Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 into 2011

One year ago today, I was spending the end of 2009 with family in Mexico. This year, I'm spending the last day of 2010 with my wife in Dallas. Days are days are days, so I don't attach an inordinate amount of significance to a day that ends one year or a day that begins another one. But the transition from one year to the next is a convenient milestone for us to reflect on what has been and what we hope will be.

All in all, this past year has been good to me with the notable and very painful exception that my sister died early in the year. While I wasn't able to retire, I was able to live a pretty decent lifestyle with the woman to whom I've been married for 30 years. I have no complaints, at least none that merit memorializing in an end-of-year post.

For the coming year, I hope all my family and friends enjoy good health, good friends, and time with and for their families. Financial prosperity would be nice, but the most important prosperity is the prosperity of being surrounded by people who matter and who care about you. I wish that for everyone.

Now, showing my irrational side: Be sure to eat your black-eyed peas on New Year's Day and do NOT wash any laundry on January 1!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Athlete's Wishes, a Glutton's Soul

Despite being reasonably careful about food and not overdoing it, this morning's weight suggests I have been a gluttonous pig during the past week or so. I'm up by almost 8 pounds from my low weight, which is utterly inexcusable. I blame the fact that I'm eating "real" lunches instead of my usual 200-300 calorie salads. Plus, I've been less than careful about portion control. It just goes to show how quickly bad habits can return and how quickly weight piles back on. I will not permit this to continue. My target is now 8 pounds further away, thanks to my lack of discipline. I will return to my disciplinarian ways.

Oh, but I do wish I could behave like a glutton and look like an athlete. Sadly, that is not to be.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Practicing Junk Collector

In an attempt to convert myself into a junk collector, I bid online on four old bathroom sinks and four old blue chairs. The items were being auctioned by a school district in rural east Texas.

Thanks to my stellar timing, I was successful in my bids. Today, I must drive to the auction-house to pay me $35.73. Then, I will receive the appropriate documentation to allow me to pick up the goods, which will require a 300 mile round trip. When I include gas and wear-and-tear on my car in the calculation, I think the chairs and sinks are going to average $20 each. That is not a good investment. Maybe I'll become a better junk collector with practice.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Nonbelievers are sometimes chided for participating in the Christmas season. You know, exchanging gifts, putting up trees, partaking of the celebrations. The "chiders," of course, usually are Christians who secretly believe the nonbelievers really, deep down, believe in God, Jesus, and Santa Claus. They want to believe the nonbelievers are just ornery but, ultimately, that they are just like them.

Well, nonbelievers are "just like them." But not because of their religious beliefs.

Nonbelievers, like almost anyone else, want a better world. Nonbeliever want people to be at peace. They want all people to love their fellow man, as it were. Nonbelievers want to eradicate poverty. They want an end to war. They value "the human spirit," but not in a religious sense.

Nonbelievers enjoy the good cheer, comaraderie, and spirit of giving that surrounds the Christmas season. We, too, care about humanity and this earth and we hold many, perhaps most, of the same core values that believers hold. The only real difference is that nonbelievers don't believe in a supreme creator, a conscious being who guides us into goodness or punishes us for our failings.

We're not being hypocritical when we celebrate the Christmas season. We're not taking advantage of a Christian tradition without "paying our dues" as Christians. We're simply accepting and agreeing that the celebration of human goodness is a good thing. We're happy to acknowledge that many of the values of Christianity, and Judeaism and Islam and Buddhism for that matter, are good, honorable, fine values that should be HUMAN values.

I say "we" as if I spoke for other nonbelievers. I don't. I don't belong to a church of nonbelievers. I hold no membership in a club of atheists. But I think I understand what other nonbelievers must feel and believe when they celebrate Christmas.

Christmas is good. For me, Christmas is NOT about Christ. I know, it is to Christians and that's OK by me. But for me, Christmas is about humanity and the desire for all people to get along and appreciate our commonalities as well as our differences. Christmas is an opportunity to openly appreciate goodness. And for that, I am grateful. Not to anyone or anything in particular, just grateful.

Friday, December 24, 2010

In Progress

The morning is burning and the evening is hot;
your daydreams can't take you from this terrible spot.

You must consider the source of your pain.
Decide what it's worth, this measurable gain.

To achieve the enlightenment, to bask in the good,
you must be fire and I must be wood.

This is as far as it's come. I've written this and rewritten this a thousand times. But this is as far as it's gone.

Waiting for the World

My brother from Falba come in yesterday afternoon, bearing chili that became our dinner last night. He thought it might be too hot for my wife's taste, but I think not. But she turned up her nose at dinner, period, having eaten pizza earlier in the day after we ordered in pizza for our staff for lunch. In my view, the chili was excellent. I'm glad he did not bring more, though, as I would surely go through it quickly, to the chagrin of my waistline.

He and I spent time listening to the CD of Asleep at the Wheel that he bought after seeing them in concert recently, then reviewed Facebook and then watched HGTV programs on home renovation. None of the above were particularly enlightening, but then I felt like I needed to engage in mindlessness for awhile.

For reasons unknown, I awoke before 5 again today and have by now (at 5:45 am) made coffee, finished putting away the dishes I washed last night, read many Facebook postings, and read the news online. Now, I'm enjoying my coffee and waiting for the rest of the world to wake up.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Candle

Risk is a relative thing. Some people think there is a reward that is equal to any risk, a goal that is worth so much that the worst-case outcome is worth that risk. I used to think that way, though I never delved deeply into just how much risk I might be willing to take. Instead, I just assumed I would do almost anything for the right ROR...return on risk. But, seriously, what reward could possibly permit one to risk something like one's life? Or someone else's life? Looked at from a purely rational perspective, I doubt many people would say any reward was worth such a risk. Obviously, though, people take such risks every day. Are those risks irrational? Or, more appropriately, are the people taking them irrational?

Although I no longer have high risk tolerance, I still tend to step toward the edge from time to time. I'm stepping in that direction now. Again. Oh, is ever AGAIN! Christ, not AGAIN!

Yes, again. The question: is the risk of financial ruin, hunger, and abject poverty worth the potential reward of abandoning my business, my day-by-day routine? Would I really risk my house? My car? More importantly, would I allow myself to put my wife at risk? Would I put her at risk of poverty and exposure to financial ruin and healthcare emergencies that couldn't be met...that is, just how selfish am I?

The other question is whether FAILING to take the risk puts me, and her, at far greater risk than TAKING the risk. I think that question is borne out of desperation at the answer to the question of whether TAKING the risk is worth it. That answer, of course, must be "no." But if I can convince myself that avoiding the risk could put us, or her, in even more danger, then I could have the answer I want. But that answer would be based on a lie, or at least it could be. The rationale for getting to that answer would always be suspect. Self-indulgence and egotism might be answering the question, rather than love and caring.

Goddamn it, sometimes life is too hard. Even though I have it easy, relative to 98% of the world's population, life feels hard. It's so brief; it ought to be overflowing with easy joy. Difficulties should serve simply to punctuate the glory of living. But we allow them to take on a life of their own. The "royal we." Known in other circles as "I."

The problem with the question, regardless of how it's posed, is this: the answer always will be wrong. Always. A quotation I've found remarkably full of wisdom tells me what I need to know about everything, but it doesn't help, nonetheless: "The game is not worth the candle."

Lunar Eclipse

I'm glad I got up to see the total lunar eclipse. It was pretty spectacular. If I'd been truly prepared, I would have taken pictures. But I wasn't, so I didn't. Such is life. Next time there's a total lunar eclipse on the winter solstice, I will get the camera out and take a shot. Hah!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Got the Bike

I bought the bike I wrote about yesterday. As you'd expect, I haggled a little and got it down to $160, which still seems like a chunk of money for an old bike, but it seems to be in extremely good condition and works quite well. And I'm no longer intimidated by the fact that it's a 21-speed bike. Of course, I had to get a helmet, which was pricey (I got a cheap one...high-end helmets can cost as much as a car). And I got an air pump. Now, I need clothing that won't make it hard to ride...and won't get stuck in the gears, etc. I now understand why I see people riding their bike while wearing spandex's not a style statement, after all.

Like anything else in our magical capitalist system, though, when demand is there, prices skyrocket. I'm in the market now for used clothing. Who would have thought?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Time for a Bike?

Last night, I spent some time looking on Craigslist for bicycles. I found a few that look interesting, though I'm not quite sure how I judged them. I haven't ridden a bike in years and I'm not quite sure what I'm looking for. Something suitable for "leisure" riding, rather than conquering mountains or reaching maximum speed, is probably suitable for me.

I found a Univega Hybrid that looks interesting. The seller suggests it is "every bit the equal of the Trek's and Raleigh's and other well known brand hybrid bikes of this time period." Reading further, I found that "this time period" is approximately 1996. The seller says it is equipped with "Shimano 21 speed set up having 7 gears in the rear and a triple up front." Whatever that means.

The seller is asking $175; the bike (or one like it) supposedly was $429 new (in 1996). The asking price sounds a bit high to me, for something older than my old Ford Ranger...and the bike has no bed, no engine, and no heater or AC.

