Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Midterm Madness: Countdown to the Presidential Election

 Installment #7

747 Days (as of 10/17/2018) until the November 3, 2020 
Presidential Election

20 Days until the November 6, 2018 midterm elections 

Is it possible to avoid the hype of this year’s midterm elections?


My current state of residence – New Jersey – is involved in a contentious Senate race. Democrat Menendez is the current Senator. He was Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations until he resigned as a result of federal corruption charges. Not to be deterred by minor stuff like corruption scandals, he is running for re-election. 

New Jersey is not known for unsullied political activities. Its hallowed tradition is one of smoke-filled rooms and political bosses. Menendez’s Republican opponent, Hugins, is making inroads to possibly unseat Menendez. It is a tough choice – a corrupt political hack or a Republican, a former pharmaceutical CEO. I blame the Jersey Democratic machine for placing constituents in this position. I hope Menendez wins only because the Republican majority control of Senate and House needs to be busted. Any other election year I might vote differently.

In our local Congressional race our current rep, a moderate Republican, retired after 22 years in the House. The seat is up for grabs, the district registered 50-50 Democrat/Republican, although polls show the Democrat leading. The Republican candidate Seth Grossman is a strong supporter of Trump and his MAGA agenda, in favor of repealing Obamacare, pro-life, backs Trump’s wall, and has a history of intolerant remarks such as, “diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American”.

The Democrat Jeff Van Drew – previously serving in the New Jersey legislature - is not a great candidate either. He has a 100% rating by the NRA, voted against legalizing same-sex marriage, was the only Democrat to vote against raising the state’s minimum wage…there is more, but you get the idea. 

What kind of selection is the less damaging of two poor choices? 

There is an entire country out there of 49 other states, every one choosing House representatives. 35 Senate seats are in play. 

Gerrymandering
Gerrymandering and voter suppression rear their ugly heads every election cycle. Gerrymandering influences House races and voter suppression all contests. Negative ads fill the airwaves, more and more daily as Election Day approaches. Unless one disappears (temporarily) into the wilderness or a foreign country, completely tunes out all media - audio, video and written materials, studiously avoids joining or listening to political discussions - it is impossible to escape the media hype. 

And all this is only a prelude to 2020.

No matter what happens November 6th, we are in for a rocky political landscape over the next two years. 

What to do?

I am planning trips. Overseas. On the sea. In the wilderness. More as 2020 nears. Thinking about buying a new TV, but might wait until after November 2020. Politicians look scary enough on the screen now. I don’t need them yakking at me on a larger screen. I may temporarily stop newspaper subscriptions (print and online).

After all, I have to think about my health. Reading, listening to, thinking about the state of our nation results in rising blood pressure, sweaty palms, heart palpitations, nervous reactions. Republicans want to cut Medicare. I can’t afford to get sick… 

My goal is to survive (almost) unscathed until November 4, 2020.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Spam Email in Another Language

Most of us, if not everyone who ever had or has an email account, received spam. I have been the lucky recipient of emails informing me I am the beneficiary of a huge sum of money. All I have to do to claim my inheritance is follow the email’s instructions, which usually involves sending money (for ‘processing’, for example) to the writer. Other emails informed me someone is in trouble and needs my help. Send money and all will be well. Or I won a lottery, rather difficult to do without buying a lottery ticket. Grammar and spelling often is poor, testifying to either the individual’s foreign linguistic heritage or the writer’s poor education. Or both. 


I never, until this week, received an email in a foreign language. Opening my inbox, I was intrigued by an email written in Hebrew. But I could not read the note. Normally I ignore this sort of correspondence and delete without reading. 

But I didn’t delete it.

Last year I traveled to Israel. I visited the country once before, when I was 17, and stayed with relatives. When returning last year, I wanted to connect with cousins and began an online search, an unsuccessful quest. When I saw the Hebrew email, I realized it was a longshot, but might be a follow-up to my search. So, I opened it.

But could not read it. What to do?

I Googled Hebrew translator and a screen appeared in two parts. One empty box was titled English, the other Hebrew. I pasted the email into the Hebrew section and immediately the translation – or a translation – I have no idea whether it is correct – appeared.

