Wednesday, October 18, 2017

All in the family

A very good Wednesday morning to all, at least at the time of this writing....

I want to first say "thanks" to those who have discovered this blog over the past couple of weeks.  I have taken note of a much larger group of viewers than previous entries had enjoyed, and I appreciate more people reading and hopefully enjoying these posts.  Please feel free to comment as you like.

We just said goodbye to our daughter and her family, as they came to visit a couple of Fridays ago and left last Saturday.  I've mentioned here before that this branch of our family tree resides in the Denver, Colorado area, and we used to see them two or three times a year.  But between the high cost of air travel, their kids both being school-aged and the fact that I no longer travel by air for my work and collect frequent flier miles to use, those visits are now annual.

And it's probably for the best, as we heard what our "Colorado grandkids" (my colloquialism, not my wife's, as she hates the term "grandkids") are into on a regular basis, over and above being enrolled in a very good and challenging public school.  For instance, our granddaughter, who just turned 12 in July and is now as tall as my wife, is playing volleyball on her school team AND will be doing the same for a select group later in the fall.  Games and practices for both, and she also has a couple of other extracurricular activities.  Our grandson is involved in taekwondo, and really enjoys it.  He is now a green belt, but despite frequent playful wrestling during their visit, he did not use any of his expertise on me.

We helped our daughter and her hubby move to Colorado (twice) and they've called it home pretty much since she completed her education.  So these visits are very special to us.  We learned a few years ago that it works much better not to plan too much or too far ahead.  About the only thing we did wrong in that regard is we overbought milk, but we were able to share that with our daughter-in-law for our local grandkids.

I threw a wrench into things when I accepted a new job in late July, so would have been off work for the week they were here.  But I was able to shuffle my schedule a bit and ensure that I didn't miss anything really good, as my new boss was very quick to say "family comes first" and that meant a great deal.  So we attended two volleyball matches featuring the nationally ranked University of Kentucky team (they won both), the visiting party shopped for UK souvenirs and saw some of the local sights, enjoyed some good family meals and capped things off with a great dinner at a local restaurant, celebrating two grandchildren's birthdays (our "local" granddaughter and our Colorado grandson).

The most amusing aspect of all of this is watching my wife, who again had people in the house to care for (apparently I'm not enough of a challenge!).  She does this routinely for our son and his family, helping them keep up with laundry and housecleaning and picking up their kids after school.  But she was in her element with our daughter and her gang visiting, cooking breakfast and serving lunch most every day (I handled dinners that we had here at home) and just generally taking care of everyone.

So we miss them, certainly, and while we'll see them on FaceTime and on the phone and via messages, it's just never the same.  Suppose absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The more we listen...

...the more we realize that what we hear is real.

How true is that?

Well, for instance, President Trump is now tired of waiting for Congressional Republicans (those in the Senate, specifically) to deliver to him a bill that will, once and for all, repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.  Yesterday he signed an executive order that will allow government agencies to relax restrictions on health plans that don't cover certain conditions or those that exclude pre-existing conditions.  And he appears ready to follow that by withholding funding to insurance carriers who are providing coverage to low-income people.

Remember, he's been saying he would do this for some time.  The House passed a bill and the Senate tried more than once to follow suit.  Did the spectre of a Democratic bill co-sponsored by some TWENTY Senators force the hand of the President and/or Republican Congressional leadership?

Disaster relief came relatively quickly to those affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but those in Puerto Rico, struck head-on by Maria, have not seen nearly the same kind of mobilization of help and resources.  Clearly President Trump hears the criticism, as he has attempted to squelch negative views of what his administration hasn't done there, and accuses the mayor of San Juan of playing politics when she's out in chest-deep water looking for survivors.  Who's in the right?  Are that commonwealth's citizens worth less effort because Puerto Rico is not a state, despite being populated by American citizens?

Regarding the President, I won't detail the number of items he has referenced in various tweets on these subjects and so many others, it's just too much.  But I do think that right-thinking people should be concerned when he tweets or says that he doesn't much like that the media can write and report issues that disagree with his world view, which he expresses often.

