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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No New Taxes?


I see every Republican and many Democratic office holders, politicians, and spokesmen constantly saying that we need to reduce taxes. This happens at the local, state, and federal level.

While social programs and the arts typically are the main targets of the reductions necessary to offset the reduced taxes, many other areas of government also must adapt to reduced budgets. Often these proponents of the tax reductions claim that reduction of waste and an improved economy will more than make up for the tax reductions.There will be increased real revenue from the larger, more affluent tax base. The improved efficiencies will also result in more meaningful spending.

If all that is true, why do we continue to have such huge shortfalls in revenue at every level of government? Our federal government needs to raise the country's authorized debt level every few months. That's the issue that causes all those threats to shut down the federal government. If your revenues exceed or match your spending, there is no need to assume more debt. Apparently, there is a constant revenue shortfall.

State and local governments often have balanced budget provisions in the state constitution or local charter. Yet, many still advocate lower taxes. If you can't run a deficit, what choices do you have? Either you reduce spending or you issue bonds. Those bonds come with interest rates so that the million dollars you borrow in bonds will cost well over a million dollars, maybe two or three times that original million depending on the interest rate and length. Why do state and local governments issue bonds? Mostly because they don't have enough revenue to pay for everything. There are valid reasons for bonds. Some locales are growing so fast that they need to build schools and infrastructure for all the new residents before the increased tax base is in place. Maybe to build an office, retail, or industrial park to lure a large employer and their taxes to the area.

The problem is that once the schools or infrastructure is built with bond money, the tax rates don't support the ongoing maintenance and improvements. So, the schools become overcrowded and run down, the roads don't get repaired, the water and sewer pipes rupture, the parks are not maintained. 

I continually see stories on the local news about potholes, decaying schools, fire and police equipment shortages, low teacher and government employee salaries, 50-year-old water and gas pipes bursting, and many other problems. Many profess their support for the police and firefighters yet will not vote for any tax increase to raise salaries and buy proper equipment. It's the same story at the state and federal level. There is never enough money to do the job.

Yet, during the next election cycle, many candidates will be advocating lower taxes. Our current president and GOP congress are trying to lower taxes, mostly for the rich, right now. The lower taxes, trickle down economic philosophy has been around since at least the Reagan years. That's over 30 years ago. It didn't work then and it won't work now. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the middle class becomes poorer and smaller, our deficit increases, and our infrastructure crumbles. Unless you are rich, what is good about that?

We owe it to ourselves and more importantly to our kids to fix this problem. It is selfish and unconscionable to leave the country and the world in worse shape than we inherited it in. Our parents, the Greatest Generation, passed on a much better nation and world to us. Somehow they managed to build the Interstate Highway system, build and repair other infrastructure, rebuild a robust consumer economy, fund the space program, etc. all within a fair tax structure.  

By all means, pursue efficiencies at all levels of government. Cut waste, eliminate programs that are ineffective, redundant or not needed. When that is done, fund what remains. If current tax levels don't do that, then raise taxes. 

This is not just a case of the politicians selling snake oil. The electorate must take a very big percentage of the blame. "There is no free lunch."  It was true the first time it was uttered and it is true today. Responsible, realistic fiscal policy is the only way out of the current mess.

Taxes are not evil. They fund all sorts of things we need. The military, first responders, roads, infrastructure, food safety, courts, and hundreds of other things and services we depend on every day. 

Let's stop passing the buck, or the 57¢ of the needed buck, to our future generations.

wjh

Some Assembly Required


I order a lot of stuff online. Not just Amazon but from many other sites. Most of it comes within a week or less and the prices are good. Amazon Prime is a real bargain. 

Recently, I almost met my match. The majority of stuff I buy comes fully assembled and ready to use. The biggest problem is opening the packaging, clamshells should be outlawed. Peanuts, bubble wrap, and styrofoam will swallow the earth. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a TV. All I had to do was put the feet on (four screws) and hook up the cable and a few other things. As I wrote back then, my old TV stand was too small. I ordered a new stand online. It came yesterday.

This was not my normal delivery from Amazon. First off, the UPS guy had to use a hand truck to deliver it to my door. It weighed about 90 lbs. Needless to say, some assembly required. In fact, all assembly was required. It only required a hammer and Phillips head screwdriver although, in retrospect, I would have used an electric screwdriver or drill with a Phillips bit. It took about a ½ hour to unpack and separate the parts. By my count, there were 92 parts, 40 screws, 47 nails, and 17 pages of instructions. 

After unpacking all the pieces parts, I figured I needed to at least glance at the instructions. I sometimes skip this step. I'm glad I looked this time. There were pieces that looked almost identical but weren't. It would have been easy to flip a part or two only to have had to take it apart a couple of steps further on. The assembly went fairly smoothly although it took some time. My biggest problems were age related. My knees got sore from crawling around on the floor and kneeling while assembling. My arthritic hands and broken but never properly healed elbow hurt after awhile. My thumbs are pretty much shot. As it turns out, I can not screw as much or as long as I once could. 

