Friday, December 31, 2010

The Perfect Christmas Gift

Receiving a Soul-Gift

A few days ago a dear friend gave me a gift. It was an old print of the original Metropolitan Opera House that stood in New York City from 1883 to 1966. My friend, honest to a fault, informed me that she had bought it at a rummage sale for a few bucks. I was very moved by this gift in spite of knowing how much she'd paid for it and I began to think about why receiving it had touched me so deeply. Naturally the subject of the gift had something to do with my reaction. Of my many interests, few have been as long-standing and passionately pursued as my love of "classical music" and history. Clearly the print encompassed both. But why did this representation of my interests have such a potent effect on me? After lengthy reflection I think I have the answer: this inexpensive, framed print was a "soul-gift".

I believe in reincarnation. I believe each of us is inhabited by an eternal soul that has freely chosen to be there. I believe that our souls are part of soul groups that choose lives that are interrelated. I believe our souls become corporeal in order to evolve with the goal of attaining powers which will then be used in the service of all souls. As part of this perfect process of creative development, all of us need to discover this process as well as our part in it and, thereby, the real purpose of human existence. We are all about the nurturing of the precious souls which are our true essence and a principal method we use to become enlightened is to recognize, acknowledge and validate the divine nature, i.e.: the soul, of those we love. The giving of gifts as a tradition of Christmas is a powerful way to accomplish this.

Soul-Gift Criteria

How many times have we heard it said: "Christmas is about giving"? We give presents at Christmas as a celebration of the ultimate meaning of this holiday. But I also believe that what we give is as important as the act of giving. Although this seems to fly in the face of that old saw of "it's the thought that counts", please hear me out. When I say that what is given is important I am not referring to the cost of the gift, nor the effort required to make or acquire the gift, nor even what object the gift consists of. It is completely besides the point whether the gift is a Bentley or a stick of gum. What matters is whether the gift validates the existence of the person who receives it.

Any gift, no matter what it is, will validate another person to some extent. But some gifts accomplish this to a far greater degree than others. Those are the gifts that reflect the needs, interests and desires of the recipient; these are the presents that unmistakably say "I know you" to the one who opens the gift wrap. This implied statement is important because it is, in effect, a communication directly from one soul to another. It is not simply the person who gives who is acknowledging his or her friend or loved one; it is the eternal soul of the giver recognizing the eternal soul of the recipient.

The characteristics of a friend or family member which endears him or her to us are signs of the soul within that person. These qualities are those which the soul has carried into this life from the other side and will take with it when it departs this world. The connection we feel to another human being, which we consciously believe was entirely forged in this lifetime, is much more likely to be one that existed between our soul and the ones we love through many lifetimes and many intervals between lifetimes. When we come to care for another, we are rediscovering a soul we have known for a very long time. That love, platonic or otherwise, is the recognition of one of our eternal soul-mates.

An Example

I really enjoy giving gifts that memorialize a special event or experience I shared with someone else. Last January I was in a gift shop on the beach near my Florida home with another friend of mine. She was on the first of many trips to the Sunshine State in which she, her husband and I planned and executed the purchase and remodeling of a new apartment that I would eventually move into last September. While browsing inside I spotted a display of Christmas tree ornaments made out of sea shells. We ogled them together for awhile and I eventually bought one with the secret intention of giving it to her and hubby when they had put up their tree eleven months hence.

The remodel consumed most of our time for the next nine months. We faced many hurdles and many difficult moments, but we were successful beyond my wildest expectations when the project was completed. My friendship with these two wonder-workers also deepened considerably as I have developed a deep respect for their skills and their perseverance. Thus when I gave them the ornament a few weeks ago, which she had long forgotten I'd purchased, I hoped that it would become a keepsake invoking that time we three struggled and triumphed in the sweltering summer of the Gold Coast and were bound together thereby. I hoped that this insignificant and inexpensive little gift would remind them of the connection between our three souls that was forged in the heat of Florida.


The most meaningful, joy-inducing gift we can give is one that reflects what we value in the recipient and, because of its impact, becomes a powerful soul communication. Through this sort of gift we are saying that we acknowledge a bond that transcends lifetimes. This validates the truth that we are souls first and foremost. Such a gift is more precious than platinum because it is a gift that will uplift the spirit of the recipient in a profound and lasting way. That uplift, which is the primary duty all human beings have to each other, is the greatest Christmas gift of all.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Second Republican Lesson: Beliefs Are Stronger Than Facts

Politics is Belief

Politics is not about facts, it is about opinions. We hold specific political beliefs because we believe they are correct, not because they actually are. Most importantly, our political ideas are not true because we believe in them, however fervently we may embrace those beliefs.

There is nothing new about these statements. I'm sure every one of us have said these very things when criticizing someone else's political views. (Much rarer are those who remind themselves of these truths.)

This is also not to say that all political opinions are equal. Political beliefs can be objectively measured by observing the changes in social conditions after they have been implemented and then determining whether those changes were advantageous to a majority within that society.

Still, the reasons why people cling to certain political doctrines has very little to do with whether those things are, in fact, helpful or hurtful to a majority of a society's population. In spite of this, there are many who continue to believe that "getting the facts out there" is effective in bolstering or undermining a political belief.

Many of these "political rationalists" are leaders and trendsetters within the Democratic Party. Very few of them seem to be Republicans. This disparity is to the great disadvantage of the Democrats because, in terms of how people behave in political situations, the Republicans have got it right.

Why "Death Panels" Won't Die

We all recall the accusation that the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" (better known as "Health Care Reform") would create "Death Panels". In spite of countless denials by Reform supporters, that particular rumor "still has legs" to this day. The problem for the deniers is that the complete absence of any reference to "Death Panels" in the law's voluminous pages is irrelevant to their power as a political "code word". That phrase is a potent symbol encapsulating and crystallizing the basic fears we all share of any health care system in which the welfare of the patient is not its first and only priority.

The largely Republican critics of the new law don't care that "Death Panels" are not the literal truth as long as the term invokes the negative emotions associated with the rationing of health care in the name of cost-containment (or other social goals). If there is any potential for this outcome in the statute, however remote, the Republicans will argue that its use is justified. Republican strategists understand that a fear of losing one's autonomy and independence is a very real one for many Americans since they have been experiencing exactly that for decades. The fact that the health care law was not designed to do that, nor can it be reasonably expected to have that impact in practice, is insufficient reassurance to a skeptical public.

Many Democrats view this Republican strategy negatively because it appears to be exploiting people's fears; in effect indulging those fears instead of dispelling them. Rather than seeing this fear as a defect that should not be exploited for political reasons, Democrats should be wondering why the fear exists in spite of the facts and how to ease those fears without acting as if the fear is purely the result of ignorance. How can we expect to persuade people if it appears to them as if we are questioning their intelligence?

Acknowledge Fear to Fight Fear

Fear cannot be fought only with facts. Appeals to reason often seem to the fearful to belittle their fears and thus are generally ignored. Factually baseless fears must be directly acknowledged and ratified as a legitimate (though incorrect) reaction to change if they are to be successfully overcome.

Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership doesn't seem to understand this. Rather than endlessly repeating the mantra that "Death Panels" are a figment of the imagination, they should be pointing out that "Death Panels" really do exist and the health insurance companies are currently using them. In fact, the rationing of health care that the opponents of reform fear so much has existed for decades. The 50 million Americans currently without health insurance are a "market driven" method for such rationing. And most of those with health insurance are not immune from this scourge as the insurance companies make decisions on whether to pay for a medical procedure on the basis of their bottom line instead of the medical needs of the insured.

In fact, one of the principal purposes of the law is to stop health-care rationing by the insurance companies and by the market place. Rather than create "Death Panels" the new law aims to end them.

The appropriation of the potent symbol of "Death Panels" by supporters of health care reform would show empathy for a fear that many Americans have good reasons to have. It would also be an act of political "Jujutsu": turning a powerful weapon used by the opponents of reform against them. All it requires is giving up the completely irrational idea that politics is a rational activity. The Republicans figured this out a long time ago. When will the Democrats?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Learning from the Republicans

The Real Lesson of the 2010 Elections

Well, it seems that the Democrats have learned their lesson: sticking to your principles at any cost; never compromising; saying "no" as often as it takes gets you nowhere in politics except the scrap heap.

But, wait a minute... isn't that precisely what the Republicans have done for the last 2 years and didn't they just win the biggest Midterm election victory since WW II? Of course they did: any one who just lived through this period knows that unless you happen to be The Media or The President.

And didn't Obama, Reid and Pelosi bend over backwards so often in attempts to "reach across the aisle" that they looked like circus contortionists? And didn't they just get a "shellacking" at the polls? Of course they did though neither of that hapless threesome seems to have been paying attention.

The real lesson of this week's election is that compromise in the name of statesmanship, in the interests of governing or for any other reason is a losing strategy. THAT is the lesson that Democrats need to learn IMMEDIATELY.

