Monday, January 19, 2015

4006 The State Resort

Monday, January 19, 2015

The minute you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.
 --Peter Pan--


In 1967 into '68 I lived near Schwenksville, Pa.  I was living with and trying to leave Ex#1, and temporarily  teaching at the high school  in Lansdale.  (There's a whole story around that period of my life.  Maybe someday....)

The apartment was part of a large old house surrounded by fields.  I had heard that there was a prison just over the fields, but there were trees between, and you couldn't see it from the house.

One day there was an escape.  Lots of excitement, police everywhere, "lock your doors", and so on.

I was thinking about the prison the other day, wondering exactly where it was in relation to the house, what kind of prison it was (high or low security) and so on, so I went to Google maps and looked for it.

With Google maps, sometimes if you click on a labelled spot, like a hotel or resort, you get all kinds of information, including reviews.  So I clicked on it.

I got reviews.  They are funny.  Note the "impromptu activities".

State Correctional Institution at Graterford

3 stars  -  Set in the rolling hills of the Perkiomen countryside, Graterford stands out with this prominent industrialized complex. It is a diversified self-contained facility with many activities to keep guests entertained. Scheduled activities include ping pong, weight lifting, exercise class and book club. Special impromptu activities include hide and seek, man hunt and “you’re getting hotter/colder”. . Short-term and long-term visits can be scheduled through the department of corrections.

5 stars - It's an all inclusive resort for some of the states finest criminals. The experience is second to none, that is why many return multiple times.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

4005 Hands, Furnace

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Is it better for a man to have chosen evil, than to have good imposed upon him?
--A. Burgess, A Clockwork Orange--


I'm having a weird reaction to hands lately.  Whenever I see hands in a photo, or even more recently in a video, my immediate thought is that there are too many fingers.  Especially if the fingers are spread.   I have to count them to be sure.

So far, in real life, hands remain "normal". 

Something weird going on in my brain?


I woke up this morning to a very cold house.  I still had power.  I still had gas - the stove worked.  I checked the box and the circuit breakers were on.  I checked the gas bill and I'm paid up.  But BOTH thermostats were dark and unresponsive, and there was nothing coming from the heat vents.

I have two thermostats, one upstairs, one down.  I have two furnaces in the attic, one for upstairs and one for down.  It freaked me out that both were dead.  Both, at once.  Both?

It took me several calls to find someone who would come out and check, but I finally found someone willing to make an emergency call on a Sunday.  A rainy Sunday.

The problem, it turned out, was in the thermostats.  The batteries were dead in both.  Yes, they do run on house current, and I had assumed the batteries were just for backlighting when you need to see the display in the dark, but apparently not.  According to the service guy, the batteries do a lot more, and allowing them to die can burn out the thermostat.  We put new batteries in, and now everything's working.  (Yeah, I was aware the batteries needed replacing, but I couldn't figure out how to open the case.)

"But, both at once?  Both during the night?"

He pointed out that if the upstairs one had gone out first, with the heat coming up the stairs from downstairs, I might not have noticed for a long time.

...Yeah, I did notice the last few baths and showers have been a bit of a shock when I got out.  With the bathroom door closed (to keep a curious Jasper from falling in the tub; he likes to splash water) there was no heat in there.

Lesson - change the batteries in your thermostat occasionally.

4004 Friends

Saturday, January 17, 2015

"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
--Martin Luther King, Jr. --


A few days ago I mentioned that I talk to no one much now  other than Daughter and store clerks.  Yeah.  That's quite different from four years ago in the Hudson Valley.  I was very active there in Mensa and the Albany and Poughkeepsie/Newburgh Meetup groups, and a few other things I belong to.  A lot of going out to movies, luncheons, dinners, hikes, activities --- a lot of conversation.

Here,  nothing.

I checked out the local chapter of Mensa.  There seems to be two subsets of the group.  The bunch near me seems to be overweight male basement-dwelling WoW types who don't much talk at all.  The more interesting folks congregate around Princeton.  They are fun --- but Princeton is a bit of a distance on a busy highway, and the drive just doesn't feel worth the effort.

I tried Meetup, but there are few dinner-and-conversation groups.  It seems to be mostly oriented toward booze, bars, and bands, or very young folks doing very physical things.  All that's left after that is special-interest groups, mostly woo-woo types.  Also, the people are different.  They are not as aware of what's going on in the world, not as well-read, not as intellectual as I'm used to in the Albany area.  They seem pretty xenophobic and racist.  I just don't fit in with any of that. 

I tried starting my own dinner and conversation Meetup group, and discovered that even if nine people reserve a spot at the table, that doesn't mean any of them will actually show up.  That is a major problem here, all of the organizers complain about it, and I guess it's the main reason activities are of the happy-hour type.   Then it doesn't matter so much; if 50 people sign up and 30 blow it off, who cares.

I looked for a volunteer group, like the RSVP (Retired & Seniors Volunteer Program) I had worked with up north, but although there are literally thousands of sub-chapters within 20 miles of here, 99.9% are in NYC.  The few things in NJ are hospice and animal rescue groups, and I know me well enough to know that I have to stay away from anything where I'll get emotionally involved.  I DID find the volunteer tax-prep assistance locally, something I did back in the Hudson Valley, but believe it or not, the classes for that ended January 17.  Today.  Missed it.

Upstate I was also into volunteer civil/small claims court mediation, but there doesn't seem to be anything like here.  


Yeah, I've got neighbors, but, frankly, I'm not into that kind of thing.  I'm actually more than a bit of a loner.  In fact, I'm very much a loner.  I really don't want people who are there all the time.  I guess I don't really want friends.  Not that kind.   I've often in my youth been hurt by friends who, now that they know a lot about you, suddenly turn on you, and know exactly how to hurt you.  I never understood that.  It seems like friendships take a lot of work, and steel emotions. 

