Friday, May 23, 2008

Updates, Updates, Updates

I know I've neglected this site for too long. But you'll be happy to learn that I haven't neglected my garden! It's really starting to shape up. And I have the requisite back pain to prove it. Oh yeah. I promise pictures when I can bend down to retrieve the camera from its case on the floor of my bedroom closet. Really. Let's just say the words "bend down" don't exist in my vocab at the moment.

Some highlights:

1. We have a wedding date! Yay! June 29. The date was dependent on the schedule of the person we wanted to officiate at our wedding. Well, he said, "I do" and we're all set. What's nice is that it's someone we both know and and love. If he's reading this, I'm sure he's smiling now. Plus, he's a Mets fan which makes DF happy.

We both wanted a non-religious ceremony. DF, because he's a fallen Catholic. Me, because my Deist self has not set foot in a house of worship in so many years I've lost track. I always say, "I love God, I just don't like religious people." But, you know, that's another post another time.

2. Wedding plans haven't been TOO hairy. The worst aggravation we've had so far is ordering the invitations. Since I know the the printer in question is NOT reading this (not even sure he can read actually), I can say without compunction that he and his assistant are dumber than a bucket of grass. I mean, we didn't ask for the friggin' Guttenburg Bible. So why in the world would it take three proofs for a pretty basic wedding announcement? They would correct one mistake only to make another. The fonts on the invites didn't match those on the envelopes. But finally, since there were no glaring spelling or grammatical errors, we let it go. Time was of the essence.

The thing that burns me up most about all this is that this printer in question is the printer for our running club. Actually, the print shop used to owned by a member who since retired from the business and sold his shop. Out of laziness, convenience or whatever, we stayed with this print shop and its new owner who has the personality of a house plant but who is not as pretty. Also, not as competent. Do you know that this asshole had the audacity to tell DF when he complained, "Well, if you don't like it, you can take your business elsewhere?"

That's it. Since I sit on the board of our running club I am going to make a lot of noise and suggest we switch to another printer. Since the aforementioned member is no longer an owner, it's no skin off our collective noses. So, not only is said printer losing OUR business, he's losing that of our club, of 300 or so members. Don't mess with a Scorpio. Ever.

3. I had my 6-month cardiologist appointment two weeks ago. Basically, I get weighed (weight has been the same for 3 years now--I've kept off the 10 pounds), have my cholesterol, triglycerides, sugar and BP tested, and she listens to my heart and all that jazz.

A little background: When I first started going to her a few years ago, I was 10 pounds heavier, and had cholesterol of 257. My other values were OK but I was concerned about the cholesterol since heart disease runs in the male strain of my family. To make a long story short, I lost the weight and my cholesterol came down to 213. Not optimal (under 200) but we could both live with that since my good cholesterol (HDL) was high and I really had no risk factors other than family history.

So, at this latest appointment, she takes my blood and asks me, "Are you doing anything differently?" I had to think about that one. I've always been an exerciser, that was never an issue. I was doing about the same amount of running as I've always done. My diet was about the same, pretty good. What was she getting at?
"Do you realize that your cholesterol is 185, your HDL is is 73, your tris are 50 and your glucose is 93? This is the best blood profile you've had since you've been coming here!" To say I was in shock is an understatement. I haven't had blood values like that since I was in my early 30s!

But then I thought about it some more. I AM doing something differently. Due to the recession--and with food prices so high--I cannot afford to eat out as often. Most of the time (and I mean like 4 out of 5 days at work) my lunches consist of a romaine lettuce salad with egg whites or grilled chicken, peas, broccoli, corn, edamame (when they have it), walnuts beans. Truth be told, I could probably eat this every day and not get tired of it. And it costs around just $6. Beans, as you might know, are extremely high in soluble fiber which has been shown to lower cholesterol. I've always liked beans but I wasn't eating them every day until now.

Nutritionists often tell people who don't like--or can't eat beans for whatever reason--to take Metamucil to help lower cholesterol. Personally, I'd rather eat the beans. I think that stuff tastes nasty--ugh.

In the past, I had tried everything. If you remember, about a year ago, I worked out with a personal trainer and lost body fat (BF was down to 15.5%--now I realize that was too low for my sanity). Still, my cholesterol hovered around 213.

So, what I conclude from this experiment on myself is that body fat doesn't have THAT much affect on cholesterol as does the daily intake of soluble fiber.