It's not that there weren't plenty of opportunities to learn it in the last two years. Almost from the start of Obama's administration, many smart people tried to tell him that the stimulus plan wasn't too big, as the Republicans were claiming, but was actually way too small. But he and his advisers felt that proposing an even larger stimulus bill would doom the entire plan to oblivion on the Senate floor and so they created the first and most politically devastating of the compromises he would undertake in order to get something done. The woefully inadequate stimulus, as predicted, left the nation mired in a 9.5% unemployment rate almost 2 years after its enactment and left thousands of angry voters expressing their outrage at the polls.

Time after time, Obama surrendered Democratic principles to obtain his Health Care, Wall Street and Credit Card reforms. And as a direct result of that compromise, the impacts of these laws were stunted enough that Republicans could claim, with some justification, that those efforts were a failure and, by extension, that all government economic activity is useless or worse.

If any other evidence of the unimportance of compromise is needed, let us remember the previous "watershed" election of 2006 in which the Republicans lost their majorities in the House and Senate. What was the main response of President Bush to that turn of events? Did he compromise? You betcha not!! He quickly began planning the Iraqi "surge" involving the dispatch of even more troops although the Congressional election results were widely seen as a repudiation of Bush's entire Iraq policy.

Following the Republican Example

I have to hand it to the Republicans. In their darkest hour in decades, the first months following the election of Obama, they must have been under enormous pressure to sacrifice some of their basic principles in order to "stay relevant" or "have a seat at the table". They resisted what their leaders rightly saw as a false temptation, realizing that the fastest way to oblivion was to let the Democrats accomplish anything of significance. If they were to have any chance to implement their principles, they needed to win in 2010 and 2012 and to do so required them to prove the ineffectiveness of the Democrats. The simplest and only way to do that was stay true to themselves. Not only would this weaken their political opposition it would also motivate their base and provide a beacon for dissatisfied independents. I may not like what the Republicans stand for but I clearly understand it since they are remarkably consistent in adhering to them.

Let all Democrats acknowledge the political skill of the Republicans even while vehemently disagreeing with their policies. Let us reject compromise as a political tool. Democratic Senators should be prepared to filibuster all Republican proposals that violate Democratic principles even if that means exceeding the Republicans unprecedented use of that tactic in the current Congress. And they should take as a compliment any and all accusations of being "obstructionists". The President should be prepared to veto any bill that somehow escapes the fate of the filibuster and reaches his desk containing anti-Democratic policies. And he should say "thank you" when anyone calls him a "divider not a uniter".

The Democratic Principles

Above all, the Democrats should state their core principles daily to each other and to the world and be proud of what those principles represent. And they must never, EVER betray them, even if it means watching as Republicans try to shut down the government or even shutting it down themselves, if necessary.

So let's repeat the Democratic Principles together:

- The little guy and gal matter, not just on election day and not just as exploited fodder to make others rich, famous and powerful, but ALL the time.

- Unbridled corporate power is the greatest threat to individual rights in this country. Left uncontrolled, corporations will destroy our privacy, our earning power and, ultimately, our nation's sovereignty.

- Government is the only effective means by which the Average Joe and Jane can resist corporate power. On our own, even when we band together in private groups with millions of members, we are no match for the financial, strategic and logistical prowess of Big Business. Without government as a counter-force, all but a few in the pay of these corporations will soon find themselves enslaved.

- The American economy is capable of behaving like a fusion reactor: part of its output is more fuel for input. The right investments (investing in new technologies for instance) will create more total wealth for everyone, not just concentrating existing wealth in a few greedy hands. Only the government is willing to take on these risky investments (and make sure the resulting contracts and jobs go to Americans). Private corporations would much rather sell products made overseas at slave wages because it is a safe and proven method of making gobs of money.

Since old habits die hard, what should we Democrats do if our party leadership winds up actually trying to fulfill their pledge of working with the Republicans? Simple: we true Democrats will vote Obama, Reid and Pelosi out in the primaries and replace them with individuals who have some.... cajones.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Constitutional Right to Hate

Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks
And the rich folks hate the poor folks
All of my folks hate all of your folks
It's American as apple pie
- Tom Lehrer, from his song "National Brotherhood Week"

We are all aware of many of the specific rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution. But I bet you didn't know of one right the Constitution has given us: the right to hate anyone and anything we choose. There isn't specific language to this effect in this most hallowed of American documents but both logic and The Ninth Amendment to the Constitution clearly imply that it exists. Since the First Amendment explicitly prohibits restrictions on our freedom of speech, it is simple logic to conclude that it also protects freedom of thought (including hateful thoughts) since the one is meaningless without the other. The Ninth Amendment says that the failure to specifically enumerate the right to hate (among others) in the Constitution "...shall not be construed to deny or disparage..." that right being retained by the people.

This right is an unlimited one. We are in no way obligated to justify our hateful thoughts or develop excuses for them. We have an absolute right to hate irrationally, and without any basis whatsoever, as we see fit.

Although this may be a Constitutional right, it has been far too often violated by our well-meaning parents, teachers and other role-models who wanted to make sure that we did not grow up to be dead, a prison inmate or a misanthropic hermit by regularly admonishing us to "be nice". Frankly, they had a lot of first-hand experience with their own hatred and knew that it could have devastating consequences for the health and well-being of their progeny if they didn't make every effort to suppress it. And so our ideas of "good" and "bad" became intertwined with ridiculous notions of behavior: only "bad" people have "bad" emotions. No one wants to consider himself or herself "bad" or have others do so, so we dutifully surrendered our right to irrational hatred.

And yet we continued to have those feelings in spite of our best efforts not to because, in truth, it is as human to hate as it is to love. Then, at some point, we began to notice that expressing some forms of hate did not seem to brand those who did so as "bad" people. On the contrary, they were listened to, imitated and became the epicenter of "cliques". The reason this happened was obvious: they justified their hatred.

These instigators of ostracism and segregation always have eloquent reasons for their actions:

"God, he's such a dork, how can you hang around with him? You don't want people to start thinking YOU'RE a dork, do you?"

"Can you believe how fat she is? It's disgusting! And she's SO unfriendly. Barely says a word to anyone all day. You definitely don't want to be seen with HER!"

Oh I get it: it's not "bad" to hate someone if there's a reason to! In fact, it's not really hatred at all if the person deserves to be hated.

Meanwhile, the "trendsetters of hatred" get more and more sophisticated with their justifications as they move from school into the "real world". (Their motivation is, of course, unchanged: they want to control things and need a good excuse to get others to acquiesce.) Now they'll spout platitudes about entire groups without any basis:

"All Republicans are bigots."

"All Democrats hate America."

"All Moslems want to kill Christians."

"All Tea Partiers are loonies."

"All immigrants want to takeover our country."

This isn't hatred of course. What other reaction can be expected when confronted with the depravity of (insert your choice here: Republicans, Democrats, Moslems, Tea Partiers, immigrants)?

As a result, the popularity of these "opinionators" is greater than ever. They become pundits and get their own talk shows, do book deals, and make millions. They run for office on a platform that promises to deal with the "problem" of (insert your choice here: bigots, America-haters, Moslems, loonies, immigrants). They get elected and suddenly legislation is being proposed and, God forbid, enacted that is literally spawned by suppressed hatred and thousands of innocent people get hurt, not just some high-school kid nobody liked anyway. And it's all because we refused to exercise our absolute Constitutional right to hate without reason.

So forget about being "nice" or "good". If you don't like someone or something, even if that dislike is strong enough to be classified as "hate", go ahead and acknowledge it. But also remember that we hate first then find reasons to justify it, and it's the justification that's the problem. Beware the consequences, though: when you hate directly and unambiguously you run the risk of getting to know who or what it is you hate and it's just possible that you'll discover you don't hate him or her or it quite as much as you thought you did.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Millions of People Want to Work at IKEA for Free

Having moved to my new place in Florida, I discovered that I needed more shelf space for books. This was the opportunity I had been waiting for: a chance to work at IKEA. ("You mean SHOP at IKEA, don't you?" I hear you protesting.) No, I mean WORK. Having just successfully executed a shopping project plan at IKEA, and since no one should shop at IKEA without preparation, I thought I'd pass on some of the tips I've learned for those of you ready to try a radically different shopping experience. (Here is some background info for those who aren't familiar with IKEA.)

Tip 1: The IKEA Language.

First you will need to master the IKEA vocabulary of nouns. In the case of bookcases, for instance, their various product lines are all given names of Swedish places. However, since IKEA is the master of modular design, many of their products can be combined to create an almost infinite number of configurations. Let's say you want to create a tall bookcase with some drawers and a short one to do double-duty as a lamp table. The product lines involved would be Besta, Besta Vara, Besta Tofta and Inreda.

The easiest way to design your bookcases is to go to the nearest store.

What? The nearest store is a 500 mile drive from your home?

Look, if you're going to buy a great product at an incredible price and experience the greatest shopping challenge of your life, then you're going to have to make a few sacrifices.

Tip 2: Stay Focused!

