Thursday, December 29, 2016

Good Customer Service Brings me Back

“Kudos to Amazon.”

I’ve had some success dragging my wife into my fountain pen addiction — she now possesses two fountain pens. A low-priced Pilot is the newer of the two. I recently “found it” in a box of her “stuff” in the den. I remembered giving it to her quite some time ago. “Look, Hon, do you remember this?” I waved it at her.

“What’s that?”

“A pen.”

Clearly she didn’t remember. We filled it with ink and found it still wrote reasonably well. This gave her a collection of two fountain pens.

“I need a dual pen case, like yours,” she said, “to carry my pens in my purse. I have the felt bag for the Waterman, but never felt comfortable using it in my purse … and now I have two pens!”


This was our second Christmas and the first one at home after our dear friend Loretta died. We consciously changed some Christmas traditions.

We kept our spiritual traditions and our tradition of exchanging gifts.
( This is not big stuff; the fun is the passing out and opening of a large number of stocking-stuffer kind of gifts. “Is this my calendar, Mom?” and, “Where’s my religious gift this year?” capture the spirit. )

I remembered Ellie’s dual-pen case need when I began shopping, which wasn’t until early December. I shopped Amazon without fear of running out of time and found many pen cases. Single, dual, triple. A variety of colors and styles. I viewed some very nice single pen cases, but settled on a very nice leather dual pen case.

Ordered Pen Case
Amazon notified me it had been delivered. I snuck it past my wife’s eyes ( this was not difficult as we both know how to stay out of each other’s way around Christmas ) and took it to my office. I was excited to see it. I beheld a very nice pen case, genuine leather, nice color. For. a. single. pen.

I was crushed … annoyed … irked … then doubtful. “Did I order the wrong item?” I went to Amazon, reviewed my order: “dual pen case.” Not what I received.

I noticed a link, “Trouble with your order?”

Yes, exactly.” I clicked. Several new links, including “What I received is not what I ordered.”

Shipped Pen Case

Wow!” I clicked again.

A new email opened, addressed to the supplier, containing the order number and item description, with additional non-editable text: “This item is different from what I ordered. Please send me a replacement. If you want the original item back, please authorize a return and provide return shipping instructions.” There was also a box to add text if desired. I desired; I described the discrepancy and added, “This is to be a Christmas gift, so please send the correct item post-haste.” ( I saw no way this was going to be worked out by Christmas. )

Amazon marketplace responded nearly immediately, stating to contact them if I had not heard anything in two days. I heard the next day. “Wow.

“Are you able to send us a picture of the item received?”

A picture?” I was flabbergasted, enraged, outraged, but, finally, compliant.

Almost immediately, “Thank you for sending us the images. We do appreciate it.”

Two more days and I wrote again. Almost immediately, “We have contacted the manufacturer and we found out that the double pen case has been discontinued and that is why they just sent the single pen case instead.  We are not sure why the manufacturer did that and we are truly sorry.”

Then the money part, “We can go ahead and issue you a full refund back to your account”

Then the truly impressive part, “and you can keep what you have received.  Would that be ok?”

OK? Are you kidding me?” Given where we were, that was perfect.

I returned to Amazon, found a nice dual pen case with a promise of Christmas delivery ( in four days ), and received it two days before Christmas. Ellie now has need for another fountain pen, as she has three slots in nice pen cases and only two fountain pens.

Kudos to Amazon!

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Where do I Go from Here?

So I've decided to leave, but where will I go?

I've come up with five criteria.
  1. It has to be in the US.
  2. It can't have winters anything like what we experience here.
  3. I must have a good job with a good wage, coupled with a good cost of living.
  4. I have to like it there.
I'd like to retire abroad; maybe even do an early half retirement if I can get a job in the US that I can do from paradise.  But that's a long term goal.

And weather is one of my primary reasons for moving, so it wouldn't make sense to find another frozen wasteland to live in.  So we've already narrowed down the earth quite a bit; only the US, and only it's warmer parts.

I can't expect to make much more than I do now, so the cost of living can't be much higher, but that's easy to compare.  Job opportunities are a little harder.  I have a degree in computer support, and I should have eight years of experience by then.  I haven't looked for a job since I've made these developments in my life.  I expect I'm pretty employable in any city.  It's just a matter of finding a job I like that pays well.  It would give me a lot more leeway if I could get my CCNA by then.

Another thing to consider is, there are people with my job title at my company working completely remote.  It's not ideal for the company, but they have allowed it.  In fact, I'm positive that they would allow me to work remotely from a city with no company office if I had my CCNA.

Now where would I like to live?  I'll need to visit a few cities, but now is the time.  Starting this spring I'll have an extra week of vacation each year.  Not counting my planned vacation next month, I'll have 9 weeks of vacation between now and the time I'm planning to move.  If I can't find a place I'd rather live in that time, I should probably reevaluate moving.

There is already tentative talk about visiting my cousin in San Diego next January, and maybe heading down to Mexico for a day.  I've never been, and it's very close.  Neither of those fit my criteria, but Las Vegas is on the way, and that does.  It looks like I could fly there, then take a greyhound to San Diego for $25 once I've had my fill.

Las Vegas is actually the only city that has come to mind so far.  I don't mind the heat.  I'm a nocturnal person, and the city is very active at night, when it's cooler anyways.  The cost of living is great, and housing is literally 30% to 50% cheaper.  I listen to two podcasts out of Las Vegas every week, and it seems nice there.  They talk about interesting events and conventions all the time.  Taxes are low because they get most of their's from tourists in sales tax.

It seems silly to be thinking about all of this when my vacation to Costa Rica is so close, but it's just what's been on my mind.  The weather here has done a 180 since I started writing this, and it actually rained on Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Merry Christmas

I pray each and every one of you has a holy, joy-filled Christmas, and that 2017 brings many blessings and even more grace. I will return next week with a new post.
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Monday, December 19, 2016

I've Decided not to Stay

I remember the day I found out not everyone had to deal with 30 below, or 100 degree days.  I guess I kind of knew, but I had never really thought about it.  I remember asking my mother, "Why do we live here?"  She mumbled something about good schools.  It was a 100 degree day at the time, and she was in no mood for stupid questions.  A week ago I saw an internet meme that said, "The air hurts my face.  Why do I live somewhere... where the air hurts my face?"  It didn't sound like a dumb questions to me.

Yesterday morning I opened my hand because my fingers hurt from the tight fists I was making.  I looked at my palm and saw my 98° hand was smoking in the -20° air.  I instantly came to two realizations.  The first is that my new gloves are very comfortable, but obviously let too much of my body heat escape.  The second is that I'm not going to stay.