I think I got turned off by stuff I saw happen in the upstate NY Mensa group, too.  Like what happened with May.  May and her husband, I'll call him Joe, hosted a weekly Happy Hour in Kingston, with a core group of ten or so people every week.  That went on for like ten years.  And every year they hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for all members without families.   And then Joe died.  The night he died, sitting in his recliner at home, May called me, I rushed over there, I walked her through making the necessary calls, took her to the undertaker and lawyer over the next few days, and so on.  No one else, of all those people, helped her.  I called the editor of the newsletter to tell him to put a notice in the next issue, and he refused, because Joe "was not a member".  I was furious!  Everyone knew Joe!  He was always with May at every event.  Everyone knew May.  How can you just ignore his death!?  How can he not matter!

And then there was NJ.  NJ was one of the founding members of that local Mensa group. She was the newsletter editor for years, and was the treasurer for decades.   She hosted three of the biggest and best annual parties every year, including food and champagne for all at her own expense (and she was far from rich).  Everyone went to them.  Then she came down with colon cancer.  No one knew until we all went to her annual Moonlight Madness party and discovered she was wearing a chemo pump.  When she had to resign her job in White Plains (under threat of layoff) just before her surgery, like three weeks after that party, she asked the group for assistance clearing out her personal belongings.  That Saturday, one other guy (the aging hippy) and I were the only people to show up.  Nobody else even acknowledged her need.  That really pissed me off.

I thought May and NJ had a lot of friends in Mensa.  Maybe not bosom buddies, but still a lot better than mere acquaintances.  I guess not.  Once they seemed no longer useful, once they weren't throwing parties any more, they were pretty much cast adrift.

Let's not forget my experience with FW, she who started out a friend, and ended up scaring me half to death with her demands and accusations.  The one The Man called my psycho exgirlfriend.  She was poison to my mental health.  I made a serious mistake there.   (Actually, she turned out to have problems with others, too.  She had been elected president of the local Mensa group, but was relieved of her duties under threat from national, and ultimately resigned from the group altogether after some unpleasant interactions with others.)

I don't get it.  I really don't.  I don't know how this "friends" stuff is supposed to work and I'm afraid to try.  It's just too hard, and I don't understand the rules, I guess.  I don't want friends anyway.  All I really want is compatible people to converse with occasionally, that's all, and I can't seem to find even that.  Not around here, anyway.

On the other hand, I am perfectly comfortable with my own company, especially these days when my body rebels frequently, so I'm not suffering any, either.

(Daughter seems to have a lot of friends, but I've noticed the friends she has now are not the same ones she had two years ago.) 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

4003 So many women remain lost....

Saturday, January 17, 2015

No man ever listened himself out of a job.
--Calvin Coolidge--


Over the past 15 years I have been able to locate a lot of my classmates from high school and college --- the MALE classmates.  I have been able to locate only three old female classmates --- one who never married, and two that I know who they married.

Women who change their name when they marry get lost.  They get cut off from the past.

I don't understand why young women today still change their name.  Unless they want to hide from the past, it no longer makes any sense at all.  You'd think there'd be a movement among socially aware young women to maintain their own identity.

I don't understand.

There used to be a time when it didn't matter, because women had no identity of their own.  Their identity was solely based on who their father was, or who their husband was.  (Who owned them, basically.)  Their world was very small, circumscribed by men.  Men put their stamps on them.  That's the time that this name-change custom came from.  

Girls --- marry.  But keep your birth name.  If your future husband doesn't like that, maybe you should ask him why before marrying him. Better yet, if he wants that both of you have the same name, propose that HE change his name to yours (it's just as easily done), and if he reacts with horror, ask him to explain why that's such an awful idea, then maybe he'll understand.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

4002 Not the smartest dog

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I just had to share this.  I love it.

Monday, January 12, 2015

4001 Strange baby

January 12, 2015

"I think computer viruses should count as life. I think it says something about
human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive.
We've created life in our own image."
 --Stephen Hawking--


I recently read an article about a woman who went to the emergency room with back and abdominal pain, and one hour after discovering that she was pregnant, she gave birth to a full-term baby.

It happens occasionally.  Especially if you are very heavy you don't notice the belly getting bigger, and large women frequently have irregular periods because fat flattens out hormones.

It reminded me of something that happened when I was very young, probably 10 or less.  It was when we lived in a tiny Pennsylvania village, you know, four blocks by five blocks big.  We're talking mid-'50s ish.  In those days, kids my age knew literally nothing about sex (if you didn't live on a farm).  Babies appeared magically.  Couples on TV slept in twin beds.

There was a shopkeeper - I believe he was the town baker, whose one-man shop was in the first floor of a converted house on the main street.  He owned the house, and rented out the second floor apartment.  Big middle-aged man.  Married.  Lived with his wife and children outside the village.

He rented the apartment over the shop to a youngish woman.  Single.  She didn't seem to have a job.  I don't know what she lived on (although my mother had her suspicions).  Anyway, she was very large.  Had to be pushing 400 lbs, maybe.  I'm not good at weight estimates.

One day I came home from playing and my mother was hopping with excitement.  She was overloaded with juicy gossip, and just had to spill it.  It seems that the woman had been stricken with horrible stomach cramps, and an ambulance had come and taken her to the little hospital in the town 20 miles up the road.  She had been anesthetized in her hospital bed, and a few hours later awoke in the same bed with a baby in a bassinet next to her.  (Remember, this was the '50s.  Women were put to sleep through labor and birth.  No muss, no fuss.  (Also no DNA tests.))  The nurses told her it was her baby, and she refused to believe it.  Flatly.  Insisted that it was impossible.  Screamed until they took the baby to the nursery.  Her theory was that some rich bitch'd had the baby and didn't want it, so the hospital was trying to fob it off on her.  She was no fool, by damn!  Last heard, she refused to take the baby home and was going to sue the hospital.

