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Archive for January, 2011

“Winter in New England is the most beautiful season of the year!””The icicles that hang three or four feet from the gutters are just absolutely stunning!” “It’s great watching the kids across the street plow out various driveways…aren’t they enterprising!” “The winter cold isn’t half as bad as the summer heat!” “Driving in the snow when the streets aren’t completely bare is really exciting.” Okay, that’s it for the bullshit. My nose isn’t going to grow long enough to touch the computer monitor so let’s let that fairytale rest in its grave right now. If the lies told above are enough to get me into Hell, trust me when I tell you that they are quite minor to some of the whoppers I’ve passed along over seven plus decades of life so I probably have a “Do not pass go; just jump on the express elevator down at your earliest convenience” pass tattooed on my ass or somewhere else where it’s not quite so obvious. And why is it ‘down’ anyway? How do we know that those people who don’t like cold weather but who have committed all sorts of mortal sins don’t go to someplace like the Arctic Circle and those who don’t like the heat are sent somewhere such as our common perception of Hell? Oh, stop worrying; I’m not about to get off on some religious rant about Heaven and Hell or anywhere in between; I was just making a point. Come to think of it, however, one’s own personal heaven or hell could well be based on climate. Maybe if you never committed a mortal sin, just a few venial ones along the way, you might be like reverse “snowbirds,” spending the summers in Florida and the winters in New England…ah, well, I leave it to you to figure out; you probably already have your ticket punched as well. There was a time, many years ago, when New England winters didn’t bother me in the least. When the “Blizzard of ‘78” struck, I was at work…in a new job…that I’d started just two weeks prior. We were told around noon that the college would close at three. From what I’d been hearing that sounded a bit late, so I told my folks to get out now, while they could. I had one person who lived about thirty miles away, and we were already being told that some roads were closing. I found that blizzard or that series of storms to be absolutely thrilling. I walked nearly a mile to a supermarket, dragging a sled; loaded up with groceries and walked back home – up hill both ways, of course! I didn’t even try to shovel; heck, there was no place to go; even plows got stuck. Believe it or not, there was no cable TV – it didn’t exist; no one had a home computer, but we still had fun. Those days, when blizzards and snowstorms of a more minor annoyance; when cold and ice didn’t seem to matter a great deal; when you stood around for hours chatting with other parents while the kids went down that huge hill at the Brae Burn Country Club…yeah, those days…they’re gone. They are most certainly not forgotten, but they’re gone. Looking back on it, those are probably the days when you earned “heaven points,” but I’m not so sure about that. In my case, we’d get home by noon and I’d be sipping Drambuie by quarter after. What took so long you ask? I had to torch the liqueur and let it warm my hands first, you fool! After the third snifter, the heaven points were undoubtedly gone, but what the hell, I felt better. As I have aged, I’ve learned that the human body, beyond 70 or 75 does not react well to cold. There was a time when I pooh-poohed snow birds as being wimps. You know the kind; they spend the summers here in the Northeast and the winters in Florida, Southern Texas, or Arizona. Now I look on them as being exceptionally intelligent. They have rheumatoid arthritis and they do something about it. I have the same damned thing and all I can do is suffer and bitch about it…now who’s the wimp! My only pleasure from constantly freezing fingers and toes comes when I discreetly slip my hands under the back of my girlfriend’s sweatshirt and touch her shoulders. I swear if I wasn’t holding her down I’d be scraping her off the ceiling. Not nice, I know, but what the heck, there has to be some pleasure in my pain. I find that during the winter months, every joint in my body either dries up or the fluid that’s supposed to lubricate them freezes and refuses to thaw. This makes everything from walking to holding a fork an exercise that requires tremendous effort. We eat a lot of baked potatoes in the winter; when an oven has been on at 4500 for an hour, the residual heat received from leaving the door open while eating simplifies things a great deal…waste not, want not; that’s my motto! Getting up in the morning is another adventure not for the faint of heart. Like most New Englanders, I like to conserve heat and depend on blankets, quilts, comforters, etc., to keep me warm at night. The house isn’t equipped with a programmable thermostat – I’m also cheap – and in the morning, when one throws back the covers to greet the new day – another lie – paralysis is nearly immediate. Would I ever leave New England in the winter? What, and miss the opportunity, which is the God-given right of every New Englander to bitch about whatever season we happen to be in? Never; never, I tell you; never in a million years! The way I’ve got this thing justified is that there were 51 survivors of the first winter after the Pilgrims. Two and maybe a third were my ancestors. As stupid as it may sound to you, I figure I owe them; nearly 400 years and many, many generations later, I owe them…George Soule, William Bradford, and a possible other; I owe them the honor of sticking it out during these months when things are really pretty damned miserable. Things are not half as bad for me as they were for them. These were the people who made my today possible. Do you think I really have any right to leave?

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It is extremely difficult…nay, I’d have to say that it’s impossible for the average or even slightly above average human being occupying this earth today to identify and place in some kind of order the challenges that we as a planet are facing. Each of us has a microcosmic view of what is wrong and what needs to be done, but every single one of us bases his or her ‘list’ on a subjective view and that is from our own narrow little life. We all have built in biases regarding what is important; what is of minimum importance, and what isn’t particularly important or has an adverse effect on other than a small group of people, places, or things, and may easily receive slight consideration.

Given this as a backgrounder; given the fact that I am far from being an above average human being – the day I qualify for Mensa is the same day that Hell freezes over – and given the fact that I’m not above tackling any subject anytime, let me take a crack at what I see as some of the most important problems facing planet earth and its inhabitants.