Since the weather is my biggest factor in leaving, I think it's safe to say I'll be leaving before a winter.  The question is, 'Which winter?'  Or a better question might be, 'How many more Minnesota winters for me?'  Three seems like overkill.  I don't think I need that much time to figure out what I want to do.  One seems doable, but I don't want to rush.  So two it is.  I'm planning to leave fall of 2019.

As for "where?", I do have some ideas, but that's another blog post.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Making a Difference

“Thanks, Walter, you’re the best.”

I have found my volunteer jobs at my home parish richly rewarding. One of them, my work as the “Pathways IT Person” ( as I like to bill it ) makes use of my enjoyment working on a computer.

Pathways provides a meal and a faith-based training event one evening a week; the target guests are people on the fringes. Topics include things such as Spirituality, Healthy Relationships, Health & Wellness, Problem-Solving, Budgeting and Personal Presentation. Each evening requires a minimum of five volunteers and we offer an event on forty-six Thursday evenings every year.

As the IT person, I maintain electronic records of attendance, who pledged to graduate and who actually graduated ( and when for both ), records of who is volunteering for which of the five volunteer positions for each event, and, with the senior leadership of the program, solicit volunteers now and again. I also make the six month schedule template which we use to both solicit volunteers and to document who volunteered.

To experience what they’re like, I attended a couple events. I enjoyed meeting people whose names I had seen on an attendance list and whose attendance I had documented in an Excel spreadsheet. I particularly enjoyed meeting a couple of the people who had long since graduated but who continue to come virtually weekly. Many of the guests who’ve graduated continue to come, clearly having established a community on these Thursday evenings. The average headcount is nineteen or so.

The guests frequently report that their pledge to graduate and then actually doing it is one of the first times they’ve committed to do something and then done it. ( Graduating means they’ve taken each of the ten events. ) Some report that one or another of the interactions that occurred was very meaningful to them. Some guests have gone from being homeless to having permanent shelter.

It is rewarding to know that I contribute to this process that touches many lives, often the lives of people who are on the down side of their luck. Let me be clear: my work touches none of them directly. My work, rather, is an integral part of the infrastructure that makes the program possible.

“Walter, let’s get the first half of 2017 template for Pathways out to the volunteers so people can begin checking their schedules and signing up.”

By the time I get an email like this, I should have the first half of 2017 schedule ready for assigning volunteers … that is, a bare schedule with dates, topics and the three off-evenings documented.

“Walter, I’d like to Host on 12/15, 1/12, 2/23 and 3/2. If these dates are still available, please let me know,” is typical of an email I might get.

I will check the schedule, put these requests on if the dates are open, and respond with a schedule snippet of the dates mentioned to show the request implemented in the schedule. If one or more of the dates is already filled, I will, of course, so say, show that in the schedule snippet, and suggest other open dates the volunteer might consider. And then I get a response, “Thanks, Walter; you’re the best!”

“Walter, Tom Brenson was at Pathways last night and asked how many events he needs to graduate. Oh, and did he pledge? He’s not at all sure he’s actually pledged,” is another less typical but not unheard of email.

The name will probably be familiar to me; I check the Attendance worksheet and determine the answers. I respond, “Tom has not pledged but he has attended all the events. To be eligible to graduate, all he needs do is pledge.”

It is nice to know that my work integrates well with the efforts of the other volunteers to put on a program that helps people who recognize the Basilica community as a caring community … a community clearly attempting to carry God’s love to everyone.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Why You Should Join Facebook

If you haven't joined Facebook already, you should do so because... everyone else is doing it.

Seriously though, it's so popular that most people you know are already on it.  I'd like the standard to be neutral like email too, but it's not; it's Facebook.  And if you want to be where your friends and loved ones are, here it is.

Want to send me an email?  I'll get it, eventually.  90% of the email I get is of little interest to me, so I check it a couple of times a week.  Every message I see on Facebook is from someone I told them is a friend of mine.  I check it every day.

Oh, and do you have my email address?  If you don't, you need to get that to send me an email.  With Facebook you can search for someone's real name.  But you rarely need to.  Most people I know are already friends of other friends.  Once you connect with one, it's easy to connect to the rest.

Facebook messaging can be used like email, with long full length messages.  Or you can use it for brief back and fourth messages.  It keeps a feed of each conversation partner, or partners if you're having a group conversation.  And speaking of group conversations, it's a much easier way to make sure your participants are not crossing paths, and responding to older messages.

But the biggest reason to join is that people you care about are living their lives there.  People you don't see everyday will post updates.  They'll comment on other people's updates.  Thoughts, opinions, and events are happening that you wouldn't know about otherwise.

Monday, November 28, 2016

I Cooked a Thing

So there I was.  Thanksgiving was around the corner.  The first since I stopped eating animals, and I had two main concerns.  The first was that I could bring food people want to eat.  The second was a delicious Thanksgiving dinner for myself.

Every year I attend two different dinners.  The first is with my family.  This is very casual.  Our family is small, and many have other commitments.   We all come when it's convenient, and leave when we need to.  I had already given my mother vegetable broth, and asked her to use it anywhere she would normally use chicken broth.  No one noticed any differences.

I came in the morning armed with supplies, and set about the task of making gravy.  I purchased three varieties of gravy mix I found at Mississippi Market.  Two were onion gravy, the third was mushroom.  Both just called for adding water, and simmering on a stovetop.  But I wanted to jazz them up a bit.

For the mushroom gravy, I was able to find mushroom broth.  I used half water, and half that.  For the onion gravies, I used half vegetable broth.  But I finely chopped an onion, and sautéed it in butter first, then started making gravy in the pot.  They all tasted great, in my opinion.  But how did everyone else compare them to the turkey gravy they were used to?

The world will never know.  Everyone saw my mushroom and onion gravies, hot and ready to serve, then took a look at the jars of turkey gravies they're used to, and picked mushroom or onion.  No one said they were awful, and no one said they were great.  No one ate them to make me happy.  They just thought it was a fine option.  Success!

The next day was Thanksgiving with friends.  People announced what they were bringing, and I said "Onion and Mushroom" gravy, capitalizing them on purpose.  I wanted to make sure people wanting turkey gravy had chance to bring what they like.  And no one did.

No one thought it was unusual I brought onion gravy, and no one thought it was unusual I brought mushroom gravy.  The only comments I got were from people thinking it was rather fancy to bring two different kinds of gravy.  And everyone thought my gravy was fine.  It was just fine.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Time for Thanks, Once Again

“Thanks to God!”