I got almost to the end without any real problems and then it was time to attach the doors. It was a combination of a tight fit, tight clearance and hand fatigue. Those final screws were tough to get in. It seems whenever you are sailing along and feeling confident on a project, there is always at least one gotcha at the end. The stand is now assembled and looks good. Tomorrow I will set up the TV and all the auxiliary components. Since this stand has a solid back with holes in it as opposed to an open back, I will have to disconnect all the components from their wires and cords, then thread them through the back holes and reattach. That part is easy for me. None of the stuff is heavy and I'm very comfortable with technology. It's the cabinet making that is a bit troublesome. 

A few words on delivery. I have good luck with UPS, USPS, and Amazon. The USPS guy delivers mail and packages by noon on most days. If it doesn't fit in my mailbox, there are larger package receptacles available and the mail carrier puts the key in my mailbox. Amazon almost always delivers in the morning. If I'm not here, they leave the package, most of the time on my patio which is hidden from sight. UPS usually gives me a four-hour delivery window and meets it. For example, this package was scheduled for between 1:00 and 5:00. It was delivered at 2:50. That's typical. On the other hand, FedEx gives me about an 11 or 12-hour delivery window and either miss it completely or shows up at the 11th or maybe the 13th hour. FedEx sux.

All is well except for some sore joints. The new TV and stand will be in place and any needed furniture rearrangements will be done. The finished product looks great. Again, this is not a rant or complaint, except about FedEx. It is only an observation about our impossible first world trials and tribulations.

wjh


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Conspiracy?


I wrote about this recently. I had to buy a new TV and it didn't fit on my old TV stand. Yes, the new TV is bigger, but the real reason is that my old TV had a pedestal base and the new one had legs/feet near the edges of the unit. 

I went through the same scenario with a friend recently. We were able to move an old pedestal TV to a location where an even older and smaller TV had been with no problems. We had to make significant furniture changes to fit the new TV, with feet, into the vacated location. More changes will probably be coming, including the possibility of a wall mount.

In my case, I have ordered a new, larger, TV stand that will require a drastic rearrangement of my furniture in the living room/dining room area. 

Neither of us was able to find a new TV in the size we wanted with a pedestal base. Why? Even if my new TV had a pedestal twice as large as my old one, it would have fit on the old stand.

So, my question, is this a vast conspiracy between the TV and furniture manufacturers? Do the TV stand makers give the TV makers a kickback for making all their old stuff obsolete? Are pedestals being discriminated against? Probably.

I think this whole issue deserves a Congressional investigation at the minimum. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should probably be looking into anti-trust violations and collusion. Is there an anti-pedestal lobby at work?

It's too late for me and my friend. Hopefully, changes will come before you and your furniture are rendered obsolete. 

Stand up to this assault on our viewing areas. We must be strong.

wjh

Monday, July 10, 2017

Rangers at the Halfway Point - 2017

Here we are at the MLB All-Star break, the traditional halfway point of the season. It hasn’t been the greatest first half for the Rangers. The bad news is that they are two games under .500 with a 43-45 record and 16½ games behind the Houston Astros in the AL West. The good news is that they are only three games out in the wildcard race. 

It has been at best an inconsistent year. They have had both a 10 game winning streak and a 1-9 streak. There have been players who were expected to contribute who have failed. There have been surprises from young players and journeymen. 

Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Carlos Gomez, A.J. Griffin, Keone Kela, Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner, Mike Napoli, Jose Leclerc, Tyson Ross, and Jake Diekman have spent time on the Disabled List (DL). There have been few games when the best 25 players were on the active roster at the same time. Obviously, the Beltre and Hamels injuries were the most significant absences from the lineup. Beltre has played fewer than half of the games so far. Hamels missed several starts. Thankfully, they are both back to full strength now and contributing. In fact, the team is in fairly good shape on the injury front as we head into the break and the second half of the season. 

The closer coming into the season, Sam Dyson, was completely ineffective and was traded. After an outstanding 2016, Dyson started this season with 0 saves in 17 appearances, 4 blown saves, 6 losses, and a 10.80 ERA. His performances were pitiful, but it was comical to see a superstitious ballplayer try to break the jinx. He started the season with a full beard, trimmed it, turned it into a mustache and chin whiskers deal, and for his final Rangers appearance was completely clean shaven. Nothing worked.  He now plays for the Giants.

No one has been able to consistently fill the closer roll. In fact, the entire bullpen has had trouble holding and closing games. The Rangers could easily have between five and 10 more victories if the bullpen had performed at even an average level. Hopefully, the group or at least a couple of pitchers will step up in the second half. 

Almost all the starters have been inconsistent and most have spent time on the DL. Ten different pitchers have started games so far. The starting five is still in flux. One nice pitching story is Austin Bibens-Dirkx, a 32-year-old rookie who looks older, who has bounced around the minors for 12 years. He got his Major League debut and his first MLB start while here filling in for those on the DL. In 10 appearances, five starts, he had a 3-0 record and 4.04 ERA. He had a couple of quality starts when the team really needed them. He was sent down when a couple of guys came off the DL. Yoeman's work Austin.