When you arrive at the store head straight to the bookcases. Go right up the escalators, glue your eyes to the arrows on the floor that indicate the path through the 8 billion square foot showroom and, whatever you do, DON'T LOOK UP!

What?? You tried that and you smacked your knee on a dining table and took your eyes off the arrows because you were in such pain that your eyes started watering? Then you beheld room after breathtaking room of IKEA furniture and accessories in every conceivable combination and setting stretching on endlessly before you and you were transfixed in wonderment?

OK, here's the challenge: you have maybe ten minutes before the IKEA Effect kicks in and you lose all connection with the outside world. So, before you forget who you are and how to use a cell phone, call and make a reservation at the nearest hostelry for that night because you won't be able to start your trek homeward until midnight and we don't want the police finding your body piled under a bunch of IKEA boxes in your rolled-over car because you fell asleep at the wheel.

TIP 3: Write It Down!

OK, so 3 hours later you finally arrive at the bookcase section. The time frame is optimistic here because you might have passed the bookcases a few times, having forgotten why you came to the store in the first place along with your identity and any capacity for free-will. On the walls of this section you will see samples of every component that can be used to construct a bookcase. These have been cleverly arranged into numbered sections in the order in which a design must be constructed. Now, if you can still count, go over to the wall display labeled "1" and DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

But before you do anything else, look around for the nearest rack containing blue pamphlets and small pencils and disposable tape measures. Grab one of each and keep 'em handy. The form has a map of the store, shopping instructions, and, most important, a blank shopping list on the back where you can write down what you want to buy. There is no way, even if you were not under the spell of the IKEA Effect, that you are going to remember that you need 3 "Inreda Drawer Without Front 23 5/8" by 15 3/4" in Beech Effect Units" for longer than 30 seconds.

Tip 4: Don't Forget the Article Number

When you've decided what you want to buy, IKEA instructs you to go to the "Self-Serve Furniture" area. The uninformed might misinterpret this euphemism as a loading platform to which you drive your vehicle where employees are available to help you load your stuff in the car. The complete IKEA novice might even think they can avoid this part of the process altogether if they have decided to pay for delivery. This is WRONG in both cases!

In fact, the "Self-Serve Furniture" area looks suspiciously like an enormous stock-room which, indeed, it is. Part of IKEA's retailing revolution involves the deceptively simple idea of removing the walls that usually separate the stockroom from the selling floor. Oh yes, it also involves eliminating almost all of the stockroom jobs as well, leaving the customer responsible for locating the items he or she wants to purchase:

a) amidst the 3 trillion items IKEA sells;

b) within a warehouse containing dozens of rows of multi-storied shelving structures;

c) all filled with identically clad plain brown cardboard boxes of various sizes and shapes.

Not to worry! IKEA has a system designed to find what you're looking for and stimulate your brain cells at the same time. Simply use one of the touch screen computers conveniently located around the ware... I mean the "Self-Serve Furniture" section, enter the item number of the thing you want to buy and hit enter.

What? You forgot to write down the article number when you were browsing the 8 billion square foot show-room because the form didn't have a column for a part number?

No problem: simply enter the name of the items you want in the computer instead.

What?? You wrote down the names of what you want but now you can't decipher words that seem to be in Swedish and looks like it might be "Basta/Vegas/Toffee/Invader"?

Oh well, you'll just have to walk the 300 miles back through the largest store on the planet to the spot where you think you might've seen what you wanted and re-do all the research necessary to figure out what parts you'll need to build it if... I mean, ONCE you get home.

What???? You already did that but the damn tag, which is supposed to have all the info needed to purchase the item, did NOT have an item number? So you accosted a yellow-shirted IKEA person screaming:


but your foaming mouth and rolling eyes caused him to run away before he answered the question?

No problem: the exact location of the items you want in the "Self-Serve Furniture" room are shown at the bottom of the IKEA tags on a red card.

What? You're upset that I didn't mention this before which would've saved you miles of walking and hours of work but now you've wasted so much time that the store is closing so you'll have to come back tomorrow to finish shopping?

See: I told you to reserve a room!!

Tip 5: Don't Give Up.

At this point it may seem that leaving your stuff in the moving boxes in the living room until your next move is a very reasonable alternative. This is simply the result of complete mental and physical exhaustion. After a good night's sleep at an overpriced motel (sans a change of clothes or toiletries considering you weren't planning to make this an overnight shopping trip) your perspective will return. I hope. Remember, perseverance is an important lesson to be learned in confronting any challenge.

What? You'd rather pay more to have someone else do all this work than work for IKEA for nothing?

What are you, un-American??

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Black: The New Stainless-Steel

Last weekend I was in the middle of my daily trip to the local "home store" (the inevitable consequence of a remodel project in its latter stages) when I noticed an attractive refrigerator sitting near the entrance. In front of it was a sign in large handwritten letters that read:


Now this I had to check out. The "prime directive" of every home makeover/flipping/buying/selling/trading/renting show on cable TV mandates that all kitchen appliances must be stainless-steel. I have seen episodes of these real estate orgies in which a woman rejected an eight bedroom, 11,000 square foot mansion with ocean views, offered for fifteen thousand dollars, because it didn't have stainless-steel appliances. (The husband subsequently appeared on a reality crime show as a prime suspect in the disappearance of his steel-obsessed wife.)

In spite of overwhelming evidence that I was committing a home makeover felony, I selected black appliances. This choice was a no-brainer: stainless-steel comes with about a 30% price increase over its humbler, color competitors. I simply can't see paying several hundred bucks just to get a permanent installation of kindergarten finger-paintings in my kitchen. (By the way, aren't fingerprints stains??) The only concession I made to this expensive surface choice was inside the dishwasher. This doesn't count with style nazis because it's invisible 98% of the time.

The reaction of my family, friends and even total strangers to my choice has been so virulent that I sometimes think it would have been worth the extra money to spare myself the umpteenth repetition of my "In Defense of Black" speech. Once the subject of my remodel comes up, the appliances confrontation is inevitable. It goes something like this:

"So you got stainless-steel, RIGHT???"

"Uhhhh.... no, actually. I got black."

"Black?? BLACK??! You got BLACK APPLIANCES????!!!"

(If the conversation is occurring in a public space, this is the point where people start turning around to take a look at the idiot who wants his kitchen to look like a funeral parlor.)

"Oh come on.... what's so great about stainless-steel anyway?"

"Oh you poor demented fool! Haven't you watched HGTV? Don't you know that steel appliances can increase your resale value by tens of thousands of dollars??"

And now it seems I could have avoided all of this conflict without paying an extra penny. But then I looked more closely at the home-store display and discovered that, like most advertising, it wasn't as simple as it appeared. On top of the fridge were the prices for the three versions of the model in question:


White: $1199

Black: $1199.

It was true that no premium had to be paid for stainless-steel, but that was because the price of the less desired models of color had been raised significantly to match that of the steel-clad version!

It was the perfect advertising ploy: tell the literal truth while leaving the lies unspoken. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this approach: politicians and used-car salespeople do it every day. But will it work?

I have every reason to believe that it will. I suspect that, like the hula-hoop craze, the stainless-steel mania is abating. It's the nature of fads. Whoever came up with the "no premium for stainless-steel" concept no doubt saw some disturbing sales figures and realized the hit the refrigerator food-chain would take if people only bought appliances that had, in effect, a 30% discount. The only answer was to raise the prices of the non-stainless steel items. But how to do that when all of the retailers are constantly screaming that they have the lowest prices in town?

The answer, of course, is magic. Or to be more precise: sleight-of-hand. If a magician doesn't want you to see what he or she is doing with her right hand, make the audience look at his or her left instead. In this case distract the shopper with the seemingly great bargain of offering stainless-steel at "colored" prices so they won't notice that the price of the latter has just gone up very steeply.

Ask a car dealer whose been in business, say, for 40 years whether he's ever raised prices and you might get him to concede that he did it once during the Great Inflation of the 1970s. Really?? So how come I can't buy a car for four thousand bucks like my Father did when he bought a new Pontiac Catalina in 1972? In spite of this undeniable fact, the dealer would be telling the literal truth. GM didn't raise the price of a Pontiac Catalina. Instead they slapped a new name on a reworked body enclosing better bells and whistles, placed it upon the same chassis as the Catalina, and sold it for 30% more.

All that the appliance food chain needs now is one or two reality crime shows featuring a husband wanted for questioning in his wife's disappearance because the real estate deal of a lifetime she passed up had stainless-steel in the kitchen.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A New Contributor

Just a quick post to announce an additional contributor to the "Red Ink Comments" blog. His pen name is "tells it like it is". As a personal friend of mine I can vouch that this appellation is completely accurate since he always says exactly what he is thinking regardless of the consequences.

"tells it like it is" has made his first post today entitled "All About Excuses..." in which he, as usual, doesn't mince words. If you enjoy strong opinions strongly worded, read it now.

I hope to add more contributors as time goes on to reflect a range of personal opinions on topics large and small. I hope you will drop by regularly.