Christmas is right around the corner, the preparatory season of Advent begins shortly, and Thanksgiving has just occurred. For what am I thankful? There are numerous things:

  • After moving in with our dear dying friend Loretta in December, 2014, and staying at her place for months after she died to bring some sort of order to Loretta’s affairs ( for which she is responsible ), my dear Ellie moved back home on New Year’s eve 2015.
  • Ellie and I were, therefore, together, living under the same roof, when Ruth ( Ellie’s sister-in-law ) died suddenly in very early January. We could provide support, care and concern for Ruth’s two daughters, and Ellie’s brother, Jim, who was having dementia, without having to communicate between two physical spaces.
  • Though exhausted and grieving from caring for Loretta, Ellie showed me how to be hospitable by being open to her sister and her sister’s husband, who stayed with us when here for Ruth’s funeral and, later, when here to help get the estate ready for sale. She responded with similar hospitality when another sister flew into town to visit Jim.
  • Ellie managed her job as executor of Loretta’s will very well. She got Loretta’s car to her nephew in Chicago without our having to drive there and managed to sell her condo with the only incident being a last-minute change of the closing date by only a few days.
  • My friend Mic, who has been dealing with inoperable brain cancer for nearly a year, has had some good experiences recently. Two MRIs in a row have shown his tumor to have shrunk. His left hand has stopped shaking and is now strong enough that he can cut the fingernails on his right hand. He can taste food again. He no longer needs a cane, and his walking gait, which reminded me of someone who’d had a stroke, is darn near normal!
  • I’ve found some time to interact with some neighbors in new ways. On one side, Andy and I collaborated on a new fence. On the other, Kevin and I borrowed a chain-saw from yet another neighbor and cut some growth in my yard that he had noticed and which did not belong there. Our neighborhood men’s 500 card party broke up when one of our number moved to Arizona; my neighbor two doors down solicited two other men and we now have a new card-party going on.
  • Though I have been consumed by attempting to care for Ellie as she recovers from her grief and exhaustion and learns to live with significant arthritis pain, especially in her knees, my friends have been supportive by inquiring about how Ellie is and I am, and by not asking much of me.
  • Ellie has found some relief from the arthritic pain in her knees. She has gone to a new clinic, seen X-Rays that show that her knees are not in awful shape, and almost completed a new regimen, which has provided improvement in her knees. She has also gotten knee braces, which are difficult to put on, make her feel uncomfortably strapped in, but which clearly stabilize her knees. She is talking of using these braces to take walks with me. I am excited.
The President-elect of the United States, and the campaign that preceded the election, not to mention the poor alternatives we had to choose from, are nearly enough to cause despair. If one looks far enough, however, there are reasons for both joy and thanksgiving. “Deo gratias.”
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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Picture is Worth... 85¢ or So

'Tis the season to be thinking about Christmas presents, and I happened to notice instant cameras are a thing again.  I remember when I was young my aunt had one that she never used, but she did have many photos she treasured that were obviously taken with it.  If I recall correctly, her reason for no longer using it was that it was hard to find film for it.

Easy present, right?  Not so fast.  The first thing to note is that digital cameras exist now, and have a lot of benefits; unlimited free film, for one.  They're also small and light compared to these new instant cameras.  But she isn't using one of those, and she did use her old Polaroid.  So shouldn't I be comparing these new cameras to the one she liked and actually used?

The first thing I noticed is that they come in two sizes of prints, and even the larger size is a little smaller than the one she had.  But not so much to be a problem, I think.  Then the price tag hit me.  The cameras are not expensive, but the film is about 85¢, at best.  As someone used to unlimited free digital film, I was taken aback.  But I'm supposed to be comparing it to the previous instant print cameras, right?

Well what did they cost?  I wasn't actually able to find that.  I did find that you can buy film for those cameras today at $2.50 a shot.  $2.50!!?  I'm going to make some guesses, and assume that they're charging twice as much because it's now a novelty.  But that's still would mean my aunt is use to spending the 90's dollars equivalent to $1.25 a photo.  It seems to me that could be true.

I'm gonna go for it.  It could be fun; making cameras social again.  It might be a great piece of nostalgia for her.  And if nothing else, it will be unique gift.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Things we Do

“Where’s my purse?”

Our friend, Jane, was going with Ellie and me to St John’s; we were going to a prayer service to honor those who had lived and died before us. We’d do that in both prayer and fellowship. This is an annual event that Ellie and I had attended several times; each year seemed to bring new reasons to participate.

Jane stopped at our house, plenty early enough to allow us to chat a bit and bring Ellie’s car around and move some clothes-to-be-donated-to-MORE from her car to Jane’s. There were quite a few clothes in quite a few bags, but everything fit in Jane’s trunk. When we left, we still thought we had enough time to stop at our favorite Caribou.

It was a beautiful Minnesota fall day. Bright sun, a few clouds sprinkled about on the vast expanse of blue sky, temperature around 60 degrees. And many many trees were still “plugged in” ( credit for the metaphor to my dear Ellie ), lit up with bright fall colors. A great day for a drive.

“We saw Jim last Sunday,” Ellie, referring to her brother, was telling Jane. “And it seems he painted a picture of some fall splendor. It was hanging in the living room of the house where he’s living.”

“Oh, I‘d like to see it,” Jane, who’s not met Jim, said.

“Well … ,” Ellie said, “I just happen to have a picture of it.” Sitting next to me, she was putting her hand in her purse to fish out her phone.

Pretty soon, though, “Where’s … where’s my purse?” Frantic movement in the front passenger seat. “I can’t find my purse!”

We were going down I-94; I couldn’t help her look. Jane did her best, but she was in the back seat. I took the next exit and found a parking lot; no purse.

“I wonder if I put it down when we moved the clothes,” Ellie said.

“I don’t remember your having it,” Jane countered. “You sure you brought it out of the house?”

“No. Walter went to the bathroom just before we left … I wasn’t sure where he was … I had a bunch of stuff to carry out.” Pause. “I don’t remember putting it over my shoulder.”

I didn’t remember anything except moving the clothes to Jane’s car; that added nothing to the conversation, so I didn’t add it. Ellie had put her phone in another small bag that she brought, so she had that. However, keys, money, credit cards, car fob, remote car starter began the list of important things that were now missing. “We have to return home,” I said.

“Really? I feel really badly missing the service.”

“Me, too, but we gotta recover your purse, or start making calls ...”

As we were returning, Jane suggested calling a neighbor. Ellie called a couple. Nobody home. She left no message.

One of them called back. Nice of him, but he was not home and couldn’t help.

I dropped them off to search around Jane’s car while I went around back. As I entered the dining room, there it was … where it almost always is when we’re home. Ellie and Jane were coming up the walk to the house. I opened the door, showed them the purse, and smiled. “Come on out so we can get going to St John’s,” Ellie said.

I picked them up, we made our way to St John’s, and spent some time at Loretta’s grave.

Loretta's Marker, Cremation Columbarium
St John's Cemetery

We walked to the site of the earlier prayer vigil. After we reflected quietly I offered to get the car. As I drove up I noticed a stranger with them. It wasn’t a stranger, it was the director of the cemetery, whom we’ve come to consider a friend. From the parish funeral that was winding down as we arrived she had seen Ellie and Jane, and come over. Pleased to see her, I got out of the car, we all hugged, caught up a bit, and then we left, stopping for dinner before returning home.

