going?", or some equally incisive question. It was sufficient. She told me that she was a "call girl" going from one "call" to another. I kept prodding her to tell me as much as she would, and I really wanted her to talk dirty. I asked her if she liked her work, if she ever felt threatened, and what kind of "johns" she liked. She gave me some pretty graphic information which I won't repeat (I know I'll get busted for my reticence), but the bottom line was that she did enjoy her work.

She seemed like a sad sort to me, very worn down by life, and near the end of her career, but she was very accepting of her lot. She gave me a good tip when I dropped her off for her next assignation, and she staggered out of my life.

Next: the runoff.

12/06/07 comments

Tequila Mockingbird, in a sober moment, tagged me to write a letter to my 13 year old self:

Billy Boy,
   I know you don't like to be called that name, because this letter is written by a possible future YOU from 2007. You're not surprised because you believe that time travel and alternate universes are possible. I found a way to slip this letter in one of your "Things of Science" that you enjoy every month. I know you're using your current year of 1953 to dry out, an unusual thing for a 13 year old boy to do. You were a heavy smoker and drinker for a couple of years in California and you didn't like the way that your life was going forward. Nobody in the family knew that you were secretly glad when all of you were uprooted from 12 years in the Bay Area and plunked down in Philadelphia's Main Line, where you're just figuring out how to use the word, "Yo." As you have already guessed, you'll take up smoking and drinking again in the next two years, but I can tell you that I gave them both up many years ago.

Try to remember that anytime you feel as though your life is on a bad track, you can take action to get a new start. I've had to do that a few times. There's no guarantee that you'll become me exactly as I am; you'll have to make the right decisions and have the right luck to get here. I can tell you that I have no regrets and that I am very happy with my life.

The only two things of value that Dad has told you are, "Don't take drugs." and "Virtue is it's own reward." Oops, Dad hasn't told you the second one yet. Wait until you are well into your 30s before deciding if you want to smoke some "loco weed", but don't ever do take any other drug. You are well aware of your Irish and Scotch heritage. Take note of all of the alcoholics on your Irish side and believe that they were never as happy as I am. Watch out, it's in your DNA blood. There is something else important in your heritage that no one has ever told you. Look up "Brigid" on the Internet in the library. Ask the reference librarian to help. You might find a better alternative religion than your Catholicism. I'm a non-practicing Pagan who leans toward Druidry, but you can find your own way. Dad is making you go to public school, so you'll avoid the brainwashing that Catholic schools engage in.

You are lucky to be in one of the best school systems in America: Lower Merion. I think that you already have figured that out. You know that typing course that you're in this year? It's the best course that you'll ever take. You will use your typing skills the rest of your life. You'll get a related surprise on Christmas morning. Remember Mrs. Esherick from last year's English class? You remember her mostly for her interesting chest. (BTW By the way, you won't lose your interest in women's chests, as you sometimes fear.) Remember her nasty rule that any misspelling in a test or homework would cause an "F" grade? That was the best piece of teaching that you'll ever get. You love science, but your best courses will be your English classes where you will learn to love reading. I don't mean Isaac Asimov and your beloved science fiction. I mean Shakespeare and Dickens and authors you haven't met yet. You know the "journals", that you think are so gay weird, that your current English teacher, Mr. Ricker, is trying to get you to do daily? You're going to find keeping a journal to be a very important feature of your future and you will even teach journaling in unforeseen ways. Your problem with writing is that, since you are left-handed, your "normal" brain hemisphere isn't working for you. Learn to use a typewriter, to engage your other hemisphere, for your writing. Ask Mr. Ricker if you can type your journals and tell him why you want to.

In three short years you will meet the love of your life. I still live with her and love her. Your problem is, which girl will it be? I'll tell you this, it won't be any girl that calls you "Billy." Think about it with each girl that you meet, you'll figure it out. I didn't marry that girl for 10 years and I wasn't constantly with her for that time span. The main thing is, don't lose her. She will be your salvation.

Let me caution you about your wild streak. Most people as wild as you can be are in jail, maimed, or headed for an early death. Nobody else in the family is wild like you, so you can't look for guidance there. You are going to have many brushes with the law, so watch out! You've already done a bunch of legendary things and you're kind of proud of them, but think about how each of those incidents could have gone sour.

Let me give you some more advice. Recently, I listed my guiding principles. They are: Duty, Loyalty, and Charity. Let them be your guide too. When you reach a tough decision in life, choose the way that will give you most freedom. In spite of that, the military will be in your future, but it won't be for the first time you think about joining.

Another important thing: your brothers and sisters are actually very cool neat people. They're smart and interesting. Try to be friends with them.

Best of luck, Bill. If you come my way, you're going to love the ride.

Sincerely yours, Bill.

Most of the writers of the blogs that I read have already done a great job with this meme. I'm giving a limp tag to any of the rest on my list that want to do it.

12/05/07 comments

New Orleans is one of my favorite cities. I had a memorable road trip there in 1961 when I was a student at Florida State. I went back in 1969 as a graduate student, finishing my Ph.D. in mathematics, and got a job at Shippensburg University which lasted for 27 years. I went back again in 1986 with some of my colleagues for a mathematics conference. We rode the train from Philadelphia and played cards and drank cognac and smoked cigars. I was so hung over one morning at the conference that I went into the Superdome and climbed to one of the highest seats and watched rehearsals for Super Bowl XX with my head throbbing for a couple of hours. I finally brought my wife there in 2004 after an RV caravan trip to Mexico. She fell in love with the city also. We came back in 2005 for the Sugar Bowl, when we really enjoyed the French Quarter. Our most recent visit, in 2007, was a sad one. We took the "Katrina Tour" and were stunned by the devastation to the city and the seeming lack of will to rebuild.

We just learned yesterday about Brad Pitts' work to help rebuild New Orleans. We got on his website today and bought a live oak tree for one of the houses that he is having built by donations. It really feels good to do something for this great city! We hope to return to New Orleans in 2009 and see a big difference.

12/04/07 comments

Taxi Tales 2 - High Speed Driving

This story assumes the background of the first part for the context. Two streets lying to the south of Market Street are Chestnut Street, which is one-way to the east, and Walnut Street, which is one-way to the west. These two streets were excellent for traveling across the city since the traffic generally moved at a good pace on both of them.

I had mentioned that our local of the Teamsters Union was very weak. If a driver scratched or dented his cab, whether it was his fault or not, that driver had one mark against him as if he'd been written up by a supervisor. As I said, two strikes and you're fired. Consequently, I had to be very careful whenever I was driving in traffic or parking to be sure that nobody tapped my cab.

After a couple of weeks driving a cab, you learn how long it's going to take to go between any two points in the city in any kind of traffic condition or weather. You don't even have to try to learn this, it just comes naturally from your experience. So, when a passenger got in the cab and said where he wanted to go, you could always provide a good estimate of when you would arrive.

One late afternoon, I was cruising east on Chestnut Street, somewhere near Cobbs Creek Park, around 60th Street, when a lady with some suitcases flagged me down. She was panicky and said that she only had 10 minutes to catch a train at 30th Street Station. We were 3.2 miles from the station, but it was during rush hour, so the ride was guaranteed to take 15 minutes with luck.

I was no stranger to high speed driving. I had had my license for 5 years and had always welcomed opportunities to drive fast. I used to have drag races with my buddies on the local roads and I was known to be among the best. This has nothing to do with it, but I once drove a '52 Plymouth stick shift all the way from the suburbs into Philly with NO brakes. I did all of slowing and stopping with the clutch and the emergency brake. When I was 16, I spent an afternoon on Florida back roads in Dad's '55 Buick doing 100 mph or better. When I was 18, I drove that same Buick from the Philly suburbs to State College,to pick up my brother at Penn State, in 3.5 hours, a personal best and maybe a world record (this was before interstate highways existed). I did it by very fast driving and leaving at 3:00 AM. When I arrived in State College at 6:30 AM, my brother was still dead drunk in bed, since he had expected me around noon.

I told the lady-in-a-hurry that I thought I could do it, but I would have to do some pretty nifty driving. She was happy to hear that, but had no idea what sort of nifty driving I was talking about. There were no seat belts in this cab, because in 1961, seat belts were not standard equipment. Also, the seats of a cab were made of tough plastic and were very slippery. I loved that ride to the train station more than any piece of driving that I've ever done. I was maximally aggressive, weaving in and out of the two traffic lanes. I gave myself no upper limit to my speed other than what the traffic conditions provided. My passenger was scared to death and thought that she would actually die in a flaming crash. She screamed to me that she was scared and I yelled back the question, "Do you want to make the train?" She managed a hyperventilated, "Yes." Back in those days, to enter 30th Street Station by car, you had to drive 3 sides of a square around the building among a lot of slow traffic. I knew that there was a way to enter via the wrong way on a one way street and go right to the door. Nobody ever did this, because it was both illegal and dangerous, but I thought that if I went fast enough, no one would notice. My heart was racing as fast as the cab. I dropped the lady at the door after a 9 minute ride. She didn't know whether to be grateful or mad, but she tipped me well. I basked in the afterglow of that drive the rest of my shift.

