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Henry's Web Log

November 10, 2016

President-elect Trump

I never expected to be typing those words.

But here we are. The Cubs won the World Series and Donald John Trump is the President-elect of the United States of America.

I didn't vote for him. I disapprove of much of what he's said recently. I've never watched his T.V. show and I haven't read any of his books. I've never stayed at his hotels or played golf on his courses. I've never met the man. I don't play golf. And I didn't take his campaign seriously. This video prettuy much summed up what I thought about his campaign.

But The Donald (as he likes to call himself) is our new President-elect. I'm still trying to get over the shock, but I'm a resilient old boy, so I have a present to offer Mr. Trump.

I'm going to give President Trump a blank slate.

I'm writing this article to ask you to do the same. Let me explain, please.

Yesterday someone sent a map around to a group of us. It had the Blue states labeled "America" and the red ones were labeled "Dumbfuckistan". Earlier today I encountered this charming snippet in an exchange of views: "your a little whining libtard and you need to shut up." [sic]

Listen:   • To quote this article: "Your children will learn to love or hate, be respectful or disrespectful, wise or foolish, not by the character of the family in the White House, but by the family in their house."
• The press is going to encourage inflammatory talk. It sells more papers, it sells more ads, it generates higher ratings than handshakes and hugs.
• The media is about making money. Social unrest sells better than stories about cooperation and reconciliation. The long-term effects of social unrest on the structures of traditional media is not a top consideration; they're counting on taxpayer-funded protection.
• Social media sites aren't going to censor inflammatory speech, they're going to promote it. It gathers more eyeballs, they sell more clicks, when users rush to respond to posts that are carefully crafted to spike readers' adrenaline levels.

No, folks, if we want a country it's up to us to hold it together. Nobody is going to do it for us. For far too long we've waited for heroes to do what we would not, or what we thought we could not do. And it sure seems like a big job! Who can possibly reunite this bitterly divided nation? I hope and believe that it's us. Here is my two-part plan.

  1. Stop with the smart cracks. Stop treating those who disagree with you as if they were idiots. Man, this is a hard task! Keeping my mouth shut is very hard for me, even though I've regretted many things that I've said, and I can't remember an instance when I've seriously regretted anything I didn't say. I might be a slow learner, but I thoroughly understand how hard it is to keep one's mouth shut.

    Oooohhh, that smart crack was right on target, it was such a clever zinger, and I'm lapping up all those positive replies I'm getting! I feel so appreciated, and affirmed: I really am part of the Right Thinking Group!

    Except... my friend who voted for the other candidate feels hurt that I'd phrase my feelings that way. It feels mean. And when I implied that "those voters" are stupid, well s/he was one of those voters. You cannot change someone's mind by insulting them. I know, I've tried it too many times. It's never worked. So I'm going to try to
      A. Keep my mouth shut more, and to
      B. Listen more, and then I'm going to

  2. Give President-elect Trump a clean slate. He's got the job. The House of Saud doesn't have enough money to convince me to take it, so I'm going to give him a chance to do that job. If he does things I think are wrong then I have specific actions and decisions to criticize.

    But what about his locker room talk? And the people he allegedly defrauded? I'm not going to defend him. I can't. I will note that I've said a lot of hurtful things that I regret, and lawsuits were filed before Mr. Trump was elected. The prosecution will get its day in court. Until then, and unless it affects his eligibility to take office, Donald Trump will be our next President. He has taken on a job that matures you really fast. I'm going to let him take office with a tabula rasa and let the legal system do its inexorable work.

We have got to get this discord under control. The media is not going to help, they're unlikely to applaud or even acknowledge our efforts.

Politicians are not going to set an example of civility in this harsh climate.

Our long wait for a strong hero to step up and save us is over.

Some people believe that Donald Trump is that hero. I don't. I submit that we've got to start mending this country relationship by relationship. The work is hard and humiliating, the pace is slow, and the price of failure is civil war. But seriously, do you have a realistic alternative? If so, please email me and if I think it's appropriate I'll add it to this post.

So I'm going to try to just be sweet to everyone, right? Oh, come on: you know me better than that! Giving (eventually) President Trump a chance does not mena that I support, or plan to have any tolerance for, the prejudice that Mr. Trump stirred up on his way into office.

I'll be blunt. If you think that you are better than someone else because of the color of your skin or the religion that you practice or your gender or your sexual proclivities or the country that you live in or how much money you have or any other such attribute then I think you're mentally ill. That's not a diagnosis, I'm not qualified. But I'm not blind, either. It seems clear to me that hatred has become nothing less than a threat to national security and deserves to be treated as such.
• Individuals who injure or threaten others or damage property should be arrested and prosecuted.
• Hate groups should be investigated and infiltrated by appropriate government agencies, and broken up, and their leaders should be sent to jail.
• Most important, we who have so ofen been afraid to speak out against hate should find our courage and stand up to hatred. We can't do this alone. We need to support each other. We need to band together and not allow ourselves to be intimidated, because we can't allow hatred to win.
Click here for some suggestions on how we can assist each other when we encounter someone being harassed and we're alone.

Nor am I saying not to laugh; I expect to be making smart cracks from my death bed. All I'm saying is let's stop believing and acting as if the group we belong to has a patent on righteousness and that people who disagree with us are stupid.

"OK," I hear you say, "but what if the other side won't stop gloating and mocking and treating us as if we're stupid?" Fair question. My answers are "organize" and "vote". The mid-term elections are only two years away. The balance of power in the Senate and House can easily swing, and they will if then-President Trump doesn't perform.

I thank you for reading this far. I'm sorry if this post sounded "preachy", but it's the same text that I've been preaching from since I got private access to the Internet. I's been at the bottom of almost every email I've sent for about a quarter of a century:

"We must all turn our backs upon the horrors of the past. We must look to the future. We cannot afford to drag forward, across the years that are to come, the hatreds and revenges which have sprung from the injuries of the past."
  --Winston Churchill
This is the most profound truth that I know.
It's agonizingly difficult to put into practice.
And it's never been more important to follow.


Henry's Web Log October 17, 2016

October 17, 2016

Groping Through The Accusations

As I write this, it is 2 days before the proposed final debate of the 2016 United States Presidential election, and 21 days before the election itself. I had no intention of getting involved in the controversy surrounding Donald Trump and the accusations about his sexual attitudes, behavior, or proclivities. But then I saw a picture on Facebook. The picture -- and the responses to it -- made me change my mind. I believe that we should spend more time listening to each other about this important issue. Some good points were made, but they were buried in sniping and seemingly reflexive defenses of existing positions. This is an attempt to bring both sides together.

The picture featured two women centered vertically between these 2 lines of text:
I'm sorry that bad man touched you inappropriately.

Let's wait thirty years and expose him once he runs for president against Hillary Clinton.

  • I admit that the timing seems suspicious.
  • There is no proof that I know of at this point.
  • Under our common law the accused is presumed innocent unless and until proved guilty.
  • There isn't enough time before the election for the accusers to prove their case or for Mr. Trump to clear his name.
  • Even if he is formally cleared of all charges, accusations always seem to shout while vindication seems to whisper.
While it's nothing like the fear that women have to live with daily, men know that an accusation of sexual misbehavior is all it takes to sway an election, lose a job, or destroy a life. It's hard to prove a negative, something not required in a court of law, but it's a stark fact: that's exactly what someone accused of sexual misconduct needs to do in the streets. And sometimes in their own home.

When Trump supporters reject the accusations, we need to keep these points in mind. Rolling our eyes, ridiculing their intractability, and mocking their beliefs and choices are not strategies that will change any minds. And I'd like to change some minds, because I don't think that Mr. Trump should be president. I have two reasons that stem from this debate.

1. Having his wife defend him, saying that he was "egged on" in that locker room by Billy Bush who was later fired by NBC, sounds as if Bush took a fall for Trump.

This is not how a leader talks. This is not how a leader acts.

2. My second reason is that I believe that Mr. Trump was saying exactly what he meant, and I don't believe that he's a changed man. He says that he is, and who am I to question that? I've never met him, and I've said an awful lot of things that make me cringe. I sometimes still do. But, like Mr. Trump, I have a daughter, and here's what I did not hear him say:

  • I did not hear him say My daughter sat me down and told me about creepy men who lingered around the playground and made her uncomfortable before she was old enough to know why they were there or why they were staring at her and her friends.
  • I did not hear him say She told me a little about what it was like to be on display, every single day, liking school, but dreading that part of it every single day and it never lets up.
  • I did not hear him say that his daughter taught him anything about what it's like being a woman in a man's world.
  • And I did not hear him say anything that would cause me to believe that he gets it, or that he cares.
Women outnumber men in the population now, and if Mr. Trump has contempt for more than half the population, then he doesn't represent that share. He expresses contempt for "liberals" and "losers" and people who live in inner cities. In fact, it seems as if Donald Trump is contemptuous of most people who don't have something to offer to him or his friends.

His words have made it clear that he doesn't respect you. His business history makes it clear that he can't be counted on to honor his promises if they become inconvenient. In a world that he seems to split between allies and inconveniences, you are more likely to be the latter to Mr. Trump.

Why do you think that he might be worthy of your vote?


Henry's Web Log November 4, 2015

November 4, 2015

I'm a Distinguished Woman!

I'm used to being called "ma'am" on the phone.   I guess I have that kind of voice.

And I guess I have some kind of "gay vibe" too. I wouldn't say it's usual that people meeting me for the first time assume that I'm gay, and seem surprised to find out that I'm not, but it's happened enough times that I wouldn't call it unusual either. So what? Their assumption doesn't change my orientation. Also, I don't care if you identify yourself as gay or straight or as a 1939 Plymouth Roadking.

But this?

I got this piece of spam today:

"You have been chosen Distinguished Women of 2015!"

Really? How? I sure hope I didn't "distinguish myself" at that bachelor party I attended back in May...
Naahhh, I'd've heard about it the next morning; I'd still be hearing about it.

I have to admit that I'd like to know why they say:
"You're Invited to be featured in the #1 Premier Womens Magazine.
Increase your exposure and get the recogniton you deserve.
Click Here to Learn More...
"

But I'm neither curious enough nor stupid enough to click on the link.

And I sure don't want to increase my exposure to anything!

Or maybe their spelling, and their use of capitalization and the language, gave it away?


Henry's Web Log March 20, 2014

R.I.P. Fred Phelps

March 20, 2014
It's March 20, 2014. The sun is shining. The snow in the Northeast is starting to melt. Spring is here. And Fred Phelps is gone.

I didn't admire him. I didn't agree with him. I can't claim that he was a hero of mine, but it is true that he was, at one time, a champion to an oppressed minority that few others would defend. I have no idea what changed. But, whatever it was, the (I suspect) trauma turned him into someone that spouted words that were hateful and ugly and cruel. He provoked needless confrontation. I have no idea what drove him, but it surely must have been a powerful energy to sustain that much anger for so long.

Anger begets anger. An old friend wrote: "Fred Phelps - DEAD (doesn't deserve a RIP)" and I can understand how she feels. And why. I expected some people to be gleeful and vindictive and some were. But, so far, I didn't hear or read nearly as much chortling as I thought I would. I expected some creativity, and I wasn't disappointed, but I'll admit that the response that began "There once was a preacher named Fred..." caught me by surprise, and not in the least by its amusing but venomous final line. OK, it made me smile. But I still wish him peace.

I was long ago disabused of the belief that revenge brings either satisfaction or closure. I know it's not true. There was a person in my life that was unrelentingly hateful and cruel to me. I swore that if they died first I'd dance on their grave. I believed that; my friends unanimously assured me that I would do no such thing, but I looked forward to laughing and dancing on that grave. No one could convince me that I wouldn't.

That person did indeed die first. It was an ugly, painful, drawn out death. It was the kind of death that I suppose I would have dreamed about if I'd thought of it. But when the time came I was nothing but sad for all the years of happiness and fulfillment and satisfaction that my antagonist thrust aside by choosing to live in hate and anger. It was a waste. As hatred is always a waste.

I feel exactly the same way about Fred Phelps. Of course, I hadn't seen my tormenter in years, and I understand that the wounds Mr. Phelps caused to be opened in so many others are still very raw in some people. I wish them healing.

For some, it may be a long time coming. The citadel of hatred that he founded will endure for some time, though its rhetoric has grown stale and tiresome. Maybe the misguided energy that drove him will die with him. Maybe; I doubt it, but I can and do hope that the extended family that he called a congregation will lose its focus and drive. That won't happen soon I know, but I'm convinced that someday it will. Until that day, I refuse to answer hate with hate or anger with anger. I will continue to support and defend the friends of mine that his followers would attack. And I will do so without fear because, in the words of that great sage Yoda: "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." Way too many people have suffered enough from that phantom menace.

So I say (as my friend understandably could not) RIP, Mr. Phelps; may you find in death the peace that eluded you for so much of your life. You're done bothering the rest of us in this one.


Henry's Web Log: May 24, 2013

May 24, 2013

Myst

A Memoriam

It is my sorrowful duty to report the death of my beautiful cat Myst on the night of May 22-23, 2013. I believe that my son expressed it best when he said: 'He's been the quintessential "cat" for a long time.'

I already had a cat, Hayes, that had adopted me and the kids, contrary to my (lack of) plans. And I'm allergic to cats. So you can bet that I wasn't about to adopt another cat!

But I forgot to pay for a piano lesson. And I ended up with a second cat. Let this be a lesson to you.[1.]

The piano lesson was for my son, and the teacher was a friend. The check was in my shirt pocket as I chatted with his instructor, and when we realized the time she left hurrily, to prepare for the next day. I finally noticed my oversight as I was getting ready for the night, so I called. Yes, it would be helpful if I got the check to them that night. They lived on the same road, so I trudged up the street and rang the bell. There was snow on the ground and more to come. It was 7 degrees out, with a nasty cutting wind. As I waited for someone to come downstairs I heard a faint plaintive meow from the rear of their side yard. Out of sheer habit I knelt down, held out my hand, and made the double ticking noise that I use with cats.[2.] And, quick as a magician's trick, there was a kitten in the palm of my hand.

What could I do? I handed over the check and put the kitty down to see what s/he would do. He followed me home. Mr. Hayes was not about to suffer a rival easily, so our adoptee lived in the basement for a few weeks. During that time I put up posters and walked the neighborhood inquiring about lost kittens. I got no takers. My son named him Myst, after a popular computer game. Hayes and Myst formed an uneasy truce, and I had a second cat. Or, to be accurate, he had me.

Oh, was he a lover! If we were on the couch we were sharing it with a cat. He'd happily spend all night on our laps. OK, he wasn't very bright; it took him some time to realize that he wasn't actually a dog, during which interval he was wont to chase cars. We once caught him chasing the Animal Control officer's van. He grew out of that, though he never grew out of sunning himself on the asphault of our street. Oh, and he was gray, with black stripes. This one was no Einstein, but he sure did love people. Instantly. For years, we held meetings at our house and we'd set out an extra chair. Myst would hop on that chair, sit up straight, and look for all the world as if he was a member of whatever group was meeting that night. It was all an illusion, though; he never paid attention to the agenda. I could give you a list of the dumb things that Myst did over the course of his storied life. But I won't.

He was also a fighter. Unfortunately, he was not a winner, just a figher. He would fight anything but a human, and even us if he was riled up by an intruder in "his" yard. He fought a Doberman. He lost the fight, and he very nearly lost his right rear leg doing it. He insisted on going outside every morning; he'd lay in wait under the hedgerow and help our next door neighbor feed the birds. OK, he could capture the occasional bird, based on the evidence he left on the lawn. The vet called this habit of his "dining al fresco". He'd even try to fight motor vehicles. When Renate first started coming 'round, in her big gray Taurus station wagon that she dubbed "The Elephant" he'd stand defiantly in the driveway in a fighting posture, trying to stand down the car. Later, when we'd come home, he'd race alongside our cars as we pulled into the driveway. Just like a dog. He never got hit, but he gave me a few gray hairs doing it.

Yes, he was a lover all right; to see Myst in a "beefcake" pose: click here. But he was also an accomplished con man. He'd go out every day, even when it was snowing. On cold days, he'd often come back smelling like fireplace smoke. We don't have a fireplace. It took us years to figure out what was happening. When Tim and Diane sold the house to me, Myst somehow convinced a neighbor named Violet that they'd left their cat behind, and that he was homeless. Even though they'd showed no signs of having a cat when they'd lived here. For a couple of years Violet talked about this cat with our neighbor Helen, who said that she thought that "Violet's cat" had another, more official, owner. One day the inevitable happended. Myst wandered into Helen's back yard while Violet was visiting. "That's the cat I was talking about!" exclaimed Violet. "No," replied Helen, "that's Henry's cat." Violet was unmoved. She remained convinced that Myst was a "homeless cat" that insisted on going out at night even in the worst weather because his wild spirit required that he roam the streets. He was actually returning home to us and to a good dinner. Since he was a kitten I'd been feeding him expensive Iams dry food and when Renate moved in she bought a rotisserie chicken about every week and a half and he got that treat every morning and evening. He ate heartily, despite the fact that Violet continued to feed him Friskies Ocean Fish Blend. We found out later that Myst ranged far: many neighbors reported their legs being brushed against by Myst if they'd left a door open. Once, when he was accompanying us back from a walk along the sea wall, he veered off and trotted up Violet's front steps. We kept walking. We could almost hear the light go on and his "oops, busted" thought as he padded back down and rejoined us.

He was our Christmas Cat. Whether he was helping us decorate or defending "his" wrapping paper, Myst loved Christmas as much as the rest of us did.

He never did develop any fighting skills, and his sense of territory was a bit loose: it was not confined to our yard. If he could walk or run there it was his territory. Many were the days when we opened the front door, he swaggered out and saw a neighbor's cat across the street, sitting on their own front steps. He was there like a shot, trying to chase that cat away from "his" steps. He didn't even look both ways first. His judgment being flawed, I finally had to intervine. He got into a bad fight, his left front leg had two large puncture wounds in it and he had a lot of lacerations. The vet had to drill a third hole, insert a drain, shave him, sew him back up, and pump him full of drugs. He also got to wear a conical collar that offended his sense of dignity. When he finally healed we kept him indoors for about two weeks, hoping he'd learned his lesson. Inside of another fortnight our traveling vet was back at the house, stitching him up again. I felt strongly that a life without freedom was hardly worth living for the little guy, but this incident forced me to do what the vet and others had been trying to convince me to do for years. Myst became an indoor cat.

He adjusted better than I thought he would; he escaped only once, during a party. We traumatized him by trapping him in an inverted laundry basket, under which we slid a board, and we carried him home, ignoring his piteous pleas. He still tried to get out, but not nearly as hard as he had before. Instead, he concentrated on improving his athletic skills. Because I'm allergic to cats, we installed a tall door at the top of the first floor stairs. It was 3/4 height, leaving room for air flow and ventilation at the top. He somehow managed to leap over it when we were on vacation, though he couldn't get back out. Our neighbor (who was cat sitting) heard his wails and released him. We put a barrier across the top. He cleared it. We made a wire frame and angled it out as if it was barbed wire. He evaded it. I have no idea how. We finally had to enclose the top of the door with chicken wire. That did the trick.

His vigor and his keen interest in ornithology never flagged until a couple of months before the end. He still loved sitting in front of his favorite window and surveying his kingdom. When he finally slowed down we called the vet. She said that he had arthritis, his blood was thick, and he was dehydrated. We knew it was more than that, but he rallied for a while. Then he started losing weight. He got thinner and thinner, and his belly started sagging; we later found out that it was filled with blood and fluid from his failing organs. He climbed in a laundry basket one day and mostly stayed there. He was a gentleman to the end: he only failed to make it to the litter box once during those final weeks, and he purred every time we petted him, including the last time, on the last night.

We took him to a clinic where they gave him an x-ray and an MRI. His organs were riddled with cancer. There was nothing we or they could do. We took him home, put him back in his basket, and discussed euthanasia. He crawled our of his basket and curled up on a soft foam mat in the dining area. We took that as a sign that he wasn't ready to leave yet, and we continued to give him palliative care and lots of love. We carried him to the couch every night and held him. Eventually it became clear that his time had come. We made an appointment for one final visit for him at the vet for that Friday afternoon at 2:45. On Wednesday night we discussed whether we wanted to bury him or have him cremated. He slid off the couch, landed on his paws, tottered over to the cat carrier, and peered inside. Renate asked him: "Do you want to go in?" and she opened the door. For the one and only time in his life he voluntarily got in his carrier. She left the door open. After a while he trudged, tail down, back to his basket and managed to get in. We interpreted that as a sign that he was ready to go.

I stroked his head and the back of his neck before I went to bed that night, and he purred loudly. When we came downstairs the next morning he was gone. We dug a grave in the back yard, in line with Hayes and Madchen, and found a cardboard box. We wrapped him in an old bathrobe of mine that he loved, placed him on the blue foam mat that he'd adopted long ago, and lowered him into the box, along with a can of tuna.

So, did he understand English or not? Renate always maintained that he did, I dismissed that notion. He certainly seemed to understand, and to communicate based on understanding, at the end.

It was both practical and fitting that we buried him in a box: he never could resist an empty box or bag. Or a laser pointer. Or a lap. I had to limit the time that he sat on mine, and wash my hands and face every time after I touched him. I don't have to worry about that any more, and it's anything but a relief. I still almost see him in his usual places. The other morning I was sure I'd heard him meow. Goodbye, little guy. You were a good cat. In fact and in truth you were a great cat. You have written your own entry into the annals of Cat Lore. You were a legend in two neighborhoods and even among people that never met you. The doctor said that your heart was strong right up to the end and he will never know how true his words were. You took a little piece of me with you when you went, it's yours forever, I miss the living daylights out of you. You brought real joy into this world, and you dispensed it without measure to more people than I can probably remember or even know. You gave us a part of yourself, too. We will never forget you. We will honor you every Christmas. I miss you already. I loved you dearly. Goodbye.


1. What that lesson might be eludes me entirely.
2. Don't try this if you're riding a horse. It means "gallop". I found this out by doing just that.


Henry's Web Log: April 16, 2013

April 16, 2013

The Boston Marathon Bombings

You slithering coward.

Did Itzy-Poo get angry because American women are too immodest for your taste? Or did you get your nose out of shape because you think your taxes are too high and you don't like the color of our President's skin? Hey, buddy, we've all been there; we understand.

Just kidding.

There's nothing to understand. You bought explosives and you wrapped a layer of ball bearings and nails around them and packed them in a duffel bag and then you got your cowardly body out of there, dialed your cell phone from a safe distnace and probably watched while your bombs killed 3 people and ripped 175 more to shreds.

Including an 8-year-old boy who (it's silly to even have to say this) never did you or anyone you know any harm.

Is your mother proud of you?

We don't care if you're proud of yourself; you voluntarily resigned from the human race when you started building your explosive devices.

Did you watch the videos on Youtube? I did. And what stood out in those videos were all those people running toward the scene of the explosions. They didn't think of their own safety; they ran to help. Knowing that there might be more bombs.

That's who we are.

And that's why you're a lousy terrorist. You lost.

You persuaded no one. Today was a beautiful day and the usual people were out running. You didn't terrorize us. You didn't strike fear into our hearts. You didn't convert anyone. We carried on today, and we will continue to live untroubled by you, because that's who we are.

We're not filled with hate or rage: hundreds of people offered comfort and assistance. Restaurants gave out food and people opened their doors and their hearts and offered rooms and rides and hugs.

That's the kind of people we are.

You sure showed us what you are, didn't you? Do you know what I'd do if I got my hands on you? I'll tell you. I would haul you before a judge and a jury. Not a jury of your peers; sorry, we wouldn't be able to find 12 people as cowardly as you in the whole of Boston.

We'll appoint a lawyer and s/he will defend you and the prosecution will give your attorney a copy of the evidence they intend to present against you so it can be reviewed before the trial and you can prepare your defense against it if you want to. You don't have to, of course. It's the prosecution's job to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and it's the jury's job to affirm that. And if they don't agree, unanimously, you'll be released from custody and set free to roam the streets again.

That, buddy, is what the United States of America is really about. That's who Americans really are.

And you? You can be found innocent without having to speak even a single word in your own defense. In fact, we wish you wouldn't. You've already made your statement.

And the world gagged.


Henry's Web Log - September 30, 2012

September 30, 2012

A Supermarket Encounter

What is wrong with some people?

Seriously, I have to say this again: What the frick is wrong with some people?

I was shopping in a chain grocery store in East Haven, CT today. East Haven (known locally as "'staven") is a small, lower middle class, blue collar town. There was a young lady ringing up my purchases, and a young man bagging. I would've guessed that both of them were in junior high school, but hey: I'm an old geezer. She was thinking about college.

She said wistfully to the bagger: "I wish I could go to college and get out of here, but there's no one that'll help me out." He replied: "Can't you even afford Gateway?"

Gateway Community College is a small inexpensive community college in New Haven. The cashier's response was: "I applied for financial aid, but it was after the deadline, so they wouldn't give me any money!"

Well, duh.

This was a perfect opportunity for him to bring a little reality into her life and say something like: "So you're going to apply next semester, in time, right?" But no, he responded with a different question: "You're not a minority of any kind, are you?"

"No," she replied, "I'm not a minority." "That's a shame," he concluded, "because blacks and Puerto Ricans, they get to go, they get everything for free."

And she bought it. She didn't even think about the absurdity of this statement, she simply replied: "Wow. They're so lucky!"

And folks, I was speechless. I have never before heard anyone say that someone was lucky because they were of African American or Puerto Rican descent in the United States of America. I was stunned.

I always thank my my cashier and my bagger, and I'm pretty sure that I did so this time. But I walked out of that store in a haze of speechless shock. Anyone reading this knows perfectly well that I am rarely speechless.

But this time I was. Lucky? Two high school educated people actually believe that minorities get a free ride and they're behind the opportunity curve because they're genetically lazy or stupid or inferior based solely on their race or ethnicity?

I checked my car carefully before I loaded the groceries: no flux capacitor. This really is still 2012. My stomach churned and I felt the beginnings of the acid taste of bile in the back of my throat.

There are still an awful lot of people that believe, simply because of their skin color or sexuality or religion or birthplace or ethnicity or the football team they root for or whatever the heck, that they are superior to other people.

It makes me want to puke.

Because it's so absurd that it should be funny, but it isn't, and because there is absolutely nothing that I can do or say to change their sick little minds.

And they don't even know that they're sick.


Henry's Web Log: March 6, 2012

March 6, 2012

Rush Limbaugh and William Blake

Mock on, mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau;
Mock on, mock on: 'tis all in vain.
You throw your sand against the wind,
And the wind blows it back again.

Relax. I'm not arguing against the Enlightenment. But I came to a realization that made me think of this short poem, and I'm noticing a very minor parallel between Rush Limbaugh's SlutTalk 2012 tempest and the advent of the Age of Reason. And you can relax even further: I'm not comparing Rush Limbaugh with William Blake! The parallel is between the world-shaking changes both now and during the dawn of the Enlightenment. Once I thought of it, I couldn't resist making this comparison. Perhaps because I haven't slept for two and a half days.

But let's go back to Mr. Limbaugh for a moment. I find his comments out of line, inaccurate, over the top, inappropriate, juvenile, tasteless, hateful, hurtful, humiliating, and disgusting. But enough about me. Folks, most of this is what he gets paid for; he gets paid to push the envelope and occasionally pushing too far is implied by his job requirements. If Rush gets stale he's out of business.

Well, he certainly hasn't been stale lately. And that's fine with me. I'm glad that the FCC didn't fine him. I'm glad that his employer didn't suspend him as Don Imus was suspended. I'm glad that Congress didn't rush to their chambers and whip up a new law to protect us against tasteless and offensive speech. To quote Mike Godwin: "The First Amendment was designed to protect offensive speech, since governments never try to ban the other kind." I don't want to ban Mr. Limbaugh's speech, because I can't do that without eventually reaping the consequences of such a ban myself.

Here's the real reason why I'm pleased. The system worked. It worked astonishingly well, once I thought about it. Originally, few or none of his sponsors fled. Why should they? His remarks stirred a passionate controversy, which meant more listeners, which meant meaurably more bang for their advertising bucks. Ah, but what kind of bang had they bought? The answer became clear, very quickly. When his show went off the air for the day, the usual pundits -- both his supporters and his distracters -- prepared to enjoy a spike in attention as they churned out their predictable columns and trotted out their familiar talking points.

But something unusual happened. The columnists and the commentators unexpectedly found themselves talking and writing in the background. What was this? They certainly weren't being shouted down; they feed on strife and shrillness, and they know exactly how to handle it. No, they were suddenly rendered barely audible and only mildly relevant by a quiet clicking and a mild but very, very persistent TAP ... TAP ... TAP. People started picking up thier phones. Lots and lots of people started picking up their phones, reaching for their keyboards, and pulling out their Blackberries.

They were calling Mr. Limbaugh's sponsors. They were sending them email. The customers started communicating with compaines whose service departments they usually avoided if there was any reasonable alternative. It wasn't just their customers. Many of the employees of these sponsoring companies were adding their voices to the chorus. They quickly developed a coherent theme: this was unacceptable. His sponsors started withdrawing their support. Because mothers spoke up. Daughters spoke up. Fathers with daughters and people who neither were nor had daughters spoke up and said: "This is unacceptable." Big companies started listening to them, and top executives and owners started changing their minds.

Think about that for a moment, please. When was the last time that you felt so powerful? This was no "liberal hatchet job" dreamed up by the New York Times on a slow afternoon. This was not a protest lead by a firey preacher or a self-appointed "community spokesperson." This was people, an awful lot of people, many of them habitually and persistently divided on some very important issues, picking up their phones and saying: "This could be my daughter! How dare you speak about her that way?" The voice of We The People was heard and -- refreshingly -- was acted on for the first time in, it seems to me, an awfully long time.

* * * * *

A change has been altering the fundemental landscape and foundation of this country and most of the first world (at least) for a long time. I've been fighting it. This afternoon I started thinking about it in a new way. The change I'm talking about is Corporatism: the rise of the Corporate State.

Yes, I've been fighting that for a long, long time. I've seen my favorite pharmacy, a family run business for two generations and working on a third, driven out of business when CVS came to town. Now CVS is struggling to compete with Target and Walmart and the pharmacy counters at local supermarkets. At least my favorite family hardware store is still going strong. They have been since 1933 and and when I need hardware that's where I go unless I have absolutely no other choice. Oh, there are still small markets and restaurants that I'm able to partonize with satisfaction, but it seems unarguable to me: we're living in the age of the Big Box Store.

But Corporatism has taken over much more than my favorite family businesses. They have taken over our government. Is that too strong? I don't think so. In fact, I think that every major political candidate should be wearing a jumpsuit with the logos of their corporate sponsors sewn onto it for all to see. Those sponsors own my politicians for the most part; my representatives are most definitely not representing me in any meaningful way. In an ironic twist, ideologies aren't driving the major parties any more. The defining position of both major parties is exactly the same: power. Get power. Keep power. Drive the other party out of power and scoop up the positions and the perks and the money that's available out there. It feels like a civil war to me, and the positions are so deeply entrenched that I see no way for anyone who's likely to be elected to step back and unite in the governing of this country in this fragile time.

But perhaps I've been wrong in how I've been looking at this situation, for a long time now. Perhaps I've been blind to the obvious.

I believe that, for the forseeable future, Corporatism is here to stay. That's as hard for me to accept as it might have been for the stodgy clerics and superstitious churchgoers who were set in their routines and worldviews when the Enlightenment rolled around. The world has changed around me. Can I fight it? Can I fight Reason or Scientific Method? Not profitibly.

But we have just seen a profitible example of adapting. The powerful voice of Rush Limbaugh was, for a short time, relatively passive and humbled with apology. I can't judge the sincerity of his apology, and that doesn't concern me. What has moved me is that he was humbled, not by the fat purse of a corporate tycoon, but by the persistant voices of an awful lot of people he's accustomed to mocking. They worked their telephones the way we're supposed to be working the levers of government. Or, at least that's the way I was taught that this country worked, in Social Studies classes.

I contend that this present national government is controlled by corporations. And those corporations have but one primary purpose: to make a profit. Whatever other good they might do and whatever secondary missions they might have are all moot if they don't turn a profit. And those profits are generated by us. Sale by sale. Contacract by contract. One transaction at a time. The lobbiests for ThisIssue and ThatIssue and the corporate paymasters of ThisCo and ThatCo might be keeping the wheels of government turning and they might be setting the direction right now, but you know what?

There is no single purchaser on this earth big enough to keep a large company like Walmart afloat and profitable. They need us, even if our elected representatives don't think they need us; the corporations that sell us our goods and services need us. They need us encounter by encounter and sale by sale; it is our small change that is keeping them afloat.

They know this. And, while I wasn't paying attention, the world has changed around me. Around us. The value of our voices and our actions and our purchasing choices has been demonstrated: powerfully, intensely, vividly, in the past 10 days or so.

Now I'd like to hear from you. How can we use this new source of power to drag our politicians and pundits back to some level of civility and cooperation and make them work for us? For the first time in a long time I believe that it can happen. Because I've just seen it done.

Think about this please, if it seems worth it, and send me your suggestions if you want to. Please note how you'd like to be identified. I retain editorial control, of course, but I value your thoughts and suggestions, and I'll publish as many of them as I can. Thank you!


Responses

We need to tell corporations that it's unacceptable for their CEOs to get 100+ times as much as their regular employees. We need to tell corporations that it's unacceptable to give bonuses for increasing profits that are greater than the combined lost incomes of those laid off to increase said profits. We need to threaten to boycott them if the pay disparity isn't narrowed.

This is what I think people should be doing instead of playing in drum circles in parks and randomly obstructing regular commerce.

  --Shirley Peters March 16, 2012


Henry's Web Log, November 23, 2009

November 23, 2009

Today I Am A Grownup

It was around 5:40 this morning. I was at a gas station. I'd pulled up to a set of pumps, popped open the door covering the gas cap, and stepped out of my car. There were two large trucks idling behind me, but I didn't see any other cars around my immediate area. That's because the car on the other side of the island was a dark brown Mini Cooper with a black convertible top. It was completely hidden behind the double pumps, though I could and should have noticed it as I was pulling up.

I slipped my credit card into the slot, removed it when instructed, dropped it, retrieved it, entered the required info. via the keypad, inserted the nozzle into the tank, activated the pump, and clicked the lever into the bump that would allow the fuel to flow automatically, while I emptied the little garbage bag from my car into a convenient container.

To do this, I walked around the right side of the pump, and he appeared from the left, facing me as I turned around. He looked nice enough, a young man in what seemed to be his early twenties, about my height, but leaner. He appeared pleasant, well groomed, and polite. If he'd greeted me on the street I would have returned his greeting. If it was light. But it wasn't. And anybody that approaches you at a gas station is probably going to ask you for money.

"I'm not asking you for money," he said, "but I'm completely out of gas, and I have no money, and..."

And I lied.

I cut him off, and responded, "I'm sorry, but I have no cash on me. All I have is this card. Sorry."

That wasn't true. And, as I pulled away, I thought of when I'd been young and hungry. Of all the times I'd hitchhiked, and promised myself that when I was older and established that I'd never forget those years, that I'd always pick up hitchhikers. And that I'd always stop to help someone in trouble.

But times have changed. I don't remember when I stopped pulling over and asking if I could help when I saw motorists stranded on the side of the road. I live in an urban area, there are plenty of official resources available. I have kids, and responsibilities, and the company's laptop was on the back seat.

I believe that my instincts reacted faster than my brain. He had a pretty new-looking clean little car, and he was holding a modern cell phone flipped open. He was well dressed. Ergo, he was not without resources. So I lied, and when I'd finished my transaction I got back in my car, and I locked the doors, and I drove away.

When I got to work, I discussed this with a few people. They all agreed that I'd done the right thing. I contribute heavily to well-established and reputable charities. "You feel a little distressed now," said Rich, "but suppose you had a single five loose in your pocket. You reached in, pulled it out, and handed it to him. He took it with one hand, and with the other, suppose he whipped out a gun and said 'be very quiet, and hand over everything you've got.' Your wallet. All your identifying information. The laptop. All gone. How would be feeling now if that had happened? But you told him that you had no cash. You chose correctly."

