Category Archives: Culture

Fair Winds and Following Seas

181204-george-h-w-bush-sully-feature-image

George H. W. Bush’s service dog says goodbye for the final time (N.Y. Times)

I have rarely met high and lofty people, but there have been a few, very few.

During my deployment, which occurred while George W. Bush was President, his father made a trip into theater and shared some impromptu chatter with everyone present in the theater/chapel/auditorium/etc. building. The only specific I remember is that his son, “W,” had switched from jogging to riding a bicycle. He had a habit of, well, trying to be as courteous as possible, succumbing to gravity (i.e., falling down). George senior said that he and Barbara both wished he’d choose a safer physical activity.

After he made his comments from the stage, I saw him outside chatting with a number of the enlisted folks and junior officers (in desert cammies, we all looked pretty much alike). I would have liked to have joined them, but my presence would have distracted from their time with “41,” so I went about my business. He knew where he needed to spend his time and so did I. 

Among those in the Navy, the traditional, final farewell is “Fair winds and following seas.” May the wind fill your sails without threatening your ship and may the tide be favorable to your trip.

Mr. President, you were truly an officer and a gentleman; not perfect, but a very real human being. You are in a better place, with your wife and your daughter, and you deserve to be with the ones you loved.

 

 

Beer?

fall-beer-stein

I’ve never been much of a beer drinker; the only time beer tastes good to me is after I’ve gotten grossly dehydrated. While the trend today is toward craft beers and microbreweries, for years, there were multiple big named breweries, each of which touted its brand name and slogan.

I grew up in Ohio and the local beer was Buckeye–“It’s on everybody’s lips!” because, we used to joke, it was impossible to swallow. Buckeye is long gone, but what about the big names?

Schlitz–“The beer that made Milwaukee famous” was purchased by Pabst brewing.

Stroh’s lacked a notable slogan, once owned Schlitz, but ended up as part of Pabst brewing.

Coors was so sought after in the east that if you tried to take some back home by air it would never make it past Chicago. Coors merged with Miller.

Olympia originally used artesian wells, so their motto was “It’s the water.” (Firesign Theatre did  a great parody.)  Olympia was the second most prized beer in the east. It is currently brewed by MillerCoors.

Pabst Blue Ribbon is known for it’s perceptive marketing. The story is that the advertising company sent people around to different bars. When they realized that the greeting from the bartender was not, “Hello,” but “What’ll you have?” that became their motto. Pabst is currently brewed by MillerCoors.

Budweiser, “The King of Beers” eventually became part of the Anheiser-Busch INBEV. (Click to see their family tree). Which did, will, might, own everybody. Or, maybe that’s MillerCoors. I can’t keep track.

I probably have missed a few of the mergers, megamergers, divestitures, etc., but you get the idea.

I have this perception, that choosing a big name beer is like the high tech soda machines at fast food restaurants. You can get almost any drink or any combination from one tap just by pressing the right buttons.

Exit Stage Left

The old saying—and the old tee-shirt—that advises that, “He who dies with the most toys wins” is totally wrong.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, my youngest will be off to college, I will retire, and my wife and I plan on moving to a smaller house. So now, I’ve got to figure out what to do with my eclectic, but vast, collection of treasures–before it’s time to move.

A few things have sold on eBay, but eBay has apparently lost its magic. Things either don’t sell, or sell at an embarrassingly low price (i.e., not worth the trouble to list it, pack it up, and ship it). Therefore, Goodwill thinks we’re their very best friends based on the number of donations.

I’m asking the kids what they want (If they don’t want it when you’re alive, why think they’ll want it once you’re dead—or moved?). The rest, that won’t fit into a smaller house, is too good to throw away or donate, but I have absolutely no idea what to do with it.

I’ve contemplated getting a Recreational Vehicle and spending my retirement years driving around the country and having a tag sale at each place where we stop. Another option would be to have an estate sale “due to a death in the family.” While it might seem slightly disingenuous, if I have the dog “play dead” I might be able to claim that it fits through a loophole. He’s family—more or less.

I could get three of those portable storage pods. That would take care of moving into the smaller house. When I actually die, (Heh, heh, heh!) I’d have one delivered to each of my kids’ homes so they would have to figure out what to do with the stuff all the treasures.