On the offensive side, we have to use the word inconsistent again. The Rangers have gone stretches when they can't score runs and then stretches when they can't be stopped. They have scored 29 more runs than they have given up yet are still below .500. The disappointments include an overall .242 batting average which is actually way up from most of the first half. The disappointments include Jurickson Profar at .172. Profar was the #1 prospect in all of baseball a few years ago. After recovering from a shoulder injury, he has had several opportunities with the Rangers. He is an outstanding and versatile defensive player, he can play every position, except catcher and pitcher, and play it well. Even a .230 or .240 batting average and he could stick in the majors. For the umpteenth time in the past few years, Profar has been sent down to the AAA club. Ryan Rua is in the same boat. He gets a chance with the big club every year and fails to hit. This year he hit .202 and is now also at AAA Round Rock. Another young guy, Joey Gallo, is batting .194 but he gets to stay because he leads the club with 21 HRs, has 41 RBI and also hits majestic 450' HRs. He filled in admirably at 3rd for Beltre the first few weeks of the season. He now platoons at 1st with Mike Napoli. Napoli is our other power hitter who is batting .194. He has 18 HRs and 39 RBIs. Power is good, but a few more singles would also be welcomed. Rougned Odor, our young starting 2nd baseman, signed a big contract in the offseason. He has had an off year so far, batting only .240 with 17 HRs and 40 RBIs. His bat has shown some improvement in the last couple of weeks. Our other young star, Nomar Mazara, has been up and down. He was Player of the Week early in the season and sported a batting average well over .300. He has come back to earth with a .258 BA, 12 HRs, and a team-leading 56 RBIs for the first half. Delino DeShields has also forced his way into the starting lineup with .286 BA, .344 OBP, and 19 SBs. His speed is disruptive.

The left half of the infield has been solid with the veterans Beltre and Elvis Andrus. Since returning from the DL, Beltre's stats are .283 BA, 7 HRs, and 27 RBIs in only 35 games. Andrus is leading the team with a .300 BA, .318 BA with RISP. He also has 11 HRs, a career season high, 50 RBIs and 20 SBs. As usual, they are both superb defensively. I have said this many times in the past and will say it many times in the future, Adrian Beltre is a joy to watch. His field antics with Elvis Andrus makes it even more joyful. Watch them if you get a chance.
With a hopefully healthy second half, the Rangers have a chance to get into the playoffs as a wildcard. The AL West is out of reach. Houston enters the All-Star break with 60 wins, one of only 10 teams in history to do that. They are dominant this season, like the Cubs of 2016. 

In the AL West, the Angels and Rangers are tied for second place 16½ games behind the Astros, the Mariners are 17½ out in fourth place, and the A's are probably done at 21 games out.

All is not lost for the Rangers. It has been extremely frustrating to watch them this season. All the late-inning blown games, the stretches of futility at the plate, and the number of injuries especially to the pitching staff. Jon Daniels, the Rangers GM, has said that they will not be sellers this year. He also didn't say that they would be buyers. Hopefully, he adds at least a solid arm or two to the bullpen.

Regardless of the final season outcome, I will remain a dedicated fan. I invested too many years in very bad teams in a terrible stadium to let a poor half season deter me.
GO RANGERS

wjh

Larry Doby


Every baseball fan and most other people know who Jackie Robinson was. He was the first African-American to break the color barrier of Major League Baseball in 1947. What many people don't know is that just three months later on July 5, 1947, the second Black ballplayer entered the league. That player came straight from the Negro League to the Cleveland Indians. He was Larry Doby, making him the first American League player of color. 

Larry was a talented outfielder who played 13 seasons in the majors for Cleveland, ChiSox, and Detroit. He had a .283 lifetime batting average, was a seven-time all-star, two-time AL home run leader, one-time AL RBI leader, and a member of the 1948 World Championship team. Doby was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998 by the veterans committee, many years too late. Thankfully, Larry was still alive to receive the honor. 

Maybe destined to always be number two, Larry became the second Black manager in Major League history. He managed the 1978 Chicago White Sox for about half the season.

Since there was no inter-league play back in those days, Doby had to break the color barrier in every American League city the Indians played in 1947, just like Jackie Robinson did in the National League cities. 

The men who brought them into the major leagues deserve credit too. Branch Rickey with Jackie and Bill Veeck with Larry. Like Larry, Veeck is largely forgotten for his contribution. It doesn't pay to be second.

Seventy years ago two brave Black men entered a previously all white domain. They entered a completely segregated and highly prejudiced environment. They played in front of mostly white and segregated crowds. They endured racial slurs, death threats, and untold indignities from players and the fans. 

