Monthly Archives: January 2012

ONE LAST TIME

I was not going to write about my experiences in Europe any further, but one of my daughters prevailed upon me to do it one more time, so once again into the breech.

When my friend and I arrived in Paris and reported for work the first day, we were called into the District managers office. He was a tough old Scotsman, certainly nobody to fool around with. Getting right to the point, he said that he understood that we were young and single and the temptations to live it up in Paris or wherever we were assigned were many. He said he couldn’t care less what we did on our free time, how late we might stay up, for example, but we had to make sure we showed up at the office no later than 8:AM sharp, and ready to go go to work. We both nodded in agreement fearing that if we said anything it might be construed as being contradictory.

And there was many the weekday night that I would stay up past one or two in the morning and then have to get up by six to make it in on time. ( I had to have breakfast before going to work. Even today, my wife says that if I ever skipped a meal the Earth would stop rotating on its axis. Since I certainly would not want that to happen I never skip a meal.) There were some nights when I got home so late that I knew if I went to bed I would never get up on time, so I just stayed up the entire night. I would drag myself thru the mornings but by early afternoon I started feeling much better, and by quitting time I was ready to go out on the town again. I would average about 4- 5 hours of sleep per night, maybe 6 hours on the weekend. There was always so much to do or see that I never slept late, even on weekends. I have to laugh at today’s medical recommendations that everyone get 7-8 hours sleep per night for good health. I haven’t gotten that much sleep since I was a teenager.

One of the early assignments I had was at an Army installation in Poitiers, France which was southwest of Paris. It was a town made up of narrow, winding, cobblestone streets and stone houses, and a lot of ancient history. It seems that a great battle was fought there in the 14th century between England and France in one of a multitude of wars between those 2 countries over the centuries. (It all seems so futile in retrospect.) This battle was notable because the king of France was captured by the British and more than a dozen noblemen were slaughtered on both sides. When I was there they still had parades and commemoration ceremonies honoring those that fought in that battle.

At the time anyone assigned by the Government to Europe were allowed to bring all their personal belongings with them including their cars. (I know, it seemed that the Government couldn’t do enough for you if you landed that assignment.) So some of the military would bring their big, clunker cars over with them, like Chryslers and Buicks. Did I mention how narrow most of the streets of Poitiers were. So narrow that to get one of these clunkers thru these streets they literally had to drive up on the sidewalks which were also pretty narrow. It was a sight to behold with pedestrians scurrying out of the way when a Chrysler would go rumbling down their street.

Poitiers did have several fine little restaurants where you could get outstanding food and wine at nominal prices. When you entered most of these restaurants you felt as if you were inside a cave or grotto. They were great retreats. Of course I may have made the European experience sound like all fun and games which it certainly was not. We often worked long hours, sometimes until 12-1 in the morning to met certain deadlines and then have to be back at work by 7:30-8AM. Nights when we didn’t work that late we would often play poker until 2 in the morning, usually for high stakes, especially if we had just gotten our travel expense reimbursement checks. But I did get 2 promotions out of all that work, so that in my next assignment I was Auditor-in-Charge and supervised about 6 other auditors in La Rochelle, an Army port facility about 300 miles south of Paris. It was from there that I would drive back to Paris on weekends at speeds of 80-90MPH that I described in my previous entry.

The last 9 months of my tour I actually secured an audit in Paris so I didn’t have to drive like a madman every weekend. One of my favorite restaurants there was called (English translation) the Rotisserie of the Royal Duck. It was notable because if you went in a party of 4, they would plunk down 3 magnum sized bottles of wine (white, red,and rose) and if you ever did get to the bottom of one of the bottles (which we never could) they would simply replace it with a fresh bottle. The fixed price menu also included an aperitif, an after-dinner  drink and a 5 course menu, all for about $5.50 per person. You could see why it was so popular. We never failed to go reeling or staggering out of there in a drunken stupor when we were finished.

Of course I visited many other cities during my time there. I visited London several times, but if it was winter I preferred spending my time in the local pubs with natives having a “pint” rather than doing the touristy things in the cold and rain. But I felt guilty about not seeing the things I should so I made an effort to visit some sites like the Tower of London where Ann Boylyn was held and later beheaded by Henry VIII. Was disappointed however that I could find no blood in her stone cell. And so it went in other cities I visited. I spent most of my time in outdoor cafes or small night spots but did make an effort to see some of the cathedrals and other places of note. In retrospect I still enjoyed  having a beer in an outdoor cafe rather than acting like a tourist.

