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Saturday, August 13, 2011

There HAS To Be A Better Way

It is pretty unusual for a truly wealthy person to say something more than a carefully sanitized press release. Warren Buffet has talked about the economy in a straight forward way, and given valuable advice, which unfortunately, the majority party in the House, chose to ignore.

Now Mark Cuban's comments about the stock market have been published, and they are straight talk.  Mr Cuban is the owner of the "Dallas Mavericks" NBA franchise.  According to the New York Post, "He sold his Internet start-up in 1999 for $5.9 billion in Yahoo! stock -- and he says he's been involved in the stock market for the better part of a decade." His stock market activities were not for entertainment, but to increase his already considerable wealth.  Mr. Cuban is considered a successful businessman, and his ability to finance an NBA team and support the payroll necessary to take the team to a championship should validate those credentials. That means Mr. Cuban knows how to profit from investing in the stock market.

Now the market today does not function the way it was originally intended to.  The market was designed as a way for corporations to raise capital without borrowing from banks.  Rather than borrow from a bank, the corporation issues stock certificates and in effect is borrowing from the stockholders who buy the certificates.  In the beginning, people bought stock in companies they believed were financially strong, and would be profitable.  They held the stock for long periods of time, and received dividends from the company when it was profitable.  This is a little more risky than putting money in a savings account and getting a fixed interest rate, but a well run company will often provide a higher rate of return than a savings account, so it was a good investment choice when the economy was stable or growing.  People built wealth slowly by collecting and reinvesting dividends.  At some point, speculation came into the market, and I believe most of our historical economic ills can be tied in one way or another to this form of unrestrained greed.

Here is what Mr. Cuban has to say about the cause of the current economic mess, as reported in The New York Post, via Yahoo:
"The only people who know what business Wall Street is in are the traders," Cuban wrote on May 9, 2010. "They know what business Wall Street is in better than everyone else. To traders, whether day traders or high frequency or somewhere in between, Wall Street has nothing to do with creating capital for businesses, its original goal. Wall Street is a platform. It's a platform to be exploited by every technological and intellectual means possible."

Cuban went on to make another point, about how entire nations are now bought and sold within seconds and even nanoseconds:
"It’s hard to believe," he wrote, "but evaluating countries as an investment is now easier than evaluating companies."
Lo and behold, the current malaise on Wall Street is tied not to the earnings of public companies -- which are largely strong -- but to the debt load of national economies.
But Cuban came back again to the traders, whom he called "hackers" because, he said, they look for weaknesses in the system to exploit for short-term gain.
"The Government needs to create incentives for this business," he wrote, "and extract compensation from the traders/hackers for the systemic failure level of risk they introduce."
He concluded again in bold text with a scary forecast that, although not completely unique to him, now looks more and more accurate:
"There will be another crash, because there are too many players looking for the trillion dollar score."
The market is not operating as it was designed, and speculation is driving, what will surely become wider and wilder swings.  This is bad for business, and it is especially bad for the American people.  We have many other markets operating that are also a cause of economic problems.  Commodities markets were designed as a way to ensure the supply chain would deliver agricultural products reliably and steadily, rather than all in one huge wave at harvest time.  Industrial food processing is more profitable when there is a steady stream of food to be processed, rather than one huge flood each year.  However, speculation has caused instability and unnecessary inflation in food, oil, and other raw material prices.

There has to be a better way. We need to be able to get food and raw materials to market in a steady, predictable stream for efficiency, which SHOULD translate to lower prices; BUT, we need to eliminate speculation, which isn't good for anyone except the greedy speculator. We also need an efficient way for businesses to have access to capital needed to finance expansion, volume purchases, or replacing old equipment; BUT, we need to make sure our financial markets are not vulnerable to the speculator.