It has been said that no person can possibly feel a form of freedom unless their bellies are full. This would appear to make the elimination of hunger as a primary concern to mankind. However, what is hunger? Is it sorghum and wheat germ or is it filet mignon and escargot? Rather depends on the region of the world and what one is used to having, doesn’t it? Therefore, before we determine that the elimination of hunger is among our primary problems, we must first determine what hunger is? Oh boy that brings us back to a whole new set of problems doesn’t it? Who eats what? The diet of the Great Andamanese is, I’m almost certain, quite different from the Aborigine in the Outback or the average New Yorker. The point that I’m making here is that solving the problem of world hunger – as high on our priority list as it might be – is not a problem that is within our overall capability to solve. What it requires is the cooperation of governing bodies in each location where the people are indigenous to recognize that these are “their” people and it is not a universal problem so much as a local or regional condition. Now, the very second that you begin to believe that governing bodies are going to recognize the problem and take steps to correct it is the very moment I introduce you to Tinker Bell and allow her to take you off to Never Never Land. It’s just not going to happen. Using my own country as an example…there is a little thing called prejudice. Fortunately, we are not the only nation that can be accused of this. It’s common throughout the world. As a consequence, majorities determine which minorities should be (a) fed, (b) slaughtered, (c) allowed to become extinct through some other means. So much for world hunger topping our list of major problems to be solved. My personal reaction is that there are too many obstacles, most of them surrounding the character of mankind in general. The thought is a good one; the idea that all of mankind is the responsibility of all of mankind is a wonderful concept. In the real world it just doesn’t work.

Because the problem of world hunger cannot be solved, that means that the next major problem, that of world peace, will never be solved. However, hunger is not necessarily the cause of ‘war.’ If we define ‘war’ as an armed conflict between peoples, I think that will probably satisfy most of us. So, why do we fight and kill each other? Well, we do it because the ‘other side’ has something we want. We do it because we want the other side to behave as we do; believe in what we believe in, or stop waging an aggressive campaign against us for the same reasons. War is a bitch! Sometimes it begins because of one thing and expands to take on an entire group of new things. If you study the history of the wars about which you have some clue, e.g., World War II, it has a strange beginning…a despot who wanted to do the whole land grab thing; a country in the Far East that thought America was trying to hold them back, and an Italian who got the railroads running on time, but who was afraid of the despot. Now, if that isn’t an oversimplified definition of WWII, I don’t know what is…but roll with me here. Then we have the political wars where one country believes that another is trying to impose its form of government on those who are too weak to resist…enter Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., etc., etc. War is not complex; war is simple. War is also quite stupid. I suppose it’s a way to lower the gene pool, but I think there are probably better ways to do it. You, I, We cannot solve the problem of war. As long as there is mankind, whether he is separated by thousands of miles of oceans or a river that’s less than a mile wide, we will have ‘war.’ OMG, that’s two problems we’ve tried to attack and we’ve failed on both counts.

Perhaps it’s time to confess that there really are no equitable solutions to the problems facing planet earth. Since time began, we have been a planet in conflict. It will always be so. Our only hope is that mankind will, one day, wake up to the fact that each of us is responsible for the other. I’m not going to be sympathetic to the son-of-a-bitch who tries to take what is mine away from me forcefully. However, I am going to have empathy for the person who has tried and failed so many times that the system has beaten that person into the ground. I will show no mercy to the bastard who attacks my country because he or she doesn’t like the way we comb our hair or wear our clothes, or the way in which we pray to a God who is not their God. I’m willing to sit down and talk through our differences, but not at the end of a gun. If we cannot reach an agreement, that’s fine; just understand that if you strike at me, I will strike back with everything at my disposal…and I’m not certain you’re going to like that very much.

The upshot of all of this is that, at least in my country, when elected officials cannot decide on how to make health care available for everyone; when these same people bicker over how we should go about rebuilding our nation’s ‘infrastructure;’ when we weep and moan and wring our hands because we can’t stop the drugs coming into our country, we’re really talking about minor problems. America, the United States, is one country. We have some pretty damned smart people living here. We can solve our problems if we’ll stop being such a bunch of dilettantes’ and begin working together – not talking about it, actually doing it. Let the rest of the world solve its own problems; Christ only knows we have enough. If they want to bring their problems to our shores, we retaliate in such a way that the next time they will think thrice! We can do these things, America; you know it and so do I. The only people who seem oblivious are the idiots we have elected  to lead us.

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Eureka! I have discovered America’s problem. As a people, we don’t have attitude! Oh, sure, we’d like to believe that we can have as much attitude as the next guy but truth to tell, our cohones just cannot match up with peoples from other parts of the world. Let me give you a couple of examples: In 1972, when Israeli athletes were killed at the Olympics, the Israeli’s put together a task force for the sole purpose of eliminating – killing, making dead, no longer among the living – every single one of the people involved in the planning and execution of the massacre. They did not rest until each and every one had been eliminated. They did not look for approval from the rest of the world to do this; they merely went out and did it. Some might call it invoking the code of Hammurabi; some decry it as violent and not part of a civilized code of laws. There is and there was a great deal of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth as this was taking place. The world of public opinion was not truly on the side of Israel. Israel didn’t care. I am quite certain that America would not have reacted in the same manner. We would have issued sanctions against those we thought might be behind the slaughter. We might have tried to bring a ringleader or two to justice, but I have strong doubts that we would have taken action as decisive and final as that taken by the Israeli’s.

Now,35 people have been killed at Domodedova, Russia’s largest airport. What will Russia do about it? According to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, Russia will emulate the Israeli actions. “We will find them and we will eliminate them,” he has said. All I can say is, “Damn, brother, good for you; get that team together and take out those bastards. If there happens to be a bit of Islamic collateral damage along the way that, too, is okay.” I’m not advocating a terrorist squad that will go after anyone who happens to be Islamic; I am saying, “Do your homework; find out who the bad guys are, and; waste them.” There is no reason for them to continue to walk the face of this earth; breathe the same air that decent people do, or remain around to boast about their exploits.

