New Shoes in the Rain

Monday, June 11, 2018

Meet and greet

It's Monday here in Steam City, otherwise known as Lexington.  It's not even summer yet, and the weather here is already chronically humid and uncomfortable.  At least we're getting rain every few days to keep grass and plants healthy....

Had a couple of experiences last week that were worth noting.  Both involve meeting people, but in different contexts.

The first was a complete surprise to me, as I got to visit with a former roommate, the last one I had before getting married, for the first time in better than ten years!

He contacted me via LinkedIn to say that he was in town for a few days and asked if I'd be available to meet.  It turned out that I had some morning time free last Thursday, so we agreed to meet for coffee that morning.

Here's a little background.  This guy had always wanted to live in Florida, and after I got married, he made good on that intention and moved to the Orlando area, if my memory is clear.  I heard from him occasionally (remember, this was before e-mail or text messages made staying in touch from a distance so much easier) and all seemed to be well.

Then, out of the blue, he called to say that he was a) moving back to Lexington and b) marrying an old girlfriend.  Both surprising, but his call was to ask me if I would be one of his groomsmen, and I readily agreed.

We still didn't see each other frequently, though, by that time, he was working for a local office of a national bank and handled a loan refinance for us.  Then he communicated to me that he had accepted an offer to transfer to a new loan center being started in Houston, and was relocating with his wife to that area.

Next time I saw him was probably 2007 or 2008, as I had a business trip that was going to take me through Houston, so we arranged to meet for lunch and had a great visit.  We would trade messages once in a while, I routinely checked on him and his family following the hurricanes that affected the Houston area, and exchanged Christmas cards annually.

But last Thursday was the first time in so long that I'd seen him in Lexington.  And, as he said to me, our visit almost resumed in mid-conversation, picking up where we'd left off.  His kids are now teens, with one in college, and I now have five grandchildren, so our frames of reference are quite different than they were way back when.

He had traveled here alone to see family, so was heading back the day after we saw each other.  Great visit.

The other meeting was quite different.  There's a person whom I have followed on Twitter for quite a while who's as much a fan of the Cincinnati Reds as I am.  She follows me as well, and through a series of coincidental messages, we determined we would both be at Great American Ball Park for a Reds game on Saturday, so we agreed to meet.  My son and I made it to the area where she and her party were sitting, and we had a ten or fifteen minute visit and conversation.  She is exactly the same in direct conversation as she is online, which is pretty refreshing.

I don't make a point of meeting people with whom my initial contact is online very often, but this was certainly worth a little effort to go and say hello!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

On the go

Happy Thursday to all.  Or, as I've been calling it, short-work-week Tuesday.

This is my second consecutive three-day work week, which is great in some ways but challenging in others, namely in the area of scheduling appointments and such.  Now that I'm just about to get back to normal I'll have another week off after Father's Day!

Those of you who have been visiting this space regularly will remember that in a past professional life, I used to travel by air.  A lot.  Like in three weeks out of five each month.

And I frequently documented my experiences here, because, well, who else was I going to tell about interesting things that happened?

So my air travel is much less frequent these days.  For my current job I've traveled by air a total of three times--once for orientation, and two more times for meetings.  But leisure air travel has become much less common for me, largely because I don't rack up frequent flier miles that can (allegedly) pay for personal flights!

We had occasion to travel to Colorado, where our daughter and her family have resided for some years.  Our grandson had his first Holy Communion on Saturday, and we knew well in advance of the date of this occasion.  So for some weeks I tracked various flight options for price and availability, and finally settled on a set of flights out of the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport on Delta Airlines.

Worth noting that this airport actually is in Kentucky, which is a point of amusement for many folks who visit this part of the world only occasionally.

Anyway, I'm here to tell you that this was by far the smoothest trip I've encountered in a long time.  We elected to take one large bag, rather than two smaller ones and attempt to carry them onto the plane.  The bag wound up being slightly overweight, but the friendly Delta counter agent in Cincinnati sort of waved off any concern about extra charges, and we headed off to security, with me virtually empty-handed for the first time in forever.

And we scored the TSA PreChek status on this trip in both directions, which saves loads of time in the security line.  No need to produce liquids or remove shoes, although I did have to empty my pockets.  Very nice indeed.

We got to the gate with a good (but not too long) amount of time to spare, and boarded at the designated time.  The seats we selected were toward the back of the plane, but since we had to wait for our bag to get to baggage claim, that wasn't really a problem.  And I chose the same seats on both flights, on the side with only two seats and with limited recline.  Most don't want seats that don't recline, but neither my wife and I find a reclined airplane seat to be very comfortable.

Flights in both directions departed on time, there was virtually no turbulence, landed early and our bag was where it was supposed to be by the time we got to the claim area.

I know, I'm still a little stunned that it worked out that way!

So I'll give Delta a good endorsement here.  I've flown them all three times I've traveled for my current job and now this trip.  Always preferred that airline, but this renewed my good feelings about their service.

For now it's back to auto travel, like today I have to head west about an hour for business.  Saturday my son and I are due to travel north to see the Cincinnati Reds in action.  My first game this year, so I'm pretty excited!

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sorry/not sorry

Good Wednesday morning to all.  And, yes, I almost wrote "Tuesday" there, given my general confusion about what day it is.

I love a long weekend, but, wow, do we all pay for those when we have them!  On top of that, I'm going to take a few days off work starting Friday, so I expect to continue to be a little off my game for a few days!

Unless you've been without access to news, you know that comedian and television actress Roseanne Barr learned yesterday that, yes, bad jokes and satirical comments that go too far can and do have consequences.  I won't replay the blow-by-blow timeline of it here, but since her revived television show is aired on ABC, a network owned by the family-friendly Walt Disney Company, the final result was, in my mind, inevitable.

Supposedly since making the comments on Twitter that started all of this, Barr apologized in what appeared to be a "you'd better get online to issue an apology" apology that seemed somewhat insincere.  She has since apologized further, and finally acknowledged that her thoughtless actions cost quite a few people who worked on her show their jobs.

I told my wife that every time something like this happens within a Disney-controlled network or property that Walt Disney turns in his grave, or something to that effect.  And I truly believe that, that Disney so carefully cultivated an image of family and purveying what's best for family consumption that he would have taken the very action that ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey did.

But let's think about some other famous folk who were caught doing something they shouldn't have, apologized and got to retain their positions.  Or didn't ever apologize and got away with it.

If you'll recall, recently Fox News and conservative pundit Laura Ingraham was in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, as she said some snarky things about one of the more visible survivors of the Parkland school shootings.  She lost many of her program's advertisers, issued a lukewarm apology, but ultimately Fox News retained her and her program is still on the air each weeknight.

Most everyone who's been swept up in the #MeToo movement and its aftermath has issued an apology of one form or another.  Many lost their jobs and won't get them back, like NBC's Matt Lauer, and Charlie Rose, formerly of CBS and PBS.  Others are defiant, like Harvey Weinstein, who was just indicted last week on charges related to some of his past conduct.

This happens to athletes pretty commonly, as they are not camera-ready performers in many cases, and say things in interviews that they shouldn't.  The good ones simply apologize, knowing they're in the wrong, and the lesser ones generally claim they were misquoted and try to move on.

Starbucks has apologized extensively for what happened to two black men in Philadelphia recently, in which they were awaiting the arrival of a friend, denied the use of the restroom and ultimately were asked by police officers who were summoned to the scene why they wouldn't leave.  Starbucks took the additional step yesterday by closing their approximately 8,000 stores to conduct racial bias training for all of its associates.  I'd say that constitutes a proper response to a mistake, but that's just the start.

Then there's Donald Trump.  As several people more famous and widely read than I have already pointed out, Trump championed the "birther" movement, in which he claimed not only that former President Barack Obama wasn't born in this country, but that Trump had proof of it.  This continued for quite a while, and all the while Trump was the star and host of the NBC reality show "The Apprentice" and "Celebrity Apprentice."  Some have offered the opinion that if NBC had held Trump to a standard of conduct requiring him to not only cease and desist but also to apologize or face losing his spot on this program that he might not have persisted so long with these claims, and might not have used it as a springboard into the political world.

That's something we'll never know.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Old ways

Happy Friday, friends.  Or, for most of us, Happy-Friday-Before-A-Monday-Holiday!  Hope you have the opportunity to enjoy the long weekend!

Had an interesting experience this week--I went to a barber shop.

This statement requires some clarification.

For the past fifteen or so years, I've worn my hair in a crew cut.  It decided to grow in a couple of different directions at the point when I started this, so this has been the norm for me for at least that long.

