The Thinker

Brave new carless world

Her graduation gift (if the over $100,000 we spent on her college education wasn’t enough of a gift) was the title to her car. It was a 2005 Toyota Prius, with about 110,000 miles on it. She had the mis/good fortune to have its battery go out on it a few days after delivery. It was good because these hybrid batteries cost about $3000 or more, so it was covered by the warranty.

So why is she giving up her car? It’s paid for and thanks to us she doesn’t have student loans to pay. It’s not like our daughter is convenient to mass transportation. She lives in the far-flung Washington D.C. suburbs, Manassas Park to be exact, known for its traffic, miles of tacky strip malls and its poor public transportation. What drove her to give up driving was a check engine light. A mechanic said it would be about a thousand dollars to repair it as well as replace some tires, as the old ones wouldn’t pass inspection. The Prius is about the most reliable car available. Despite its age for some modest repairs she could ride it another 100,000 miles.

The problem was she was hardly ever using it. She works from home doing closed captioning for television, mostly at night when most of us are asleep. Her life is a studio apartment on the third floor and a black cat. With her free time she mostly writes. Extremely introverted by nature she had no place she really needed to go to.

So she ran the numbers. It turned out that for her it was much cheaper to go carless. She has stopped paying hundreds of dollars a year for insurance, not to mention all the costs associated with maintenance. No more personal property taxes to pay. No more registration fees and license fees. No federal and state gasoline taxes either. To the extent she needs to get around she will now use feet, her new bike and Uber.

Mostly she will be using Uber. So it costs her $15 or $20 each way to take the cat to the vet, or herself to the doctor. It’s still much cheaper than owning a car. A bus is not out of the question, but it involves walking about a mile to the main drag and putting up with all sorts of inconvenient transfers. She’s not poor, just a bit monetarily challenged. So Uber it is, and sometimes the Schwinn bike when the weather cooperates. For food, she has Safeway deliver it and creates an order online. It usually costs $10, but she can save money by having deliveries during the off hours.

I think my daughter maybe something of a trendsetter. Of course lots of young people are giving up their cars, but they tend to live in more connected neighborhoods, not way out near the edge of the frontier where she is living. If she wants to see a movie, she may be able to bike to it if she dares take her bike down the strip and under I-66 to the Cineplex. She is tight with a couple of longstanding girlfriends and usually goes with them. Most likely one of them will pickup and deliver. Or she can stream something online.

It’s quite a self-contained life, and I can empathize. I lived without a car for a few years in my early 20s (she is 26) and did not enjoy it. I couldn’t afford a new or used car and I could not afford to keep the old one going. Once a week I took the county bus to Rockville, Maryland for groceries at the Giant and lugged them home. They had to fit in two bags. It worked but it was not pleasant. Of course in those days there was no Internet and virtually no one worked from home. If you did, a car was essential to your business. You had to go meet people to make a living. I biked to work most days, took the bus if I could make it work with my schedule or simply walked toting an umbrella. I lived cheap but I didn’t like it. It made certain things that most people take for granted, like dating women, pretty much impossible.

This is not a problem for my daughter. She’s not interested in dating anyone, let alone getting serious and married. She says she is asexual, so she simply doesn’t feel attracted to anyone, at least not in a way that might lead to conjugal pleasures. There’s no place she is dying to go, at least at the spur of the moment. If she needs things, she buys it online and has it delivered. (Unsurprisingly, she has Amazon Prime.) She has discerned that we live in a service economy, which means you can get pretty much any service delivered these days. The exceptions are doctor and vet visits (and a few vets do make house calls) and hair stylists.

That’s where Uber comes in. She says Uber is better and much cheaper than a taxi, but it is effectively a taxi. Her smartphone tells her when the driver will arrive, so she doesn’t have to waste time waiting around. She pays in advance over the Internet. She knows of course that those Uber drivers probably aren’t making much money. Uber won’t treat them as employees. They are individual contractors, which mean they pay the freight for maintaining their cars, not her.

I’m waiting for her to tell me it was all a big mistake but I don’t think she’ll give me the satisfaction. It all works for her. It probably won’t work for those who still have to go to an office everyday, but that’s their problem, not hers. All this plus she got a nice chunk of change for selling her graduation gift. Meanwhile her parents still have two cars in the garage, even though being retired we use our own cars much less often. Apparently we are Luddites. We just don’t get the 21st century.

I wish her luck in her brave new carless world.

 
The Thinker

Bernie supporters: vote with your head, not your heart

It’s not much fun when you go from feeling the Bern to feeling the burn. Burns hurt!

I have supported Bernie Sanders’ campaign with actual money and some non-monetary contributions. I voted for him on Super Tuesday. I like his ideas and I liked that he truly energized people and Democrats who were not very engaged in the political process.

Radical change is not easy but as eight years of an Obama administration it’s also true that incremental change is not easy either. These days real change can happen but only when you have a supermajority in Congress and your party controls the White House. In Obama’s case it lasted just two years, but even Obamacare (on which Obama stayed largely detached) was a patchwork compromise, with centrist Democrats pulling a public option out and barely holding together long enough to pass the darn thing. With Hillary Clinton tacitly acknowledging she will have to compromise with Republicans to get things done, her incremental approach is a hard sell. There is no sign that a Republican congress will be anymore cooperative with her than they were with Obama.

Not surprisingly I bet on Sanders but Sanders too is a politician and has an ego. And it’s clear he won’t quite let go of the fact that he won’t win the party’s nomination. And his supporters are fighting – literally – for their candidate. Perhaps you saw online the ruckus at the Nevada Democratic Party Convention where his supporters shouted down opponents and threatened to send chairs hurling at those controlling the meeting. Bear in mind that Hillary Clinton won Nevada, not just its congressional districts but in actual vote tallies. She was entitled to a majority of the delegates. Were Nevada Democratic Party officials a bit tone deaf to the Sanders people? Perhaps. Still, the passion of Sanders supporters crossed a line at the convention. It was disturbing. Naturally I expected the principled Bernie Sanders to call his supporters to task, which he did weakly while complaining their cause was just and that his leadership team had nothing to do with the matter.