People in the entertainment world are shocked, SHOCKED at what movie mogul Harvey Weinstein has been recently accused of doing over a long period of time.  A group of women, led by the example of Kentucky's own Ashley Judd, among others, have come forward with details of harassment, objectification and worse.  Now the avalanche has begun, and such A-listers as Meryl Streep, Gwynneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie are coming forward with what they experienced or at least what they knew.

Apparently this is one of the worst kept secrets in recent Hollywood history.

Outspoken minorities have gone on record for quite some time about how they're treated unfairly by law enforcement personnel in cities and communities across the country, and we all heard their claims but nothing really happened.  But with police wearing body cameras and police cruisers equipped with dash cams, and with anyone with a cellphone and a conscience now able to serve as an on-the-scene reporter thanks to social media, we now see evidence that this has been the case and in greater numbers than one might have expected.

But now it's turned into an argument over whether professional (and other) athletes have the right to kneel or sit or otherwise protest the playing of our national anthem.  Is that what we should be debating, or the actions that prompt these athletes to protest in the first place?  And how many people who join the discussion understand that in most cases these athletes aren't necessarily protesting how they themselves are treated, but rather the treatment received by those without a public forum?

I didn't stay awake long enough to see all of it, but it appears that a couple of potentially questionable calls by the umpires may have affected the outcome of the Cubs-Nationals game last night, which the Cubs won late.  Are the fans who say that the Nationals were victims right?  Were the umpires?  How about the replay officials "in New York," as they say on virtually every baseball broadcast?  Frankly, I liked it better when a call was made, managers came out and raged briefly and then the game went on, no change of a bad call.

Last one....Apple just brought out a couple of new phones, with a super-duper one to come in a few weeks.  There have been reports that a few of the new models are affected by a bulging battery.  Would that deter you from buying the latest and greatest iPhone?  Personally, I think that buying any engineered product in its earliest days of actual production can be perilous.  But bad battery or not, will that phone change your life and make things better, as we've been told by experts and reviewers?

No wonder we're all so tired all of the time.  Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

This must stop

Sunday night's horrific events in Las Vegas are dominating the news, as they should, as this is now the single most severe mass shooting event to take place on American soil.

We have a major problem in this country, and I'm not the right person to adequately detail all of the varying aspects of this maze of issues and positions and policies.  But what I do know has already been said by people far smarter than I am:  we need more than the "thoughts and prayers" of our representatives in Congress to address this insanity once and for all.

I honestly thought that the shootings at Sandy Hook in 2012 would finally be the tipping point, where a man who was determined to be suffering from severe mental illness opened fire on a group of children and their teachers.  And it seemed at the time that something positive would come from that unspeakable tragedy.

But members of Congress stayed true to form, cowed by the financial shackles placed on them by substantial financial contributions from the National Rifle Association and other like-minded organizations and threatened with these same entities bankrolling a strong opponent in the next election cycle.  And while they talked a good game for a time, they ultimately did NOTHING.

As I recall, the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando more recently did not prompt a renewed public debate on the issue of controlling assault weapons, either.

And now we've learned that an unassuming 64 year old retiree had amassed a cache of weapons and ammunition and had apparently refitted at least some of his weapons to fire in an automatic fashion so that he could spray gunfire onto a crowd of outdoor concertgoers some thirty floors below.

I won't attempt to debate the Second Amendment here, but I feel compelled to add that the words written therein were put to paper in the late 1700's, when there was a need for a state militia and citizens to join with others to protect their homes and communities.  Here in 2017 we're in a far different place than the framers of our Constitution were.

Certainly, there are many people who are responsible gun owners and use their weapons for the purposes that they are intended.  And I'm not naive enough to think that regulation will come with a crystal ball so that those in charge will be able to determine who will use their assault rifles and high-capacity magazines for constructive purposes and who will not.