Unfortunately, I am no closer to locating my relatives, unless one of them is a scam artist. Which I doubt (not in my family!).

The Google translation:

I am Adv. Wayne Walker, I offer you this in connection with the death of Mr. Emil, that you carry the same surname, he was my client before his death, and left a certain amount of money, $ 7.5 million in the bank. , I have decided to contact you, please return to me for further clarification and payment processes

For more information, please contact me by e-mail address: (barris.waynewalker002@gmail.com)

I did not answer the email. I will pass on the $7.5 million that might be mine. Maybe one of the scores of other people who received the email responded. I wish them luck. If anyone reading this blog post wishes to reply, be my guest. And if you receive the funds, I would appreciate a small commission (I’m not greedy).
I am NOT in the money!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Celebrating Columbus Day, in a way…

Columbus Day, October 12, entailed a minor celebration when I was a kid. Schools closed, always reason to cheer! I remember indulging in a feast, served on holiday-themed paper plates, at my girlfriend’s house. We were patriotic, we were happy, we did not have school. A delightful day.

Fast forward and the innocence of the 1950s is replaced by the cynicism, political correctness, and historical realism of today. Columbus Day joined a number of other holidays and became part of the American three-day weekend tradition, observed the second Monday in October. The day is now also designated Indigenous Peoples' Day. 

Poor Chris. Everyone has bad things to say about him. And he isn’t here to defend himself.

 When Chris set out with his three ships in 1492, he was searching for a western passage to the riches of Asia, unaware of the massive impediment preventing him from doing so – namely North and South America. He stumbled on the New World. 

Chris was not the first European to set foot in the Americas. Centuries earlier the Vikings established settlements in Greenland and Newfoundland, but the villages and the settlers disappeared, rediscovered centuries later. Meanwhile any knowledge of these lands was lost. 

Chris made four voyages to the New World and never found the riches he so desperately sought. He did, however, govern territories in a harsh, heavy fashion. He enslaved the natives, beginning a nasty practice that prevailed for centuries, ramifications of which we still face today.

Another devastating legacy Europeans introduced into the New World was disease. Columbus’ men carried smallpox, flu and other viruses, decimating the Indian population on Caribbean islands. The Spanish spread smallpox to the Aztecs of Mexico, and anywhere from 50,000 to 300,000 Aztecs died.

It is estimated as many as 18 million natives lived in North America when Europeans began to explore the land. They transmitted a host of diseases, including bubonic plague, chicken pox, cholera, diphtheria, measles, scarlet fever, typhus, tuberculosis, and whooping cough. With no immunities natives suffered huge losses, as high as 80-90 percent of a population. The view that when the Europeans began exploring, trading and settling the Americas, the lands were vast empty places was initially inaccurate. The native peoples, however, perished as disease spread throughout the hemisphere.

Columbus pursued a vision he never realized, in the process setting in motion scourges that affected every part of the New World. But Chris was a product of his times, with ideas of ‘the other’ very different from the views of most of us today. His legacy is a mixed one that continues to evolve.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

My Muddled Memory

I walked into my bedroom, paused and went into the bathroom. Completing my business I returned to the kitchen. Then I realized the reason I went into the bedroom – the humming of the dryer reminded me about the laundry. I went to fetch another load for the washing machine.

I crawl into bed and then remember – I was supposed to call a friend about an event the next day, assuring her I would pick her up. I forgot to call her. Would I remember to pick her up? Is she worried I forgot?

I receive a voice mail while at exercise class. After class I listen to it, drive home…and forget to return the call. 

These are not uncommon occurrences as one moves into seniorhood.

The news media this week obsessed over conflicting stories about events that occurred 35 years ago. I honestly do not know if I would remember a party attended 35 years ago. More than 35 years ago, in high school and college, I went to parties, but specific ones do not stick out in my mind. They would if a bad thing – like an assault – happened to me or a friend, but most occasions did not make a lasting impression. The events may lodge somewhere in my memory lobes, but the particulars would have to be prodded and pushed out. I understand how people not involved in an incident would not remember an individual who may – or may not – have been there, if they remember the occasion at all.

