Thursday, October 30, 2014

Democracy at your convenience

Can someone explain to me why our votes need to be counted by computers rather than people?

What’s wrong with a paper ballot on which citizens place an “X” next to the names of the candidates for whom they wish to vote?

Is that too old-fashioned? Are today’s poll judges too lazy to count paper ballots? Or too dumb? Is it because Americans no longer understand basic arithmetic? Is it because computerized vote-counting machines ostensibly deliver results quicker so busypeopledonthavetowaitsolong to find out the results? Is it necessary or, more important, prudent, to rely on machines to do something as important as count votes?

And what’s with allowing people to vote early rather than have to wait until Election Day?  Thirty-three states now allow citizens to vote early. Here in Florida the polls have been open in most counties since October 20th for the upcoming election and they’re open ten hours a day (eight on weekends) at taxpayer expense. Proponents claim early voting gives voters the opportunity to cast ballots at their convenience in case they have something more important to do on the actual day set aside for the election. That’s a flawed argument from the get-go. Democracy isn’t about convenience. If they could, the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have perished defending our right to vote freely would say it was inconvenient for them to die so you could go to the beach if Election Day turned out to be warm and sunny.

What’s more – no surprise here – the trends from all this early voting are already being made public, which will impact the results. In Florida, today reported that 45 Republicans have voted for every 38 Democrats – a sure sign for Democrats to turn on more advertising, staff up the phone banks and wire more money to local banks to pay people to vote. In North Carolina, according to the Washington Post, more Democrats have voted than Republicans, indicating the GOP needs to turn on the money spigot. Is revealing the percentage of voters from each party who have voted in advance of the election in the other 17 states fair? Is it intelligent? Is it the right thing to do? 

And what do you think about not having to present identification to cast your vote? If I lived in certain states, I could simply show up at the poll, give the judge the name of someone I knew wasn’t going to vote (or, better yet, someone I paid so I could vote in his or her place) and vote for whomever I chose. Americans need IDs to drive their cars, borrow library books, see doctors and for dozens of other routine transactions. But do we need one to exercise our most precious right? The president and attorney general – officials sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States -- think not and millions of Americans, including many who are reading this right now, agree with them. If you’re one of them, WTF is wrong with you? Have you no common sense?

Want another example of convenience voting? In Oregon and Colorado the polls are closed. Permanently. It was simply too much trouble to find judges, set up voting machines, install exterior signage, yadda yadda. Residents of both states now vote by mail.  What proof, if any, do voters in those states have that their votes will arrive much less be counted?

What I find upsetting is that nobody – our elected officials or the voters who put them in office – apparently cares enough to question the joke we have allowed voting to become.

It’s madness. Complete and utter madness.

But, of course, it’s awfully convenient and that, after all, is what’s important.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Love means never having to say ...

My wife and I disagree about politics, vegetables, and TV programming. She likes cop shows. I favor WWII movies.

So lately we’ve been compromising and watching old movies on Netflix – Carrie, Five Easy Pieces, The Graduate and, last night, Love Story. We saw Carrie together in 1976. The others came out years before we met.

A 1970 blockbuster starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, Love Story is the tale of an impossibly good-looking couple from disparate backgrounds. She is a baker’s daughter from Cranston, he’s a Boston Brahmin.

I agreed to watch it because I assumed my wife, who is every bit as cynical as I am – more even – would find it as hilarious as I did 44 years ago and we’d yuk it up. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s the plot.

Harvard student O’Neal meets MacGraw at a library, where she’s working to put herself through Radcliffe. She insults him repeatedly, which turns him on big-time. He invites her to watch him play hockey. Afterwards they throw snowballs at each other and make snow angels – there's lots of snow in this movie – and they fall head-over-heels as she continues to insult him at every opportunity, flaring her nostrils whenever she perceives she’s landed a particularly nasty jab. He allows her to do this because he has low self-esteem – he feels terrible because he was born rich; there are buildings at Harvard bearing the family name that have caused him considerable angst.

One wintry day he drives her in his vintage MG convertible with the top down to meet his stuffy parents. He then asks her to marry him, knowing it will send his parents to the moon, and they recite ridiculous vows at their wedding.

She gives up a scholarship to study in Paris in order to put him through law school because his father has wisely cut off the money spigot. (What father wouldn’t refuse to support a son as arrogant and ungrateful as O’Neal?)  The couple gets in an argument (over his parents, naturally – they’re otherwise perfectly suited), she runs out into the cold, he searches all over for her and returns to find her shivering on the front porch where, when he apologizes, she utters the immortal words, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

After three years of poverty he graduates, lands a cushy job in New York and, because this is 1970 when women still had babies in their twenties or thirties, they immediately start trying to conceive a kid they refer to as “Bozo” but have no luck.