“We don’t do that in America because we’re civilized.” No, we’re not. We allow gangs to flourish all over our country and terrorize others. We’re not civilized; we’re cowards. We think a cop should be punished for smashing a woman in the face because she won’t take her foot off the accelerator. No, no, he’s doing his job. We think gangbangers should be given chance after chance after chance until they finally wind up killing someone or committing a crime so heinous that they are given a ‘life’ sentence. That’s just plain wrong. Little Johnny is a poor, misguided youth because of his family and his upbringing; he’s a little shit who deserves to understand that his form of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not for stoning some young lady because she didn’t obey some of the archaic laws of the Middle East. I’m not for chopping off the hand of the thief or any of that other ridiculous nonsense that seems to be in so many codes. I do believe, however, that we – America, that is – knew who was responsible for the World Trade Center bombing and instead of taking direct action, we cried. We did nothing. We finally decided that we should go after Saddam Hussein for what reason I’ve never understood, but that was our answer. Go get the big, bad dictator who tried to have Daddy killed. That’s a great response to an attack. It almost makes America look like it’s doing something…almost, but not quite. Can you imagine how the Israeli’s or the Russians would have responded in a situation like that? In the quiet backrooms, you’d hear that we didn’t want to upset the Saudi’s. Screw the Saudi’s! Maybe that’s been our problem right along. We don’t want to upset those who are, supposedly, doing things for us. However, that does not entitle them to train terrorists to come over here and attack us. I absolutely refuse to believe that those directly responsible for the planning and execution of the World Trade Center bombings have not been directly in the gun sights of teams that could have taken them out.

I’m giving three cheers for the Russians. I hope you find those bastards soon. I hope you put them on display in Red Square or take them down into the bowels of the Lubyanka. I hope you don’t stop until you have the names of every single person involved in the bombing. Then, feel free to kill the bastards…right after you force feed them the pork loin washed down by some good Russian vodka. That’s pretty much a sure fire guarantee that their virgins won’t be waiting for them.

Take a lesson America. The Israelis show no mercy to those who attack their people. Now, the Russians have indicated that they, too, will show no mercy toward those who wish to commit atrocities on their soil. Do you really believe it will embolden others to take revenge? It won’t if we kill enough of them and let their masters understand that we’re no longer going to tolerate terrorist training grounds on their soil.

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If you are sick and tired of television series where everything is brought to a successful conclusion in less than an hour, I have a different piece of TV for you. This piece will be just as fictional as Law and Order, CSI, NCIS, the Closer, or any of those wonderful shows that many people watch. It won’t be as funny as Two and a Half Men or The Simpsons, The Family Guy or many others. It may have moments of humor as well as moments of tragedy. Oh, hell, it’s the State of the Union Speech by our 44th President, Barack Obama.

I call it fictional because the truth, in this case, is only in the eyes of the speaker. It really isn’t possible for the rest of us to determine what is truth and what is bombastic behavior masquerading as truth.  This President doesn’t seem like a bad guy. Yeah, okay, he’s a Black guy and the bulk of the American population doesn’t trust anyone who isn’t exactly like them; therefore, you can’t trust him. Excuse me but I really have a problem with that. I think a number of Americans would bristle at that statement, but unfortunately, there are still too many who take it at face value as the gospel truth. A couple of points here: There are just as many whites, Asians, Latino’s, and other ‘species’ of Americans who cannot be trusted, so let’s get the color thing off the table. Second, he’s a pretty smart feller that he was able to become a United States Senator from Illinois and then parlay that into a successful campaign to become the leader of the free world, so let’s give the guy credit for a few brains.

The greatest fiction that will be portrayed when President Obama speaks will be ‘date night in Congress’ with some Democrats crossing the aisle to sit with Republicans and vice versa. Perhaps hypocrisy is a more accurate word. Yes, they will sit together tonight but tomorrow they will go back to being the same party hacks they are this morning. I recently heard comedian Martin Mull sum it up very well. He said, “The country has become so polarized that anything said by the people on the left is regarded as bullshit by people on the right. On the other hand, the liberal left regards anything said by the conservative right as complete bullshit.” He didn’t go on to explain how that problem can be solved but I think he summed it up fairly well. As a consequence, those who sit it the Congressional well tonight will be of two minds; those on the left will believe that every word out of the President’s mouth is an utterance from on high. Those sitting beside them – to the right, of course – will believe that everything articulated by the President will be a bold faced lie. Following the speech, a member from each ‘team’ will have the opportunity to appear before the television cameras and explain exactly what the President just said. One will say he’s full of crap; the other will say he’s a genius. That will be a small part of the humor of this whole television fiasco.

Am I sounding cynical? Yes, I am being a cynic but not to the degree that one might believe. We are a nation in trouble. We have a very high unemployment rate and for those people who are not yet back working, the jobs they held may no longer exist. They may have to be retrained to do something that will not pay as well or that they will have to become ‘expert’ at to command similar monies. Americans, by and large, are a stubborn group. Retraining people who are in their forties and fifties is a challenge not to be addressed lightly. In addition, many people had become used to a certain lifestyle and that is going to have to change. So, there’s our first problem; how do we get our people back to work in jobs that may be strange to some of them but that are necessary. There isn’t a band aid that can be slapped on that problem to make it go away; it takes time, and time is something the conservative right does not wish to give this President.