Let's all celebrate Larry and Jackie and Bill and Branch in this 70th year of an integrated Major League.

wjh

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Very Random Thoughts - June 2017


  • Conservatives who paint all liberals with a broad brush are guilty of stereotyping and vice versa. Both conservatives and liberals include people with differing beliefs and opinions withing their ranks.
  • Talk with others, not at them.
  • Is a baseball dog pile the stupidest celebration ever. Remember, besides the bodies on top of each other, those guys are wearing metal cleats.
  • You've heard the phrase "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". At what point does it become a pound of prevention for an ounce of cure?
  • Some of the Rock performers who sported the shirtless or tank top look during their younger days really need to rethink that wardrobe choice during the reunion tours. 
  • What percentage of actors in commercials have to depict really stupid people? It's very high. 
  • Which "old" TV shows will our kids watch 20 or 30 years from now? There won't be any Westerns.
  • Come to think of it, what "old" music will they listen to? Will current music/rap still be relevant years in the future?
  • OK, I'm glad Otto Warmbier was released by North Korea, although it was too little too late as his death proves. My question is why would any American, other than a government official or Dennis Rodman, ever travel to that country? 
  • Where does Trump get those extra long ties? Oh yes, from China.
  • Do you think any of us Boomer surfer kids realized that much of the surf music was based on Arabic music thanks to Dick Dale's Lebanese heritage? Might even have Muslim influences. Would that be allowed in Trump's USA?
  • So of course, my TV went out right in the middle of an important College World Series game. Sure thankful for ESPN streaming. 
wjh

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Domino Effect

The other night while watching the Florida Gators game in the Men's College World Series my TV went dark. Bad timing. I only have one large TV so I switched to a laptop or tablet to stream the rest of the game. The good news is that the Gators won the game and ultimately won the CWS. The bad news is that the black screen was the TV, not a cable or power problem.

That meant I needed a new TV. It was not a purchase that I had planned especially the same month I bought a new washer and dryer. That's the bad news. The good news is that I think I found a good deal on a TV. Bigger screen, 4K picture, and more features than my old TV. It also cost about half what the old one cost a few years ago. 

Don't you just love technology? The products keep getting faster, better, and cheaper. That million dollar computer from 25 years ago is now outmatched by your phone.

Back to the saga of a new TV. I ordered it online and the seller chose a delivery by FedEx. I hate FedEx. The delivery was scheduled for "by 8:00 PM" so I stayed home all day. I didn't want a TV left at the door and didn't want the delivery delayed. So, the delivery was at 9:00 PM, a whole day of waiting. This is a recurring theme with FedEx. The deliveries are either extremely late in the day or not until the next day. UPS, USPS, and Amazon do a much better job for me. Complaints to FedEx have gotten no results. 

I started setting up the new TV at around 9:15. First step was to attach the feet and put it on the chest I use for a TV stand. Oops, my old TV had a pedestal stand in the middle. The new TV has feet near the edges. Those feet are about 34" apart. Unfortunately, my old TV stand/chest has a 30" top. That's a problem. For the time being, I took the heavy corrugated piece of cardboard from the packing box and put it on top of the chest to extend it. It works for the very short term. 


The TV setup was fairly straight forward. It is a little more complicated than years ago when you just connected the rabbit ears antenna, plugged it in, and turned it on. Now there are cable TV, antenna, internet, DVR, speakers, DVD player, Chromecast, Roku (&/or other streaming devices), and maybe other stuff. The first thing when the new TV is turned on, it requests an internet connection. As soon as that is established, it downloads and installs software updates. That's a little different than that 1960 Motorola or Zenith TV. Then you have to hook up all the other stuff. Finally, you need to go through the setup menus and maybe program a remote. If you are lucky, everything works. In my case, it did although I didn't hook up everything due to the temporary TV stand situation.

That brings me back to the domino effect part of this post. The cardboard extension to the TV stand extends a few inches past the doorframe to the den/office. I already have a chair on the other side of that door that infringed into that doorway. The path is now pretty narrow. The top is now right up against a table on the other side. In short, the new TV doesn't fit. I'm going to have to buy a new TV stand/cabinet. It will have to be bigger than the old chest I have used for years. Besides a new piece of furniture, I will have the displaced current stand. I can't get rid of it. That piece of furniture was in my bedroom when I was a kid. It is older than my long deceased Mom. I inherited much of my folks' other furniture which is all close to 80 years old. Can't get rid of that stuff. Any TV stand I get from Ikea or Amazon will not last 80 years. 

I will have to rearrange the whole living room/dining room area all because I got a new TV that I really didn't want to buy. That's the domino effect. It happens all the time. Make one small change and it causes a series of others. Not just with furniture

This post is just an observation, not a rant or complaint. Having to rearrange the deck chairs to make room for a bigger and better TV is at best a minor first world problem. I will survive.

wjh

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Term Limits


When I was very much younger and living in the Southeast, I was opposed to term limits for the House and Senate. My rationale was that the South was a minority region when compared to the Northeast, Middlewest, and Pacific Coast. The one way the South could compete in Congress was with seniority. The South tended to re-elect their representatives over and over again. At one time, seniority was almost the only criteria for committee chairs and other congressional leadership posts. So, although the South might only hold 20 to 25% of the votes, they controlled a higher percentage or even a majority of the powerful committees and leadership positions. Those positions allowed the South to get many federal programs, facilities, grants, military bases and other advantages over the years.

Those same good ole boys used that power and seniority to prolong segregation and otherwise block progress. They were happy as pigs in shit to keep the country in the first half of the 20th century. They liked for white Christian males to be completely in charge, although their views were hardly Christian. No Blacks, no women, no Jews, certainly no Muslims, no Hispanics, no Asians. LGBTQ folks weren't even considered human. Did I miss any marginalized groups? And yet, fundamentally, I have a problem with telling voters that they can't elect their favorite candidate because he/she had been around too long despite doing a good job. 