But I'll see. I still have 30 pounds to lose. If I'm going to get six-pack abs and add three inches to my height, I have to do something.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ho, Ho, Ho

I was expecting it, but it still came as a shock. Another client, a small one, has decided they cannot afford our services, as I learned in an email this morning just after I got up.

Even though we charge them next to nothing, they want us to cut our prices. The tough part is that they're tied to another client. So if we say we cannot do it, I know they will try to tag on to the other client and get the work done by us anyway, just using the "back door" approach.

It's a jolt to look at next year's likely revenue and see a hole amounting to about $45,000 from two small clients. The only way to plug it is to replace them or to cut staff and for the owners to take on more...which is not reasonable. Not sure just what to do about this one, but it sure mucks up the holidays.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A New Leaf

Let's see, last night I complained about Facebook and the way it automates the process of hounding me to join whenever a FB friend plays a game. I realize, of course, that it's the system that interrupts me, not the players. (But nasty complaints tend to place undue blame, so there you go.) So I can't legitimately blame the players. (Except when I'm being a surly jerk, which happens on occasion...I'll work on that.)

Tonight, I won't complain. I'll try to turn over a new leaf.

Monday, December 13, 2010

No Maybes

I have decided there are some aspects of Facebook I truly loathe. For example, getting repeated invitations, from the same person, to play Zoo World. Or being inundated with requests for Jewelry Glitz or something of the sort. I am not a big game player. I am especially not a big player of online games with people I barely know (or do not know at all, except for Facebook).

And then there's the fact that all my "friends" on Facebook apparently can see when I'm online. And they can decide to chat with me. I like chatting with friends. Or family. Or acquaintances. But I do not enjoy chatting with strangers who desire to engage me in mindless discussions about online games or nighttime soap operas.

I'm being nasty and antisocial. And it's not the season for nastiness and antisocial behavior. If people would tip their hat and say "evening" as we drift by, it would be fine. But some folks want to engage in mindless banter as if we were good friends. I know, they may be lonely. I'm that way sometimes. But I am conscious, I think, that people may not want to be cornered into lengthy "chats" about my state of mind.

OK. I've vented a bit. I'll try to go back to being my nice, indulgent, friendly self. Maybe I need to work on that. No. Not maybe.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pollyanna Politics

Let's suppose one's country is involved in an international activity which many citizens find reprehensible and which they publicly criticize. And let's suppose someone, maybe another citizen or maybe a non-citizen, takes that criticism to an extreme by launching a bomb attack on a busy street in protest of this international activity.

Because of the emotions released by the bomb attack, it becomes difficult for the citizens who originally condemned their country's actions to continue to criticize without being branded traitors. Some of their countrymen would argue that, now that the attack has taken place, if the government were to withdraw from the international activity, it would be seen as bending to a terrorist act. So, of course, the government cannot do that. Regardless of how right the original citizen protestors were, the government cannot act to "correct" its behavior for fear of being considered an easy target for terrorists' extortion.

If the government were mine, I would want concerns about seeming to "cave" to pressure from terrorists to play no part in its decisions. I would want it to do the right thing, regardless of perceptions about its motives. But I would want it to be upfront about the matter.

For example, I'd want it to say something like:
  • Citizens' criticisms of our policies have caused us to reconsider them;
  • Based on that reconsideration, we have decided the original policies were wrong and we have decided to change them;
  • Coincidentally, a terrorist act was undertaken in an attempt to force us to change our policy;
  • That act had no relevance to our decision to change our policy...only our own reassessment and our citizens' criticisms led to the change;
  • Regardless of our policies on this matter, terrorism will not be tolerated and we will pursue any threats of terrorism and any acts of terrorism with absolute dedication to bring the actors to justice;
  • While we acknowledge our previous policies were misguided, we did not and will not bend to extortion as an acceptable way of getting us to change our policies.

This, of course, will be viewed as a Pollyanna approach to the world. I just want the world to be less inclined to save-face and more inclined to save lives.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Gift of Time

At least one of my brothers will join my wife and me for Christmas this year, which will add to the festivities of the season. He'll bring home-made chili with him, the results of a recent chili-making binge. I am a fan of chili-making binges, having been involved in such things more than once in the past.

I've grown into a fan of "layering" the flavors of different chile powders, something I'd once suspected was a scheme to sell more expensive chile powders without actually having and effect on flavor. My wife's efforts one year to replicate an award-winning chili recipe converted me. She blended about four or five different chile powders during the course of the chili-making, adding each one at a precise time before "finish time" so that the flavors of each of the spices could reach their peak at precisely the right moment. I don't yet understand how that all works, but I can attest without any reservation that it does.

Something else I may do during the one-week hiatus from work over the Christmas holidays is to tackle re-doing the little wet-bar adjacent to our two living areas. The counter is black laquer (obviously a refinish of the underlying formica counter) and the cabinet paint is shiny black laquer, as well. The back and sides (and even the top) are mirrors. I don't attempt to remove the mirrors, as that would entail tearing out the walls (the mirrors are affixed with construction adhesive, I think). But I may take out the counter or, if that proves likely to result in mirror breakage, tile over it. I'm thinking of using a mottled black and reddish-brown granite tile, if I can find it. And the black laquer paint will be stripped off and replaced with something much lighter. My wife wants the sink to remain (I hate it), but she likes the idea of installing a small wine refrigerator-cooler in the space, too.

We'll see. I could just as easily devote my time to something more productive and more urgent, but I think I'll leave those tasks to someone more capable than I (tile-setters, plumbers, sheetrock pros, etc.).

A gift of time to do this sort of thing is all I want for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Plans

I'm not a big fan of Christmas. Oh, it's OK, and I'm glad to have the time away from work that comes with it, but it's not a religious holiday for me (well, NOTHING is a religious holiday for me). But it is a time for family, though over the last many years the number of family members with whom I spend some of my Christmas holidays has generally been small.

Even though I haven't spent many Christmases with my oldest sister in the past several years, there was almost always at least a phone call or Skype call or SOME communication with her on Christmas. But this year there won't be. Her death earlier this year put an end to those calls and the temporary closeness they permitted on what has always been, at its core, a family holiday for me.

But there will be other calls and other Christmas greetings. My other sister may be convinced to come to Dallas to visit. And we can always hook up Skype or make traditional calls to my brothers...and maybe one of them will make the trip up to visit for awhile.

We'll make it a merry Christmas, though, one way or the other. You just have to get used to change, I suppose. You have no choice in the matter.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Computationism as Religious Experience

My business bought me a new computer yesterday. That is, I bought a new computer for myself. I own the business, so I can do those sorts of things on occasion (on those occasions when we have the money which, I am sad to say, is not often). I await it with bated breath. It should be delivered to my office within a week or so.

Computers have a way of wearing out, fast, in my office. I don't understand it. I buy decent stuff, but within 2 years, it's like the machine has been "rode hard and put away wet." Of course, the ones I buy, personally, seem to do the same. Maybe it's just me. I tend to use them to the extreme, constantly switching between multiple programs and creating and modifying and saving literally hundreds of files, of one kind or another, every day.

Anyway, this time I bought a computer with a nice-sized monitor, a 23-incher that I hope will enable me to actually see words and symbols on the screen. There is a distinct possibility that I will latch onto this new computer for my home office, where I do a lot of my work. At the moment, I use my laptop, which is showing signs of compuzeimers, exacerbated by criminal tendencies and hatred of its master. A nice big monitor and a desktop computer could spoil me. I enjoy being spoiled, though that is a rare occurence.

The nice thing about a new computer is the fact that it's not yet old. I know, I know, but it makes perfectly good sense if you think about it without letting yourself get too hung up on logic and intellect.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Good Plan is Coming

The best news I've received in awhile is that my oldest brother's malignant melanoma, a large spot on his back, was removed entirely and won't require further treatment. The cancer had not spread; they got all of it. That's cause for celebration!

Otherwise, life's relatively bland at the moment. My weight loss continues, though the pace has slowed considerably. I'm hovering right at 200 pounds right now, fully 40+ less than I was when I started my deliberate efforts to rid myself of unneeded and unwanted and unappreciated weight. At my peak, I was over 252, maybe closer to 255 or even a touch higher. What madness to have allowed myself to have reached that point! It was very, very easy, though. I simply ate and drank without regard to how much of, or what sort of, an affect it might have on my body, let alone my mind.

Two hundred pounds for a short guy like me (about 5 feet eight or a shade under) is too much. I should weigh around 170 or so (maybe less). So I've quite a ways to go, but it's achievable. It will take longer to get there than it has taken to get here (I started this process just under four months ago; August 9, to be precise). I'm guessing my next 30 pounds will take a good six months, maybe more.

If I maintain my discipline, I may arrive at my target weight as early as June 1. Before then, I intend to begin exercising in some form or fashion. My walks have gone by the wayside, thanks in large part to my knees and in equally large part to my laziness. Add to that the fact that my wife doesn't want to join me out in the streets and I've allowed myself to have three reliable excuses. But, my wife is making loud noises about getting a treadmill that we can both use and I've been pricing treadmills. We could get one for $500 that would be a decent starter machine, but my guess is that I would outpace it fairly quickly. The next price point for decent machines that lack the gadgetry that would be nice but is not necessary is about $1000. That's a fucking lot of money! But, an expenditure of that magnitude probably would shame me into using the treadmill, as I would be quite upset to spent the money for naught.

