Now Hear This

It’s a warm, sultry Summer evening. The sun has set hours ago. You step outside to enjoy a soft breeze and to watch the intricate dance of the lightning bugs. In the background is the sound of millions of Summer insects, from crickets to cicadas to god-knows-what. It is all very high-pitched and nonstop.

This is what I hear. All. The. Time.

Early on, I remember lying in bed late one night, listening to the insects chirping away. Then it dawned on me that it was midwinter and that there really were no insects. Not in the dead of winter! This is when I became aware of Tinnitus.

As I understand it, I have lost the ability to hear the very high, almost ultrasonic sounds. My own brain, trying to help, is “filling in” the upper frequencies with phantom sounds that only I can hear. But it is constant. It never stops. My brain is doing a crappy job of helping.

As with any constant sound, I sometimes lose awareness of it – it fades into the background (but never goes away). Most often, it’s because I’m paying attention to a rival sound – radio or TV or traffic noises.

(Naturally, as I type this, I am keenly aware of it – it is very much in the foreground.)

Along with tinnitus, I also have degenerative hearing loss, getting a little worse each year. Little by little, the range of upper frequencies that is lost to me increases. The very highest notes in music sometimes escape me. Blame playing the piano with the lid raised, year after year. Blame listening to Genesis and The Doobie Brothers with headphones turned up WAY too much. Riding a two-cylinder John Deere mower for two hours each week, unprotected, probably isn’t helping, either. Blame every loud sound that I’ve exposed myself to over my lifetime.

I’ve always had problems hearing the human voice in television and movies, especially British films with inappropriately loud music scores at a time when the characters are whispering. Or action movies, where explosions and gunfire are competing with the spoken word.

For many years, I haven’t even tried to hold a conversation in a loud bar or at a wedding reception with an ear-damaging DJ. I’ve never mastered lip reading, and there is simply no way that I can make out what anyone is saying against a backdrop of everyone else yelling to be heard.

A person with a well-modulated, well-enunciated speaking voice is a joy. There are many people that I talk with who are easily heard and understood.

Low talkers annoy the hell out of me. There are a few who poke their heads into my office and begin whispering something to me. I now cut them off immediately and ask them to speak up. Even so, after half a sentence, their voice begins to trail off again into obscurity, forcing me to blurt out, “Eh?,” like every other cranky old man. I’m always afraid that I’m going to “pull a Seinfeld” and agree to something that I didn’t actually hear. I am not going to be wearing a puffy shirt.

I wear headphones while watching the bedroom TV. I originally bought them so that my late-night TV watching wouldn’t bother my wife, who has to be up very early in the morning. But I find that they’re a godsend now. The headphones almost force the human voice bandwidth into my ear canals, so I can hear just about every word.

If I’m watching TV downstairs, I find that the surround sound speakers actually muddy the sound. There’s one center speaker that is allegedly enhancing the vocal range, but it’s not really helping. When voices get low, I find myself cupping my ears with my hands, pointing them toward the sound. (It helps. Really.) Even so, the lack of clarity and missed dialogue have me more and more lost as to what’s going on.

I watch MSNBC a lot. For the most part, this is one person speaking at a time, and that voice is the only sound coming out of my speakers. I find it easy to listen to and can pay attention to what’s being said. On the rare occasion when two guests begin arguing over each other and then the moderator joins in… Forget it. I can’t hear anything that any one of the three is saying. I can’t handle overlapping voices.

I listen to NPR all day at work. I use an iPod Nano and ear buds while I work, and, unless the topic is especially interesting, NPR is basically low background noise to distract from the tinnitus. White noise to combat white noise.

Unless I’m in the kitchen, I can’t hear a whistling tea kettle or the beep of a microwave. I’m becoming very good at guesstimating when things are going to be done.

My wife asks me if I can hear baby birds or peepers (pond frogs). Nope.

Why don’t I just buy hearing aids?

I will. Just not yet. I find that a good hearing aid can run $2,000 to $3,000. The little research that I did tells me that buying cheap gets you cheap, so I’ll get a very good, reliable pair when the time comes. No health insurance covers or subsidizes hearing aids.

Hearing aids are optional, it seems. A luxury. I’ll spend the money when I’m missing $2,000 worth of sound.

You’ll all just have to do me a favor. Speak a little louder than you normally do (you don’t have to shout), just a good-level inside voice will do. Don’t slur, don’t trail off, don’t mumble. In other words, speak to me the same way you’d speak to any other elderly gentleman.

And I sometimes find myself talking too loud, as though I’m talking while wearing headphones and am not aware of the volume. I think this is how I unconciously let people know that I’m having trouble hearing them. If I yell at you, I’m sorry. Let’s both compromise on the volume.

Here’s an ad for the new HTC cellphones. HTC incorporates a hearing test into the HTC 10, in order to maximize the “high definition audio” output for each individual pair of earbuds. They call it a Personal Audio Profile. Each time I plug in a set of headphones or buds, I have the option of taking a quick “quiz” that is used to equalize the music for my hearing. Or I can take a complete hearing test (you know, a series of high, medium, and low tones for both right and left ears) so that the phone can take my own weaknesses into account. As you would expect, the upper range is greatly boosted for my benefit. I hear things in the music from my phone that I don’t hear anywhere else. Every phone should have this feature, since every pair of ears is unique.

In the meantime, every once in a while I’ll enjoy a bit of silence. I’ll close my eyes, focus on the tinnitus, and picture myself standing out back, listening to the sound of a million insects chirping on a warm Summer evening.

Back to TOP

God, I’m old

July 4, 1776 was not the birth of the U.S.A. It was the day that the colonists said, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.” After that, grab your guns ’cause war is a-comin’.

July 12, 1776 – The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were underway, approved for ratification in 1777, and formally ratified March 1, 1781. THIS could be an official birthday of the United States of America, which, before this date, were a loose collection of 13 colonies.

September 3, 1783 – Nine years later, the Revolutionary War officially ended, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and England recognized the 13 colonies as independent. THIS would be the birthday of the United States, in my opinion. Now we were an independent entity, as recognized by the world.

June 21, 1788 – New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, which replaced the Articles of Confederation and formalized the central federal government of the Republic. This would be the birthday for the U.S. federal government, I suppose.

Dec. 15, 1791 – The first 10 amendments to the Constitution (collectively “the Bill of Rights”) was ratified, 15 years after a bunch of old fogies in Philadelphia decided to get uppity.

Ever since, it seems, the United States has been at war with one country, group, or other entity (primarily Native American tribes) over its entire lifetime, right up to the Korean War, which ended in 1953. For a brief time, we were at peace.

June, 1954 – I was born.

I have lived for more than a quarter of this country’s existence.

I have lived under 11 of the 44 presidents, soon 12 out of 45. I was named after the 34th president, in whose term I was born. Dwight Eisenhower, the first Pennsylvania Dutch president (look it up), had a long list of accomplishments, many impressive – from establishing the national system of highways to the creation of NASA. His vice president was Richard Nixon, and his nephew David would eventually marry Nixon’s daughter Julie. But I digress.

JFK, RFK, MLK, LBJ, Richard M. Nixon and Spiro Agnew… these are not historical figures to me; they were “current events” when I was in school. We researched the Cuban Missile Crisis in real time for class, using Time, Newsweek, and other magazines and newspapers printed on paper. The riots around the 1968 Democratic Convention, hippies, Viet Nam War protests, Kent State, Woodstock, the Cold War, all headlines in newspapers and network news of my youth.

Mine was the generation taught to cower underneath our school desks, in preparation for the day when a nuclear blast would vaporize us in about a tenth of a second. I remember exploring the fallout shelter in the basement of my junior high school, marvelling at all of the sealed drums of saltines and walls of toilet paper. (No, it would not have kept us safe from a nuclear strike OR fallout, but at least we could wipe our…uh…crackers.)

Although born in the 50s, I’ve always considered myself a “child of the 60s” (ages 6-16). These were formative years and an interesting time to be growing up in America. (White suburban America, I should point out.)

Television & Movies

The earliest movie I remember seeing was Babes in Toyland at the Lansdowne movie theater. Don’t remember anything about the movie, but IMDB tells me that it came out in 1961 (I was 7) and starred Annette Funicello, Ray Bolger, and somebody named Tommy Sands. Ed Wynn, great character actor, was the Toymaker, and a very young Ann Jillian (would have been 11 or so) played Bo Peep. I don’t remember any of the movie, the plot, or the actors that were in it, I only remember that it’s the first movie I went to see.

Lansdowne Movie Theater

Movies you see when you’re young and impressionable have a far greater impact than movies you see later in life. (“Get ’em while they’re young.”) Great movies of the 1960s include (in no particular order)
Psycho
2001: a space odyssey
Lawrence of Arabia
The Graduate
Rosemary’s Baby
The Sound of Music
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Birds
Cool Hand Luke
To Kill a Mockingbird
Mary Poppins
The Manchurian Candidate
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Planet of the Apes
The Dirty Dozen
Dr. No / Goldfinger / Thunderball / From Russia With Love
Cleopatra
The Village of the Damned
The Jungle Book
Easy Rider
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Original episodes of I Love Lucy aired during my lifetime, but I was two, almost three when the series ended and went into reruns. The Ed Sullivan Show owned Sunday nights, was the leading source of entertainment, and something we waited all week for. This was the show that introduced The Beatles to the U.S., showed Elvis Presley from the hips UP, and toward the end rocked the house with a 12 year old blind kid, Stevie Wonder. It would feature acrobats, spinning dishes on poles, dancers, and a haunting little sockpuppet, Topo Gigio.

One of my early TV favorites was (The Many Loves of) Dobie Gillis (1959-1963). (C’mon – Tuesday Weld was Dobie’s love interest.) My youth was a great time to be a young TV watcher – The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the original Star Trek, and a very young Robert Loggia in T.H.E. Cat (a series very few remember). Along with Star Trek, my other favorite series was I Spy, starring Robert Culp and Bill (before he was famous) Cosby. I loved Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Avengers (when I could see it – Diana Rigg), My Favorite Martian, The Green Hornet, a very bad Batman (not a fan of the Adam West series, in hindsight). The 1960s was prime television time.

Comedies:
Bewitched
The Dick van Dyke Show
The Beverly Hillbillies
Gilligan’s Island
The Addams Family
Green Acres
Hogan’s Heroes (yes, Nazis were funny in the 60s)
The Munsters
Petticoat Junction
Leave It to Beaver
Get Smart
Mister Ed
I Dream of Jeannie
Make Room for Daddy
Father Knows Best
My Three Sons
McHale’s Navy
My Favorite Martian
That Girl
Dennis the Menace
The Monkees
Car 54 Where Are You?
Family Affair
Bachelor Father
Courtship of Eddie’s Father
The Patty Duke Show
The Flying Nun
Hazel
The Real McCoys
The Jackie Gleason Show
Gidget
My Mother the Car

Dramas:
Lost in Space (ick)
Perry Mason
Adam-12
The Twilight Zone
Dark Shadows
The Fugitive
Daniel Boone
Columbo (1968)
Ben Casey
Ironside
Burke’s Law
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
77 Sunset Strip
The Mod Squad (1968)
The Defenders

Westerns were big in the 60s:
Bonanza (No. 1 with a bullet)
Marshal Dillon
Maverick
The Rifleman
Rawhide
Cheyenne
The Virginian
Have Gun Will Travel
Sugarfoot
Death Valley Days
and, of course, The Wild Wild West
For laughs, let us not forget F Troop

In animation, we had Tobor, the 8th Man after school, Popeye, Mr. Magoo, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Yogi Bear, Astro Boy, Jonny Quest, Underdog, Space Ghost & Dino Boy, The Road Runner, Spiderman, the original Jetsons and Flintstones (before they got cheap and cheesy) in the evenings, and a whole host of other cartoon shows beneath mention.

The very first Law & Order episode was still decades away.

Jean points out that television broke out of the studio in the 1970s in favor of the great outdoors – Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, Baretta, Cannon (large man in a Lincoln, a Quinn Martin production), and the great Rockford Files.

We had four channels – NBC, CBS, ABC, and then WHYY (1963). I remember when networks would “sign off” at midnight, playing the Star Spangled Banner, before turning into a test pattern. Only Johnny Carson went a bit later. (Carson succeeded Jack Paar in 1962, so he was the first late show host I would remember.) When UHF was eventually added (along with circular antennae to augment the standard rabbit ears), we had several more channels (17, 29, 48, and later 57), even if reception was spotty at times. UHF was nothing more than reruns of broadcast series and old movies from the 30s, 40s, and 50s; very little original programming. Still, two of these channels would grow up to be Fox and the CW. Although most broadcast stations would continue to sign off for the night (or go to infomercials), it was soon possible to stay up all night watching old movies, and I did. I think I saw every film ever made by John Wayne, Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Glenn Ford (my favorite), etc. Yes, of course, I had a crush on Doris Day and I thought that Hedy Lamarr had to be the most incredibly beautiful woman ever on the face of this earth. (Okay… Grace Kelly, the exquisite Elizabeth Taylor, and the woman who personified SEX to a lot of young teenagers, Marilyn Monroe. Let us not forget them.) I spent many a late night watching old movies. All in black and white on a 17″ television screen in the kitchen.

I did not see The Wizard of Oz in color until well into my teen years. Before then, I had no idea what all the fuss was about when Dorothy first opened the door and looked out on Oz.

Music

When I was still very young (I want to say age 6), I appeared on a local WCAU-TV show as a pianist. The host would talk about classical music, and then I would play a short example. There was a script with the text and musical snippets, but it must be long gone by now. For my troubles, the station gave me a Sunoco-branded transistor radio, which was built to look like a miniature gas pump. No doubt, the TV station got them for free (promotional purposes), but I didn’t know or care. Loved it. (In retrospect, I’ve felt cheated ever since. Where’s the $$$? Shoulda joined the musician’s union.)

Since I was a classically-trained pianist until age 16, I was late coming to the popular music of the day. Missed the British Invasion by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but leaned toward more complex music, rather than the 3-minute, one-idea radio tunes. For a variety show in high school, I performed my own piano solo version of Mason Williams’ Classical Gas. (YouTube) Someone tried to indoctrinate me into the masterworks of a young Bob Dylan, but it didn’t take (did not care for his voice). Not long after, I was heavily into Genesis (with peter gabriel), Loggins & Messina, The Doobie Brothers. Late 60s to mid 70s was a glorious time of growth in rock, but it’s all just tailed off since then (in my not humble opinion).

I was about 16 when I first heard music in STEREO. It was Emerson, Lake, and Palmer on an 8-track player in my brother’s old VW bug. The rotating drums at the end of Lucky Man was a revelation. The original Sony Walkman wouldn’t arrive until I was well into my 20s. My first car had an 8-track player (1972 Ford Pinto). Subsequent cars had cassette tape decks, and I made myself a million “driving mixes.” My son was born the same year the Compact Disc became widely available.

An older friend took me to the bar at the local Holiday Inn to hear a three-piece jazz combo. Like many a classically trained musician, I marvelled at how they could take a theme and then go off to heights unknown, without sheet music, without script, and then somehow manage to bring it all back to the beginning theme again. Ever since, I have made it my mission to be able to improvise freely, to “make it up as I played it.” Classical Gas may well have been the last piece of sheet music I ever used.

Pre-Tech


Needless to say, we did not have smartphones, CDs, VHS, or even computers. We had rotary phones (stick your finger in and rotate the dial). At the summer cottage in Maine, we had a party line – you could pick up the phone and hear your neighbor’s conversation.

Rotary Phone

For entertainment, we would actually “go outside and play.” This was unscheduled, uncoordinated, unstructured playtime with no parental or adult supervision or oversight, believe it or not. Two-hand-touch football was a standard. Roof ball (bouncing a tennis ball off of the eaves of the house) was a constant. My favorite toy was a stick – it could be anything, from a sword to a rifle. I climbed trees a lot and basically just roamed around.

For a time in the mid-60s, I would take the old Pennsylvania Railroad into Philadelphia each week for piano lessons. Noisy, windy old rail cars in an ugly dark red color, occasionally an equally ugly dark green. We lived about equidistant from both the Overbrook and Wynnewood stations on the old Main Line (now Paoli-Thorndale route), so I would walk to one or the other. Wynnewood had the stores, but Overbrook was a better walk.

Pennsylvania Railroad

When I first became aware of cars, most families had only one, and we would laugh today at what was considered a traffic jam back then. There was no trouble at all finding an open road, and “the country” started much closer to town than it does today. I was 10 years old when I was first captivated by the all-new Ford Mustang. The Mustang just celebrated its 50th anniversary year. (I think I learned about a new “rock ‘n’ roll” group called The Beatles in that same year.)

Cars in the early 1960s reflected the country as a whole – wide open spaces. There was plenty of sheet metal, with plenty of gaps. Plenty of wasted space under the hood and within the cabin. Aerodynamics and wind drag wouldn’t come into play until the late 1970s. Vinyl-covered bench seats up front (without seat belts) let you slide from side to side in the turns. This is when you could squeeze four across, with extra bodies in laps, if necessary. Safety was not a concern, and it’s a wonder that the species survived this era. More and more attention was paid to power and acceleration, while the technology of stopping would lag behind.

The Philadelphia Suburbs

King of Prussia Mall opened in 1963 in the middle of nowhere. This was only what we call the Plaza today, more of an open-air shopping center, but understand that the Plaza has since been expanded, itself. There was a J.C.Penney anchoring one end, a cheapo department store E.J. Korvette, and an Acme. Later, Gimbel’s and Wanamaker’s would come in, and the mall would be enclosed. For Philly-area folks, there was no Blue Route. The best way to get to King of Prussia was to drive out Route 352 and then take King of Prussia Road (the back way). Or take Montgomery Avenue/Gulph Road all the way out.

Exton Square Mall would open ten years later in 1973, Springfield and Granite Run Malls shortly thereafter. Malls would become THE place to be, for everything, and then fall out of fashion, all since the 1960s. Times change.

Granite Run Mall 1974-2015, R.I.P.
Granite Run Mall 1974-2015, R.I.P.

Pre-dating the King of Prussia Mall was the Bazaar of All Nations in Clifton Heights (Baltimore Pike). This was an early attempt at a mall – a collection of shops all under one roof. The shops were ultra-quirky, but so were the customers. You could get a custom t-shirt imprinted or find those special frames for wall mountings. Didn’t much like the place, but there were times when I HAD to go there, for something you couldn’t find anywhere else.

The local Blue Laws were in effect for all of my childhood. This meant that almost nothing was open on a Sunday. This grew out of misguided christian thinking, which assumed that everyone was christian and/or all christians kept the Sabbath holy. (For instance, even still, Pennsylvania car dealerships are closed on Sundays.)

One of the very few stores open on a Sunday was Wawa Food Markets (“Mama, I want my Wawa.”). Back when my weekly allowance was a quarter (that’s right, 25 cents), I would go to Wawa on Sunday and pick up the latest comic book (12¢) and a TastyKake (10¢) and three pretzel rods out of the container on the counter (1¢ each). When I was 18, I was working at that Wawa, still the only thing open on Sundays. We were busy with a constant line of customers, all buying their Sunday papers*, milk and eggs, and sliced deli. For sure, the staff had to kick it up a notch on Sundays, but it was actually fun. The only game in town.

* By papers, I mean newspapers. These were oddly shaped, folded, thin paper reading materials that we bought to find out what was happening locally and around the world (“news”). Philadelphia had two major papers – The Philadelphia Inquirer (morning) and The Philadelphia Bulletin (evening). This was before the internet, before 24-hour cable news networks. The news in these newspapers could be as much as a full day old, but this is how we consumed our “news media.” In particular, the Sunday edition (which always came out on Saturday) would be three to five times as thick as usual, crammed with articles of local interest, sections on entertainment, style, living, and all of the advertising circulars and the all-important Sunday comics in color.

The Route 104 Red Arrow line ran on tracks from 69th Street all the way out to West Chester. (Think: day trip.) The trollies were replaced by buses in the year I was born. Still, Route 3 has seen a LOT of construction over the past 60 years. But I remember when there was NOTHING between Newtown Square and West Chester, except the Dairy Queen in Edgemont. Civilization is slowly creeping westward out of Newtown Square, but it may be rethought. It seems that the young generation is rediscovering city life, leaving the suburbs/mortgages/yardwork/cummuting/cars behind.

The more things change…

I need a hero

TO BE SURE: If Hillary Clinton wants to give it another shot in 2020, I’m all in. She has all of my respect and gratitude for her lifetime of service, and I’ve always believed that she would be an excellent president. She has more guts and courage than anyone I’ve ever seen and a hell of a lot more patience than I would believe possible. She has deserved her spot as Most Admired Woman in the World year after year after year. She has handled three decades of Republican smear, slander, and death threats with aplomb. She has total grasp of all of the major issues and has assembled policies that are progressive yet practical, liberal but actually do-able. She is every bit presidential material.

Joe Biden, I love you, but no. No offense, but you’ll be 78.

Bernard Sanders? No. You’ll be 78, too. Besides, go away. You’re the anti-Democrat.