The SHORT Version

Here is the "SHORT" Version of the conservative strategy:

Step 1: Break things.  For example, the economy.
Step 2: Blame anyone liberal or progressive for failing to fix what the conservatives broke.
Step 3: LIE frequently. Make sure the lies get in the press. If people hear it often enough, there are plenty of people dumb enough to believe the lies.  Make up some "danger" to make people afraid, so they don't think straight. Take away some civil liberties by making people believe it is necessary for their safety.
Step 4: Lie some more, and promise that if people will just vote for conservative candidates, everything will get better. Once there is a conservative majority, abolish any government agency that protects ANYTHING, like consumers, the elderly, or the environment; then steal everything they can from American Taxpayers and give it to themselves.


The result: America becomes a Third World country, where the rich can easily get "good help."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Debt Deal

Now the GOP's agenda, behind all the debt rhetoric and manuevering, was never a secret as far as I'm concerned. It was clear to me from the first that the goal of holding the entire country hostage was to gut agencies and programs they don't like.  However, the title of the article is, "The GOP's hidden debt-deal agenda," so I guess someone was surprised.  Read about it here: The Hidden GOP Agenda Behind the Debt Deal

So you see, the whole "debt crisis" was manufactured to divert your attention from what the reactionaries really want to accomplish, which is destroying the American social safety net, and turning back the clock to the England of Charles Dickens novels.  Of course the Tea Partiers, and I strongly object to the hijacking of a proud moment in American History to camouflage the nefarious doings of these self serving ideologs, fancy themselves the Lords and Ladies of the Manor, and you and I are the prospective butlers, man servants, maid servants, grounds keepers, cooks, and scullery maids and boys of their repulsive vision for America.

I have been giving my opinion here, but recently, I've felt the need for some scholarly rigor, and that has prompted me to find some people with credentials who agree with what I've been telling you.  Now as everyone knows, the Scarecrow was quite smart, he just needed a diploma to prove it. Never the less, I give you evidence that although I don't have a degree in economics, Mr. David Gonnerman taught me what I needed to know at Roosevelt High School, in the form of an article by David Cay Johnston.  Who is Mr. Johnson? He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author. A 13-year veteran of The New York Times, David won the Pulitzer in 2001 for enterprise reporting that uncovered loopholes and inequities in the U.S. tax code. He has written several best-selling books, including Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill). His latest, The Fine Print: How Big Companies Abuse "Plain English" and Other Tricks to Rob You Blind, will be published in January


The American Economy has bee fueled by Consumer Spending since the end of World War Two. If working Americans don't have any money to spend, what good is having "LOW, LOW Prices" going to do WalMart or any other retailer?  As I previously said, the rich are NOT going to spend their money. They are not going to create jobs if they get tax breaks. We need to increase revenue by raising taxes on the richest and the corporations with the biggest profits.  If we write the tax code so it is to THEIR ADVANTAGE to create jobs, then they WILL create jobs.  When Americans are working, there is money to spend, and retailers won't be facing bankruptcy.  We need to re-educate the faculty of every business school and reprogram every MBA.  We need to make sure the people we elect to represent US at all levels of government are doing what WE want them to, not lining their own, and campaign contributors pockets, at OUR expense.

American Democracy is HARD. It always has been, and always will be.  If WE don't do the work, we will end up being those scullery maids and dustmen that make us shudder when we read about what it was like to live in a society where only the rich and entitled mattered to anyone, including the government.

I see a trend in America, and I was equally guilty before I retired, of thinking that our education or skills will protect us from losing our jobs. In the so called tech revolution of the 1980s, many of us thought Labor Unions were outdated, and perhaps even in the way of our streamlined, super efficient, high tech companies. Now, it looks like we are losing 100 years of labor progress. We are in danger of losing the worker and environmental protections that went with the living wage American manufacturing and trucking workers used to make.

In thinking about how Unions are under assault from the right wing, I'm reminded of a statement attributed to Martin Niemoller.  While historians say he probably didn't actually speak the words in the form usually quoted, he did express the ideas in similar forms for many years. If there is some editorial help, making the phrases more memorable, it doesn't make the ideas any less valid.

Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) was an ardent [German] nationalist and prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last 7 years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out --
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.
The provisions of the so called "Patriot Act" could be just the beginning of turning the U.S. into an oppressive, totalitarian, corporate controlled, oligarchy. Think about it people. When will they come for you?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Congressional Insanity

The so called "Deficit Reduction" plan is just another excuse for the rich and big corporations to get richer on the backs of the American working people.

