Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu Attacks the Blogosphere

During the last three days I have read more about the impending Swine Flu epidemic than I have about the President or the US Economy. Maybe this is good news.

Not only are all the major newspapers and news services bombarding us, but also the Blogosphere. Some of these Bloggers are seemingly bordering on the brink of insanity about this topic. Just do a Blog search on Google for Swine Flu and you’ll see what I mean.

For example one Blogger writes (in depth) that this is an Al-Qaeda plot to eliminate their enemies (the infidels) via biological warfare. Members of the Islamic faith do not eat pork (or at least they are told that they shouldn’t eat pork), so therefore, there are no pigs in Islamic countries (well at least none of the four-legged variety).

But the Blogger fails to mention that Al-Qaeda’s arch enemy, (Israel and people of the Jewish faith) does not raise pigs nor do they eat pork (or at least they are told that they shouldn’t – something to do with the Bible – cloven hoofs, chewing cud and all that nonsense).

Another Blogger espouses a theory that it (Swine Flu) is the Obama’s administration’s way of distracting the media away from his first 100 days in office. If this is true, it has worked. Unlike the Blogger, I don’t think that Barack Obama has done a terrible job, just a little less that I expected. I never understood why a benchmark for the presidency is 100 days. Given what he has to deal with, I give him a higher rating (for his first 100 days) than Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.

Finally the Blog theory, about the Swine Flu, that I like the best.

This Blogger alleges that the Swine Flu "pandemic" is an US Government plot to keep Mexicans out of the United States. He goes on to state that it is the intention of the US Government is to ship all illegal aliens back to Mexico (does this include illegal aliens from countries other than Mexico?).

If this is true (which I doubt) I will stand up and applaud the people in our Government that have fostered this cause. I salute them for their ingenuity. Let’s keep the Swine Flu and illegal aliens in Mexico where they both belong.

As for me, I’m staying out of contact with any Mexicans or friends and family that have been in contact with a Mexican during the past two weeks. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

The Beach Bum

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Blowing Smoke Up My Ass

Here is another Blog that I had started to write but never finished. The file was last modified on March 20, 2009 at 2339 hours. It was a follow up to a Blog that I had written three weeks before titled Up in Smoke. I’ve revised and added to it.

Earlier that day (March 20th) I had called 1-800-Marlboro (the last o is superfluous, but most people dial it anyway). I had made several calls the day before to ascertain why the cost of cigarettes increased before the 62 cents per pack added Federal Tax due on April first.

Let me preface this by saying that I have smoked Philip Morris cigarettes for more than forty years. I started with regular Marlboros but switched to Merit 100’s (lower tar and nicotine) in the 1980’s and continued to smoke Merits until Marlboro Light 100’s became discounted ($6 less per carton) in 2001.

I have smoked as many as three and one half packs per day. But that was back in the days when they cost less than $20 per carton. Even at that price I had a $2500 per year habit. But I always rationalized that if I had been doing a drug besides nicotine, I would have been spending much more money. An addicts thinking is usually askew.

On the 18th I found out that my cigarettes (Marlboro Light 100’s) had gone up by five dollars per carton; nearly two weeks before the Federal tax increase. Why?

The next day I called the local Gas station (cheapest cigarettes in town) that had raised the price. The manager told me that their distributor had increased the cost to them by the same amount as they were charging me. I asked for the distributor’s telephone number and was accommodated.

Next I called the distributor and they told me that Philip Morris had increase the price, by the same amount of their increase to the retailers, on all of their products. At this point in time I am emotionally festering and I decide to call Philip Morris. Fortunately, for them, they kept me on hold for more than 10 minutes (over my limit of listening to bad music, a message that tells me that all of their representives are busy and listening to their commercials for their products), so I decided to call them back when I was in a more balanced frame of mind.

I approach telephone conversations with a company (business) in one of two directions. Usually I am a sweetheart with the milk of human kindness running through my veins. But then again, I can be a real SOB when I don’t get appropriate answers to my questions or if they give me the run around.