Dan Longiaru

Moderator and Contributor.

Garbage Nazi

The home life of the single person bears very little resemblance to that of the married, the co-habitating or the single parent with kid(s). For one thing, we singles are completely free to institute house rules which are alway obeyed because the author is only complying with his own rules. This freedom allows for a creativity and originality in developing procedures which those whose experience is limited to multiple-person households find hard to understand, let alone obey.

In my home I have a very simple and very common sense rule for kitchen garbage. The rule is thus:


Now what could be more straightforward than that, I ask you? Has there ever been a rule whose reason for being is more self-evident? Yet it is amazing how many of my friends, relatives and other guests in my home have problems conforming with it.

I have learned a great deal about the way the human mind works from observing people's reactions to this stricture and I find that they generally fall into one of three categories.

The first category includes those who immediately grasp the rule and comply with it unswervingly forever after. Those in this group are a distinct minority. I'm sure the motivation for their compliance varies with some perceiving the advantages of my system and others preferring not to argue with a madman. Either cause is equally acceptable to me as long as the rule is obeyed.

The second category consists of those who are genuinely perplexed by the rule. These need repeated admonishments to comply not because of any innate stubbornness but rather because they have simply never given much thought to the science of garbage-handling before. I tend to be patient with this sort of non-compliance since my experience has been that, once they grasp the fabulously positive benefits of this garbage-segregation regimen, they not only become enthusiastic adherents in my home, but adapt it in theirs and often become proselytizers seeking to spread their enlightenment far and wide.

The third and, unfortunately, the largest group are the willfully non-compliant who display their dysfunctional relationship with authority in reprehensibly passive-aggressive ways. While ostensibly adhering to the rule, they will question its purpose even though it has been explained to them a hundred times.

The challenge to the rule will generally unfold as follows:

The "closet revolutionary" will have an item for disposal in his hands (this type is overwhelmingly male) and will generally stand in front of the kitchen garbage can staring at it pensively for however long it takes to get my attention. Although tempted to ignore this cue for me to inquire into their dilemma, since I know what's about to happen, I will invariably respond simply to get the inevitable over with.

"Something wrong?"

"Well, I was just wondering..."


"Now promise you won't get pissed."

"I promise."

"I mean it's not that I want to be difficult, but you have to admit that The Garbage Rule is rather vague."

"It's not vague in the least, at least to those who genuinely want to comply with it."

"See, you're getting pissed."

"Not pissed, just worn out from incessant carping. So what's your question?"

"Well... is this wet or dry garbage?"

Here we go again!! These Rebels Without a Cause will never give up. Having been beaten back innumerable times in their frontal assaults on the rule itself, they eventually switch to guerilla tactics that involve undermining the rule by demonstrating that it is unenforceable.

"Now I know this may be too complicated for you to grasp, but the key distinction that you need to make is whether the item in question is actually wet or dry."

The defense attorney cleverly ignores my obvious sarcasm.

"It's wet, of course."

"Correct. And where are we supposed to throw wet garbage?"

"In the bag under the sink."

"Correct again. So what's the problem?"

"Well... you said the reason you separate wet from dry is to prevent garbage from stinking up the kitchen.

"Yes, so??"

"So.... this is a paper towel with just some plain water on it. It's never going to smell so why can't it go with the dry garbage?"

"First of all, the placement of wet garbage in the dry garbage might wet some of the dry residue in the can and cause it to stink. However, even if I conceded that the wet towel would not cause the dry garbage to smell, what's the problem with placing the wet towel in the wet garbage just to keep things simple?"

"Because if there's no reason to put it in the wet garbage, why have the rule at all?"

"OK, how's this for justification: it's MY house, MY kitchen and MY garbage receptacles!!!"

"See, you ARE pissed."

One can never win with a personality disorder of this type. I blame the educational reforms of the 1960s and 1970s which de-emphasized rote memorization of the rules of an academic discipline. Instead students were encouraged to explore why the rules exist in the first place. A wit once noted that people educated in this way aren't able to get the right answer but they can explain how they got it wrong. In kitchens, as in math, one should first master the rules before questioning their legitimacy. The alternative is to almost pass out from the stink emerging from the typical kitchen garbage can whenever it's opened.


All About Excuses... (By Guest Contributor "tells it like it is")

So tell me why is it that people feel the government is at fault for the way the economy is? Oh that's right its the banks fault!
Well to tell you the truth it's your faults! the government or the banks didn't tell you to take out home loans for more then what you can afford or to live beyond your income per month did they? so who's fault is it now? doesn't any one look out for them self's anymore?

I haven't seen any one on the news saying "Well I did this to my self for living beyond what I make so here's the keys to the house and SUV I'm going to live in a box" Oh I know it's the banks fault for tricking them into buying a 400,000 home when they both only make enough to own a 100,000 home.

Is this how it went, your at the bank with your spouse and the bank person said, well you and your spouse only make 42,000 a year combined, but no fear we can make it look like your making 55,000 a year and get you in to that 400,000 house you've always wanted just sign on the dotted line please, so now your in debt 6 feet over your eye balls and paying back a monthly mortgage payment that is just about what you bring home and when it all comes crashing down it's the government or the banks fault?

Its funny how people look at life as if it only revolves around them and not how it effects the big picture. You people F'ed up the economy not the system.
You only make so much per month and still have the balls to max out your credit cards and when you can't pay your bills it's time to blame the government or the banks for telling you in advance that if your late on your payments we're going to charge you allot more in interest or take your stuff!
It's ok you can cut up your flat screen you paid 3 times as much as it's worth cause you didn't save up for it and bought it on CREDIT and feed that to your kids when they get hungry.
Oh yeah don't let me forget that not only did you buy a house you can't really afford you went out and bought a 40,000 SUV cause you think you have the right to own stuff you can't afford.
If you can't pay for everything but the house and car in cash then maybe you shouldn't HAVE IT !!!

In this life you only deserve what your can afford! there is no such thing as "you have the right" to anything other then to be free so don't F it up for the rest of us cause you think you have the right to things your can't afford.

What kind of roll model are we if this is how we look at life? it seams a good part of society lives for right now and not for tomorrow and hides behind "it's not my fault" and or "I have the right"
I would just like to see people taking responsibility for there lives and stop blaming the government! they have enough to worry about with out having to manage your personal finances.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

families r 4 understanding

Those who know me know I'm not a family-oriented kind of person. Actually, I'm kind of like the monster in that classic Bugs Bunny takeoff on horror movies: the only thing that scares me are people. Particularly frightening are those who share the same gene pool with me. I am always fearful that relations will expect a reprieve from my usual tendency to treat everyone with an equal indifference. I have never accepted the received wisdom that demands special treatment for family members. (I guess that's why I'm still single and am happy that way.)

I am not a complete misanthrope however. I freely acknowledge that sometimes only a relative possesses the commonality of nature and nurture to be capable of reading my mind. A cousin of mine is a case in point. We seem to share the same brain when it comes to humor. I can occasionally be sardonic and satiric in expressing my views. (OK, I'm ALWAYS sardonic and sarcastic.) My cousin not only complements these tendencies, he anticipates them as well. It can seem as if we're working from a written script, so perfect is the timing and interaction between us. In fact, it's all spontaneous.

For example, he and I recently exchanged text messages concerning tickets I had available to a Yankee game. Typical of our mutually shared enjoyment of going on endlessly about nothing, this exchange went on for several days when two or three messages would normally have exhausted the topic. The result was a comic bit in which Abbott and Costello meet Monty Python's Flying Circus.

I now present, with minimal editing, this interchange. Some of it may seem incomprehensible but that is precisely the point of why I offer it here. Sometimes only family truly understands us, especially if our thoughts are just a little weird.

Dan: May have tickets to Yankees game on 8/9. Wanna go?

Cousin: hello cousin dan, that depends on whether or not the yankees are going to win

Dan: They will lose as they always do when I attend. Hopefully it won't be a rout.

Cousin: i need a full weather report and description of snacks please

Dan: Hurricane conditions. Bread and water.

Cousin: what is the point spread ?

Dan: 300000 to 1

Cousin: how much is a cup of beer and how far measured in linear feet is the nearest restroom from our seats

Dan: $8 million. 1 parsec. U do the math.

Cousin: is there any time travel or shifting of our molecular structure involved?

Dan: Yes.

Cousin: jumping jehosophat

Cousin: is there any thinking involved, i don't want to have to let loose a thought bomb in the ninth

Dan: None whatsoever. Wud I bring u to anything that required thinking? Give me some credit.

Cousin: I wasn't thinking

Dan: LOL

Cousin: will we need to bring oxygen due to the extreme elevation of the seats

Dan: Re O2: da bronx ran outta O2 in 79. So it depends on how long u can hold ur breath.

Cousin: will george steinbrenner resurrect himself for this game ?

Dan: God I certainly hope not!

Cousin: perhaps that's what the jews had in mind when they spoke of the second coming...