He is called into her doctor’s office and assumes the doc is going to tell him one of them has a plumbing issue. But the doc has even worse news: MacGraw is dying. O’Neal doesn’t bother to ask what disease she has – it should be obvious to anyone with half a brain that she caught some bug from being cold all the time – but they agree not to tell her.

A few days later O’Neal buys tickets to Paris, figuring she’s been pissed all these years that she didn’t get to go, but when he presents them she tells him she knows she’s toast.

Wanting to provide quality medical treatment – Obamacare, the brainchild of another Harvard Law grad, is more than 40 years in the future – O’Neal flies to Boston and tells his father he needs $5,000, no questions asked. The old man writes him a check.

O’Neal goes back to New York and forces his terminally ill wife to sit outside in freezing weather, watching him ice-skate. She finally announces she needs to go to the hospital. He drags her through waist-deep snow across Central Park (one would think someone as highly educated as O'Neal would have had enough common sense to use a sidewalk since they are always cleared off almost instantly in New York), hails a cab and off they go to Mt. Sinai.

MacGraw, in her final moments on earth, looks ravishing as opposed to ravished by her illness; she is wearing full make up and has just had her hair done. Perhaps more important, for the first time since she met O’Neal, she is warm. Her nostrils flaring one last time, she tells him to screw Paris and exits stage left.

On his way out of the hospital O’Neal meets his father who says he learned the truth about why he borrowed the money and is sorry. O’Neal tells him, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” trudges off in the snow and sits on a bench.

The movie was exactly as I remembered it – silly, pretentious and unbelievable – and I started making wise-ass remarks from the get-go.

To my surprise, my wife, who, despite her inexplicable penchant for Brussels sprouts, is otherwise intelligent, disagreed. She said she found it romantic and beautiful and finally told me to shut my mouth and let her enjoy it.

Perhaps I should have told her I was sorry.

But ...

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Are you an honest-to-God New Englander?

A Facebook friend from Connecticut posted a quiz she found online, “How New England Are You?"

It asks questions about clambakes, the Big E (the Northeast’s version of a state fair), maple syrup, etc., but doesn’t ask the real questions that differentiate New Englanders from folks in other parts of America.

As someone who spent half my life in New England, I’ve devised my own quiz (below). Take it, then see the bottom of this post for scoring information to find out if you're an honest-to-God New Englander. 

1. There’s a moving van next door. How long do you wait to introduce yourself to your new neighbor?

a. 10 years
b. 25 years
c. 50 years
d. Maybe someone’s moving out, not in. How would I know?

(For women only)
How much do you spend annually on make up?

a. $.1.50
b. $.1.00
c. $ 0.50
d. What is this “make up” stuff you are referring to?

(For men only)
What is your most important summer wardrobe item?

a. Lime green corduroy trousers with embroidered whales
b. Rhubarb colored Bermudas with embroidered nautical flags
c. Turtleneck sweater to stay warm while watching Fourth of July fireworks
d. The penny loafers I wear without socks

3. What percentage of your income do you pay in taxes (a combination of Federal, state, sales and local property)?

a. 70%
b. 80%
c. 90%
d. 95%

4. The Middle West begins:

a. In the Berkshires
b. Somewhere in New Jersey
c. Just west of the Middle East
d. Every year when The Wizard of Oz is rebroadcast

5. Which of these service providers do you consider to be most essential to your well being?

a. Primary care physician
b. Dentist
c. Surgeon
d. Snowplow man because, without him, I couldn’t get out of my driveway half the year to visit the other three

6. The cashier at my local supermarket has never once:

a. Smiled
b. Said “thank you”
c. Acknowledged my presence in any way
d. All the above and that’s fine by me

7. My favorite sport is:

a. Lacrosse
b. Skiing
c. Sailing
d. Jogging at dusk along narrow winding roads with stone walls on either side that drivers have to swerve into to avoid hitting me

8. The last Republican I voted for was:

a. Scott Brown
b. Lowell Weicker
c. Henry Cabot Lodge
d. Abraham Lincoln

9. How many rounds of antibiotics did it take to eradicate your Lyme Disease symptoms?

a. One
b. Two
c. Three
d. Can’t recall – Lyme Disease has affected my memory

10. The longest my home has been without electricity due to a hurricane or out-of-season blizzard is:

a. one day
b. one week
c. two weeks
d. one month

Give yourself a “10” for each “D” answer, and a “5” for any other answer.