Everybody in town was laughing.  Everyone knew exactly where that baby came from.  Everyone who bought bread, anyway, and everyone they talked to, which was everybody else.

It seemed that sometimes when you went to the bakery, it was closed.  Temporarily.  When it was supposed to be open.  This being the '50s, air conditioners were rare, so when it was hot, you had windows open.  If you stood on the stoop of the shop, you were right under the open windows of the woman's apartment.  Her bedroom must have been in the front, because as you stood on the stoop of the closed shop, you could often hear interesting and unmistakeable sounds coming from the window just 8 feet or so up.


That's as much as my mother told me that day.  I never heard anything more, and there's no way I was going to ask.  Here it is 60 years later, and I still occasionally wonder what happened to that baby.

I hope the woman wasn't bullied into taking it.  I can't imagine her ever having been a good mother to it.  I can't imagine her ever having accepted it.

4000 Of

January 12, 2015

"A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he
unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand."
 --Bertrand Russell--


I seem to be complaining at lot in this blog lately, mostly because these days the only person I talk to other than store clerks and people I do business with is my daughter, and she hates to hear anyone complain about anything.  That's not new with her.  When she was a child and went to spend some time in the summer with her grandmother in Florida, when asked on her return how it went, the only thing she ever said (with an eye roll) was, "She complains about everything, all the time!"  Yeah, old folks do that.  Daughter, however, has the attitude that if something is worth complaining about, you either fix it, or stop complaining about it, and she gets angry if you don't do one or the other.  Ah, the arrogance of youth.

So, this is my soapbox.

My new complaint:

It's becoming increasingly obvious that schools (and home) are no longer teaching proper sentence construction and verb conjugation. I'm seeing more and more lately "could of", "should of", and "would of [verb]", even from people who style themselves as professional writers, and it jerks my chain every time.  I want to scream.

I can almost understand it, because people don't say "would have".  They say "woulda", so I can see where that could become "would of" when written if you don't know any better.  Sometimes, when I'm being purposely informal, even I write it as "woulda".   But I know the "a" is for "have", which is actually part of the verb.  These people don't.

Another very common crapolla is "embarrassed of".  That one I can't figure out at all, can't come up with an excuse for it.  Does that mean you are embarrassed by, or embarrassed for?  That's two different things.  "Embarrassed of" makes no sense at all.  But I see it everywhere, over and over.  Does anyone think about what words mean any more?  

The most recent is "have a crush of [somebody]".  The first time I saw that I thought it was a typo.  I have since seen it several places, different people, different ages.   Again, I can come up with no excuse, and it makes absolutely no sense.  Granted, "crush on" is an idiom (I think), but it's old enough that it should be well known.

It seems like "of" is the go-to word when you know something should fill that space, but you don't know what.

And it infuriates me that anyone who attempts to correct the perpetrators of this kind of crap on the internet is hounded with accusations of "Grammar Nazi"**.  Like, nobody should ever learn any better.  After all, you know what they mean, right?  So who cares?


** I've noticed "Grammar Nazi" is beginning to morph into "Grammer Nazi".  We are doomed.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

3999 - Notes to the World

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

When the end of the world comes, I hope I am in Louisiana.
Everything gets there 20 years late.


Graham crackers are not gingerbread.  Quit making graham cracker houses and calling them gingerbread houses!  That's not gingerbread!  Gingerbread houses take a lot more work and planning.  You cheated, so quit bragging.

Draping and wrapping Christmas lights over and around your pets and then photographing them is not as cute as you think it is.  It's obvious that the beasties didn't entangle themselves, and most of them look embarrassed that anyone might think they did.  And it's not very original or natural.

Bah!  Get off my lawn!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

3998 Stones

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"When a true genius appears in this world, you may know him by this sign,
that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."
 --Jonathan Swift--


Daughter complains that I never let past slights or resentments go.  I remember things.  I even still complain.  I still carry anger toward certain people for things they did to me, especially if those people still don't seem to care. 

Well, yeah, I guess so.  But anyone who claims they don't hang on to stuff like that is in deep denial.  Maybe you don't ever think about that stuff, but it's still there at some level, it's always there, and it affects your actions and reactions today.  In fact, the more you "let it go" (actually bury it, you can't let it go, it's a part of you), the deeper you bury it and refuse to look at it, the more likely it is to permeate your life, your thinking.  

If you acknowledge it, pull it out and look at it occasionally, turn it around in your hands and then put it back away, the less likely it is to spin and mutter and burst out under disguise.  So I think my way is healthier.

I came across a phrase this morning in a book I'm reading, "looking like a dog's breakfast", that hit me in a wave of sadness.  You know, my mother never once that I can remember ever told me I looked nice.  Not once.  Not for the proms, not for the wedding, never leaving the house.  
I always 
-looked like a dog's breakfast
-looked like something the cat dragged in
-looked like a bag tied in the middle
-looked like a rat's nest
-was ok, I guess, with a sigh.  

I'll never forget the time I looked up at the dinner table and saw her staring at me speculatively.  She said, "Your nose is all over your face."  What's a young girl supposed to do with stuff like that?

She never made any effort to fix anything, either.  She acted like it was hopeless.  

