Archive for October, 2016

I keep thinking that I’m living in one of the very worst political periods in the history of this nation. Yesterday afternoon I learned that I am wrong. Shocked? You shouldn’t be. I’m perfectly willing to be wrong, after all, I have been wrong once or twice in my life. I happened to arrive in the family room as Juli was beginning to watch an episode of “American Experience” on PBS (It’s on Amazon in case you happen to have that). If you’ve never seen one of these programs, your education is, as mine was, sadly lacking. This particular ‘experience’ dealt with the assassination of President James Garfield.

Here is the paragraph that displays my naked ignorance. I did not know that Garfield had served as an officer in the Civil War. Nor did I know that he made rank all the way up to Major General…at the ripe young age of 33. He was victorious in battle, brilliant of mind, and a dedicated abolitionist after seeing the way in which slaves were treated in the Confederate South. Although he was left fatherless at the age of two, he somehow worked hard enough to earn enough money to go to college, graduating from Williams in 1856. President Lincoln persuaded him to resign his commission with the Union forces and run for Congress, telling him that he could find plenty of major generals, but he couldn’t find many allies in Congress. He was reelected 18 times and became the leading House Republican, respected by all and hated by more than a few for his honesty and his ability to speak eloquently on every topic of the day.

Okay, you say, so why was then like now? Good question; glad you asked it…even with a little prompting. The answer is patronage, arrogance, and intimidation. In addition, like both of today’s Presidential candidates, Garfield had a scandal to live down. He was implicated in the Credit Mobilier scandal in which congressmen who owned stock in Credit Mobilier, a construction company for the transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad, were accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in the company.

Garfield was content with his position of power in the House and had no greater ambitions, at least, as far as we know. However, at the 1880 Republican Convention, he failed to get his friend, John Sherman, nominated and on the 36th ballot Garfield found himself elected to carry the Republican banner. He won by only 10,000 votes, and everyone wondered whether he would be just another clerk for the corrupt New York Senator, Roscoe Conkling, who had controlled the previous two Presidents or if he would be his own man by selling NY votes to whoever promised him the “best deal.” Conkling was “king” of patronage in New York, then the largest city in the United States, more than double the size of the next largest city. It had been Conkling who could deliver the votes – approximately 10,000 – necessary for any candidate to become President, and while Garfield didn’t promise him anything specific, he agreed to meet with and listen to the Senator prior to the election. He even agreed to accept Conkling’s lackey, Chester A. Arthur, as his vice presidential running mate. Conkling thought he heard what he didn’t really hear from Garfield’s lips and turned the tide in favor of the Republican candidate. When Conkling did not receive the expected largesse from the new President, he tried everything short of assassination to get Garfield removed from office. James Garfield, it seemed, was his own man and would run the country his own way, eliminating corruption and patronage from his administration.

Considered to be one of the four “lost” Presidents – Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, and Harrison – who served uneventful administrations following the Civil War, Garfield is best known for being assassinated…not a particularly notable feat. Since his assassination took place only 100 days after he took office, we will never know what kind of President Garfield might have been. What we do know, however, is that if you wish to enrich your own personal education, you will seek out programs such as “American Experience” on your local PBS television station.

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Stupid people piss me off!

This past summer, that is, the beginning of July, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) began a campaign to remind drivers that beginning November 1st, all drivers using toll roads would be required to have a transponder in their cars because cash tolls were being abolished. The transponder could be used on the Massachusetts Turnpike, Sumner Tunnel, Ted Williams Tunnels and the Tobin Memorial Bridge. After a brief period, it could be used on any EZ Pass toll road. If one happened to be a member of AAA, transponders were available at their locations. There were also a number of EZ Pass locations where the free transponder could be picked up. Simple, eh? If you use a toll road in Massachusetts, all you had to do was to pick up a transponder for your car prior to the first of November.