This was a souring moment for me. Bernie has been about principles and waging a good fight, but apparently when push literally came to shove, actual fighting is more important than principles. The sorts of actions he and his team are taking are worrisome to say the least. They are trying to convince super-delegates supporting Clinton to support Sanders instead. They have the right to do so, but gently. Supporters though are feeling the Bern by expressing anger and using a combination of harassment and bullying to twist arms, something only Donald Trump could admire. Doing so violates the principles Sanders was campaigning on: democratic socialism; it has to be done democratically. If you come to a convention with fewer pledged delegate than your opponent (Clinton) you can’t credibly make the case that you represent a majority of the Democratic Party. It makes no sense. And Sanders will almost certainly end up in the minority, since he needs more than two thirds of the remaining pledged delegates to win that majority, in spite of a narrow loss in Kentucky and a clear win in Oregon Tuesday night.

What Bernie has accomplished is amazing, but not quite enough. It’s an unpleasant fact, but that’s how it is. More disturbing is how his supporters can’t seem to accept reality and move on. I have a friend who refuses to vote for Hillary if Bernie doesn’t get the nomination. What a stupid and counterproductive thing to do!

I speak from experience because I too once felt not quite the Bern, but the Anderson: John B. Anderson, an independent that ran against Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980. Like Sanders, Anderson was right on the issues. Voting for him though was like shooting myself in the foot: I took votes away from Jimmy Carter that put Reagan in for two terms and all the wreckage that followed.

So when the 2000 election came around I was wiser and voted for Al Gore instead. Gore won a majority of votes cast, but lost to George W. Bush in Florida, at least according to some based on trying to read the intent of voters who used punch card ballots. Of course that case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately decided it. But it was the good super-liberals voting for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader that really tipped the scales in Florida. As a result Bush won and we got embroiled in a pointless war in Iraq, which has morphed into all sorts of conflicts, including the creation of the Islamic State. All because some people that normally vote Democratic would not. They went with their hearts, not their heads.

Clearly our system of electing presidents is poor. If I had my way we’d have a parliamentary form of government, not the mess we have now with party primaries and caucuses and an electoral college. But we have to work with the system we got, which means that in most elections we voters must put pragmatism over principle. The 2008 election was something of an aberration because we didn’t have to do that. In 2016, we need to go back to the old model.

To every Sanders supporter out there I say simply this: if you don’t vote for Hillary Clinton, refrain for voting or worst of all vote for Donald Trump to spite Hillary Clinton, you are making a catastrophically bad mistake, similar to but actually much worse than the one I made in 1980. Trust me, Trump is much worse than Reagan ever was. Don’t be stupid. It may not be natural, but take your enthusiasm and use it to get Hillary Clinton elected instead. She’s hardly the evil person you think she is. It’s also absolutely critical. Trump cannot and must not be president of the United States and if it happens by narrow margins you will have only yourselves to blame.

 
The Thinker

See no evil

To some extent, all political parties suffer tone deafness. Democrats are not immune. Bernie Sanders supporters are a little tone deaf to the reality that he will not be the party’s nominee. Uber-liberals were tone deaf in 2008 when John Edwards was running for president, excusing as unfounded pretty damning testimony that he was a womanizer. Liberals in general are pretty tone deaf to how difficult it will be to implement their progressive vision (for example, ending poverty) if they can win the political war.

Still, political tone deafness has hit staggering new levels with the elevation of Donald Trump, the presumed nominee of the Republican Party for the president of the United States. In January, Trump himself said that he could shoot people in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York and he would not lose voters. Clearly he was right. Over and over again Trump has proved that there is nothing he can do or say that will dissuade his supporters.

After all, they are not voting for a man based on policies; they are voting for him because they like his packaging. The Donald himself changes his mind almost daily. With Bill Clinton, this periodic triangulation looked smart as it pushed him into positive approval ratings territory while infuriating many in the Democratic Party. But at least Clinton was selectively wishy-washy. He could smell a lost cause and tack away toward one that was doable. His pragmatism was almost refreshing and was in the spirit of horse-trading that used to be how Washington ran.

With Donald Trump, opinions change daily. He said going to bar all Muslims from entering the country. He made the point over and over again in rally after rally. Now he said it was just a suggestion. As for the new Muslim mayor of London, well, he’ll invite him over. He lies over and over again, even when repeatedly caught with his pants down for the same lie. Maybe you missed the latest: that recording of one of his media spokesmen “John Miller” back in the early 1990s, who was actually Trump, and which he admitted in court. Just a couple of days ago, he wholly disclaimed it was he. Then he said, what does it matter? It was so long ago.

None of this of course is a problem for his supporters, as he predicted. They see him as someone who will get the job done (whatever that is). Maybe they figure that to get it done it requires someone who just doesn’t give a damn about being consistent, or telling the truth, or having any character. It’s pure faith but faith based on information that shows he is probably the least qualified person for anyone to place faith in. After all what he wants to do one day for the country could easily be what he does not want to do the next day. The pinging back and forth will drive Congress and bureaucrats crazy. By never really sticking to some position, he ensures none of it will actually get done.

This is after all a man who cheats on his wives, allegedly raped his first wife, harasses women routinely and cheats his investors. His record of misogyny would appall even wife beaters. This is a man who brags about his financial prowess despite many failed businesses, who cheated students out of a real education (Trump University) and who let others purchase his brand but won’t mentor them in his business acumen so they can succeed.

None of this seems to matter to Republicans, except to a few die-hard conservatives, most of who are finding it expedient to look the other way. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus says, “people just don’t care” about Trump’s mouth or his controversies. By “people” he doesn’t mean most Democrats and many independents. However, it’s clear that Republicans mostly don’t care. Some things are more important than principle, and that’s power. And The Donald is their only ticket to power, so they either sink or swim with him. The pragmatic ones are hoping a kind-hearted Democrat throws them a life preserver. (It’s probably not covered by Obamacare.)

Bear in mind many of these same Republicans were hypocritically up in arms about all sorts of transgressions by Democrats, but mostly the Clintons. In the late 1990s I inhabited a carpool filled with Republicans gleefully chortling in Bill’s misdeeds with Monica. They just loved this proof that he was poor white trash in a suit with no morals or convictions and that he lied. Apparently Clinton’s real problem was that he was born “poor white”. This was never The Donald’s problem, as he came from wealth, but it’s clear that his lack of morals or convictions don’t bother him, or his womanizing. At least Bill Clinton was discreet about his occasional womanizing. Reince Preibus says it’s unimportant. IOKIYAR: It’s okay if you’re a Republican.

