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.


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.


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. 


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. 


Saturday, June 10, 2017


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. 


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?


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?