This is the last week in October – the 28th to be exact. Each night this week, the television news has shown long, long lines outside of EZ Pass locations. A reporter asked one standee, “Why did you wait so long to pick up your transponder?” The response was, “I didn’t want the government to know where I was going.” There are no words, none whatsoever, to describe the stupidity of that answer. This might well be the nth degree of paranoia. Worse than the stupid answer given by this jerk was the fact that the news stations were simpatico with those people in line. Wait a minute…you’ve had four friggin’ months to pick up a transponder for your car…four months! And you’re telling me that there wasn’t one single day in those four months when you couldn’t have taken the time to pick up something that you will be using on a daily basis. And now that you have to stand in a long, long line because of your stupidity, you expect me to be sympathetic to your plight? I’m sorry, but I rarely use toll roads. The last time that I did use one, which was a number of years ago, I did not have an EZ Pass. Heck, it wasn’t even in this state. I got caught in an EZ Pass lane and wound up paying $72.00 for what should have been a buck and a quarter toll…whoa! I may never drive on a toll road again in my life, but I picked up a transponder in August…no line, no waiting, sat down, chatted with the lady across the desk, filled out the form, opened a $20.00 deposit account, chatted some more with the lady, who just happens to have Cerebral Palsy so we chatted about that for a while, got up, left, and there was still no one waiting behind me.

I don’t understand these people who are now standing in line and bitching about it. How stupid can they be? It is not big news that cash will no longer be accepted on toll roads in Massachusetts. People, idiots, brainless ones, you have had four months to put something on your windshield that will save you from getting traffic tickets which I guarantee you will be a hell of a lot more expensive than the little white gizmo that you Velcro behind your rear view mirror. The instructions are very clear regarding how and where to place the transponder. You do not require a 160 or greater IQ to do this.

It is possible, I suppose, that these slackers actually wanted to stand in line in the hopes that some television reporter would ask them a question and they could make an intelligent response such as, “I didn’t realize it would take place this quick.” It’s ‘quickly’ asshole, and you’ve only had four months to get the job done. Had I been one of these numbskulls, I would have been embarrassed to be seen in those lines. Worse are those reporting the news and saying, “Oh, those poor people, having to stand in those long lines. Maybe EZ Pass should extend its hours, yadda, yadda, yadda.” No, no, no, no, no…offer no sympathy to these people…FOUR MONTHS they had to accomplish this one simple task. I can’t even call this procrastination. There is no word other than stupid to explain this behavior. If you or someone you know falls into this category, you or they are stupid. The only word of advice I can give you is this: Don’t expect your EZ Pass to work immediately. It takes a minimum of three days and a maximum of two weeks for your application to be processed. Feel fortunate that Mass DOT has given a six month grace period to those whose transponders have not yet gone through the system. I have to admit that had I been the head of DOT, I would not have been as generous…FOUR FRIGGIN’ MONTHS YOU HAD!

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Tell me, please, because I really would like to know…are you as sick and tired of this year’s elections as I am? Forget for a moment the contentiousness of the Presidential election, but look at some of the “lesser knowns.” I happen to live in Massachusetts, land of the bean and the cod, where the Lowell’s speak only to the Cabot’s, and the Cabot’s speak only to God…actually, the original poem referenced the City of Boston and not the entire state. The lesser knowns in our case consists of two races in the adjoining state of New Hampshire. The Republican candidate for senate is trying to tar her opponent with the untrustworthy Hillary Clinton brush, and the Democratic candidate is hanging the Donald Trump/Koch brothers’ nasty noose around her ‘enemy of the state.’ Similarly, the governor’s race in the Granite State pits a famous name Republican, who doesn’t appear to be doing any television ads at all against a Democratic opponent who is doing everything short of calling his rival the Devil incarnate.

I find this entire 2016 political process to be nauseating, repugnant, disgusting, despicable, and detestable. How grown men and women can engage in such filthy rhetoric is beyond belief. I suppose that the ‘public figure’ exemption will disallow any liable or slander suites following the outcomes of these elections, but frankly, I’d like to take all of these candidates for all of these offices – one at a time, of course – out behind the woodshed and give them a paddling they would never forget.