I do not have a keen memory. My mother-in-law was amazing – names, dates, specific events could be recalled in a nanosecond. For me, events do not immediately come to mind. If someone prompts my memory with their recollections I may recall the episode. But often my mind draws a blank. My rmemories are a creamy toast-colored soup – mushy, mixed up, opaque. 

Over time if we do not forget events completely our mind alters them, especially situations that made us unhappy, embarrassed, caused pain. It is a coping mechanism our brain uses to keep sane and moving forward. We want to learn from our mistakes, but not dwell on them.

Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory. 
-      Albert Schweitzer
I am especially poor at summoning names, always was. Living in one town for over 30 years the issue did not cause many problems. Seeing the same people over and over, I would eventually remember names. Then I moved to a new locale and view innumerable new faces. I am introduced to an individual, and meeting again, cannot immediately recall the person’s name. Sometimes minutes or hours later the name jumps into my mind, but too late.

I am glad I never had to appear before a panel and be questioned about a specific occasion, whether long ago or recently. My fuzzy flashbacks would probably be misinterpreted as purposeful vagueness, the panel wondering, What is she hiding? What doesn’t she want us to know? She must be guilty of something...

The only thing I would be guilty of is a lousy and possibly erroneous memory. My response to the interrogation might proceed something like this:

Where was the party? Are you sure? Wait…was that the Valentine’s Day or Christmas bash…I don’t think I was around for the Christmas party. Is that the year my family went away?...You say I was wearing a yellow dress. I doubt it was me. I don’t look good in yellow. Never did. Don’t think I ever owned a yellow dress. I would probably wear pants, not a dress…Who said I was there? Doubt it again. He was one of the in-crowd. I never was. I wouldn’t have been at the same party as the cool kids, the jocks and cheerleaders, in high school. Definitely have the wrong person…

I've a grand memory for forgetting.
Robert Louis Stevenson


Saturday, September 22, 2018

THE LOVABLE BERT AND ERNIE

My family has been Sesame Street fans since my boys tuned in years ago. They grew up with Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Mr. Hooper, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Bert, Ernie, Count von Count and countless others, humans and Muppets. One of our favorite holiday traditions was watching Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. Big Bird tries to figure out how Santa gets down the chimney.

I am oftentimes amused, flabbergasted, annoyed and sometimes perplexed by today’s news. This past week’s controversy – besides the Kavanaugh drama – was about the Muppets Bert and Ernie. The debate raging across the continent: are Bert and Ernie a gay couple?

Sesame Street says no. The company published the following tweet this week – then retracted it:
Bert and Ernie premiered with the original Sesame Street show in 1969. The two Muppets were apparently modeled after Neil Simon’s Odd Couple, a male duo thrown together by circumstances – divorce.

Over the decades the gay community ‘adopted’ Bert and Ernie. Opposition to the couple’s portrayal started in the 1980s. 

Are they, or aren’t they? My question: Why does it matter?And what does it say about a variety of interactions witnessed all around us every day….

What happens when two people of the same sex are seen together. Do some people automatically think they are gay? What if they are not holding hands? What if they are? What if they are walking down the street eating ice cream and taste each other’s concoctions? Does that make them gay or just unsanitary?

I traveled with three girlfriends and we shared rooms, two per room. I traveled with my sister and we shared a room. I stayed with a friend for a week in her vacation villa. If anyone saw us leave the hotel room or villa together would they assume we were a gay couple? Would onlookers consider us an item? Has this happened and I was unaware of the stares and whispers?

I occasionally walk arm in arm with another woman when my companion needs assistance. Do spectators assume we are doddering old gay love-birds?

When friends have lunch together, do folks at adjacent tables discuss whether or not the couple is gay? If it is me and a friend, when we lean in to listen to each other because we both have hearing issues does that confirm the hypothesis?

When three people walk together, huddling against the cold or in deep conversation or seemingly enjoying each other’s company – three women, three men, two women and a man, one woman and two men, one, two, or all three gender ambiguous – are they considered a wild erotic threesome?...