I knew I was getting old, but Barack Obama was the first American president who was younger than I. That’s an eye-opener. And now I’m fairly sure that I don’t want another president who is OLDER. I like the idea of looking to the future. The next generation needs to stand up.

So I need a hero.

The Democratic bench is deep in talent, although not many have that instant national name recognition (Anthony Wiener, not withstanding).

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren may be a favorite to take the 2020 nomination. As excellent as she is on the economy, income inequality, reining in Wall Street, and protecting the social safety nets, her focus has been on domestic policy. She’ll have to study up on foreign affairs, too, but please avoid a disastrous trip abroad to gain foreign chops (see: Mitt Romney).

New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand has become an excellent, no-nonsense senator. Can she translate that to the national stage?
California Representative Adam Schiff is making a name for himself.
California’s Senator Kamala Harris is a rising star.
Connecticut’s Senator Chris Murphy is front and center. Bonus: the NRA would throw a hissy fit.
Joe Kennedy, III? Not yet, but keep up the good work, put together a body of work. And stay out of trouble!

I never had a problem picturing Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office. Of the 20-or-so candidates who ran in 2015/2016, she was the only one that I thought belonged in the Oval. She just fit.

I can see all of these people there, too, given a bit of growth.

I also don’t think any one of them would have a problem overcoming that devastating Trump campaign strategy of assigning schoolyard nicknames (Lyin’ Ted, Little Marco). Pocohantas didn’t seem to have a real problem with it.

No, I need a hero to make her/his bones in the next couple of years. Someone to stand up and help rid the White House and Congress of this den of Russia-enabling traitors, of these gutless GOP weasels who are willing to inflict Trump on America, so long as they can use him to further their own antiAmerican agenda.

I need Paul Ryan OUT in 2018. Watch that race. I think it’s nearly impossible, given Ryan’s district demographics, but the past year and his work on “healthcare” and programs for the poor may prove to be his downfall.

It’s unfortunate, but McConnell’s term doesn’t expire until 2020 and Kentucky isn’t showing any signs of waking up to his treasonous history. (Let the U.S. economy go down the toilet, so long as he stopped Obama from getting anything done. Economic treason, in my book. He continually turned his back on struggling Americans – including his own constituents, just to spite the first Black U.S. president. That’s evil.)

The very best thing the Democrats can do between now and the next presidential election is to take back one chamber of Congress in the 2018 midterms. Either one would put a stop to the Republican attempt to ruin a perfectly good country.

Fivethirtyeight makes the case that Democrats should not look to regain the Senate in 2018, perhaps even losing more seats (although incumbents are ridiculously hard to get voted out).. But the possibility of taking back the House looks better, especially since so many GOP Congresspeople are trying very, very hard to lose their jobs.

So all Democrats should vote early and vote often in 2017, 2018 2019, 2020, and beyond. We vote, we put a stop to the nonsense.

Who is your favorite Democratic prospect for the nomination in 2020? It’s early yet, but not to early to start. Let me know.

back to TOP

Third Party Blues

I saw a funny tweet the other day. At least, it was funny to me.

“The two-party system is broken. The two no longer truly represent the people. It’s time for a third party.”

We always want to break large groups of humans into different camps, usually two:
Male v. Female
White v. Black
Obama was a great president v. Obama was the greatest president*
Ford v. Chevy
Pro-choice v. Anti-choice
Nike v. Reebok
Canon v. Nikon
Beer v. Wine
Eagles v. Cowboys
Christian v. anyone else
Whatever the topic, all of humanity can be neatly sliced into two sides. This simplifies conversation, simplifies thinking, draws nice, clear lines. It’s bullshit, we all know it’s bullshit, but we do it so we don’t have to think too much.

In the case of my Twitter (unintended) comedian, he was proposing a party to represent fiscally conservative and socially liberal people. That’s all well and good, but now we need a fourth party for fiscally liberal and socially conservative. But what about fiscal conservatives who are socially liberal, but draw the line on readily available marijuana? Fiscal socialists who are opposed to gay marriage?

Taken to its logical conclusion, every single person would be a unique political party. Otherwise, god forbid, we would all have to choose the party that MOST CLOSELY RESEMBLES our own thinking and beliefs.

And that’s what we have now. Two parties, diametrically opposed. We choose Republican or Democrat, whichever is closer to us, knowing that a “protest vote” for any third party is tantamount to not voting. Only the two parties have any real chance of winning any elections.

Is it perfect? Of course not. Each of the two parties is nothing more than a huge collection of individuals who, all together, hold their noses and vote one way or the other. I don’t imagine that any of us fully agree with what our party stands for or what our elected officials have done, but we vote one party because we know that the other party is absolutely wrong.

What’s the saying? “The perfect is the enemy of the good”?

Let’s go back to splitting things up even finer.

Any third party would, by definition, weaken either the Republicans or Democrats. In 2016, a split between the Hillary camp and the Bernie camp may well have cost the Democrats the White House (and Senate). The Republicans, despite a year-long civil war among a dozen different camps, voted as a homogenous block in the election. Little things like policy and platform didn’t get in the way of party loyalty and the Republicans won.

If a third party rises to take votes away from the Democratic party, then neither will win anything ever again. On the other hand, the Tea Party came up in the 2010 elections but DID NOT split the Republican Party. Whatever took place in the primaries, Republicans and Tea Party presented a unified front in the general elections, and managed to win handily.

But let’s work forward. Let’s introduce a fourth party. A fifth. Let’s ultimately have 50 different political parties. What then?

In the end, these 50 political parties will argue and negotiate and form alliances to consolidate power. They will bring together as many factions as possible, because the largest “single group” will have the most power, the best shot at winning elections. No one little party can possibly win, but a large enough affiliation will definitely win.

You know what we call those large affiliations? The Republican and Democratic Parties.

And that’s the joke.

* nod to Stephen Colbert

back to TOP

mis·an·thrope

mis·an·thrope
/ˈmis(ə)nˌTHrōp,ˈmiz(ə)nˌTHrōp/
noun

a person who dislikes humankind and avoids human society
synonyms: hater of mankind, hater, cynic

I am a misanthrope.

I’m watching you, humanity, and I don’t like what I see.

Let me be clear: I don’t like people. Persons – individuals – I can deal with. People in groups suck.

We make rules, regulations, laws to deal with groups of people, not usually for the individual. But in any group, there’s always one person who is determined to screw things up for the rest of us. There’s always one yahoo.

I’m politically divisive. I don’t give a rat’s ass for anyone who would vote for a Republican with a straight face. There’s something wrong with you if you think Donald Trump was the best choice to be President of the United States.

That said, enjoy this blog. Hope you find something of interest. I didn’t.

back to TOP

Thank you, Hillary

When did I become radicalized?

I registered in 1972 as a Republican. I cannot remember how that happened; it may be because my own parents were Republicans, I don’t know. Certainly, my namesake was what would now be described as a “liberal Republican,” and so was I. In 1972 and in every presidential election since, I have never voted for a Republican candidate for president, but either a) it never occurred to me to change registration or b) I was too lazy to fill out the forms. So I remained a Republican.

If anyone wants to call me a RINO (Republican In Name Only), that’s fine. I was.

In the 1990s, I was a big fan of the Clintons. The president seemed to have it all – a brilliant mind, an attractive set of policies, and a speaking style that I could listen to for hours. But for one weakness, I believe he would have been considered one of the greatest presidents of the century (at least). But it was Hillary that really impressed me.

First LadyUnderstand – the traditional First Lady was Mamie Eisenhower, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird, Pat Nixon, Nancy Reagan. All of these women were first and foremost the First Housewives, responsible for keeping the White House a model showcase, from draperies to dishware. We obsessed over their gowns, their hats, their movements. If they had adopted a cause, it was “cute,” but hardly earthmoving. Until Hillary.

Hillary Clinton took the role of First Lady, crumpled it up, and threw it out the window. She was very much her own person – Wellesley, Yale Law School, a law degree, a law career, an activist role as First Lady of Arkansas, etc. She wasn’t just a liberal, she was, at the time, The Most Radical Liberal Ever on the Face of the Earth. Republicans already didn’t like her, but what turned them forever against her?

Cookies.

An offhand remark in which Hillary said she could have chosen to stay at home, baking cookies and having teas, but she had decided instead to pursue her career and her god-given potential (something she would later insist on for all women and children of the world). This caused Republican heads to explode all across the country. Nothing more than this. And this would lead to a 30-year obsession with bringing down the evil Hillary Clinton.

I thought it was amazing. Here was a strong, smart, independent woman who showed that being married didn’t just mean that “the two shall become one,” but that – even better – the two shall become a stronger two! A strong, smart woman with upside potential to do anything, be anything she wanted. I would have happily voted for her to be president in 2000.

Hillary would eventually run and win a seat in the Senate from New York, and I didn’t pay close attention to those years. I do know that (despite a national obsession with proving guilt – any guilt) she was able to work well with opposition Senators, some who would later praise her work in that body. I also know that she would cast a vote that I myself would have cast, because of false information (lies) fed to her and to us. This vote would be used to later cast her as a “warmonger,” even though 99.9% of all Americans would have cast the very same vote.

When she ran in 2008, I smiled as I voted for her in the Pennsylvania primary, and was saddened when a young Barack Obama denied her the nomination. But, just as Hillary timely turned her full attention and support to electing Obama, I did, too. When Obama tapped her to be Secretary of State, it was surprising but not – who better to fill that role? And Hillary did a masterful job, enjoying an impressive job approval rating across party lines. Even while Congressional Republicans were trying to vilify, investigate, and interrogate, the American public thought she was an excellent Secretary of State.

And this high approval rating remained until Hillary declared her intention to run again in 2015.

There is no question that Hillary Clinton was a lightning rod. Men who were somehow threatened by a strong, independent woman HATED her. She was held to a standard that no human being in history has had to match, but she not only matched it, she beat it. Every time.

Benghazi committeeFour men died in Benghazi. Republicans spent millions in taxpayer money and nine (?) Congressional hearings trying to prove Hillary was guilty of … something. But there was never anything. Many, many more people died during the Bush administration without a single word from Congress.

Hillary testifying Benghazi committee

Hillary sent emails. Again, millions in taxpayer dollars were spent in multiple investigations to find … nothing. In the end, FBI Director Comey would admit that there was no cause to pursue criminal charges against Clinton. Even so, Republicans and even Trump would repeat the refrain “33,000 emails deleted,” as if this meant anything. The Bush admnistration deleted MILLIONS of emails, but I don’t recall a single inquiry.

The Clinton Foundation, from which Hillary had removed herself during her stint as Secretary of State, was accused of taking money from despots in exchange for attention from the Secretary – pay for play. Again, an investigation revealed… nothing. There was no indication of anything improper in this Foundation, which was doing global good, particularly in fighting AIDS in Africa. There was no quid pro quo, there was no huge stream of funds leaving the Foundation for the Clintons’ personal checking account. Nothing. Meanwhile, the Trump Foundation was an absolute fraud, found to be illegally soliciting funds in New York, its funds used for questionable purposes by Trump, himself, but all of the news coverage was of the Clintons.

When Hillary began her campaign in 2015, she WAS the presumptive nominee. There was some talk of Joe Biden getting into the race, but that (under very unfortunate circumstances) would not happen. There were a couple of small players who committed to the race, but they would soon drop out. No, this was Hillary’s nomination until…

Bernie Jumps In

Bernie Sanders entered the race. Bernie Sanders took great pride in being an Independent. but when he wanted to launch a campaign, he admittedly switched party affiliation to Democrat in order to make use of the party’s capabilities. He had no problem USING the Democratic Party to sustain his campaign against Hillary Clinton, later to condemn that same party for showing favoritism for Hillary. The Party made no moves against Sanders, did nothing to overtly hurt his campaign, but his charges against the Party stuck with his faithful, who still to this day believe that the nomination was somehow stolen from him. (Stolen by millions and millions of voters, who were all in on the conspiracy.)

The other failing of Bernie Sanders was in not turning to support Clinton when it was obvious that his campaign would fall short. The entire world was aghast as Sanders continued his campaign right up to the convention, creating a divided party at just the time a nominee should be enjoying a public bump and a united launch into the general election.

Bernie Sanders hurt Hillary’s campaign as much as any other force against her. Without his interference, or even without his unusually long campaign into the convention, I contend that Hillary Clinton would have been the 45th President of the United States.

In the general election, Donald Trump tried his best to give the media things to focus on, but Wikileaks (that alleged rapist of Swedish women) was given some EMAILS from the DNC, which they made public little by little, so as to keep the media engaged over time. They would later also acquire emails from Hillary’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, to ensure that no one in the media would pay any attention to Trump’s ongoing list of fails.

The fact that these leaks (stolen emails, actually) would come from Russian sources, and that the Russians hacked the DNC, and that the Russians were in communication with the Trump campaign, would normally be a case-closer. But in 2016, this was treated as just another day in TrumpWorld. The staunchly anti-Putin GOP suddenly had no problems at all with any of this.

Through three debates, Hillary Clinton proved herself to be unquestionably more ready to be Commander in Chief. In fact, once the infamous Access Hollywood tape of Trump (the pussy grabber) on the bus hit the streets, it appeared Trump had finally reached the low bar that could not be crossed, and Hillary was on her way to the White House.

But…

Director Comey said he found some more emails.

Comey finds more emailsA week before the election, in violation of EVERYTHING WE HOLD SACRED, Comey dropped a letter claiming to have found more emails that “might” have something to do with the earlier investigation. Or not. We don’t know.

So. Despite Trump’s mob ties, his shady dealings and subsequent bankruptcy in Atlantic City, his use of imported Chinese steel, having his clothing and branded items manufactured overseas, his serial cheating on multiple wives, his ranking as The Biggest Liar of all 20 candidates in the 2016 campaign, his bragging about grabbing women’s pussies… Despite all of that AND the Trump campaign being in league with Vladimir Putin and Russian intelligence, Hillary lost the election because she might have sent an email.

This would happen to NO ONE ELSE.

A strong, smart, independent woman ran for President of the United States of America and a unique set of forces rose to deny her that office.

Donald Trump, an obvious racist, took much of the white vote. Whites were driven by fear and hate to vote for Trump, who painted a picture of the future that was their worst nightmare – minority status (laughingly a.k.a. “white genocide”). Mexicans were streaming across the border to take their jobs and rape their wives. Muslims were streaming into the country to explode into random killing sprees. “The Blacks,” as always, were a threat because… uh… because they were black. (?) So whites cowered in the voting booths and voted Trump, even those who would never, ever have admitted that they would vote for Trump.

61,000,000 Americans voted for a racist or, at the very least, for racism. I won’t say that all 61,000,000 ARE racists, but I’d say that at least half of those basket cases are deplorable.

So. Hillary had to go up against:
Congress, Benghazi committees
State Department investigation of emails
Bernie and the BernieBros
FBI investigations of emails
Wikileaks
The Russians
and a whole, hell of a lot of racists. And still she ended up with almost 3,000,000 more votes than Trump, but a second place finish.

Thank you, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for all that you’ve done throughout a lifetime, on behalf of the people of the United States. I am sorry that we have treated you so poorly. You never deserved this. It saddens me greatly that I will not have the opportunity to see what you could do as President.

And America… Sometimes you really, really piss me off.

back to TOP

It Seems to Me… (1)

People like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, now Alex Jones… All worked very hard to bring about the environment in which a Donald Trump presidency is possible. All have done serious damage to our country. All see themselves as patriots. One is currently on a Rehabilitation Tour, almost asking for America’s forgiveness.

They embraced the conservative movement.
When it was clear that the Tea Party had taken control, they embraced the Tea Party and fanned the flames.
In 2012, they hated the moderate Mitt Romney until it became clear that Romney would win the nomination.
Of the 16 (or more?) candidates who declared on the Republican side in 2015, only the most extreme earned their attention. The ones who were “mainstream” or “establishment” were reviled. No, the more insane the better.

They appealed not to the best in us, but to the worst.
They appealed to the christians who were fueled by hate by threatening them with Muslims and blacks (always the blacks).
They appealed to the whites who feared being marginalized by threatening them with Mexicans.
They appealed to the working class by threatening them with the poor or the “urban.”

This is not America.

Yet all of these privileged white men are becoming fantastically wealthy by mining the “gold in them thar hills.” They are getting rich by accurately gauging the gullibility of the American electorate.

The poor white working stiff who was fooled into voting for Donald Trump will never be allowed into Glenn Beck’s gated community. The armed-to-the-teeth racist who is foaming at the mouth about the Jews will never be allowed anywhere near Bill O’Reilly’s home (even if he could find it).

All of these privileged white men are laughing at the rubes and yahoos who buy into their schtick, while cashing their checks and enjoying the Good Life.

That is not to say that the Left doesn’t also have their rabble-rousers. When the Sanders campaign began to take off, it was embraced by the most “progressive” voices, oddly also somewhat racist and misogynist.

It is said (by me) that when the Left becomes extreme enough, it eventually meets the extreme Right coming around from the other side.

The vast bulk of America, I believe, is still left-of-center and right-of-center. In presidential politics, it is the extremes that get all of the attention.

People like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and now Alex Jones make a very good living by shouting to the extremes.

That’s how it seems to me.

Gaffe? Hardly

Basket of Deplorables

Is Hillary’s basket a gaffe? Is it on par with Romney’s 47% or Trump’s own 50% of America who just don’t want to work? I say no. It is well known that Trump’s campaign clarion call has brought forth all of the worst of America, emboldening them to storm social media in search of Others and Disagreers.

For the record, this is what Hillary said:

“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric. Now some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.

“But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.

(Emphasis mine)

Trump’s supporters are (judging by primary voting, and I’m being generous) 40% of the Republican voters. Republican voters are (I’m being generous) 40% of the adult U.S. population. The adult U.S. population is 75% of the whole. Ipso facto and ergo, the “basket of deplorables” would contain about 20 million Americans. Anyone who wants to debate that the racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, and islamophobes do NOT amount to 20 million Americans, have at it.

Judging by what I see on Twitter alone, the 20 million figure is WAY low. And Hillary was being kind.

This is classic Hillary. Just as with her oft-misquoted statement about Sanders supporters as “basement dwellers,” she starts off with harsh reality (truth) and then moves to a kinder, gentler, inclusive appeal to our better natures. Classic GOP reaction is to quote out of context and say, “See – she’s every bit as evil as we’ve been trying to convince you over the past 25 years.”

The Deplorables will never, ever see Hillary as she really is. And in the words of the great Donald Trump, “Sad.”

The 2016 Campaign

It’s been a very long campaign period.

I’m one of those politics junkies. I pay attention all the time, but every four years I enjoy the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Championships of politics, the race for President of the United States. With one month remaining, a look back is warranted.

NOTE: On an individual level, the most important elections are local, then state. Our priorities are upside down – local elections draw the worst turnout, state election vote totals are so-so, and the Presidential elections draw over 50% of eligible voters. While the President may be the “face of the nation,” it is our state and local officials who directly impact our lives.

For Democrats, especially, it is vital that we vote twice each year, every year.

The Democrats

Hillary Rodham Clinton filed to launch her campaign on April 13, 2015. At that moment, my mind was made up – she had my vote. I’ve been an admirer of Secretary Clinton since she broke the mold of the First Lady, drawing eternal hatred from the Republican Party. (google: clinton chocolate chip cookies)

Her term as Senator from the State of New York was marked by consistent bipartisan efforts. Even Republicans who had excoriated her found her easy to work with. Her stint as Secretary of State was rewarded with amazingly high approval ratings. It was only especially when she ran for President in 2008 and now 2016 that she was thoroughly vilified by the right, and then only because she was a WOMAN who had a clear shot at winning the Oval Office. In fact, it is my opinion that Hillary’s being a WOMAN clearly qualified for the office helped Barack Obama become the first African American president. Misogyny trumped racism. This is not to say that Obama was not deserving of the office; quite the contrary. I’m just making up the fact that more voters were opposed to electing a woman than were opposed to electing a black man. Remember, Obama was “cool” and Hillary was “bitchy.” Coulda smiled more, too…

Misogyny –
dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women

There is no debate that Hillary Clinton was the ordained 2016 Democratic Nominee for President before the race even began. With Obama nearing the end of his second term, the Democrats looked around for viable candidates and the single biggest name on the list was Hillary Clinton’s. There was talk of perhaps Joe Biden getting in, and he did toy with the idea, but that didn’t happen. Martin O’Malley declared, but it is typical that people with no real shot would play at running for president. The little-known Lawrence Lessig, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb would pretend to run for about four months, but all three exited before the primaries began. No, in the beginning, the nomination was Hillary’s.

We all knew that. This was the presumption, and the Democratic Party people no doubt thought they’d have an easy time of it, while the Republicans battled it out. They would only have to become involved when the Republican candidate was named and the general election period began.

