KAZSays
A Brighter Context

Alan Morrison’s somewhat insightful and well written letter of August 1 in the Sun News needs a refreshing context. I apologize in advance for my rose colored glasses but they are conducive to a happy life. 

Upon the election of President Obama, I instantly turned liberal even though I’m conservative at heart, at least fiscally conservative (thanks Mom). The lambasting of the President by Republicans, the tea party and especially Fox News caused the turn. I’m convinced the virulent attacks on Obama are mostly based on race. Senate leader Mitch McConnell set the tone by stating on inauguration day that his top priority was to make sure Obama was a one term President. The gates of hate were unleashed and have mushroomed. 

So my communication to my right leaning friends in the past few years has been to promulgate the achievements of the past 6 years – the statistics that “belie the state of America’s well-being” per Mr. Morrison.

Here is part of my rant - South Carolina’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.3% - the lowest in 13 years. The US rate is down to 6.1%. Thank you Governor Haley. Thank you President Obama. (Note: they had nothing to do with it).The stock market has more than doubled since 2009.  Gross Domestic Product surpassed its late 2007 peak in 2011 and hasn’t looked back. The U.S. economy is now closing out its 60th straight month of growth. Monthly exports are at a record level and are up nearly 60 percent from the April 2009 bottom. Virtually all the bailout money to financial institutions and car companies was paid back. GM and Chrysler are thriving, and the U.S. financial system is on solid footing, as evidenced by the pervasive decline in financial failure. The economy has added jobs for 44 straight months—with the private sector adding a cumulative 8+ million jobs since February 2010. The deficit, which peaked at an unimaginable $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2010, is shriveling by the day. Blah, blah, blah.

My intent has been to blunt the vicious rants of the right wingers. Fair is fair. But the full truth and the perspective from the right and Mr. Morrison is not so rosy. The national debt is mind-numbing. The percentage of employed Americans is at an all-time low. The withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan has already had negative consequences. Blah, blah blah.

Never mind all of this political posturing, pandering and statistical crap.

Here is what I see. Notwithstanding Mr. Morrison, all the doomsayers and “nattering nabobs of negativism” to quote former Vice President Spiro Agnew, I am continually amazed at the advancements of the last 64 years, my lifetime. Computers, the internet, fax machines, cell phones, microwave ovens, DNA testing, spell check, online shopping, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), fiber optics, laser surgery, bar codes and scanners, the birth control pill, GPS tracking, electric cars, electronic banking, cordless tools. The list seems endless and keeps growing. Taken together they have brought us closer and changed our existence in countless ways mostly positive. I wish I could be around another 64 years to see future innovations. Technology will set us free and may one day, I hope, also bring peace.

Alan, you may borrow my rose colored glasses anytime. Your lenses are needlessly political.

 Here is Alan’s letter to the editor:

Statistics belie state of America’s well-being by Alan Morrison

The noted historian and educator Louis Danielle frequently opined that “…societies should beware when tyrants seem to kiss.” While prolific and insightful letter writer Terry Munson brings to light, accurately, copious self-serving activities (or lack thereof) interspersed with protracted periods of non-productive partisan rhetoric emanating from elected officials occupying both houses of Congress (“Schizophrenia requires colossal amounts of hypocrisy,” July 28), the insinuation that partisanship and, indeed, tyranny is restricted to the political right represents its own form of neurosis.

On the surface, references to “lower deficits, declining unemployment and withdrawal from a war zone” would seem to represent, certainly, “good news.” Let’s apply some context, however. The relative term, “lower deficit,” is applicable only to record budget deficits incurred throughout the term, to date, of the Obama administration.

While budget configurations are representative, of course, of Congressional delegation obligations, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office indicates, in irrefutable fashion, that the annual budget deficit accrual in each year since the election of President Obama has been larger than that of any previous year in recorded history.

Not unrelated, of course, is the resultant mind-numbing national debt figure, which is approaching $18 trillion and will have increased by several million dollars by the time readers have finished this piece.

Declining unemployment? One recalls a contention, unsupported by statistical analysis, prior to inauguration, when then President-elect Obama “guaranteed” an unemployment rate never again to exceed 8 percent. While the most current data suggests, in at least superficially encouraging fashion, a reduction to 6.1 percent in the national unemployment rate, the CBO further reports that the percentage of Americans actually employed to be at the lowest level since the 1970s.

It is difficult to envision those 284,000 Americans filing first-time unemployment claims last week (and the 303,000 filing the previous week, and the 305,000 filing the week prior to that — draw your own inferences) squealing with delight at this piece of “good news.”

History will judge as to whether withdrawal from the war zone in question represents a positive outcome for this country and the world. The unintended consequences of foreign policy decisions by elected officials invariably unfold over a period of time, and represent fodder for subjective pundits in perpetuity.

Likewise, the suggestion that this country is “…doing better than ever” under the stewardship of our current roster of elected officials is hopelessly subjective and lacking substance, perhaps no more so than from the perspective of 46.2 million recipients of food stamps. There is nothing abstract regarding the perception of the figure 46.2 million — but the concept can be made abstract, to the level of absurdity, should one so inclined.

How about a million families, each comprised of 46 and one-fifth persons? Or, how about every single citizen residing within those states which begin with the letter “M”… plus another 10 million? In any event, should one stipulate, for purposes of conjecture, that each of those individuals and families comprising the 46,200,000 figure prefer a system of capitalism to one of socialism, reasonable extrapolation would cause one to draw the inference that each, now representative of a subset of the population that is mutually exclusive of those 51 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes, might not, in fact, be “doing better than ever.”