I’m not surprised. Republicans are highly selective in applying principle. They are for protecting the unborn but support policies that won’t even provide formula to poor kids once they are born. Just last week House Republicans voted to cut $23 billion in food stamps. They are for religious freedom, but apparently only for Christians and Jews, and only those Christians who are not religiously liberal, anyhow definitely not Muslims, and not if your religion tells you it’s okay to have an abortion. After all they support Trump’s call to keep Muslims out of the United States. They are for an opportunity society but won’t give anyone the opportunity to succeed who doesn’t come born with moneyed parents; in fact they keep cutting off the lower rungs of the ladder to make sure the poor cannot succeed.

Donald Trump though has at least provided clarity: all that principle stuff Republicans say forms the core of their party was just a bunch of hoo-ha. It used to be that inconsistency between principles and action would set up a case of cognitive dissonance, i.e. you’d lie about the inconsistency but you didn’t even know you were lying because you couldn’t face the hurt the truth would cause. Donald Trump though has at least allowed Republicans to progress. They no longer suffer from cognitive dissonance. Now they know they are being wholly inconsistent to their principles and acknowledge that at best their principles were wholly aspirational, not something they actually intend to live or govern by.

So there should be some sort of award given to every Donald Trump supporter. It would be for bravely and completely denying the obvious truth that Trump is the worst possible candidate probably ever with a chance of winning the presidency and being so knowingly indifferent to it.

As far as I’m concerned, all Trump supporters won the Washington Post’s Worst Week in Washington award. As Chris Cillizza (its author) puts it: “Congrats, or something.”

 
The Thinker

Time in a bottle

I fell in love all over again last week. Curiously I fell in love with my daughter, who I already love. My daughter is 26. Instead, I fell back in love with my daughter, ages 10 months, one, two and a half, four, five and ten. This was because those old dusty VHS tapes of her have finally been transferred to DVD. For the first time in more than twenty years in some cases I am seeing them again.

Our VCR died a decade or so back and we felt no compelling reason to replace it, despite a stack of videotapes. Most of the videotapes were movies or TV shows, hence junk. A few of them though recorded precious memories of life with our young daughter. I never felt rich enough back then to buy a camcorder but I did rent one from time to time. I first gave it a try when our daughter Rose was ten months, resulting in the cute little snippet of her crawling around the floor of our kitchen on a Saturday morning (below).

We have tons of scrapbooks documenting lots of her milestones, most very minor. A picture turns out to be a poor substitute for a video, which like Dorothy in Oz has the magical power to transport you back in time. For those families that record everything I doubt these recordings hold much allure. Given the slim few hours I have of our daughter from those years, and seeing it again so many years later it is hard not to be transfixed.

I don’t look much different. I was younger and not quite as wide and perhaps with a bit more hair. My enchantment comes not from seeing myself, or our old neighborhood or even snippets of my parents, now both deceased. It’s mostly from being transfixed by just how inexpressibly cute our daughter was back then.

Parents generally form a love bond with their child. It’s hard not to given how much time and attention children require and how focused they are on you, as you are literally their path to survival. Over time we forget the bad stuff: the temper tantrums, the constant ear infections, getting in trouble in school, etc. Blissfully, only the good stuff remains. As children our kids are naturally innocent and if raised right they are trusting too. Watching these videos again though I had forgotten how much I enjoyed being a father. This was perhaps in part because I was stretched rather thin with a full time job and many other responsibilities. But certain rituals were sacrosanct, such as bath time and reading to my daughter before bedtime.

The intimacy of our connection was special but ultimately fleeting. At story time she would snuggle up close next to me on the couch. I’d wrap my arm around her and hold a book in the other arm. She would help turn the pages. Tucking her into bed followed. We’d watch her almost coo like a dove as she snuggled up to her stuffed dog and generally fall happily asleep. These sorts of routine moments got sporadically captured on video.

Rose was always an interesting child but for me she was most adorable at age four, with her big doe-like eyes, her utter transparency and her relentless curiosity about how the world works. She could believe in Santa Claus with complete innocence, take delight in trick or treating, get enrapt in a book or a toy and liked to impress her parents. In the videos I can see things like her throwing kisses to us while at a ballet recital or singing off-key at her kindergarten graduation.

If in the afterlife I find that time is like a camcorder I would like to go back and replay those events. I’d want to feel again the softness of her baby hair when I kissed her goodnight, the urgent intensity when she held my finger while noshing on her evening bottle and her squeals of delight when we finished reading a book together. I’d like just one more time to read her Dr. Seuss.

Those events were instrumental in the woman she has become. Writing forms the center of her life today and she is working to get professionally published. Now she has an active community of followers interested in her fan fiction. Meanwhile she lives independently with her cat and does closed captioning for TV, generally at hours when everyone else is asleep.

These memories are precious but for me they do answer the question of why are we here. We are here to enjoy life as best we can, improving it for future generations if possible. We are basically here to love and connect and one of the strongest connections is the love between parent and child.

On February 1, my father passed away. He went rather gently as these things go. He knew his time was short. I imagine as he lied in his hospital bed he too rifled through memories of many episodes like this in his own mind until death gently took him. When my time comes I hope to do the same: to succumb to eternity nestled in the memories of the loving connections I was fortunate to have through life. This is what makes life worth living. All the rest is ultimately meaningless.

 
The Thinker

Craigslist casual encounter weirdness: May 2016 (Hartford CT) Edition

I would think it would be hard (no pun intended) to get horny today. We’ve had a week of clouds and as I write yet more rain is falling. But I just checked and yes there are plenty of local Craigslist casual encounters postings today, and by local I mean Hartford, Connecticut, about an hour south of me by car.

Scanning the titles that come up, I’m not going to have a hard time finding posts that shock, disgust or reset your already low opinion of our species. But then again, Republicans pretty much have decided to nominate Donald Trump to be their candidate for president. Elevated as a species we are not, as both Trump and Craigslist casual encounters postings attest.