Out of nowhere, Bernie Sanders – seizing upon the historic wealth inequality and hatred of all things Wall Street – switched his party affiliation from Independent to Democrat and announced his intention to run. Not only did he launch a serious campaign that damaged the presumptive nominee, but he stayed in the race far longer than he should have, damaging our candidate even more. Sanders did no favors for the Democratic Party, but then Sanders was no Democrat. He was simply (admittedly) using the party as a basis for his campaign and the reach it afforded him.

In the end, millions more Democrats came down on the side of Hillary Clinton and the primary season ended with a groan. The Democratic Convention at which Clinton accepted the nomination was far more divided than it should have been.

Books will be written about the Clinton v. Sanders primaries, coming down on both sides, I’m sure.

The Republicans

Wow. What a shit-show.

The 2012 primaries were memorable and remarkable for the incredible (and incredibly incompetent) slate of candidates (“Oops”) that produced a nominee no one really wanted, Mitt Romney. Not so much a winner as “last man standing,” Romney was no one’s prediction as the winner and he stood as the absolute opposite of the incumbent president. The choice of Romney made no sense whatsoever, and was taken as a full repudiation of the “Republican establishment.” No lesson learned in 2012, we’d do it all again in 2016. (Remember the Republican “autopsy,” Jindal’s warning about “The Party of Stupid.” All for naught.)

The first announced candidate for the 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination was Mark Everson, former commissioner of the IRS, in March 2015. (For 6 months in 2007, Everson was President/CEO of the American Red Cross, but was asked to resign after he had a “personal relationship with a subordinate employee.” Otherwise, he bopped around in various capacities during the Reagan and Bush 43 administrations.)

Shortly after Everson’s declaration, Ted (The Evil One) Cruz threw his hat in the ring, and the race was on.

Eventually, we would have (16) Republican candidates and debates would be split into two groups: the main stage debates and the little kids’ table. While the undercard (why are they even hanging around?) drew little attention and wasn’t even a warm-up for the “grown-ups,” the main events were an entertaining show of candidates either attacking each other or begging for attention. Very little of substance or policy, but lots of great zingers. Ironically, the man with the worst zingers – real grade-school playground insults – would best them all! Gutless cowards, from “little” Marco to “low energy” Jeb! to “lyin'” Ted Cruz (let us not forget Carly Fiorina with “that face”) had no clue how to fend off the brilliant logistical strategery that was Trump’s ambush style of name-calling.

Looking at this list of all-stars and judging them on their policy positions, here is my ranking of the Republican candidates in order of acceptability. If I had to, I could have held my nose and voted for Pataki, perhaps even Jeb! After that, almost all of the rest are unacceptable, from the incompetent to the dangerous. It is not a mistake that the eventual nominee is the least acceptable of all of these candidates.

George Pataki (Gov. NY)
Jeb Bush (Gov. FL)
Jim Gilmore (Gov. VA)
John Kasich (Gov. OH)
Rand Paul (Sen. KY)
Carly Fiorina (CEO HP)
Lindsey Graham (Sen. SC)
Marco Rubio (Sen. FL)
Ben Carson (Dr. Brains)
Mike Huckabee (Gov. AR)
Rick Perry (Gov. TX)
Rick Santorum (Sen. PA)
Bobby Jindal (Gov. LA)
Scott Walker (Gov. WI)
Chris “Reek” Christie (Gov. NJ)
Ted Cruz (Sen. TX)
Donald Trump (CEO Trump)

Donald Trump ran the anti-campaign. Many of us were convinced that he was in it just for the publicity, that he never seriously wanted the job. He ran a campaign that seemed designed to fail – a series of gaffes, misstatements, and outright outrages which would have ended anyone else’s campaign only seemed to reinvigorate his. He attracted the worst among us – truly a “basket of deplorables,” and his main base of support was just “undereducated, older, white males,” obviously racists, obviously women-haters, obviously afraid of anyone who would want to come into the country.

We then thought he was in it for the money – repay the “loans” he made to the campaign out of the donations from the masses, then collect the rest when he got out and call it a day.

I cannot envision the Con Man actually taking the job of POTUS or even attempting to. He’s not a grunt, he’s the front man. He’s the glad-hander, not the policy wonk. He famously offered Kasich the day-to-day chores of the presidency, which would fit my impression of him, and one has to wonder if he made the same deal with Pence. The ultimate delegator.

There should have been no way that Trump would win the nomination, but I (and everyone else) severely overestimated the Republican electorate. There was no low bar that Trump could trip over. There was nothing so horrible that he could say that would lose him a single vote.

But here we are.

The Democratic Party is in good shape going forward. As the Republicans have moved further and further right, the Democrats were becoming more centric. The 2016 campaign gave the Democrats a firm tug back to the left, to the progressive liberal roots of the party.

The Republican Party is in ruins, in disgrace, in flight. After Trump fails, who is left to raise the banner of the party? Who has not soiled themselves by embracing or promoting this clown of a candidate? Who still has any gravitas, any bearing to take the Republican Party into the future? Has the party had enough of the ultra-right wing, the Tea Party / alt-Right? Can the so-called “moderate Republicans” reclaim the party, or is it time to blow it all up and start over?

As I write this*, anticipating the 2nd debate (a town hall, in which Hillary should cement her election), I am expecting Hillary Clinton to win, to become POTUS45, the first woman to hold the office. Given her record, she is the ONE person who can bridge the divide and get the government moving again. Expect the Republicans to throw a hissy fit, but they’ll come around eventually.

It would help greatly if the Democrats can at least reclaim the Senate. After all, imagine a Republican Senate blocking Supreme Court nominations for the next eight years…

* Actually, as I write THIS, a 2005 video from Access Hollywood has surfaced, showing exactly what Trump’s attitude toward women truly is. This is a billboard, there is no walking back from this. This is who he is. This, finally, should end this threat to America.

It’s a toad

pepeThe idiots in the alt-right seem to have conscripted the image of a frog (“Pepe”) as their symbol. First of all, it’s a cartoon frog, and not all that good looking, either. Second, as someone who identies with frogs, I would point out that frogs are not inherently racist. Green frogs, brown frogs, purple treefrogs, they don’t see color. They just see frog.

avatar_120Some folks see my Twitter profile image (AVI, avatar), which is taken directly from this website’s main banner image, and wonder if I’m sending out alt-right signals. NO. I am not in any way identifying with drooling morons who seem to think that a lack of melanin is enough to make them the Superior Race.

But the truth may be more disturbing.

Five years ago, I was still a smoker and had a black lab. Anyone with a dog knows that they like to go outside A LOT, but that was fine with me – I called it “smoke break.” Most evenings, our “last out” was around 9:30 at night, before we settled in to sleep.

You should know that I’m also an avid amateur photographer. On a summer evening, our back patio lights were the only game in town, and they attracted a wide variety of insects, winged or not. My rule was, if you come onto my property, you get photographed. I spent many a “last out” trying to perfect my insect close-ups. One night, Dog and I went out for a smoke break, and I almost stepped on a new visitor.

Toad

A small toad had come by, hoping to make a meal of the insects on my patio. “You come onto my property, you get photographed.” I went back inside to grab my camera with macro lens, and tried to get a good photo of Toad in the semi-darkness. Soon found out that a tripod and flash were also necessary. (Duh)

Toad

Now, I have to say that Toad was an excellent subject. She could sit for a good long time, which gave me the time I needed to fumble with my equipment. Normally, if she was out there at the 9:30 “out,” she would still be there when I went out for my last cigarette around 11:00. I took a lot of photos, trying to get a really good one. My son (also a smoker) and I got to talking one night, and we Googled up toads and identified this one as female. (No, something to do with the front legs, actually.) So I had a girl toad.

(As I type this, a deer is walking past my patio.)

Toad

Toad came by most nights, and in fact seemed to be putting on weight. As payment for our photo sessions, I would often knock down some of the bigger, juicier bugs for her – not killed them, but made them easier to catch. We became quite a team over time. She was always terrified of me, but the prospect of a full meal kept her coming around. When Fall arrived, she stopped coming by, and I haven’t seen her since.

Toad

My website’s name is derived from “treefrog,” the small, colorful frogs that have always fascinated me. I don’t have any photos of treefrogs of my own, so I use a picture of this toad. I think it’s funny.

But for those of you who question whether I’m racist, no, I just like toads.

No. 5 Will Always Love You

Donovan McNabb has just been nominated for induction into the National Football League Hall of Fame.

As a fan of a certain age, I can break down Eagles history into three parts: pre-Andy Reid, Andy Reid, and post-Andy Reid.

Pre-Andy Reid

Jeffrey Lurie bought the Philadelphia Eagles in 1994, just in time for nobody’s favorite head coach Rich Kotite to decide it was time to negotiate a contract extension. Kotite had the bad luck of following Buddy Ryan, who WAS a fan favorite (although he never won squat), and his four seasons were lackluster at best. After the Eagles started the 1994 season at 7-2, Lurie said he wouldn’t renew Kotite’s contract, Kotite declared his intention to “explore his options,” and the team fell apart, losing all of the remaining seven games to finish 7-9. The chemistry between Kotite and the new owner (let alone the fans) was never good, and Lurie wasted no time in firing Kotite the day after the final game of 1994. It was Kotite’s only losing season.

People are coming to your house, trying to break into your house, probably sodomize your wife and kids and you don’t do anything about it. –Ray Rhodes

After interviewing several top-level prospects (including the possible return to the NFL of Dick Vermeil), Lurie chose the defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers, Ray Rhodes, to reconstruct the Eagles team. A large portion of Kotite’s team was cut and replaced with journeymen free agents, and Rhodes, with his bluster and bravado about rapists breaking into the house and sodomizing the players’ wives, would put together a pair of 10-6 seasons, taking the team back to the playoffs each time. Rhodes was hailed as a savior, NFL Coach of the Year, and could have successfully run for mayor of Philadelphia after his first season. His second season ended with a loss in the Wild Card playoff game, and the following two seasons continued a downward trend (6-9-1, then 3-13), and Rhodes soon wore out his own welcome.

Andy Reid

After the meteoric rise and just-as-meteoric fall of coach Rhodes, Lurie began again the search for a new coach to lead the Philadelphia Eagles. He had a chance this time to truly pick “his man” to finally take the team to the Promised Land. To everyone’s surprise, he chose the quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers, Andy Reid, who was on no one’s radar as a possibility. Reid had apparently created a buzz within the NFL as “someone to watch,” but he was a virtual unknown outside the biz.

Eagles fans were stunned, not knowing what to think. In the end, we decided that we’d be patient with the new coach, just happy that Rhodes was gone. Patient, at least, until the NFL Draft in April.

Because of the 3-13 record in 1998, new coach Reid found himself holding the 2nd pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. Having worked so well with Brett Favre, Reid knew that the best foundation of an NFL team was a solid and talented quarterback, and he had several top picks in front of him. 1999 was supposedly extra deep in great young quarterbacks coming out of college. Reid decided on Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb. Tim Couch (KY) was chosen first by the Browns, Akili Smith (Oregon – remember him?) went as the 3rd pick to the Bengals. Daunte Culpepper and Cade McNown followed at picks 11 and 12 to Minnesota and Chicago, respectively, for a total of five quarterbacks taken in just the first round of the draft. Of all five, McNabb unquestionably had the longest and best career in the NFL.

Picked No. 2 overall, McNabb was infamously booed by Philly rowdies. They were not booing McNabb, per se, but rather the pick. These fans had fallen in love with the flash and sizzle of running back Ricky Williams and fully expected the Eagles to swoop him up. Coach Reid instead went for the meat and potatoes of a promising rookie quarterback, dashing those dreams. McNabb was not booed, the lack of Ricky Williams was. Still, the booing of McNabb is all that anyone would remember, especially Donovan McNabb.

Coach Reid also knew that a quarterback is only as good as the offensive line in front of him, and so spent two more high draft picks there: Doug Brzezinski (G) and John Welbourn (T).

At the Lehigh training camp that year, I remember watching the quarterbacks warming up. Doug Pederson was the named starter, brought out from Green Bay by new head coach Andy Reid. He was competent, threw a nice ball, certainly on target (given the lack of any defensive pass rush). Then the backup Ty Detmer warmed up, and was singularly unimpressive. Finally, it was the rookie’s turn. ZIP. He threw a bullet so fast that if you blinked, you missed it. As I watched him, I believed that I was watching a thoroughbred among the plodders, someone who was born to be an NFL quarterback. (I don’t overstate – I was amazed.)

The 1999 season saw Doug Pederson start out 0-4, with the rookie McNabb seeing limited action in the second half of the second game. After 0-4 became a 2-7 record, Coach Reid, deciding that the season was lost anyway, finally threw McNabb in as a starting quarterback in game 10 against the Washington Redskins. Even with a poor passing performance, McNabb would win the game 35-28, and the legend of Donovan McNabb was born.

After his rookie season, McNabb and the Eagles would put together a string of amazing years. In 2000, the Eagles went 11-5, won a Wild Card playoff game, then lost in the Divisional round. In 2001, another 11-5 record, and then all the way to the NFC Championship Game. They lost, but the fans didn’t really expect a win that year. 2002, 12-4, and another trip to the NFC Championship. This time, we fully expected the Eagles to go on to the Super Bowl, but the lowly Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who “never win in cold weather”) would surprise everyone. Okay, then in 2003 another 12-4 record, and another NFC Championship Game. This time, for sure. But no, the stinkin’ Carolina Panthers – the PANTHERS – would beat the Eagles and end their season. Great. Finally in 2004, the Eagles ran up a 13-3* record, FINALLY got over the NFC Championship Game by beating the Atlanta Falcons (with Michael Vick), and went on to a Super Bowl appearance. Of course, the AFC was represented by the New England Patriots, and although the Eagles were in the game the whole way, they could not steal a win. (*The Eagles could actually have gone 15-1 that year, but for resting starters in their final two games, once home field advantage had been sewn up. See “The Myth of Terrell Owens.”)

Super Bowl XXXIX

That five-year stretch, as historically amazing as it was, defined McNabb’s tenure in Philadelphia. The four NFC Championship appearances should have been joyful, but were actually very frustrating and defeating for the fans. It seemed we would never “get over the hump,” and then when we did, we couldn’t “seal the deal.” As Philadelphia fans, we could make fun of the Buffalo Bills fans – their team was in FOUR STRAIGHT Super Bowls, but could never win one of them. We would have traded places with them gladly, but that was until we tasted consecutive defeats, ourselves. The fans soured on McNabb.

Donovan McNabb would go on to break almost every record (if not every record) by Eagles quarterbacks. His four straight appearances at the NFC Championship Game was an historic achievement for the Eagles, however frustrating, and his trip to one Super Bowl put him in the pantheon with Ron “Jaws” Jaworski (both lost). His head coach, Andy Reid, should have been as beloved in Philadelphia as the previous coach to take an Eagles team to the Super Bowl, Dick Vermeil. (Both coaches have an “ei” combination in their last names. Coincidence? I don’t think so.)

For Eagles fans who hadn’t seen a championship team since the pre-merged-NFL 1960 game at Franklin Field (so long ago that Lambeau Field was still called City Stadium), just “getting to” a Super Bowl was legend. Ron Jaworski lost a Super Bowl, but probably still can’t buy a drink in Philly with his own money. Dick Vermeil burned out and left coaching to broadcast college football games for 15 years, before finally getting back into coaching with the St. Louis Rams (won a Super Bowl) and Kansas City Chiefs. Even so, he is beloved by Eagles fans and will always be known as an Eagles coach.

One wonders what McNabb’s legacy would have been, had he retired after the 2004 season.

2005 was the Year of the Terrible Terrell, in which wide receiver Terrell Owens threw a hissy fit and destroyed the chemistry of the team. In 2005 through 2007, McNabb suffered a series of injuries that put him on the sidelines for long stretches. During this time, his backup, Jeff Garcia, became a Philly folk hero, A.J. Feeley became the Next Great Hope, and even the upcoming rookie Kevin Kolb (NOT the “quarterback of the future”) saw some playing time. After three subpar seasons, McNabb returned to form in 2008, and the Eagles once again made it to an NFC Championship game. But that would prove to be the denouement to McNabb’s career in Philadelphia, and he would ultimately be traded to the Washington Redskins in 2010.

Andy Reid would play merry-go-round with quarterbacks Jeff Garcia, A.J. Feeley, Kevin Kolb, and then finally settle on a reconstituted Michael Vick going forward. But he could never recapture the gold of the early years, and the Eagles would suffer diminishing returns from 2009 through Reid’s last year 2012.

Hanging over McNabb always was the hurt of having been booed and the constant fan appraisal that he “didn’t have the fire,” didn’t burn to win. He was a more cerebral quarterback than we were used to, less emotional. Like his coach, McNabb’s press conferences were almost always a flat monotone, with hesitant, considered answers, and we related this to his style of play. Even though McNabb and the West Coast style of offense kept winning and winning, it was, in the final sum, boring. This was dry, technical football, devoid of the highs and lows, by comparison, of the Buddy Ryan teams that Philly loved. And when the team could no longer put together a drive toward the Super Bowl, the love affair was over.

Football is, after all, entertainment. If it’s not fun to watch, it stops being entertaining.

McNabb would move on, and Andy Reid would hang around a few more years too long.

Post-Andy Reid

Jeffrey Lurie always found one reason or another to keep Reid around for one more year, but eventually had to cut ties with him after the 2012 season.

That year, all of the talk was about the Greatest College Coach of All Time, Chip Kelly. Lurie entered the lottery of teams trying to sign him and eventually did. Unfortunately, over the course of three seasons, Kelly would completely dismantle and lay waste to the Eagles football team. His act wore thin quickly, and three years was enough for Lurie. The personnel moves and coaching style were far too questionable for the owner and the fans, and so Kelly had to go.

So now we return to the Andy Reid school, and his offensive coordinator (and former Eagles quarterback) Doug Pederson is now strolling the sidelines in Philadelphia. In a bit of deja vu, Pederson maneuvered his way to the 2nd pick overall in the draft and chose his own quarterback, Carson Wentz. The pick made Eagles fandom say “huh?” as Wentz comes out of a Division I (FCS) school, not even the FBS level division, but I don’t think it was booed. Luckily, Wentz starts out with a fairly good offensive line in front of him. He played so unexpectedly well in his first game that his No. 11 jersey became the best-selling NFL jersey over the following week and the Monday Night Football crew in Game 2 couldn’t stop praising his name to the heavens. (Thankfully, he played just as well on MNF!)

Time will tell whether Pederson and Wentz can come close to duplicating what Reid and McNabb accomplished in Philadelphia, but they’re off to a good start. Mighty big shoes to fill.

Donovan McNabb compiled 16 playoff games, including (5) NFC East division titles, the (5) NFC Championship appearances (1 win), and a Super Bowl appearance. His career stats and achievements, including Eagles records held, are at Wikipedia.

McNabb was inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame and his No. 5 jersey was officially retired.

New England’s Tom Brady, no matter what he may or may not have done, will go into the Hall of Fame the day after he finally hangs up his cleats. He is arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game. A case can be made either way as to whether Donovan McNabb, without a Super Bowl win, deserves to be inducted. But I keep saying that McNabb had better make it into the Hall of Fame, because if he doesn’t, then Tony Romo, the greatest quarterback to never win a damn thing, has NO shot.

(I should also point out that another nominee for the Hall this year is our old friend, No. 12 Randall Cunningham. I’d like to see him in there, as he defined the “entertainment” of football.)

The Eagles players nominated for induction into the Hall in 2017 include 1st-time nominees Brian Dawkins (a shoe-in) and Donovan McNabb. Also includes previously nominated and instantly recognizable players Terrell Owens (finalist in 2016), Eric Allen, Seth Joyner, Ricky Watters, Troy Vincent, Sean Landeta, and Brian Mitchell.

Year Record Result   Division Winner
1999 5-11   McNabb named starter Game 10 Redskins
2000 11-5 Playoffs Wild Card
Divisional (L, Giants)
Giants
2001 11-5 NFC East Wild Card
Divisional
NFC Championship (L, St. Louis)
Eagles
2002 12-4 NFC East Divisional
NFC Championship (L, Tampa Bay)
Eagles
2003 12-4 NFC East Divisional
NFC Championship (L, Carolina)
Eagles
2004 13-3 NFC East Divisional
NFC Championship (W, Atlanta)
Super Bowl (L, New England)
Eagles
2005 6-10     Giants
2006 10-6 NFC East Wild Card
Divisional (L, New Orleans)
Eagles
2007 8-8     Giants
2008 9-6-1 Playoffs Wild Card
Divisional
NFC Championship (L, Arizona)
Giants
2009 11-5 Playoffs Wild Card (L, Dallas)
Goodbye, Donovan
Cowboys
2010 10-6 NFC East Wild Card (L, Green Bay) Eagles
2011 8-8     Giants
2012 4-12   Goodbye, Andy Reid.
Hello, Chip Kelly
Redskins
2013 10-6 NFC East Wild Card (L, New Orleans) Eagles
2014 10-6     Cowboys
2015 7-9   Goodbye Chip Kelly.
Hello, Doug Pederson
Redskins

VOTE, dammit (part 2)

Donald Trump thinks he’s going to carry Pennsylvania.