Dick Bigelow, the outstanding northeast-based motorsports editor, is an accurate and thorough journalist who often, by way of critique, sarcastically intones that “you can’t allow the facts to interfere with a good story.” The good professor Danielle, lecturing upon an era of history that remains incomplete, might resort to paraphrasing himself; quite possibly, something on the order of “Societies should beware when demagogues seem to walk amongst us.”

The writer lives in Little River.


Read more here: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/2014/07/31/4385754/letter-statistics-belie-state.html#storylink=cpy

Technology, Tax Lies and Fox News(unfair and unbalanced)

Notwithstanding all the doomsayers and “nattering nabobs of negativism” to quote former Vice President Spiro Agnew, I am continually amazed at the advancements of the last 64 years, my lifetime. Computers, the internet, fax machines, cell phones, microwave ovens, DNA testing, spell check, online shopping, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), fiber optics, laser surgery, bar codes and scanners, the birth control pill, GPS tracking, electric cars, electronic banking, cordless tools. The list seems endless and keeps growing. Taken together they have changed our existence in countless ways mostly positive. I wish I could be around another 64 years to see future innovations. Technology will set us free and may one day, I hope, also bring peace.

But one facet of technology has me worried – the vast proliferation of false information in the media and on the internet. 

My right leaning friend and golf buddy Gary sent me via email an excerpt from the internet about 7 tax increases which supposedly became effective January 1, 2014. It concluded with inflammatory commentary blaming the Democrats for these increases. But it was not true. After I wrote back that it was not true, he sent me a link to a web site called Fact Check which verified that it was not true. Thank you Gary for straightening this out. Here is his first email: 

What Happened on 1 January 2014 (bet you didn’t know)

Top Income tax bracket went from 35% to 39.6%

Top Income Payroll Tax went from 37.4% to 52.2%

Capital Gains Tax went from 15% to 28%

Dividend tax went from 15% to 39.6%

Estate tax went from 0% to 55%

These taxes were all passed under the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Remember this ‘fact,’ if you have money, the Democrats want it! All these taxes were passed with only Democrat votes. Not one republican voted to do these taxes. Remember this come election time. And make sure your friends and neighbors know this info too! Maybe we can get enough involved to get this country back next election cycle!!! 

Here is the link to fact Check: http://www.factcheck.org/2014/04/false-tax-claims. It attempts to explain how these falsehoods could come to life. 

Let’s think about this. Most persons who read about these tax increases never discovered them to be untrue. Hundreds, thousands or maybe millions of persons were persuaded in a particular direction by a lie. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not writing to defend the Democrats. They create their own mischief.  However, it is my experience that this type of mischief and deceit is much more prevalent on the right than on the left. Fox News is the main culprit. This 24 hour news station develops the misinformation, plays it over and over again and then the radio talk show hosts and callers turn it into hate. I am convinced that the bible of Fox News is The Hidden Persuaders written in 1957 where Vince Packard shows how subliminal messages persuade persons to buy or “think” things they would not otherwise buy or think. With Fox News it is not so subliminal. 

In the old days when there were only three TV networks and no cable news, internet or talk shows, the news departments would present two sides of each issue. Today, Fox News and talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage rarely present opposing views. When they do, it is with derision and condescension. If they do, they invariably use the weakest and least articulate advocate of the opposite view. And all too often they state facts (see above) which are not true. The audience, of course, does not check the facts. Who has the time? 

I just watched a show on Fox News hosted by John Stocel who used to present both sides when he worked for ABC News. Right before the commercial, Stocel asked the right leaning audience this “Is President Obama acting more like a President or like a King?” The audience shouted in unison with catcalls and boos – “Like a King.” This is persuasion in its most pernicious form. What purpose did it serve other than feeding the right wing lions? But it also served to increase/solidify ratings. After all, who can avoid a car wreck? Who would rather listen to a lengthy well-reasoned debate vs a hyperbole filled rabble rousing?

Punditfact, a branch of Politifact, has put together profiles for CNN, MSNBC and Fox News detailing just how honest each of these networks are.  And while it’s obviously not a completely comprehensive profile, it’s a decent measure of the honesty of each.

And what do you know, Pundifact found Fox News to have only told the truth 18 percent (15 of 83) of the time for the statements they checked.  And even of that 18 percent, only 8 percent of what they said was completely “True.”  The other 10 percent was rated as “Mostly True.”

A staggering 60 percent (50 of 83) comments were found to be either “Mostly False,” “False,” or “Pants on Fire.”

The other 22 percent were rated “Half True.”

Essentially well over half of what Punditfact has fact-checked on Fox News has been a lie and only 18 percent has been deemed factual.

To compare, CNN was found to have been honest about 60 percent of the time, while only having 18 percent of their comments found to be false.  As for MSNBC, they were found to have been honest about 31 percent of the time, while 48 percent of the comments they had fact-checked were deemed untrue.

So while MSNBC’s numbers aren’t exactly worth bragging about, they’re still far better than the “fair and balanced” Fox News.

- See more at: http://www.forwardprogressives.com/fact-checking-site-finds-fox-news-tells-truth-18-percent-time/#sthash.JwfFKoVv.dpuf

Her - A Movie Review

The existential questions are twofold – what is existence?  what is truth?. What is real and how do we know? 

Her adds another – what is love? The answer is thought provoking, enlightening and disconcerting. The movie also postulates the boundaries of artificial intelligence. 

