Monday, 31 May 2010

Cash vs Credit with Fuel


For the longest time, the Gulf Station on Route 46 West in Parsippany, just after the turn for Edwards Road, had the same price for cash or credit transactions. Now, suddenly, they have done the sleazy thing and raised the price per gallon $0.08! I'm hacked.

I know a lot of other fuel suppliers were doing that but I could go to this station and not have to deal with it. Now I can only go to the Hess Station... and who knows how long that will last? I really hate the fuel industry.

It's bad enough that BP has this huge oil spill. Now we can get screwed for this by everyone.

What a Weekend!

It was a four-day weekend. And that sounds great, right? Most people want to be home or away from their jobs.

I like mine enough that like Luis, I prefer to be there. He loves, loves, loves his job. For so many years, I didn't understand it. Like too many people, the balance of what I love to do was offset by things about the department or company or whatever. It's not so now. It's unique and great. It's also structured and interesting. My home life is not terribly interesting. Most of the time, I'm perfectly happy with it; this one (twice as long as most) it was not. Although today was great.

Add to that Luis had to go out to Chicago area (some place called... uh... Northfield? I think that's it). He went out there to pull someone's bacon out of the fire. This is not one of the "I love my job" items for him, I might add. As much as he enjoys his work, advice not taken and irresponsibility on the client's side is more than likely the issue and he had to go there on an 08:30 flight Saturday morning, start working the minute he arrived to restore their data and then not get out until 20:00! Each day! He called me about 45 minutes ago, groaning - brain overload.

He decided to see a movie (not Iron Man 2, though, we are supposed to see that together) to detox his brain.

What have I done all weekend? Thursday night into Friday morning I was on call, which made me cranky right at 06:00. I tried to get some sleep but I feel headachy and off-schedule all day, when I don't get sleep, so I took a nap from 08:30 to 13:30. I was showered and dressed by 14:30 and Ray showed up at 14:40. He and I had Thai food (oh, soooooo love Thai food. I've lost over 40lbs on this food), then began the torture of moving the sky chair. It was too far over near the wall with the fireplace and the telly.

This was more a comedy of errors than anything else but we did - finally - get the job done. Funny thing is that the chair hangs facing the right direction but when I get in it, it swings a quarter to the left, so I'd have to turn my head to the right see the telly. So I hung the chair the other way. It faces into the dining room, but when I get in it, it turns slightly to the left. I have to turn my head to the left. GRUMP, GRUMP, GRUMP.

Then I hung out until bedtime and that was Friday.

Saturday - went to Lucy's and had my waxing and then Kathleen did my massage. I then ran up to Rockaway Mall to run a couple of errands. I came home and hung out in my hammock for a while, then had dinner, did some things around the house and went to bed.

Exciting, huh?

Yesterday - hung out in the hammock, read most of The Testament by John Grisham. Drank tons of water, took a nap in the warm sun, was evicted by mosquitoes (the bloody &**$*#&!!), came in, did stuff around the house and... you guessed it, went to bed!

Today - woke up as usual at 0500, went back to bed and got up at 08:30. Showered and dressed in my EMT dress uniform and well! You would not believe how fat I was 7 years ago when I got that shirt for the first emergency person funeral. Let me tell you, that shirt fit like... a tent! It's at least three sizes too big. I need to go get new dress whites - one short-sleeved, one long. And soon. We'll have more events where I'll need them.

I was at the squadhouse by 10:40 and had water, camera and batteries for the parade. You may have seen some of them posted on Facebook (say helloooooo to men in uniform!), so you know as well as I do I was busy with that camera. I made it as far as District 5... but missed the main images of all three squads - 65, us (66) and 69 together. I'll have to have Betsy send some. But I got good ones of everyone else (almost).

Men! I do love men.

What did I do when I came home? I did stuff around the house, have seen many episodes of Grey's Anatomy, ran the payroll (the most satisfying thing I did all weekend, besides the parade) and... well... Soon I'll go to bed.

This is not the only reason I love being at work but it is one of them. I had a little too much free time. Luis and I had plans and they flew out to Illinois. Otherwise it would have been a more action-packed three days.

What a gripping life I do lead.

Education Abounds in Short Conversations

I love talking to people. A friend of mine from high school (and I do mean a friend) sent me a message on Facebook asking how I was and I replied. I asked a couple of leading questions to get the conversational ball rolling and then got this:

Message: "I am done with dog training... the course was a lot of fun. The only down side is the group is filled with mostly old women. Guys like me I do not think fit in. I have offered free basic training to everyone I know including friends and neighbors but no one has taken me up on the offer. Hell there are 3 new puppies in our neighborhood and ... nothing. I have also found out that people do not take dog training seriously enough and do not seek the help of trainers until there are big problems! And trying to fix a dog rather than train a dog is 3 to 4 times more difficult.

I haven't written much lately or should I say I haven't found anything to write about in while. Deb and the puppies are well. We have 13 chickens now and that is ENOUGH!!! We had to put one down, she was 3.5 months old and really sick. Another one got sick but we got her on medication and so far has been making a come back."

Answer: "Well, you've been busy! I guess this is proof of specific peoples getting into specific jobs: Vietnamese women doing nails, that kind of thing. I hate thinking that way. But yet, the proof is overwhelming.

I wouldn't have guessed that the world of dog trainers was mostly old women. How funny. I think guys like you can fit in - you just need to figure out their language and speak it. It will be harder than if they were all guys in our age range, but you'll fit in. I know you - chatty, friendly, effervescent - you'll wear 'em down!

As for puppy owners... well... most people are stupider than their pets - but think that becoming an animal who walks on his or her hind legs makes them higher up the evolutionary food chain. Turns out our cats and dogs are a helluva lot smarter than us.

I wouldn't use this as selling point, however...

You could go for gold and become a dog whisperer. That short Mexican guy does it and managed to get a telly show out of it. See that. And his waiting list is out the door because, as you pointed out, people think it is easy and wait until the bad behaviour is ingrained. By then, it is too late to easily fix the offending behaviour.

Normally I would not know that, but my mother made the classic mistakes. The first dog went to training with my father and then she wasn't serious about following through with the right responses. Subsequent dogs never got training. A common issue.

Chickens? Why?

Hey, I've heard that chickens are kind of gross, not the most friendly of animals - well, foul (ha, ha). Fowl. (Bad joke.) But maybe that is what people who raise them for farm reasons find them that way. It sounds like they are work, though. What exactly killed the first chicken? What illnesses do they get? I'm curious and know (first hand or any other way) very little about chickens. Lucky you - you get to educate me!

I like this. I think I will post this!"

I couldn't help it. The flow of the conversation was rich, fun, interesting. I can't wait to see the answer. And this friend can write - write for real. He brings words to life. He takes a regular subject and makes it fascinating. I want to do that. Few people can write like that and he isn't a writer by trade.

I can't wait for the reply!

ARTICLE: Remembering Memorial Day

For many, Memorial Day brings to mind images of parades and picnics, of barbecues and baseball games. What's sometimes forgotten are the reasons for the holiday: The sacrifices made by American soldiers in times of conflict.

As the United States' death toll passes 1,000 in Afghanistan, Memorial Day takes on an especially poignant meaning this year. Here's a brief look at how the holiday got its start, and how people are searching for ways to honor the brave men and women who have lost their lives.

The first holiday
Originally, the holiday was known as "Decoration Day." It was started by a Civil War general named Gen. John Logan, who was the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic. General Logan sought a way to help the country come back together after the horrors and divide of the Civil War.

The holiday was first observed on May 30, 1868, and Gen. Logan chose that date for two very important reasons: First, the day did not mark the anniversary of a Civil War battle, and second "flowers would likely be in bloom all over the United States." Indeed, many took flowers to Arlington National Cemetery, an activity that still occurs every year.

More on Gen. John Logan
General John A. Logan has a tremendous legacy that goes well beyond his efforts to honor fallen soldiers. According to a museum dedicated to his memory, Gen. Logan led an inspired life and enjoyed a tremendous career. At different points, he was a United States congressman, a senator, and a candidate for the vice presidency. He and his running mate, James G. Blane, lost their bid, but "Logan’s popularity with veterans contributed to the narrowness of the defeat."

An official holiday
This may come as a bit of a surprise, but Memorial Day, despite having been around for over 100 years in one form or another, didn't become an official federal holiday until 1971, when Congress passed the National Holiday Act. This created a three-day weekend at the end of May. Prior to this, different states observed the holiday on different days.

The effect on Web search
Web lookups on "memorial day" and "celebrate memorial day" are both up over 500% during the past seven days. Additionally, queries on "memorial day quotes" and "memorial day history" are soaring, as are searches for "memorial day parades" and "memorial day flowers."

