Saturday, February 27, 2010

2794 Privatization? Still?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's always been and will always be the same in the world: the horse does the work and the coachman is tipped.

Think of this the next time your manager is rewarded for your work.


A few years ago, when some in Congress were advocating privatization of Social Security, I was aghast that they seemed to have forgotten that SS came out of the stock market crash of 1929 and resulting depression (which WWI got us out of, BTW).

The idea is that one's retirement years should be supported by a combination of company retirement, individual savings and investment, family, and because none of those three are under your control and guaranteed to be there when you need them, no matter how diligent and careful you are, at least SS would be safe and sure and keep you fed.

I cannot believe that a certain Texas congressman is still advocating privatization! Where has he been the past two years? (Advocates are giving it a different name, but it's still privatization.)

The problem isn't with the social security system as it was originally set up. The problem started in 1965 when Social Security was changed to pull SS funds out of the independent Trust Fund and put it into the General Fund for additional congressional revenue. (Think about that a minute. Sorta like what NYS did with lottery proceeds, which law was supported only because we were promised it would all go to education, but now it's used for everything but.)

SS is holding congressional IOU's, which Congress doesn't want to repay. They'd rather dump risk on you than pay back what they stole. THAT's the problem!

I don't understand.

2793 Hint for when a winter storm threatens

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The most exciting phrase to hear in science,
the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!', but
"That's funny..."
-- Isaac Asimov --


If you suspect that you will be losing power, boost the thermostat to some ridiculous height, like maybe 78 or more degrees. That way when the heat goes out, everything in the house is at that temperature - walls, furniture, floors, sinks - and they will keep the house a little warmer for a little while longer. And fill the bathtub. The water will also be at "room temperature" (especially if you initially filled it with hot water), and will also come in handy for bucket-flushing toilets when the well pump takes a hike.

Don't worry about wasting oil. Once everything reaches the set temperature, it doesn't cost any more to keep it there (assuming your house is tight and well insulated), and what extra you did use getting it there will be offset by what isn't used when the power goes out.

If the power doesn't go out, well, you can pretend you had a tropical vacation, nice when there's a blizzard out there, and still cheaper than a real one.

Friday, February 26, 2010

2792 Snow? You want snow?

Friday, February 26, 2010

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.
-- Carl Sagan --


I got an email canceling tomorrow's ski trip, containing this text:
"Cross-country ski at Mountain Trails XC Ski Center near Tannersville, scheduled to occur on Saturday, February 27, 2010 9:30 AM has been canceled. Please update your plans accordingly.

The ski center has gotten 5 feet(!) of new snow this week, which would be great except that they have lots of trees down on all the trails and no electricity. And they have 90% probability of snow for Saturday and 60% for Sunday. I'll re-schedule for either Mar 13 or Mar 14."
Wow. If I fell in five feet of snow, they'd never find me!

2791 A charming video

Friday, February 26, 2010

"Most people who believe in Hell feel sure it is not their final destination.
... Anyone who believes in hell, I find, also believes in hateful ways of avoiding it.
Fear of hell tends to make women into victims, men into bullies,
and everyone into line-toeing robots."
-- Gillian Kendall --


This is a charming video clip. It should be one of three. If you can locate the other two, I'd appreciate a pointer.



Sometimes I wish I had a landlord. Then I could complain and get things fixed, like the deteriorating and now badly plow-damaged driveway. I pay the town and county $500 a month for the privilege of living in this house. That's sort of like a landlord; they'd throw me out if I didn't pay the "rent". I ought to be able to get them to fix it.

I wish.

2790 Gravel & Salt

Friday, February 26, 2010

The United States is like the guy at the party who gives cocaine to everybody and still nobody likes him.
-- Jim Samuels --


Until this past storm (more snow/sleet/rain coming over the next four days, by the way), we'd had very little snow. The few days when the temperature was below freezing, the roads were dry. So I really don't understand why the town road crews have been so enthusiastic.