Yes, I believe I did choose correctly. He wasn't stranded, he was inconvenienced. This was I-95 along the Northeast Corridor. This wasn't a Colorado mountain road.

I think I did the right thing. I did the responsible thing. I made the mature choice. "Today," as I observed to Rich, "I am officially an adult."

And, for a couple of hours, that really sucked.

But sometimes, when you're an adult, you have to voluntarily do things that suck. This was one of those times. This was the situation.

What do you think you would have done?


Henry's Web Log, August 11, 2009

August 11, 2009 Ah, Ohio! It always seems to rain when I drive to Ohio. This time was no exception. The next time Central Pennsylvania experiences a drought, the Governor should call me. I'll drive to Ohio for a reasonable fee. Go ahead and laugh, experience is on my side.

It took 2 days to drive to Beavercreek because I'm not as young as I once was, and I'm not going to make a 12- to 14-hour drive in one day again unless I have to. Besides, breaking the drive into 2 days gives me a chance to stop over in Youngstown, and visit the Butler Institute. It's always worth the extra night's stay. Besides that, it also gave me a chance to see the in-laws and Baby Marcus. He's 5 months old now. The last time I saw him was on the day he was born. He's a lot cuter now.

We made that stay short, and took 2 days to drive to Black Lake, pausing to buy a little cheese, and staying overnight in Frankenmuth.

Yeah, Black Lake is beautiful by day or at night, and Frank invited part of his clan to the lake for a day, so we had 24 people running around the compound at one point! We even let a couple of kids drive the pontoon boat for a while, much to their delight. For an afternoon and an evening, the place looked as if it had been overrun by Voyageurs or something.

I was there to fish, but a little tourism was in order, so the 8 of us stopped off at Fort Michilimackinac and learned a little history. For instance, I wonder how many of you knew this little fact? Also, I happen to love bridges, so while I was at the fort, I got this shot of the Mackinac Bridge.

We also took a ferry to Mackinac Island, where I had a lot of fun taking an 8-mile bike ride around the island, but even more fun getting tossed off the grounds of the Grand Hotel as "riff-raff"! It's the kind of place where men who are not wearing full suits with ties (no matter what the weather is like) are not allowed on the grounds after 6:00 PM, nor are women, if they are wearing slacks. Yeah, they tossed us out all right, but we gave them grief first. We didn't start any trouble, but for some reason, they seemed to think we were going to. Especially (I think) me, perhaps because I was wearing shorts and a ponytail? (No, not just that, I was fully dressed!) Anyway, it did my heart good to see the looks on their mugs when we didn't grovel or slink away, nor hide the shame of our class (or lack of it) from their grand visages. Hoorray for the hoi polloi!

Well, I said I wasn't going to do it, I didn't plan on it, but I did it anyway. I bought fudge while I was there. Being a typical tourist, I suppose, I had to go whole hog, huh? As long as I was being a troll, I guess it was inevitable that I'd turn fudgie, too1. Actually, I resisted a lot of shops, for a long time, but the free samples at Joann's Fudge Shop finally got to me. And her Chocolate Orange Fudge finally did it; it won my heart. I bought two boxes of her fudge. I still have most of it left, though not quite as much as when I started this little screed; writing is hungry work.

But I digress. There was only one point to this trip. Fishing.

And fish I did.

For one solid week I did nothing but eat and sleep and fish, with some reading, and a little moderate carousing, thrown in. Well, not drunken carousing, as that fascinating bit of etymology suggests, but I assure you that I did manage to squeeze my little bits of fun in here and there, as I always do.

Black Lake is supposed to be a great place for Steelhead, with the locals displaying all kinds of pictures and plaques of the impressive trout they'd caught in Black Lake, but all week long they remained impassive toward me.

Ah, but then my fishing partner, Frank, and I hauled off to Lake Michigan and I made my catch and then some. We caught our limit in one day.

I got myself a nice 17 pound lake trout. I would've been satisfied with that. Heck, that's a day;s catch right there. But the Fishing Gods were with me on Thursday, and on August 6 I caught the fish of the week on Lake Michigan, and probably the fish of my life. I landed a 25 3/4 pound salmon after she took an 800-foot run, and she fought me all the way in. It took 3 of us to haul that lady onto the boat. It was the culmination of a week of fishing, it was all that I could ask for, and much, much more.

We brought her ashore, cleaned her at the marina, and had sashimi that very night. There's something profoundly primal about eating raw strips of a fish that you've fought and landed that very day. And there's still plenty of salmon left.

It was a good week, and an easy ride home. I've been unplugged from the world for two weeks, I haven't read or watched or listened to any news since July 28, and I haven't done so today, the last day of my vacation. Tomorrow I'll be up at 4:00 AM, I'll be on the road by 5:00, and before 6:00 I'll be diving back into work.

And I can't wait. I'm raring to go. Life is good.


1. A troll is what the U.P.s (pronnounced you-pees: i.e., the people in the Upper Peninsula) call the people in the Lower Peninsula, because they live below The Bridge. A fudgie is Island slang for a tourist, the stereotype being that we only come to The Island to buy fudge and, moreover, that's all we're good for.

2. Mickey writes:
Henry, I lived in Ohio for five years. It took me 20 years to be able to enjoy rain again. It rained ALL THE F--KING TIME. Here's the weather forecasting I devised for Ohio:

Sunny = not raining but so humid it might as well be raining
Clear = cloudy but not raining
Chance of rain = it's raining
Rain = it's pouring
Heavy rain = get a boat

It wasn't only the rain that made me hate Ohio, but it certainly contributed.


P.S.
The trip wasn't just fun, it was educational, too!

SUPPOSE that you have been staying in a lakeside cabin. A dark lakeside cabin, that sleeps five, and you don't want to wake anyone.

SUPPOSE that you want to brush your teeth.

LESSON 1: No matter how many times you've done this in the past, in familiar environments, USE A FLASHLIGHT!

LESSON 2: A tube of Rite Aid maximum strength anti-itch and -rash hydrocortisone cream (with "soothing aloe") closely resembles a tube of Colgate, particularly in very dim light.

LESSON 3: It doesn't taste as good, it's not sweet at all, and it leaves your mouth interestingly numb after brushing.

P.P.S.
Approximate miles driven: ~1,894.95


Henry's Web Log - July 6, 2009

July 6, 2009

This year's big 10th annual July 4 party was (in my opinion) a roaring success. We had 50 guests, our biggest party ever. Everyone who could be convinced to, went home with as much food as they wanted and we still have so much food left over that we had to stash some in our next door neighbor's chest freezer! Unlike what happened other years:

  1. My water heater did not choose to spill it's liquid guts during The Big Party.
  2. The fireworks in the wheelbarrow did not get out of control this year.
  3. No one at the house across the street got arrested.
  4. No on ran into any of the yard furniture.
  5. No one went crazy with the garden hose.
  6. There was no rumble at the park.
  7. There were no grill fires.
It was a very tame party, but loads of fun! The weather held out, too. We had one shower that lasted about 10 minutes, which sent everyone scurrying inside with the food, but we soon headed back out. My house is not made to entertain 50 people! After that (which, really, just made the party a little more interesting) the weather held, and we all enjoyed the big fireworks display in comfort and peace.

That was Friday. By the time we got the house cleaned up on Saturday, it was time for another party; we got to be the guests this time! Plus, we had plenty of food left over, so we had our choice of dishes to contribute.

Saturday night, a bunch of us headed out to Terry and Paula's boat. We sat on board and watched the New Haven fireworks from on the water.

We need a rest on Sunday morning, and we had a nice leisurely time. Then we decided to go out sailing. My little sloop is only 18 feet long. That's not big. The wind went to 15 knots, we had a fast running tide, and the water was very choppy, nice big swells! Gladwyn and I took the Uno out anyway. I wouldn't've done that alone, but Gladwyn is from Trinidad, he probably learned to sail before he learned to walk. I wasn't worried. Renate, however, immediately headed below. She stayed down there despite our urgings, and she occasionally made little cat-in-mortal-fear noises. So we stayed within the inner breakwater, and banged around for a couple of hours, a combination boat ride and amusement park ride. We offered to drop Renate off, but she refused. So we kept sailing. We returned to our mooring without incident, the very best kind of sail to have.

Well, we got home in time to take a bike ride after Renate had settled down a bit, enough to ride, at least. We got back in from the sailing about 3:15 yesterday afternoon. At 8:30 in the evening she was still complaining that it felt like the world was pitching and heaving around her.

NOTE: Explaining that things could be worse, that it really could be pitching and rolling, is not the correct approach to take in a situation like this. I'm fairly sure I'll remember that now.

Otherwise, what a great weekend!


Henry's Web Log: 52nd Birthday Edition

April 29, 2009

What A Long, Strange Trip It's been!

Today I'm 52 years old; I'm old like a deck of cards. I suspect that I'm the joker. I'm certainly no ace, and I haven't even the slightest shred of desire to be a king.

This weblog entry grew out of an e-mail to an old and dear friend. You know who you are. I hope that you don't mind that I generalized and chose to share my note of gratitude with a wider audience.

I was chatting with my friend Fred this weekend. I was telling him about something that I'm doing, that I'm kind of excited about. I took it for granted, until he put it into perspective for me. I am currently taking classes at the New Haven Citizen's Police Academy.

Fred's reaction was to recount some of the exploits of my youth. I don't deny them, but I don't spend much time remembering or thinking about them, either. It is so very odd to think that some people still remember that about me after all these long years and many changes. Then again, Fred lives in New Jersey and I live in New England; we often go years without seeing each other.

Ironically, I saw Fred recently. He was at his sister Shirley's annual Twelfth Night party, which I was also part of this year. He announced to the room that I was the only person there that had never dumped his motorcycle. I got some obviously impressed glances, but I immediately set the crowd straight by pointing out that this was because I have never owned or driven a motorcycle. Typical Fred humor.

So here I am. I sit in a cube, staring at a computer monitor all day. I drive a 4-door car (albeit, not a sedan). I've received commendations for service (mostly meaning that I was involved; I did nothing special) from the New Haven Public Schools, the American Red Cross, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Department of Homeland Security, among other staid old organizations. I'm involved in local politics. I work for a Fortune 50. I've helped raise 2 children, both in their mid-20s now, and I find myself saying the same kinds of things about their music that my parents once said about mine.

And now, I find myself involved with -- of all organizations! -- my local police department.

My, how things have changed!

Or, have they, really?

I never had anything against cops. And yes, I was an outcast. But a lot of that was due to the fact that, being a geek, I was made an outcast by my peers, particularly at school. "Oh, yeah? You want to make me an outcast, huh? Well, watch this, pal!" You know the routine; many of you have done as much yourselves; most of you understand.

Somehow, the world changed, and geeks like me got accepted, maybe even fashionable. If I had been born even a generation ago I'd be toiling thanklessly behind a desk for modest compensation. I'd probably be wearing a green eye shade at work. But the world has changed since then; I don't wear an eye shade.

I lucked out. With the grace of God, and the help of innumerable friends, I survived my teenage years, I rode the wave, and I'm still balancing. I'm watching my own kids grow. I've watched some of my own peers, and yes theirs too, drown. We're the lucky ones; we are not only survivors, we're some of the lucky ones. Yes, we. If you're reading this, you're probably one of The Lucky Ones, too. Let's call ourselves that; let's periodically remember, and be grateful, huh? We're The Lucky Ones. We're TLOs.

I'm having more fun than I've ever had before in my life. In fact, I'm having more fun than I ever dared hope or dream that I would!

Many people helped put me here. You may be one of them. In any case, you probably have a similar story to tell, and friends to thank that I'd recognize or understand. I might have gotten through my crazy teenage years without people just like you; maybe, but I'm not so sure of that, and there is no question that people like you made those years easier and happier.

My life went in a direction that I hadn't expected. But it's a good direction. How about you?

I have all the toys and gizmos and shiny gadgets I could ever hope for. This is not a birthday for presents. This is not a birthday for wanting something or for getting something that I've been wanting. I have all I need, in abundance; to count my myriad blessings would take hours.

No, this birthday is a time to look with amazement and contentment at how much I have, how far I've come, how happy I am to have woken up on this side of the grass in this particular world on this particular morning, how fortunate I was to have had so many people like you to help me get here, and how very, very lucky I am to still have crazy brilliant jokers in my life to share these good years with!

Let's all keep rolling right into full-blown curmudgeon-hood with smiles on our faces1.! If we ever end up in wheelchairs, I'll race you. And I'll bet you a milkshake -- any of you! -- right now, that I'll beat you to the end of the hall. To heck with those old nurses; when we get old, let's still be drinking milkshakes and laughing our fool heads off at this crazy beautiful world!

Peace. Joy. Love.

What a long, strange trip it's been.

Thank you -- Yes, you! -- for being part of it.

1. Yes, as a matter of fact, I can be a curmudgeon and a joker, if I want to!
It's my birthday; I can do as I darn well please! So there!
2. Thank you, Ed, for pointing out that I can't be the Joker, the joker being the 53rd card.


Henry's Web Log: April 20, 2009

April 20, 2009

Socialized Medicine

"Socialism: Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods..."   [or, in the context of this debate, services -author]
    -Merriam-Webster online
A colleague of mine sent me an e-mail this morning (that seems to be currently circulating on the Internet) purporting to explain why socialism doesn't, won't, and can't work.

And that, he concluded, is why socialized medicine is doomed to fail.

I agree with him; I don't think that socialism works. As a driver of large-scale economies, that is. Where he and I disagree is in what I see as the misapplication of that premise.

When you apply the label "socialized" to medicine, you get a simple formula, along the lines of:
1. Socialism doesn't work.
2. Single-payer healthcare is "socialized medicine".
3. Therefore, if we change our current model to include a single-payer component, our healthcare system will decline.

To quote the mathematician Eric Temple Bell: "Euclid taught me that without assumptions there is no proof. Therefore, in any argument, examine the assumptions."

I submit that assumption #2 above is erroneous, leading to a false conclusion, if that conclusion is based primarily upon his second argument. A better way to examine that premise is to study other cultures with a single-payer plan. However, that goes back to a question of definitions again:
    • I've heard that the health plans of Canada and Western Europe are failing.
    • Others say that their care is better than ours, and sustainable.
That's open to honest debate.

I think that debate should start with the question: "What are the appropriate functions, roles, and obligations of our government?" I'll argue that it is the duty of society to provide a basic level of services that will keep its members healthy. I'll go further, and say that a generally healthy population benefits all members of our society -- and it costs far less -- than ignoring the critical health needs of the indigent.

I think both sides in this debate will agree that we should approach the decision honestly; everyone will, at least, pay lip service to that claim.

If so, then the case for some degree of "socialized medicine" has already been made.

Because this country already has compulsory "socialized medicine".

Yes, it does. Hospitals are already compelled to treat emergency-room patients by The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) included in the COBRA legislation of 1986. This is known as Charity Care.

A true debate about this subject is a discussion of degree, of how to improve, and how to be more transparent about how we pay for what we already have.

Your tax dollars, insurance premiums, and medical fees are already paying for some "socialized medicine". It's generally agreed that our system needs improving. And, make no mistake about it, the question of degree is crucial to this debate.

Any system, public or private, and no matter who pays for it or how, is going to have to limit the services that can be provided. This is not a change. It is a limitation of any system, and that irrefutable fact will not disappear no matter how we might modify our current model.
Are you honestly opposed to all "socialized medicine"? I can respect that. But be clear. What you are saying is that no one gets through the doors of a medical facility, even an emergency room, unless they can pay. And treatment stops when you run out of money. Personally, I mean; insurance is a socialized pool of health care dollars. If you choose to smoke, drink, or ride your motorcycle without a helmet, I'm partially subsidizing the reckless parts of your lifestyle. The smoking surcharge of your current healthcare plan does not cover the aggregate difference in its cost to your providers. How is that not socialism? A person who buys insurance is buying into socialism.

The same goes for police and fire services; and access to education, infrastructure, and sanitation services. Public libraries are fine, if some generous donor buys the books and fully funds the facility, but most public libraries are supported with tax dollars, because they're almost universally regarded as being essential to society. If access to library resources is important enough to spend public dollars on, how much more important is access to a basic level of healthcare? How much more does that benefit society?

Let's be honest about this issue. Socialized medicine is already here. Let's debate how it's paid for in a straightforward manner, or let's have the courage to close our emergency rooms to anyone who can't pay.

Healthcare is not an economic system. It consumes resources; it does not create them. Applying an economic model to healthcare as if it were a generator of wealth is erroneous. To do so without fully acknowledging, debating, and accepting the consequences is stubbornly dishonest.

Let's be real.

Then we can talk.


Henry's Web Log: March 27, 2009

March 27, 2009

The Box On The Porch

So, how did your evening go last night?

I had a very invigorating evening.

All facts are true. All names have been changed1.

Laura was off at some company dinner in the West Hartford area, and I'd planned to have a busy but boring night.

I had to work a change at 6:00. In my business you do not just go around making changes to servers that are in production. There is a very strict process to follow. Deviating from that process, even slightly, leads to exciting new opportunities in the retail food distribution sector, as in: "Would you like paper or plastic, ma'am?" if you catch my drift.

I completed my part of the change swiftly and successfully and then had to report that. To a man named Swami Yogananthan Pitchumanimuthu. Actually, we think that his real name is even longer. So I got to enlighten a Swami last night. On a scale of 1 to 10, I barely even twitch the needle of the Enlightenment Meter2. Actually, if I'm even thinking about enlightenment as being on a scale of 1 to 10, I probably just flunked Enlightenment Kindergarten. Again.

Well, I didn't have time to worry about Enlightenment last night. I had to hurry off to the Police Academy before it closed at 7:00 to enroll in this class.

Made it in time, application completed and returned, I'm back home, now I'll just collect and take out the garbage and recycling, then I'll have time to settle down for a nice relaxing session of reading Medicus. Yawn. Very lightweight, not as good as I'd hoped, but I've started it, and I'd like to finish it. It was not to be, last night, though.

As some of you might know, my next door neighbor, Sarah, is a psychiatrist3. Not a counselor or a psychologist, but med school, internship, residency, a full and complete medical doctor. She'd seen surgeries and all manner of interesting diseases and traumas before settling on her specialty. And she's not some $450.00 dollar an hour shrink with a posh Manhattan office who listens to distressed society matrons all day, either. She specializes, by choice, in the sickest of the sick. Vietnam vets, primarily, who have returned Stateside as complete wackjobs. (Sarah assures me that that is accurate, if not official, medical terminology, and in wide use among her peers.) Strange, dark dudes, many of whom will never be allowed to roam the streets as free individuals again. At least, we hope not.

Soooooo... Sarah should be just about the most prepared person I know in the event of a medical trauma, wouldn't you say?

One might think so. But, you know the cliche about people going into the counseling field because they are are maladjusted individuals, and looking for answers for themselves? Meet Sarah J. Hastings, their poster child.

There I was, bagging trash, with the filled recycling bins nearby, ready to go out with the trash. The phone rings. I'll bet you thought it would be Sarah, right? No it was a guy from a folk club, wanting me to write a promo script for an upcoming webcast. Sure, I'm packaging trash trash anyway, what's a little more promo writing? I'm not implying that the artists are trash, just promo scripts and blurbs. Does anyone even read promo anyway? If they do, they might not want to know some of the things we're doing when we write it.

Back to the garbage. The phone rings again.

This time it's Sarah.

And she's screaming.

Her cat, Ms. Lisa Janis Hastings, has died. Heck, LJ would have been 23 years old in June; she weighed about 9 ounces, she was mostly deaf and very blind, she hardly did anything but sleep anymore, she didn't eat much, and her breath stank like a buffalo fart. I know, because I took care of her when Sarah went out of town. For some reason, the frickin' cat liked me. But, come on, it was well past time to for her go; we'd all been expecting it.

Sarah had come home from a full day of working with her jolly clients (and dealing with the hospital administration which, she assures me, is markedly worse than dealing with her patients) and went grocery shopping. Then she, as is her custom on Thursday nights, had a nice leisurely pizza dinner downtown.

She came home, grocery bags in her arms, to find a dead cat on her kitchen floor.

She didn't handle it very well.

She eventually called me, and said: "There's a dead cat on my kitchen floor!" I asked, "It is Lisa, isn't it?" It wasn't an entirely unreasonable question; I hadn't seen my own (very adventurous 4) cat since sometime before 5:00 that morning. She replied: "Lisa's gone!" which I understood as affirmative; it wasn't as if Lisa was ambulatory enough to go for a stroll, leaving an opportunity for some other cat to wander in and die.

"Would you like me to come over and help?" I inquired. "There's a dead cat on my kitchen floor!" was her reply. Ah. Got it. "Sure," I said, "give me two minutes and I'll be right over." I think it was about 10 minutes later; I'd collected a box, some nice soft foam, a pair of gloves, a bag, and a piece of stiff cardboard (I've done this drill before) and headed on over.

Lisa was indeed stiffening up on Sarah's kitchen floor; she wasn't even very cold yet, and her passing was not as messy as it might have been. I took care of the cleanup, then sat on the floor with Sarah and let her vent a little bit. She wasn't just crying, she was heaving and sobbing and vibrating. Yeah, vibrating. But not very much.

When she'd settled down sufficiently for me to be comfortable about her, I bid Sarah farewell, headed back home, and finished packing up the trash. Maybe I did get a little enlightenment (or, at least, perspective) after all; that chore now seemed much more pleasant than it had been before.

So, last night I enlightened a Swami, and helped a psychiatrist cope with trauma. Sometimes you just never know what will be waiting on the other end of the line when you pick up a phone.

What did you do last night?

P.S.
Sarah had planned on having Lisa cremated. Now she can't go through with that; she wants to bury her in the back yard. The ground is frozen; I'm not sure that's reasonable. So Lisa is resting in a padded Chianti box (2003 Reserva, is that a good year?) which is enclosed in a tightly-sealed garbage bag.

But Sarah absolutely, positively, could not cope with THE BOX last night.

So I'm working from home today, and I have a dead cat waiting in the mud room.

Have a good day!

1. Except the "Swami" part. That really is his first name.
2. And, if I believed in "enlightenment meters", I'd be a Scientologist!
3. Coincidence, not mandated by any court. No, seriously, it wasn't!
4. He's been through 4 lives already; I have the vet bills to prove it.


Henry's Web Log, MArch 24, 2009

March 24, 2009

Southern Women

I know lady from Virginia. One of "Liza's" girlfriends, back South, caught her husband with another woman.

Her girlfriend's only reaction was to smile charmingly, look the cheating chump straight in his eye and, in a voice as sweet and thick as honey and molasses, she said: "We will never talk about this again, because this will never happen again."

Yes, I do mean "chump". His subsequent behavior might be explained away if he'd been a Yankee; they don't speak Southern. But he did, and his sweet wife's message should have been as plain as the sound of a shotgun racking.

I guess it wasn't. She caught him again, as she so charmingly put it, "dipping his wick." And she gave him nothing but The Silent Treatment for one full day. She didn't want to hear about "sorry" or "never again" or "let's discuss it". She just froze him out, though she did fetch him a beer. Or two. I don't know how many beers he eventually consumed, but it was enough; he completely slept through her response.

When he woke up the next morning, his "wick" had been firmly super-glued to his thigh.

    For those of you who might not understand Southern:
  • "Bless his (or her) heart!" is not intended as a blessing.
  • She wasn't asking him to behave himself.
  • A Southern woman can put a slug right between your eyes from 20 paces, and she will never stop smiling. She'll kneel beside your corpse, pat your cooling hand compassionately, and arrange for a funeral that would befit her best friend.
  • You're supposed to be paying attention when a woman from Down South talks to you;
    she is not going to repeat herself, even if she's smiling when she says it.
    Particularly, in fact, if she's smiling.


Henry's Web Log: November 25, 2008

November 25, 2008

Mystery Solved

The Pineapple Escapade has been resolved. The enigma has been explained. The truth has been brought to light, and I've learned something in the process.

It wasn't much of a mystery after all.

It was just a touch of festive whimsy from one of my neighbors. She is Chilean. She probably doesn't use e-mail very much, and I doubt that she browses the web. She was not included in the list that I sent my initial query to, and I'm sure that she didn't see my blog entry about this topic.

She was shopping for groceries. She apparently found a display of pineapples. I don't think that Chile exports pineapples, though Wikipedia claims that "Chile is the world's only exporter of Llama meat". It's nice to learn something new every day.

I hope she got a good deal on them. Because she seems to have stocked up. She made a surreptitious circuit of the neighborhood, leaving ripe pineapples, and a bottle of either cider or wine, on the doorsteps of selected neighbors. It was a drive-by fruiting. I was not the only recipient.

One of my neighbors got a copy of the e-mail I sent out that described the incident; she promptly replied, and all was revealed. Thanks, Pat! Several of you took the trouble to explain to me that the pineapple is a traditional symbol of hospitality and welcome, so I've learned something else from this experience. Thank you. Up until now, I've only known it as a tasty (albeit spiky) dessert option that can double as a centerpiece if one is rushing to a party, ill-prepared, and running late.

And, of course, that old potluck standby is also a type of hand grenade.

But the humble pineapple is far more than a flavorsome fruit. This article claims that: "The root and fruit are either eaten or applied topically as an anti-inflammatory and as a proteolytic agent. It is traditionally used as an antihelminthic agent in the Philippines." I will be sure to remember that, in case I ever get worms.

If anyone is going to leave a pineapple on my porch, this is the type that I want it to be. Most of my neighbors are kind and generous; they have a streak of frivolity and a wide range of talents, and they are hospitable. I'm thankful that I am fortunate enough to be able to live in such an eclectic enclave. I am grateful for most of my neighbors.

And, I assert, all of my neighbors deserve a pineapple on their doorsteps.

Thank you, Ruth. Today's post is dedicated to you.

UPDATE:

Yes, Kaysee, the grape was an accident, not a symbol.

Another old friend wrote:
> Some people leave pineapples
> Others leave sheep

Yes, that's true. A couple of years ago I walked out of my front door and found that someone had anonymously left a small ceramic sheep on my front porch during the night. I immediately called Sue and thanked her.

My erstwhile (I hope!) stalker once left, upon my doorstep, a book about spies. I don't know why. I probably don't want to, either.

I clearly remember the day when I woke up, went downstairs, eventually looked out a back window, and noticed that there was a full-sized stop sign propped against my back fence. I had no doubts about that one. I picked up the phone, called my son, and asked him: "What's up with the stop sign?" "Figured it out, did you?" he replied, to which I responded: "You were my first call."

Then there was the time that my children filled my car with 50 stuffed mice.

And who can forget Senior Prank day, when my son's buddies shrink-wrapped the car of a favorite teacher?

You folks are really weird, you know that?


Henry's Web Log: November 23, 2008

November 23, 2008

OK, You've Had Your Little Joke

Now, will the person who left a plastic bag, containing:
    - A pineapple,
    - A bottle of sparkling cider, and
    - A single grape
on our front porch (while we were at Home Depot) please 'fess up?

And would you please explain the significance of these items?

I'm curious about who.
I'm REALLY curious about WHY.

Thank you, whoever you are.

Unintended Consequences

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

In fact, it must have seemed like a coup. Somalian pirates hijacked an oil tanker with 2 million barrels of oil aboard. They are demanding 25 million dollars in ransom.

There are the lives of the 25 crew members to consider. The cargo alone is worth 100 million dollars. I don't know how much the "Sirius Star" itself is worth, but I'm betting that neither you nor I could afford it, even with dealer financing.

And, in an effort to move the transaction along, the pirates have lowered their asking price to a mere 10 million dollars. When you think about it, even Travis McGee never offered his clients such a bargain. The article claims that "the befuddled navies of the world ... can't figure out how to stop them."

Well, in a delicious twist of irony, it looks as though someone has figured out a way.

Let's work this through, shall we? What cargo does an oil tanker carry?
Oil. Very good. Who owns most of the oil in the ground? That's right, Arabs.
And what is the predominant religion throughout the Arab world? Ah, yes, they are Muslims.

There's nothing wrong with Muslims in general, but they do have a radical element among them. A very well-armed radical element. And, "the Islamists appear to have been particularly enraged by the Sirius Star's seizure because the vessel is owned by Vela, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia's state-owned Saudi Aramco oil company. Saudi Arabia is home to Mecca and Medina, two of Islam's holiest sites."

Whoops.

Even moderate Muslims are very touchy about their holy sites. The radicals go absolutely ballistic about the issue; they are demonstrably creative, and they have very long memories.

And some of the crew members are from Saudi Arabia.

Bloomberg reports that "Sheikh Abdulaahi Osman, a commander of the Islamic Courts Union, warned the pirates holding the Saudi ship they face armed conflict if they don't release it. 'Saudi is a Muslim country and it is a very big crime to hold Muslim property,' Osman said. 'I warned again and again those who hold the ship must free it unconditionally.'"

Bloomberg goes on to state that: "'Negotiations are smoothly ongoing between us,' Abdi Salan Ahmed, a pirates' representative, said in a telephone interview."

I don't think these guys negotiate. I think that a conversation with a pirates' representative is probably a stalling tactic. What do the pirates expect the Islamists to say?

Here are the top three things you will never hear a radical Islamic terrorist say:
    3. Well, yes, it's Muslim property, but we're all citizens of the world.
    2. Let's live and let live, OK? Rules are made to be broken.
And, the number one thing that you will not ever hear a Jihadist say is:
    1. This isn't worth fighting about.

I bet they didn't see that one coming. They've started the ship, and they're on the run.

Right now, the Star is in shallow coastal waters, it's carrying 2 million barrels of oil, it needs up to 17 meters of water depth to manuver in, and I'm guessing that Somalian pirates don't have a lot of experience in piloting supertankers.

I think it's a fairly safe guess that these pirates are all male. I have long believed that when this world ends, the last man standing will gaze around him at the smoking ruins, and his final words will be:

"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

The Ultimate Schlemiel

I get to work early. I listen to the traffic reports as I drive in. You can hear some interesing things on early morning radio.

This morning's topic was (and I am not kidding about this) how to use a video camera, among other techniques, to keep your house safe if you are being harrassed by "Bigfoots". He seemed to be in earnest. He probably votes in his local school board elections. This proposition, if true, might explain a lot about the current state of our educational system.

Last week, I heard a man describing a couple whom he classified as "the ultimate schlemiels", though I think the term he's looking for is a schlimazels.

What is not in doubt is that this was a very unlucky couple. As the narrator described it, every electronic item that either of them bought failed. Right out of the box. They purchased, he said: "new cars of a brand noted for their reliability". The cars were always in the shop. A solid wood rocking chair broke. The day after they bought it. With their newborn baby on it. If that baby wasn't on someone's lap, then I'm going to have to go with "schlemiel". He recited a string of stories. He made his case with his final one.

The wife had bought "a huge painting of the Golden Gate Bridge". It was elabortely framed. It was expensive. It was a gem. So she wasn't taking any chances this time; she hired a professional handyman to hang it in her living room. Beaming with pride, she called her neighbor over to witness her new acquisition.

It was then that he had to gently tell her: "This is not the Golden Gate Bridge."
"You have, in fact, just bought The Brooklyn Bridge."

It hasn't been a good week for coups, has it?


Henry's Web Log: November 5, 2008

November 5, 2008

Election 2008

The long slog through this tiresome election is finally over.

The world is a better place today than it was yesterday.

Barack Obama, soon to be President Obama, will have the chance to demonstrate his leadership and character based upon actions, not speculation. The world will be watching.

The United States has elected a black man to the highest office in the land. That news will filter even to the huddled hermits in their caves in Afghanistan. It is my belief that this fact will do more to defeat the enemies of civilization than the best and most sophisticated weapons in the vast arsenal that we will continue to maintain.

The United States of America has, once again, reinvented itself.

I did not really dare to hope that I would live to see this day.

This post is dedicated to my children. Your generation has done what mine could not.

I am proud of you. I will always be proud of you.

But, perhaps, never more so than on this hopeful and historic day.

Thank you.


Henry's Web Log: October 28, 2008

October 28, 2008

Liberal vs. Conservative?

In the course of a conversation, somebody who has been reading my recent posts about The Great Giveaway applauded me for "really sticking it to those Conservatives!" I was mildly shocked, and I offered no contradiction or, indeed, any reply at all. I just let it go.

The fact is, this offends me on several levels. Please don't feel guilty! This is not chastisement; this is an opportunity for me to express something that has been quietly fermenting in the back of my mind for some time.

First and foremost, I have absolutely no desire to "stick it to" anybody. Well, except for maybe that girl in...

No.

That's my evil twin, Skippy; that's not the real me. The fact is, I don't want to punish anybody. I don't want to see anyone "get their due", and I'm not waiting for an opportunity to gloat.

Second, I'm trying to figure out how the words Conservative and Liberal became so pejorative, demeaning, dismissive, and disrespectful.

When I use the word Conservative, I mean "An adherence to long-standing, traditional values and maintaining a caution for any excess." Politically, Conservatives generally favor smaller government, lower taxes, a strong focus on national security, sobriety, intellect, respect for individual rights, and an acceptance of responsibility and consequences.

When I use the word Liberal, I mean "Showing or characterized by broad-mindedness; tolerant, generous." Politically, the philosophy of Liberalism, having its roots in the Middle Ages and the Age of Enlightenment, generally considers individual liberty to be the most important political goal; and it favors reform and progress, free markets, free trade, gradual change, and government spending to assist lower classes in society.

  • Who among us does not find comfort in tradition?
  • Who is opposed to tolerance, reform, and progress?
  • Who wants big government, high taxes, and the erosion of individual liberties?
  • What is the purpose of society, absent any measures to help those less fortunate or able?
  • I know of many people who have strong feelings about when, where, why, and how our military is used; it is the right of all Americans to think about these fundamental decisions, and raise responsible questions about them. I don't know anybody who is not in favor of having a military strong enough to protect themselves, their property, and their way of life.
  • Since when has patriotism in these United States come to be defined as a blind, submissive, unquestioning acceptance of the decisions of a small cadre of powerful men?
  • Who among us would advocate acting recklessly, with a cavalier disregard for responsibility and consequences?
  • When did intelligence, experience, training, and an appropriate background cease to be job qualifications, and become reasons for derision?
  • Do you see yourself as generous, and willing to assist those in need? Which political party or philosophy claims sole custody of these virtues?
The fact is, most Americans are generous. We know the difference between assistance and enabling. We're hard-working, we're courageous when necessary, and cautious when it's appropriate. Our entire history, the core of how we define ourselves, and the one single characteristic that describes this nation best is the willingness to defend individual liberty and the right of self expression.

Yet, as I absorb the increasingly strident political discourse swirling around me, I hear shrill commentators on both sides trying to shout down the voices of moderation. They demonize those they disagree with, and reject compromise, demanding an intransigent adherence to the party line. I think we could be a better country if we were both more Conservative (in the sense of being careful) and more Liberal (broad-minded) about who we listen to.

The people who are (in my opinion) counterproductive, and even dangerous to listen to, are those who are painting clichéd charactertures of their opponents with careless strokes of a broad brush. They are shutting off dialogue, and belittling all who disagree.

I'm trying to resist these voices. I'm not trying to "stick it to" anybody. I think that's healthy. I think it's important to do, and it's important enough to write about. I'm grateful to Rich Starkins for his inspiration.


Henry's Web Log: October 26, 2008

October 26, 2008

Hippies On Wall Street

Hey, America! Have you been following the news about the bailout? You remember The Great Bailout of 2008, right? I hope you do, because you are going to pay for it. Unless you live in Washington and work on The Hill you know that $700 billion does not simply grow on a vine. It needs to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is going to be your personal finances.

But we had to do this, right? The reasons are all explained right here. To summarize, we had to rush a $700 billion package of goodies through Congress to stave off financial catastrophe.

Oh, a few curmudgeons like me pointed out that $700 billion is a lot of money, and wrote to our congress-puppets, advising them to resist the pressure, and to forbear from the furious rush.

We were ignored. Because, we were told, there was no time to lose. We didn't understand the gravity of the situation. Inaction risked calamity. Congress told us that they had to act now, and so they did.