Democrats in Pennsylvania think of the state as a Blue State. Republicans think of it as Purple. The Republicans are correct. Although Pennsylvania tends to “lean Democratic,” Republicans can and have won the state.

The last time a presidential election ended up with Pennsylvania’s electoral votes in the Republican column was in 1988 – George H.W. Bush against a weak Michael Dukakis. Any Pennsylvanian who is 28 or younger today might assume that the state always votes Democratic. Don’t be so sure.

Looking at the six presidential elections since, the Democrat/Republican split in the Pennsylvania vote is far closer than we’d think. No Republican has won Pennsylvania in these contests, but the margin of victory is as little as 150,000 votes. Pennsylvania is about to be swamped with political ads, robocalls, door knockers, and blog posts (like this one), because the state would be an absolute plum for the Trumpers and a must-win for Clinton.

…The Democrats…for whatever reason, stayed home in 2010. The Republicans didn’t.

The Democrats can usually count on winning the cities – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, and perhaps Scranton, while the Republicans are left with all of the rest. The quote attributed to James Carville, “Pennsylvania is Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between,” is not far off. Pennsyltucky. Journalist Tom Ferrick wrote an excellent breakdown of just how Trump could (but probably won’t) win Pennsylvania.

Purple State

After Obama was first elected in 2008, the Democrats seemed to think “mission accomplished” and, for whatever reason, stayed home in 2010. The Republicans didn’t. The State House and Senate turned BRIGHT RED, along with a Republican governor to succeed Ed Rendell. Immediately, when not chipping away at abortion rights or giving tax breaks and subsidies to their wealthy patrons, the Republicans thought of how they might suppress the Democratic vote to ensure continued Republican wins. Witness Voter ID requirements and similar new burdens enacted throughout the Republican-controlled states. (Alternately, Democratic-controlled states are looking at increasing voter registration through Motor/Voter laws, even automatic registration on 18th birthday.)

In 2010, Corbett beat a Democrat no one remembers by about 350,000 votes. In that same election, the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat went to Pat Toomey (over Joe Sestak) by a margin of only 80,200 votes – out of almost 4,000,000 cast. That’s close! (Toomey was formerly president of the ironically named Club for Growth, an organization which opposed every measure put forth by both Bush and Obama to help recover the economy. Club for Growth’s answer to the Great Recession: “I’ve got mine and I’m keeping it. You’re all on your own.”)

Gerrymandering

Whichever party controls the State General Assembly in the beginning of a decade (a la 2010) gets to redraw Congressional districts. The Republicans swept into office in the 2010 elections were the ones who got to control who gets to vote in which district, thereby ensuring their own re-election in years to come and keeping Democratic voters to a majority in as few districts as possible. This PDF map shows the pure art form that is Republican district mapping. Take special note of the districts around the major urban areas of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This accounts for the fact that Pennsylvania’s contingent to the U. S. House of Representatives is made up of only 5 Democrats but 13 Republicans, despite being a majority Democratic state. The fix is in, and will be for many years to come. Unless the Democratic Party can reclaim the General Assembly by 2020 (improbable), the Republicans will continue to control the state government for at least another decade.

District 6

The Sixth District (above) is a work of art. Spans four counties to ensure a majority Republican vote for the next several centuries.

If you don’t know whether you are eligible to vote in Pennsylvania, click here for the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Voter Registration services. It’s quick and easy.

Blue Since ’92

Here are the results from Pennsylvania over the last six presidential contests compared to national votes.

Bill Clinton won his 1992 race, but benefitted in large part from the insurgent campaign of Ross Perot. George H.W. Bush might easily have won re-election but for Perot.

1992 Total U.S. Percentage Electoral Votes Total PA Percentage
Clinton 44,909,806 43.0% 370 2,239,164 45.15%
Bush 39,104,550 37.4% 168 1,791,841 36.13%
Perot 19,743,821 18.9% 0 902,667 18.20%

In 1996, Clinton increased his vote total, while the Republican total remained flat. Insurgent voters seem to have cooled on Perot, with perhaps some of them ending up in Clinton’s column. Still, Clinton was re-elected easily.

1996 Total U.S. Percentage Electoral Votes Total PA Percentage
Clinton 47,401,185 49.2% 379 2,215,819 49.17%
Dole 39,197,469 40.7% 159 1,801,169 39.97%
Perot 8,085,294 8.4% 0 430,984 9.56%

The 2000 election was the one that went all the way to the Supreme Court. While Al Gore did compile a larger number of national votes, the all-important Electoral vote came down to the state of Florida (hanging chads). Whoever won this last state would win the presidency.

2000 Total U.S. Percentage Electoral Votes Total PA Percentage
Gore 50,999,897 48.38% 266 2,485,967 50.60%
Bush 50,456,002 47.87% 271 2,281,127 46.43%

Having endured the questionable 2000 election and the questionable invasion of Iraq, suddenly over 20,000,000 more voters came out of the woodwork for the 2004 race. Even so, the results were very close in the total of votes. Notice also that W won both times with a narrow victory in electoral votes.

2004 Total U.S. Percentage Electoral Votes Total PA Percentage
Bush 62,039,572 50.73% 286 2,793,847 48.42%
Kerry 59,027,115 48.26% 251 2,938,095 50.92%

The miracle of Obama’s first campaign was in getting millions more voters registered and getting them to the polls. Note that the Republican votes are down 2,000,000, while the Democrats total was UP by over 10,000,000.

2008 Total U.S. Percentage Electoral Votes Total PA Percentage
Obama 69,498,516 52.9% 365 3,276,363 54.47%
McCain 59,948,323 45.7% 173 2,655,885 44.15%

In 2012, Obama suffered voter disaffection, largely because of the historic Republican obstruction in Congress and the blowout Republican wins in the 2010 midterm elections. Even so, he was able to overcome a Romney challenge – but note how close the vote totals were. Even though Republicans were generally dissatisfied with Mitt Romney, they turned out in large numbers to pull the Republican lever.

2012 Total U.S. Percentage Electoral Votes Total PA Percentage
Obama 65,915,796 51.1% 332 2,990,274 51.97%
Romney 60,933,500 47.2% 206 2,680,434 46.59%

More dry numbers: As of the 2012 presidential election, Pennsylvania had 9,910,224 citizens of voting age. Of those, 8,508,015 were registered to vote (a healthy percentage), yet only 5,753,670 of us actually turned out.

As of this week, the breakdown of voter registration:
4,072,826 Democrat
3,155,935 Republican
674.460 Unaffiliated
427,374 All others

I SUSPECT (and I have no data to back this up) that a large portion of the unaffiliated are disaffected Republicans (like myself) who left the party because of recent events. This would be BEFORE the campaign of Donald Trump. So if they were disaffected before, they should be even more so now.

Donald Trump has managed to offend and antagonize virtually all groups of people except undereducated, older, white men. Yes, there are the exceptions that prove the rule, but by and large his base is what it is. The Democrats, seeing this, are fashioning an even larger tent to include Republicans unwilling to vote for Trump. More and more top-level Republicans are indicating that they may, just this once, vote for a Democrat, rather than allow Trump to embarrass us all for the next four years. I would suggest that this is exactly the way to go.

A sample of conservative columnists who agree:
Daniel Payne, The Federalist
Andrew Weinstein, Wall Street Journal
Donald Brand, Fortune

Two of the most common gerrymandering techniques are “packing” and “cracking.” In the first, the party in charge of redistricting tries to “pack” voters from the rival party into as few districts as possible, to minimize the number of seats the opposition is likely to win. In the second, blocs of opposition voters are parcelled out among several districts, to achieve the same goal.

Both techniques were brought to bear in Pennsylvania. The new Republican majority “packed” blue-leaning voters into a handful of districts around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Then it “cracked” the rest into districts that tilted red.

Drawing the Line
How redistricting turned America from blue to red.

By Elizabeth Kolbert

Lipstick

​The Republican Party (i.e.: the people who run the party) are about to try “putting lipstick on a pig,” if I can borrow from Half-Governor Palin. Throughout the convention and the 3½ months until November, they are going to try their hardest to get you to forget the entire last year. They will succeed with a large portion of Americans, whose collective memory is at best two months and those who will vote Republican no matter what.

The main-stream, lame-stream, liberal/conversative media is going to try to get you to forget, too. The storyline they want to push is that this race is extremely tight, could go either way. They’re going to point out every instance when Trump is “presidential,” while using code words for Hillary Clinton (you know, the bitchy words). Pay attention. Nobody is going to consume media if this becomes a lopsided, obvious-outcome race, so they will perpetuate the notion that it’s “coming down to the wire.” (It’s coming down to the wire.)

WE remember. WE don’t forget.

If your impression of Donald Trump is that he is a pig, a xenophobe, a misogynist, a racist, a fraud, a liar, a pig (did I say pig?), ignorant of the U.S. Constitution and federal laws and treaties, a cheat, a deadbeat, and on and on, you are correct.

From the day he descended the escalator into the realm of politics, he declared himself a bigot. With his very announcement speech (Mexicans, rapists, and some of them, I’m sure, are good), he rang a bell that the Pale Skin Militia could hear 3,000 miles away. Since then, he has managed to target one segment of the population after another, with the exception of stupid, older, white men (of which, ironically, I am one) and all who believe that a lack of melanin somehow conveys an innate biological superiority.

These men have no scruples, no honor, no self-respect, no dignity. And these are the men who want to choose as your next president the unstomachable Donald Trump.

This article (by Chris Kirk, Ian Prasad Philbrick, and Gabriel Roth at Slate.com) lists a STAGGERING number of missteps made by Trump over the last year. A mere 10 years ago, any one of these might have forced him out of the race. Today, all of these are absolutely acceptable to Republicans, as they now work their asses off to get this man into the White House.

And now the Party People think they can wrangle Trump, bend him to their will, and make him a much more appealing candidate for the general election. As disgusted as they’ve been, as #neverTrump as they’ve been, as humiliated as they’ve been, it’s all in the past and their one goal now is to DEFEAT HILLARY CLINTON. These men have no scruples, no honor, no self-respect, no dignity. And these are the men who want to choose as your next president the unstomachable Donald Trump. The guy with the tiny hands.

When you see Trump looking down and reading his speech, he’s reading the words that his handlers have written out for him. When he uses a teleprompter, he’s reading prepared text not his own. When he goes off script and begins to extemporize, his handlers cringe and we can all look forward to yet another newsworthy verbal faux pas that offends a whole lot of folks.

His chosen vice presidential candidate was not a Trump pick. Pence was put forward by the Party People in a deal for their support of Trump. Trump didn’t pick Pence, Trump doesn’t even like Pence. Trump’s introduction of his new “partner” showed that about as clearly as possible. The King of the Deal got outdealt by the political hacks. But Trump doesn’t give an orange crap about who the VP candidate is, since that’s outside of the scope of his attention – himself. VP is irrelevant. Trump is All.

(And if he wanted to assure that women would not vote Republican, the only candidate worse than Trump himself would be Pence. His record on women’s issues is a disaster.)

This might all just work.

When I see a poll that says that more Americans think Trump is more “honest” or “trustworthy” than Clinton, I know that I’ve given the American public too much credit. The fact-checkers (the people who check “facts”) rate Hillary the MOST truthful of all 20 candidates, far above “Lyin’ Donald” (also above Bernie, but that’s no longer relevant). The Republicans have spent 25 years painting Hillary as the Devil Incarnate, and it seems to have stuck with the majority of idiots – I mean, Americans. There are “articles” and videos all over the internet proclaiming Hillary to be a liar, an incompetent, ineffective, even a murderer. And yet, even after 128 Congressional inquiries and investigations, she’s still walking around free. And it drives them crazy. With every Republican attack, Hillary just gets stronger. Hillary Hulk.

Christian evangelists are voting for Trump, because they’re completely screwed up to begin with. These Christian evangelists are neither Christian nor evangelists. They are hate-filled radicals who cheer every insult of “others” and readily believe that Trump’s favorite book actually is The Bible, a book he’s never read (or owned, probably, before it was brought to his attention that he should oughta maybe have one). Every time he talks about how religious he is and always has been, he embarrasses himself. It is obvious how NOT religious he is.

The good news is that Christian evangelicals are not the major religious voting bloc. That award goes to the Unaffiliated (atheists, agnostics, people who choose not to pick one religion out of many). And the Unaffiliated are leaning heavily Democratic. While Christians profess to believe in an ancient alien (by definition) who hates all things Democratic, more and more are coming to see that that’s a whole lotta garbage that they can live without and that we all have more in common than we thought.

Gun worshippers think voting Trump is the way to go. May be, since he really doesn’t care about that, either, while the Democrats want sensical, popular restrictions. They love their guns above all else. Any side-eye is enough to get them riled up, as if the jack-booted thugs are comin’ to git their guns! I’m convinced that the gun worshippers, as a class, are among the stupidest, low-information voters there are. We’re all agreed that universal background checks should be routine, but if you try to pass that law, even the gun worshippers who SUPPORT that start screaming about chipping away at their 2nd Amendment rights and hug their guns even tighter.

WHEN we come to take away their guns (uh-huh), we should start with those who insist on Open Carry. Open Carry means that I can wear a holster, like in the Wild West, or sling a long gun over my shoulder while wearing my paramilitary gear or camo and go grocery shopping. But let’s think about this… Why would anyone want to carry a firearm out in the open in public?

1) They’re very afraid. Or
2) They’re looking for an excuse to use it.

If you’re not afraid, you don’t need to walk around with a gun. But, just like drawing a sword, if you carry it, you better be ready to use it. And look forward to it.

If there’s another reason, I don’t know it. But our collective insanity over guns is a topic for another day.

Economic conservatives are voting for Trump, thinking that he’s the answer to our sluggish economy. Yes, the man who exemplifies the flow of all money to the top is the very man who’s going to solve the problem of income inequality. In a lipstick-covered pig’s eye. He has no real plan (other than everything’s going to be great) and he’ll be surrounded by the same Republicans who’ve sabotaged the U.S. economy for the last 16 years. So what’s going to change? “He’s a great businessman.” He’s great at declaring bankruptcy, extracting millions for himself, and leaving thousands of workers holding an empty bag. This is the very picture of Wall Street greed that even rank-and-file Republicans are supposed to despise, but now they’ve nominated him as their candidate. Crazy.

Sentients will not be voting for Trump.

Women will not be voting for Trump. Aside from his piggishness (and tiny hands), Trump is not exactly an advocate for women’s causes. His new running mate is exactly OPPOSED to women’s causes. The Democratic candidate, on the other hand, has long been a voice for women, at home and around the globe. Hillary Clinton is famously a warrior for women’s health, education, workplace respect and dignity, and, of course, pay equity.

Educated people are not voting for Trump. Apparently, the least little bit of higher education imparts enough sense to avoid political candidates like Trump. Even college-educated white men are leaning Democratic. It’s obvious that colleges are teaching reading skills and, maybe, How to Use The Google 101.

Minorities are not voting for Trump. With only the rare exception, people of color are smarter than to vote for a man who has flat-out insulted them, threatened them, denigrated them. A recent poll showed that Trump’s share of black voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania was 0%. That’s a zero. Okay, it was rounded DOWN to zero, but that’s still really close to zero. (Psst – the very concept of zero came from the Arabic peoples, by the way.) Minorities are not just knee-jerk Democrats, they are among the most discerning of voters, fully aware of issues that matter to them, and they know full well that today’s Republicans are actively attacking them.

Basically, Trump gets stupid, old, white guys

This is what it comes down to – the largest bloc of voters for Trump are “working class” (read: no college) Caucasian men over a certain age. That’s the one reliable group that he can count on, and that’s the group that all of his attention has been on for the past year. He had them from “Mexican rapists,” so he really should have spent his time courting other demographics. His loss. But he gets the Klan, obviously, and all of the right-fringe radicals hiding throughout the 50 states, waiting for the White Nation to rise again. Notice now how often these fringe elements are beginning to come out into the daylight. The Trump candidacy emboldens them. David Duke chose NOW to run for the Senate from Louisiana. No coincidence.

Vote, dammit

But it is not enough to win the election and install Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office. That’s just asking for another 8 years of obstruction, hate, threats. We need the proverbial landslide – the STATEMENT election that says, “Crawl back under your rock.” The message has to be loud and clear that we will not tolerate racism, xenophobia, or misogyny in our politicians. We will not tolerate this from the people who support such politicians.

The message has to be loud and clear that we will not tolerate racism, xenophobia, or misogyny in our politicians.

And we need to take back the Senate (well within reach) and as many seats in the House as we can manage.

We need to reclaim State houses, so the Republican-gerrymandered districts can be redrawn (this one is much harder; the damage was done in 2010 and may take decades to undo).

The Republicans have cheated their way into a large majority in State Houses across the nation. They’ve passed hundreds and hundreds of anti-abortion bills across the country, ruined state budgets by giving tax breaks and subsidies to corporations and the wealthy, while simultaneously attacking our very right to vote. They are determined to hold onto power, despite being a minority party.

If every eligible Democratic voter would vote twice each year for the next four years, we could put an end to a lot of the Republican nonsense. That’s all it would take. Ten minutes of your time, twice each year, for the next four years. DO IT.

“He lies so constantly and so fluently that it’s hard to know if he even realizes he’s lying.” — Ezra Klein (read this)

Doing the Two-Step

Little by little, Google is taking over my life. And I let them, in exchange for the services they provide.

I’ve used Gmail for a long time. I also have a Comcast email address or three, but they are used less and less often, and now act mostly as spam catchers.

Google knows
• every Google search I’ve ever done, every search result I’ve clicked on
• every location I’ve ever looked up on Google Maps
• every YouTube video I’ve ever watched or searched for

Google knows my whereabouts and keeps track of my most visited locations. Google has my phone number, which means that Google can now track me in realtime. And I’m okay with that.

I’m now on my second Android smartphone (the incredible HTC 10, thankyouverymuch), and HTC has jettisoned its own proprietary apps in favor of established Google apps, so now Google is intimately involved with my everyday life.

Google knows me probably better than anyone.

And now, finally, I see that my bank has joined the list of institutions working with Android Pay! I happily scanned in my credit card, entered all information, and I can make small purchases just by holding my phone near a pay terminal.

So now money is involved

And that means that NOW I have set up Two-Step Verification for my Google account.

I log in using my usual username and password, but now there’s an extra step involved in accessing my account.

Authenticator

First I set up a code generator. I downloaded Google Authenticator to my phone, and this generates a random 6-digit code every 20 seconds or so. I have to enter this code when asked, if I want to get into my account. Not as much of a pain as it sounds…

random_code

You can “authenticate” devices and computers. Basically, I said that I use this smartphone all the time, so don’t ask me for verification on this device. I can also do that with computers or other devices that I normally use.

As an alternate method of verification, if I use a strange computer, I get a pop-up on my phone that says something like, “Is this you?” Tapping YES on my phone allows me to use the strange computer.

Bottom line, no one is going to get into my Google account now. Unless they steal my phone, of course. But in order to unlock my phone, they have to guess my PIN or cut off my thumb for the fingerprint scanner.

And that’s a lot of trouble to go through in order to steal the $20.00 that’s available on my credit card.

Oh. In order to use Two-Step Verification and Android Pay, I agreed to use a “locked” smartphone. This was a royal pain on my last phone, so I never used to lock the thing. On the HTC 10, though, I use the fingerprint scan (either thumb) to unlock the phone, and it takes all of 0.6 seconds. Takes even less time if I pick up the phone the right way! So having the phone lock is no longer an issue. In fact, a quick press of the power button turns off the display and locks the phone immediately. Then a simple thumb press on the scanner turns it back on, unlocked.

Very cool.

I feel much better now.

HTC 10

There can be no doubt that the all-new HTC 10 is the finest smartphone available on the market today. (Go ahead, argue with me.)

It is an absolute beauty, from its chamfered all-metal body to the edge-to-edge glass on the front.

Edge to edge gorilla glass, but where did the speakers go?
Edge to edge gorilla glass, but where did the speakers go?

HTC touts the “24-bit high resolution audio.” It’s like there’s a bottom-firing woofer and a top-firing tweeter. The older HTC One line used to have two front-facing speakers built in, for what many believed was the best-sounding smartphone. But how many of us listen to smartphones through the speakers? When I first plugged a headset into the 10, it asked if I wanted to set up a personal audio profile (well, YEAH, duh). After taking a short test of various frequency levels, the 10 now adjusts the audio for MY EARS. (And with hearing loss in the upper reaches and a constant tinnitus, that ain’t easy.) It also recommends that I create a separate audio profile for each pair of earbuds/headsets that I use. SWEET.

HTC One M7 and HTC 10
The old One M7 with the new 10. Now that’s different.

The One M7 was a groundbreaking smartphone from a respected manufacturer. It had an all-metal chassis, dual front-facing speakers, and was crammed with goodies as befits a “flagship.” The One M7 was a class leader. The succeeding One M8 and One M9 would carry the same look and feel onward, and reviewers would complain that HTC was getting stale. Well, the HTC 10 puts all of that behind. Still, what was important to me was that this new HTC would carry class-leading cameras, above all else. And it does.

