Saturday, April 24, 2010

Blog # 138: Adventures in Slip-Sliding

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U. of Colorado Smoke Out

April 20, 2010 A mass exhale of marijuana smoke at the University of Colorado campus was timed to 4:20 p.m. as about 12,000 people rallied for legalizing the drug's use. Photo: Mark Leffingwell-Reuters

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Letting Things Slip-Slide Away

Isn’t it wonderful how easily you can let things slide? Why it’s no trouble at all. I have an embarrassing confession to make. I am not the most organized person on my block. In fact I might well be the most disorganized, I can’t say that for sure since I have not gone house to house asking my neighbors if I’m the most disorganized, or if perchance they are.

However, if I’m not the most disorganized, well I’m right up there with the best of them. For instance, in the year 2009 I somehow managed to misplace my IRS 1099 forms for two of my three sources of income for the year 2008. And I managed to let week after week go by in 2009, putting off calling the Hartford which pays me my monthly annuity, and the US Social Security, which provides the basis of my income. I was writing my blog during each of those weeks, an endeavor which manages to fill my time nicely and which brings me a lot of satisfaction, but which unfortunately does nothing to advance my income.

And then suddenly, before you know it, it is 2010. In fact it is blushingly April 2010, to be precise, and I got a letter from the IRS reminding me that I did not file a tax return for the year 2008, which was due in April 15, 2009.

It was a surprisingly polite, almost respectful letter, this ode alerting me of my delinquency, and telling me “What Should You Do?” (1) Prepare your tax return. (2) Sign the return. (3) Attach your payment for any tax due, etc.

Now I must say the aura of politeness surrounding the letter was a complete shock. I am sure this is a reflection of the Obama administration, for I cannot imagine the Bush/Cheney IRS operating with much respect for a delinquent citizen who is also a pauper. Only if the citizen was extremely wealthy did I expect the delinquent to merit Bush/Cheney respect.

What did the extremely polite Obama IRS letter get them, you might well ask? Well, it got me off of my nearly dead rear end, and had me finally contacting those two sources of income that I was delinquent with, the Social Security Administration and the Hartford which pays me a monthly annuity.

Guess what? Every company these days seems to have an automated telephone system which requires you to answer a number of questions before the system will put you in touch with a breathing, thinking human being. And computers seem to have a helluva hard time understanding me as I attempted to answer its questions. I kept wanting to tell them, what do you mean, you didn’t understand me? I used to be a radio announcer, for heaven’s sake. My enunciation is second to none.

The Social Security computer had a particularly difficult time with my answers, and repeatedly after the second or third try it would say something to the tune of, “well, we’ll let that one pass, and go on to the next question.” There must have been at least ten questions in all and it took more than five minutes to wade through them all, however when I was finally put on line with a human being I was able to conduct my business in far less time than it had taken me to reach the person in the first place.

The Hartford’s computer asked far fewer questions, however it took two human beings before I was able to reach the person who could access my files and send me the required 1099 forms. For good measure I had both send me the 1099 forms for the year 2009 also, and I just might well surprise the IRS by getting my 09 tax form in before 2011 rolls around. At any rate by the time I was finished with both calls I was ready for a long, uninterrupted nap.

Not that this morning’s effort will produce immediate results. Both 1099’s will have to be mailed to me, taking between five to ten working days I’m told. After I receive them I will have to get my tax forms prepared. But at the very least I have set things in motion, and hopefully within a week or so I can begin taking the steps that the most polite IRS suggested I take.

And just between you and me, I don’t mind paying taxes to the Obama administration. They are conducting the government in a manor in which I think it should be conducted, courageously plunging ahead with health care reform, and with much needed banking regulation, as they do their best to tone down the wars and seek to use diplomacy, rather than threats of the use of force, in foreign affairs. Unfortunately though, much of the negativity of Bush/Cheney has not changed. Nevertheless I see a glimmer of hope for our government.§

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A Good Old-fashioned Pie Toss

Saint Martin's University student Jennifer Hatfield volunteers as a practice target before a group of professors participated in a pie toss to raise money for Haiti earthquake relief. The event at the Lacey, Wash., campus brought in $2,300 and was organized by the school's engineering department. Photo: Steve Bloom-AP

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Regulating Wall Street

Different song, regulate the financial industry so that Goldman Sachs cannot make millions off of fractured derivatives again. What happened to the regulations which were put in place after the Great Depression of the 1930’s, you might ask? Well, as a Senator in the 1990’s that former economics professor from Texas A&M college, Phil Gramm managed to deregulate many of them after which he took a cushy job with the world’s biggest bank, U.B.S. It happened during the post Reagan era when Republican’s were crooning anti regulation songs, and even though Bill Clinton was president, he reluctantly signed them into law, which he admits these days was a mistake.