That was then, this is now. Those Dixiecrats abused their power back then. While getting funding for federal projects in their states, they opposed human rights. It was a bad trade-off. 

I changed my mind about term limits several years ago. I think we have two choices. Either a federal law limiting terms in Congress or a complete revamping of the way congressional leaders, committee chairs and members are chosen. I vote for term limits since there probably isn't any way to limit the influence of longtime members. 

I'm not sure what the correct term limits should be. I certainly don't want to turn the Congress completely over every election. I would think 12 (6 terms) years for the House and 18 years (3 terms) for the Senate would ensure enough turnover and eliminate career politicians. Those terms would still overlap or outlast a president. I wouldn't be opposed to 10 years (5 terms) and 12 years (2 terms). Being an old fart, I prefer the 12 & 18 option to allow some more continuity. There would still be turnover besides the imposed term limits. Some members would decide to retire, some would be forced to resign, some wouldn't run for re-election, and some would lose their re-election bid. You also have the more rare circumstance when a member of Congress gets appointed to another government position.

Regardless of the specifics, we need a change. The professional politician has turned into the professional money raiser, the professional lobbyist, and the professional re-election machine.Their main job is to get re-elected, not serve the country or even their constituents. 

At one time, the career politician may have been altruistic and concerned about the country and his constituency. No more. This is not a Democrat of Republican problem. It is a money and power problem. 

If politicians want to spend more than 10 or 15 years as an elected official, let them start and/or end at the state or local level before or after their stint in Washington. Many states and locales already have term limits. 

Term limits, a concept way past it's time for consideration at the federal level.

wjh


Simple Pleasures

I bought a new washer & dryer recently. Not a big deal. Being that I'm retired and live alone, my laundry needs are minimal. I could probably do without my own washer/dryer but I hate hauling my stuff to a community laundry room or a laundromat. I do laundry at all hours and I am less than prompt about moving the wet clothes to the dryer or getting the dry clothes out of the dryer. Neither behavior is welcomed in community facilities. 

I wouldn't have gotten new appliances, but my old washer sounded like a 747 during the spin cycle and "normal", "permanent press", and "delicate" cycles were all exactly the same. The dryer "high heat" and "low heat" settings were now the same too. You could cook a meal on the top of the dryer. Yet despite the heat, it kept taking longer to dry my clothes. 

So, I searched the web for a new laundry set. Do you realize you can now spend thousands of dollars on a washer? The pedestals for some washers and dryers cost more than I spent on my new set. Although, those pedestals are stainless steel and contain a drawer. These new washers have infinite water levels, agitator action (if they even have an agitator), durations, steam, additive dispensers, water temperatures... The dryers have 3,000 options too. Temperature, duration, auto moisture sensing, special settings for every possible fabric, auto fluff cycles for 12 hours in case you forget to remove the clothes... Some of these babies are even internet and smart home connected. That's in case you loaded the washer but forgot to turn it on but remember on your way to work. 

As you can imagine, I didn't go with the $15,000 stainless steel option. I went with the cheapest, white option I could find. I checked the reviews to make sure it wasn't a dud choice. No frills, basic stuff. Wash the clothes, dry the clothes. Like most technology, things have improved in the washer/dryer arena.

The new washer has basic water level, temperature, and cycle settings. All controlled by knobs, not a touch screen. Same with the dryer, two knobs. There is one fancy feature, the washer has LEDs that indicate where it is in the cycle. And, they were at least "Assembled in the USA". 


So, now I don't have a 747 taking off from my laundry room. In fact, I don't really hear any of the wash cycle. Same with the dryer. It also only takes one cycle to dry the clothes with the moisture sensing setting and the top of the unit gets warm, not painfully or dangerously hot. 


This is a simple pleasure for an old guy. A simple washer, a simple dryer. Less noise, probably cleaner clothes. No more synthetic/permanent press stuff getting cooked. Probably should have done this replacement years ago. We don't realize how broken old stuff is until we get the new stuff. 

wjh 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Johnny Mathis


During the latest pledge drive by my local PBS station, they aired Johnny Mathis: Wonderful! Wonderful! as part of the My Music series. He burst onto the music scene in the 1950's. Although he was a little old fashion for my Rock & Roll tastes, I always thought that he was an outstanding singer. The fact that he still performs today pretty much proves my young ears were right. 

I can still remember one night watching The Ed Sullivan Show at home with my parents. Johnny was a fairly new upcoming artist at the time. I don't remember what song he sang, but my Mom and I thought it was pretty damn good. Then my dad chimed in that he wasn't impressed. He stated that Johnny's voice had no "tone", whatever that means. To be fair to my dad, Mathis had a few strikes against him. He was young and new, he wasn't Frank Sinatra, he was Black, and my father was half deaf. The reason that night sticks in my mind is that "tone" is one of Johnny's trademarks. He's one of those singers who's voice is instantly recognizable. 

My musical tastes ran through Folk, Surf, British Invasion, Blues Rock, Psychedelic, Big Hair Rock, and many others. Hardly ever did I listen to the old standards and jazz that were Mathis' forte. Still, his music showed up on the radio and he made TV appearances. 

