Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Over the last two weekends, I spent over 8 hours extracting privet (I think it was privet) from two small gardens we have here.  I think the total square footage that I cleared was about 200 square feet.  And it took 8, yes eight, hours.  Man, I hate privet.  But I have real stubborn streak in me.  It wasn't good enough to just cut it out.  We did that last year and it came back very strong this year and took over very quickly.  So I was going to rip it out by the roots. 

Privet is an insidious plant.  The roots spread out horizontally rather than vertically.  The roots also generate more privet.  So you end up with one very intertwined vegetative mess both above ground and below ground.  And the "mother plant" is a, well, bitch.  Again, I have a stubborn streak so I was not going to stop short.  Good thing we have a Kawasaki Mule, and a long chain.  So I was able to vanquish the evil green with the help of a mule and some red handled shovels.  I expect the privet will attempt to re-establish itself every year for the next few years, but with some diligence on my part I should be able to keep it at bay with an hour or so of effort every year.  Eventually, I will be able to extract all the remaining roots.

So, there are two things I hate about privet.  First, the intertwined, spreading roots make it hard to plant anything else because they take up all the space.  The second thing I hate about privet is that once it's in place it takes a lot of effort to make a change. 

About 11 years ago, someone (a University professor, for whatever that means) once said about me "If there is any way in the world to connect A to Q, Neil will find it."  I grew up in Chicago, where politics were always prominent.  So, I'm gonna connect A (privet) to Q (politics).

The established plants/politicians were fouling up the garden and preventing us from making any improvements.  It took a mule and some red handled shovels to break the stranglehold.  It took a lot of effort to begin the change and will take continued diligence to make sure the privet doesn't take over again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jury Duty

I had my first chance to participate in a fundamental part of this country and the judicial system today.  It wasn't terribly exciting - actually it was pretty boring.  And it left me a bit sad.

It was a simple case of misdemeanor assault with no jail time: only a possible fine.  In Hays County TX nothing really exciting happens.  This isn't quite Sugar Valley PA where they occasionally find dead bodies just a quarter mile up the road from your house.  Boring is good I guess, but I do miss Sugar Valley a bit.

I was one of six jurors selected out of twenty five that showed up.  I'm not sure how I made the cut, but I was glad I did.  I really wanted to participate, and feel strongly that jury duty is a privilege and one of the many things that make our country great.  Of course, that's easy for me to say now.  Ask me again if I do jury in the future and end up on a really juicy case that requires sequestration. 

The case was pretty cut and dried, and there was even video evidence to make our deliberations quite easy; I think we discussed the case for about fifteen minutes.  The defendant was guilty.  And the complainant (no, not the state of Texas) was immature and vindictive.  The defendant was also immature and manipulative.  How they treated each other was bad enough.

They were a couple that had just gotten divorced and were splitting up the personal property.  She shoved him, he fell into another person, and both he and the other person filed charges.  They clearly had developed a consuming contempt for each other and were almost solely concerned with hurting each other above all else.  So they dragged their children into their petty war. 

During the video evidence, not once did the father attempt to comfort or console his children - who should not have been there in the first place - who I am sure were distressed about the ordeal.  And it was painful to watch a young man, who the jurors agree had been coached, to describe his father as angry, vulgar, mean, and intimidating.  It was very uncomfortable to see a sister turn against her brother so easily, almost joyfully. 

It was all such stupid, immature, petty behavior that led to a waste of time and more tears (rips, not drops) in the family fabric: if there was one.  It was pretty easy to find the defendant guilty, but also pretty easy to fine her a nominal amount to voice our overall displeasure with both "sides". 

So, I get home and am pretty bummed.  I happen to then go to my home page to catch up on the news, and come across this story.


And I wonder, why can't adults be more like kids?

And I thank Mom and Dad, and my own brothers and sisters.  And Jerry. 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Health Care comparisons

This was published in the Investors Business Daily a few days ago.  Let me know what you think?  Do you know of other contradictory measures?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dilbert product design

I must have slept funny last night, because man my hip and knee are killing me.  If I sit down, it's not too bad, but when I stand up and take my first few steps I have to hold my breath it hurts so bad.  And no, I did not bring any aspirin with me on the trip.

Anyway, so I grimace my way through the morning and keep a happy face on during my talk and during the Q&A session.  Then I hobble down to the cab stand, ride to the airport, go through security and all that stuff.  All the while, all I can think about is "Where is the convenience store in Terminal C?  Where where where?" I need to high-dose on Tylenol. 
Fortunately, my gate is a low number gate and the store is right there.  Hallelujiah!  So I quickly purchase a 4 pack (two pills in each envelope) and sit down at the gate.  But I can't f'ing open the gd aspirin packets!  I am trying very very hard to control myself, and not scare the neighbors into thinking I can use a trip to the security office.  I bite my tonque (I'm not worried, I'm pretty sure it can be reattached with a few stitches) and continue assaulting the kevlar packing.  What am I doing wrong?  There are no "tear notches", no zip strips.  They won't open. 

So, I figure I'm not dumb (at least not in anything but short bursts - see above) and I stop, take a breath and read the packet.  What do I see at the top of the packet?