If you had ever seen their rooms when they were teenagers, you’d understand the subtle message and irony.

Writing Is Sometimes Work

Writing can be like a partial conversation among friends. Writing can be therapeutic by admitting to things that concern or anger you. Writing can be artistic as you commune with the muse whose job it is to inspire you.

However, writing can also be work.

Lately, I haven’t written much because inspiration has been difficult. As an idealist who likes to believe that by pulling together we can accomplish anything, today’s “I’m right and you’re wrong” attitude is a definite buzzkill.

What’s wrong with “My opinion and your opinion are mutually exclusive and universally exhaustive, but go ahead and tell me about your opinion anyway,”? Nothing, but instead of conversing, we prefer to find an internet site, radio station, organization, or whatever that reinforces our own opinion. It’s easier than critcally thinking.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a flawed–if not faked–study that linked autism to childhood vaccinations. The study was discredited and the former Dr. Wakefield was stripped of his medical license. However, some believed–and continue to believe Wakefield’s tripe.

Right now, in Asheville, North Carolina, 36 children are suffering from chickenpox. While chickenpox may not be fatal–although in some cases it has, it hopefully won’t be for any of these children. Meanwhile, their parents will most likely continue to limit themselves to associating with others who agree with their concerns about vaccinations.

Oh, Woe!

I once had a cat, and when we moved from Louisiana to Florida, he got out of his travel carrier, got under my seat, and cried for hours, “Oh woe! Oh woe!”

That’s how I feel about not blogging much lately.

However:

Real excuses–I got in an auto accident. No big deal, except that when 3 of your cervical vertebrae (neck bones) are bolted together, the other four have to flex a lot more (Ouch).

I’m working on my story.

Things are crazy at work (but aren’t they always?).

Fake excuses:

It’s getting cold, the shift from daylight savings time to standard time is here, and [your turn to fill in the blank].

I’ve rewritten Chapter Two of my sorry a dozen times, at least. I may be done, but paraphrasing George Lucas, Leonardo Da Vinci, etc. “A story is never finished, only abandoned,”

So–and this is your part–if I share my story while it is in development, and it changes, you have t accept that.

Deal?

Deal!

Thank you.

P.S. If I were to publish this after WordPress’s spell checker finished wiht it you would not be happy campers. Too bad they wanted their own (patent pending), cumbersome, crappy, system. I hope they never ACTUALLY PAID ANYONE TO SCREW UP A PERFECTLY GOOD BLOG.WEB SYSTEM! But, hey, that’s juet me.

Historical Tradition

parties-congressfight-e1365308577923

I’ve read and heard about the “standard procedures” of the US Congress in its early days, especially during the time leading up to the Civil War. Some members (and COngressional staffers) carried pistols and almost all had walking sticks.  Being carried unconscious form the hallowed chambers was not unheard of, since fistfights were not uncommon, they used their walking sticks as clubs, and the ubiquitous spittoon was often thrown or poured on “my distinguished colleague from [fill in the blank]” as a First Amendment protected expression of free speech.

You do know what a spittoon is?

Think about it. Ewwwwww!

While you might find their deportment while in office vile and disgusting, these are our roots, and it might be well to return to them. Don’t forget, in our early days, the Vice President came to the capital to be sworn in, then headed back home.

I propose bringing back these proud American traditions.

First, since, in the formative years of Congress, there was no television, I propose that all speeches may only occur when the Congress has a quorum. That means that a majority of the members of that house of Congress must be present even if they have to listen to a colleague’s drabble. The CSPAN cameras (God love ’em) are great, but do not constitute a quorum.

Second, elected congressmen and senators should be allowed–nay, encouraged–to bring the weapon of their choice with them, just as they did in the early to mid 1800s. Let’s see how that affects gridlock. (Don’t worry, there are damned few who would have the guts to actually use a weapon, and most couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn. I’m not including those few military veterans, who would not only hit their target, but do so with a precise grouping.)