Should I now be thankful for the recession?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Boston Marathon Recap

What can I say about experiencing the Boston Marathon as a spectator? What a class act!

Everything, from the amazing, HUGE expo, the pasta party, the bus queue, and finish area was very well organized, considering the crowds (about 25,000 people, not including tens of thousands of spectators).

Yes, it was zoo-ish at times, as is to be expected, but I never saw anyone or anything get out of control. The only thing I didn't like (and this has nothing to do with the marathon) is the Boston subway system. You call that a subway system? I will never again complain about the NYC subway system as long as I live. Think of a Manhattan subway platform at rush hour. Then shrink the E train to about one-tenth its size but imagine the same number of people trying to cram into it. Ugh. And Lord help you if you're not fortunate enough to be holding onto something when the train stops (or should I say, lurches). Not for sissies!

Gotta say, though, that the people of Boston--citizens, police and subway workers--were very patient and courteous in my experience. I am sure they must have heard the same questions all day long: "Where is this street? Where is that street? How do I work this machine? How do I get there?" My hat is off to them.

It was nice catching up at the pasta party with Mick, Phil, Laura and Glenn. At first the organizers direct you under a Big Apple Circus big top, complete with clowns and merrymakers. You think you are being taken to some sort of show but the food and tables are actually further away, outside the comfort of the tent. We literally sat in Siberia (it was about that cold!) but it was fun. We dined on two types of pasta, salad, bread sticks and brown ale.

The next morning, we got up at the crack of dawn, checked out of our hotel and parked in a garage downtown. We never discovered the urban myth of "free parking" but we parked all day and only paid $20. That's where Boston has New York beat.

I walked with Tom over to Boston Commons where thousands were queued up for yellow school buses that would take them to the start. If I were writing a poem about it, I would describe the scene as a "sea of red bags," as everyone had their Boston Marathon clothing bag slung over their shoulder.

The runners had great weather: sunny, 50s, not too breezy.

I kissed Tom goodbye, wished him luck and then headed back into the downtown area. On the way out of Boston Commons, a man who sounded remarkably like Borat stopped me and asked, "Excuse my ignorance, but what is this gathering?" I could not believe that someone in Boston, let alone on the planet, would A. not know it's Patriot Day and B. not know it's the Boston Marathon. I told him and he was all taken aback. Glad I could set his world back on its axis.

So, I had a few hours to kill. It was only around 7 AM and Lynne wouldn't be calling me until around 10:30 so that we could watch the marathon together. I stopped at Starbucks, had my coffee, and then, based on Mick's advice, decided to tour Newbury Street. What cool street! Lots of unique stores and restaurants, all unfortunately not open until later but still, it was a nice walk and I got some good photos.

I walked over to the family reunion area on Stuart Street to familiarize myself with it and then later checked out the mall. Lynne called me around 10:30 so made my way outside and was amazed how in just a few hours, the crowds had swelled to around three deep at the finish line on Boylston. Lynne, myself and Sally got a great spot where we were able to see the first male and female winners come in. We saw Robert Cheruiyot fly by with no one else anywhere near him for about two minutes, with a finishing time of 2:07. The two top women battled it out for the finish with the winner, Dire Tune of Ethiopia, finishing in 2:25:25, just 2 seconds ahead of Russian Alevtina Biktimorova!

It was exciting when we spotted ERC members Glenn and Mick finishing. Sally was waiting for her boyfriend to come in and both Lynne and Sally also knew some people from North Jersey Masters, Sneaker Factory and the Jersey Shore Runners. We screamed at the top of our lungs when we saw Tom but unfortunately, he was on the other side of the street and couldn't hear us. He looked good, though!

Later, I was able to catch up with Mick and Tom over on Stuart Street under the "E" for Essex sign. Good idea, Mick! I got to hear about the course from Mick's perspective, someone who's done the course a few times, and Tom, a newbie to Boston. Many veteran Boston runners have told me that most of Boston is downhill and this can actually be tougher on the quads than the hills. Something to remember if you're training for it.

A special shout out to Andy K.! This Boston marks his 600th marathon, finishing in a very respectable time of 4:15. Way to go, Andy! I only have 596 more to do to catch up to ya.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Same Ol' Same Ol'

So what else is new? (Italics mine)

Rich getting richer, poor getting poorer
Sam Zuckerman, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The harder Tina Flores works, the more it seems like she falls behind.