Within a few months after my tour was up and I left France, Charles De Gaulle the French President and WWII hero booted all American military out of France. The whole kit and kaboodle  had to relocate to Germany. I like to think that once De Gaulle learned that I was no longer in France he had no further use for the Americans.

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PARISIAN NIGHTS (continued)

I thought I would add a few more stories  to the 3 years I spent in Europe.  Shortly after I had arrived I bought a French car called a Simca which was the French  equivalent of the  Volkswagon  Beetle. Small, light-weight, stick-shift it cost me all of $950. (Three years later when I left Europe, I sold it to someone just arriving  for $800.) This is how I transported myself from the work site in the French hinterlands on Friday afternoons back to Paris, and then back to the work site Sunday evenings.

I would often meet with friends I had made in the office who also drove back from where they were working on Friday evenings, usually at a little French restaurant on the Left Bank where we would compare notes as to how fast we drove. It was kind of mandatory that you drove at least 80 MPH to be in good standing with our group. (At that time there were no speed limits on French roads.) A speed of 85 MPH was better, and if you did over 90 you won the groups admiration. In retrospect it was a minor miracle that all of us made it home safely. On cold winter nights in that restaurant  I would have a large bowl of steaming hot onion soup that was coated with a thick layer of cheese, and a plate of escargots. That along with freshly baked French bread and a good wine, was like being in heaven.

Speaking of minor miracles, an incident occurred when I was working at an Army base outside of Orleans which was about 60 miles south of Paris. It was in the French countryside which was virtually all farm land. For some reason French farmers had built 8-foot high concrete walls all along the road to enclose their farms, I guess. I would drive to work over back roads to save time and there would be nothing but concrete walls on either side of the road. It rarely snowed in France, at least when I was there, but one morning it did snow about 4 inches. Having no driving experience in the snow I drove to work that morning totally oblivious. Well at one point the car started skidding  and I probably turned the wheel in the wrong direction as my feather weight car started heading toward the concrete wall. This, of course, was before seat belts so if I hit the wall I would have been flattened like a latke. But for some inexplicable reason there was about a 10 foot gap in the wall and I skidded right through the gap into a hayfield. There was nothing special or anything unusual to account for this gap, it was just there. Neither the car nor I were hurt and I managed to back it back onto the road. When I got to the office and told my story the Auditor-in Charge yelled at me for being so careless. “Do you know how much paper work I would have had to fill out if you were killed” he said compassionately.

As time wore on we became experts in French wines and cuisine. We would talk to American or British tourists on weekends on the Champs-Elysees or the Left Bank and advise them of small restaurants off the beaten path to go to, where the food was often better and the prices more reasonable than than the touristy type places. We always got visitors from our headquarters ( who would pass up a government paid-for trip to Paris?) and took them to dinner at our favorite spots while advising them on the best wines and dishes to order. We became more expert in French wines than audit techniques.

We bought our gasoline at Army bases because it was only $1.25 a gallon there versus about $4-5  a gallon at French stations(all those French taxes.) One time when I was driving back to work Sunday evening I had let myself get so low on gas that I knew I wouldn’t make it back unless I stopped at a French station. It was around dinner-time and no one was in attendance at the pumps. I kept honking my horn for service and was about to give up when an obese Frenchman came running out of the adjoining house with a napkin tucked in his collar and a drumstick clutched in one hand. He kept yelling the whole time about crazy Americans but he did fill up my tank.

The first Thanksgiving weekend there, I, with a group of friends from the office went to Berlin for the 4- day weekend. This was at the height of the cold war and the Berlin Wall dividing east and west Berlin. In front of the wall on the east side were Red army soldiers in green holding rifles pointed at the west. About 100 yards away were West German soldiers in blue pointing rifles at the east. German citizens were not allowed in this no-mans land area, but if you showed an American passport they did let you down there. I wandered into that area between the east and west soldiers pointing guns at each other. I asked an east German soldier if he would point his rifle directly at me and look menacing so I could take a better picture with my camera, and he obliged. That Christmas to New Years I went to Barcelona, Spain (I got 5 weeks of annual leave) and with no reservations I told the cab driver to take me to a nice hotel. When I asked for a room they told me they were completely booked except for the Presidential suite which had 2 king sized beds and many other amenities. But of course, I would not want a room that big and expensive. When I asked the price it came out to about $2.75 a night. I hemmed and and hawed and tried to appear reluctant lest they realize the had made a mistake and it was really $275 a night. Finally I said if they were absolutely sure they had nothing else I would be forced to take it since I needed a place to sleep that night.