But I am idealistic enough to believe that a constructive dialogue can be had, that people in positions of influence can discuss the number of military-style weapons in the wrong hands and identify some possible solutions that everyone can live with.  The NRA would do well to participate in such discussions in a contributory fashion, instead of simply saying that any controls or restrictions violate our Second Amendment rights.

I'm so upset by this, but I'm also most grateful that no one I am close to was affected directly by this heretofore unimaginable violence.  And I am sick and tired of using my small platform to express this sentiment whenever events like this take place.  And we all should be, because we shouldn't be afraid to attend a concert or a football game or any other event where people gather in a smallish space.

This must stop.  Period.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Finding our happy place

Good Thursday morning, friends!

My schedule has been so haphazard lately that I really don't have any kind of pattern of when I find time to post, so I hope that this hasn't been an issue for any of you super-organized types out there.

Interesting times we're living in within these United States.  We have one active war, two other conflicts in which we're involved overseas, humanitarian disasters in Texas, Florida and now Puerto Rico and yet our leader seems obsessed with petty grievances with other politicians and with professional athletes electing not to stand for the National Anthem before their games or to visit the White House.

This same leader is being investigated by no fewer than four congressional committees and a special counsel for, well, a lot of things.

Talk about leadership.

Closer to my home we have the former basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, now the head coach at in-state rival Louisville, having been effectively fired yesterday over the school's identification (as "University-6") in an FBI investigation into bribery of prospective student-athletes.  This is the coach who is credited with resurrecting Kentucky basketball following its own shameful scandal some thirty years ago.

On the flipside, Kentucky's current coach has staged various events lately that raised money for hurricane victims a considerable distance from home.

We also have a state government retirement and pension system that is absolutely broke and will require billions of dollars to put right, while our governor and attorney general, who are of opposite political parties, cannot agree on anything regarding the pension or otherwise.

Specifically at my house all is well, thanks, so that's what I try to keep in mind right now.  Not much we can control outside of our immediate view, and even then control is a bit of an illusion.  Our family is all well, we'll be visited by our daughter and her family in the next few days, and later this year we'll welcome another grandchild to our family.

So that's not so bad, when put into the proper perspective.

I've had friends mention that they cut off political news from their Twitter feeds (and who's happy about doubling the number of characters that users can include in a tweet?) and I'm not quite ready to do me it's important to know what's going on, and sometimes finding out via Twitter is a little quicker than looking through more traditional sources.

I also have heard of people who simply don't watch the news, that it's too depressing.  I'd echo my own thoughts from above.  Important to know what's happening.

But perspective seems to be the key, so I'm going to do my best to keep everything in its proper place.  And I'm sure that you will, too.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Saw this on TV, too

Happy Monday, everyone. Hope your weekend was smashing, and that all of your teams won if you're into that sort of thing.

One of our teams was struggling last night, as it got close to bedtime, so we watched a bit of the Emmy Awards ceremony. You know, the awards for stuff and people on television. Important to note if Shailene Woodley is reading this, since she made it abundantly clear to a reporter prior to the ceremony that she does not own a television, she READS BOOKS. So there.

Anyway, I wanted to tune in because I like Stephen Colbert when he's not on so late at night (old guys can't stay up like they used to). In the twenty-five minutes we watched I saw him twice, once to say "Good night!" So that was a bit disappointing.

And as the public address announcer, the show employed some standup comedian who apparently specializes in imitating another comedian, Chris Rock, as this guy sounded like him and all of his comments about presenters and winners alike were probably designed to be funny to someone, but we found nearly all of them unintelligible.

The ceremony was down to the awards for limited series and dramatic series by the time we joined in. Big stuff. By then Julia Louis-Dreyfus had won her sixth straight award for "Veep," which is funny but largely unknown to us since we don't have HBO. "Saturday Night Live" was recognized for its political spoofs, and the performers who played the candidates, Kate McKinnon (HRC) and Alec Baldwin (Trump) both won awards.