Next: the Prostitute.

12/03/07 comments

I was going to write today about why what anyone in Iowa thinks should have any influence on the rest of us; that is, why are the Iowa Cauci so important? I have a wonderful sister-in-law and had a house guest from Iowa, but I can't say that the flat corny state has much to do with the rest of us (and, vice-versa, to be fair). I can imagine the reception I would get at a local diner in Debuq (to make up a name of a small, hokey town (OH CRAP, there's a town with almost that name?)) if I related my "Taxi Tales 2", which I almost posted today, to the local corn crackers: stolid silence, accompanied by nervous tics.

I can just see John Stewart walking down the street in some Iowan town, being completely ignored. (For my Iowa readers: John Stewart is the host of a very informative news show on a cable channel that you probably don't get or don't watch.) I also don't think that "Clerks II" had a good run there or that "Entourage" has much of a following. But, the news readers on CNN keep talking about how important it is that the poll guesses numbers indicate big changes are happening with the Iowan voters.

Becky, over at Just a Girl in Short Shorts, got me thinking this morning about the Presidential candidates and other politicians that want the government to control our behavior. I groggily wrote the following comment:

They should get all of those control freaks together in a week-long retreat where each of them can specify 5 things that no one can do during the event. At the end of the week, those that are still alive would change their tunes about allowing others to control their lives.

I was thinking: what 5 things would I pick that no one in the U.S. can do? This could be a cool meme, but I'm not tagging anyone. Here's my list:

1. No feeding seagulls
2. No smoking (this one is very hypocritical, but within the rules)
3. No Chinese woman can drive a motor vehicle
4. No wife can deviate from the dicta of Ephesians 5
5. No citizen can miss voting in an election for which they're eligible

#5 came from my wife, Scrambler, who doesn't agree or follow #4.

12/01/07 comments

Students: today's lecture is about "Democracy in America." Put your hands down, I know that de Tocqueville already covered this topic, but I don't think that your Cliff Notes give you all of the facts, or take into account the power of the media today to shape our thinking. A co-requisite for this lecture is your viewing of the film, "Quiz Show." The salient facts are that the quiz show "Twenty One" was rigged, a seemingly irreproachable contestant cheated, and the producers felt that they were simply providing entertainment. On a personal note, I believed that Charles van Doren was all that the show pretended that he was when I watched him in action in 1957. It made sense to me that someone with his pedigree could know all of the facts that he pretended to know.

Let's take a look at Wednesday night's YouTube Republican debate for some parallels to "Quiz Show." There was an interesting cast of debaters: the Mormon, the Mayor, the POW, the Actor, Dr. No, Huckleberry, Who?(1), and Who?(2). The moderator, Katrina Boy, was well chosen for dramatic impact. Some extras of note were Chuck Norris, playing himself, the Mormon's stealthy sister wives, and the Gay General. On its veneer, this debate should have been a showcase for America's Democracy, which we're trying so hard to export to the rest of the world. We had a slew of candidates, so we could expect a wide variety of ideas exchanged. The questions were coming from "the people", so we could expect questions such as we ourselves would ask. What happened? CNN simply provided entertainment.

I can imagine the following exchange happening at CNN to prepare for the event:

Suit: How're ya gonta line em up?

KB: We'll put Who?(1) and Who?(2) as our bookends to make our disdain for their irrelevance clear. We're going to trick the Mormon and the Mayor into having a schoolyard brawl, so we'll put them in center stage. We'll put the Actor nearby as if he's the principal of the school watching the schoolboys. We have no hope of the Actor saying anything interesting, so all we'll have is his presence. On the other side of the middle, we'll put the POW and Dr. No. We can trigger a tirade from the POW by making him think of Dr. No as a modern day Nazi appeaser. We'll stick Huckleberry next to the Actor and try to get him to wax religious.

Suit: A simple list would be enough. How we gonna control the questions?

KB: We have over 5,000 submissions, some of them from Hillary's steering committees and some from our own staff. We have total control.

Suit: Our ads don't want that Dr. No to say much. He don't sell soap.

KB: No problem. He's going to be busy trying to keep the POW from waterboarding him for being an isolationist. Also, we've got a "question" stating that it's impossible for him to get the nomination.

Suit: I'm not seeing nuff gut stuff here. We need people for the last set of ads.

KB: When we sense that we're losing the audience, we'll have the Gay General pop up and confront the POW. When the POW thinks about how he might have had to take a shower with that guy, he'll seeth. The audience will be entranced, wondering if the POW will explode up on the stage.

Suit: That's what I'm talkin about! What about some religious stuff to stir things up?

KB: We made our own question about literal belief in the bible. Whatever the Mormon says, everybody will be thinking about those golden pages buried in the ground in New York. This is a twofer, because Huckleberry will be in a no-win situation on his answer.

Suit: OK. I'm signing off on the show. Go get em, boy.

What would I have done? First of all, line up the candidates randomly and change the order randomly after each of the commercial breaks. I wouldn't have had any questions that had statements of the questioners' opinions in them. CNN chose a question to emphasize its belief that Ron Paul isn't a viable candidate. They chose a question to remind blacks that they don't vote Republican. The most important thing I would have done is to ask every question of every candidate in a random order, different for every question. That wouldn't have been good entertainment, but it would have made for a more illuminating debate. The last thing I would have done is to shut up the audience. CNN had discovered that viewers like it when some of the candidates' answers are booed, so they told the audience up front that their reactions were OK.

On Thursday morning, after the debate and the endless analysis of the entertainment that they had staged and rigged, a CNN news reader said that the poll on CNN.com indicated that Dr. No won the debate. Then, she added: "but you know the Internet", in a very dismissive way.

"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this any more!" Have a nice weekend, class.

11/30/07 comments (cheerleaders especially welcome)

Tips for Cheerleaders - Basics

My wife, Scrambler, was a cheerleading coach in two different high schools during her career as an English and French teacher. As a public service, she has agreed to provide this end-of-the-month feature to share her expertise.

1. Yell proudly and loudly

2. Wear your uniform with modesty

3. Always be positive, keep smiling

4. Maintain eye contact with the fans

5. Be a team

Next month: Choreography

11/29/07 comments

Taxi Tales 1 - Background

It was the summer of 1961. I had just completed a whirlwind couple of years where I had won the Freshman Chemistry Award at Villanova, switched majors from Chemistry to Mathematics, became over-absorbed in a bad relationship, spent the summer at UCLA as a technician in a cancer research project, finished the summer working a hot dog stand on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, and partied my way through a year at Florida State. I really needed a timeout in my life to think things over and make some choices. I had decided to join the army, but put off my entry until the fall because the weather would be better in basic training. I needed a job to give me some drinking money for the summer. I'd had three years of college under my belt, but I didn't want some kind of white collar work. I almost took a job as a gun carrying guard at a factory which was being struck by its workers, but I wondered if I could shoot a guy climbing over a fence. I decided that I couldn't.

I saw an ad in the paper for cab drivers for the venerable Yellow Cab Company of Philadelphia. I was a suburban, Main Line kid, but I knew Philly pretty well, and I loved to drive, so I figured that this would be a good gig for me. It was the easiest job to get: just show up. I went down to the company headquarters and filled out a simple form and was hired.

Cab drivers actually need some training; in fact, two whole days of training. Day 1 was all about getting around the city. I was issued a magic book of maps and facts that made navigating almost as easy as if you had a GPS. Downtown Philly is centered at the intersection of Broad Street, running north and south, and Market Street, running east and west. At the intersection is City Hall, which was built by a relative of mine, John Mac Arthur. My grandfather had shown me the cornerstone one day back in the 50s. The streets that intersected Market were numbered. The streets that intersected Broad had names. We had to memorize the named streets and the house number on Broad that they intersected. Lancaster Avenue ran diagonally from around 30th Street train station out to the northwest. Interesting stuff, learning the city. When in doubt, or in any case, we should ask the customer how to get to the destination, because cab passengers will always take the long way, which costs them more money. A major axiom was that the Schuykill Expressway is the longest distance between two points.

Day 2 was about driving. The first half of the day was classroom work involving defensive driving. One interesting fact is that intersections with traffic lights are the most dangerous, even more so than unprotected intersections. The rule for us was that we had to cross an intersection with a traffic light with a foot on the brake hard enough to turn on the brake light. The second half of the day was for driving. Four of us newbies piled into a stick-shift Plymouth cab with an instructor and took turns driving around Center City. This was all fun. As I said, I love to drive. Then we were issued a uniform, including a hat with a badge. We didn't have to wear the hat and lots of drivers stored their money in it on the seat.

I had to join the Teamsters Union. It turned out that this had to be the weakest union local anywhere. There was no Jimmy Hoffa fighting for our rights. The company had supervisors driving all over the city in black Plymouths looking for drivers to write up for driving too fast, not having a foot on the brake crossing an intersection with a light, or anything else they wanted to do. Two writeups and you were fired with no due process - great union! I drove out of West Philly, from 65th and Media. My shift was 4:00 PM to 2:00 AM, six days a week.

