Categories
ramblings of a madman

America, elections, Facebook

I was reading several blogs this morning on the subject of social media and the upcoming election. I enjoy reading essays, and books on politics, political science, the histories of famous politicians, our Founding Fathers. And so I write this post under the backdrop that I was just banned from posting for 30 days on Facebook because I wrote something that went against their “community standards”. I find their “community standards” are based on opinions and that if you fail to lean to the left, your opinion on their site will be silenced or controlled. Banned in the name of “community standards”.

My screenshot from Facebook. BTW, I posted this on my Facebook page and they removed it, stating that the content isn’t available right now because the owner only shared it with a small group of people, changed who can see it or it’s been deleted. I did not delete it…

It is here where I would go off on a diatribe about political correctness and “I know it when I see it”.

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_it_when_I_see_it

Not to be outdone, but the expression, famously used to describe obscenity, can be used for the characterization of so much more…

I know. You are wondering what I was banned for? Well this banning was for a comment that I made on a FaceBook posting of the seven candidates who are running as Democrats for the 3rd Congressional District of New Mexico. My comment to the posting was “You would have to be stupid to vote for Plame”. She is clearly the Democratic establishment’s candidate, an outsider. My opinion. Outsiders are sending lots of money to her campaign to elect another Pelosi bot who doesn’t care about helping the people of this state. My opinion. We had one for over 10 years and he is now running for the Senate. My opinion. She does not share my views on much of anything. I am not alone in that opinion. Your can read for yourself here (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/us/valerie-plame-new-mexico-congress.html). In my opinion, FaceBook is trying to control free speech and to hell with your own personal opinions.

It is May and I am now banned for 30 days. To be banned means that you cannot comment, post a like or smiley emoji, or post pictures on your feed. You can only look at the feed they direct towards you. The same thing happened to me last year, although I think it took me longer to be banned. I don’t consider what I said was demeaning, and I cannot even remember what the first offense was for 2020 that got me banned for 3 days. The second reason for being banned was just as stupid, which got me banned for 7 days. Now it is 30 days. Did somebody complain because I inferred that they were stupid? I don’t know. Suffice it to say, they control the medium and if you don’t conform to their wishes, their thinking, you pay the price. It is clear to me that they have been silencing fact from fiction, truth and opinion to their way of thinking. You don’t agree with us, you must conform to our community standards. Whatever happened to decency, fair play, truth, justice, the American way! I always find myself looking for the place where I can send an e-mail to the judge so they can tell me my crime, to try to argue why their decision is wrong. I always think ahead when I hit send, knowing that “yea, I’m going to get in trouble for that posting…” The last two have completely blown my mind in terms of what was wrong with what I said. In the last two examples, I did not think that I was going to be banned, Imagine my disdain and anger resulting from the situation. Whatever it was, it went against their “community standards”. The conspiracy theorist in me always goes into overdrive. Many people, absent an understanding of what was wrong, head in that direction. In the end, I chalk it up to too many marshmallows in the world who cannot take anything that is negative. Lest I forget, the employees of Facebook come from the generation that received participation trophies or were educated and graded on the curve. Our opinions must be checked against emotion.

So maybe it is a good thing that I am banned from Facebook for 30 days. I get so angry after reading some of the stories that people post as news. I can see where we have become so divided on so many issues. It isn’t just Facebook that gets me angry, I get that way after actually reading real news, whether it is the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. Don’t get me started about CBS, CNN, NBC, ABC, Fox News, etc. Lots of the journalism that these organizations once practiced has been lost in the era of political correctness. Some of what I see there goes against my community standards but it never gets banned or blocked. Some of the memes, on both sides of the political spectrum are just so caustic. Not sure if they are created by Russian trolls, Russian bots, or people who actually have a sick or very dark sense of humor. They no longer report news and the story. It is filtered by the opinion of the reporter, or the broadcaster. They never get to the story because it is overtaken by conjecture and opinion, never slanted by the facts, or digging for the truth.

Anyway, I can calm down and spend more time writing on my blog.

There is lots of chaos this election season. Between the coronavirus / COVID19, stay-at-home-restrictions, the phased return to normalcy plans, an economy that went from stellar to depression in a matter of months, this is clearly an important election. I expect to write more as we get close to November on the subject of the election.

With much interest, I read the posting from Krista Stevens entitled “From Russia, With Malice” (https://longreads.com/2020/05/12/from-russia-with-malice/). I would characterize the post as an essay of a larger work by Franklin Foer in The Atlantic on the idea that Russia want to eradicate democracy (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/06/putin-american-democracy/610570/), and they’re doing a fine job of it.

The problem, which plays right into the hands of the Russians, is that the United States is already too divided to do much about it. Those are their ideas. They are not my ideas. That said, I must agree with them. My idea would that be no matter how divided we are, I think we would all agree that our democracy is under attack. Our way of life is under attack. And it is from a number of places. Whether it is Russia, China, Iran, or even within our own country. The basic freedoms that we Americans hold dear are under attack. Within our own country, I lump Facebook, Twitter and Google into the group that is attacking our democracy. I have read many articles where the three social media companies have restricted information, free speech and opinion. Case in point, see above for Facebook. And while I agree that hate speech, racism, evil, pornography and words that incite riots or endanger people should be controlled, people are educated to make up their own minds and opinions about what is before us. Not government, not corporations. Are we not smart enough to think for ourselves? When did protecting our privacy, which they could do more on, become protecting what we think and say? Probably because they cannot make money off of my opinions.