At about the same time, I was ready to try something different as far as who would cut my hair.  Up until that point I had used traditional barber shops, but, as most of us know, the type of barber shops that I knew from childhood forward are becoming a thing of the past.  My last experience with shops of this type was several years ago, as I tired of the stylist-of-the-week mode that most of the "haircut" places I visited seemed to employ.

So I found a barber.  At that time he told me he was in his early 70s, and he owned his own shop.  Three chairs, but when I would visit on weekdays he was the only barber.  And most often I was his only customer.  Nice man, but he seldom remembered either my name or how I wanted my hair cut, and when I noted his hands shaking I decided to look elsewhere.

For the past several years I've been using my wife's stylist.  She learned of her from our daughter-in-law, and this young woman has also cut our grandchildren's hair.  Nice gal, and since I wear my hair short, mine isn't difficult to cut.

A couple of different times during my time using her I've had to find an alternative.  The first was when she was expecting her first child and had a serious auto accident, which laid her up for some time.  Then she had her first child, thankfully with no complications.  And now she has just delivered her second child, and mother and baby are well.

So I needed to find someone else to cut my hair, at least for the next couple of turns.

I remembered talk of an old-fashioned barber shop where our daughter-in-law had taken our grandson, and he thought it was so neat.  Guys with beards and elaborate haircuts fussing over him, suggesting that they put "pig fat" (which I learned is a type of pomade) in his hair, just the thing for an impressionable little guy.

This same shop also shaved off my son's beard in its last iteration.  He proclaimed it an interesting experience.  Another factor in my decision is that I am a fan of traditional after-shave lotions, as opposed to cologne.  The scents are not quite as overpowering and it actually feels good on my face after a shave.

So I decided to give it a shot, since I was almost due for a haircut, and I'm working a short week next week.  Made an appointment for a haircut and a shave, which I've never experienced.  Compared to what I pay my regular gal this was going to be expensive, but experimentation often is.

I chose a barber of less experience in order to save $20 on the services I chose when booking online (a nice convenience) and arrived at the appointed time yesterday.  After completing a very basic form for the salon's records (incidentally, this shop is in the back of an established salon, and one of the gals there referred to the barber shop as the "man cave") I was escorted back to the waiting area, where I would meet my barber.

Americana music was playing, there were stuffed game heads on the walls and very old style furniture adorned the waiting area.  I sat down on a church pew and in a matter of a few minutes my barber walked over to introduce himself and get to work.

The haircut was not much different than I expected.  Being a barber he can do things a stylist cannot, namely handle a razor, and he did a great job with the sides and back, blending them into a nice fade. He also cut the top a little shorter than my regular stylist does.

Then the shave began, and from the perspective of the barber chair this seemed an endless parade of hot towels, conditioners, shaving cream and actual shaving.  I should note that I don't have an especially heavy beard and it's rather light in color on various parts of my face (which is largely why I don't wear facial hair), so he invariably missed a few places.  But overall it was a pleasant experience and the barber didn't cut me (but managed to cut one of his fingers while closing his razor).

When I checked out with the front desk I was asked if I wanted to schedule my next appointment, and I declined, offering some comment about my unpredictable work schedule.  Truth is, while I liked the experience, I probably wouldn't go back, as it costs quite a bit more and took a lot longer than I normally allot.

Based on some of what I've read, barber shops of this type are making a comeback of sorts, as more men are opting for hairstyles and facial hair that require more care and skill to maintain.  If the guys who were working there are any indication, those who wear that Brooklyn-style short hair-and-beard combo are becoming fashionable here in Lexington.

So I'll get my next haircut in three weeks or so from one of the mass-retail haircut operations, again, and hope my regular gal gets back into the swing of things!

Monday, May 21, 2018

The darndest things

Happy Monday, friends.  If ever there was an oxymoron, that's it!

Recently I've been thinking about some of the funny and surprisingly profound things that one or another of my grandchildren has said to me over the years.  There's a lot there, and I've always said that I should "write this down."  So this will have to do.  These are in no particular order, by the way. Bear in mind I have five grandchildren, but the fifth is only five and a half months old!

I took granddaughter #1 (along with her dad) to the movies once, to see "Toy Story 3."  If you're familiar with these movies you know that the ending is very emotional, even for grown-ups.  Toward the end I leaned over and squeezed my granddaughter and told her "don't grow up, sweetie!"  She turned, looked right into my eyes and said, "But I have to, Poppy.  I have to."  That was several years ago, and she's now twelve, soon to be 13.

Recently she texted her mother from school aftercare begging to be picked up early that day.  "What's wrong?" her mother replied.  "I just can't deal."  Oh, boy!  I text occasionally with this one, too, which I'm sure alternately delights and frustrates her.

Her younger brother, grandson #1, recently was credited by our daughter with this commentary about school:  "It's like a prison.  You have to do what they tell you and go where they tell you."  He's eight and is not all that talkative, at least not around us.  This guy sleeps in his clothes, so he's ready for action from the time he awakes.  He may be onto something.

Grandson #2 celebrates his seventh birthday this week, and he's a real comedian.  From the time he could speak, he would gesture broadly, waving his arms, when trying to tell anyone anything, as if to say "you have to listen to me!"  We have him on video at an early age dancing up a storm to the Kook and the Gang classic "Jungle Boogie," right down to the "oohs" and "aahs" in the song.

What I love about this guy is telling him a story, that we both know is completely made up, and having him react with "you did?' or "it was?"  Important to find a good straight man.

I've been telling him since he could remember that I am Batman.  My evidence is that you never see me and Batman in the same place.  As he's gotten older, he simply won't have it.

I've recently been picking him and his sister, granddaughter #2, up at school occasionally.  Once the shock of Poppy picking up at school wore off, the two of them proceeded to reduce me to uncontrollable laughter on the drive to their house or ours.  They sing made-up songs, with no apparent practice, plus they play along with my bad jokes.  There's a line in a song by Talking Heads, "Found a Job," where, in the chorus, the song goes "Judy's in the bathroom" and I coopted that as "Judy" is somewhat similar to this granddaughter's name.  This turned into a running commentary about what she or her brother are doing, set to the same tune.  Harder than you'd think, but, amazingly, both kids join right in.

My wife is out of town right now, looking after her mother.  This gives my brother-in-law and his wife a break, as my MIL lives with them in a basement apartment in their home.  My wife was explaining to the kids that she would be gone and when told why, grandson #1 replied, sincerely, "Is she sick?"  He's met my MIL twice, but was that concerned about her well-being.  When told that, no, she's not sick, she just needs help with things sometimes, he exhibited relief that no one was having a problem.  Sweet little guy.

Granddaughter #2 is similarly sensitive, despite her well-developed sense of humor.  My wife misplaced something of hers not long ago and they found it, but my wife apologized to her.  The response?  "That's OK, Gram, it wasn't your fault."

We had the two older grandkids at the house not long ago for some afterschool fun and dinner and I mentioned spontaneously that I hated something (it was a dish we were having) and granddaughter #2 politely explained to me that "you shouldn't ever say you hate anything."  She's right, of course.

This same granddaughter loves my pancakes.  Particularly with chocolate chips.  Every time we have them for a sleepover, I start the same patter about, hmm, what should we have for breakfast tomorrow, etc.  Invariably, I suggest pancakes with carrots, or waffles with lettuce or somesuch.  I am ALWAYS corrected.

The very best stuff with these two that live nearby was when their mom was expecting their baby sister.  Before we knew the gender, I told them that I had wonderful name suggestions.  If it's a girl, I said, she should be named Esmerelda, and it it's a boy, he should be called Farquahr.  They loved that.  Then when the baby's gender was determined, I kept on with the comments about Baby Esmerelda.  Granddaughter #2 would always scold me with a stern face, proclaiming, "No!  [Baby's actual name]!"

Writing this post proves to me that if I took a few hours, I'd think of more gems, but, like taking pictures of every little thing that they experience, the recording of each special moment takes away from the experience.  And I kind of like being in the moment, particularly since each one is so special.




Thursday, May 17, 2018

What's left unsaid

Good Thursday to everyone.  Returned home from a business trip last night to find that it was warmer here than in Atlanta, where I was for two-plus days.

Do you ever think, as I do, about what you would say to people if you encountered them in the right circumstances?  And I don't necessarily mean people that we already know, but, rather, strangers that we've had some sort of interaction with.

For instance, I got off my homebound flight last night tired from the day's activities and the cramped conditions of a completely full flight.  When I returned to my car in the parking garage, I immediately saw that a car had parked less than six inches from my driver's side door.  So, tired as I was, I had to enter my car from the PASSENGER side, climb over the center console and finally put myself into the driver's seat.

