Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What to be thankful for

Happy Thanksgiving week.

If you were looking for the weekly rant Monday morning, I'm sorry I missed. I've been a little sick. Nothing much, as it turns out, just a cold.

So, what do we have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving?

First of all, health, family, love, belonging, working, not being dependent on others.

The good sense to leave Gannett four years ago and not having to go through the horrible situation those left at that wretched company have to go through. The company's bottom line is getting better, the stock is going up a bit and these yakkers on television say it's because advertising is coming back. Baloney. The bottom line is rising because the company has fired half the staff.

The ones who are left are those who got the company into the horrible shape it was in in the first place.

But I digress. Things to be thankful for.

Personally, it's a wife who puts up with me, kids who have are really good people and those who are married have married really good people and are raising children who are really good people. So what if two of the boys are hellions.

I also have been able to support myself and my family with my labor and still am in no danger of needing anyone else's help. Sure, the savings has diminished, but it's coming back.

I'm thankful that the University of Connecticut football team was able to get itself together to be Notre Dame, one of the great programs in the nation. Yes, the Fighting Irish are not having a great year, but UConn also is suffering after losing one of its stars to a horrible and unnecessary murder. But this was a great win and everyone in Connecticut should be proud.

Things to be thankful for. Share yours, if you wish.

Black Friday

There is something to be said for racial memory, that memory with which we are all imbued depending on one's background.

For example, Jews talking about the Holocaust are sharing a set of thoughts that need not be expressed verbally. It's a base that every Jew, from Orthodox to secular to converted away, still shares.

Christians have that about Christmas. There is a set of values and beliefs that go without saying, that are buried in your consciousness. It's like instinct.

So, never having been a Christian, I don't get it when it comes to Christmas. I've gotten into trouble because of it. Once, when I was in charge of the Monday paper in Westchester, there was a fire. Nobody was hurt, although a few people were left homeless. Nobody died, nobody was injured, so I put a photo on the front page and ran the story and photos big on the local section front. The photos were good, but not prize-winners.

On Monday when I came into work, I was pilloried for not using the story on the front page. How could I? What was the big deal? Nobody was hurt. But, I was informed, the fire destroyed several families' Christmas presents. The children might have to face Christmas with no presents. Why didn't I blow out the front page with the story and start a collection to buy Christmas presents for these children?

I still don't get it. That's me. No racial memory of Christmas. To me, the whole thing about Christmas is a story about a certain guy who was the basis of a worldwide belief system. Giving gifts seems secondary, but that's all you hear about.

I still don't get why every last radio station has to play nothing but Christmas carols on the eve and the day, why every television station has to run sappy movies.

And I don't get Black Friday.

Last year, some poor guy was killed trying to stem the tide of manic people trying to buy Christmas presents. People show up at 4 in the morning, 5 in the morning. Still, in spite of that horrible tragedy. Stores are trying to mitigate the danger, but won't halt the practice.

I guess I'm not the only one.

From now, actually for about a month now, people are running around buying Christmas gifts for people they don't even like. And each person gets multiple gifts.

When I was much, much younger, I had the opportunity to spend Christmas with the family of a girl I knew. I was shocked. I brought one gift. These people, who were not in the best economic circumstance by any means, must have showered each other with a dozen gifts each.

To be completely truthful, friend wife and I once stood on line at midnight at the late and much lamented Comp USA. The line was long but moved quickly. We got a portable hard drive and a couple of thumb drives. It wasn't too bad. But other people were just starting their day, talking about going from place to place starting at 4 in the morning.

Sorry. I just don't get it.

But in any case, have a great Thanksgiving.

Until next time...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The pause that refreshes in so many ways

Happy Monday.

In the past week, we've (my wife and I, not the royal we) have been fortunate to see all seven of our grandchildren -- and their parents, of course.

That's truly a pause that refreshes.

The little ones, in our case ranging from less than six months to eight years, have such a joy of living, such an optimism, such a positive slant on things -- whatever the problem, mommy and daddy can fix it.