Also worth noting — the "national moment of remembrance." This moment takes place at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day and lasts one minute. According to Remember.gov, "the Moment does not replace traditional Memorial Day events; rather it is an act of national unity in which all Americans, alone or with family and friends, honor those who died for our freedom. It will help to reclaim Memorial Day as the sacred and noble holiday it was meant to be. In this shared remembrance, we connect as Americans."

The Huffington Post has a nice collection of 15 quotes for Memorial Day. You can view the list here.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

The History Channel's "America" Made an Error!

I'm watching "America: The Story of Us" - an episode called "Rebels". It is nearing the end with the battle of Lexington.

Early they talked about Paul Revere's famous ride, where he stopped at several towns to announce... the British are coming!

WRONG!

We were all British back then! He would have sounded like an idiot if he stopped at houses to announce, yell or whisper, "The British are coming!" He did tell everyone that the Redcoats were coming. That makes a lot more sense and also is historically accurate.

But think back to all the things we were told in history. How many fallacies were we told as kids? When I went to school in the 1970s, they were still telling the story about George Washington cutting down a cherry tree as a suck to promote honesty - as history - when it was total fiction. The American Revolution never mentioned that we were terrorists; by definition, the rebels were just that. People love to whitewash history when really honesty is the better course of action.

There was little about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, both World Wars or any other that is peaceful. The Redcoats happily slaughtered their own to keep the colonies as British lands. We killed our own during the Civil War, white or black. Hitler and Stalin combined exterminated almost 20 million people: Hitler purged others; Stalin, his own. (By the bye, Stalin killed over ten million Russians, fearing that they were all out to get him. What a guy.)

And had the Germans, Russians, British or the Confederates won, the losers would have been terrorists. But to the victor go the spoils - and the opportunity to rewrite recent history to make them look like saints. So of course, when one rewrites the start of the Revolutionary War, it sounds better to tell the story of Revere shouting (duh - he would have quietly told a couple of houses and let them do the work to move on to the next town), "The British are coming!"

However... if you are going to rip sainthood to shreds and tell the story of us, tell it accurately!

Remember Fred?

I met Fred on Monday, 4 August 2008. He was sitting on my hammock with me making short work of flies.

I surely could have kept Fred fed this afternoon with the mosquitoes although maybe he only ate flies. I would have given my eye teeth for anything that ate mosquitoes, providing they didn't want to snack on me when done with the flying blood banks. Then again, they'd never run out of the bloody (pun intended) mosquitoes!

I was very happy in my hammock from around 13:30 until 18:30, when in the westering sun, the mosquitoes began to show up. I didn't think they'd be out that early. At least eight of them got me without my knowing it but one alighted on my arm and I happened to see him and kill hi-- oh, sorry, her (only female mosquitoes drink blood). I killed a second one on the back of my left leg, and got blood - mine - so I packed it up as fast as I could amidst stinging and got the hell out of there!

My own back yard went from haven to hell in the space of a few minutes!

Thinking About Ariel

I miss Ariel.

If you knew me two years ago, then you've heard of her. She was mine and Luis' first cat together. She was with me for 18 years, and died on 8 June 2008. I have a million images of her and there are pictures all over the house of her (and Chelsea, who died on 19 September 2008, also age 18). I think of them frequently and it is less difficult. And I have fur to bury my face in when it does hurt.

Still... you never know what can stir up the feelings...

Yesterday, while in the loo, I hear this loud, demanding meow from out of sight, and without thinking, I called, "Ariel?" It sounded just like her. I was floored. It was a little freaky and very disconcerting - not to mention upsetting. I called out for Sorcha and Siobhan but they weren't in the room.

The ghost of my cat?

I have no idea. 'Ockham's Razor would deny that: Ockham's razor states that "entities should not be multiplied needlessly". It's also called the principle of parsimony. It's the idea that other things being equal, among two theories the simpler one is preferable. Why razor? Because Ockham's razor shaves away unnecessary assumptions. Ockham's razor has applications in fields as diverse as medicine, religion, crime, and literature. Medical students are told, for example, "When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras."'

So I should think it was Sorcha (Siobhan doesn't meow except when it is time to eat, and even then, she just makes funny "mmmmrrrrrr" sounds). Sorcha isn't much of a meower, but she is falling into the habit that Ariel had: meowing as a form of Ash-radar. She would meow loudly or piteously to get a reaction from me - which worked flawlessly.

Well, Sorcha is learning the same lesson. If she meows I will answer. But that wasn't her meow, and when I answered, she didn't come running. So who meowed?

I guess we'll never know.

Still, I saw her in my office at work once. Now, you know I did not bring my dead cat to work (I didn't bring her home - I wasn't about to attempt digging a large deep hole in my backyard with its principal crop of rocks) and she was ashes by then. It was a glance and when I looked back, she wasn't there. You can say the mind can play amazing tricks and maybe it does. But this doesn't happen enough to be a common issue.

I don't know. I do believe in ghosts and I would not be dismayed to see my deceased cats. I wish Chelsea would visit... but so far, nothing.

Cat Fur

I have two cats, Siobhan and Sorcha. Both are classified as American short-hair cats, although given Sorcha's size, I'm guessing there is some Mainecoon in her. She's a huge cat.

She's also the most fur-producing cat in the history of fuzzy animals.

Siobhan sheds to some degree - at least I think so, only because most cats with some fur do shed. Both Ariel and Chelsea shed fur; my grandmother's crazy Siamese cat Fuji shed; my father's cats including Figaro, Callie and Carlton shed; every cat I've known has shed. But then there is Sorcha - who sheds by the pound!

My laptop was covered with fur! I found Luis' can of air and cleaned it all off the screen, out of the keyboard and off the screen area where I can move my finger around as the mouse. There was tons - measurable amounts of fur! This cat is shedding more fur in a day than all three other cats I've had as an adult did!

Where does it all come from? Usually shedding is a response to warm temperatures. Luis keeps the house set to 74 F and I'm freezing my butt off in the summer; in the winter we keep the house around 68 to 70 F and she's still shedding long bits of fur. That's the other thing. She is not a long hair cat but when you see the fur on my clothes or furniture, it looks like she does have long hair! And they are unmistakable. They have stripes with the white, grey and odd peach colour.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Coccoon

If you haven't seen this movie, then see it. It's a charming, wonderful, fun movie.

Ignore Steven Guttenberg's roll, which had a little too much of the ridiculous. Tahnee Welch was okay, but not amazing. But Wilford Brimley, Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton, Gwen Verdon and Brian Dennehy were just delightful.

Some aliens come to Florida to rescue some of their friends who were left behind when Atlantis sank. While spending most of their time out in the ocean, they had rented the house next door to an old folks community with the assisted and unassisted living options.

They discovered that something in the pool, now cluttered with strange, large rocks, made them feel really good, really young and revitalised. They asked their new neighbours to allow them to continue to use the pool. In the end, the aliens had an offer for them that was too good to pass up.

It's a great movie. And maybe there is that element of fantasy - wouldn't you like to reverse the aging process if you could? You wouldn't get the younger body back, but to be healthy as a 20-year-old, not get any older or die? What's not to like about that?

This movie came out when I was a kid, in 1985, when I was 17. At that age, there is no envy of that due to being immortal (please tell me you didn't think you'd get older then. You wanted to be older then, to have the adult life and freedom); but now, with DMII and being on the other side of 40, I can see the appeal of living forever. I suppose not everyone would want that. But I'd personally like to extend my life especially if it meant being frozen at this age and getting rid of the tinnitus, DMII, weight problems, etc.

Usually I'd agree that living forever wouldn't be the best idea but this would be as explorers of the universe. For me, that would be fulfilling a dream (since it is a forgone conclusion that NASA won't be calling me up offering me a Moonwalk). I couldn't say no to it.

Friday, 28 May 2010

The Anti-People Society

We are anti-people.

I've been hearing a lot of bitter sentiments about people from other countries. I'm bothered by it and find it unpleasant, even worrying. We refer to people from other countries as "aliens". I always think of aliens as peoples from other planets, not those from other countries. When did we lose that feeling of humanity?

Some of the bitterness is understandable. We the taxpayers pay for far too many lives. We make the medical care possible, we allow for services that should be for just the citizenry, not everyone. I don't agree with allowing non-citizens to apply for education scholarships. I don't want to pay for everyone who isn't paying into the same system. But then, I pay for the Americans who suck off the system with ten kids, no job or low income and I resent that, too. I need not target only people from 0ther countries for that.