Of course, the left will blame Trump. The right will blame Democrats who push for socialism. The outsiders will sow discontent on all of the above, pushing stories to fan the flames of either opinion. Facebook will tout it’s “community standards”. We have lost our will to “agree to disagree”. My opinion may be that your political position is “stupid” and if that offends you, so be it. That was not my intent. I am not trying to sow discord, only debate. It is my opinion and “stupid” is probably your opinion towards me. I’m OK with that. I accept that. Political correctness has reached a new level. We have lost our ability to accept the opinion of others and go out of our way to attach those opinions, and the persons who espouse those opinions. One’s political opinion becomes disinformation for another.

Categories
ramblings of a madman

Sunday Morning: horses, birds, poetry and history

Instead of sleeping in this Sunday, I found myself awake at 3 and out of bed before 5. Had this been a normal work day, I’d be up and showered, having my morning coffee, dog fed and planning our morning walk. But it is Sunday. Son is up and having breakfast. Daughter, who was still awake when I went to bed, is still sleeping. Debating about whether to wake her to go feed the horse.

Ruby greeting me…hoping that I have treats for her.

I went to feed the horse by myself and let daughter sleep in. She always comes to the fence to greet me, expecting me to reach into my coat pocket for some cookies. I do and she is happy.

Hay for the morning, and some beet pulp, grain and supplements. Twice a day.

The snow from earlier this week has been melting, and what it leaves behind is a muddy paddock and by the end of the day, an equally muddy horse. She loves to roll on the ground.

The mountains above Los Alamos are covered in snow, as is most of the Jemez and Sangre De Cristo Mountains this time of year.

The mountains vary from 11,000 to over 14,000 feet, depending on which mountain range tour are interested in. The peaks over 14,000 are part of the fourteeners that lie along the Sangre De Cristo mountains in southern Colorado. According to wikipedia, Colorado has over 50 mountains over fourteen thousand feet. Wheeler Peak, northeast of Taos and north of Los Alamos, is the tallest peak in New Mexico and lies along the Sangre De Cristo Mountains at 13,167 feet. Depending on where you are at the stables, you can see it on a clear day.

As it was a nice but lazy day with the kids, and snow on most of the trails, a hike was out of the question. None of us ski, so that was out as well. This day turned out to be just like any other day. Son played video games; daughter spent the day doing drawing and other things in her room. As for me, a restful afternoon of eating, reading and a movie or two.

While at the stables feeding Ruby, I heard many birds. The loudest were the black birds that can be seen and heard throughout most of the area. I spied these two in a tree along the canyon top behind the stables.

A pair of black birds sitting in a tree.

I call them blackbirds, ravens, or crows without really knowing much about the different species of birds. Fortunately I was able to search the internet. The Parajito Environmental Educational Center at the Los Alamos Nature Center (reproduced from https://peecnature.org/bird-of-the-week-the-american-crow/) was able to tell me that the American Crow is easily found all year in Los Alamos County. Because they are closely related to their larger cousin the Common Raven, it can be hard to distinguish Crows from Ravens with only a casual look at one. Crows fly with a steadier wingbeat, while Ravens spend more flying time gliding. If you get a good look at the bird’s beak, you’ll see the Crow’s beak is smaller in relation to its head. If the bird is flying, look at the shape of its tail feathers – Crows’ tails are squarer and Ravens’ are more wedge-shaped. As the pair in the tree did not fly while I was watching them, I could not distinguish the wing shape.

Of course, thinking that they are ravens’ I immediately began to think of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe, of which I can only remember the first line…(reproduced from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48860/the-raven)

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
            Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
            With such name as “Nevermore.”

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

As a kid, the family would go camping at Poe Valley and Poe Paddy State Parks beck in central Pennsylvania. The parks are named for Big Poe Creek, which runs through the area. There one would also hear the sounds of blackbirds, crows or ravens. Growing up, we were told that Edgar Allen Poe wrote the poem “The Raven” while visiting the area. This is not true by most literary accounts, but nonetheless, makes for an interesting tie between my early life in Pennsylvania to my present life in New Mexico. All of this, based on a bird, Indian tribes, history, and nature…

This folklore is associated with an old inn called the Eutaw House, located in Potters Mills at the intersection of Route 322 and Route 144. The Eutaw House has been in existence for over two centuries. General James Potter, who was notably an aide to George Washington during the American Revolution, originally owned the ground where the building sits today. After Gen. Potter’s death, his children built a log cabin on his property. Later the log cabin would become the Eutaw House and go through a few more renovations. During its early years, the house served as a major inn for early pioneers and travelers. The house was named after the local Eutaw Indian tribe.

As anyone could imagine with the Eutaw House being around for a few centuries, it has gathered some ghost stories through the years. Ghostly shapes have been seen in mirrors throughout the building. In the kitchen and restaurant, trays and plates have been known to flip over or fall off tables. Patrons and employees have seen apparitions and shadows move in the hallways and rooms. One story tells of a prisoner being shot or hung in the attic during the 1800s and a different story says that it was a tree at the corner of the property. During one of the early Indian raids on the Eutaw house, one Indian is said to have been hung on the large old tree. Hearing a rope “thud” or creaking noise has been reported near the tree to this day.