HTC 10 sample
Sample photo on AUTO using available lighting

I’ve set up a Flickr album for the HTC 10, to show actual untouched photos straight from the camera (other than downsizing, of course). As with the TFrog.com philosophy, I will show exactly what this device can do, without any help from me, so that everyone thinking of investing in the 10 will know what they can expect.

Right off the bat, I’m amazed. The f/1.8 lens seems to be up to every situation, from full sun to low light. I took the phone on a grocery shopping trip, and it came back with photos good enough to eat. One reviewer pointed out that the photos from the HTC 10 lacked the oversaturated colors, the “punch,” of other smartphones. As a dedicated amateur photographer who has spent thousands of dollars on cameras and lenses, I will point out that the images from the HTC 10 are exactly what the eye sees. Others pump up the colors to make them attractive on social media sites, but I’m not interested. Reminds me of those tourist postcards sold in gift shops.

HTC 10 PRO mode
PRO mode in the HTC 10

I can always adjust saturation and sharpening in post-processing, especially because the 10 also has a PRO mode and RAW format! In PRO, I can control many of the functions (read: screw up), from ISO to shutter speed to focal points. But my early results tell me to just keep it on AUTO. I like the 16:9 format, which spits out a 9MP JPG (4000 x 2240). The buffet above was at 4:3, and was exactly a 4000 x 3000 JPG (you’re looking at an 800 pixel version). So output from the camera is more than enough for most occasions (think a printed copy at 13″ by 10″).

The phone arrived Saturday and I write this on Monday, so I’ve only had it for a few days. But everything about the phone so far has been amazing. I’m thrilled and convinced that I made the right decision.

The back story

Back in 2013, I bought the best available smartphone on the market, the HTC One M7. Not thrilled with my iPhone 4S, I moved to Android, read up on available phones, and chose the HTC – the right decision. The display was sharp, clear, and vivid. HTC Newsfeed was a great home screen, offering news, social media, fully customizable content. The camera/selfie combo was just fine, until my main camera zotzed in year two, putting out purple garbage in other than outdoor sunny shots. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed that phone for its three years.

2014 – HTC released the One M8, also to excellent reviews.

2015 – HTC took a step backwards in the One M9, generally viewed as a disappointment.

I knew that the successor to the M9 had to be a major hit. HTC couldn’t simply “return to form,” they had to create a masterpiece to reclaim the top spot among smartphone manufacturers. And whatever was coming would be out in time for me to upgrade! I set up a Google alert and started scouring the net for any information.

Rumors abound in the electronics world, especially in mobile electronics. Even so, nothing was known as the big Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show came around in January. Perhaps we’d find out something at the big Mobile World Electronics show in Barcelona in February. No, what we found out was that HTC was not going to announce there, either, but stand by for a release from HTC in April.

The early rumors indicated that the new phone (as yet unnamed) would feature a Qualcomm chipset that hadn’t yet been invented. It would also run on a new version of Android that hadn’t yet been written. I wasn’t the only one anticipating something very special.

Enter @evleaks, Evan Blass (now of venturebeat.com), a leaker of information famous around the globe for accuracy. He pointed to a performance test that showed the new 10 as faster than all of its competition. He pointed to a third-party test of the camera, which scored the highest marks ever (tied with the new Samsung). He leaked things like the processor, the camera sensor, and ultimately pictures of the upcoming phone.

Finally, on April 12, 2016, HTC had the big reveal of the new 10. It was beautiful. Just seeing it, I wanted it. Knowing that it had the best camera available today, I wanted it. Knowing that it was the fastest, most capable smartphone available today, I wanted it. It would begin shipping on or about May 4th. But there was a catch.

AT&T LilyI’ve been with AT&T since back in the Bell Atlantic Mobile days. And AT&T, for whatever reason, was not going to offer the HTC 10. It was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to Lily (left) and set up an account for three with Verizon. But it was a celebratory moment when the FedEx man came up my front walk with a package containing two shiny new HTC 10s! “It’s Christmas,” somebody yelled.

147

The common wisdom is that the public just isn’t all that excited about the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. But surveys would say the opposite: her supporters rank among the most enthusiastic in this election year, more enthusiastic than the enthusiastic throngs that show up at Bernie Sanders rallies. That’s a big disconnect.

Welcome, Mrs. President
Welcome, Mrs. President

In survey after survey, the American people rank Hillary Clinton at the bottom as far as “honest” and “trustworthy.” But if you ignore the gut reaction of the voters and look to the professionals who are tasked with fact-checking this current crop of candidates, the one who stands out head and shoulders above the rest where “truth” and “honesty” are concerned is – Hillary Clinton. More honest than Bernie Sanders. Certainly more honest and truthful than anyone the Republicans can put up against her. Another big disconnect.

…reported that up to 147 FBI agents
were assigned to the case…

In the 23 years that I’ve been aware of Hillary Clinton, there have been insinuations, suggestions, claims of impropriety and borderline (or over the line) criminal acts. She has been investigated countless times, she has been probed, poked, and hauled before Congress (how many different Benghazi hearings? 9?), and has come away each time unscathed. One Republican after another has sought to make his career by bringing down the evil Hillary, and she has vanquished them all.

The GOP would have us believe that the (just-closed) State Department and (ongoing) FBI probes into her use of a private email server will lead to Hillary behind bars. The Washington Post, itself, screwed up and reported that up to 147 FBI agents were assigned to the case. (147! Can you imagine? That’s more than worked the Oklahoma City bombing case.) They retracted that number and took it down to “less than 50.” (50! A terrorist attack might warrant 50.) A source close to the investigation says that the actual number is “around 12.” Right-wing news sources (and some Sanders supporters) continue to run out the 147 number, even after being corrected, because it has great shock value.

H.A. Goodman has a nice hit piece in Huffpost Politics, in which Clinton has already been convicted of one crime or another involving her email server, and Senator Sanders is now the President. (Sanders supporter much?) Like all Republicans and a good number of Sanders supporters, he believes that Hillary might as well be already tried, convicted, and perp-walked to jail. Guilty before proven innocent. Again.

I don’t have any answers. No idea why we always believe the worst of Hillary Clinton. (Google Clinton murders list.) It just gets crazier and crazier. See, I think Ted Cruz is evil, and apparently everyone else thinks Hillary is worse.

Chris Cillizza asks if the perception of dishonesty doesn’t hurt Clinton because another survey also suggests that Americans see her as the most qualified candidate in the field and the one they want in the Oval Office when things turn sour.

Bottom line: the American people view Hillary Clinton as a liar and cheat, someone who probably deserves to be in prison for one charge or another, and yet she’s the one that most people want as President.

Americans are fun.

back to TOP

Like Us on FacebookFollow us on TwitterConnect on LinkedInSee us on InstagramSee my photos on Flickr!dwight's YouTube channel

Thank god I’m (now) a Democrat

Remember that Tea Party protest sign years ago? “Keep government out of my Medicare!”

That pretty much summed up the whole Tea Party movement. These folks were used and abused by the Koch brothers, who greased the wheels of the Tea Party Patriots to get the rabble all riled up. They were supposedly protesting taxes, but it was a time of historically low taxes. Then they were supposedly protesting Obamacare, but only 20% of the population would be eligible for Obamacare, and for them it was a godsend. No, it is not a coincidence that the Tea Party idiots came out of the woodwork in 2009, when the first African-American president was sworn into office. “I want my America back,” one stupid woman famously wailed in a moment of rare honesty.

Let’s be honest. Turn off the reactionary part of your brain and face facts. President Obama is not a communist, not a socialist, and not really all that much of a liberal. He’s NOT coming to take your guns, he is NOT a secret Muslim, and, yes, he WAS born in the United States, if you admit that Hawaii is a state. Obama’s two most famous accomplishments – the early stimulus program (including the Detroit “bailout”) and the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) – were Republican ideas.

Yes, his thinking on same-sex marriage evolved, as did Joe Biden’s, as did Hillary Clinton’s, but only after seeing the polls that said the American people were way ahead of him. If you are opposed to same-sex marriage today, you are in a certain minority. Even so, trust me that no one will force you to gay-marry.

Even his “assault on the [precious] Second Amendment” didn’t go as far as the vast majority of Americans (and Republicans!) wanted him to go. He did what he did through executive order, the same process that every president before him has used to effect change. Why is it that everything Obama does is an attack on our freedoms, when every president has done much the same? Because he’s black.

This president has been disrespected in ways that were never done before (i.e.: to the 43 old white guys that preceded him). From his very first State of the Union address (“YOU LIE!”), from the night of his inauguration when key Republicans held a meeting and determined that they would oppose EVERYTHING that Obama wanted, from Mitch McConnell’s famous declaration that the Republican Party’s Number One Task would be to render Obama a one-term president, there has been a unilateral, nasty, and (frankly) treasonous effort on the part of the right to deny this man his duly-elected office. The Republican leadership was willing to watch the American economy go down the toilet, rather than allow this president the chance to help, and thereby take credit for having done so. (If that’s not treason… )

Let’s look at who the Republicans have put forth to challenge for the White House this year, to succeed a good, gracious, thoughtful, and patient man.

Donald Trump is a joke. Period. Who has he not attacked? Even his recent statement that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and it wouldn’t cost him a single vote is disgusting, arrogant, and true, because the drooling right-wing 10% loves him (for all the wrong reasons).

Trump recently polled at 39% of “likely Republican voters.” Even with a healthy 50% voter turnout, this 39% would be more like 20% of Republican voters. Assuming Republicans and Democrats vote in equal numbers (reference the last three presidential elections), that 20% would be 10% of all voters. And since not all Americans are registered voters (too young or too dumb), Trump is actually polling in single digits, where the whole of the U.S. is concerned. In this light, you can see that it truly is the less than 10% drooling right-wing that supports Trump, a fraction of the American public that is getting ALL the attention in the press these days. And increasingly, Trump supporters include white supremecists, who feel emboldened now to come out from under their hoods, because they’ve found a new national spokesman.

Ted Cruz is dangerous. And a liar. With a fluid philosophy that changes as circumstances warrant. He is incredibly bright, calculating, and wholly evil. He may, in fact, be the Antichrist, but I won’t go there. Yet.

Marco Rubio is a little child having a temper tantrum. He is so eager to prove that he’s every bit as manly as Trump, every bit as Constitution-centric as Cruz, that he’s embarrassing himself on a national stage. Before this campaign, he actually showed promise.

Jeb Bush… no.

Chris Christie is his own biggest fan and one hell of a blowhard. Keep your “Jersey attytood” in Jersey. (And now he will, apparently.)

The rest aren’t worth a mention.

If I were a Republican and HAD to vote for one of the current Republican candidates, I would vote for John Kasich. Simply because he is not a rabid, drooling hatemonger spouting nonsensical red meat phrases guaranteed to entertain the rubes, Kasich gets my vote. He is centered, honest, sensical, and has a solid record of actual governance – including negotiation and compromise with the opposite party.

Yes, I “would” vote for Kasich on commonsense ideas, except that I cannot abide his stance on social issues. Common to most Republicans, his thinking on women’s health, social programs, and much else held dear by the progressive element is anathema. If it were a choice of one, I’d stay home, rather than vote for this man.

Like so many others, I was convinced early on that the Republican nomination was Jeb Bush’s to lose. When Trump entered the race, and for months after that, I believed his campaign was a satire, a funny “impression” of a campaign. All of the news sources treated him that way, too. But after a time, something strange happened – the journalists started treating Donald Trump as if he were a serious candidate.

Want a serious candidate? The Democrats have two this time. Both are competent, compassionate, and capable of leading the U.S. While the “clown car” that is the Republican slate continues lurching its way along, Sanders and Clinton show a glimpse of what used to be – politics that is respectful, courteous, fact-checked, intelligent.

Yeah, it’s good to be a Democrat.

back to TOP

Living with an SUV

The 2016 Ford Escape SE

I never wanted a “sport utility vehicle.”

07_escapeMy wife had leased a series of Ford Escapes (2004, 2007, 2010) and loved them, but it always struck me as like driving a truck. I preferred a somewhat lower center of gravity, a steadier track through the twisties, and – above all else – a manual transmission. You know, “driving.” Oddly, when Ford redesigned the Escape for the 2013 model year, my wife didn’t care for it and instead picked out a Focus SE. After playing with her new car for a week, I picked out a Focus of my own. That was three years ago, and the leases for these two expired at the end of October. In talking about our next vehicles, we decided to go with only one.

1978 Ford Mustang IIThe last time the two of us shared one vehicle, it was the new 1978 Mustang II we bought for $5,000 shortly before we married. We kept that car for ten years, 110,000 miles. Our babies became young children and almost entered their teen years in the back seat of that car. Eventually, we would add a second vehicle, and then that’s how we rolled for almost 30 years now.

We decided to go with one vehicle, since rarely did we really need two, so one or the other was just sitting. But with only one vehicle, it had to be a one-size-fits-all approach.

  • The layout had to be flexible, whether for passengers or cargo. That meant a “utility vehicle.”
  • It had to be at least front wheel drive, for slippery conditions and/or snow.
  • The vehicle had to be efficient, economical, good looking, with a bit of fun factor.

16_escapeThat’s the 2016 Ford Escape.

The Focus showed that we really needed a vehicle with room on occasion – space for large loads, like a Christmas tree or an appliance or a piece of furniture.

My old Mustangs would be stopped and garaged by as little as 1/4″ of snow. This was okay when we had a second vehicle with front wheel drive, but with only one vehicle now it has to be front wheel drive. The Escape has “intelligent four wheel drive,” and I can’t wait to see how it handles the white stuff.

The interior of the Escape is very similar to the Focus, so we’re used to the layout. The seating is a bit more upright, but there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve had several trips to the grocery store by now, but not an excuse yet to fold the rear seats flat and extend the cargo room. And the rear seats fold FLAT, unlike the Focus, in a 60/40 option.

The Escape is a bit of a pig. The Focus would get an average 30mpg on its 12-gallon tank, so I usually filled up at 300 to 330 miles. The Escape doesn’t seem to get better than 24mpg, but it has a 15-gallon tank, so I still fill up every 300 miles, but that fillup costs a bit more (say, 25% more).

And while the Focus had a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine, the Escape has an even smaller 1.6 liter four, but it’s turbocharged. This is the same Ford EcoBoost engine also found in the exciting Fiesta ST, but in the larger, heavier Escape body, it’s not about to power down any quarter miles. Still, it does have surprising pickup for a tiny engine in a large body.

(The other options for the Escape are a less-powerful 2.5 liter four or the 2.0 liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine from the Focus ST.)

Major caveat – I don’t care for SUVs. I prefer my automobiles lower to the ground, a lower center of gravity, a stiffer ride. The latest Focus is a driver joy, with its European set-up and handling. The Escape is too high and too soft for my tastes.

That said, I’ve pushed this Escape on highways and back roads, and it has never failed to hold up. At speeds up to 100mph on a straight highway, the track is solid, but I wouldn’t recommend such speeds as a routine. I doubt that the Escape has the accident avoidance capabilities of a performance automobile. The Focus would enter a tight turn and then want to accelerate through it. The Escape enters a tight turn, and then I hold my breath waiting for the tires to lose grip (they never have). There’s much more of an instinct to overbrake going into the turn. I tend to drive the Escape more like a truck.

Now here’s the funny part – the new Escape and Focus are built on the same platform and have surprisingly similar specifications:

Spec 2016Escape 2016 Focus
wheelbase 105.9″ 104.3″
length 178.1″ 178.7″
height 66.3″ 57.8″
width (w/mirrors) 81.8″ 80.5″
track front 61.5″ 61.2″

Other than height, the two vehicles are within an inch of each other. The Escape sits higher, with a higher center of gravity, so there’s a feeling that it’ll want to tip over in a tight turn (it doesn’t). Still, there’s a reluctance to dive into a corner or to apply throttle to pull through a turn.

This Escape is equipped with a reverse camera, which allows you to see what’s behind you at bumper level. VERY handy for backing up to an object (wall, curb, paper leaf bags) and for parking (of course). The two colored lines extend directly from the back bumper outward and show distance markers. Turning the steering wheel generates two white lines that show where the vehicle will go if the turn is maintained.

reverse

back to TOP

The First Woman President

I was saying on Twitter last night that Hillary’s campaign is like a crash course in misogyny.

I am married to a strong (and often opinionated) woman, and I have a grown daughter who is one of the finest people you’re ever likely to meet. I thought I was attuned to the troubles that women face in everyday life, but my eyes are being opened wide these days and it’s exceedingly ugly.

When I scan the replies to Secretary Clinton’s tweets or even to tweets of people who just express an interest in voting for her, I see nasty, nasty, nasty people out there with a profound hatred of everything woman. I don’t get it.

There was much to-do recently over a segment on Morning Joe (MSNBC) where host Joe Scarborough and journalist Bob Woodward waxed poetic about Hillary’s speaking style – “she shouts too much.” Shrieks, too. They went on and on about her shrill voice turning off potential voters and how the great Ronald Reagan knew how to hold a mic and keep his voice down (’cause, you know, “man”).

Hillary shouts

Someone put together a video mix in response, showing some of the male candidates shouting and yelling, and at the end was Hillary just quietly answering a serious question. Now which talk show hosts are complaining about all of these men shouting? At best, they get made fun of on SNL or The Daily Show.

In my humble opinion, the real shrieker – the voice I can’t stand hearing – is Ted Cruz. There’s almost a cartoonish quality to his voice, a “regional theater” practiced style (as one writer put it), that I cannot abide. And listening to Donald Trump on the stump is like having a conversation with a gangster.

Hillary Clinton has been hounded, investigated, interrogated, called before Congressional committees, slandered, insulted, held up as Satan’s spawn or the ultimate expression of the Evil That is Woman

One of the questions that folks love to keep asking is why Hillary made $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman-Sachs over the course of a year. I thought she answered it very well during a recent town hall event: “Well, that’s what they offered me.” Fact is, Hillary is very much in demand as a speaker, and her average fee per event is $225,000, ranging up to as much as $400,000 for a single appearance. She can get that because she has earned that. She was, after all, The Most Admired Woman in the World for 20 of the 23 years 1993 through 2015. But ONLY HILLARY is asked to make public transcriptions of her speeches, whether to Goldman-Sachs and clients or whomever. Who else has EVER been asked for this?

I wonder if anyone has ever asked any of the male candidates (of which there are many) about their own speaking fees. I know that some of W’s post-presidential appearances were criticized because of WHO he was talking to, but no one ever thought he was being overpaid. In fact, I just Googled “Ted Cruz speaking fees,” and I got an article about his loans from Goldman-Sachs, a link to his agency, a couple more articles about questionable dealings, and then a WHOLE BUNCH of articles about Hillary Clinton and Goldman-Sachs. So if Ted Cruz is speechifying and collecting fees, nobody is talking about it.

Women who support Hillary are accused of “voting with their vagina” (yes, really), as if the only reason a woman would vote for Hillary is because she is a woman. No man is ever accused of voting with his penis, if he supports any of the male candidates. (This might also have something to do with the fact that, other than Shirley Chisholm, we’ve only EVER had old white men to vote for.)

“Bernie Bros” have all kinds of reasons why they are voting for Bernie Sanders, thereby codifying their intellectual superiority. They must think that if you are going to vote for Hillary Clinton, it’s only because you haven’t done any research and you’re voting with your heart, not your head. (In other words, you’re WRONG and probably a woman.)

Since Bill Clinton was elected President in 1992, Hillary Clinton has been hounded, investigated, interrogated, called before Congressional committees, slandered, insulted, held up as Satan’s spawn or the ultimate expression of the Evil That is Woman. And still, today, she handles it with aplomb, with quiet strength. Watching her testify before the Benghazi committee (STILL ongoing) and the stark vision of this competent woman versus a host of Republican men dying to make their bones by bringing her (finally) down, I couldn’t help but be mightily impressed.

Clinton at Congress

Most of the candidates running for president this year are a joke, of one kind or another. But of all of the candidates on either side, the strongest is a woman, and Hillary Clinton is the one I want to see in the Oval Office.

back to TOP

Can it get worse? Sure.

September 4 I was so impressed with the Eagles’ preseason play that I wrote a post to say that I saw a 13-3 record this year, noting that other luminaries brighter than I also saw a Super Bowl appearance in February.

By October 26, I was so disappointed that I called the season. That didn’t take long. After the loss to the Panthers (a team that I saw as ripe for the picking), I jumped off the Chip Kelly bandwagon. After that, he would have to prove something to me before I bought back in.

The Eagles went on to beat the Dallas Cowboys. In fairness, the Cowboys were playing with a backup quarterback, but even with a healthy Tony Romo the Cowboys are a very bad team. I should delight in every win against Dallas, but this one was so shaky, so inept, that I came away thinking no better of the team than after the Panthers loss.

And then it got worse.