There's so much gravel on my street that you don't slide on ice (there IS no ice), you slide on gravel! There's so much that the road doesn't look paved, it looks like a dirt road.

On the highways it doesn't matter, because there's enough fast traffic that the gravel gets blown to the sides of the road (where it builds up on the berm, clogs the ditches and stormwater drains, and kills lawns). But with very little traffic on our street it just stays there. Several times, on perfectly dry surface, I've slid wide through the curves, at 25 mph, sliding on the gravel.

It's not a sharp-edged gravel. The bits are smoothly rounded, like river pebbles, the largest about the size of the pink part of a fingernail. It doesn't look like the best stuff for traction. "Hey, let's throw little marbles on the road! That'll do it!"

I don't understand.

The town will eventually come around with huge noisy street sweeper machines to gather it all up, but in past years that hasn't happened until June, I guess because we're a rural dead-end road, and by then the gravel and salt-laden sand is all off the road and in the lawns.


I'm afraid to complain, because then we might get nothing at all. I don't think the highway department management is all that bright. For example, the state is upset because the Hudson River is getting salty further up than the sea tides go, so they blame ships that come up the river and dump seawater ballast, replacing it with fresh river water, which they then sell to islands.

The Hudson is a huge river. It's three times as wide at Kingston as the Mississippi is at St. Louis, and likely a comparable depth. ( - you'll see. It's amazing.) How many ship ballasts would it take to make it brackish? Why has no one noticed that the towns, counties, and state dump thousands of tons of salt on the road every winter, and all that surface runoff eventually ends up in the river? (The ground is frozen. It will ALL be runoff.)

I suspect that it's because it's an easy fix to blame foreign ships. If you blame road salt, you have to fix it, and nobody wants to think about that. The old "Don't complain unless you already have the solution."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

2789 Thirty-six hellish hours

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Folks who rejoice that "The system works!" are usually referring to another's parking ticket, not their own.


Heavy wet snow Tuesday. Too heavy for the snowthrower, so I had no choice but to call the plow guy. He said that even though it hadn't stopped yet, he'd have to plow every seven inches or so, because it was so heavy. It snowed through to Wednesday early afternoon, about 15" of heavy wet, so that meant two plowings, at $55 each. Yeouch!

I hate winter.

The heavy soggy wet snow took down trees (including several large branches in my yard, one across the driveway), so we lost power at about 1 am Wednesday. That means no lights, heat, phone, water, internet. The power didn't come back on until about noon today, Thursday. By this morning the temp in the house was 51, which is pretty good, actually.

As if that weren't bad enough, there's the saga of the Morocco trip. The organizer had told us via an email two weeks ago that we would have a meeting with the tour guide on the 24th, which was last night, meeting place TBD. I had sent her at least two emails over the past week asking where, please, since if it's in NYC I'll need to plan ahead. As of Tuesday morning, still no response. So Tuesday morning I sent her a stern note, adding that I was beginning to have misgivings about this whole venture. Tuesday afternoon she sent a note to all of us that we would be meeting at 7 pm Wednesday at a particular Moroccan restaurant on Bowery.

I fired off a note to The Man asking him if it would be better for me to take the train and subway, or to drive. I was worried about parking. He advised driving, because then I wouldn't be on the subway late at night. Turns out that if you Google "parking NYC", you can get not only maps of licensed parking lots and garages, you can make a reservation and lock in the charges. I spent most of Tuesday evening doing the research.

Come Wednesday morning, no power, no internet. Glad I'd got the info the night before. Washed the best I could with baby wipes. Located an outfit in the walkin closet by flashlight. I left the house at 3:45 pm, drove south through snow, then rain, then heavy fog, the first dry road was the Sprain Parkway. Rush hour. GPS found the garage at 6:30, two blocks from restaurant. 2 hour and 45 minute drive in miserable conditions.