What would I say to the offending driver?  Here are some of the things that flashed through my mind:

"Are you blind?"
"Could you not see that there was no way for anyone to get into their car with so little space there?"
"Were you in such a hurry that you actually parked in two spaces?"
"I can't believe you drive such a nice car so carelessly."
"How would you feel if someone did this to you?"

Of course, I said none of those things to anyone but myself, and probably wouldn't have said more had the other car's driver been present.  Honest mistakes are one thing, of course, but that kind of blatant disregard for others really gets under my skin.

On the flip side, as we were about to depart Atlanta, the flight attendants announced that the boarding door had closed and that we were ready for departure.  A young woman sitting directly across from me asked the nearest attendant if she could quickly retrieve something from her bag in the overhead, the overhead that was over MY head!  She smiled, apologized and said she would be careful, got her bag down, retrieved what she needed, replaced it, apologized again, and smiled again.

What would I want to say to her?  Well, "thank you" was what I actually did say, and when we landed, I happened to stand up in the aisle before she did, so I offered to get her bag down for her.  I wish you had seen the smile on her face.  Apparently she doesn't know too many gentlemen.

Here's one more, and this is again from my trip.  The work group with whom I was in meetings went out for an Atlanta Braves baseball game.  There was substantial confusion over where we would have dinner, because the organizers assumed they had purchased tickets that included access to a restaurant, and later found that they did not.  So we wound up in a sports bar inside the stadium, overlooking the right field wall.  We eventually got standing tables and all of us ordered food and drink.  The woman who was our primary server was very patient, as it was extremely crowded AND noisy in that environment.

In any case, I noted several of my coworkers complaining to this server about the length of time it was taking to receive their orders, accuracy issues, etc.  This woman never failed to help anyone and did it with a smile on her face.

When it came time for us to leave, I saw her settling the bill with my boss, and she passed me and wished me a nice evening.  I stopped her and thanked her for being so patient and courteous to our group.  She was genuinely surprised, thanked me, and asked me where I was from.  We exchanged a few more pleasantries and went our separate ways.

It wasn't hard.  It didn't take long.  But sometimes you should say something.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Interior yardage

Good Monday morning, my friends.  Hope you were able to celebrate yesterday with the moms in your life!

My wife and I spent a fair amount of time getting our yard in shape yesterday.  Last fall we determined that we needed a bit of a makeover in our back yard, since some of the plants we had put into our planting beds over the past few years were either overgrown or unhealthy.  So at that time and into the early winter I went about clearing out some of the old stuff.  Pulled an azalea plant that had never flourished (I'll come back to the subject of azaleas shortly), yanked a sickly holly bush from the ground with one hand, and chopped eight juniper bushes down to ground level, planning to remove them when we had a plan for replacement.

Fast forward to two months ago, and we examined the remaining three azaleas, which were originally quite pretty adjacent to our living room window that looks out onto the back yard.  They were also a bit spotty.  Sadly, they also came out of the ground without a fight, so they and our very clay-like soil never really got along, despite all of the additives and mulch I included when planting them.

We'd made a couple of trips to garden centers simply to get ideas, but in the meantime discovered that the ivy we used as ground cover on parts of the sides of our house was also looking a little peaked.  So I cut all of that out and was left with some twigs and such.  We decided to leave the roots intact in the event it decides to come back, which it has done before.

So, anyway, Saturday was youth sports day, as our grandson had a t-ball game mid-morning, and our granddaughter played two soccer games in the afternoon.  And it was warm, but breezy.  So we both were feeling the heat, so to speak.

Over a postgame sandwich we agreed we'd go to one of the home improvement stores to scout for new plants for, well, all of the spaces I mentioned.  Went to two different locations, and that night developed a plan.

Yesterday morning I went back to store #2 and bought what we'd agreed upon.  I won't go into detail, but we're allowing a little more space between some of the plants and decided to go a little simpler (our previous plan with the junipers, for example, allowed space initially, but they thrived to the point  that we inadvertently created a hedge, which was not what we wanted) this time around.

So I started this process after I got everything home, planted three of the items in question without incident, but then had to start prying up the roots of our eight juniper plants.  Three gave quite a struggle, but all eventually gave in to me and my trusty mattock (think pickaxe--if you ever have to dig up plants yourself I highly recommend it).  That allowed us to plant two more things on the front of our main planting bed, and we'll likely add one or two plants to that later.

This morning I went out early and planted the rest, spread more mulch (we buy the rubberized stuff for durability, as it's pretty expensive to replace shredded cypress mulch every year) and watered all of our new stuff.  And our timing is excellent, as we're due to get several days of rain starting tomorrow.

Full disclosure--I have no particular skills in gardening and such, and am not really that fond of it.  But my wife is.  So I do it for her, because it makes her happy.  And I do gain a certain amount of satisfaction from my efforts.

So I'm still pretty sore but it's better than it was yesterday.

Have a good week.




Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Honestly

Good morning, friends.  Hard to believe that we're into May 2018.  Won't be long before we're at the Memorial Day weekend!

This morning I want to touch on an important subject--honesty.  Do we do a good enough job of expecting it from ourselves?  From each other?  Do we assume that people are generally honest, or the exact opposite?

As with so many things, I've always felt that things like this start at the top.  Many times throughout my working life I've been associated with a company that announced it was either buying another entity or was being bought by one.  And in almost every case, the powers that be preach the oldest lie around:  it's "business as usual," so make sure that our customers know that.

It's that until it isn't.  As I write this I've mentally counted backwards and have come up with probably ten examples where this happened.  Me losing my job almost always followed this pronouncement, whether immediately or over a prolonged period.

I still don't want to discuss specific employers or positions, but my current company surprised me by being completely transparent in a change of ownership last year, moving from one venture capital parent organization to another.  That's a complete rarity in my view.

And "the top" in a different but probably more important instance is in our government.  The current occupant of the White House has, shall we say, a casual relationship with the truth.  It's been reported that he has made false or grossly exaggerated statements over 3,000 times since taking the oath of his office last January.  And that doesn't even account for the opinions and other stretches of the truth that have taken place.

Based on past history it appears to be a way of life for this man.  Unfortunately, though, it seems that others surrounding him are pulled into the same pattern, willingly or otherwise.  And this extends to members of Congress from the same political party.  If you've been keeping up you know that there was a flap regarding the chaplain for the House of Representatives recently, in which the outgoing Speaker of the House demanded and got the chaplain's resignation, only to have that chaplain rescind it a few days later.  Good for him, I say.

And just last night, the Attorney General of the State of New York was accused of some horrific behavior toward several women with whom he was in personal relationships over a period of years.  This came out in an article in the "New Yorker" magazine, a piece I have not read.  The AG promptly denied the content of the story.  The Governor then called for the AG's resignation, and the AG resigned a short time later.

I don't know exactly who was the more honest, but most likely it was his accusers more than he.

I'll leave this with a comment about a movie that came out several years ago, "The Invention of Lying."  Cowritten, co-directed by and starring caustic British comedian Ricky Gervais, the movie postulates that our human society had never discovered how to tell lies--until he did--and how this changed the fabric of society.  I won't give away any specific plot points but it is an interesting line of thinking--what if we never learned how to be dishonest?  It's funny with a very pointed message.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Hard to believe

Good morning, friends.  Looks like the rainy season may be over, at least for now, here in central Kentucky, although Friday looks to be a washout.

We're experiencing some milestones in our family lately.  In addition to welcoming our fifth grandchild last December, we now have two grandkids who will receive their first Holy Communion this spring.  One had her ceremony here in Lexington on Sunday, and the other will do so in the Denver area in early June.  Our younger grandson will turn 7 in just a few weeks.

I just can't believe it.

But, then again, I found it hard to believe when our FIRST grandchild arrived, and she'll be 13 in late July!

I remember my parents (particularly my mother) saying that "when you get older, you'll be amazed how quickly time passes."  Isn't that the truth?

And I think we have to have some life experience to appreciate that.  At least I did.  For instance, I read that actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.  Congratulations to the happy couple, but you still have catching up to do, as my wife and I will celebrate 32 years of matrimony come July 4.

In so many ways, it seems like a very short time ago that we met, but yet we've experienced so much together since then that, if one lays all of those experiences end to end, it's been quite a full life together.

At least I think so.

I try not to think in terms of the 'old days'  and such, but once in a while I catch myself thinking about a song or a movie and realize how long ago it was that it was released.  My ongoing listening to the Beatles channel on satellite radio is proof of that, of course.  How often would I consider that "A Hard Day's Night" was released when I was but four years old?

Sports is that way, too, as I'll talk about 'the kid who plays shortstop for the Reds,' and, to me, he (Jose Peraza) IS a kid, as he just turned 24!  And in the midst of complaining about something that happened to the Kentucky basketball team, I catch myself and remember that 'they're just kids."  They are.