Where I'll get the money is up in the air. I can't borrow it from retirement, as that's basically gone (I bought my vehicle with it...but I'm working on paying myself back and I am thinking about selling that vehicle and relying on the truck that belonged to my late sister). And we need to spend money on the money pit of a house we live in. But I really do need to devote some energy and resources to my health, which I've largely ignored for 57 years. We'll see.

My mind continues to be on how to rid myself of the business I'm in and get into something that is more appealing and, ideally, more lucrative. I've worked for 12 years at half of what I used to make on an annual basis, which has hurt our retirement nest egg plans quite alot. So, aside from wanting out of this worklife, I want to have some stream of revenue that could help make retirement at least a remote possibility. I don't have the need for, or respect for, money that I once did, but I'd rather have more of it than I have now and I need more for retirement. So, I keep daydreaming about what I can do. Next trick: use my newfound discipline to stop daydreaming and get to work on making something happen.

Enough. Enough for now. Ideas are rolling about loudly in my head; I have to let them have their fun and then I will act. And it will be good.

Friday, November 26, 2010


One of my brothers, the one closest in age to me, sent me an email today that was upsetting. He said, essentially, he wasn't interested in having a relationship with his siblings because he felt he was the odd one out and did not fit in with the rest of us.

He went on to suggest he felt we didn't want to talk about things he wanted to talk about and that we effectively dismissed him when he tried. His message suggested he was not blaming us (though he was), saying he had never enjoyed being around most people and had no friends, only acquaintenances.

I don't know whether to read the email as a plea for the rest of us to understand him and talk to him or whether, as I suspect, he just doesn't want to be around us. The interesting thing is that he and I had been exchanging emails over the last couple of days; I had invited him to drive up to join my wife and me for Thanksgiving dinner and then, when he said he got the message too late, for the day after (today) because there was still turkey left.

There's a long history to my brother's being unhappy with me and with his other siblings. He has felt inferior to the rest of us because he did not go to college. None of us have, to my knowledge, given him reason to feel that way, but he has anyway. And he has always been a deep, deep, deep Rush Limbaugh type of conservative, complete with the redneck attitudes. That has always contributed to whatever rancor there has been.

I believe my brother is very bright, but he also has a very, very short fuse (he has quit more jobs than I have ever even though of applying for...multipled tenfold). His short fuse has, no doubt, contributed to his quitting, getting fired, etc., but probably has contributed to his self-described lack of friends. He takes everything personally. If I complain that oil companies are getting rich on the backs of the masses, he takes personal offense. He can't seem to divorce political positions from personalities. While I also tend to gravitate toward people who share my attitudes and beliefs, I don't automatically loathe everyone who has a different perspective. I believe he does.

Over the years, I have tried to help my brother during his many, many periods of unemployment by lending him money, encouraging him to return to school or get training for another field, etc., etc., etc. Maybe that's come back to haunt me; maybe I shouldn't have offered my advice; maybe he took my advice as judgment that what he had been doing was wrong. I've stopped doing that; I cannot afford to help him rebuild his life every time he destroys it. But now he's living on disability (he cannot work because of his knees, among other maladies), so he doesn't even need my financial help (he could use it but he wouldn't take it if I offered).

I am not sure what, if anything, I should do to reconcile with him. In responding to his email, in which he effectively said we're all too set in our ways to change, I said:

Obviously, you're free to make your own decisions. If you choose to avoid your family, that's your choice. That having been said, you're welcome to be part of any family get-togethers, because you're part of the family.

As for subjects you try to introduce into conversation but are rejected, the only things I recall along those lines relate to politics. From my perspective, the reason is that any such conversations always degenerate into nasty arguments; I'm quite tired of that and have no interest in, nor willingness, letting it continue.

People change all the time, at every stage of life. I've been changing all along and continue to do it every day. If you want to change, you can; you simply have to decide to do it and muster the discipline to make it happen. You can't blame history for who you'll be tomorrow; only you, personally, can take responsibility for that.

If you want others to change, you'll need to get used to the fact that they will change only after they, not you, decide that's what they want or is what's best. Sometimes, if you want others to change, you have to start first.

I don't know if my response was the right one or not. I wish I knew.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I opened a rarely-used hall closet this evening and discovered a couple of shirts there to be taken to Goodwill. I don't know how they didn't end up with the last large batch of clothes my wife took in; they certainly were part of the last great purge of clothes that no longer fit, thanks to my relentless pursuit of obesity.

Inasmuch as I've lost quite alot of weight in recent months, I decided to see if they'd fit me again. And they do. So Goodwill will not get them, not just yet.

This incident made me think back to the time, only a few months ago, maybe two or three months before I began my weight reduction program, when I finally admitted I needed to get rid of a bunch of clothes. At the time I was irritated at myself for having allowed myself to gain so much weight that the shirts would no longer fit. But I was resigned to being forever larger than I had been. I agreed to give the shirts away because I thought it would have been pointless to hold on to them in the hope that I'd eventually get the discipline necessary to lose enough weight to fit back in them. That sense of failure and of the inevitability of just gaining more and more weight was very real. I remember it well.

I don't know just what prompted me, not long thereafter, to commit to losing weight. My resignation to my obesity had been so thorough and so complete; how did it change? I don't know. I'm glad it did. And I don't begrudge Goodwill and its clients the fact that they got some perfectly good shirts off of me.

Listen...The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

I've posted about this on my Facebook page. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

Productive Time

I had a fence builder come out yesterday to bid on replacing my fence, which is quickly decaying into nothinginess, with a new one. For a brand-new board-on-board fence that's eight feet tall all the way around (stepped down from the high point at the house), they gave me a "discounted" price of $6600. If they were to use the old posts and weld onto them near the house, where it's now only six feet tall) and give me a side-by-side (instead of board-on-board), the price plunges to $4300.

If I were to build a eight-foot board-on-board fence myself, by my calculations I would spend roughly $2,600. Even if the fence company pays retail for materials, they're charging $4,000 for labor on the project. They tell me it will take three days, including one "dead" day in the middle to allow the new posts to set in concrete. So, we're talking 20 hours. Assuming a 3-man crew for two 10-hour days, that's 60 man-hours, I'll give them an extra 3 hours for getting a required City of Dallas building permit. So, 63 man-hours at $63.49 per hour. I'm betting they pay no on one the crew more than $25 per hour (and I'm being quite generous), so $38.49 per hour to the fence company owner to cover operations, insurance, equipment, trucks, office space, phones, profit, etc., etc. Not a bad gig! Maybe I'll start me a fence company!

The amazing thing about this is that I think this bid is going to be one of the low ones. I have someone coming out Tuesday to give me another bid...I hope he proves me wrong.

My problem with doing it myself is this: I don't have anyone to help me. I could hire someone on an hourly basis to come be my "helper," but thanks to the f#@%7ing government and its overboard attitude about protecting everyman from evil, corrupt businesses and individuals who are hell-bent to rip people off by refusing to pay Social Security, etc., etc., I'd either have to spend LOTS of time and money becoming an employer, filing paperwork with the government, etc., etc. or risk very big fines for paying someone "under the table." The government's claim that it's protecting people from abuse is horseshit. The government wants to feed its addiction to taxpayer money. I'd hazaard a guess that the guy I'd hire would MUCH prefer $18 per hour from me than $12 per hour plus my Social Security contributions on his behalf, plus my efforts "on his behalf" to withhold his taxes and pay them to the f#@%7ing government.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in taxes, I believe in protecting workers from employer abuse, and I think everyone ought to pay his or her fair share. I just don't for a minute think the government of the United States of America is structured to protect anyone but big business, politicians, and government employees. Enough of this for now; I don't want to start the day so pissed off.

Fence issues notwithstanding, I'm not sure I should be focusing on a fence at the moment. I still need to fix the shower pan in the master bath (and probably replace some framing for the shower itself, thanks to water getting through the broken shower pan to the framing) and get new tile in there. That should be done first. I don't have the skills to do that myself, so I'll have to pay someone. So, about the same time I'm getting another bid on the fence, I'll have a tile guy give me a bid on tearing out my shower and pan, fixing the underlying structure, and retiling the shower and putting in a tile floor in the bathroom. Aaarrrgghhhhhh! Money pit on steroids!

On to other things. The other day, on the way to work, I listened to an interview with Siddhartha Mukarjee, author of a book entitled, "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer." Mukarjee is assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and is practicing physician and a researcher at CU/NYU Presbyterian Hospital. He struck me as an exceptionally compassionate person, someone who really feels empathy for his patients who are battling cancer. I didn't hear enough of the interview to get a clear understanding of the premise or purpose of the book (but I can guess), but without even reading it I know I would recommend it. And I will read it, though perhaps not for awhile.

Well, it's 6:00 am and I've been up for well over an hour. Time to stop writing this crap that nobody will read and start doing something productive.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Happy Tractor

In connection with my fruitless fantasy about working on my own little place in the country, I subscribe to a free magazine called Acres. Acres is a marketing vehicle for New Holland Tractors, but is nonetheless interesting to me and I read, or at least skim, every issue. The current issue came just a couple of days ago and I got around to reading it this morning. As usual, I'm up early on this Saturday morning and I've made a pot of strong coffee and am ready to face the world. Sipping strong dark coffee and reading about "the lives of farm tractors" go together quite well; it's a natural thing.