Another part of our problem lies with an economy that is struggling to get back on its feet. Yes, we are making small, positive steps in that direction. Companies that almost went out of business but that were bailed out by the Federal Government are now making profits and are hiring. The Federal Government, for the most part, has received the funds it invested. The government has, however, racked up a tremendous debt in trying to bring us out of our economic morass. The conservative right doesn’t like that and uses it as a weapon against the conservative left. “Keep big government out of America,” they cry, but I really haven’t heard any alternatives to letting “big government” do its job until “little America” can get its own ass back in gear.

The State of the Union speech will be criticized by some and praised by others. It will serve as the first step in this President’s quest for a second term in office. It’s a “This is what we inherited; this is what we’ve done about it, and; this is where we’re going to take it in the next two years” speech. The really terrible thing about it is that it will probably contain some decent ideas that opponents of this President will totally disregard. I loved it when the House of Representatives was taken back by the Republican Party. From this moment on, the 44th President can use the excuse that this whole concept of working together is nothing but hogwash on the part of the right. What was the first thing that the House Speaker and his colleagues did when they took office? Was it to put together a jobs bill for America? Was it to put together a stimulus package to get the economy moving? Was it to go to the President and say, “Look, we now control the House. We know we don’t have the Senate, so, given the disparity, how can we work together while appearing to the more radical sides of our party that we’re still at odds.” It was none of these things. It was to go after health legislation that had been passed last year in an attempt to repeal it. Excuse me, but you are not going to get it through the Senate. Therefore, why are you wasting time on a situation you cannot possibly win? The Health Care Law has a great many earmarks in it. In the overall, it is a piece of legislation that requires revamping and restudy. However, it is the law of the land. Work within it to change it. Work with the opposition to change it. Don’t shout from the rooftops that the whole thing must go. Other than prohibition, not too many laws get repealed in Congress, so let’s get with the program.

In addition to repealing health care, the House of Representatives would like the President to run the country with a budget that is the same as it was in 2002. Either I misinterpreted that comment the other day or the representative who said it is doing drugs. Prices have risen, my friend. Even the cost of conducting a war has gone up, so stop smoking that fine weed and let’s come back to earth. Is the US budget too large? Probably it is. Are there intelligent ways to reduce it? Certainly, but the reductions are not seen the same way by Democrats and Republicans. The result, as it always seems to be in Washington, is a little problem called ‘gridlock,’ a word that is so overused that it should be listed in the Thesaurus as a synonym for ‘bullshit.’

So, enjoy the State of the Union friend; enjoy the after show. I wish you well in trying to make sense of what is said…before, during, and after our President addresses the nation!

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Of all of the thousands – some say it was only 275 – of quatrains written by Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet Omar Khayyam in his Rybyaiyat, there have only been two that have stuck with me over the years. I was fortunate or unfortunate enough to be in the class of a teacher who wished to teach us rhyming; thus I learned that Khayyam’s verse was in iambic pentameter. Perhaps the first of these quartrains is very familiar to you; it goes like this: “The Moving Finger writes; and having writ moves on/ Nor all the Piety nor Wit/ shall lure it back to cancel half a line/ nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.” I have always interpreted that to mean that what is done is done; what is said is said. We cannot undo that which we or anyone has said or done. Engage brain before opening mouth. Think twice before taking action. Are these the ways of the coward or are they the wise man’s methods? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to think that we have the answers to those questions? Then again, we must ask, would we want that kind of knowledge? How would we use such vast understanding? Would we have the Wisdom of Solomon or the greed of dictators? As I approach middle age – when compared to a ripened forest, of course – I begin to reflect on such dangerous and, some might call them pernicious thoughts.

“For want of a nail, a shoe was lost; For want of a shoe, the horse was lost; for want of a horse, the rider was lost; for want of a rider the battle was lost; for want of a battle, the kingdom was lost; And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” Throughout history, it’s been the “nails” that have determined the direction of the world. In many cases we may compare the nail to the moving finger. If Washington hadn’t pushed on to Trenton; if Napoleon and Hitler hadn’t thought so little of Russian winters; if the Japanese hadn’t attacked Pearl Harbor; if, if, if, if. There have been so many ‘if’s’ in our own brief lifetimes, it’s sometimes fun to imagine what the alternative outcomes might have been. As horrible as the thought might be, what if Bill Gates or Steve Jobs parents decided they couldn’t afford a child and abortions had been performed. How technologically would our world have been deprived? Would others have come to take their place? I have no idea. Certainly, we could carry that hypothesis all the way back to the invention of fire and the wheel if we were so inclined…by the way, did anyone ever get the name of those two guys; you know, the fire and the wheel guys; they were pretty neat!

There are so many people out there who are both the Moving Fingers and the “nails.’ Most of us – I guess I’m talking about most of you who are younger now – don’t have a clue as to how great you are; of the wonder that lies within you. My father-in-law saw the invention of the telephone and of the automobile. He even saw the early beginnings of commercial aviation. I’ve watched man land on the moon and today I have a cell phone that has more power than the computers that sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on their journey. I’ve seen from a distance more wars than I ever hoped to see. Hell, I’ve even seen Jerry Springer and Geraldo Rivera and there’s a combination I could have done without. I’ve lived through the age of 78’s, 45,s, and eight-tracks (look it up). I find it inconceivable that there are not people out there right now who cannot or will not try to make life better for all of mankind. I hope you’re one of them.

I mentioned that Khayyam had given me two quatrains. The second one is as follows: “Here, with a loaf of bread beneath the bough/A flask of wine, a book of verse– and thou/ beside me singing in the wilderness…/and wilderness is paradise enow.” I’m a great believer in soul mates; I’m a great believer in food and my own kind of wine; I’m a great believer in music to soothe and calm the thinking processes; and, quite frankly, I’ve always done my best thinking in the wilderness, whether that wilderness has been the shore of a lonely beach in the winter or the woods during the golden autumn days of New England.