It was a rewarding day.
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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Way to San Jose

When I got back from my trip to Thailand almost two years ago, I decided two things.  The first is that I not only wanted to travel again, but I'd like to always have travel plans.  So I started planning a trip to Colombia two years out.  The second is that two weeks is probably enough.

Colombia has lots of bars, restaurants, touristy things, and the American dollar goes farther there.  I know that sounds kind of dumb, because I could just visit someplace closer, and spend the airfare money here, but that defeats the the real goal of having fun in a new place.  The other reason I was looking at Colombia is that seems far enough away to be somewhere new, but close enough to save time and money on airfare.

To make a long story short, I had decided the crime in Colombia was not enough to keep me out, but then realized there are other destinations with less crime that have their own merits.  Costa Rica is pretty close, both physically and climate wise.  The cost of living is a little higher, but the crime is a lot lower.

For some reason these two weeks were way harder to get approved than the month I took last time, but it's on the calendar now.  I found airfare for as low as $321, but ended up spending $452 for the flights I wanted, and luxuries like a carry-on.  This January I will spend fourteen full days in San Jose, or thereabouts.

My cousin who came with to Thailand will be joining me again.  Another cousin of ours may join us too.  I don't know him well, but I'm not worried.  I think we'll want to spend a good portion of our time there doing our own thing anyways.  There will not be an exact itinerary, but even a general one has not been worked out yet.  I think we know we want to spend a few days in San Jose at the beginning and end, then travel up north to see a sloth or two, zip line through a jungle, hang out on a beach, in the middle.  And just generally skip two weeks of winter.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Election Reflection

I was right; my blog partner was wrong.

My blog partner’s testament to the above, while flattering, is also unnerving. Very. I was afraid I was right. As I consider the results of the election on the day following it, I have at least these rather conflicted notions, as in I feel ( adjective ) because ( reason ). Here goes.

I feel … relief … because the ads were seriously getting on my nerves; all of them. Really.

… afraid … Trump seems like a loose cannon who’s always interested in getting even and now he has the entire toolset of the executive branch of the United States at his mostly legitimate disposal. He also has the nuclear codes.

… I am afraid the legislative branch of the government is in his pocket as well. See concern immediately above. They are sworn to uphold the Constitution but if you cut them they’ll bleed Republican, and he ran on their banner.

… and he has egged his supporters to a “lock her up” frenzy at more than one political rally.

… he has a very thin skin and is apparently very naïve about the use of nuclear weapons.

… his gas-lighting abuse is a huge concern. I wouldn’t expect him to do things that never displease anyone; but I expect ownership of the doing. It is only in the ownership that dialogue can occur. His behavior in the campaign gives me little to no hope that he can do that.

… his apparently unflagging admiration for the dictators of the modern world, to whom governing is like managing a company ( “You’re fired!” ), along with his threats to jail Hillary, sue his female accusors and suggestions to withdraw licenses to air programming from those who’ve criticized him, leave me fearing our very democracy is in peril.

… hopeful … perhaps the United States needs a dose of his medicine. Not sure what his medicine is, but he did tap into quite a legitimate anger in the heartland … anger that Bernie Sander and Elizabeth Warren seemed to get but which Clinton either failed completely to understand or was unable to articulate in any meaningful way. Charisma matters.

( Keep in mind I believe he and his kind are the real source of the issue(s) that this anger is about, but that is a completely different story. He is clearly a member of the 1%; he has an array of lawyers that do nothing but obfuscate; he gets away with the sorts of things that would surely land me in jail; he has benefitted from the top tier of wage earners growing incomes while the rest of the people’s incomes remained stagnant; he stiffed completely more than one contractor doing work for him. In addition, his company financially benefitted from his campaign. )

I don’t think for one nano-second he really cares about the issues the anger about which got him elected … government ineffectiveness, nothing gets done for the common good, nothing gets done for the common person, too much government … except that they might affect his financial empire. Too much government? Only when it keeps Trump Enterprises from doing what it wants to do. He has no problem inserting government into women’s health issues.

… his own distrust of some institutions may be a good thing. His railing that politicians are up to nothing beyond cronyism and looking out for themselves ( hence, “Drain the swamp!” ) is almost certainly a good thing, which, while I write that, makes me wonder what he will model in that regard … and I am willing to bet I know. I believe there is a political establishment that is dangerous, is not party-specific, and which he may be onto and able to overcome. On the other hand, the government does have to work.

I am amazed at the man’s ability to win; I hope and pray his ability to govern ( which is nothing like managing a company ) is as good. As Hillary said in her concession speech, he’s our man, he’s the president, we must be together behind him. I will give him a chance and urge all to do the same.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I was Wrong

I was wrong.  I said Trump didn't have a chance.
Walter thought he did.  He was right.

I sat down to make a post on Monday, but I couldn't really get interested in any subject except for the election.  And there was nothing left to say about that, right?  Time to resign ourselves to four years of Clinton.

I thought the number of people who wanted to vote for Trump were inflated.  The opposite turned out to be be true.  Some people have speculated that people who wanted to vote for Trump were embarrassed to say so.  Some people speculated that there is a large contingent who voted for Trump to try to break the system, and those type of people wouldn't participate in polls.  And I think,...
that I'm not very good at this, apparently.

But how does this affect me, Benjamin?

I think Clinton more capable of leading the country than Trump, just as a white collar criminal is more capable of leading a company than a blue collar criminal.  I don't think either are more moral.  I don't think either are going make the moral decisions on my behalf that I would.

I also think the gameshow host that says racist, and sexist things while he needed the support of the masses will be an embarrassment to our country in a way that Clinton wouldn't even approach.  But I do think there's a chance that the supreme court judges appointed by Trump will support the constitution.  I don't think that would have been true of Clinton.

And I'd like to end by addressing the people out there saying that anyone who voted "their conscience", instead of Clinton, only have ourselves to blame.
#$@&%*! you.  If you wanted my vote, you should have presented a candidate worth voting for.  You don't just get me to vote for whoever you tell me to just because the other guy sucks.  I did not elect Trump.  I voted for Governor Johnson.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Secret Plan

Okay, okay.  We're close enough to the election to tell you the secret plan.

What I told you was Gary Johnson can't win, and Hilary Clinton can't lose.  Let's address that "was" right away.  You may have heard that the FBI is again looking into the crimes Clinton and her staff committed.  She did actually admit to having done the acts that are illegal, but claims they're not really guilty because she's a lawyer who didn't know they were illegal.