Just something I was thinking about this week.  Have a good one.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Consumer affairs

Good Wednesday morning, friends.  The rainy season continues here in central Kentucky.  Still.

Today's diatribe addresses a variety of topics, loosely related in that they are all related to consumer goods or activities.  The idea for this post came from a business function I attended last week.  At that event I wound up sitting with a couple of people I knew pretty well and others I didn't, but we turned somehow to the subject of restaurants in our home area that have either closed recently or appear to be on the verge of doing so.

The conversation started with someone commenting that "they're finally getting started building that Chick-Fil-A that replaced that old Applebee's."  Therein is one of the issues---that some food chains are going great guns, while others have fallen on hard times.  Applebee's locations have been closing in significant numbers in our area, and while that is rather meaningless to me (never was a fan), this changes the dining landscape for many.  Folks in the Lexington area are creatures of habit to a certain degree, which would explain the ongoing popularity of chains like Olive Garden and Red Lobster, but does not speak to how people swarm to newer spots as they open in prominent locations.  The category that is being left behind is the broad-menu casual dining chain, like Logan's (the original location here in Lexington closed a few months ago), T.G.I. Friday's, O'Charley's and the afore-mentioned Applebee's.

I was in Louisville for business last week and had agreed to meet some contacts for lunch.  They suggested Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe.  I agreed, as I hadn't been.  And was immediately sorry, as I didn't care much for their food.  Ironic that the franchisor who once owned so many Applebee's locations successfully sold a lot of those restaurants and now owns the regional rights to Taziki's.  Good luck to them, as selling Greek and Mediterranean food in a meat-and-potatoes region like central Kentucky will be challenging.

On the other hand, there's a regional chain called Vinaigrette that seems to be growing like crazy.  Started in the downtown area, which was smart because of the high density of office workers who can come there on foot.  Their primary menu features a variety of salads and soups which are very good, and now they appear to be expanding into wraps and bowls.  There are now four locations in Lexington and one in Louisville, and all appear to be thriving.  One of these is pretty close to our house, and, as a result, my wife has now jumped aboard the bandwagon, getting carry-out from there several times for herself and for the two of us.  And it's good.

There are a couple of other regional chains that we'll start seeing here in Lexington in a few months.  Skyline Chili and LaRosa's Pizza, both stalwarts of the Cincinnati dining scene, are going to open adjoining locations here in Lexington in the near future.  Hooray!

I read a piece online that addressed how food delivery services like Grubhub (with their very funny commercials) are changing the dining landscape, turning every restaurant, theoretically, into a pizza delivery chain.  There are certainly times when carryout from Restaurant X sounds really good, but we haven't gone in that direction.  Yet.

Slightly different subject, but I read something else that spoke of Coca-Cola's sales having surged in the past quarter.  This occurred largely on the strength of a) repositioning Diet Coke by adding a couple of new flavors and selling the product in skinny cans, and b) reformulating Coke Zero into Coke Zero Sugar.  The latter change was something I was against, but I have to say that the new version is very good (if you like that sort of thing) and my taste buds have adapted.  But along with that, I would also say that I drink more water than I used to.

The funny thing is that less than six months ago I read that Coca-Cola was on the ropes, that people were drinking less soda and therefore they were in danger of some hard times.  Guess not.

Finally, we have something that's unique to central Kentucky called Ale-8-1.  It's a ginger flavored soda that is HEAVILY caffeinated and a popular choice among many in this area, particularly those who work long hours in outdoor jobs like construction and landscaping.  In recent years they've diversified into a diet and caffeine-free varieties, and now have introduced a cherry flavored soda.  And instead of asking relatives to ship this stuff (which is sold not only in cans but also RETURNABLE bottles) to them in distant locations, the Ale-8-1 folks will now sell you some online.

I've never been a big fan of their products, but I have to admit that it's been a long time.  Perhaps the next time I stop into a convenience store....


Friday, April 13, 2018

Enough

This is not designed to be an update or rebuttal to January's "State of the Union" address.

But the flurry of news items, information, accusations and leaks to the media make it almost impossible to read or watch news for any length of time without being exposed to the all-consuming subject of the Trump Administration and the campaign that preceded it.

It's not enough that an investigation about the Trump campaign and potential association with Russians (and other bad actors) who wished to influence the outcome of the 2016 election began BEFORE THIS PRESIDENT EVEN TOOK OFFICE....

It's not enough that, in addition to somewhere around twenty women who accused this man of sexual misconduct of varying types prior to the election, we have since learned of at least two women who were paid to maintain their silence....

It's not enough that this president appointed two avowed opponents of protecting our environment and natural resources are currently in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior....

It's not enough that the White House and Cabinet are staffed with people who can't satisfy their petulant boss despite their best intentions to serve their country, or are there to enrich themselves with first-class travel and excesses of office....

It's not enough that a tweeted accusation against someone who injured the President in some way turns into an actual executive order, as the Administration's order of a review of the U.S. Postal Service and its contracts (not named but specifically aimed at Amazon.com, a favorite target of the President's in recent days)....

It's not enough to tweet about pending missile strikes and other military action WITHOUT CONSULTING THE LEADERS OF OUR MILITARY OR OUR ALLIES....

It's not enough to not only parrot what's said on Fox News but also to tweet promotional announcements about upcoming programming on that channel....

No.

We have a President who seems to think it's permissible to decry actions taken by the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys in the course of ongoing investigations of wrongdoing on many fronts.  And that it may be permissible to fire those responsible for green-lighting specific acts designed to seize compromising and potentially incriminating materials.  And that it's acceptable to say that these actions are "an attack on our country," when they're simply an affront to him and those closest to him.

We have enough sustained threat of the firing of more key people involved in these investigations that members of Congress are rapidly assembling bipartisan legislation designed to prevent the President from firing the Special Counsel who's charged with investigating all of this.

We have civil litigation pending against the President of the United States regarding alleged past sexual affairs and his efforts to ensure that these affairs would stay private.

The Speaker of the House announced a couple of days ago that he plans to retire from public service later in the year.  If you're constitutionally aware, you already know that the Speaker is third in the line of succession to the Presidency.  So perhaps that's his way of expressing that he does not want to be in that line of succession.

The FBI Director whom the President fired about a year ago is about to release a memoir in which he states that the President conducted himself much like a Mafia boss, as this former Director prosecuted many mob figures in his career in the Justice Department.

Finally, we have a President who, despite claiming for months that he was eager for the chance to meet with and be interviewed by the Special Counsel, will now not do so, as the negotiations regarding the timing and conditions of such an interview have broken down, according to media accounts.  Correspondingly, it was also leaked that the Special Counsel is prepared to move forward on completing a report that outlines four distinct areas in which the President would be accused of obstruction of justice.

All of that barely scratches the surface of what we're facing as a country.  Our democracy has a gift for self-correcting to a great extent, and it appears that there will be a "blue wave" in this year's mid-term elections that will shift the balance of power in Washington to some degree.

What happens between now and then will define where we go from here.




Monday, April 9, 2018

Your run-of-the-mill catch-all blog post

Good morning, friends.  I wish that I could say that spring has sprung here in central Kentucky, but, wouldn't you know it, we had another touch of snow last night!  But warmer days are ahead here, at least until it cools off again.  Mother Nature seems to have a sense of humor, at least.

The baseball gods apparently do not, however, as the Cincinnati Reds finally had a complete game, with good pitching, decent fielding and timely hitting Saturday night, defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates on a cold night in western Pennsylvania.  Then yesterday these things happened:

They allowed five runs
They managed ONE hit, and that was by their starting pitcher
They lost their third baseman, Eugenio Suarez (who hit a go-ahead three-run home run Saturday night) to an injury, as he was hit by a pitch and fractured his right thumb
And they lost

If you follow the Reds at all you're bound to agree with me that we've seen this movie before.  Hoping the ending is different than the last few times.

Patrick Reed awoke a happy man today, as he outlasted an aggressive field and won the Masters golf tournament yesterday.  It's always been said that when a golfer wins a major championship that his life is then divided into two segments, his life before and after winning that first major.  So he'll now experience that.

Multiple major winner Tiger Woods managed to play well enough to qualify for the weekend and finished at one-over-par, which is not bad for a fellow who couldn't get out of bed without help just a few months ago.

I read last night that Facebook hired a media expert who worked with former President George W. Bush, and this expert has been working intensively to help CEO Mark Zuckerberg prepare for tomorrow's testimony on Capitol Hill about Facebook's inability to safeguard the privacy of its users and related matters.  Apparently Mr. Zuckerberg is loath to speak in public and the purpose of this crash course is to help him convey charm and humor, instead of his normal approach of detached arrogance.  He'd better do something if he doesn't want the wrath of the federal government to interfere with his plans.