I cannot help but wonder if the behavior of our politicians isn’t merely an outgrowth of what else has been silently simmering in American life for some time. When I speak with school teachers at the gym, they tell me tales of kids in elementary, middle, and high school who have no qualms whatsoever of being disrespectful, both in language and attitude toward the entire educational process. Disrespectful to a teacher? You have to be kidding me. One friend told me of a third grade teacher who left the profession after three years. Why? She couldn’t control…get this…the parents who would come in and defend their child’s rude behavior. “Where do you suppose they learn to act that way?” she was asked, and her answer was, “Where else, in the home.”

What has happened to us as a nation that we feel so empowered that we care nothing for the rights of others? Someone gets cut off on the highway. Rather than utter a string of obscenities at the “cut-or,” the “cut-ee” takes out a gun and begins wildly firing. A police officer attempts to pull over a vehicle for a traffic violation and instead, receives two bullets through his windshield from the fleeting car. A fourth grade teacher tells a student that she failed a test and the kid picks up a chair, charges the teacher’s desk and throws the chair at her…and the mother has the chutzpah to tell the teacher she shouldn’t have failed the kid! Say what? Kids walk out of class to protest a dress code that certainly appeared to sound realistic to me, but the principal has to meet with some who are offended. Uh-uh, not in my world. In my world, if you want to walk out, keep on walking, and if parents wish to protest, they can keep on walking too. My school; my rules. How you act or how you dress at home has nothing to do with how you act or how you dress when you’re in my shop. State boards of education, however, appear to have stopped defending their teachers, their principals, their coaches, or any other employee of the board. Are there poor teachers, principals, coaches, and other employees? Of course there are. Who wants to go into a profession that pays so poorly? It is truly a wonder that we have any teachers, administrators, or staff working in our schools.

It’s not only our political and educational systems that are messed up. I saw a T-shirt recently that read, “Why people who wear a helmet and carry a gun are paid so little while those who wear a helmet and carry a football are paid so much.” I may be paraphrasing a bit here, but you get the gist…and it’s a fair question. Now the military is demanding that those who received ‘re-up’ signing bonuses return the money with interest…because the military made a mistake. It’s bad enough that military pay is so poor, but now the military wants to penalize its personnel for its mistake? This is a horror show. Men and women in the military, just like police officers and firemen/women never know when they are going to be called upon to lay their lives on the line. Those in combat areas don’t know if today will be their last, and some bloody bureaucrats want another pound of flesh? What have we become? Where are we going? It seems to me that we have lost our moral and ethical compass. Our priorities are not what they should be, and why is this?

It appears to this old man that over the past several decades, we have begun to use such words as “empowered and entitled,” without explaining sufficiently what these words mean. Certainly, I wish to see people empowered, but with that empowerment comes responsibility and accountability, and that seems to be lacking. Most assuredly, you are entitled to certain rights, but your rights end where my rights begin. You have the right to be respectful and well mannered, whether at home, in school, on the job, or anywhere else…and I have those same rights and responsibilities.

Let us just get this election out of the way. Then, let us reassess what our priorities are as a nation, as a state, and as communities. We darn well better or America is on its way to the scrap heap!

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I am so c-c-c-c-c-cold! Okay, so it’s fall. The leaves are changing from chlorophyll green to their natural shades. The ocean temperature has dropped from the mid-seventies to the low sixties. The beaches aren’t as crowded as they were a couple of weeks ago…a couple of weeks ago? Are you kidding me? No, seriously, it was just a couple of weeks ago that I was on the beach, soaking up rays and loving the temperature of the water. What the heck is going on?

This summer was so hot and so dry that I swear I just wasn’t ready for this abrupt a change. Take this morning for instance…yeah, take it and…well, anyway. I left for the gym about 4:30. The outside temperature – I kid thee not – was 28 degrees. Okay, so in Celsius it would be minus two, but 28 degrees? Come-on, that’s just too darned cold. This afternoon, I lay in my recliner on the patio, in the sunshine, and the temp was in the high sixties…a guy could get the bends or something!