A little picture of scissors telling me how to open the packets.  Now, when was the last time you got scissors through airport security?  Without a visit to the security office that is (see above - it's really not that bad of a place you know)?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thoughts on health care reform

Congratulations to the Democrats for working very hard to pass this bill, and to those who stood on principal and voted for it.  I also applaud the Republicans who worked just as hard against this bill based on their principals.  And a pox on Democrats who simply rubber stamped it and Republicans who were obstructionist.  I hope all the voters do the homework required to determine in which camp their representatives stand so they can vote accordingly. 

I am against this bill; no surprise there.  Apart from the fundamentals of the bill, other characteristics of it are very concerning. 

First, the CBO estimate is pretty worthless.  The CBO is non-partisan, but is really very limited in role.  All it can really do is project future state based on the legislation they are given.  They are not allowed to pass judgement on the assumptions included in the legislation.  So again, the voters need to do their homework and determine for themselves if the assumptions make sense.  Let's look a little at the two of the biggest ones: decrease in Medicare and the tax on "cadillac" health plans.  Retired voters are a large, growing, and very vocal voting block.  Does anyone really think that Congress will actually act to reduce this program?  Heck, the Republicans were skewered when they proposed DECREASING THE RATE OF INCREASE in social security.  What are the chances of actually decreasing an entitlement?  Less than the Cubs winning the World Series.  Now, I really have to hand it to Obama, Pelosi and Reid on the tax on cadillac health plans: doesn't go into effect until, what, 2018?  They will be long gone when Congress actually has to attempt to implement this and face the voters.  What do you think is the chance of that measure passing?  Less than the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup.  (I can't use the Saints thing anymore, darn it.)  If it was such a good idea, implement it NOW.

This legislation is supposed to be a "victory for all", right?  It is a fundamental change in a HUGE part of the American economy.  Anything that big should be at least minimally bi-partisan.  How can any party push such monumental legislation whey they can neither gain the support of the majority of the population nor pick off even 1% of the opposition party while at the same time losing almost 15% of their own party?  Regardless of how obstructionist you believe the Republicans may have been, if the legislation was so good they should have been able to gain JUST A FEW Republican votes.  I would have been mimimally satisfied that this at least passed the bi-partisan sniff test if just 2% of the Republicans would have been won over - just 5 votes.  That's all I wanted.

For the life of me, I can't figure out any reason why Student Loans were lumped into this bill.  Actually, I can and it is ugly.  But I can devise no other logic to explain it.  This is a naked political move.  If the government
now frees up a gazillion dollars for kids to go to college, who do you think those beneficiaries will vote for in future elections?  Again, I have to hand it to Obama, Pelosi, and Reid for their political genius.  I think someone ought to really scour the legislation to make sure there isn't something in there giving immediate legal status to all illegal immigrants above 18 - the age at which you can vote.

Time will tell, as it always does.  As for me, I'm going short on the US dollar.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wisdom of country folk

My mother-in-law passed away about 8 years ago.  She was a real pack rat; she had a collection of collections.  Anyway, when we were going through her collections we came across a large pack of letters written to and from her.  It was incredibly fascinating on many levels.  People used much different language back in the early part of the 20th century. 

Jane's mom, Dorothea, grew up in the farming area west and north of Madison, in the Wisconsin River area.  It's a really beautiful area; lots of rolling hills and hollows.  Like most farming communities that are miles and miles from "civilization", people in those valleys learned they had to rely on each other.  Whether you liked their personality, whether you agreed with the political leanings of the farmer down the valley or not, you maintained a good relationship with him because you knew there would be a time when you would need his help and he would need yours.  That's how you survived.  That's how the community survived.

One letter stood out.  Jeremiah and Hazel (fictional names) were a yound married couple.  Jeremiah was not a very good guy.  He took out his frustrations on Hazel.  Hazel had enough and left.  One of her neighbors took her in.  Jeremiah was not very happy, but did not know where Hazel had found refuge.  He knew she was "hiding" with one of the neighbors in the valley, and so he spent many hours driving up and down the valley seeking her out.  He stopped at neighbors and banged on their doors, parked in front of barns and yelled for Hazel,  and was a generally menacing presence. 

Around 2am, one of the farmers figured that Jeremiah wasn't getting the message.  Keep in mind that this neck of the woods was populated largely by Scandanvians - those people who are sometimes described as such: "Once there was a Scandanvian farmer who loved his wife so much, he almost told her."  So I can almost see and hear the conversation that transpired between Jeremiah and the farmer and it probably ended like this.

The farmer, leaning on his shotgun which he just happened to have at his side, said "Jeremiah, I don't think you understand.  Hazel doesn't want to talk to you.  Now, I'm not saying I know where she is and I'm not saying I don't know where she is.  What I'm saying is that Hazel doesn't want to talk to you: ever.  And, I think I can speak for everyone in this valley, we don't want to talk to you: ever."  Then, with just a little fidgeting and repositioning of the shotgun designed to send a clear message, he left Jeremiah with these words: "You've got a nice car there I see.  Looks real comfortable and reliable.  Why don't you see just how far you can drive it in 24 hours?" 

That was the last time Jeremiah was seen in the valley.

There was no bloodshed, no histrionics, no threats and counter-threats.  There was no government or law enforcement agency involved.  People relied on each other and the job got done.  People were able to rely on each other because, despite their differences, they treated each as if their lives depended on it.  Because they did.