My mind wanders. Back to Bert and Ernie. I hope both experience a long, happy life, however they choose to live. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

What Goes Around Comes Around…Eventually

The 20th century will go down in history as a breakthrough era in industrial progress. One  technological innovation changed American eating behaviors and vaulted women into a new era. For the first time in history most women - the exception upper class ones - no longer had to spend a large part of their day preparing meals. 

Clarence Birdseye perfected a process to flash-freeze food.

Following World War II advancements in food technology proceeded rapidly, and the 1950s witnessed the introduction of frozen food dinners. I remember a shelf in my family’s freezer, a large white appliance parked in our basement, stacked with boxes of frozen dinners. Leftovers (and ice cream) outnumbered the boxes of brand name processed foods, but the meals found an honored place in the freezer and in our lives.
But the popularity of frozen foods, and especially pre-made items, waned by the end of the century for a number of reasons. The competition with fresh prepared unfrozen foods offered by almost every supermarket, deli and boutique food market in the Northern Hemisphere, the rise in fast-food restaurants, increased affluence allowing people to dine out often, the realization that much of commercially prepared foods are laden with unfamiliar, unpronounceable ingredients – all led to a downward slide in the sale of frozen dinners. 

Until recently.

Leave it to mega-corporations to resurrect a slowly dying product.

The sale of frozen prepared foods is once again on the rise. Concerned with decreasing sales yet unwilling to abandon a lucrative market, companies rose to the challenge and developed products appealing to today’s consumers.

Kraft Heinz, for instance, updated and upgraded their Weight Watchers SmartMade brand that now features, “real ingredients you can pronounce.”

Three years ago the Nestle corporation, famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) for chocolates and baby food, opened a $50 million research and development facility in Ohio targeting frozen food innovation.

A huge market exists for good tasting, fairly healthy frozen foods. Young people on their own don’t want to spend time and energy preparing meals…the same with old folks…workers and families on tight schedules appreciate the option of popping a recyclable bag or box in the microwave and eating a few minutes later.

I have not purchased a processed, pre-made, ready to heat and eat frozen meal in years. Usually I bypass the frozen food section when shopping, unless I need ice cream (I know no one needs ice cream but there are times I need my fix). My freezer – the smallish top section of my refrigerator – is stocked with leftovers and ice cream, the only frozen food considered an integral part of my food intake (I would say diet, but there is nothing diet-like about ice cream).

I conclude with the following cartoon, 
one example how frozen foods changed women's lives:


If it weren't for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of television, 
we'd still be eating frozen radio dinners. 
- Johnny Carson

Thursday, September 6, 2018

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Countdown to the Presidential Election

 Installment #6

789 Days (as of 9/6/2018) until the November 3, 2020 Presidential Election

A question that sometimes drives me hazy: 
am I or are the others crazy? 
-      Albert Einstein

We live in a topsy-turvy world, an upside-down place in a state of confusion. The whole world may not be experiencing this phenomenon, but most people over the age of 10 (possibly younger) living in the United States are in the midst of this madness.

I have no idea what scholars will label the current Administration, but I dub it the era of preposterous Presidential pretentiousness. I can guess how historians will judge the DJT Presidency and where DJT will rate compared to all Presidents, but realize no one cares about my opinion!

Looking ahead almost 800 days, Republicans and the rest of the country wonder whether DJT will last long enough in office to run for a second term. Personally (again, my worthless opinion) I hope enough of the opposition is elected to the House and Senate in the 2018 midterm elections to stymie the worst measures DJT and the Republicans hope to pass – such as cuts to Medicare and Social Security, the complete eradication of Obamacare, and the obliteration of Obama’s name from any and all documentation indicating he was ever President (OK, this might be a bit of a stretch, but a dream of DJT’s I am sure). 

I want DJT to simply go away, walk off center stage, his tweets no longer daily fodder for the media, his speeches and rallies no longer broadcast anywhere. I hope he fades away after January 2020, returning to his mansion in the sky (a.k.a. Trump Tower). 

I predict the Republican standard bearer will be DJT, assuming he does not leave office beforehand. If DJT does not serve a full four-year term, Vice President Pence will replace him in the Oval Office, and in the 2020 campaign. 