I can document at least 229 web page hits for my Craigslist posts in April, about average, but 122 of them are for this post, so I expect it will appear in my top ten list this year. Overall this is 15% of my web hits, which is up from last month. Scanning the first page of postings for Hartford, Connecticut this first Friday in May I find:

  • 46 men looking for a woman
  • 36 men looking for a man
  • 6 men looking for a couple
  • 6 men looking for a transgender
  • 3 women looking for a man
  • 2 women looking for a woman
  • 1 couple looking for a couple
  • 2 transgender people looking for a man

Why is it that transgender people are never looking for a woman? Anyhoo, let’s dig into the trash pile and see if some of these posters can out Trump the Donald:

  • She’s 21, claims the bad weather is making her super horny and wants to suck off as many men as possible today … in you are young and in shape.
  • Women, this is as close as you are going to get to a zipless fuck. This 48-year-old married man’s version is a wordless fuck. It’s unclear if moaning and screaming count as words. It’s been my experience that “Yes! Yes!” is usually in there somewhere no matter what.
  • Speaking of kinks here’s another one I’ll never understand: wanting to be cleanup boy. Well, he’s no boy, he’s 28, from Manchester and he’s not talking about tidying up things in your bedroom while you go at it. No he wants to eat the woman out while the guy plows into her, which I would think would be impossible to do simultaneously. What he really wants to clean up is the mess after male orgasm. Umm, pass.
  • She’s so horny to try a woman she’ll pay for dinner and a hotel room.
  • Some women are into well-endowed men. This man is into well-endowed women and we’re not talking ass or breasts here. Is this a case of suppressed micro-penis envy?
  • I guess it’s never too late to act out your bi-curious feelings as if this comes to pass it will be a first time for this partnered 58-year-old woman. The partner would like to watch, if you’re willing. And speaking of older bi-curious people, here’s a heavy 60-plus bi-curious man from Manchester who wants to be bottomed by either the male in the couple or the woman or both.
  • Last month I confessed my ignorance about tribbing. Now I understand. (Warning: explicit picture.)
  • This 30-year-old man from Vernon claims to be newly bi-curious which means he really wants to try his own sex. I’m no fashion pro obviously but I strongly suggest you lose the black socks and repost dude.
  • He’s 24, looking for a mature daddy and says he is a “semi passable sissy”. Given the hair on that ass and the ridiculous pink panties I’d say semi passable is pushing it. Still, it’s more truth in advertising than you usually see on Craigslist.
  • Finally: safe sex on Craigslist! Watch this couple go at it on Skype and wank off to them!
  • This 29-year-old man from Bristol doesn’t understand that a FWB is not a one time casual encounter.
  • Boy, you do want them young if you are 24 years old and want to be the daddy in the relationship. Most likely whatever you have in mind would be statutory rape.
  • Ladies, will you trade free rent for sex? If so, this 33-year-old man from Hartford wants you to contact him. If you will trade a part-time handyman for sex, this 55-year-old man from Enfield is also looking for a fair exchange of value.
  • Speaking as a man, every once in a while I come across an adorable woman who in some fantasy world I passionately want to know in the biblical sense and then I find myself crestfallen when I learn they are gay. (Hint: One of them is Ellen DeGeneres.) I imagine women come across hunks like this black man and feel crestfallen too knowing he won’t want you. But guys, he’s very selective. To even get considered you must be packing at least nine inches.
  • She’s 20, from Windsor Locks and is looking for a woman who will help her tease her husband by having girl on girl sex in front of him, leading into a threesome, which is perhaps the strangest anniversary celebration ever. Kinky, yes. Romantic, no.
  • Ladies, she’s 29, from East Hartford and wants to use her strap on on you. Clearly, she likes to be on top of things.
  • Men, double your fun: two women from Hartford are looking for one lucky man.

More next month.

 
The Thinker

Second Viewing: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 4)

I may be ODing on STTNG. Last night Patrick Stewart/Capt. Jean Luc Picard kept coming in and out of my dreams. It still amazes me that I purged most of this stuff over the years. In a way that’s good because it’s like seeing STTNG for the first time 25 years or so later. Season 3 was overall very good and ended up with a nasty encounter with the Borg. Except for the cliffhanger from Season 3 in the first episode, there are no more Borg encounters in Season 4. But the Klingon Empire is on the verge of a civil war and the Romulans seem anxious to find a pretext to start a new war with the Federation. Capsule episode reviews follow, so if you are seeing the series for the first time you can use these to skip the good stuff.