The cabs didn't have radios and we didn't carry cell phones, so we had to communicate via cab stands, which had phones. The rule was that you couldn't pass an empty cab stand if you didn't have a customer in the cab. When you stopped at a stand, you had to phone in to see if you were to be dispatched somewhere. Just before 2:00 AM, I had to stop at some cab stand to call in and see if an "emergency" had been declared. In an emergency, my shift extended to 4:00 AM. Emergencies were caused by events like a train coming in unexpectedly or a concert getting out. You could stop at a cab stand that had another cab at it or just cruise around looking for a job. Once you got out on the road, you didn't have any particular territory to cruise in.

I found that places to avoid were:

The airport, because you would get in a long queue to get a job
South Street, because it was too dangerous
The waterfront, also dangerous
North Philly, also dangerous
Greater Northeast, too confusing for me

In general, I liked to drive in Southwest Philly around Woodland Avenue, anywhere in West Philly, Center City, and South Philly (except for South Street). When I got in an area I didn't want to drive, I put on the "off duty" light and got out of there. That behavior could have gotten me fired if I were caught.

I never got robbed and I never had a "follow that car" kind of job, but I did have some adventures.

Next: high speed driving.

11/28/07 comments

A few days ago, I commented on a couple of other blogs about paper and plastic bags. I was discussing the use of the bags with regard to Madonna's daughter, Wolfgirl, and Sarah Jessica "shoe" Parker. I remembered that not long ago I would have been talking about using canvas bags instead.

When I was a young guy, I embraced simple living and really tried to live "green", as some would now say. I lived with my family in a small house with no wasted space. I cut the lawn with a push lawnmower and ran while I did it. When I say "push lawnmower", I mean no gas engine and no electricity, just my own power. I also used mechanical edge clippers, edger, and hedge trimmer. I raked leaves instead of blowing them. I also shoveled snow instead of plowing or blowing it. I went a whole winter heating the house with a wood stove and never running the oil furnace. I bought a set of canvas and mesh bags to use in the supermarket. I embarrassed my wife and kids, but I used my bags and didn't accept paper or plastic. For those Christmas presents which were my responsibility, I used old printer paper for wrapping, which I decorated with crayoned designs. Our town didn't pick up items for recycling at the curb, so we had to transport our stuff to the recycling center, but we did it faithfully. I tried to ride my bike, run, or walk to work at the university instead of driving a car.

Alas, I have backslid in a big way. I still live in a small house and still recycle, now at the curb, but I'm not as careful about it as I used to be. I don't always recycle letters and other small paper items. Although I still have some of my mesh and canvas bags, I use paper and plastic bags at the supermarket. I do try to recycle all of the bags that I use, but I don't really need to use them in the first place. Now I buy wrapping paper and ribbons for the gifts that I have to wrap. Part of the reason I have stopped trying hard not to overconsume is that I never got any converts by my showing by example. I didn't convert a single person in my own home to my way of thinking. Part of the problem is that our culture does not reinforce good conservative behavior. Part of the problem is that I simply let myself drift into the mainstream way of doing things.

Now that I am conscious again of how things were and how things should be, what am I going to do? Shall I go hug a tree? I think that I will try to slowly get back into my old ways. I'll try to realize that every small step I take can make a difference. I'm going to start with rounding up my set of mesh and canvas bags. For those presents that I have to wrap this year, I'm going to use newspaper or paper bags as wrapping paper. I'll try to use string instead of scotch tape when I do my wrapping. I'll put up with the laughter and derision and I'll think of the next steps to take.

Maybe I can return to my old ways and maybe I can figure out how to make it infectious. Maybe.

11/27/07 comments

I never had the opportunity burden of going to Catholic school so I never learned how to parse sentence. I don't have any problem with spelling be cause the spell checker can detect and fish any problem. Paragraphing remains a complete

mystery to me. I don't know if a change of tenses such as from stressed to laid back causes paragraphs or what. I think that, I learned, that, placing commas, can change the meaning of, a sentence. I just haven't figured, however, to place them. I get conflicting advice about the use of apostrophe's to denote plurals, such as DVDs. I even get confused about the use of "and" but "but". And what the heck is a sentence fragment? The notion of a run-on sentence is confusing and how do you manage to ever split an infinitive?

Or, for that manner, to boldly go on using infinitives anyway. I get confused as to weather two words that sound alike mean the same or is it if they time, then they too? What's the difference between "quotes" and italics. Thank the gods that punctuation can not mean anything in math: (3 + 2 ) + 1 = 3 + (2 + 1) or (3 - 2) - 1 = 3 - (2 - 1). If that "or" is replaced with an "and", the universe falls in shambles. Its for shore.

11/26/07 comments

I was tagged by Totally-Useless on her blog . So, I will have to write 7 weird facts about myself and then tag 7 more bloggers to do the same.

These are the rules: Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog. Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Here are 7 things about me:

1. I did 2 bungee jumps in Surfers Paradise in Australia.
2. I drove a Yellow Cab in Philadelphia one summer.
3. I ran the "Orange" hotdog stand near the Diving Horse on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City for a couple of weeks.
4. I took a train from San Mateo to San Francisco with a friend and bought illegal fireworks in Chinatown when I was 11 years old.
5. I've crossed the Delaware Bay 10 times in a kayak.
6. I knew my wife for 10 years before we were married in 1966. I met her when I was 16 years old.
7. I hiked the 23 miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim on a summer's day.

These are the blogs and their bloggers that I am tagging: please choose yourselves randomly from my list of blogs that I regularly read.

11/25/07 comments

Natalie Holloway is back in the news. I have been in Aruba twice: for a 4 day celebration of my wife's 60th birthday, and as a one day stop on a Panama Canal cruise. During both of the visits, we could see that the beautiful island is all about tourism. As such, the government of Aruba has certain responsibilities to ensure the safety of the tourists that flock there. On both trips, I felt very safe in Aruba. I had no hesitation about running the roads, walking the beaches, or taking public transportation during the day or at night.

I have always laid the major part of the blame for Natalie's tragedy on her so-called friends that let her go off with 3 local guys as she exited a bar, presumably drunk, in the middle of the night. Her companions should have forcibly prevented her from going off alone, or a couple of them should have insisted on going along.

I judged that the Aruban authorities did not act in a manner that showed that they care about the well-being of their tourists. I was in favor of a huge reward being offered for information about Natalie's fate and I sent an email to various government officials in Alabama exhorting them to support a boycott of Aruba by U.S. cruise ships. I felt that the actions of the Aruban government were encouraging the predators that thrive on tourist victims.

I reject the notion that all the hubbub is because Natalie was a pretty white girl, I think it's just that she was a tourist victim. I don't plan to revisit Aruba, simply because I think I've "done" the island, but I want to visit similar tourist meccas and I want to be protected when I'm there.

So, I'm glad to see that Aruba hasn't forgotten about Natalie and I hope that this sad case is finally solved.

11/23/07 comments

I had a great Thanksgiving with all of my kids and grandkids. Even though I don't eat meat or fowl, I cooked the mainstream part of the feast. I enjoyed my twin acorn squash halves, stuffed with risotto.

It's always good when a fun family occasion has other beneficial side-effects. In this case, early on Thanksgiving morning, only one of my sons-in-law and I were up and around, since everyone else in the house was sleeping in. Actually, my newest grandson was up also, but he wasn't contributing to the conversation. His dad and I took a couple of cereal bowls, coffee cups, and spoons out of the dishwasher to use for our breakfast. I remarked that another difference between men and women is that we would happily take dishes out of the dishwasher, as needed, for the rest of the day, but when the women hit the kitchen, they'd unpack all of it and put it up in cabinets. That's when I had my epiphany. How about side-by-side dishwashers for the kitchen? There would also have to be a sign or a light or some way of knowing which was the "clean" washer and which was the "dirty" one. Think of all the kitchen cabinets that wouldn't be needed.

I think I could make out OK with just one clothes dryer, because I can fill the washer as I use clothes from the dryer. I love the dynamics of an efficient house. (I hope my new paragraphing style is pleasing.)

11/22/07 comments

Since it's Thanksgiving, I want to thank the gods for:

  1. My long-suffering wife, who adds the shine to our marriage
  2. My three children, who are a source of pride and joy
  3. My late parents, who, through their mistakes, made me tough enough to endure
  4. My health and fitness
  5. My mental abilities
  6. My love of adventure
  7. My six grandchildren, the hope of the future
  8. My friends and relatives for their support and their love
  9. My three high school English teachers, who taught me to love reading
10. My optimism, which keeps me upbeat when things are trying to beat me down

11/20/07 comments

Sometimes it helps to put things into perspective. I went to bed last night after being bombarded by CNN with the possibilities of $200 per barrel oil, missing nukes in Pakistan, and new nukes in Iran. In a month, we're heading out in our RV to Florida, so more expensive gas will be a burden.

