Leaky Ship of State

November 30, 2010

Well, this new disclosure of 250, 000 state department documents by wikileaks certainly has diplomats and politicians from Washington to Beijing red-faced and embarrassed.

I don’t know what to think about this wikileaks guy, Julian Assange other than he is a mischievous little troublemaker wrapping himself in self proclaimed virtue. But he certainly has gotten the attention of government officials.

Countries have had diplomatic secrets and opinions of other countries and their leaders for as long as there have been countries. However, in this world of instant world-wide knowledge, disclosures such as this,  take it to a new level.

I think this is like a 19th century glove slap to the face. Maybe Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Assange could meet with pistols at dawn.  If so, I think Hillary should name Sarah Palin as her second. She is a good shot.

What is hard for me  to understand is how our government which is so obviously intent on preserving security could let this happen on such a large-scale. I mean, I could see maybe a half a dozen memos stolen by some disgruntled low-level employee, but 250,000 documents. Come on. Some major holes are present in the State Department’s pat down procedures.

Maybe they need to hire some of those very thorough TSA people.

Preserving a Scam

November 29, 2010

 

The other day, while opening up a very tasty jar of strawberry jam to spread liberally on my perfectly toasted, fork split english muffin, I was reminded of a very funny scam I almost pulled off several years ago.

It was one of those spur of the moment things. I had been traveling in the mountains of North Carolina and came upon this small country market run by “Miss Ruth”.  Miss Ruth was the spittin’ image of Mrs. Santa Claus. She had snowy white hair and rosy cheeks. She wore a country apron with apples and pears on it,  and she made the best jam I ever tasted. She sold the conserves in pint size mason jars with labels that just said, “Strawberry” or “Peach” or whatever, on the front. The jars were priced at $2.50 each.

I bought five cases.

Arriving back in Florida, I planned to enjoy the jams with breakfast, when I thought, I need to share these with friends. But, I could not just give them as is. So I designed a  personalized “private’ label which I glued onto the front of each of the jars. The label noted that the preserves were handcrafted using an old secret family recipe presented by:

 “Woody’s World International”

         “Jams and Jellies”

                         

I passed the jams out to friends. I even sent a case to Aimee, who at the time was attending Tulane University in New Orleans. Well, about a week later she called and told me how great the jams and jellies were, and that all of her friends wanted some.

She just figured that it was my “recipe” for the jam, so I did not disabuse her of that idea. After all, why spoil the moment.

Well, I figured that I could buy the jars from Ruth for $2.50 a piece and sell them at something like $4.99. A handsome profit. While, it would not pay for her college education, it might buy a few books, I reasoned.

I placed a call to Miss Ruth and ordered another ten cases in an assortment of flavors. Ruth advised the price had gone up to $3.00 a jar. I swallowed hard and said OK.

A week later, the UPS man arrived with the jellies. I was in jelly heaven. How could a business be this fun and tasty too. I immediately relabeled the mason jars and sent two more cases out.

Things were going  well, until I received the shipping invoices. Using my best CPA cost accounting skills, I figured  out that I was LOSING $2.35 on each jar shipped.

The scam was unraveling before my eyes as I consoled myself with a blackberry laden piece of sourdough toast.

The phone rang. It was Aimee, ordering 3 more cases.

………………………….

Outscammed by the scamming queen.

Trudy Time

November 26, 2010

Trudy called a little while ago to give me the run down on what she has been doing. Unlike me, Trudy lives the glamorous life in her tasteful seaside villa on Long Island’s trendy east end. Having only been there a few years, she has already achieved  near rock star status. 

Me, her brother…I am just a regular Joe with  hair difficulties and bunions..

Trudy said she had just returned from her customary weekly  spa visit where she got the works.  Hair fluffed, trimmed, colored and highlighted. Of course, she had the signature deep, seaweed facial and the hot lava rock pedicure treatment; then a detailed  finish using the Manhattan  glow fashion application.

Me, I still haven’t gotten the haircut I have needed for weeks. If I sit in the barber’s chair for more than 10 minutes, I have to take a xanax. The only seaweed I had was the piece caught in my teeth from a bad sushi lunch, and my nails are as nature intended. (Although some of Aimee’s friends think I get a manicure regularly because of my alleged mafia connections.) Weird, I know.

Trudy also advised me she needed all this work done for the whirlwind social calendar she was keeping. 