What the Republicans’ won’t tell you is that all of those regulations which were so carefully put in place after the Great Depression, were what has kept us from sinking into another economic hole like that. Regulations are not arbitrary rules put into place to frustrate budding capitalism. Regulations were put into place to keep bankers honest, and to prevent another Great Depression.

And so, after the bruising near depression of 2008-9, the Obama Administration, having succeeding in covering the American populace with a thin and torn health care blanket, finally turns its attention to curbing what amounts to actual fraud in banking.

And what do you know? Mitch McConnell is singing the same old tune. He meets with the bankers of the world, those gentlemen who paid, and rewarded Gramm for getting rid of certain regulations which were keeping them on the straight and narrow, and then Mitch returns to Washington singing that lovely Republican aria which sings of a multi-keyed “NO.”

His excuse this time, the Obama bill would guarantee continued tax payer “bank bailouts.” Even though he knows this isn’t true, McConnell’s real talent is in his ability to keep saying this or some other wild misrepresentation over and over again until some out there begin to believe him.

Think about it. If the bill truly called for tax payer funded bank bailouts in perpetuity Wall Street’s elite couldn’t be happier, and would support the bill in an instant. The bill does provide for banks to be funded if they are on the edge of bankruptcy, but their help would come from a fund monetized by the banks’ themselves. That’s why they oppose the bill, and McConnell is attempting to feed off the disgust of the nation’s taxpayers by claiming the bill funds bank bailouts with taxpayer funds.

The lesson to be learned from all of this, take Mitch McConnell’s declarations with a gigantic grain of salt. Sea salt preferred, but any old salt will do.§

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Mary Tyler Moore

At this point I would like to take my hat off to one of the most valuable tools in television, that visual introduction featuring several scenes from the drama, whose job it is to immediately catapult you from your seat on the sofa into the story line of the television series.

These intros are generally taken for granted by the viewer, although they are well thought out by the show’s creators. For an effective introduction is necessary to transport the viewer into the context of the story line. When they are at their best they are able to deliver you into the story with a few typical images. Two of the very best that I remember from my television watching days come to mind, both from many years back.

One of the more effective ones was the introduction to the Mary Tyler Moore show which showed Mary (above), the single working girl, doing a series of things typical of single women of the time. Particularly memorable was the clip in which she was shown holding up a package of meat in a super market, making a face at its price and tossing it back, and the intro ended with the view of her holding her arm on high as she smiled her way into yet another episode. (See above.)

One of the more involved introductions was that prelude to M*A*S*H, the tv series based on the film, which in turn was based on a novel, of doctors and support personnel in a mobile army hospital during the Korean war. It was a very involved lead-in which opened with helicopters flying wounded into the area, and nurses and medical personnel rushing to receive the wounded on a nearby hillside, ending with the doctors bending over their patients. All to the tune of Johnny Mandell’s haunting, Suicide is Painless, being played instrumentally.

However visual intros are also necessary for talk show programs as well. Used to begin, transition segments, and end the program they take the place of a curtain’s opening and closing during a stage presentation. And one compelling visual is that of msnbc’s Morning Joe represented above.

The picture above is not of the actual visual, for in the real one the coffee cup is seen from above, as it is being lifted up and a ring of coffee drippings becomes the o in Morning Joe. But the picture above does give you the idea, as the o in Joe looks like the stain of a coffee cup. All in all, a clever way to transition from one segment to another, and quite addicting since an overwhelming majority of their listeners are doing the same thing while they watch morning Joe while drinking their morning joe.§

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Celtic’s Paul Pierce Into the Game

Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce celebrates as his team pulls ahead of the Miami Heat during the third quarter. The Celtics won in Boston, 106-77, to take a two-game lead in the first round of the NBA playoff series. Photo Charles Krupa-AP

Life is Barren

Without a Team in the Playoffs

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Well, the Rockets’ season is over. There are NBA playoffs all over cable this week, but the Rockets didn’t make the cut. They had a reasonably good season, with spurts of being really effective matched with occasional lapses of them just being there. However a brief spell which saw almost the entire starting team benched due to injuries for several games, is what really put them out of the playoffs. Ironically, if they had been in the East with their record they would have made the playoffs.