The current issue of the magazine has a piece about the destruction and resurrection of a town called Greensburg, Kansas, which was literally destroyed...completely a tornado in 2007. The little article, which just happens to mention that the current mayor helped the town recover with the help of his aging New Holland Boomer tractor, piqued my interest. So I did a little research.

Shortly after the town was destroyed by an F5 tornado, its leaders and many of its residents decided it would be rebuilt. The decision was made to rebuild as a "green" town. More on that at That decision has led to a town that has more LEED-certified buildings per capita than any other in the U.S., including a number of LEED platinum certified buildings.

The decisions by the townspeople to rebuild and to do it in a way that contributed to a more sustainable use of resources is inspirational and thought-provoking. While Greensburg is probably FAR too conservative, politically, for me to be happy there, I admire what they've done. It gives me hope, too, that even people who have an entirely different political perspective than I can share my viewpoint when it comes to our stewardship of rapidly-dwindling resources.

Now, if only I could go out and work the land with my tractor this morning, I'd be even happier.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Business for Fun and Profit

There are so many options available to someone who wants to start a business. It's almost overwhelming. Almost, hell. It is overwhelming.

For reasons that remain unclear to me, I've been thinking a lot lately about starting another business. Or, I should say, businesses. Here are some of the ideas that have crossed my mind:
  • Create and distribute prepared foods that respond to special diets, e.g., various levels/types of diabetes, low roughage diets, diets geared toward peopel in renal failure, etc., etc.
  • Related to the above, create cookbooks and meal plans, with grocery lists, to address the needs of people who need to stick to special medically-necessary diets.
  • Organize expos that bring together realtors, developers, sellers, and buyers of all kinds of properties so that buyers can learn about options, prices, neighborhoods, etc., etc. before they narrow their selections.
  • Small-scale "general contractor" services for people who don't want to pay for and don't need the expensive services of a general contractor for less involved projects.
  • Related to the one above, homeowner services that respond to a host of homeowner needs in a "one stop shop" way, e.g., lawn service, tree trimming, pest control, house-cleaning/maid services, window-cleaning, landscaping, pre-sale home staging, appliance-repair scheduling and oversight, etc.
  • Event-sponsor hotel liability reduction services (matchmaking services to provide "heads on beds" for event organizers who face attrition penalties for under-subscribed sleeping room blocks).
  • Non-dues revenue program development, roll-out, and marketing for associations.
  • Public relations firm that focuses exclusively on association clients.
  • Group buying services...representing groups of buyers who, collectively, could get lower prices than they can get individually.
  • Related, in a way to group buying, would be a group building discount service, i.e., identifying large numbers of individuals who are planning to build their own homes and working to get them quantity discounts on building materials, builder services, etc.
  • Continuing personal education programs...emulate (and improve on) companies like FunEd, etc.

I have a thousand other ideas. I just want to do something different, something that's intriguing and could generate sufficient revenue to make it worthwhile. I'd love a partner in this (these) endeavors. Anybody game?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Be all you can be...if you're young enough.

Spent time in a squad car yesterday. Hit speeds of 90+ MPH with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Stood just a couple of feet away as a cop yanked a .40 calibre gun out from a guy's waistband. Watched a driver get ticketed for driving without a valid license (he was sent home with two tickets as his friend drove the car away). Got in the middle of a screaming match between four screaming neighbors, all hurling insults and obscenities at one another, and listened to cops bet there would be bloodshed...but their hands were tied. Heard complaints that low pay and efforts to "take away our pension" could lead to a mass exodus of officers before too long.

Learned I'm too 12 years(!) join the police reserves.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Pairs

Ever since I started my weight loss regime in early August, my sleep habits have been changing. Well, it may not be the weight loss regime; it may be the alcohol abstinence that's connected to the weight loss regime. At any rate, things have changed.

I seem to be back to my old ways of "early to bed, early to rise." While that was not unheard of before, it's much more common now. And, I have to say, I like it. There's something about getting up very early, being the sole current practitioner of "awakeness," that I find quite appealing. It's as if I own and control my little piece of the world. That's especially true on weekends. On weekdays I'm only up an hour or so before my wife gets up, whereas on weekends I might be up 2 or 3 hours earlier, perhaps even more.

The odd thing about this perspective is that being awake and alone early in the morning doesn't really have a uniqueness to it. When I'm here in my study in the evening and my wife is in our bedroom watching television or reading, there's not much difference in context than what I'm experiencing right now. In both cases, it's dark outside. At this hour of the morning (about 5:30), I don't hear much traffic, but then I don't hear a lot of traffic any time of day or night.. I suppose it is quieter now; there's no background television noise, I don't have my earbuds in, listening to music. I suppose I'm responding to my own inquiry; it's different, if only subtly so. It's those subtleties that I find highly appealing.

Now that I've wasted my time and your attention span on trivialities, I'll redirect my energy and your mind to other things.

Yesterday, while I was at the office (which was, unfortunately, a period of several hours), I took a break from work to get my mind clear and reduce the stress that had been building. (I should do that during the workweek; taking time to reduce the stress would make me happier, I think, and make the lives of those around me more pleasant.) Yesterday's stress-reliever involved finding and reading some wisdom from Buddhism. I've not read much of any religious text, at least not much that I have found particularly enlightening, until now, but reading from The Dhammapada (which, I gather, means 'aphorism') yesterday was different.

The Dhamapada is, according to Wikipedia, "a versified Buddhist scripture traditionally ascribed to the Buddha himself. It is one of the best-known texts from the Theravada canon." Wikipedia goes on to say "Theravada is literally, 'the Teaching of the Elders' or 'the Ancient Teaching', is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It was founded in India. It is relatively conservative, and generally closest to early Buddhism, and for many centuries has been the predominant religion of Sri Lanka (about 70% of the population) and most of continental Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand)."

While I don't find what I've read of the text of The Dhammapada to be enlightening in the sense that I am filled with awe and wonder at reading it, I do find it quite thought-provoking and intellectually challenging in some ways.

I'm still reading and re-reading it, as something new comes to mind each time I spend time reviewing it. What appeals to me is not the reference to The Tempter or Nirvana or any relationship to implication about an afterlife, etc. What appeals to me is what seems to be its delivery of fundamental concepts of truth about the human condition. Unlike some of the few other "religious" texts I have read, it doesn't seem to depend on magic for its profundity. I'll leave this diatribe with this, some quotations from The Dhammapada:

1. The Pairs
Mind precedes its objects. They are mind-governed and mind-made. To speak or act with a defiled mind is to draw pain after oneself, like a wheel behind the feet of the animal drawing it.

Mind precedes its objects. They are mind-governed and mind-made. To speak or act with a peaceful mind, is to draw happiness after oneself, like an inseparable shadow.

I have been insulted! I have been hurt! I have been beaten! I have been robbed! Anger does not cease in those who harbour this sort of thought.

I have been insulted! I have been hurt! I have been beaten! I have been robbed! Anger ceases in those who do not harbour this sort of thought.

Occasions of hatred are certainly never settled by hatred. They are settled by freedom from hatred. This is the eternal law.

Others may not understand that we must practice self-control, but quarrelling dies away in those who understand this fact.

The Tempter masters the lazy and irresolute man who dwells on the attractive side of things, ungoverned in his senses, and unrestrained in his food, like the wind overcomes a rotten tree.

But the Tempter cannot master a man who dwells on the distasteful side of things, self- controlled in his senses, moderate in eating, resolute and full of faith, like the wind cannot move a mountain crag.

The man who wears the yellow-dyed robe but is not free from stains himself, without self- restraint and integrity, is unworthy of the robe.

But the man who has freed himself of stains and has found peace of mind in an upright life, possessing self-restraint and integrity, he is indeed worthy of the dyed robe.

To see the essence in the unessential and to see the essence as unessential means one can never get to the essence, wandering as one is in the road of wrong intentions.

But to see the essence in the essential and the unessential as the unessential it is means one does get to the essence, being on the road of right intentions.

In the same way that rain breaks into a house with a bad roof, desire breaks into the mind that has not been practising meditation.

While in the same way that rain cannot break into a well-roofed house, desire cannot break into a mind that has been practising meditation well.

Here and beyond he suffers. The wrong-doer suffers both ways. He suffers and is tormented to see his own depraved behaviour.

Here and beyond he is glad. The doer of good is glad both ways. He is glad and rejoices to see his own good deeds.

Here and beyond he is punished. The wrong-doer is punished both ways. He is punished by the thought, "I have done evil", and is even more punished when he comes to a bad state.

Here and beyond he rejoices. The doer of good rejoices both way. He rejoices at the thought, "I have done good", and rejoices even more when he comes to a happy state.

Even if he is fond of quoting appropriate texts, the thoughtless man who does not put them into practice himself is like cowherd counting other people's cows, not a partner in the Holy Life.