I’m making a request of you, dear reader. Our world – not our country, but our world – is in trouble. We have, it appears, stopped being capable of loving our fellow man. By loving, I don’t mean the act of physical love; we have stopped caring. We seem to kill with greater ease; we seem more willing to let “them” get away with their drugs and their murders and their greed. Thomas Jefferson said that the tree of Liberty must be refreshed now and then by the blood of patriots and tyrants. When a community closes ranks to deter the police from investigating a child’s murder, that is a sin; When drug cartels kill innocent civilians and nothing is done about it, that is a sin; when corporate leaders take money that belongs to the people who work for them, that is a sin. When politicians become so polarized in this, the most advanced society on earth, that we suffer a gridlock that not inhibits, but prohibits forward movement, it’s a sin; when guns are easier to get that fireworks, that’s a sin. We have so many sins in this country and around this world, I’m surprised the planet still exists.

It will take us well over a century to bring the world to a place of peace. In fact, it may never happen. You have the opportunity to make a new beginning; a new beginning in your life and how you affect the lives of others. To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what this world can do for you; ask what you can do for this world.

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(Sung to “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas)

“It’s beginning to feel a lot like old age; everywhere I go. Take a look at my balding head; some people think I’m dead. They think I’m artificial and I’m old!

But…I’m beginning to think you’re kind of stupid; doing the things you do. Putting yourself out there; Facebook and who knows where; seems that you don’t care who knows ‘bout you!”

This would be funny if it wasn’t so true. I’m fully aware that there are younger people who may form opinions that anyone who looks or acts a certain way is a dinosaur and can’t possibly understand the importance of social networking. However, social networking appears to have led to a complete loss of privacy and a definite increase in stupidity. When I see someone on Facebook telling me that she’s going to be away from her apartment in New York City for a few weeks because she has an assignment in Bern, Switzerland, I think, “Wow, how many burglars are salivating over this one.” I kid you not; that is an actual Facebook note that one of my younger acquaintances sent for the entire world to see.

Mark Zuckerberg, in all probability, believes he has done a great favor to the universe by creating Facebook. In the majority of cases I think this is true. However, I believe that even he must be flummoxed by the stupidity of those who use it in ways of which he could never conceive. This young man is bright. I’m quite certain he would not be laying his complete life story or innermost secrets on the line on his Facebook page. I’m not certain why others feel the need to do so. However, that’s me, and for that I am called old fashioned and a dinosaur.

It would be nice to believe that it’s only the younger generation who use You Tube and Facebook and whatever else to make fools of themselves. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. There are many people my age and older who think it’s funny, hip, cool, young, and trendy to open themselves up for the world to see. I want to scream, “Folks, there are some nasty people out there who are just looking for fools like you. They want to explore your weaknesses; they want to rip you off; they are not nice.” Perhaps that comes from working with and teaching so many police officers over the years or perhaps it’s just an innate sense of privacy that tells me to hold back…I can’t really say which it is. However, I get very concerned when I see the degree of naïveté that appears daily on public places in my computer.

Two examples of misuse of the social networking pages come to mind immediately. I was watching some crime show the other day and it showed a man confessing to sixteen murders. His face was blurred but he appeared to know intimate details of some of the killings. Eventually, he was traced. The intimate details were what he had been able to infer from newspaper accounts. It reminded me of the military intelligence reserve unit a few years ago that had been asked to determine America’s strengths and weaknesses by examining papers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and a few others. When the report was completed and read by some muckey-mucks where the unit was stationed, an armed convoy went to the unit’s meeting place and removed the report, classifying it Top Secret. Isn’t it amazing what one can learn from the newspapers?

The second example I would cite regards Cathy Cruz Marerro, the Pennsylvania woman who fell into a fountain at a mall. Okay, she should not have been texting and walking; I agree with that. However, to put that video on Buzzfeed.com or whatever the hell it was, is an insult to this lady. Is it funny? Sure, but I didn’t see anyone trying to help her. As a matter of fact, it appeared as though the television screen showing the episode was part of a security setup for the mall…nice job, folks…way to do your job.

Am I being a prude about this whole thing or am I just a bit more sensitive to the privacy of others? I’d like to believe it’s a little bit of both. As Voltaire said, “Common sense isn’t all that common,” and too many people aren’t using good old fashioned common sense when they post certain things on the web. I can’t help but wonder if that sixteen-year old who showed herself in an orgiastic situation is going to think it’s ‘funny’ twenty years from now. I wonder if the guy who confessed to the murders is having second thoughts now that he’s serving a ten-year sentence for his actions.

The Internet is a wonderful tool. The social interaction or networking pages that have been made available are magnificent. Unfortunately, human judgment still leaves a great deal to be desired. There are some great video clips that are truly educational and truly hysterical – if you haven’t seen Billy Connolly’s description of preparing for a colonoscopy, you’ve missed one of the funniest clips I’ve ever seen – but if you view yourself as being able to compete by doing something stupid and foolish, give it up; it’s not worth it. All I would ask is that people think before they post something that others can use in a manner that might be detrimental to your health.

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It’s time to take homophones seriously. Now, before you think this topic has to do with gay marriage, let me clarify exactly what a homophone is. A homophone is, according to Mr. Webster, “One of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation.” There, now aren’t you glad you read the entire paragraph…or maybe not.