As for the Democrats, what fresh face will appear in 2020? There are the timeworn stalwarts - Joe Biden, in great shape (did you see him jog during the Pittsburgh Labor Day parade!?), but he will be 78 in 2020…Bernie Sanders will be one year less than four score…Elizabeth Warren will be 71, but hardly considered a fresh face.

Sometimes an individual not staring at the public every other day via the news emerges as a viable candidate. Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey is making a name for himself during the Kavanaugh hearings, but I doubt most Americans of any political persuasion are paying attention. Diane Feinstein of California, 87 years young, is also making herself heard. Not a viable nominee because of her age (yes, I guess I can be accused of age discrimination), she is a formidable role model (whatever your political leanings) for everyone decades younger.

Is there a governor living and working outside the Washington Beltway that captures people’s imagination? How about a young Senator that emerges from obscurity? Or a businessman or woman? Or (following DJT’s lead) a celebrity? But not a vacuous one…How about Oprah?

Or how about actors who have portrayed Presidents? They would have more experience than the current President had before assuming office. I have no idea about these individuals’ political persuasion, but they made formidable Presidents on screen...

Daniel Day Lewis, who portrayed Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln. The country could use a President with the stature and wisdom of Lincoln.

William Pullman, the fictional President in Independence Day

Bruce Greenwood, who played President Kennedy in Thirteen Days, about the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Jamie Foxx, the fictional President in White House Down, about a terrorist assault on the White House.

I am sure readers have additional ideas. We can speculate…dream…prognosticate about what individual will stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, January 20, 2121, and take the oath of office.

Of course we know that (unless it is DJT) the crowds will NEVER exceed those witnessed at the 2017 inauguration.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

September Inspires End-of-Summer Activities and Transitions

It is hard to believe we now speak of summer – not the official astronomical season but our human timetable – in the past tense. It is no longer daylight after dinner, and an evening crispness in the air hints of weather changes to come. The TV blasts previews of fall shows. The school bus impedes my drive to the gym. Farmer’s markets transition from mounds of fresh corn and tomatoes to corn stalks, squash and pumpkins. 

September rolls around and the three-day Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer
Final days of summer at the beach
fun for many. But not everyone must cram their last days of summer fun into the holiday weekend, stalled in traffic, waiting for a table at a favorite restaurant, surrounded by boisterous crowds at the beach. 

When we're retired, we don't have to travel over the holiday weekend. We can take advantage of a beautiful day and take a trip during the week -- and beat the traffic as well. So join Tom Sightings for A Day at the Beach to enjoy a mini-vacation featuring sun, surf and sand.

September is a great time to buy a car

On The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, offers advice on how to buy a used car. Suggestions include do research, make a budget, ask about the history of the car, get an inspection, and get any oral commitments in writing. Although she wrote the article for Labor Day shoppers, the recommendations will also help you throughout the year. 

September is self-improvement month

Jennifer of Unfold And Begin felt that having a list of small things that could be done each day would inspire you, so she created a printable calendar of items in A Quick Guide For Self-Improvement in September. 

And because we all need to laugh, here is a throwback post about fashion rules that she grew up with - Don't Wear White After Labor Day.

September celebrates Women’s Health Week 

A healthy and happy lifestyle doesn't stop with being active physically. To be totally fit, fabulous, healthy and happy you need to also include mental health and spiritual health. As part of Healthy Women's Week, Sue Loncaric from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond wants to focus on YOU and share a month's worth of ways to keep fit, active and happy in a holistic way.  Remember the message for Healthy Women's Week is #myhealthfirst.  Read 31 Ways to Focus on You for a healthier, happier lifestyle.

Rebecca Olkowski with BabyBoomster.com gets into using objects of nature to enhance meditation particularly stones and crystals. Some are said to have life-changing properties. True or not, they’re beautiful to look at. Read how to use them to set your intentions.

And a Boomer Remembers a Best Friend

One of the most beautiful bonds in life is that between close friends. Carol Cassara at A Healing Spirit shares an essay she wrote about her late best friend's battle with cancer and how, armed with wooden spoon and a stock pot, she tried her best to keep the disease at bay. The essay will resonate with anyone who has supported a sick loved one. It appeared in an anthology in 2016.