When I got through to Philip Morris the next day I spoke to a sweet young lady named Vanessa. I asked about the price increase prior to Tax increase. She suggested that I call my Congressmen to complain. She knew nothing (just a person who had stock answers to questions that might be asked).

Therefore I didn’t vent my frustrations and asked if she could connect me to her supervisor. She told me that I would have to hold and listen to more bad music. This didn’t deter me so I said OK.

Finally I got through to the “Supervisor”. Her voice reminded me of Rosa Klebb from the James Bond movie “From Russia with Love”. “Sir, how may I help you?” I could hear the daggers in her shoes through her voice. I decided to go on the offensive.

“Why did you raise your cigarettes by five dollars a carton in Florida?” Klebb sez “Because of the Federal Tax increase.” I sez “but today is March 20th and the increase doesn’t go into go into effect until April 1st.” She sez “The tax will be on the current (as of April first) inventories at the manufacturer and distributor’s level.” At this point I am getting irate. So I sez “So let me get this straight, you are raising the price of cigarettes before the tax takes effect so we can get used to the tax increase.” A long silence! Then I sez “Isn’t this profit taking to make up for the probably decrease in sales after April 1st. Another silence and then she sez “It’s not us, you should call your congressmen.”

I then told her that I had and that I had also sent an email to President Obama (I received an email response from one of his staff members) about the unjust Tax. She half-heartedly thanked me for my call and concern. I hung up and said to myself – bitch you have just lost a customer.

Last week on April 22nd I received a letter from Marlboro (Philip Morris):
Dear George
Thanks for taking the time to call us. It was great to hear from you. Please enjoy these coupons on the Marlboro cigarette of your choice. We really appreciate your loyalty.
Your friends at Marlboro

I had discontinued smoking Marlboros some weeks before – I’ll pass the coupons on to someone else.

The Beach Bum


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Business as Usual

Yesterday I received an Email from a friend who lives on Treasure Island. I said to myself “What the hell, I Blogged about this topic more than two months ago”. Before sending a flaming email, I checked and I hadn’t.

When I write a Blog I first write it in MS Word. While going through my files I found that I have 8 unfinished Blogs; one dating back to last October. What usually happens is I start writing at night (when I am pleasantly intoxicated) and plan to finish the next morning or afternoon. But occasionally the next morning I get a new divine inspiration for a Blog and pigeon hole the previously partially written Blog. Being the good procrastinator that I am; sometime weeks or months go by before completion. In most cases time is not of the essence.

I started to write a Blog early last February and for some unknown reason never finished it. I was to be titled Trickling Up II - Addendum Part III. It concerned possible alternatives to the government’s master plan, of the allocation of our tax dollars, to get the US economy back on track.

But then I read the following article in the business section of The Saint Petersburg Times and had planned to plagiarize (adopt and adapt) some of the ideas written by readers of the newspaper.

I don’t know if the newspaper’s staff listed them by relevance; but the first was the best idea:

Put America first

Patriotic retirement: There are about 40 million people over 50 in the work force … pay them $1 million apiece severance with stipulations.
They leave their jobs. Forty million job openings — unemployment fixed.
They buy new American cars. Forty million cars ordered — auto industry fixed.
They either buy a house or pay off their mortgage — housing crisis fixed.

David Otterson,

Add to this my friend’s (“Indiana (Indy) Bob” - He probably got his nickname from the household dog) concept that all people that can (more than a million families), should give, their children a tax free gift of $12,500 with the stipulation that they spent it and not hoard it.

These are both very sound ideas, but neither will fly in today’s society.

Our business as usual Congress and the people who have the ability to give their children a tax free gift, both travel to a beat of a different drum. After all, they will long gone before the full impact of the bailout effects the next generation.