I would certainly not hold it against anyone to come here for that better life. On the other hand, people come here for that better life immediately feel the anti-people feeling. Maybe that better life comes with a price, but this is the wrong price. And unless your name is Sitting Bull or White Feather or something Native American, you didn't start out here, either.

Any chance you are Comanche? Blackfoot? Maybe Leni Lenape? Hmmm. I suspected not. And maybe - maybe - you could make the argument that your forebears did the right thing and became citizens, but I bet when they first came here, that was not the first thing on their minds. The first thing?

Survival.

That is what all of us do. As individuals, as members of a household, a community, a city, a state, a national and of the world, we are all doing what we can to guarantee survival. We do it by working and buying what we need; earning money and sending it home; having children (just because I personally don't like kids and don't have any doesn't mean I don't get what the large underlying goal of having them is). Sometimes life is harder with the enormous amount of people we have and survival means the more basic elements: theft, committing crimes, killing others, hunting - things that we as a race have had to do to survive.

And now you hold it against others. You haven't had to steal, fight, kill, hunt to get what you need but you demean others for coming to the land of opportunity and doing what they need to survive as individuals. For helping their families, who can't come here to survive by sending money home. For looking out to keep their children safe and alive. Where do you get off with that attitude.

I do think there are other races - space-going races that come peek at us and think, "these guys haven't come nearly as far up the evolutionary ladder as needed for us to get to know them." I'd agree wholeheartedly. We aren't anywhere close to that point. We don't deserve to play with the species who don't torture their own, don't view themselves as the parts instead of the whole. The people who feel only a sense of nationality instead of being citizens of the world.

We haven't mastered it and we don't seem to be heading to that point as fast as we could. I won't say we aren't pointing in a better direction than before in history, but we are progressing much like a glacier - three feet forward, two feet back. Not the best way to do it.

The next time you want to make commentary on the other people who are just starting their lives here and bringing their cultures and norms here, look at your name. If it isn't along the lines of Eshkan, Mikinaak, Nesawaakwaad, Lapowinsa, than maybe you haven't earned the right to criticize. Your family maybe came here in the 1600s and what did they do? Kill the locals, keep their names (Native Americans don't have surnames), stomp on everyone else, and then down the road called themselves Americans and deride others for coming here now.

Keep it. If that is what it means to be an American, I'll call myself a Terran and be done with it.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Picking Through People

The magazine, pervy person!

It's a full Moon night, so just picture what we've had already. One call with that was enough. So onto the trashy stuff!

Normally I pick through the People Magazine in order, but this one gets the out of order approach. The Brett Michaels one pager was more interesting to read immediately. We saw the last episode of Celebrity Apprentice and we were delighted that Brett Michaels won! He was amazing and while he is absolutely the poster boy for ADD - or ADHD - he had a positive effect overall on everyone. The man's creative abilities were so good that teammates who started out finding him to be too difficult to work with were won over in the end. No one ever actually uttered the acronym ADD or ADHD (which was surprising because you'd think someone there would have been savvy enough about people in general to realise why he and Cyndi Lauper were so easily distracted and "difficult". They weren't really difficult, they were just so distracted and of course hyper-focussed), but it wasn't a hard thing to see.

Holly Robinson Peete has a good cause but I found her abrasive and cut-throat. While that used to be the winning attitude on both The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, someone has evidently figured out that heartlessly throwing others under the bus (she clearly wanted Cyndi Lauper off the island) isn't the right road to popularity. I suspect that when Trace Adkins lost to the rotten person who won - whose name I can never recall - brought on the realisation that being a complete and utter cad was not a hot selling point.

I never hear about the cad anymore but Trace Adkins appeals to everyone.

Last Celebrity Apprentice had Joan Rivers who won over some absolutely gods-awful woman whom I detested. I meet people all the time that I don't particularly like or bond with, but there are very few people that I loathe or detest. And I would be the first to say that seeing actors and actresses on the telly or in movies doesn't make us qualified to judge them, but these are real people and the more ugly side shows up as the competition gets whittled down. And the two finalists always seem to come down to the nice guy and the rotten guy (or women) and in this case, the good woman (Joan Rivers) won over the bad one.

Joan Rivers is not normally someone I would have described as the good person - she's a very strong personality, there is nothing particularly objectionable about her (I find the plastic surgery results disturbing, but her personality doesn't figure into that). She had a huge blind spot when it came to her daughter whom I've never liked and who wasn't a good contestant, but that just makes her a normal parent. And the woman that she was competing against was just awful.

I've really strayed from the point. The piece on Brett Michaels was mixed in that it was about both his recovery and his returning to Celebrity Apprentice after having the embolism. He certainly wasn't healthy when he went onto that stage and it was clearly an effort to be there. I was blow away when Holly Robinson Peete mentioned that she had gotten bad news that somehow never came up throughout the show but then had to be mentioned when they were on the live set for this. She couldn't pass up playing the sympathy card when it might save her from losing. Cheesy.

Moving on, the next piece that gets mention out of order is the review of Sex and the City 2. It got 1 1/2 stars - ouch - and the critic wrote: "It's beautiful that these women still have each other--especially since it's getting harder to see how anyone else can stand them. Granted, Miranda's (Nixon) boss issues and Charlotte's (Davis) mommy meltdown are relatable, but Carrie's (Parker) self-manufactured drama and Samantha's (Cattrall) willingness to drop her panties whenever, wherever, aren't charming anymore. Trouble blooms in Abu Dhabi, where the ladies enjoy eye-gouging opulence thanks to Samantha's client, then repay him by being ugly, entitled Americans. This tone-deaf travelogue (all two hours and 23 minutes of it) disappoints, though hardcore SATC fans may want to risk it for Liza Minelli's brilliant cameo."

Oof. Not a glowing report. I also read about John Corbett's reprised roll of Aidan and I knew immediately where that would be heading. Who wants to see a depressing movie about the road not taken and being torn between two men when Aidan had been the one to leave and rightfully so.

I was happy to pass on it and this merely confirmed that.

Moving on from that and back to the more linear approach I prefer to take with my weekly issue of dirt, the first thing that jumped out after the Bret Michaels piece and the review of SATC 2 was actually an advert. Yes, not typical for me. The two-page spread shows Ellen DeGeneres and then an image of some Cover Girl pot (you know, a container). And it's called Simply Ageless. I'm not the right person to comment or criticize because I don't use make up of any kind, but I really despise the cosmetics industry for this exact reason. Women are sucked into using this absolute junk playing on their fears of not being beautiful and/or aging by putting out this stuff and charging an extraordinary sum for these worthless products. My mother was a prime example. She always fussed that she couldn't leave the house without putting on her "face" which was an hour-long odyssey. I hated that she couldn't see how beautiful she was without that whole production.

No one looks younger or better with cosmetics and yet it is staggering how many people - mostly women - are sucked into believing that they cannot be seen in public with their own faces. BBBBAAAAAAAA. (People are sheep.)

The TV section showed one main article and five small tidbits about upcoming summer shows (now that networks are hip to the fact that having off-season shows are a benefit with so many zombies who do nothing but watch the telly. What scares me? Out of the six shows mentioned, five are reality shows. GROAN. The listed shows? Some horror called Jersey Couture, a show called Cake Boss (Ray had told me once about it and you can imagine my reaction: a WHOLE show about making cakes?!), Wipeout Blind Date (yikes), America's Got Talent (I would disagree with that statement in a second), and Hell's Kitchen (another abusive chef propagating the idea that mistreating people is acceptable).

My biggest objection has to be with Jersey Couture. Once again the telly is pushing the idea that we are all shallow horrible Sopranos knock offs in New Jersey, when most of us are really just normal people. Very few of us have that abominable accent, the big hair that disappeared with the 80s and the supreme stupidity of the Jersey Shore losers. Why is it California is aggrandised and we are just the armpit of the nation? These shows are not indicative of the average New Jersey native.

Sting is 58 years old and still hot. Enough said.

And a book review that caught my interest: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake: by Aimee Bender. "You are what you eat takes on a radically new meaning in this haunting novel by Bender (Willful Creatures). At 8, Rose Edelstein discovers she has a horrifying talent: In every food she consumes, she tastes the emotions of the people who prepared it. This means encountering hidden darkness, including her own mother's sorrow and loneliness. As Bender follows Rose from youth to postcollege, Rose's skill reveals more fissures in her family's life, such as her genius brother's desperate need to disappear. But Rose also realizes the her brother and her stoic, detached father possess their own surreal abilities--each, like hers, as much gift as affliction. Bender's prose delivers electric shocks (Rose's brain is "a glass of water I needed to carefully balance"), rendering the world in fresh, unexpected jolts. Moving, fanciful and gorgeously strange, this is a novel that asks the unsettling question: How much do we really want to know about the ones we love?"