Barcelona was gaily lit up for Christmas with strings of colored lights stretching over most streets and avenues and various parades and street dancing constantly going on. While there I met some Danish tourists with a daughter a couple of years younger than me. I asked her for a date, and arrived at the lobby of her hotel at the appointed time. Instead of the daughter being in the lobby the mother came down and in polite fashion and a smooth way started to grill me about what it was I was doing in Europe.    She wanted to make sure her daughter was not about to go out with some bum. I started to go into the details of my job making it sound so very important (with some embellishment of course.) At one point I got so carried away that for the moment I thought I was going out with the mother instead of the daughter.

One Christmas to New Years I met some other people from the office in Rome and we drank our way through the various sites, sounds and festivities going on then. I visited Amsterdam where a big attraction was  girls of the night that sat in windows  for your selection. I think they still do. There was a restaurant in Amsterdam that served a 36 course meal. I went there and ordered “the works” and they brought 36 small dishes out on a cart that had 3 tiers. I went to many other places throughout Europe but by now I’m sure you get the picture.

In 1971 I took a 3 week vacation with my wife where we visited London, Paris, Vienna, Copenhagen (Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen to me is like the 8th wonder of the world), and Amsterdam. We had a wonderful time and fond memories but somehow being a tourist was not the same experience as living there. Especially when you’re young, like in you’re 20s.

 

 

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I wasn’t always a crotchety old man. At one point I was a crotchety young man and that was back in the 1960s when I got the opportunity of a lifetime, and that was to go live and work in Paris at the Government’s expense.

If any of you have read “Waiting for Godot” by the Irish author Samuel Beckett (highly recommended) you know it’s about 2 bums who are continually waiting for Godot to show up to transform their otherwise miserable existences. Of course Godot never comes but they continually profess that, for sure, Godot will show up tomorrow and make their lives better. Well as a good friend at the time put it to me, there was a knock on my door one day and when I opened it, there was Godot  saying I’ve come for you.

At the time I was single and a junior grade, civilian, internal auditor working for the U.S. Army in their New York office when I was offered an opportunity to transfer to the Army’s European headquarters office which was then located in Paris. As part of this deal I was to get a very generous housing allowance which would surely cover all my rental expense, and a generous travel allowance which would cover all my expenses when I was assigned away from Paris which would be most of the time. I was therefore, able to pocket most if not all of my paycheck. A friend I had made in the office was also given the same opportunity and the two of us transferred over and shared an apartment together in the most luxurious Parisian arrondisment (neighborhood.) ( He later became the best man at my wedding.)

This apartment was on the 16th floor of one of the tallest apartment buildings in Paris at the time, on the right bank of the Seine, with a balcony that just about hung over the river and from where you could view just about all of Paris. It was owned by an American living in Paris who had bought it as an investment so we got a good deal on the rental.  Several apartments down from us lived a French movie star ( I think his name was Alain Delain, or something like that, and when I leaned over my balcony I would sometimes see him having dinner with some young beauty on his balcony.)  Since I didn’t cook I would take my dates to various Parisian restaurants  and try to ply them with enough wine to get them back to my apartment to “see the view from my balcony.” Shortly after we arrived I was assigned to audits in various parts of France from where I could at least return to my beautiful apt. on the weekends. My friend on the other hand was assigned to audits in Germany from where he couldn’t do this. I don’t think I saw him more than a half dozen times in the next 3 years. So while he continued to pay half the rent I had the place virtually to myself.

Paris was incomprehensibly beautiful, especially at night when all lit up. Coming from an impoverished  background from one of the poorer neighborhoods of Brooklyn,  the incredible beauty of Paris never ceased to fill me with pleasure the entire 3 years I was there. I worked in places like Orleans(where St. Joan was burned at the stake) Poitiers, with narrow winding streets where some great battles of the middle ages were fought or La Rochelle, a port city south of Paris, but I always managed to get back to Paris for the weekend even if it meant driving for seven and a half hours one way from La Rochelle on lousy French roads. On the weekends I’d explore different parts of Paris, and go to little cafes or bookstalls that Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald and other American expatriates liked to frequent. Or I would visit places where great French authors like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus would hold sway with their friends. It was often just a pleasure to sit in an outdoor cafe on the Champs-Elyeeses in the warm weather sipping a beer as I watched the parade of Parisians and tourists go strolling by.

My workdays were usually quite long, well past 5 0r 6, but after work a group of us would often go to the Officers Club on the base for our pre-dinner martinis. This was the early 1960s so hard drinks at the Officers Club were 30 cents but 15 cents during happy hour (which seemed to go on all evening) and the finest German or Dutch beers were 15 cents but a nickel during happy hour. So a group of 6-8 of us sitting at a table would order drinks and we would take turns flipping the waitress $2 which would cover the cost of the drinks plus the tip. After about an hour and a half  of hard drinking we would repair to some non-touristy French restaurant for a word class dinner at which one was expected to consume a minimum of a half-bottle of wine per person. After that it was either back to the Officers Club or some little cafe for after- dinner cognacs. This was a normal day virtually every day. I guess, in retrospect, it’s lucky that I have a functioning liver left.