And what is the result of this historic redistribution of your wealth? The bailout is now the hottest lobbying game in town. That's right! Our Congress now has $700 billion of your money laying around, and they can't figure out what to do with it! Everyone wants a piece! Insurers, auto companies, securities dealers, and U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies: they all want a piece of this money that was sold to us as a temporary loan to six specific banks to prop up their losses from bad bundled derivatives. But, golly gee, that money is still sitting in the bank. Well, not a real bank, of course, because if our bankers had $700 billion laying around, they wouldn't have had to come to Congress, tophats in hands, begging for a fill up.

But they did come begging, and Congress did approve a bill authorizing itself to turn over $700 billion of your money to them, it's been over three weeks now, and your honorable representatives are sitting around, scratching their collective...

...heads (let's not be rude, here) and trying to figure out what to do with your money.

Isn't it ironic?

Isn't it just plain great comedy? Are you laughing yet? I hope so, because Ben Bernanke is hinting the Congress needs another $150 billion bailout package.

Better hurry. Urge your puppet to pass it right away, because any delay might result in a financial catastrophe. I wonder how they'll use the... oh, heck, let's just round it up to a trillion dollars. Why not? I just hope they use your money responsibly, that's all.

Because, gosh, with something like a trillion dollars laying around, some Congress-puppets might be tempted to shuttle some of that money to their friends, instead of using it for the best interests of the country. But I'm sure they'd be in the minority, and you'd vote those bums right out.

Wouldn't you?

There are a lot of reasons why our currently-troubled financial markets are in the state they're in. I confess that I probably don't understand most of those reasons. Here are some things I do understand:

  • People bought property they couldn't afford.
  • Bankers, who were getting paid to know better, loaned money to those people.
  • These bad loans got bundled up with good loans and sold to people as Class A investments.
  • A lot of highly paid experts bought these bundles, not knowing what was in them.
  • You and I have to bail them out. And, here's the fun part:
  • These ostensible experts will keep their salaries, escape punishment, and they'll even get the annual bonuses that they've become accustomed to!
Here comes the ironic part.

One of the reasons that these markets were allowed to get to this point was the deregulation effort that started in the 1970s.

I've heard a lot about "the permissive sixties". In fact, I've just read a review of yet another book that decries the moral degeneration that the author asserts started then. He claims that people were more respectful toward each other until then. That might be true. If you were white. And male. And Christian. Lots of other people weren't feeling quite so well respected. For something like 200 years, from the end of the Civil War until the mid 1960s in the United States, our national bird wasn't the Bald Eagle. it was a crow, and his name was Jim.

Ah, but that part is glossed over, by the author, and by many other people, including many thoughtful, well-meaning people who describe themselves as Conservatives.

To be fair, an awful lot of self described Liberals have also been caught stealing and snorting and, to the dismay of their wives, engaging with interns in the Horizontal Bop. But Liberals haven't been running Wall Street, and you won't be paying to bail them out. The Titans of Wall Street were, and are, solidly Conservative.

Some of those Conservatives were proponents of the Deregulation Movement, and many of its architects were members of the Reagan administration. Conservatives, all. As (I'll boldly guess) were the heads of the banks and securities firms that you are now bailing out.

Yes, the same people who decried the loose morals of "those hippies and liberals" turned out to have some pretty loose morals themselves.

Just like all those hippies, they wanted to throw away the tired old rules; they told us that they were plenty old enough, and mature enough, to govern themselves and their lives without them.

Some -- not all, but some -- of your most powerful Conservative figures turned out to have the same lack of moral restraint that they have been lamenting the loss of, and ascribing to the rise of the Hippie movement. Lots of supposedly conservative business people did drugs in the cocaine-fueled Trading Eighties. Some of these arch-Conservatives have been discovered in compromising positions of free love. And now, other powerful Conservatives turned out to have had a looser grasp of money than any headbanded hippie high on hashish.

The Hippies of Wall Street.

Ironic, isn't it?


Henry's Web Log, October 23, 2008

October 23, 2008

Spreading The Wealth

It's interesting that Obama is taking heat from a deliberate misinterpretation of his desire to "spread the money around".

He's talking about helping the middle class. It seems to me that this is much more likely to save our country, and our way of life, than giving more breaks to those who are already rich.

As far as giving handouts to people who are too lazy to work for it, one might consider who wrote their own biography, McCain or Obama? Hint: it wasn't McCain. Both candidates worked hard their whole lives, I'll give them that, but I do think it's fair to say that McCain might have had a few more breaks than Obama. Now they're in the same place, seeking the same job. Which one of them got handouts, from birth? Which of them pulled themselves up by their bootstraps?

It seems to me that the candidate who did more to make his own way is more likely to try to create opportunities for other deserving people to do so.

It does not seem likely to me that Obama will turn America Communist. Or even Socialist. Or, at least, any more Socialist than Henry Paulson has already made it.

In fact, both candidates are talking about "spreading the wealth around". Where they differ is how they want to do it, not if they want to.

McCain still supports "trickle down economics". The middle class has been trickled upon for 25 years now, and the result has been the contraction of this strata of our society.

Obama wants to try to save the middle class. Potential voters might want to consider these points:

  • What is likely to happen to the middle class if McCain gets elected?
  • And Obama? The middle class is a core plank in his platform.
  • What will this country look like if the middle class is shrunk to the point of no return?
  • Or even to the point that it no longer has clout?
  • Who will have all the clout then?
  • How will they use it?
  • What will that ruling class do for you?
  • What will they do to you?
If you like this picture, vote for McCain.

If you think George Bush did a good job the past 8 years, vote for McCain.

If you think McCain will be sharply different, and better than Bush, then vote for McCain.

Change is scary. Obama is different. The path he proposes really does veer sharply away from the one that George Bush put us on. No one really knows how good or bad the terrain will be, or what the landscape will look like, if we really do take a new course. Uncharted territory is scary. And risky.

Maybe the course you're imagining looks riskier, to you, than the one we're presently on.

The way I see it, Bush started marching us toward hell, McCain wants to take the lead, and it looks as if Bush is going to hand the same old faded map, and the same broken compass, to McCain.

If you like the route, stay the course.

But, before you vote, please think hard about the middle class.

Obama is thinking about us.

Is McCain?


Henry's Web Log, October 21, 2008

October 21, 2008

YABB a-dabba doo

I'm back from Florida.

It's 6:05 AM and I'm at my desk in Trumbull, having quickly skimmed my mail for anything important, and the news, in case anyone has flown planes into any buildings. It's a bit early for that, but one never knows.

I remembered my " badge" this morning, and it still worked, so I'm in the building! It should have worked, but in these times, it's a good feeling when it does. Sort of like successfully getting through the puffer at the Palm Beach International Airport. I've never had to do that before. I stood still in an almost noiseless box, and then was suddenly "puffed" with a few short bursts of air. Then I waited. And waited. After a while I started wondering if I might be standing on a trap door, but I was eventually released, and I was free to fly!

So I've been cleared by The Authorities, my badge still works, and I'm all excited about the start of this new working day! Think of it. I get the chance to help out some poor hapless CEOs.

I hear that Bush and Bernanke want Yet Another Bailout Bill. YABB. We're accustomed to this now. Who's going to stop them? Dennis Kucinich?

I hear that he's directing his staff to begin contacting Wall Street firms who got bailout money. He's authorized his staffers to wag their fingers under the noses of any executives who are taking bonuses from it, and to speak very sternly to them.

I'm sure that'll work. Kucinich has raised $24,504,927 since he was first elected in 1996, and he's up for reelection this cycle. Historically, he's done noticeably less fundraising than average, compared to his colleagues, but the flow of cash to his campaign has really taken off in the last two years, soaring to about 1.75 times the median.

I'm not saying that's bad, but he's been a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee since 1998, and I haven't seen much oversight, and there's been even less reform. One might even suggest that there's been negative reform of Congress, and the entaties it's supposed to oversee and regulate, if you catch my drift.

Oh, did I mention that the Guardian of London reports that 10 PERCENT of the bailout will be spent on pay packages and bonuses for the top executives of the six major firms being bailed out?

Did you get that? Ten percent, 10%, fully 10 percent of the bailout money is going to go for salaries and bonuses to the already rich Wall Street top CEOs.

What'cha gonna do about it, Dennis?

What are you going to do about it, dear reader?

How about public financing of elections?

Socialism? Bad idea? Really? Do you have a better idea? Or do you like the system the way it is?

No, but you're too busy, or you don't know what to do? Maybe you should wait until you're a 98-year-old grandparent and then maybe there'll be time. Let me know how that works out, OK? I'm sure that things will be just fine until then.

Things were fine in Florida. In fact, they went unexpectedly well. Our flights were smooth and there were no delays. My mom was 90 years old on Sunday, and we celebrated it at the ACLF with cake and balloons and champagne for the residents and staff. She walked several miles a day up until about two years ago, but I think I have seen my mom ambulatory for the very last time.

My freeloading brother informed us all that he's voting for John McCain because, among other reasons, he believes in personal responsibility. We visited a cigar factory and watched the manufacturing process for a bit. If I ever come back, and have the time, I want to get a short lesson in cigar-rolling. I think it would be fun. I probably wouldn't want to do it for a living, but heck, it's always nice to have another skill. Connecticut is world-famous for its wrapper leaves. Ironically, the current owner informed me, Connecticut growers ship their leaves to Honduras and it's cheaper for a company based in the United States to buy their Connecticut wrappers from Central America than it is for them to get fresh leaves domestically. Former U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull once said: "When goods cross borders, armies don't." but I'm having almost as much trouble believing that the global trade system is working to my advantage as I am believing that the global financial system is.

I'm an omnivore, with generally diverse eating habits. My flexibility and sense of experimentation came to a screeching halt when I sat down in a booth in a Florida diner and saw dolphin on the menu. Blackened or broiled. Dolphins are way too high up on the intelligence chain for me to look at that offering without shuddering. The offering turned out to be dolphin fish, otherwise known as mahi-mahi which sounds a whole lot better than Pan Fried Flipper Flank.

So things worked out. My mom didn't give me too much grief. In fact, she seemed downright grateful, an unusual event that I plan to cherish. My brother didn't cause any trouble. The weather was perfect. I ate some great Cuban chicken and had the best double espresso of my life.

Now it's time to get to work, and start generating some taxable revenue in the hopes that someday, if I need a loan, some spinoff of The Slimy Six will loan my money back to me at a reasonable interest rate.

The election is in exactly two weeks. I plan to vote. Both candidates are promising change.

I'm not holding my breath.


Henry's Web Log, October 9, 2008

October 9, 2008

A Halloween Timeline

Inspired by Manny Durao. Thanks, Manny!
The dates below link to their respective sources.

September 7, 2008:
The Federal Housing Finance Agency places Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in conservatorship.

September 16, 2008:
The Federal Reserve agrees to a $85 billion bailout of American International Group.

September 18, 2008:
"Daniel Mudd, the retiring CEO of Fannie Mae, is leaving with a severance package of approximately $9.2 million. Richard Syron, the retiring CEO of Freddie Mac, is leaving with a severance package of approximately $14.9 million. It would appear that the federal government intends to honor these contracts."

October 6, 2008:
"The former top five Wall Street firms--Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearnes--paid their CEOs a combined $3.1 billion between 2003 and 2007, when the banks were buying up the assets that led three of them to implode."

October 7, 2008:
"Days after it got a federal bailout, American International Group Inc. spent $440,000 on a posh California retreat for its executives, complete with spa treatments, banquets and golf outings, according to lawmakers investigating the company's meltdown. AIG sent its executives to the coastal St. Regis resort south of Los Angeles, California, even as the company tapped into an $85 billion loan from the government it needed to stave off bankruptcy. The resort tab included $23,380 worth of spa treatments for AIG employees, according to invoices the resort turned over to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee."

October 8, 2008:
Three weeks after an $85 billion bailout, AIG is turning to the New York Fed for additional funding.
"The New York Federal Reserve is lending up to $37.8 billion to American International Group to give the troubled insurer access to much-needed cash. ... The new program, announced Wednesday, is on top of the $85 billion the federal government agreed to lend to AIG last month to prevent the global company from collapsing."


Did you ever read Benjamin Franklin's autobiography? Do you remember the story about how he heard some boys playing an instrument on a street corner? It sounded so good, and he wanted it so badly, that he gave them all the coins in his pocket for it. It turned out to be a pennywhistle; he had bought a used instrument for several times the price of a new one.

Franklin learned his lesson at age seven and he never forgot it. The CEOs on Wall street never learned it.

And you and I keep bailing them out.

Even as they are wining and dining and soaking their skins in high style, toasting their bailout, and thumbing their collective noses at you and me, we keep bailing them out.

As Halloween approaches, the Untouchable Titans of Wall Street demand candy, and more candy, in return for the hope that it will mitigate the effects of the tricks they've already played. Our ostensible "representatives" in Washington shovel it in; they fill the sacks of their puppet-masters with the contents of our wallets. They keep shoveling until their puppet-masters nod.

Then the titans on our porches face our doors and thumb their noses, illuminated by those lights that are still burning; they bare their teeth in ghastly grins, and move on to the next porch.

Halloween is coming.

Who's next?


Henry's Web Log: October 1, 2008

October 1, 2008

Please Hold The Line

Watching the bailout debates is like watching two surgeons standing over a patient, arguing about who's going to save him, when they haven't even picked up a scalpel.
Meanwhile, the patient is bleeding to death.

--Craig Smith

This is the text of a letter that I sent to my senators and to my representative today.

Please hold the line.

I am furious at having to bail out rich irresponsible investors in positions of authority for the third time in my working life.

I am not so angry that I am willing to cripple our economy for the sake of resentment or spite.

But I am angry enough to insist on the following:

  • Consequences,
  • Accountability,
  • Responsibility,
  • Transparency,
  • Results, and
  • Finality.
  1. The taxpayers who are going to fund this bailout must be protected.

    I speak as a taxpayer that you represent. I am sure that you don't expect my vote if if you don't protect my interests, both as a citizen with rights and as a citizen with responsibilities.

    I know that I will have to pitch in to help fix this mess. But, this time, I expect those who are primarily responsible to take their share of the consequences.

    1. I don't want to fund any golden parachutes for the principals who took these risks. They didn't offer me a soft landing; they are handing me a soft broom to clean up their mess with.
    2. I want them to forfeit their severance packages and their previous year's salaries. They should be required to put their own resources back into the pot. This bailout is going to cost me about XXX% of one year's base salary. These greedy characters, who could have made plenty of money by investing responsibly, chose instead to gamble. On what was nothing more than a fancy pyramid scheme. Let them make some serious restitution. They won't need to shop at Walmart to make ends meet any time soon.
    3. Their licenses to trade should be revoked for life. Their gross irresponsibility calls for this. I don't know of any person of normal intelligence who would buy a ten-pound box for one hundred dollars without knowing what was inside. If their actions differ from this analogy in any meaningful way, that difference escapes me.
  2. New rules must be put into place to govern the people whose irresponsible actions can affect my future, and that of my family, and even the world at large. An independent agency -- with teeth -- must be given the power to enforce these rules.
  3. Transparency. The taxpayers should have some insight into
    1. How the relevant companies are are doing: When will we see the profits that the government might expect to reap from a responsible bailout? We have a right to know what's happening with our money.
    2. How well are any companies under the auspices of the governing body complying? We would like a little warning if the reins are starting to slip again. I simply don't have the resources to catch another runaway horse. Neither do my neighbors.
I have one final condition, and I know that a lot of people share this viewpoint.

This is the last bailout.

The system, as it is currently structured and regulated, is not working. Fix it. That's what we sent you to Washington to do. Our financial strength affects our way of life almost as much as our military strength does. I believe in America, and I believe in free markets, but I also believe that you only get three strikes. Wall Street has taken their strikes and each and every one of your constituents is going to pay for this last one in some way.

Fix the system, change the system, or come home to Connecticut and give someone else a chance to represent my interests and protect my security and my way of life.

I vote. In every election. And I will not ever vote for or approve of another Wall Street bailout again.

And you do not have my support for this bailout bill unless it meets all of the conditions I've outlined above. I do not accept the position of: "Better a bad bill than no bill at all".

You're getting a lot of pressure to vote quickly. I want you to vote responsibly.

Get it right, or hold the line.

Thank you.


Henry's Web Log, September 25, 2008

September 25, 2008

These observations and opinions are mine, as are any factual errors.

Last night, President George W. Bush said that the current financial "situation is becoming more precarious by the day" and that "the market is not functioning properly, there is a widespread loss of confidence and major sectors of American industry are in danger of shutting down."

Wait. The market isn't functioning properly? George Bush said this?

Isn't the market supposed to always function well, unless impeded by government regulation? Now he wants to give your money to Wall Street, decrease regulation, bypass oversight, spend an estimated three quarters of a trillion dollars, cut taxes, increase our presence in Afghanistan, and continue his adventure in Iraq.

One week ago, both George Bush and John McCain were telling us that "the fundamentals of the economy are sound."

Do you remember that?

This morning, I heard that President Bush is calling McCain and Obama back to Washington, proclaiming that we have to rush this bailout through.

Now.

No time to waste. Barely time to think; we can't afford to hesitate, or there might be a financial meltdown.

While continuing to insist that free markets, unfettered and unregulated, will always recover.
With, of course, the occasional infusion of cash.

We must be "liberals" if we ask for oversight; regulation doesn't work, and government can't do anything as well as the private sector: this was the cadence he marched into office to.

Remember?

We must be "liberals" if we demand accountability. How dare we presume to attempt to limit the compensation of the executives who enabled this failure? Or Congress, who turned a blind eye to the warnings of people like (yes!) John McCain who, in 2005, was castigated for being "too liberal" when he supported tightening the screws on Fannie and Freddie?

We're being told that it's irresponsible to waste our time fiddling around with discussions about accountability, oversight, and transparency while the market burns for want of a gusher of fast cash.

We've got to act now.

We'll sort out the details later.

When have you heard Bush tell us this before?

Do you remember?


Henry's Web Log, August 17, 2008

August 17, 2008 A West Virginia Detour

A West Virginia Detour

Trust, but verify!

Renate and I were in a small town in rural Pennsylvania. We didn't need a map to know that; all we had to do was look at the breakfast specials chalked neatly in a feminine hand on the small green board outside of the restaurant we were standing in front of. That morning's specials included (and I am not making this up) "dried beef gravy on toast". Yum! Too bad we were already full. I'm sure that the special would have been part of a memorable breakfast that would probably have stayed with us, and been the subject of amusing comments, for some time.

But we were happily sated from the bountiful meal we'd recently enjoyed at the bed and breakfast we'd stumbled upon last night.

Yes, we did stumble upon this inn, courtesy of the Visitor's Center in State College, PA. We hadn't intended to be in State College. We were on the homeward leg of a 1,527 mile round trip between Morris Cove, CT and Beavercreek, Ohio. MapQuest estimated that we could drive the return leg of 713 miles in just under 12 hours. We'd left Ohio early Friday morning, we were feeling brave, and we figured that we could easily split the drive into 4 shifts of 3 hours each, alternating drivers each time. Even with a little traffic, and a few rest stops, we figured that we could make New Haven by late Friday evening. We'd have 2 leisurely days to catch up on our week's worth of accumulated mail, paperwork, and housework, before dropping into high gear at 4:00 on Monday morning.

We didn't hit much traffic. In fact, the only real traffic we encountered during the whole trip was between Stamford and Bridgeport, CT, when we were almost home. If you know Connecticut, that's no surprise. Perhaps we could have made it home on Friday night.

If we had followed the directions I'd carefully downloaded from MapQuest before we left.

But we didn't follow those directions, and instead, we discovered beautiful Bellefonte, PA. It has quite a history. It has been the home of 5 Pennsylvania governors, the man who established the Pennsylvania Normal School (teacher's college) System, and the founders of Penn State University. The town was established by Talleyrand, a man with a fascinating history himself.

The history of Bellefonte, and the whole surrounding area, is rich with many details that I'll be studying; it is a treasure trove of American history that I'd known nothing about before we ended up there. It was our luck to arrive during the first day of Bellefonte's annual 2-day arts festival. The town was packed with guests: notable ones such as Lance Armstrong, who was staying down the street, and plain old undistinguished travelers like Renate and me.

We found Bellefonte because I'd bought a brand new GPS, and I hadn't taken the time to learn how to fine-tune its route settings before we left. I compounded my neglect by adhering to its directions. It wanted to send us home to Connecticut via West Virginia.

It can be done. And West Virginia is beautiful. But we were driving a Toyota Prius, it had my fat bulk in the front seat, and it was one of the older models of Prius. It did not like the hills of West Virginia, I was starting not to like them myself, and the drivers behind us didn't seem to appreciate the struggle behind our modest pace.

We stopped at the first rest stop we could find in Pennsylvania after we crossed the narrow strip of West Virginia that I-70 took us through. We unfolded an actual paper map on a picnic table, found a few alternate routes, and consulted with an enthusiastic staff member inside. She helped us pick a good route. That alternative included taking Route 99 up to Route 80. I was a little hesitant, because the road seemed to get really small between Bald Eagle and Port Matilda. "Oh, don't worry about that," she assured us, "there's just a little construction going on. It drops down to one lane in each direction for a while, but you won't encounter any real delays."

That was not, in fact, an accurate statement. Route 99 drops down to no lanes in State College. It ends (for now, at least) and becomes Route 220. There is a sign for Route 220, but the Route 99 marker that is also on the sign had been covered over by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The decision makers at the PA DoT have a fine sense of humor! I'm afraid that we weren't able to fully appreciate it, because by this time, we were focused exclusively on our hunt for a bathroom.

We found one at the Visitor's Center, which had large signs that we were easily able to follow; they directed us right there. It didn't hurt that the Center is located directly across the street from the largest sports stadium in the country, which is not, in fact, named after a small woodland animal with a reputation for being industrious. It is actually named after one James A. Beaver. Go figure.

After we'd attended to our immediate needs, we agreed that we were tired and hungry, and decided that State College might be a good place to spend the night. The helpful folks at the Visitor's Center showed us a list of B&B facilities, we selected one, and with a single phone call we had a place to stay for the night. We greeted our hosts, dropped our bags, and walked down the street to Bellefonte's Arts Festival, where we satisfied our hunger with some excellent home-made crab cakes. Thus sated, we strolled through the festival, and had an unexpectedly good time.

After a night's sleep, a hearty breakfast, and a long chat with our host, we took another lap around the arts fest. It hadn't gotten any bigger overnight, so we visited the library and local museum, took one more swing through town, and found ourselves standing in front of a little mom and pop restaurant, contemplating the concept of dried beef gravy on toast.

We agreed that some things are not worth contemplating very long, so we headed back to the car, for an easy and uneventful drive home.

It was a good trip, and I was certainly surprised to find out that Renate's father was a great undiscovered comedian. Well, I hope he was kidding. Renate and I walked into her parents' house one day during the week, at a time when they had been watching a men's swimming event. Unfortunately, it had been interrupted by a news bulletin. It appeared at that time as if Russia was going to invade all of Georgia, and the announcer was interviewing a guest who was speculating about the possibility that this might be the beginning of a larger conflict, with Russia planning to retake the bulk of the old Soviet era countries. I commented that this sounded pretty serious. Renate's dad, in his thick German accent, growled: "Why did zey have to do dis during ze Olympics!"

It's nice to meet a man who knows his priorities, but my mind immediately put this exchange into the context of a British comedy skit, and I decided that one would not have to change a line of dialog, the slant of his scowl, or a single move of his body language to draw a perfect caricature. The man is a genius! It's too bad that the producers of Fawlty Towers didn't discover him years ago; he could have been rich and famous!

Alas, he is merely old, semi-infirm, and chronically cranky. I'm glad that I'm not old or infirm!

We were able to do our annual stint of elder-care for "The Parental Units" without their breaking any bones, a vast improvement over last year's performance. We worked in a little bit of shopping to help keep us (and the parents) amused.

I now know how to tune our little Garmin, and how to simulate a route before we take it, so that we'll know what to expect. But maybe we'll go somewhere else sometime, and not tune the Garmin, because we certainly stumbled into a better situation than I could have planned, by following the capricious whims of chance, poor planning, and mindless electronics.

We're already planning to stay at Judge Walker's Bed and Breakfast again; perhaps we'll be able to enjoy next year's spectacular Central PA Festival of the Arts instead of Bellefonte's admirable, but somewhat limited, emulation of the same.

If we do, we'll probably avoid West Virginia, but I'm going to make it a point to find out who made those crab cakes in Bellefonte, and seek them out again!


Henry's Web LogJuly 6, 2008

July 6, 2008
A Trip to the DMV: A Lament in Two Parts [Part 2 of 2]

Many of you have helpfully contributed your own DMV anecdotes -- the story of my experience seemed to have touched a nerve -- so here is the conclusion of this little episode.

I found the title.

Did I mention that the title to my car was not in the file folder I'd expected it to be in? Probably not, since I hadn't had a chance to look for it when I'd written my original missive about this subject.

I tore through a bunch of places where it should have been. No luck. There were only two places left where it could be, in The Dread Basement, or in my safe deposit box.

I got up really early on Thursday morning, popped down a bare minimum of breakfast, and went tremblingly into The Basement.

There's a lot you don't want to know about my basement, so I'll skip all that. One thing it does contain is a large collection of translucent plastic bins with snap-close lids that contain years of old records, paperwork, memorabilia and, frankly, utter rubbish.

It was time to take that last dreadful step, and paw through the past, bin by dusty bin. I found a lot of junk. I found that I need to rent an industrial-sized shredder. I found titles to long vanished vehicles: the Geo, the Civic, the Sentra. Heck, I still had paperwork for my 1968 Mustang that I had when I was a teenager! Why do I save this crap? And why can't I find the title to the car I currently own?

Well, I finally did find it. There it was, in a folder that had not been gazed upon (to judge by the dust) since the last of the Jacobites were defeated. In a folder with maintenance receipts and all of the previous registrations for my Forester was the title. Finally!

I even got out of the house in time to get to the DMV at 8:00, when they opened!

This was not a good idea. Well, it might have been a good idea, but it certainly was not a unique one. Everybody and their brother were there. They were lined up, out the door, and stretched out halfway down the grass trip in front of the facility. I later talked with someone who drives past the DMV every morning, and he confirmed that this is a daily occurrence. He says that there is a lull around 10:30 AM. I can confirm this, because I was there at 10:30.

In fact, getting this mess cleaned up took

  • Eight (8) hours
  • Three (3) trips to the DMV
  • One trip to the tax office
  • One trip to an emissions testing station, and
  • $297.50
I had an old tax bill for $8.63 that I did not know about. The city of New Haven charged me 50% interest, plus penalties and fees. I'll bet that even the Mafia doesn't charge 50% interest!

Two people, one at the DMV at the time, and one to whom I was relating this incident to the next day, were denied registrations until they paid the ONE PENNY they owed in taxes! The second person took her bill with her; it was stamped "PAID". "Where," she inquired, "did this one cent charge come from, since the bill is clearly marked paid?" They didn't know, and they didn't care. Their computer said that she owed one penny and she wasn't getting her registration renewed until it was paid.

She paid it. She got a receipt. And this happened for THREE subsequent renewals. That's right, she paid that one lonely unrecognized penny four times, in addition to paying her original bill.

I am considering a theory that both the tax office and the DMV are staffed, not with humans, but by evil half-beings from Hell on work release, sent above to augment their torture quotas with corporate beings. I think it could be New Haven's (and Connecticut's) way of saving money (you probably don't need health benefits in Hell, for instance; it's not as if the goal is to make you feel better) and the current round of budget cuts seems, at first glance, to support this theory.

Oh, and starting August First, New Haven is taking a cue from Boston. They've got scanners mounted to roving city vehicles that will cruise streets and parking lots. If your plate shows up in their computers as being expired, or if their system thinks that you owe tax money of any kind, they will put a boot on your car, and it's not moving until you pay up or straighten it out. What could possibly go wrong?

I stood in line at the DMV for over an hour only to be told that I could not get a number that would allow me to stand in a functional line until I'd paid my tax bill -- in cash -- and presented the DMV clerk with the official tax release with the official seal of the official tax office embossed upon it.

Off to the tax office. Quick drive, long wait, deed done, receipt in hand, I headed back to the DMV with all my paperwork in hand.

No dice.

I needed new plates. They could not renew my old plates because they'd expired. I tried logic; they were impervious. Even though I had both plates, and even though they were both in excellent condition, they were expired, and that was that.

But I couldn't get new plates without getting the car's emissions system checked by one of the 200 approved emissions testing stations in New Haven. And I couldn't do that, because I didn't have temporary plates on the car. So I had to apply for those, and that meant more waiting in line at the DMV.

I finally got my temporary plates, tossed them on the seat next to me, and drove out to an emissions testing station that I figured would be able to squeeze me in. I was right; the guy could, and did. He was very friendly, and I learned all I'd ever want to know about "plate swapping", "ghost testing" and other nifty ways people used to use to rig emissions tests. To prevent this, the testing bays of all 200 of those stations are now on candid camera. I waved at the camera, cheerfully and enthusiastically. I probably should have used all of my fingers, now that I think about it, but I wasn't really in a waving mood at the time, so I gambled that they wouldn't run the tape until I already had my plates; they probably wouldn't be able to associate my tags with either my thrusting, gesturing right hand or my manically grinning face.

I felt better, so I headed back to the DMV. I spent several hours on line, but I finally got my new plates. They insist that I have to return the old ones. In person. I cannot even send the old tags back by registered mail.

So the deed is done. I have driven since I was 16, and I've never had a bad experience at a DMV before. I certainly look more respectable now than I did back then, and I was polite and courteous, and way more patient than I would have been at 16.

But something has changed (at least from my perspective) at the DMV.

Every single one of those staffers seemed to be just exactly as rude as they could be without getting their Brownie Points yanked; it appeared to be deliberate, calculated rudeness. They were patronizing, and every single one of them seemed to need to get a little lecture in, on Remembering to Engage in Responsible Behavior. They treated me as if I was a criminal, trying somehow to scam The Almighty System.

All I wanted to do was keep my car on the road. I was not trying to scam The System for $8.63.

I took my cane with me, and I used it. I sat, every chance I could get. I leaned on the posts supporting the ribbons that guide the lines, at every opportunity. By the time I emerged, triumphant, from the DMV with my plates in my hand it was eight hours later, almost to the minute.

My foot was absolutely throbbing. But they did not succeed in humiliating me or making me feel demeaned.

Tomorrow morning I will be back at work, bright and early, with some absolutely great folks.

Tomorrow morning, they will return to their little rat holes above ground at the DMV and they will have to spend all day working with each other.

They got my leg, but they didn't get my soul, so I hope they had a nice weekend with their Satanic Master.

They deserve everything they got.

Oh, and I was lucky; I got off easy.

  • I didn't get a ticket, which could have affected my insurance rates.
  • I didn't get a fine.
  • I didn't have to pay a towing fee.
  • I didn't have to get home, or try to do all that maneuvering, without my car.
  • I didn't have to pay an impound fee.
  • And, it was only after I wrote my first note, that I remembered one of the errands I was doing when I'd gotten pulled over on Tuesday night. I was buying liquid refreshments for The Big Annual Party, which was on Thursday night. Yep. I had a trunk full of beer and wine. Well -- hardly full! -- but still... I have strong doubts that the stuff would have lasted even one night in an impound lot.
So, all and all, I was pretty lucky. Now, all I have to do is make one more trip to the DMV, to return the old plates, so they don't have an excuse to drag me back into fighting their system again.

I think I'll pick a day and try to go around 10:30 AM.

I'll have my plates; and my car is now properly registered, inspected, and insured.

What could possibly go wrong?


Henry's Web Log: July 2, 2008

July 2, 2008
A Trip to the DMV: A Lament in Two Parts [Part 1 of 2]

What will Henry be doing tomorrow?

I'm taking the day off tomorrow. Is Henry going to be partying down and getting loose? Not at all. I will be dealing with the DMV.

Ah, the Department of Motor Vehicles! The butt of so many jokes. I've been driving since I was 16 and, contrary to all the humor, I have never found them to be anything but fast, efficient, courteous, helpful, and polite.

Until yesterday.

I happened to be driving downtown yesterday, right through the center of New Haven. Suddenly there was a "whoop, whoop" sound behind me, and there were flashing lights in my rearview mirror. I pulled over to let the cop pass me, but she pulled behind me and parked instead. I was being pulled over.

For what? I've never had so much as a speeding ticket in my life! OK, I've surely deserved to be cited for speeding, but not now! How could anyone possibly speed in downtown New Haven? I rolled down my window and waited for the officer to approach my car.

When she did, I asked politely: "Officer, have I done something wrong?" "Yes," she replied, "you're driving an unregistered vehicle." Unregistered? "I'm sorry," I said, "I must not have gotten the notice. I must have missed a bill." "No," she countered, "this car has never been registered." By now a bicycle cop had pulled up, clearly having nothing better to do.

"I'm sorry," I responded, "but there must be some kind of mix-up. I bought this car 9 years ago. New. From the dealer. I've pasted several of those little metallic renewal stickers on my license plate, my emissions inspections are up to date, my insurance is current, and my taxes are paid. The car has been registered; I must have missed a renewal notice."

"No," she said, firmly, "if you had failed to renew your registration, our system would say 'Canceled'. If you'd had a violation it would have said 'Revoked'. This vehicle has never been registered. Step out of the car, please."

I was in a little bit of a bind. I had my driver's license with me. I had the insurance card. And I had a registration certificate. Unfortunately, that certificate was (for some reason) for my daughter's car. I could not, in fact, produce a valid registration certificate for my car!

I don't know whether she called a supervisor, or if he was listening on his radio, but he pulled up as she was explaining that my car would have to be towed, because she could not permit an unregistered vehicle to be operated on a public street.

Now, New Haven has had 5 shootings in the last few weeks. They have robberies and drugs and all kinds of serious crime in the city (one of the reasons I don't live there) and we're about to have 3 police officers dedicating themselves to a frickin' motor vehicle violation! The third officer strode confidently up to the scene.

He walked right past the female officer (who should have been wearing her cover if she was outside of her vehicle) and the bicycle cop (who looked like an absolute clown in his dorky little bicycle helmet) and said to me: "Henry! What's going on here?"

Yeah, I know a lot of NHPD officers. I socialize with a couple of them, I spar regularly with more of them, and I shoot better than most of them. I suppose I'm bragging, but it really is true. The NHPD does not have a range of their own. They have privileges at a range in Guilford; I'm a member of that same range, and I've competed with police officers for years. I've never seen this lady at the range. Which is not surprising because New Haven police officers are only required to have two hours of practice logged at a range per year! Yep. Two hours. Per year. And they're walking around with a 9mm Glock strapped around their waists. Are you scared yet? You should be. I have seen a veteran cop empty his clip at a target that was 20 feet away, and he did not hit THE TARGET ITSELF with one single round! Honest. Clearly that guy was not one of New Haven's Finest, the jury was still out on the cop who'd pulled me over, I was (and I hope I was hiding it well) simply not able to take the dorky little bicycle cop seriously, but XXXX XXXXXXXX is a pure gem. He is everything a cop at their absolute finest should be. I'm proud to say that I even know this guy.

And, yesterday, I was grateful, too.

He had a very long chat with the officer who'd pulled me over, while the bicycle cop hovered around them like a mosquito at a picnic. I did not hear a word of that conversation. And XXXX didn't say another word to me, either. But when their little chat was finished, the officer who'd pulled me over was studiously polite. She told me that my car was not going to be towed, that I was being given a written warning (that I was to show to the officer if I got pulled over again) and that I really should get to the DMV as soon as possible to straighten this out.

So I will be spending my morning at the DMV tomorrow, trying to find out why the city of New Haven has no record of my 9 year old car having ever been registered, despite the fact that they've been inspecting it, and taxing me, for years.

And despite the fact that I was just at the DMV 3 weeks ago! Yes, the doctor gave me paperwork for a temporary Handicapped Parking placard, and I'd picked up the embarrassing thing about three weeks ago. I had to present my paperwork at that time, and they never said a word about the car that they were issuing the permit for not being registered!

That's really weird.

And it is totally my fault that I cannot seem to find my registration anywhere. I have no idea how an old copy of a registration for my daughter's car ended up in my car, but she does not have mine. So I guess I'll be spending my morning tomorrow straightening this whole mess out.