He has had some very big singles and albums which have sold over 100 million copies. I admit that Misty is one of my all-time favorite songs of any genre. The original Erroll Garner, who wrote the music, instrumental version and Johnny's vocal version. It's a 1959 hit single that enjoyed a big revival when it was featured in the 1971 movie Play Misty For Me. I liked the movie too. 

The PBS program primarily features a 2004 Mathis concert. He would have been 68 or 69 at the time of the performance. He was still hitting the notes. I was struck watching the concert of a few thing. There was very little banter or filler. He just went from one song to another. There was no glitz, just Johnny, and an orchestra. I didn't detect any auto-tune enhancements. I also noticed that singers from his generation controlled the volume of songs and phrases with their voice and the position of the hand-held microphone. They didn't depend on the sound engineer to mix it properly.

Mathis sang all his biggest hits during the concert plus there were a few flashbacks to his earlier career and biography segments. It was an enjoyable watch. I think it would be worth your while to dig up some of his songbook and give a listen. 

Johnny Mathis was and is a great talent and seems to be a pretty decent human being too. He is now 81 years old and still performs. The last time I saw him on TV a couple of months ago he looked and sounded pretty damn good. 

wjh

Saturday, June 10, 2017

USPS


A couple of days ago a friend and I stopped by the local Post Office while we were out for a walk. She needed one stamp. There was no simple stamp machine in the lobby, just an automated kiosk that had a very slow and confused woman trying to figure it out and then another woman who just cut in front of us. So, into the area where they have actual postal clerks to serve the customers. I use the word “serve” in its most loose definition. This post office has five clerk/cashier stations plus a counter for transactions that do not require payments. How many postal workers were on duty? One. A second clerk came out while we were in line but he took forever to get settled and finally open his station. A couple of trips to the back room, adjustments to his stool and general rearrangement of the work area. 

There was also who I assume was a postal maintenance worker with a ladder. He had a fluorescent light fixture cover/diffuser opened. He was staring intently into the fixture. He eventually determined that his ladder was about 6" out of place. Back down to the floor, move the ladder a couple of times and then back up to stare some more. We thought he was going to replace a bulb although they appeared to be woking fine. Eventually, after considerable study, Mr. Fixit grabbed a sign and began to attach it to the light fixture. It was a sign to hang over one of the clerk's stations. It said something like passports applications here. As soon as the one clerk on duty saw the sign, she left her post to talk to Mr. Fixit. It was a rather long conversation, all the time there were no postal customers being served. Eventually, the maintenance guy went back up the ladder, closed the light cover, folded his ladder, grabbed the sign, and left, mumbling all the way. The clerk went back to her post.

What makes this whole scenario even more frustrating is that I had seen a sign taped to the door when we went into the post office that said no passport applications would be taken until some date in the future. I think it said June 19th, this was on June 6th. Apparently, the maintenance department and the passport department were not on the same page. 
Did I mention that none of the movements by the clerks or maintenance guy were approaching the speed of light?

We were finally next in line, a line that only had three or four people in front of us when we arrived. As I mentioned, my walking partner needed one (1) stamp. The clerk had to separate that stamp from a sheet of stamps. Another very slow process. It was paid for with a USA one dollar bill. That of course still required making change and providing a receipt. A very detailed and long receipt. Maybe they are in competition with CVS for longest receipt for smallest purchase. It ultimately took about 15 minutes to purchase a stamp. That's with only three or four people in front of us in the middle of a midweek morning. 


As you can see, the receipt is probably 30 times bigger than the stamp we bought. This is a half book of stamps I had at home, not the single stamp we bought.  

The USPS was made into an independent agency as opposed to a straight government service. They are supposed to pay their own way and compete with UPS, FedEx, and others. They continue to bleed money. Why, because Congress is the board of directors and continues to micromanage the USPS. The other reason is the government, civil service mentality of the employees and management. 

Since I've retired, I rarely get in a hurry or upset about much. I don't mind getting in a long line at a store or waiting for a meal at a restaurant, within reason. I usually don't mind dealing with a trainee or a less than proficient employee. The one thing that sets me off is when I come across people who move at the speed of a slug. They usually have a hangdog posture and look like they want to be anyplace except at work. You all know or have run across these people. They are the ones who can turn a 10 minute task into a full day's work. Even if it's wasted or useless movement, do it quickly or at least at normal speed. 

Walk briskly as if you have a destination and a schedule. Move like you have a purpose. 

The USPS semi-privatisation hasn't worked. Will the same plan for the air traffic controllers work any better? Only if they shake the government rules and attitude. 

If you have a need to go to the main Bedford, TX post office, plan a little extra time. 

wjh

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Death Penalty


The plan by Arkansas to execute eight death row prisoners in a ten day period brought the death penalty controversy to the forefront once again. This issue seems to come up everytime someone is executed or even just scheduled for execution. It also gets attention whenever someone on death row is found innocent when DNA or other new evidence exonerates them.

I am conflicted on this issue and have been for many years. In my youth, I was pro death penalty mostly because most people I knew were for it. It has a long history among most cultures. As I got older and actually thought about it, my support began to waiver.  