  1. The Best of Both Worlds, Part II. Captain Picard is still Locutus of Borg and has his mind tapped by the Borg to learn about the Federation’s weaknesses. To cope, the new albeit temporary Captain Riker has to develop some new strategies that Picard/Locutus could not infer. The Enterprise is severely disabled by its encounter, but at least it survives. The Borg destroy a fleet of starships then beeline for Earth, followed by the Enterprise once it affects repairs. Naturally using unorthodox strategies the Borg ship is destroyed and the captain is rescued, but just barely. Picard feels mentally raped and struggles to resume his command. A+
  2. Family. Trying to get his shit back together and since the Enterprise is back at Earth getting repaired, Picard takes a holiday with his family at their vineyard in France. Family turns out to be his grouchy and insular brother, his sweet sister-in-law and his “uncle”, actually his nephew. This is really a continuation of the last episode and shows just how ripped apart Picard became when captured by the Borg. Patrick Steward does some of his best acting of the series in this episode as Picard works through control issues with his brother. Meanwhile, Worf has a reunion with his adopted human parents while Beverly discovers a dated tape of her late husband who has a message for Wesley. A
  3. Brothers. Presumably Brent Spiner (Data) got paid extra for this episode as he meets his dying “father”/creator Noonean Soong (played by Spiner) and reunites with his evil “brother” Lore (also played by Spiner). Unfortunately, Data hijacks the Enterprise in the process but it’s not his fault; his homing beacon is built into his firmware and Dad wants to give Data an emotion chip before he dies. C
  4. Suddenly Human. The Enterprise rescues a Talarian vessel with five boys, one human. The human boy Jono was adopted by a Talarian (Endar) after the Talarians killed his parents and many other humans. The war-like Talarians are very anti-human but Jono seems attached to them. Picard exposes Jono to his real family, setting up a huge cognitive dissonance episode in the boy. Where does he belong? B
  5. Remember Me. In typical Star Trek fashion, the highly atypical thing happens but it’s all Wesley’s fault when his science experiment goes awry again. This generates what seems to be a cascading series of events where the Enterprise crew keeps mysteriously shrinking but only Dr. Crusher can remember the way things used to be. Although the crisis of the day seems too familiar, surprisingly this is actually a terrific episode as it plays mind games with you. Gates McFadden again gets to prove she can be a hell of an actor too when given a chance to shine. Good stuff. A
  6. Legacy. Tasha Yar’s sister shows up when the Enterprise shows up at their late security officer’s home planet. They are there to rescue people from a Federation freighter that crashed on the planet. On the planet two groups of rival gangs fight an endless battle for control. Tasha’s sister Ishara is used by one side to try to gain leverage by one group with the Federation, while the Enterprise crew tries to make her feel at home and offers her a chance to leave the planet for good like her sister did. Ishara seems willing to help and to leave, but is she really being duplicitous? And is her friendship with Data real or just a tactic? B
  7. Reunion. Klingons sure are a lot of bother and will become more so later in the season. In this episode Worf’s half human/half Klingon love interest/infatuation from Season 2 (K’Ehleyr) returns with a boy that bears an uncanny resemblance to Worf and turns out to be his son. K’Ehleyr is trying to mediate a succession dispute within the Klingon empire because its leader has been poisoned and is nearing death. In addition, an explosion is determined to be due to a Romulan bomb, suggesting that the Klingon Duras who quests for power is in cahoots with the Romulans. All this while Worf is officially “dis-accommodated” adds up to a big power struggle that Picard gets pulled into. B+
  8. Future Imperfect. During an away mission, Riker mysteriously awakes sixteen years later. He is the Captain of the Enterprise but everyone assures him he was suffering from a condition that would cause this memory loss. Or is something else going on? Of course it’s the latter but getting there is half the fun. B
  9. Final Mission. Wesley finally gets a call to attend Starfleet Academy but before he leaves he and Captain Picard end up on an away mission with a crusty miner whose badly maintained vessel ends up on an inhospitable planet. Wesley and Picard get to tell each other how much they really admire each other, and Wesley also gets to save the captain’s life. This feels like a creepy bromance written to satisfy the fans, but it’s utterly predictable and uninteresting. On the plus side, the Enterprise doesn’t have Wesley to muck things up anymore, at least not for a while. C-
  10. The Loss. Troi mysteriously loses her empathic powers and she finds it is devastating. It doubtless has something to do with the two dimensional creature off the helm and a powerful nearby cosmic string which of course looks lethal and will tear the Enterprise apart if our heroes can’t figure it out in time. Marina Sirtis does a great job here as a hobbled empath but otherwise the jeopardy feels kind of forced, like the basic plot that we see over and over. B
  11. Data’s Day. Data documents his day for a researcher and learns to dance from Dr. Crusher all while Chief O’Brian’s fiancé Keiko (Rosalind Chao) abruptly calls of their wedding. Meanwhile, to give the episode some semblance of a plot, there is an encounter with the Romulans and a spy on board. Keiko became a semi-regular of the show in this episode, at least until the producers spun off Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where the two lovebirds eventually migrated to. C
  12. The Wounded. A highly regarded Captain is busy destroying Cardassian ships against the orders of the Federation High Council, as he suspects them of planning to restart a war. This is a terrific show and one of the highlights of the fourth season, with a delicious last minute or so when Picard has a little chat with the captain of a Cardassian ship. The Federation simply does not pay Picard enough! A+
  13. Devil’s Due. A mythical power returns after many millennium to a planet that seems eager to believe she must enslave them, as their predecessors had signed a contract with her for the long period of peace. Is she real or is there a man behind the curtain? Not hard to figure this one out so it’s easy to skip. C
  14. Clues. The Enterprise goes through a wormhole and loses 30 seconds … or was it 24 hours? This is actually a pretty clever whodunit with a twist ending you probably won’t see coming and very well done. It turns the normal jeopardy plot on its head. A
  15. First Contact. The Federation has been studying the humanoids on Malcor III and decides it’s time to make first contact and tell them about the rest of the universe. But are they really sufficiently advanced enough? Thinks go awry for Riker on the away mission, which sets up a massive case of future shock. B+
  16. Galaxy’s Child. Geordi gets to meet in the flesh Dr. Brahms, the designer of their engines he first “met” in a simulation on the holodeck in Season 3. He discovers that Holodeck simulations are not perfect leading to some embarrassing incidents for the infatuated Geordi. Fortunately Dr. Brahms is around when they uncover a one of its kind huge spacefaring creature. When it reproduces it finds itself drawn to the Enterprise and sucks its energy like a vampire with a fresh neck. Geordi and Dr. Brahms have to play nicely and wean this new “baby” off the hull before of course the Enterprise gets destroyed. C+
  17. Night Terrors. Why did the crew of the Brattain go crazy and kill themselves? The Enterprise crew gets the same symptoms when they investigate the incident, leading to literally sleepless nights, crew violence and the Enterprise getting trapped inside yet another rift. Nothing really new here. The crew didn’t get much sleep, but you might sleep through this one. C
  18. Identity Crisis. Geordi reunites with an old service friend and superior Susanna. They are the only two still alive from an away team mission both were on in a previous posting. On a new mission back to the place where the incident occurred, Susanna transforms into an alien creature with Geordi following suit. Can this be reversed before their entire human DNA is changed to the new species? Of course it can; Levar Burton had a contract to fulfill. B-
  19. The Nth Degree. Lieutenant Barclay from Engineering is back and having some success fighting his shyness but soon becomes extroverted and unnaturally smart, in fact sort of superhuman. It turns out he’s really channeling the powers of a race at the center of the galaxy. C
  20. Qpid. Vash is back and Q shows up for the ride. Q takes the key staff on a not so merry visit to Sherwood Forest and Nottingham. This is pure fluff and was written to perhaps give the cast a change of pace. It’s really just very irritating but with the occasional flash of humor. D
  21. The Drumhead. Is the explosion of a dilithium crystal chamber a work of sabotage? A respected retired ambassador with a chip on her shoulder arrives to find out and quickly turns it into an inquisition and fishing expedition. Naturally, Picard is greatly concerned by this 24th century McCarthy-ism. It’s not too hard to see where this is going but somehow it doesn’t matter as it is done so well and Patrick Stewart does such an adroit job with Picard’s untangling of this matter. A-
  22. Half a Life. Finally a Lwaxana Troi episode you don’t entirely cringe through. Since Picard won’t let her make his life miserable, she latches onto a visiting scientist from the planet Kaelon II (David Ogden Stiers, or Major Winchester if you remember M*A*S*H) who is trying to save his planet by fine tuning its cooling star. Dr. Timicin though is approaching age 60 and on his planet that means a nice life celebration followed by a peaceful death, and Lwaxana is not amused. Still not a great episode but the best of the bunch for the executive producer’s wife (Majel Barrett) seemingly annual guest appearance. B-
  23. The Host. Crusher falls madly in love. Unfortunately, she falls for a Trill without understanding it’s a species that lives inside a host’s body. The body dies and it moves temporarily to Commander Riker and finally to a female host. The idea of trill is actually one of the better ones that Star Trek writers kicked out and this one explores the meaning of love and actually shines some light on the subject. This is topical 25 years later as we struggle through issues like whether a transgender person can use the restroom of their choice. Good topical stuff all these years later. A
  24. The Mind’s Eye. When Geordi takes a shuttlecraft to a conference, he finds he is kidnapped by the Romulans, brainwashed and his visor is hacked to make him an assassin when he returns to the Enterprise. This time it is largely up to Data to figure out what’s going on, and he’ll need all the sleuthing powers of his hero Sherlock Holmes to figure it out. A-
  25. In Theory. Data gets hit on by the comely Ensign D’Sora and attempts to be her boyfriend, but of course android and human have inherent relationship problems. Data makes it seem like he has no experience in the lovemaking department but it’s not quite true. In Season 2, he related that he and Security Officer Tasha Yar were “intimate” so perhaps he had some tricks up his sleeve. Alas, it doesn’t look like this relationship was consummated. Data turns out to be D’Sora’s “rebound” boyfriend after a failed relationship. C-
  26. Redemption I. It’s time for a season cliffhanger, but no Borg this time, just more Klingon succession issues all while Worf tries to remove the unjust dishonor placed on his family. It looks like there are Romulans colluding with some Klingons to break the Klingon Empire’s relationship with the Federation. Worf, his brother and Picard quickly step deep into the doo doo. What’s really going on? And is that really Tasha Yar as a Romulan commander? The exciting conclusion awaits in Season 5, Episode 1. A
 