Even with all the ghostly happenings at the Eutaw House, its most interesting story is the speculation that Edgar Allen Poe had once stayed the night at the Inn. Some early folklorists have written that Edgar Allen Poe had once visited the Centre County area and was even inspired to write a few stories such as the Raven during his travels through Central Pennsylvania. The only evidence that leads some credibility is the initial “EAP” that are carved into one of the oldest tables in the Eutaw House. Historians today doubt the legend of Poe’s journey to Centre County, but it makes for a good story nonetheless. ( reproduced from http://discoverypa.blogspot.com/2015/10/edgar-allen-poes-visit-to-central.html)

Well that is enough for today. Hope you enjoy the stories and how a simple thought can span decades, through nature, and have ties into history.

Categories
ramblings of a madman

The Tree of Liberty

As I filter through my daily FaceBook feed, I often find articles or comments from readers about a famous quote of Thomas Jefferson. The quote is often associated with an article about gun control. The quote is “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots.“ I find it to be a great quote and clearly it is used by those who favor the 2nd amendment to comment about those who are against it. It is often suggestive of foreshadowing of a new American Civil War in some writings. Some people take their guns, and the rights guaranteed by the 2nd amendment, very seriously. Pretty sure that is not how Jefferson meant it, or that many of modern politicians who quote it, place it in the correct context.

Never really thought about the meaning behind the quote. I like it. It is adequate because I also think the 2nd amendment does not allow the government to infringe upon our rights to have guns, to bare arms. That said, I think that there can be some restrictions. I do not need to own an F15 with sidewinder missiles. That said, I understand that Joe Biden plans to send F15’s with bombs and missiles to take my guns away if elected. Not gonna happen! And to be honest, I wish all cars were equipped with sidewinder missiles to allow me to control my road rage by just simply removing bad drivers on the road.

Today’s post is my first in 2020. I have been very negligent about writing in the new year. Funk and frustration still abound me each and every day. Most of my writing and reading of late has been work related. Doubt they will ever get posted here. OK, maybe one, but we shall save that for another time. This first post of 2020 is not about guns, whether you are for or against. Yes, it probably is something about politics, but I’m not going to say “Go Trump” or “let’s burn Bernie”. I’ll save those for another time too.

Tonight, I came home from work, having experienced what was a bad day to a totally unproductive week. On my Facebook page, I posted the following:

It wasn’t the post that got me thinking about the Jefferson quote. It was what I did next…

Yes. After a long and stressful day at the end of a long and stressful week, I poured myself some bourbon. Just one. No more than two fingers. Over a little ice. Tasted great as I pondered the day and made dinner for myself and the kids. The bottle has Thomas Jefferson on the back. That is what got me thinking about the Jefferson quote. And not so much about the quote, but where did it come from? What did it mean?

I actually have a nice book collection and one of my books is a collection of Writings by Thomas Jefferson. It took awhile, but I was able to find that the quote is embedded in a letter written to William Smith in 1787 about the New Constitution and to “endeavor to shew civilities to all the Americans who come here…” Jefferson was in Paris in 1787, trying to negotiate new commerce treaties between European countries and our young republic. Smith we come to understand is the son-in-law of John Adams. The letter then goes on to talk about the “lies about our being in anarchy”. It then briefly covers Massachusetts and the rebellion, the forerunner of death to the public liberty and what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit or resistance?

Paris Nov. 13. 1787. Extract from Thomas Jefferson letter to William Stephens Smith
The New Constitution

…the people can not be all, & always, well informed. the part which is wrong [. . .] will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. if they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. we have had 13 states independant 11 years. there has been one rebellion. that comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. what country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? let them take arms. the remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. what signify a few lives lost in a century or two? the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. it is it’s natural manure…

It ends with a discussion of the new Constitution. That new constitution was the Articles of Confederation. Jefferson did not like the Articles, based upon other readings, his letter to Smith was to declare his opposition to the governmental structure that the Articles created. State’s power over the federal government. The Articles were drafted by James Madison. The rebellion that he speaks of is not the American Revolution. Rather it is the Shay’s Rebellion, an armed uprising in Western Massachusetts in opposition to a debt crisis among the citizenry and the state government’s increased efforts to collect taxes both on individuals and their trades; the fight took place mostly in and around Springfield during 1786 and 1787. We find out that the problems of a weak national government eventually led to the end of the Articles of Confederation and led to a Constitutional Convention.

We also find through other readings that Madison and Jefferson were friends. Madison was the major architect of this new Constitution (influenced by Jefferson); Madison is the father of the Bill of Rights, and one of the strongest proponents of the rights of religious liberty in America; the co-author of The Federalist and a founder of the Democratic-Republican Party in the 1790s. This party later evolved into the modern Democratic Party, but more resembles today’s Republican Party. This is because both Jefferson and Madison favored a limited role for government.

The Constitution of the United States

Natural manure. It ties nicely with Ruby, our horse. From guns, to a crappy day, to drinking some good bourbon, to a history lesson. What a great way to start my new year with a new posting on TheMcKeeSpot. Many themes developed here, all worthy of more detail in a later posting.