Third, insist that members of Congress experience what the FOunding Fathers did. The British do so at least to a degree in their courts. In Congress, this would call for stockings, instead of trousers, heavy woolen clothes year-round and, no screens on the windows, much less air conditioning.

I’d bet that this would have some impact on gridlock–not to mention an increase in special elections as a few members of Congress were killed or injured and many of the others fled for their lives.

Just kidding–everything is working just fine as it is.

License Agreements

When we download software (since many computers don’t have optical drives anymore) the first thing we see is the licensing agreement, which is very long and complicated. Here’s what all that legalese boils down to:

  1. You are obliged to send us money.
  2. We have the right to keep it.
  3. We are not responsible for the software failing to work, containing malware.
  4. In fact, we are not responsible for anything.
  5. We have the right to sell your personal information to anyone.
  6. We have the right to rewrite the software so you have to buy it again.
  7. We have the right to limit the time you can use the software.
  8. If there is a dispute, you will not sue; the dispute will be settled by arbitration.
  9. We reserve the right to pick someone we like and who likes us to act as arbitrator.
  10. When you lose (and you will), you will be responsible for paying any and all expenses for said arbitration.
  11. We paid one or more lawyers a lot of money to write this agreement, so we have included that cost in the price for this product.

How much money does the software industry spend each year on lawyers? Probably more than they do on software engineers–but tha’s just a guess.

Feel free to add “whereas,” “heretofore,” “hereinafter,” etc., as many times as you like.

Perception

Perception is a strange and wonderful thing. Many people live with the perception that “it will never happen to me.” Objectively this sounds foolish, if each of us included everything that could, indeed, happen to us, we would  be paralyzed with fear and spend our lives quivering under our beds in a fetal position.

However, since we are not data driven, realistic, computational intellects, we take totally unnecessary chances that make no sense and what do we have to show for it?

  • The ability to fly
  • Transplanting organs from a dead person to a living person
  • Automobiles, with gas stations full of highly flammable/explosive fuel located throughout the world
  • And a very humongous, etc.

On the other hand, a logical, realist would be naked and cold, banging stones together outside his cave because fire is just too dangerous.

 

Sears

So, Sears is in big trouble. That’s a shocker.

When I was a child, there were various stores that were ubiquitous in my part of the world.

F.W. Woolworth’s, founded in 1878, was a so-called “Five and Dime,” which was also noted for its lunch counters. In 1962, management decided that it needed to be a superstore, which it named “Woolco.”  It died in 1983.

S.S. Kresge was another five and dime; it was founded in 1899, and, also in 1962, its management decided that it too needed to become a big-box superstore, which operated under the name of K-Mart. K-Mart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2002. When it emerged from bankruptcy, its business geniuses decided that it should purchase another retailer, Sears, in 2004.

Sears & Roebuck was founded in 1892 and after malls became popular in the 1960s, it was often one of the “anchor stores.” Sears had a reputation for not reinvesting in its core business but focusing, instead on shareholder dividends and purchasing or starting other businesses, such as Allstate Insurance, Dean Witter Financial, Coldwell Banker Real Estate, creating the Discover Card, etc.

Today, Sears is showing dismal performance, which it blames on its requirement to pay for the pensions that its retirees earned. My mother worked for K-Mart and with the bankruptcy and merger, she lost her pension, so we’re not talking about every Sears/K-Mart employee, only some.

Incidentally, most of us who get a paycheck have money deducted each payday for Medicare, Social Security, and possibly some type of retirement plan and/or other savings. Shouldn’t Sears have done something similar and invested money over time so that they wouldn’t have to pay pensions out of their operating budget today? However, their priority was shareholder dividends and purchasing other companies. They apparently were neither interested in their future, nor their people.

COincidentally, today retail is shifting to remote purchases that are then delivered to the consumer, usually by US Mail. For many years, Sears was known for its mail order catalog–during my childhood, it wasn’t Christmas without the Sears catalog and its extensive toy section.

By today’s standards the mail order catalog process seems a little slower with sending in an order by mail, but it was the same basic concept. In other words, it’s just possible that if greed were not so huge a factor, Sears could have been Amazon rather than on the verge of collapse.

The Storm Before the Calm

Hurricane Florence is going west–no, south–no, east-notheast, no—hell, nobody knows.