I thought she had made the right deals to make that go away, and I still think that, but the new evidence is actually too hard to ignore.  You might say I was wrong about that fact.  And I was definitely wrong about the fact that her campaign has access to other racist and sexist materials from Donald Trump.  I'm still sure it's out there, but I guess she's not as powerful as I thought, or she have it.  If she had it, we'd have it by now, and we don't.

But this only helps the plan.  You see, when I told you Gary Johnson can't win, and Hilary Clinton can't lose, I left out the other option.  They can all not win; all of them.  The constitution of the United States says that a candidate needs 51% of the electoral college votes to win.  So if:

  1. The election is close, ( Which it looks like it will be, more than ever.)
  2. and Gov. Johnson gets one state, (Very possible)
... it is possible no one wins.  What happens then?  The House of Representatives gets to decide who becomes president amongst, wait for it, the top three candidates.  Boom!  They could pick Gov. Johnson to be the next president.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Borrowing Tools ( again )

Oh sure; I’ve got a couple,

I am neither a carpenter nor a furniture maker, this is not a how-to. But … several years ago Ellie and Loretta bought, for a song, an old, cute, wooden rocking chair at one of those discount places. It is a nice rocker. The arms are held up by 5 spindles, four equally spaced from the back of the chair, and a larger one more foreword.

Problem: the seat was cracked along the spindles holding up the right arm, from the edge of the seat near the back to in front of the larger front spindle. The right arm felt wiggly. With enough time and attention, the piece would have very likely broken off the seat entirely.

Though not a carpenter, I have glued wood. I even own some wood glue. And some C-clamps. I know wood should be clamped tightly when being glued and this application meant clamping across the width of the seat. This was not a job for my tool-set.

“Oh, come on,” Ellie said from Loretta’s. “You can use the C-clamps to clamp the seat. The gluing needs to be done and I’d like you to do it. Today.”

As said previously, I have learned it’s unwise to distrust Ellie’s instincts. I packed my glue, my clamps, and left.

I got out my tools. “I don’t see … ,” I began.

“Well, no you don’t,” she said. “You push the crack together … ( some magic happens ) … and viola! It’s clamped in place.”

I don’t remember exactly what she said, but her idea had not occurred to me. She suggested pushing the two pieces together, keeping the pieces pushed together with the inside edge of the C-clamp, and clamping the seat, on the other side of the crack, with the C-clamp.

View of Rocker Seat from front, showing the Crack

View of Rocker Seat from front, showing the Crack pushed together by the C-Clamp

Well … if I could push hard enough, and clamp tight enough, this might just work. I tried and it did. “See?” Ellie asked politely.

We used the chair. I was always a little more careful of the right arm than I might have been with any other chair in the world, but I did not treat it daintily. The chair survived.

Flash forward. Ellie’s been home six months and the chair, again needing gluing, has as well. It has been sitting in our not-overly-large dining room since Ellie returned. I had always believed that proper clamping would have garnered more permanent results than the job I had done.

“Are you planning on doing anything with the rocker?”

I thought of my neighbor and his chain saw … not to murder this chair but as a possible source of large clamps. He is very generous.

“Do you have any pipe clamps I could borrow?” I asked as our card game broke up. “I need to glue a chair seat.”

“Oh sure; I’ve got a couple,” he said and ran downstairs. He returned with two.

This happened weeks ago. I finally did the work. It took less time than I was afraid of ( it seems that all my projects take longer than anticipated … including writing a story for my blog ).
Chair, Clamped
An Up-Close Look at the Clamp
Near the Right-Front Spindle
The glue is currently drying. The instructions say clamp for
thirty-minutes, then leave alone for twenty-four hours. I’ll leave the chair clamped for the twenty-four hour leaving alone period.

I’ll let you know how this turns out.
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Monday, October 24, 2016

The Difficult One

I stopped eating animals several months ago now.  At the time I said it was easy.  I still think it is.  Others think I've given up real food, and I'm scavenging for substitutes.  The truth is, our diets are so rich, I've put on about ten pounds having trouble saying no to all the mouthwatering choices I have.  But it turns out that not eating the animals is the easy part.

For starters there's the social stigma.  I was worried about what people would think from the start.  The only person I've ever told because I wanted him to know was Walter.  Everyone else found out when it came up naturally.  And I was right.  He is the only person I know who thought I might have reasons to do so.  Everyone else I know acted like I've decided to become an alien at best, or have gone out of my way to become difficult or "virtue signal" at worst.  Now this is my experience of these situations, so I'm sure it is exaggerated to meet my experiences.  It's not like there are long conversations when I'm not around about how weird I've become.  I think not, at least.

Then there come the times when I'm actually difficult for others.  For example, I was invited to a party, and was told there would be squash soup there.  I was the only vegetarian who might attend, but this soup was not specifically for me.  It was planned before they knew I was coming.  I arrived, and was told, "Good news.  There will be vegetarian squash soup.  You eat eggs and dairy, right?"  I said that I do, so she poured in a carton of chicken broth.  Then the difficult one (me) had to explain why I find her soup to be unacceptable.  Those aren't the words I used, but I'm sure they're the words they heard.  She insisted lots of vegetarians eat eggs and chickens, so I should have said something when she asked.

Twice now I've been at sit down restaurants, asked the wait staff if a dish can be served vegetarian, then had to send it back because it arrived covered in meat.  And it's not like I go to a sit down restaurant everyday.  This is rough for me.  In the past I've just accepted what arrived, even if it wasn't what I ordered.  Now I'm the jerk that sends his food back because doesn't meet his standards.  And I'm the guy who has to read the label before buying something.

Half the reason they find me difficult is that my understanding of vegetarian and vegan is not universal.  I think it's universal among vegetarians and vegans.  Vegetarians don't consume animals, and vegans don't consume animals or animal products, like dairy.  I've never met one who wouldn't agree with that.  I even did a quick search of the internet, and came up empty.

I've talked to several meat eaters, aka normal people, both friends and people in the food service industry, who don't think those are standard definitions.  Which leaves me wondering, did I know that because I'm the kind of person who would become a vegetarian?  Or maybe we're wrong, and it's the majority who decided what these words mean, whether or not they are part of that group.  Or maybe I should just stop using those words all together, and state my full definition of vegetarian every time instead.

Friday, October 21, 2016

And if Hillary does Win ...

“I’ll just keep you in suspense.”

I like what my co-blogger said about voting for Gary Johnson … see it here. I, however, remain unconvinced that Hillary cannot lose the election.