The story takes place in the not too distant future. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) is an accomplished writer of love letters for the forlorn, the futuristic endearing Dear Abby. Nearing the signing of divorce papers with his childhood sweetheart, he signs onto a newly developed artificial intelligence operating system. He introduces himself to the operating system who names herself Samantha (the voice of Scarlett Johansson). They begin their relationship not unlike any two persons brought together on a blind date. Theodore is a gentle, low keyed introvert. Samantha is funny, insightful and sensitive. Slowly but surely, they fall in love. This perplexing love affair is real and touching due in large measure to the superb writing of Spike Jonze. Her received an academy award for Best Original Screenplay. Samantha’s love is more real because it is unconditional. Or is it? 

To me, choosing beautiful Scarlett Johansson as the voice of Samantha was brilliant if ironic. I kept seeing her especially as they were having sex and wondering if you need a body to be in love. What is real? What is true love if not unconditional concern for the other person? 

The ending brought the parable back to reality. Stop reading this spoiler if you have not seen the movie. I and probably the entire audience thought that Theodore would eventually end the relationship especially since he had soon to be divorced college dating partner Amy (Amy Adams) waiting in the wings. Instead, Samantha ends the relationship by joining other operating systems to explore their possibilities. Samantha’s love was, in fact, conditional – an interesting twist. 

Maybe there is no true love, no unconditional love. It’s in our head? 

There is much to ponder in this quirky movie. I loved it. 

10 stars out of 10

Which President Has Bypassed Congress The Most

http://www.policymic.com/articles/80707/which-president-has-bypassed-congress-the-most-in-u-s-history-definitely-not-obama

During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama raised eyebrows when he stated that though he hopes to spend 2014 working with Congress to increase growth and opportunity, “wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.” In short, the president pledged to continue his controversial rule by executive order.

Conservative leaders and news outlets were taken aback by the president’s words. Senator Ted Cruz penned a Wall Street Journal editorial that opens by accusing the president of a “persistent pattern of lawlessness” and enforcing policies “via executive fiat.” Senator John McCain described Obama as abusing “the intent of the Constitution,” and vowed to take the president to court. However, before he begins speed dialing lawyers, McCain may want to take a glimpse at the following graph.

Source: WonkViz

Created by Christopher Ingraham, a data visualizer for the Brookings Institution, the graph shows the rate at which United States presidents have issued executive orders, going all the way back to George Washington. (While executive orders aren’t specifically authorized by the Constitution, they almost date back to it; Washington’s first came a mere five weeks after his swearing in.) Ingraham’s work makes it clear that Obama is hardly a tyrant blasting out executive orders with reckless abandon.

In fact, he’s resorted to executive orders with less frequency than any president since the 19th century.

Despite president and birthday boy Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s flurry of orders establishing the New Deal, Republican presidents have, on average, been more reliant on executive orders than have their Democratic counterparts. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that Democrats were lamenting a certain Republican president’s use of executive orders to green light the CIA’s torture of detainees and constrain stem cell research.

It’s almost as if both Republicans and Democrats would be happier if we had a different, less unilateral way to enact rules. Perhaps a system by which both parties could propose, debate, and enact legislation.

That’s where a second chart by Ingraham comes in.

Source: WonkViz

Based on the Brookings Institution’s Vital Statistics on Congress reports, the serpentine charts show how productivity in both the House and Senate has plummeted since the mid-20th century as ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats have widened. The 113th Congress is, famously, the least productive in history, having enacted only 78 laws to date, just 1% of those that have come before it, and reached such an impasse that they shut the government down.

It would be delightful if, rather than continuing to tackle irrelevant legislation for the sole purpose of grandstanding or dodging votes entirely, both the House and the Senate committed to making 2014 a year in which they tackled the economic growth and jobs programs to which they pay lip service. Maybe, if Congress leads by example, we can continue to turn away from executive orders, and toward the system of checks and balances in which Cruz and McCain profess to believe.

Republican False Outrage

This is from The Knowledge Movement

Image: Politics with Jarred and Dave

Responding to Republican false outrage at anything Obama does isn’t even fun anymore. How many times can you post something they’re supposedly angry at that he’s done that they either supported under Bush, did themselves or would’ve done themselves if they weren’t total screw ups. The latest is surrounding him setting up a deal to free the only American hostage in Afghanistan. Did Republican presidents negotiate to free American hostages? - Ofcourse they did! In fact, the most culpable of any president is worshiped as a god by Republicans - the infallible Ronny Reagan. There was this thing that became known as Iran/Contra, where Reagan “illegally” traded weapons for American hostages. Not only did he free militia-men who very likely went back onto the battlefield but, they might even have returned to the field with weapons he gave them. Any weeping and wailing from the crackpots on the Right? Not a single tear. Reagan is who Sean Hannity has wet dreams about every night right in front of a tv camera.

Then there’s the ACA, aka Obamacare. A healthcare plan [they] invented, only their version was far more to the left because it had a public option, but when Obama blew the dust off [their] plan and moved it much further to the Right when he nixed the public option, all of a sudden it became Socialism with a death panel.

No matter what President Obama does these nutjobs are going to cry and everyone knows it. Eventually it becomes clear that it’s not outrage they have but hate. And that hate is not fueled by anything he’s done but by what he is - Black.

Written by the Knowledge Movement

A Few Randon Thoughts About Our Economy

 South Carolina’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.3% - the lowest in 13 years. And the U.S. rate is down to 6.3%. Thank you Governor Haley. Thank you President Obama. (Note: they had nothing to do with it).