Aaron Brooks, NBA’s Most Improved Player

The team is well-poised for next year, however, with some players filling their positions very well. Aaron Brooks, the young point guard that general manager Darrell Morey relied on when he traded Rafer Alston, has more than delivered and will probably be an all star next year. As it is he won Most Improved Player of the Year Award after the season was over. And new shooting guard Kevin Martin joined Brooks in averaging 20 points per game. And there for every game was Argentinian Luis Scola who also averaged 19 points a game, come what may, and in one game he managed 44. Essential for defensive purposes were Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes, although when Yao Ming comes back next year Hayes will undoubtedly go back to coming off the bench.

And the Rockets’ bench has been particularly strong this year. Kyle Lowry came in to turn many a game around with his brilliant play. And Chase Budinger, and his recently added buddy from Arizona, Jordon Hill made positive additions coming off the bench.

But what I can’t understand is how we can get so attached to our professional sports teams, where players are bought and sold much like slaves used to be in earlier times or cattle these days. I admit I can’t explain it, but it is absolutely true.

In an earlier age when I was living in New York at the University Settlement House at Rivington and Eldridge Streets, I once knew a young man of Russian Jewish ancestry who was a dyed in the wool communist. He could talk for hours about the corruption of the capitalist system, and how it enslaved the working class. But simultaneously he was a completely unmitigated New York Yankees baseball fan. In spite of the way baseball teams, and particularly the Yankees bought and sold players like cattle, he actually came to life when discussing the nation’s favorite pastime.

I picked up my Rockets’ addiction one year when the Rockets were going to the finals and my son Joel was going to Europe for a summer to travel and see the sights. I told him I would watch the playoffs for him, and let him know how the Rockets did. It was the first time I had ever followed a sports team on television, and I hate to say it, but even though the Rockets lost that finals to Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, after a few short weeks I had become hopelessly addicted, and have remained so ever since.

What is strange about this addiction is how closely your own spirit can be affected by the teams’ ups and downs. After a really bad loss your mood is dark indeed, and people who know you had best avoid you. On the other hand, after a solid win, especially over a team which was much better than the Rockets and which the Rockets should have lost, your spirits are very high, and basically you would have thought that you were on the team the way you celebrate the victory.

And so the playoffs press on, although having no dog in the hunt means my interest is strictly academic. And for us Rocket fans, it is dreams, not about what might have been this year, but what might be for next season that gets us by. General manager Darrell Morey is the man who puts the team together. Yao Ming should be back, and hopefully be well for the season. And new players, Trevor Ariza and Kevin Martin, plus future all star point guard Aaron Brooks should make for a high scoring team which should be able to easily make the playoffs as is. But will Morey be able to snag a major free agent like Chris Bosh over the summer? Such an addition would once again make the Rockets championship contenders.§

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99 Year Old Loves Her iPad

A 99-year-old Lake Oswego woman stars in a YouTube video that's gone viral. — Virginia Campbell sits on a sofa in her apartment in Mary's Woods Retirement Community. — She is so captivated by her new toy she never even looks up at the camera.§

Mt. Katahdin – Teen Camp’s Ultimate Trip

This week as I turn back to my memories of children’s camps I want to describe what was the crowning trip of the Blueberry Cove Teen Camp season, the hike along twenty-five miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine’s Baxter State Park ending with a climb up Mt. Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain.

As seen below, from a distance Mt. Katahdin is a very impressive sight. But seeing it head on gives little indication of it unique properties. For from the south it slopes up at a fairly normal angle, but from the north side it slopes at a stark angle, its backside having been shaved off eons ago by some ice age glacier.

Mt. Katahdin from a distance

Our Katahdin trip actually began with a twenty-five mile hike down the Appalachian Trail. From the National Park Service comes this description: the Appalachian Trail is a 2,175-mile long public footpath. Conceived in 1921 and completed in 1937, private citizens built the trail and thousands each year volunteer to maintain its footprint.

From Maine’s Mount Katahdin to Georgia’s Springer Mountain, this footpath traverses scenic, wooded, pastoral, wild and culturally resonant lands through 14 of the eastern United States. There is a spritely YouTube video celebrating one hiker’s walk of the entire trail. Clicking on the arrow below will bring you the video.