Categories
ramblings of a madman

Without heat in the modern age

For the past few weeks, I have been troubleshooting a problem with my gas furnace. It was kicking on and off frequently. It was having difficulty reaching the thermostats set temperature. My three level house was cold on the inside. It was colder on the outside.

My daughter’s horse Ruby had gotten clipped about two weeks ago. The shaving of the thick coat of hair requires that she be blanketed when the weather becomes bad and when the temperature falls below 40F. As it often does in northern New Mexico for this time of year, we have rain, freezing rain, snow. The temperatures can fall into the teens at night. The wind chill can make it very, very cold.

This morning, as I write this post, it is cold and raining. Snow is in the forecast. It is a dreary day outside with no heat to speak of. It’s 33 as I grab my boots to get daughter up in order to go feed the horse. Inside is equally cold. It is only 62 and son is out of control playing with the dog.

Ruby has no problem with the cold weather. She gets plenty of hay, a warm and waterproof blanket, and a stall to keep her covered if the weather is bad. But she is a horse, so often we find her outside when the rain or snow is falling.

Now to the furnace. It was inspected when I bought the place a few years back. Worked fine. Of late, it hasn’t been very efficient in keeping the house warm. I figure it is about as old as the house, but not that elements have been upgraded based on the dates of various pieces of equipment. The furnace is a gas-fired water boiler that is the center of a hydronic heating system. The system heats water and circulates it through the various radiators on the three levels of the house.

The furnace appears to work fine in that it kicks on and heats gas. The problems appear to be (1) the zone valves are not working in all zones, and (2) the water lines that circulate during the heating cycle do not have water. This may be why the zone valves have stopped working. This explains why the heat wasn’t getting to the set thermostat setting. No water to circulate, no water to heat. Time to call in the repairman because I am not very good at things mechanical.

Easier said then done. I called on five different outfits. Left messages with three. No return call. Talked to a nice lady on Thursday who could not fit me in until Friday. On the fifth attempt, I was able to get a technician out late in the day. He spent an hour looking at the system. Didn’t fix anything. Couldn’t understand where the circulating water went or why it wasn’t filling. Clogged valve? He took many pictures and said he would call on Friday. Friday came. He called and said that I needed some new parts that would take time to order and receive. So there I was. This weekend and into next week without any heat. Was suppose to have a follow up call to authorize the parts. Nothing. Called Friday. Email and called Saturday. Nothing. Finally, a woman called me to acknowledge the email but had no information. No knowledge about parts, or when then could work on the system. Would call me first thing Monday.

In the mean time, I found the replacement parts on the internet. Some can be purchased at Home Depot and Lowe’s. Wanted to gauge the price of the parts because I am sure they will be marked up significantly. I get skeptical when they say that they need to bring it up to code! Cha-Ching! Wanted to see about ordering the parts if the repair company decides not to call me back. Caution…Based on experience.

So what are The kids and I doing for heat? The house has a fireplace so we have wood. Will probably do that today as it is cold and raining outside. We also have a space heater that has been working nonstop since Friday. Sleep has been great with a couple of blankets and a warm dog to curl up with me.

The question is will they call back? When. When will they order the parts and how long before they arrive? Will they even call me back? I leave for business travel next week. My house will have no heat for a couple of days but it looks like the weather will cooperate. The aquarium has a water heater so the fish will be ok. Jonny the hamster has lots of bedding so he should be fine.

Will it be fixed for Christmas? May be that is what I’ll ask Santa as my present?

More importantly, when will I learn that things don’t last forever. They do require maintenance. Things, and animals, and people, do require proper care if they are to last for a long time.

Categories
ramblings of a madman

Divorce, debt, and diatribe

It’s that time of the month where I sit down to pay the bills and track my budget and figure out financially where I am going in the coming year. Before my divorce, I was very frugal. No credit card balances to speak of. No outstanding debts except a mortgage. It was save, save, save. Emergency fund. Savings for college for the kids. Check. Savings for a beach house. Yep, it’s what the family wanted. Savings for retirement. Planned to work to age 52. Everything was on track.

See the source image

Then it came all crashing down. I managed to keep my retirement account untouched in our amicable, negotiated settlement. But I managed to pick up massive debt. Rent became a new mortgage. Child support became half of my paycheck and yet I had the kids half of the time. A personal loan to cover expenses incurred during my divorce. Lost significant savings. My doldrums that I encountered during the divorce were handled by some extravagant spending on trips, on stuff, on junk. No control. No problem, just charge it. New furniture for a house. Buy whatever the kids wanted. LEGO’s and horse things, fish and birds and guinea pigs. Exercise equipment to better myself. Books to read, learn to play the guitar, eat better food, drink better wine. Bourbon and scotch. Hobbies. I literally found myself in debt.

Now, as I stand on the precipice of retirement, I find myself still digging myself our of that debt. Granted, I am probably better off than most Americans. A good paying job. A 401k and pension for retirement. A roof over my head. Not living paycheck to paycheck. Yet there it is. DEBT.