I've got to say, this is really embarrassing. And it's probably going to cost me some money to resolve. But I sure am glad that my car didn't get towed. And I guess I'm finally starting to understand why people make so many jokes about the DMV.


Henry's Web Log: June 8, 2008

June 8, 2008
A Sudden Storm

This past Sunday was hot and bright and cloudless. With a nice 10- to 20-mph wind, it was a perfect day for sailing. Of course, my boat is not in the water yet. But normally Larry might have asked me to crew for the Morning, his big, fast trimaran.

And that's where I would have been if I wasn't still on crutches.

It was one of the first sailing days of the season after the big boats went in, we were all anxious to sail, and Larry knew that I was as itchy as anyone.

Instead, I found myself shopping for shelving at Target. The Skywarn folks that I do radio communications for were broadcasting a severe thunderstorm warning for Sunday afternoon, but there was no hint or sign of any bad weather; it looked like a perfect day. "Sheesh," I thought, "some folks will fly into a tizzy at the first hint of a raindrop."

I looked at the sky. There was still not a cloud in sight. The weather forecasters were only calling for a 40% chance of rain, so we decided to leave the windows and skylights open, and we headed off to Target.

The sky was black when we finally got out of the store, and big fat raindrops were starting to smack the parking lot.

For once, Renate drove quickly (for her) home. She ran in and closed up while I took in what I could carry. Having secured the house, she lugged in the rest of the stuff.

We got upstairs, and we were soon happily surrounded by opened boxes and bits of shelving and hardware. As the rain pounded our skylights and the wind started making trees and electrical wires sway we congratulated ourselves on our excellent timing, and high-fived each other, saying: "Some 40% that is out there!"

And then the real storm hit.

This wasn't just a severe thunderstorm, it was a violent one.

It blew in quick and hard, seemingly out of nowhere. One minute Frank and Larry were trimming out the Morning, taking advantage of the 18-mph winds and open water outside of Branford Point. Suddenly there were clouds on the horizon. And lightning. And the storm was moving toward them, fast.

They are both very experienced sailors, but within minutes the Morning was overpowered by 50-mph winds and torrential rain.

Oh, and did I mention the lightning?

It struck all around them, but it missed the Morning, with its big aluminum mast. A rescue boat was able to get out to them after the worst of it had passed, and the Morning was towed back to New Haven. Frank was treated for hypothermia and released; Larry didn't even need to go to the hospital.

And Henry, who sometimes fills in for Frank or crews in addition to him, was safe and dry, assembling shelving and enjoying the storm through the skylights, totally unaware of what was happening out on the water.

Frank and Larry were very lucky. Further north, at Hammonasset, the beach-goers scurried for shelter, surprised by the sudden storm. A group of them crowded under a pavilion, which was subsequently struck by lightning. Five people were injured, including a 12-year old boy. One of them, a 23-year old man from West Haven, was killed.

I suppose I'll pay a little more attention weather reports now, even if they only call for a 40% chance of rain.

-----

Larry has this to say about the current status of the Morning: "The boat appears to be structurally sound, but the mast broke, and some rigging was destroyed, as well as all the stuff aboard susceptible to water damage, which is pretty much everything, to greater and lesser degrees."

-----

Oh, yeah. The bit about me on crutches above? I ripped the Achilles tendon off of my left heel while boxing, on April 4. Do you know what happens when you rip the Achilles tendon off of your heel? Well, I will tell you that it grabs your attention. In fact, it focuses all of your attention on that part of your body.

And the side effect of this is that you drop your hands. What happens when we drop our hands, boys and girls? Right. Boom, boom, out go the lights.

I had to be helped up, and led off the floor. I said to my partner: "Hey, cool!" He gave me a worried look. "No, really," I continued, "the floor! It's heaving and swaying, just like the ocean! I'm walking on water! Hey! I can walk on water!" Yup. Mild concussion.

So I ended up in the hospital (with some delay, due to a mis-diagnosis) and the timing was such that I got released from the hospital on my birthday. Yes, really. I've never had a better birthday present.

Someday, when I get around to it, I'll fill you in about what the recovery from an injury like that is like.


Henry's Web Log, October 15, 2007

October 15, 2007
The Party Encounter

I went to a party yesterday, where a friend was showing slides of her trip to Germany, and holding a mini Oktoberfest. Yes, she is German. (And she'd visited 41 relatives in 16 days.)

It was quite the trip, and she had hundreds of slides to prove it. We could wander from room to room; there was no need to sit and watch hours of slides. I was actually pretty interested, though "slides from our vacation" is a stereotypical party killer.

But, besides the slides, there was going to be lots of good food, including prodigious quantities of grilled meats. Heck, I could put up with some slides.

In fact, there were many people there that I knew from other circles; I knew way more attendees than I thought I would.

Most of my ah... encounters... there were pleasant, but one was downright surreal.

I walked into the house. I greeted my host. "Hey," she said, after the hugs and some introductions, "why don't you ditch your jacket? Just toss it on the bed; the bedroom is down the hall and to your left." I started through the doorway, when...

Wham!

There was another party-goer, coming from the other direction. Turning sharply left, this guest (who hadn't seen me coming) slammed lightly into my body. And there we were.

Face to face. Nose to nose. Practically lips to lips...

...an old girlfriend, whom I hadn't seen in at least 10 years.

I didn't have a clue that she even knew my host.

It hadn't been a pleasant parting. This wasn't a happy reunion. And I wasn't exactly thrilled about being introduced to her husband, the man whom she'd decided she liked better than me, and whom she'd only seen fit to mention several weeks after that decision.

Well, I'm happier now than I was then. I'm glad that he won her heart.

I'm glad that I didn't, because when we ended up nose to nose, my only thought--before I even recognized her, or at least before it sank in--was: "Oh, ICK!"

That, I suppose, is some kind of a revenge.

We toasted no toasts to days gone by, and the men didn't duke it out or engage in any one-upmanship games. He'd won his prize. And me? I was there with someone way nicer, and when I went home, I washed my face and brushed my teeth.


Henry's Web Log, September 29, 2007

September 29, 2007
It had to happen!

It had to happen then. Of course it did.

I recently turned 50. There is a particular test that males are strongly encouraged to take at this time. Yeah, that test: the Roto-Rooter Test.

I put it off for as long as I could, in good conscience, considering my family history.

Friday was The Day.

But wait. One has to make certain, uh, preparations... the day before the test. Those preparations involve drinking two doses of a solution that tastes like liquefied anchovies and acts like Draino.

I took the first dose at noon.

And, shortly after that, is when my water heater blew its seals and turned my basement into Niagara Falls!

This isn't the first time that it did that, either: it's happened before. There were about 30 people in my house and yard that time. This time, it was just me.

Folks, this is not the time to be stuck in a house with no running water.

I headed down to the basement with the determination of a dying man grasping his last chance to escape damnation.

I got it zoned off, turned the main valves back on (yeah, there are 2, don't ask, OK?) and had water in the third floor bathroom again.

Bliss!

Well, comparative bliss. It's always helpful to get a lesson in perspective now and again, I guess.

I didn't get much sleep that night. The doctor said: "Oh, you'll be done by midnight if you start at noon."

The doctor lied.

So, it was finally Friday morning, and my friend Sue showed up to take me to the doctor's. "Do you think we should take the back way?" she asked. "Naahhh," I replied, "the highway looks clear." It did, too. It started looking less and less clear. Finally, we thought to turn on the radio. Accident. All lanes shut down. We ended up taking the back way after all.

Alls well that ends well. I survived the test. I found a wonderful new plumber, and I'm keeping him! He was there when he said he would be. He was polite and courteous. He installed the new water heater, and is warrantying it for 7 years. He took the old one away. He cleaned up after himself. And his shirt tail stays in his pants.

I've got a brand new 40 gallon Low Boy. The Evil Water Heater is gone, never to traumatize me or my household again.

The biopsy came back clean.

And I don't have to take that test again for another 5 to 7 years.


Henry's Web Log, September 13, 2007

September 13, 2007

An Automotive Haiku

Last night, so sweet, my
check engine light finally went off.
Alas, just a dream!


Henry's Web Log, July 30, 2007

July 30, 2007

The doctrine of the radical Muslim terrorists, laid out for all to see.

This was posted by someone, whose name might be Dave Topper, on May 17, 2007. Click here for the original post. The text is copied here, in case that link expires.

I have always said that 9/11 had reason, and I have stated that Israel was that reason.

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,

"Permission to fight (against disbelievers) is given to those (believers) who are fought against, because they have been wronged and surely, Allah is Able to give them (believers) victory" [Quran 22:39]

"Those who believe, fight in the Cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Taghut (anything worshipped other than Allah e.g. Satan). So fight you against the friends of Satan; ever feeble is indeed the plot of Satan."[Quran 4:76]

Some American writers have published articles under the title 'On what basis are we fighting?' These articles have generated a number of responses, some of which adhered to the truth and were based on Islamic Law, and others which have not. Here we wanted to outline the truth - as an explanation and warning - hoping for Allah's reward, seeking success and support from Him.

While seeking Allah's help, we form our reply based on two questions directed at the Americans:

(Q1) Why are we fighting and opposing you? Q2)What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?

As for the first question: Why are we fighting and opposing you? The answer is very simple:

(1) Because you attacked us and continue to attack us.

a) You attacked us in Palestine:

(i) Palestine, which has sunk under military occupation for more than 80 years. The British handed over Palestine, with your help and your support, to the Jews, who have occupied it for more than 50 years; years overflowing with oppression, tyranny, crimes, killing, expulsion, destruction and devastation. The creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals. And of course there is no need to explain and prove the degree of American support for Israel. The creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased. Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its*price, and pay for it heavily.

(ii) It brings us both laughter and tears to see that you have not yet tired of repeating your fabricated lies that the Jews have a historical right to Palestine, as it was promised to them in the Torah. Anyone who disputes with them on this alleged fact is accused of anti-semitism. This is one of the most fallacious, widely-circulated fabrications in history. The people of Palestine are pure Arabs and original Semites. It is the Muslims who are the inheritors of Moses (peace be upon him) and the inheritors of the real Torah that has not been changed. Muslims believe in all of the Prophets, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all. If the followers of Moses have been promised a right to Palestine in the Torah, then the Muslims are the most worthy nation of this.

When the Muslims conquered Palestine and drove out the Romans, Palestine and Jerusalem returned to Islaam, the religion of all the Prophets peace be upon them. Therefore, the call to a historical right to Palestine cannot be raised against the Islamic Ummah that believes in all the Prophets of Allah (peace and blessings be upon them) - and we make no distinction between them.

(iii) The blood pouring out of Palestine must be equally revenged. You must know that the Palestinians do not cry alone; their women are not widowed alone; their sons are not orphaned alone.

(b) You attacked us in Somalia; you supported the Russian atrocities against us in Chechnya, the Indian oppression against us in Kashmir, and the Jewish aggression against us in Lebanon.

(c) Under your supervision, consent and orders, the governments of our countries which act as your agents, attack us on a daily basis;

(i) These governments prevent our people from establishing the Islamic Shariah, using violence and lies to do so.

(ii) These governments give us a taste of humiliation, and places us in a large prison of fear and subdual.

(iii) These governments steal our Ummah's wealth and sell them to you at a paltry price.

(iv) These governments have surrendered to the Jews, and handed them most of Palestine, acknowledging the existence of their state over the dismembered limbs of their own people.

(v) The removal of these governments is an obligation upon us, and a necessary step to free the Ummah, to make the Shariah the supreme law and to regain Palestine. And our fight against these governments is not separate from out fight against you.

(d) You steal our wealth and oil at paltry prices because of you international influence and military threats. This theft is indeed the biggest theft ever witnessed by mankind in the history of the world.

(e) Your forces occupy our countries; you spread your military bases throughout them; you corrupt our lands, and you besiege our sanctities, to protect the security of the Jews and to ensure the continuity of your pillage of our treasures.

(f) You have starved the Muslims of Iraq, where children die every day. It is a wonder that more than 1.5 million Iraqi children have died as a result of your sanctions, and you did not show concern. Yet when 3000 of your people died, the entire world rises and has not yet sat down.

(g) You have supported the Jews in their idea that Jerusalem is their eternal capital, and agreed to move your embassy there. With your help and under your protection, the Israelis are planning to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque. Under the protection of your weapons, Sharon entered the Al-Aqsa mosque, to pollute it as a preparation to capture and destroy it.

(2) These tragedies and calamities are only a few examples of your oppression and aggression against us. It is commanded by our religion and intellect that the oppressed have a right to return the aggression. Do not await anything from us but Jihad, resistance and revenge. Is it in any way rational to expect that after America has attacked us for more than half a century, that we will then leave her to live in security and peace?!!

(3) You may then dispute that all the above does not justify aggression against civilians, for crimes they did not commit and offenses in which they did not partake:

(a) This argument contradicts your continuous repetition that America is the land of freedom, and its leaders in this world. Therefore, the American people are the ones who choose their government by way of their own free will; a choice which stems from their agreement to its policies. Thus the American people have chosen, consented to, and affirmed their support for the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the occupation and usurpation of their land, and its continuous killing, torture, punishment and expulsion of the Palestinians. The American people have the ability and choice to refuse the policies of their Government and even to change it if they want.

(b) The American people are the ones who pay the taxes which fund the planes that bomb us in Afghanistan, the tanks that strike and destroy our homes in Palestine, the armies which occupy our lands in the Arabian Gulf, and the fleets which ensure the blockade of Iraq. These tax dollars are given to Israel for it to continue to attack us and penetrate our lands. So the American people are the ones who fund the attacks against us, and they are the ones who oversee the expenditure of these monies in the way they wish, through their elected candidates.

(c) Also the American army is part of the American people. It is this very same people who are shamelessly helping the Jews fight against us.

(d) The American people are the ones who employ both their men and their women in the American Forces which attack us.

(e) This is why the American people cannot be not innocent of all the crimes committed by the Americans and Jews against us.

(f) Allah, the Almighty, legislated the permission and the option to take revenge. Thus, if we are attacked, then we have the right to attack back. Whoever has destroyed our villages and towns, then we have the right to destroy their villages and towns. Whoever has stolen our wealth, then we have the right to destroy their economy. And whoever has killed our civilians, then we have the right to kill theirs.

The American Government and press still refuses to answer the question:

Why did they attack us in New York and Washington?

If Sharon is a man of peace in the eyes of Bush, then we are also men of peace!!! America does not understand the language of manners and principles, so we are addressing it using the language it understands.

(Q2) As for the second question that we want to answer: What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?

(1) The first thing that we are calling you to is Islam.

(a) The religion of the Unification of God; of freedom from associating partners with Him, and rejection of this; of complete love of Him, the Exalted; of complete submission to His Laws; and of the discarding of all the opinions, orders, theories and religions which contradict with the religion He sent down to His Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Islam is the religion of all the prophets, and makes no distinction between them - peace be upon them all.

It is to this religion that we call you; the seal of all the previous religions. It is the religion of Unification of God, sincerity, the best of manners, righteousness, mercy, honour, purity, and piety. It is the religion of showing kindness to others, establishing justice between them, granting them their rights, and defending the oppressed and the persecuted. It is the religion of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil with the hand, tongue and heart. It is the religion of Jihad in the way of Allah so that Allah's Word and religion reign Supreme. And it is the religion of unity and agreement on the obedience to Allah, and total equality between all people, without regarding their colour, sex, or language.

(b) It is the religion whose book - the Quran - will remained preserved and unchanged, after the other Divine books and messages have been changed. The Quran is the miracle until the Day of Judgment. Allah has challenged anyone to bring a book like the Quran or even ten verses like it.

(2) The second thing we call you to, is to stop your oppression, lies, immorality and debauchery that has spread among you.

(a) We call you to be a people of manners, principles, honour, and purity; to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling's, and trading with interest.

We call you to all of this that you may be freed from that which you have become caught up in; that you may be freed from the deceptive lies that you are a great nation, that your leaders spread amongst you to conceal from you the despicable state to which you have reached.

(b) It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind:

(i) You are the nation who, rather than ruling by the Shariah of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, choose to invent your own laws as you will and desire. You separate religion from your policies, contradicting the pure nature which affirms Absolute Authority to the Lord and your Creator. You flee from the embarrassing question posed to you: How is it possible for Allah the Almighty to create His creation, grant them power over all the creatures and land, grant them all the amenities of life, and then deny them that which they are most in need of: knowledge of the laws which govern their lives?

(ii) You are the nation that permits Usury, which has been forbidden by all the religions. Yet you build your economy and investments on Usury. As a result of this, in all its different forms and guises, the Jews have taken control of your economy, through which they have then taken control of your media, and now control all aspects of your life making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense; precisely what Benjamin Franklin warned you against.

[ Not even remotely true. See this article ]

(iii) You are a nation that permits the production, trading and usage of intoxicants. You also permit drugs, and only forbid the trade of them, even though your nation is the largest consumer of them.

(iv) You are a nation that permits acts of immorality, and you consider them to be pillars of personal freedom. You have continued to sink down this abyss from level to level until incest has spread amongst you, in the face of which neither your sense of honour nor your laws object.

Who can forget your President Clinton's immoral acts committed in the official Oval office? After that you did not even bring him to account, other than that he 'made a mistake', after which everything passed with no punishment. Is there a worse kind of event for which your name will go down in history and remembered by nations?

(v) You are a nation that permits gambling in its all forms. The companies practice this as well, resulting in the investments becoming active and the criminals becoming rich.

(vi) You are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools calling upon customers to purchase them. You use women to serve passengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women.

(vii) You are a nation that practices the trade of sex in all its forms, directly and indirectly. Giant corporations and establishments are established on this, under the name of art, entertainment, tourism and freedom, and other deceptive names you attribute to it.

(viii) And because of all this, you have been described in history as a nation that spreads diseases that were unknown to man in the past. Go ahead and boast to the nations of man, that you brought them AIDS as a Satanic American Invention.

(xi) You have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and*industries.

(x) Your law is the law of the rich and wealthy people, who hold sway in their political parties, and fund their election campaigns with their gifts. Behind them stand the Jews, who control your policies, media and economy.

(xi) That which you are singled out for in the history of mankind, is that you have used your force to destroy mankind more than any other nation in history; not to defend principles and values, but to hasten to secure your interests and profits. You who dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan, even though Japan was ready to negotiate an end to the war. How many acts of oppression, tyranny and injustice have you carried out, O callers to freedom?

(xii) Let us not forget one of your major characteristics: your duality in both manners and values; your hypocrisy in manners and principles. All*manners, principles and values have two scales: one for you and one for the others.

(a)The freedom and democracy that you call to is for yourselves and for white race only; as for the rest of the world, you impose upon them your monstrous, destructive policies and Governments, which you call the 'American friends'. Yet you prevent them from establishing democracies. When the Islamic party in Algeria wanted to practice democracy and they won the election, you unleashed your agents in the Algerian army onto them, and to attack them with tanks and guns, to imprison them and torture them - a new lesson from the 'American book of democracy'!!!

(b)Your policy on prohibiting and forcibly removing weapons of mass destruction to ensure world peace: it only applies to those countries which you do not permit to possess such weapons. As for the countries you consent to, such as Israel, then they are allowed to keep and use such weapons to defend their security. Anyone else who you suspect might be manufacturing or keeping these kinds of weapons, you call them criminals and you take military action against them.

(c)You are the last ones to respect the resolutions and policies of International Law, yet you claim to want to selectively punish anyone else who does the same. Israel has for more than 50 years been pushing UN resolutions and rules against the wall with the full support of America.

(d)As for the war criminals which you censure and form criminal courts for - you shamelessly ask that your own are granted immunity!! However, history will not forget the war crimes that you committed against the Muslims and the rest of the world; those you have killed in Japan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon and Iraq will remain a shame that you will never be able to escape. It will suffice to remind you of your latest war crimes in Afghanistan, in which densely populated innocent civilian villages were destroyed, bombs were dropped on mosques causing the roof of the mosque to come crashing down on the heads of the Muslims praying inside. You are the ones who broke the agreement with the Mujahideen when they left Qunduz, bombing them in Jangi fort, and killing more than 1,000 of your prisoners through suffocation and thirst. Allah alone knows how many people have died by torture at the hands of you and your agents. Your planes remain in the Afghan skies, looking for anyone remotely suspicious.

(e)You have claimed to be the vanguards of Human Rights, and your Ministry of Foreign affairs issues annual reports containing statistics of those countries that violate any Human Rights. However, all these things vanished when the Mujahideen hit you, and you then implemented the methods of the same documented governments that you used to curse. In America, you captured thousands the Muslims and Arabs, took them into custody with neither reason, court trial, nor even disclosing their names. You issued newer, harsher laws.

What happens in Guatanamo is a historical embarrassment to America and its values, and it screams into your faces - you hypocrites, "What is the value of your signature on any agreement or treaty?"

(3) What we call you to thirdly is to take an honest stance with yourselves - and I doubt you will do so - to discover that you are a nation without principles or manners, and that the values and principles to you are something which you merely demand from others, not that which you yourself must adhere to.

(4) We also advise you to stop supporting Israel, and to end your support of the Indians in Kashmir, the Russians against the Chechens and to also cease supporting the Manila Government against the Muslims in Southern Philippines.

(5) We also advise you to pack your luggage and get out of our lands. We desire for your goodness, guidance, and righteousness, so do not force us to send you back as cargo in coffins.

(6) Sixthly, we call upon you to end your support of the corrupt leaders in our countries. Do not interfere in our politics and method of education. Leave us alone, or else expect us in New York and Washington.

(7) We also call you to deal with us and interact with us on the basis of mutual interests and benefits, rather than the policies of sub dual, theft and occupation, and not to continue your policy of supporting the Jews because this will result in more disasters for you.

If you fail to respond to all these conditions, then prepare for fight with the Islamic Nation. The Nation of Monotheism, that puts complete trust on Allah and fears none other than Him. The Nation which is addressed by its Quran with the words: "Do you fear them? Allah has more right that you should fear Him if you are believers. Fight against them so that Allah will punish them by your hands and disgrace them and give you victory over them and heal the breasts of believing people. And remove the anger of their (believers') hearts. Allah accepts the repentance of whom He wills. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise." [Quran9:13-1]

The Nation of honour and respect:

"But honour, power and glory belong to Allah, and to His Messenger (Muhammad- peace be upon him) and to the believers." [Quran 63:8]

"So do not become weak (against your enemy), nor be sad, and you will be*superior ( in victory )if you are indeed (true) believers" [Quran 3:139]

The Nation of Martyrdom; the Nation that desires death more than you desire life:

"Think not of those who are killed in the way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are alive with their Lord, and they are being provided for. They rejoice in what Allah has bestowed upon them from His bounty and rejoice for the sake of those who have not yet joined them, but are left behind (not yet martyred) that on them no fear shall come, nor shall they grieve. They rejoice in a grace and a bounty from Allah, and that Allah will not waste the reward of the believers." [Quran 3:169-171]

The Nation of victory and success that Allah has promised:

"It is He Who has sent His Messenger (Muhammad peace be upon him) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam), to make it victorious over all other religions even though the Polytheists hate it." [Quran 61:9]

"Allah has decreed that 'Verily it is I and My Messengers who shall be victorious.' Verily Allah is All-Powerful, All-Mighty." [Quran 58:21]

The Islamic Nation that was able to dismiss and destroy the previous evil Empires like yourself; the Nation that rejects your attacks, wishes to remove your evils, and is prepared to fight you. You are well aware that the Islamic Nation, from the very core of its soul, despises your haughtiness and arrogance.

If the Americans refuse to listen to our advice and the goodness, guidance and righteousness that we call them to, then be aware that you will lose this Crusade Bush began, just like the other previous Crusades in which you were humiliated by the hands of the Mujahideen, fleeing to your home in great silence and disgrace. If the Americans do not respond, then their fate will be that of the Soviets who fled from Afghanistan to deal with their military defeat, political breakup, ideological downfall, and economic bankruptcy.

This is our message to the Americans, as an answer to theirs. Do they now know why we fight them and over which form of ignorance, by the permission of Allah, we shall be victorious?

Of course, Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the Slaughter of September, was more focused upon getting United States forces and other personnel out of Saudi Arabia than he was upon Israel. But what of Mr. Topper?

Interestingly enough, Mr. Topper claims, as one of his strengths, "The ability to accept all people". No kidding; he really does. Based upon his positions above, I can only conclude that the does not consider non-Muslims "people". He also says that the one thing he'd like to see is: "For those people that can't to at least teach their kids acceptance".

I don't know what kind of "acceptance" Mr. Topper has in mind, but I sure hope he isn't teaching his brand of "acceptance" to his own kids.

I imagine that Mr. Topper probably does represent the viewpoint of the radical Muslim community. I think I'll take a pass on their version of the perfect Islamic state, thanks. If I recall correctly, that is what Afghanistan was supposed to have been. And if I've been informed correctly, it looked an awful lot like the Stone Age when we got there.

Also, although Western music was banned, the jeeps of some of the Imams were discovered with collections of Western pop music in their cabs and in the players. Mr. Topper might want to notice that his "laws of Allah" don't seem to be imposed equally upon everybody, and consider how all that "Islamic equality" might be distributed in his case.

I'm not saying that his religious leaders are worse than any other brand, but he might want to think about who he's following when they tell him to espouse mass murder and embrace suicide, if their own level of commitment is so pitifully low.

Finally, if all that murdering he thinks we are doing is so horrific to him, how is it that he supports any further acts of murder, no matter who is committing them? He may as well booze it up, with a hand of cards in one fist and his arm around a floozy. That'll really show us not to drink, gamble, and fornicate!

Of course, he'd answer that his Holy Book tells him that the murder is OK, because it is done in the name of Allah, while my other little examples are merely vices. The thing is, if someone was pointing a gun at my head, I really wouldn't care what Book they'd been reading.

Mr. Topper declaims grandly, with courageous words, but if a gun was pointed directly at his head, I don't think he'd care, either.


Henry's Web Log, June 14, 2007

June 14, 2007 Futility and The Titanic

Yesterday I visited the Mystic Marinelife Aquarium and was startled to discover the following facts while viewing their exhibit about The History of the Titanic.

In 1889, 23 years before the Titanic's ill-fated passage in April of 1912, the book "Futility" was written by the English author Morgan Robertson. It was a fictional account of the largest ship in the world, and her maiden voyage across the Atlantic in the month of April. The ship, which was going too fast, collided with an iceberg and sank, killing most of the people aboard.

Here are some similarities between Robertson's fictional work and the real sinking of the Titanic:
R.M.S. Titanic Fictional Ship
Flag British British
Nickname Virtually Unsinkable Unsinkable
Ship's owners British British
Ship's owners' Headquarters Liverpool Liverpool
Ship's owners' U.S.office location New York New York
Nationality of principal stock owners American American
Itinerary England to New York New York to England
Overall Length 882 feet 800 feet
Displacement 66,000 tons 70,000 tons
Gross Tonnage 46,328 tons 45,000 tons
Propellers 3 3
Maximum speed 23 - 24 knots 24 knots
Collision speed 22.5 knots 24 knots
Horsepower 46,000 40,000
Watertight Compartments 16 19
Watertight Doors 12 92
Total capacity (fully loaded) 3,547 people 3,000 people
Passengers (on board) 2,435 2,000
Crew (on board) 892 1,000
Deaths 1,523 2,987
Departure date April April
Lifeboats 20 24
First warning of danger Iceberg Right Ahead Ice, ice ahead, iceberg right under the bow
Side of ship hit by iceberg Starboard Starboard
Time of collision 11:40 P.M. Near midnight
Location of collision The North Atlantic, a few hundered miles off the U.S. coast The North Atlantic, a few hundered miles off the U.S. coast

The name of this fictitious ship was...

The Titan.


Henry's Web Log: March 2, 2007

May 2, 2007

Today In History

On this date in 1833, Czar Nicholas banned the public sale of serfs.

On this date in 1999 I worked my first full day as an employee of AT&T, having been sold, along with my colleagues and the rest of my division, by IBM to AT&T as part of the breakup of the old Advantis Corporation.

Five years and 10 days later I was laid off by AT&T, along with 4,700 other people, and the job market was really tight for a full year.

Methinks that progress is a good thing, but serfs had more job security.

I'm just sayin'...


Henry's Web Log: January 3, 2007

January 3, 2007

Happy New Year

The French started out by protesting it, waving banners reading: "No to 2007" and "Now is better!", though presumably in French. I'm glad that their sense of humor is still intact. We'll all need a sense of humor in 2007 or, if you prefer, 2005 v.2.0.

I began the year by being on call and misunderstood. My friend Sue who knew that I was on call telephoned me this past Saturday and said that she and Eric had "a little [Christmas] something" for me. I thanked her, but reminded her that I couldn't come over during that weekend because I was "under house arrest".

I was, of course, joking. That's what being on call sometimes feels like, though I like having the feeling of responsibility, trust, and being needed. But it can be a CLM to be more than 15 minutes away from a computer. After a week of that, it gets old.

What was depressing is the fact that Sue took it literally, believed that I might do something justifying house arrest, and asked: "So what did you do?" My life is not that exciting, folks, nor do I want it to be. I would think that a more appropriate response might be: "Feeling a little confined, are we? We'll come over and liven things up!" or even a "What? Not you!" if she didn't get the joke. Once again I'm reminded that other people do not necessarily see me as I see myself, nor as I'd like them to see me.

Yesterday, the second day of the year, started on a more positive note when I was able to start my car without needing to use a fire extinguisher.

I drove to work yesterday and, when I pulled into the parking garage, I thought: "Wow. It really smells like smoke in here!" until I got out of the car. No smoke smell. Back in the car. Smells strongly like smoke. Back out. Sniff. Only a trace.

This is probably not a good thing. 'Cause I've got to start the car again sometime. I've got the kind of power steering that makes it almost impossible to turn the wheel without the engine running, and completely impossible with the steering locked. To unlock it you have to activate the electrical system. It would take two turns to get my car out of the garage and I have all-wheel drive, so a standard tow truck wouldn't do; I'd need a flatbed. Which would mean inconveniencing a lot of people.

Or, I could just fire the thing up in a crowded garage packed with cars, underneath a medical building, and see what happened. This, of course, was the option that I chose.

I got my co-workers Ron and Chandra to stand by with two fire extinguishers that I'd temporarily liberated, and rolled out on the bottom shelf of a cart, where they would be unlikely to attract attention that might result in embarrassing questions. I'd expected them to be amused, and they were, but I preferred their wisecracks to not having extinguishers if I needed them.

We got downstairs; I popped the hood, they positioned themselves, and I fired that mother up. Not a bit of smoke. We believe that it was the old plastic bag stuck to the catalytic converter syndrome. I don't know how either of them managed to refrain from screaming: "Omigod, Henry! Shut it off!" just to liven tings up a bit, but they did refrain, and I appreciate their help and their self-restraint.

Continuing with the good news, I have reconnected with my oldest childhood friend. Sorry, Fern. You haven't been bumped, just nudged a bit; you're still my oldest continuous childhood friend. That's because, on the first day of first grade, before we even reached the front door of the elementary school, I did something really cruel to Leslie, the girl next door whom I've known since we were 3 or 4 years old. I have regretted my cowardice and my disregard for her ever since.

Well, little kids are cruel, and maybe 4 decades is a little long to carry a regret, but I have been ashamed of myself. So I was shocked to get a "Do you remember me?" e-mail from the increasingly annoying classmates.com and it was from Leslie who, for good reason, I'd never expected to hear from again.

I wrote back and said up front that I had an abject apology for her, and I was glad for this opportunity, if she would accept it. She quickly responded with curiosity, saying that she didn't remember any such incident! In fact, she said, she remembers being cruel to me, and denying that we had ever been friends, in front of a group of fellow classmates.

Well, I didn't remember that incident any more than she'd remembered what was so vivid in my mind. And, of course, it's not a time in life when boy/girl friendships come easily. I've been a geek all my life; it would have been social suicide for her to admit that we'd been friends.

Now that we understood each other, and had accepted each others' apologies, we were able to move on. What an unexpected gift, particularly after all these years!

Sometimes life can unexpectedly throw jewels in one's path, and this is one of them!

Another one is the aforementioned Fern, whom I haven't seen in years, and who dropped by Connecticut last week for a nice little visit. Wow! It must be the season to reconnect with old friends! So, Virgil, where are you?

It's a great way to start a new year. If you haven't made any resolutions yet, this resolution generator should be able to give you a hand.

Happy New Year! I wish you health, peace, prosperity, and jewels in your path.

P.S.
A total of two people believed me when I said that I was "under house arrest" and one person replied: "Oh, I knew that you weren't, really. If you'd done anything to warrent house arrest you'd have told us all about it a dozen times by now!"

It's nice to have friends that know you. Sometimes.


Henry's Web Log, November 27, 2006

November 27, 2006

VCR Madness

A better title might be VCR Weirdness, but this situation is so odd, so statistically improbable, that I wondered if I was not going mad.

The whole thing started a couple of months go. Someone loaned me a tape, I put it in the VCR, and it got stuck. OK, that happens. This one was particularly difficult to extricate, but my son volunteered to do it. Nice guy, but he lives in Rhode Island and I live in Connecticut. We were having trouble getting together.

A few weeks went by.

Renate and I took off for a weekend in PA. When we got back we found the tape successfully extracted, and laying in front of the VCR. The only people who have keys to the house are him, and my next door neighbor. He was in Rhode Island that weekend, and it is doubtful that he knew that we were gone, so it's unlikely to be a practical joke.

My neighbor is not likely to come into the house while no one is home and do something like this. Both my son and neighbor insist that they did not remove the tape, I believe them, and circumstances seem to support their assertions.

What my neighbor did do was give me a VCR that she'd had around the house; it was known good, but she was planning to get rid of it anyway, in favor of a newer integrated system she now had.

A few weeks went by.

The VCR sat on the kitchen table and, when it did not install itself, I moved it into the living room. In the meantime, we bought a nice new stereo cabinet. This past Saturday was the day I was going to get rid of that big old desk in the living room and replace it with a cabinet designed for components like mine.

For those who do not know me, I am capable of being methodical. Very methodical. This was one of those times.

Even though I am the one who set up the system in the first place, I labeled both ends of every cable. I got around to tinning the end of every speaker wire and soldering lugs on them. But finally, when the job was done, and done right, it was time to reassemble. The items to be unified into one grand working whole were:

  • One stereo cabinet
  • One 15-amp power strip (this will become important soon)
  • One 27" Zenith T.V.
  • One DVD player
  • One Fischer stereo
  • One junction box
  • Six speakers
  • And a known good VCR, the old one.
Easy, right?

Remove components, move old desk out of the way. Check.
Dust. Check.
Wire up the junction box. Check.
Move new cabinet into place. Check.
Install components. Check.
Carefully connect all wires. Check.
Plug power strip into wall outlet. Check.
Plug T.V. into power strip. Check.
Plug DVD player into power strip. Check.
Plug VCR into power strip. Crack!
Out go the lights. There is a bright flash at the power strip, a loud pop, and the circuit breaker blows.

Wow. Do we have a bad VCR or a bad power strip?

Well, luckily, I have another known good VCR, and it's handy! How cool is that? Maybe there was more wrong with my old unit than I thought? This sure is odd, though. Why didn't it blow a breaker when it was still plugged in? Perhaps a shorted wire that was fine as long as it did not move at all? Doubtful.

Well, there'll be time to think about that later. Let's get set up with some new components, shall we?

I went down to the basement, reset the breaker, removed the old power strip, and replaced it with a new one. The socket where I'd tried to plug in the VCR was charred, and the neutral prong of the VCR plug had a corner melted off of it. Not bad. I've seen a lot worse back in the days when I was doing repair for a living. We used to draw straws after a lightning storm. The tech who drew the short straw had to work on the microcomputer or peripheral that had taken a hit. Those were some flashes and some melted metal to see. This should be a piece of cake.

I now have a new power strip, and a known good replacement VCR. Everything else seemed fine. What could possibly go wrong?
Plug new power strip into wall outlet. Check.
Plug T.V. into power strip. Check.
Plug DVD player into power strip. Check.
Plug VCR into power strip. Crack!
Out go the lights. There is a bright flash at the power strip, a loud pop, and the circuit breaker blows.