The topic of homophones came up several years ago when Joan, my late wife, and I were discussing the English language, its usage and its complexities. Before you make some nasty comment, you have to understand that Joan had been a high school English teacher and that we would often go off on one esoteric tangent or another dealing with our time in the classroom. I happened to mention a treatise that I had been sent on the difficulty that non-English speaking people have learning the language. For instance, when do you say, “to,” “too,” or “two” in a sentence? We all think that we know the rule of usage, but we sometimes get confused, particularly with the first two. Try explaining the following sentence to someone unfamiliar with the English language: “Since there is no time like the present, I think it’s time to present the present.”

Imagine yourself, with a smattering of English, being asked if you’d like some “fried eggplant.” You know what an egg is, and you know what a plant is. Surprise! You get neither an egg nor a plant if you accept the offer. Certainly, there is no ham in hamburger, nor is there any apple or pine in a pineapple. This little English language treatise also raised questions about why is a boxing ring square and why is a guinea pig called such when it is neither a pig nor is it from the Republic of Guinea.

The English language is thoroughly bewildering. If the plural of tooth is teeth and the plural of goose, geese, why isn’t it acceptable to say that more than one moose is meece, which could be baffling if you say that more than one mouse is meese – have to come up with a different spelling I would imagine. Isn’t it strange that we can make amends but we can’t make an amend? In what other language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Why do we ‘ship’ by truck and send cargo by ‘ship?’ Why do we have noses that run and feet that smell? It’s just all too – there’s that word again – complicated.

How can you justify a language in which your house can burn ‘up’ while it’s burning ‘down?’ Where else would you fill ‘out’ a form by filling it ‘in?’ Why do we say that an alarm goes ‘off’ by going ‘on?’ If you’re not totally flustered yet, wait, I’m not through. How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise guy and a wise man are opposites? This little treatise on the English language was beginning to make my head spin…but not all the way around.

Consider the following story: Computers are now available that can translate any language into another.  Ideally, if the translated passage were then translated by computer back into the first language, the original words ought to be regained.  This, however, does not allow for the ambiguity of languages, particularly our own. There is a story about a computer that was ordered to translate a common English phrase into Chinese and then translate the Chinese translation back into English. What went in was “Out of sight, out of mind.” What came out was “Invisible insanity.” That’s the English language for you. Computers, of course, did not invent English. It was invented by people and thus, it reflects the creativity of the human race…which is not a race at all.

Now that we’re all homophonic – being in unison, that is – let’s have a little fun with some sentences that use homophones. These are reprinted directly from the ‘treatise,’ which has, to the best of my knowledge, no author.

  • “The bandage was wound around the wound.” I wonder who the wounded was who was so wound up.
  • “The farm was used to produce produce.” Think they grew eggplant?
  • “The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.”
  • “The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.”
  • “Today is so fair, I think I will pay my fare to the fair.”
  • “When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.” Speaking of which, do you think that a pigeon can be ‘people-toed?’
  • “I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.” This may happen to me very soon.

There are many, many more homophones that could be quoted. However, right now my head is spinning completely around, as Linda Blair’s did in The Exorcist, and I’m seeing stars. Speaking of which, why do we say that when stars are out, they’re visible, but when lights are out, they’re invisible. Yes, you may be right…I’ve been doing this much too – oh, no, not another to – long; time to call it a day…or week…or whatever.

You are not encouraged to write to Dick about this article. He was sent away for a very long rest following its completion. The doctors have every hope for a complete recovery!

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“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

“I have a dream today.

“I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

“I have a dream today.

“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

He was just a small town Baptist minister; probably wouldn’t have even been that if he hadn’t been following in the footsteps of his grandfather and his father. He was a good man, a deeply religious man, a man of strong, strong convictions who believed that the Black people in America were not “equal” to the white people in this country. He was right, of course, and even today, there is still strong prejudice toward people of color. I have, on occasion, angrily corrected a few of my acquaintances who have referred to the President of the United States with racial epithets. They don’t like it, and they probably don’t like me for correcting them, but I’m like that. I used the ‘n’ word once when I was in high school; I was arguing with a friend who was Black. Leo and I played on the basketball team. We were angry for some stupid reason and I retorted with language that I rue to this day. Some people tell me to “get over it; he probably has,” but I’m sorry, I cannot. Hopefully, we’ll meet in the next chapter of our lives and I can apologize to him for my stupidity.

My late wife, Joan, was at Boston University when Dr. King was studying there. She didn’t know him, but she knew of him. He was a hard worker for the civil rights movement and Joan knew something of that. After all, she was a bit of – change that – she was a lot of a screaming radical in her day.

It’s been nearly 43 years now since Dr. King was assassinated. People forget a lot of things in that length of time. They forget that King was arrested for his beliefs more than 20 times; they forget that he was taunted an assaulted on numerous occasions because he cared more about Black people in general than he did his own personal safety. They forget that he was the youngest man ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize or that he was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963. They forget a great many things. People aren’t particularly pleased when I tell them that I regard Martin Luther King as a Black George Washington. As Washington helped to build a nation, King, too, built a nation of colored people and brought them to a place where, for the most part, equality has true meaning.

You may have heard this before, but I had the opportunity to sit with Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King. We sat and chatted, just the two of us, for nearly 45 minutes. It probably wasn’t that long but these things get exaggerated over the years. Mrs. King was accepting an honorary doctorate from Northeastern University and was going to be the commencement speaker. We were ‘backstage’ waiting for the festivities to get underway. We just sat at a table and talked. We spoke a bit about her husband; she told me some things, personal things that increased my admiration for him. We talked about our kids and what we hoped they would become. I guess our hopes came true on that accord. Coretta King was a gentle woman, but you could readily see that underneath that gentleness was a will of steel. She could be and was just as driven to improve the quality of life for people of color as her husband had been. The lady I spoke to on that Sunday afternoon was a lady whom I will always respect.