Watching the Eagles play the Miami Dolphins, I knew I was seeing a team that had flat-out quit. No, not the Eagles, the Dolphins. The Miami players were just going through the motions, putting in time and ready to roll over and lose. But the Eagles gave them the idea that they could actually win a game here in Philly, so they took it. In the end, it was the Eagles that gave the game away. And I was disgusted.

And today, last year’s worst team in the NFL came to Philly and completely exposed and embarrassed this Eagles team. Tampa Bay had the first pick in the draft because they earned it – by being horrible. How a team goes from worst in the league to beating a “Super Bowl contender” is beyond me. The Eagles gave the Legend of Jameis Winston a jumpstart, allowing him to throw five touchdown passes in the game.

The Eagles have made many a mediocre player look like a Hall of Fame prospect. I’m not saying that Winston is mediocre – he was, after all, the first pick in the draft. I’m just saying that a rookie quarterback should never be able to throw five touchdowns againt any team in his first year.

The Eagles lay down in all three phases of the game. No fire, no spirit, no will to win. The team has quit, just like Andy Reid’s last team quit on him.

Looking ahead (at the schedule in which I used to see 13 wins), it’s hard to say that this Eagles team could win two more games, only to reach 8-8 (the definition of mediocre). Without question, this is a serious step backward from the 2014 campaign, which, itself, was actually a step backward from Kelly’s first season in 2013.

We’re going in the wrong direction.

I don’t expect any changes in coaching or management before the end of the season, but I do have to wonder whether Mr. Lurie will want to “go in a different direction.”

back to TOP

VOTE, dammit

I blame the Democrats. It’s all their fault.

Here comes another Election Day. Nobody cares. This time, it’s a bunch of judges, county commissioners, prothonotary (?), recorder of deeds, township supervisor, and a bunch of other offices for which we feel unqualified to vote. So we don’t. Over the years, the voter turn-out has declined to almost embarrassing levels. No, actually embarrassing levels.

When we pick a new president, over 50% of eligible voters turn out. But when it’s a mid-term and we’re only voting for Representatives in Congress or Senators, or – worse yet – when it’s an off year and we’re asked to pick local officials, 35% or fewer turn out. This is completely backwards, since the local and state officials have much more impact on our personal lives than the President ever will.

VOTE

RINO

When I turned 18 in 1972, I duly registered to vote (and registered for the draft). Being young, stupid, and apolitical, I registered as a Republican. Why, I can’t tell you. I had a choice of two, and that’s the one I picked.

Also, at 18, I was far more of a liberal than a conservative, although some of the conservative policies were attractive. In truth, I may have been representative of the huge middle – the Silent Majority, a pure centrist. While I wasn’t all that sure of my own politics, I know I wasn’t a hippie, but nor was I sporting a crewcut by any means.

It was a presidential election year – Richard Nixon was running against George McGovern, two candidates who couldn’t be any more dissimilar. I had a vested interest in this election, since the Viet Nam conflict was ongoing and the draft was still scooping up American kids to send over there. I had to vote McGovern.

Since then, in every presidential election, I have voted only for the Democratic candidate. There hasn’t been one Republican that I wanted in the White House, and yet I was a Republican the whole time*. Looking back over the presidential candidates during my voting adulthood (below), I still agree with that sentiment.

But while I and everyone else was focussed on the presidential races, a group of very determined hard-right Republicans were taking over state and local government. State houses, assemblies, senates, and state governorships went Republican, one after the other. It was masterful. By 2010, Republicans were in position to redraw districts (gerrymandering) to ensure that Republicans would continue to hold those state houses. And immediately, they (Priority No. 1) passed tax breaks and subsidies for their wealthy patrons, (Priority No. 2) began chipping away at women’s rights, and (Priority No. 3) severely cut or discontinued programs to assist the poor and or education budgets. Regardless of the words they say, Republicans show their true priorities by what they do. They tried to convince us that public school teachers were the true enemies of democracy and that public sector unions – all unions – were destroying our way of life (the way of life that we largely owe to unions).

taliban

This excerpt from Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom is brilliantly simple, simply brilliant. It says everything I see in the Tea Party.

PATRIOT, SPELLED M-O-R-O-N

In 2008 we elected a black man to the White House. Immediately, the Tea Party came out of nowhere to make fools of themselves. It was about taxes, they said, at a time when taxes were historically low. Okay, so that couldn’t have been the reason for this “grassroots” Koch-fueled uprising. Wonder what it could be?

Sheep

Regardless, the Republican officeholders from 2000 on have been dishonest, disingenuous, hardly fiscal conservatives, and absolutely hawkish. (Witness John McCain, of all people, who never met a conflict he didn’t want to fully engage.) The LAST thing they were was “Republican,” in the true sense of the word. When I saw a wave of Tea Party idiots elected to Washington, I’d had enough. In 2011 I changed my registration to Democrat. I was too embarrassed to be associated with the R word.

(If they can’t take having a black President, wait until we elect a WOMAN. Their heads are going to pop.)

There is only one reason that the United States is being taken down by right-wing radicals: Democrats. If Democrats would come out and vote in significant numbers, all traces of the Tea Party could be erased from public office within a four-year cycle. It starts at the local level, it centers in the state house. Democrats have until 2020 to turn things around, or the voting districts already drawn will ensure another TEN YEARS of Republican control. Yet voter turnout, especially in the meaningless local elections, remains pathetic. As if it meant nothing.

NEED ANOTHER REASON TO VOTE?

One party is busy attacking your rights. One party is actively trying to take away your right to vote. One party wants to shut you out of the electoral process, and thereby hopefully win back the White House. The Republicans.

By not voting, you’re helping them take away your vote.

* Here are the choices I faced every four years of my adult life. Looking at the Republican v. Democratic candidates, there is no wonder that I voted Democratic every single time.

  Republican Democrat Independent
1976 Gerald Ford
Bob Dole
Jimmy Carter
Walter Mondale
1980 Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush
Jimmy Carter
Walter Mondale
John B. Anderson
Patrick Lucey (ind.)
1984 Ronald Reagan
George H.W. Bush
Walter Mondale
Geraldine Ferraro
1988 George H.W. Bush
Dan Quayle
Michael Dukakis
Lloyd Bentsen
1992 George H.W. Bush
Dan Quayle
Bill Clinton
Al Gore
Ross Perot
James Stockdale
1996 Bob Dole
Jack Kemp
Bill Clinton
Al Gore
Ross Perot
Pat Choate
2000 George W. Bush
Dick Cheney
Al Gore
Joe Lieberman
2004 George W. Bush
Dick Cheney
John Kerry
John Edwards
2008 John McCain
Sarah Palin
Barack Obama
Joe Biden
2012 Mitt Romney
Paul Ryan
Barack Obama
Joe Biden

back to top

In Chip We Trust, Part II

As President George W. Bush famously said, “Fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me… You can’t get fooled again!”

The phrase he was looking for is, of course, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. ” Commander Scott had it right in Star Trek, but Mr. Bush was obviously not a fan.

I’m a fan. I’m a fan of Star Trek since its very first airing almost 50 years ago, and I’m a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles since their first trip to the Super Bowl in the 1980 season. Like every other Eagles fan, I’ve learned to live and die with this team. A win ensures a positive frame of mind for at least a week. A loss is painful for several days, and some losses (Cowboys) are more painful than others.

Every season makes me wonder, what’s wrong with Philadelphia? How is it that every other team in our division has won multiple Super Bowls, and the high point of our millennium is just getting there. Andy Reid will forever be the greatest coach in Eagles history because he GOT US THERE. Didn’t even have to win, because we don’t set the bar that high, just getting there defines greatness.

I drank the Buddy Ryan KoolAid®. Loved his defense, loved his bluster, loved his intimidation. After I realized that it was all just hot air and that his teams would never actually win anything, I thought it was time to move on.

So I drank the Ray Rhodes KoolAid®. Ray blew into town unexpectedly, talking about rape and sodomy, and had two good years full of promise. He was the toast of Philadelphia until the two following and disappointing years revealed him as mortal. Time to go, Ray.

I did NOT drink the Andy Reid KoolAid® until sometime in his second year. Reaching the NFC Championship game, in this town, is historic. How quickly we get hooked on the KoolAid® – after the third straight trip to the NFC Championship and the third straight loss, we fans were seriously considering asking Coach Reid to leave. Yet each year of his (eventually) four NFC Championship games was written in the books in ink – he was setting Eagles history every year.

The problem with Coach Reid was that the KoolAid® wore off, and Reid stayed too long. He lost the team, he lost the fans, and he lost his job.

Bring on the fresh KoolAid®, because we never learn!

Here comes Chip Kelly, the most sought-after coach ever to come out of the college ranks. 31 NFL teams were trying to recruit him as head coach (the 32nd team had just won the Super Bowl, so they were set), and the Eagles and Jeff Lurie won the lottery. Chip was the saviour, the can’t-lose coach that could resurrect an Eagles team that had flat-out quit. The results were instant in his first year – 10-6 and a playoff game (loss). Excellent start, and the hype must be true.

His second year… again 10-6, but no playoffs. But he had excuses.

In the offseason, he drove us all crazy with personnel moves that made no sense, but in the preseason games, the Eagles showed incredible promise – enough that several professionals (Joe Banner, sports journalists, and me) saw the ultimate prize on the horizon. The upside to this team was limitless. Kelly was a genius, misunderstood by all of the cynics.

I wrote that this team would go 13-3.

But somewhere between the preseason and the opening game in Atlanta, the team turned into the Bizarro Eagles, totally unprepared to take the field. They lost that first game, and lost it badly. No spirit, no fire, no desire. Inexplicable, but here come the Cowboys, and a win would wipe away the stink.

They lost to the Cowboys. At that point, I thought the season was over, the team looked that bad. I thought, if they lost to the Jets they could easily go 0-7 into the Bye. But they beat the Jets and the KoolAid® kicked in again.

Then they lost to a really bad Redskins team, and we were looking at the number one draft pick in 2016. Again, the Eagles just lay down like dogs.

Wins against the Saints and the Giants and another sip o’ KoolAid® had me believing that they were on a run. The Panthers were undefeated, but they were the worst of the undefeateds, with four of their wins against absolutely pitiful teams. They could be taken.

But, no, the Eagles lost to the Panthers. The season is over.

In the 7th game of the season, the Eagles still look unprepared. The defense was getting better each week, but the Panthers’ ground game was too much for them. Again I’m watching the old bounce-off non-tackles, instead of solid wrapping up. The offense still doesn’t have it together. You watch the Panther receivers catch pass after pass, and you realize that these are “average” NFL receivers, while our guys have the ball bounce off their chest, off their hands. Our guys are apparently below average.

At this point, the Eagles cannot finish better than 8-8 (9-7, asks the optimist?). That makes this year a flat-out disaster. The KoolAid® pitcher is empty. I’m already looking at the offseason and counting the players that need to be upgraded.

I don’t think that Coach Kelly is going anywhere. He’ll probably have at least two more years to prove himself. But that’s exactly what he’s going to have to do – prove himself. He no longer gets a pass, no longer gets the benefit of a doubt. Show me something, give me a reason to cheer.

Otherwise, I’ll be sitting in my La-Z-Boy wondering how I could have been fooled so badly. Again.

back to TOP

The Genesis of an Addiction – or – How Did I Get Here?

It’s time.

I decided to redo my website from the bottom up. TFrog.com is an evolutionary product which has undergone incremental changes over the past two decades. From my first “website” as an AOLer to my very own TFrog domain, there have been generations of my website, but the last redesign was basically put up in 2007. Since then, I find:

(1) The photography pages were full of Flash slideshows, and where Flash was a wonderful thing not so long ago, it is now almost deprecated. Android and Apple phones and tablets will not show Flash, and that’s probably a good thing, since it’s a security risk. So all Flash elements had to go, being replaced by HTML only (and maybe a little javascript).

(2) Bowing to the times, I concurrently created a parallel universe, designed to display on phones, tablets, and other devices. While I believe that the photography pages are still best viewed on a traditional monitor, I live in the real world. You can now see all of the tasty bits on your smartphone.

WHY

Why Real World Lens Tests?

When I was considering the purchase of a new lens, I did my due diligence, searched the internet for information, reviews, and sample photos. More often than not, the samples that I found were beautiful, professionally processed images that convinced me to spend a good bit of money on that lens. When I started shooting with my new lens, I was disappointed that my pictures did not measure up to the samples I’d seen.

The purpose of my Real World Lens Tests is to show the results that a dedicated amateur can get with each of these lenses. I present a good range of images, several of which link to full-size, straight-from-the-camera JPGs, so my fellow amateurs will know that they can get the same results as I do, before any post-processing work is done. “You, too, can expect this level of photos or better if you buy this lens.” In a lot of cases, the images shown have been edited mildly for sharpening, levels, and saturation, and some have been cropped. But the out-of-body JPGs are untouched by human hands.

But how did I get here?

There was a time, believe it or not, that I did not have a camera with me at all times. Lenses are important to me now, to be sure, but it’s not the lenses that got me to this place. It was a succession of cameras, and the first one WAS NOT MY FAULT.

Part of the process of rebuilding this website involved going back in time – to the beginning, the genesis of my obsession with photography. We don’t have to go back all that far, either.

Pentax K1000I will only briefly mention FILM (old folks, explain “film” to the youngsters, please), and only to say that my wife was taking a filler course in Black and White Photography toward her college degree. For the course, she bought a Pentax K1000 – all manual, all the time – and even learned to develop film in our basement. I picked up the Pentax and couldn’t put it down. Over a thousand dollars was spent in having bad, bad photos developed. (Old folks, explain “developed” to the youngsters, please.)

olympus_d360lWhen DIGITAL was born, I jumped on an early Olympus D360L (released in 2000). This camera took photos at a stunning 1.3 megapixels, or a best 1280 x 960 (a size that is barely adequate today on Facebook). As I recall, the memory card it came with could hold all of two photos at best quality. The camera was slow, downloading photos took forever, and it took 4 AA batteries and ate them like candy. I know, because I still have the camera. And I wish I could go back in time and re-take every one of those photos with modern equipment. As a digital camera, it made me want to keep using film.

s1_isMy second digital was the Canon S1 IS (IS = image stabilization, not quite as universal then as it is today). Oh, how I loved that camera. Issued in 2004, the S1 was a “superzoom” camera with a 10X optical zoom (the equivalent of 38mm to 380mm) PLUS digital zoom (which one should never, ever use). This little handful took excellent photos, packing 3 megabytes (or twice the size of the Olympus’ best setting). After a month shooting on automatic, I read the user guide, switched over to manual settings, and never looked back. And I was never without that camera.

s3_isEventually, my beloved S1 developed a zotzed display screen. I found out that this was A Thing, that Canon had issued an advisory on it, and that I was supposed to send the camera in for free repair. It turned out that the parts needed to complete that repair had run out, so Canon’s new “repair” was to replace the S1 with a refurbished S3! No complaints from me. I just went from 3MP to 6MP, and from 10X zoom to 12X. But by that time, I had a new love.

rebel_xtIn all of my reading, I found myself lusting after better resolution, more clarity, more vivid photos. I wanted a DSLR. At the end of 2005, I picked up the Canon Rebel XT (the 2nd in the Rebel line), an 8MP beauty with an 18-55mm kit lens. Coming from the S1, I was mightily impressed with the quality of photos from the XT. Within 6 months, I had bought a 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens and the Canon jewel 50mm f/1.8. To these, I later added the 100mm macro lens. I think my photography improved over the years, and I was eventually asked to shoot a wedding. A very special wedding. And not long before that wedding, some IDIOT (could have been me) left the XT outside on a rainy night. The camera was soaked and nonfunctional. A brick. Luckily, it dried out over the next 24 hours and returned to normal, but I was convinced that I couldn’t go shoot a wedding with this one camera.

eos_50dSo in 2009 I bought the Canon 50D, the newest release at the time in the next level of Canons. Somewhat larger than the Rebel, the 50D fit my hand like it was built for it. Now I had 15MP, a much faster, cleaner, and more capable camera. With this camera, I upgraded the old 18-55mm kit lens with the 17-40mm L series lens, and most recently upgraded to the 70-300 L series telephoto. I also added a Speedlite 580 flash unit, which is wonderful, and a real Manfrotto tripod for the heavy lenses (as opposed to the plastic KMart tripod of my earlier days).

Now here’s the thing.

It occurs to me that all of this digital activity took place in the first decade of the new millennium. From 2000 to 2010 I bought a succession of cameras that eventually got me to where I am now. And my “new” camera is 6 years old. Are the glory years for semi-professional digital photography over? Where is the new camera that’s going to make me NEED to buy one?

Even in the lineage of my EOS 50D, it seemed that Canon was bringing out a new model almost every year through that decade:

10D (2003)
20D (2004)
30D (2006)
40D (2007)
50D (2008)
60D (2010)
70D (2013)
…?

Today, toward the end of 2015, the 70D is still the “new” camera in this line. The professional series has seen releases only every 3 to 4 years, so a long time between models is nothing new. And the Rebel series has continued unabated. But improvements are incremental – there are no great leaps in digital photography.

And through all of this, Canon has kept churning out lenses. And lenses change even less often than camera bodies. The 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens today is the same as it was five years ago. (And still the pick of the litter.) So I think it’s still important that folks thinking about putting out $1,600 for a new lens should see REAL photos from those lenses, not polished and made-up professionally processed images.

And that’s why my Real World Lens Tests.

back to top

Why TFrog?

The truth will out.

Purple TreefrogWhen I was in junior/senior high school (think 1960s, early 70s), I would draw a cartoon character that was a frog. Purple. A treefrog, actually. Purple treefrog. PT. The cartoons were of a rather …uh… baudy nature, as befits a teenage male of the time.

The PT cartoons were also populated by smaller characters called PIPs. Where PT was meek, mild, and unfailingly polite, the PIPs would say what really needed to be said.

I must have had a thing for treefrogs, because I started to collect all things treefrog. And it must have been a healthy collection by 1978, because all of Jean’s friends and family got her a kitchen ensemble that was all of a frog motif for her pre-wedding celebration. A frog creamer. A frog clock. Frog salt and pepper shakers, etc. More of a cartoon frog motif. But green frogs, not treefrogs, but still frogs.

When my kids were very young, I would give Jean a break by taking them to a mall and then going on a Frog Hunt. As we wandered through the stores, if they saw anything that looked like a frog, they were to sing out. Extra points for TREEfrogs. My collection grew.

In 1993 I bought a new Ford Mustang LX 5.0 hatchback, blacker than black. Within a year, that Mustang would sport the vanity plate TFROG. I even had a motorcycle with the plate 3FROG (although what No. 2 was, I have no idea).

A family member once asked what the license plate TFROG meant, and an unnamed nephew chimed in, “Because he couldn’t afford a TBird.” Silly boy. One, I’m a Mustang guy, and the TBird of the day was an overweight slugmobile. And two, there is no two.

Somebody once pulled up alongside me at a red light and yelled over, “What does TFROG mean?” I thought, sure, we could sit here for a few minutes while the light turned green and folks behind us started honking while I laid out my life story. But in the end I just said, “Got me. Guess it was the next license plate sent out of Harrisburg.”

I was out tooling around in my 1993 Mustang GT convertible (CFROG, of course). At a light, old guy behind me got out of his car and walked up to my door. “Are you a CFROG,” he asked? “Why, yes. Yes I am,” says I. Uh, no. He meant “seafrog,” as in scuba diving. Not even close.

(Years later, while working in Bryn Mawr, a new hire pulled into the parking lot in a yellow Mustang coupe. On the back was the license plate FROG. That’s the one I first wanted, but it was taken. What are the odds that I’d meet up with the taker?)

– – – BREAK – – –

When we first had computers, the web as we know it did not yet exist. Much like computers still shown in Hollywood movies, our screens had nothing but text. As for the Internet, there were three basic components:
email (goes back to the early 70s)
FTP (the ability to transfer files from one computer to another)
and usenet – public discussion groups for every topic (from about 100 in 1983 to over 100,000 eventually)

That was about it.

To get to the internet, most of us needed an “internet service provider” (ISP). Early on, I tried out CompuServe and Prodigy (they both sucked). Our slow modems would dial a phone number, then squeal and squawk as it tried to connect to a server on the other end. If successful, we would log on and check our mail and read and post to discussion groups. That was about it.

1989 – Tim Berners-Lee invents the “world wide web.”
1990 – Tim Berners-Lee invents the first browser.
1992 – Microsoft releases Windows 3.1 (AMAZING – I swear it was still using Netscape Navigator)
1993 – dwight buys a new 1993 Ford Mustang LX 5.0 hatchback, blacker-than-black
By 1995, that Mustang had the vanity license plate TFROG on the back.

After a frustrating period with Prodigy and Compuserve, I eventually decided to try AOL. In 1995, AOL already had 3,000,000 members and the world wide web was exploding. I asked for the username “tfrog” and was amazed when AOL said it was taken and suggested “tfrog54”. (Wait… there were already another 53 tfrogs out there?!?) Well that wouldn’t do any good, so I picked “tfrog93” (to honor my 1993 Ford TFROG, of course), and an internet legend was born.