So, as things develop, all of the usual suspects (cue Casablanca–roll film) are behaving in the the way that all the usual suspects do:

  • Some television meteorologists are standing in knee deep water or out in the wind.
  • Other television meteorologists are predicting where the storm will go based on satellite fed, computer generated wild–ass guesses.
  • Elected officials are assuring people that: a) everything will be fine, or b) mandatory evacuation is necessary (“Abandon your posts! Run for your lives!” Denethor, Return of the King). [Flip coin here]

I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

Whatever Shall Be Will Be

Hurricane Florence is getting closer. The eye of the hurricane will be about 250 miles to the south of where I live, but, it’s not the eye that causes problems.

Hurricanes–cyclones–rotate in a counterclockwise direction. (Cyclonic means counterclockwise.) This means that if one’s location is above the eye, the hurricane is going to push the water in (deja vu–didn’t I say this yesterday????). So being above the eye is not necessarily a good thing.

Florence is now a category 4 hurricane, which means it moves faster and inevitably covers more territory. It may become a category 5. In any case, I’m going to get wet.

My wife, being much smarter than me, is taking our children to safety, far west and uphill from here. After all our years together, she knows that I live to help, so she understands (but does not necessarily give explicit approval) to my plan to stay here and provide emergency communications.

I expect to be successful, but this could be my last rodeo. After this, I may have to hang up the emergency communications hat and satisfy myself with the more sedate aspects of amateur radio; maybe I’ll take an occasional cruise, or whatever.

Actually, I look forward to that.

Major League catchers eventually succumb to their knees. Superstar quarterbacks succumb to traumatic brain injury. I suspect that, after this storm, I’ll succumb to whatever affliction affects disaster junkies.

Maybe I’m due to have some fun instead of a having one more additional fulltime job.

What do you think?

Pick at the Peak of Ripeness!

florence_tmo_2006257_lrg

September is when the hurricanes off the east coast of North America become ripe enough to be harvested and truly enjoyed. Like grapes or tomatoes, there are a few outliers that ripen earlier, but also like tomatoes and grapes, early hurricanes lack that full-bodied flavor that literally knocks you off your feet–sometimes permanently. Like tomatoes, hurricanes are best when picked fresh off the vine and tasted immediately.

If you don’t live in an area that experiences hurricanes, it is difficult to truly share the experience, but, I shall try. First, although the wind looks impressive on television, it is the storm surge of water that kills the most people. In Virginia, where we have been assured that there is no climate change, the sea levels have inexplicably risen and the land has subsided–a fancy word for “sunk.” The land sinks because industries such as paper mills pump so much water out of wells that the land actually sinks.

Evacuation is an option, but if you are not on the road at least three days before a hurricane makes landfall–with a confirmed reservation at a hotel well inland–you are going to bounce around in your car stuck in a 200 mile traffic jam in high winds heavy rains, and other cars tunning out of gas.

As the storm approaches, the water comes into the rivers and tributaries at high tide, the wind tends keep the water trapped inland, so the next few high tides keep adding. Then, there’s the rainfall. Yesterday–long before the hurricane is due, we got between 3 – 5 inches of rain. Since the most important thing around here is real estate development, all the low-lying wooded areas have been elevated so that instead of the water flowing into those areas, it flows the other way, into mature neighborhoods. Since electricity is also lost early in the game, the sewage treatment pumping stations fail; the water flowing through the streets tends to exhibit wads of toilet paper and worse.

The loss of electricity also means, given that there was never any global warning, everybody gets to enjoy the 90+ degree temperatures and 80+ percent humidity sans air-conditioning. Plus, ATMs, gas pumps, cash registers, etc. don’t work without electricity, so forget your debit or credit card. It’s exact change, cash only.

Afterward, the streets are lined with soggy wallboard and furniture from houses that were flooded. These sit, bake in the sun, grow mould, get rained on, wash the mould into the watershed, repeat. But, hey, Katrina barely bothered Louisiana and Maria was no problem for Puerto Rico, so what, me worry

It’s not a complete picture of what you may be missing, but hopefully it will help you share in our experience.

 

Oops!