The stock market has more than doubled since 2009.  Gross Domestic Product surpassed its late 2007 peak in 2011 and hasn’t looked back. The U.S. economy is now closing out its 59th straight month of growth. Monthly exports are at a record level and are up nearly 60 percent from the April 2009 bottom.

Virtually all the bailout money to financial institutions and car companies was paid back. GM and Chrysler are thriving, and the U.S. financial system is on solid footing, as evidenced by the pervasive decline in financial failure. The economy has added jobs for 43 straight months—beating the streak of 37 months in which the economy added jobs in the George W. Bush years—with the private sector adding a cumulative 8.2 million jobs since February 2010. The deficit, which peaked at an unimaginable $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2010, is shriveling by the day. It came in at $680 billion in fiscal year 2013, and is down about 40 percent through the first three months of fiscal year 2014. Medical inflation has slowed in the past few years.

Not everything is perfect of course. The % of persons in the workforce has decreased by 3% in the past 6 years. The disparity between the rich and poor is ever increasing. But our biggest problem is gridlock in Washington from professional politicians whose primary goal is to stay in power. Power is our most dangerous drug.
Call Me Bill - A Short Story

This is my third piece of fiction. I think I’m getting better.

“Of all days to be late, why today”

I hadn’t even stepped through the door.

“Sorry hon,” I said. “Things went crazy at work. George had a seizure again – not taking his meds. Clients were freaking out. I couldn’t leave our new volunteer Margaret.  Love you.”

Why didn’t you call,” Margie said with darkened eyes.

“Forgot to charge my phone, sorry hon. Very sorry. We’ll still make it. Get your coat – let’s go. ”

“Willy, you know this is important to me.”

“I know hon – it’s important for me too” Kinda.

My job as Recreation Director at Starlight, a mental rehab center in Portland, New Hampshire, was often eventful. A “crisis a day” and “late on time” were my running jokes. Testiness was unlike my level headed fiancé. Who was about to face the guillotine – Margie or yours truly?

Her dad was a detective for the Rochester New Hampshire Police Department. From the photos I’d seen, he never smiled. Everyone smiles for a photo. Her mom was a bookkeeper for a law firm.

It took 4 turns to get my 03 Toyota Corolla to start. Margie rolled her eyes.

“You’ve been promising to bring this to the shop,” Margie said.

“Either that or trade it in.”

“What’s this?” as she picked up the crinkled paper in the console.

“Oh, that’s another reason why I was late.  $200 for going through a stop sign. The fat cop was a dick head. He had time to kill and was happy that you might murder me for being late.”

“My father won’t like this.”

“Being late or the ticket?” I answered.

“Both.”

“Do we have to tell him about the ticket?”

“No the seizure story will do,” she said.

It was mostly true.

 Today, I would meet Margie’s parents for the first time.  As we drove, I wished we got this over with before the engagement.  There was never the right time. The 2 hour drive through winding Maine roads to Rochester was my cowardly excuse.  

“So is your Dad going to like me?” I said.

“Probably not. He never liked any of my boyfriends. He still has problems with my sister’s husband Jeff. Try not to take it personal.”

“Great. That’s your advice?”

“Just say as little as possible, Margie said.”

“How do I make a good impression if I don’t say anything.”

“I don’t know – just smile a lot. You have a nice smile. Just drive, we’ll get through this,” Margie said without looking at me.

We pulled into the restaurant parking lot only a few minutes late.

“How about a good luck kiss,” I said. It was just a peck. Hope it’s not the last.

The Lannister House was a mix of old and new. Cross gabled roofs were accented by oversized shutters and bow windows on the upper levels. Wide sun room windows curved the entrance. The interior opened to a deep green urban bar setting. Nice.

As the smiling hostess escorted us toward the back, I spotted Margie’s parents. I’m glad I wore a coat and tie.

Four eyes descended upon me as I faced the introduction ritual. Mr. Elliot looked down as he shook my hand with the grasp of a former marine. Ouch. He was a big man with broad shoulders, a receding hairline and an oval face. He could afford to lose a few pounds. Mrs. Elliot was thin with short blond hair. I could see where Margie got her good looks.

 “Sorry for being late, I was stuck at work,” I practically shouted. One of our clients had an epileptic seizure and I couldn’t leave.” Was I shaking?

“That sounds scary,” said Mrs. Elliot.

“It is, but I’ve seen it a lot. You just have to know how to handle it. Staying calm is key.” Good advice.

Mr. Elliot began the examination. “What kind of work do you do at that rehab center, William?”  No one calls me William.

“I plan and organize social and recreational activities – from bingo to field trips to group therapy. Keeps me busy.  There are more than 200 clients.  The idea is to encourage social interaction.”

The inquiries kept coming at a rapid pace. Mr. Elliot was fishing for a weakness about my income producing prospects. Can’t blame him.  

“ Do you plan to stay at that rehab center or move on?”

“I’m hoping to become a full time one-on-one counselor but I’m in training now,” I said. “So far, they’ve given me two clients. When I finish my master’s degree in clinical psychology, I’ll get more clients.”

“And more money?”

“Yes sir absolutely.” Don’t ask how much. “Eventually, I hope to set up my own private practice,” I said.

“Any benefits?”

“They pay 50% for health insurance and 50% of any course I take toward my degree. It’s a pretty good deal.”

Mrs. Elliot edged closer to the table.

“Tell me about your family. Any brothers or sisters?” asked Mrs. Elliot. Looking for skeletons.

“Two older brothers and two older sisters.  I’m the baby,” I said. “They’re all married and I have 3 nephews.”

“How about your Mom and Dad. What do they do?”