The Oakland woman is a full-time secretary at Kaiser Permanente, where her husband David holds a job as a records clerk. Together the two of them earn about $75,000. But, with three kids in the family, a $2,300 mortgage payment due each month and the $150 a week it takes to fill the tank on the Flores' Honda van, that's not enough to pay the bills. Their income is not that bad but their family planning skills are.

So she recently cut her monthly contribution to her retirement plan to $140 from $30o.. And she's selling homemade cakes and pies on the side to bring in something extra. Everyone I know is looking for additional ways to earn income, including moi. That's what you do in a recession.

"My whole motto is self-sufficiency," Flores, 41, said. "But what are we working for? We're not prospering from all the work we're doing." I feel the same way.

Flores is not alone. Economic data show that a huge swath of low- and middle-income families, both in California and across the nation, are barely scraping by. By many measures, their living standards are stagnating or declining as the prices of such necessities as food, fuel and medicine rise faster than wages.

Today, two liberal Washington research groups are set to issue reports on income trends in the 50 states showing that the gap between those at the bottom and middle of the income scale and those at the top is widening at an accelerating pace.

In California, the poorest 20 percent of families saw their incomes rise 1.4 percent in the 2004-06 period compared with 1998-2000, after adjusting for inflation, according to the study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute. The income of the middle 20 percent of families rose 3.8 percent. By contrast, the top 20 percent gained 13 percent after inflation, while the income of the top 5 percent jumped 20.8 percent.

Nationwide, families at the bottom and middle of the income scale fared even more poorly than their counterparts in California.

Across the country, average incomes fell 2.5 percent from 1998-2000 with 2004-06 for the bottom fifth of families, while edging up 1.3 percent for those in the middle. The top fifth registered a 9.1 percent gain.

No shared prosperity
"We are not seeing shared prosperity," said Jean Ross, director of the California Budget Project, a liberal research group in Sacramento that is helping distribute the report. "There's a pulling away at the top that's leaving the bottom 80 percent of families behind." Shared prosperity? What the hell is that? Sounds like socialism to me. Anyway, I haven't seen any of that 'shared prosperity,' either. Certainly not from the gubmint. Oh wait, sorry, forgot about the $600 I'm getting back! I promise not to spend it all in one place.

The groups responsible for today's study issued a similar report two years ago. And government data show income inequality has been rising for more than 25 years. So you can't place all the blame on the Repubs for this one.

The trend reflects a range of factors, according to the report's authors, including stagnant wages at the bottom of the income scale, robust pay increases at the top, and a hollowing out of jobs in the middle as manufacturing employment drops. In addition, investment income has grown faster than wages, benefiting those with large stock and bond portfolios. Government tax, trade and labor policies also contribute, the report contends. In other words, business as usual.

Liberal groups are pressing for policies to reduce income inequality, (Of course!) including increasing minimum wages and strengthening unemployment insurance. Free-market advocates warn against such measures and, in some cases, question the reliability of inequality data.

Robert Higgs, a senior fellow in political economy with the libertarian Independent Institute in Oakland, argues that living standards have risen for all income groups.

Much better off
"The lowest-income people are much better off than they used to be," he said. "If you just look at the baskets of consumer goods that people are acquiring, it's just not consistent with data that shows people are not better off." This is true more or less in urban areas, not so much in remote rural ones.

Even if inequality were increasing, it doesn't follow that society should do anything about it, Higgs said.

"Journalists almost invariable accept as a fundamental premise that making distribution of income more equal is a good thing," he said. "But distribution of income is in a sense irrelevant to any issue of policy."

Today's report is based on U.S. census income data through 2006. It counts wages and unearned income ranging from interest and dividends to food stamps and welfare benefits. Because of faulty data, it doesn't calculate capital gains on sales of stock and other assets, which add to inequality.

Recent data suggest that the economic downturn is intensifying income differences and disproportionately harming low- and middle-income families.

For example, the most recent Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers showed that 38 percent of low-income participants said inflation was a problem for them compared with 18 percent of high income respondents with similar complaints. That's the widest disparity ever found between low and high income survey participants on inflation, reflecting that prices of food and fuel and other essentials have climbed sharply, according to survey director Richard Curtin. But this is true for everyone. EVERYONE has to pay higher food and fuel prices.