I kid about the temperature in New England and its crazy ups and downs – in 1954, the temperature on this date hit 90 – but its New England. I mean, how would you like to live somewhere like San Diego or in another sunny clime where the temperature’s the same darn near year round…bore-ring! New England weather is just another example of how “Man plans; God laughs.” In addition, we get to change wardrobes on a quarterly basis. How ‘bout that for another advantage of living here…$$$! We have the option of gas, oil, or electric heat…ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching!

So it’s time to put away the Under Armor, sweat wicking T-shirts and break out the heavy cotton ‘Ts’ that are winter wear for the gym. Wash the anklet socks and put ‘em away for another year. Get out the high-boys and the long sweats, and microwave the Gatorade and the power bar as you prepare for your workout. This is New England, Charlie, so suck it up and get prepared! For the fact that in a month or so your fingertips will be cracked and bleeding, better stock up on the Gold Bond lotion or whatever else it is you use. So what if your lips are chapped and your eyelashes break when you touch them. I repeat…suck it up; you’re a New Englander…you fool!

Perhaps we’re not as foolish as others may think. Who, in the name of the Almighty, would want to build their house on a hillside in California where, if the wild fires don’t getcha, then the earthquakes will. And while we rarely get a direct hit from a hurricane, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina appear highly susceptible to taking them head on.

So yes, I am c-c-c-c-c-cold and I will get c-c-c-c-colder before I get warm again, thus disproving that old adage that “Life’s a beach, and then you die.” Wait a minute…that is what they say, isn’t it?

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Do your job

C’mon now. You didn’t honestly believe that I could resist writing about the Presidential…scratch that…the debates on television between two people who want to lead America. You didn’t really believe that, did you? No, of course not. The second debate between Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump proved, beyond any doubts whatsoever, that neither is qualified to do much of anything other than complain about the tactics of the other.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not going to advocate for another candidate. There is not a qualified candidate running for President of the United States who is qualified to be its leader. My third party candidate has made mistake after mistake and is quite obviously uninformed about any number of the issues. Secretary Clinton and Mr. Trump, however, have driven politics to new lows.

There was a time when I believed there to be humor in the candidacy of the Republican and Democratic nominees. Both were under investigation for this, that, and the other thing. Both were behaving as those this election was (a) a foregone conclusion, (b) the other would fall and wind up indicted by some federal agency, or (c) this was just a lark without any consequences. What neither appeared to realize is that this is serious business.

Join me for a moment and think about the issues facing America today:
• A megalomaniac in North Korea who is bound and determined to develop a rocket that can carry a nuclear warhead to the West Coast of the United States;
• A Russian president who is determined to lead Europe back into Communism with all of its attendant horrors and slaughters;
• A war in Afghanistan which shows no end in sight and which is killing American armed forces men and women on a daily basis;
• A war in Syria in which both Russia and the United States are on opposite sides and which could flare into a world conflict on any given day;
• A climate change, created by man, and in which man shows no great interest in doing a damned thing about;
• An immigration problem worldwide that threatens to bring about greater civil unrest that we have heretofore known through bombings and terrorist attacks to disrupt normal behavior; and
• An economic system that has created distinct classes of citizens which will eventually lead to some type of rebellion on the part of the lower classes.

There are a ton of problems of which I have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever. You can probably create your own list, and it might be far different from mine. Yet, both lists, all of our lists, have to end with one question, “Are either of the people running for President of our country qualified to solve these problems?” My personal opinion is that neither candidate is qualified.

What, then, is the solution? Most of the solutions I can think of are either illegal, immoral, or unethical, ergo, there does not appear to be a solution. Of course, it is possible that the ‘puppet masters’ already have plans in place for whoever gets elected. My question becomes, “When are the adults going to step into the room and say, “Okay children, you’ve had your fun, now go back to bed?” Can you imagine how America must look to the eyes of citizens of other countries? If ever there was a time for the average American citizen to feel shame, it is now.