Then, this morning, I learned that a far bigger catastrophe had happened last weekend and it had no negative effect on me. Nick Sabin, the new coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team, compared his team's loss to some school called University of Louisiana - Monroe to both 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. Actually, as a loyal fan of Penn State's Nittany Lions, I can be pretty happy when Alabama loses a football game. I remember too well the goal line stand in the 1979 Sugar Bowl and the many years of listening to Keith Jackson bring up the "four pops from the one" any time he could as he broadcast any football game. I remember sitting in the stands at Beaver Stadium with Penn State about to kick the winning field goal against the Tide, the partisan fans screaming, and all of it brought to silence by a blocked field goal. I remember walking around the Alabama campus last winter and visiting the sacred Bear Bryant Museum on the very day when Nick Sabin was on campus to interview for the job. I remember listening to the outcries from LSU when Sabin deserted them for a hated SEC rival. I remember my wife getting food poisoning in a food court in Monroe as we thought we were heading for Mexico last winter. I thought I would hate the thought of Monroe, Louisiana, but now I have a nice warm feeling for their football team and I'm not worried about the price of gas.

11/19/07 comments

The other blogs that I regularly read are usually filled with photos, whereas my blog is just text with an occasional link to illustrate or clarify something. The short explanation is that I regularly do a photo journal which I publish under the "Current Activities" menu item on CapeMayBeach.net. In my online journal, trip reports, and other items on CapeMayBeach.net, I report objectively, often in the third person, about my life as I experience it. This blog grew out of my desire to have a place to express myself more subjectively.

So much for the executive summary. The whole story is pretty long-winded and not too interesting, except to me. When my wife and I married in 1966, at the exact moment that Lucy Johnson, the President's daughter, was married, my wife started a scrapbook of photos, accompanied by her commentary. I took about 99% of the photos, as I still do. When our daughter arrived on the scene, my wife started another scrapbook for her. As our two other children were born, my wife started their scrapbooks. As scrapbooks filled, my wife started additional volumes. Once our family was complete, she maintained 4 active scrapbooks and had an archive of many volumes. In 1984, we began to take some major family trips that I decided deserved scrapbooks of their own. For some reason, I took responsibility for these special volumes, while my wife still maintained her books. Along with my special trip books, and maybe because of these books, I often kept a daily journal during our travels. Although I hated journaling when I was introduced to it in 8th grade, I found that I really enjoyed the opportunity of recording and commenting on our adventures. During the 1990s, I started to use the Internet in conjunction with my college teaching of computer science courses. Around 1996, I started putting some personal information and scanned photos on the Internet in my personal accounts on my university's computers. During the holiday season of 1996, I put together a web page called, "Happy Holidays 1996", and published it on one of my accounts. This started a tradition for "Happy Holidays" reports. Also, in 1997, I began to keep a detailed written daily journal which I continued to hand write until the winter of 2003. In 1999, I got my first digital camera in conjunction with the startup of my business, Computing Doc LLC, a computer consulting company. I had long since preferred online materials to printed material in my teaching, so it was natural for me to be disinterested in printing my photographs. This pretty much put my wife out of the scrapbook business. To fill the need for an organized way to store and present our photos, I wrote a photo album program that allowed me to store my photos with titles, dates, and multiple keywords such as "birthday", "halloween", "kayak", and so on. When we wanted to show someone our photos, instead of opening a scrapbook, I would bring them to one of our computers and show them on the screen. I could also show my "Holidays" on any computer connected to the Internet. In addition, I started publishing special reports of trips and other essays on the Internet. All of these reports started to require some organization. Also, I had started a website, CapeMayBeach.com, to report on activities in the area around our home at the Jersey Shore, further distributing my publications. In 2002, I decided to put my daily journal online with a password so that only I can access it. I included the capability to have links to photographs and websites with the daily entries. In 2003, while we were spending 4 months in Spain studying Spanish, I found it too hard to maintain the daily journal, but I had been sending weekly emails to friends which I later incorporated into an online document called "Emails from Spain." The next year, I decided to fill in the time gaps of my online reports by dividing the year into 3 segments: the holidays from Thanksgiving to New Years Eve, "Happy Holidays"; our winter escapes, "On the Road"; and the spring, summer, and fall, "At Home." I still kept the concept of having separate reports for big trips, tributes, and anything else I wanted to do separately. I had always written the "Happy Holidays" reports in the first person, so I continued that style for those reports. When we were sending our emails from Spain, I had adopted the third person, because we were sending the emails to my friends, my wife's friends, and our mutual friends and relatives. I also wanted to hide the fact that I was doing all of the writing and make it seem as though we were both writing the reports. The third person style continued in the "On the Road" and "At Home" reports. The other reports vary; some are in first person and some are in third person, but I have written them all. I finally organized all of this stuff on CapeMayBeach.net in its current form. I stopped using my photo album program except to look up some older photos. Also, I upload thousands of photos to my Snapfish account and share them with a fairly long list of people who mostly ignore them. I always thought my audience was me, my wife, our kids, and a few other members of our extended family. Over the years, a sizeable number of other people have become regular readers of all of the material. I am often surprised by an email or phone call from someone who wants to react to something they've read or seen. Because the audience for this stuff is so general, I've become more and more objective about my reporting, and hardly ever voice an opinion about things other than restaurant meals and movies. In 2005, I decided that I wanted to have a place where I could voice my opinions. I wanted to keep this new part of my reporting online, but I didn't want to worry about anyone who might be offended or take issue with my thoughts. At first, I didn't use my "opinions" segment very often. Recently, I decided to record my thoughts on a more or less daily basis. Even more recently, I added a "comments" facility, which I'm enjoying immensely. So that's most of the story in all of its tedious details.

11/17/07 comments

I thought Bangladesh was a weather disaster term like tsunami, typhoon, monsoon, and flood. I just found out that it's a real place that just never makes the news unless accompanied by a weather-related disaster. Similarly, I thought Bikini was synonymous with Atomic Test until I reached puberty, when I found out that Bikini can mean something far more sacred.

The U.N. has noticed Global Warming and released a warning to the globe. I read Michael Crichton's book "State of Fear" some time ago. I have liked Crichton's body of work over the years and have respected him as a scientist, so I give some credence to his arguments. One of my favorite weathermen, Joe Bastardi of Accuweather, has said that Global Warming is like a religious belief. I highly respect Joe's ability to detect weather patterns and predict hurricane behavior, so I have to pay attention to his thoughts on the matter. "South Park", one of my favorite TV shows, waxed satirical concerning Al Gore's Nobel Prize during its recent trilogy, "Imaginationland". I respect "South Park"'s analysis of current issues, so I had to laugh at Gore wearing his medal around his neck and wearing a cape and pretending to fly like Superman. Global Warming has become more of a political issue than a scientific one and a lot of people whose politics I despise have lined up against it, so I guess I could just have a knee-jerk liberal reaction toward acceptance of the principle. But wait, didn't I say up above that I don't like knee-jerk liberal or conservative philosophies? My conclusion on the issue is that, regardless of whether one accepts Global Warming or not, no one but a hard-core, "Genesis says we should rape the earth" fanatic can believe that it's a good thing to continue to spew greenhouse gases and other pollutants into our atmosphere. If it's not a good thing, why don't we take steps to curtail our air pollution? While we're at it, why don't we curtail our water pollution and waste of energy? Why don't we try to stop squandering the earth's resources? Why don't we treat Mother Nature with love, and maybe she'll love us back?

11/16/07 comments

1. Paris Hilton was in Philadelphia on Wednesday. This was the second most significant thing that she's done in her life. We all know what the other was.

2. Two CNN newscasters yesterday around 1 PM were discussing back and forth a situation near O'Hare Airport where 2 planes were about 1.3 miles apart. The newscasters were in agreement that the planes were flying at 12 miles per second. I wish my last flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco was at that rate of speed. I would have arrived 4 minutes after I took off. I always figured that newscasters have no idea what they're saying, but this is ridiculous.

Evidently, it's not a crime to be stupid.

11/15/07 comments

Well, the Catholic Church has done it again:

Roman Catholic bishops on Wednesday instructed Catholic voters that their eternal salvation could be at stake when they cast ballots.

Thank the gods that I'm an ex-Catholic, because this reminder would have me sleepless at night. Who could I vote for? Lets see... the Church is against divorce, so out go Juliani, McCain, and Thompson. The Church is against women having the right to choose their reproductive options, so out go all of the Democratic candidates. Romney used to be pro-choice, but he's out anyway because he's a Mormon. Also not members of the one true Church are Baptists Huckabee, Hunter, and Paul and Presbyterian Tancredo. So only Alan Keyes is left. Well, at least I would have someone to vote for. Does the announcement by the Catholic bishops mean that we'll have a black President, but not the one people would expect?

11/14/07 comments

One of my 30 something relatives sent me the following email:

Friends and Family

I recently have had two wake up calls:

1) Healthcare costs increasing by 20% at work while my company posted record profits.

2) Viewing the documentary 'SICKO' by Michael Moore.