[Full disclosure--I'm not a Facebook user, never was and certainly don't plan to become one now.]

It's gotten so bad that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak says that he's deleted his account.  Woz says that (and I'm paraphrasing) while Apple will sell YOU a great product, with Facebook, you ARE the product.  Interesting observation.

I'm sure the White House is a busy place this morning, what with a brand-new National Security Advisor starting work this morning, and multiple vacant positions for which secretaries need to be confirmed, and the spectre of more vacancies right on the horizon.

Last night MSNBC aired a very interesting biographical sketch of Robert Mueller, the former FBI Director who's currently the Special Counsel to the Justice Department, charged with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.  Generally any news about that investigation is met with some sort of reaction from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, so I wouldn't expect this to be any different.

We were looking for something to watch before that aired and spotted (but didn't watch) a four-part series on Donald Trump.  No idea who put it together, but it's segmented into logical parts.  If I wanted to know more.....

Suppose there's real work to be done so off I go.









Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The most elusive season

It's supposed to be springtime, right?  The calendar says so.  Easter and Passover were just celebrated.    But this morning it's 35 degrees here in my home area.

This is why our grandmothers used to warn not to plant anything, ANYTHING, until Mother's Day!

Since spring appeared on the calendar we here in central Kentucky have seen rain, snow, high winds and a mixture of all of the above.  That's probably pretty normal, actually, but it's no less jarring.

So we continue to watch the weather to have some earthly idea of how to dress day by day!

The Reds were in a bit of a pickle last Wednesday.  They were scheduled to open their season Thursday afternoon, and the weather forecast predicted 100% chance of rain.  So instead of trying to play the game in conditions miserable for players and spectators alike, they simply postponed the game until Friday, when there was an open date on the schedule, and although the team lost to Washington, the game and related festivities went off without a hitch.

But they were rained out again last night.  Such is springtime in the midwest.

That's nothing, though, as the Yankees were scheduled to open their home season Monday and it snowed several inches in New York.

You may wonder why there's so much havoc in the baseball schedule already.  Well, the lords of Major League Baseball and the Players' Association agreed that they should start the season a little sooner to ensure more days off for players during the season.

Once upon a time this was achieved by each team playing a few doubleheaders, where patrons paid one price and were treated to two games.  When I was a kid that was the only way my dad would take my brothers and me to a game---better value, you know.  Now, a doubleheader only happens when rain forces it, and the games are split up into two different admission costs.   Gotta make that money, you know.

At home, I have a few projects I want to tackle, but am not going to dig up more plants until I'm ready to replace them, so I'm in a holding pattern with my yard.  I have mowed once, though, and need to do it again, but our on-again, off-again rain seems to get in the way.

At least I've inspired both of my neighbors to trim their lawns....





Monday, March 26, 2018

The next step

It's Monday.  A good bit has happened since our last visit.....

Saturday brought us the March for our Lives in some 800 locations throughout the U.S. and around the world.  About 1,000 people marched here in Lexington, and, of course, the largest gathering was estimated to be 800,000 in Washington, D.C.  Ironic that both President Trump and members of Congress were not in town when this occurred.

I watched some of the coverage and many of the speeches, but was most taken by Emma Gonzalez and her speech.  If you're not familiar with her by name, Emma is the young woman who wears a buzz cut and has become one of the primary faces of the movement she and her classmates from Parkland began.  Emma's speech was deliberately punctuated by a period of silence to ensure that the entire length of her appearance was equal to the amount of time that the shooter roamed the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine's Day.  To see that girl standing before hundreds of thousands of people absolutely silent, tears streaming down her face, was remarkable.

I honestly believe that several things are beginning to turn a corner in terms of our political system, and these kids and their tireless efforts are at the heart of it.  It seems to me that they are making the idea of voting and participating in the electoral process essential to young people, and if they can help add that many voices at the ballot box, things really can change.

In a slightly different part of the political universe, Stephanie Clifford appeared on CBS' "60 Minutes" last night.  Better known as Stormy Daniels, Clifford gave her long-awaited interview to Anderson Cooper, who asked reasonable questions, and appeared altogether credible in describing her one-night stand with Donald Trump in 2006.  Some of the details were uncomfortable, to say the least, and it isn't difficult to see why she, of all people, would be someone that Trump and his team would want to remain silent.

But it's out there now, as is her attorney, as he's making the rounds on the morning shows today, touting even more evidence.  President Trump has been uncharacteristically silent on Twitter and elsewhere since this interview aired last night.

Kentucky lost in their game against Kansas State last Thursday night in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, as KSU played their style of game and Kentucky never found its rhythm.  No matter, Kansas State was no match for the nun-powered juggernaut that is Loyola Chicago.  I think Kentucky probably would have lost to what is clearly this year's "team of destiny," despite their records, pedigrees, etc.

I pretty much lose interest in the tournament after Kentucky exits, whenever that happens, each year, but I did catch the second half and overtime of the Kansas-Duke game late yesterday afternoon.  A game between two teams I dislike, but, let's be honest, I dislike Duke a whole lot more than Kansas.  And I was rewarded by seeing Kansas prevail, though not until overtime.  Seeing Duke get a couple of calls against them late in the game was quite a surprise as well, as this seemingly never happens.

The Cincinnati Reds concluded their spring training yesterday with a loss, but, as the experts say, a team's spring training record matters little in the overall picture.  Perhaps, but more importantly, the Reds already have a couple of roster dilemmas on their hands and more than one player injury that may prove to be longer in duration than they'd like.  Guess we'll see.  All MLB teams begin playing for keeps on Thursday.

Have a good Monday.




Tuesday, March 20, 2018

I'd like to hear it for myself

Good Tuesday morning.  Here we are, just a couple of days from the calendar indicating that it's springtime, and my home area is under a winter weather advisory!

I suppose this would explain why my wife, who loves being outside, is adamant about not planting anything until Mother's Day, which she considers the absolute first safe point to plant anything new.  She's been proven right more times than I can remember, too.

So there are a lot of names in the news right now, not all of them for the right or best reasons, but many of them are people from whom we need to hear things, recollections of things that have already happened, plans of what they plan to do next, and so forth.  I doubt this is anything close to a complete list with respect to the news of the day, either.

THE NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT SELECTION COMMITTEE:  These folks have really done something I didn't see coming--they've created an upset-filled free-for-all with this year's version of March Madness.  Kentucky, for example, was left for dead months ago by a number of "experts" in college basketball, yet, due to a late season hot streak and numerous losses by the other higher seeds in their bracket, they are the highest-seeded team that remains in the South region. And this weekend's regional semi-finals and finals are to be played in Atlanta, a fan-friendly distance from Lexington.  Wouldn't surprise me to see the Cats playing in the Final Four the following weekend.

STORMY DANIELS:  I know, this is the most tantalizing name among those in the news right now, but despite her history as an adult film actress, it appears that her conduct has been mostly appropriate.  Yes, she gave a magazine interview some years ago that wasn't printed until recently, and she's made the rounds on late night and other places but still not really said anything.  But her lawyer has, and has made it clear that CBS intends to air a new interview with her this coming Sunday.  If you're keeping up with this you know that President Trump's legal team is working frantically to prevent that from happening.  But I'd like to hear what this woman has to say, and not about her apparent relationship with Mr. Trump, but how things have gone for her since he decided to enter politics.

Her lawyer has certainly been making the rounds on her behalf, playing the Trump game of controlling the news cycle, but she's who I think we want to hear.

MARK ZUCKERBERG:  The founder of Facebook has only said a little since it became known that his online service accepted questionable advertisements from Russians attempting to influence the 2016 election (paid in Russian rubles, no less).  The service later acknowledged that there were fraudulent accounts set up that promoted events and ideas that sowed political discord among users in violation of Facebook user policies.  Zuckerberg spoke some months ago about the need to get to the bottom of this, but when Congress "invites" the tech companies to testify on issues like this, Facebook sends some vice-president and Zuckerberg doesn't appear.

He should.  If his company allowed the hijacking of 50 million user profiles by Cambridge Analytica, to be used to influence the 2016 election here and other campaigns in other countries, he, and not an underling, needs to speak to Congress and to his user base on specifically what went wrong and what he intends to do about it.  I'm not a Facebook user, but use other social media, so the prospect that this has happened or will happen on other portals is very real to me.