"I imagined a girl who could taste the feelings people don't know they're feeling." -Aimee Bender

This sounds really interesting!

Then, "A Royal Shame", about the former Duchess of York who sold access to Prince Andrew for 40,000 Pounds Sterling in cash and then a wire transfer of 700,000 Pounds. My gods. I usually feel for the royal family - they are not even the real political force of Great Britain, but they have to put up with so much crap - and now they have to deal with this!

Fergie has reached a new low in grubbing for money. Not that she was ever a saint, but this is low. Of course she confesses to all kinds of remorse but I strongly suspect that this has more to do with being caught than any real feelings of remorse. She makes me look like a penny pincher.

Oh, my least favourite famous person: Kate Gosselin. I'll save that for another post.

ARTICLE: Silly Bandz Bracelet Craze

I'll get back to real writing, but this is interesting:

'The Bandz are now contraband. Schools in several states, including New York, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts, have blacklisted Silly Bandz, those stretchy, colorful bracelets that are creeping up the forearms of school kids across the U.S. And starting this week, all 800-some kids at my son's elementary school in Raleigh, N.C., were commanded to leave at home their collections of rubber band–like bracelets, which retail for about $5 per pack of 24. What could possibly be so insidious about a cheap silicone bracelet?

"It's a distraction," says Jill Wolborsky, a fourth-grade teacher at my son's school, who banned them from her classroom before the principal implemented a school-wide ban. One student stole some confiscated Bandz from her desk, choosing them over the cash in her drawer.

Students fiddle with them during class and arrange swaps - trading, say, a bracelet with a mermaid for one with a dragon - when they should be concentrating on schoolwork, teachers say. Sometimes a trade goes bad - kids get buyer's remorse too - and hard feelings, maybe even scuffles, ensue.

That's what prompted Karen White, principal of Snow Rogers Elementary School in Gardendale, Ala., in October to become one of the first administrators to forbid students their Bandz. "We try not to limit their freedom of expression and what they wear, but when this became a problem, I knew we had to nip it in the bud pretty quickly," says White, who has since extended an olive branch in the form of monthly Silly Bandz days.

Silly Bandz are the latest in a long list of kid-centric fads - in the tradition of Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies, PokÉmon cards and Crocs. BCP Imports LLC, the small business in Toledo, Ohio, that's behind the bracelets, was not prepared for the frenzy. It's increased its workforce from 20 employees to 200 in the past year and just this week added 22 phone lines to keep up with inquiries. The company sells millions of packs a month, and Robert Croak, the president, can still hardly believe it. (He took my call after hanging up with Macy's, which is interested in creating a Silly Bandz float for its storied Thanksgiving Day parade.)

Croak got inspired about three years ago at a product show in China, where a Japanese artist had devised a rubber band cute enough to escape the trash bin. Though Silly Bandz have been out for two years, they began catching on a year ago - Alabama was an early adopter, as were New Jersey and Tennessee. They're just now gaining traction in California and Texas.

"They're getting banned because kids play with them so much," says Croak, who maintains they're the right product at the right time, a cost-conscious trinket in tough economic times that can even be a learning tool for little ones, kind of like flexible flash cards.

His company receives about 500 fan letters a week. One, signed by a 10-year-old named Logan Librett and a few of his friends in New Rochelle, N.Y., suggested a way to circumvent all the bothersome Silly Bandz restrictions: "Some schools in New York have banned them, but we have ideas that might change that ... clear silly bands that teachers can't see and only glow in the dark."

Just in case the company bites, Librett offered his address. He's still waiting.'

I can understand the schools, but on the other hand, I'm guessing they are fighting a losing battle. Kids are distracted and willing to be. This is more fun than school work. Kids have popular things all the time. They trade, they go through buyers remorse, they get into fights - banning one weird product likely won't change anything. I will admit that I found the one little comment very interesting - one student robbed some confiscated Silly Bandz from a teacher's desk instead of the money. Wow.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

ARTICLE: Double Your Social Security Benefits

by Lynn Brenner
Saturday, May 1, 2010


How'd you like to double the size of your Social Security checks? You will goose your future retirement income if you are able to delay the start of your benefits from age 62 to 70. If you can't wait that long, at least try to avoid taking Social Security until 66 — that will increase the size of your checks by one third. Sure, you'll forgo some income in those early years, but you'll make up the difference quickly once those larger checks start coming in.

We know what you may be thinking: What Social Security? If so, take a deep breath. Yes, the Congressional Budget Office projects the program will have a $10 billion deficit this year and bleed another $9 billion in 2011. And still, Al Gore's "lock box" sits empty.

But few careful observers think Social Security's checks will stop arriving (though how they're calculated may change). "I never cease to be amazed that financial planners and regular citizens are so disdainful about Social Security," says Steve Vernon, a Santa Monica, Calif., retirement consultant and MoneyWatch blogger. Congress is not about to end Social Security, Vernon notes, if for no other reason than the fact that soon-to-retire Baby Boomers comprise the largest voting bloc.

Today, most people who qualify for Social Security are eager to get their hands on a check as soon as possible. A full 70 percent of recipients sign up for Social Security between age 62 and the normal full retirement age, which is between 65 and 67, depending on the year you were born.

Some, undoubtedly, have been forced into early retirement for health or economic reasons. But anyone who can avoid taking Social Security checks early will do themselves a big financial favor by delaying, since taking benefits early slashes what the government provides. As a married couple, however, you can employ more sophisticated strategies to collect Social Security early and still maximize your benefits over time. Here's how.
Visit the Retirement Center
The Case for Waiting
To see the long-term benefits of waiting, consider this example from T. Rowe Price senior financial planner Christine Fahlund. A man born on January 2, 1948, who earns $80,200, he can expect a $2,157 a month from Social Security at his normal full retirement age of 66. But if he retires this year, at 62, he'll receive just $1,458 a month, about a third less. Using Social Security's assumptions, by waiting until 70, his checks will start at $3,303 — more than double what he'd get at 62.

True, he must pass up eight years' worth of checks — in this example, that's a total of $149,517 in inflation-adjusted benefits from age 62 through 69. But if he starts taking benefits at age 70, the bigger checks will let him make up that $149,517 in a little over six years, or by the time he's 77.
>From then on, he'll be ahead of the game.Through age 85, he'll have collected $786,450, or$219,462 more than if he had started benefits at 62. Postponing meant eight years of tax-free, government guaranteed growth.

Postponing your benefits can also help you avoid the Social Security earnings penalty if you work in retirement. In 2010, if you receive Social Security checks before the full retirement age, you must temporarily forfeit $1 of your benefits for each $2 you earn over $14,160 (you can't collect any benefits if you earn more than $42,960). If you reach your full retirement age in 2010, Social Security holds back one dollar for every $3 earned over $37,680. After you've reached full retirement age, the earnings penalty disappears.

Weighing the Numbers
To determine when you should tell Social Security to start sending the checks, run some what-if scenarios.

Start by finding out how much Social Security is likely to pay you. The agency's web site has a table listing the normal retirement age based on the year you were born and the penalty for collecting benefits early. If you start at age 62, you'll get 25 percent to 30 percent less than at your full retirement age.

For a pretty good idea what your actual benefits will look like based on what you've earned (your checks are based on the average of your 35 highest-paying years), use Social Security's retirement estimator calculator.

Also, consider these three factors before you start the clock on Social Security:

Your health. If you have a serious illness or family history of short life expectancies, taking benefits as soon as you can makes sense. "But for most people, delaying benefits until their normal retirement age or later is best," says Vernon, "because, on average, Americans in their 50s and 60s will live until their mid-80s." You can use the calculators at livingto100.com and bluezones.com to estimate your life expectancy based on your health, family history and lifestyle.

Your marital status. If you're married, delaying your checks will not only boost your benefit, it will mean a larger survivor benefit for your spouse — extra money that will last for the rest of his or her life. There's an 81 percent chance that one or both members of a 65-year-old couple will live to
85, a 58 percent chance that one or both will make it to 90.

Your plans. Of course advice here can't take into account your personal needs: You may want to start taking Social Security late because you plan to keep working into your late 60s and don't need the government checks. Conversely, you may want to receive the money early so you can write the
Great American Novel.

The Math for Marriage
If you're married, running the numbers is, as Meryl Streep might say, complicated. MoneyWatch blogger Larry Swedroe wrote a helpful four-part series on Social Security strategies for couples that demystifies the math. Here are the four basic rules:

1.You can claim a Social Security benefit based on your work record or your spouse's work record. The maximum spousal benefit is 50 percent of what your husband or wife will receive.