Even if he does not quote appropriate texts much, if he follows the principles of the Teaching by getting rid of greed, hatred and delusion, deep of insight and with a mind free from attachment, not clinging to anything in this world or the next - that man is a partner in the Holy Life.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Taking Control

Last night, as I was wandering through Facebook (not sure how one does that, but I did), I came across a very, very large number of people I used to know in a former worklife.

I was somewhat stunned to realize that there so many of them; literally several hundred people with whom I once interacted on a regular basis. (I came across them as Facebook friends when I stumbled across just a few people I once knew as members of an organization I once managed.)

While I was never best buddies with any of them, I was fairly close to a few and I sent those three of four people "Friend" requests from Facebook. This morning, I'm wondering if that was a good idea. When I left that organization, it was under unhappy conditions.

I had grown increasingly unhappy with its board of directors and had found the board, to which I reported, populated with not-so-bright people with big and unwarranted egos. Finally, my disdain for them was obvious and we went head-to-head and, of course, I lost. They were, after all, the board that controlled the organization. While I was the CEO, I was only an employee. They refused to renew my contract and asked me to leave. While I left on financially solid ground (they had to buy me out for the remainder of the calendar year, which had about 10 months left in it), I left with a bitterness that has never completely dissipated. So, that's why I wonder whether it was a good idea to reconnect and, consequently, reopen some pretty nasty feelings I have tried to leave buried.

Even though the people to whom I sent the friend requests were not on the board at the time (I would sooner eat hot coals than give any member of that board the time of day), they remain engaged and connected with those board members. So opening a connection to those people might open a connection I don't want to open.

When I left that organization, I learned that all the "friendships" I developed during my seven-plus years there were based on my position, not on myself. When I left, I felt as if all the people with whom I had been (for me) close simply switched off the power and switched it on again with a new relationship with a new person (my successors) who had some value to them. My confidence in human nature, which has never been terribly strong, was shaken to the core. Oh, I've always believed people are usually dependable and reliable when it comes to family and a few friends, but I've also believed that dependability and reliability ebbs quickly once outside that sphere. But I had been lulled into believing that sphere had been enlarged. And when I left that organization, the sphere collapsed as though it were a balloon that had been suddenly ripped open to have its supporting structure of air removed.

None of this is getting me anywhere, is it? I've opened the door and will just have to ensure it doesn't open too wide. I'm a believer in the principle that others don't control your emotions unless you let them. I also believe I tend to let them. I must take control of my own for awhle.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Itinerant Hobo For Sale or Rent

Looks like another client is about to pull the plug. I won't miss it. But I wonder if the business is rotting away beneath me. Except for the lack of money and health insurance, that wouldn't be a bad thing.

I have literally dozens of other businesses I'd like to start. But that's where it gets interesting. I don't think I want to run them. I just want to start them. I'm full of ideas. I just need the startup capital and someone to take over the business once I've got it up and running.

Or I could become a transient beggar.

Weighing all my capabilities against all the things I could do, I've come to the conclusion that itinerant hobo is what I'm most qualified to be.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


It's dark and it's chilly; my computer weather widget says it's 39 degrees outdoors. The clock says it is 5:19 am, but in the time before the clocks changed, that would be 4:19.

When I got up earlier, the clock read 4:52 am, but that was in the old configuration of time. In the new configuration of time, I would have been up since 3:52 am. That frightens me and makes me nervous and I'm shivering. But that...the shivering...may be due to the thermostat setting, which is intended to save energy and make a down comforter über-appealing.

I have my Powell's Books coffee mug at my side, filled with very dark, strong black coffee, which tends to make me feel like the world isn't such a bad place. I grind just enough beans to make six cups of coffee (by the coffee carafe's measure), which is only two and a half mugs' worth, if that. It's all I need most weekend days. On weekdays, I wait until I get to the office, where I drink criminally commercial coffee. It's only fitting to drink subpar swill at the office, I think. It fits the environment. One wouldn't have medium-rare leg of lamb with fresh asparagus and gargonzola-rich potatoes at Dairy Queen, right? And one wouldn't have coffee made from freshly-ground Lola Savannah ultra dark French roast beans, at least not often, in a dingy office that promises a day of paper-pushing and not much else. Lola Savannahh is a company in Houston that, I gather, imports coffee beans and roasts them. The stuff I drink is a blend, but I don't recall just what beans they use. I don't really care much; I just like the coffee.

We held a garage sale yesterday and got rid of lots of stuff...but not enough. We only made $179.40 from the sale, which ran from 7:30 to 3:00, which translates into $23.92 per hour, or $11.96 per hour each. And then, of course, there's the value of the stuff we sold. It was a success only to the extent that we got rid of some crap we didn't need cluttering up our house. And it prompted me to do a modest amount of clean-up in the garage, something I haven't done in more than a year. Sadly, the garage sale did not provide the funds required for an early and immediate retirement.

After the garage sale, we took a break and went for a long, aimless drive that took us from Carrollton to Garland and places in-between. Not a long drive, but interesting, nonetheless. We stopped for an early dinner at Vetoni, an Italian restaurant in old downtown Garland. I was surprised as how cheap it was, and it was actually quite good. I had linguine with red clam sauce and my favorite wife had chicken picatta; hers was especially good, with a wonderful lemony flavor. It was covered with an enormous number of capers, one of my favorite things in the world. I recommend the place only on the basis that we enjoyed it...and it was very quiet for our VERY early dinner around 5:30 pm.

I will not complain that it's too chilly for me to work outside (at least work COMFORTABLY outside) today. Chilly is not something to complain about. Chilly is a good thing. Chilly is the antithesis of stiflingly hot, the latter about which I have been known to complain.

Enough of this drivel. Back to my dwindling supply of dark, rich, strong, satisfying coffee!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Finally, another post

It's 4:30 am on Halloween or All Hallow's Eve or All Saints' Day Eve. Or whatever. It's Sunday morning and I'm awake.

I spent the day yesterday at the house, in spite of the fact that my wife had wanted to go out. She suggested going to the Fort Worth Zoo or to an IMAX movie at the Museum of Nature & Science.

Sears was scheduled to come repair the refrigerator yesterday between 8 and 10 am, though they had called the night before to confirm 8 to noon; I called them to explain they had committed to 8 to 10 because they failed to show between noon and 5 a week before. The smaller window was begrudgingly agreed to in apology for their earlier abuse. The promise notwithstanding, they called again Saturday morning, saying they were running late; the repairman showed up about 11:15. The late repair call took a good two hours off our "day out" and I had already gotten involved in projects around the house, so we delayed it. Perhaps we will go out today.

My time yesterday morning was spent in phase two of cleaning the pickup truck that I'd just transferred into my name. It had belonged to my sister, who died earlier this year. She was disabled and poor, so was unable to clean it or to pay someone else to clean it. That showed. It was...and is...very, very dirty. But I made progress. And I removed the broken console, with the objective of figuring out how to repair it. The objective has not yet been reached.

After the Sears repairman left, we ate leftover Indian food from the night before. We had gone to Udipidi, a favorite southern Indian vegetarian spot. The sign out front said "under new management," so we were a little worried. No need, it was excellent. We started with a complimentary cup of rasam, a fabulous soup that's a very nicely spiced, but somewhat watery, broth. Then we ordered gobi manchurian (a wonderful "fried" cauliflower in a highly-spiced batter reminiscent of an Indian/Chinese food mix (which is probably what it is) and an okra dish whose name escapes me (bhindi something or other, I assume, since "bhindi" is the Hindi word for okra). It was fabulous, too, though the late-season okra was more than a little "stalky" and occasionally hard to chew. My wife also ordered a "salad" that looked like raita, but was thinner in consistency and had large slivers of raw carrot and some fairly spicy bits of pepper (I think) in it. At any rate, the meal was excellent and the leftovers made for a fine lunch.

Following lunch, we plotted about what we might do with our back yard. We had just had a long row of boxleaf plants removed, along with two large overgrown evergreens and miscellaneous other plants. We wanted to start with a "clean slate" as we plan a deck and a hot tub, perhaps, as well as a garden. We had left a group of very large, overgrown holly bushes, but had trimmed them back considerably.

After talking about what we might want to do, we agreed the holly bushes didn't look right. And we agreed the rotting fence must be replaced, and soon. I decided to do some work in the back yard and spent a good part of the afternoon removing enormous volumes of leaves from the rain gutters. I was astounded at how much leaf debris could fit in the gutters; and I learned why the gutters did not seem to be working...whenever it rains, they seem to immediately overflow. I then tackled the holly bushes, cutting them down and moving them to the street to be hauled away during this week's "major trash" pickup. Large and difficult stumps remain to be removed, which will involve shovels, axes, and much effort. Maybe today. Maybe not.

All of my physical labor left me feeling very satisfied; something about doing physical labor is highly gratifying, if somewhat painful. This morning, my muscles ache and the scratches on my arms and legs, courtesy of the very thorny holly leaves, burn. I don't mind, though.