See the source image

So here I am this Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, paying my bills. No, I am not thankful for that debt. I am thankful that I can manage it. Started looking at the interest rates that are charged for monthly balances. My Chase Freedom Card carries an interest rate of 13.99%. They calculate it by taking the prime rate and then add their costs on top. The Wall Street Journal carries the prime rate, which is currently listed at 5.25%. From the internet, I learned that the prime interest rate, or prime lending rate, is largely determined by the federal funds rate, which is the overnight rate that banks use to lend to one another. Also, it is stated that the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee, which is comprised of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks) has voted to lower the. target range for the fed funds rate to 2.00% – 2.25%.

So JP Morgan Chase charges me 8.74% to use their money when I charge something to my credit card and then carry a balance. Wow! My local bank pays me 0.10% for what I save in my savings account, and less for my checking account. It’s much worse when I look at my American Express Delta SkyMiles card. There the rate is 21.99%. A whopping 16.74% to use their money. It was my Amex card that just started me on this rant this morning. My annual fee was being increased to $99 a year. That’s $99 just to carry the card, get some frequent flyer miles if I use it. All of this for the luxury to not pay to travel with one bag on an airline. Not really sure if it is worth. I think that I can leave home without it.

Why so much for using their money? Well, the are a business. They need to make a profit. They have millions of credit cards in use. They get paid every time I use their card. And if I carry a balance, they get paid again by charging me interest. By my math, that is between 8 and 16%. Sweet if you can get it for your savings account. Some people pay them off every month. Some do not. Some incur large debts and then just don’t pay them. Guess that means that those of us who honor our debts are also paying for theirs. Why should I pay for someone else? I have my family to keep.

As a business, they have shareholders, including myself. I like my stock price to go up, my dividends to increase. After all, I need my 401k to cover me when I retire. They have employees who have families just like me. They have CEO’s who make ridiculously large salaries. I am not picking on Jamie Dimon; he certainly works hard for his money and has added value to his company. JP Morgan made $31,500,000,000 profit in 2018. Jamie Dimon got a 5% raise in 2018, and made a salary of $31,000,000. Now if you were like me, my raise was less than 2%. No bonus, no stocks, no performance-based variable incentive compensation. Jamie’s salary was a base salary of $1.5 million and a “performance-based variable incentive compensation” of $29.5 million, split as $5 million of that in cash, and $24.5 million in the form of “performance share units”, a fancy word for extra shares of stock. I could not find how much Jamie personally donated to charity in 2018, but I know JP Morgan Chase donated millions.

I don’t necessarily begrudge Mr Dimon for his money. There are others who do, like Elizabeth Warren. She is running for President. She has a plan, and as near as I can tell, a tax for everything. She wants to expand government into everything. In 2018, Warren made about $325,000 from book sales in addition to her $175,000 salary from the Senate. Her husband was paid about $400,000 from Harvard. Explains why it is so expensive to go to college. The couple paid about $46,000 last year for a solar energy installation on their home in Massachusetts, and received about $15,000 in tax credits, and they donated more than $50,000 to charity. All told, the Warren’s paid more than $200,000 in taxes on about $900,000 in income last year, based on their tax returns. By my math, they made about $100,000 on investment income. Don’t worry, Joe Biden did better. Can’t say that about Donald Trump. Yet we know that he took no salary and did not release his tax returns.

See the source image

So as it is now 24 shopping days before Christmas, it’s time to go shopping. No iPhone 11 for me or the kids, the iPhone 6 works just fine. No trip to someplace warm for the holidays. It’s currently 22 and with snow on the ground. No Black Friday. No Cyber Monday for me. Just gather up my kids lists and then off we go. Soon we will have another Star Wars movie in the theaters. Then it will be tax time and another election.

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ramblings of a madman

Inflation

We hear monthly in the statistics associated with the jobs report that inflation is low, that the FED has a target of 2% that they evaluate in the mission to keep the economy moving forward. The FED states that it’s mission is to promote the effective operation of the US economy, generally by conducting monetary policy to promote maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates in the US economy.

I am not an economist. But as a consumer, I see inflation all around me. It is not just in the increases we see in the costs of the products we purchase. We see it in reduced services that we pay for. A few years ago, Consumer Reports wrote about price inflation was hiding around shrinking packaging:

https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/05/can-shrinking-packages-trick-inflation/index.htm

The Consumer Reports article talked about reducing the size, quantity, and packaging of a product without an increase in price. I have witnessed this firsthand over the past few years. The package of Oreo’s that I buy my kids. The package is the same, the weight appears to be the same, but when I open it up, it is a few cookies short. The Pop Tarts appear thinner than they were several years ago. Measure the size of a Ritz cracker? The diameter is less than it was a few years ago. A family box of cereal. The size of my Captain Crunch cereal is less than it was several years ago. Same size box and weight. More of it fits on my spoon. Same taste. The list goes on and on.

I can often tell when something is going to change in that I will pay more for less. The company puts the products for sale in the stores. Then they create a new package for the product, or they introduce a new flavor (pumpkin pie Pop Tarts), then put the new packages on the shelf. You are paying the same price, but now you have less. It is later that the reduce the quantity even more in the new process. It becomes a new cycle. Sometimes there are subsequent price increases as inflation picks up in other areas.