2. A widow or widower who starts collecting survivor benefits at the normal retirement age or older generally earns 100 percent of the deceased spouse's benefit. But the amount shrinks to 71 to 99 percent if you begin getting survivor benefits between 60 and your normal retirement age.

3. You can never collect your benefit and your spousal (or survivor's) benefit at the same time. If you're entitled to both benefits and are under the full retirement age, you will always receive the larger of the two.

4. You can't apply for a spousal benefit until your husband or wife has filed for Social Security.

How Couples Can Collect Early
Married couples who can't afford postponing Social Security altogether can use a technique known as the "62/70 Strategy" to maximize benefits over the long term. With this system, the lower-earning spouse files for Social Security at age 62 and the higher earner delays until age 70. "No matter which spouse dies first, the smaller benefit will die off too," says James Mahaney, vice president of Prudential Retirement and co-author of a report on how to maximize Social Security benefits.

Here's how T. Rowe Price's Fahlund says 62/70 could work: Assume John's full benefit will be $2,157 a month. His wife Jane's full retirement benefit will be $1,081 a month; at 62, she'd receive $721 a month. Jane applies for her $721 benefit at 62, and John delays claiming his checks until 70, when he'll collect $3,303. If John dies at 82, his monthly benefit will have grown to $4,601 because he had waited until 70 to start collecting. That $4,601 then becomes Jane's survivor benefit, and it will be 88 percent more than Jane would have received if John had begun collecting at age 62.

Couples should also take advantage of the little-known rules to boost retirement income.

Let's go back to John and Jane. Although John is waiting until 70 to start receiving his benefits, at 66 he can apply for a spousal benefit based on Jane's work record while his own benefit keeps growing. (If he was younger than 66, he couldn't do that.) Because he has reached his full retirement age, John qualifies for the maximum spousal benefit: $541 a month, or 50 percent of Jane's $1,081 benefit. When John hits 70, he'll drop the spousal benefit and start collecting his own larger benefit.

ARTICLE: Ten Ways You're Getting Ripped Off

10 Ways You're Getting Ripped Off
by Forbes, Edited by Brett Nelson
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
provided by

Think you're not getting a fair shake? Here's how bad it really is.

Economists call them "market inefficiencies"--those periods when the price of something veers from its underlying, inherent value. Consumers on the short end of these misalignments call them rip-offs.

We're not talking fraud here, though there's plenty of that going around, too. We're talking about all the ways, within the law, that we allow ourselves to be taken for a ride.

Rip-offs imply choice. If there's truly no substitute for a particular good or service, then you'll put up with sticker shock. (Think movie theater snacks and certain life-saving medications.) That's good work for businesses that can get it, but plenty rely on our collective naiveté, distraction, shortsightedness and high stress levels when pushing this flimflam.

To be sure, in some cases we know we're being taken but we put up with it anyway. What you may not know is just how egregious the gouging is.

We started unearthing rip-offs in 2009, and our hunt continues. Here are some of the latest lowlights.

Airline Club Memberships
The Rip-Off: A year of access to United Airlines' Red Carpet Club costs $425, plus a $50 sign-up fee. For that you get cushy chairs, short customer service lines and peace and quiet at some of America's busiest airports. Sounds nice, except that the airline is taking you for a ride.

How to Avoid It: For $375 a year you can get a United Mileage Plus Club Visa card that earns airline miles and includes a Red Carpet Club membership. Delta Air Lines (DAL - News) and Continental offer similar deals.

Fitness Shoes
The Rip-Off: Reebok calls it the EasyTone; Skechers, the ShapeUp. These curved-sole shoes, transforming people into human rocking chairs, cost up to $130 and promise to keep you fit even while grocery shopping. During 2009 sales grew 14-fold to $245 million, estimates market researcher NPD. One problem: "They mostly affect the foot and ankle," says Dr. Michael Ross, director of Rothman Institute's Sports Performance Lab, which counts the Philadelphia Eagles, Phillies and Flyers among its clients. "There is no evidence they will help you tone better or quicker than a regular shoe."

How to Avoid It: Join a gym.

College Textbooks
The Rip-Off: Textbooks cost the average American student about $900 per year. New editions often come out every three years and tend to run 45% more than used copies of previous editions. Between 1995 and 2004 textbook prices rose at more than four times the rate of inflation, according to Nicole Allen, a director at Student Public Interest Research Group, a student advocacy group. "Students are a captive audience since professors decide what books they need to buy," says Allen.

How to Avoid It: Sites like ecampus.com and alibris.com offer better deals than campus bookstores. Then there's chegg.com, a textbook rental site with an approach similar to that of Netflix (NFLX - News).

Travel Insurance
The Rip-Off: Americans spend more than $1 billion on travel insurance (paid to agents) to guard against cancelled flights and stolen bags. Thing is, other policies often cover the same stuff. Some homeowners' policies and credit cards cover lost luggage; airlines reimburse travelers for up to $3,000 worth of goods. "It's not a good economic decision for most people," says Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America.

How to Avoid It: If you just can't sleep without insurance, "don't buy from someone who's selling you something else," say Hunter. "It's almost always a bad deal involving kickbacks to whoever's offering the service."

Ready-to-Drink Baby Formula
The Rip-Off: Is it that hard to mix powder with water to feed your child? Take Enfamil's Premium Lipil, a popular formula brand. A 32-ounce can that you can crack open and serve might last a day or two. On Diapers.com a 6-pack of 32-ounce cans (192 fluid ounces of formula) costs $45, while a container of Enfamil's water-mix powder that makes 168 ounces goes for $25. That's 23.4 cents an ounce for liquid vs. 14.9 cents an ounce for powdered--a 57% markup.

How to Avoid It: Buy a $30 Brita pitcher (to purify the water), add powder, shake.

Credit Card Gift Cards
The Rip-Off: Consumer protection types are coming down on hard on aggressive credit card companies. They might take issue with gift cards, too. American Express (AXP - News) charges $3.95 for its cards, whether you're buying a $25 card or a $3,000 one; Visa charges $3.50 for cards purchased at bank branches and tacks on a $2.50 monthly fee after the first 12 months following the purchase date. Another rub: Merchants often reject cards bearing amounts less than the price of an item. (So much for that $2.59 left on your card.)

How to Avoid It: Give cash.

Prepackaged Deli Meat
The Rip-Off: Plenty of supermarkets offer pre-sliced, prepackaged deli meats while employing lots of people to slice the same stuff at the deli counter. The grab-and-go premium? Whole Foods (WFMI - News) charges $4.29 for a 4-ounce package of Applegate Farms soppressata. The same meat (likely fresher) at the deli counter: $13.49 per pound, or $3.37 for 4 ounces. That's a 27% markup for the packaged stuff.

How to Avoid It: Walk over to the deli counter and have them slice it for you.

"Germ-Fighting" Supplements
The Rip-Off: These products initially claimed to fight germs, help battle colds and boost the immune system. They don't. In 2007 and 2008 the Federal Trade Commission charged manufacturers of three products with making false and deceptive advertising claims. All have since changed their packaging. Airborne Health, marketer of Airborne, paid $23.5 million to settle charges. CVS agreed to pay $2.8 million in consumer refunds and to stop making certain claims.

How to Avoid It: Wash your hands and get enough sleep.
Title Insurance
The Rip-Off: If you need a mortgage, you need title insurance. But costs and regulations vary wildly from state to state. Insurance on a $500,000 home can cost $3,000 in Houston and less than $2,000 in Boston. Your real estate broker will likely steer you to a title company with which the broker has a relationship, but it may not offer the best deal.

How to Avoid It: You can't avoid title insurance, but you can shop around. Your best bet: contact the company hired by the previous owner. They've already done most of the work and are likely to give you a good rate.
Cable Television
The Rip-Off: All you want is basic cable, but your cable company wants you to have so much more--and pay through the nose for it. That's why it bundles in a whole mess of channels, including dozens that even the most feckless of couch potatoes won't watch.

How to Avoid It: Hulu.com offers thousands of videos, TV episodes (new and old) and full-length movies--all free. And Netflix charges as little as $9 a month for access to more than 100,000 TV episodes on DVD, as well as 12,000 movies.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Grey's Anatomy Season Six Finale

It was shocking.

It opened up with a big black screen reading VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED - VIOLENT CONTENT. Okay... it's a hospital show. There's usually blood and other usual hospital finds... how bad could it be?

It was bad.

It wasn't ten minutes into the show that Gary Clark, lost in the hospital, suddenly shot Dr. Reid in the head. Point blank, right in the middle of the forehead. It was so shocking I cried out. It was just out of nowhere. BANG... She was there in a pool of blood. And when Dr. Karev walked in, BANG again. He had started to raise his hand and turned so he was shot mid-axillary - which means at the least a collapsed lung. (They had to do a chest tube later.)