With all due apologies to my sister and brother in-law [names of 2 persons working for a pharmaceutical company], who I know are not in any way personally responsible for the state of health care or how big pharma makes money, I felt I needed to express my dismay regarding US healthcare to my reps and senator. Our country is in a health care crisis. Why now am I taking up the charge? Because I believe that if we can spend (estimated) over $1.6 trillion on a poorly executed and pointless war in Iraq by 2009 we can supply basic healthcare to our citizens. France, England, Canada, Cuba and Holland, to name a few, have higher standards of healthcare for their citizens than we do. And they all have socialized medical programs. We socialize our schools, our fire and police departments, why not provide affordable socialized healthcare? I encourage each of you to put aside politics and watch SICKO and tell me how you feel about HMO's turning away sick children and adults who go on to die. Or about 9/11 workers who are being abandoned by our gov't and receive better care in CUBA! Shame on us. [wife's name] (my wife) and I are ready to move to Canada we are losing faith in this country so fast. $1.6 Trillion on Iraq by 2009 and we have hospitals dumping our poorest and powerless on corners because they have to kick them out of the hospital because they can't pay. Shame on us. More newborn babies dying here than almost anywhere else? Mom's forced to go back to work after 3 months with expensive daycare their only option?? And did I mention $1.6 TRILLION spent by 2009 on Iraq by this same govt? (Oh and $3+ for a gallon of gas....and rising....)
I wrote the following letter to Rep Bob Casey, Rep Sestak and Senator Specter this evening. I am asking them to support bill HR 676 which provides for a national Healthcare program. I encourage you to join me.

Below is a copy of the text which you may modify accordingly.

Also here is a link where you can find who represents you in Congress. You can contact them directly from this website and paste this letter into their contact form.


Senator Specter,

As a registered Republican in [town of residence] but a true American at heart I find the current state of health care in this country to be appalling. Health care costs are beginning to affect my family and associates to their detriment and I consider myself and my family part of the insulated middle class that previously hasn't had as much concern with this subject. All of that has changed. I am employeed by [company of employment] and after posting record profits during 2007 we had the cost of our health care raised almost 20%. Not to mention that our average 'cost of living' salary increases will only be between 3 to 4%. I manage almost 40 people who make a fair living earning an average of $40 to $60k per year. They can 'afford' this health care but it now has become so much more of a burden. I see families now worrying about medicine vs food or mortgage payments. More employees are concerned about having babies and/ or even getting sick and the impact this will cause financially. I am disturbed by the practices of our health insurance companies and our pharmaceutical industry. They are preying on our citizens for profit. Nothing else. If we are to continue to evolve as a society and continue to offer all citizens basic human rights and freedoms then we must stop the insanity that is our current state of health care. Having some of the lowest worldwide rankings for infant mortality and general population health should not be something we take lightly. I read today, November 13 2007 that cost predictions for the war in Iraq will run past $1.6 TRILLION by 2009. If we can find the money to fight in Iraq we can certainly improve our health care in this country. Again as a Republican and a voter in [town of residence] I would encourage you to join in sponsoring bill HR 676 with many of your peers. We need fundamental change to health care in this country.

Sincere Regards,


My wife and I have been talking about how the younger generation has to get involved in the problems that will influence their lives and those of their children. It's good to see someone close to us taking a step. Hopefully, more people will get upset and do something.

11/13/07 comments

The only good thing that I've noticed about growing old is that my eyes automatically corrected themselves so that I don't need glasses anymore. I was nearsighted from my high school days until a few years ago. I couldn't read road signs at a distance and movies in a theater were totally blurry. I was wearing glasses for everything but reading. I called BINGO for a local church for several years. I kept taking my glasses off and on. I had to take the glasses off to read the number on the ball, then I had to put the glasses on so that I could see if anyone in the crowd had a hand up. People remarked that I looked silly moving my glasses off and on that way, so finally I bought a very expensive pair of glasses that had variable focus. I could look through the bottom of the glasses to read the number on the ball and through the top to see the people. I wore those glasses twice and then my eyes changed so I didn't need glasses at all. My expensive glasses have been sitting in a drawer ever since, but I'm not complaining.

One of the worst things about growing old has been my loss of multitasking. I used to be a virtuoso at juggling lots of different tasks and I kept everything so well organized that I didn't have much stress. At any given time, I had a half dozen things I had to do, so I would pick the least distasteful one, fooling myself into enjoying it, relatively speaking. At some point, perhaps coincidental to my retirement from college teaching, I started to lose my ability to keep lots of balls in the air. At this point, I'm pretty much in sequential mode, like a little kid. I don't know if it's affected my overall happiness, but I sure don't get as much done as I used to.

11/12/07 comments

Here's a veteran story which isn't funny at all: "The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that on any given night, 200,000 veterans are homeless." This is disgraceful.

11/11/07 comments

Today is Veterans Day, so I'm going to please myself by writing about my military service. I was in need of a personal makeover in the summer of 1961, and the U.S. Army seemed to be the right place to be during the transformation. When I was considering enlisting, there was a draft because of the Berlin Crisis, which not only caused people to be drafted, but also caused some reserve units to be activated. I had always wanted to be a Marine, but I chose the Army because of its 3 year enlistment, compared to 4 years for the Marines. My big day came on September 13, 1961, when I stepped forward to take the oath. I'll never forget the feeling of committing myself to 3 years of servitude during which I would have little control over my destiny. I did basic training at Ft. Jackson, SC, outside of Columbia. Arrival and orientation are just blurs now of getting my hair shaved off and receiving all of the clothes I would need, head to toe. Part of the job of basic training is to excise one's individuality. With head's practically shaved and wearing uniforms, there were only 3 different guys: a white guy, a black guy, and a latino guy. Thank God for nametags! Getting by for me was a matter of keeping my head down and trying to blend into the crowd. I learned everything about my M-1 rifle, threw a live hand grenade, and learned some bayonet fighting skills while yelling, "Kill without mercy." After "basic", I had a 2 week leave at home and then reported to my radio school at Fort Gordon, GA, outside of Augusta. I learned how to operate some huge relay equipment, used for telephone communications. In a manner typical in the Army, when school was over, I was shipped to Ft. Bliss, TX, outside of El Paso, to join the 815th Engineer Battalion (construction) as an Intermediate Speed Radio Operator. I had been trained to work on huge equipment, but now I was working with radios mounted on jeeps and 3/4 ton trucks. I was assigned to Headquarters Platoon along with the company clerks and other somewhat literate personnel. The First Sergeant, a real sonofabitch, liked me because I'd had 3 years of college and knew how to take orders. This uneasy relationship made life interesting for me. Whenever there was a job to do which required a bit of smarts and reliability, Sarge tapped me for the job. I was in SW Texas for 8 months and quickly learned that the action was over the border in Juarez. I remember 2 off-base incidents best. One afternoon, I was by myself in Juarez, which was very unusual, because of the "safety in numbers" dictum. Anyway, I sat in a bar and ordered 10 shots of Tequila for 10 cents each, and did the whole lime and salt thing. This bar had a tile gutter running around it with running water. The last thing you did after salt-Tequila-lime was to spit in the gutter. Good stuff! In the second incident, I was out with a steelworker from NYC who was made a carpenter by the Army. He and I spent the evening listening to country music and drinking in some bar in El Paso. At 2 A.M. we were too drunk to find our way back to base, so we bought a pint of whiskey and lay down on the grass by the pool of some motel and slept the night there. We must have been quite a sight for the early risers on Sunday morning. Our base was in the desert and, about once a month we spent a week camping out there. In October 1962, we were doing field training when we were called back to base for an emergency situation, called "Operation October Sunset." The rest of the world knew this as "The Cuban Missile Crisis." Our job was to help other units on base to load their equipment on trains to be shipped to south Florida for a possible invasion of Cuba. We worked 18 hour shifts to get the job done. I thought it was going to be the end of the world. When the crisis passed, our company was given secret orders to ship out en masse overseas somewhere. Our destination was secret, but somehow we knew we were going somewhere in Thailand. We were given leaves to go home and then we flew as a unit for Southeast Asia. During the early part of the flight, we were invited to go up to the cockpit, one at a time. When I arrived up front with the flight crew, the sun was just setting. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. We flew to Hawaii, where we had a 24 hour layover. Six of us decided to eschew the bars and rent a car to tour Oahu. We drove all over the place, enjoying the scenery. The next leg of the flight was to Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. We were all treated to a white tablecloth steak dinner. We had strong suspicions that we were headed for some rough duty. Finally, we flew to a concrete strip at Korat, Thailand, maintained by some Kiwis of the New Zealand Air Force. Our first job was to attached palm frond panels to the sides of our screened "hooches" in our area of the small, unpaved base called "Camp Friendship", surrounded by jungle. Our job was to prepare a storage depot, an ammo dump, and to build roads in preparation for an invasion of Thailand by China. I spent almost the whole year of 1963 there. At that time, there were about 20,000 American "advisors" in South Vietnam, not too far away from us. We had some very primitive living, just a small step up from camping. The main hub of action on base was the NCO Club, a bigger hut with a bar and tables. I and my buddies guzzled a lot of beer in there. When my 23rd birthday arrived on July 1, I felt old and unaccomplished. I decided that I wanted to do 2 things: get a Ph.D. in mathematics and marry Cathy Fagan. Luckily, I did both by the end of the 1960s. I had a lot of adventures in Thailand, but my biggest memory is that we heard on the short wave radio in our hooch, that President Kennedy was shot. I never felt so far away from home as that day. I received an award when I left Thailand. I arrived back home on Christmas Eve and tried as hard a I could to keep from swearing around my family; I came back a bit uncivilized, to say the least. My next tour of duty was with a Military Police battalion at Ft. Dix, NJ. I worked on jeep radios, and as a real treat, sometimes I was the police dispatcher on the radio. This was exciting work because the young MPs liked nothing better than to chase speeders on the base. They always radioed the dispatcher, "I'm in a high speed chase ...". The best part of my stay at Ft. Dix was my continuing relationship with Cathy. The second best part was the September day in 1964 that my brother Bob picked me up to take me back to civilian life. The rest of the MP battalion shipped out to Saigon, Vietnam soon after I left the Army.