Their problems can all be fixed. Yes, we've been fortunate. Even in our little one, who was undergoing surgery at the age of one week, is gaining by leaps and bounds, his chipmunk cheeks and round tummy showing the effects of parental love, good food and the best in medical care.

I know we've been fortunate, after seeing what happens to neglected, unwanted children or those born with medical conditions that are beyond the scope of science and medicine.

So, with all the complaining I do, both in writing here and verbally to friends and family, I really do know how blessed I am in so many ways.

They say the children will lead them. Let's say the children inspire us to make sure we act in a way that will keep them headed on the path to much health, happiness and success.

Number, please

That doesn't mean I'm going to stop bitching. Heaven forbid.

Ask me what I was doing for hours today. Let me tell you.

I was programming the phone books on two phone systems, one home and the other cells. Why? Because we now have to dial an area code for all phone calls, even to people who live next door. So, one has to sit here and put 203 in front of all my presets.

Connecticut is getting two more area codes, I guess they are needed because of the proliferation of cell phones and other devices.

Google is getting into the act with the Droid, a version of the iPhone that works on Verizon. AT&T has the iPhone sewn up, at least for now. Once that gets going, along with other phone systems, including the one that has pigs eating pork in its ads, the numbers will sell out like tickets to UConn women's basketball.

I'm sorry the iPhone isn't available on Verizon. I'd buy it in a heartbeat. The people who have it are having way too much fun.

But, I've heard horror stories of AT&T's lack of coverage. A woman who works at Yale in downtown New Haven says since she switched from Verizon to AT&T, she can't make or receive calls. A person with whom I used to work was shocked one day a few years ago when she called her husband in Bethel, a town in Connecticut near Danbury, to open the garage so she wouldn't have to go out in the snow. You guessed it: No service.

Well, I'm going to wait a while before even looking at the Droid. I want something that will work internationally, and something that will work well. Even the IPhone had problems (I'm not sure if you can change your own battery even now), so let someone else beta-test it.

I'll stick to my years-old Samsung that I got for nothing or next to nothing. It makes calls, received them and in a pinch, I can text with it. And it never, or almost never, loses calls.

How dumb is this?

The Hampshire Gazette is the daily paper in the Amherst, Mass., area, named after the county, not the college.

It contained a story that is hard to believe, but I am assured is true.

The good people of Amherst, Mass., in Representative Town Meeting assembled, have issued an invitation for two residents of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to live among them. No, not the Cubans, the guests of the government. In other words, suspected terrorists.

They say that those who move to Amherst should not be convicted of terroristic acts against the United States of America. One of those is a former Russian soldier who said he didn't get a fair shake in the Russian Army because he was a Muslim. He could not get Halal food (that's the Muslim version of kosher -- no pork), and was not allowed to pray.

So, how did he come to the attention of the U.S. at Gitmo? According to him, he ran away to Afghanistan. The Russians were on his tail, so he made up a story that he had been in training in an al-Qaida camp so the Americans would arrest him, not the Russians.

So, off to Gitmo he went. But there, instead of being patted on the back, he got locked up.

So on the force of this tale, which has my BS meter working overtime, the good people of Amherst invited him and a buddy to come live among them.

This guy is either dangerous, or a complete idiot. So are the naive people of Amherst who don't seem to think things through.

I'm told that the invitation will only take force if the State Department goes along with the gag. That make me confident beyond measure.

God bless fools and do-gooders.

Until next time...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Things ain't what they used to be

Happy Monday

OK, here's the old codger ranting again about how things are not what they used to be.

Well, yeah. This week, things seemed to be not so good- all along the spectrum. There was nothing earth-shaking like my computer blowing up or other catastrophe.

It was the little things, like commercials. There were these two pigs eating a ham steak. That's so wrong for so many reasons, none of which had to do with my not eating meat in general and pig meat in particular. For the life of me, I can't remember what the spot was trying to sell, but that image was just so bad, so wrong.