As I worked in the yard yesterday, and as we talked about what we wanted to do with the yard, I was torn between the desire to fix our place up for the long haul and packing it up and moving away. We really can't afford the latter, because that also would involve effectively retiring from the business. While I want nothing more than that, I can't see how we can do it. On the other hand, I cannot imagine myself being very happy to continue to work five or six days a week with only a smattering of "vacation" time. Maybe if we could manage to be away from the office for 2-3 weeks at a stretch I could re-energize, but that's just not achievable, at least not in the near-term. But, as I worked, I was acutely aware that I was working on something that I would have to stop working on during the coming week. Instead of doing physical work that, despite its aches and scratches, has an immense and immediate reward, I'll spend my time in the office, shuffling paper. I can't say how utterly and awfully depressing that is.

What else is new? Let's see. For reasons that are not quite clear to me, I've been interested in riding along in a police car during a shift and I have made overtures with the local police substation to do that. I expect to hear back from a police officer this week to schedule a "ride-along" with him on the 2 pm-10 pm shift sometime soon.

Another new things. My wife and I have talked about both of us doing a tandem parachute jump soon. Many years ago, when we lived in Chicago, I did a tandem jump during a one-day trip to Wisconsin, where we stopped at a fair. A skydiving company had a booth at the fair and offered jumps for $100 per person, cash only. We only had about $100; my wife wanted to go, but let me go instead. So, now it's her turn. A friend's birthday present to his wife was a tandem jump, which started me talking about it; my wife is ready to go, if her doctor says it's OK. Then, yesterday, another friend posted photos on her Facebook page of her tandem jump, which I gather she did with her father. Here's a photo she posted. Makes you want to run right out and do it, doesn't it? (Click on the photo for a larger version.)

I'm on my third cup of very strong, black coffee. I do love coffee. If only I had some bacon, I'd be reasonably happy right now.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Miss Celaneous

Since my last post:

Had a birthday. Drove to Houston. Transferred title to my late sister's 1997 Ford Ranger into my name. Lost more weight. Hung the sun and moon (ceramic; on my fence). Hung a couple of ceramic frogs on my house. Fondled a number of cow, racoon, and deer skulls (one day I'll explain, and post pictures).

And here is a photo of a nice mask that soon will be on a wall in my home.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Unseen Sea

This is amazing time-lapse video of fog coming in to the San Francisco area. I've never known fog could be so beautiful and mezmerizing.

The Unseen Sea from Simon Christen on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Nice Online Jazz Station--WBGO

Thanks to my habit of wandering through the NPR website from time to time, I stumbled across a really nice spot to listen to jazz, a Newark, New Jersey based NPR affiliate called WBGO. It's possible to listen via the internet through a link on the site, which enables Windows media player, WinAmp, itunes Player, or Real Player.

As I bumped along, I came across the daily playlist, which is extremely handy if you (like I) don't know what the hell you're listening to but want to know. That link is at

Nice stuff. I recommend it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I haven't posted here for over a week. Laziness, amplified by distractions and other priorities.

Let's see, what to say. Well, I'm still on a strong weight-loss course, having lost almost 33 pounds since beginning the diet at the beginning of the second week in August. I'm beginning to question the target weight I set for myself, 160 pounds. While I think another 30 pounds may not be a bad target, my original target is still 50 pounds away and my body shape has changed considerably already. So, maybe 180 is a better number. Or maybe 170. But I think 160 is, perhaps, a bit much. We'll see.

A friend and his wife just went skydiving (tandem jumps) over the weekend. Now, my wife wants to jump, and I want to do it again (my one and only tandem jump was 22+ years ago). So, that may be on our list of things to do before year-end.

And we're talking again about bathroom remodeling and putting in a raised vegetable garden in the back yard. And we're occasionally broaching the subject of whether we might be able to retire, or just quit, within another year or two.

There's a lot on my mind. But I'm too pressured for time and to write about it all now. Maybe soon. Maybe.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Meaning of Life

Thanks to my sister-in-law, Joan, for calling this to my attention.

Social Media: Chit-Chat without the Wine

Facebook is the lazy person's journal or blog. It's too damn easy for me to type in a few random comments, upload a few photos, and walk away feeling as if I had created a "blog post" that communicates an idea, a thought, a perspective on life But it's not a blog post! It's blathering in a stream of consciousness. A blog post, at least a decent blog post, requires more thought and more coherence. But I'm not sure I have that capacity anymore. I'm too used to thinking, and sharing my thoughts, in abbreviated code.

Spitting out this abbreviated code gives me a sense that I have had a coherent thought and have shared it. In reality, though, I believe it simply allows me to avoid really thinking about anything. Rather, I experience a moment and share the experience in an attempt to "share" with a broader audience. But it's a trade-off of breadth for depth. Depth is harder to achieve. It requires much more work, far more thought, and mental discipline that isn't suited to Facebook or Twitter or most of the other social media sites. Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against social media sites. I just want to recognize them for what they are. They are, in my view, very much like casual social receptions, the purpose of which are to facilitate superficial interaction. Social media sites give us opportunities for superfluous chit-chat without the wine.

I recognize, of course, that my broad-brush dismissal of social media sites overlooks the fundamental value they have in marshalling societal resources into social action and other such "meaty" things. But I think the consequential attributes of social media are far less common than the attributes that allow us to think we're thinking when, in fact, we're not.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I'm off to Chicago on Monday morning for a client meeting that lasts through Thursday afternoon. My wife will fly up to join me on Thursday afternoon for a min-vacation, through Monday.

With my gluttony on hold (or, I should say, permanently eliminated in favor of sensible eating), our normal emphasis for such a trip will change. Instead of a laser focus on food, we will try to find appealing food that will fit our new lifestyle while we aim at something else.

This trip, it appears we're going to be on an architectural odyssey. If the weather holds, we'll plan to take a Chicago River architectural tour, which is one of the most intriguing things one can do while in Chicago. The architecture from the river is spectacular; the Chicago Architecture Foundation tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and make the trip a blast. My wife's sister, and her sister's boyfriend, will join us for Saturday and Sunday and they, too, have expressed an interest in the Chicago River tour, so we're off to a good start.

Then, we're hoping to get together with some old friends for dim sum on Sunday morning (well, the diet has to step aside sometime, doesn't it?). They are a lot of fun. When we lived there, we used to drive all over Chicago...into some pretty dicey neighborhoods...with them just to see the world and experience the amazing sights and sounds of the city. I think they're still into that; last time we visited, we wandered through the old Italian parts of town and, late one evening, found a street cart selling freshly-made gelato.

I hope I can keep my mind off work for at least awhile. We have another client meeting in Washington, DC the first week in October and we have an ENORMOUS amount of work to do for it. I hope my staff and a temp can get on top of it while I'm away; if not, I'll have to spend some of my time in Chicago on my computer, taking care of the client.

After the October event, there is plenty more to do, but we have at least a modest breather. I need a breather.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Central Standards

I posted a comment on the PBS Facebook page a day or two ago, responding to a comment critical of David Brooks (New York Times) and Mark Shields (syndicated columnist), two regular political analysts who appear on the PBS NewsHour. The comment to which I responded suggested that the two men are not sufficiently "left" or "right" to be worth listening to; rather, it suggested that both are centrists. My comment was this: "I appreciate Shields and Brooks precisely because they are not the strident, shrill, argumentative political shills that seem so popular today. While they both speak from a relatively centrist viewpoint, they have different perspectives that are thought-provoking."

One of the responses to my comment follows: "Jose's point about the pro-establishment bias and lack of diverse opinions in terms of race, class, political opinion and economic perspective is a good one. They speak in the calming, measured tones of authority that needn't raise its voice, but that doesn't erase the troubles or the suffering that does cause people to raise their voices in "shrill" or "argumentative" protest, most of which will never be aired on PBS, just as it will never be broadcast on Fox News."

When I read that comment, and others like it, I realized that what I consider civil, reasoned debated and arguments by political analysts (both of whom have admittedly biased perspectives but who can understand their opposition's viewpoint) are viewed by others as worthless because of their visible lack of outrage. And then, in thinking back just a couple of years, I realized I have felt the same from time to time.

Occasionally, I make it a point to watch far-right commentators--who I do consider shrill, argumentative nutjobs--just so I know what they are saying. But I used to watch their counterparts farther to the left much more frequently because I agreed with their positions and, I suppose, I wanted my ego stroked by hearing my opinions echoed by the likes of Keith Obermann. I still appreciate Keith Obermann's positions far more than I do Glenn Beck's (who I consider a dangerous psychopath), but I don't expect either of them to give me anything but their narrow perspective on the world. For the most part, they do not deliver news or analysis; they deliver feel-good-juice for those who share their perspectives (or, blood-pressure-enhancement to those who don't).

Perhaps it's simply because I'm getting older that I find the shrill, argumentative, high-pitched outrage I so often hear from apologists for extreme points of view very, very annoying. I can't help but think that the people who drink it up like koolaid, whichever flavor, are missing the opportunity to achieve any level of true understanding. When one's perspective is so completely controlled by one's own opinions that any differing opinions are merely dismissed, understanding is not possible.