If you know a vet, let him tell you some stories today. Just listen, don't judge.

11/10/07 comments

I have been going to a urologist since 2001, when I had a kidney problem. My first impression of the waiting room, on my first visit, was that there were a whole lot of old people there. Since I was 61 back then, I was including myself, but maybe marginally. I didn't have fantastic insight, since old men typically have prostate problems and urologists make their main living dealing with that gland. Back then, my urologist had his office in an old house. All of his patients' records were in paper folders, and the main diagnostic tool in the office was doc's index finger. My condition required lots and lots of tests. I had X-rays, cat-scans, urinalyses, and many blood tests. I had the tests performed in different labs and hospitals, each with its own set of waiting rooms. I noticed that most of the other patients in the waiting rooms were old people. When I was finished reading all of the back issues of "People" magazine, I thought about all of these medical resources being expended on people with a very short future life span. Lots of my fellow patients were in wheelchairs and a big percentage seemed to be pretty much out of it as far as what was going on around them. The quality of life of many of these oldsters was meager and I couldn't see how there could be any improvement by any medical testing and treatment.

I've had to spend a good deal of time in nursing homes, visiting patients (inmates?), since the mid-80s. My mother-in-law was in a nursing home for 10 years, during which my wife and I visited her on Sundays when we weren't traveling. The mother of a friend of ours was in a nursing home for another 10 years. Since she was my wife's surrogate mother as a teen, and I knew her back then too, we felt close to her and visited her every couple of months. Nursing homes are mainly places that you smell. The stench of urine is constant and overpowering. The residents are mostly either bed-ridden or in wheelchairs. Very few of them are coherent. Once again, the quality of life is meager. The patients require lots of medical care and testing.

How do all of these old people pay their medical bills? In my case, I retired with wonderful health benefits. Later, when I became 65, part of my medical expenses were covered under Medicare and part remained covered under my retirement package. What about other people? I know that some of them are covered by Medicaid. The amount of resources spent on older people is vast enough to have corrupted the health care system.

I had to return to my urologist after a couple of years' hiatus because of a high PSA level detected in a routine blood test with my personal physician. The doctor had moved to a new, high-tech office suite while I was absent. Every time I entered the office, I had to undergo a bladder ultrasound scan, administered by a technician. After I had visited the new office a few times, I discovered that the bladder scan was part of a three-phase test: scan the bladder, measure the excreted urine, and scan the bladder again. I only had the full test once. Usually, I only had the first part, which could be done in seconds, and was meaningless by itself. Since I haven't lapsed into incoherence yet, I thought about this ubiquitous bladder scan and realized it was a bladder scam. It was all about the doc collecting a big insurance payment for an expensive test. I've never said anything to the doc, because he's already had 3 opportunities to shoot arrows into my prostate during biopsies, and he might have more chances in the future. I don't want to make him mad at me.

I think that a large part of the health system in the U.S. is based on expensive testing and treatment of older citizens, mainly to pad the wallets of the doctors with insurance payments. I'll bet that most of the testing is either unnecessary or ill-advised due to expected benefit to the patient. Meanwhile, more and more OB/GYNs have stopped delivering babies, a much more beneficial use of medical resources. I don't have the answers to these issues, but the problem becomes ever clearer to me.

11/09/07 comments

I had occasion to learn about Asperger's Syndrome (AS), a form of autism, when a young relative of mine was diagnosed with the condition. From some reading and observation, a perhaps oversimplified way to describe the syndrome is that those with AS are unable to understand the effects that their words have on others. I found it similar to, but more severe than, the condition I call Mechanical Engineer's Syndrome (MES). I have found that those with MES are able to understand the effects of their words, but don't find it to be efficient use of their time to do so. In both cases, the afflicted individuals can learn to fake it and pretend to be concerned with how people perceive what they say. Politicians also fake it, but they really just don't care.

The rest of us have a complex "user interface" that filters what we're thinking into what we're saying. For example, if someone should ask me to prepare a short talk about politics, I would ask for details about the audience. For a group of young children, I would say that sometimes, "politicians overstate" what they will accomplish when elected to office. For a group of church ladies, I'd say, "politicians stretch the truth." For a group of college students, I'd say, "politicians lie." It's not as though I'm changing what I say, I'm changing how I say it. If you would happen to encounter my comments in various places in the blogsphere, you would find me saying things quite genteelly in some cases, quite bluntly in other cases, and accompanied with a lot of slang and cussing in some others. I don't think my philosophy changes, just my manners.

11/08/07 comments

I woke up this morning thinking about Veterans Day coming up on Sunday. I wondered which of the current crop of 2008 Presidential candidates are military veterans. We all know about Senator John McCain and his experiences during the Vietnam War. McCain's military service forms a large piece of who he is, as is true for most vets. Dr. Ron Paul served as a flight surgeon in the Air Force from 1963 to 1965 and then in the National Guard from 1965 to 1968. These are the only two candidates who are true veterans. Senator Chris Dodd served in the National Guard from 1969 to 1975, but not on active duty. He also served in the Peace Corps. As a veteran myself, I find military service to be a very important factor in any candidate's resume. When serving on active duty in the military, one looks at being an American in a different light. I'm going to discuss veterans again on Sunday.

11/07/07 comments

Wow! The best $100 I ever spent was my contribution to Ron Paul on November 5th along with 35,000 others. On CNN "American Morning", just a few minutes ago as I write, Kiran Chetry gave Ron Paul a "Who the heck are you?" interview. Dr. Paul quickly spoke about his ideas on Iraq, U.S. Foreign Policy, the weak U.S. dollar, and lost American ideals. When the interview was over, John Roberts, Kiran's partner, said, "What he said makes a lot of sense." For $100, I was able to help wake up the news media. Let's do it again!

11/06/07 comments

The chaotic situation in Pakistan is troubling and dangerous, but isn't it funny to see guys dress up in coat and tie to battle with police? It reminds me a little of pictures of baseball games in the 40s where all of the men were dressed in suits and hats as they munched hot dogs in the stands.

Why can't our President and State Department simply say, "We are sorry for the unfortunate situation in your country and wish for the best for your citizens." instead of making arrogant and empty criticisms and threats? The people of Pakistan will hate us even more after this current situation. All over the world, the U.S. makes it official business to try to get involved in the domestic politics of other countries. How would we like it if France made statements criticizing the corrupt politics in New Jersey and threatened sanctions like stopping the export of champagne and bidets?

11/05/07 comments

An important study's results were announced today; I think I heard this on ABC, which I had on by mistake. Normally, in the morning, I put Philly's local ABC station on until 7:00 AM because it's the only Philly news in HD at that hour. I also put CNN's "American Morning" on my other tuner. By pausing, switching tuners, and zapping, I can watch both news programs without commercials. But, at 7:00 AM, I switch from ABC to NBC so that I can enjoy Natalie Morales, who's usually on in some role or another (although I hated her Halloween costume - she should have been dressed as Snow White). The other nice thing about the "Today" show is that it has a 20 minute commercial-free run at the outset. We had company this morning, causing me to miss the 7:00 AM switch to "Today". Anyway, the study indicated that college students that drink Red Bull and vodka have different outcomes than those who drink other stuff like beer, shooters, metropolitans, and so on. Here's what happens to the Red Bull drinkers:

1. They get hurt more often
2. They tend to be easier to take advantage of sexually
3. They tend to more often take advantage of others sexually

The reason for these differences is that, when you get drunk on Red Bull and vodka, you don't know that you're drunk.

First of all, when I used to get drunk, I often didn't know I was drunk and became one of the most skilled drunk drivers ever seen on the roads of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I actually was a better driver the drunker I got.

Secondly, using the well-worn logic that "two out of three ain't bad", I would probably eschew beer and start drinking Red Bull and vodka, if I still drank.

Thirdly, who the hell pays for studies like that?

Fourthly, why would a national news show talk about that stupid study when they're rioting in Pakistan, the glaciers are melting, and I can't sell my house because the housing market has gone south?