Looked for organizer in the restaurant. Nope. Lots of people walked up to me and introduced themselves, very strange - surprise, the whole restaurant had been hired for an AOL presentation, presence by invitation only. I just happened to arrive before the person with the invitee list got set up and was stopping people at the door. 7:15, still no one from the Morocco group - not that I'd recognize anyone anyway. 7:30 I asked the list-woman at the door if anyone else had tried to get in, asking for the organizer. She said yes, that one woman had asked for a Danielle, something about a meeting, and seemed upset.

So I left and went home. Thoroughly pissed. 2 hour drive home. Electricity still off. I should have been able to make it up the driveway, but the plow guy had plowed too far to the left, off the pavement and into the lawn, and I got stuck in the mud! Rain on top of snow slop and horribly chewed up lawn equals mud. Rocked the car out, chewing up lawn more. Walked up 300' driveway in the rain, leaving car at bottom.

Snowing again this morning. Huge fat flakes that quickly covered the front of the car as I was cleaning off the back. I'd packed up the laptop intending to head for Piper's office, find out what happened to the meeting. The village seems to always have power, no matter what. I parked right in front of his office. The office was dark and locked, but he had given me a key a year or two ago, on another power outage occasion. I left the car running and my purse in the car, while I checked whether the key still worked - his door had been replaced recently, and I wasn't sure whether the lock had been changed, too.

Here's where habit can hurt. I NEVER lock my car unless I actually have the keys in my hand, and I taught Daughter the same rule. ALWAYS lock the car with the hand holding the key. So I locked the car door with the hand holding the key. The office key.

Yes, I do have a spare car key. In my purse. In the running car. And, oh, yeah, the key didn't work in the new office door.

Lady in the liquor store called the police for me. I stood outside in the clumps of falling snow waiting. He came with his slim-jim and wiped the snow off the side windows to see where the lock posts were, and that's when I discovered that the back driver's side door was unlocked. Embarrassment supreme. I hugged the cop.

He had to take a report anyway, but the snow was falling fast, so we stepped into the pedestrian alley next to Piper's office, but the snow was falling there, too, so we stepped into a recessed rear doorway in the alley, where he wrote down all the info. Only later did it occur to me that anyone who had seen me hug him in the street might wonder what I was bribing him with back there in the alley, to avoid a ticket or something.

Back home, not without further insult. As I was walking up the driveway, a huge clump of soggy snow fell off a branch right on the top of my head, and down my neck. Electricity came on a few minutes after I got home.

Turns out the organizer had sent an email canceling the meeting at 4:40 pm, 45 minutes after I had left the house to drive to the city. The reason? The tour guy wasn't able to make it in from NJ because of the weather. It was raining!!! in NJ! Just rain! I fired off a note to her about my trip in, and told her that her tour guide was a wimp! Haven't heard from her in response, which doesn't surprise me.

Now, this woman is a professional event organizer. She's got a lot going on, but she's not very professional.
a) She didn't check with the restaurant beforehand to ensure that we could meet there.
b) When she sent the cancellation email, she should have requested an acknowledgment that the message had been read.
c) Having been unsure we had read the email, she should have been AT the restaurant at the appointed time anyway, just to make sure, in case someone showed up,
d) or at the very least, she should have called the restaurant at or just before 7 pm to ask them to page any of us and pass us the message.

I intensely dislike this woman already, and I don't even know her. She's sloppy. If she were my employee, I'd fire her.


The one piece of good luck was that I had ordered one of those lights you wear on your forehead from, and it arrived in Tuesday's mail. Those things are great! I even used it to do crosswords in bed Wednesday night.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2788 Facts are the Pitts

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Half the American people have never read a newspaper.
Half have never voted for president.
One hopes it is the same half.
-- Gore Vidal --


I have always liked Leonard Pitts, but my local paper no longer carries him. Don't know why. I found this on another blog, and I agree with Mr. Pitts once again. I often find myself screaming at the radio and TV when people tell blatant lies, lies they KNOW are lies, that the least bit of critical thinking will expose as lies, but they seem to think it's ok because people will believe them anyway in the face of facts, because it's what they want to hear. The US is going to hell, and this is why, and it drives me crazy.