Of course to traverse the entire trail would take many, many months and would be completely impractical from a camp’s point of view. But we thought that taking the campers along a twenty-five mile long section of the trail would give them a useful introduction to following a trail’s blazes, as well as make a nice prelude to the climb itself.

Our group was split into two parts for the trail walking part of the trip. Half of our group was ferried across a lake by boat, so they could walk away from the trail’s end. Two days later they would cross paths will the rest of our group, which would be walking towards the trail’s end. This group would end up at the lake the other group left from, and arrangements had been made for them to be picked up by the very boat that left our other group on the trail side of the lake.

Meanwhile when they reached the truck, the group walking away from the mountain would load up and be driven to the point where the boat would deliver the rest of our troop. Then it was motoring on to the campground, where we would set up our camp and have a nice, hot meal and a good night’s rest. The following day we would make the climb, which we would do altogether as one group.

The first part of the climb was in woods which was shaded, breezy and made for comfortable climbing. But the views were few and far between. Occasionally we would come across a small clearing with a view which offered a good place for a short rest. Below the tree line but demanding attention was a waterfall which you encounter as you climb the Cathedral Trail. But soon we were past the tree line and the spectacular views began.

A waterfall as seen from the Cathedral trail up Mt. Katahdin

At this point there is something I ought to explain. I am afraid of heights. So what business have I climbing mountains, you might well ask? None, I would answer, except that the climb remains much more of a challenge when you make it with a major handicap like an inherent fear of heights.

However, on my first Katahdin trip, made with older campers from the children’s camp, we climbed the mountain but avoided coming down by way of what is called the Knife’s Edge, a trail which is from four to six feet wide, but with sharp drop offs either side.

On that trip I talked to a park ranger about the knife’s edge, and he said it should be no problem for campers of most any age. So on the trips with Teen Camp we decided to take the Knife’s Edge down. And the ranger was right, if you look straight ahead and refrain from looking down on either side, the walk was a piece of cake, perfectly safe and easy. But it is a scary sight when look at it for the first time, and especially if you have an ingrown fear of heights.

The Knife’s Edge on Mt. Kathdin. An alternate trail down the mountain after experiencing the summit. Although it looks menacing from a distance, the trail itself is never less than four feet, and is usually at least six feet wide.

You find that the summit of any mountain, and particularly one as high as Katahdin, weather can be markedly different from what it was as you left for the climb up. On one of our trips I photographed the sign at the mountain’s summit as it was ringed with snow. And this was in late August. Large mountains have characteristically different weather than the surrounding countryside as large mountains have been known to make their own weather. In fact Park Rangers discourage mountain climbs after September unless the climbers are equipped with the proper cold weather gear as blizzards can come up with little or no warning.

The day of the climb is a long and physically taxing one, and we usually would only eat a light meal after coming down. An after dark soap off in a stream, and then it’s time to snuggle into our sleeping bags for a bit of R & R, rest and recuperation.

We would spend the morning after the climb at the Sliding Rock, a local phenomenon which consisted of a slide on a water smoothed rock over forty feet in length, the slope was at a 45º angle, and the slide ended up in a pool five to six feet deep. Usually the rock was deserted which meant we could spend the entire morning skinny dipping to our heart’s content, as time and time again we would each slide down what was one of nature’s true wonders.

On our last trip to the Sliding Rock evidently a bridge to the outside world had been replaced by Baxter State Park, and the place was filled with the local people spending the morning. They came armed with all of the accruements of today’s picnickers, barbecue grills smoking away, coolers stocked with beer, and boom boxes turned up loud. And what was worse, trash including many empty beer cans and bottles, littered the area.

Reluctantly we donned bathing suits and took a few slides down, but somehow the activity had lost much of its appeal. However, before we left our campers on their own initiative picked up much of the trash scattered around, trash which we deposited at a trash station next the park’s exit. We left the slide that day noticeably dejected by the locals’ cavalier treatment of what should be characterized as a true national treasure. What should have been a high point of the trip ended up as a real downer.

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And so another Little Eddy Blog spins out of control, and runs off of its rails. Our feet are still hurting after our climb of Katahdin, but at least we managed to stay on the knife’s edge, rather than slip, sliding our way into oblivion.

We’ll spend next week thinking, writing, and collecting, and come Saturday morning, Google willing, we’ll upload another blog. We hope you’ll join us any day next week. And until then, as the union movement used to counsel us, take it easy, but take it. Bye, bye.

The Real Little Eddy §

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