Middle of the pack
Tina Flores is squarely in the middle of the income pack in the Bay Area. Even though she and her husband earn more money today than they did at the beginning of the decade, their family isn't living as well. Not to be a bitch, but then why did they have 3 kids?

"It doesn't seem like I'm gaining anything," she said, interviewed as she sat next to her mother, Joetta Fitzpatrick, who had business at the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley. "It seems the more I make, the more somebody takes it. I feel the same way and I don't have kids.

"I like to make a decent meal for the kids, but as the kids grow older they eat more. Everything is going up. Milk used to cost $2 something a gallon and now it's $6," she added. "We're eating a lot of noodles and leftovers." Same here. Going out to eat is pretty much for special occasions only. We all have to bite the bullet here, Ms. Flores!

In order to boost the family's income, Flores is preparing for nursing school by going to microbiology class two days a week. Her husband takes a four-hour course in electronic record keeping every day.

"I want my kids to do well and go to college," she said. "So we work and have to struggle."

Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Economic Policy Institute

E-mail Sam Zuckerman at

Sunday, April 13, 2008

She’s Neglected Her Garden

She’s neglected her garden:
The flower beds are blanketed with leaves
dating back two years ago.
Wild onions, that scourge of the suburbs,
grow in places once reserved for grass.
Rocks embedded in the soil
make it unsuitable for living things, except slugs.
If this garden was a book,
it would be titled, “Failure to Thrive.”

But once upon a time,
She was full of piss and vinegar,
Attacking the crabgrass with impunity,
rooting out all evil
in the form of burdock and thorny stalks
No dandelion puff was safe from her wrath.

Then arthritis took hold,
burrowing into her joints like bulbs
in her gnarled, purplish hands.
She no longer took pleasure in her garden,
Memories of sun-drenched leaves, perfect blooms,
and dew-dipped stems were replaced,
by pain and morning stiffness.
It would be early afternoon
until she could even make it downstairs,
to look out upon the sanctuary she once loved.

I’ve inherited her garden,
With its never-ending weeds,
leaves and pests.
It’s a work in progress but with no end in sight.

One day, though, it will come back
and, like the old woman, I will take much pride in it.
I will have sunflowers with heads bigger than my own,
pumpkin patches with huge vines,
snaking their way down under the fence.
Blue bachelor’s buttons, pink flox, yellow daffodils,
all shouting their names.
I will usher friends and loved ones into the backyard
Before they’ve had their tea.

But I know that one day, too,
something will prevent me from going out back,
and my garden will wither once again,
until some ambitious person with a rake and a dowel
will remark to her friends, “She’s neglected her garden.”

Friday, April 11, 2008

Is It Open Season on Atheists?

What is it lately with attacking atheists? If these barbs were directed at any other group, the sheeple would be up in arms. This latest comes from, a mysterious web site with an even more mysterious author. The italics are mine, as per usual.

Atheists are Snobs
April 10th, 2008

The problem with Atheists is most of them are snobs.

Atheists think they’re being clever with their spaghetti monster analogies and fairy tale rhetoric, but at the end of the day, they come off sound like condescending pricks. And religious fundies sound like what? Music to your ears?

Furthermore, any group of people claiming superior intelligence that willingly engages in the fight of a losing battle automatically loses credibility. Hmmm. Sounds a LOT like religious fundies to me.

However, Atheists are too dumb to realize they’re fighting a losing battle, so they persist with the lecturing and the withering stares. Atheists have singled handedly ruined coffee shops with this crap. Say wha? The atheists that I know are anything but preachy. In fact, they tend to preach against preachiness. And please, direct me to the atheist coffee shop now!

I, myself, have not been able to claim belief in a higher power for many, many years. However, I can still see the value in Religion. I am just the opposite. I DO believe in a higher power but I think most religions are silly and tend to make people divisive.

Perhaps growing up without a strong parental figure in my life made me recognize the possible value of a loving Father figure up in the sky watching out for me. And hey, I try my best not forget that sometimes we all need something to believe in.

Most Atheists have the tendency to thumb their noses at Jesus, and then log onto World of Warcraft so they can pretend to be an orc for a couple of hours. They sneer at the Bible, but have no problem playing endless hours of vampire role playing games. The message is clear. Fantasies are OK as long as they include gratuitous violence and some sort of porn. Last time I checked, I didn't see hordes of WoW fans passing out literature at airports and bus stations trying to convert me to their belief system. Or picketing abortion clinics.