Now, if I had accepted what she said, if I had accepted her judgement and internalized it, I'd have been the mess she seemed to think I was, and still would be.  But I didn't.  I knew she was wrong, even then, that the problem was hers, not mine, that she was unfair to me.  And every time I take out one of those gems of mother love and turn it over in my hands, I know it didn't define me, it defined her.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

3997 For Rocky

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A lot of people really think a constitution written hundreds of years ago provides
written guidance to any issue the nation might be faced with.
Then again, a large subset of the same group believes that a book
written 2000 years ago provides answers to all problems in life.
--Olof Ã…kerlund--


Rocky, I'd have put this in the comment on your blog, but I couldn't figure out how without getting Blogger to upload it first (and even then it didn't work).  This photo is over 2 years old, but it illustrates the intersection:
Daughter and Nugget.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

3996 Suicidal Caterpillar explained

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Our elected officials put a hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution.
They don't put a hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.
I think some forget that.


A few years ago I wrote a few posts about a plant the Hairless Hunk had given me.  Becs identified it as Jimson weed (Datura stramonium).  Several respected sources informed me that the plant is very dangerous, that every part of the plant is poisonous, and that no animal or insect is known to eat Jimson weed.  But then I found a huge tomato hornworm caterpillar eating it.  The caterpillar was covered with cocoons of the sphinx moth.  (That post is here.  scroll down to the photo of the caterpillar.)  The sphinx moth lays eggs under the caterpillar's skin, the moth larvae eat its insides, and then emerge to pupate on its back.  (Bleck.  How was that moth still alive and moving?  A question still to be answered.)  I wondered if the caterpillar was trying to commit suicide.

Well, the past few days I've been watching a lot of documentary videos on YouTube about plants, how they communicate with each other, how they protect themselves, and so on.  Some people are saying that plants are intelligent and aware, others say no, it's just genes and chemical and electrical, just the way they're built, and so on.  But, uh, look at us and animals.  It's just genes and chemicals and electrical with us, too, but we consider ourselves and animals as having intelligence.  Maybe we need to look deeper into plants and expand that definition a bit.

There was a drought somewhere in Africa, and Kudu antelopes in a preserve were reduced to eating acacia leaves.  Kudus eat acacia leaves normally, no big deal.  But the kudus started dying.  They were poisoned.  It turned out that the acacia leaves being eaten were extraordinarily high in tannins. 

It wasn't  because of the drought - trees well outside the reserve had normal levels. Scientists figured that predation had caused the trees to react by producing more tannins to discourage munching.  Then it got more interesting.  Trees just outside the fence, that had not been chewed, were also high.  So -- it's not being chewed that causes the tannin in those trees.

Turns out that the trees under attack had put out a chemical signal into the air that alerted other nearby trees of the danger, and they, too, upped the tannin in their leaves, even if they had not yet been chewed, and also spread the signal.  

That's called communication.

Back to the caterpillar.  Another video mentioned the wild tobacco plant (which is related to the Jimson weed) and how it produces poison such that no insects eat it.  EXCEPT the hornworm caterpillar!  Hornworms are immune to the poison!  Wow!  Confusion cleared.  That explains the hornworm on my Jimson.

But then it gets weird.  When it feels itself getting munched, the tobacco plant (and, I assume, Jimson weed) puts out a chemical signal into the air that attracts (ta rah!) braconid wasps.  Who (slowly) kill the caterpillar.

Then it gets even weirder.  The wild tobacco plant normaly has flowers that bloom in the evening, and are pollinated by moths.  But if too many of those moths are sphinx moths who are laying eggs and threatening the plant, the plant puts out another signal, and all the tobacco plants in the area switch their flowers to day-blooming long-throated blossoms that attract hummingbirds, not moths.

(Actually, back when the plants "called" the braconid wasps, maybe they should have called a big bird, or some lizards, who'd eat the caterpillars right off.  Those wasp larvae are too slow.)

I often tease people who smugly say they never eat anything with a face with "No, you'd rather tear the arms off a living broccoli just because you can't hear them scream".  Turns out they DO scream.  We are simply not equipped to "hear" them.

Monday, December 01, 2014

3995 Life is ... well, it just is.

Monday, December 1, 2014

"Most people would rather be certain they're miserable than risk being happy."
 --Robert Anthony--


I went up to the old house Saturday morning, November 15, just for the day, just to make sure the furnace was on and that it was running well.  It was 40 degrees in the house when I arrived and turned the furnace on.  I spent the next five hours sorting papers in the big filing cabinets, while the house warmed up.

I found a lot of neat stuff.  Once upon a time, in the old days, people wrote letters - actual penmanship, on real paper.  I had always kept personal letters and cards.  I found letters from my mother, letters from my youngest sister, copies of letters I had written to Jay's family when he was sick, and a few old love letters from suitors, including a love letter from Jay from before we were married.  

I set most of those aside to bring down here. I read the one from Jay several times up there before adding it to the "keep" pile; I'll read the others some day. I brought back with me a large box of paper for recycling, thinking I'd bring the "keep" letters back on the next trip, which was supposed to be later that next week.  

I stayed only until evening.  By 5 pm the house was up to 65 degrees, but I'd had enough.  I was freezing!  Shivering.  My hands were shaking so badly I was having difficulty handling papers.  We forget that it's not just the air in the house that's cold and needs to be warmed, but everything in the house. Walls, floors, furniture, appliances - they all suck heat out of the air (and out of me) until they get up to air temp.  That takes a long time.  So I set the thermostat back to 60 degrees, went to the diner in the village for dinner, and came on home.  I intended to return the next Thursday, the 20th, then stay until Saturday, and sort and pack up some more.

That Thursday morning I woke up and couldn't bend my left knee without a lot of pain, and it wouldn't support any weight bent.  It was fine straight, I just couldn't bend it.  There was no swelling, no heat or redness, no lumps, no tender spots, nothing.  I suspect I'd slept on it funny and sprained or strained something.  The main problem was the knee, but my hip was complaining, too.  (I notice stuff like this happening more as I get older. Side effect of increased wisdom, I guess.)  I was walking like a pirate swinging a wooden leg.  Stairs were interesting, and I couldn't drive because I couldn't use the clutch, so I wasn't going north.