During my stay in Europe I got to visit places like Berlin(during the cold war), Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and much more, all at the Government’s expense, but my endurance is wearing thin (that senior thing again) so I’ll save those experiences for another entry. Until then, I think Paris is still probably the most beautiful city in the world.

 

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VENTURE CAPITALISM

I know that a few of you reading the title of this piece will audibly groan and feel that if read any further, you will fall into a coma-like stupor of eternal boredom, so deep and prolonged,  that you could never be awakened until the day you die. But before you reach for a sledgehammer to smash down on your big toe in hopes that the excruciating pain will prevent this from happening read on about what a fun topic venture capitalism can be. For example if your brother-in-law asks to borrow a couple of grand from you to open up a hot-dog stand, and you agree to the loan for perhaps a 5-10% cut of the profits, you’re a venture capitalist.

The topic recently has gotten national attention with the publicity surrounding Mitt Romney’s time as a venture capitalist during which he accumulated somewhere  in the neighborhood of a quarter of a billion dollars in wealth. Yes that’s b  for billion. Seems that Romney was a partner in Bain Capital with a lot of other rich white guys, and their mission was ostensibly to go in and rescue businesses that were in trouble, financially, and return them to profitability for a share of the profits or sometimes out-right ownership of the company. This often involved paring back the wasteful practices of the company in question which in turn often involved firing a lot of people (some who had been working there for decades) in order to increase profit margins. So  Fred Waternobby who had been working on the assembly line for over 20 years, and who essentially lived paycheck- to- paycheck, would be told he had to be fired for the good of the company, but hey, the homeless shelter 2 blocks away wasn’t as bad as everyone said. Meanwhile Bain Capital would reap millions or tens of millions in profits from the deal.

Recently Romney’s opponents for the GOP nomination, such as good ole lovable Newt, and the bible-thumper from Texas, Rick Perry, have jumped on Romney’s time as a venture capitalist. Perry even called Romney a “vulture” capitalist. I think however that’s so un-Republican of them. I mean isn’t tickle-down economics, tax-cuts for the rich, and special-privilege based on wealth part of the Republican philosophy? How dare they even imply they were concerned about the little guy.

Now to be fair venture capitalism is not without its risks. If venture capitalists invest in start-up companies that don’t materialize as thought, or invest in failing companies that can’t be turned around they will lose money. The trick is to be smart enough to know which companies to invest in and which ones to avoid. Early investment in companies like Microsoft or Intel would, of course, have brought in spectacular profits for its investors. Apparently Bain’s partners were  smart, shrewd guys and thus became hugely rich.

There is no doubt, however, that there are many unscrupulous venture capitalists that will go in and virtually plunder companies under stress, and drive them out of business to sell off their assets and thus make a profit. Which brings into question the very nature of capitalism itself. Unfettered capitalism as existed in the 19th and early part of the 20th century is no longer with us. Instead, because of all the shysters, fast-buck artists and others trying to game the system, capitalism is now heavily regulated. But it doesn’t seem to stop the gamers from trying.

In 1837 there was a huge real estate bubble that burst and caused a severe depression. Yes, you read it right, 1837, when all you had to do was go a little west of New Jersey and you could have all the free land you would ever want. Nevertheless, fast-buck artists managed to create inflated realty prices leading to a depression. Of course, the government had no clue then as to what to do so people suffered. It was not unlike the real estate bubble created in the early 2000s by get-rich-quick scammers. It used to be that people bought houses to live in. Even if you bought a second house it was usually to live in it part of the year and perhaps rent it out the rest of the time. But after the turn of the century, “investors” were buying houses on speculation because everyone knew that housing prices could only go up, right. (The house we bought in the year 2000 in Las Vegas skyrocketed in price to such an extent that I figured out that if I sold it at its peak and moved to an igloo in Alaska all my money problems would have been solved. Might have a tough time, though, convincing the wife who absolutely abhors the cold.) The only good thing to come out of the real-estate crash was the drubbing experienced by many of these speculators.

Capitalism, heavily regulated as we know it today, is intricately woven into our system of democracy. But democracy as we all know, is not without some serious flaws. Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the “worst” form of government, except     for every other that’s ever been tried. As for myself I think I’m leaning toward a benevolent monarchy but that’s a topic for another posting. But why should Britain have all the fun of a royal family always getting itself in trouble as they inevitably would.