You are a true New Englander if your score totals 75 or more.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Forrest Gump was right

Forrest Gump said his momma told him that, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get." 

He could have been talking about the Internet. 

Today I discovered online the above photo, scanned from the 1929 yearbook of Central Wesleyan College in Warrenton, Mo., which closed its doors during the Great Depression. It’s a picture of my father, Gilbert Leach Dryden. Dad was born in 1907 which would make him 21 or 22, a college senior. He died in 1966 when I was 14. It is one of, perhaps, ten photographs of my father in existence. Nobody in my family had ever seen it.

How’d I find it? I was talking on the phone with my 101-year-old mother about an obscure relative. I asked her when he died and where he was buried. Mom said she wasn’t sure. So I went to a website I’ve visited a few times,, where you can enter the name of the person you’re looking for and, if you’re lucky, find a picture of his or her tombstone and, sometimes if you’re extra lucky, a copy of the person’s obituary from the local newspaper and, on rare occasions, even a photo.

I didn’t find the relative but one thing led to another and I started looking for other family graves. I’ve visited my father's grave at Mr. Pleasant Cemetery in High Hill, Mo. many times over the years on but on today's visit I was startled to find him peering back at me.

According to a caption under the photo, it was provided to by a genealogy buff who researches descendants of people with the surname of Coleman, the name of my dad’s Irish grandmother. I can’t imagine how this ( I assume he is a) distant relative found the photo but I’m grateful he did. 

If you haven’t checked out findagrave, com, do. You may not find exactly what you’re looking for. On the other hand, you might find something even better.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Diary of a Mad House Dachshund

By Bonnie Dryden

7:15 a.m. Alarm goes off. Another sunny day in Florida.

7:16 a.m.  Ixnay that. When dad opens the door, it’s raining. He nudges me outside with his foot. I shuffle out, pretend to squat, then run back inside. “Good girl,” he says.

7:24 a.m. Breakfast – two tablespoons of boiled chicken, one tablespoon of Cesar Canine Cuisine Sunrise Smoked Bacon & Egg in Meaty Juices, side order of kibble.

7:28 a.m. I go to the sliding glass door and start barking, pretending to see something in the back yard. Idiot brother Billy Ray, who is picking at his breakfast, runs to the door barking hysterically. While he is barking at nothing, I double back to the kitchen and, as I have done every morning for 11 years, eat all the food in his bowl. 

8:16 a.m.  Peeing on the Aubusson carpet under the dining room table, I see through the window that the sun has come out.

8:18 a.m.  Outside again to do #2.

8:19 a.m. Serial killers trying to pass themselves off as garbage collectors appear at end of driveway. I chase them away, saving my family from certain death.

9:34 a.m.  Fall asleep atop corner cushion of family room sectional sofa.

10:14 a.m. Men appear on golf course behind house carrying clubs. It is obvious they intend to beat my family to death. I growl, snarl and throw myself against the door like Cujo. Terrified, they drive off in search of victims not protected by a guard dog.

10:22 a.m. Curl up with Billy on lanai under ceiling fan. 

11:11 a.m. Billy corners a lizard and eats it.  

12:32 p.m. Man with hedge clippers appears in neighbor’s back yard, planning to use them to carve up my family. I start barking. Twenty minutes later he flees.

12:55 p.m. Ride with dad to store to pick up Tylenol. He says he has a headache.

1:18 p.m. Returning from store, I pee in front yard.

1:20 p.m. Afternoon treat – Cesar Canine Cuisine Softies Filet Mignon bite.

1:45: Terrorist disguised as postal worker attempts to push envelope containing deadly poison through slot in front door. I lunge at her hand. I hear her swearing she’s going to file a complaint. With whom? The FBI? They’d give me a medal!

2:07 p.m. Exhausted from fending off killers – mom and dad should think about moving us to a safer neighborhood – I fall asleep on sofa.

3:53 p.m. Awoken by the sound of Billy vomiting lizard carcass. I eat it.

4:35 p.m. Neighbor comes over for cocktails on the lanai and brings his spoiled pug. I ignore the bitch as she and Billy run around and around the pool until they collapse.

5:15 p.m. Dinner – half can of Cesar Canine Cuisine Rosemary Chicken with Spring Vegetables in Meaty Juices and kibble chaser.

5:25 p.m. Go outside and do #1 and #2.

5:34 p.m. Fall asleep on sofa.

7:00 p.m. Supervise mom and dad as they eat dinner. Billy and I have a pact. I supervise dinner on all days that end with “y” and promise I’ll share any food that falls on the floor. He truly is a moron.