AOL sure didn’t make it easy, but eventually I found where they were hiding the newsgroups (“usenet” – see above). Two discussion groups were especially important to me:
alt.sports.football.pro.philadelphia-eagles, and
rec.autos.makers.ford.mustang (or RAMFM)

Even now, 15 years after leaving AOL, tfrog93@aol.com is still all over the internet. Go ahead, Google it. I’ll wait… Some of the faceless strangers in that group of miscreants became actual friends to me. We shared a great deal of automotive info and opinion, but there was also a desire to “protect” the newsgroup from interlopers. Usually, some fool Honda driver would stop by to tell us all how he smoked some Mustang GT. “Was it parked?” There would be a lot of back and forth insults and put-downs leading up to Flame Wars (a more demanding version of The Dozens or Yo’ Momma). Ah, good times. But I digress…

An AOL member page was the first “website” for TFrog93. This would later move to Homestead and become more of an actual multi-page website. A brief flirtation with Google Pages went nowhere. Then I bought the domain www.tfrog93.com (yes, still mine; tfrog.com was taken at the time), paid a host, and put up my first real designed-by-me site. The Internet Archive (the Wayback Machine) has a snapshot of the site from 2004, nothing earlier. And it sure wasn’t much in 2004.

The last major redesign of the website was in 2007, featuring a host of topics and interests. No cohesive theme, mostly about the Mustangs, the Eagles, and then whatever else I had pictures of. My interest in photography hadn’t yet fully “developed,” but, as a website, the website was out of control.

Meanwhile…

www.tfrog.com was owned by Treefrog Consultants. I kept checking on it, as the domain was due for renewal within the next year or so, and come renewal time I found that the owner had NOT renewed it. The domain became publicly available, and I jumped on it! It cost a little more than the usual domain registration, but it was exactly what I wanted and now it’s mine. I OWN A 5-LETTER DOT COM DOMAIN. So I had www.tfrog93.com point to www.tfrog.com, and I continued to grow my site.

Eventually, my music and my photography took over tfrog.com and the long-gone Mustangs are fading. But if you want to know, “Why TFrog?,” now you know.

back to TOP

Sue me, I LIKE instant coffee

At least one person in the U.S. still drinks instant coffee. Me.

It’s not because I’m cheap (I am) or that I’m old (I am). It’s that I like being able to drink coffee whenever and I hate having to wash out a coffee pot. I bring a Thermos® of hot water to work, and I’m good all day.

Most people recoil in horror when they see my jar of instant coffee. These are the folks who will spend $4.00 for a cup o’ Joe at a Starbuck’s or the local Wawa (if you’re outside of the extended Philadelphia area and aren’t aware, Wawa is simply THE finest convenience store in the world, bar none). Both of these are wonderful, and I, too, will happily fork over my dollars in exchange for a cup, but I don’t seek them out. It is exceedingly rare that I stop at either of these shops for a cup of coffee.

The secret to instant coffee, as told to me by President Dwight D. Eisenhower (okay, it was in a book, but still, it was as if he was speaking directly to me), is to pour the water, stir, and let the cup sit for no less than five minutes. This allows the coffee time to “brew,” as it were. This is essential for instant coffee, no matter what brand, and it does make a difference. (Try it.) The other secret to instant is that you can tailor the strength of the coffee, simply by adding more or less.

For almost 40 years, I have been content with my instant coffee. I’ve tried several brands, from Eight O’Clock® to Taster’s Choice® French Roast, and currently, more often than not, I have a jar of Maxwell House® in my office. For a long time, I would even use a blend of two different instants in pursuit of a better cup. I use CoffeeMate® in my coffee, with just a dash – the merest dusting – of CoffeeMate® French Vanilla to top it off. Don’t give me Cremora®.

(Taster’s Choice® used to sell a French Vanilla Roast in a small jar, which was perfect. A teaspoon of my regular instant along with a dash of the French Vanilla was wonderful. Taster’s Choice®, in their infinite wisdom, no longer sells the small jar, but instead now packages the French Vanilla in a box of “tubules,” or single-cup servings. No thanks. I went so far as to cut open all of the tubules (20, I believe) and dump the contents into a small jar, but that’s just too much work for the little bit I got. It’s a lot of trash and wasteful packaging for a small amount of coffee. When they go back to selling this in a jar, I’ll go back to buying it.)

Up until this year, I was a smoker. Ever since high school (back in the early 70s), I have eaten one meal per day – dinner. Breakfast was a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Lunch was a cup of coffee and a cigarette. Only when I got home after work did I actually eat a meal. I really had no appetite, I ate to live. I was not the definition of healthy. People would marvel that I never ate during the day, and I was famous for ordering a cup of coffee for lunch when out at a restaurant.

The smoking has stopped, I now eat three meals each day, but coffee continues to be a constant in my life. And now my life-routine has been disrupted.

My daughter bought her mother a Keurig. Or, rather, Mom dropped some heavy hints for Christmas that she’d like a Keurig. Either way, my wife received a Keurig for Christmas.

In coordination with my daughter’s gift, my task was to buy some coffee to go along with that new Keurig. I picked out a big ol’ box of a Donut Shop decaf and some kind of a Green Mountain brew. I think these were 36-count boxes. The Green Mountain is long gone, but we still have some of the Donut Shop decaf around. And it didn’t take me very long to figure out that Keurig and Green Mountain were one and the same.

I started haunting the coffee aisle at the grocery store, standing and staring at the shelves.

Scan the shelves of K-Cups in all of their varieties, imagine that this space was full of different instant coffees – that’s how it was in the last millennium. Today’s selection of instants is a mere shadow of what it once was. With a $10 jar of instant coffee, I can drink up to 100 cups. With a $10 box of K-Cups, I get 10 or 12, and that’s not even a good week.

Early on in my brewed coffee career, I found that I preferred the bold roasts, the dark roasts. The Green Mountain French Roast was a good cup of coffee, and early on I latched onto a Peet’s French Roast – sort of a slap in the face in a K-cup. Pricey, but very, very good. I came to view the Peet’s as a treat – almost $1.00/cup (can you imagine?).

We went through a lot of boxes at $7.99 and $8.99 for 10 or 12 K-cups, and I began to think that perhaps we should look into “buying in bulk.”

About the same time, NPR had a program that dealt in part with K-cups. I don’t think that anyone, even John Sylvan, inventor of the K-cup who now regrets it, understood that there would be billions and billions of these small plastic containers being dumped into landfills every year. Now I am not an environmentally-sensitive sort (well, I kind of am, but I don’t preach it), but the mental image of all of these billions of K-cups put me off a bit.

With a very little bit of Googlin’, I came across Rogers Family Coffee and Tea.

This is a company in the San Francisco area that has purposely gone about making K-cups biodegradable and recyclable. Imagine that! At the time, they boasted that their K-cups were 97% biodegradable, while Green Mountain/Keurig promised that they were working on a solution and hoped to have it available by 2020. Also, oddly enough, Rogers’ K-cups were incompatible with the Keurig 2.0, but they happily provided a simple solution to that problem, and provided it for free – a very simple workaround that allowed their K-cups to be used in the Keurig, bypassing Keurig’s lockout. There were also lawsuits between the two going back and forth.

I like “the little guy battling the big bad corporation,” so I gave them a try.

My first order was for their Organic Coffee® brand of French Roast and Breakfast Blend. The former for me, a good, dark cup of bold, and the latter for my wife, a milder early morning cup. I thought that the Organic® brand WAS Rogers, and didn’t understand their various labels. But these were good enough that I re-ordered.

Rogers Family is also known as San Francisco Bay Coffee with a good variety. I can recommend the Espresso Roast, the French Roast, the Fog Chaser (yes, I like the dark roasts!), and I’m about to try their Jamaican Blue Mountain and Kona Blend coffees.

I now order the larger boxes of 36 or 80 counts and I easily meet the threshhold for FREE SHIPPING. Bottom line, I spend at most 50 cents per cup! From one coast to the other, it takes about a week and a half to receive my orders, and that is consistent. Also, unlike the sealed plastic K-cups, these coffees really need to be stored in an airtight container (which I prefer over the carousel K-cup holders, anyway).

Every day and all day Saturday and Sunday I drink brewed coffee. Monday through Friday I go to work and drink instant coffee.

It’s all good.

back to TOP

The Myth of Terrell Owens

The common belief among Eagles fans is that Terrell Owens (T.O.) is the reason that the Eagles played in the Super Bowl after the 2004 season.

Terrell Owens did not take the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 2004. He was not the Difference Maker. I think that Eagles fans then and Eagles fans now forget just how good the Eagles team was at that time.

2001 – McNabb’s 2nd full year as starter, an 11-5 record, won the division, lost the NFC Championship to the Rams

2002 – 12-4 record, won the division, lost the NFC Championship to the Buccaneers

2003 – 12-4 record, won the division, reached the NFC Championship Game for the third straight year. This time, it was the lowly Carolina Panthers that would knock the Eagles out and advance to the Super Bowl, while the Eagles went on vacation. Three straight years, three straight losses in the NFC Championship.

The best team in the NFC saw three different teams step over them on the way to the Super Bowl. If only there was a way to get them over that hump, so the Eagles could reach the Promised Land.

Enter Terrell Owens, a controversial pick-up.

Donovan McNabb may have lobbied Andy Reid to pick up T.O. (likely lobbied Andy Reid), but regardless, it was done. T.O. came to the Eagles, and the 2004 Eagles got off to an incredible start. Seven straight victories before losing in Pittsburgh, followed by five more wins before hosting Dallas at the Linc. Terrell Owens was injured in that Cowboys game (the Eagles won anyway), and would miss the rest of the season and the entire playoffs. The Eagles were 13-1 at that point.

In the last two games against the Rams and Bengals, the Eagles rested some starters. Had they not, they could easily have ended up 15-1. It was enough that they had already won home field advantage through the playoffs.

Amazingly, all three of the other NFC East teams – the Redskins, the Giants, the Cowboys – ended the 2004 season at 6-10. It is a GIVEN that the Eagles would have won the division, with or without Owens.

It is extremely likely that the Eagles would have won 12 or 13 games, with or without Owens. They may not have earned home field advantage, but that would have made little difference in the playoffs. And, remember, the Eagles DID have home field advantage in 2002 and in 2003, having learned their lesson in St. Louis in 2001.

As it is, the Eagles had a bye, followed by impressive wins against the Vikings and then Falcons. And, of course, the Eagles won these two playoff games WITHOUT OWENS.

T.O. rushed back from his injury so that he could play in the Super Bowl. A less-than-100% Owens may actually have HURT the Eagles during that game, but his presence certainly did not win that game!

So I ask the question: how, exactly, is Terrell Owens responsible for the Eagles being in the Super Bowl in 2004?

(Answer: He’s not. It’s a myth.)

2004 NFC CHAMPIONS
Record: 13-3 1st in NFC East
Head Coach: Andy Reid

9/12 NY Giants W 31-17
9/20 Minnesota Vikings W 27-16
9/26 @ Detroit Lions W 30-13
10/3 @ Chicago Bears W 19-9
10/17 Carolina Panthers W 30-8
10/24 @ Cleveland Browns W 34-31
10/31 Baltimore Ravens W 15-10
11/7 @ Pittsburgh Steelers L 3-27
11/15 @ Dallas Cowboys W 49-21
11/21 Washington Redskins W 28-6
11/28 @ New York Giants W 27-6
12/5 Green Bay Packers W 47-17
12/12 @ Washington Redskins W 17-14
12/19 Dallas Cowboys W 12-7 (Owens injured)
12/27 @ St. Louis Rams L 7-20
1/2 Cincinnati Bengals L 10-38
NFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF
1/16 Minnesota Vikings W 27-14
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP
1/23 Atlanta Falcons W 27-10
SUPER BOWL 39 (at Jacksonville)
2/6 New England Patriots L 21-24

back to TOP

In Chip We Trust (?)

A couple of months back (I swear, it was only a couple of months), the talk in Philadelphia was about how Chip Kelly had lost it. He was making very questionable moves with his personnel, sending his best players elsewhere. We began to think he was crazy. Now, after seeing in preseason what he had put together on the field, we are looking forward to a very good year.

— History —

Like every good bandwagon-jumping fan, I came on board during the good times. It was 1979, and Dick Vermeil was coach, Ron Jaworski quarterback. These guys would lead the team to a Super Bowl (okay, they lost), along with players who would become Philadelphia legends (even though they lost). It seemed that the best the Eagles could do was get TO the Super Bowl.

Dick Vermeil gave way to Marion Campbell, and I must have slept through those years. Nothing worth remembering. But…

To shake things up, there was Buddy Ryan. He was FUN, putting together a defense for the ages. Never won anything, but at least it was entertainment. Ron Jaworski gave way to Randall Cunningham, a man with tons of talent and no offensive coaching to speak of. Never won anything, but he was damned entertaining.

Buddy Ryan gave way to Richie Kotite (Richie the K), who was nothing but annoying. He never won anything AND he was annoying. In his last year, the team lay down like dogs, and I wanted Richie AND everyone who played for him gone.

Be careful what you wish for, because in came Ray Rhodes and talk of sodomy. Yeah, Ray had a couple of winning years and the fans gave him the key to the city. He could have been mayor of Philadelphia, if he’d wanted that. But then the losing came, and Ray’s coaching style began to stink. Ray went from Coach of the Year in 1995 to Out the Door in 1998. Then came…

Andy Reid. The winningest, bestest damn coach in Eagles history (Eagles NFL history, that is). Andy, too, took the Eagles to the Super Bowl (and LOST), after an historic string of four straight NFC Championship games (three LOST, one WON). We had never seen such success in our football team in the modern era (yeah, yeah, Champions in 1960, but you’d have to be, like, 70 to even remember such a thing). We had a glimpse of the Promised Land, before the long, slow decline into irrelevance. Andy set the bar awful high, but in the end couldn’t get over that bar himself. It seemed, eventually, that Andy had lost the team, and Andy, too, had to go.

— end History —

Enter Chip Kelly. Kelly is now in his third year, has caused a great amount of turnover on the Eagles squad, and has assembled what is arguably “Kelly’s team.” After a rough offseason (rough for the fans), and after a surprising preseason (yes, I know, preseason), this team looks poised to improve upon Kelly’s first two years. And I do mean improve.

Kelly dumped DeSean Jackson. Were the Eagles receiving corps better then, or are they better now? Kelly showed LeSean McCoy the door. Were the Eagles running backs better then, or are they better now? The offense, IMO, is much improved, and the offense didn’t exactly stink before!

So, here’s how I see the 2015 season ahead of us.

The Eagles play only five teams this year that had a winning record last year. The rest are really bad, I mean awful, teams and the Eagles should beat them all (that would be 10 wins right there) –
Tampa Bay BUCCANEERS 2-14
New York JETS 4-12
Washington REDSKINS 4-12
New York GIANTS 6-10
Carolina PANTHERS 7-8-1
Atlanta FALCONS 7-9
New Orleans SAINTS 7-9
Miami DOLPHINS 8-8

I throw a loss to the Saints, who play tough in New Orleans, because the Eagles should be coasting on autopilot when they head down to NOLA. A wake-up game.

Then, three “good” teams, all of whom the Eagles should beat –
Buffalo BILLS 9-7 (The McCoy Reunion game, smackdown)
Detroit LIONS 11-5 (We love picking on those Lions)
Arizona CARDINALS 11-5 (Here in Philly in late December)

That leaves the “powerhouse” teams, the fraud Cowboys and the for-real Patriots –
New England PATRIOTS 12-4
Dallas (sucks) COWBOYS 12-4

We split with Dallas (sucks) (the Cowboys are a little worse this year, the Eagles a little better, and Dallas still has a Tony Romo problem) and lose to the Patriots.

The Eagles have no problem scoring points, and should now score even MORE points, whether it’s Bradford or Sanchez behind center. Our weakness was our defense, specifically the corners and safeties who were royally exposed. Assuming the run and pass defense improves over last year (as it should), the Eagles should be able to hold opponents’ scoring down below the Eagles’ own 30+ average.

I see 13 – 3, with the division title and home field advantage.

If I’m off by one (I can see losing in Detroit on a very short week), 12 -4 gets the division title but may not guarantee home field. Even if I’m off by two (and I don’t think I am), it’s still a bit of an improvement in Kelly’s third year, and the future is still looking good.

Time to put the seatbelt back on my La-Z-Boy.

 

back to TOP

 

 

 

Brave new world

I would not have thought of myself as one for long-term commitments. Yet I’m still with my first wife after 36 years. I’ve been with the same company for 35 years. And my last new car was bought in September of 1993. That was a black 1993 Mustang 5.0 LX hatchback with 5-speed manual transmission, the first to wear the plate TFROG.

I will never forget… When I drove the car home for the first time, I stopped to fill up the gas tank. While I was at the pump, the automatic car alarm chirped, and all doors locked. I think someone had forgotten to tell me that the car does this – 30 seconds after the door closes, the car alarm arms itself. If it weren’t for the fact that I HAD just bought the car and that the second set of keys were in my pocket, I’d have been stuck (and embarrassed) at the gas station. Lesson learned.

I will never forget… Shortly after, I was sitting at a light and noticed that the car behind me didn’t appear to be stopping. I will never forget the look on that driver’s face as he suddenly realized that he was about to slam into the back of a brand new Ford Mustang – and the profound relief displayed when he knew he was going to stop in time. I think we both had our hearts in our throats.

I will never forget… Driving too fast down a straightaway at night, only to find that the road ahead did a sudden right-angle zig-zag over a bridge. I braked, but entered the first turn way too fast. The rear tires hit gravel and the car fishtailed a little, but the front tires held and we made the turn. I understood a little better what a “performance car” was all about that night. TFrog always had massive tires, expensive tires, but for a good reason. With performance cars, you pay a lot for tires and they don’t last very long, but the combination of power and good tread makes driving an absolute pleasure. I was always confident driving that car. It also had another feature, “escape velocity.” Countless dangerous situations were avoided by a simple blip of the throttle. The car could MOVE.

I will never forget… Moving to pass a car on Route 926, I accelerated to over 70 in no time, then saw a car cresting the hill up ahead. I couldn’t complete the pass, and slowed to resume my place behind the passee. But the passee was also braking to let me in ahead of him. I basically slowed from 70 to nothing, then sheepishly tucked in behind the passee, but my brake rotors were billowing white smoke (okay, the stock brakes on the Mustang flat-out sucked). The first ten years with TFROG were all about upgrades – I didn’t simply replace parts, I replaced them with better. Brake rotors were the first, and I had PowerSlot rotors installed, and never wondered again whether I would be able to stop in time. A complete suspension makeover followed, along with upgraded cooling system, eletrical system, exhaust system… ad nauseum.

I’d never had a car that swallowed so much money. Between the upgrades and maintenance, the new pricey tires every 18 months, TFrog was an expensive hobby. The second ten years were all about just keeping the car on the road. Break-downs came at unexpected times and places, but I will say that my own driveway was TFrog’s favorite place to stop running. Even so, I ended up with two different tow truck numbers stored on my cellphone. I’ve had water pumps go bad, alternators, air pumps, and a five-year bout of transmission problems that four different shops couldn’t fix. TFrog had long ago been paid off, but repair bills (some very high) would come at odd moments, and there’s never a convenient time to have a car in the shop. I have twice had my tailpipe fall off because of age (not an attractive look or sound).

But, oh, how I loved that car. We had recently passed the 250,000-mile mark, and I drove almost all of those miles with a big grin on my face.

After 19 years, TFrog was in need of thousands of dollars in repairs and restoration. A really good show-black paint job was quoted at $4,000, alone. The right tailpipe fell off one day, and, looking up underneath, I saw that TFrog had cancer – a good deal of rust. TFrog’s days were numbered.

After a succession of Ford Escapes, Jean surprised me by picking out her next lease, a 2013 Focus SE Sedan, fully optioned. The Ruby Red color was extra, but so pretty… I played with that car for a week, read all the reviews, and decided that it was time to trade TFrog for a 2013 Focus S sedan, tuxedo black (of course), with no options. The savings in gasoline, alone, would offset the lease payments, so I was getting a de facto free car.

Of course, I miss the V8. There is much to be said about the sound, the acceleration, or just burbling down the street in 2nd gear. The Focus is an entirely different world. But with TFrog dying and an all-new Mustang due out in late 2014, I opted to lease the Focus for three years to get me through.

The Focus is a hoot. First was the amazement at seeing my average mpg go from 17 to 30+. I found myself playing the mpg game – I’d fill up, get out on the highway to go to work, and try to get the mpg above 50 (which I did on a number of occasions). If I take it easy on the accelerator and do a lot of coasting, I can average 34mpg over a tankful of gas. I don’t often end up there, but somewhere over 30mpg is the norm.

The manual transmission is … well … sweet. Shifting is carefree, even though it seems to jump out of first ahead of the shift to second. It could use a 6th gear for highway driving, but the easy clutch pedal is no struggle in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Ford has nailed the suspension and handling in these cars. For a front wheel drive car, the Focus is a joy on twisty roads. Reviewers refer to the suspension and tightness as very European, which makes sense, since the car was designed by Ford Europe.