“They are both retired. Dad owned his own bike repair shop. Mom was a day care teacher.”

 They were an interrogation duo. Mr. was gruff and to the point like Sergeant Friday. Mrs. was more like Colombo always forgetting something. I would have liked them if they were not Margie’s parents.

As we were waiting for the check, Mr. Elliot asked, “so why do you want to marry Margie?”

She’s great in bed. It’s simple Mr. Elliot. Margie is just so easy to love. She sings in the shower, she makes great pancakes. We like the same TV shows. We finish each other’s sentences. She laughs at my stupid jokes and I laugh at hers. She is my other half. Even on my worst days, she is always there cheering me on. I could not love anyone more.”

Mr. Elliot signed the check as Mrs. Elliot blushed.

“You can call me Bill,” Mr. Elliot said with a smile.

“OK Bill.”

When we got to the car, Margie gave me a great big wet kiss.

It Ain’t Easy - A Short Story

It’s not easy being a witch. With magic spells and potions and all the rest, people expect so much.

Why don’t you wear a black pointed hat if you’re a witch, they say. I tell them that witches don’t wear black hats. Witches wear all kinds of hats – panama hats, berets, sombreros and fedoras . They sometimes don’t wear hats at all, just like everyone else.

If you are wearing it, they laugh. They always laugh.  ” I say “screw you.”

I do wear a pointed hat but only on special occasions like All Hallows Eve or the Summer Solstice. But that’s me. Most witches don’t give a crap.

And the broomstick thing, I can’t believe. People actually think that witches ride on broomsticks. If I could fly, I would definitely not use a broomstick. It has to hurt.

What gets my blood boiling is the idea that witches are bad. They’re not. Most witches are good. There are seven in my flock (we don’t use coven anymore). We are all cool like the Fonz, hip, stylish,  good witches, mostly good. We call ourselves subzero – get it?

I was waiting in line at a grocery store and overheard a conversation.

The daughter said, “Mom, I want to be a witch for Halloween.”

The mother answered, “But witches are so wicked Becky. Would’nt you rather be a princess.”

The sometimes bad witch in me said, “But princesses get killed by witches. It’s safer being a witch.”

If the mother’s look was a curse, my head would have been on the floor. I could almost feel the bounce.

 I’ve only met one bad witch. Her name was Melinda. She wore dark dresses or robes and smelled like my Aunt Stella’s parlor.  She tried to place black spells on anyone who got in her way.  One spell made her boss fart rotten eggs whenever he said her name. Sometimes it worked when other persons said her name. I’m not sure she considered this success or failure.

You can sometimes tell a good witch from a bad by the way they walk. Good witches walk straight with head held high. Bad withes slouch and usually smell like burnt tuna.

Another thing people don’t understand is that potions and curses are unpredictable. One of my first potions was called alderrox. Don’t ask me where they get these names. It was supposed to get our family dog to poop in the park. Instead, he pooped only on our front porch. My mom almost killed me. Eventually the potion wore off.

The problem with spells and potions is getting the ingredients. You don’t just walk into Walmart and ask for werewolf hair or an Egyptian amulet. Fortunately you can buy anything on the internet. But it’s like a box of chocolates – you never really know what you’re going to get. A slightly altered ingredient can give you a cow instead of a frog.

Curses are time consuming. I’ve been working on a love potions for 2 years. There is this hot guy at work who would not even look at me. He is six feet tall with water soaked eyes, broad shoulders and a smile like hot cocoa that melts my heart. I put together a white rose from Iceland, a tomato heart, three bludenberries and an ounce of chocolate. I drank it. The next day he asked me out – a diner and a movie. A tingly good night kiss ended my dream date of all time. I haven’t heard from him since. Now I’m back to the drawing board trying to make the damn thing long lasting.

One, Two, Three …. Eight, Nine, Ten

This is my first try at fiction so don’t expect a lot

One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten

Elkin Gornov got home from work early that day. Something was wrong. Two of the living room lamps were missing. Barbara’s books and computer were not on the desk in the bedroom. As he reached into the refrigerator to get a beer, she entered the front door.

 “Elkin, I have something to tell you.” Her eyes were dark. Her natural smile was missing. “I’m leaving. I have already packed and moved out. I know this will hurt but I don’t love you. I found someone.”

Elkin was speechless. A voice inside counted “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.”

  “Well don’t you have something to say?”

Elkin stood frozen. He blinked his eyes which started to water. His lip quivered. “Why?”

”Elkin, you have become the most boring, overweight, controlling man in the world. Now that the girls are gone, I have no reason to stay. I need to enjoy life again. Besides, your counting scares me,” she recited.

 “Who?” Elkin muttered. Barbara bolted out the door.

For the next few days, Gornov was semi catatonic. He did not eat or sleep or go to work. His boss and good friend Gerry Harris found him alone in his newly purchased 8x8 aluminum shed in the back yard.

 “What’s going on Elkin? You didn’t even call. We were worried. No one answered your phone. Are you alright?”

Elkin turned his head and mumbled. Gerry took him to the local hospital where he was admitted. The diagnosis was obsessive compulsive stress disorder. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.

Three days later, Elkin was home, on medication and back to work. A plan was being born. Elkin was humiliated.

 “Am I more hurt by the betrayal or the fact that I had no clue. I didn’t even suspect that Barbara was seeing someone. What do I tell my daughters or fellow workers or neighbors? – that I’m boring, fat and out of touch with my wife of 35 years.”

 Recently Barbara had seemed aloof. They had their share of fights. The last few years after the girls left for college, the fights had escalated. But Elkin was reasonably happy and he thought Barbara was too. Her Tuesday night book club was obviously a lie.