Dan: Steinbrenner the Messiah? That's mashuggah! (sic)

Cousin: What are the exact time coordinates?

Dan: 2:05 PM EDT LET SSST MWQ1 U1 (editor's note: LET = Local Earth Time; SSST = Standard Solar System Time; MWQ1 = Milky Way Quadrant 1; First Universe.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Guilty Pleasures of a Consignment Shop

I am moving soon to a new condo in South Florida and I need to buy some furniture. As most people who live on the Gold Coast do in such a situation, I decided to check out some consignment shops. These establishments are hardly unique to SoFL but I firmly believe there are more of them per-capita than in any other region of the country. The reason for this is simple and somewhat depressing: the Gold Coast is Death's waiting room.

As one of the undisputed retirement meccas of the nation, Florida has more than its fair-share of people in their "declining years". Obviously this means a plethora of homes full of clothing and furniture that eventually become unneeded by their owners. Much of these items wind up on the selling floor of consignment shops

A few minutes drive from my house is a truly gigantic example of this business. It is stuffed to the gills with... stuff. Bedroom sets, dining tables, living room ensembles, paintings in every style and in every conceivable kind of frame, vases, clocks, sculptures, garden gnomes, desks, lamps, books, magazines, jewelry; all of it sitting rather forlornly far from their owners' intended location.

Not long after I stepped into this surreal environment I began to experience a strangely enjoyable sadness. Towards the back of the store, between an enormous Louis the XVth bed complete with royal blue hangings and a Swedish Modern liquor cabinet, was a wall unit that reeked of particle board and faux Mediteranean pretensions. Upon its terminally 1970s shelves were a series of neatly stacked boxes that I recognized immediately.

"Reel-to-reel tapes!! I haven't seen one of these in decades."

I pulled one of the boxes and opened it up.


Inside was a 7 inch Sony reel in mint condition. Taped to the interior back of the box was an index card with neat writing on it listing the items that had been recorded onto the reel. It listed a broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera, the soundtrack from some television program and a recording of a Broadway show LP (that's a vinyl record for those born after 1980).

Home recording in the 1960s and 70s was an expensive and onerous procedure largely pursued by those who were once called "audiophiles". Undoubtedly, the man who had owned this collection (there is no possibility, given the time period and its social mores, that it belonged to a woman) had the interest, time and resources to pursue this hobby with seriousness and dedication. So why did he give them up? I doubt that he surrendered the collection because he bought an iPod. No, I'm afraid the decision wasn't his but rather his next of kin.

I wondered, as I replaced the box, whether he ever thought his precious collection would wind up lost amid the detritus of thousands of other anonymous donors when he was painstakingly cataloging his collection? And if he had, would he have continued doing so?

I continued walking amongst the cacophony of items, every one of them with a prominent price tag dangling from it, wondering about the lives and eventual fate of those who had once owned them. I could no longer look at them as commodities for sale; all I could see were incoherent fragments of people's lives. Most poignant were the enormous and expensive bedroom and living room sets, once proudly displayed as symbols of wealth and success, now too out-of-fashion to be of interest to those with houses large enough to hold them, and too massive for the modest homes of those looking for a bargain.

I was thoroughly enjoying myself, lost in delicious thoughts of other people's mortality and the ultimate futility of their energy and effort, when The Lecture started. Whenever I'm behaving badly and enjoying it too much this voice starts up in my head. Freud would say that's my superego talking. It was called my conscience in a more innocent age. I prefer to call it Mr. Nanny.

Dan, you know what you're doing right now, don't you?

I'm enjoying myself, that's what I'm doing.

Don't be coy. You're having a heck of an attack of schadenfreude.

Well, how bad could that be? Any time a German word is needed to describe a state of being, we're probably talking about something very profound.

I'm afraid not. You only use it to impress other people with your erudition. It's meaning is hardly complimentary since it describes the pleasure someone gets from the misfortunes of others.

Oh, lighten up already!! I'm not really enjoying myself. I'm just kinda feeling good because this store reminds me that everyone winds up in the same place eventually, regardless of their lot in life. It just reassuring to know I'm not the only one.

That's still schadenfreude!!

So what? You know why the Germans came up with a name for this feeling? Because so many people have it. I'm in great company.

Just because it's common doesn't make it right. Isn't there a more enlightened moral you could learn from this place?

Of course.

Like what?

Like changing my will to force my heirs to hold onto my stuff.

I don't think you get my point.

Or at least making them bury it with me like the Egyptians did.

What about realizing that having things isn't quite as important as you think it is?

Are you nuts?? The only mistake these losers made was in not buying enough. Their things got so old nobody wanted them anymore. The moral is redecorate every five years.

You might not feel this way when your turn actually comes. Then you might have some regrets that you didn't value your time more than the process of acquisition.

What are you, The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come??? You know, I'd have a schadenfreude orgasm if some misfortune would befall you at this moment, so why don't you just shut up for awhile?

I forced myself to concentrate on some truly horrendous imitation Baroque paintings nearby which terminated The Lecture, at least for the moment.

Is it really schadenfreude when you don't know whose troubles you're enjoying and when you might be making up the misfortune in the first place?

Doubts about my innocence crowded in on me. Mr. Nanny had clearly done his job: I immediately vowed to reform as I resumed strolling around the store.

Then I came upon a prominently displayed desk of enormous size that clearly had graced the Executive Suite of some medium sized company in the 1940s.

One day he's the boss of 400 employees. The next he's getting his veins filled with formaldehyde. Easy come, easy go.

God I love shopping!!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Quest for the Ebbets Field Flagpole

"OK, which of us is getting out to take the pictures?"

"Well, since you're driving, I'll do it."

My friend got out of my car and strolled towards the Ebbets Field Apartments, a private apartment complex on the site of the legendary ball park.

We were a few blocks east of Prospect Park in Brooklyn in what I used to euphemistically refer to as a "questionable" neighborhood. It was a scorcher of a day in July and there were only a few people around, all of them dark-skinned. In the bad old days of NYC's past I would have been very nervous watching him get out of the car in such a community with a Nikon camera and then start taking pictures of a plaque that provided the only formal tribute to the site's illustrious history.

Today my old urban reflexes were largely absent due to many recent experiences that have taught me how few truly unsafe places there are in New York these days. There is no doubt that some of this is due to a sea-change in the city itself. Activist and interventionist policing, heroic efforts to stabilize the housing stock of the outer boroughs, a huge influx of motivated immigrants and the terrible events of 9/11; all helped create an environment where the racial and social polarities of my youth have largely been extinguished. I find the City today to largely be full of people who consciously appreciate what their metropolis offers them and respect their neighbors for also choosing to be there.

But I'm sure my positive experiences are also due to the fact that two middled-aged, greying white guys running around the distant and unfamous corners of the city while investigating forgotten history is a sight that definitely reeks of eccentricity, if not outright lunacy, and onlookers may simply not know what to make of us.

A very familiar look of perplexity crossed the face of a young mother with a stroller as my friend passed her, focusing the camera to get the shot of the plaque we had come so far to see. He and I love to deride the "train nuts" who frequently accompany us on rail fan trips as they drool over the ancient equipment used on such occasions. As painful as it may be for me to admit, we might be engendering the same response in others as we execute our "field trips".

Today's itinerary included searching for any remains of the long-lost and lamented ball park enshrined in the memory of every Brooklynite born before WWII. There is precious little still extant. When it was torn down in 1960, replaced by the aforesaid apartment complex, some seats went to Hart Island for an inmate ball field, some lights reused to illuminate Downing Stadium (now also demolished) on Randall's Island, and the partly smashed cornerstone went to the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum in Cooperstown. The seats have long since disintegrated from exposure and lack of maintenance and I'm not really sure what happened to the lights.

A bunch of memorabilia is still in private hands; the result of an auction held on April 23, 1960 for the benefit of the Little League in the then still-standing stadium rotunda.

And, oh yes, there is a flagpole.... I think.

After walking over to the front of the apartment complex's garage and photographing the large sign which broadcast the development's name, my friend returned to my car to show me the prizes we had obtained from this expedition.

As I previewed the pictures in his camera's rear screen he pulled some papers out of his backpack.

"So do you think we can check out the flagpole?"

"What flagpole?"

"The one that used to be in Ebbets Field. I did some research and I think I've figured out where it is.""

A half-hour later and we were staring at our destination in disappointment. There was a flagpole in front of the American Legion hall but it couldn't have been the one from Ebbets Field. An artifact of such importance to Brooklyn would at least have a plaque or two commemorating it. This one sat unadorned in the middle of a lawn.

We both jumped onto the Internet. A mere 20 minutes later we had definitively determined that the flagpole was sitting either in front of the Canarsie Casket Company, a VFW Hall or a church somewhere on Utica Avenue.

We headed south on Utica until its southern terminus with no sign of our goal.

Where's the friggin' flagpole??

Just like an Agatha Christie novel where Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple trade theories concerning the murderer's identity with a denizen of Scotland Yard, we took turns trying out scenarios that might explain the disappearance.