Last week, we went into a store, one that is heavily advertised as a place that one remembers from childhood. Children, believe me when I say there was a time when department stores actually had people who helped you find what you wanted and knew their products.

I shave with an electric shaver. I don't really like it, but Jewish law says you can't use a blade so I do it. My wife bought this shaver for me and it's probably the best around. It came with a device that charges and cleans the shaver. To do the cleaning, it uses a fluid, an expensive fluid. So, off we go to this store.

Now, you will probably notice I haven't used the name. That's on purpose. I'm not really afraid of libel because I'm telling the truth, which is an absolute defense, but because it's not worse than other stores.

So, I went to this store because I had bought this fluid in this place when the store had another name. That store could trace its roots back to G. Fox & Co., a store that once had a policy that a customer was to be greeted with a minute of entering a department. Really.

So we went to this store last week to seek out the fluid. They didn't have it. They had the shavers, but not the fluid. I asked the children whom the store paid, probably at minimum wage, to be in this department. Now I could say that these kids were dumb, which probably is not the case. I could say they could care less about the customer, but were just interested in this conversation they were having. That would be true.

I asked this pair if they knew who sold the fluid, and of course they didn't. That didn't bother me as much as the attitude. Why are you asking us? Why are you bothering us?

Fortunately, another customer said he had had the same problem and had found the fluid at Wal-Mart, where I refuse to shop, and Bed, Bath and Beyond, where I found it.

Since I'm on this kick, here's a few other things that crawled under my skin this week.

Newspapers. Here's a cute monograph on what happened to newspapers. I don't agree with everything he says, but on most points. And, by the way,

Elections. Last week in New Haven, we had an election for mayor and the Board of Aldermen, which is the city's legislature. About 18 percent of the people voted. That was a joke, as was the ticket. There was no organized opposition to the longtime mayor. It's not that the mayor is doing a bad job. He's not. It's that there was a lot of time and money wasted on the election. There are 30 seats on the board, and there were real contests for two of them.

Bosses. Craig Dubow, the head of Gannett, my former employer, has a 20 percent approval rating among his employees, the few that are left. That probably has a lot to do with his dismal rating.

The fun part of this is that he is only the 21st most reviled boss in the nation, according to Glassdoor.com. The guy who runs LexisNexis has an 8 percent approval rating. As Maurice Chevalier sang in Gigi, "Oh, I'm so glad that I'm not young anymore."

Veterans Day

I hope some of the young, blond and banal are reading this. That's what I call what passes for television news anchors these days.

So, here it is again. This is Veterans Day. It used to be called Armistice Day, that day when The Great War ended. This is not the day we honor just dead veterans. That's in May.

So, please don't get it wrong again. Wednesday is the day when we honor all veterans, even those who are still alive -- especially those who are still alive. If you want to honor just dead vets, you have to wait until spring. Got it? Probably not.

Health care

I can't figure out why doctors, of all people, are against the health-care bill passed this past weekend by the House. The American Medical Association is for the bill, but doctors I know are against it. They also say the AMA doesn't represent them. Strange.

A couple of things. The bill is thousands of pages long, and most of that is gobbledygook that doesn't mean much to many people. It doesn't mean much to me.

There are two points I want to make, and then you all can have a tea party on my lawn if you want.

Point One: The administrative cost of private insurance is about 35 percent. The administrative cost of Medicare is 3 percent. So much for an expensive public option.

Point Two. It's not that uninsured people are getting no medical care. That's not true. They are not getting preventive care, which means when they do get medical care, it's usually drastic and costs lots of money. People who have no medical insurance come into the emergency room for everything from hangnails to heart attacks.

The problem is that those with hangnails are taking up time and space that could be used for real emergencies. You know, that's why it's called the emergency room.