Proponents of the death penalty say it is a deterrent to criminals. Those potential murderers will think twice before committing the crime for fear of losing their own life. I find this a weak argument. I don't think most murderers think about the consequences. They are motivated by rage, anger, revenge, drugs, mental illness. Rarely is it a rationally planned event. 

Another problem with the death penalty is that it takes so long from the time of the crime until the time of the trial and often then decades until a death penalty is carried out. If, in fact, it is ever carried out. The current appeal process is so protracted, there is little or no connection in time between the crime and the punishment.

Most troubling to me are the number of those on death row who have been shown innocent by new evidence. Sometimes it is a victim or witness recanting their testimony. More often, recently, it is someone finally checking the DNA evidence. There are also the revelations of police and prosecutorial misconduct. The poor and minorities are far more likely to be convicted and then receive the death penalty. Justice appears to be neither blind or fair in many cases. 

Once a death penalty is carried out, it is irreversible. A life sentence can be rectified. Not completely, but the falsely convicted at least is still alive and can be monetarily compensated for mistakes made by the police and/or judicial system. 

I also have a problem with the controversy over the drugs used for lethal injection executions. Why is there a problem? There are thousands of operations performed in this country every day. The anesthesiologists manage to put the patients to sleep so they feel no pain while the surgeons perform all kinds of invasive procedures. We also manage to euthanize thousands of animals. The dogs I have had to put down seemed to go quickly and without pain. Is it really a medical or technical problem or some kind of political problem?  

I would be open to the death penalty for certain egregious crimes when the evidence is indisputable. Maybe solid, indisputable forensic (DNA, etc.) evidence, video or numerous witnesses who agree on what happened. A no doubt situation. That followed by a quick trial. Then have the appeals number and time limited. The execution to take place within a short period of time from the trial. The execution should also be public and highly promoted. A society that advocates the death penalty should have to view those executions. This may require a new category of crime established by the states and federal legislatures and upheld by the courts. Remember, most of those on death row are there because of convictions in state courts. It may be easier to just abolish the death penalty.

It's a tough issue.  

The economics do not justify the death penalty over life in prison. The death penalty is irreversible, it seems contradictory to the "pro life" faction, and it is not a deterrent. So America is it time to eliminate the death penalty, at least in its current form?

wjh

Monday, June 5, 2017

Very Random Thoughts - May 2017


  • Times change. Was watching the Florida A&M vs Florida Gators baseball game. It looks like the majority of the A&M Rattlers are white. Of course, there are Black players on the Gators too. Two schools that were once very segregated and wouldn't/couldn't play each other.
  • What would happen in a baseball "fight" if teammates, coaches, and umpires didn't hold back the participants? Oh wait, Nolan Ryan and Rougned Odor answered that question. Robin Ventura and Jose Bautista know that answer.  
  • What's the deal with these pro-Trump TV commercials? He won the election and got the job. Next presidential election isn't until 2020. 
  • Why do people respond to those click bait challenges on Facebook? You know the ones like "Post a dog's name without the letter in it, bet you can't do it." Think I'll try posting "Send me $1,000, bet you can't do it". What are my chances for success? 
  • At what age do you pass "getting old" and become just "old"? I know I'm old but I missed the exact time that happened. 
  • On one of those cable shopping channels, I noticed there is a program called How to Look Sexy at 50!  Don't think that's going to help me anymore. 
  • I can't believe that anybody would take the drugs advertised on TV after hearing the long list of side effects.
  • Does anybody else wonder how much time and money Trump spends on hair care? The color changes almost daily and several gallons of hairspray must be required to hold that mess in place. 
  • The new "Most Interesting Man In The World" is not as interesting as the original. So if the old guy is still alive, he is technically still the MOST Interesting.
  • I wouldn't want to be a writer on shows like Veep, House of Cards, Madam Secretary, Scandal, etc. How do you get more outrageous or funnier than the real political world?
  • Are the most annoying and stupid TV commercials the ones that are run the most? Or does it just seem that way?
  • I am tired of the media grabbing on to the medical study du jour and promoting it as solid conclusive science. It is just one study with few reported details. Pay attention, the next study may contradict those findings.
  • Do the whiskey distilleries age the flavored crap the same as the original? Crown Royal Vanilla probably should be against the law. 
  • Do you remember when Los Angeles was full of brown smog? I do. How did we fix that? Maybe by reducing carbon emissions.
  • How many millions do the reverse mortgage folks have to pay Tom Selleck to shill their product? What about Alex Trebek for overpriced life insurance for old folks?
  • Is it just me, or when a toupee, wig or some other follicle camouflage is detected, the level of believability drops exponentially?  
wjh

Friday, May 19, 2017

Net Neutrality

As part of the Republicans march to eliminate every regulation that big business opposes, we move to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). They are about to eliminate one of the pillars of the open internet. A practice that has been in place since the inception of the internet.

That pillar is net neutrality. Many people have no idea what that means or how it affects then. Simply put, internet providers like your cable or phone company can not discriminate against or favor any content. They can't charge more or less for providing Netflix over a local startup content. They also can't throttle or favor one content provider or website over another. All traffic is treated the same. 