"I think the casket company must've sold it when they went out of business. Probably a secret deal to a wealthy collector who wanted to remain anonymous. I bet it's sitting in some Emir's palace in Abu Dhabi or somethin'."

"How'd they remove it without anyone noticing?"

"He's an Emir! He's got tons of money. They just pretended they were taking it away to restore it and then never brought it back."

"That's ridiculous. I know what happened: some fanatical Dodgers fans decided to rescue it when the casket place closed. So they dress up like commandos in blackface and black outfits, they go there in the middle of the night and use equipment invented by the CIA to remove it without attracting any attention."

"OK, if you're so smart, where is it now?"

"In an abandoned subway station of course! No one would ever find it there."

"Nah, it's in the Emir's front yard."

Actually, the abandoned subway station theory was pretty clever but I wasn't going to admit that. I mean, my reputation as an authority on NYC trivia is at stake!!

We continued to debate our respective theories as we drove back north along Utica Avenue retracing our steps. Then we passed a church that looked like a recent occupant of an older commercial structure.

"Hey, I wonder..."

I turned around and double-parked in front of the house of worship. My friend took one look at the building and grabbed his phone.

"That's it! That's the same building in the background of this photo of the flagpole. See??"

He handed me the phone. Sure enough, the pediment of the structure I was parked next to looked identical to the top of the building behind the flagpole.

"OK, but where's the flagpole???"

I looked around for any clue that the flagpole had once stood in this location.

"Hey maybe those guys'll know somethin'."

I pulled up a car length or two until we were parallel to a parked car with two formally dressed young men in the front seats. I rolled down the passenger window and shouted over to them.

"Excuse me, but do you happen to know if this building was ever used by a casket company?"

The two men looked at each other with that familiar "look at the crazy white guys" expression.

"I wouldn't know. We're with the Church."

That much I already figured.

"Well, do you know if it was ever used as a VFW hall?"

Their faces brightened and they nodded vigorously.

"That's what it was when we bought the building."

"Was there ever a flagpole in front of it?"

More puzzlement.

"I don't think so."

What does that mean? How could you not recall a flagpole?

"Well, thanks anyway, you've cleared up part of the mystery."

We then resumed our northwards trek. The streets of Brooklyn were packed and we moved at a glacial pace which gave us plenty of time to put the pieces together.

"I think all three places we've been looking for were all in one building. First it was a coffin maker; then a VFW and then a church!"

"But how could those guys not have noticed a flagpole sitting out front?"

"I told ya: the Dodger fan commandos removed it so secretly that everyone just forgot it had ever been there!!"

"Oh please, you and your commandos!!!"

A few days later the current whereabouts of the flagpole was finally revealed - maybe. My friend did some more research and found an article in the New York Times which stated definitively that the flagpole had been moved to the grounds of Brooklyn Borough Hall.

"But why was it moved there?"

"The commandos got worried that the flagpole wasn't safe in the abandoned subway station so they reassembled it in the cover of darkness at Borough Hall."

"No, the Feds found out that the Emir had it and insisted it be returned otherwise we would invade to reclaim it. The Emir relented once the Feds agreed not to disclose that he had ever had it."

"Oh please, you and your Emir!!"

But here's the weirdest part of this story. Although we both saw the NY Times article definitively mentioning the flagpole's current whereabouts, neither of us have been able to find the reference since!!! So I can state definitively that I still have no idea where that flagpole really is.

I'm currently pricing two round-trip tickets to Abu Dhabi.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sam and Frodo - or the Case of the Missing Brains

Meet my permanent boarders, Sam and Frodo. That's Sam on the left and Frodo on the right. They'll be 2 years old in September and I adopted both males from one litter in December, 2008. They are, without question, the most even-tempered cats I've ever come across. They have never lifted a paw in anger at anyone. (That doesn't mean they didn't leave my hands and forearms full of scabby lines while "playing" when they were kittens.)

Here's an example of how non-aggressive they are. Since I spend a lot of time far from my home in New York, they frequently stay with my friends Robb and Jo. They live in a two family with Robb's parents who have three... no, four.... wait, maybe it's up to twenty now.... cats of their own. (Robb's Mom and Dad have very big hearts and they can never say no to a homeless feline that decides to take up residence with them.) Naturally, some of these residents resent the intrusion posed by Sam and Frodo. On one occasion, while the Brothers Longiaru were peering out a screened window, one of the cats from next door approached on the outside and started hissing at the boys. Sam and Frodo kept looking at each other and then back at their challenger as if they couldn't figure out what the other cat was trying to do or what the proper response should be. So they just sat there, bemused.

Although they were clearly given an extra helping of heart, they were a little short-changed when issued brains. They have always yearned to roam free on my 1 acre Ponderosa. Thus every time I head for the door on my screened patio, they are always somehow right there hoping to slip out for a quick jaunt in the fresh air. If I wish to enter, all I need do is scratch the screening outside of the door frame where they can't see the source of the noise. When they run over to investigate, I rush inside and close the door. I've literally done this hundreds of times, sometimes several times a day, and they are still falling for it.

They also have a fascination for the interior of my dishwasher which remains undimmed although they have investigated it 8452 times to date. Every time I open it to add a dish or two they have to put at least their front paws on the door and poke their head around the spokes with an expression of wonderment on their faces. Once in awhile they used to jump in completely to really get a close look. Luckily they've gotten big enough where fitting their legs around the spokes is no longer an option.

But the award for all-time stupid behavior goes to Sam. About a month ago late one evening I started to hear a continuous and blood-curdling shrieking emerging from somewhere near my house. It was the sound of an animal in great distress and it went on so long that I finally hauled out my flashlight and headed for the patio door to investigate. Once on my patio I could also hear the sounds of a coyote pack behind the continuing screaming of whatever animal was nearby. The most likely scenario for all the noise was that a coyote had gotten a small animal (like a cat perhaps?) and was tearing it to pieces or whatever coyotes do to their prey. I turned on my flashlight and pulled open the door, my eyes trying to spot the source of the trouble. And then Sam ran out between my legs!!!

"Sam!! SAM!!!! Get your ass back here IMMEDIATELY!! Do you want to be coyote dessert?? SAM??? GODDAMN IT!!!!"

And where did Sam head? Right to my decorative and expensive plantings around the house where he began happily munching away. He decided to risk it all for some greens!!!! Naturally I ran after him but just as I would reach for him he would scoot a dozen or so feet further down the plantings and resume his snack. This was repeated I don't know how many times as we slowly worked our way around the entire house. And all the while the shrieks "in extremis" continued unabated. Finally, when Sam had obviously had enough to rid himself of any and all hair in his digestive system, he deigned to let me grab him and throw him back on the patio.

Now that I think about it, maybe Sam wasn't so dumb. He never left the safety of the perimeter of my house during his entire excursion. And of course, my continuous proximity, enforced by the presence of predators, insured no coyote would come within 100 feet of him. Hmmmm... if he had thought this out in the split second he had to make his escape then maybe I'm the one whose a little short in the brains department.

I mean, what if they're only pretending to be dumb so I'll wait on them hand and foot on the assumption that they're too incompetent to be left to their own devices?

My God, I'm being manipulated by my own pets!!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Who's A Better Shopper: The Definitive Answer


I received some feedback that I was treating one half of the political spectrum unfairly in my last post, although it wasn't clear which side was at a disadvantage. I myself thought I was favoring the Conservatives since whatever praise I offered Progressives was intended to be back-handed. Therefore, I have decided to republish the post with annotations that should eliminate any ambiguity concerning which side fares better in my ruminations.

Original Post with Annotations:

How do you go about buying something? Are you spontaneous or deliberate? Do you do your homework first or just grab something that appeals to you? I have developed a theory by which I believe I can predict what sort of shopper you are simply by asking for your political views.

[OK, so far I haven't taken sides so the score is Conservatives: 0; Progressives: 0.]

Progressives have an inherent distrust of business and approach shopping with the assumption that the chances of being scammed are immeasurably high. The Conservative, in contrast and as one might expect, believes that the practitioners of free-enterprise are, on the whole, an honest bunch as much concerned with the welfare of the customer as their bottom-line. Thus, In matters of retail, the Progressive is a profound pessimist while the Conservative is a wide-eyed optimist.

[In this very optimistic nation of ours, it is much better to be called an optimist than a pessimist. So the score is now Conservatives: 1; Progressives: 0.]

Conservatives still have a quaint tendency towards brand loyalty. In this they are a throwback to an earlier, more innocent age. In the ancient times of my youth, it was common amongst Democrats and Republicans alike to hear self-applied descriptions such as

"I'm a (Ford / Chesterfield / Coca-Cola) person".

Today, however, Progressive cynicism concerning the motives of Big Business prohibits any identification with a brand; a position with which, for mental health reasons I agree. (Can you imagine the trauma an Oldsmobile or a Kodak person has been feeling lately?) Only a Conservative would feel insulted if, as I did recently, AT&T was compared unfavorably to Verizon Wireless. I had no idea, until that point, that anyone could possibly consider themselves an "AT&T person"! I mean, AT&T isn't even really AT&T. It is actually SBC Communications that took the name of one of it's acquisitions: AT&T Wireless! (Does that mean an "AT&T Guy" is really an "SBC Guy"?)