 

 

 

 

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A DAY AT THE MOVIES

I saw a wonderful movie this weekend with my beautiful bride of 46 years (actually, longer, if you count the time we were seeing each other before we got married.)  That is, I thought it was wonderful but she thought it was just okay. The movie was “The Artist” and it sought to replicate the black and white silent movies of the 1920s. Very cleverly done in black and white on a smaller screen it was almost all silent. Something different,  and extremely well done with a highly-talented and mostly French cast and director. A central character in the movie was a highly trained dog which is the part my wife especially appreciated.

It told the story of a rich and successful silent movie star, who, of course, is also vain and ego-centric similar to a Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckling type, and what happens to him after “talkies” come on the scene. Naturally silent movies quickly disappear from the scene and his life goes into a downward spiral and becomes a living hell. By the way this scenario actually occurred to more than a few silent movie stars. Anyway it was very entertaining and of course it had to have a happy ending as was the mandate for movies made in that era.

Almost from the time they were invented motion pictures have been Americans favorite form of entertainment. When “talkies” came on the scene in the late 1920s people thought utopia had arrived. During the Depression of the 1930s movie attendance actually rose as people forked over a dime for at least 5 hours of entertainment, during which they could forget their hunger or lack of shelter or just plain misery. Yes, at least 5 hours of entertainment.

In those days you got 2 movies, what they called an A and a B movie. The A was the feature and the B was something extra they threw in, but often the B was better than the A. Movie times weren’t posted so if you walked in during the middle of one, as was often the case, you got to see the second one from the beginning and then back to the part of the first one that you missed. Besides the two movies there were films of the latest news (I remember seeing tons of World War II footage when my mother took me to the movies as a child) and one or two cartoons and a “serial” which was usually a schlock western divided into 20 chapters, with a new one shown each succeeding week.

When I started going to the movies myself it cost a quarter for all this entertainment. Movies quickly become a refreshing retreat from the discord in our apartment or neighborhood in Brooklyn. During summers the heat level in our un-airconditioned apartment made “Dante’s Inferno” seem like like a day at the beach. But the movies became air conditioned soon after WWII and it was well worth price of admission just to be able to go in and cool off for 5 hours.

When I was a teenager in high school I got a summer job as an usher in one of the two theaters in our neighborhood for the colossal sum of 75 cents per hour. Yes, believe it or not movie theaters still had ushers in those days. Of course I never had anything to do, (my kind of job) so I spent all my time either making out with the girl behind the candy counter or watching the movies. The owner finally caught on that he was wasting his money and I was fired in less than a month. Oh, the shame. I even had to wear a suit and tie for that crummy job.

Today I believe that movies have degenerated significantly in quality. Movies today are either cartoons for the kids, fairy tale types like Harry Potter, so-called romantic comedies where each guy is out to show how much dumber he is than the other guys and the girls are more or less sexy props, or so called action movies usually based on comic book figures which are merely a collection of not to be believed daredevil stunts. It’s like the fast-buck artists have totally taken over Hollywood and if people are willing to buy tickets, they will mass produce even the worst sort of schlock. I wonder if there will ever be another “Citizen Kane” or “Gone With the Wind” or “Maltese Falcon” ever produced.

Movies, however, even at today’s prices, are still a relatively cheap form of entertainment and so much more easily accessible than other types. Millions go to movies every week so the industry thrives. There is one surprisingly good movie out in theaters now called “War Horse.”  If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it. A quality movie was actually produced in this day of fast-buck artists.

 

 

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THE FREE LUNCH

One of my millions of readers (or is it the one reader I have out of millions of non-readers, I keep getting confused about this) asked me to expand on the free-lunch concept I mentioned in my previous entry. As I stated last time the free-lunch idea could date back to the Depression and the radio show Duffy’s Tavern but probably pre-dates that. (Still wondering about the quality of the corned beef sandwiches you got at the free lunch counter.)

When I was still working in Washington DC many moons ago, on my lunch break I would take a walk around the mall area. Invariably I would spot maybe 3-4 or as many as 6 squirrels foraging in the hard ground looking for something to eat. One day I got the bright idea of bringing along a bag of peanuts to feed to these poor creatures who were so desperate for food. I spotted a pair of squirrels and handed them a few nuts. Suddenly more squirrels showed up seemingly out of nowhere for this free handout. Then more and more. Within a couple of minutes I was surrounded by what appeared to be more than 50 squirrels circling me like barracudas. I was beginning to become alarmed as the number of squirrels seemed to be increasing without a let up. Finally I flung down the bag of nuts  and ran for my life. A similar experience occurred some years later when my wife and I tried to feed some ducks at a lake.  The point to all this is that there is an infinite desire for a freebie and it’s not confined to man alone. Animals as anyone who has been a pet owner can attest are quite happy to be taken care of.