Again.

The sockets are charred in pretty much the same way (actually, the second strip is noticeably more charred than the first) and the plugs are melted almost exactly the same amount in the same place.

What are the chances that I have two bad VCRs or two bad power strips? Or a coincidental combination of the two?

The wall socket is good.
These items all together are nowhere close to 15 amps.
Everything was powered off when I plugged it in.
The T.V. is not "instant on"; it was not pulling power while off.

Now do you see why I called this entry VCR Madness?

Do you have an answer? If so, please save my sanity and send me some mail.


Henry's Web Log, November 26, 2006

November 26, 2006

Entry Level Jobs

Here are some of the things I have done to earn money:

  1. Driven a taxi.
  2. Been a security guard. Three times.
  3. Shoveled cow manure into piles for fertilizer.
  4. Washed dishes for a living in 3 different countries.
  5. Picked fruit.
  6. Tended bar.
  7. Telemarketer. (That didn't last long.)
  8. Flipped a million burgers, and cleaned the nasty, nasty kitchen and broilers afterward.
  9. Cared for chickens. Makes shoveling cow manure seem clean.
  10. Read books on tape for the blind.
  11. Worked in a library, shelving books.
  12. Worked at a bookbinder's.
  13. Worked in a school store.
  14. Worked on an assembly line at a gun factory, making rifles and shotguns.
  15. Driven trucks up to 10-wheelers, plus backhoes, forklifts and cranes.
  16. Dug ditches.
  17. Done roofing.
  18. Been a night watchman. Different than security guard.
  19. I've done landscaping, twice. Really just manual labor, shovel work with another name. Not creative, and I didn't make any plants grow.
  20. Been an assistant naturalist at a Nature Center.
  21. Typed papers for money for other students.
  22. Helped build stone walls.
  23. Helped do sheetrocking.
  24. Been an assistant instructor at a rifle range.
  25. Loaded trucks.
That's all before I started doing this.

What interesting jobs have you held?


Henry's Web Log, October 29, 2006

October 29, 2006

The Timex Math Lesson

HISTORY:
Timex. The company is frustrating but I love their watches.

Particularly my Timex DataLink. I've owned one since (literally) several days after they were first introduced. This will be my 4th one since 1994. I've been perfectly happy with my current one, but it finally died. I went on a long and frustrating search for a new one, and finally ended up calling Timex today because their web site is down. Let me say that Timex Customer Service ranks right down there with the "service" you get from telephone companies. We pick up the story in its current phase, including only today's incidents. They are illustrative of the larger history and experience.


I finally got a new watch. I went to timex.com and their site is still down. They did post the customer service number. I copied it down, and called it. Whoops! It got the Indianapolis Section 8 Housing Emergency Services Department. Really! Try dialing 800-418-4639 instead of 448 and hear for yourself!

Well, after that little goof, I found out that the watch I wanted is not a new model; it is an old model that has been discontinued. No more in the warehouse. I tried a few Timex stores, including Shelton (close) and Waterbury (home of the Timex Museum, and as good a guess as any). No dice.

OK, I head to the local mall. There were no other customers, and there was a young lady behind the counter.

Her: Can I help you?
Me: Ignoring the temptation to say: "MAY I help you?" I responded instead: "Yes, I need a new watch, please."
Her: What kind?
Me: (Removing my watch ad handing it to her) This one.
Her: It says "low battery". You need a new battery.
Me: We replaced the battery on Saturday. I need a new watch.
Her: I wasn't here on Saturday.
Me: The manager changed it. I wasn't being literal.
Her: (Giving me a strange look and picking up the phone) Mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble.
Her: (To me) Do you want to get it replaced?
Me: No, the battery was replaced 3 days ago.
Her: You said you wanted to send the watch away for replacement.
Me: No, I said I wanted to get a new watch.
Her: (To me) [Insert dirty look here]
Her: (To phone) Mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble. Click.
Her: (To me) Why don't you go to the case and pick out a new watch?
Me: I want this one.
Her: We don't have those.
Me: (Walking to case, and pointing to the watch) Sure you do. Here's one.
Her: That one has a different band.
Me: Can you please take the band off my watch and put it on this one?
Her: (Moving to the next case) Here's one with that band.
Me: That's not the same watch.
Her: It's the same thing; it just doesn't go with a computer.
Me: I want a watch that connects to a computer. That's what I have. Can't you please swap the band from this watch (extending it) with that one (pointing to an identical watch in the case)?
Her: [Tries to think of a reason why not. Appears to fail. Slowly opens case and gets watch.]
Me: It's 30% off and comes with a free lifetime battery replacement coupon, right?
Her: The watch is 30% off. The free battery coupon is $7.00.
Me: Fine. I'll take it.

At this point she starts trying to disassemble the band. I notice that the cash register's display reads $102.77. I hope it is from the previous sale. She gets the new watch's band off. With a struggle. She gets my old watch's band off. With a struggle. She attempts to put the old band on the new watch.

Her: This band doesn't fit.
Me: It's the exact same watch.

She works at it for a long time, finally succeeding in replacing the band. I cheer inwardly for her, hoping that this will be an accomplishment that she can remember.

Her: Do you want to try it on?
Me: (Putting on watch) It fits perfectly. Thank you.
Her: That's $102.77.
Me: No, it's $74.20.
Her: (Points silently at register display.)
Me: You didn't enter the 30% discount, did you?
Her: Well, I scanned it in, and that's what the register says.
Me: Right. The watch is $90.00, right?
Her: (Nods yes.)
Me: Well, whatever the register says, that can't be the right price if it's on sale, can it?
Her: (Picking up phone) Mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble. (She appears to be getting an affirmative answer. She hangs up.) They're on sale, but my manager isn't here and I can't do that.
Me: Can you void the sale?
Her: [Insert blank look here]
Me: Can you cancel the sale?

Apparently she can, because she does so, with what appears to be one keystroke. Once again the register display is welcoming me to The Timex Store.

"OK," I say, "This is really easy. Ten percent of $90.00 is $9.00, right?" She nods, but I think it looks tentative. "OK, three nines are 27, and 27 from 90 is 63, right?" She is staring at me, wordlessly. "I got the battery coupon and 63 + 7 is 70, a nice round number, OK?" Dead silence. Fixed stare. "Tax in CT is 6%. Seven sixes are 42. We move the decimal place over, because the tax is 6%, not 60%. Ha, ha, 60% tax would be really bad, right?" My attempt at lightening things up appears to be failing. She seems frozen. "So it's easy," I conclude, "70 + 4.20 is 74.20! See?"

At this point (I am not kidding) she backs away from the counter as if I am a dangerous lunatic.

"Really," I reassure her, "it really is." I point to the big calculator on the counter. "Try it."

She just stares at me. I keep my jolly face on and point reassuringly toward the calculator. "C'mon," I say, "I'll walk you through it."

She stays frozen for a little while longer, then slowly reaches for the calculator with a look that clearly says: "If you humor the madman, maybe he won't kill you. Maybe you'll get out of this alive." She doesn't look convinced of that, either. I wonder if she has pushed a silent alarm, but she's touched the calculator, and I walk her through it. To her credit, she types very quickly.

She comes up with $74.16. I'll take it. I smile at her. "See?"

She rings up my sale, puts my old watch in a bag (I never took off the new one when I tried out the band) and hands it to me.

Me: What about the disk and the cable?
Her: You just get the watch.
Me: I just bought a brand new watch!

She goes to the display case. No cable, no CD, there. She goes through every drawer twice. She can't seem to find the watch's box. I silently point to the box that the watch had been leaning against in the display case. She looks surprised, then grabs the box for my watch. She keeps a poker face, and registers no surprise when the cable, CD, and instruction booklet are all there. Just like a new watch!

I follow her to the counter, and remind her that I want the free battery coupon. She grabs one from a stack and starts to fill it out. "What's your name?" she asks me. I'm prepared for this. I keep a large-print card in a sleeve in my wallet with nothing but my name, address, and phone number on it. It makes things simpler all around. You wouldn't believe how hard it is for people to get my name right.

She fills out the coupon and hands it to me. To her credit, I think I even see a little flourish in how she hands it over.

"There you go," she says as she hands the coupon over, "you're all set!"

"My wallet."

[Blank stare.]

I point to my wallet. "Can I have my wallet back, please?"

"Oh."

She hands over my wallet.

I leave with my watch.

On my way back through the food court I grab some cheap Chinese and head back to the office. Upon returning, I finish lunch and read my fortune.

    "Sudden love takes the longest time to be cured."
Yeah, today was a day for revelations, for sure!


Henry's Web Log: July 10, 2006

July 10, 2006

My T.V. Show

I spent a frustrating 45 minutes today working my way through the customer service maze of a large technology firm.

I sincerely believe that they are using the phrase customer service in the same way that the horse breeding industry uses the word service.

But (ever eager to be productive) while I was on the phone slowly being serviced, I worked (handled) some problem tickets of my own, revised a spreadsheet, answered a bunch of e-mail... and came up with an idea for a new T.V. show, all at the same time. How many of you devised a T.V. show today?

My working title for the show is Customer Support Clowns. It will work something like this:

  • The show runs weekly, for a half an hour. After the commercials, this translates to something like eighteen and a half minutes, the same length of time as the famous gap in the Nixon Watergate tape 342.
  • People would call customer service centers and record their conversations. Dramatizations of the best calls, with visuals added, would be reenacted, with the footage being shot in your very own home or office. The most frustrating (i.e., amusing) exchanges would get broadcast on television.
  • In the penultimate segment the audience would get to guess whether that company's support team members would turn out to be heroes or clowns.
  • After the last commercial, the segment would culminate, revealing if the caller's issue was resolved and, if so, how.
  • Perhaps you could even call your guesses in to a call center, or enter them from a web site. There would be one winner chosen at random every week from the pool of correct guesses.
  • From the audience's standpoint, serious bonus points would be accrued if the network's own call center was featured, or if their web site went down.
  • Of course, sometimes the caller is a clown. Having done some tech support, I can attest that this is a very frequent occurrence. We could throw a few of these segments in every season for comic relief.
  • Sometimes the support staff are heroes, and the highlighted companies' stock might even go up after they were featured on my T.V. show.
  • And the rest of the time? Perhaps the targeted companies' executives will be so red-faced that they will change their ways.
Of course, I think it's more likely that they'll just fire some low-level dweeb and insist that the incident was an anomaly.

What do you think?

Do I have a hit or would it flop?

Click here to send me your feedback. The best answers might get published here. The decisions to publish or not, and/or to edit or not for things like brevity and effect are mine alone, and are totally subjective, just like the rest of my opinions. :-) By clicking on the mail link above you agree to that. Hey, wait a second...! :-)


Henry's Web Log: July 4, 2006

July 4, 2006
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

It was that time again, July 4th, time to celebrate our hard-won and -defended independence.

Every year, I hold a July 4th party. This year was no exception, but it certainly was different! Note for context: I live in a quiet, desirable neighborhood, where crime is still fairly unusual. If you're not familiar with the particulars of my annual party, I submit that some of the following might make more sense if you click on this year's party link above, and read the details.

  • This year, there were two large busts of illegal fireworks in my neighborhood. This made me concerned that the local illegal fireworks show would not happen as planned.

  • I worked from home on Friday, and I guess it was good that I did, because I suddenly heard a loud rattling sound coming from upstairs. I dashed up. Some persistent birds had managed to break through the chicken wire I had put over the attic vents to prevent them from making nests in there, and they had pushed a sturdy branch between a pair of vents and the spinning fan blade. Downstairs I went, but the sound stopped while I was in the basement, and about to throw the fan breaker. Back upstairs to the third floor. The fan was still running. Good, it broke the stick and didn't burn out the motor, right? Nope. Some time later the fan shut off, and it hasn't been back since, though the attic is quite hot. Well, I had work to do, and a party in a few hours. This was no time to worry about the fan. And it was too late to do anything about the dishwasher.

  • The dishwasher had broken during a week-long visit from Renate's parents and sister Jutta. It had been on its way out for a long time, so this was no surprise, and with so many people helping, it wasn't much trouble, either. We shopped carefully, and found a store that promised to deliver our new one on Thursday, the scheduled date of the party this year.

  • But they didn't. No delivery on Friday, either. We finally got the washer on Saturday. I felt like a sinner: using paper plates and plasticware. It sure made clean up easier, though. Sorry, Mom!

  • The West Haven fireworks were washed out on Thursday night. Perfect! The party would not be on a week night, although the variable weather had us in doubt about Friday right up to almost the time of the party.

  • But the party happened, people showed up, and Sue and Nancy came early, to help set up. We got a good crowd. People were eating and laughing and talking and mingling.

  • So many people were happily munching that Renate decided that we needed another table outside, so she went into the basement to see if she could find something to use. Downstairs she went...

  • And it was at that exact time that a valve on the water heater decided to break. Renate, uncharacteristically, screamed my name. I called out for someone to watch the grill, and leapt inside, and downstairs. I immediately shut off the main water supply to the house. We didn't have too much of a flood, but if no one had been downstairs at the exact right time... Ever see a water heater's holding tank empty its guts? I have, and I can tell you that the cleanup is not fun.

  • Marc found the valve that led to the water heater, shut it off, and I was able to send water back into the house.

  • Unfortunately, not all of the house. We had no hot water, no running water in the kitchen sink, and no showers or baths for 3 days. Luckily, we still had a lot of paper plates and plasicware.

  • West Haven put on a nice fireworks show, but there were no fireworks from our neighbors on Friday night.

  • They had their show and competition on their customary date of July 3rd. Until the neighbors started calling the cops. As much as I love fireworks, and as much as I like having my own personal show that I can watch from a folding chair in my driveway, I have to agree with the disgruntled neighbors. Their yards were getting ruined. And, even though I live across the street, I brought out a couple of fire extinguishers, dragged the hose to the front of the house, and turned on the main valve. If you feel that you have to do that, perhaps you are a little too close to the action. So, after about 20 or 30 minutes, the fireworks from both houses abruptly stopped, without the usual grand finale from either. The theory in the neighborhood was that A Phone Call had been made, because no police showed up.

  • Well, not for the fireworks, anyway. I went to bed earlier than this, but one of my neighbors said that sometime between 11:00 and midnight, the people from one "fireworks house" marched noisily down the street, heading for the park at the end of it. "All right," she thought, "the show is going to resume, and in a more appropriate place!" She headed down to the park to watch.

  • OK, there were fireworks, but of an entirely different kind than she had expected. The energetic (and, by this time, well-fueled-up) young lads had headed to the park for a grand and merry brawl in front of the sea wall! I'm told that the punchfest ended when they heard sirens approaching, and that the party broke up then.
We had a very relaxing 4 days off, the water heater was fixed by 10:00 on Monday morning, and I have a call in to an appliance guy who will hopefully fix the fan and the stove.

Oh, yeah, the stove. One of its 4 burners has decided to go on strike.

How was your Fourth of July?


Henry's Web Log: May 4, 2006

May 4, 2006

A Evening With Garrison Keillor

I may be the only person you know who was actually invited to appear on A Prairie Home Companion. I have it in writing.

It happened like this.

I'm a big APHC fan, have been for years.

Garrison Keillor was scheduled to come to CT for a live performance (solo, not the show) and I got tickets. Unfortunately, the show was scheduled for September 14, 2001.

Obviously, he wasn't flying anywhere. And I was in New York by this time, and very, very busy...

The show was rescheduled, and I went. Pictures are here.

The show was great! He was very, very funny. It was also packed, sold out and then some, I believe: SRO and spilling out into the lobby. The fire marshal finally got the people out of the aisles, at least. It was that crowded.

Garrison agreed to autograph books after the show. The line was very long. Mr. Keillor graciously asked that all children and their parents be moved to the head of the line, so the kids could get to bed because (in the rescheduled show) the next day was a school day.

So I was waiting for a long time. Somebody came up with the bright idea of anding out Post-It Notes. So ushers walked around with little yellow pads they'd gotten somewhere, and handed out sheets. You were supposed to save time by writing exactly what you wanted Mr. Keillor to inscribe in your book. He'd read it, write it, scribble his signature, and you'd move on, expeditiously.

A great idea, if you don't take into account one minor detail. Oh, no, a writing implement was not the problem; I usually have one with me. I wrote my own note, passed the pen around, and moved along with the line.

When I got there, I presented my note and the book, and darn if he didn't sign it.

So, what could the hitch possibly be? This question is only applicable to those who know me.

...

That's right...

...nobody bothered to check our notes before we handed them to Mr. Keillor! And he wrote on the flyleaf of my book exactly what I had written on my Post-It Note.

So I am now the proud owner of a book that says, in Mr. Keillor's own handwriting, and signed by him: "Henry, please come be my guest on A Prairie Home Companion."

Don't cringe! I have no reason to ever take him up on it; the coup was enough for me. And, I still have the book.


Henry's Web Log: May 6, 2006

May 6, 2006 I am now in posession of what might possibly be the world's largest fortune cookie.
Or what's left of it. It's chocolate covered. With icing, too.

Thanks, kids!


Henry's Web Log: April 20, 2006

April 20, 2006

Crerative Genealogy

I found the following article on the HTML version of rec.humor.funny

BEING CREATIVE WITH TROUBLESOME KIN

You are working on your family genealogy and for sake of example, let's say that your great-great uncle, Remus Starr, a fellow lacking in character, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889.

A cousin has supplied you with the only known photograph of Remus, showing him standing on the gallows. On the back of the picture are the words:

"Remus Starr: Horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison, 1885. Escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged, 1889."

Pretty grim situation, right? But let's revise things a bit. We simply crop the picture, scan in an enlarged image and edit it with image processing software so that all that is seen is a head shot.

Next, we rewrite the text:
"Remus Starr was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad.

Beginning in 1885, he devoted several years of his life to service at a government facility, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed."

-----

This article was of particular interest to me, considering my own family history, and I issued the following challenge.

The problem is, my Grandfather William actually was a horse thief. He fled his native country of Hungary. He was a gambler and a bounder; he left his wife in New York, to raise their 2 children alone, at a time when women weren't supposed to work. He was a failed newspaper writer and would-be publisher who drank up all his investors's money and died alone, face down and drunk in a New York gutter.

Anyone want to take up the challenge of rewriting THAT one?

The gauntlet was taken up, we have a winner, and I am happy to present the prizewinning rewrite from Lydia Theys.

-----

It isn't often that you have the honor of meeting a man like William Farkas, and it's safe to say that those who've had that honor still speak of it. Right from his birth in Hungary in 1885, William's parents knew they had a truly special child on their hands. He exhibited an early interest in animals, especially horses, an interest for which he was known far and wide. Even as a youth, he was a diligent and determined collector, and many of his fellow Hungarians clamored for the opportunity to meet him to discuss his holdings. You can see this in the very early photo of a crowd of enthusiastic men chasing him, just for the chance to speak.

William left Hungary at age 24 to spread his wings and create a new life in the New World. He became interested in finances, and made his living through a series of bold investments in New York. Sadly, his wife resented his exuberant lifestyle and general joie de vivre, and she took their children and went her own way. William, bereft at the loss of his beloved children, channeled his sorrow into action and threw himself with renewed enthusiasm into his interest in fine wines. It is a tribute to the depth of his talents that he became a writer and even dabbled in publishing with mixed success. William died in a tragic roadside accident at the age of 54, still sought by high-flying financial types and well-placed government officials to the very end. All were devastated to have missed him.


Henry's Web Log: April 5, 2006

April 5, 2006

A New Haven Highway View

President Bush is coming to Connecticut, the home state that he denies, for a short visit to Bridgeport today. He is landing at Tweed New Haven Airport, and will be driven south on I-95 to his destination. I live near that airport, and I watched Air Force One land when he came to Connecticut a couple of years ago to speak at a Yale graduation.

There are some differences this time.

Last time, a bunch of us lined up near the southwest gate to watch the big bird land. I had the ham radio in my car tuned to New Haven Tower, and we got to listen to the controller's chatter. We saw the plane land, and then lined up along Townsend Avenue and watched from the sidewalk as his limousine drove past.

But not this time.

For this visit, the airport was ringed with empty city and school busses, to form a barrier around it. Townsend Avenue will be blocked off under emergency order. There are big helicopters flying over the area, providing, I guess, air cover.

Air cover? This is a college town. What are they covering? The parking situation at the local pizza joints?

But wait, it gets better.

Those of you who are not familiar with the infamous Northeast Corridor may need some perspective for what comes next. This stretch of highway is the main thoroughfare for the megalopolis that stretches from Boston to New York City. There are parallel roads, including Route 1 and the The Merritt (and Wilbur Cross) Parkway. Route 1 is studded with stop lights, and commercial vehicles are not permitted on the Merritt.

So that leaves I-95. A highway legendary for its traffic snarls, but essential to the commercial traffic of the Northeast U.S.

And they're shutting it down between New Haven and Bridgeport for Mr. Bush's visit. Closed. No traffic. State and local police blocking all entrance ramps, feeder roads, close side streets and access points. A highway deserted, while Mr. Bush's motorcade rushes by, bringing him to his carefully scripted speech at the Playhouse on the Green in Bridgeport.

What strikes me about this visit (in addition to the cost of all this security and the traffic snarls it is causing) is how much more insulated Mr. Bush has become in the two years since his last visit to the same area.

I contrast that with this morning's description of Bill Clinton visiting Block Island, when he was still President, from one of my colleagues at work. She says that when he arrived, Mr. Clinton stepped out into the crowd, shook hands with the people, mingled, posed for photos, and seemed generally glad to see the throngs surrounding him.

It is fair to say that Mr. Bush will not be doing any unscripted mingling.

He's coming to speak about health care. He's coming to tout Health Savings Accounts. Mr. Bush will not be unveiling any improvements to our troubled health care system today. An HSA is not a solution to a problem; it is an alternative, with tax advantages, for those of us who already have enough money to take care of our basic medical needs. The access issues persist as the infrastructure continues to suffer.

It sometimes seems as if Mr. Bush is trying to get a picture of a problem through a camera that still has it's lens cap on.

This is not an idle, or purely rhetorical, analogy.

I have a link to traffic cameras on my web page. I use them to view highway conditions. It helps when making travel choices, particularly during rush hour, when I have several alternatives. Since before 9:30 this morning those cameras, bought and maintained with my tax dollars, have been dark, blacked out along his entire route.

Looking at the highway, even when it is nothing more than speculative curiosity, is certainly not a security threat. But today, those displays have been rendered opaque.

The busses ring the airport. The cameras are shuttered. The roads have been cleared. The blades of the choppers beat overhead.

Mr. Bush goes zooming by. But the view from the highway is completely dark.


Henry's Web Log MArch 13, 2006

March 13, 2006
Mr. Hayes

It is with sadness that I report on the death of our grand and noble cat, Mr. Hayes.

Hayes came to us about 15 and a half years ago as a stray kitten, small enough to be held in the palm of my hand.

The children and I came home from a vacation in Vermont to find that a mother cat had had a litter of kittens near our Nash Street front yard. All but this one kitten perished. The consensus was that all the cats had drunk from a pool of antifreeze on the street and were poisoned by it. All but this one kitten, who survived to be the pickiest eater of any feline I've ever known, possibly lending some credence to the theory.

We didn't know that at the time. In fact, we didn't even know if the cat would survive. (For that matter, we didn't even know his gender yet.) After much persuasion by the kids, we took him to a nearby veterinary hospital.

Here, stories differ. I distinctly remember agreeing to take him to be checked out. The children remembered me saying that we'd adopt him if he was OK. It turned out that he was robust and healthy, and had only a relatively minor case of ear mites.

He became our cat.

For this, I am inexpressibly glad. He brought much happiness into the lives of everyone who knew him, with the possible exception of one neighborhood cat, Stripey.

Thank you, kids. Once again, you both done me proud.

The children named him Hayes, after a guided missile cruiser (colored gray, as was he) they had recently toured. He eventually came to resemble that vessel, topping the scales at over 19 pounds, some years after The Big Snip.

But, when he was young, he was lithe and graceful, able to take huge leaps onto narrow surfaces and walk along them with nonchalance.

He never really had the benefit of parents, and needed coaching in how to be a cat. For the first year or two he didn't even seem to know how to meow. Felinious coaching came in the form of a neighborhood stray, Missouri, who would knock on our fire-escape window, get let in, eat, sleep, and apparently coach Hayes. Missouri would leave at night, but gradually Hayes started acting more like a typical cat.

And he learned to meow. In fact, he developed a distinct meow, which sounded very clearly as if he was saying "Hello". He had excellent pronunciation, and I could sometimes flip a person out by introducing them to Hayes and instructing him to "say Hello". Occasionally, he would take the cue. Candid Camera would be proud of the reactions I got.

Hayes was the smartest cat I ever knew. He learned to work my answering machine. Or, at least, to hit that big silver button that stopped all those funny talking noises. I had to keep my answering machine in a drawer.

He learned to work the doorbell. I have a device that responds to the vibrations of the first-floor doorbell, and transmits a series of chimes up to what used to be my third-floor office. It also reacts to loud sounds in the vicinity, such as vacuuming. Hayes learned to swat at the box when I was home, he was bored, and he felt that he was overdue for attention.

He responded to verbal cues sometimes, eerily as if he understood English. Renate has always maintained that he did, though I reject that theory, in favor of his understanding of tone of voice, intent, habit, and cues that I probably can't explain with my 5 senses and my human ways of looking at the world.

He only occasionally saw a mouse but, when he did, he accelerated to astonishing speeds. Hayes was not one to expend energy unnecessarily. But, when he wanted to, he could move like Stirling Moss.

He was a dignified, noble and well-mannered cat, proud to just this side of haughty in his bearing, and crossing that line when forced to share space with our other cat, Myst. At least when the humans were looking. If we came downstairs quietly, we would frequently find them curled up together. If we were looking, Hayes would turn tail and stalk away if Myst approached. But if Hayes was already lying down, he would suffer to be licked by Myst, though I never saw him return the favor.

Hayes would sometimes wrestle and tussle with Myst and once, in his heavy cruiser days, I saw him run across the living room and head-butt Myst, sending him flying, ending the conflict, and dropping me helplessly to the floor, weak with laughter.

I only saw him do that once, though the two did seem to have marathon games of soccer with a rolling footstool I used to have. We would hear them at night, batting it back and forth across the wooden floor downstairs, and in the morning, we would find it lodged in the most interesting places. It is not every cat that can play soccer.

In recognition of Hayes's bearing, we eventually started calling him Mr. Hayes as he matured into a proud and dignified old man, presiding over his household and yards.

Hayes always kept his dignity, except for where cats always lick themselves, and his habit of stuffing his nose firmly in Myst's rear when the latter returned from his daily jaunts. They would parade, seemingly attached, across the kitchen until Myst sat down at the food bowl. I found this habit uncharacteristically gross, until Renate pointed out that "You never know what he might be learning by assmosis!", a theory I have no words to dispute.

Somehow, he was uncommonly intelligent.

Until his last few days, even during his months of decline and weakness, he would always come to the bottom of the stairs to greet me every morning, with a clear and hearty "Hello". He would continue to greet me until I changed the water in his bowl, which he trained me to do first thing every morning.

He was a remarkably healthy cat until the end. Though he was declawed (an operation absolutely forced by necessity, yet one I will never voluntarily force a cat to undergo again) he could stay out all night, and he never seemed to get into fights.

After a decade and a half of being friend, companion and housemate, he started to decline, and developed kidney failure. The progression was fairly rapid, and we did not have to take too many extreme measures.

He died, at home and alone, sometime on Friday, March 10, 2006. I can honestly say that he was loved by and will be missed by all who knew him.

He was buried in our back yard, next to a Euonymus bush, on a sunny, beautiful, and unusually warm Saturday morning. He was ceremoniously laid to rest in a box, wrapped in his favorite quilt, and with a can of tuna by his head.

********************

You lived gracefully, and died with a dignity befitting your life. Go in peace, Old Boy. We loved you truly, you returned that love abundantly; you will be sorely missed and fondly remembered for the rest of our days.

You truly were a legend in your own time.

And you were a very good cat.


Henry's Web Log, February 6, 2006

February 6, 2006
Antiques, Gifts, Cream

When I first saw the words "Antiques, Gifts, Cream" writ large on the roof of a long barn I thought "I must be in Hershey for sure!" but, after some reflection, I realized that there are probably many places in this great country that would have advertisements just like this.

It's probably not that unusual. But I was, in fact, in Hershey, PA.

The Top 101 signs that you are in Hershey, PA. And yes, they are all true.
  10. Milton Hershey is venerated. In public. Everywhere.
    9. The streets are misleadingly marked and the directions are worse2.
    8. Attorneys have large billboards, advertising their services for DUI infractions.
    7. The roller coaster. It's visible from everywhere in town.
    6. Streets have chocolate-themed names.
    5. Almost every dish has chocolate in the recipe. Including beef and chicken.
    4. Your hotel room has a Gideon Bible and a biography of Milton Hershey.
    3. The town has an annual Chocolate Fest.
    2. You can buy chocolate tomato ketchup.
    1. You can go to a "chocolate spa", immerse yourself in the stuff, and get hosed off.

Remember: I am not kidding, or exaggerating any of this!

In case you think that misleading (or outright fabricated) advertising is a new trend, this advertisement, proclaiming that Hershey's chocolate is "More Sustaining than Meat!" gives a little perspective. It was prominently displayed in the lodge where I stayed.

I was, in fact, in Hershey to volunteer for one 4-hour session of the aforementioned Chocolate Fest. Theme: Chocolate and Love. Let's not get into why I made a 10-hour round trip, including an overnight stay at a lodge3, to volunteer at this event. It's irrelevant and time-consuming.

The best part about the trip was that I finally got to visit an Antique Auto Museum, that I've been wanting to see for years. It was worth the trip. The background is cheesy, but this 1938 Bantam is quite real.

The very close second part was that Susquehanna Service Dogs took part in the Chocolate Fest, and I (who had a dog-deprived childhood and who have been making up for it ever since) got to do plenty of meeting, greeting, petting, scritching, and reassuring every one of them that they were A Good Dog.

The worst part? I think I don't ever want to see chocolate again, though I know that this, too, will change, and I will revert to my customary chocoholic tendencies.

I actually didn't eat much chocolate at all. I honestly prefer dark chocolate and (though this might make me sound unAmerican) Hershey's chocolate is not high on my list of my favorites. No offense intended.

It was all for a good cause but still...

...I couldn't help but find the whole thing obscene.

OK, the Chocolate Ball was nice, in spite of the giant ice sculpture, through which tuxedoed servers poured chocolate martinis. Since I've never liked vodka, chocolate drinks, sweet drinks in general, and pretentious cocktails in triangular glasses, I was not reminded of The Bad Old Days.

No, it was the whole Hershey Scene that I found practically intolerable. Chocolate ketchup? A chocolate spa? I'm sorry if I've turned into a curmudgeon, but there it is: in my world view, a chocolate spa is nothing short of obscene. If you like this sort of thing, by all means, go for it! This is only my opinion. It's worth about the two cents worth of recycled electrons that I've used to create this page.

So, it was a working weekend. I managed to cram in a little fun (I always do, don't I?) and the whole Pennsylvania Dutch area is a very nice place to visit. And the Amish have, in my opinion, some very good thoughts about how to live well. Just watch out for slow-moving buggies, and the people who need the those DUI attorneys!

1. This started out as a "top 10" list but, at the request of Barbara, I am adding #11: the streetlights, which are shaped like Hershey Kisses®. Actually, there's a lot of stuff in Hershey shaped like candy, but particularly Kisses®, for some reason.
2. A situation not limited to Hershey. Boston is still worse.
3. The Hershey Lodge, of course!


Henry's Web Log, December 12, 2005

December 12, 2005

It's not OK.

I just got an error message from a program running on Windows XP. I've gotten used to that. In fact, we have an entry in our time-tracking system labeled WWR: Waiting for Windows to Restart"1. I put in 200 minutes last week.

But today, it suddenly occurred to me to ask...

Why do I have to AGREE to errors?

You all know what I mean. You get a popup box that says something like:

Your computer is about to
roll over on its back, put
it's paws in the air, blow
smoke out its butt and die.

Press [ OK ] to continue.

And I can't do a darned thing with the machine until I press OK. Why?

It's not as if I get a choice. When I press OK it is going to reboot. I can't recover from the error. It is not going to save my data, close the one failing program, and restart it. No, it is going to die, no matter what I say. Why do I have to agree to that? It's humiliating.

I'm stuck in some kind of weird limbo until I press that button. I know that the only two things I can do are to click OK or turn off the power. Even the Roman Catholic Church has shrugged off the whole limbo thing. Why is Microsoft keeping us there?

Picture this situation. You're walking down a dark street. A robber leaps out, sticks a gun in your ribs, and says he's going to shoot you. You say: "If I give you everything in my wallet will you let me go?" "No, but I will give you a 30% discount on your next upgrade."

"Upgrade? So, you're not going to kill me?"

"Naaahhh, just kidding. I'm still going to kill you, but I want you to tell me that it's OK with you, first."

"Are you crazy, or is this a joke?"

"It's not a joke. And it doesn't matter whether I'm crazy or not, because I'm going to take all your money and I am going to kill you. But I want you to tell me that it's OK first."

"Screw you!"

Bang.

Now, this is exactly how Microsoft works, except that you can't tell them to wank off. They don't give you the option.

And this, I think, is why Microsoft has written so much bad code for so many years.

You have been telling them that it's OK.

No, it is NOT okay! Of COURSE it's not OK! Why don't they give us another frickin' option, those banana-heads?

But they don't.

Every minute of every day and night, someone, somewhere, is clicking OK and telling Microsoft that they really don't mind bad, buggy, unstable code.

And Microsoft is listening.

We all need a "screw you!" button.

Only then will Redmond finally starting getting the message that bad code, lost data, and frequent resets are not OK with us.

1. Not really, but we should.


Henry's Web Log June 6, 2005

June 6, 2005
If I Ruled The World

If I ruled the world, if any tax exempt entity, including religious organizations of any kind, got involved in political persuasion or posturing, or the attempt to influence laws or public policies, they would immediately forfit their tax-exempt status. If you want to dictate public policy you need to be a player in the game, and take the consequences. If you want to influence government (which derives its income from tax revenues) you need to pay into the pool if you want a say in how it's spent.


Henry's Web Log: December 16, 2004

December 16, 2004
Cars, Cats, Dentists, Guitars, and Molotov Cocktails

I just got back from taking my car in to the dealer for service.

Normally I wouldn't do such a silly thing, but the "Check Engine!" light kept coming on. I normally use a really good local mechanic but they do not have the computer that diagnoses this sort of problem. Only the dealer does.

I don't like taking my car in to the dealer, because every time I do, it seems to cost me about $300.00. Even for an oil change. Oh, it may start out as an oil change, but then the mechanic inevitably comes up to me with a worried look on his face, slowly wiping his hands on a rag. "You're lucky you brought your car in today," he'll say, "when we went to remove the brake fluid container cover I noticed that you had a discombulated fratistat! You could have been stranded!" He never actually says that I would be left stranded on the side of the road in the darkness and freezing rain unless I had someone trained by the dealer changing my oil, not some poor private mechanic who's only been in business for 40 years and who might not have spotted a problem like this. He never actually says that, but tone and facial expressions can communicate a lot.

I, in turn, never ask why he was removing the cover for the brake fluid well, when he was supposed to be changing my oil, because I know better. He always has an answer ready, I'll never understand it, and I always end up giving up and accepting whatever he says.

The mechanics have been trained to see me coming.

Mort [not his real name] elbows Jocko [also not real, that's the name of a monkey] when they see me pull in the drive. "Watch this," says Mort, and he takes my keys, puts the car on the lift, removes the nut in the bottom of the oil pan, cranks off the filter, and lets the system drain. While it's doing this, he walks toward me, slowly wiping his hand on a rag. Jocko appears to be working on another car, but I notice that he is within hearing range, and the boom box is suddenly quiet. "You know, says Mort, "it's lucky you brought your car in today. You need a new back seat right away." "Back seat," I reply, "why would I need a new back seat? The one I have is fine; I never use it." Well," he says, and starts on a long ramble that begins with: "back in the days when cars had distributor caps..." and concludes with "...so it could catch fire at any moment!" Some time between those two phrases I have reached into my pocket, pulled out $300.00 in small unmarked bills, and handed them over to Mort.