7:30-8:00 p.m. Watch Jeopardy. It has been dumbed down in recent years. Ever notice how each answer now contains two, sometimes three, clues? “Known as the father of our country, America’s first president is buried at Mt. Vernon.” A poodle could answer that one.

10:10 p.m. Go outside. Pee. 

10:15-11:23 p.m. Rest head on dad's chest as we read in bed. We are on a Theodore Dreiser kick, halfway through his most obscure novel, The Genius. Neither as riveting as An American Tragedy nor as tightly written as Sister Carrie but it's in the public domain so it cost dad nothing to download. He's so cheap.

11:24 p.m. Regurgitate lizard remains on dad's chest. He jumps out of bed, runs into bathroom and turns on shower.

11:41 p.m. Lights out.

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

10 secrets your cable company doesn't want you to know

1. When we say “one of our technicians,” we’re lying

We only have one service technician. For the entire country. He’ll be at your house between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m on November 17, 2028.

2. Our “call center” is actually a “stall center”

When you call to report your cable TV and/or Internet and/or telephone isn’t working, an automated voice will thank you for calling. We will then:
  • ask what language you want to use.
  • ask you to enter your phone number.
  • ask you to enter your street address.
  • ask for your phone number again.
  • announce we are looking up your account information while you listen to a recording that simulates a 1970s computer. 
  • ask you to choose from a menu that best describes why you are calling including, before we give you the option of telling us your service isn’t working, the option of ordering a pay-per-view fight. We know you can't watch it because your cable is out but that's beside the point.
  • instruct you to visit our website to solve your problem even though we know damn well you can’t because you have no Internet.
  • reassure you your call is important to us and that an agent will be with you.
  • when our agent finally picks up, ask for your phone number then ...
  • explain, when you inquire why she wants your phone number because you’ve already entered it twice, that she doesn’t receive that information.
  • ask if you have tried disconnecting then reconnecting your cable box or modem because we hope you’ll hang up and try it even though that won’t fix your problem, but if you say you have already done it, we will ...
  • tell you we are sending a refresh signal (see below) then ...
  • “accidentally” cut you off, so you’ll have to call back and repeat the entire process.

3. The truth about “refresh signals”

We tell you we are sending a “refresh signal” to your cable box or modem on the outside chance that might solve your problem. While you are waiting for lights to flash, we go on coffee break, to the bathroom, to DMV to renew our drivers’ licenses, etc. 

4. We guarantee we won’t have to honor our guarantee

We guarantee we will credit your account if you experience service issues for five or more days in any given month or if we miss an appointment but you will have to call us to get credit and we know you’ll be so nauseated at the very thought of calling that you won’t.

5. We will bill you for equipment you’ve returned

When you move or disconnect, we will claim you didn’t return our equipment, even if you have a receipt proving you did. Many of you, after repeated harassing letters and calls from collection agencies, will agree to pay up just to protect your credit rating. 

6. If you live on a dead-end street, you are up shit creek without a paddle

If you reside near the far end of a dead end street or cul-de-sac, your signal will be weaker than the homes at the top of the street that are closer to our main cable feeds. When you call to complain about weak or intermittent signals, we know what we need to do -- lay new cable. But we won’t do it because that would require us to dig and/or replace equipment which would, of course, cost money. It’s cheaper to send a technician to your home repeatedly who will tell you he thinks the problem may be faulty writing in your home, even though your immediate neighbors are complaining about the same issue.

7. We own Congress, your state legislature and city council

Only the elderly read newspapers these days. Everyone else gets their news and, importantly, political advertising from the Internet and cable TV, both of which are delivered by us. We have the ability to give politicians running for re-election preferential advertising rates, ensuring they vote in our favor which they almost always do, knowing higher profits will enable us to make even larger contributions to their next campaigns. It’s a win-win all around.

8. We are not worried about streaming video cutting into our profits

More and more of our cable TV customers are disconnecting from our premium packages, replacing expensive subscriptions to HBO, Showtime, etc., with cheaper streaming video services such as Netflix or Hulu Plus. Are we worried? Nope. Since we, in most cases, also deliver your Internet service, we’ll simply charge you for the extra gigs of data you’ll need to download those streaming videos.

9. You can save by purchasing your own equipment

If you subscribe to our Internet service, you may be able to save by purchasing your own modem and avoiding the outrageous monthly rental fee we charge for ours.

10. Choose the “I want to disconnect” option when you call

We assign our most knowledgeable, helpful employees to that line. They are specially trained to fix the problem you are reporting and/or to make special offers and promises to keep you from defecting to our competitors.

Wait a minute. We just remembered we’re a monopoly. We don’t have any.