The technicalities are more complicated, but once the content is on the backbone internet, it is all treated exactly the same. Getting the traffic onto or off of the backbone is where different levels of service have always been allowed although. It is the "last mile" or last 50 ft. or the cell network that we pay for. Netflix and Google have a need to dump mass quantities of data onto the internet backbone, so they have huge and numerous network pipes to do that. On the other hand, I have a TV, phone, tablet and PC which don't require huge bandwidth so I pay less for my connection. 

I realize that this is a technical issue and most people don't understand or care about the issue. You will care once net neutrality is eliminated. Internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T, Time-Warner and others will be able to discriminate. They can charge more, prioritize, throttle or maybe even refuse content. An example would be Netflix. Many of the big internet providers also provide content that is delivered over their infrastructure. Either their own or on their cable/satellite TV services. So, they give priority to their own content and provide it for free. Netflix content get's throttled unless they pay a ransom. Netflix will pass that increased cost onto its customers. Will the internet providers reduce your cost because Netflix or YouTube are paying more? Of course not. 

There are other potential problems. Small startup companies may not be able to pay extra or may not get volume discounts to be able to compete with the big boys. 

Net neutrality gives everybody a chance. The big guys and the small fry. It's elimination only favors the big internet service providers. It is a typical Republican deregulation move. The big corporations profit and the consumers pay. The FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, is a former Associate General Counsel for Verizon. One of the companies that will profit from the elimination of net neutrality regulations. Enough said. 

wjh

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Armed America

Don't Mess With Texas

It seems to me we are more and more arming the American population. It is definitely happening in Texas. Texas already has a relatively lax set of concealed/open carry laws. When the laws regulating gun carrying were first enacted, there were several restrictions. The handgun had to be concealed. There were many places where a gun could not be carried even with a carry permit. 

In 2015, the concealed carry laws were modified to allow open carry. That means a now License to Carry (LTC) permit holder could strap a six gun to their hip just like Matt Dillon did in the 1870's. When the law first went into effect in January 2016, I saw several guys walking around with exposed guns. I must say it was a little disconcerting, mostly because those toting a gun did not look like the most mature or intelligent folks. Since then, the openly exposed gun toters have decreased. I assume they are still carrying concealed guns. It has always been legal to openly carry a long gun (rifle) in public even without an LTC. That right is usually reserved for demonstrations of some kind. While the gun rack in the pickup truck rear window is now usually empty, I still see a few rifles or shotguns.  

One of the ironies today is that when I was growing up, I had very realistic toy and cap guns. No one every questioned 10 year olds walking around with a fancy holster and almost perfect replica of a Roy Rodgers six gun. Now, there are laws banning realistic toy guns and kids get shot by cops for having one. Progress? Safer? 

The Texas legislature has steadily reduced the number and types of places that can totally ban guns. Public Texas universities and colleges can no longer have a blanket ban on guns on campus. Private universities still have an option and most have opted to continue their ban on campus carry.

This year the Texas legislature voted to reduce the license fee for gun carry permits. First-time license fees will drop from $140 to $40 and renewal fees go from $70 to $40. 

Since guns are bulky, fairly expensive and require a license to carry, some Texans need another means of self-defense. Our legislature is working on a bill to allow carrying knives over 5½ inches long. A couple of years ago, Texas invalidated all local knife laws that were more restrictive than the state laws. I'm guessing Crocodile Dundee can now visit Texas. Maybe Jim Bowie can return to the Alamo too.

After the wild west faded in the late 19th century, side arms use drastically declined. Now it is ramping up again and I'm not sure why. That's a topic for another post. I am sure that there are far more people carrying guns in Fort Worth now than in 1900-01 when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid visited town. 

If I get shot or stabbed because of the loosening of the gun and knife laws, I'm going to be pissed. If I get killed, I'm going to be really... Oh, nevermind, I'm going to be dead. 

Next up will probably be legal grenade launchers and missiles on the legislature calendar.

Didn't Wyatt Earp ban handguns in Dodge City? Was he way ahead or way behind his time?

wjh 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Very Random Thoughts - April 2017


  • Isn't draining a swamp environmentally destructive? Oh, nevermind, we no longer give a shit about the environment.
  • Why does the world get so upset when chemicals are used to kill people yet can ignore years of bombing and killing those same populations? 
  • Most things slow down as we age. One exception is how quickly I can now forget stuff.
  • No wonder nothing gets done in Washington. Every meeting, committee, panel, etc. is huge. Anyone who has ever been in business knows big meetings assure few or no results. 
  • We have become a society of victims. Victims looking to sue for a big settlement. 
  • Most conspiracy theorists are anti-government. They think our government is incompetent yet they believe that same government can pull off vast conspiracies and keep them a secret for decades. Seems contradictory. 
  • So let me get this right. Fox News released Bill O'Reilly because of sexual harassment allegations that were paid off to keep quiet. Yet, Fox News knew about the allegations and helped O'Reilly make those payments.  
  • Should we say "thank you" when Alexa, Siri or Google answers a question or performs a task? I think so.
  • Is Adam Sandler the most over rated, over paid comedian or is it Kevin James?
  • What's the difference between sauce and gravy?
wjh