My recent experience with some Ritz crackers got me thinking about this issue of packaging. I had two different sources of the crackers, and there it was, two different sizes. Both were Ritz, both were made from the same company. The taste was the same, but the size was different. The impetus for my post was my recent visit to my banks ATM. I typically withdraw money every week for purchases. Up until last week, my $80 withdraw was 4 twenty dollar bills. Now, unless otherwise programmed beforehand, is a $50, a $20, and a $10. It may be that my bank is trying to offer more. It may be that by makinging withdrawals in $50’s instead of $20’s, they are trying to be more convenient. It think it is inflation. When people buy things, they think less about total costs if they get more change back. Stores typically frown when you pay with a $20. My sausage burrito from Chili Works is typically $7.95. If everybody pays with a $20, change can be difficult. Paying with a $50 is impossible. Filling up the car with regular was usually 1 to 2 twenty dollar bills. Now it is $50. I guess costs are just continuing to go up, often at a rate faster than my salary.

Some inflation is understandable if it is tied to the basic laws of supply and demand. Some it is out of control. Medical costs and the costs of higher education are two that have received much press of late. Not clear why these are increasing. My theory is that since Government is involved, there is an unlimited supply of money and so there is no need to control costs. Costs go up, they never go down. All I can say is buyer beware.

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ramblings of a madman

High School Reunion

Saturday, July 20th was my 40th high school reunion. I am a graduate of the Class of 1979 from Chief Logan High School in Lewistown, Pa. If my memory is correct, I was one of 243 students in our class.

The former Chief Logan Joint High School was changed in 2011 to the Mifflin County Junior High School. The change was associated with cost cutting and decline in the population of school age children. The building itself was built in 1957 and has gone through several upgrades over the years. The school itself sits near Pleasant Acres, a housing community situated between Lewistown and Burnham. Many of my friend lived in Pleasant Acres. My best friend from high school lived about a block from the school.

We were the Chief Logan Mingos, named after the Indian Logan. Logan was born in Pennsylvania circa 1725. Logan’s father was a Cayuga American Indian named Shikellamy. Shikellamy later renamed his son after James Logan, a prominent Pennsylvanian. He lived near what is present-day Lewistown in the late 1760’s to early 1770’s. He later resettled to Ohio near Yellow Creek, a village of Seneca-Cayuga natives. Logan became a war leader but continued to urge his fellow Cayuga not to attack whites settling in the Ohio Country. His attitude changed on May 3, 1774, when a group of Virginia settlers murdered approximately one dozen Seneca-Cayuga. Among them were Logan’s mother and sister. Logan demanded that the Seneca-Cayuga and their allies, principally the Shawnee, revenge the deaths of his loved ones. Cornstalk, a prominent Shawnee leader, still called for peace, but Logan ignored him. He conducted raids in western Pennsylvania, killing thirteen whites in retaliation for the Seneca-Cayuga deaths. His attacks, and escalating Anglo-American settler aggression against the Ohio Country’s American Indian peoples, resulted in Lord Dunmore’s War.

In August 1774, Pennsylvania militia entered the Ohio Country and quickly destroyed seven Seneca-Cayuga villages, which wereabandoned as the soldiers approached. At the same time, Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, sent one thousand men to the Kanawha River in modern-day West Virginia to build a fort and attack the Shawnee. Many of the tribe, who had experienced a change of heart toward the white colonists as the soldiers invaded the Ohio Country, dispatched nearly one thousand Shawnees to drive Dunmore’s force from the region. The forces met in October 1774 at what became known as the Battle of Point Pleasant. After several hours of intense fighting, the English drove the Indian followers north of the Ohio River. The two sides eventually met to determine peace terms. Logan refused to attend but did send a speech known as “Logan’s Lament.” Simon Girty, an Englishman that the American Indians had kidnapped and then raised as one of their own, may have read it at the conference. It became one of the most famous speeches by an American Indian in North American history, made famous by Thomas Jefferson. Logan died in 1780’s.

Over the past twenty eight years I have gotten back a few times to visit family. As time goes on, that frequency has been less and less. The last time was a year ago, taking my daughter to a riding camp and my son on a mini-vacation. That last time, I drove my kids to the old high school, but it was closed. Not much contact with teachers either. My favorite history teacher died a number of years ago. I did manage to reminisce with my high school Chemistry teacher at my dad’s funeral a few years ago. Actually I had to bring him up to speed in terms of members of the class, some whom were his neighbors during high school.

In an ironic twist of fate over the years, a good friend of mine from high school went to work with a friend of mine from college. I talked to both of them via e-mail and LinkedIn. I hadn’t seen my high school friend in years; the last time was his senior year in college. I went to visit my sister at Penn State and we met up. Too much drinking that night.

Over the years, I managed to return to two high school reunions. The first was after 5 years. It was easy to attend that reunion since I had graduated from college and was getting my masters degree about an hour from home. The last time was for my 35th high school reunion. The reunions after that were notionally 5 and 10 years apart. I don’t recall getting many notices about those events, between Graduate School and leaving for New Mexico, the distance and time a was transformed by living life, family and kids. There was the occasional “crossing of paths”, a wedding, notice of the loss of a friend, family, etc. Never really time to catch up and reminisce.

I tried to reminisce that Saturday evening, some 2000 miles away from home and the reunion. But I could not find my yearbook. I can explore the pictures and the pages of the book on Classmates.com, but without it, I don’t have many photos of that time period in my life. Between having moved over the years, living my teenage years in a broken home, often on my own. I participated in several extra curricular activities my junior and senior year, but that was somewhat curtailed with a job at the local KMart. Those were good times and I had a great group of friends. We all have drifted apart over the years. Aside from an occasional FaceBook post, I have lost contact with many of them over the years. Perhaps travel upon retirement will afford me the opportunities to reconnect. There is always the Christmas Card route.