When I did my ER time in April 2004, a man was medi-vaced in to the hospital and they sent me up with the team to get him. He drove into a tree and was in bad shape. Generally the tree wins. We got him down to the ER trauma and he had a tension pneumothorax. They put a hole into his lung and then told me to put my finger in there. HOLY COW. I kept my finger in there and then when he was gone, I asked for orange juice, to get my blood sugar back up and get over how pale and shaky I was. No EMT will ever have to do that in the field. It was staggering to have my finger in someone else's lung...

I've wandered from the topic.

This man went around shooting people in the hospital. And he had excellent aim, especially for someone who'd never had a gun. At one point he pulled Bailey out from under the bed where she was hiding and said, "I'm sorry... sorry for the mess. I'm sorry." For the mess? Seriously? Because this is the biggest problem you have?

Yikes...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

ARTICLE: Jupiter Loses its Southern Belt

One of Jupiter's major features — its South Equatorial Belt — is gone. And although the current disappearance probably resulted from intense storm activity within Jupiter's atmosphere, planetary scientists find themselves at a loss to explain what the trigger was. They also don't know how long the belt will remain invisible.

This isn't the first time this phenomenon has occurred, and it probably won't be the last. The South Equatorial Belt (SEB) disappeared in 1973 and 1991. "I've been watching Jupiter for 4 decades," said Astronomy Contributing Editor Raymond Shubinski, "and I've seen Jupiter with only one belt at least twice before. It's a jarring sight if you're familiar with the planet. It's like seeing Jupiter without one of its large satellites, but a belt can stay hidden for months."

Astronomers noticed the missing belt after Jupiter reappeared in the morning sky in March. Just prior to that, it was invisible because it lay behind the Sun from our point of view (a point in Jupiter's orbit called solar conjunction). At Astronomy magazine, amateur astronomers from around the world send us images of Jupiter on a daily basis. "We've been marveling at Jupiter's one-belt appearance for several months now," said Senior Editor Richard Talcott. "Now we're all waiting to see how the SEB will reappear."

Jupiter's opposition — the point in its orbit opposite the Sun as seen from Earth (and the best time to observe it) — arrives on the last day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. On September 21, the planet will appear bigger and brighter than at any time in 47 years. It will subtend an angle of 49.9 arcseconds (close to its greatest possible size of 50.1 arcseconds), and it will glare at magnitude -2.9 — 4 times brighter than the brightest nighttime star, Sirius. If you'd like to learn more about observing Jupiter, be sure to read "The king of planets reigns in September" in the September issue of Astronomy, which goes on sale August 3.

This sequence of three sets of images by amateur astronomer and planetary imager Christopher Go of Cebu, Philippines, shows how prominent Jupiter's South Equatorial Belt (SEB) was in August 2009 (left). By November of last year (center), the belt had begun to fade some. And the current pair (right), taken May 13, 2010, shows no SEB at all. South is up in all these images.

My Review of Hot/Cold Therapeutic Comfort Wrap

Originally submitted at King Size

Designed for the neck, shoulders and back. Ideal for sore muscles, arthritis, stress and more. Heat in the microwave for moist heat therapy, in the freezer for cold therapy. Polyester/buckwheat. Spot clean. Burgundy. 22½"Lx22"W.


Excellent Relaxation Device

By Aislinge from Parsippany, NJ on 5/20/2010

 

4out of 5

Pros: Comfortable, Heats Up Quickly, Easy To Use, Even Heat

Cons: Cools down a little too f

Best Uses: Pain from Muscular Dystro, Muscle Spasms, Daily Use, Sore Muscles

Describe Yourself: Muscular Dystrophy

I use this almost every night. It heats up fairly quickly, but cools down faster than the usual mall style neck heating pads. The weight is good, it's nice and light. It works well for when my neck is tight or after I've been on a call with the ambulance doing patient care. My father recommended it to me, and it is a good product and I do recommend it.

(legalese)

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Another EMT Recertification Gone By

I spent this weekend in classes recertifying.

When I first joined the squad on 10 March 2003, I had no certifications, no knowledge other than a lot of reading and was completely new to Emergency Medical Services. But it sounded amazing and neat and we'd moved into this area the previous October and I had a little too much time on my hands.

The first night I rode, we went out on a "smell of smoke" standby and watched in the cold air as the firemen methodically put holes in the house to determine if there was a problem. After about 90 minutes, they gave up and had the heavy rescue guys come out to board it up. As we were released from that, we were called out for a bug on a kid's back. On the way, we were diverted to something else.

It was exciting.

So a month later I went to Chilton to get my first CPR/AED training. It was eight hours and fascinating. I learned a lot and realised that is the first of three levels of training that I could take. I love learning.

In October 2003 we hosted a First Responder training class. It was three weeks long and was 40 hours of training. We had it on two or three nights a week and I learned a staggering amount of things. They teach the basic knowledge as well as the little pearls and tidbits and they told war stories (in all honesty, there were a few too many war stories, but I enjoyed it). There were a lot of practicals and tests, but that is a good thing. I passed that and signed up for the EMT course in January 2004. I knew what I was getting into at that point and was ready - I had my CPR and First Responder certs and I had been riding for 7 months.

In early January I went to the first of many, many classes. The introduction was on a Thursday night, and they laid out the whole program: 13 Cores or modules and heaps of practice, ten hours of emergency room time and books and books and printed sheets to write out. There would be no bullet points and no partial phrases. Everything had to be filled out as full paragraphs detailing and outlining the whole process of whatever they asked.

The book to read along with the long lectures had all the answers (I have the book still) and the work book along with the Xeroxed sheets had to be done each night. That Thursday had sounded daunting. If we did not pass a test at the end of each mod, we had one time to retake it. I scored high on all the mod tests except pediatrics, with all the weird numbers that kids in different age ranges have. It isn't the practical side of it, it is the numbers - infants (age 0 - 1) have one set of numbers, toddlers (age 1 - 3) have a different set, and preschoolers (age 3 - 6) have another. The numbers become much like adults at age 8, but the guidelines at that age for dealing with peds patients are different. Adolescents are different, too. Their stats are completely like adults but how one talks to them and deals with them is different.

The first time I recertified, it was work but it was good - it's the skills you don't use that get you. The numbers for using the traction kit? Once every ten years. How often do we use the epi-pen? Almost never. But we have them. Good thing we have to refresh this stuff. It won't get easier.

This time was even easier. I'm surprised at that. I get the feeling that passing people is more important than actually make sure that we have the skills to do this. Hopefully not. I'd like to be wrong on that.

However, I loved the instructors. I met some wonderful people and learned weird little factoids, like: The crook in the arm is the antecubital area. The use it for venipuncture because the blood vessels are tied down where they need to bend for the elbow. The area is called the antecubital area because it is the front (ante) of the cubit. The biblical distance from your elbow to your hand.

How cool is THAT?

And: When I was 12 we were driving my cousin home and as we passed her neighbors house she said that the little girl who lived there had leukemia. I asked my dad what that meant. He said it meant that she is going to die. The book on the human body by Isaac Asimov that I'm reading was written in 1963 and it just said that leukemia is invariably fatal. Isn't it amazing how far we've come in 40 years.

Isn't it?

Friday, 14 May 2010

Lyrics: It's A Wonderful Night

Yeh, yeh yeh yeh yeh
Uhm hmm hm hm

It's a wonderful night
You've gotta take it from me
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

It's a wonderful night
You've gotta shake it for me
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

It's a wonderful night
Everybody can see
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

It's a wonderful night
Go ahead and release
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

You know the music search engine need a tuneup
Soon as they out the gate they all a wanna hear da corner, uh-huh
Well that was cool but now but then I heard a rumor, uh-huh
Your crew was ridin' for the White Cliffs of Dover

Uh let me tell ya how we do it in California
We'll have you on the run just like a puma
If it don't move us
Ain't paid ya dues and it ain't gonna get our roosers
We gonna lose ya to the consumer solution c'mon

It's a wonderful night
You've gotta take it from me
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

It's a wonderful night
You've gotta shake it for me
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

Girl I want it you got it
Your body's like a narcotic
The thought is auto-erotic

Come on and break it on down

Can I get it on credit
I guess your brick-house I'll bet it
Take it as far as you'll let it

Come on and break it on down

That the spot will get hot
That its ready to pop
Don't even look at the clock
All of your problems forgotten
It's time to rock till you drop
Feel the force and just flock
To the epicenter of the party's bass drummers c'mon

It's a wonderful night
You've gotta take it from me
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

It's a wonderful night
You've gotta shake it for me
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

We gonna stimulate your mind
Everybody's high
Eyes just like a child
Everything feels right