He knew I'd have them. It's a ritual we go through every single time.

So, when the "Check Engine Now!" light came on, I knew that Jerry [his real name] wouldn't have the computer to diagnose this one, even though he's a fine mechanic, he charges reasonable prices, and I know where his stack of men's magazines is stored. I knew that I would have to call the dealer.

In fact, I think of the Check Engine Now Or You Might Die!" light as the "Dealer Light". Every once in a while the dealer needs $300.00, it's my turn, a big amber light goes on on my dashboard, and I bring my car in.

I hate idiot lights. I'm a male. I like meters, dials, gauges, toggle switches and adjustment knobs. I want to know my oil pressure, amps, and engine temperature. I don't want a big red light that flashes on, effectively announcing: "Your car just ran out of oil!", which is exactly what oil lights do. Unfortunately, there are 56 million Americans too dumb to read their gauges, so we're stuck with idiot lights, though I know a few people who seem to be walking around a piece of electrical tape on their foreheads, if you catch my drift.

But the light was on, I didn't know what it meant, I have to make a long drive in the near future, and I knew that the longer I waited the more I'd end up shelling out. I wanted to keep my costs a low as possible, to save my remaining money for the vet.

As it happens, my cat Myst (the one who thinks he's Muhammad Ali but fights like a bunny and is too dumb to run) got into yet another fight, and I needed to summon the vet. She makes house calls, as noted here before, so I scheduled the mechanic for 8:00 and the vet for 11:00. Perfect, because the vet is always late, dear lady that she truly is, so I figured I'd have about 3 and a half hours. That should take care of the dealer.

I waited a half an hour for the diagnosis, until the speaker in the waiting room summoned me to the service counter. That is never a good sign.

"Well," the dealer explained, "you have a bad knock sensor." I asked if I could go for a while with the "Check Engine Now Or You Might Die A Horrible Flaming Death!" light on, and he said no. I could be stranded on the side of the road at any time if the whatchamacallit coil does not get any input from the knock sensor. "You see," he began, "back in the days when cars had distributor caps" (and yes, he really did say this) and he kept on talking until I nodded. The car was still in the bay, and Jocko was poised over his tool kit. Mort relayed my nod with his own, and Jocko dropped his rag on the tool cabinet, flicked his tail, and strolled off to the men's room. I dutifully herded myself back to the waiting room where I tried to concentrate on the book I was reading, trapped as I was by a television program about laying tile, and a woman who was using her cell phone to catch up on every boring call she had put off for the last nine years, I think. The dealer promised me that he'd have me out of there in an hour.

Once again, the speaker intoned my name, an hour and twenty minutes later. I strolled to the counter, and was presented with the bill. It was $303.88. I think they're mocking me. I asked about the warranty on the part. Mort looked at me as if he had never heard that question before. He made a phone call, hung up, and announced that the knock sensor had an unlimited mileage warranty for one year. No, I am not making this up.

I wrote the check, pocketed my car key (which was now on a genuine shiny plastic Subaru key fob that I will never use) and headed on back to meet the vet at my house at 11:00. I even had time for some breakfast!

The vet called promptly at 10:58, informed me that she was leaving her house now, and estimated that she would be there in about 40 minutes.

I have my $300.00 ready.

P.S.
I have a nasty cold, I'm going to the dentist to get my teeth deep scaled tomorrow, and I have a guitar in a shop that is suffering from smoke damage because someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the tuxedo shop two stores away, thoroughly burning both adjoining structures. I have to go over to the guitar shop today, to see how bad my expensive guitar now smells. This involves either taking a circuitous route, or driving right past the very same Subaru dealer that I visited earlier this morning. Note To Subaru Dealer: I'm out of money now. It's someone else's turn.


Henry's Web Log: October 28, 2004

October 28, 2004 What a strange, strange night, last night. Well, yes, there was the Blood Moon and the Red Sox won the World Series. But I'm talking about some telephone wires.

Yesterday, my new next-door neighbor arrived and unpacked. The moving trucks were tall, and the wires on the poles outside of her house were low. The inevitable happened. But nobody reported it for several hours.

Nobody, that is, until I did.

By that time, of course, I was inside my car, with wires entangling the outside.

I was coming home from karate, and it was dark. I did not see the black wires laying across the road and, in fact, just above windshield level. I drove right into 'em. Not knowing that there were four wires down (I'd only seen the one that slapped across my windshield) I tried to back up. This did not work, and my car became ensnared in the wires.

I didn't know what kind of wires they were yet, so I sat in may car, picked up the cell phone, and called 911. They advised me to stay right where I was, and and stressed that I should not try to get out of the car. I was happy to comply.

I have to say, the firefighters got here pretty quickly. Then again, I was one street away from a road that has a firehouse at either end. I had my choice of companies.

They discussed the situation for a while. Then one of the firefighters approached my car, and I rolled down my window part way. He pointed to the wire outside the driver's side window. "I think this one's cab..." he said, reaching for it, and continued: "BZZZZT!" as he put his hand around it. Since this was exactly the kind of thing I would have done, and since I knew that he would never have touched it if he'd had any doubts, I just sat there, grinned at him, and said: "Looks like you've got the situation wired." He let go, not producing the laugh he had undoubedly intended for his fellows.

I'd gotten the car so tangled that there was nothing for it but to cut some of the wires. NOTE, direct from the firefighters: If you drive into a tangle of wires, don't back up. You'll only make things worse. I know this now.

Between getting entangled, realizing it, calling, waiting, and getting freed, I was only sitting in the car for about a half an hour. That wasn't so bad for me, but I took out the phone and the cable service from our new neighbor on her first night in the 'hood.

Sorry, Bernadette! Welcome to the neighborhood. I owe you one already!

And me? I went home to watch the moon and the Cards be eclipsed, and to see the Sox slip the surly bounds of a curse.

And then I crawled right under the covers and I didn't dare move until morning!


Henry's Web Log: October 27, 2004

October 27, 2004 OK, Red Sox fans: Pigs can fly, hell is frozen, the moon is red, and the slipper finally fits. It's your turn. We can spare a few and still be champs and "The Idiots" played darned good ball. Congratulations!

Henry's Web Log, October 25, 2004

October 25, 2004 The following clip pretty much expresses how I feel about Bush: http://www.ifilm.com/bigpicture/politicalincumbent. Click on the "Seriously" ad, and select your connection speed and player type.

You can see that I want Mr. Bush out of office, pretty badly. I want him to go back to his ranch in Crawford, TX (where even his hometown newspaper is endorsing John Kerry!) with his tail between his legs and, for good measure, let's get rid of Brother Jeb before he does any more damage, too.

But, alas...

I am sure that Mr. Bush is going to get a second term.
One way or another.

In fact, I am so sure of this that I have a little bet going.

    IF John Kerry wins this upcoming Presidential election
    AND
    IF Mr. Kerry actually takes office
    THEN
At the first New Haven Contra dance after Kerry takes office I will paint my face blue and stand on my head.

Now, I am not a betting man. Nor have I ever stood on my head before. But many people have stepped forward (how kind of them) offering to paint, to help me get on my head, and to help me stay there. I am assuming that there will also be pictures.

This is the one bet in my life (there haven't been many) that I sincerely, thoroughly, and with all my heart want to lose.

Vote.

If for no other reason, vote, to turn Henry blue in the face.

P.S. If you want something a whole lot grittier, Click Here, but please be warned that it will take you to Eminem's new video, Mosh.
(The link is pretty slow, so if the new window times out please click on this link directly http://www.gnn.tv/videos/viewer.php?id=27&spd=hi.
This site is getting a lot of traffic, so please be patient.)


Henry's Web Log: October 12, 2004

October 12, 2004
On Good and Bad

Once there was a Chinese farmer who had a horse. It was the only horse in the region. Because he had horse, the farmer could plant more than others, and take his crops further, to better markets. He became very rich. He was a good and gentle man, who gave generously to the poor. The people in his village loved him.

One morning, the farmer woke up and found the gate to the horse paddock open and the horse gone. The people in the village heard about it and came to speak to him. "We're really sorry that your horse, that brought you such wealth, ran away," they said. The farmer answered with one word: "Maybe."

Three days later, the horse returned, with two stallions. Again, the people of his village came and spoke to the farmer. This time they said: "You are so very lucky that your horse ran away, because now she has returned, with two stallions! Now you have three horses, and this is good!" The farmer said: "Maybe."

The next day, his son, trying to ride one of the stallions, fell off and broke his leg. The villagers cam to him and said: "How terrible that your son broke his leg! We are really sorry!" The farmer replied: "Maybe."

A few days later, the army came, and took almost all the young men in the village to fight in the war. The people came to the farmer and said: "Are you ever lucky! Your son broke his leg, and he is not able to fight in the war!"


Henry's Web Log June 6, 2004

June 6, 2004
Krispy Kremes And Liberals

I spent part of this weekend selling Krispy Kreme donuts for a charitable organization.

I do not like selling things. In fact, I really don't like selling things.

NOTE:
If the organization you are selling donuts for is dedicated to supporting and advocating for the mentally challanged, do NOT try to hawk your donunts by yelling: "Krispy Kremes, get your Krispy Kremes here! Help me out, here, folks: I feel like an idiot, so please take this box out of my hands!"

It was late. I was tired, and feeling foolish out there anyway. Sales were very slow. (Did I mention that I strongly dislike trying to sell anything?) I guess I got kind of slap happy. I was not trying to insult anybody. The words just left my mouth (Did I mention I was yelling very loudly, in front of the booth, with the president of the national organization standing behind the booth?) without any thought involved.

They were NOT amused.

They were not happy.

It did not go over very well.

I don't think I like Krispy Kremes any more.

I know for sure that I still hate sales.

*****

I am most of the way through the second book of Victor Klemperer's diaries, published under the title: "I Shall Bear Witness".

Reading these books has been very instructive, even considering the reading I have already done (considerable) on the subject.

I am neither a liberal nor a conservative. I try very hard to think of what is important for our government to accomplish, and the best means to do that. So it was with great interest that I read of the slow creation and characterization of "The Jew" by Goebbels. You all know the deal: hook-nosed, avaricious, unprincipled, rapacious, controls empires from within, a worldwide conspiricy dedicated to destroying everything that is moral and decent in the world.

This book should be sold with a prescription for Valium.

You see, I was raised (I had a bit of trouble with the "growing up" part until much later.) in a small town in Pennsylvania, essentially a company town for the local steel mill.

Anyone who had hair down past the tops of their ears was a "hippie-commie-pinko-fag" and yes, that is all one word, and yes, it really was used, in spite of the commie/pinko redundancy. Implied in the definition was that one was a coward, for how could a hippie or homosexual be anything else but?

So, if you were suspected of even having even mild leanings toward any of the categories, you were automatically included into the whole package.

Thus, when I tried to get my '68 Mustang repaired (it had a gold marijuana leaf pin laying on the console) the first mechanic I took the car to refused to work on it on the grounds that I was a Communist.

I once had to work very hard to avoid getting into a fistfight with a foreman who discovered "Communist literature" on the dashboard of my car. The book was "Zen And The Art Of Mororcycle Maintenance". Zen. The Communist Manafesto. It's all one and the same, you see?

Well, neither did I, nor do I, but I let him destroy the book, rather than fight him for it.

I thought those days were long past.

But, when I listen to Limbaugh I think of Goebbels.

Liberals are a useful straw man to campaign against. Liberals are all spotted-owl-loving kooky far-out enviromentalists who would rather let a whole village die of starvation than disturb the sleep of a single tree frog. Liberals all want free abortions available on demmand, have no morals, no courage, no patriotism, and would certainly "negotiate" (by which they mean "cave in to" Al Quida) and they are anti-Christian elitests who hate America and don't want you to be able to run your own life, and most assuredly don't want to let anybody own a gun.

Folks, this is the way the Right Wing is winning. I don't know if they will win the next Presidential election, but they are winning nevertheless, as they continue to be the voice that defines liberals.

If you are suspected of even having even mild leanings toward any of the categories, you are automatically included into the whole package.

I bear no ill-will toward Mr. Reagan, though I abhored many of his attitudes, professed beliefs, and policies.

I wish his family the best; they finally have closure, bitter and mournful as it may be, on an ugly final stage in the life of a man whom I have no doubt they loved.

But I believe now would be a good time (And, how I wish I knew how!) to take back the word Liberal, or create a new word for those thoughtful humanists among us. To stop equating kindness with cowardace, thoughtful consideration as elitism (How come being a DKE or Bonesman isn't considered elitist?) and tolerance with athiesm.

I would like to bury the attitudes with the body of Mr. Reagan, and inscribe upon his tombstone: "Good planets are hard to find."

Instead, I ate at a diner with a group of people last night and, when I put ketchup on my cheesburger, one of them piped up: "Henry, you're having a vegetable with your meal!"

This, I think, is a more appropriate reflection of Mr. Reagan's political accomplishment than all the tributes I read in the paper.

Stopped the Cold War? No, it is just being transmuted into a burgeoning civil war, an unnecessary and counterproductive (I dare to say dangerous) propaganda offensive against the imaginary enemies among whom I must sadly conclude I would be counted by the New Right.

The funny thing is, I consider myself a patriot.

And I shudder to realize how good King George II makes Mr. Reagan look.

The King is dead, long live the King.

And pass the Valium.


Henry's Web Log June e, 2004

June 2, 2004
The Rabbi And The Goat
an old story, retold

Once upon a time, two brothers who lived together in a small hut went to their rabbi and said: "Rabbi, we just cannot stand each other! We cannot live together any more!" And then each proceeded to list the many shortcomings and annoying traits of the other that have built up into continuous bickering and strife.

The rabbi instructed them to first cleanse themselves, then go out among their herd, and find a yearling goat of a particular size. He instructed them to bring it in the hut with them, to feed it there, and let it sleep there, but not, under any circumstance, to let it out of the hut for two weeks. They are also to pray for the goat, thrice daily.

They were puzzled, but the rabbi was a holy and learned man, and wise in the ways of people and nature. So they did as he has instructed them.

Two weeks later, they went back to the rabbi as instructed, not quite so sure of his wisdom. "Rabbi," they exclaimed together, "that goat is a disaster! He smells! He has introduced fleas and lice and bugs we have never heard of into our hut! He has eaten our food and we are hungry! He knocks over the pitcher and drinks the water off the floor, and we must kneel and drink like goats ourselves to drink anything at all! And indeed, our hut has become an outhouse! What is solid we can shovel, but Oh Learned And Wise Rabbi, what can we do about the liquid waste the goat produces? Life is worse than ever: we have no sleep at night and no peace during the day! And everything, and we mean everything, stinks!"

What they did not tell the rabbi, nor indeed each other, was that by the end of the two weeks they were praying for the goat all right, just not always in the way that their rabbi had presumably intended.

The rabbi listened calmly to all of this. Then he instructed them to go home, let the goat out, cleanse the hut and themselves, to pray for the goat and each other thrice daily, to--under no circumstances!--let the goat into the hut, nor to even let any part of its body cross the threshold, and to come back to him in two weeks.

They do so, and came back to the rabbi when instructed, overjoyed! "Rabbi," they exclaimed, "You are indeed a wise and learned man! We have cleaned the hut! Many of the vermin have gone with the goat! Life smells better! We have food to eat, and are not hungry; we can drink all the water we want, and are not thirsty; and we sleep at night like the lambs themselves!" "My brother has started playing his little harp again!" "My brother has woven a fine mat, that we may cleanse our feet before we enter our hut, and it is cleaner than it has ever been before!" "Yes," they exclaimed together, "life is good, the breeze is sweet when it is coming from the right direction, and we have been happy like little children these two weeks now! How, Oh Noble And Wise Rabbi, can we ever thank you?"

And the rabbi answered them: "Whenever you start to fight, remember the goat in the kitchen."


Henry's Web Log March 18, 2004

March 18, 2004 A person recently moved to this area from Wisconsin and is now a colleague. He wrote us an introductory note. This was my reply.
Dear Mr. Hansen:

Welcome to New England! I felt it only appropriate to arm you with a little information about our area.

As a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan (I was born in that area) I am not sure whether I should feel sympathy for you or for myself. Considering even the most rudimentary statistics, I'd rather not speculate.

Please note that we will not hold it against you when you root for Green Bay, although (with only two exceptions that I know of) it is not customary in New England to wear large cardboard slices of cheese on one's head, and you will usually be considered somewhat odd if you do so.

The first exception involves Pledge Week at Yale. Hang about Phelps Gate at the right time, and you'll see some things a lot odder than cheese.

The second exception is one you may soon get to experience. That is our annual St. Patrick's Day parade in New Haven. After the festivities start, you can wear anything you want (or don't want as long as you cover the proper bits) and fewer and fewer people will even notice what you are wearing (or what color you have dyed your dog) as the day wears on.

Why this is so, I cannot fathom, for a great many of these people are not Irish, and the Irish people I do know are pained by the whole spectacle. Still, it is our custom, much like the creative rituals we have adopted around the financing and selection of contractors for the state. If you are familiar with Chicago, you will feel right at home in Hartford.

The hamburger was invented in New Haven. Also, this town IS the pizza capital of the world. People are as fanatic about which resteraunt they patronize (Sally's, Pepe's and Modern are among the ones worth mentioning) as Texans are about where to get the best barbecue, but it is safe to say that New Haven has the best pizza emporiums in the world.

Connecticut is officially known as The Constitution State. Unofficially, it is often known as The Construction State, and as summer approaches, you will soon see for yourself why, without any further elaboration by me.

As far as the pronunciation of Worcester, a good rule is the further north you go, the fewer syllables you use. This goes for many words, not just Worcester.

If you venture as far north as Boston, don't plan upon driving there. Just don't. Unless you have considerable experience driving a taxi in Rome during rush hour after somebody has dumped LSD into the city's water supply, do not try to drive in Boston.

Speaking of the latter town, you may have heard dyspeptic rumblings from the constantly disappointed fans of a certain hapless baseball team from Beantown. Just ignore them. If it's baseball you're after, the Yankees are quite simply the best there is at what they do, and it makes no sense to root for anyone else.

As far as a certain baseball team inaptly named the Patriots, they mean "Patriot" in the sense that we say that Benedict Arnold was once a patriot. For further elaboration on why the Patriots are, quite simply and without prejudice, the scum of the earth, ask anyone who has lived and paid taxes in Hartford for at least a dozen years. Be prepared for a long answer.

In general, however, my experience is that you will find New Englanders to be among the most helpful, friendly, and cooperative people you will ever meet. I have lived in 3 different countries and 5 states, and I have never met finer people, or seen better teamwork.

This is not in any way meant to belittle the people of the Midwest, for my best friend is from Detroit and I have many good friends and work colleagues in Chicago. But if it's teamwork you want, you have come to the right place.

If it's a casserole you're looking for, try telling a New Englander that you are sick, injured, or otherwise restricted. People, including ones you don't see very often, will show up at your door with a casserole, and you won't even know how some of them found out about your problem. Don't bother asking; the proffered casserole is a New England tradition. I don't know why we do this; we just do.

It is like shoveling your car out. If you get stuck in the snow, just wait. Someone WILL help you. Soon. The only exception is the first snowfall of the season. For some reason, a great many people around here forget how to drive in the snow, year after year, as soon as they put away their winter coats. They learn again, quickly, after they get the bill from the auto body shop. It's perfectly safe to venture out during or after the second snowfall of the season, but I'd advise hibernating during the first one.

All in all, we are a neighborly lot. And, you can even listen to "A Prairie Home Companion" on FM 90.5 at 6:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays and 91.1 at 6:00 PM on Saturdays.

For further amusement, try some good old fashioned New England Contra Dancing: http://www1.ctcontra.com:81/nhcd/

Welcome to our area!

-Henry


Henry's Web Log

March 7, 2004 My daughter, Jennifer, turned 21 years old today.

Last night, her boyfriend took her to dinner at one of her favorite resteraunts.

The waiter, she tells me, was surly, unhelpful, confused, and slow.

He also seems to have had an elevated sense of his own humor. Jenny's boyfriend drinks a lot of water (as do her brother and I) and I guess the waiter got tired of bringing it. As he handed another glass to Brian, the waiter informed Boyfriend Brian that he had spit in it. I guess Wally Waiter (two points for knowing what book this is from!) thought it was a good joke. Brian didn't. He flipped out his badge and showed it to the waiter. Wally, clearly not looking closely enough at the badge sneered (so I'm told): "Wadda ya gonna do? Arrest me?" "No," replied Brian, "I'm not a police officer. I'm a city health inspector."

Yes, Brian IS a city health inspector.

I'm told that Jenny and Brian got excellent service, and personal attention from the manager, for the rest of the night.

Wally, though, just couldn't seem to give up on the humor. When Brian asked for a fifth glass of water, the waiter brought him a pitcher of water and a straw.

By this time, the meal had gone so well, and the food and service were both so excellent, that Jenny (and, I'm guessing, Brian) gave Wally points for persistence, humor, and guts.

I pointed out, when Jenny told me about this incident, that Wally might have already known that he had nothing left to lose at that merry establishment.

Still, he gets the points, they got excellent food and service, and she reports that a good time was had by all.

Of course, we don't know if Wally did; he and the manager may have had A Little Chat...

My little girl. She's spending her birthday at a casino today. What can I do? I can't stop her, right? I don't gamble, but I hugged her anyway, and told her to win enough to pay me back her tuition. But she knows that I'll settle for a hug and a bit of dark chocolate any day.

Happy birthday, Jenny!

Congratulations on making it so far, so well, and for being so pretty, witty, smart, talented, and well-adjusted.

In spite of my parenting.

Love, Dad


Henry's Web Log: November 17, 2003

November 17, 2003 Life sure is fun here in Connecticut!

It seems that the FBI is investigating a very prominent contractor who has been linked to our governor during a payoff investigation. Nothing has been proven yet, and the contractor denies all allegations.

It's true: he might be innocent.

On the other hand, the Fibbies find it very interesting that the contractor allegedly paid one of his (as the local newspaper calls him) associates with a gold coin.

A gold coin? Who pays people with gold coins nowadays? Except, of course, pirates?

The reason that the agents find the coin so interesting is that it appears to match a stash of gold coins they found buried in the back yard of the Governer's erstwhile deputy chief of staff, who has pleaded guilty to taking bribes for "steering" government contracts.

Gold coins, the paper helpfully points out (and this is something I have never, ever, had to think about) have no serial numbers so, without any other evidence, linkage between a few stray gold coins and any stash of the same that investigators might find is purely circumstantial. Very handy, in a case where there's any danger of a trial in one's future.

Those who long for "The Good Old Days" (such as my mom) should rejoice: it seems that the golden days of robber-baron capitalism are back in their most classic form!

Speaking of classics (we are now) a whole lot of people were kicking up their heels to some venerable music at NOMAD this past weekend, for the 16th consecutive year. It's a great fall festival of music, art and dance, in New England. It was great to have the festival in New Haven this year. It used to be in Newtown, CT.

Until you've experienced it (and my blessing to you today is: May You Not Experience This) you really do not know what panic is until you are a sound man for a festival that is 45 minutes away from your house along a dark, winding country road with few streetlights and lots of trees to block any stray illumination, you have gone beyond exhausted and come out the other side, you are doing sound for a performance, you have no backup because you are already short-handed...

...and you are struck with a case of diarrhea during a set, and have no spare underwear.

NOMAD. In New Haven, the town that I live in. Nice!

Today's lesson, from a still-exhausted Sound Geek:
When you are miking a band that has a clarinet player named Dave, and the saxophonist indicates that he would like to hear more of the clarinet in the monitors by saying "I want more Dave" do not ask about their relationship, because not everyone will think that such inquiries are funny.

And then there was the Festival Orchestra. Lots of brass, winds, reeds, etc. Playing from one side of a high-school auditorium stage for dancers who were also on stage. Not a performance, a dance.

A string quartet could have played there without amplification.

But the dancers wanted amplification. Folks, this is a case where amplification, almost without exception, will cause more problems than it will solve. But the dancers still wanted amplification.

Now the band got into it: they wanted every instrument miked, including a mike hanging down from the ceiling above the saxophone. It was time to get creative.

I have to say here that I know some of these folks personally: they're great people and fine musicians. But sometimes, we all get a little out of control. It was time to take some control back; I'm the sound guy, and I have the power1!

Of course, after I tell this one, I may never get another gig again.

I took every mike I had, used them all as logically as I could in a space with not much more surface area than two grand pianos, and I thankfully ran out of mikes before there was a chance to hang one from the ceiling.

Then I set all the sliders to logical positions, tweaked the sound in the monitors, and then turned the house and stage speakers off. (Sorry, guys!) I left the monitors on.

Part way into the set, a dancer came down and insisted that the clarinet sounded squeaky. So I adjusted the slider. When the next dance was over, he came back to me and authoritatively pronounced: "See son? You did what I said, and you got rid of all that ambient feedback!"

Hey, if pushing a slider solves a problem, I'll do that. Every sound person I know is an absolute master of several variations of the "fake flick" and you would be astonished at how many problems this technique "solves".

In general, the festival went amazingly well, although I understand that they only sold around a half a dozen T-Shirts, so if any of you are craving a genuine NOMAD T-Shirt, feel free to go to the web site and inquire. Word is, they'll be very happy to help you.

I'm told that the "Singing For The Confidence-Impared" workshop was well-attended and a huge success. I didn't go: I was doing sound elsewhere, and I'm still waiting for the Bloody Miraculous Laying On Of Hands Workshop, that being the only hope for my voice. At the post-festival confab (wherein the contents of the suggestion box are read aloud) it was suggested that we hold a Singing For The Overconfident workshop. While this suggestion met with wide approval from the staff, it was observed that those who are most in need are the least likely to attend. Keep the suggestions coming, though: we really do read and consider every single one. Seriously. It takes a long time. Longer than our waiter seemed to feel was necessary, as he periodically came around and inquired: "Will there be anything else, then?" long after the answers had ceased to be affermative. That's OK: we tipped well and his attitude improved amazingly after we'd paid the bill. He rushed up to us as we were leaving and invited us to come back and "visit" him any time. I know I won't, but it was sweet of him to ask, anyway.

Speaking of "sweet", we're having a mild winter here in New England so far, and I didn't have to load equipment in or out in percipitation of any kind. That, by itself, can make a festival for your sound folks (and, I suppose for lots of others, too).

Those of you who missed this year's festival should seriously consider coming next year. You really don't know what you're missing until you've been at least once, and it is certainly less crowded than NEFFA. (Although NEFFA is a great festival too: there things there you won't find anywhere else, Natick is a lovely and hospitable town, their program is always top-notch and, from my point of view (and possibly yours, too!) there is great advantage in the fact that I can dance there without having to worry about finger flicking, as I don't do any sound for them at all.)

I also encourage you to take a look at this short note that we received from a participant.

Well, you may have missed NOMAD, but I missed a whole lot of sleep, so it is time to drag my sorry butt off to bed and try to work off some of this deficit. And if that's work, it is looking like a very good job indeed, at the moment!

1. No, this is not my usual approach. I realize there are an awful lot of arrogant twits out there doing sound with exactly this attitude, but this is not how I usually handle things. I promise to always use my power only to do good and to never again use a slider to make a guitar player warble during a sound check, although I would like to point out she did ask me to do so (after I suggested it).


Henry's Web Log: November 2, 2003

November 2, 2003

This is what a geek's car looks like on Halloween. The machines in back are two IBM F-40 RISC 6000 machines. The bumper sticker at the bottom of the rear windshield in the middle says: "The Emperor Has No Clothes". The one above the windshield says "There's No Place Like 127.0.0.1". Clicking on the thumbnail will display a larger picture. Geek Car on
Halloween: Thumbnail

This is part of a dinner I made for Renate on Halloween night. It's a shepherd's pie. The mouth is made from ham, the eyes are slices of hard-bolied eggs, and the hair is raman noodles. I presented it on a covered plate, said "Tonight we're having..." I whiped off the lid and shouted: "John The Baptist!" Clicking on the thumbnail will display a larger picture. The Head of John The Baptist
The psychiatrist next door said: "Henry, you should really get out more!", but she has been giggling about it all weekend.

The kids in the neighborhood were delighted that Renate and I gave out treats dressed as french fries. I would ask the kids how many of them there were as they came to the door, and then say something like: "Five? My, that's a lot: I need some ketchup!" Then I would take a nice big swig from my clear water bottle that I'd filled with V8 juice.

I had a salt shaker filled with rice (so that it made a convincing sound) but no actual salt, of course. I would proceed to theatrically "salt" Renate when she was handing out candy. I had a speaker set up on my porch playing a tape loop of scary sounds. Plus, I had good candy. A great time was had by all, and the kids talked about "the french fries" as they continued their rounds on my street. Last year we were M&Ms. My daughter has already told me what my costume is going to be next year. And, no, I'm not telling; you're just going to have to stick around and keep reading this web log if you want to find out.

I purely love Halloween.

Well, my son is 18. I am very proud of him. It's a miracle, I think, if any boy makes it until 18, and if you don't think that proves that there is a God, keep reading!

I recently got back from visiting my mom in Boca Raton, FL for her 85th birthday.

We got into no real major fights during the whole trip.

I got my mother to put a toe into this century: I bought her a microwave oven for her birthday, and she is actually going to try using it.

I got her to try eel for lunch, knowing beforehand what it was. Also, raw tuna and raw salmon.

There is a God.

There was also an entire clubhouse, filled with hundreds of old Jewish ladies, complaining about their aliments, detailing their latest procedures and comparing medications, and bragging about their children to anyone who came within snagging distance.

I felt as if I'd already had Halloween. That was scary enough for me.

Several of my co-workers live in or near Tampa. I was telling one of them about this. He responded by describing Tampa-area resteraunts at Early Bird Special time: "If you stand up and unfocus your eyes a bit, it looks just like a box of Q-Tips with a few bald sticks!"

I never would've thought of that picture, but now I can't get it out of my head.

I had to change planes in DC. There is now a federal law: on all inbound flights to Reagan International everybody must remain seated for the last 30 minutes of the flight, and outbound for the first 30 minutes. No exceptions. For any reason.

Security now seems to me to be much better, more logical, and certainly smoother than when I used to fly semi-regularly. As we have recently seen, it is not perfect, but it sure is better than it used to be. Although I can think of one way around it... I think I won't detail that one, though.

Boca Raton, at least the part of it where I was, right around the geriatric complexes, is way over-decorated for Halloween. It's like going back to childhood, something I suspect many of these people are either doing, or it is being foisted upon them. Yuck!

I brought my laptop, but I did not use a computer or listen to the news for a whole week. Absolute bliss! I was mostly calm and serene; even now, back home for 12 days, a little of that still lingers. I wonder how long it will last?

I read on planes, in airports and while on line at the DMV. It really helps. I don't get upset like many people around me. Here's some of what I've been reading lately.

  1. "The 2% Solution" by Matthew Miller. Political. My opinion of a must-read. Some of it I considered naive, but other parts impressed me. I think it's an important book. Please condsider reading it.
  2. "The Da Vince Code" by Dan Brown.
  3. "Lamb" by Christopher Moore, the same person who wrote "Coyote Blue". The heretofore unreleased Gospel by Jesus's childhood bud, Biff. The funniest book I've read in years. So funny in parts that I suggest you go to the bathroom before reading it. So irreverent that I suggest you don't show it to any committed Christians if they don't have a sense of humor!
  4. "Angels and Demons" Dan Brown again. His usual good research, good (considering the genre) writing, and great story. I also recommend his book "Digital Fortress".
  5. "Queen Bee of Mimosa Branch" by Haywood Smith. Pure southern chick book, but I needed something to read on a plane, and it was captivating.
  6. "The Island of the Colorblind" by Oliver Sacks. Science, medicine, pop anthropology and travel all in one book. If I were a critic I'd call it a spellbinding read, and if I had more time I'd come up with a better description, but I honestly cannot think of one now.
  7. Realm of Numbers by Isaac Asimov. Math. Very interesting. Did you know that there were two sytems of Roman Numerals? It was not until medieval times that scribes using the Roman number symbols adopted the shorthand that subtracts one instance of a smaller number from a larger one when the former was placed directly before the latter. So 4 would have been written like this: IIII, not like IV, as we are accustomed to seeing it today. Lots of other fascinating facts.
As part of my affiliation with the Red Cross (known hereafter as the ARC) I recently attended a Weapons of Mass Destruction training session with the East Haven Fire Department. Um, no: I know what you're thinking, and I'm not responsible for the course title. The course was in recognizing and responding; one did not learn how to use them and -- Sorry! -- they didn't have any real ones to play with. And, no, they do not appreciate jokes about the subject. This was actually my second course. We got to talking. I can't share details, but I can say that I'm pleased to know that many installations are a lot more well-protected than you might think, and certainly more so than I had thought. There is a lot going on under the covers and I feel safer knowing that. Too bad almost all of it is at the state level. The Federal Government is simply not ponying up all of the cash that they could and should and have promised to. {sigh}

Funniest recent quote I've heard: "So me and xxxxxxxx sat down on an overturned rowboat to eat lunch. We heard a muffled 'Ow!' and there was a puff of smoke. We left." Of course this person will remain anonymous.

I like to dance. No matter how long one has been dancing, there is always still something to learn. The lesson I learned last night, for instance, is that dancing in bare feet (as is my habit) and energetic women wearing heels is not always a good combination. This is the first time that anything like this has happened, so as soon as my foot heals I'll be back out on the floor in bare feet. Why? Because dancing in bare feet is way sensual. If you haven't tried it, you cannot possibly know: it is very, very good.

The Yankees lost the World Series in game 6 on a 2-run shut out. It's the first time since since 1981 that someone other than the Yankees (Dodgers1) won the World Series at Yankee Stadium. Well, the Marlins played well, and they deserve their victory. Nevertheless, I'm not going to eat marlin until the Yanks regain the title. Actually, I don't think I've ever eatin a marlin, and I'm not sure if they are edible. If there are any anglers out there who know more about the subject of marlin-eating, please feel free to enlighten me via e-mail. That way, I'll know that soneone is reading this log!

1 You know where they started!


Henry's Web Log: September 4, 2003

September 4, 2003 It's not quite fall, but the temperatures are dipping, and sleeping is always easier and nicer in the cool weather. Well, I think so, anyway. Of course, I like the cold!

Speaking of dips...

NOTE To Chain Stores:
1. No human answers your phones. An automated system picks up. Strike One
2. I select my language, waiting through the primary greeting, in Spanish, though the primary language in this country is English. I can sort of understand this, though. Ball One
3. I wade through four (4) levels of menus to reach my department. Strike Two
4. When I finally do work my way to the correct selection, an operator answers, because the menu system seems to do absolutely nothing. I repeat my selection, and am connected to the department. Possibly an anomalous technical glitch. Ball Two
5. Nobody answers. I did call during lunch time. Perhaps you are not understaffed; maybe I've just called during a rush. Ball Three

*****

What's it going to be, folks? Will it be a line drive direct to the information I need? Will it be a foul ball, and will I have to let my fingers walk through the Yellow pages to find a store that has my software in stock? Or... Will it be a home run? Will I connect solidly with my product at a believable price, in stock, and ready to be picked up?

*****

6. I am returned to the main menu. I am offered a chance to retry my extention. I do so, only to be informed that the choice I've selected is not available, and I'm returned to the main menu again. I try once more, in case I've pressed the wrong button. Nope, it's an endless loop, all right. Strike Three: yer' outa here!

Now, my questions to this retailer, and to all other places who do this are:
1. Do you really think I am going to drive to your store when your phone system doesn't work?
2. Don't you know that you lose a sale every time this happens?
3. Do you fail to understand that you need sales, lots of individual transactions like mine, to stay in business?
4. Or do you simply not care, knowing that YOU will retire with your golden parachute when the store does finally go out of business?
Either way, screw you, and the horse you rode in on. Today is September 4, 2003, the store was Circuit City, and I am relating my experience with this outlet in an honest fashion.

It is not the first time this has happened to me at Circuit City or I wouldn't be doing this. Customers have a right to honestly share their experiences -- good and bad -- with these establishments.