Anyway, the limited series that got so much attention was "Big Little Lies," a drama that apparently centers around an honest depiction of domestic violence starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, won for series and for Kidman's role. Kidman spoke twice and I was honestly concerned that she was going to impale herself or someone else with the pointed part of the Emmy statue both times.

"The Handmaid's Tale" was the big winner in the drama category, with star Elisabeth Moss winning best dramatic actress and the series winning for best dramatic series. That show is on the streaming service Hulu, which we also don't have. And we likely would not have watched it, as the stated subject matter is this, according to IMDB: Set in a dystopian future, a woman is forced to live as a concubine under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship."

Wow, sounds like fun.

Anyway, good for the folks who create and appear in these programs, as they do address issues that need to be dealt with in some way for most people to understand.

The worst thing I saw was a young man who is one of the large cast in "This is Us", Sterling K. Brown, won for his role in that program, and was delivering an eloquent, entertaining and heartfelt acceptance speech. And they struck up the orchestra to get him off the stage, right in the middle of the speech. As someone observed online, Kidman spoke for a lot longer, and was never threatened with being played off. And this actor had just won an award the previous year for his role in the "The People vs. O.J. Simpson," so it's not like he doesn't already have industry credibility.

I saw this morning that the ceremony recognizes the odious Roger Ailes among those who passed away in the last year, but opted not to mention performers like Dick Gregory and Harry Dean Stanton who also were involved in the television industry. And they also somehow worked Sean Spicer, yes, THAT Sean Spicer, into the show someway.

The thing ended at two minutes after 11:00, which is a rarity in the awards show business.

I suppose that illustrates that HBO still has clout (and without "Game of Thrones," which did not air during the period for which the awards were given) and that big numbers of nominations (19 for "Stranger Things" from Netflix and 22 for HBO's "Westworld") don't guarantee wins, as both of those programs were shut out. Haven't seen either of these shows.

I don't know that I am now inspired to watch anything I wasn't already watching, but that's what voters liked and recognized. And now we return to your regular programming....

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Credits and debits

Good Thursday morning to everyone.

Here in my area, we're getting that promised portion of the remains of hurricane Irma, but a fraction of what folks further south experienced.  My thoughts are certainly with those affected in Florida and the Caribbean.

The Equifax hack that we all learned about late last week is more evidence that nothing and no one is entirely safe online.  Try as we might to be cautious and use the kinds of safeguards that make the most sense, someone's always out there trying to extract information from banks, retailers and now credit reporting services.

A good friend works in compliance and security for a regional bank and is a certified auditor, so I consulted him for advice.  His comments were simple and straightforward--freeze your credit reports immediately and consider a security product to protect your information from such attacks.

I spent a fair amount of time Sunday evening moving gradually through all three credit reporting bureaus' websites (Experian, Trans Union, and of course Equifax) and all were structured a little differently.  In doing so I found a few minor errors on each report, so I submitted requests for correction while I was in their processes, and all have reported removal of the erroneous information.

So I should be protected from people trying to pose as me and opening credit card and other accounts in my name, as no one, not even me, can access those credit reports without me lifting my requested freeze.  We're not planning any major purchases just now, so this isn't much of a hardship for us.  But if we needed to buy a car, for example, the freezes would need to be lifted to facilitate a credit application for that purpose.  And then put back into place.  At $10 per instance, I found.

But let's be frank about this--if hackers can get into other systems with this kind of ease, what else are they getting into?  It's not about MY information, of course, it's about as many people's info as can be obtained.

My son in law works in fraud detection for a financial institution and he's told a lot of stories about how hackers can intercept the wireless transmission of transaction data from department stores.  When you swipe your card at the gas station, it's being transmitted by satellite to your bank to verify the funds.  And as we've seen from ominous commercials, what's to stop a retail clerk or food server from cloning your card when you make a purchase?

I should add to all of this that Monday I received a fraudulent text message claiming that my Chase debit card was locked and that I would need to call a certain number to release the lock.  And I don't even bank with Chase.