The Beach Bum

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Cutting it Close

Last Saturday was haircut day. My son-in-law and I got our bimonthly haircuts from my daughter. One of the many schools that she attended was a Cosmetology School. She was nineteen years old and thought that it would be fun plus very profitable to become a beautician. This career lasted for about a year and a half before she decided that she needed a more formal education and move on to bigger and better things.

First she went to work for a Title Company owned by a friend of mine. Then she went to study to be a paralegal. After that I can’t remember what she wanted to be, but as we all should know; going to school is a lot better than going to work. But the bottom line is that she gives very good haircuts.

Later that evening I reminisced with her about going to first Barber Shop that I could recall. I knew that I had gotten haircuts before this time but couldn’t recollect where.

I was eight years old and had just acquired a new Dad (my birth father had passed away). I moved from the north side of Chicago to the southwest side of the city. My new neighborhood was predominately Bohemian and Polish with an added mixture of Italian and Irish. Needless to say it was a very Catholic neighborhood.

There were two neighborhood Barber Shops, both under 3 blocks away from our house. They were Union Shops, so the prices for tonsorial services were the same at both shops and posted on the wall.

The shop that my Dad frequented was a 3 chair shop with two barbers. One of the barbers was Polish and the other was Italian, plus they had a shoeshine man. Both barbers were close to my Dad’s age (late 30’s – early 40’s). The other local shop had younger barbers and no shoeshine man.

Dad's favorite Barber Shop had mirrors across two walls (in front and back of the chairs), a seven seat waiting area and a 17 inch black and white floor model television (which was only turned on for baseball games and news programming). There were usually 2 or 3 old geezers sitting in the waiting area, reading newspapers or magazines (Field and Stream, Readers Digest, Popular Mechanics etc; they hid the Esquire Magazines when a kid came into the shop).

The barbers, the customers and the geezers would talk about world events, sports and the weather. Occasionally they would tell a joke. If it was a dirty joke it would be told in Polish if I was in the shop.

The Black Shoeshine man spoke both Italian and Polish; he had worked at the shop before the current barbers owned it. He was the source of many of the dirty jokes.

A shine cost 10 cents but my Dad usually gave him a quarter; probably because he spoke Polish.

My Dad would get a trim every two weeks for 50 cents. Until I turned 13 years old my haircuts were only a quarter and I went once per month. I think that my Dad went to the Barber Shop more so for the banter and repartee than the haircut.

A shave was 25 cents (I first indulged myself with this luxury when I was 16 years old (to cut off the peach fuzz). You were shaved with a straight razor that they would sharpen on the strop the hung on the barber chair. Steaming towels were first wrapped around your face to soften the beard. The shaving cream was applied with a brush out of a mug. The entire process was a little slice of heaven.

Since that time I have always sought out Barber Shops rather than going to the Unisex Hair Salons, such as the Hair Butchery (Cuttery). When I lived on Treasure Island I would drive 6 miles into St. Petersburg rather than visit one of the several salons on the island. It was well worth the drive! It brought back good childhood memories

The Beach Bum

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Number 42

When I was a preteen there was a phrase that you always heard when you went to the Ballpark; “You can’t tell the players apart without a scorecard.” I always bought one because I usually got to Wrigley Field during batting practice and would try to get the players autographs. I didn’t really need it to “tell the players apart”; I had their baseball cards and had seen most of them on television. Besides the public address announcer would name them before the game and again during their first at bat in the game.

Yesterday I watch three games on television. Only one of my favored teams won; the Marlins. The Rays came close against the Yankees and the White Sox decided not to hit the ball against the Tigers. The best part about the Sox game was being able to hear Steve Stone’s commentary once again. I believe that Stoney is one of the most knowledgeable people in Baseball; he knows the game better than many managers (especially former Cubs manager Dusty Baker).

Yesterday was Jackie Robinson Day and every player, on every team, wore the number 42 in his honor; even a scorecard would not have helped a neophyte baseball fan at the Ballpark. I never got to see Robinson play in person but saw him several times on Black & White television.