I got into a fenderbender on the way home from work today.

I’ve always believed that all traffic engineers are related to body and fender shop owners.

The intersection where it happened is notorious for exactly these type of accidents.

Oops.

There’s a reason they call them accidents. No one intended for it to happen, but it did–by accident.

Oops.

John McCain

I rarely meet famous or important people, but I did meet John McCain.

The US Navy had committed to providing Sailors to fill in US Army combat support and combat service support roles in order to free up Soldiers to do what they had been trained for. Sailors are very adaptable–when one is at sea and a barber is needed (or a damage controlman, or a firefighter) there isn’t the opportunity to wait until someone trained and certified arrives. One of the Sailors will learn how to fill the gap, until relieved by someone better qualified. However, a nineteen year old Soldier knows more about ground combat than most Sailors ever will, so the two are not interchangeable.

US Sailors were serving, boots on the ground, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait (alphabetical order). When they returned home, I believed that they deserved to be met at the airport by someone in a US Navy uniform, even if it was just me. Many came back through Thurgood Marshall International Airport in Baltimore, MD, so I made regular trips to that airport.

In 2008, while waiting for a group to return, John McCain happened to be in the area. Apparently someone alerted him to the return of the Sailors, and he, his bus, and everyone on it showed up. This was not a political photo opportunity–John McCain knew all too well what it means to come home from war. He was there to welcome the Sailors, the Soldiers, the Airmen, the Marines, and the Coast Guardsmen home. It s an open, honest, and heartfelt measure.

I have a picture of myself, a fellow officer, who is a wonderful person (but I don’t know if she wishes to be identified) and John McCain. This was after he had graciously greeted the returning service members of all branches as they entered the terminal. In the picture, his expression makes it obvious that he had more important things to do than be photographed with me–and that’s what makes the picture so special. He had greeted the returning American warriors, and even though I was there for them too, it was not about me–it was about them. Now it was time for him to move on to his next task.

I respect that. I respect a man who knows what’s important and especially respect a man whose moral compass is incorruptible. In McCain’s case, he did all this while maintaining a sense of humor. He was rare, which to me qualifies him as a treasure–a National Treasure.

Eternal rest, grant unto John McCain, Oh Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen

The Story

I’ve been working on a story for a while, but writing it keeps getting in the way.

I’ve always admired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes,” which was published as a serial in the Strand magazine, a monthly publication. My story–“The Story”–has been under development for a while. Like most writers, I d-r-a-g things out far too long as I write them. It’s a case of “Wait! It was a small dog, not a puppy!.”

As George Lucas supposedly said, “Movies are never completed, only abandoned.” The same is probably true of stories, so I’m going to publish–on this blog–at least a chapter a month. I make no promise that a particular chapter (including one that I may publish) will not be removed or eliminated.

Welcome to the wonderful??? world of writing. You may have the chance to experience my dreams, frustrations, pain, and stupidity, as I try to write a story.

I’ve already changed at least five chapters, but, interestingly, all of the characters remain, although their experiences might be different. If I share, I’ll try not to be too confusing (I’m not responsible for confusing myself).

If it’s worthwhile–I hope you enjoy.

Chapter One is coming soon.

MOM

Today is my mother’s birthday. If she were still here, she’d be 91 (as would my dad, whose birthday is earlier in the year). They were a matched set who belonged together. Mom died first, after a fall, and Dad grieved until he joined her. Now that they’re back together, all is right in their world.

If your parents are still alive, cherish every day you have with them, even if–especially if–they don’t measure up to your expectations. As we get older, and gain a modicum of wisdom, we begin to understand and accept people for who they are, not who we think they should be.

Happy birthday, Mom.

Professionally Broken

Broken-Ham-Radio

A friend of mine once sent a radio transceiver (transmitter and receiver) to a reputable company for repair. When he was told it was finished, he picked it up and was very pleased at how well it worked.

A couple of days later, the reputable company called him and told him that they had given him a radio of the same brand and model as his, but the one they gave him belonged to another customer. Would he please return it and pick up his own, which was now repaired.

He brought back the radio, and they showed him his (now repaired) radio–exactly the same brand and model. However, the price they wanted to charge him for repairing his radio was outrageously high.