We celebrate Dr. King’s birthday on the third Monday of each January. He was born on January 15, 1929. It’s a holiday; kids don’t have school; banks are closed; a lot of people look at it as just another day off, although, as on more and more ‘holidays,’ stores are open and life goes on in businesses. I’m afraid we, as a nation, have lost our understanding of what constitutes a holiday. To me, it’s a time to reflect on what is the cause for this to be a special day. Maybe it’s time for us to step back and do some genuine reflection on why we celebrate these days. Certainly, I have some reasons why this celebration is special to me. I have had something of a personal connection to it. How ironic that I should currently be reading “Washington; a Life” by Ron Chernow. Both men overcame great odds, one to mold a country; the other to mold a people.

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“What does it mean to be a senior citizen?” If you are and possibly even if you aren’t, it means that you’ve seen those e-mails that say, “You know you’re a senior citizen if you know the words to the elevator music” or “If your spouse asks you to go upstairs and make love, and you say, ‘choose one or the other.’”  Some of them are very funny…and that’s a good thing, because it’s very true that when you lose your sense of humor, you’ve lost an extremely important part of your life. Laughter may be good for the soul, but I’m of the belief that it also helps to keep us going.

There are some other things about becoming a senior citizen that people don’t seem to want to talk about. That may be an improper ending to a sentence, but I’m old and I couldn’t care less. One of the humorous things that is said is, “You’re less apt to be taken hostage in a bank robbery.” That’s probably very true. It’s equally true that the robbers will, in all likelihood, shoot the old bastard first just to show they mean business. You think I’m kidding; look what the terrorists did aboard the Achille Lauro when they threw 69-year old and disabled Leon Klinghoffer and his wheelchair overboard. That certainly made the point that they were serious.

All too often, old people are ignored. “Yeah, Pops, that was all well and good when you were growing up but we’ve come a long way.” It may not be said in so many words, but there is a tendency to think that most of us live in the past; nothing could be further from the truth. Benjamin Franklin invented the bifocal when he was 78. Galileo was the same age when he invented the telescope. There are a ton of examples of both young and old folk making contributions to our better living, and seniors should be given the opportunity to do so. Sometimes it takes us a bit longer to explain our theories and this world is moving so fast that others aren’t willing to wait.

Bette Davis said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” She couldn’t have said it better. When someone at the gym complains to me about this ache or that pain, I tell them that they should be happy about them. I figure if I wake up in the morning and something isn’t aching or painful, I really didn’t wake up; I’m dead, and this whole getting up thing just isn’t really happening. It’s true, however, that as we get older, the aches and pains seem more pronounced and linger longer. I’ve spoken with some seniors who have never seen the inside of a hospital operating room. That’s probably a good thing although if they ever have to do so, I’m certain they’ll be petrified. I’ve had so many operations, that some of the nurses, surgeons, and anesthesiologists call me by name. Nowadays, I even know which anesthetic to ask for…ouch! Get something straight; this doesn’t mean that I’m falling apart. It means that I’m getting old but what I have had was fixable by surgery. Some of my peers have just been lucky enough to escape ‘the knife.’

For all senior citizens, aging means we lose strength. About the only person I know who hasn’t has been Jack Lalanne – God Bless Him – and he’s still going like the hammers of hell. For the most part, however, our physical strength is diminished. The problem comes when our minds still believe we are capable of lifting shovels full of heavy wet snow…we are not. If we don’t wind up with a heart attack, we find that the muscles that used to be supple and powerful are now stiff and weakened…muscle mass has decreased. Unless you’re planning to take on some 20-year old who called you a nasty name, this doesn’t really matter. After all, you can probably shame him with big words. Don’t try to run away, however, because you’ll never make it; you may believe you’re still fast…uh uh!

Getting old means getting fat. Well, that doesn’t have to be the case, but you should understand that our metabolism slows down. As good as they may taste, fatty foods are our downfall because we just can’t burn them up as quickly

In almost every case that I’ve mentioned, exercise is a big part of the answer. You can’t exercise like some of those people you see on television; hell, we try that, we’ll be in a pine box faster ‘n you can say “muscle mass.” Legs permitting, we can walk, and even if the legs don’t permit, riding a stationary recumbent bike can get your heart rate up and speed the flow of blood through those arteries. In addition, you don’t have to prove yourself by trying to lift heavy weights. Remember, you’re not in this to attract babes at the beach; you’re just trying to maintain muscle mass in your body. You want repetitions in a weight training program. That body builder physique you once owned now belongs to the people who are the younger version of you.

Being a senior citizen means recognizing that you are a senior citizen. Sure, there are things that our brain tells us we’re still capable of doing. Our brain would probably even like to believe that. Unfortunately, it’s just now so. What do we do about it? We accept the fact that we aren’t as young as we were. We do what we can with what we have. Many of us still have physical capabilities that will allow us to exercise at a rate that will benefit our physical conditioning in remarkable ways. Many of us still have mental facilities that allow us to learn and the day we stop learning is the day we had better stop living. Exercising our brain is just as important as exercising our body. While I enjoy writing for this blog, I’ve discovered that there are a number of free online courses I can take to stretch my mind. I’ve also discovered that free jigsaw puzzles can be found that will test my dexterity as well as my eyesight.

If you’re considered a senior citizen today, just think of how many things you have seen come into being in your lifetime; cell phones that contain more power than the engines that put a man on the moon; computers that allow you to make friends all over the world; electric cars that are not just a novelty but are genuine products to help the environment. What will be the next great idea? You and I saw the creation of the Salk vaccine to eliminate polio. Is it possible we can be around when the drugs are found to eliminate cancer?