For you non-baseball fans, Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play in the Major League of Baseball. Branch Rickey, then president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, first signed Robinson to a minor league contract and brought him up to the majors the following year.

There were many players in the Negro League that were better and younger than Jackie Robinson. But Rickey chose Robinson because he believed that Jackie could handle the pressure and harassment by fans and from the other players more easily. Jackie did and in a few years became a fan favorite; the rest is history.

Had Rickey (or someone else) waited another 4 or 5 years to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, we may not have celebrated Jackie Robinson Day yesterday. “Say Hey”, it could have been Willie Mays Day.

The Beach Bum


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I Still Have Some RAM Remaining

A month ago I wrote a Blog about my High School days. An old friend (much older than I am) had attended the same Chicago High School but graduated the year before I entered. Using the nom de plume of Hardware Bob he left a comment on the aforementioned Blog.

In his comment he questioned my memory about our Journalism teacher’s first name. Like me, he was on the Herald staff as a Junior and Senior. He was going to find a Yearbook (Harrisonian) and look it up to prove me wrong.

My yearbooks are well hidden away somewhere in my sister’s attic. The last time I went looking for something in my sister’s attic I was missing in action for three days; this attic makes Fibber McGee’s closet look barren and well organized. Therefore there was no sense in calling her and asking her to find one of my old yearbooks.

I tried calling a few old High School friends with no avail; they agreed with me about the first name. Next I tried to find some of my old teachers. Most of them had common surnames and it would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

However I did find a telephone number for my Biology teacher (he had a unique surname), who was also my academic advisor. I tried three different times within a two week period without any success. I left messages on the answering machine; stating my name and the years that I attended the high school. No reply! I gave up and said “Oh well.”

Finally, this past Saturday, we made contact.

Much to my chagrin, he remembered my name, but not me personally. I’ve always thought that I was an unforgettable character. How could anyone forget, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant Biology students in his class? Of course, I was in a classroom full of geniuses (Honors Students) who got upset when they only received an E (B). In fact our class Valedictorian (Marie Z) received only 2 E’s in High School, the rest S’s (A’s). My former teacher said jokingly that the E's were probably in Gym.

We spoke about several of my other classmates including my old friend and co-conspirator Mykhiala (Micki). She was our class Salutatorian (she probably got 3 E’s). She and I went together (as Forrest Gump would say) like Peas and Carrots. Her brain power (not that I wasn’t a genius) and my quick wit made a good team. We wrote a one act play together in our Sophomore English class. I found that teaming up with her (as a study partner) would improve my grades.

Ironically, my former Biology teacher’s wife was one of my Sophomore year English teachers. I had forgotten that he had married her in my junior year (and was forced to transfer to another school in my senior year – some silly Chicago Board of Education rule). She remembered the play well, as many of the characters in the play were loosely based on our perception of our teachers. It was a comedic farce about attending high school in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Unfortunately the Drama Club never preformed the play. I wish I still had a copy (it may be in my sister’s attic)!

After more than an hour long pleasant conversation, I got to the bottom line. “Do you remember Mr. Wiley, the Herald Staff Faculty Sponsor?” “Of course I do, Joe and I were friends, and he also was in charge of the Yearbook Staff (this I didn’t remember).”

Shortly thereafter I call Hardware Bob to crow.

The Beach Bum

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Shoot First - Ask Questions Later

I, like so many others, have been following the latest Somali Pirates episode. The media is bombarding us with the most current pirate attack. We hardly heard anything about the other 5 ships that they have commandeered during the past week or so.

Now it’s a different ballgame. This time the Somali pirates attacked a ship flying a United States flag with an American crew. As my Dad would have said “They really pulled a boner.”

For years the pirates have been seizing ships in the Gulf of Aden and holding them and their crews for ransom. Most of the pirates are militarily trained and have a good arsenal of weaponry. It’s not like the days of yore with just cannons and swords.