I really wanted to return to my 40th because a number of my friend, through FaceBook, indicated that they were going to be ther. Sadly, work-related travel and travel for horse events has curtailed my ability to travel back east. To even get back east for a day requires a full day out and a full day back.

Friends posted group and individual photos on FaceBook so that was great to see how people had changed over the years visually. Maybe we will have a 45th year high school reunion hen most of us will be 63. Of course, there is also my college reunion with the classs of 1983, Graduate school doesn’t have much in the way of reunions.

I was able to look at the FaceBook photos posted. Everyone looked well and they looked like a good time was had by all. Wish I was there.

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ramblings of a madman

Moon Landing 50 years later

Tomorrow is July 20th. Fifty years ago, man landed and walked on the moon.

In 1969, I was 8 years old. At that age, I was super crazy about anything and everything concerning space. I had model rockets, a space suit. I would write NASA every month to get free stuff. Pictures, articles, anything.

I remember watching the Apollo 11 launch, the landing on the moon. I stayed up to watch the astronauts walk on the moon. I watched the splashdown. Fifty years ago, July 20th 1969, was a great day to be a kid. To be an American. We all felt proud of the accomplishment. I didn’t know that then. Reflecting upon that time, I know it now.

The internet is full of images and pictures of the space program and the Apollo 11 mission. The photo above is that of Apollo 11 launching from Cape Kennedy. Interesting now but as I am exploring photos to capture the historic mission, I find that the internet’s first message transmission happened in October 1969 (https://www.poynter.org/reporting-editing/2014/today-in-media-history-the-internet-began-with-a-crash-on-october-29-1969/ ). Lots of articles about the differences in computer technology between today with the iPhone versus the computers programmed with 1’s and 0’s.

From the earth, I find myself always look at and wonder in amazement about the moon. Looking at this photo, taken during Apollo 11, I can only wonder the amazement of being on the moon looking back at the earth. The earth is so blue with white clouds.

Several photos that I found on the Internet, specifically the NASA historical page, covering the Apollo 11 mission. The first is a photo of the LEM (LEM is lunar excursion module) leaving Michael Collins and the command module. The other two are from the moons surface: astronaut Buzz Aldrin climbing down the LEM and Aldrin saluting the flag on the moon. I look at these photos, and others, and wonder how people managed to believe that the moon landing was faked.

As I searched the internet, I came across the photo above in an article (https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/a16534/heres-how-the-apollo-astronauts-took-out-the-trash/ ). Sadly, we littered on the moon, in a photo captured by Neil Armstrong shortly after he took that one small step. The Indian crying ad over littering, and the idea of Keep America Beautiful didn’t occur until 1971.

The last photo in my internet search is the lifting of the Apollo 11 command module after splashdown, onto the USS Hornet. American spacecraft, with the exception of the Space Shuttle always landed in the ocean. Why is that? No specific article on the subject, but reading several postings suggest that it is because there is no need for a breaking rocket to slow the descent in the atmosphere. American capsules have a heat shield to keep the heat from re-entry burning up the capsule. The heat is caused by friction from the falling object as it goes through the atmosphere, from a vacuum to pressure caused by the gases in the atmosphere. Today the capsule sits in the Smithsonian Institution.

I’m not sure if it was my infatuation with space that led my to a career in science. Was it the experience, the adventure, research and development? Not in total, but it certainly contributed. The study of any science is lacking in our country today. That decline has certainly led to a decline in our technology development, education, ability to compete in the arena of ideas in the modern world.

All topics for a future posting.

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ramblings of a madman

Rolling Thunder Revue. A review

Rolling Thunder Revue is a movie? A documentary? It is a look back in time of Bob Dylan and friends during a concert tour by Martin Scorsese. It is currently on a Netflix. It is as much a movie about music from a Dylan tour as it is about a period of time in this country. In 1975 and again in 1976, Dylan is accompanied by a number of musicians in a series of shows throughout the United States and Canada. The movie shows actual performance clips from the tour, along with interviews from many of the actual performers and participants of the show, then and now. The movie is intertwined with stories of the period.

I was first introduced to the music of Bob Dylan in college in 1979. A senior in my dorm my freshman year, who went by the name of Commander Nichols was a big Dylan fan. Up until that time, my music interest included the Clash, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Rush. I often characterize periods in my life by the music that I listen to. In 1976, it was the summer of Frampton Comes Alive. By 1979, it was the Clash and London Calling, competing with Rush and Hemispheres. My first

concert was on the Hemisphere’s Tour. Supper Bowl weekend in Pittsburgh. Of course the Steelers were in the big game. I was in high school, and well that trip, I can save for a future posting.

And Commander Nichols was also the person who introduced me to Neil Young. It only took me 32 years to see Neil Young in concert. Yet I digress. Back to Bob Dylan.