REX TILLERSON:  And, no, I don't mean the pretend Tillerson portrayed so humorously by actor John Goodman on last week's Saturday Night Live (although the clip I saw was pretty funny).  I think his time will come that he'll consent to an interview with a major media source and tell his story.  Or not, since we've now learned that President Trump has "senior staff" sign non-disclosure agreements before they begin their employment.

But let's say that Tillerson does speak out.  Do you think he'll be up front about what he faced as Secretary of State?  How he was selected?  What he was required to do versus what he identified as potential priorities?  Did he receive any specific instructions related to specific foreign countries?  I'd like to hear it from him.

And finally....

ROBERT MUELLER:  The former FBI director-turned-special-counsel has been working with his team of investigators and prosecutors since late spring last year and thus far has identified a number of cooperating witnesses, brought several significant indictments and has interviewed countless others who were aware of or involved with some of what's being investigated regarding potential cooperation by the 2016 Trump campaign with the Russian government, obstruction of justice and numerous other sensitive areas of interest.

Why do I want to hear from him?  Because thus far, we've only gotten information from the indictments his team has brought, and many solid investigative pieces in the media.  If he's able to speak publicly, that would mean that he's concluded his examination of these issues.  I doubt we're anywhere close to that point, but hearing from him in writing or in person in some capacity would be extremely revealing.

So that's just a partial list.  There are more, and that list will undoubtedly change over time.





Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Not here yet

Good morning to you, from foggy central Kentucky.  We had a quick reminder that spring has not yet arrived here Sunday night, as we awoke to around five inches of snow here in our home area.

Before leaving for some work in the field, I shoveled our driveway, weighing out whether or not I should.  A friend confided upon hearing my dilemma that I should have opted for what meant less work, but I persisted.  Turns out I could have left it exactly as it was and it would have melted, as the driveways of our neighbors were untouched.

Oh, well, I needed the exercise.

This is always an unpredictable time of year in our area.  I have probably mentioned before our plans to take the family to Florida on spring break, which one year was the first week of April.  We woke up to find that we had received four inches of snow, totally unpredicted.  That made for an interesting trip south.

I have to say that I'm more than a little pleased with myself in that I recently fertilized my yard, and that generally needs to be accompanied by some rain (or snow).  So my timing was just right this year.

For once.

Now, on to other things.....

Kentucky's men's basketball team certainly didn't get much of a draw in the NCAA tournament that starts tonight.  They were positioned as a 5 seed and will play their first (and second, if they win in round one) game in Boise, Idaho.  Not exactly around the corner from the heart of the Big Blue Nation, but a nice place to visit.

Coach John Calipari, never one at a loss for a comment or opinion, has always felt that his Kentucky teams fail to get adequate consideration by the tournament selection committee; even as a higher seed they still often have a more difficult path to the Final Four than other comparable teams.  I suppose an argument could be made either way.

Did you see the headline that the House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee, or at least the Republicans on that committee, announced the conclusion of their investigation of potential Russian interference and collusion in the 2016 Presidential election?  They made the announcement late yesterday, over the objections of the committee's Democratic members.  Nothing to see here, move along, please.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is continuing its corresponding investigation, as is Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and the latter, in particular, continues to identify additional possible issues and corroborating witnesses.  So whether or not there was or wasn't Russian interference or collusion is still debatable, depending on who receives the question and their specific motivations.

I also was amused to see that adult film actress Stormy Daniels, still wishing to tell her story about an affair with the President prior to his election, has offered to return the "hush money" she received just before the 2016 election in order to be released from her obligation to remain silent.  I don't think that's how non-disclosure agreements work, but I admire her for keeping the story alive all the same.

Movie review update:  we just purchased "Darkest Hour" over the weekend, which was a predictable move on my part, having been a major fan of Winston Churchill over the years.  As you may know, Gary Oldman won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Churchill, and he was mesmerizing and I highly recommend it.  Apparently he put about a year of effort into mastering the mannerisms of his role.  After a career of playing mostly villains and offbeat characters and then stepping into more positive roles in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" Batman trilogy, the Harry Potter series and other projects, it's nice to see a skilled actor receive his due.

Wish me luck driving in the fog later this morning.




Wednesday, March 7, 2018

What progress looks like

Friends, things are happening in a few places....

Congratulations first to the teachers in our neighboring state of West Virginia.  This state has long been known as one of the lowest spenders on education of its children (48th in the Union at last report) and their teachers finally reached a breaking point, striking for nine days until finally the state legislature voted to give all teachers (and many state workers) a 5% pay increase.

The only catch is that a member of the legislature acknowledged that the money will come from general cuts in Medicaid and other services.  So they're robbing Peter to pay Paul, it seems.

Regardless, the teachers uniformly stated that they knew when they became teachers that they'd chosen the wrong profession in which to become wealthy, but this was about creating stability for students, so that teachers could afford to stay in their positions.  That's a noble thought.  I sincerely hope it works out.

That would likely never happen here in Kentucky, where there is widespread panic over the state of the retirement system our teachers have relied on for a long time.  The latest developments center on benefits that retired teachers receive, including health insurance and cost-of-living increases.  And things will be different for new teachers, as they'll be put into a cash-balance retirement plan that is less lucrative than a traditional pension, but supposedly safer than a 401K plan like most non-government employees have.

Kentucky's teachers have reportedly been watching the goings-on in West Virginia and may be considering a strike over pay and retirement benefits.  Stay tuned on that.

Florida's legislature appears to be close to passage of a gun control bill, largely on the strength of the movement of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  The bill adds a three-day waiting period on the purchase of the gun, and those purchasing firearms would have to be 21 years of age before being allowed such a purchase.  And there are aspects that address arming certain school employees, but not teachers.  And it does not ban semi-automatic assault-style weapons.

But it's a start.

Contrast that with the United States Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that late last week that his body would not be taking up debate of any gun control legislation or any action toward the resolution of DACA, the controversial program concerning those young people and children brought to this country by emigrating parents.  The Senate, instead, is debating a banking bill that will ease some regulations put into place during the 2008 financial crisis.

McConnell is from my home state of Kentucky, of course.

I won't make an attempt to detail what the Russia probe, led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, has shifted focus toward in recent days, but suffice it to say that the number and speed of subpoenas for information and grand jury appearances probably indicates that his group is also progressing in carrying out its work.

About the only progress we're seeing from the White House is that they continue to jettison high-ranking officials with dizzying speed.  Late yesterday senior economic advisor Gary Cohn announced his resignation, in part because he could not persuade President Trump not to move forward with tariffs on imported steel and aluminum that could spark a trade war with certain trading partners.

Last but not least, I'll just mention that our weather seems to be in a pattern of confusion right now....our weather was sunny in the high 50's yesterday afternoon.  It snowed overnight.

Oh, well.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The rainy season

Good morning, friends.  Not a huge surprise that it's raining here in central Kentucky.  Again.

Most of us here in this locality are a little tired of rain, but grateful that temperatures are such that this much rain isn't several inches (or even feet) of snow.  And I find it amusing that there is a direct correlation between how far from home business will take me and the amount of rain expected on a given day, at least during the work week.

As the title of my blog states, having "new shoes in the rain" certainly is a mixed blessing....

Keeping with the rain metaphor, when it rains, it pours, and the news lately has been raining down on us.  Yesterday there must have been eight or ten items concerning the tumultuous goings-on in the Trump White House, what with relatives saying they believe the President when he denies various claims made against him, or another of those relatives being stripped of a contentious security clearance, or a senior aide being questioned (again) by a Congressional committee, and on and on and on.

Then there's the growing story of agents having contact with prospective college basketball players prior to their entering schools, and records of loans and payments.  This seems to happen every few years, and this latest set of university and player names corresponds to the news that broke in the early fall and led to the firing of Louisville coach Rick Pitino and numerous assistants around the college basketball world.  There also were three players who play or played at the University of Kentucky named, as well, including one current player.  

Is there guilt?  Most likely.  Should the rules be changed?  Probably.  If memory serves, when the International Olympic Committee revised how it viewed amateurism, there were far fewer problems in that part of the athletic world.  And it's clear that college basketball (and football) is the money-maker for most universities that allows the "non-revenue" sports to exist.  Sports like baseball and track & field and swimming and volleyball and so on.  The NCAA needs to modernize its approach to what is and isn't allowed, and ensure that when a basketball coach is paid $5 million a year and the university receives millions in television revenue, players are allowed to share in that, at least a little.

In my opinion.

The Oscars are next weekend, and I still have only seen one of the Best Picture nominees, Christopher Nolan's masterful war picture "Dunkirk."  I was able to watch this for the second time recently and am stunned by its narrative structure and the images it conveys, including some rather unconventional camera angles.  

And to be honest, there are probably only a few of the other nominees I'd want to see, namely "The Post" and "Darkest Hour."  The remainder are not of as much interest to me, but that's why so many movies come out each year--hopefully something for everyone.