11/04/07 comments

CNN this morning is perpetuating a huge fraud, the "Mile High Club". Somehow, the new Airbus 380 is thought to be on the verge of opening a floodgate of new members for this seemingly exclusive club. Since Denver is a mile high, one would expect that, even last night, there were a couple of hundred thousand qualifiers in that city. Or, is that a few million, or a few billion? Numbers are so hard to work with. Anyway, it doesn't take a Ph.D. in mathematics to figure out that there should be a new name for the club that some of the lucky A380 customers will be joining. I guess the idea is that you have to screw while flying to qualify. So, maybe the name of the club should indicate that you did the deed at an altitude above the highest point of land in the world, which would be, let's see, Mt. Everest, at 29,029 feet. The cruising altitude of the A380 is about 35,000 feet, which is between 6 and 7 miles. Maybe the club should be called the 6 mile high club? Why are people so stupid about numbers? Can French people join? They wouldn't even know what a mile is. How about the 10K high club? Now, that sounds pretty good, pretty good.

11/03/07 comments

Looking back on the past week, there were two important documentaries that I viewed:

1. The "South Park" trilogy, "Imaginationland", I, II, and III. This is an important film which brings up a number of issues. The first issue has to do with who are the dwellers of Imaginationland? Is Jesus there? Is God there? Another important issue has to do with conflict resolution. Kyle and Cartman are at odds about a wager and both take resolute stands in opposition to one another. The proposed resolution is ingenious: just imagine the resolution the way you want it to go and let it play out in Imaginationland. This is the way the U.S. President tried to deal with the Iraq situation by pretending to have won the war. The only mistake that he made was in not walking away afterward. I heartily recommend the work, which can be purchased from iTunes in an uncensored version. BTW, I didn't think that Comedy Central allowed the word, "shit", but it occurs in the censored version of "Imaginationland". My favorite evening news show, "The Daily Show", doesn't allow the word.

2. The movie, "Idiocracy", starring Luke Wilson (the one who didn't attempt suicide). This film is a Malthusian fantasy which again has at least two major points. The first point is that unfettered, voluntary control of human reproduction will lead to a world dominated by idiots and a few major corporations who cater to them: Costco, Carl's Jr., and the maker of a sports drink. The second, and more important, point is that when you find yourself surrounded by idiots, take the reins and become their leader. In a land of cretins, a dimwit is king. The movie is available on DVD.

11/02/07 comments

The local politics around here really sucks. Every day, we receive flyers in the mailbox attacking some of the candidates, published by other candidates. We don't ever hear about what constructive plans any of them have to offer. Of course, this is Jersey, "State of Corruption", but does that have to extend down to the local level? One of the local candidates, Jeff van Drew, is a dentist who has been climbing the political ladder for many years. He happens to be a Democrat in this very Republican area. He has been the subject of so many attack ads that I'm going to vote for him on that basis alone. There are so many problems around here (incredibly high property taxes, salt water intrusion in the wells, aging bridges, grid-locked summer traffic, ...) that need creative solutions, you'd think that someone would step up and offer to try to solve them. The local Republican Party spends 75% of its time in a civil war involving its two factions and 25% of the time attacking Democratic candidates. The Democratic Party consists mostly of ex-Republicans. I usually end up voting against certain candidates who've been most insidious, and voting against incumbents where I'm undecided.

I was successful in 4 elections in my town in PA, as I ran for a school board that I resigned from twice. Just in that limited experience, I discovered how corrupting politics can be. Amazingly, we're spending our national treasure and sacrificing so many young lives trying to export this system elsewhere. I still believe in Plato's concept of the Philosopher King, who is dragged, kicking and screaming, into civic office. I always thought of (Dollar) Bill Bradley as that type of politician. He was an amazing guy, athletic and smart, but he somehow lacked charisma and definitely lacked a kit full of political tricks and corrupt support.

Anyway, I'm voting on Tuesday.

11/01/07 comments

I managed to rent the 25th Anniversary edition of "Halloween" and enjoyed watching it last night along with the extras. It's amazing how effective the simple story is. Jamie Lee was looking good in the movie and in the extras. I was bummed that the filmography for Donald Pleasance didn't include the 1967 "Night of the Generals", where I thought he was great.

Comments are now implemented, but should be considered in "beta" form. Thanks for your patience.

10/31/07 comments

Since it's Halloween, I'm going to reminisce about past shenanigans. When our kids were young, Halloween was almost as big a holiday as Christmas and we really did it up big. One time, I accompanied the kids around the neighborhood dressed as their mother. Because I had sported a beard since grad school, I had to veil my face. Our house was infamous in the neighborhood as a very scary place to show up for candy. Often, we would darken the whole house except for a blaze in the fireplace and the porch light outside. I usually found a way to smear play blood on myself as I dressed up to scare kids at the door. One year we had a bloody head hanging in the front window, I dressed as a frightening, bloody executioner, complete with a bloody axe. We played eerie music on the stereo. The final touch was my wife, in the kitchen, letting out a blood-curdling scream from time to time. I made kids step through the door before I'd give them a candy bar with a bloody hand. Some of the kids refused the candy. One year, I wore an old suit and smeared ugly green makeup on my face. I also made my eyes look bloody. After trick or treat time, I went to a local bar and walked around bent over like Igor. Everyone that I saw that night was terrified of me. During the Halloween Parade the night before, my son led me though town with a chain around my neck. One year, we made up our daughter as a corpse and had her laying in a coffin right inside the front door as we greeted kids. She lay as still as death and freaked out the kids. One year, I showed up at my aerobics class dressed as a flasher. When I flashed the class, I was wearing Garfield underpants and had "hello" scrawled on my belly with lipstick. Just a few years ago, with the kids gone from the nest, we went to a Halloween party with a wedding theme. I decided to go as my bride's bridesmaid. I didn't know what to do with my beard: should I cover up with a veil again? I decided to bite the bullet and shave it. While I was shaving, I also shaved my legs and arms (even though I was wearing a long sleeve dress). I didn't shave my underarms because a guy has to maintain some dignity. The specter of their father in drag freaked out our kids when they saw photos. My wife told me that since I was shaved, I had to keep the beard off. The next year, it was easier for me to dress up as our hostess, an aerobics instructor, but I lost the last bit of dignity when I shaved my armpits. And the next year I dressed as the Smothers Brothers' mom as part of a skit where I dressed as Tommy. I haven't dressed up for Halloween in a few years, but who knows when I'll get the urge to get into drag once again?

10/30/07 comments

Sometimes it's good to watch a movie where every character is so fouled up that one's own life looks pretty good in comparison. Last night, I viewed "The Little Children" and went to bed happy with my own lot. Is there an opposite movie where every character does so well in the game of life that one's own life seems miserably inadequate? The first movie that comes to mind is "Starship Trooper", but that's because of the shower scene. Something to think about. I'm thinking about adding a comment capability to this blog, but am too stubborn to look for an off-the-shelf solution. I'll likely cobble together some Php and mySQL.

10/29/07 comments

I am fed up with being fed ads and commercials from every direction. I understand that when I turn on my T.V. set and tune it to a commercial channel that I'll be bombarded with junk trying to sell me junk. I try to use my DVR to filter out the commercials so I can watch the small amount of worthwhile fare on commercial T.V.: "Lost", "24", "South Park", "The Daily Show", CNN's "American Morning", Philadelphia's ABC HD "Good Morning", and the first 30 to 60 minutes of "Today". Unfortunately, my wife loves to watch all of the political shows on CNN and MSNBC and doesn't care about filtering commercials, so the space in our home is fouled by the sounds of selling whenever she's around the house and I'm not holding the remote. During the warm weather around here, noisy airplanes fly banners with ads close by the house during much of the day. I don't remember signing up for that. In Wildwood, NJ, if a beachgoer gets to the beach early enough, that lucky person can enjoy looking at ads rolled into the sand (this is no joke). Last year, I attended the Peach Bowl and had to suffer people trying to force me to think of it as the "Chick-fil-A" Bowl, which makes me think of salmonella, not football. Since sponsors can change, "www.peachbowl.com" still exists, but is redirected to the commercial version. Coming soon: new parents can rent space on newborns forearms for tattooed ads. Actually, my grandsons would look pretty good with Bud cans on their arms. Don't even get me started about all of the commercial links on websites. If waterboarding ever becomes declared as torture, it can be effectively replaced with a never-ending recording of the "1-800 My Lemon" song.

10/27/07 comments

I was thinking about scary movies the other day and I can't help but come back to "Halloween" as my favorite. I like Jason, but Michael Myers really can scare me. The simple musical theme is amazing. With the lights out, I get chills listening to it. And then there's the debut of Jamie Lee Curtis. I liked Donald Pleasance in "Night of the Generals", where he swigged Schinkenhager Gin from its ceramic bottle, as did I in my past. In Halloween, he's a creepy good guy. I think that I'd like to get a DVD of the movie to relish on this coming Halloween. If I survive, I'll write about it.