Here's what the Senator Sanders, from Vermont, who is doing the best job of responsibly representing the American People today, has to say about the deal:  Senator Bernie Sanders

The reaction of many progressive members of Congress mirrors mine:

I think the "middle class" has lost so much over the last twenty years that now all working people have similar issues, no matter what sector they work in or what their job title.  From now on, I'm going to talk about all American working persons as a group and stop making artificial distinctions like white collar, blue collar, or middle class.  We all are, or were employees, and we all have the same issues and needs.  We are all taxed out of proportion to our incomes, and it is time we recognized, and put a stop to it.  IF we organized and could agree on the issues important to us, we have the numbers and thus the political power, to change things.  Unfortunately, the majority of us are working so hard, we don't take the time or put out the energy to make our voices heard.

I read the other day that the reason the Tea Party has so much power these days is that they recognize that most people don't care about the primary elections.  They put their time, energy, and money into getting a candidate nominated who will work for their agenda.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. If it works for them, it will work for us.  If we get busy and make sure candidates who will represent OUR interests are nominated by BOTH parties, when the general election rolls around, we can have confidence that no matter who wins, we will not be sending a Representative or Senator to the Congress who is a vassal of the rich or big corporations.

Unless you are looking forward to being a peasant in a third world country, which is exactly where the United States is headed, it is time to stop being lazy and complacent. It is time to get busy and use the political system to our advantage.  We need a resurgence of Grey Panthers to protect the interests of retired people.  We need to recognize that the value of Labor Unions has been underestimated and compromised because of Jimmy Hoffa type characters who criminalized what was originally a great idea.  By organizing and concentrating the voices of the many, organized labor had a strong voice in American politics for many years.

If we can use everything that was learned in organizing workers in many industries, and apply those principles, without the goon tactics and criminal activity, the American Workers COULD have representation in the Congress.  We COULD tell the President he better find his courage and stand up to the people who want to take the little we have, for themselves.  We COULD tell the President he better stand up for US.

I'm tired of people who don't care about America holding the entire economy, and thus the whole country, hostage.  I served in the U.S. Armed Forces. I fought in a VERY unpopular war. I have been a responsible, productive, tax paying citizen my whole life.  I love the principles in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution.  I love what America has always stood for, and the America that we can and should be.

I am very troubled by seeing the entire Congress hijacked by people who very obviously DON'T love America.  They are so obviously in the pockets of special interests, I can't understand why they aren't being investigated.  The press crawls all over every word a President says, ridicules a well meaning, former football player, who had some coordination issues, until he was un-electable; but these people who are criminally obstructing the work of the entire Congress and endangering the welfare of the entire country are not scrutinized at all.

I'd like to see the Attorney General get to work, and look into the campaign funding of these people and see if there isn't a conflict of interest behind all their self-serving rhetoric.  I'd like to see the Ethics Committee looking into the dereliction of duty of these ideologs who are not getting the business of the United States done.  They have sworn to defend the Constitution of the United States, but by their insistance on their own way, like spoiled two year olds, they are actually endangering the whole country.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Forced Choices, Part 5

This is Part 5 of a multi-part post.

This post is an attempt to explain how people can be forced to make financial decisions that are not beneficial, why Social Security is necessary, and why the system of medical insurance and private doctors in the United States needs to change.

There are SO many things wrong with what goes on in the U.S. Congress; it is hard to know what to talk about first.  I share the feelings of many Americans that the members of Congress are completely out of touch with the people they are supposed to represent. It seems that the majority of members either don't know, or don't care about the hardships most working and retired Americans face every day.  The policies they advocate are just plain bad for the average American, and only benefit the very rich and the biggest, richest corporations.

This post contains details of medical procedures, so if that is TMI, you may not want to read on.

Most of the major religions of the world talk about compassion for others in some way. Jesus is quoted as saying, “I am my brother’s keeper.” Almost all Christians agree the statement means that each person has a responsibility to help others.