By Sunday it seemed a bit better, but I didn't really trust it until like Tuesday, but with Thanksgiving on Thursday, there was no way I'd be on the highways until ... well ... today at the earliest.  Sigh.

So much for my determination to get moving on that house.  I hadn't been up there since early summer, for various reasons that now sound like excuses, but were really valid at the time - like Hal being in the shop and waiting for parts several times, and a very bad cold followed by a sinus infection, and commitments made to Daughter and to Nugget, and so on.  Not to mention that IRS thing and some other businessy garbage that took time and attention.


Speaking of the IRS thing, I am going to have to have a serious talk with Piper.  He is in charge of my investments, and he moves money around too much in my estimation.  He's always buying this and selling that.  I can't complain that he has lost money for me, but he seems to consider it a game to "beat the market".  He's starting to look like a damn day-trader, with MY MONEY!  Having no particular expertise in that area, it's difficult for me to rein him in.  Well, he was proud that he had increased my holdings by something like 22% in 2013.  Then I got the annual statements from my 401K and my IRAs, which I control, not him.  My strategy is to find the best place to put the money, put it there, and LEAVE it there.  

My 401K and three IRAs all had gains over 33% in 2013.  That's 33%.  If 22% is pretty damn good, then 33% is fantastic!

So next time I see him, I'm going to tell him to find the best place to put the money, put it there, and LEAVE it there. I don't want to see more than three trades a year.  Period.  I'll spoil his fun, and he's going to have fits, but that's it.  I've had it.  Every trade he makes costs me money in processing fees, and I see no advantage in "playing" the market.  My IRAs are in no-load low-fee index-based mutual funds, and they are growing just fine, thank you.  They dipped a little in 2007-8ish, but they more than recovered just fine.  

Actually, I know what's going on.  He dearly loves everything Wall Street.  I don't think he has any other hobbies.  The Market IS his hobby.  His daughter has joined him in his business, and over the past five years she has gradually taken over most of his accounts, the largest of which are large union and business retirement funds.  He has retained his private accounts.  Like mine.  We are all he has left to indulge his passion.  

The other problem is that his buddies are all gloom-and-doom Wall Street Republicans who can't see anything ahead but recession and depression from Democrats (especially when led by a brown one), so he takes their advice and panics and sells off everything before every election.  I could strangle him for that.  Is anyone aware that the economy is just fine?  33% growth in index accounts in 2013?  Yeah, the middle class isn't recovering very quickly, but that fabled 1% is doing just fine.  The rich are getting richer.  Corporations are doing just fine.  

I hope I can convince him to settle down.  I hope I don't have to fire him.  I will if I have to, but it would cost a small fortune to pull out, and I don't know where I'd put it then.  I've met a few investment counselors in the past decade (remember The Ditz, for example?  That's what she does) and I don't trust any of them.  At least I can trust Piper - trust is not the problem with him.  He really thinks he's doing the best for me.  I just don't agree with his political philosophy and management methods. 


Oh, almost forgot.  There was a big storm at the old house the day before Thanksgiving, and a huge tree fell across the top of the driveway.  One of those that pulled the root ball out of the ground.  The Hairless Hunk sent me a text msg plus photo this morning. His wife's mother had died last week, too, so he apologized that today was the first time he'd checked the house since the storm. (Sheesh.  Yeah, take care of your family first, Hunk.  Don't apologize for that.)  He has been rotating his excess vehicles at the top of my drive so it looks like there's activity at the house, and from the tiny photo it looks like maybe his car got hit by the tree.  His note didn't say anything about that.  So, anyway, until he clears the tree out, I don't think I'll be going up there.  I hope It doesn't snow before then, or it will be a real mess!

Why are things so complicated?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

3994 Already?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Against logic there is no armor like ignorance." 
--Laurence J. Peter--


According to my outdoor thermometer, it's 47 F outside.

It's raining.  It's 10:45 pm.

I was just out on the front porch, and I noticed that some of those raindrops looked rather large. 
And white. 
And shiny.

The grass and driveway showed just wetness, so I stuck the black velvet sleeve of my jacket out into the "rain" and caught a few of the "raindrops",
and several of them were flat,
and six-pointed.

I feel sick.  I'm not ready for this.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

3993 Squirrel Heaven

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Love is the only beast that bites after it's dead.
(Except for reptiles.)


There's a squirrel who comes to my porch sometimes to beg for peanuts when he sees me outside.  This afternoon, I heard him running through the drifted leaves, but then he took a sharp right turn and ran for the tree on the other side of the driveway.  There was something about the way he was moving that signaled major excitement, not his usual stop-and-go scamper.  He seemed to have some difficulty climbing the tree.

I walked across the driveway to see why, and saw that he was carrying something in his mouth.  Something beige, about half his size.  Something with long dangly things on each side.  Oh good grief - it looked like he was carrying a baby rabbit!

I got closer and discovered that he was carrying a small ear of corn.  The "bunny ears" were the husk.

He was so excited, and so obviously happy, and so determined to get that thing up to the top of the tree.

Somebody may have lost part of their door wreath.

Friday, October 31, 2014

3992 Slumber party!

Friday, October 31, 2014

War doesn't determine who's right, just who's left.


The Nugget:

The Nugget is three-and-a-half now. 

Last Saturday night, her parents were going to a party, and I had agreed to babysit.  Daughter asked how late they could stay out, and I said as late as you like, I have my book, and there's the couch, don't worry about time.  But Daughter still fussed, so I had a Great Idea - how 'bout Nugget just stays overnight at my house?  We asked Nugget, and she was all for it.