To prevent them from taking ships from the heavily traveled Gulf of Aden a joint naval task force was established in the Gulf and surrounding waters. This curtailed the piracy for a few months. Now the pirates have to go elsewhere to collect their booty. This is a more costly endeavor for them, therefore ransom amounts must increase.

Freighters and other ships have been avoiding the Somalia coastline and have ventured farther out into the Indian Ocean for this reason. Realizing this, the pirates have also gone farther offshore into the Indian Ocean.

Now here’s what I don’t understand about this entire situation!

I would assume that all of the captured ships had radar plus a GPS navigational system, and in most cases they are linked together. They also have a radio (VHF) of some kind which includes a Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS). Many sailboats and smoke pots on Lake Michigan are so equipped (it’s great to have these electronic devices if you are in the middle of the lake and caught in fog; listening to the fog horns emanating from one of the ore barges traversing the lake).

Small craft radar units and linking GPS units sell for $2000 or less. The radar has a range of about 24 nautical miles. I would imagine that the larger sea going ships have a much more sophisticated system. Or at least I hope they do. But let’s say they don’t.

Let’s assume that I am the Captain on a heavy laden freighter, 300 miles off shore, in the Indian Ocean, moving at approximately 12 nautical miles per hour. My low cost 24 mile radar/GPS system detects a ship coming at me doing about 36 knots per hour. There is a simple mathematical formula used to calculate how long it will be before I am overtaken by this ship. But I don’t need to use the formula because my GPS system informs me that I will be overtaken in roughly 48 minutes.

Being the astute Captain that I am, I assume that any ship traveling towards me at that speed, in pirate infested waters, must, in fact, be a pirate ship. Therefore I send out a distress signal. But there is no help available within 500 miles of my location. I now have only 45 minutes to plan my strategy. What to do, what to do, what to do?

I could pull a MacGuyver by making a few Molotov Cocktails to greet my attackers or heat up cooking oil to 500 degrees and dump it on them as the attempt to board my ship. I also have several rescue flares that could be used to ignite the flammable materials that I have just used to fend off my attackers.

But the pirates have threatened to sink the ship and kill my crew if I don’t comply with their demands. I’m no hero and I don’t want to risk the lives of my crew.

So let’s get back to reality and replay the scenario.

Now I have a 60 nautical mile radar system with a GPS interface. This system advises me that there is ship heading towards me at high speed. Again, I assume that it is a pirate ship. No warships in the vicinity will arrive before it overtakes my vessel. But now I have a lot more time before the pirates arrive. So I get on the horn (VHF).

I know that both the Ethiopian and Yemeni Air Force have bases within 400 miles of my position. I also know that both Air Forces have fully armed MIG aircraft capable of exceeding 600 knots per hour. Twenty minutes before the pirates reach my ship, they are blown out of the water. The country responsible for the kill would be handsomely rewarded for their effort. They have now become bounty hunters, so to speak.

At least this is my simple solution to the Somali Pirate problem.

The Beach Bum

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Sunday Afternoon in the Shed

Yesterday afternoon there was quite the commotion out here in my Office (AKA “The Shed”). I was in the process of making one of my many daily trips to the bathroom inside of the main building. This is my main source of exercise so I try to drink as much beer as possible; more beer equals more trips.

On my first trip of the afternoon, as I opened the shed door, I was greeted by a young (18 to 22 inches long and skinny) Black (Racer) Snake. He was lying on the concrete threshold sunbathing.

The sound of the door opening must have startled him so he therefore decided to rapidly depart the area. He had a choice of four directions in which to travel; three leading into the back yard and one into the shed. Yep, you guessed it, he chose the shed.

I attempted to grab him but I moved too slowly. There is a reason that they named them Black Racers; they are fast as hell. His first move was to go behind my chest of drawers. When he saw me looking for him, he moved to underneath my adjacent television stand. At the same time I was feeling the urgency to relieve myself. I figured that when I returned, I would corner him and return him to the great outdoors.