And I'll confess here--I saw "Justice League" recently and was pretty impressed with it, overall, in spite of the negative reviews it received at the time of its theatrical release.  The best line in the movie?  When asked by someone "what's YOUR superpower," Bruce Wayne (who, of course, is also Batman) replies "I'm rich."

One more thing before I go....

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida are returning to school this morning, having laid all of their departed friends to rest.  Please keep them in your thoughts today.  They seem to be keeping the rest of us in theirs.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Courage under fire

I am more than impressed with the way that the surviving students of last week's tragic shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have channelled their grief, sadness, anger and bewilderment into a burgeoning national movement that appears to be gaining traction.

So far these students, along with supportive parents and teachers, have traveled to the Florida state capitol in Tallahassee to confer with and in some cases confront lawmakers (who for reasons passing understanding debated and voted on a measure identifying pornography as a teen health risk, but would not take up a measure on gun control on the same day); organized numerous rallies and marches; inspired a national movement, #neveragain, that will result in a march in Washington and elsewhere next month; prompted a televised town hall in Sunrise, Florida last night; and instigated a "listening session" with President Trump at the White House yesterday.

All is not positive with this effort, though, and that's not entirely unexpected, as opposition has surfaced in a number of places.  I'm aware of multiple claims that many of the students who have been so vocal and visible are one of the following:

a)  "crisis actors" who are being paid to work from talking points scripted by far-left influences
b)  part of a "false flag" scenario in which the shooting itself was a hoax designed to gain sympathy for gun control advocates
c)  attention seekers who will eventually lose interest in this cause

That entire line of thinking is repugnant, and as a father and grandfather, I can't imagine how the parents of these brave kids who are in such pain must feel, watching their children process these events, the loss of their friends and classmates and the resistance they're already meeting from those in elected office.

These students are not about to accept "thoughts and prayers," the standard talking point following most such events, and are pressing elected officials on what they'll do.  Florida Senator Marco Rubio was confronted about whether or not he would ever accept another campaign dollar from the National Rifle Association and answered the student questioning him with a meaningless and vague response.  President Trump's primary recommendation was the elimination of gun-free zones in schools so that at least some teachers and other staff (and he has clarified that he means those with the skill and training to properly handle firearms) could carry weapons inside of our schools.

I honestly thought after the Sandy Hook shooting that, finally, something would happen, and it didn't. The same went for the shootings at the Congressional softball practice last summer, as I had mistakenly assumed that attacks on their own members would cause members of Congress to finally take action.  They didn't.

Maybe this will be the turning point.  I really don't know.   But I do know how much I admire these kids, for their bravery not only when the shooter was roaming the halls of their school, but now, facing down politicians and online trolls and conspiracy theorists and, as one female student kept proclaiming at a rally last weekend, "calling B.S." on the reasons why nothing good can come of this.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

18 in 45 days

As you well know, our country experienced another tragic school shooting last week, and depending on the criteria used for identification, it may be the 18th such event to have occurred just since the beginning of this year.  That's three per week.

Seventeen students and staff members were killed and numerous others were injured in the attack.  As has been the case multiple times in the past, the perpetrator appears to be a former student with a history of behavioral issues and numerous warning signs that something like this was possible.

To me, the difference with this incident is that many of the students are speaking out about the need for someone to do something.  These students articulate the frustration that so many of us feel in the face of these events, that there must be SOMETHING we as a society can do.  I applaud these students and parents for their statements and hope that they don't let up, now that they have captured the media's attention.

Worth noting here that last February Congress passed a law--and President Trump quietly signed it--that made it easier for those with mental illness to obtain guns, reversing a law that was enacted under President Obama.  The primary Senate sponsor of that bill, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, said on camera last week that the government "has not done a good job" preventing mentally ill people from acquiring weapons.  How ironic.

Nearly every time that something like this happens, I attempt contact with the members of Congress who represent me.  Sometimes I write e-mails, other times I use Twitter, but the results are always the same--responses rarely come, and when they do, they're filled with gobblety-gook about "protecting our citizens" and "preserving our heritage" and the customary reference to "thoughts and prayers," although we're not hearing as much of that as we sometimes do.  Worth noting for those outside of my home area that these three men--Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and Congressman Andy Barr--are all Republicans.

Google this:  look up the list of politicians to whose campaigns the National Rifle Association has contributed.  I found it enlightening.

It didn't escape my notice that the President, who was already on his way to his resort in south Florida for the President's Day weekend, stopped at the hospital where most of the victims were treated, as well as the local sheriff's office, and praised those medical professionals and first responders, and even met with groups of those people and posed for "thumbs-up" photos in both locations.

To my knowledge, he did NOT encounter any of the groups of students and other citizens holding public rallies.  Or attend any funerals or memorial services.

In fairness, the President did address the nation on Thursday, reading a statement about the incident and how we as a country are there for the victims and their families and that we need to make our nation safer.

But since that time he has also managed to chastise the FBI for failing to pass forward reports about the alleged shooter that the FBI received, claiming they were too busy with what he persists in calling the "Russian collusion witch hunt" to investigate.

We know that's not at all true, but we also know that Friday the special counsel who is investigating what he continues to call a "hoax" handed down specific indictments related to direct interference by thirteen Russian individuals.  These indictees will never see the inside of American courtrooms, but it's the clearest definition of the Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, so that, and not the 18th school shooting in the first six weeks of 2018, continues to be top of mind of our President.

I wish that all of the Sunday morning political shows would feature some of these students who are speaking with such passion and fervor about how our government is letting us down.  They're the ones being shot at, it seems, so having them speak directly to some of the people in Congress who are in a position to act only makes sense.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

And now, something completely different

Borrowed today's title phrase from Monty Python's Flying Circus, a British comedy troupe containing some of the funniest people I've ever seen.

Yes, enough of the gloom-and-doom of current events.  Let's talk about something far more enjoyable.  Or several more things that fit that description!

I've always liked British things, for some reason, from the time I was a kid and could do a passable  British accent (or so I thought, anyway).  The Pythons, as noted above, were always a favorite, and they were well liked by my father, too, despite the fact that he didn't like much of anything foreign.  Kentucky Educational Television used to show Monty Python on Saturday nights at 11:00, and we were allowed to stay up and watch.  I don't know that I always understood the more subtle parts of their humor, but the broad, physical stuff was always a winner with me!

The Anglophile in me always enjoyed music by English performers, too.  As a kid I was aware of the Beatles, but since my mother (the family's music lover) was an Elvis fan, there wasn't any room in the family record collection for the Beatles as well.  So as a young teen I discovered Elton John and became an instant favorite of mine.  And then to see him on television once in a while, in his outrageous costumes, was quite something, too.

As time wore on I came to be a true fan of the Beatles, but not until adulthood, when a friend who WAS such a fan loaned me his collection of half-speed mastered LPs (those are records to those who don't know or remember), and I made recordings of all of them.  Wore a couple of them out, and what's left of those tapes reside in my son's garage, since he still has a cassette player.  Not to worry, when we converted to CD players in our cars I reacquired most of their catalog in that format.

And I think I have mentioned this here before, but both of our cars are equipped with satellite radio, and since they're both too old to connect to our phones, we keep that service active.  I was teetering on cancellation until last spring when SiriusXM introduced the Beatles Channel, which was just what I needed.  The Beatles' music, both together and as separate performers, plus other singers' cover versions of classic Beatles songs and shows that delve into their history are among the channel's program offerings.  When my wife gets into my car to go somewhere with me, she almost always comments that "is the Beatles channel all you listen to?"  I shrug and smile and off we go, but I notice her tapping her hand on her knee all the same!

The greatest surprise for me in this quasi-British invasion is that my wife, as it turns out, also enjoys a lot of things that originate across the pond.  For instance, one of her favorite shows that we've discovered on Netflix (and there have not been many) is "The Crown," which traces the history of Queen Elizabeth II from just before her ascension to the throne onward.  It's a show that's well done, well acted, and endlessly interesting and enjoyable.

And since we like a lot of cooking shows, it follows that we watch the Great British Baking Show, which is a stately competition of home bakers in a weekly elimination tournament.  The grand prize, if you can believe it, is a cake plate.  Not $20,000, but a cake plate.  And to see the angst these folks go through to produce baked items that we've never heard of is really something.

The show is hosted by two female comedians who would likely fit right into the Python troupe, and the judges are a rather blunt man with a northern English accent in tight jeans named Paul Hollywood (no, I'm not kidding) and an elderly but kindly woman with a lilting voice named Mary Berry (also not kidding).  We've gone through two seasons of that, and enjoyed them both.