Which brings us to the free-lunch concept in politics. Most people agree that our expenditures are out of control and budget cuts are desperately needed. But these same people take the position that-“cut the other guys benefits but don’t you dare touch mine.” Seniors almost unanimously agree that, yes we need cuts, but don’t touch a hair on the heads of Medicare and Social Security. Farmers say don’t touch farm subsidies, real estate interests look for a wooden stake as if you were a vampire if you even try to discuss cutting housing benefits or the realty tax breaks available, and the list goes on and on.

In recent times I believe that this mentality goes back to the Ronald Reagan era. While Reagan was portrayed  as this great fiscal conservative the facts say otherwise. The entire U.S. cumulative debt from George Washington thru Jimmy Carter was slightly under $1 trillion when Reagan became President. In the next 12 years (8 under Reagan and 4 under Bush the Elder) the deficit mushroomed to $4 trillion. According to my calculator that a 300% increase in a 12 year period. While Reagan made some token cuts in social spending, mostly around the edges, he vastly expanded Defense spending while at the same time sharply cutting taxes, mainly for wealthy tax-payers. (Yes, tax cuts for the rich.) This is what caused those enormous deficits.

Now I know that right-wingers (they call themselves conservatives but I consider them a cult) like to pretend that somehow the Dept. of Defense is not part of the normal budgetary process. I guess they figure that Defense gets its funding from the money tree that grows in the Pentagon courtyard. But Defense is indeed a very large part of our budget. Hence Reagan considered it was fine and dandy to run up huge deficits because the money wasn’t being spent on someone who was poor or sick, but on military hardware instead.

Now the entitlement mentality has been set in set in concrete. Everyone wants a balanced budget or at least to minimize the increase of future debt but who is willing to give up what they are getting from the Government. Even good ole lovable Newt who fancies himself a Reagan conservative, spent years shilling for the ethanol boondoggle. (Ethanol as made in the U.S. is from corn, mainly grown in Iowa, and the Government subsidizes it to the tune of $6 billion a year.) Since all politicians are primarily panderers and demagogues notice how none of the GOP running in the Iowa caucuses would even bring up the subject. Never mind the fact that ethanol is generally not being used for anything.

So lets drink a toast to our sense of entitlement and party like there’s no tomorrow which there may not be if we keep spending ourselves into oblivion. As for me, I bought my beer and now I’m heading down to the free-lunch counter to get one of those yummy looking pastrami sandwiches.

 

 

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ELECTRONICS

While it’s not true that I was born during the Lincoln Administration those of you that have read my previous postings know that I do go back many, many years. Back to a time that could be considered pre-historic in terms of electronics possessed in today’s society. If today’s young people consider the norm as having like 97 inch 3-D color TVs, and desktops, laptops, I-Pads, I-Pods, I-Phones, digital cameras and a host of other electronic gear, picture a time in the the not too distance past when none of that existed.

In my earliest memories as a child, the only thing electronics in our apartment were light bulbs, a radio, and a telephone. Our home entertainment came solely from the radio. My earliest memories were of listening to the Lone Ranger on the radio as he shouted “Hi ho Silver, away” to the stirring rendition of the William Tell Overture. (It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I discovered that the William Tell Overture was not expressly written for the Lone Ranger.) With his faithful companion Tonto, his great white horse Silver, and his exclusive use of only silver bullets, and then only to wound, not kill the villains, the Lone Ranger was certainly an inspiration to impressionable  little kids like me that didn’t know any better.

Other radio programs of that era were “The Green Hornet,” “The Shadow”( “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows” was the creepy intro to that show), and “Duffy”s Tavern, Where the Elite Meet to Eat.”  Since these shows were during the late Depression, on Duffy’s Tavern, if you bought a nickel beer, you got to chow down at the free lunch counter. I have often wondered about the great quality of food  that must have been presented to you  free for a 5 cent beer.

I think the concept of the getting a free lunch especially in politics must have originated with shows like Duffy’s Tavern. Today most people are looking for “free lunches” from federal, state, and local governments in the form of a multitude of social benefits, but are unwilling to pay for them with adequate tax rates. This is why we have mind-boggling deficits.  Not only in this country but around the world. Look at Greece.