On my way back to the shed I related the story to my daughter. She told me that it was imperative that I remove the snake from the shed. I said that I would do my best.

Armed with a three foot long stick, I began to poke around the area where the snake was last seen. Bingo, once again he was on the move. This time he traveled behind my Dorm size refrigerator into a corner. I had him where I wanted him to be, in a corner. As I approached he coiled; this was another good sign.

I moved slowly (let’s face it slowly is the only way I move) so not to frighten him. My hand was three inches from the snake when he once again bolted towards the television stand area. At this point in time I realized that he was much too fast for me to catch.

Option number two was to open the door and try to get him moving in that direction. He would see a shot at freedom and get out of the shed. I began to poke around again and once again he was on the move. But instead of heading out the door, he crossed the room to behind my computer desk. He again decided to go in a corner and coil. Unfortunately it was a corner that I couldn’t reach by hand. Again I used the stick in hopes that I could get him to move the 12 feet to the open door. As usual he went in the wrong direction, this time he was out of sight. I gave up, closed the door, grabbed a beer and sat down, somewhat exhausted. He would eventually have to surface.

My daughter comes to the shed and asks if I had removed the unwanted reptile. I told her that I didn’t know where he was. Now she has an idea. She would bring one of the dogs to the shed and the dog would find the snake, and chase it out of the shed. It sounded good to me because the dogs don’t like any other animals invading their turf. They can hear or smell a squirrel, cat or armadillo within 100 feet of their territory. No such luck.

My daughter then asks if I looked behind the bookcase and the couch. I said yes. Just to make sure, she took a look. No snake. She did however notice an accumulation of dust, dirt and a dead insect in that area. I was told to move the couch forward and to vacuum the area. I have always felt that there was no need to clean an area that nobody ever sees. The illusion of cleanliness is the important factor. She had a different opinion on the subject. I vacuumed. This whole episode was really cutting into my drinking time.

About 10 minutes later she came back to check on my progress. “Have you found the snake?” I said that maybe it had slithered out the door while I was cleaning. We began to search again and there it was nestled on my stack of computer CD’s on the bottom book shelf. I attempt to grab it again. It was too fast as usual and headed to the area behind the couch. This time we both had sticks and were position on either end of the couch. As hard as we tried we had no success.

My daughter then calls her husband to join the search team. He almost had it held down with the stick but it fled before he could capture it. This snake was out thinking and maneuvering three humans with agility and ease.

Finally my son-in-law got the ultimate snake capturing tool; a broom. My daughter and I got him into a corner, where he again coiled up. My son-in-law seized the opportunity and trapped him, caught him and removed him from the shed into a wooded area on the other side of the yard.

The Beach Bum


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Prioritizing Things

The reason I haven’t been Blogging much lately is that I have been very busy studying. During the past week or so I have been reading to a great extent everything that I can about the upcoming Major League Baseball season. I do this every year at this time.

I ‘m busy preparing for my Fantasy Baseball League’s draft this Saturday. This is our league‘s 25th Anniversary. It’s an Old Farts league but it didn’t start out that way. Most of the guys were in their early to mid 30’s when the league was formed 25 years ago.

It will be held, as usual, in Forest Park, Illinois. Five team owners will not be in attendance because we live too far away to make it practical to for us attend the draft; especially the team from Hawaii. The last draft that I attended was in 2003.

In the past, by not attending you had to make frequent telephone calls for updates. You also would miss out on the Pizza break; not to mention the constant chiding and harassment by the other team owners.

Five years ago I partially remedied the situation by setting up a chat room. Several of the guys will bring wireless notebooks to the draft and will type the barbs as well as the picks seconds after they are chosen. This has sped up the drafting process by nearly an hour.

For now, I’ll have to go back to doing my homework and somewhat put my Blogging on hold for the next few days.

The Beach Bum

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