And isn't it interesting that several Equifax executives dumped large amounts of their stock right after this breach was discovered, but right before it became public?  So much for "women and children first..."

So take care with your information and freeze your credit reports.  That's the one universal advice I've yet seen on this entire mess.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

21st century consumerism

Good Tuesday morning....and, yes, I actually typed "Monday" before catching my own error.

I had the pleasure of playing golf with some friends yesterday.  One is a friend through golf whom I had not seen in some time, the others I see regularly.  Somewhere along the way through our time together our conversation turned to golf courses in our home area that are no longer in operation.  We collectively agreed that those who were now out of business had flaws and issues that likely accelerated the circumstances that led to them ending their operations.

The comments continued, and we began to collectively name restaurants and stores that have left the scene over the past few months.  It's a longer and longer list, and while new shopping areas open frequently, many bringing with them new retail and dining choices, some of the old stalwarts continue to leave.

For instance, here in Lexington we once had THREE K-Mart stores.  I was just saying to a friend of mine that when I was a kid, growing up in neighboring Paris, KY, the big treat was a chance to go to Lexington to K-Mart and then maybe eat at McDonald's!

That K-Mart store has been out of business for quite some time, and the building now houses a Goodwill thrift store and an operations unit for the local telephone company.  The one that opened last went out of business several years ago, and is now the home of a Burlington Coat Factory store (and, no, they don't make coats there, if you're not familiar with the brand).  The third and last one standing is on Nicholasville Road, a major thoroughfare and retail corridor.  Yet it's set to close by year's end.

As I mentioned, restaurants are a big part of this process, too.  I was never a huge fan of Applebee's, but others apparently were for a long time, as opening an Applebee's location was often a sure bet for success.  Now, two have closed within a few months of each other.  The original Logan's Roadhouse (not just for Lexington, but the entire chain) is now shuttered.  We had not patronized that place in a long time, either, but it's still a little strange to see it happen.

Newer restaurants come and go as well.  There's a condo development not far from the University of Kentucky campus that formerly housed a Firehouse Subs, Jamba Juice and Smashburger.  All three closed at one point or another, although the Jamba Juice location reopened not long ago.  The Firehouse spot was one my wife and I enjoyed, and they always seemed to do steady, if not spectacular, business.  No more.

I've read recently, as you likely have, that J.C. Penney and Macy's are both closing stores at a noticeable pace.  Both of those outlets still exist here.  A Rite Aid Pharmacy closed not long ago, one that never seemed busy but had been in its former location for what seemed forever.  Yet Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreen's have all opened pharmacies (mostly on busy corners) in significant numbers over the past few years.

And there has for some reason been a proliferation of mattress stores here in our area.  Why?  Someone in the local media postulated that buying a mattress is an "impulse" buy.  Really?  I'd just be driving down the road and decide "it's time to get a new mattress?"  I don't know, but to me it seems deciding to buy a candy bar is an impulse purchase.  Buying a mattress requires a little more thought.

I recently did something I've never done--buy something from someone who advertised on Craigslist.    I have been the Craigslist seller countless times, but for the first time, I bought something that was advertised.  My new job required the storage and organization of a pretty wide variety of printed materials, so needed a place to keep all of that.  So I bought a five-drawer lateral file cabinet from a very nice woman who's a work-at-home accountant.  Her husband and I loaded it into my SUV and it's in my garage as I write this.  That fit the primary qualification--something of the type that would be easy to clean if purchased from someone else.  That also explains why I would never buy upholstered furniture that way.

Yet I advertised something recently and a respondent to my advertisement actually asked me if I would "deliver" the item.  I responded that I would meet him in a public place, but he has yet to get back with me, as I assume he wants the Amazon treatment.  You know, order it, agree to pay the price, and have it on your doorstep.

Perhaps that's what's happening with retail.  And Amazon can buy Whole Foods but I can't imagine going there more because they sell a few things cheaply.  And I can buy an Alexa while I'm there.


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