Anyway back to the subject at hand. After Word War II in the late 1940s television made it’s appearance on the national scene but of course there was no resemblance to modern day TV. The earliest TVs were black and white and had this “gigantic” 13-inch screen. There were only 3 channels (NBC, ABC, and CBS) they were only on part of the day, I think from about mid-afternoon to around 10-11 at night. After that there was nothing but a color pattern. Early TV shows were Milton Berle (which was basically slapstick comedy left over from Vaudeville) and some children shows.

These were of course, pre-computer days when all business was conducted by hand-written ledgers. I remember my father getting paid from his job every Friday with bills and coins in a small brown envelop. It would be like $79.42 after taxes. Of course our only expenses then were food, rent, electricity and telephone, and sometimes some clothes. Times seemed so simple then and the rough edges of society seemed so much more smoothened down.

So the the question has to be asked are we really a better or happier people with the revolution in electronics. Are our children in a better place, has society evolved to a higher plane, and is there more compassion and empathy for our fellow man. Or as George H. W. Bush once put it, have we achieved a kinder, gentler society. Unfortunately, it often appears to me that our wisdom to improve the way we live cannot keep pace with our abilities to achieve technological advancements, including  developments of weapons-of-mass destruction.

Don’t get me wrong, I like today’s electronics as much as the next guy. But more than a few times I miss not being able to “return to those stirring days of yesteryear, with a mighty hi-ho Silver, away,” and the William Tell Overture.

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THE STORY OF DAVID AND JULIE

The following was observed an overheard very recently at Republican National Headquarters:

David needed a break as he stood up from his desk, went out of his office and leaning against the wall rubbed his eyes. He had been eyeing  the new secretary just down the hall from his office.  Tall, dark hair, dark eyes, obviously both smart and pretty, she was his type of woman. Although he had to admit that just about any woman was his type. As luck would have it she also got up and started heading his way.

“Hi” he said. “Want to grab a cup of coffee.” (David always prided himself on being able to come right to the point.) “Sure” She replied. “I’m David” he said. “I do mainly research around here but also almost everything else they throw my way.”  “I’m Juliet, but just call me Julie” she said staring at the floor.

They wandered to to the coffee room where he made himself the double expresso he usually had in mid-mornings, from the elaborate coffee machine they recently installed. She merely took a cup of de-caf with a little cream.

“So you’re pretty new around here aren’t you” David asked. “Been here about a week-and-a half” she said in a non-commital tone. “So you’re not all pumped about the coming election this year” he said slightly surprised. “It’s a job, David, what can I say. The pay isn’t great but it suffices until I can find something better. I was out-of-work and this offer came along. It’s not exactly what I dreamed of doing when I was a young girl.”

“Well I’m pumped about getting that idiot we have for a President out-of-there and one of our guys in” he said. ” You should be more enthused about the cause.”  “Why David” she replied.” Isn’t this whole process just one giant bullshit scam, each party trying to out-smear the other guy. Which ever candidate has the most money to buy the election wins. You know that.”

“Well it”s not bullshit for me” he replied a little heatedly. “Besides the Dems being for this big government shit with everybody dependent on it they are beyond incompetent and clueless. You know in the mid- 1980s they had what they called the fairness doctrine. If you broadcast one type of political view on radio or TV you had to counter it with the opposing view. Well Reagan took that down and the Dems never had a clue that Reagan was shoving it so far up their assholes that it went into their gullets. Now you have the Rush Limbaughs and all the Rush wannabes and Fox News giving the GOP millions of new voters that wouldn’t likely have. As I said the Democrats were and are totally oblivious.

“You’ve bought into the whole nine yards haven’t you David. Did you ever hear of Lee Atwater?”  “Sure” he replied. “He ran old-man Bush’s campaign in 1988.”  “Yes, he was Bush The Elder’s consigliere the way Karl Rove was Bush The Junior’s hit man” replied Julie. “Shortly after he got Bush elected in 1988 he came down with a brain tumor. Cancer therapies being what they were back then he didn’t have much hope for survival even though he was only in his late-30s. When it became apparent he was going to die he tried to make his peace with his God by apologizing to all the people he smeared on his way up the latter. He sent letters of apology for all the people he destroyed in South Carolina, his base of operations. He even sent a long letter of apology to Michael Dukakis who he mercilessly smeared in the 1988 election. He died in 1991 at age 40 but in the end he tried to save his soul. You know David, I’m not just some dumb typist. I might even know a thing or two.”

“Oh, jeez, you’re not going to throw the religion thing at me,” replied David getting more exasperated. “Isn’t it enough that I have to put up with all the bible-thumpers in my own party.”