So, if you think this is libel...

You can print this page, roll it in a ring, and stuff it up your lawyer.

P.S.
The phone at the store down the street (Universal Drive in North Haven, CT) was answered by a human. They had what I needed and, although their price was slightly higher, I ordered it from them.

MORAL:
Customer Service Counts.


Henry's Web Log: August 29, 2003

August 29, 2003

Taxes

Here is some information on the history of the Federal Income Tax: www.tcf.org/Publications/Basics/Tax/History.html

A onetime friend and employer of mine used to say that if Americans looked at all the taxes they paid, as a whole, all together, there would be a revolution tomorrow.

I do not believe it is possible to run the US or Connecticut or even my local school district fairly without some taxes. Nor do I think that the rich should be punished for being successful by bearing the cost of running the country by themselves while those less fortunate live only off the gleanings.

On the other hand, it looks to me as if the middle class is shrinking, and the country may some day be in possible danger of splitting between the ultra-rich and the poor. Why is it possible that some few people can own gold-encrusted shower curtains, while the masses work hard and long hours (Do you know any regular professional employees who work only a 40-hour week any more?) and yet bankruptcies and forclosures are way up, and much of the middle class is scared for their finances? Some United States soldiers and their families are eligible for food stamps - shameful!

Well, here is one way that I tend to look at it. To the best of my knowledge, this old summary is original to me.

I go to your employer's store and buy their product.

Woah - not so fast! Not without paying tax for the privilege of doing so, I don't! This, of course, is income to your employer, so they pay tax on that income.

After the cost of doing business - and, of course, after paying taxes on their gross income - the employer has some money left over, called the net, and they pull some money out of that net and pay your salary.

But, wait! You have to pay a tax for the privilege of receiving that salary, which has been taxed twice already! The first time, the initial purchaser paid the tax, and the second time was when your employer paid taxes on his gross income, since that is what taxes are based upon.

This same dollar has been taxed twice already.

But, when you get it, you pay taxes on it for a third time. Of course, it is likely that you will spend that dollar, so it is taxed at least twice more, and there is where the fourth and fifth taxes come from: when the merchant receives it, you pay taxes on what you spend it for, and he for receiving it as income.

You're not safe if you invest it: when you finally do cash in your investment, that is income, and it is taxed. The financial services corporation or division that paid you for your faith in them, in the form of your hard-earned and well-taxed dollars, is going to use the profit to build the organization and make it stronger. But not the gross profit, no: although taxes were paid on transactions involving that dollar a minimum of four times already, they pay again for the fifth time.

There is no getting out of it: most dollars in this country are taxed at least five times... per complete exchange!

And we haven't even touched the taxes your employer pays on the expenses of all the goods, services, and transactions necessary to produce a profit on their gross; we are only dealing with straight transactions. Nor have we touched upon local taxes; special taxes; or surcharges, which are, essentially, taxes on taxes.

None of this is offset by the concept of "non-taxable income" for the simple reason that it is a fiction. Someone paid taxes producing that income. And when you spend it, or your heirs spend it, it will be taxed again. No, "non-taxable income" is simply income that has only been taxed three or four times, so it should really be called triple-taxed income, or quadruple-taxed income... and we call that getting off easy!

But the government gets off even easier: they don't pay any taxes on the money they spend! As a government contractor, you might not pay taxes on it when you first receive it, but after that, it is still taxed three or four times per transaction, just like any other "non-taxable income".

Of course, the government is a legal construct: it doesn't really exist in the way that a living person does.

In just the same way, a private company is a fiction, but it still has to pay taxes.

And, even without any inheritance tax, try being buried, cremated or otherwise legally disposed of without paying any taxes!

No, our government taxes the living, the dead, and fictions that don't even exist.

I certainly do not support the idea of United States companies incorporating oversees just to avoid being taxed like their more honest domestic counterparts, while still partaking of all the perquisites, protection and services that come with originating in, or being located in, the United States.

And I have just as little esteem for companies that produce no good, service or benefit: legal fantasies that exist only to move money around, shuffling the papers until they are so confused that no one can tell where it came from or who got it.

When the Mafia does that, we call it "money laundering". When large companies do it, we call it taking advantage of perfectly legal tax breaks, exemptions, and loopholes.

Do I believe that Mr. Bush cut taxes injusiciously and recklessly? I do.

Do I believe that Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and various Bush cabinet members seem to be trying to run this country like their own personal fiefdom, like a Good Ole' Boy network? I sure do.

But maybe, just maybe, if our tax structure were a little more fair, we would be able to keep more of our money, and we wouldn't be in such fear of having none left if and when we retire.

And maybe, if taxation were a little more fair, our government could take care of it's primary missions of proctecting, defending, and caring for the health of its citizens instead of dipping for pork and catering to whatever corporate interests can afford the best lobbyists.

But this situation will not change by itself. Neither Congress nor the executive branch will change volunterily: they will kick and wriggle and fight against any changes we try to impose.

But we have to fight: peacefully, of course. We have to vote because it's our country, and that's the only way to legally and peacefully keep it ours.

We have to keep track of what our elected representatives are doing and insist that they represent us because no one is going to do this for us. And all that big lobbying money they get? It means nothing if they can't get re-elected.

We still have the power. We have the power to be taxed more fairly, and to have a say in how our money is spent.

Freedom is not free. Liberty is not defended by the complacent, the unconcerned, or the lazy. Those who get involved in the governing of this country generally do so to promote and advance their own interests.

If you're not involved your interests will not be tacken into account. They will not be promoted. And they will not be defended.


Henry's Web Log:August 27, 2003

August 27, 2003 Today's Word of the Day: Dasygapal (da-si-GAY-phul) "Having hairy buttocks." Thanks, Jen!

Oceania is where I want to be!
Oligarchy is the gov for me!
Meeting Julia for carnal sin,
Keep Eurasia...
Just give me that Victory Gin!
  -From Lesser Known Moments InThe Lives Of The Stars.

On this date in 1928, the Kellogg-Briand Pact was signed in Paris, outlawing war and providing for the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Gee, I'm glad we solved that pesky little problem.

As of yesterday, more US soldiers have died in Iraq (I don't believe we're even keeping track of Iraqui deaths) since Mr. Bush declared that the war was over than had died in the official conflict.

We continue to talk about ending wars, but we seem to keep fighting them.

We keep talking about supporting our troops -- Heck, we keep talking about loving them! -- but then we cut their benefits, and we're skimping so badly that some soldiers in Afghanistan had to buy their own equipment, including flashlights. I know a couple of people in the US armed forces, and the impression I get is that, although they love their country and believe in their jobs, they just aren't feeling the love they'd expected from the way Mr. Bush talked before he got into office.

Talk is cheap.

But it hasn't ended war, it isn't improving the lives of our soldiers, and it's not doing a thing for the infrastructure, the economy or the health care system of this country.

Some people who are trying to do something about the latter problem are these folks. They make a good case, at least to this author.

Truman's desk sign said: "The BUCK STOPS here!" [sic]. What does Mr. Bush's say: "It's not my fault!"?

The other day I commented about the workers down the street playing "Bad To The Bone" while I had my office windows and skylights open. Today, it's jackhammers, an air compressor, and truck motors. I've got to say, given a choice between the jackhammers and the song, the jackhammers win. That's just a personal opinion, of course.

Today is my son's first day as a senior in high school. In about a week, my daughter returns to her university, also as a senior. I realize that technically it is not "her" university, but at these prices, I think it should be partially mine. I ought to get a bench or something. I'm not complaining, though. Both of my children are doing very well; I am fiercely proud of both of them (though I'm more likely to tease them than tell them this) and, as Andy McIntyre might have said: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!" I don't know who Andy McIntyre is, but several places attribute this quote to him. If you have authoritative information about the originator, please let me know. Because ignorance is, well... you know!

I'm not the only one who teases. My kids are quite good at it themselves; we have a unique relationship. I know that if I told them I wanted to own a bench at a university they would suggest that my face could be painted on the seat. At least I hope that all they would do would be to suggest it, but I'm not absolutely sure. Both of them can draw.

Current book, pressed upon me by a friend: Don't Cry For Me, Hot Pastrami by Sharon Kahn. OK, it's pretty darn light, but isn't that what the Labor Day weekend is for?

Today is the closest that Mars and Earth have been in almost 60,000 years. Mars won't be this close again until August 28, 2287. I just wish my kids would stop asking what Mars looked like the last time it was this close. You see what I have to put up with?


Henry's Web Log: August 25, 2003

August 25, 2003 I work from a homne office. My office has two windows, four skylights, and an air conditioner. I prefer not to use the air conditioner when I don't have to. It is days like today, however, that I am tempted to, in spite of the fact that the outside temperature is only 77oF and the humidity is mild.

That is because there are workmen outside, a couple of houses away. They are playing the radio and evangelizing.

Yes, they are. They are making me believe in heaven.

Currently, I believe that heaven must be a place where the song "Bad To The Bone" has never, ever been played, and never will be.


Henry's Web Log: August 23, 2003

August 23, 2003 Not the best of times here at Geekland On The Sound.

But not the worst, either. Things just don't get as bad as they did when I was a teenager with angst.

First of all, there is Cross Sound Cable. We've been fighting this dog for too long now. During the blackout, the cable was turned on turned on, even though

  1. The cable does not comply with current regulations or the conditions of the permit,
  2. It will disturb the already fragile fishing industry in this area of The Sound,
  3. It will hinder dredging, needed and scheduled soon, and...
  4. Although Long Island had plenty of power, and whose of us who live along The Sound in Connecticut had none, not one watt of power flowed back to help us here along the shoreline.
Perhaps, Governer Pataki, we here in CT are not quite as stupid as you claim to think we are. Long Island is short on generating capacity. What makes us think that, in a power shortage, Long Island would supply Connecticut with power? Any doubt we might have had about the actual situation was abolished during this incident. Our lights stayed out. Hooray for Long Island! They had power. Ah, in moments of weakness, it makes me think of this.

Ah, it was a dirty deed many times over. I have neither the time nor the space and certainly not the inclination to recount the story here. It is filled with lies, deception, broken promises, what appear to many to be attempted bribes, unmet timetables, unfulfilled promises, alleged back room deals, political cronyism and pull from On High. It is a pity that the lobstermen and oystermen and fishermen of all stripes who have depended upon this water are not members of The Aristocracy of Pull. They don't have a chance.

I threw my back out last Sunday with an audible "crunch!". I haven't trained or worked out in a week, and my back still hurts. Two days off painkillers, and my Physical Therapist returns on Monday. Hoping for relief...

The upstairs toilet finally died. Who would think a new toilet would cost so much?

The emergency power system is fully charged and back on line after a brief absence for maintenacne.

In the good news, Miya's is now offering $2.99 lunch specials. Mmmm! As they say at Miya's: "Man cannot live on rice alone." At these prices, no one has to. This was what sushi was like when I first started eating it, in New York. The world's best lunch value, not an expensive fad.

Which is good, because I think my employer has hired this character to run about the place with his sycthe and mow people down. I strongly suspect that I'll be out of a job by the end of the year.

Well, sleep is free, I need the vacation, and I have the best friends in the world. Who could ask for anything more?

Well, if it's humor you're wanting, try this.

If it's cool geek toys, try thisand this. Now that's geeky!

I've just finished reading "Big Lies" by Joe Conason. A bit too partisan for me, and in my opinion, needlessly provocative. But filled with lots of good facts... and... he cites his sources.

Despite all my frequent complaints, I am a very lucky man. I'm grateful, thankful, and constantly aware of my good fortune. Besides...

Sleep solves much. I think I'll try it, and see how things look in the morning.


Henry's Web Log: August 19, 2003

August 19, 2003
Guilt and Redemption

GUILT
Today is Tuesday, August 19, 2003 and the officials charged with such responsibilities are busily investigating the cause of the largest electrical power failure in U.S. history so far.

They can stop right here.

I may have caused the "Blackout of 2003". But it wasn't intentional. It was a performance review.

You know the drill. The boss asked me to list my goals from the previous review, and to state in writing whether I'd met them. I'll save you the suspense:   I had.   Next, it was time to list what I hoped to accomplish this year. I fired it off and sent it in. "Very good," came the response, "but now tell us how you are going to accomplish these objectives."

Times have been rougher than usual here in Geek Central, so I knew I needed more words, and they had to stand out. I had to look good. So I threw in every reasonable asset that I possessed if it seemed at all relevant. Some of us are going to be employed at the end of this year. Some of us are not, and I plan to be part of the former group. My mortgage company, my childrens' educational institutions, several local sushi establishments and the makers of Martin Marquis Lights are counting on me! I wracked my brain for those assets that would set me apart and show them that I was a unique and valuable contributer that they could not afford to lose.

And that, folks, is why I wrote The Sentence.

It happened exactly as I am about to describe. I am not varying the content, the timing, or any other detail even in the slightest, for the sake of a good story or for any other reason.

I had just finished writing the following sentences: "Henry continues to be available to department members by a variety of means and is always accessible to them to deal with critical problems 24/7 via cell phone/pager. In addition, Henry has a solar system installed in his home office (built primarily for his amateur radio use, but also available to power his entire system) and is able to operate for up to a week if power is completely out: via his laptop, and either cable or dial-up modem."

I put the period on the end of the second sentence, hit the carriage return to move on to my next point, and the power went out in much of the northeastern United States.

*****

All right, I'm not seriously suggesting that there was any cause and effect, but then again, some of the theories floating about the web are no less wacky, and I still haven't heard a believable official explanation, five days after the event.

REDEMPTION
We went shopping the other day. Not buying, just shopping. And while shopping, we noticed a new trend in household cleansers. Have you noticed that The New Color is... orange? Yup, you can get all your favorite cleaning products, full of toxic and caustic chemicals, in a color that was looking increasingly appealing to me as I got thirstier. The Windex® was looking like a real thirst quencher from where I stood (the hardware aisle) and if we stayed there much longer I was going to seriously consider reaching for the Mop 'n Glo®.

OK, I'm an adult.

I wouldn't do that. But children might. Worse yet, when I turned around I saw a display of cleaning products: a five-pack. Each product was a different color, and those colors looked exactly like a variety pack of Freezer Pops®. What are these manufacturers thinking? Are they trying to kill our kids?

No, they're just trying to make money, and it is increasingly harder to find a color, no matter how offbeat and unlikely, that junk food intended for children is not made in.

But that is no excuse.

Some kid is going to die from drinking a cleaning product, honestly mistaking it for an appealing and "legitimate", if not common, "food product". I'll bet some already have.

AND THAT IS WHY I AM CALLING, HERE AND NOW, FOR A NATIONAL CAMPAIGN FEATURING "MR. YUCKY".

Mr. Y would be a cartoon character, easily and quickly sketched. And easily recognizable. His image would be imprinted on all harmful non-edible products that could be mistaken for food. The text below him might say something like: "Mr. Yucky says NO!". The concept, and the line drawing would be taught by parents, would be featured in childrens' publications, mentioned in daycare and preschool, and anywhere else you can think of. Surely, if we can encourage our kids to "say no to drugs" we can get them to say "NO!" to household poisons too.

I have created a seb site dedicated to this issue. It doesn't say much now, but that is where the campaign will be centered or news of its death will be announced. You will find it here: http://www.henryfarkas.com/kidsafe/.

I have no desire to mandate what color every cleaning product in the United States should be, but it's easy to slap a sticker on a label. Come on, manufacturers and advertising executives: this isn't a hard campaign to start, and it's not rough to carry out. It doesn't cost much, it'll buy you lots of goodwill, and I'm sure you can even find a way to turn the campaign expenses into a tax break.

Besides, a lot of you are parents. Please, I urge you, think about it!

*****

It's been something like seven months or so since my last weblog entry. I've read way too many books to come up with a list in time to get this log entry published. But I have read two items recently that I recommend most highly.
    -The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
    -Thieves In High Places by Jim Hightower
Get 'em. Read 'em. You won't regret it.

I won't promise to write more regularly, but I do promise to try. This will do for a start. And feedback might encourage me to write more.

In the meantime: remember the a la mode, and Mr. Yucky, too!


Henry's Web Log January 13, 2003

January 13, 2003
The Power Of Cats

Why yes, I do have cats. Three of them, to be exact, at the moment.

This past weekend, I was supposed to go to an annual party that I almost always attend, and look forward to each year. I get to catch up with some long-time friends, drink home-spiced cider, play with sharp instruments, and observe some associates (and now, some of their children) as they grow over the years. It means a slightly over 200 mile drive each way, but I generally stay the weekend.

Cats are no problem to leave behind. You can go away anywhere you want for a weekend. Right? Well, sometimes. But not this time. Oh, no, not this time.

Let's start with Madchen. Twenty-one year old pure white long haired Texas hunting cat. If you believe the stories (and I do, there are enough of them) in her prime she could feed a family of four in Appalachia with what she killed and brought home.

Well, I don't need any small animals, and that's good: she's gotten too old to hunt. She doesn't even go outside any more. She just hangs around on the couch, or eats, or yowls outside my bedroom door in the middle of the night (or early morning) and hassles the other cats.

Oh, yes: she can hassle. We have Hayes. Nineteen pounds of lumbering fur in battleship gray with a white tuxedo front. And Myst The Striped, who thinks he's invincible. I assure you he's not, but more on that in a minute. He loves to fight, and yes, he does have all of his claws. You can tell my looking at me sometimes. I don't have stigmata; I have cats.

But Madchen rules the house. Twenty-one year old Madchen, who practically creaks when she walks, and is so thin that a strong breeze blows right through her: she has the other two cats firmly in their place. And that place is... intimidated.

So. I woke up on Saturday morning, all ready to go to the party. I wasn't packed, but I didn't figure that that would be a problem. I was right, but for the wrong reason.

Many of you know that I Am Not A Morning Person. Well, keeping that in mind...

When I stepped out of my bedroom door all too early on Saturday morning I knew immediately that Madchen had been there. Have I mentioned yet that she sometimes has Litterbox Problems? Well, this was one of those times.

And we're not talking about any "I'm marking my territory and I've got a lot of ground to cover, so taste it, don't waste it." Oh, no. We are talking about "I've been saving this up all night. Aren't you proud of what I can do?" I was in bare feet, of course. "Proud" is not an appropriate word to describe my reaction.

In fact, none of the words I used for a long time were appropriate, and I'm not proud of that fact, either.

I got cleaned up and headed downstairs. I was already having minor doubts about being able to go to the party. I really didn't want to come home to a place that smelled like the service entrance of the Cleveland Zoo. But I really didn't think I wouldn't actually go. I have two kids, and I've volunteered at an emergency room: there's not a lot in the way of any bodily substances that I can't handle.

And then I got downstairs and let Myst in.

Remember Myst? I said you'd be reading more about him. Ah, Myst! Myst, who has dug his claws into the earth and arched his back when cars have pulled into my driveway, and has tried to stand them down. Myst, who's not bright enough to realize that he's a cat, and who consequently chases cars. And trucks, too. We caught him chasing the city Animal Control Officer's truck one day. Myst is not bright. He's the most lovable cat in the world, as long as you're human. Any other species? He chases them. And fights.

Now, this would be OK if he were a scrapper, but you've probably already figured out that he can't fight. Too bad nobody told him. (Well, we do, repeatedly, but he won't listen.)

So when I cleaned up and came downstairs on Saturday morning and let Myst in, he was limping. And yowling in pain. Left hind leg this time.

Last time it was the right rear leg, and he'd clearly encountered a dog. The teeth marks were plain. He got that leg chomped so hard that he's lucky he didn't lose it. This wasn't nearly as bad, but it clearly wasn't good.

Because Hayes has idiopathic epilepsy I cannot take him anywhere: the one thing that we do know sets off seizures, every time, is confining him at all. The seizures are violent and very scary: I don't even think of trying to put him in a cat carrier any more. Not even heavily sedated. He surprised the vet last time. They did not think that a cat shot full of three (3! but that's another story) kinds of tranquilizers could have a seizure. Note: they can. He did. Now I have a vet who makes house calls.

To the phone. I don't have speed dial, and still, I think that phone could dial the vet by itself. No luck. The vet's out skiing this weekend. Her message says call Central Hospital. That's OK, Myst is no stranger to Central, either. But they couldn't see him until 2:00.

When I found that out, I sent a very terse e-mail. I was not coming to the party this year. I was not in a particularly good mood. I think it showed.

I got to the hospital at 1:47. They didn't take him in until almost 3:00. No, that's no mistake: I do mean almost 3:00. They finally took him in and examined him. Almost another hour's wait for a diagnosis, they had to do an exam and then they took x-rays and had to wait for them to be developed. Pixel by pixel, perhaps.

Well, over two hours after I got to the hospital and almost $300.00 later they said...

"We don't know exactly what's wrong with him."

They think he has an infection. Or soft tissue damage. Or both. They gave me some antibiotics (for the cat) and sent me away. The antibiotics are in pill form. I thought it would be a problem, but no. That didn't cause a problem; they solved one. Now I know what to do with the soft sausage I got in one of those prefab gift boxes for Christmas. It tastes like absolutely nothing. But so does dry cat food (well, at least that tastes like cereal; this stuff has even less taste than cat food) so I thought I'd give it a try. Bingo! Myst loves it! Hopefully, the remaining pills and sausage will last together.

I trust my vet more than Central (they are a very good animal hospital; they just aren't My Vet) so I got the x-rays and she's coming to see him this afternoon. Myst Of The Boundless Energy has been doing nothing but laying around all weekend. He didn't even respond when I had to use a can opener.

So I spent my weekend doing all that I've described, plus helping repair a staircase, polishing a floor, and watching Myst. I've had worse weekends, of course, but I had really planned on this party.

I hope it was a good one.

I plan to be back next year. I can't imagine that Madchen will be around for another year. That'll leave only two cats. Right? Maybe we won't have so much unnecessary drama next year.

You know, even a blizzard couldn't stop me from coming, one year. But a single nine pound cat? Stopped me dead in my tracks.

This, friends, is The Power Of Cats.

UPDATE: January 14, 2003
The vet came yesterday. Over $300.00 more dollars later: Myst may have a torn ligament, an infected leg, or lyme disease, in decreasing order of likelihood. The area around his leg is very swollen. I have to keep him inside for two weeks. That's already starting to get interesting, as he recovers just a little bit. And, he's getting smarter about eating around the additional pills I mash up in his food. But he will recover.

Will he ever learn to run away from fights? Will I ever go back to this annual party? Will we have a second war with Iraq? Will we continue The War That Never Officially Ended with North Korea?

Will pointless random violence continue to rule much of the globe? Will terrorism define this decade, and the world sink back towards the anarchy and barbarism of competing superstitions until only the strongest and most ruthless (if any) survive? Will the majority of the populace ever figure out that this is the real implication of "fundamentalism" and reject that rapacious dragon, by laughing in its self-assured face?

Will we learn to turn our backs on the false promise of security cloaking the claws that are always at the heart of its message of A Return To A Simpler And More Virtuous Time?

Or will the threat of violence scare U.S. citizens into willingly relinquishing more of their rights? Will the U.S. remain free? If not, will it become a theocracy, a plutocracy, an oligarchy (or both of the preceeding) or a neo-feudal protectorate with our corporate-funded lords pulling the strings that move the flapping mouths promising Security Through Control?

I am writing this in the morning.

Perhaps you can see now (for those of you that do not already know) just how much I am Not A Morning Person.

I expect I will get much less cynical as the day goes on and the sunlight, and coffee, stream in. And out. :-)

But, if any of your utility companies adopt a coat of arms for their logo, just remember: you heard it here first.


Henry's Web Log: January 1, 2003

January 1, 2003
Happy New Year

We went out dancing last night, as is our custom on New Year's Eve.

We almost didn't go, because it was dark (not my best driving time) the roads were wet, and it was Amateur Night. It looked like this:

A
Foggy Night In New Haven

We went anyway, and had a great time. We got home in the fairly early hours of this morning. As I entered the house I noticed a strange code on my alarm keybox, with flashing lights. Back outside to the car. Called the alarm company: do they have someone staffing a desk 24/7? Answer: no. Do I want to page a techincian in the early hours of January First? No, I've been a field service tech, and I don't think so. I checked the house thoroughly. No apparent intrusion, nothing missing, no obvious signs of attempted forced entry. It's clearly time for sleep.

But not for long.

Early this morning, the alarm went off. And my alarm, folks, is loud.

I had visions of a visit by a delegation of neighbors. There's precedent. When the attic fan lost a blade (before the circuit breaker popped) it made a pretty loud noise. Loud enough that a group of neighbors came to ring my doorbell and ask if everything was all right. Well, I was fine; I was right there in the living room. I just wasn't dressed. That got straightened out, but I still remember the incident. Apparently the neighbors do, too. No one came to investigate this time.

But the alarm didn't shut off, either. Entered alarm code. Twice. No luck. Entered the reset code. Twice. No effect. Sorry, but now it is time to page the technician.

It took three tries to get a call back, while the system started going through its different alarm patterns. Loud, but interesting. Unfortuantely, it didn't amuse me for long.

Finally, I got a call back.

It turns out that a circuit breaker had popped. But not before the surge that had caused the breaker to trip had ruined the transformer that supplies primary power to the alarm system. Last night's strange code, documented nowhere in the manual, meant that there had been a power failure (only that circuit; the rest of the house was fine) and would have informed me that the system was running on battery power, had the the display either been intuitive, or the code documented in the manual.

In the early hours of the morning, the battery had drained down to its critical low point, and the system basically went librarian-poo. (If you don't know what this means, you aren't familiar enough with Terry Pratchett books, and I strongly suggest you run right out (after finishing this article, of course) and get some to read. You'll discover funny bones you never knew existed, and your body and spirit will thank you.)

Well, the system got fixed (Thanks, Dominic and John!) and now I know a whole lot more about how my system, and alarms in general, work. And a couple of ways of bypassing several circuits. All in all, it was very educational. But it sure is a heck of a way to start a new year!

Books I've enjoyed recently:

    The Spy Next Door - Shannon/Blackman
    Spirit Of St. Louis - Cassagneres
    The Art Of Deception - Mitnick
    The Acts Of King Arthur And His Noble Knights - Steinbeck
    Common Nonsense - Rooney
    Condominium - MacDonald
    Who's Afraid Of Classical Music - Walsh
    The Desperate Years - Horan
    The Diary of Samuel Pepys - Gallienne (editor) (barely a beginning)
    On Writing - King
As you can see, it's been a very good end-of-year break, though I got more reading than house repairs done.

I needed the down time. But now it's back to work and (hopefully) productivity. Happy New Year! I wish you all happiness, peace, prosperity and more cool linux-based devices in the coming year.


Henry's Web Log 11-17-2002

November 17, 2002
"He looks amazingly like a python... for a human."
   -my son

My son recently looked in my refrigerator. He pulled out a frozen pizza, the very bottom item in the freezer. OK, ok, so it was a little over 4 years old. Admit it: you've done this once or twice too, right?

Right?

Oh.

Well, upon seeing the expiration date on the package, my son looked up at me and said: "Jeez, Dad! This thing should be potty trained and walking by now!"

He recently engaged in a little psychological experiment. He was sleeping at his mom's house that night. During the afternoon he had wired a small speaker under her pillow. The wire from the speaker was carefully concealed, and ran to his room, where he'd recorded a song onto a tape loop.

He set his alarm clock to get up shortly before she did. When she went to bed that night he waited until he was sure she was asleep. Then he gradually turned the volume up.

The premise was that he'd turn it off before she woke up, the goal was to see if she would start singing or humming it the next day.

Instead, she woke up at around 2:00 AM, wondering why the neighbors were blasting such a strange song over and over again. Then she rolled over and discovered the speaker. (I said he hid the wire well; apparently the speaker was a different story.)

With the speaker in hand, however, the wire was easy to find and follow.

So, at somewhere around 2 AM his mom came wandering into his bedroom, slowly and groggily, with a speaker in her hand, and said: "Owen, why are you playing 'The Lime And The Coconut' under my pillow?"


Henry's Web Log September 15, 2002

September 15, 2002 I haven't updated this log for a while. I've had another bout with iritis that's kept me off the computer for a while. Torture! Take care, my computer colleagues: this problem is becoming more common. It's easy to treat, if you catch it early, but it becomes much more painful the longer you wait. If you have persistent or chronic eye strain, you might want to consider getting an eye exam. Anyway, enough with the soap box. This is supposed to be a fun column.

Speaking of fun, I had a lot of it at New Haven's Eli Whitney Folk Festival this weekend. I've been a Tom Rush fan since I was a kid. ok, ok, so I've been a member of his fan club for years, too. You can stop laughing now, thank you very much.

After hearing Vance Gilbert and eddie from ohio I highly reccommend both the man and the group. In Mr. Gilbert's case, I'd suggest that a sense of humor is a prerequisite if you sign for him. And eddie? Well, if you're going to travel in their tour bus(R.V.), you might want bring a cell phone and check the spare before you let them leave.

Anyway, I'm back, the web log is back, and with a guest columnist! I agreed not to use her name.

***

The people I work with are all very interesting. This article is written by one of them. I hadn't planned to include guest columnists. Then again, I hadn't planned to do much political commentary. This log seems to be evolving on its own.

This story concerns one of her animals. She has lots of animals. I asked her for a list of them, just so you could get an idea of what we are about to be dealing with. Saying she's got lots of energy is understement. Severe understatement. The list of animals, then the story, follows.

***

List of animals:
Let's start in the house:
1 Quaker parrot named Paulie
2 cats, Coochie and Lucho
1 Lab: Princess
1 incubator with 20 Rhode Island Red eggs
5 baby guinea hens, about 3 days old, under a heat lamp in a large fish tank.

Outside:
2 Quarter Horses: Butternut and Marilyn
My daughter's pony, Freddy
4 cows: Brittany, Ginger, Brenda, & Blackjack (he's the Bull)
2 Calves: B.B. and BoBo (girl & boy)
2 guinea hens
About 20 Rhode Island Red chickens
2 roosters
3 female peacocks (we have several wild ones in the neighborhood including several males)
4 pigs Only one is named: Christmas. The other 3 came from a neighborhood that complained of wild pigs. My brother-in-law, a great trapper, caught them. We had more pigs, but we had several huge pig-roasts.

Thursday, August 15

Our long awaited calf was born to our cow named Brittany.

The calf is a black and white Jersey cow (milk cow), her face is completely white with a black eye.

My son thought it would be a good idea to name her after the dog in the Little Rascals, but no one could remember the dog's name.

We called all our family and friends to let them know of our new family addition, and we also asked them the trivia question: "What was the dog's name on the Little Rascals?" No one could remember.

I sent email to Henry, and he didn't remember either.

(You know he is a geek, as I am, and we have no idea about actors, actresses, or what a TV is.)

My father-in-law, and uncle-in-law showed up to relieve some of the pressure Brittany was feeling due to an over production of milk.

The over production of milk is due to us feeding grain, therefore she is healthier than most milking cows and also I believe she was "late". Since I was working from home, I got disturbed from my tasks at work, but I could not miss the action.

In order to get everything done at work, I was late picking up the kids, and NO DINNER!

So, off we went, to Kentucky Fried Chicken.

We ordered our food, and ate in. When we finished eating, I ordered my husband's dinner.

As I was waiting at the counter for my food, this older guy started some small talk.

He told me how tired he was from doing so much. I was thinking to myself what in the world can this old guy do to make him so so tired?

So I asked him: "So, what have you been doing that has made you so tired?"

He walked up real close to me and said in a low voice "I have been traveling and signing autographs."

I chuckled and said "Oh, really?"

He said again, in that low voice: "I'll tell you who I am". I said: "Okay..."

He said "Do you remember the Little Rascals?"

I started to laugh, then I grabbed my son's arm, and said "What was today's trivia question?" My son replied: "What was the dog's name on the Little Rascals?" The man said: "The dog's name was Petie, and I am Mickey, the one that was always with Buckwheat."

I said "You have got to be kidding! I thought all of you were gone!"

He said "No, There are 2 of us alive."

He said the other person's name, but I can't remember things like this. (GEEK syndrome!)

We walked out in the parking lot and he gave us an autographed picture with him and the Little Rascals.

He also gave us another autographed picture with the man from the "Howdy Doodie Show"; apparently he was also in that show. He mentioned his dad was the voice of some character in the Wizard of Oz.

This was an amazing coincidence. We got our answer from someone who really knows!


Henry's Web Log August 17, 2002

August 17, 2002 Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor says we have no choice but to invade Iraq.

Mr. Bush says he's listening to the American people, but statements like this: "Listen, it's a healthy debate for people to express their opinion. People should be allowed to express their opinion. But America needs to know, I'll be making up my mind based upon the latest intelligence and how best to protect our own country plus our friends and allies." make me wonder if our voices are relevant to him, or even being heard at all.

Silly me.

I thought that the power to declare war was reserved for Congress in Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 11 of our Constitution.

Well, maybe Mr. Bush just doesn't believe in all that Constitution stuff anyway. Or maybe he just doesn't understand how our government works. Statements such as "The legislature's job is to write law. It's the executive branch's job to interpret law." from a speech in Austin, Texas on November 22, 2000 suggest that this may be so.

Perhaps I can offer some insight to our President and Ms. Rice. After all, he said he would listen.

We do have a choice.

We could not declare war on Iraq.

That is another choice.

From what I know of the situation -- and I have studied it some -- I agree with Mr. Bush's public opinion of Saddam Hussain. And I agree that we may have a chance, or even an obligation, to stop another Hitler-type before he acts against us, thereby preventing a greater catastrophe.

But, before we go to war, Mr. Bush should answer some questions.

  1. Why now?
  2. What convincing evidence do you have that Saddam Hussain has weapons of mass destruction?
  3. Is Iraq the only country that has or intends to have weapons of mass destruction?
  4. If not, who else do you plan to invade?
  5. After we win -- assuming we win -- what do you plan to do next?
  6. Who will replace Saddam Hussain?
  7. How will that improve the situation?
  8. Are you prepared with a plan for what we will do about the disruption of our oil supplies that is likely to result upon the initiation of an invasion?
  9. What is it?
  10. The military asked for more funding for recruits and resources because our war in Afghanistan is seriously depleting both. The White House refused. The White House also refused $5.1 billion dollars for homeland security. Where are we going to get the money to fight Iraq from?
These questions aren't any fun to answer. But you have to answer them. Before we go to war. You might have to give partial answers to some, citing national security concerns. But you cannot refuse to answer all of them that way, or deny us the right to some compelling reasons before fighting this war, and some real evidence to back them up.

We will be funding your war. Parents that I know might be supplying their sons as troops. I am one of those parents and my son might be one of those soldiers.

I am not going to stand by and quietly let him go to war for you based upon some slick version of because I said so and I can't tell you why.

I understand the issues. I understand the dangers. I understand what you are presenting to us as your concerns. And I do not take them -- or Saddam Hussain, or the danger he is likely to present -- lightly.

But this is a democracy. And what you've said so far is not good enough if you want to invade another country.

It's frustrating, I know. But that's why Winston Churchill said "Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." at Hansard (House of Commons Daily Debates) on November 11, 1947.

The world has changed a lot since then. But some things have not changed. You are employed by us, this is still a democracy, and parents do not like seeing their sons sacrificed in undeclared jaunts to foreign countries by decisions made in secret behind closed doors, by oligarchs.

I thought we'd settled that long ago, in Vietnam.

This war has the potential to be a lot more costly than that one, the stakes are higher, and you need to do a much better job if you want to sell us this one.


Henry's Web Log August 12, 2002

August 12, 2002 It was my first Christmas alone in twelve years.

I hadn't gone crazy back in September when we separated; it was mid-December now, and I was determined that Christmas was not going to be a problem. In spite of all the anecdotal stories that helpful people insisted upon sharing with me, the point seeming to be that "the holidays are the hardest time".

Maybe. But I saw no reason why they had to be: I have two children that need a father. The divorce was bad enough; I didn't plan to give them a father that was insane.

Actually, we weren't divorced yet; we were still "just" separated, but neither of us were harboring any illusions of reconcilliation. After much foot-dragging I finally found a place on Nash Street and moved in.

My friends were worried. How would Henry handle it? Would he go crazy? I believe a couple of people were paying a bit more attention to me than I thought was necessary. They were wondering what I would do.