By Saturday morning I was having second thoughts.  Nugget has stayed in hotels and various relatives' homes many times, but always with her Mommy.  As far as I know, she'd never slept away from her Mommy.  I had visions of her waking at 3 am with "I want my Mommy!", and nothing ever cures that but the production of her mommy, immediately.  Daughter said that Nugget was excited about staying over at Gramma's, and there's no turning back now.

So, she came over at 7 pm.  Bedtime was supposed to be 9 pm.  I think she finally fell asleep at 11 pm.  We had a good time, arranging hair, telling stories (I do a really good job with The Three Billy Goats Gruff and the ogre) and generally giggling.

I think there's a particular time when kids start sleeping with their head at the top of the bed and their feet pointing toward the foot of the bed.  She's not there yet.  Several times during the night I had to move her legs off my back.  And among the eight stuffed animals and dolls in the bed with us was a bear that  talked when squeezed, and he happened to be between us and I kept leaning on him ("I looooove when you hug meeeee").  And then there was the usual checking every half hour to make sure she was still breathing.  I got no sleep at all, but she slept very well --- until 3 am.

She woke me, near tears. "Gramma, I had a monster dream."
"Oooo.  I bet it was scary."
"Yes.  It was berry scary."
"But you know it was a dream, right?"
"And you're not dreaming now?"
"Are there any monsters around now?"
"No.  There's no monsters now."
"Monster dreams are very scary.  But they're just dreams.  They're not real.  They go poof when you wake up."
"Yeah.  Ok."  And she was back to sleep almost immediately.  No "I want my mommy".
I was so proud of her, and so grateful.

We got up about 9 am, two hours later than usual for her.  She said, "Mommy says wake up, go potty, brush teeth, take a bath, get dressed, then eat breakfast."  Only Mommy had forgotten to pack her toothbrush and I had no extras, so she decided to skip the whole routine and just get dressed so breakfast would happen sooner.  After breakfast, her Daddy noticed we were up and came to get her.

And I went back to bed for two hours.

Later, Daughter says she asked Nugget if she liked staying at Gramma's.   Nugget said no.  Then she threw her arms up in the air and said, "I don't like it, I LOVE IT!"


Monday, October 27, 2014

3991 Freakout continued

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time."
- -Steven Wright--


Well, it's been a little over a week since that Friday I received the letter from the IRS insisting that I owed over $61K in taxes for 2012.

The letter had a lot of detail as to how they arrived at that figure, and over the weekend I dug out the tax filings and forms from 2011 and 2012 and compared my figures to the IRS's figures.  It looks like the IRS never received my 1040 etc filing.  For example, I had a refund from 2011, $2K of which I "rolled over" toward the 2012 taxes, and one of my income sources does withhold taxes.  The IRS says that only that amount withheld was paid, they don't show the $2K rollover.  They also show none of my deductions.  AND, the major error is that they show all the stock, bond, and fund trades that Piper had done on my behalf as pure profit - there was no cost basis deducted for those trades.

Yup.  Looks like they never received my 1040 filing for 2012.

The next Monday I overnighted (a "verbed" word if I ever saw one) copies of the IRS letter to Piper the money guy, and Angel the CPA.  They went to work on it.  I don't much care how it gets handled, just so it does get handled.

Angel called me last Friday and said we would re-file the 2012 taxes, and he'd be overnighting me the completed 1040s etc, which I should sign and send to the IRS. He didn't mention the New Jersey taxes.

I found his use of the word "re-file" very interesting.  I strongly suspect that he never filed the originals.  Every year I gather all the info, make copies of the 1099s and real estate tax receipts and so on, and send him the packet.  He does my taxes, then sends it all to me, I review it and either make corrections or approve it as is, and then he e-files it for me.  If there's any tax due, I mail the check separately, but usually there's a small refund which we "wrap" toward the next year.  I'll bet you a gazillion dollars he forgot to e-file my taxes.

I didn't challenge him on it.

He startled me a little when he said that not only do I not owe any money, I'm going to get a refund of a few hundred dollars.

Well, it's Monday afternoon, about 2:30 pm, and the forms that were going to be overnighted Friday have not yet arrived.  I'm very anxious to see them.

You know, I'm afraid this might not be over yet....

Sunday, October 19, 2014

3990 Chocolate Ebola

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"Rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk
for people who can't read."
--Frank Zappa--


I saw an interesting video on the problems with the protective wear health care workers are using around ebola patients, possible ways to contaminate oneself.  The gear itself does a pretty good job of protecting.  The danger comes in taking it off.

A guy who is pretty familiar with the protocols demonstrated by having chocolate sauce poured on his gloves and then he smeared a little from his gloves onto the front of the suit.  (Note that most local hospitals do not have the facilities to rinse off before removing the gear.  The workers have to remove it "dirty".)

He then removed the gear, very slowly, demonstrating and explaining each step.  It all looked good.
When he was finished and examined, he had a small smear of chocolate on the inside of one forearm, and another on the side of his neck.

3989 Recommended Reading

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"If I had to live my life again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner."
 --Tallulah Bankhead--


More things I don't understand:  

I am hearing/reading more and often that two things are "one in the same".  What? "In?"  Huh?

And I have never understood why "up the creek without a paddle" is such a bad situation.  Seems like if you're up the creek, you can just float down with the current, no?  It would be worse if you were down the creek with no paddle, and no way to get up.


I read an article recently (no, I don't have the link right now) on functional MRIs done on conservative and liberal brains.  They showed people various disturbing pictures while they were in the MRI, and then looked to see what sections of the brain lit up.  The conclusion reached by the researchers is that the conservative brain operates more often on emotion, and in particular on fear, whereas the liberal brain shown the same situation went into problem solving mode.