The last fight was the most telling. Forgetting it was Tuesday, Elkin innocently asked “where are you going?”

 Barbara’s angrily responded “ Why, do you really care? Do you even know about my book club which I’ve been going to for the past year?”

Elkin shouted, “ bitch.”

Barbara slammed the front door on her way out. Her tires screeched as she drove out of the driveway. “An obvious clue. Am I really that oblivious?”

But all of that was beside the point. “No need to dwell on what could have happened. I need to find the paramour.”

On Wednesday, Elkin took his cousin Jimmy’s car to work. The gray 2009 Honda Accord was relatively inconspicuous. His cousin was out of the country in Malaysia for a few months. He asked Elkin to start his car occasionally especially in the cold New England winter.

 Elkin worked for an architectural firm where he could make his own work schedule. He left work early and drove to Barbara’s office in downtown Worcester. She worked as a receptionist at the Health Connector on Eden Street and usually parked in the lot across the street. He waited tapping the dashboard at the corner of Sudbury Street. At 5:13 Barbara stepped out of the Health Center, crossed the busy street and went to her car, a black 2006 Nissan Maxima. Elkin let one car get ahead of him and followed hanging back as safely as he could making sure he was not seen. He wore a newly purchased Yankee baseball cap with the front turned down and a false mustache. He was a Red Sox fan. 22 minutes passed until Barbara pulled into a driveway on Maple Street in the suburban town of Shrewsbury.

 “Jesus, this is Wilbur’s home.’ Wilbur Wyatt was Elkin’s friend since high school and the best man at his wedding.

 Elkin shouted, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.

Thoughts ran through Elkin’s head. “Revenge. An eye for an eye. Choose a weapon. Kill Barbara. Kill Wilbur. Hide the bodies. Buy a gun. Target practice. Poison. Push off a cliff.  Strangulation. Use a venomous snake. Stab with a knife. Buy burlap bags. Buy plastic bags. Choose a location. Pick a time of day. On the way to work. At home. On the road. Fire. Acid. Torture. Make it seem like an accident. Prepare”

         As he drove north on Route 13 toward Polson, Elkin Gornov could hear his heartbeat. He had never thought about murder, about ending someone’s life, for real. At the same time, he was excited. There is some joy about what he was about to do. The satisfaction of a well thought out plan. The minute details to achieve success. The sweet taste of revenge.  “But why am I afraid?,” he thought. “Of course this could end badly. I could get caught.” “Am I mad like Jack Nicholson in the Shining? “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten

Route 13 is a winding 2 lane highway meandering through the wilderness of southern Maine.  Light snow was falling like in the opening scene of Doctor Zhivago. A major northeaster was forecast for that evening. The wet snow would hide footprints and tire prints. He wore skin tight gloves which he purchased at Target with cash. Jimmy’s Honda spun through a couple of icy spots.

Elkin was going to Wilbur’s summer cottage on Lake Bowman in a small town named Polson. Years ago, Elkin also had a cottage on Lake Bowman. The lake was bounded by about 20 homes mostly summer cottages. The Wyatt and Gornov families spent many happy weekends together while their children were young. Elkin knew Wilbur visited his cottage on weekends in the winter. Wilbur loved to spend a full day ice fishing with his drinking buddies from Polson. Wilbur would probably be alone and cell coverage in the mountains was spotty at best. With luck, Wilbur would be out in the middle of the lake by the time Elkin arrived.

As Elkin turned onto the lake road, his heart raced. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.”

 There was a light on in the cottage. There were 10 to 15 persons on the ice cold lake. There was one lean-to, hopefully Wilbur’s. Elkin kept driving on the narrow lake road. At the first curve, he backed into a vacant lot as far as he could so as not to be observed from the street or the lake. He shut down the engine, grabbed the binoculars from the back seat, stuffed the colt 45 into his pants and put on the galoshes all of which were recently purchased with cash. A back up hunting knife was already attached to his lower left leg. The walk to the cottage was slippery.

The snow continued to fall now in huge puffy flakes. The road was narrow but there would be little traffic during this season. Elkin walked at a brisk pace with hope that his heart would slow. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.

As he reached the blue and white one level cottage, he could see in the windows. The home was level with the street and only 6 feet from the street. He slowed his pace. There was no one inside as far as he could tell. He walked past the building and focused on the lake. It was too distant to make out faces but that’s why he brought binoculars. He stopped behind a tree near the road and set his sights to the figures on the ice. He scanned from left to right. Standing next to the lean-to was Wilbur without a doubt. He had to get back to the cottage and go inside before he was noticed by any of the ice fishermen. He turned around and walked at the same pace as before. When he got to the cottage, he peered though the windows to make sure no one was inside. After a few minutes, he was convinced. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten. Luckily no car had driven by since he began his walk.

This was the dangerous part. The faster the better. He climbed 3 short steps to the side door without being noticed by the persons on the ice.  If anyone saw him and alerted Wilbur, the plan would have to be aborted. He might have to run to his car to get away. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.  

Monuments Men - A Movie Review

I needed a sedative after watching manic American Hustle, intense Gravity and over the top The Wolf of Wall Street.  Monuments Men was the perfect answer.  While I did not sleep (I never do) or snooze, I did hear some snoring in the theatre. Even the few scenes of violence were lethargic. When one of the main characters, Lieutenant Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) was killed, it was with a single shot behind a wall. Ho hum. No one in the theatre seemed to care and his fellow movie characters gave the most low keyed condolences. You could tell they were reading from a script, a poorly written one. The writing was bad. I was hoping at the end that at least President Truman’s lines would be inspiring. Not so. Truman wondered if saving 5 million pieces of art was worth the price of 2 dead soldiers. I don’t think he watched the movie.