[Whether brand loyalty is considered a positive or a negative trait is definitely in the eyes of the beholder. Although I do concede that I consider it a negative, who the hell cares (other than me) what I think? Score is unchanged.]

I, on the other hand, am a Progressive and, consequently, would happily purchase an "Adolf Hitler" TV if it were highly rated by Consumer Reports and was cheaper than the competition. (OK, I'd probably pay extra to have the logo removed before shipment but that would be the extent of my shame.)

[Slavish devotion to anything in print is definitely a negative these days. Score: Conservatives: 2; Progressives: 0.]

Of course, that is not to say that there aren't Progressive brands: Subaru, Google and Apple are some examples that immediately come to mind. However, as a Progressive I can definitively say that the only reason Progressives drive Foresters and talk on iPhones is because they are simply the best and NOT because they make anyone feel more Progressive when buying one. That is just another cabal of the Right Wing Media Conspiracy.

[Here I am accusing Progressives of not facing up to their own brand loyalties but Conservatives might find this trait appealing so it really can't be considered a strike against Progressives. I am postulating a Conservative media conspiracy but since I don't believe in this concept any more than I believe in a "liberal media bias" this accusation simply doesn't count. Score is unchanged.]

It should come as no surprise then that I, as any good Progressive would do, consulted CR in order to make my choice of a replacement TV. Luckily, that wonderful organization did not recommend an "Adolf Hitler" model. Instead they recommended model LS78XC223MJL387249910AA.02 manufactured by an Asian firm. (And, no, there is absolutely no basis to the Conservative libel that CR always pans American-made products. In fact, they love Vermont maple syrup!!)

[The sarcasm in this paragraph is about as subtle as an elephant with diarrhea. Conservatives: 3. Progressives: 0.]


As can be seen, my prior post was a Conservative rout as I suspected. I stand self-vindicated!!


Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Politics of Acquisition

How do you go about buying something? Are you spontaneous or deliberate? Do you do your homework first or just grab something that appeals to you? I have developed a theory by which I believe I can predict what sort of shopper you are simply by asking for your political views.

Progressives have an inherent distrust of business and approach shopping with the assumption that they will be fleeced if they let their guard down. Conservatives, in contrast and as one might expect, believe that the practitioners of free-enterprise are, on the whole, an honest bunch as much concerned with the welfare of the customer as their bottom-line. Thus, In matters of retail, the Progressive is a profound pessimist while the Conservative is a wide-eyed optimist.

Conservatives still have a quaint tendency towards brand loyalty. In this they are a throwback to an earlier, more innocent age. In the ancient times of my youth it was common amongst Democrats and Republicans alike to hear self-applied descriptions such as

"I'm a (Ford / Chesterfield / Coca-Cola) person".

Today, however, Progressive cynicism concerning the motives of Big Business prohibits any identification with a brand; a position with which, for mental health reasons, I agree. (Can you imagine the trauma an Oldsmobile or a Polaroid person has been feeling lately?) Only a Conservative would feel insulted if, as I did recently, AT&T was compared unfavorably to Verizon Wireless. I had no idea that anyone could possibly consider themselves an "AT&T person"! I mean, AT&T isn't even really AT&T. It is actually SBC Communications that took the name of one of it's acquisitions: AT&T Wireless! (Sounds like a multiple personality disorder in the making.)

I, on the other hand, am a Progressive and would happily purchase an "Adolf Hitler" TV if it were highly rated by Consumer Reports (CR) and was cheaper than the competition. (OK, I'd probably pay extra to have the logo removed before shipment but that would be the extent of my shame.)

Of course, that is not to say that there aren't Progressive brands: Subaru, Google and Apple are some examples that immediately come to mind. However, as a Progressive I can definitively say that the only reason Progressives drive Foresters and talk on iPhones is because they are simply the best and NOT because they make anyone feel more Progressive when buying one. That is just another cabal of the Right Wing Media Conspiracy.

It should come as no surprise then that I consulted CR in order to make my choice of a replacement TV. Luckily, that wonderful organization did not recommend an "Adolf Hitler" model. Instead they recommended model LS78XC223MJL387249910AA.02 manufactured by an Asian firm. (And, no, there is absolutely no basis to the Conservative libel that CR always pans American-made products. In fact, they love Vermont maple syrup!!)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Repair Man From Hell

My "Man Moment" delusion concerning my TV was, frankly, a whopper: somehow I came to the belief that I could actually repair the thing - MYSELF! The last time I had wielded a soldering iron was at 12 years of age when I had built a small Heathkit amplifier. (It actually worked if I jiggled the volume control which temporarily reduced the overpowering speaker hum to manageable levels - a technique I had learned watching my Dad "fix" our TV.)

I know I'm not alone in this madness. As I drive around my rural neighborhood, I frequently spy the remains of scores of man-moments in the form of vehicles of every description in various stages of dismantlement upon the lawns and driveways of my neighbors.

Not that I wasn't encouraged to fantasize in this dangerous way. When I had that inimitable man-moment thought,

I wonder what would happen if I repaired the TV myself,

I knew I would not be journeying alone into the unknown: the Internet would be right by my side! No less than The Sum Total of All Human Knowledge had my back so how could I fail?

Google did not disappoint: I found one guy's blog which stated that he had a projection TV by the same manufacturer as mine with the same "red ghosts" and he had managed to fix it in 15 minutes with just a screwdriver! So I printed out his profusely illustrated instructions and promptly set to work.

Piece o' cake!! I'll be watching "Modern Marvels" again in no time!

Three hours later I finally managed to expose the supposedly malfunctioning part. If that didn't tell me I was outta my league I don't what would but I persisted with the usual rationalizations:

OK, so it's taking a little longer than I hoped but who cares if I save a small fortune by fixing it myself.

The next step was to identify the one amongst six screws on the part that required adjusting. This involved interpreting tiny Chinese characters stamped almost invisibly on the device's housing. Using my vast knowledge of Chinese I located the offending screw. The instructions then cautioned me to turn the screw slightly and slowly until the "red ghosts" disappeared.

A slam-dunk!!

OK, Dan... gently now! Not too much pressure.... Damn, it's stuck!!... It won't budge!!... Ugh...Aargh...Ooohh.... Come'on you STUPID PIECE'A ... SNAP!!!

The screw suddenly moved about 3/4s of a turn and its plastic top completely broke off making further adjustments impossible. No need for that though: I had eliminated the "red ghosts" along with the entire picture! The screen was dark and the standby indicator on the TV was now flashing to indicate a total catastrophic failure.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Man Moments" and The Exploding Lava Lamp

I have a confession to make: the breakdown of my old TV caused me to have a "man moment". OK, not too shocking, right? Because, truth be known, I am (and I am very careful to whom I admit this) a man. (Being male is now illegal in about 4 states, BTW.) Although I am certainly not the stereotypical American male (to say the very least) the fact is that "man moments" are not nearly as common to men as you might expect. If they were the human race would've died out centuries ago.

A "man moment" is any action based on the fundamentally male thought process that begins "I wonder what would happen if...?" Although present in all human beings whatever their gender, I have yet to meet a male of any background that wasn't, on some level, a tinkerer. This is, occasionally, a positive attribute. I cite the well-known examples of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Far more often, however, it is a curse. In this regard I cite the example of one 24 year old resident of Kent, Washington who, according to a press release issued by that municipality's police department on November 29, 2004, was found dead in his trailer home by his parents. I quote:

"It appeared that something had exploded on the stove top sending shards and splinters of glass in all directions. Remnants of a lava lamp were found around the kitchen area. It is believed that for some unknown reason the deceased placed a lava lamp on the stove top to heat it up which led to the explosion of the fluid container part of the lava lamp. The deceased has several lacerations and one large shard of glass embedded in his chest."

I suppose the police must refrain from speculation and thus refused to ascribe a motive to the young man's placement of a lava lamp on a hot burner. Being under no such stricture I can confidently state that this incident was the sad result of an extreme "man moment". The young man simply asked himself what would happen if he increased the heat applied to the contents of a lava lamp significantly. I am also confidant that the question has formed in the minds of many males while watching the "oil" rise and separate into balls and then rejoin the mass at the top of the lamp. I know I have. (If you would like to know more about what's actually in a lava lamp click here.)

Now before the non-males start condemning me as a lunatic, let me explain that I didn't start planning to place a lava lamp on a stove the first time I set eyes on one. I, like most males, initially pondered how exactly the thing worked. After making the profound discovery that heat is the enabler of the process, I was logically and naturally led to the proposition that the higher the heat, the faster the transfer of "oil" from the bottom to the top of the lamp. And all males know that once a reasonable proposition has been postulated it is perfectly reasonable to design an experiment to test it out.