Too many people discount us. I’ve heard of people in the town in which I live who would like to see seniors forced from their homes; they don’t say it publicly, but their actions speak louder than their words. I don’t know about you but I love my home. My wife died in this house and that is exactly where I would like to make my exit.

I am a senior citizen. I’m old, wrinkled, have no hair. I ache when I walk and even when I’m standing still. I pee several times a night and have to put my glasses on to find the bathroom, but by God, I’m here and I’m proud of it!

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As the cold wind blows outside the bedroom at about 3:30 this morning, I begin to think of the things for which I’m particularly thankful. I don’t like the cold weather. I’ve lived in New England all of my life and I-just-don’t-like-it! Was in Quebec one year and took an afternoon off to visit the Carnaval de Quebec. We took a cab from the hotel to the Carnaval but decided to walk back. None of us realized that the temperature was quite as low as it was. Even though this was the warmest day of the conference, it was still minus 22 degrees; now that is a bit chilly. Can you say, “Frostbite?” I had a full beard at the time and pieces would break off when I put my hands – gloved, of course –on it. That’s about as cold as I’ve ever been. I suppose that people in Canada and parts of Minnesota would call us a bunch of pussies but damn, that was cold! As a consequence, I like the warmth of comforters and quilts in the winter. I don’t particularly care for getting up at 3:30 or 4:00; first, because it’s still pitch black; second, because we turn the heat down to fifty at night, and; third because it means I have to get dressed for the gym. I wear shorts to the gym and that doesn’t help when I’m cold; however, I’ve always done it that way and it is tough to break the habit.  When I return from the gym, I do the one think that is really bad for me…I take the longest, hottest shower I can stand. It really dries out the skin, but it feels so, so good.

I like the warmth of a fireplace in the winter; logs crackling and sparks flying give me that hunkered down feeling. Too bad that my fireplace is gas with fake logs, no odor of burning wood; just a dumb, damned gas fireplace trying hard to make me believe it’s real…ah, well.

I’m thankful that I’ve outlived the national average. It’s about 74.8 for men and I’ve made it a little beyond 1.2 years, so I guess that’s something for which to be thankful. A respiratory therapist told me recently, “You’re a young 76.” What the hell that means is beyond me. I suppose it meant we shouldn’t have been in bed together naked while she was giving me the treatment, but then, who can really say… just kidding!

Surviving three heart attacks is something for which I can give thanks. I look at the heart attacks, at least the ones that I had because they didn’t kill me, rather the way I view getting fired; it’s the type of thing that one should experience once in his or her life – as long as it isn’t fatal, of course – and use as a lesson to do things a little better after you get over the shock. Getting fired can be the best thing that ever happened to you. Suddenly, you realize that you’re not the indispensible part of the organization you thought you were. It’s very easy to get pissed off at the people who fired you, but that really doesn’t do anyone any good. These people who plot and sometimes even carry out revenge don’t really gain all that much…build a bridge; get over it; it’s in the past, and there’s very little that can be done about it. Another beauty of being fired is that you begin to understand, perhaps for the first time in your life, that you are not the be all and end all. Working for a living can be fun; you just have to allow yourself to see the ‘big picture’ – damn, but I hate that phrase. You should remember that loyalty is a one-way street; you must be loyal to the organization, but that doesn’t mean the organization has any obligation to be loyal to you. You don’t like it that way…start your own business!

There are any number of ‘other’ things for which I’m thankful. I’ve already mentioned the longevity ‘thingie,’ but I’m also thankful for the time in which I lived. Being born just as the country is recovering from a depression doesn’t sound as though life would be too exciting, but let’s face facts; from 1934 to probably 1938, I didn’t know my ass from my elbow. Hell, I wasn’t yet five years of age so what would I care that some guy with an idiot moustache, a straight-arm salute, and a bunch of goose-stepping assholes were doing in Europe. The next three years became one of the most fascinating periods of growing up. There was no talk of politics or political parties, not in the mind of a 7-year old. What there was was collecting tinfoil from cigarette packages and making it into a ball that you could give to the teacher at school because it was for “the war effort.” All we, at our tender age, knew was that there were a bunch of bad guys in Japan – wherever that was – who had bombed our U.S. Navy and we were fighting them because if we didn’t, we’d all wind up speaking Japanese or German…our logic sometimes became a bit flawed.

When WWII ended, I was all grown up so I was a part of the celebration as the parade marched through town. I say “grown up” and yet, I didn’t understand the ramifications of Harry Hunt and a few other people from town whom I didn’t even know, but who wouldn’t be coming home…ever. I saw the dawn of the atomic age, the onset of the Cold War when the US had a new enemy, one that had recently been an ally. We took a great deal of news on faith back then; we weren’t as questioning and as, yes, as cynical as the young people seem to be today.

I’m thankful that I saw men walk on the moon; that I saw the birth of the computer and even several iterations of this magnificent machine. I can’t say that I’m thankful for cell phones because I see so many people driving while using and that’s kind of dumb. The Bluetooth and other advances have made things a bit safer but not a whole hell of a lot.

I’m thankful that I went to college and earned an advanced degree; that each of the three kids also graduated from the college of their choosing; that they grew up at all; that they stayed away from drugs of almost all kinds – they were known to knock back more than a few beers in their heyday – and I’m thankful that they chose wonderful life partners just as their Dad had before them.

There is no lingering lesson in this little essay other than this: Instead of bitching about this, that, and the other things, we should all sit back every once in a while and take stock of what it is for which we should be thankful. If we can’t find something, my guess is we’re just not trying. Hey, you’re alive, aren’t you?

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