Leonard Pitts Jr. / Syndicated columnist

Don't confuse them with facts

To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper's online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth.

Syndicated columnist

I got an e-mail the other day that depressed me.

It concerned a piece I recently did that mentioned Henry Johnson, who was awarded the French Croix de Guerre in World War I for single-handedly fighting off a company of Germans (some accounts say there were 14, some say almost 30, the ones I find most authoritative say there were about two dozen) who threatened to overrun his post.

Johnson managed this despite the fact that he was only 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds, despite the fact that his gun had jammed, despite the fact that he was wounded 21 times.

My mention of Johnson's heroics drew a rebuke from a fellow named Ken Thompson, which I quote verbatim and in its entirety:

"Hate to tell you that blacks were not allowed into combat intell (sic) 1947, that fact. World War II ended in 1945. So all that feel good, one black man killing two dozen Nazi, is just that, PC bull."

In response, my assistant, Judi Smith, sent Mr. Thompson proof of Johnson's heroics: a link to his page on the Web site of Arlington National Cemetery. She thought this settled the matter.

Thompson's reply? "There is no race on headstones and they didn't come up with the story in tell (sic) 2002."

Judi: "I guess you can choose to believe Arlington National Cemetery or not."

Thompson: "It is what it is, you don't believe either ... "

At this point, Judi forwarded me their correspondence, along with a despairing note. She is probably somewhere drinking right now.

You see, like me, she can remember a time when facts settled arguments. This is back before everything became a partisan shouting match, back before it was permissible to ignore or deride as "biased" anything that didn't support your worldview.

If you and I had an argument and I produced facts from an authoritative source to back me up, you couldn't just blow that off. You might try to undermine my facts, might counter with facts of your own, but you couldn't just pretend my facts had no weight or meaning.

But that's the intellectual state of the union these days, as evidenced by all the people who still don't believe the president was born in Hawaii or that the planet is warming. And by Mr. Thompson, who doesn't believe Henry Johnson did what he did.

I could send him more proof, I suppose. Johnson is lauded in history books ("Before the Mayflower" by Lerone Bennett Jr., "The Dictionary of American Negro Biography" by Rayford Logan and Michael Winston) and in contemporaneous accounts (The Saturday Evening Post, The New York Times). I could also point out that blacks have fought in every war in American history, though before Harry Truman desegregated the military in 1948, they did so in Jim Crow units. Also, there were no Nazis in World War I.

But those are "facts," and the whole point here is that facts no longer mean what they once did. I suppose I could also ignore him. But you see, Ken Thompson is not just some isolated eccentric. No, he is the Zeitgeist personified.

To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper's online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all information that does not validate what we wish to believe.

I submit that any people thus handicapped sow the seeds of their own decline; they respond to the world as they wish it were rather to the world as it is. That's the story of the Iraq war.

But objective reality does not change because you refuse to accept it. The fact that you refuse to acknowledge a wall does not change the fact that it's a wall.

And you shouldn't have to hit it to find that out.

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column appears regularly on editorial pages all over the country. A link to this column:

You know, when I was young, critical thinking was taught in the schools. When did it stop?

Monday, February 22, 2010

2787 The music of your site!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thomas Edison said he'd never failed; he successfully found 14,000 ways
not to make a light bulb.


Everyone must absolutely immediately go to! You put in the URL of a website, and it examines the code and then plays the music generated by the code of that site. If you click on the "About" on the right, it tells you how they do it, and supposedly if you know something about music theory and the mathematics thereof, it makes sense.

I tried a bunch.

The Queen's ( blog music is beautiful, melodic, ethereal.
The Gypsy's blog ( has major drums and two-finger clavichord, really cool.
The Gypsy's business site ( has drums again, and jazzy bass guitar. It ended much too soon.
Rockycat ( gets rocky banging drums, and soft organic water music, total contradiction.
My son-in-law gets rock guitar. Eh.
My niece in Belgium ( gets an actual cohesive composition.
Becs' blog ( produces a demented church organist on vacation.

