Category Archives: Thoughts at Large

• Advice to children:  Tell Mommy that the biggest cookies in the jar disappeared first  because they were the easiest to grab.  Mommy will be forced to admire your reasoning.

• A taxi is a taxi, no matter how it is dispatched or who owns the vehicle.  Services like Uber and Lyft are no more about “ride-sharing” than my trips to the hardware store are about “getting some air.”  All rides-for-hire to the public should be subject to the same safety, passenger accessibility, driver accreditation and insurance regulations.  After that, if riders choose to put up with surge pricing and sharing personal data, let them.

• If I had it to do over again, I would have become a transportation engineer.  (Lion tamer would have been my second choice.)  I would have eventually found a job with AASHTO, the outfit that administers the interstate highway system.  My position of power would have allowed me to tackle urgent transportation problems such as north-south highways that have been foolishly posted with east-west direction signs.

Consider the following two examples.  I-376 in Pennsylvania (below left) heads south from Hermitage, PA for 55 miles and then turns eastward toward Monroeville, PA for 31 miles.  But the entire route is signed EAST-WEST.  The logical way to sign this would have been NORTH-SOUTH from Hermitage to Moon and EAST-WEST from Moon to Monroeville.

Or consider I-26 (at right) heading south-southeast from Kingsport, TN to Charleston, SC.  This highway runs seventeen miles south for every ten miles east.  Yet I-26 is also tagged EAST-WEST in its entirety, which gets especially confusing near Asheville, NC.  The signs should say NORTH-SOUTH at least as far southward as Spartanburg, SC, and preferably along its full extent.  There, I’ve had my say.  I can retire from AASHTO a happy man.

• If only I had been given some vocational guidance when I was young, I might have had more adventure in my life:

• I am not a hermit or pariah, but I really have no friends here in town.  In fact, I haven’t made a lasting friend in 40 years.  I follow our local Meetup site but few of those groups interest me.  (Men’s nude yoga?  Don’t think so.)  I considered starting a Meetup myself, for people who have trouble making friends.  But who would sign up?  Would I attend?  What kind of people can’t make friends?  Just sad and lonely losers!  I’ll stay home.

• Seriously, there is a local Meetup called Asheville Social Introverts Group.  They have weekly get-togethers in which they sit on opposite sides of a large room for an hour and read quietly to themselves.  OK, that last part wasn’t true.  Actually they play backgammon and chess — which interests me only slightly more than men’s nude yoga.  Maybe I should attend one of their events and bring along Yahtzee to amp up the excitement.

• Same old Donkeys.  Democrats are once again managing to shoot themselves in the foot, this time over standards of conduct, of all things.  They forced Al Franken to resign (who was probably more guilty of being a jerk than a sexual predator but we don’t really know) and stomped their feet in pharisaic unison trying to drive Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam out of office (who is definitely guilty of clumsy insensitivity).  The Dems obviously hope to make themselves look as squeaky-clean as possible so they can attack Donald Trump from the moral high ground.  What is amusing is that neither side of the electorate cares who is the holiest — certainly not Republicans, who will embrace anyone who is good for business and will stack the Supreme Court with righties, and not even Democrats, who would vote for Stormy Daniels if they thought she could beat Trump.  (Hey, she did once.)

• I found a recent malapropism in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette comment section to be uncannily accurate: “The truth will be reviled.”

• It is annoying when an online article about a time-sensitive topic (e.g., upcoming event or product review) bears no publication date.  Why would a site withhold this information? I would argue that — other than fiction, and even then — there is no writing that does not involve a time element; hence, to omit or conceal its date is disingenuous.

• What-Goes-Around-Stays-There Department:  Ironic how the money I used to spend on vodka every month now goes toward my prescription for Eliquis.  Different drug makers, similar profit margins (19% and 22% respectively).

• Windows 10 offers users a “high contrast” mode, supposedly to improve text readability.  On my laptop, the only thing this does is switch colors to black-and-white and make some lines thicker.  It has no effect on the contrast of text, not even the text in its own software.  Just one of the new things I keep discovering about getting older.

• I look and feel like I’ve aged a lot in the last year.  But clocks don’t run backwards and neither can I.  So I have started to paint again.  After several hours of work on just the background of my first project, I decided it was ugly and I painted over the whole thing.  Then I botched the next try and now I have to sand it all down.  I feel younger already.

• An old high-school friend recently sent me a list of our classmates who have passed away. I was stunned to see how many of our African-American peers were on the list, relative to their numbers in our class.   This led me to look up U.S. life expectancies for the year we were born: for white men and women, the figures were 67 and 73 years; for black men and women, 59 and 64 years.  I am still shocked by those numbers.

Today, though the situation has improved, the difference in life expectancy between whites and blacks is still 3.5 years.  Blacks aged 18-49 are twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to die from heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and black infant mortality is twice as high.  And blacks are 50% more likely than whites to have no health insurance.

Affordable health care is not only an economic issue, it is a social justice issue.

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• On a recent edition of CBS Sunday Morning, host Jane Pauley interviewed cartoonist Garry Trudeau.  My spouse remarked how odd it must be to interview one’s own husband.  “Trudeau is Jane Pauley’s husband?” I said.  “Yes, how could you not know that?” she said. In my defense, I do know who was the first to verify Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (namely, astronomer Arthur Eddington, in 1919).  But how could anyone not know that?