He told them that: a) the price was ridiculous, and b) he had done them a favor by returning the radio that had been given to him. After all, he was under no obligation to return it, and it was identical to the one he had brought in.

Their response? “Tough.”

He asked what they were going to do. They informed him that if he didn’t want to pay for the repair, they would have the technician return it to its previous condition. He was incredulous and asked, “So after the cost of repairing it, you’re willing to pay again to have my radio professionally broken.”

“Yep.”

Needless to say, that company is now out of business.

However, that was years ago. Today, as near as I can tell, high-tech equipment is pre-broken at the factory. The symptoms won’t show up immediately, but definitely will be fully developed just after the warranty and/or extended protection plan expires.

I call it frustrating. Manufacturers call it progress.

Good, Better, Worst

1957_Ford_Thunderbird_white

I spent a good portion of the weekend trying to work with several computer programs that defied both logic and me. There’s a reason for that.

When I was young, automobile companies would design and produce a very popular model, such as the Ford Thunderbird. It started out as a two seater sports car, similar to European sportsters. The hardtop version, in the earlier years, had two small round windows that had no other purpose than to look cool.

Every year, they “improved” it by making it larger, adding rear seats, and making it generally uncool. This practice has been continually refined since then so that good products are improved until they fail. It’s the product equipment of The Peter Principle–the cream rises until it sours.

One explanation is that the enemy of good is better. Actually the Perotto Principle applies; it takes 20 percent of the resources to achieve 80 percent results. It then takes 80 percent of the resources to achieve the final 20 percent.

Such was the case with these programs. The original versions did a few things very well. The current, new and improved versions do many things, but only those who wrote the computer code understand how to make them work.

There’s nothing wrong with “good enough.” If it gets the job done, that’s all that is required; it doesn’t need chrome fender dents and a two-way sneeze-through wind guard.*

 

*Ralph Spoilsport Motors–Firesign Theatr

Scandal!

zebra

Although we’re jaded by laundered money, gangland murders, fake news, and politicians, some things just go beyond the pale. A zoo in Cairo is suspected of painting a mule and passing it off as a zebra. What the . .  .?

Where is PETA when you need them?

It was only a matter of time.

I knew that body painting people wasn’t as innocent as we were supposed to believe. The “skinny jeans” that were painted on never fooled anyone–the number of nearby males copiously drooling immediately gave it away.

jeans

Artificial zebras–what’s next? Adding artificial necks to mules and passing them off as giraffes? Stapling horns on horses to sell as unicorns? A Monty Python world in which dead parrots are nailed to the perch in their cage to pass them off as Norwegian Blues? (Although Norwegian Blues do have lovely plumage.)

Next we’ll be making people believe that dinosaurs can be retrieved from their DNA. And as long as we’re doing dinosaurs, why not clone Fred and Wilma Flintstone?

It’s a sad state of affairs.

PLEASE! If you are thinking of buying a zebra, run it through the local car wash several times, just to be sure. The mule (or zebra, if it is authentic) won’t like it, but you must protect your investments. Otherwise Caveat Emptor!

You’ve been warned!

I’m No Angel

With apologies to Gregg Allman . . . .

At work–or even worse, at home–I sometimes get so wrapped up in my own ideas that I never give a thought as to whether or not I’m even close to correct. Fortunately, from time to time, I remind myself that when I shave in the morning, if I need to turn the lights on, that means there is no glowing halo to illuminate the room–therefore I’m still an imperfect human being.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

As humans, we have free will, make choices, and while some might be great, others are flat-out mistakes. That goes along with free will. We try and succeed and pat ourselves on the back. We try and fail and blame it on someone else, the conditions, the weather, or whatever.

But then we quietly admit to ourselves that it really wasn’t anything except a well-meant decision that didn’t work out. It might have been the right decision one minute before or two minutes after; it might never have been the right one, but it was not the best choice for that time and place.

We don’t have the answers in this world–hell, we’re lucky to figure out a few reasonable questions. But that’s okay; that’s our lot in life–to face challenges and respond in the best way we can.

And, when we succeed, it’s glorious.