I unpacked, of course, and the first thing I unpacked was my stereo; I was eager to have music for the rest of it. My music! Any time I desired, and at any volume I was likely to want. And I could listen to the news, in depth, without annoying anybody else. I'm an NPR junkie.

So the junkie unpacked. Not what I'd call a happy situation, but still- happy in its own way, like the hitchhikers.

I lived in Salisbury, Maryland for a couple of semesters, back when I was a freshman in Salisbury State College. I left after one year. It was mostly because they'd raised the tuition for out-of-state students; it had very little to do with that incident involving the nudity, the bicycle, the homemade frosted cake and the girls' dorm: the decision to leave was a financial one.

Plus, I was bored. There wasn't much to do in Salisbury, Md for an out-of-state freshman, and freshmen couldn't have cars on campus. Not that I had one, but it would've been nice. At least I could've gone to Ocean City. Or even home. An acquaintances of mine didn't let the lack of a car stop him from taking a weekend trip home: he packed almost all of his clothes in a suitcase and headed back for the weekend, for some of Mom's cooking and washing. A big old Caddy slid over to the side of Route 13, and the driver popped up the trunk from the inside. "Throw it in the trunk and climb on in!" hollered the driver. He tossed his luggage in the trunk and got his ankles sprayed with gravel as the driver sped away with most of everything he owned in the back of that car, the lid still open, bobbing up and down as if it was laughing at him, until the driver took a quick right and sped away in the direction of Ocean City.

Later, he said: "Standing there, on the side of the road, I felt sad and foolish and incredibly free."

And that's how I felt as I unpacked my few belongings.

But I thought I was holding together pretty nicely, so I was disappointed to see Mother Goose strolling North on Nash Street, at a leisurely pace.

The full kit: patchwork dress, pastel materials, huge pockets, frilly bonnet, grandmaw glasses. She was even carrying a large stuffed goose under her left arm.

"Great," I thought: "other people go crazy and think they're Napoleon or George Washington or Pelé. What do I get? Mother Goose. Why? Where did she come from?"

It turned out that Mother Goose owned the house next door. She was an amateur storyteller, and this was one of her personas. She'd sewed the dress herself, and was on her way to a local elementary school for a performance. The pockets were for little objects and treats that she used to help keep the childrens' attention.

So I wasn't going crazy. It had been more than two and a half months now and, while I was not exactly the picture of a happily scrubbed and shining All American Boy, I was getting by quite well and was, at least, proving my my resilience. Now, Christmas was coming. I was determined to be cheerful, and I had Christmas lights to put up.

First, I went into my little kitchen and started brewing some coffee. I had this little tempered glass gadget that a friend had given to me. You put water in the bottom, coffee and a filter in the top, and used the stove to boil the water up through the filter. I set it all up and went back out to the living room to put up my lights.

I was logical and careful. I had several strings of lights. I plugged the first one in, to see if it worked, before I untangled it. As soon as I did, the lights all went on, something went pop, and the entire string went dead. I tossed it aside. I tried another; the lights went on and stayed on until they warmed up and started blinking. I noted that this set was good, and started carefully untangling it. I ended up with three sets of working lights.

I stretched out the strings and arranged them so they were out of the way and shouldn't get tangled again. Excerpts from Handel's Messiah were playing on my stereo, and during the softer bits, I could hear the faint crackle of falling twigs or something.

I'd saved twist ties from the grocery store. They're great little pieces of insulated wire, useful for hanging things. I'd planned my light layout so that I could fasten the strings to existing fixtures, such as the curtain rod supports, with a minimum of push pin holes in the walls of my new place.

I had almost finished stringing the first set, when the music reached a quiet interlude, and I could plainly hear the crackling sounds.

They were coming from my kitchen.

The coffee!

I rushed into the kitchen realizing, only now, that of course the coffee should have been done long ago. It had been. The edges of the cracked glass were so hot that they were glowing orange. I turned off the burner. The stove was a sickening mess of glass and grounds, and there seemed to be hot coffee everywhere, including some very unlikely places. I cleaned up, getting more annoyed with each step, particularly since I had no one but myself to blame.

But, when the job was finished, there were still lights to string. And I still wanted coffee. So I decided that I was going to have coffee. One way or another. I dumped some coffee into a pot, added what I thought was an acceptable amount of water, and turned on the burner. I figured I'd filter the mess through a paper towel so I wouldn't have to drink too many grinds. I knew it wasn't going to taste good, but I wanted coffee and I was going to have coffee, no matter how it tasted.

I went back to work on the lights.

I finished the first set, plugged them in, and waited until they started blinking. Since I was going to plug the second set in series with the first I unplugged the blinking lights and got involved with the music and the second string.

That set went up without any hitch at all. I tested it, and started reaching for the third and final set, when I suddenly straightened up and my body went rigid.

I swiveled my head towards the kitchen, where I could plainly hear...

...a crackling sound.

I rushed in. I had turned on the wrong burner. The one I'd turned on was directly under a cast iron frying pan, not my coffee pot. And the pan was very, very hot.

I grabbed two potholders, wrapped them around the handle, and dumped the pan into the sink. The sink was only about four feet away. I barely made it. The potholders were schorched, and my hands had the heat of a mild sunburn.

I stood in my kitchen, arms akimbo, and surveyed the situation.

My face was flushed, my hands were burning; the steaming frying pan resting in my sink would never be the same again.

My Christmas lights were almost up. I was tired. I was more than a little disgusted.

And I was going to have some coffee.

So I looked under the pot, and turned on the correct burner this time. I straightened up. I squatted down and looked under the pot again. I adjusted the heat so it was just a tad lower. I stood up. I headed out to the living room. I stopped. I turned around. I marched back into the kitchen. I knelt down and checked the burner one more time, and went back out to finish stringing the lights.

I might not get any until the lights were done, but I was going to have coffee.

The third string was a breeze: the lights went up quickly and easily. It looked as if there was going to be a small gap, but I had three sets of blinking multicolored lights that almost framed my two living room windows. They would be cheerful. They would flash out over Nash Street and announce to the world, including the drug dealer across the street, that there was someone living in one of the second floor apartments on Nash Street and that someone was cheerful, damnit!

And the lights really were pretty. I watched them flash, proudly, as I held the remaining bit of the final string in my hands.

And stood still. Suddenly, I was standing very still. The lights were pretty, all right. I realized that I had been admiring them for a few minutes. While I finished fastening the third set. That was connected to the second set, that was connected to the first. Which was not plugged in.

The flashing lights were coming from the fire truck downstairs, the fire truck that I remember only vaguely hearing and dismissing, part of the normal city noise. The fire truck that was parked next to my car.

I dropped the lights and took the stairs down three at a time.

The car in back of mine had a small engine fire.

It was contained, quickly and easily. My car suffered no damage except for a little foam on the trunk that a friendly fireman washed away. It never did hurt the paint job, not that it would've mattered.

I trugded wearily upstairs. I went directly in to the kitchen. I turned off the burner. I checked the lights. I checked the burner again.

And I went directly to bed and pulled the covers up over my head, and I did not move out from under them for the rest of the night.

I finished the lights the next day in under ten minutes. My Christmas present to myself was a new electric coffee maker. I have never tried making coffee in a pot since. The lights were cheerful, and Christmas wasn't bad. The drug dealer burned down his house and got out of my neighborhood, but Tommy The Torch was careless, and got caught. He went to jail, but he didn't stay in long.

I lived with myself and my two kids and my two cats for twelve years, as long as I was married. We've had our ups and downs, but we haven't had any disasters, I didn't go crazy, and I haven't found anything yet that I couldn't cope with. And I've become awfully finicky about how I make coffee.


Henry's Web Log July 29, 2002

July 29, 2002 Money is the mother's milk of politics.
    -Jesse Unruh, Speaker of the California
    Assembly from 1961 to 1968

Never, perhaps, has this been so true as it is now, when the Recording Industry Association of America feels they are losing potential sales.

According to this article, "Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Calif., formally proposed legislation that would give the industry unprecedented new authority to secretly hack into consumers' computers or knock them off-line entirely if they are caught downloading copyrighted material."

According to the same article, "Records show Berman received at least $186,891 from the entertainment industry during the 2001-02 election cycle, including $31,000 from The Walt Disney Co. and $28,050 from AOL-Time Warner Inc."

To continue, from the same source, "Under the bill, companies would not be required to warn users in advance of their actions. A user wrongly attacked could sue only if he suffered more than $250 in economic losses and obtained permission to file a lawsuit from the U.S. attorney general."

Did you get that?

In case you missed it, or in case you think I might have been ingesting hallucinogenic drugs, let me sum it up:

  1. A single industry, the recording industry, will be allowed, if this bill passes, to break into your computer if they suspect that you may be downloading material copyright by them.
  2. They do not have to prove anything before they attack you.
  3. They can root around in whatever files they define as relevant.
  4. They are allowed to attack your computer to the point of knocking it off line, even though this might disable the subnet or the entire network that you are using.
  5. Other users on that network have no legal recourse if the RIAA interferes with their connectivity while going after you.
  6. You have no legal recourse unless you can prove that the RIAA attacked your computer in error, that the damages exceed $250.00, and that the RIAA was responsible for the damage.
  7. Even then, you must obtain the permission of the Attorney General of the United States before you can file a lawsuit.
Let's see, what provisions of our Constitution might that violate? Having no legal training whatsoever, I can venture no educated or authoritative answer, but the following just might be relevant:

Amendment IV

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment VII
    In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
From AMENDMENT XIV - Section 1.
    No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

In all fairness, the RIAA must notify the Justice Department before attacking you, and they can't deliberately spread viruses.

I'm glad some safety provisions are built into this bill, because otherwise I might think that Berman, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts (which has decision-making powers over the Internet and intellectual property) had taken at least $186,891 in bribes from the entertainment industry and sold out the rights of the people of the United States.

(Berman, by the way, is co-author of a joint resolotion, proposed back in March of 2001, to repeal the 22nd amendment to the Constitution. He may be mischievous, but he's certainly not boring!)

If this bill passes, can the software industry be far behind? If the RIAA can root around in your computer at the mere suspicion that you might be illegally sharing or copying music, why can't Microsoft? Don't they deserve redress for their losses too?

Please note: I do not condone stealing. Artists work hard for their money. The rights to security and privacy do not extend to allowing us to abuse them by taking - or giving - what is not ours to have or to share. Nobody has a right to own anything just because they want it.

But we do have a tradition, derived from British common law, and dating back to the 14th century, of presuming people to be innocent until proved guilty.

We have a legal system to support that, and to define, step by step: how this judging is to be done, what proof is required and with whom the burden of producing it lies, the limits of punishment, and a right to appeal.

This legal system, though hardly without flaw, has for the most part worked since the adoption of our Constitution. Changes have been needed and changes have been made. It has been an important component in keeping this country together and is a defining element of our society and those societies that have looked to the United States as a model.

Now is not the time to throw it out.


Henry's Web Log July 22, 2002

July 22, 2002 Notes to Corporate Security:

1. When you are installing intrusion detection software, please tell us SysAdmins.

First.

It may not trigger the official scanning software, but some of us have our own software. Surprise: that does get triggered. We will treat you accordingly.

2. Do not install in promiscuous mode1. This looks to our software like a script kiddie with a root kit. We do not like script kiddies with root kits, and we know what to do to them. We do Bad ThingsTM to them to make them confused.

3. This tends to result in a rapid series of phone calls which may charitably be described as "frank" and "energetic".

4. While no one likes phone calls like these, it does serve to answer the question: "Are the SysAdmins awake?"

5. Take our word for it. We are.

1. The software, not an ethernet card. Note to developers: please check with a geek before you coin a term. It may already exist. If you use it for something else, it just obfuscates the issue; you risk giving us the impression that you are a very confused person and looking for company.

P.S.
I have a voodoo doll. And I know how to use it.


Henry's Web Log May 17, 2002

May 17, 2002 This commentary feels premature. I prefer not to speculate until I have all the appropriate facts. But I feel that some things need to be said, so I'm going to say them: WITH THE CAVEAT THAT I RESERVE THE RIGHT TO CHANGE MY OPINION ONCE THE FACTS ARE IN.

The facts are not all in yet, but the hue and cry has been raised throughout the land: "Bush Knew!"

Ah, yes. Hindsight: it's a beautiful thing.

It's easy to combine all the facts now, isn't it? It's easy to see, eight months after the fact, that if George Bush had put this together with that, carried the one, and added the square root of 42 rounded up to the nearest whole number, it would have all been plain.

Right.

You didn't know, I didn't know, and George Bush didn't know either.

  • A single FBI agent issued a warning about Middle Eastern students in flight schools who weren't interested in learning how to take off and land a jetliner, just how to fly one.
    • What other warnings did that agent give? Why didn't the FBI act on every single one of them?
    • What about all the warnings that all the law enforcement agents in this country issue even on one single day? Why weren't they all acted upon? (Perhaps for the same reason that you are likely to leave your house today knowing that there's a chance it will be burgled?)
    • From what I gather, the agent was concerned that enemy agents might be trying to infiltrate the airline industry. He did not envision September 11th.
  • As I understand it, the FBI was worried about guns, not box cutters.
  • Sure, we knew that Osama bin Laden was a threat. He's been a threat for a long time. What suggested this particular action on this date? Nothing, from what I've read so far.
But that doesn't seem to be stopping the banner headlines, does it?

We value our lives and we want them protected; it's reasonable to expect the FBI to do their job. A long trail of headlines seems to indicate that the FBI, in particular, has experienced a string of high-profile breakdowns that do seem to suggest that something has gone seriously wrong with that agency.

But George Bush? Why would he not prevent this mad act if he could? I've heard theories proposed: GWB relished the (dubious) glory of being a wartime president with a war that he couldn't be blamed for starting.

It sure does seem to this commentator that George Bush wants to fight Saddam Hussein. He's making that pretty clear. I don't see any indication that George Bush thinks he needs someone else to start a war if he thinks a war needs to be started.

I've even heard it suggested that George Bush didn't move to stop this threat because he knew about it, but that he wanted an excuse to build up the military.

Madness!

Why would he do that? George Bush won the election under conditions that many people consider questionable; even if you disagree with that, the election was hardly a landslide. Yet, from his first day in office, this commentator has observed George Bush acting as if he had a unanimous mandate from the nation, if not from heaven itself. It does not appear that GWB feels he needs any excuses to push for programs he wants.

Even if he did feel he needed to build up a budget in such a mad way as this, a missile would have served his agenda much more neatly than an airplane. If anything, this threat has detracted from the idea that Star Wars will give us the protection we need, rather than reinforcing it.

No, I can't be this cynical. Facts could always prove that I'm just an incurable optimist, but nobody has ever accused me of that failing. And in this case, I want to see some hard facts before I make harsh charges.

One could argue that Bush should have been more forthcoming about what he did know.

I agree. Point given.

But, even considering that, I understand his position. Objective reporting seems to be a lost art. Journalism often seems to be an exercise in profit-making, and the bigger the headline, the bigger the profit. Politics, conforming with well-established traditions, is following this same grand path. Every word, every blunder, is exaggerated beyond rational importance; every decision is analyzed, and - of course - found to be flawed. If I were Bush, I probably wouldn't have given the media and my political opponents any more ammunition than I had to, either.

In retrospect, it was a bad idea, and that - unlike September 11th - could have been foreseen.

If you scroll down you'll see plenty of criticism of George Bush's policies. I expect I'll be adding more criticism above this article, as time goes on.

I'm no apologist for George Bush but - this time - I think that if I had been in his position I would have played it the way he did.

Perhaps the real failure here was that no one - no one but Osama bin Laden and his mad fanatics - had a mind quite sick enough to imagine and plan and carry out this horror.

So maybe it would be more productive to stop trying to find someone besides Mad Osama to blame, and spend our time, energy and resources trying to fix the real problems, and maybe prevent the next hostile attempt against the United States.

We might even consider trying to do more to level the social and economic opportunities for all U.S. citizens, so that the next major threat is less likely to be internal.

But, cynically speaking, in the year 2002 problem-solving doesn't win elections. Smearing your opponent at every possible opportunity might not either but, as frequently as this tactic is being employed, a lot of people seem to think it does.

I predict that, this time, the tactic will backfire.


Henry's Web Log May 15, 2002

May 15, 2002 About 8 weeks ago, some clown in an SUV blew through a red light, as if it hadn't even been there, and smashed up my three year old Subaru.

This car came with a combonation compass/thermometer/barometer device on the dash. I didn't order it; it came with it. I don't believe I've ever consulted the barometer. I have no clue why one might need a barometer in their car. The thermometer is useful; I like it, and it seems accurate with the radio reports. The compass, however, was always confused! Man, that thing didn't know which way was where- ever!

I have had the car back for 2 weeks, and I'm pleased to report that the compass appears to be dead on, all the time. I haven't seen it flashing in it's confused mode yet. Now, I don't recommend driving in front of an SUV and spending $8,649.95 to get one's compass repaired, but I can report that it does work. I wonder what Click 'n' Clack would say?


Henry's Web Log May 14, 2002

May 14, 2002 TV Is A Bargain

According to this story: www.nwfusion.com/columnists/2002/0513bradner.html(1) "In an interview with 'Cableworld' magazine Jamie Kellner, head of ad-supported television for Turner broadcasting...said that skipping ads on a recorded TV show was theft."(2)

In the same article Kellner clarifies his points.

He states that [skipping ads is theft because] "Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn't get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial . . . you're actually stealing the programming."

I believe Jamie Kellner is right. So many people out there think that TV is free. That's just not so.

One might argue that most TV shows are so bad that the networks should pay us to watch them, but that's not the way The Real World(tm) works.

When you sit down at your TV you make a bargain with the network. You get their show without putting money in a slot, advertisers pay the network for the show, and you are supposed to compensate the sponsors by listening to their message.

To skip the ads is stealing.

It really doesn't matter whether you fast-forward or go out to the kitchen for a snack. If you don't watch the commercial you are stealing. It might even be argued that to fail to buy a product from an advertiser who sponsors a show is stealing. After all, they don't make money, and can't afford to sponsor any more shows, if we don't buy their products.

To make sure that people don't steal, I propose that we immediately install cameras in everybody's homes, that the advertisers can use to make sure that we do not leave the room during commercials to get a snack.

I predict that people will immediately start trying to take advantage of this, and claim that they have to go to the bathroom. Nonsense! Going to the bathroom during a commercial is stealing! If you have to go to the bathroom, go before your show, or ask Big Brother for permission! Be prepared to pay, however: there's always a price for being unprepared.

Remember: Democracy Is Bad For Business! It is only when the advertisers can record every button you press on your remote, and every web site you visit(3), that this country can be the plutocracy that our founding fathers really meant it to be. It is only when you need papers that show where you are going when you walk the streets, and have your phone calls registered and monitored by a central government office will we be safe from terrorists and pedophiles.

Does this sound strange to you? Does it sound too harsh? Do you think you're an adult, and able to handle your own affairs? Then consider turning off your TV.

While you still can.

    NOTES:
  1. The quotes taken from this article www.nwfusion.com/columnists/2002/0513bradner.html are Copyright(c) 2002 by Network World and were reproduced with the kind permission of Adam Gaffin and Network World.
  2. Jamie Kellner is actually the chairman and CEO of TBS, Inc.
  3. The same article [see NOTE 1] also states: "The Mercury News in San Jose reported that a judge in Los Angeles ordered SonicBlue, the maker of ReplayTV, to develop software within the next 60 days to 'record every click from every customer's remote control.' In particular the judge wants to have a record of which shows individual users copy, store and view; what commercials they skip; and which programs they send to other users."

Henry's Web Log March 25, 2002

March 25, 2002 You might say that it was an impulse purchase. It was May, 1995. I drove into the auto dealership where I had bought my Geo Metro, intending to get it serviced. I drove out in a brand new Mazda Protege sedan.

Actually, the service was a 90,000 mile checkup, and I had just gotten a new job. I would be driving 128 miles, round trip, per day to White Plains, NY from New Haven, CT on the Merritt Parkway.

Actually, this is a beautiful highway, especially for someone (like me) who happens to have a fascination for bridges. The Parkway has 68 bridges; no two of them are the same. What it doesn't have is shoulders and, in many places, streetlights. During rush hour, traffic cruises along almost bumper to bumper at about 70 miles an hour, and getting on the highway can be a real challenge. It's a nice drive, but my Geo was starting to feel like a shoe box, a shoe box in traffic.

I was suddenly going to be doing a lot of driving, so trading in the Geo for a sensible car that was a lot safer was actually not such a bad idea, though it was going to be considerably more boring than other cars I've owned.

Well, actually, I only thought it was going to be more boring.

The excitement started the very first night I owned it. I picked the Protege up in the afternoon. As it happened, an acquaintance of mine, Stacy Phillips, was going to be playing at The Buttonwood Tree. A group of us who knew him had already decided to go. I insisted on taking us in my new car. We arrived with little time to spare before the gig. Appropriate, but I wistfully remarked that Middletown looked like a nice little place; I would've liked to have had time to walk around it a bit, I said. I did not know, at that time, that six years later my daughter would be attending Wesleyan.

There was a space directly in front, but we didn't take it, being polite enough to save it for those who had gear to unload. Instead, we parked three spaces from the door. We nodded to Stacy and Paul, who were tuning, and sat down. Soon after the music started, a disheveled young man wandered in and sat down right in front.

Almost immediately, he began exclaiming - loudly - "mohsssallsnboysssmohsssallsn!" If you ignored the slurring, you were just able to make out what he was saying: "Mose Allison, boys: Mose Allison!" He thought he was at a Mose Allison concert! He also seemed to be having a good time, so we tried to keep him somewhat restrained; Stacy and Paul, in turn, did not try to have him thrown out. They can be laid back like that. After a little over an hour of playing they took a break.

I wandered around the bookstore part of the building during intermission, and made another impulse purchase, just before the second half started: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Then I sat down. Stacy and Paul returned, the music started again and soon, so did our disoriented friend. I guess he still thought he was hearing a piano player. We thought we were hearing sirens.

In fact, we were hearing sirens, and they sounded pretty close. Now - in a small room - we had a stumblebum narrating, a fiddle swinging, a guitar being picked, and a siren wailing outside as if it was stuck in traffic. All we needed was for someone to start shouting.

That someone turned out to be the proprietor of the bookstore. "Excuse me!" he shouted. We ignored him. "Excuse me!" he hollered, even louder. Stacy and Paul played gamely on until, at the third shout from the cashier, they decided that finishing the tune was hopeless. They jangled to a somewhat unresolved finish and looked, patiently and silently, towards the doorway. "I'm sorry," said the cashier calmly, "but we seem to have a little problem here. We have a small fire in one of the upstairs apartments. You'll all have to leave now." Resigned, the audience filed out the door. I stayed to hold the door open and, in my best Boy Scout-trained fashion, to help get the equipment out. If I had known what was really going on I might have left a lot quicker.

When I got outside I could immediately see flames shooting up from out of the roof. Moving a little upwind I suddenly noticed that that one entire wall of the building was engulfed in flames and the people around me didn't seem all that calm. Suddenly, there was what sounded like an explosion from within the building and a cop - literally - grabbed me by the neck, shoved me, almost threw me along, and shouted: "Get out of here! Get out of here now!" We got. And I spent the next two hours getting my wish: a long walk around scenic Middletown Connecticut while my brand new car sat parked, three spaces from the front door of a burning building.

I found Stacy and walked purposefully towards him. He backed away. I kept walking and he kept backing until he backed right into a knot of people and had nowhere left to go. He knew what was coming. "Hi, Stacy:" I piped cheerfully, "that was a really hot concert!" He just groaned and rolled his eyes. That line of conversation got old pretty quick, and the walk started getting old, too. There's not much to see in Middletown, and not much open either, at that time of night. After about two hours and twenty minutes the firemen let us get to my car. It was undamaged. Gratefully, we drove home. But that was not quite the end of the story.

That Friday night Stacy and Paul were scheduled to play at Cafe Nine. We got together again, minus one person who had been at the Buttonwood Tree. We waited until we knew the show was on, about a half hour into it. Then we walked in, filed silently past the stage and calmly placed the fire extinguishers that we each had been holding, in a neat line, right in front of Stacy and Paul. They did not miss a beat, but when the tune ended, they both exploded with laughter. During the intermission, Stacy told us that the week before The Fire, he had been playing in Nashville. He walked down into the hotel restaurant just before a duo of armed robbers walked in (he was still there, waiting for his order) and held the place up.

I had bought, unknowingly, the last book to be sold in the old Buttonwood Tree bookstore. I recently finished reading it. I highly recommend it; I wish I had read it years earlier.

And my car? It was to be parked in front of two other places that caught fire while I was parked there, escaping damage each time, even the time I left the sunroof open during one of the incidents. That particular fire also has a story behind it, but I believe that one fire a night is enough. Besides, it's almost 10:00 PM, I am already short on sleep, and I have to be up at 4:30 tomorrow morning. Good night, all!


Henry's Web Log March 19, 2002

March 19, 2002 There's a place out on Middletown Avenue called Nick's Char Pit. Now Nick has company. A new business moved in next door. It's a health food store. Is this a great country or what? Now maybe both establishments will survive and thrive but if not, my money's on Nick. One of the usually taciturn waitresses at Nick's allowed, when I asked her, that yes, there had been a few surreptitious visits from the store across the way. If she knew whether they were employees or potential customers she wasn't saying.

Small nukes, drunk driving, random school drug testing, and the war on terror. You might think they have nothing in common, but I sense a theme here. Let's take them one at a time, shall we?

I support our military. In fact, I am strongly in favor of the US of A having the biggest, baddest military on the whole planet. You see, I think my butt is worth protecting. And I want the best people on the job doing it, with the best tools we can give them. Besides that, while admitting that I am a human being, subject to prejudice and tunnel vision and a biased world view influenced by the pressures and propaganda of my country, I still think that the United States stands for something.

I do believe that if the US were to suddenly vanish from the earth, the light of freedom, and the notion that all people are born equal and have equal rights would slowly be extinguished. I believe that underneath all the glitter and the bickering and the chain stores this is what we really are about. I think it is something worth preserving. So I want the best people doing it with the best tools available.

And yet...

Small nukes? Nuclear devices that my government is starting to refer to as offensive weapons? No, I don't think I can support that.

Nuclear weapons produce radiation. Big nukes, small nukes, shoulder-fired nukes, dirty bombs and clean bombs: they all produce a poison that just won't go away in any fathomable time period, and they spread their poison around. How dare we produce these devices, call them offensive weapons, and concentrate upon making them small and practical enough to become an option in a skirmish? What kind of country do we want to be?

Well, the official agenda of my government is that we are going to be a drug-free country. To this end, a case is pending before the United States Supreme Court, involving drug testing.

Back in the early nineties a school in Oregon had a drug problem. It seemed that the problem centered around athletes, so the school ordered that the athletes be tested for drugs. The ruling was fought, all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that, within these narrow constraints, the testing was legal.

Now, a school in Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma has decided to adopt a policy that requires all students who want to be involved in extracurricular activities to be tested initially, and then at random, for drug use. Their rationale is that this would go a great way towards solving the drug problem. The thing is, the school admits that they don't have much of a drug problem. They just want to test anyway.

Today's New York Times states that "Paul D. Clement, a deputy solicitor general presenting the Bush administration's view of the case, [opined that a] school-wide drug testing program would be constitutional". Presumably, it would also help The Cause.

Well, if you really want to help The Cause, why don't we test every person in the country at random? That should really put a dent in drug use.

But we have a tradition here in the United States, of presuming a person innocent until they are proved guilty. The rationale for that presumption, as stated by John Adams, may be found here.

You see, the question before Adams was not only "how can we let the guilty go free?" but was also "what kind of country do we want to be?". I hold that this is still a relevant, fundamental, and important question right now. Today.

The fourth amendment to the Constitution states that "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated" and I agree with that. So maybe we ought to consider balancing the rights of the people, whether or not those people attend a public school, against the effects of The Drug Menace.

And maybe we ought to consider the rights and wishes of other countries, while we're at it. You see, President Bush has told the rest of the world that anyone who is not "with us" is "against us". The sticking point, of course, is who determines who is doing enough to be allowed into the former camp.

Well, Saddam Hussain is unlikely to fall into that category any time soon. And he is, in my opinion, a very bad man. And a dangerous foe. One who is likely to be trying to acquire the weaponry to do lots of nasty damage to the United States and it's citizens, including me and my loved ones.

But Da Prez is now talking about starting a war. It will be against Iraq. President Bush has declared that North Korea, Iran, Iraq and "States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil". That's a pretty broad lot of countries to be calling evil, and I fear that Mr. Bush believes he can invade whom he will, when he wills and use anything, up to and including nuclear weapons, against his Axis of Evil, states "like these" and "their terrorist allies" and, perhaps, against anybody else who is "not with us".

I want to be defended. I passionately want to be defended, and all the more so do I believe that freedom and justice and equal rights need the best defense we can muster.

But subverting our laws to preserve them, polluting the earth irrecoverably, and disregarding the rest of the world is not the way to freedom. It is a sure path toward destruction of things that I, at least, hold dear.

We have tried isolationism before, and it didn't work. Now, we're mixing isolationism with arrogance. What kind of country are we becoming? If your government is doing things in your name that you don't like you might want to consider becoming a little more aware of the issues and involved in the process.

Meanwhile, stop by Nick's some time. They make a good clam platter.


Henry's Web Log March 18, 2002

March 18, 2002 Good writing lives! Sometimes it appears in the most unlikely places. Not on this web site, of course: that would be entirely too unlikely. I am referring to the Arcata Eye Police Log . The Eye claims to serve "the towns of Arcata and nearby Blue Lake, on Humboldt County, California's redwood coast." Sounds good to me: I'm ready to move to California on the strength of the police log alone. Don't take my word for it, read the log yourself. If you aren't laughing soon, have yourself locked up, and quickly: you're dangerous. In fact, the only things missing from this blotter are references to Ole' Foul Ron and CMOT Dibbler. Other than that, Arcata sound a lot like Ank Morpork to me.

Henry's Web Log March 2, 2002

March 2, 2002 I don't get it. According to this article, on February 26, President Bush proposed revising the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. OK, here's what's bothering me. According to the article, and other sources, Bush's plan "would require a 40-hour workweek, instead of 30, with accommodations for parents with infants or other special circumstances."

Now, maybe it's me, but I can't help wondering if having children is a "special circumstance".

Because young children need care. Ideally, that care would come from a parent or appropriate close relative. Unfortunately, the people that Bush is talking about are, by definition, living in less than ideal circumstances. In fact, they're in desperate straits.

Now, I agree that accepting welfare is not a good position to be in. But, unlike the executives of Monsanto and other large companies who would not have the market position they currently enjoy without government welfare, moms on welfare don't have any other realistic options, especially since 1996.

And their children have no choice at all.

I think people should get the heck off welfare. I don't want my tax dollars supporting even one generation of welfare dependency, much less successive generations caught in the welfare trap, but this is not a perfect world. Sometimes, people need help.

And I agree that the best help we can give people is to do what we can to get them out of situations where they need our help, but that costs money.

Without education, the jobs one can get are unlikely to pay much more than minimum wage. The current minimum wage is $6.90 per hour, or $14,352.00 per year. (For a family of 3, the current Federal Poverty Guideline is $15,020.00 per year.) According to the latest report to Congress by the Department of Health and Human Services, there are at least three people in most families receiving TANF (welfare), two of them being children.

To get childcare for two children at minimum wage for an additional 10 hours a week would cost $3,588.00 per year, even assuming the unlikely possibility that one could find a safe and appropriate situation where one could get someone to care for 2 children for $6.90 per hour.

Now, I do understand that the plan would let states count 16 hours of education or other job preparation toward the 40 hours of required work, but that doesn't guarantee that states will do so. And it still doesn't answer the fundemental question:

Who will care for the children?

This question must be answered with more than a rhetorical shrug and a response equivelent to "hey, someone will do it." Because that someone is unlikely to do it for free. Few TANF moms have an appropriate someone available.

Does our president want to help people? Then get them off welfare. But, to get people off welfare means, at the very least, getting them education, and caring for the children while their parents work and learn and prepare.

I'm willing to pay taxes to support that goal and President Bush ought to be willing to spend my money that way.

Within appropriate guidelines, what we adults do with our lives is our own business, and it is our responsibility to accept the consequences of our actions, our choices, and our circumstances.

That price should not be borne by our children.


Henry's Web Log March 1, 2002

March 1, 2002 I often work from a home office, and I like classical music, so I've become an NPR junkie over the years. I like rock 'n' roll too, but I rarely go to rock concerts any more. I tend to make an exception for Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young in any combination. This past Thursday they were all together at the Hartford Civic center, and I'd won free tickets, so there I was. You can read reviews here. The only things I have to add are 1. I will join the crew that came with high expectations and found myself more impressed than I'd expected in some areas, 2. I was quite impressed with some of the notes that Stills chose not to play, and 3. I felt like an idiot.

What is a 44 year old guy doing watching some 60 year old dude dance around the stage? Why am I such a huge fan? I follow their careers as if I'd grown up with these guys! I get to talking with other fans and we remember small details of shows that go back to the seventies, and we talk like it's important!

And yet...

I have gone to a lot of concerts, in a huge variety of genres. Nowhere else do I feel so strongly a connection that goes beyond performing; it feels like an ongoing conversation. Also, when they put on a bad performance I take it personally (at those ticket prices I have a right to, but it goes beyond that) and when they shine I feel as proud of them as if someone I knew had a success. I know that in this way I resemble some star-struck teeny-bopper.

And yet...

I got little sleep that night; that's normal for me: I'm often too charged up to sleep after a concert. I am glad to say that I have -- finally! -- gotten over going to see wonderful guitar players, going home, looking at my own guitars, and thinking: "why do I even bother?" Anyway...

Eighteen hours after the concert I was still charged up with energy. And the next morning? I'd gotten maybe 4 hours of sleep at best. And yet... I woke up feeling new, cleansed, fresh: I felt that I had been through a powerful cathartic experience.

I'm glad it still happens. I have no idea what force these four guys connect with that they can deliver that much energy to a whole arena full of people without their bursting into flame. But it happens sometimes. I woke up on Friday morning and felt younger than I had in years. It lasted for hours. It's Saturday morning and I'm still smiling. That's pretty good.

About those ticket prices? They're way too high. But the value is something else. At the end of a good night the cost of the tickets is inconsequential. I say that as someone who is mindful that food prices are a real hardship for some people: the ticket prices are absurd. But I'd collect bottles and turn them in for the deposit for a year if that was what it took for me to go to only one good concert a year. It would be worth it.


Henry's Web Log February 27, 2002

February 27, 2002 Start of file.

Well, it's been an exciting weekend; that seems like a good time to start a journal, huh?

This past Friday morning my car was demolished in a traffic accident. I am OK. I think the people in the other car are OK, too. I don't want to give too many details, because I expect this will end up in court, and I don't know what I am and am not supposed to say. I will say that a person in an SUV ran a red light and demolished the rear end of my car, as well as doing a real number on a telephone pole. If there is ever a final resolution I'll give the details.

Then I decided to try to get some free tickets the next day. Buoyed up by pain killers, I hung about in a cell phone store for two hours. I am a real big Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fan but I was not willing to pay the prices they were charging. I've seen their acts, in all their various configurations, many times, and it's not as if (IMHO) they have been writing any tunes worth getting excited about lately. (I've not heard their new CD yet, so I'll reserve judgement.)

Well, I hadn't won any tickets, but I'd gotten to swap stories with other fans, when the last drawing was held. They called someone else's name, of course.

But, even though we'd seen him earlier, he was not there when his name was called. The disk jockey called his name three times, then drew another name. It was not mine.

But it was the name of the person I was with, so we're going to see CSNY in Hartford tomorrow night! If it's anything memorable I'll write something about it.

Let's see, have I done anything else worth writing about this week? Oh, yes, I've started a web log.

I'm also halfway through Ben Franklin's autobiography, so I think I'll knock off for the night, and read someone who's a better writer than I am. Someday, maybe I'll tell you how I got this particular book. It involves a junkie, a brand new car (mine) and one heck of a fire.