The Thinker

Time zone madness and sanity

The Washington Post recently published an article on a proposal by an economist and professor of physics and astronomy to create a single time zone for the entire planet. Those of us who travel regularly know that time zones are a hassle because adjusting sleep cycles is rarely easy. Their plan is to use UTC (basically, Greenwich Mean Time) as the planet’s time zone.

Putting the planet on a single time zone wouldn’t solve this particular problem unless we decided to ignore our circadian rhythm, i.e. rising around sunrise and going to sleep in the dark. I would imagine the Japanese and Chinese would be pissed as they would arise around sunset and go to sleep around sunrise. However, China already sees an advantage in having a single time zone. The whole country is on one time zone, basically +12 UTC. Perhaps this helps bind them together as a nation but for those in the far eastern or western parts of the country it must seem weird. It’s particularly weird when you move from eastern China into far eastern Russia. You jump two time zones to the east! China is about the size of the United States, so it would be like everyone in the United States being on Central Time.

I don’t think a law can easily break our circadian rhythms, which is why so many of us groan when entering daylight savings time. It feels unnatural because it is unnatural, at least in early March. But it’s less unnatural if you are lower in latitude and you happen to live close to a longitudinal meridian evenly divisible by 15. For those of us on the edge of a time zone, life seems to either start too early or end too late.

I certainly noticed it last year when we moved to Massachusetts, so much so that I blogged about it. Spain is considering changing its time zone to something more natural; it has been on central European time since World War Two. Spaniards get nearly an hour less sleep because of their unnatural time zone and unsurprisingly tend to be late to bed, at least by their clocks. Siestas are a way of compensating for their unnatural time zone.

Airlines already use UTC for flight schedules. This makes a lot of sense since pilots are frequently changing time zones. Of course they do take into account the sleeping habits of the people they are moving, which is why more flights happen during the daytime than at night. Laws vary so widely across the world (North Korea recently decided to change their time zone by half an hour) that some sort of time uniformity sounds desirable. As a practical matter geography often gets in the way, with Indiana being a case in point, as it is split between eastern and central time. No system is perfect.

Living in Massachusetts the time really feels “off”. I’m not alone, which is why there is a proposal to put New England on Atlantic Time, or -4 UTC instead of Eastern Time (-5 UTC). States can set their own time zones. However, here in New England it doesn’t make much sense for each state to go it alone, as our states tend to be small. It only makes sense if everyone adopts it. Rhode Island state Rep. Blake Filippi has proposed a bill to do just this, but only if Massachusetts also adopts it. He’s hoping it would coax the other New England states to go along.

My suspicion is that if Massachusetts embraced it, the other states here in New England would too. The possible exception would be Connecticut and that’s because it has so many commuters going into New York City everyday. As “off” as the time feels here in Massachusetts where the sun rises as early as 5:12 AM where I live and sets as early as 4:17 PM, it’s even worse the further east and north you go. To take an extreme example, the sunrise in Lubec, Maine starts as early as 4:41 AM and sets as early as 3:47 PM.

This is not a big deal in more extreme northern latitudes, but New England is simply not as far north as most of Europe. We are roughly at the latitude of Northern Spain. Being on Eastern Time is purely a political decision. Going to Atlantic Time for us pushed way north and east on the U.S. eastern seaboard would make a lot of sense and would feel more natural. We’d get later sunsets in the summer and more daylight in the winter when it is greatly needed.

So here’s hoping. Maybe I’ll write my state legislators. Winter is dark and dreary enough around here. There’s no point in making it more so. So I say let’s skip the idea of a worldwide time zone and make tweaks to the time zone maps we already use to make them fairer to actual human beings. As for us in New England, we have already suffered enough. Put us on Atlantic Time!