There's another English cooking show we've watched a few times but I don't think we're quite as taken with that one.

If you're wonder if we have high tea and crumpets while we watch "the telly," rest assured that we still like most 'Murican things, too.  But it is kind of fun to travel abroad without leaving one's living room or car!


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Just when you think things can't get any worse

It's Thursday and our weather here in central Kentucky is still of two minds, apparently.  But we all know that the groundhog is never wrong, so best to brace for more cold.

It seems that hardly a day goes by that we don't learn something about a White House or Trump Administration employee at some level that makes us shake our heads.

Not much question that the overarching news of the last few days is that of the sudden revelation that the White House staff secretary has a history of abusing women, that this history was known to White House staff, that this individual rose through the ranks of White House staff to his current (and soon-to-be former) position as high-ranking members of the administration knew of this history, that prevented this individual from obtaining an appropriate security clearance to do his job (the staff secretary apparently is the person through whom all official paper makes its way to the Oval Office for the review or signature or approval of the President), and that the White House Chief of Staff fought to keep this person in his job, despite all of this information that became public in the past 36 hours.

It also was revealed that this staff secretary was known to be currently dating the White House Communications Director, a close ally and favorite of the President, complicating this situation even further.

It's well documented that the President was accused of sexual misdeeds by a number of women during his campaign for his current office, accusations which have been uniformly and repeatedly denied.  An adult film star was recently reported to have had an affair with the President some years ago, shortly after the birth of his youngest child, an accusation that was also denied in the same terms.  The very possibility of the President having had questionable contact with members of the opposite sex other than his wife is something that I don't think our society has ever contemplated, at least not while that person was in office.

Yet here we are.

So I suppose it follows that those in authority in the White House would view the accusations against the outgoing staff secretary a bit differently than past administrations might have.  And it's doubly disappointing in the wake of all of the reports of sexual misconduct by famous men in politics and business and show business, with the #metoo and #timesup movements fully in motion.

I should note here that I have a great many women whom I count as friends, and I am certainly the better for it.  I know from  conversations with a few of them that they have been the victims of abuse at the hands of a man close to them, and that such abuse, whether physical or emotional or both, changes a person forever.  Knowing each of them, I am always stunned to learn that they were ever abused and, even more, impressed that they have in most every case overcome these situations and not allowed them to govern their lives.

I suppose that this salacious story will be pushed downward in our newsfeeds soon enough, as yet another scandal or misstep or controversy will take its place at the top of the headlines.  That appears to be normal in our current situation.





Sunday, February 4, 2018

Retail price

Good Sunday morning, friends.  Our on-again/off-again dance with winter produced a small snowfall early this morning, so if you're in central Kentucky with places to go this morning, please be careful!

My wife and I yesterday made a day trip to Cincinnati, just for a change of pace and to visit some places we don't have here in Cincinnati.  As I've explained in this space before, we like visiting Cincinnati, because it's the nearest "large" city to us and it's just a little more than an hour away by car.

Anyway, our primary destinations when visiting the Queen City (with apologies to Charlotte, which also calls itself the same) usually begin with the Kenwood Towne Centre, at the intersection of Kenwood and Montgomery Roads and adjacent to I-71.  This mall is one of the few well-maintained enclosed shopping malls in the region (we have Fayette Mall here in Lexington that could also be described similarly) and it generally a pleasure to visit.

We arrived yesterday just before the official opening time of the stores therein, and after recognizing that we'd need to work to avoid the aggressive yet oblivious mall walkers that have free rein until the place opens for business, we began to survey the end of the mall where we generally park and enter.

Women's clothier Talbots--gone.  Bankhardt's Luggage and Gifts--also gone.  Other stores had relocated into other spaces since our last visit.  But the sight of vacant spaces in such a bustling mall was a bit unusual in our lengthy history of visiting there two or three times per year.

To be fair, some of the relocating stores are doing so for good reasons, I'd assume.  For instance, Vera Bradley, the purveyor of brightly colored fabric handbags and accessories is relocating to space closer to the center of the mall, which will put them in the middle of far more foot traffic than being at the far end of the mall.  Worth noting that their current location is not far from Nordstrom's, an upscale department store, but without Talbots close by, perhaps they felt it best to be where the action is.

There were other spaces that were vacant as we made our way through the mall, but we were not able to identify what they formerly were, as our last visit had been seven months earlier.  The stores we especially enjoy--Apple, Pottery Barn, Dillard's, Williams-Sonoma--are all available here in Lexington, but not with the size or merchandise selection as the Kenwood locations.  All of them were enjoying a lot of traffic, but whether they were selling a lot was hard to tell.

So with the notable instance of some vacant spaces (and that's probably not unexpected in retail after the holiday shopping season), Kenwood Towne Centre is doing well.

Let me contrast that with another mall not all that far away, less than twenty miles.  On our way home last night we stopped at the Florence Mall to visit their Sears store, as we no longer have a full-sized Sears location here in Lexington.  My wife needed something from the Lands' End store, so that was an easy stop.  We entered through the mall entrance at the Sears end of the building and were greeted by low light and multiple retail spaces completely vacant, plus we noticed that a full-service Italian restaurant located by that entrance had closed.  There were vacancies in both the upper and lower levels, too.  

When we entered the Sears store there were no customers, at 7:00 PM on a Saturday night.  My wife found what she was looking for and then we had to search for someone to ring up our sale, which was no easy task.  I'd guess this location may be on Sears' next listing of pending store closures.

By chance I visited a Sears store in the Louisville area last week, and noticed roughly the same circumstances.  Really sad to see a former pillar of American retail falling on such hard times.  My reason for going there was to return a Lands' End item of my own which proved defective two years after purchase, and to my astonishment, they actually refunded my entire purchase price, advising me to take it to "the nearest Sears store" or return it to their Wisconsin HQ at my expense.  I will continue to buy certain items from Lands' End, especially having seen their dedication to customer satisfaction.

The decline of traditional retailing is inevitably going to continue, as our society opts more and more for the convenience and value of online shopping.  Clearly, Sears is one of those retailer that did not change with the times, at least not enough to help themselves avoid their current predicament.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The state of the union

Good Tuesday morning, friends.  Our schizophrenic weather has plunged us back into the deep freeze this morning, as the temperature is currently a balmy 25 degrees as I write this!

As you probably know, tonight is the State of the Union address, an annual requirement for the sitting President to report to Congress and, by extension, the country, on how we’re doing as a nation.  Historically it’s often an exercise in both self-congratulation and introducing new legislative objectives for the coming year.

I would emphasize the word “historically” here, because our current President is nothing if not willing to buck historical trends.

For instance, his administration sports the lowest year-one approval rating of ANY presidency in history.  He has had an alarming number of cabinet and staff personnel depart during that first year in office, whether they’ve left voluntarily or otherwise.  He and his allies in Congress have fully politicized and subsequently attacked the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department, two units of government that normally operate above the fray of partisan politics, almost entirely due to the ongoing probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible coordination with his campaign to assure his victory, and the subsequent efforts to block those probes.

Yesterday, for instance, a twenty-year FBI official, deputy director Andrew McCabe, finally succumbed to months of pressure and announced his resignation.  Two other senior FBI officials had been either dismissed or reassigned in recent weeks.  The administration announced that the current economic sanctions levied against Russia and specific citizens of that country (again, for their roles in undermining the 2016 election) are “working” and that further sanctions would not be needed.  And the House Intelligence Committee (there’s an oxymoron for you) chairman, who claimed to have recused himself from dealings with the Russia matter, since he was a member of the transition team following the election, forced a vote on releasing a memo (which he and some staff members supposedly wrote based on classified documents) that the Justice Department itself deemed “extraordinarily reckless.”

Got all that?

I won’t get into the many news reports of sophomoric phone calls insulting various persons in key positions that have been placed by this president throughout his year in office.  I needn’t remind you of the gridlock in Congress, a bad situation made worse by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s long-ago pledge of making former President Obama a “one-term President.”  Politics has a long memory, as we all know.

So tonight we’ll be told that the economy is doing great, which in some respects it is.  That the current administration has created large numbers of jobs, which it has, depending on how it’s measured.  And that we’re safer and more respected around the world, a point I feel is definitely debatable. 

But we’ll also hear about an infrastructure improvement plan that most likely will place financial responsibilities on state and local governments in partnership with private developers.  So get ready for more toll roads, bridges and other projects.


Just remember all that I mentioned earlier when you watch this speech (IF you watch this speech; I know a good many people who simply abstain from viewing spectacles like this, but I have to see what’s said, if only to know what promises are made and not later kept).  It all fits together far too well and the motives are heavily interconnected.