You might think I'm becoming a centrist myself to read what I've just written. Possibly, but I think not. I still have strong opinions, most of them constructed from a very liberal perspective, but I choose to listen more to those who do not share them. I tend not to listen, though, to people who screech about their political positions but, instead, I listen to reasoned 'calming, measured tones" that tell me the speakers are telling me what they think, not simply what they feel.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


I've spent the evening downloading and listening to music. "Free," for the most part, courtesy of TXU, which thanked me for paying my electric bills all these years by giving me a certificate good for 15 credits (one credit per tune) to download from

This "free" music illustrates what I've believed all along. My electric bills in this unregulated environment are sufficiently high to fund not only retirement in luxury for the greedy executives of the company but they're high enough to fund "gifts" to the schmucks who pay the bastards.

But if I have to get shafted, it's better to be shafted and "paid" for it than not. So I got a fresh copy of an album that wasn't of high enough quality to transfer well to iTunes. I also got some individual tunes: Nashville Cats by Lovin' Spoonful; Fox Confessor Brings the Flood by Nikko Case; and They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore by Kinky Friedman.

Oh, I glanced through the latest issue of Family Handyman (my wishful thinking read). I am ready to put in tiger's-eye glass tile counters in the master bath; all I'm lacking are skill and money. They claim it's an easy do-it-yourself weekend project, but I know better. If I started it, it would take months, if not years, and would challenge every ounce of my ability and my patience.

So maybe I'll take a yoga class, instead.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Something tugs at my sleeves as I start to venture out, drawing me back.
It feels like fear, but it's not mine; it's fear that I'm taking us into uncharted water without an oar and without a sail and with no life vests and, maybe, without caring that I'm putting us in danger.

I flush in anger at the tug on my sleeve, but silently breathe a sigh of relief that my courage can't be tested, not yet.

There's truth in the fear, you see. There is no plan, no anchor, no lifeline, just an urge to experience what may be real freedom, but may simply be chaos.

Plans are for the weak, I say to myself. But maybe my bravado is an analogy for sloth or indecision or some other flaw that's hidden among the thousands of others.

I could stop the tugging at my sleeve, if I really wanted to. The real fear, though, is of taking off my shirt.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bidness as Usual

Thanks to Konagod for posting this so I could re-posst.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Listen, Body!

My body misunderstood itself. It thought the change in diet and the consequent drop in blood pressure was a signal for the kidneys to shut down. Silly body! That's not what it meant at all!

I've had a chat with it and everything is fine. The nephrologist agrees; says come back in a month to check things out, but in the meantime there are no food restrictions, etc. and all is back to normal, unless he calls me with bloodwork results to tell me differently. Neither of us anticipate that.

My body is paying much closer attention now.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"See, I Told You I Was Sick"

The title is said to refer to someone's headstone. Fortunately, it doesn't yet refer to mine (I discourage any plans for a headstone to commemorate my departure...when the time comes, spend the money on a road trip, instead). But I was right. I was sick. I just wasn't right about what was wrong.

After seeing the doctor last Wednesday and giving his minions what seemed like quarts of my blood, I was waiting until the first full week in September to find out what the blood tests, etc. revealed. By Saturday I was feeling even worse and had decided to wait it out by sleeping. About 1:00 pm the doctor’s office called to tell me to go to the hospital ER. My blood tests, it seems, told them I was in renal failure. So, off I went to the ER. And a lovely ER it was. Truly. I was impressed.

This hospital, the nearest one of consequence, is only five years old and I’d never been there. If necessary, I would go back. I would highly recommend it to people who need institutionalization; I mean that in the most positive way.

I was admitted. Sure enough, I was in renal failure, with exceptionally low blood pressure and, according to their tests, a boatload of potassium in my blood which, I learned, is not a good thing. It’s the sort of thing that can kill you. I recommend against working out one’s anger through the use of potassium chew-bones. I learned that drinking tiny bottles full of sodium polystyrene sulfonate (also known as kayexalate) helps rid one’s body of the unwanted mineral by binding to potassium which is then eliminated through, to use the phrase the ER doctor used, “pooping it out.”

Apparently, when the people doing the hiring for this hospital went to work, they discovered an abundance of capable professional females; there were EXTREMELY few men at the place. The ER nurses were all female, the ER doctor was female, the nephrologist they brought in to assess my renal health was female, the X-ray and sonographic technicians were female. Lot and lots of females. The “transport” staff, the people who roll sick patients around from test to test and wheel them to the door upon departure, are male. Women do the work that requires intelligence and education; men do the work that requires brawn and not much else. I’m not complaining. They all did a magnificent job. I may switch to an all-female team of healthcare providers, based on what they did. In assembling the team, though, I won’t make the mistake I made when, when speaking to the ER doctor, I bumblingly referred to the renal doctor as a “phrenologist.” She was very forgiving, though. God knows what the nephrologist would have thought…or done...had she heard my malapropism.

All of my accolades notwithstanding, my short time in the hospital was not without its downsides.

The professional medical staff and technicians seem to have a sadistic bent. They positively beamed when they entered my room, ready to subject me to all manner of indignities and pain. All of them sincerely enjoyed the jobs they had been hired to do, which was to torment a certain renal patient who was feeling pretty damn feeble. Even the midnight callers who awoke me to determine whether my blood pressure had fallen off a cliff seemed anxious to help. They did what they could to frighten me awake, apparently thinking that, by startling me, they would cause a life-saving increase in my very low blood pressure. To a person (with one notable exception about whom I may devote a scathing screed one day), they were focused. Vehemently so. Uncomfortably so.

Between intense periods of joyous stabbings by enthusiastic technicians with needles and proddings by intensely serious sonographers, I was able to watch television. I spent an inordinate amount of time on Sunday morning watching Food Network shows, where obscenely rich foodies strut their stuff and crow about their highly sophisticated palates. Just when I would get comfortable with a show, though, or would switch off the television and try to just rest, there would be people with sharp objects coming for me again.

During the two nights I was there, I observed an odd ritual. At about 4:00 a.m., a technician awoke me with the avowed purpose of drawing blood. On both occasions, the initial attempts to find a suitable vein were unsuccessful, resulting in multiple stab wounds in both arms (in one arm there was an IV, which did not deter the technician). When finally my body was trained to tense up in anticipation of the pain that was about to occur when I heard the phrase, “this will be a big stick,” the technician decided to thrust the pencil-sized needle into a real vein and filled several canisters full of my blood. This ritualistic blood-letting was one of the least pleasant aspects of my hospital stay. The “bad nurse” about whom I may write a book, though, is neck-in-neck for that honor. When my IV started leaking blood, her attempts to start another one in my other arm were completely unsuccessful. After her third botched attempt, she called for reinforcements; her colleague arrived awhile later and skillfully inserted a new line on the top of my left hand, drawing not a drop of blood.

But you’re not reading this because you want to hear about blood-letting. You’re reading this because your life is an empty shell and I'm the best you can do for amusement. Poor you.

The bottom line to this long and boring story is that I was released from the hospital with a tentative diagnosis of acute renal failure. I was told my blood pressure may have dropped considerably because of my recent changes in diet, which would have been exacerbated by the blood pressure medications I was on. The reduction in blood pressure could have signaled my kidneys to stop functioning at capacity, which resulted in the build-up in my blood of “bad stuff” like potassium and creatinine. The twice-administered kayexalate drink helped remove bad stuff and my potassium levels improved considerably. My blood pressure, on the other hand, is still too low, but the doctors theorize it will return to “normal” fairly quickly. BUT, I am to see the nephrologist (the female’s partner, who took over for her on Monday) and my family doctor this week for follow-up.

I’m counting on this entire episode being an unfortunate accident that does NOT indicate that I have kidney disease that will require an entirely different diet and other such things I am singularly unprepared to accept. We shall see. I’m not back to “normal” in terms of energy, but I expect to be at 100% in very few days. And I’m still losing weight!

Saturday, August 28, 2010


It's almost 4:00 a.m. I've been awake since before 2:45. I'm tired, and probably will be able to go back to sleep before long, but not yet.

I just read an email from a woman I knew 40+ years ago, quite awhile before I graduated from high school. She's an assistant U.S. attorney now. I connected to her through another woman I happened to stumble upon on Facebook; this other woman went to my high school. I knew neither of them very well, but now, all these years later, I'm finding their lives interesting. Both of them have had some truly bad misfortunes over the years, causing me to reflect on how generally positive my life has been so far. The attorney and I share some common histories of health maladies. She strikes me as intelligent, though she admits to being a conservative which is a disappointment; I like to think intelligent people, from my past and my present, would tend to be liberal.

Still no word on what my physical ailments might be. I had lots of blood drawn earlier this week, but I don't have the results yet. I have had chest X-rays and neck X-rays and am awaiting to be scheduled for an MRI. I also have to schedule a stress echocardiagram. The "second phase" of my physical is scheduled for more than a week hence. Until then, at least, I suppose I have to cope with upper body and arm and leg "tiredness," for lack of a better term. That and sometimes intensely sore calf muscles and general tiredness. And a nagging pain in my left side, just under my rib cage. I hope I'm not falling apart. My energy is a touch better than it has been earlier this week, though. Maybe.

But not enough to stay awake any longer. I need to lay on my side; maybe the nagging pain will disappear, or at least subside.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Caving In

Maybe I'll find out tomorrow whether there's any cardiac relationship to my recent spate of extreme muscle pain and weakness in my arms and, more recently, my calves. Today I had to leave work this morning because I was so weak I could barely stand. And walking was extremely difficult because of the intense pain in my calves with every step. This is all after I've had sensations in my neck and shoulders and upper back...sensations like my body-parts are going to sleep.