This kind of research has been all over the place from many different sources for the past decade, at least, but I hadn't come across it before.  I found it fascinating.  It explains a lot of conservative political advertising - they seem to concentrate on arousing people by appealing to their fears.  I had noticed that, but hadn't made the connection.  It explains why conservatives and liberals can talk themselves blue to the other camp, and never make any headway in changing any minds.  It explains why so many people in lower economic groups will passionately defend conservative policies that are obviously inimical to their own advancement and welfare.

The article I read said that there was probably an evolutionary purpose to this divide - that a tribe or community needed BOTH kinds of processing to survive.  The conservatives kept the group safe in the face of a hostile world, and the liberals kept the group advancing socially and technologically.

Well, I just took a few minutes and searched for the article.  I didn't find the particular one I'd read, but if you search for "conservative liberal brain" you'll find a bunch (the top one is likely to be a synopsis of a 2014 paper from the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, in which they had used eye tracking instead of MRIs) and if you add "mri" to those arguments you'll find additional recent and highly regarded studies.  

I had however noticed a long time ago that the easiest way to control people is through fear.  Scare the Hell out of them (or in the case of religion, into them), convince them that only you can save them from this horrible danger, and you've got them by the proverbial short hairs.   


In books, I read about equal amounts of fiction and non-fiction. I recently finished Karen Elliott House's book On Saudi Arabia; Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines, and Future (2012, 108 pages, Knopf).

I had been sort of wondering why Saudi Arabia hadn't been taking a more active role in the political and religious problems in the Middle East.  Like, they have a bazillion dollars and enormous Islamic credibility, so why aren't they doing something about ISIS (or whatever it's being called this week), and the situations in central Africa, like the Boko Haram kidnappings, and pushing for serious Palestine talks, and so on.  Does their inaction mean they approve of what's going on?

This book answers those questions and more.   Pretty much everything you ever wanted to know, plus.

I get very impatient with nonfiction books that could have been a pamphlet, but have been expanded into a book by repeating the same things over and over.  And over.   I also get impatient with nonfiction writers who seem to think that if they make every sentence as convoluted as possible, they sound more erudite.  This book has neither fault.  I was interested the whole way through, and Ms. House writes as if she's having a conversation with her reader.  I like that.

I very highly recommend this book.

Oh, yeah, the reason the Saudi royal family is so insular?  It's because of the tightrope.  Read the book.

Friday, October 17, 2014

3988 Freakout

Friday, October 17, 2014

What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.
 --Ralph Waldo Emerson--


Our mail arrives usually after 5:30-ish, too late to conduct any business based on it.

One innocent-looking envelope today was from the IRS.

They claim I owe $61,569 additional on my 2012 income tax, $9,786 of which is a "tax understatement penalty". They want the money by November 13, 2014.


Tomorrow I'm going to copy the multi-page letter, and send copies to my investment guy Piper, and my CPA Angelo.

Something is VERY wrong.

I think my total 2012 income was around $72,000, including social security, retirement, capital gains, interest, and dividends, most of which is reinvested and I don't actually "see" it.

I fully expect Piper and Angelo to FIX THIS!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

3987 Coincidence

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Older computer games couldn't be won. They just got harder and faster until you died.
Just like real life.


Funniest thing - in 1999 Frederick Aldrich published a book, a thriller titled Absolute Zero, available on Amazon, at
It seems to be available now only in the Kindle edition.

Quoting the book description:
Ebola. The very sound conjures up hideous images, images that cannot begin to convey the horrors of the disease itself.

An African man carrying the virus has arrived unhindered in Dallas. Experts assure the public there is no cause for fear. But is there really nothing to fear?"
How 'bout that?

It's a thriller, about a terror attack.

Repeat - Africa, Dallas, Ebola, written in 1999.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

3986 Don't believe the ebola hype

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"The world is run by 'C' students."
--Al McGuire--


Shep Smith just pretty much called his network fearmongers.  Let's see now if he keeps his job.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

3985 Experiences with pet sitting and boarding

Sunday, October 12, 2014

"Traditions are group efforts to keep the unexpected from happening."
 --Barbara Tober--


Since about 9th grade, and excepting college, I've had dogs and/or cats.

Cats are easy to leave.  They can easily be left for two overnights if they will eat dry food, longer if they are youngish and healthy and mellow.  They just sleep all day while I'm gone.  They need a visiting nanny or boarding only if they aren't healthy, or if it's for more than a weekend or so.

Dogs can't be left for more than a few hours unless they are smart enough to use the cat's litter box.  They can't be trusted with more than one meal's worth of food, because they'll just eat it all in one gulp, or destroy the timed feeder if you try to use it, and then throw the excess up on your bed.  And they get bored, and then destructive.  So visiting nannies won't be enough.  Dogs need boarding.

I have a history of pet sitting and boarding horror stories.

I asked a friend, Barbara, to feed my cat Smokey while I was away for five days, when I lived in Gettysburg.  Smokey ate only canned food, so she needed a visit once a day.  Now, Smokey sometimes wouldn't eat for the first day that I was away, and I told Barbara that.  That's normal with some cats.  When I returned, I found a food dish full of rotted food, crawling with maggots, and a very desperate cat who wouldn't let me out of her sight for days after.

I asked Barbara what had happened.  She said she'd fed Smokey the first day, and when she went back the second day the food hadn't been touched, so she figured rather than throw it out she'd leave it, and "When the cat got hungry enough, she'd eat it."  She didn't even go in after that because she could see the dish through the window and apparently Smokey hadn't been hungry.  Of course, I was furious.