Once you've seen the light
You're gonna move all night
Feel your soul ignite
Everything feels right, right, riggggggggghht

We live the masterful life that's mythical
Feel its chords and its vibes atypical
Do what you want
It's alright this mystical time you've got
That's a lot of this principle

If you stay in this moments so critical
Let the music change your brain stem's chemicals
Make you feel like your spirit's invincible
Force centrifugal reaching up to your pinnacle now

It's a wonderful night
You've gotta take it from me
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

It's a wonderful night
You've gotta shake it for me
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

We rock like Colorado
You're at it throwin' bottles
We give a fuck about who your status
Who you are tomorrow

Whether you beg or borrow
Or hit the super lotto
Whether your girl look like a minga or a supermodel

Feel the connectedness, energy, disprojected the weighted
The whole collective consciousness
Arise like helium oh

Groovin' out of the question
Won't disrespect him, but
Our styles fuckin' pouch like Dave Beckham c'mon

It's a wonderful night
You've gotta take it from me
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

It's a wonderful night
You've gotta shake it for me
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

The truth I'm at 'em and rough 'em
As hard as the granite get
Never hesitant upon a mic strike, quick

Like an avalanche
Hijack ya like a Comanche
I'm a man on a mission
Rhyme vigilante

Keep all the jealous and the envious antsy
Love to do the club though with the party people dancin' uh-huh
And set the mood for all the plottin' and romancin' uh-huh

It's a wonderful night
We've got the answer c'mon
It's a wonderful night
You've gotta take it from me
It's a wonderful night
Come on and break it on down

It's a wonderful night
You've gotta shake it for me
It's a wonderful night

Come on and break it on down

Sunday, 9 May 2010

What to Buy and Not Buy from WalMart

I personally hate WalMart for a multitude of reasons, and will never support them. So this is interesting reading.

"Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that Walmart (NYSE: WMT - News) is the nation's largest retailer, there are plenty of people who wouldn't be caught dead in one. To these folks, Walmart conjures images of a rapacious juggernaut of stadium-sized stores offering low-quality merchandise, spotty service, and mistreating employees and the environment — while driving small local retailers out of business.

But many of those misgivings are starting to fade, partly as a result of some well-timed improvements to the company's product line-up and its environmental record. What's more, there's nothing like the worst recession in 80 years to nudge "low prices" a little higher on the collective priority list. And while Walmart may not be making its employees rich, the chain handed out very few pink slips in the downturn and remains the country's largest private employer.

To be sure, there are plenty of reasons to remain wary of the retail behemoth. Whether you are concerned about the threat to a downtown business district, object to the retail culture, or just have a mental picture of the Walmart shopper that you can't square with your own self image, it may not be for you. But it's worth keeping in mind that, when it leverages its enormous scale for good, Walmart can make a difference in a hurry. It's one thing when a boutique sells fair-trade coffee, but when Walmart gets into the game, a lot of sustainable farmers benefit. Here are five product categories where you can comparison shop in good conscience at the nation's "low-price leader."

1. Moderately Priced Consumer Electronics

Dying to get the latest hi-definition TV from Vizio or Viore? We thought not. Those low-priced brands are what Walmart has focused on in the past, but recently the retailer has expanded its offerings to include high-def TVs from top makers such as Samsung (Other OTC: SSNLF.PK - News), Sony (NYSE: SNE - News), Philips (NYSE: PHG - News), and Sharp (Other OTC: SHCAY.PK - News). It also now offers digital cameras made by the likes of Nikon and Canon.

Walmart still isn't the best place to shop for a top-of-the-line television or digital SLR camera. But its focus on bringing in more big brands has made it an attractive option for shoppers seeking consumer electronics in the sub-$1,000 price range. This year, for example, some WalMart stores offered a 50-inch Samsung plasma television for less than $700 during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

What Walmart doesn't have is an army of educated sales people ready to explain all the settings on the back of that SLR or the subtle differences between a high-def TV with a resolution of 1080i versus one with 1080p. But such service has become less important now that 90 percent of consumers turn to the Internet for detailed product reviews, says James Russo, Nielsen's vice president of global consumer insights.

"Consumers will do their research outside the store," says Russo. "So if Walmart has the right selection and price point, consumers will go there.

2. Smart Phones

In the past year, Walmart has beefed up its offerings of higher-end cell phones, especially Blackberries. This is good news if you've reached the end of your phone contract and are looking to compare new phones and carriers all in one place, since Walmart sells phones and service plans from each of the four largest U.S. carriers: Verizon (NYSE: VZ - News), AT&T (NYSE: T - News), Sprint (NYSE: S - News), and T-Mobile (NYSE: DT - News). So if you want to see how T-Mobile's G1 phone, which uses Google's Android operating system, matches up against Apple's iPhone, Walmart is the place for you. You can't do that at an AT&T store, or even at one of Apple's fancy boutiques.

3. Coffee

While Walmart has been criticized in the past for being more concerned with price than environmental or labor issues when sourcing its goods, one area where it's improving its record is with coffee. This year, the company partnered with TransFair USA, an independent certifying agency, to offer fair trade-certified coffee in its Walmart and Sam's Club stores. The coffee is sustainably grown by farmers who receive a living wage and is thus more expensive than competing coffees — roughly $5.88 for a 10 to 12 ounce bag, compared with less than $5 for supermarket brand Eight O'Clock Coffee. But it tastes better (or at least it should), and by selling fair-trade coffee, Walmart vastly expands the market for such goods.

Carmen K. Iezzi, executive director of the Fair Trade Federation, a North American association for such products, says Walmart's expansion of fair trade certified items like coffee was promising, although she cautioned that it's too early to tell how much impact Walmart's efforts will have. Still, coffee is a good start. "When any major corporation begins to move in the direction of more sustainable practices, that is a positive sign," says Iezzi.

4. Video Game Bundles

Of course, Walmart's primary appeal has always been its low prices, but it makes sense for shoppers to do a cost/benefit analysis: Is it worth it to save $10 on a book, when you could be supporting an independent bookseller instead? On the other hand, you can save a lot more money if you're in the market for video game systems, which Walmart often bundles with starter games. For example, Walmart was recently selling the Xbox 360 Elite gaming system, along with two games, including this season's blockbuster title, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, for just $259. The game console alone sells for upward of $249 at stores such as Sears, while Call of Duty typically retails for $60. And buying video game consoles and products at Walmart is arguably a guilt-free purchase. After all, Sears (NasdaqGS: SHLD - News) isn't known for standing up against suburban sprawl.

5. Laundry Detergent

When it comes to the environment, Walmart's suppliers have often fallen far short of best practices. Now the chain is trying to clean up its act by offering more eco-friendly products. One area where it's done the most is laundry detergent. The company recently switched to selling only concentrated laundry detergent in its U.S. stores — these products use up to 50 percent less packaging and require less fuel to transport than the earlier versions. Once again, scale matters: Walmart has a serious carbon footprint, so cutting laundry detergent containers by half can have a big impact.

Walmart has taken steps to combat phosphates, which pollute the water and lead to an explosion of the algae population that destroys fish habitats and plants. The company already says there are no phosphates in detergent it sells in the U.S., and earlier this year, it announced plans to choose more eco-friendly suppliers for the laundry and dish detergent it sells in its Americas region, cutting phosphates by 70 percent by 2011. The Americas region includes Canada, Mexico, and countries in Central and South America.

And Walmart has unveiled broader initiatives to improve its eco-image. In July, the company began developing a sustainability index that will eventually rank all of its suppliers and products based on their environmental impact. "Walmart is taking some important steps, although they've still got a long way to go," says Honor Schauland, a campaign assistant at the Organic Consumers Association, a Minnesota-based consumer advocacy group.

Walmart didn't become the world's largest retailer by accident. Executives in Bentonville, Ark., are well aware that stocking sustainable products was a good way to attract a more affluent consumer. And those consumers like low prices on recognizable brands as much as anyone, especially in the current economy, says Doug Conn, a managing director at Hexagon Securities who focuses on the retail sector.

"They have picked up on trends like organics and natural products, and that has helped get new customers," says Conn. "But the key theme is that customers are more value-oriented than they have ever been this holiday season, and Walmart is the default place to go for low prices."

In other words, new customers are coming for the deals. But if they shop the categories mentioned above, they can feel good about being thrifty without worrying that they've abandoned their ideals just to save a buck.

What Not to Buy at Walmart

While Walmart has recently burnished its reputation among upscale shoppers, there are still some product categories where you'd be better off going elsewhere — either because you're straying beyond Walmart's core competency, or to avoid supporting the giant retailer's bad behavior. Here are three of them.