It’s no wonder Religious folks don’t take them too seriously. Even the Quiet Intellectual Atheist comes across as if he’s only denying belief to be aversive. That's YOUR projection there, Dearie. It’s hard not to pity the guy addicted to nonconformity like an addict to a needle.

Personally, I don’t mind Religion. Religious leaders, on the other hand, really get my goat. But in my experience, when you approach someone by saying, “Hey. I don’t mind Catholicism. It’s just the creepy priests fucking altar boys that gross me out,” members of the congregation are more apt to listen.

My only real issue with Religion (and ultimately, it’s a fairly small issue) is that it teaches people to be good for all the wrong reasons. Whether it’s the fear of a vengeful God and eternal life spent in the flames of Hell or the possibility of winning a ticket into Heaven accompanied by a boat load of virgins, people are still behaving well to escape punishment or to win everlasting life. Uh, that's kinda the point, ain't it? Controlling the masses by promising pie in the sky or eternal damnation.

Ideally, people would be good because it’s the right thing to do. Not because they want good Karma to come back on them and not because they’re hoping for a personal cloud to lounge on in the sky, but because doing the right thing is its own reward. I’d like to live in a world where people aren’t secretly hoping for a payoff for every single good dead they’ve ever done. In a perfect world, yes.

But then again, most of society today seems almost completely lacking in any moral compass whatsoever. So if ‘God’ does his part to scare some little bastard out of stealing my fucking car, I guess I can’t complain too much. Again with the generalizations! I've known plenty of atheists who could run circles around many religious folk, morally and ethically speaking.

Any Atheist who does seriously needs to reevaluate his priorities.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

More from the "Party of Tolerance"

From the Chicago Tribune:

Representative tries to put the fear of God in atheist

By Eric Zorn

Change of Subject

April 6, 2008

Did you hear about the state legislator who last week blasted a Lutheran minister during a committee hearing for spewing dangerous religious superstitions, and then attempted to order the minister out of the witness chair on the grounds that his Christian beliefs are "destroying what this state was built upon"?

Of course you didn't, because it didn't happen and would never happen. Not to a Christian, not to a Jew, not to a Muslim or to anyone who subscribes to any faith.

Such an attack would rightly be considered scandalously out of bounds in contemporary society.

But you probably also didn't hear about what actually did happen:

Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) interrupted atheist activist Rob Sherman during his testimony Wednesday afternoon before the House State Government Administration Committee in Springfield and told him, "What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous . . . it's dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!

"This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God," Davis said. "Get out of that seat . . . You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon."

Apparently it's still open season on some views of God.

Outside of Change of Subject, where I posted a transcript and the audio, Davis' repellent, un-American outburst received no attention whatsoever.

Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune

Talking Trash

Liberals love meetings and focus groups about "being green," global warming, solar panels, you name it, but the reality is that most humans have little if any control over climactic change, can't afford solar panels and just plain don't have the time to attend another meeting.

Here's a news flash for you: Yes, you CAN make a difference. Round up some friends, grab a few huge trash bags and pick up the trash! Just like Mojo Nixon singing that "Elvis is everywhere," so is the trash: on the side of the road (especially exit ramps), in the woods, in parking lots, in parks. How it got there is a another blog entry, another time, but the important thing is that we can make it disappear.

My running club, for example, holds two clean ups, in the spring and fall, at the trail that runs from Verona through Little Falls. We actually have fun doing this. We're doing something good for the environment, we get to run on the trail afterwards and then go our for breakfast. Personally, I would like to see these held more often, possibly once a month. The trash that accumulates is staggering.

We hear about liberals being the only ones concerned with the environment. Talk about trash! There is soooo much hypocrisy there. How many of these folks actually use public transportation? Sure they ride their bikes to BlueWaveNJ meetings and whatnot but big whoop. That's a drop in the bucket. What do they drive the rest of time?

My brother who lives out west is a big ol' liberal but at least he's not a hypocrit. He actually rides his bicycle to work and back every day. So I give him props. When he does drive a car, it's not a big gas guzzler but a Toyota Camry.

I am stuck with public transportation as I live in NJ and work in NYC. If I rode my bike to work, I might not make it there alive.

So, next time you come unhinged about the environment, remember the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."

Picking up the trash is time and effort well spent. Sitting in a focus group or meeting on a beautiful day is not.