 
The Thinker

State of the presidential race: April 2016 edition

So it’s looking like Hillary vs. The Donald in November. Hillary is not too much of a surprise. The only real surprise was how close Vermont senator Bernie Sanders came to unseating her for the Democratic Party nomination. It is still technically possible for Sanders to pull an upset, but not realistic. He seems to be getting the drift by laying off staffers and concentrating resources on delegate rich California, the last major primary. Given that Sanders appeal is mostly with whites, it’s unlikely he’ll pull an upset in a state heavy with Latinos and Asians.

Just a week ago, it was even money that Republicans would have a brokered convention. It’s still possible but the odds are now probably only twenty percent, if that. Trump swept all five states in this week’s primaries, and in most states by convincing margins. Clinton lost only Rhode Island but squeaked by in Connecticut. Clinton trounced Sanders badly in Maryland and Delaware by 2:1 margins. Sanders will probably win Oregon, Montana and the Dakotas, but Oregon is the only state with significant number of delegates and California simply trounces it. Sadly, it’s over for Bernie. Rest assured he knows it too.

There is no viable path for Ted Cruz either in these remaining states and his “agreement” with John Kasich is mostly vapor, and proactively picking Carly Fiorina as his running mate will only make things worse. Indiana may be a pickup but none of the remaining states that are delegate rich are likely to break his way. Barring some unforeseen dynamic it’s over for the Republicans too. This brings some clarity for the general election. Both Clinton and Trump are underwater (are more disliked than liked), but Trump is much more so. Barring some bad foreign policy or economic news (the economy grew just .5% in the last quarter), Clinton looks like our likely next (and first female) president. Except for Clinton supporters though few will be enthusiastic about her as our next commander in chief.

This primary season has certainly been unusual, showing in general that the electorate (or those at least passionate enough to vote in primaries and caucuses) really would prefer someone completely different. Trump fills that bill, but scarily so. Clinton is true and tried but hardly exciting. The 73-year-old Sanders strangely fit the bill, but not enough to overwhelm the current Democratic establishment, which has a better lock on its base than the Republicans do. Oddly enough both Clinton and Trump are considerably older than presidential nominees tend to be. Clinton is 68 and Trump is 69. Trump is the same age as Ronald Reagan when he ran for president. Reagan was our oldest president but if elected Trump will be older.

One lesson that should be obvious is that our parties increasingly don’t represent the people very well, particularly those who claim allegiance to their party. Trump’s ascent proves that the issues that animate the party’s rank and file don’t animate Republican voters. As I noted, what Republicans really care about is maintaining white privilege and anything else is negotiable. Democrats too are undergoing a change in state. Establishment Democrats may titter at the idea of “democratic socialism”, but Sanders proves it’s the party’s future. The days of Democrats gaining power through triangulation and close ties to Wall Street (Bill Clinton’s strategy) are over. Hillary would be wise to acknowledge this reality.

The Republican Party is in much worse shape, but Trump may do the party a favor by reconnecting it with its base. What it will stand for in the future may be loathsome to the majority of Americans, but it seems to be what the modern Republican base wants. It’s not a way to grow an expanding party unless the party can shed its xenophobia, which is the catalyst for Trump’s unexpected rise. However, it could keep the party around and relevant for at least a while longer.

Despite the bluster, the odds certainly don’t favor The Donald. With two thirds of Americans basically saying they won’t vote for him, it’s hard to imagine how Trump can convince them otherwise. This is particularly true when he makes things worse by opening his mouth and saying stupid stuff, such as his latest comments on women and voting. Trump knows how to deliver sizzle, but there’s simply no steak there, much like his branded Trump Steaks. So the odds definitely favor Democrats, both in the presidential contest but also in recapturing the Senate. Even Republicans are concerned this may be a wave election that could remove their hold on power not just in the Senate but also in the House. It appears that lots of Republicans will sit this one out as they have no motive to vote for Trump, and thus no motive to vote at all.

Clinton’s instinct will be to tack toward the center but I think that would be a mistake. There is little point in holding power if you can’t wield it. Obama at least had two years of it, thanks to the Great Recession and Democrats holding both houses of Congress. It allowed the Affordable Care Act to get passed. Clinton may be setting her expectations too low. By tacking left instead of right, she can fire up the Democratic base. When they show up in force, as they did in 2008, they demonstrate who is really in charge. Gerrymandering and vote suppression are facts of life but since they affect principally red states, they won’t buy Republicans much in a general election year.

So for those of us reading the tealeaves, the voters sort of have spoken now. Much of what will follow is pretty well scripted. Trump has to hope for a Hail Mary pass to change the dynamics. Our economy is not great but unemployment is below five percent and our economy is still the envy of the rest of the world. Obama is unlikely to let a foreign policy problem fester to the point of explosion, but there are always wildcards. The dice are pretty much cast. Let’s see how they tumble.

 
The Thinker

Footloose

Way back in 2005 when I was still relatively new to my job I wrote about what it meant to be a professional based on what I saw within my own team. They really wowed me. So many people claim to be professionals but in my estimation so few are. So when I see it, it makes an impact. I am happy to report I have found a new member of this slim group: our humble local pedorthist.

You are probably saying, “pedor…what?” That’s what I said too when a local podiatrist gave me a prescription to see Mark, the local pedorthist. A pedorthist is a specialist in modifying footwear so that people like me can wear shoes with little or no pain. Mark has been a godsend and simply would not quit on my case until every last foot pain was gone and I was completely satisfied.

If you are a professional like Mark it helps to have enthusiasm for your work. Pedorthics does not sound like something that would be that stimulating but for Mark it’s a passion. It causes him to work past his scheduled hours most days. Evenings he will often be found in the back of his shop grinding, extending and shaping orthotics (fancy inserts that go into your shoes) until your walking becomes natural and pain free again. Monday he is supposedly off but this is when he does most of the hard work in the back: shaping and tweaking orthotics and shoes that he can’t get to the rest of the week.

Admittedly it was hard to get an appointment to see him. I waited more than a month and endured considerable pain and discomfort during that period. What I didn’t understand was why my orthotics weren’t working for me. A podiatrist I saw back in Virginia had gotten me a new set and of course there is quite a protocol for getting good shapes of your feet so the orthotic would fit. Still, it wasn’t enough. The metatarsal lift I needed wasn’t nearly enough, causing pain to radiate down my toes, mostly on my right foot. I had given up running (too much pressure on the feet) but persevered at walking several miles a day, often with some discomfort despite my orthotics.