On the day of the final debate, Ellie, a friend, and I took a leaf excursion down the Mississippi River. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful trip, the leaves were fantastic but that’s a story for another time. At a small bakery/deli in a small town in which we stopped for coffee and a Danish, the bakery ran a straw poll of presidential preferences: buy a cookie and vote for your candidate. The ongoing results were hand-written on a sheet of newsprint hanging on an easel in the bakery. It looked something like this:

No kidding. I certainly understand this is not a scientific poll; it might prove only that Trump supporters like cookies whereas Clinton supporters are more into Danish, or Long Johns, or whatever. Or perhaps that Trump supporters are more likely to go into a small bakery in a small town in Minnesota than are Clinton supporters. Nonetheless, as a person who would not vote for Trump if he were the only candidate running, and who is fearful of his being elected, I was chilled to see the results of this poll.

We also noticed lots of “Trump/Pence” political yard signs and few signs for any other side. This reminded me of the large number of signs my wife and I saw many years ago when driving toward northern Minnesota in another election year. That year Jesse Ventura shocked the world with his election to the governorship of our fair state. Had you seen all the “Ventura” signs in the yards that Ellie and I saw, you might not have been so shocked, either.

And then Ellie and I watched the debate. I heard Donald say he is not willing to state, up front, that he will accept the results of the election. I can almost … well, maybe not. I go in and out thinking that the country is going to be in big trouble regardless of the election outcome.

If Trump wins we’ll be in trouble because we have Donald Trump as POTUS. I’ve previously expressed in these pages the concern that brings me.

If Hillary wins, we’ll be in trouble because we’ll have Donald Trump doing everything in his power ( and I’m sure there is much in his power ) to delegitimize Hillary’s presidency. Legal challenges; rumor mills; conspiracy theories. He’s good at all of these things; and he’s already set up the belief that the election is rigged. At a minimum, this will destabilize the government of the United States for a time.

This would result in lots of people who have guns ( for the very purpose, in many cases, of not being out gunned by the state ) being more unhappy with the presidential election than they may have otherwise been and, by extension, the election results in their own state/county/city/school board. Not only unhappy, but convinced the results are not legitimate. I have seen stories ( admittedly, on the internet … which proves they might be true ) that quote Trump supporters that there will be bloodshed if he doesn’t win.

Trumps’s casual, “I’ll just keep you in suspense,” as if he’s keeping the winner of an Emmy a secret, is alarming, as Hillary said in the debate that night and as President Obama said later. His casual response to real violence that occurred at his rallies ( early on, I witnessed it on tape; not recent events ) does nothing to suggest to me he’d do anything were some/any/a group of his supporters to go off the deep end and start shooting people.

I hope and pray I am just an alarmist.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A Vote for Governor Johnson is a Vote for ...

I have some more thoughts on Governor Johnson.  Some people say, "A vote for Johnson is a vote for ..."  Essentially saying that he's not going to win, so your vote won't count.  That's just not true.  If you believe:

  1. Gov. Johnson cannot win the general election.
  2. Hillary Clinton can no longer lose.
  3. You are not happy with the choices offered.

, then consider this.  There are only two things your vote can do.

  1. You can increase or decrease her margin of victory.
  2. You can help a third party candidate get to 5% in the polls.

Decreasing her margin of victory is worth doing.  It sends a message to the house and senate that they can afford to vote their conscience instead of supporting her, and risk losing favor with voters.

Every state a third party has 5% of the vote in this election, will automatically have their candidate on the ballet next election.  That is a huge boon that party.  That saves a ton of campaign money, making that candidate much more viable.

Gov. Johnson's "gaffes" make him look bad.  I don't think it is bad to not know the name of that particular city overseas, or to stumble when asked to choose his favorite world leader.  I do think it makes him look bad.  He gave honest 'I-don't-know's' instead of suave deflections that comes second nature to most politicians.

Or maybe he is lacking on specific facts on the situation overseas.  Wouldn't you rather have a president dedicated to peace who needs to lean on his advisors for the details, vs the other two who seem dedicated to insulting and fighting with the rest of the world?

But even if you do consider those gaffes, he can't win, remember?  A vote for Gov. Johnson is a vote for more choices, it's a vote against the choices thrust upon us this election, and it's a vote for all other politicians to be free to vote their conscience.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

More Political Angst

“You’d be in jail.” The second presidential debate of 2016 occurred recently. Donald Trump was, is, and continues to be, scary.

Bill Clinton spent thirty or so minutes alone with the Attorney General within days – or even hours, perhaps – of his wife’s case being ruled on by the AG's FBI. When asked about it, he said that they were just were exchanging pleasantries; engaging in social talk. This is to take us – the voters, the populous, those without access to the Attorney General’s private plane – for idiots. It is to be blind, or, as is often said, ‘tone deaf’ about the perceived meaning(s) of one’s actions. It is to have no understanding at all why I may think the purpose of the visit was to influence the FBI’s ruling. If the visit truly were purely social, even if true, to have paid it at the time he did was to demonstrate in spades his tone deafness. Any adult human being, especially a politician, even though retired, ought to know more about the perception of his actions than demonstrated here. ( Of course, maybe he was just being disingenuous … you think? )

It was about Abe Lincoln’s persuasive powers gathering support for the thirteenth amendment, seen in a movie ( or a play ). “It was a Master Class in presidential leadership.” This is Mrs Clinton’s turn at pulling wool. While it may have been a Master Class, this was her answer to the question if it is OK for a politician to have a public position on issues and a different private position. She was alleged to have reassured a group of Wall Street executives that was her situation. This is quite different from using different arguments to different groups. Her response is also a non-answer to a real question.

But … the United States not only survived but thrived under the leadership of the tone-deaf Bill Clinton. We may, or may not, do the same under less-than-candid Hillary. I suspect we would.

I am afraid, however, and I worry about survival of our democracy, when considering the alternative to Hillary. I’ve written of this before … a prayer, a poem

The vicious chanting of ‘Jail Hillary’ at Trump rallies is haunting. The mob mentality that, in the face of so many investigations that have found nothing criminal, that wants to see any human being, let alone a candidate for President of the United States, locked up, and pine for it in the way the chant expresses, scares me. And, rather than trying to tone this hostility down, Trump encourages it.

And Trump told her, as heard by my own ears, that if he were President, “You’d be in jail.” This is not the way our democracy works; this is not the rule of law; the President has much influence, but does not possess the power to lock people up. When Richard Nixon tried to get his attorney general to do a different-but-similar thing, his Attorney General had the decency, and the guts, to resign. ( For those of you perhaps too young to remember, Nixon himself ultimately resigned the presidency when faced with his own impeachment. ) That Trump would promise such a thing, on national TV, with a huge audience, alarms me. A lot. Such a public threat to lock up political adversaries strikes at the very heart of our system of government … the rule of law and the separation of powers. It is the way of dictators, both two-bit and more successful ones.

We could survive the lies of Hillary Clinton; we could not survive dismantling the heart our democracy by Donald Trump.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Minnesota State Fair - 2016

Weeks ago, the Minnesota State Fair came and went again.  I put off posting because I've had other things on my mind.  But I love it, and go at least once every year.  I was a little concerned because 90% of the reason I go is the food, and this was my first year attending as a vegetarian.  My concerns turned out to be unfounded.  Most of the things I look forward to don't actually contain animals.