Her Thanksgiving weekend sounded like something out of Jackie Onassis’ diary with a fabulous dinner at the very private north fork estate, Soundview. Followed by a private screening of the latest Harry Potter movie attended by only the well-heeled, tony East Enders.

I learned years ago that I could not keep up with Trudy. I would have to stop after every social function and rest , whereas, she was already attending her next event. One time, when I was with her in the middle of her third east end social swing of the week, we happened to have a few minutes between events so we decided to get a bite to eat and let me  catch my breath.

We stopped at the LUNCH shack for some of  their famous (and delicious) lobster rolls. The Whitster and I had the exquisitely prepared sandwiches. However, Trudy after complaining she had too much lobster already that week  (too much lobster?)  chose a tuna on wheat toast with the little crusts cut off. 

Starting to enjoy our lunch, the Whitster and I were thinking, ” Hey not bad. Let’s settle in here for the afternoon and watch the surf roll in.”

Trudy took two bites and said, ” OK enough rest, let’s go.”

I was just barely able to hang on to my lobster roll as she pushed me into the car and we drove off.

 She had  plans she explained, as she whisked us over to the Montauk Point  beachside country club for a “benefit appearance.”  Then after dropping off the Whitster, we went up island.  Trudy without breaking stride, confirmed the evening’s dinner and entertainment reservations, and booked a tour of the Big Duck for me to take on the way home.

The only thing I wanted to take on was a nap; Trudy was just warming up.

**********

The world needs people like Trudy, otherwise, without their constant spinning and motion the planet might slow down and stop rotating.

 Night would become day and day would turn into night. It all would just be a blur.

Kind of like a weekend with Trudy.

Hope you have a great weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

Each Thanksgiving, in addition to being a favorite time for family, friends and food,  is a day  that provides nearly everyone around the dinner table with some memories of past  Thanksgivings.

I have a short one.

Picture it, Frankfurt Am Main, Germany. November, 1976

 

As the fourth Thursday in November has no special meaning to the Germans, I was working that day along with everyone else. About lunchtime several of my coworkers came by my desk and invited me to join them for lunch. I readily agreed. We were in the elevator on our way out when I asked them where we were going for lunch, expecting them to mention one of the usual spots.

They said, “Well, it is Thanksgiving, so we are having American food.”

I smiled as I had not seen any sign of the uniquely American holiday in Frankfurt at all.

We walked a couple of blocks and entered a restaurant I had been to before, but it just provided typical Frankfurt fare. Well today, the restaurant was decked out in red, white and blue bunting and there was John Phillip Sousa marching music playing in the background. The place had more of a 4th of July feel to it than Thanksgiving.

We got a table and everyone ordered the “Thanksgiving Special.” I wondered what that was going to be as turkey was not a popular item with the Germans.  Well, a few minutes later our lunch arrived. It was hamburgers with little American flags stuck in the buns.  Since I had not eaten an American style hamburger in some time; it was enjoyable.

We spent the rest of our happy lunch hour eating our burgers and drinking German beer.  I told my German colleagues how  our American Thanksgiving traditions are celebrated and that it was important to be thankful for the blessings we have received.

This was Thanksgiving Day in Frankfurt, Germany, November 25, 1976.

Wherever you are, I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving  enjoying your family and friends and having some turkey…or a hamburger.

Our daily bread

November 24, 2010

 

Over the years, I have become somewhat of  an expert in bread. Considering I grew up as a Wonder Bread peanut butter and jelly kid, that is quite an achievement. I have tasted and enjoyed some of the best breads available in Europe , Asia and the Americas. I know where to get the best brötchen in Düsseldorf and the best buttery croissants in Brussels. I know flat breads, from chewy naans to savory focaccias.

So when the UPS man arrived with a package for Donna I was intrigued. It was her new bread making machine. She had one when they first came out nearly 20 years ago, but it died a few seasons back. It made OK bread. Actually, it was very welcomed because the little town where we lived had no bakery, and no real bread.

Now, fresh artisan breads are available nearly everywhere. However, few can compete with  a just baked loaf from your own oven costing  just pennies to produce.

There is, however a problem. That dang machine can crank out bread faster than any normal person can eat it. The bread is starting to pile up. There is a warm loaf of 6 grain on the cutting board right now.

Which reminds me of the story of Sam and the bagels.