At the moment, I'm much better. Pain is not nearly as bad, though "aches" are rampant. I see a cardiologist tomorrow afternoon to make up for skipping my last three semi-annual appointments. Then, in mid-September, I get a real annual physical, again only two years late.

And maybe soon I'll see a dentist. Wouldn't that be unusual?

Old Photographs

I have a tendency to look at old photographs and assign to them a sense of romance or adventure or wistfulness for a time gone by or god knows what. Maybe that's what meaningful old photographs do to people. But some old photographs just bring back memories that should never have formed and, certainly, shouldn't persist. Those are the photographs that should be burned. But we're never quite ready to burn them, are we? There's always a chance we will, one day, see something more in them than what there was when they were taken. I guess I've done it again. I said "meaningful" old photographs when I should have said photographs we wished had meaning, in the more pleasant sense.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Courage to Explore

I scanned the graveyard, looking for evidence that the corpses left here had meant something. I was looking for a sign, a headstone. Anything. Just a hint that said, "Once upon a time, those left here mattered." Not to me, perhaps, but to someone. Anyone. Where, I wondered, were the signs of grief at their passing?

While I gazed at the huge expanse of discarded tombs and open graves and mounds of empty, sterile earth, I felt as if my gaze was returned by every one of the inhabitants, looking to me as a savior, someone who would prove that someone really did care. They looked at me in anticipation that I would revive them and acknowledge them for the potential they once had, and might still have.

But the headstones, if that's what they were—those broken markers struggling for visibility from beneath an eternity of snow and seasons—had long since seen any meticulously carved messages etched and eroded away. The funereal winds, heavy with the dust they, themselves, had pumped into the tense atmosphere, had erased any messages that may have been destined for remembrance.

This graveyard was filled with invisible skeletons, hidden as they were beneath the accumulated detritus of wishes and dreams and even some prayers. But I knew that not all of the denizens of this place were dead. Their hope, as they clung to the tight enclosure that surrounded this expansive plot, was palpable. I could sense that they remained barely alive, hoping someone, anyone, would come to understand that they were not dead...they had simply been left for dead. They were struggling, hard, to take in another fresh breath that would revive them and allow them to step back into the world. They wanted someone to breathe new life into them.
But this is the place where we are told they are meant to be buried.

Some of them were aborted shortly after birth. Others tried valiantly to survive what were no doubt inauspicious beginnings. Many, perhaps most, of them might have been saved if given enough nourishment and encouragement and a safe place to develop and grow.

But they failed to thrive in this sometimes cruel world and so were quietly extinguished and sent to the graveyard. Most of them, who were undeveloped and unnourished, passed silently from consciousness without notice. And here is their final resting place. Does anyone have the courage to open the caskets and explore this graveyard, this place where so many have died alone and unfulfilled?
This is the graveyard of ideas.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Los Cenzontles--La Luna

Excuse me while I check this out.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Celery Stalks

12.4 pounds down, 71.6 to go. If I accomplish this feat I will weigh 160 pounds. I cannot BELIEVE how much weight I've put on since my temporary health fanaticsm right after my coronary bypasses. That was six years ago. My lowest weight at the time was 185, very briefly. That was after I'd lost about 25 pounds or thereabouts. I have 46 pounds to go just to get there. I've put on SO much weight since then.

Mamas don't let your babies grow up to eat pizzas,
Let 'em eat carrots and celery stalks,
Make 'em play sports and take strenuous walks.

OK, I can't do this, but you probably get the message.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I'm not sure of the best descriptive term. Writer's block isn't it. It's not that I can't write, it's that I don't feel like I have anything worth writing about. Writer's dullness isn't really it, though, because I could write about things that could, with sufficient attention and planning, be interesting and entertaining. The need to give a great deal of attention to the task suggests it may not be an innate skill. Writer's inadequacy could begin to describe it, I suppose, except that it's not so much inadequacy as it is malaise. That might do it. Writer's malaise. It sounds close, but there's something not quite right about it or perhaps something is missing.

Upon closer reflection, it becomes abundantly clear and embarrassingly simple. It is Wanna-be writer's malaise. I've mistaken myself for a writer when, in reality, I am a wanna-be. I talk a good game, but I don't write enough to make it real. And finally, I'm experiencing what it for what it is: a wish to be a writer who possesses born skill...but, instead, being one without sufficient drive, talent, or content to give purchase to the desire.

Perhaps, though, I just have to be in the mood. There are times when I've felt like my writing was excellent and that it had the potential of getting into readers' minds the way some of the authors I've read have gotten into mine. But, back to reality. If I write, I will write when I feel like writing. Not until.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Saga of Salads

Today is day seven of my endeavor to lose literally dozens of pounds of ugly fat. My rapid weight loss seemed to occur during the first three days. Since then, it's been drifting ever-so-slowly down, with no hint of the enormous drop that I hoped to see by the end of week one. I must have patience, though; I didn't gain all this excess weight overnight and I won't lose it so quickly.

It would no doubt help if I actually followed-through on my promised exercise regimen, but I have been unable to do that...well, partly unable and partly unwilling. The unable component has to do with the horrendous aches/pains in my neck and shoulders that have been hitting me these last several days. The pain gets so bad that the only thing that will resolve them is Naxodol and laying on my side in bed.

Yesterday, I made the mistake of deciding I could do some yard work and outside window-cleaning, which badly exacerbated the problem. I suffered for it all yesterday afternoon and into last night. Two Naxodol tablets helped by putting me out for a few hours, but they're running low; I've made overtures on Facebook to anyone traveling to Mexico to bring some back with them next time they cross the border. My sister-in-law has offered to bring some next trip up; I may get some from a business acquaintance who's off to Cancun next week. Who knew I would one day be depending on border crossings to give me the pain relief I need? Too bad the U.S. government's system of "protecting" its citizens is so paternalistic and authoritarian. I should not go there; I will only write a fiery screed condemning what has devolved into a near-totalitarian state, even under a "Democratic" administration.

Back to the diet/lifestyle adjustments. I'm find that I actually like the smaller servings and avoidance of heavier dishes. Don't get me wrong, I love foods that are very bad for me, and I like them in large quantities; but something about this new, lighter diet is very appealing. I have to admit, though, that the called-for serving-sizes of vegetables are a little unreasonable. Last night, for example, I baked a medly of vegetables that should have been good for four servings; we made it into two servings. Maybe THAT's why my weight isn't dropping like a rock! No matter, it's OK with me. As long as I can continue to slow but steady decline. As of this morning, my cumulative weight loss is 8.8 pounds; only 1.8 pounds more than I'd lost at day 3. I will continue, though.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Floating Away

Just three days into my South Beach-like diet and I'm having no trouble at all keeping with it. The only difficulty is the amount of work involved in chopping vegetables! With the amount of veggies we're eating, it seems like I'm constantly chopping, chopping, chopping, then mixing and matching them for odd little meals (that are, by the way, quite tasty) and mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks.

I'm not sure I need the snacks, but I'm following the proposed meal plan reasonably closely, anyway. If I could simply consume veggies in vast quantities and still get the requisite vitamins, protein, etc., I'd almost be willing to give up meat. Maybe.

By this morning, since my first official weigh-in on Monday morning, I'd lost seven pounds, the vast majority of which, I'm sure, is water. That's OK. I remember last time I did this the water loss or whatever it was helped me fit much more comfortably into my clothes. Laying off the booze is no doubt helping. I didn't realize how much I'd gotten used to a drink or two here or there or there or there or there or over there.

My consumption of water, flavored ever-so-slightly with lime juice when I'm drinking it at home, has sky-rocketed. I'm floating those pounds away. I figure by the time I'm old enough to collect Social Security, I'll have lost enough weight to be a mere wisp of a geezer.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Drop the Pounds, Mister!

I hope I've finally reached the point of achieving some degree of discipline about my weight. I just have to shed some pounds. Lots of them. I'll start by doing a stint on the South Beach diet (or close facsimile thereof), then simply change my lifestyle. "Simply." Hah! Well, it won't be simple but I need to do it.

Now that I'm thinking in those terms, I also will return to my long-lost regimen of taking walks early in the morning. Even though the temperatures before daylight are in the low 80s, I will do it, by God! I'll get up and walk. I'll start slow (else my knees will curse me and call me names), but will try to work back up to my erstwhile pace.

I don't know whether to set a long-term goal (i.e., when to achieve my "ideal" weight and what that weight should be) or simply plod along and watch the pounds melt away. I'm leaning toward setting a goal and announcing it to the world so that I might feel obliged not to give up for fear of being labeled a quitter.

Let's see, for someone of my height and bone structure, I'm thinking I should weigh about 170 pounds. That is a long, long way off. I'm probably topping 250 now. An 80 pound weight-loss target? And then keeping it stable. Whew! We'll see. If it weren't illegal to post pathetic pornographic pictures of geezers, I might post a nude photo of myself each week. Aside from offending anyone who visited this blog, though, I would reduce my already paltry traffic count to zero. So I won't do that.

I'm not patient, though. So this endeavor is going to be grueling for me.