So, instead of them paying say $75 for the hangnail in the doctor's office, we pay $500 in the emergency room. Notice I said we pay, not the patient pays. We, those lucky or old enough to have insurance, pay with higher premiums because insurance companies pay higher rates that include write offs of those charges rung up by those without insurance.

Making insurance possible for people who cannot afford insurance now spreads the cost out a little more. It makes sense. Do you hear that, Senator Lieberman.

Now, don't get me started on that guy.

Until next time...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Monday. Hey, I don't think anyone will be reading this on Sunday, so why not get the wishes out a day early.

Welcome to Eastern Standard Time. One would think that with an extra hour of sleep, one would be bright eyed and bushy tailed. Not so. Even though we avoided the usual lets-see-how-late-we-could-stay-up-because-there-is-an-extra-hour stupidity, Sunday was a lazy, lazy day.

It's November, the month of Thanksgiving. The family of five turkeys that had spent much of their mornings in our backyard has disappeared. Smart. Even though we wouldn't harm them, for many reasons, some of our neighbors might see them as an escape from having to pay two or three bucks a pound at the supermarket.

Silly season

Usually, the silly season is defined as the few weeks leading up to an election. Not so in New Haven. There is voting on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009, but it's not really an election. There are two or three wards, out of 30, in which there is a real contest. The race for mayor is a joke, with three independent, ill-financed, undefined candidates vying for second place against a longtime mayor running a professional, well-financed campaign.

The mayor has spent money sending flyers and four-color printed post cards many times. I guess he has money and many good reasons to spend it, mostly because legally he has to. (By the way, keeping with the usual practice of commenting on issues on which I report for the New Haven Independent, there will be no endorsements for political office.)

The silly season around here has to do with driving, walking, biking and other forms of locomotion.

Last Friday, I was stuck behind a left-turning car at a light on a major city road. The car turned just as the yellow light appeared, so I decided to sit and wait for the next green light. Count five seconds or so, a car goes through the light, now red. Count five or six more seconds, and another car goes through the intersection, followed closely by another. By the way, I shouldn't say car -- two of the three were SUVs.

For reasons passing understanding, once the weather starts to turn and the Thanksgiving - to - New Year's season is upon us, people start driving as if the other cars on the road were apparitions placed there for their amusement.

People act crazy. I'll bet that if you could see into their cars, you would see them, eyes glazed and teeth clenched. I don't get it. This is supposed to be the season for good will toward all people, not get out your will, you'll need it.

Pleasant memory

Friend wife and I took a couple of days off last week and traveled to Old Cape Cod. We have loved the cape since before we were married, nearly 38 years ago, but mostly go to the Outer Cape -- Eastham and north.

This time, we went to Falmouth, a picturesque town on the upper cape, which means the southern part of the cape.

There is a beautiful, 10-plus mile bike trail called the Shining Sea Trail that goes from Woods Hole, a one-industry (marine research) village to North Falmouth. It's flat, paved, off-road and a joy to ride. Last Monday was a perfect day for bike riding -- cool, a bit of a breeze, clear but not severe clear.

We chatted with a few fellow riders, some of whom were our age or older. There seemed to be a more relaxed atmosphere than on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, the 26-mile plus trail that leads from Dennis into Wellfleet. I don't know if it's the season, the place or just dumb luck, but we had a ball riding and chatting.

Falmouth is a more concentrated place than say, Eastham, which really doesn't have a downtown. It's an easy-walking town, although the tourist-agency maps tell you to stay off the main streets if you are biking. Good idea.
While we were walking along, past a large and well-maintained school and library complex, we came upon a lake. It was an hour before sunset, the light was perfect, and we stopped to take some photos of the lake. We saw this duck couple, one male and one female, having dinner.

They didn't seem to mind that we were taping their dinner feeding, so enjoy.

I think it mirrors people -- it doesn't matter how many times you have to go in circles, the objects is to get that morsel for which you are vying. Take that any way you wish.

Have a great week. And even if it is a ridiculously uncontested election, get out and vote. It'll keep you in the habit for when it does count.

Until next time...