Me? I get a South American monkey on a synthesizer, who knows only three notes and plays them over and over.



Later: If the website has not been updated, you'll get the same music. If it has been updated since the previous playing, the music might be different.

2786 Stupid Squared

Monday, February 22, 2010

I have the body of a Corvette. A '66 Corvette.


Somebody on Craigslist is selling $10 worth of diaper coupons for $15, explaining that they arrived free in the mail, and he/she has no use for them, and the extra $5 is for shipping.

The stupid gets squared if someone buys them.

Contest: How many things can you find wrong with this offer? Comments, please.

2785 Schadenfreude?

Monday, February 22, 2010

From the 1985 movie "Bliss": "The entire economy of the Western world
is built on things that cause cancer."


The guy who flew the plane into the IRS office in Texas left an explanatory screed on his website. The FBI had it taken down within hours, but The Smoking Gun copied and preserved it *here*. I'm not sure what to think of it, and not sure how much of his problems were of his own making, but I'm sure it expresses a growing frustration on the part of many.

He ends with:
The Communist Creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
The Capitalist Creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.

Unfortunately, that's true. The optimistic one doesn't work because people are people, and the cynical one works as advertised because people are people.


Almost two years ago I wrote about friend NJ's cancer diagnosis, which we all discovered when she hosted a party at her home, wearing a chemo pump. The next day, I called her and left a message offering my services in driving, shopping, whatever assistance she needed. I got no response, not even a "Thanks, but no." Ok, she wants privacy.

A few weeks or months after that, I wrote (at about when NJ "went missing", and drunken overreacting friend May's call to the police to break into NJ's house to check on her. I had rushed down to NJ's house to head off the police if possible. Turned out NJ was in the hospital for surgery, followed by a long rehabilitation, and was extremely angry that May had freaked out to such a degree. It was clear to me that NJ wanted privacy, didn't want any of us bothering her, and she said that if May showed up at the hospital she'd have her thrown out.

Weeks later, NJ was back home, and May called me in tears saying that NJ was very angry with her because May'd "had her front door broken in". Implication was that it was destroyed. Um, I was there. There was no breaking of anything. The police entered through an unlatched window (with the assistance of fire department ladders) and opened the door from inside, and relocked it when they left, and I had told NJ that.

Well, this was not the first time that I'd ended up between those two in one of their spats, and somehow I always seem to end up getting smeared with the mud. So at that point I backed off completely. I didn't call NJ to atempt to straighten it out. I figured I'd leave it to NJ to contact me if she wanted to. Otherwise, *shrug*. And in the past year she has not contacted me.

So I was very surprised to get an email from her last week. She sent it to seven of her Mensa friends requesting help moving things out of her White Plains office this past weekend. It seems she lost the job because of her illness.

I don't know how I got on that short list. Apparently Les and I were the only ones to volunteer. Does that word "schadenfreude" fit here?

So yesterday I went with her and Les to White Plains and helped move her out. One of the items was a small refrigerator. Bigger than you'd find in a hotel room, slightly smaller than a dishwasher. Les and I were trying to maneuver it through a side door of a borrowed Ford Explorer (because the rear hatch wouldn't open), and the main joint of my middle finger of my left hand got smashed between the refrigerator and the door. I was yelping OW! OW! OW!, and it stayed stuck for several seconds because Les couldn't see over the freakin' fridge and didn't know what was wrong, so he just stayed still, afraid to do anything.

I was worried for a while because I couldn't bend the finger, and it stayed completely numb for a half hour. Nothing broken, feels ok today, no swelling, but there's dark purple on the sides and red on top, and I'm expecting one heck of a bruise.


Speaking of schadenfreude, if you drive a Toyota, read this: Especially the last two short paragraphs.