Cheese Curds
Of course.  The really good ones are at a place just called Cheese Curds, located on the east side of Underwood St. between Murphy Ave. & Lee Ave.  They even serve them with a marinara sauce.

Wine Country Mushrooms
These were new last year, and not back this year.  They were great though.  RIP

1919 Rootbear Float
They use great rootbeer, but cheap ice cream.  This is not new, but one of my yearly staples.  I think I'll just get the rootbeer next year, and save room for the unique stuff.  I guess my tastes are evolving.

Deep Fried Candybar
They take a Mars candybar, dip it in mini donut batter, deep fry it, and roll it in powdered sugar.  It's health food, if you think about it.  They do the same with Oreo cookies, but try to do both in an hour.  I dare you.  This is probably my favorite thing to eat at the state fair.

Sweet Martha's Cookies
No secret here.  They have three locations, and a line at all three.  I recommend getting a bucket to go to save room.

I had much more, of course.  Those were this year's highlights.  Then I got sick.  I guess I'm not as young as I used to be.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Good Fences and Good Neighbors, Update

“Really? That must have been kind of last-minute.”

Several years ago, the fence between Andy’s property and ours was old, dilapidated, and in need of serious repair or replacement. Andy and I talked, I talked to several fence companies, and we finally decided on a company, a fence technology ( choosing PVC over wood and something called Trex ) and all.

I had thought we were done making all decisions when Andy had one last-minute change; he told me what it was and said, “Tell him that and see what he says.”

I did, and, of course, it was just another change; the estimator sees those all the time. He modified the quote once again, sent it to me, and everyone agreed on it. When I signed the contract for our installation; the salesman said he had not yet gotten Andy’s signature.

We were told it would take six to seven weeks before they’d have the material, they’d call us to schedule the installation, and somebody would have to be home for the first thirty minutes, to make sure the installation team and I had the same fence in mind. It took all of the time they said, they finally called, and the team was ten minutes early on the morning of the installation.

This installation is a two-day process, as explained by everyone at FenceCompany to whom I spoke about it. The first day the crew takes down the existing fence, removes the old footings, digs holes for, pours concrete footings for and installs the posts for the new fence. The poured concrete takes several days to dry fully, so the rest of the fence is installed at that time.

The crew chief and I talked, there was little to say other than to discuss a nagging question I had about one of the gates they will install. The chief had a ready answer, I was satisfied, and they started. And, oh, by the way, Andy’s work has not yet been scheduled.

In what seemed like no time, the existing fence was down, the new footings were poured, the new posts were up and the crew was gone. I notice that, although Andy’s work is not yet scheduled, the post that would serve for both our common fence line and the short piece to his house has holes to accommodate the rails that will run toward his house.

Several days later the installation crew is back. Once again making quick work of it, they put up the horizontal rails between the posts and the vertical pieces between them, and the fence is done.
Original Fence
New Fence
Except for the gates; neither gate is up and the crew is gone. I look in vain for a note; there is none. I call the scheduler; “Oh, sure, Mr Jost, let me put you through to the finisher.”

“For reasons I cannot explain, the crew did not have the material to build both gates. They will order that and be back out to finish as soon as possible.”

“Do you have a timeline?” I wondered.

“Shouldn’t be too long; we’ll call to let you know when we’re coming back.”

They didn’t call, but they were back in fairly short order, and built and installed the gates. They were also, I noticed, taking down Andy’s fence in back of his yard … but not the piece that connects to his house from the gate next to ours. “He decided he didn’t want to replace that,” one of the FenceCompany guys told me.

“Really? That must have been kind of last-minute,” I said.


Andy called later that day, to tell us he decided not to replace that short piece of wooden fence. It really was in good shape. He also wondered if we minded.

“Well, …  we tell him, it’s your fence, but we think it would look nicer all around if it matched the fence between our yards and our gate. But there would be no hard feelings if you leave it.”

A few days later, when FenceCompany was out to install the rest of his wooden fence, they also installed the entirety of the ten or so feet of PVC fence from our gate to his house. It now matches the rest of the fence nearby.

The fence to Andy's house matches

It was approximately two months ago that I signed the paperwork with FenceCompany to do our work. The work is finished, Andy’s work is finished, and I am pleased. In addition, all of my potential financial paranoia was for naught. Everything is good there, too.
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Monday, October 3, 2016

Theological Skepticism #5

As the election approaches, I've been listening to political news.  The way I see it, they're all gonna have their own slant.  The key is to find an honest news source with a known slant, and filter accordingly.  As much as it frustrates me to hear conservative hosts over inflate the danger of immigrants and the threat of terror, it drives me bonkers to hear the liberal hosts refer to tax funded services as "free", and taking money as "sharing".  Which is why I end up listening to people like Ben Shapiro, warts and all.  But then we come to religion.

He is Jewish, and actually reads the bible; the whole thing once a year.  The Jewish bible that is, aka the Torah, aka the old testament.  Every show he tries to find some part that isn't awful to share it's wisdom.  It's fine.  I ignore it.  It's kind of a change of pace for me living in a mostly Christian society.  Then he went off the rails.

First he said that although he doesn't agree with the arguments for Atheism, he does understand them, and why other people do agree with them.  I'd stop him right there.  You don't need an argument to not believe in something.  I wouldn't need to convince him that Muhammad didn't fly to heaven on a magic horse.  His belief that I'd need arguments to not believe in his god tells me he doesn't understand.

But then he said something really crazy.  Specifically talking about Exodus, he said that even us Atheists have to admit that the old testament is our current source of morality, passed on to our society through Jewish and Catholic tradition.

You can't see this, but I'm face-palming as hard as I can.

I haven't read the whole bible, but I've read Exodus.  What exactly does he think we got from Exodus?  Does he think it taught us that murder is wrong?  In the storybook, Moses skips town to avoid being punished for killing a guy before Yahweh even starts handing out rules..  Many cultures predating that book had laws against murder, theft, lying, and such.

And did the average person in our society come to the conclusion that slavery is wrong from wisdom passed down by the old testament?  The book of Exodus says the exact opposite.  It says where to get your slaves, and how much you're allowed to beat them.