At some point, before the male places the lava lamp on a burner and turns the knob to "High", hopefully an image of his Mom will appear in his brain screaming: "Dan you idiot, how many times have I told you NOT to PLAY with FIRE!!!" .

Sometimes the self-preservation reflex carefully planted in the male brain by a mother (since the future of the human race has been entrusted to her care) doesn't dissuade the experimenter and either injury, death or progress will result, sometimes simultaneously. I know it's happened to me.

When I was in my early teens, I conducted a series of experiments involving fire. Unfortunately, I did not have access to a well-equipped laboratory at that time so I had to make do with the bathtub in my parents apartment, the alleyway behind the back of our apartment building, and a garbage dump in the bungalow colony we lived in during the summer of 1966. Here were my findings:

1) Plastic shower curtains do not burn; they melt in hot globules that can burn exposed flesh and are very difficult to remove from porcelain once they harden.

2) Plastic shower curtains also produce an inordinate amount of dark, acrid smoke that will attract considerable attention as it billows out of a 4th floor bathroom window.

3) The updraft on a windy day can cause a shoebox filled with burning newspaper and model airplane fuel to hover outside an apartment window for extended and unnerving periods instead of simply dropping to the alleyway below.

4) Setting fire to a week's worth of garbage at a large bungalow colony requires planning, fortitude, skill and a reckless disregard for property values.

Now if that wasn't worth a visit or two from the fire department and several screaming jags from my Mom, then I don't know what is.


Monday, July 19, 2010

What's Wrong With This Picture? - Part 1

Not long ago my crystal-clear, very-expensive-though-now-hopelessly-outdated rear-projection TV suddenly developed ghosts on the screen; red ghosts to be precise. This, in and of itself, was not a completely unreasonable event: the TV was 11 years old after all.

However, the way it happened totally threw me. I had accidentally hit the "Off" button on the remote instead of "Mute" before heading into the kitchen for a snack and, when I returned to the Living Room five minutes later and turned the TV back on, the picture resembled a Picasso painting.

This sudden collapse left me a tad unsympathetic to my TV which was obviously seriously ill.

"You know what you are??!! You are a $3,300.00 enormous piece of useless junk taking up valuable floor space in my living room!!!"

That was the printable portion of what I found myself screaming at it. Obviously, my unbalanced reaction was the result of being completely unprepared for this tragedy. I was in shock and just not thinking clearly.

This is the problem with our ever advancing technology: as more and more of our possessions become "solid state" and contain less and less moving parts, we no longer have the ability to emotionally prepare for their loss.

Things were very different in my childhood: when the tube-filled TV behemoths of that era broke down we had plenty of warning. Consider the VHF tuner for example (the only other functional control found on the black and white sets of that era was the volume control - the UHF dial being only for decoration). First, the user would notice that the picture would no longer cleanly change from the old to the new channel when the tuner knob was turned but there would be a few seconds of static, visually and audibly. As things worsened, the static would no longer clear up on its own but would require the operator to "jiggle" the knob a bit to fix the problem. Eventually, some months later, even the "jiggling" became useless. Even at that stage, though, there was no need to panic: chances were that one or two of the seven VHF channels (available in the New York City area where I grew up) were immune to the problem. If you were lucky, the exemption might have included at least one of the network stations. If you weren't so lucky, your choices might have been limited to such dreck as "Million Dollar Movie" on Channel 9.

Thus, several years might elapse between the first signs of trouble and the fateful choice of repairing or replacing which, anyone would agree, is plenty of time to get acclimated to any kind of change, even one as momentous as buying a new TV.

But now a five minute break to get some food is all that is required for a superb TV picture to become a Cubistic mess. The impact of this state of affairs cannot be exaggerated: it undermines our belief that life has some predictability. Without that how can we trust anything or anyone??

I think some solution to this fiasco must be found. My own suggestion would be to program the computer chips that control so many of our devices so that we would be given sufficient warning when a component begins to die. Remember the HAL 9000 computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey"? He told Dave that one of the antenna thingeys on the spaceship would fail within a certain period and recommended its replacement. (OK, HAL was lying but that was only because he was programmed for human emotions which, thankfully, none of our stuff seems to possess - a great boon in my case considering how often I scream obscenities at mine!)

In the meantime I am seeking grief counseling as I seem to be permanently stuck in the anger phase of the grieving cycle.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Customer Disservice

"Hello, this is Myra, how are you today?"

(Life sucks and, on top of that, I'm wasting a half-hour trying to find out if my stupid cable company knows that my cable and internet access are out. But other than that, I'm wonderful, thank you!)

"I'm fine, how are you?"

(See, you're not the only one reading from a script!)

"I'm fine, thank you for asking. How may I help you today?"

(Why do the idiots who write the"level 1" customer service scripts assume I'd enjoy someone talking to me like Jeeves the butler?)

"My cable and internet service aren't functioning and I wanted to find out if there is a problem in my area."

"I can help you with that."

(No, REALLY??? I'm shocked! You see, I actually called just to hear you tell me you couldn't be of the slightest assistance whatsoever.)


(A LONG pause.)

"Can I get your full name please."

"Dan Longiaru."

"Thank you Mr.,,,er... Lawn-ga-rue. Can I get your address, please?"

"Service or billing?"

(HAH! You're not dealing with some amateur here, sweetie!)

"Uummm.... service."

"387 Basingstoke Q, Hazy Acres, Florida."

"Basingstoke what??"


"Is that a street, avenue or something else?"

"It's a building."

"Yes, sir, but what street is the building on?"

"It's not on a street, it's on a parking lot."

"OK, so what street is the parking lot on?"

"Hazy Acres Boulevard."

"I'm sorry sir, but that doesn't match your service address."

"I know that and you know that so why are we discussing it??"

"Because I need to verify your service address."

"Obviously you don't since you know it's not on Hazy Acres Boulevard!!"

"Sir, I need YOU to verify it so I can VERIFY your IDENTITY!!!"

"FINE! My address is 387 Basingstoke Q as I said before!"

"Yes, I heard you but I need to know what the name of the street is."

"LOOK, I didn't make up my address, the frickin' Post Office did and I swear on my Mother's grave that there is no street name or description ANYWHERE in my address!!! I live in a huge condo development with hundreds of buildings in which there are thousands of apartments, all of them on parking lots adjacent to Hazy Acres Boulevard. How would it help the postpeople deliver mail to the right person if every address mentioned a proximity to Hazy Acres Boulevard??!!"

"I'm putting you on hold for a minute sir to check into this."

(Please let her supervisor not be brain-dead! PLEASE GOD!! I'm begging you in the name of....)

"Sir, you gave enough of the address to verify it.

(Thank you Lord!!)

"But, just for future reference, your service address is 387 Basingstoke Q Avenue."

"Avenue?? You guys made up an address for me?? No wonder your bill doesn't show up half the time. You need to delete the word 'Avenue'"

"Sir, I can't do that. The system won't let me. But if you want I can set you up for 'paperless billing'".

(And trust the timely receipt of my bills to the internet of which you are the gatekeeper?? Are you out of your mind??? Of course you are: you're in customer service and only a looney would want that job.)

"No, never mind. Just leave it the way it is. So, can you tell me why my service is out?"

"First I need your account number."

"What for?"

"To verify your identity, sir."

"I thought you just did that with your trick address question?"

"We need to verify it using two pieces of information."

"OK, how about asking me for the last four digits of my social security number?"

"We've found that too many people have access to social security numbers so we decided to use something more secure."

"It's secure all right. Nobody knows it including the customer!!"

"It's printed on your bill."

"Unfortunately, your bills are sent to my New York home where I spend most of my time. Can't you use something else?"

"We have your driver's license on file but it's a very long number."

"A very long number? New York shortened its numbers I don't know how many years ago."

"Then I'll need your account number."

"Look, why do you need to verify I'm who I say I am? So what if I'm a terrorist trying to find out why a retirement community in South Florida is without cable service? Or do you think I've been waiting for the golden opportunity to strike at the heart of American power by attacking Hazy Acres while it's inhabitants are dazed with TV withdrawal symptoms?"

"Look sir, I'm just following the rules!"

"I know but the rules make no sense."

"I can't say one way or the other sir."

(Don't do it, Dan! I know the words are already about to pass your lips but there's still time to pull back from that precipice. Just hang-up and forget about it. Oh no, here it comes!!!!)

"I'd like to speak to your supervisor."

"Hold on a minute sir."

(NOW you've done it! You know perfectly well that no one in that organization under the rank of a Senior Vice President has the ability to say yes to anything but a rate increase. Still, her supervisor did accept my partial answer to the address question. Maybe she can help.)

"Hello, this is Myrna, Myra's supervisor, how are you today?"

"I'm fine Myra..."

"That's Myrna."


"How may I help you today."

"I've been trying to find out if there's a service interruption in my neighborhood since I don't have cable or internet service."

"I can help you with that but first I need to verify your identity. Name?

"Mohamed Atta."