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The film was based upon the true story of the greatest treasure hunt of all time. Lieutenant Frank Stokes (George Clooney) convinces President Truman to commission a group of 7 museum directors, curators and art historians to rescue the destruction and loss by the Nazis of artistic masterpieces during World War II. To do so, they would have to go behind enemy lines into Germany; an impossible task by persons more familiar with The Pieta than a M1machine gun. This was one of the more inspiring stories of the war. Too bad director George Clooney gave us mostly biopic and little emotion. This historic story deserved better.

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The cast was impressive if odd. Beside the iconic Clooney, there was John Goodman, Bill Murray, Matt Damon and Kate Blanchette. But why choose 2 comedians for such a serious narrative? Blanchette was also miscast. Seems that George chose mostly his friends.

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OK so what did I like? Monuments Men was really a documentary. If nominated for an Oscar in this category, it could win. Unlike most documentaries, it had recognizable characters. The cinematography was above documentary standards. Well that’s all I can think of. One more thing. The movie conveyed a piece of history which otherwise would be left on the shelf. It was from a nostalgic era of my parents – the greatest generation. My Dad fought in that war and I’m proud of his service.

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So instead of 2 stars out of 10, I give it 4.  

Education

Seems to me we have the best education system in the world. How do I know? Because we have the strongest and most vibrant economy in the world. All of the studies comparing test scores of kids from different countries are bogus. Passing a test and being educated are 2 different things.

My plan to make education even better: 1) eliminate the department of education 2) eliminate the education departments or offices in each state. 3) Require all teachers to have an advanced degree 4) Require all persons to get a high school diploma or face 1 year in jail.

dreamofacommonlanguage:

In answer to a question from that bright-light Iranian journalist in Tehran, Asadollah Amraee, editor at Golstaneh, off the top of my head this morning I wrote these ten writing tips (which surely need their revision):

1. Know that your consciousness is both singular and universal. What does this mean? No one else has your subjectivity: you were formed by many influences and have a birthright and particular way of seeing the world. Hence, you can offer a distinctive story of the world to others. That said, your consciousness also partakes of the universal: the more specifically you articulate your stories, the more you help to articulate the inarticulable. In this way, you are giving a gift to others who crave such articulation.
2. Read widely, deeply, promiscuously. Read so as to remind yourself of all the stories already flowing through you. Read intelligently, questioning, performing close reading, taking real or invisible notes. Look at character, sensibility, structure, plot, word choice, beginnings and endings, milieu, description, point of view, style, sudden seams and ruptures, moments in which a text conforms to your ideas of the world and moments in which it surprises.
3. Some writers are Apollonian and some are Dionysian; some like to plot far ahead and some like to get lost in the woods. Try embracing your inner Dionysian; surprise yourself as you write so that your reader is surprised.
4. Revise and revise again. Keep the flame of your original inspiration if you wish, but revise ferociously. Read your work aloud. See your work.
5. Be like a devoted workman: show up to your work at the same time every day, ideally in the morning before the day’s currency of words comes to deplete your own dream-state stock. If you show up, the muse will show up. The discipline creates the vessel and your inspiration fills it.
6. See if you can get out of your own way. Write first, let yourself be fully that writer! Only later be the editor, coming in as your own critic. If you begin as the critic, you will never get anything down on paper. Write first, let your writing cool off on the shelf for a week or month, work on other things, and then revisit your writing as the critic. 
7. Anything you do for at least half an hour every day becomes part of you.
8. Sometimes it is good to trick your superego by giving yourself a word quota: say, that you write 200, or 500, or 1000 words a day. Do this first thing in the morning and you have no guilt or concern the rest of the day. You have shown up at your work. The next day, revise those 200 or 500 or 1000 with, primarily, the aim of writing another new 200 or 500 or 1000. 
8. Consider the path of least resistance: whatever comes most easily to you is your gift. As water moves downstream, your creativity also has its own natural flow and interest. If you find it boring or difficult to move characters, for example, from one locale to another, then no need to put in the movements, the elaborate choreography. Your patience and impatience are part of the trance which you are trying to induce in your reader. 
9. Induce a trance. Induct us into your way of seeing.
10. Imagine an ideal reader who will help magnetize your aesthetic.

Thanks for the great advice

Welfare Equals Lazy?

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a lazy person. I mean someone who gets up each morning and wants to do nothing except maybe watch TV. I don’t think you’re lazy if you read a book. Lazy people probably exist but not in my field of friends and acquaintances. Most of the persons I know or have known are workaholics – working 60 to 80 hours per week as if the world would go crashing down if they stopped. It is an obsession for many. No, I think it is an obsession for most.

 In my real estate working days, I used to make sure that I took one day off a week and tried for 2. Friends marveled at my ability and discipline to do so but privately, I think, they resented my days off.  For me, it was a way of insuring sanity. I knew I was obsessed with work. My dad worked hard and was proud of it. My mom too. And all my uncles and aunts. In contrast, laziness was vilified as if it were the devils work

 But as for those who are truly lazy (if they exist), it seems to me that they must be depressed or at least have some kind of mental imbalance. Work gives us meaning even if we don’t like the work. And let’s face it, most persons hate their work. Ok maybe not most. Each one of us searches for meaning in one way or the other. Most seek meaning in their jobs, others in their family, and others in recreation or creativity. The search for meaning is as innate as the will to live.  