• Speaking of Einstein: Alan Lightman, author of the 1993 novel Einstein’s Dreams, made a seemingly innocuous observation in the third paragraph of his prologue as he described “… the young man’s desk … cluttered with half-opened books …”  I had nearly finished the paragraph when I stopped to ask myself, what exactly is a half-opened book?

• Life is like calculus: a lot of unnoticeable differences make a difference.

• Rank these Nabisco snack products from highest to lowest fat content: Oreos cookies, Cheese Nips crackers, Chicken in a Biskit crackers, Ritz crackers, Nutter Butter cookies.  Answers below (and no fair looking at their so-called “Nutrition Facts” labels).

• The actor Meryl Streep has appeared in over 55 films and has won three Oscars and eight Golden Globes.  Netflix streams only three of her films, Julie and Julia, Mamma Mia! and The River Wild.  These may have been very good films, but they clearly do not measure up to Happy Gilmore or The Ridiculous 6 — just two of the thirteen films on Netflix starring zero-time Oscar or Golden Globe winner Adam Sandler.

Ritz wins with 28% fat, followed by Chicken in a Biskit at 26%, Nutter Butter at 21.4%, Oreos at 20.5% and Cheese Nips at 20.0%.  See, Oreos aren’t as bad as you thought.

• Saying “oops” when you accidentally honk your horn and no one is around.  Closing the bathroom door for privacy when you are alone in the house.  Reaching for the light switch when you enter a room during a power outage.  These are a few of my behavioral things.

• A guy with an identity crisis answers the phone and says, “Hello, is this me?”

• In early 2017, I wrote here about the so-called Trump Rally in the U.S. stock market and pointed out how the rise in stock prices after his election was nothing unusual, despite all the chest-thumping by Trump and his shills.  Now, as Trump enters his third year, there is not even a mirage of a rally for him to take undeserved credit for — the S&P 500 index is exactly where one would expect it to be based on its long-term trend (7.1% per year).

• I like to think of myself as an evidence-based person — I am skeptical of product (and political) claims, I never buy extended warranties (companies would not sell them if they didn’t make money) and I don’t pray.  Yet I harbor my own superstitions.  I take lutein every day on the off-chance it will preserve my eye health.  I don’t root for athletes to fail (except for Tom Brady) because of the what-goes-around-comes-around principle.  And I always tip well, in the belief that those extra couple of dollars will matter to someone.

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• Some people “collect” experiences.  For example, there are those whose goal is to attend a baseball game in every major league park in a single season.  There are those who wish to step foot on every continent.  One person’s mission was to visit a pub next to each of the 270 underground stations in London.  And one person, it seems, intends to view every one of the 110 films (and counting) in which Liam Neeson has performed.  Indeed, I am now sort-of watching what may be either the 27th or 43rd or 71st of those films, along with the aforementioned person.  I have nothing against Liam Neeson, mind you — he perfected the role of the sensitive, tough-under-fire problem-solver extraordinaire, the very trait that my co-watcher admires in me.

• I never served in the armed forces.  Everything I know (and don’t know) about serving in the armed forces comes from films.  If I were to believe how military service is depicted in modern films, I would conclude that only the baddest of the bad-asses, or those who want to become bad-asses, need apply.  Compare this image with those who served in (and won) World War II: factory workers and salesmen, florists and actors, plumbers and painters.  Everyday guys, your dad and mine.  At least that is what I learned from those John Wayne and Robert Mitchum films.

• Why is train travel not very popular in the United States?  For the answer, consider this: when a film calls for its hero to become trapped and hurtle near-powerlessly to his demise, what vehicle is chosen as his conveyance?  Elephant?  Rickshaw?  Segway?  No — train.  People distrust trains in films and for good reason: they are enormously heavy, have tons of momentum and ride slippery rails.  All that romantic clickety-clack is just a distraction from the high-speed havoc underfoot.

• When a Cheerio falls onto the floor, I leave it there — it may help save a drowning ant.

• I just opened a gallon of milk whose container insists that I should have consumed it several days ago.  I think the fact that I bought the milk before it expired and took it home and kept it nice and cold before I opened it should count for something.  Ungrateful milk.  We’ll see whether it seeks revenge.

• It is probably wiser to let words flow like wine than the other way around — but this may depend on how one chooses her words.

• I need to read more Nietzsche.  I may not agree with even half of his aphorisms but I did appreciate this one: “Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies.”  Given the convictions of Congressional Republicans and the lies that emanate from the White House, it would seem that, together, they’ve got things covered.

• So the Scrabble Gods have decreed that a few hundred words that were already words will now count as words.  They also decided OK will count as a word, even though it is not.  I guess OK must have won the Scrabble Electoral College.

• There are takers and partakers.  Some of the latter are as intolerable as the former.

• People’s final wishes are not so much wishes for themselves (since they won’t experience them) but the experience they would force upon whomever has to deal with their earthly remains.  Making elaborate plans for others to carry out (my nostalgic wish was to have my ashes scattered in Schenley Park in Pittsburgh) is not very considerate.  So, I say give your survivors a break — don’t direct them from the grave and don’t ask them to do gratuitous things.  And I say to my loved ones, when I’m gone, do what works for you.  You’ll know what that is, and we may all rest assured that I will not object.

• All this rumination about final arrangements… it must be the milk.

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