Our understanding of ethics has gradually increased over time, like our understanding of mathematics and physics.  The greatest force holding us back from this development are these relics of our ancestors that many have convinced themselves, and their very young children, are unquestionable, and beyond approach.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Attempting to go Home Again ( ? )

“YEAH, lets do … ( it ) “

I am a novice singer, have been taking lessons for 14 years, weekly, from the same instructor. Four or five months ago he stood me up and I was peeved, thinking that perhaps my learning to sing days are over. We did, however, have lunch and talk things out. Our final agreement included these provisions: taking the summer off ( the next three months or so ), were we to resume it would be an arrangement similar to the one we had, with a small exception that I did not need to arrive at four o’clock sharp, but had ten minutes of leeway. The lesson was not to start when I arrived, but at four; I could arrive early and expect to be welcomed. While we were taking the summer off, we’d both be thinking about our situation. We would have to mutually agree to return; there was nothing automatic about a resumption of the lessons.

As those months passed, I experienced the ambivalence of my singing reality. I sang only at Mass. I missed singing more regularly and I missed the “tuning until I got it right” aspect of singing. I did not miss attending lessons weekly; that is, I enjoyed the freedom to schedule my time without scheduling around a weekly lesson. In short, while I didn’t miss going to my lessons, I did miss being at them.

I also worried that if I never had another lesson all I would do was regress, and eventually Ellie would be inching away from me again when I’d sing at Mass … or anywhere in public. Ellie was pretty sure that I had improved so much that it was not possible to regress that far. While I respected both Ellie’s insight into life and her musicality, I remained unconvinced.

The brilliant idea, or so it seemed, that occurred to me, combined the freedom of no lessons with the discipline of regular interaction with my instructor. The idea was returning to my lessons but less frequently than weekly. Ellie had done that to wonderful effect with her piano lessons. And while it seemed to me a wonderful integration of two powerful forces within me, I wasn’t sure how my instructor would respond to it. I was, after all, something of a special project; while he directed choir,  to the best of my knowledge he had no other individual pupils.

When the time came to touch base, I shared my ambiguity of liking the freedom of no lessons with the horrible missing of the lessons and suggested that twice per month might work well for me, say the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays ( or 1st and 3rd ), since my lessons had been on Tuesday from the beginning. I asked him if he’d be open to something like that.

He thought it a great idea, his exact words being, “YEAH, lets do the every-other week,” and glommed onto the second and fourth Tuesday, saying that worked best for him and his wife, and said, “starting on 10/11

I am waiting for my first lesson of this new regimen; I am nervous and excited; I am looking forward to returning to the discipline he has helped me instill in my voice. Be still my heart!

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Anyone Catch the Debate?

"What kind of moron hasn't decided on a political candidate at this point?"

I've heard that a lot, or similar sentiments.  But it's kind of a silly statement, in my opinion.  It assumes a dichotomy of voters who are undecided, and voters who have committed to a candidate, and are done using their brain.  I think Gov. Johnson is the best choice by far, but I am open minded, and did watch the debates.

I thought Trump was childish going in.  This debate did not change that.  What surprised me is how childish Clinton came across.  They spent the debate bickering back and forth.  You saw her smug smile every time Trump had to address an issue that made him look bad.  I'm sure Trump would have done the same, if Hilary had been asked any tough questions.

At one point Trump asked her why she deleted the emails.  Clinton says it was a mistake to have a private email server.  Whoops.  That doesn't even address the question, does it?  And why is Trump asking this question, instead of the moderator?  Trump was asked about his taxes, the birther issue, accusations of being sexist; to name a few.  Where were Clinton's hard questions?

But the real reason I posed this is what was said about the No-Fly-List.  The government makes this list.  No trial.  No conviction.  They think you might be engaging in wrong-think, and you get on the list.  Once you're on the list you don't get to board an airplane.  Clinton says she wants to use this list to deny people's second amendment rights.  Trump says, "I agree."

These are our two options.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Good Help is Hard to Find

"We have your Underwriting Approval.”

This is a rant about the way an unnamed Mortgage Company communicates with a borrower. The subject is a man ( “Aaron” ) and a married couple ( “Tom” and “Jean” ) who agreed to co-sign for Aaron’s loan.

Time was of the essence … the agreement to co-sign happened only three weeks prior to the scheduled closing. About a week and a half into the process, while Jean and Tom were still waiting for word that their inputs were approved by underwriting, Aaron’s loan officer sent him an email, the bulk of which is reproduced in the left column below.
Loan Officer's email
( name altered )
Aaron called Tom and Jean; he was gushing and grateful, saying he got an email from his loan officer telling him it’s a go. Jean and Tom were excited, too; they had gotten through the process with minimal exposure. Had they lived closer, the three of them would have had a celebratory glass of wine. 

The next day Tom got a
completely contradictory email, “We received your file out of
underwriting and unfortunately they would not accept ( a provided
item ).” They need the same things originally spoken of, the email said

Wha’ … . Huh?” Tom wondered. “Didn’t Aaron just tell us we’re good to go … all approved?” 

He called the team lead; she was most unhelpful. She did promise to send Tom a copy of whatever was sent to Aaron. She forwarded it without comment. 

And no wonder; what kind of comment could she have made? The text clearly says underwriting is approved … doesn’t it? No reasonable reading could conclude differently … could it?

“Watch the video,” you might be thinking. “They prepared a video.

The video bills itself as an update; it includes text saying, “Congratulations,” and “Approved.” The audio says “the underwriting review is complete” and the loan approval has been assured. The audio further suggests some further ‘conditions’ might be required, with text adding such as copies of tax returns, verification of employment and homeowner’s insurance policy. No mention of co-signer approval. The audio promises an email detailing “any conditions needed.” None was sent. 

What seems to be a picture of a letter ( below ) to Aaron followed. ( He did not receive an actual letter such as this. ) Notice the request to take action “no later than ****”; notice the lack of ownership. Though addressed to the actual borrower, this seems like a sample letter; there is nothing actionable in it. Is there? Am I missing something? The audio then says congratulations again, and states we are in the home stretch. 

What Appears to be an Image of a Letter to a Borrower
This video, “prepared just for” Aaron, is completely devoid of any reference to his co-signers lack of approval. Though it introduces the notion of ‘conditions,’ the video reinforces the lie that the text of the email told. 

This is an excellent example of what passes for communication in corporate America and irks me beyond all reason ... the co-signers remain unapproved ( i.e., is rejected ); no congratulations are in order. If the ‘conditions’ referred to in the video refer to co-signers rejected material, burying it in the middle of such profuse congratulations is very unlikely to get them noticed, let alone worked on. If the text in the image of the letter is is a real request, it should look like a letter and not an image of one. Someone should have signed ( the image of ) it. If ‘conditions’ need fulfillment, the ( image of the ) letter should ask them to be obtained by a real date, not “no later than ***.” If this is real, the follow-up “condition worksheet” should have been provided. Yikes!!

Via return email, Tom complained bitterly to the team lead about her failure to comment on the letter when she forwarded it; he suggested it contained misleading to lying statements and expressed disappointment. Her response? Silence. We can only hope it was embarrassed silence.

Good help is hard to find.
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