The election will go on. At some point, one or the other will assume power. Media will criticize the decisions made. Congress will continue its gridlock. People like me will continue to complain…and America will continue its descent into the history books that will be written by whoever conquers us. Democracy will be decried as a decadent form of government, and, eventually, some madman will push the button that will send earth into nuclear oblivion. Sound fatalistic? Then get your butt in gear and go out and find some true American leaders. I’m too old to do so. I’m leaving soon. It’s your job, so get out and do it!

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Quotes and Liars

This particular electoral season has been fraught with controversy, From Donald Trump’s federal income taxes to Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and from Gary Johnson’s Aleppo gaffes to “Is Jill just a Stein or is she really an ugly mug?” Ooh, that last one was really bad.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about who is telling what lies about which candidate, and that, believe it or not, got me to thinking quotations and…oh, boy, is this getting convoluted or what…that got me thinking about a quote attributed to Mark Twain. It goes like this, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” However, the quote is attributed to Twain in 1913. That being the case, he must have said it from his grave, particularly since he died in 1910…hmm, nice trick if you can do it.

Not to bore you too much, but there is an earlier reference to the quotation that makes it doubtful Twain was being original…particularly if he said it in 1913…and who the hell was listening at his graveside to hear him say it anyway? “Carroll D. Wright, a prominent statistician employed by the U.S. government, used the expression in 1889 while addressing the Convention of Commissioners of Bureaus of Statistics of Labor. But Wright did not claim that he coined the expression when he noted, “The old saying is that ‘figures will not lie,’ but a new saying is ‘liars will figure.’ It is our duty, as practical statisticians, to prevent the liar from figuring; in other words, to prevent him from perverting the truth, in the interest of some theory he wishes to establish.” How, you may ask, do I possess the wisdom to know these things? I dig deeply into the truth of such perplexities – yeah, that means I go to the web site, Quote Investigator, and take what they say as gospel. So, maybe it’s not the intrinsic truth but, it sure sounds good!

The truth is…aw, heck, who knows what the real truth is about Trump and Clinton. If you listen to FOX, Hillary is the devil incarnate; if you read the Washington Post, Trump makes Adolph Hitler look like an Eagle Scout with a chest full of badges. Who, then, is telling the truth? That reminded me of the story of Socrates and gossip. [In the interest of full disclosure, I admit to plagiarizing this from a Socrates web site…so don’t shoot me.] One day, a student came up to the great philosopher. “Socrates, I have just heard some news about one of your friends.” He exclaimed with unabashed enthusiasm.

“Before you tell me this news, we need to make sure that it passes the triple filter test,” responded Socrates.

“What’s the triple filter test?” the man asked.

“The first test is that of truth. Tell me, do you know that what you’re going to tell me is absolutely true?” Asked Socrates.

After thinking for a moment, the man said, “I heard this news from someone else, so I’m not 100% sure if it’s true.”

“The second test is that of goodness,” Socrates continued, “Is what you’re about to tell me something good?”

“No, actually it’s the opposite…”

Socrates interrupted the man, “So what you’re going to tell me is neither true, nor good?”

The man was slightly embarrassed and shrugged his shoulders.

Socrates continued, “There is one final test which is usefulness. Is what you’re about to tell me going to be useful?”

“Probably not,” the man replied.

“Well, if you’re going to tell me something that’s not true, good or useful, then why tell me at all?” responded the philosopher.

We’ve all had this experience or something very similar. Why this happens more during election cycles than at any other time is very easy to see. It does not, however, make it any easier to swallow. The way I look at our political system is simply this. “If we knew all that we could know about politics in the District of Columbia or in any state capitol building in the United States of America, we would become so nauseated that we run and hide in the hills of West Virginia, the mountains of Colorado, or some secluded island just east-west-north-or-south of Madagascar!” I still remember some of the gossip from high school, college, and various jobs. Shoot, in some cases, I believed it and spread it around, only to find out later just how dumb I’d been. Hopefully, I now apply Socrates’ triple filter test to things when I hear them.

Oh, yeah, there was another item on Quote Investigator. It was from the Bible, Proverbs 26:20, “Without wood a fire goes out, without gossip a quarrel dies down.”