Since this is my first new car in 20 years (Jean has had a succession of leased vehicles, on average every 3 years), I am enjoying the newness of it all. I have a good number of old Mustang parts in the garage, along with oil, rags, carnuba wax, and other things I don’t need now. The Focus is mine for 39 months, and then gets traded for something new.

The plan was to get back into a Mustang (at this writing, I still haven’t seen the new 2015 Mustang in person), but I can’t stop reading the reviews. It may be that what I really wanted was not the base model sedan with no options, but the Focus ST with no options. While the base Focus has a lively 4-cylinder 2.0 liter engine putting out 160hp (not shabby in a little car), the Focus ST has a turbocharger with an output of 250+hp, and suspension tweaks to help put all of that power to use. On paper, the Focus ST is a tick faster to 60mph and in the quarter mile than my old 1993 5.0 V8 Mustang. Impressive. And it would still average more than 30mpg.

So I debate. New V6 Mustang or Focus ST. At the moment, it is likely that my Mustang days are over, since I’m leaning Focus…

back to TOP

Sickness

Recent Twitter war:

dwight munroe ‏@tfrogdotcom
There’s a group o’ yahoos in Nevada making a strong case for tighter 2nd Amendment regulation. Patriots, my ass. #BundyRanch

will nevertell ‏@WNevertell
@tfrogdotcom read the declaration of independence they are doing there  duty study history before you run your mouth dont be a commy

dwight munroe ‏@tfrogdotcom
@WNevertell Next time I drive the turnpike and refuse to pay the tolls, I sure hope some yahoo “militia” shows up to cover my back.

will nevertell ‏@WNevertell
@tfrogdotcom then protest it dont just bitch about it

dwight munroe ‏@tfrogdotcom
@WNevertell Sorry, I thought we were pretending that this was a “Declaration of Independence” issue, instead of just refusing to pay bills.

will nevertell ‏@WNevertell
@tfrogdotcom this is way bigger then a bill do so research or stfu

dwight munroe ‏@tfrogdotcom
@WNevertell Right. ‘Cause if Bundy HAD paid his bill, all of this would have happened anyway. Sure. THINK, dammit.

will nevertell ‏@WNevertell
@tfrogdotcom you are a sheep if it wasnt bundy it would have been someone else just one more straw on the camels back  go back to sleepsheep

dwight munroe ‏@tfrogdotcom
@WNevertell You’re desperate to make something out of nothing. You backed the wrong horse, and now you’re stuck. Me sheep? #bundyranch

will nevertell ‏@WNevertell
@tfrogdotcom that is the  thing I back freedom not the man  i hop you wake up some day

dwight munroe ‏@tfrogdotcom
@WNevertell Freedom to what? What “freedom” has been quashed here? You don’t like land use fees? You don’t like taxes? What, exactly?

will nevertell ‏@WNevertell
>no reply<

There is a sickness upon the land.

This is 2014, not 1776. A lot has happened in the last 238 years, but let’s try to keep up.

There was, some years ago (okay, a lot of years ago), a running skit on Saturday Night Live about rules and regulations that we all adhere to, because some ONE person screwed things up for the rest of us. Some idiot was caught urinating in a public park, so now NOBODY gets to urinate in a public park. Some idiot refused to yield at an intersection, so now we have STOP signs, traffic lights, and even “red light cameras.” (We never learn.)

Some idiot tried to set fire to his sneakers aboard an aircraft, so now we ALL have to take our shoes off. And now, some idiot doesn’t want to pay land use fees, so we have a whole bunch of yahoos waving guns in Nevada to protect “our freedoms.”

“Will Nevertell” is just one example of a knee-jerk “patriot.” They love to wave the Declaration and Constitution around, but fail to acknowledge that things have changed just a bit since the 18th century. For one, there are a hell of a lot more people here in the U.S. of A., and we all have to try, somehow, to get along and respect each others’ “rights.” For another, a few more amendments to the Constitution were added after the Second. And each of those successive amendments are as valid as the first two. We no longer get to own other people. Women are no longer “belongings,” but full-fledged humans with all of the rights and responsibilities of men.

No, I don’t think anyone is treading on Mr. Bundy’s rights. (Except, possibly, Mr. Bundy himself.)

There are billionaires (BILLIONAIRES) funding political campaigns, trying to stir up “the people” to oppose this oppressive Obama regime. I can’t figure out why – they’ve never had it so good. Since 2008, they’ve seen their individual fortunes rise astronomically. What more do they want? What are they fighting, exactly? The right to despoil the land? The right to rip off millions of consumers?

They want to abolish the EPA. Of course, they do! Who wants to spend extra money to protect the people’s ability to breathe, to drink clean water? After all, we know that the free market would never behave badly where the environment is concerned, even without the EPA watching over them. (Remember Superfund? That was a whole lot of taxpayer dollars.)

Social conservatives have no problem at all trying to tread on MY rights (and everyone else’s).

The way I see it, there is only one group who are trying to whittle away at my rights, my “freedoms,” and that’s the Republican Party. In state after state, they are changing voter registration laws with only one goal in mind – to decrease Democratic turnout and to guarantee Republican victories in elections. They have come right out and admitted to that. They are rigging the system.

In state after state, and now on the federal level, too, they are whittling away at women’s rights. In some states, it is now almost impossible to get a legal abortion. Now, first – no one is “pro abortion.” I don’t believe that the women who GET abortions are pro abortion, or even happy about it. But it is a necessary choice, and I am certainly pro choice. And who is it that are trying to take away this right? Usually, it’s a group of older white guys, Republicans, who sneak these things through.

Republicans want to slash the federal safety net – cut food stamps, end extended unemployment benefits, and they’d like nothing better than to FINALLY abolish Medicare and Social Security. Today, we still hand over $4,000,000,000 in taxpayer money to oil companies, and Republicans will fight to protect that subsidy to companies who have no need for that money, while cutting a needy family’s monthly food budget by $90.00.

Someone once said that progressives are always looking forward, conservatives always looking back.

Some conservatives, like my friend Will Nevertell, seem to want to take us all the way back to 1783 (pre-Constitution – more Articles of Confederation). Some want to take us back to the good ol’ 1950s. And still others seem to prefer the Dark Ages, when life was good, a man was a man, and Church was the only game in town.

Doesn’t matter how far back someone else wants to take this country, I want to go forward. There are a LOT more good people in this country than yahoos. It’s just that the good folks don’t want to make a ruckus, don’t seek out attention, don’t want to raise a fuss. Problem is, all of the yahoos will come out to vote in every election, while the good folks only turn out in presidential election years.

The good folks DID show up in large numbers in Madison, Wisconsin to support public unions, when Wisconsin Republicans wanted to strip them of all bargaining power. The good folks DID show up in large numbers to support Wendy Davis, when Texas Republicans were trying to outlaw abortion. In both cases, the good folks were ignored, and Republicans did what they wanted to do, anyway.

There is a sickness upon the land, and until the good folks start exercising their rights (while they still have them), the yahoos will be running things at the state and local level. And nothing – NOTHING – will ever be done about the obvious problem this country has with guns, with voting rights, with income inequality, with substandard education, with the millions upon MILLIONS of folks who wonder if they’re going to even eat tomorrow.

And Will Nevertell will never know what hit him.

 

No choice

In 2008, Obama was elected president. Ever since, we have seen historic obstructionism in the Republican Congress. We’ve had obstructionism before, but this is a whole new level. The minority leader in the Senate went on record immediately as saying that the Republicans’ #1 goal was to ensure that Obama was a one-term president. He was good to his word.

Never mind that the U.S. was suffering economic collapse. Never mind that Americans were teetering on the edge. The Republicans in Congress were determined to block anything that Obama wanted.

The United States of America no longer has a AAA credit rating. That’s obscene. And we no longer have that rating, because several in Congress had no real idea what “raising the debt ceiling” was about. They decided that this simple procedural vote should be an occasion for brinkmanship – a chance to gain huge concessions from the Democrats (who, by the way, could not believe that anyone would risk putting the United States into default). In so doing, and even though the debt ceiling was ultimately raised, our credit rating suffered.

In 2010, Republicans nationwide ran on “jobs, jobs, jobs.” As always, with politicians you have to ingore what they say, and watch what they do. In one state house after another, “jobs, jobs, jobs” became “abortion, abortion, abortion.” Republicans dropped tax rates for businesses and wealthy donors right off the bat, then cried “budget crisis,” going after public sector workers (hardly “the enemy”) and slashing programs (mostly that benefit the poor, but also education – who needs that?). In part, the budget crises were of their own making. I don’t think that even they knew how bad things were going to get. Once revenues began drying up, they couldn’t very well reverse their own tax cuts or, god forbid, raise taxes or fees in other areas, and so they dealt with rising deficits in the only way they could – by cutting even more government services and personnel.

We now have cities declaring bankruptcy, cities that can’t pay their police, their firefighters, their teachers, their other essential service divisions.

I’m watching the U.S. become a second-class country. This pains me, because I WANT the U.S. to be the greatest country on the planet. And it WAS, not too long ago.

We swore not to raise taxes. A lot of Republicans actually signed a “pledge,” promising that they’d never raise taxes under any circumstances. Ignore the fact that this is insanity as policy, and look where it leads us.

We went to war (twice) without bothering to put the expenses in a budget. Shortly after W. “gave the American people their money back” (“Bush tax cuts”), 9/11 happened. He decided to take us to Afghanistan (good intention) and to Iraq (bad, bad), but forgot that we’d have to pay for it. A logical thing to do would be to say to Americans, “Hey, you know those tax cuts we just gave you? We need them back,” and help pay for the wars. The American people would have understood and been okay with returning to the previous tax levels. But, no. We put a trillion dollars of war effort on the company credit card.

If we don’t raise taxes to pay for a war, when do we raise taxes?

Suddenly, when Obama is elected president, there’s a huge, gaping national debt. I guess it was invisible in previous years, because I don’t remember hearing all that much about it. Once Obama was in office, though, he insisted that all that company credit card debt be put back on the books, signed a HUGE spending bill to save banks and give more tax relief to Americans, and suddenly the national debt was an issue. Nevermind that the country’s economy was in freefall – paying off the debt was paramount.

Problem is, when the economy is in freefall – when companies are not spending money, when consumers are not spending money, the only entity that CAN spend money and thereby create demand IS the government. Don’t tell me that the stimulus package did not work – facts would indicate otherwise. Facts would also seem to indicate that the stimulus package should have been larger! When government spends nothing on infrastructure, when governments slash education funding, when police and teachers are laid off… It’s doubly difficult to come back from that.

Republicans reluctantly agreed to pass an infrastructure spending bill recently (in between legislation on abortion). “Government doesn’t create jobs” is one of those idiotic things I hear Republicans say – there’s no foundation to that statement. This highway spending bill will, in fact, create plenty of jobs (obviously) AND begin to fix the crumbling state of roads and bridges.

I had been a registered Republican all of my life, since first voting in 1972. After the American people bought into the insanity of the 2010 elections, handing one state house after another over to people who LIED to get elected, and then watching what these liars DID, I’d had enough. In 2011, I grudgingly changed my voter registration to Democrat. Not because I am a Democrat, but because the Republican Party has simply gone nuts.

I watched this year’s primary, often pained at what I saw. The candidates truly were a “clown circus,” and I kept wondering if these were really the best we could come up with. It occurred to me that the BEST available talent was sitting this election cycle out, because they knew that Obama would not be defeated… But along the way, these candidates became ever more extreme, to the point that fact (and science) was somehow anti-American. They waved their flags, supported our troops, and tried to top each other in opposition to women’s rights. Basically, the entire primary became a show geared toward the 10% most extreme right-wing elements of the country, ignoring the vast majority of us who are somewhat level-headed. Fine. You want that 10%? They’re all yours.

(Rick Santorum?!? Seriously?)

In any other election cycle (say, 2008), Mitt Romney would be treated by the media as the cartoon politician he is. I can’t honestly say that I know where he stands on any single issue (his fault, not mine), except that he wants to lower tax rates for the well-to-do. After a disgraceful, often comic series of flips on virtually every issue, it’s impossible to tell who the real Romney is. As a campaigner, he’s painful to watch. He talks a lot, says nothing. He embraces Donald Trump for his endorsement (DONALD TRUMP!!!).

(This sums up today’s Republican Party – Donald Trump as “Elder Statesman.”)

He’s running on his vast business experience as the better option to save our nation’s economy, but he has no business experience that’s relevant. And, please, don’t look too closely at that business experience, either! In fact, please ignore that business experience, and let’s talk … uh… “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Ohmigod.

In 2010, I overestimated the intelligence of the American voter. To me, Republicans, led by their new Tea Party affiliates, were simply not an option. They had already spent two years trying to sink the U.S. economy, just to make a president look bad, and I never would have believed that the people would actually reward them for it. But I also underestimated the power of lies. This year, those lies are being broadcast continually, fed by unlimited dollars from god-knows-where (Oh, I think we know where…).

Here’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans:
Democrats will spin, they’ll put on the happy face, they may actually slip out a lie. When called on that lie, however, they pull it back.
Republicans look you in the face and lie, lie, lie. Romney, himself, is a serial liar. When called on those lies, they happily repeat, repeat, repeat those lies, knowing that the public will eventually believe them. Republicans are keeping factcheck.org and Politifact on overtime, but they have (in a Klingon sense) “no honor.” They lie. Don’t believe me – get a second opinion, especially if your only source for news is Fox. Do yourself a favor – Google is your friend. Don’t be afraid to learn.

The Republican goal is to reduce government to its lowest levels (except the military). They DO envision a time when Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, Pell grants, and all other “social safety nets” are no more. They DO intend to privatize every government function that can be privatized, and they DO want to “starve the beast” by cutting revenues and cutting spending. Medicaid (a program for the most hard-pressed among us) was the low-hanging fruit, and the easiest to go after. Medicare – a wildly popular government program – is next (a voucher system for grandma). Social Security – my god, it’s got the word “social” right there in the title! Privatize it. Hand all that money over to Wall Street, where it’ll be nice and safe.

Problem is, there are, in fact, functions of the government that cannot be done better by the private sector. Prisons. Space flight. National highway system. Regulation. Oops, did I say regulation? Yes – because we’ve all seen with our own eyes what happens when the private sector is left unregulated. Think of the worst possible outcome, and they’ll always go beyond even that. Why did we establish a Superfund? Why did our largest, most successful banks need billions and billions of taxpayer dollars? Personally, I have NO desire to return to rampant pollution in air and water. I WANT the EPA. I WANT the FDA. I WANT the FAA. I WANT people checking on our food supply, our transportation, our banking, our corporate environmental waste.

I WANT the U.S. Postal Service. I have no idea why we’re trying to kill off the Post Office, but stop it. There isn’t a company in the world that can do what the Post Office does; at least, not without huge government subsidies. Without Congressional interference, the Post Office could very well be profitable, so keep your damn Government out of my mail delivery! (Yes, a small jab at the Tea Party.)

Once again, the “Bush tax cuts” are about to expire. Let them. Let them ALL expire, and don’t try to bring them back. We have wars to pay for, investments in our nation to pay for, police and teachers to re-hire. Yes, we even have a national debt that needs attention. Now is not the time to think about lowering taxes even more. We’re Americans, goddamnit. We can handle it. Stop trying to buy votes by letting me keep another $5.00 each week. The government has already spent the money, so let the tax rates go up so we can pay it back.

If you “support our troops,” vote Democrat. Republicans SAY they support our troops, but Republicans have a nasty habit of putting them in harm’s way. And Republicans have a nasty record on taking care of those military personnel when they come back. It’s crazy, I know, but the Democrats are actually the party that supports our troops.

If your number one concern is the economy, vote Democrat. Recent history (oh, the last 30 to 35 years, anyway) shows that the economy is in better hands when a Democrat is in the White House. Savings and Loan scandal. Iran-Contra scandal and a sharp little recession under Reagan (who, by the way, dealt with it completely differently than today’s Republicans want to), and the ultimate Recession by the end of W.’s second term. Bill Clinton got a blow job. But at least the country was doing just fine when he did.

If your number one concern is the Supreme Court, vote Democrat. Republican appointees have now told us that “corporations are people, my friend.” That’s nuts. Corporations are MADE UP of people, but corporations, themselves, are not people. They exist only on paper. Democratic appointees, on the other hand, are hardly the drooling liberals that some would think – they’re far more moderate. If you want a Supreme Court that more accurately reflects the People of the United States, vote Democrat.

If your number one concern is keeping government out of your private lives, vote Democrat. Republicans have shown a rather embarrassing overconcern for our sex lives. Aside from their attitude toward the LGBT community, they’ve made it their mission to OUTLAW ABORTION in all cases. These old, white Republican men know far better than any woman what her options should be. In fact, yes, they would outlaw contraception, if they thought they could get away with it (they’ve tried). I keep hearing “family values” thrown around, but still have no clear idea what they’re talking about. Have these interfering idiots actually taken a look at this country? WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANY MORE, TOTO. It’s 20-stinkin’-12, not 1952. And even 1952 wasn’t anything like what they think they’re aiming for. So stay the #*%&@ out of my family, you loons, and focus on your own.

If your number one priority is jobs, jobs, jobs, vote Democrat. There’s only one person who’s pushing for help in this area. The Republicans have nothing. No jobs bill. No plan. No idea. Their candidate is Mitt Romney, for god’s sake. Only President Obama has been leading the way toward economic stimulus and job creation, except that the Republicans in Congress will have nothing to do with it.

All of the good that has come out of the economy since the Fall of 2008 is clearly because of Obama and the Democrats.

All of the negatives in the economy since that time can be laid firmly at the feet of the Republicans in Congress, who have a mission – NOT to help the country, but purely to defeat Obama’s re-election.

To my mind, the Republicans in Congress have committed nothing short of economic treason.

It would pain me to see them rewarded for that.

This election is not about choice. There is none.

 

stay cation

I’m on vacation this week. There’s vacation, and then there’s vacation, as most of us fully understand. When someone says they’re going off on vacation, it was usually understood that they were packing up and going somewhere special for the week (with or without kids). In the modern usage, vacation can just as easily mean taking a little time off and puttering about the house for a week.

The latter is my vacation this time.

I’m trying to remember the last vacation of the former sort. My wife has taken me to D.C. for a long weekend, we flew out to San Francisco and drove to Lake Tahoe some years ago, but that, too, was more of a long (albeit much too short) weekend. There was a time that we went up to the Finger Lakes for four (or five?) years running, with mixed results. Again, my wife asked me to meet her in Phoenix one year (she was on a business trip), and we stayed in Sedona and made the obligatory trek to the Grand Canyon. She lured me out there with the promise of a Mustang convertible rental – how could I refuse? And there was a short trip out to Seattle and Mount Ranier in there, somewhere.

But, of late, it’s been the stay at home type of vacation.

It is said that Americans don’t take (or get) nearly enough vacation time, when compared to the rest of the industrialized world (read: Europe). I suppose that if I only had one or two weeks each year, I’d want to make them something special. Fact is, as we get older, we find that we have more and more vacation time, so that doesn’t translate into a vacation-prime every time we take off. Personally, I’ve come to schedule a week off in the Spring for yard clean-up, and another week in the Fall for the annual raking of leaves and (again) clean-up. Then there’s the ‘Tween Week (Christmas to New Year’s), when it’s just “silly” to work. All of these are, by definition, staycations.

Star Trek quote:
Kirk: Ah, Mr. Scott. You’re looking well.
Scott: Aye, sir. Had a wee bout, but Dr. McCoy pulled me through.
Kirk: Were you ill?
McCoy (whispered to Kirk): Shore leave.

I think that I, too, am allergic to shore leave. When I go to work, I know what I’m doing, I’m pretty good at it, and there’s a sense that I’ve accomplished something. Left to my own devices (vacation), I have no idea what I’m doing. I wake up each day, and my first question is, “What do I want to do today?” And I’m no good at coming up with things to do. By Thursday, the week will have almost passed, and I will have done nothing – nothing to write home about, as they say. Then I’ll be overcome with wasted-vacation-guilt and force myself to go somewhere, do something, just so I can say I did.

So far, it’s Monday afternoon, and I’ve worked on my website a bit. I’m waiting for Mr. UPS to drop off a package of parts, so I can get TFrog‘s door handle replaced. I’m going to schedule a tune-up for the furnace. And I have to cut the grass, since I put it off this weekend (knowing I had nothing planned for today).

But I was reminded of the last vacation that was painful to end. We spent a glorious week in a rented shore house on Lake George, just south of Ticonderoga (the much preferred end of the lake). We had two channels on the TV, and a 1,600 foot hill behind us, which we climbed so that we could have a cellphone signal. The rest of the week was spent exploring, relaxing, hiking, etc etc etc, and the day we packed up to come home hurt. One of my last photos of the trip has haunted me ever since, a reminder of what vacation should be – a place you just don’t want to leave.

Lake George good-bye

back to TOP