Once I finally got in to see Mark, things quickly improved. First I found him both passionate and personal, characteristics I’ve never seen in so-called professionals like physicians. He spent a lot of time listening to me, pressing my feet and looking at my shoes. Then he started fine-tuning my orthotics.

The result was better but not anywhere near being a pain free experience. So after using them a few weeks I went back to see him again (no charge). He listened to my feedback and a few days later I had a version two set of orthotics to try on.

These were much better but not quite perfect. It took me months of experimenting to figure it out. I got a new set of shoes and since they were narrower they were a better fit. But something wasn’t right. So I got a set of walking shoes. These had something the other shoes hadn’t: cushion. That was the clue: I needed both the shape and the softness. So three months later I went to see Mark again.

That’s when version three was created that finally solved my problem. This success inspired me to get a pair of sandals, which I preferred to wear in the warmer month due to my naturally sweaty feet. He let me look through catalogs to find the right one: closed-toed were what I wanted, but soft. We found the pair and after they arrived he made these innersoles match the orthotics I used in my other shoes. All this was done for the price of a new pair of shoes ($159) plus one fitting fee ($43).

It was a bargain, but I also got something I did not expect: to spend some time with a really interesting man who opened up a lot on his life, treated me with respect and great concern and who reiterated over and over again to let him know if there were any issues. He refused to stop until I was satisfied. It took five months, but I have escaped my foot purgatory.

Mark embodies the myth that seems to elude most of us: he made a successful and meaningful life for himself. He owns his own small business, he give his customers complete satisfaction, he is not owned by a Wall Street conglomerate and he takes immense pride and joy in his work. Through knowledge, tenacity, close listening and feedback he makes dozens of us foot sufferers happy every week.

I think he is lucky: lucky to have a passion for his job, lucky to carve a niche for himself in our local market where it’s hard to find a job that pays decently and one that provides a service of immense value. If you haven’t suffered from chronically painful feet consider yourself lucky. I was the luckiest one. He brought me relief that more than ten years of podiatrists could not quite solve.

Now I feel like I can live life fully again. I am grateful and more than a little wowed by Mark. If you have foot problems, look for a local pedorthist. They are harder to find than podiatrists, but probably of more value. If you can find a pedorthist like Mark you will be in good hands (and feet) indeed.

 
The Thinker

Spellbound

Who likes a good challenge? Who also likes to associate a good challenge with masochism? If you like to solve crossword puzzles it seems that to prove that you are “good” you need to be a bit of a masochist. Or a cheat. Or both.

I’m not a great crossword puzzle player, which is likely due to not having much time or inclination for doing them. The key to successful retirement I’ve been told is to stay active, both physically and mentally. On the latter I am trying to stay mentally agile by doing the daily crossword puzzle in our local newspaper. This usually occurs over lunch when I get to that part of our paper.

It means exercising parts of my brain that don’t like to be exercised. So naturally Monday crosswords are best, i.e. easiest to do. I can usually finish it myself but if there are a few incomplete, I leave them to my wife who is a much better crossword player than I am. This is because while her body is declining too quickly as far as she is concerned, mentally she is sharp as a tack. She’s always been that way and it’s one of the reasons I married her. I like someone with an informed opinion and she rarely disappoints.

These puzzles are easier earlier in the week because that’s how they write them. By the weekend crossword though you want to spit nails. Not even a Jeopardy! champion is going to solve it without cheating. The clues become obscure if not downright misleading. The authors go out of their way to write long answer questions stacked on top of each other and write super obscure clues for the short answer words. I figure they must use special crossword puzzle software to sift through millions of possibilities. That is not enough of course because once you create the answers the idea becomes to obfuscate the questions so much that you will go on wild goose chases.

So you do what everyone else is doing: you cheat and turn to Dr. Google, or to Siri or to your favorite search engines. And invariably there are people out there that solved them before you and leave the answers for you. I’m doubting that a person solved these. I think it’s a computer, which may have provided a host of possible answers for human analysis. Just type in the question in the puzzle and it will pop right up but usually you have to scroll down a page for the answer. This is based I think on the theory that the hints they provide might allow you to solve it without scrolling down to the answer. But of course you won’t bother and you’ll scroll down then scribble it in with your trusty #2 pencil.

As the week progresses you realize that the only way to solve these puzzles is to find authoritative questions that cannot be wrong. Unfortunately, they tend to write fewer of these as the week goes along, but you have to work with what you got. That’s where the challenge/masochism starts because you have to use a correct answer to build the answers that join these words. And the clues will be obfuscated. At times it feels like playing charades because so many clues end in a question mark, which means the answer is really a huge stretch, which means it’s tangentially related at best or the answer is some sort of pun.

So at some point you ask yourself why you bother, and by Friday that’s how I usually react to the crossword puzzle: I won’t even bother, or I might pick at solving a clue or two then abandon it. Perhaps I’m a mental midget but I’m not a masochist. There is satisfaction in solving a puzzle that is fair. On Friday and Saturday they are not trying to be fair; they are trying to be obscure and deceiving. In short, they are being mean and it’s up to you to play along. It’s like going to Las Vegas and thinking you are going to win at slots. You know that the puzzle is rigged against you. It has become an exercise for the puzzle author to see how many he can defeat and frustrate. I am sure there are some geniuses out there so gifted in crosswords they can solve these without using the Internet or consulting a bunch of reference books, but in some cases you must consult a reference book because the answer is so obscure even a learned professor in the topic probably can’t recall the correct answer.

So here’s a call to puzzle authors to write fair crossword puzzles. It doesn’t have to be easy but it should not lead you down erroneous paths either. There is an implicit contract between the author and the player. At some point the puzzle reveals much more about who the author is as a person than the player trying to solve it. And it’s not flattering.

So puzzle on this, puzzle-masters. We enjoy a good puzzle but we don’t like being misled and we don’t think it’s fair to throw in answers that require scholarship to answer. A great puzzle is not based on how complex it is, but on how well it stimulates the far recesses of your brain based on accurate clues.

Don’t make me take up Sudoku.

 

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