It’s sort of a nice way to end this piece, don’t you think?

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I like life

I like life. I like living. I really do. The sights, the sounds, the smells…even the aches and pains of growing old make living a very interesting thing to do.

I don’t know what death brings. I don’t know if there is life after death. I’m uncertain about whether or not there is such a thing as reincarnation. I have to admit that I don’t much care. My concerns are centered more on life and living and all that entails.

Those of us who live in New England are very fortunate. We live through four actual seasons in a single year. Yes, yes, I know, there are times when it seems that we go from winter right into summer with no or hardly any spring at all, and I’ve heard all of the complaints about not having a spring…it just goes from winter to summer heat. Of course, by and large, that’s just a bunch of malarkey. We’re about to enter one of my favorite times of the year, fall. Fall in New England really makes life something to which we should cling with all of our might. As the leaves change back to their real colors of gold and orange, rust and brilliant red, the world around us takes on new smells and sounds. The oaks are dropping their acorns, and leaving the driveway this morning, it sounded as if the car was running over a bowl of giant rice krispies. It’s no longer the sound of cicadas in the evening. It sounds now more like the birds are packing up for the flight south, and letting every other bird and human know of their plans. Yep, fall is one beautiful time of year, particularly in New England, and it’s a great time to cherish life.

There was a time when I liked the winter. It was sort of a Currier & Ives setting where the white blanket would cover the ground, a time when sledding down hills and throwing snowballs and even building bigger and bigger snowmen was a lot of fun. Those days are gone now. I look on winter as being a season to pass through as quickly as possible. Not even mulled cider nor Christmas gifts can make winter a season I can enjoy. Let’s just say, “It’s tolerated until spring comes along,” but then again, that’s life.

I don’t wish to die during the winter months. Heck, if it comes to that, I’m not sure I wish to die during any of the seasons. Then again, the world is beginning to spin just a little too fast for me to keep up. I’d like to Twitter but I don’t know how, and I understand that e-mail is now out of vogue and that Snap-Chat has taken its place. My lady friend has a laptop, but that’s now out of step with tablets and other electronics. I’m afraid to go into Best Buy or Radio Shack for fear I’ll find myself so far behind, I would be better off crawling into a hole in the ground and pulling some dirt over me for warmth and comfort! Not really, but you get my drift.

Nope, I like life a little bit too much to be doing some damn fool thing that will get me to leave it behind before I wish. My speedometer rarely goes over 70 now and then it’s just to keep up with the traffic in the right hand lane, generally on roads that are posted with a speed limit of 55. I don’t understand that. If the sign says 55 and traffic is moving along at 80, 85, or even 90, why don’t the police install overhead cameras and just send out speeding tickets based on what one was doing and when they were doing it. I don’t know the cost of those “speeding cameras,” but I’ll bet the cost of them could be amortized in no time at all with the money collected from the fines. Ah, well, not my problem, and I don’t travel on those highways all that often anymore…they’re scary.

There are several things about life that we all seem to take too much for granted. Chief among them for me are sunrises and sunsets. If you’ve ever been in a boat as the dawn turns into a new day, and you’ve watched the sun come up out of the ocean, you know exactly what I mean. First you see this tiny reddish-orange stripe. Then it begins to grow into a bigger and bigger half circle, and even though you may be watching it closely, it just sort of pops up above the horizon and there’s the sun. At that hour, it’s still enough of an orange ball that you can look straight at it, and it seems like hours before you have to look away because of its brilliance. Then, at the end of the day, it almost reverses the entire process. I say almost because, well, as the sun is going down, it changes from that yellow to orange to orange-reddish and then, ‘pop,’ it’s gone again…but it’s not the same as when it pops up in the morning. It’s a different kind of beauty. I think you have to experience both to truly understand the phenomenon.

Yeah, I like life. I like living. I really do. The sights, the sounds, the smells…even the aches and pains of growing old make living a very interesting thing to do. I guess, unless God has other plans, I’m just gonna keep on doing it for a while.

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