(This, by the way, is the same woman who later chased me with a knife, seriously trying to kill me, because she KNEW I had been messing with her husband.  Actually, it was another woman with my same first name, and when she asked her husband if it was me, he said yes because he didn't want her to know it was actually his ex-wife, whom Barbara hated.  The idiot guy thought that since she and I were friends, it would be ok.  Gettysburg had some seriously wacked-out people.)

So the next time I went away, I asked Jeanie to feed Smokey.  The very first day Jeanie visited, when she opened the door, Smokey burst out and ran off.  Jeanie searched and called and couldn't find her.  Smokey was gone.  Jeanie actually moved into my house so she'd be there if Smokey returned.  She called and searched for the next several days, and left food outside the door, and it was eaten, but she didn't know by whom.  Even though she was watching, she never saw Smokey.  When I returned, I drove into the parking area, and Smokey greeted me when I opened the car door.  Apparently, she had been out searching for me for days.  Jeanie was so relieved, and I appreciated Jeanie's efforts.

After that, I boarded my cat(s).  I found some really good places over the years, like that woman who had what looked like little motel rooms, with climbing shelves and cubby holes, and a window at floor level with bird feeders outside, and in a pinch I boarded at the vet's.  The cat would spend the night in a cage at the vet, but during the day she had the run of the office.  Smokey liked that.

Later a friend clued me in - if you're using an amateur pet-sitter, get like three and rotate their days. That way if one of them screws up, or even two, it's not a disaster.

Dogs were harder.  I found so many kennels that looked good at first, but I always sensed something wrong when I'd pick the dog(s) up.  Something "off".

One time I returned a day earlier than scheduled, and decided to pick up the two dogs then, straight from the airport (pre-cell phone days, so no call ahead).  I arrived at the kennel and asked for my dogs.  The kid at the desk hemmed and hawed, and said I couldn't get them until tomorrow.  I insisted, saying that of course I was willing to pay for the extra day, no problem, please get my dogs now.  He said he couldn't, and when I asked why, he said they needed grooming.  I said no problem, I don't need them groomed, please go get them now.  I finally had to get angry and point out that they were MY dogs, and you CAN'T keep them! I want them RIGHT NOW, or I'm calling the cops!

Well, I got them.  Their dog beds were wet, stinking of urine, and coated with wet and dried feces.  So were the dogs.  Poop was caked on their hips and sides.  It was obvious they'd been walking and lying in poop.  It was awful!  This explained why when I'd left them there on two previous occasions, they smelled of shampoo when I picked them up, and their beds had been freshly washed and dried.

That was the last time they stayed there.

The dogs were in an inside "room" with a door to an outside pen, which was supposed to be open all day, but apparently they didn't get outside very often.  I know this because Puppy (yes, that was her name - long story) was a fastidious Australian Kelpie, and never eliminated on anything but grass or dirt.  She wouldn't even go on concrete or asphalt.  So for her to have gone inside the concrete-floored room, she must have been desperate. 

One thing I have learned:  If you go to check out a kennel, and the owners will not allow you to actually see the areas where the animals are kept ("Oh, no, strangers walking through will upset the dogs.  We don't allow anyone back there except the workers."), then run fast away.  A good kennel with nothing to hide will escort you through, or at least allow a look (and sniff) through a door.   When the dogs see you accompanied by a familiar face, they are curious, they might bark, but they're not "upset".

----Just thinking about that stuff today.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

3984 Head Banging

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"I have no problem with God. It's his fan club I can't stand."


The World Health Organization (funded by members nations of the UN) has issued a bulletin saying that ebola can in fact be spread by aerosolized droplets produced from coughing or sneezing, if you inhale or touch those droplets.  It can also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces, and those surfaces can be contaminated by sneezes.  So people who visit the home of a patient after the patient has left the home, can acquire the infection from surfaces (sneezed or coughed on - and you'd be surprised how far a sneeze travels) in the home.

[NOTE - spread by aerosolized droplets does not fit the medical definition of "airborne".  Airborne spread involves dried stuff floating around in the air.  Technical difference.  Flu is airborne, ebola is not (so far).]

That's how that latest patient in Texas got it (I haven't heard the results of his test yet)(Update - he tested negative.).  He went into the other guy's home with the cleaners without protective gear.  It's interesting that he bragged that he didn't need the gear.  Oh dear.

So asking if folks have been in contact with an infected person is not a good question.  You have to ask if they had touched anything a symptomatic person had touched - or sneezed or coughed on, or near, or in the same room as, or in the next room, at any time in the past.  And how can you know that?  What do you know about the last dollar bill you handled?

Something that really bothers me is that in the involved areas of Africa, space in the treatment clinics is severely limited.  They just don't have the beds, space, or workers to handle the load.  So people show up at the door with symptoms, and they are turned away!.  The treatment centers and quarantine centers can't take anyone in until someone else dies.

Where do those people go?  Back home.  Back to their neighborhoods.

How the hell can you slow down, let alone stop, an epidemic with a response like that?  Nope, no room at the inn.  Go spread it some more.

This whole thing is a mess.

I made an online contribution this evening to Doctors Without Borders for $1,000.   I don't know how much they are involved in the ebola thing - mostly World Health Org. is mentioned, but I don't think WHO takes contributions - but I guess it couldn't hurt.


Another thing - I had mostly read that victims were being cremated.  Now I find out from several sources that they are being buried.

Hey, this is a virus!  Are we infecting the ground water?  If you want to know how nasty stuff does in the ground, ask any farmer about anthrax.  Anthrax is a bacteria.  Viruses encapsulate, which gives them an advantage over bacteria.


Workers for a company that cleans airliners went on strike earlier today at LaGuardia.  I don't blame them.