1. High-End Electronics

Though Walmart has expanded its selection of name-brand electronics, it's still focused on value-oriented products in the sub-$1,000 price range. And its sales staff tend not to be experts in the finer points of multimedia interface. So if you want to splurge on a top-of-the-line television or digital SLR camera — and get the accompanying level of service and accessories — you'll want to visit a specialty electronics store. Best Buy (NYSE: BBY - News), for example, has a customer support team (the Geek Squad) capable of explaining why, for instance, you may need a television with several HDMI ports.

2. Books

This year, Walmart slashed prices aggressively to establish itself as the low-price leader for best-selling books. The store cut the cost of popular novels such as Stephen King's Under the Dome by 70 percent to $13.99, sparking a price war with Amazon (NasdaqGS: AMZN - News).

The Walmart/Amazon rivalry translates into incredibly low prices for consumers on some of the most popular book titles. But Walmart's prices come at a cost, say local business advocates. In the long-run, such deep discounts can drive independent booksellers out of business. And without these stores, consumers will have difficulty finding all but the most well-known authors, says Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a non-profit that advocates for local businesses.

3. Wood Furniture

Despite Walmart's increased focus on sustainability, the retailer has a long way to go in the furniture category. In December 2007, an environmental group published a report tracing furniture from Walmart suppliers to wood illegally logged in protected Russian habitats for Siberian tigers and other wildlife. Several months later, Walmart promised to investigate its suppliers and joined the Global Forest & Trade Network, an organization dedicated to eliminating illegal logging. Environmental activists have applauded Walmart's promise to purge environmentally rotten wood, but Walmart could take until a self-imposed deadline of 2013 to phase out the products. Until then, consumers can't be certain that Walmart's wood furniture comes from well-managed forests."

Are You There, New Jersey? It's Me, Judy.

From The Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges into New Jersey:

"Since 1969 Elizabeth-born Judy Blume has been the patron saint of the Awkward Years, otherwise known as puberty. Anyone who's grown up in America in the last 35 years has probably had a Judy Blume book on hand to explain something that parents often felt uneasy discussing.

Judy Blume, born Judy Sussman in Elizabeth in 1938, could have been one of the characters she wrote about in her own books, as she acknowledged in 2004: "I was a small, shy, anxious child with eczema, as fearful as Sheila the Great, as imaginative as Sally J. Freeman." As a girl, she was an avid reader--but not of children's books. The reason: "I never found my kind of reality in children's books. No child was anything like me. No child thought the kinds of things I did, leading me to believe I definitely wasn't normal." But with all that working against her, how did Judy Blume become the undisputed queen of all things preadolescent?

Became a Desperate Housewife
Inwardly normal or not, the young Ms. Sussman was determined to live a "normal" life. She became Judy Blume in 1959 by getting married (while still in college), and she was a mother by 1961. But by the mid-1960s, the 20-something housewife was going nuts in the Jersey suburbs. "I adored my children, but inside was an empty space, a gnawing, an ache that I couldn't identify, one that I didn't understand," she said. To fill that empty space, Blume went back to her childhood, resurrected her imagination, and began to write.

Her early career didn't start auspiciously--the rejections piled up. One of Blume's earliest rejections was from the Highlights magazine. The home of such immortal fare as "Goofus and Gallant" informed Blume that her work did "not win in competition with others." After that particular rejection, Blume literally hid in a closet and cried. It was two years before she sold her first book, The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo, in 1969.

Be Able to Corner the Market
But it was Blume's third book that began her transformation into America's Muse of Puberty. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret., published in 1970, featured a girl dealing with both her confusion over religion (she was the result of an interfaith marriage) and her anxiety over being a "late bloomer." Neither subject had been frequently or directly tackled in adolescent fiction; to hit both at the same time made a definite impression.

What Margaret did for girls, Blume's Then Again, Maybe I Won't did for boys in 1971. Her other books touched on unpopularity, divorce, losing one's virginity, and other overall awkwardness of existence when you're in the space between pigtails and cocktails. Because she wrote in the voice that kids could relate to, Judy Blume first cornered the market on adolescent angst.

Be the Target of Censorship
Normally, all the frank discussion of touchy subjects in these books eventually ran afoul of some adults. One night, Blume received a phone call from a woman who asked if she was the author of Margaret. When she answered yes, the woman called her a communist and slammed down the phone. "I never did figure out if she equated communism with menstruation or religion," wrote Blume. The prinicipal of her children's elementary school refused to put Margaret in the library because he felt the topic was inappropriate, despite the high probability that some of his sixth-grade female students had already personally dealt with the subject at hand.

By the early 1980s, however, Blume's books increasingly became a target for organized censors, who complained her books were inappropriate for children because of language and subject matter. Margaret and Then Again weren't the only targets: Blume's 1974 book Blubber, which featured a girl being mercilessly teased by her classmates, was protested because it didn't show the girl's tormentors being punished. Blume's response was that in real life, sometimes tormentors aren't punished--which was a lesson in itself.

As a result of the push to get her books removed from school libraries, Blume found herself near the top of the list of America's most banned authors--the second most censored, in fact, according to the American Library Association (Alvin Schwartz, of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark fame, is currently first).

Receive the National Book Award
Despite the best effort of the censors, Blume's 22 books, including three books for adult readers) More than 69 million copies combined. Blume's influence over entire generations of teens and preteens--and her fight against censorship--was enough for the National Book Foundation to present her with an honorary National Book Award in 2004, elevating her into the highest ranks of American letters with previous recipients such as Eudora Welty, Toni Morrison, John Updike, and Philip Roth.For those still not convinced of Blume's importance, a 1998 article in the Boston Phoenix weekly puts it best: "Presumably, puberty would have happened without Judy Blume books, but there's no way to know for sure."

Books by Judy Blume
A short list of some of Judy Blume's famous works.

Books for the Pre-Awkward Years
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (1972)
Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great (1972)
Superfudge (1980)
Fudge-a-Mania (1990)
Double Fudge (2003)

Books for the Awkward Years
Iggie's House (1970)
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. (1970)
Then Again, Maybe I Won't (1971)
It's Not the End of the World (1972)
Deenie (1973)
Blubber (1974)
Starring Sally J. Freeman as Herself (1977)"

On a personal note, I read almost all if not all of the 22 books Judy Blume wrote. I loved them. They were true to life. They definitely appealed to kids and teens because they dealt with all the topics we wanted to know about (I got lucky - I have great parents who told me anything I wanted to know about but most kids did not). Here's the kicker - my grandmother, who clearly had no idea what Judy Blume wrote about, got me a set of the books - including Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret. If she'd known what they taught, she'd never buy them.

Heh, heh, heh.

Let all censors out there chew on that!

Sometimes Miracles Happen

This weekend, so far, has been a miracle.

Nothing has happened. Not a thing. Car 65 went out on four or five runs, Car 69 went out on one. There is, granted, still 9 hours on, but for the moment and the last 15 hours, nothing has happened. Maybe we paid our dues on Thursday. Tough to think that one call with vomited blood makes up for five to seven runs but I will take it. I won't think twice.

You always want luck like that, but it is rare that you get it. Somehow the gods have you marked for doom when the long shift comes up. However, I have been dreading this since last weekend. The shift we had six weeks ago was wretched. We had one run at 2200, one at 0800 (an unsuccessful CPR call), then a string throughout the day and then another unsuccessful CPR call around 1630. It was a LONG weekend and fruitless to boot.

On the other hand, the person at 0800 had made peace with dying and it was a fast deal - no getting a shockable rhythm, no long work up, just doing what we could until they called time of death at the hospital.

If only the second call with CPR was like that. The patient was one we'd been to before; generally a mess. The patient had been sitting up, speaking and suddenly that was it. Game over. Not quite. We'd be ready to move and for a second, there'd be a workable rhythm. We'd go through the whole thing and then nothing. This happened several times. The extended family was there... so as soon as we'd get some out, more came in from other doorways. Nice house - far too many points of entrance. Maybe there is something to be said for smaller houses.

In the EMS world, you are either in a huge house (with too many family members and too many entrances into the room we're working in) or a tiny house with piles of stuff with paths that might be 12 across and I need to get the jump kit (with O2 and all kinds of supplies) and the stretcher through this to get to a 300lb person that in a month of Sundays will not fit.

The middle ground? There is none.

Heavy people are on the top floor; skinny people on the first floor. This is our world. There are almost no exceptions to the rule. We don't have too many rules: Rule number 1 - people die. Rule number 2: we can't change Rule number 1. This is simple. Every so often we buy them time on the first rule. And every so often there is a real CPR save. But most of the time, Rule number 1 is still inviolable.

We learn to live with the rules.