“I’m not talking about religion David, I’m talking about what kind of human being you want to be. Your a lawyer aren’t you” she said. “Yes I am, and what are you” he replied.  “I have a B.A. From GWU” she said without emotion. “Great” he replied. “While I was busting my chops studying for the bar exam you were reading Proust.”

“David do really you know how great it is to be a lawyer. You could help people being foreclosed out of their houses that they’ve been living in for decades. You could help someone being falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit and looking at a big time jail sentence or worse. There’s so much you could with a law degree to help others.”

“Yeah well I kind of got into this habit many years of eating and would sort of miss it if I had to give it up. Last I looked those other things you mentioned don’t pay a hell-of-a lot. What you may consider bullshit is my livelihood. And besides you don’t think the Dems have exactly my counterpart on their staffs trying to “smear” our guys.

” Of course they do David. That’s just the point. With a law degree you can do something decent with your life instead of this bullshit attempt to destroy the lives of  your political opponents.Do you really think it makes any difference in our personal lives as to who runs the government.”

They stared at each other silently for a long time. Finally she got up and said, “There’s no need to hit on me. I’m sure there’s plenty of women around here who couldn’t care less about the way your life turns out.” And with that she slowly walked away.

David stared at the wall frowning. He was angry and annoyed, mostly annoyed. She had obviously hit some chord he had long ago submerged. He remembered watching this TV show when in college deciding on whether to go to law school. Seems a man on death-row was about to get a lethal injection when his lawyer came up with the exonerating evidence just before he was about to die. “How cool would that be” David thought at the time.

As he was musing, a man with a large mustache burst into the coffee room. “Hey Dave” he shouted, “I need that piece your doing like an hour ago on how Obama contradicts himself in his own speeches.” Yeah, Hank, I was just putting the finishing touches on it” replied David. “I’ll have it to you shortly.”  Then he scurried off to his office.

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FRIVOLITY

New Years Eve has come and gone with the hopes of multitudes that somehow the new year will be less crappy than the old one. How many millions of people will start their (really serious) diets today, or their new exercise programs, or vow to stop smoking, or stop over-drinking, or get their finances in order, or in general get their lives in order. I go to a gym most days, and invariably, I see a large increased traffic in January that usually lasts until early to mid-February before it begins to fade back to normal as people vowing to get fit slowly but surely realize that an arbitrary demarcation in the calendar doesn’t really change their lives.

Here in Las Vegas New Years Eve is really a big deal. Tens of thousands of people come here to celebrate the coming of the new year. If they’re staying in a hotel, visitors are required to take the room for at least 3-4 nights a truly mind boggling prices, and that”s before they throw more money away in the casinos. (You said there was a recession?) The Las Vegas Strip is closed to automobile traffic so people can parade up and down the Strip whooping it up.  At midnight they put on a very expensive and impressive fire-works display which may last all of 10 minutes. When I was younger I had thoughts of going down to the Strip and joining the mob with a bottle of scotch in my hand. But it would have meant renting a hotel room (because otherwise there would be no place to park) for at least a couple of thousand  so I quickly decided it really wasn’t worth it. This year they estimated that there was over 300,000 people on the Strip so I probably would have gotten claustrophobia anyhow.

Instead we and 3 other senior couples went for dinner in one of the local hotels. We have been doing this for several years so we were pretty much pros at ordering, eating and paying for our New Years Eve dinner but there were a couple of problems. One was that they had a special price-fixed dinner (instead of their usual menu) which was about 3 times the price it normally costs to eat there. Secondly even though it was an Italian restaurant, strangely, there was no Italian entree. That should have been a warning because the dinner turned out to be quite mediocre, but hey, it only costs 3 times more than it should. After, we had planned to go to one of their houses to watch the fireworks on TV, but instead we forgot (that senior thing again) and just went home.

Years ago there was a cartoon strip (called B.C.) and one of its features was an ant-eater that perpetually had an angry scowl on his face as he foraged for ants. And there was always a group of ants that were gleefully jumping up and down celebrating one thing or another. Eventually the ant-eater would overhear the celebration and think to himself-“Do I hear frivolity going on?”  He would creep in closer with his angry look and sure enough spy frivolity as the oblivious ants kept jumping up and down in joy over something. Then ZAP, as the anteater’s long tongue would shoot out, gobble up all the ants and swallow them in a split second. I think it was the cartoonist’s vision of what life was all about. If you’re too oblivious in in your celebrations life is bound to get you.

So for all the crumbling resolutions that will inevitably occur and for all the faded dreams that will expire as everyone’s life eventually turns back to reality, not to worry. There will be another New Years Eve before you know and then things will definitely get better the following year. Won’t it?

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