10/26/07 comments

My paternal grandfather, who had apprenticed as a cabinet maker before spending his whole career pin-striping Pullman Cars for the Pennsylvania Railroad in Altoona, PA, told me, "You'll never do anything right." He was showing me some basic woodworking skills when I visited him at age 13. I was pretty upset until he explained that he was joking about my being left-handed. Well, I knew what a pain it was to be left-handed. It hurt to use scissors. It was awkward to write and I was always dragging my hand across my freshly written words and smearing them. When I threw a ball, even a football, it curved. I started to realize that I thought differently from right-handers and often they couldn't understand how I connected concepts that they thought were unconnected. In high school, I was invited to participate in the Philadelphia Science Council. At the meeting, the moderator asked the large group if the left-handers would raise a hand. I was shocked to see well over 50% of the hands raised. I always had problems expressing myself in written form until one of my professorial colleagues told me that I should always use a typewriter (later, a keyboard) because using both hands to "write" triggered the left, or verbal, hemisphere. When I was in a classroom or meeting room, I would always end up looking out of a window, day dreaming, unless I doodled to aid my concentration. One day when my teaching colleagues and I were discussing left-handedness, a psychology professor, passing by, said, "Left-handedness is due to brain damage." I was bothered by that remark until I realized that one person's "damage" is another person's "enhancement." By now I'm used to the fact that I think in a wacky, right-hemispheric way. I know that some things that I say will be completely incomprehensible to those that think "right." There are lots of materials on the Internet on left-handedness. One useful website is for left-handed children. BTW, I am pretty good at guessing that someone is left-handed based on her left-field thinking.

10/25/07 comments

Guest rant from Cathy (my loving wife): "I'd like to know what sort of distraction Bush is setting up in telling Cuba that they have to get more democratic. Why can't he leave Cuba alone? At the same time, he's come out against the Revolutionary Quds in Iran, the first time any regular fighting force has been called terroristic. Who do Bush and Cheney think will join them in freezing assets against the Quds? Blackwater is holed up in the Green Zone. (Are they Yellow? - editor's comment) Did Bush fire the State Department official Richard J. Griffin as a scapegoat? Guiliani's has all kinds of neocon hawk advisors telling him what to say about Iran and our national security. That's all he has going for him. (What about his latest wife? - editor's comment)"

10/24/07 comments

What a way to start a rainy morning in Cape May. First of all, I struggled with the NY Times puzzle and its Latin phrases. Somehow, I got it with a bit of help from my wife on the pet food company Iams, which I had never heard of. Then, I got tagged with a meme by a cracker-blogger named BillyMac from the South. While I was researching the definition of "meme", my Vista laptop froze and made me start this entry all over again. I found out that there's a field called "memetics" which has at least one journal. I was beginning to think that I had found my way into an episode of Penn and Teller's "Bullshit" show, when I realized that I had already come up with my three things: Duty, Loyalty, and Charity. People that know me well will have no problem with the first two things. However, I don't toss coins in a jingling cup held by a legless guy sitting on the sidewalk. How is it that I come up with "Charity"? My understanding of the concept is that it is a counterpoint to duty. There are those things that you have to do (duty) and those things that you volunteer to do (charity). I don't have to come up with a "ecce signum"; it's my list and the items on it are part of the "sine qua non" for the me-ness of me. I'm tagging Meggs, TheFortunes, and SiteInsights with a heavy sense of duty.

10/23/07 comments

I remember that the hills caught fire every year when I was a kid growing up in San Mateo, CA. Back then, in the '40s, nobody thought of building anything but copper mines in those dangerous areas. The California coast south of San Francisco is a desert. It is prone to seasonal fires, flash floods, and landslides. In addition, it is prone to earthquakes. Anyone living in the hills and canyons is in a temporary situation at the mercy of Mother Nature. Some people willingly choose that risk, as I do living at the water's edge. Some people are possibly ignorant of the danger. The fires this year in Southern California are worse than usual, but they're expected.

10/22/07 comments

Dick Cheney, shut the hell up, you stupid son of a bitch!

10/21/07 comments

I've been thinking about politicians and lobbyists today. My cynical reading is that the lobbyists have brought all of the politicians into one big adulterous bed where they wallow in ill-gained money and favors and the rest of us suffer. The only hope might be to vote against all incumbents and try to get term limits so that politics can become a public service rather than a corrupt career.

10/20/07 comments

Pretty funny: on ABC Philadelphia this morning, one of the news readers was reporting on the possible Hollywood Writers' strike and read, "It's a good thing that we write our own material." I'll bet she didn't even realize the irony.

Is anyone else afraid of the Saturday NY Times crossword puzzle? I live for Mondays.

10/19/07 comments

I've been reading snippets of the book "What We Say Goes" while messing with the computer in the bookstore my wife works in. The work is in the form of a dialogue which gives the author, Noam Chomsky, an easy forum for expressing a wide range of opinions about the misdirections of the USA, which he often refers to as an "outlaw nation." Chomsky is a world famous linguist on the M.I.T. faculty who is secure enough to be unafraid to express unpopular opinions. I told my wife that if we bought the book (which I strongly recommend), we couldn't leave it out in the open for our visitors to see. I also find myself hiding my "Buddy Christ" when certain people visit our home. I wonder which is more important, being sensitive to others' sensitivities, or being totally honest with one's own thoughts and beliefs? This is a problem that we all face. I try to dance along the fence on the dilemma, but I lean away from confrontations usually. I really do try to keep an open mind about controversial issues. I wish everybody did.

10/18/07 comments

I'm very pissed off today. I worked all afternoon yesterday trying to rid a computer, in my wife's place of employment, that had been hijacked by a variant of the CoolWebSearch hijacker (I think). I was unsuccessful after working on it for 6 hours. The hijack possibly could have been averted by the business keeping its security suite up-to-date, but it's the fault of the hijackers, not the victim. Today, my filter and I handled over 300 SPAM emails on my computer; a horrible waste of time and energy that is duplicated all over the world. We can't completely prevent attacks on our computers, but we can support efforts to search out and destroy the perpetrators. SPAMmers, virus makers, hijackers, and other "crackers" should be actively pursued and prosecuted.

10/17/07 comments

A sign of the Apocalypse: I saw a vulture eating a dead shark on the beach in front of our house. I've been struggling to think of analogies, something to do with lawyers, I think.

I've been thinking about goals for 2008. Tentatively, my list is:

10 mile run on March 30
walk on April 26
23 mile hike in May
40 mile kayak paddle in mid to late summer

My goals for 2007 were successfully met:

5 mile run on August 4
18.1 mile paddle across the Delaware Bay on August 25
16 mile hike to the top of Half Dome on September 12

10/16/07 comments

Canada is too cold and Mexico is too scary. Maybe I can become a citizen of another country without actually relocating there and being too far away from my children and grandchildren. Why am I thinking about changing citizenship? I love to travel to other countries, but I'm sick of being ashamed of my own country. I don't see why our government wants to incur the hatred of the world (except Israel, where they merely think we're naive idiots). Our State Department spends most of its time commenting on and meddling in the internal politics of other countries, thereby creating ill will. This seems to be the opposite of what the State Department should be doing. It must be nice to be Swiss. There are lots of pretty women to look at, the streets are clean, the clocks are correct, and everyone loves their chocolate and their banks.

10/15/07 comments

I read the book, "Blackwater", over the summer. This is a very scary book which provides a lot of insight into the "privatization" movement of the Bush Administration. The evil that permeates the top tiers of the executive branch comes through loud and clear. I'm almost as pissed at the do-nothing Democrat congress who have the power to turn spotlights on points of corruption and to stop the occupation of Iraq, but for their chickenshitness (chickenshitatude?).

06/08/07 comments

Although Hilary is still my favorite "run of the mill" candidate, I have become quite a fan of Dr. Ron Paul, the Libertarian/Republican congressman from Texas. My wife and I really liked what we heard from Paul at the recent Republican debate on CNN. Coincidentally, my son Bill sent me an email touting Dr. Paul. I made a contribution today on his website and will try to help if I can. America needs something different and Dr. Paul certainly offers a huge change for the better.

01/27/07 comments

Hillary had a productive "town meeting" in Des Moines today. We listened to the session on satellite radio as we were driving in Texas. We both felt that Hillary presented some good ideas on her domestic agenda. She showed considerable knowledge, in keeping with her unique background. I commented to Cathy that it was wonderful to hear a woman's touch on important issues. I have a good feeling about Hillary in 2008.

01/25/07 comments

I spent some time this morning talking to my wife Cathy about Hillary's campaign. She is leaning toward Barack Obama at this point, but she is a sucker for charisma. One of my first tasks as a part of "Team Hillary" will be to get Cathy on the team. A good sign is that she is starting to speculate about a Hillary/Barack ticket, which would put Obama in a good position for 2016.

01/24/07 comments

OK, let's get serious! We have to make sure that the next President doesn't mistreat the country the way the current one is doing. I am so fed up with the way this country is going, both internationally and at home, that I am committing right now to Hillary for 2008. I have lots of good reasons for my choice, but for now, all I need to know is that she will lead America back to its rightful place in the world.



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