When I was a kid, we had a neighbor named Sam.  Sam worked in a bagel store in NY. He left every morning about 4 am and returned home about 3 in the afternoon. Well,  everyday, Sam would come home from work with a big bag of fresh hot bagels. He liked us and would always bring over a dozen or so. For us kids it was quite a treat and we enjoyed the bagels.

However, no one can eat a dozen bagels a day for too long.

So the bagels started to pile up.  We would have dozens of them stuffed in the bread box, on the counter by the toaster and in the cupboard next to the big Thanksgiving platter with the turkey painted on it. . Finally, my mother told Sam we had enough bagels to stop bringing them. But Sam said, “Oh, don’t worry, you can freeze them”, as he handed my mother another dozen of poppyseed.

So, we started to put them in the freezer. But soon that became full too. It was beginning to be the doughy version of  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. There were bagels everywhere you looked; still they kept coming.

Finally, My mother put her foot down and told Sam that was it. No more bagels.

After about six months we ran out of bagels and we wished Sam would come by, but he moved to be closer to his bagel shop. Boy, we missed those bagels then.

Oh well, back to that six grain. Where is my bread knife?

Endangered species

November 23, 2010

“…government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

 

***********************

One hundred forty-seven  years ago, On November 19, 1863 Abraham Lincoln spoke those words as he finished his Gettysburg Address. Lincoln, the nation’s 16th president and considered among the very best of its leaders, would probably have to reconsider his words in a speech today.

More and more the Federal Government is alienating itself from its citizens. At times, incredibly as it seems, an intentional adversarial relationship is being pursued by the bureaucracy against its citizens to show them who is boss.

Consider, the latest nasty battle the TSA has unleashed on the Americans  they purport to protect and serve. The TSA’s purpose  is to serve and safeguard the traveling public, but the citizens have increasingly become the target of rough, dangerous, and  invasive treatment by  TSA agents, who seem to enjoy their fascist behavior.

I am sure President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton feel sincere when they say they understand the public frustration over TSA methods, even though Mrs. Clinton gave a flip response to the press about it. However, because they have “elite” status, have their own planes and are protected by the Secret Service, no body scans or pat downs for them.

So,  how can they understand the frustration if they don’t have to experience it?  It is like telling a person who lost an arm you understand how difficult it is for him to function every day. How can you understand, if you have two arms?

The TSA has 65,000 employees, with a budget of $7 billion! It is a bureaucratic monster. In nine short years it has become the poster boy for everything that is ugly about the Federal government. If the TSA continues to trample on and negate the rights and personal privacy of Americans, it is not going to end well.

Sadly, given the state of this TSA mess and civil unrest, you could say that the terrorists have already won.

The question I have is, why can’t they have a fingerprint process?  When you buy your ticket, all your information is taken including your fingerprints and iris scan. Then when you go to the airport, they scan your fingerprints and your face and connect the dots. This would enable 98 percent plus  of all travelers to pass through security faster without all these “enhanced screening” invasion techniques. The other 1 1/2 percent could then be fully screened. It is called target identification. Our military uses it all the time to minimize civilian casualties. Too bad the TSA did not consult the Marines.

Incidentally,  while riding rough shod over ordinary citizens who travel, the Federal government has completely abdicated  its responsibilities to enforce our immigration laws and protect the sovereignty of our borders.

When a country ignores its border sovereignty, and ironically, at the same time,  harasses its own citizens, what is next?  Harassment, persecution and negation of rights are here;  can the Kristallnacht be far behind?

Is this a government of the people, by the people and for the people, or has it perished?

Mr Lincoln, Where have you gone?

*****************

Blind hope and beyond

November 22, 2010

Sometimes you hear about something that just makes you feel glad.

I am talking about this new “chip” implant that the Germans have invented that enables blind people to see. The process uses some 1500 light diodes to paint images on the retina enabling sight. What the blind then see are not images as people with normal vision see, but lights and shapes that enable them to identify objects and walk around a room without bumping in to things.

To me this just remarkable and it clearly opens up a new world to those who have been shut in darkness.

Scientists have also started growing little human livers in the laboratory. The next step is to see if they function as natural livers in animals. Human transplants would not be far behind.

We already have  artificial hearts and internal parts in use for some time now. Prosthetic limb operations are becoming routine; sadly many are required  because of the war. Piece by piece scientists are beginning to be able to construct complexed living organisms.

It seems to me that in a few short years, say by the turn of the next century, we could have humans made entirely in the laboratory… from “scratch.” … Three hundred years after Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

How will religion and science get along then?

One can only speculate.