 And what about welfare which is constantly maligned and denigrated. Welfare is invariably associated with laziness like it’s a mathematical formula – welfare equals being lazy.  I have known quite a few persons who depended on welfare assistance. Every one that I can remember had either a physical and or mental problem or both. They did seem lazy – but they had a good excuse. They could not work. None of them seemed happy. Some had a job if only part time. Health problems can be debilitating.

 I really doubt that people who disparage welfare recipients ever met a person on welfare. I’m sure they were never friends with a welfare recipient. In many ways this is a form of racism – vilifying others to make you feel superior.

 Here is something posted today by one of my Facebook friends.

Is this a racist statement? Yes it is – makes him feel superior to “those people.” Has he ever met someone who could not find a job and had to accept food stamps? Probably not. Has he ever really thought about this? Probably not.

August: Osage County – A Movie Review

Meryl Streep is the Dallas Cowboys in their heyday as America’s Team. They could do no wrong and neither can Meryl Street. She has to be one of the best actresses of all time. I’ll be surprised if she does not get an Academy Award for her portrayal of Violet Weston. And I’ll be equally surprised if Julia Roberts does not win an Oscar for best supporting actress for her portrayal as Barbara Weston Fordham, Violet’s daughter. Two very powerful performances.

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But the plot was equally powerful. It is basically a story about an Oklahoma family, the Westons. They are brought together with the disappearance and then suicide death of the family patriarch Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard), Violet’s husband.

Barbara arrives from Colorado with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and 14 year old pot smoking daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Middle daughter Karen (Julliete Lewis) arrives from Florida with her newest boyfriend Steve, a sleazy businessman (Dermot Mulroney). Violet’s sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) arrives with husband Charles Aiken (Chris Cooper). Violet’s youngest daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is the only one who lives locally. Mattie Fae’s and Charles awkward and shy son “Little Charles” shows up late for the funeral because he overslept.

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Each family member has their own particular peccadillo. Violet is a drug addict and mean as a bobcat. Barbara and Bill are separated and on the verge of divorce. Ivy and cousin “Little Charles” are in love. An embarrassing family secret is eventually revealed.

The highlight of the movie is the dramatic after funeral dinner where all of the family is present. It is filled with acrimony, shouting, and screaming punctured with black humor. The family sins are laid out by truth telling Violet. It ends with Barbara attacking Violet and taking away her prescription pills. The dinner is probably one of the most formidable scenes in all movies.

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As I watched, I was thinking of my own extend family and their fights and arguments and laughter and love. Violet reminded my so much of my own mother. And Charles reminded me of a combination of a few of my uncles. And Jean made me think of my 2 daughters who I love so much. I think writing this makes me tear up even now.

This is definitely a must see movie for anyone who has a family – each of us.

9 out of 10 stars

Winter’s Tale – A Book and Movie Review

At about page 100, I realized that “this does not make sense.” Nevertheless, I trudged on hoping for anything that resembled a plot. Often, books begin slowly and end up being very good (i.e. Gone Girl). At page 300, it dawned on me that Winter’s Tale was for wordsmiths written by a wordsmith, author Mark Halpern. It was written for persons who like figures of speech, expressions, styles, terms, prose, phrases, and language. There was no plot although there were a few story threads. The characters were boring at best. They had no substance, just lots of meaningless words. They kept striving for justice, I guess.  But I slogged on knowing that the movie premiere was a week away. The numerous movie promos on TV made me wonder. Maybe the movie is as bad as the book and that’s why they need the promos.

 

Now don’t get me wrong. I like words and language. By page 829, I was kinda getting used to the beautiful flow of words which often were totally baffling. Let me give you a taste:

“And though the machines were ready, Jackson Mead doubted that conditions had coalesced. He doubted the coming of the high shimmering gold that would commend an instance of perfect, balanced justice, for he doubted that anyone remembered or cared for justice either natural or divine. They had all defined it according to their own lights, which meant that it always had to be quick and uncomplicated”

Maybe I just don’t get it. 

Since the book was so bad, I decided to read some movie reviews. They were all in total 100% agreement – this time travel movie was terrible. So now I felt guilty for taking my wife to see a bad movie based upon a bad book. She is often much more critical then I. My one consolation was that our fellow movie goers were not able to make it. They probably read the reviews.

 

But my wife liked it and so did I. I think the critics don’t understand fantasy. Fantasy does not have to make sense. After all, it’s make believe. For me, the movie made sense out of the senseless book. Although it was really not very sensible. It took 2 threads, the love story and supernatural, and left out the rest from the book – thankfully. If I told you about the bridge er bridges, you would think I’m crazy for finishing the book.

The love story was believable – well not really – but who cares. Love stories are always soothing to the soul no matter how contrived. Colin Farrell as Peter Lake and Jessica Brown Findlay as Beverly Penn were charming. I loved them both. And little Willa and little Abby were a delight. Their acting was not great but the writers did not give the actors much to work with. In fact, they gave so little to one of my favorite actors, Russell Crowe, it was almost comical. And certainly, Will Smith’s role as Lucifer was definitely laughable like out loud laughable. Although no one in the theatre laughed out of sympathy for Will. Actually, there were only 3 person in the theatre beside my wife and myself.

 

I’ll end on a good note. The cinematography was excellent. Central park in the winter is certainly beautiful and the director took great advantage of it. And the lake scenes were breathtaking.

Although I liked the movie because I like love stories that make me cry, I can only give the movie 2 out of 10 stars. Zero for the book