As with all rockumentaries, the clips of music are intertwined with interviews from the performers, friends, and fans. In the case of this movie, we have Bob Dylan, then and now. There were some really great musicians who performed in the Rolling Thunder Review. They included Joni Mitchel, Joan Baez, Ramblin Jack Elliot. Poetry by Allen Ginsberg. The band that backed up the musicians was really good. They had their own stories that was interesting. The story behind Dylan’s kabuki masks during the tour was tied to Dylan visiting the band KISS. Why? Simply because the young violinist touring with Dylan was dating one of the band members in KISS. As I see the irony, Rush toured with KISS. I have seen Rush five times in concert. Somehow all things are interconnected. But again I digress. I watch these movies for the music. It definitely needed more music and less story telling.

Some of the movie dealt with Rubin Carter and the “story of the Hurricane”. Hurricane is a great Dylan song from the album Desire, released in 1976. Still other songs come from my favorite Dylan album, which is Blood on the Tracks, released in 1974. Of course there were some of the usual Dylan tunes, especially, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, and Mr Tambourine Man. I haven’t bought a Dylan album/CD in years but I understand that one of the recently released bootleg albums has outtakes from the Rolling Thunder Revue.

The concert performances are great. Some of the stories of the times were interesting. I particularly liked the time when Dylan and Ginsberg visited the grave of Jack Kerouac. There they are filmed reading some lines from Kerouac’s book “On the Road”, and they sing some songs and discuss their experiences from Kérouac. I thought this clip clearly identified with the period. I thought it interesting that the tour traveled from city to city on buses, yet Dylan drove a motor home. There were some interviews with politicians, Jimmy Carter and others, that I thought didn’t add much value to the story. We don’t learn much about Dylan during this time, but it is clear to me that he just enjoyed playing music with his friends, both in a concert hall, and in other avenues.

So in the end, we have a snapshot of the time during a Bob Dylan tour. We don’t learn much about the music, except for Hurricane. The snippets of music are intertwined in the stories, not the other way around. Bob Dylan said that he didn’t remember much of the tour, but he was able to tell some detailed stories about the people and such. He said that there was nothing left from the tour, yet we know that there are tracks of the music and videos from the tour. EBay has some original posters and tickets from the tour for sale. As for me, I’d like to get the hat.

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ramblings of a madman

Posting comments on Facebook

Every day I read the thread on Facebook that covers my friends and the topical areas that interest me. To be fair and balanced, I get like to read both conservative and liberal media. The way I figure it, the truth is probably in the middle of their respective stories. Seldom do they agree.

After I read the stories, I will on occasion post a comment articulating how I feel about the subject. It is my opinion, I am entitled to it and while you may disagree with it, ok. I like stimulating rebuttals and conversation. After all, I really think that is the power of Facebook. Citizens, people from all parts of society can have a discussion. It should work to strengthen our democracy. Unfortunately, what often happens is that there is no “I disagree because…” or “Your facts are incorrect…”. Sadly, it becomes character assassination. “Your an ass because…” or “Your thinking does not agree with mine and therefore you should just die…”

Of course that just leads me to reciprocate. I shouldn’t. I should just comment, turn the other cheek, thank them for their comment and move on. Has our society become so broken that we can no longer have a civil conversation? Whatever happened to civil disobedience? Must it always denigrate into name calling and violence? This change unfortunately is why we are in many of the messes that our country faces. We can no longer compromise. There is no way to split the difference. It must be my way or the highway.

And the threats! Against me, against my children. There are some really scary people out there. Let’s not even get started about gun control, taxes, the economy, or the environment. Global warming. I’m a trained scientist and I’m skeptical of much of the science. Man made. Probably, but not for the reasons that the media suggests. Our climate is changing, that much we can agree on. So you really don’t think that it is because the temperature curves or carbon dioxide concentrations have a direct correlation with the total number of humans on the planet? Perhaps that is too obvious, but being obvious or simple doesn’t get you NSF grants.

My mother would probably tell me that “if you cannot stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen”. Some people really say things that I feel very strongly against. We agree to disagree in the end, but at least we have had a dialogue, a conversation. Comments that suggest that you like a policy that our president is suggesting are met with the usual “Russian bot”. I am not. Do not agree with immigration, therefore I must be a racist. I would like to believe that I am not. No, we have a policy and laws. I just want them to follow the law. Asylum…we all know that liberal lawyers have told them what to say. We also know that they tell them Not to show up for the hearing. The system is overloaded and they have bigger things to deal with. “Just disappear into the community.” How about the judge in Boston who helped one escape out the back door? Now I have to help her with her legal fees. No thank you. The law is the law. I don’t get to pick and choose which laws to follow and which ones I don’t have to follow. That should apply to EVERYONE.

Don’t like the laws, then change them. I paid my student loans. Why should politicians now have all of us pay the loans of people today. It’s a contract. You cannot escape it by declaring bankruptcy. People live within your means. Crappy degree, crappy school, crappy career choice. Be an adult. Go to college and study engineering or the sciences. There is lots of money to aid people there. Work during the school year or in the summer. I did. Vacationing at the beach was an option if it was tied to a summer job where you worked your ass off to have money for College. Again, decisions have consequences. Either that or you failed to understand what you were doing. Maybe College was’t what you should have chosen. Join the Army. See the world. Grow up. Get free money for college.

Man, if I posted some of this on Facebook, the names that I would be called. Perhaps I should just take a break from Facebook. Don’t post anything or do not comment on anything.