Sikhs are often seen as warlike, but when you look at their core beliefs, as revealed by their ten gurus, compassion and charity are key principles.  My friend, Sean Toor, says that when a local Sikh Gurdwaras is following their beliefs correctly, there is a meal after each service, where all who are hungry may come and eat.  This is just one example of how Sikhs are called to practice compassion and charity.  If you look at the Sikh beliefs, as explained at,

you will see a very compassionate and progressive religion with much in common with Christianity.

These are just two examples, including a very large and a smaller religion, where believers are called on to care for other human beings with financial help, as well as emotional support and compassion.

The Dalai Lama said, "The practice of altruism is the authentic way to live as a human being, and it is not just for religious people. As human beings, our purpose is to live meaningful lives, to develop a warm heart. There is meaning in being everyone's friend. The real source of peace amongst our families, friends and neighbours is love and compassion."

I believe the expression of a need for human compassion by many religions, over thousands of years, is a foundation stone of any code of ethics or morality.  If that is true, then it is not only unethical, but also IMMORAL to profit from the misfortune or illness of another human.

The structure of medical care as a “For Profit Business” in the United States is ineffective and failing because by emphasizing profits, it automatically makes patient care, and care giver compassion, of secondary importance.  Being a “For Profit” enterprise opens medical care to all the abuses that greed and criminal minds can devise.  Medicare and Medicaid are great ideas, but in the “For Profit” model of care, they are subject to a multitude of abuses that put millions of dollars into the pockets of the unscrupulous and the criminals.

Setting up so-called “Health Insurance” as a “For Profit” business compounds the problems.  The policyholder is paying an insurance premium to protect themselves and their families from the financial ruin a major illness can cause.  The “Health Insurance” business, because they are in business to make a profit, is motivated to deny payment to the policyholder.  We see all kinds of devious ways Insurance Companies use to keep premiums and deny benefits.  Pre-existing condition exclusion is just one of those ways to steal from their policyholders and increase their profits.

As it exists today, the entire American Health Care System is not only ineffective, much too expensive, and subject to scams and theft; it is just plain IMMORAL.

Doctors should not be getting rich from treating human suffering.  There should not be an incentive for doctors to recommend unnecessary operations to increase their income.  Nurses and other care givers should not be overworked or underpaid by employers trying to make a profit and run the hospital or clinic like a business.

The Food and Drug Administration, FDA, is the U.S. agency that decides if treatment methods and prescription drugs are safe and effective. If criteria are met, the treatment or drug is described as FDA Approved.  If the FDA does not approve a treatment method, a doctor can’t perform it in the U.S., a U.S. hospital can’t offer it as an option, and an insurance company will not pay for it.  Again, we have a law that was enacted to protect the interests of the patient from quackery that has gone wrong.  Due to the “For Profit” structure of the American Healthcare System, FDA approval has become a source of abuse and probably bribery and other criminal activity.

When I was researching what method of treatment to choose for treating my Prostate Cancer, I looked carefully at the risk of side effects from each method of treatment.  ALL of the “Approved treatments” had significant risks of major, debilitating side effects.  Having to live the rest of my life wearing diapers was not an acceptable risk.  That is what led me to choose a treatment method that was not FDA approved.  I’ve talked about having to drive 3 hours to see my doctor.  The reason was, that I had to see a doctor who was willing to travel outside the U.S. to perform the procedure.  My doctor is a Board Certified Urologist who is licensed to practice in the U.S. and has performed thousands of FDA Approved Prostate Cancer treatment procedures.  The fact that he recommended HIFU above ALL FDA Approved treatments, combined with the results of my research, made the HIFU procedure the best choice for me.

High Intensity Focused Ultrasound, or HIFU, was first investigated at Indiana University, over 50 years ago.  When technology finally caught up and made the treatment practical, it was researchers in Europe, who developed the equipment.  HIFU was approved for use in Europe in 1997, and in Canada, in 2000.   It is in clinical trials in the U.S. but still has not been approved by the FDA.  The structure of the original clinical trials was flawed, because the ONLY treatment methods compared were the French HIFU machine, which is low power, and can only treat a prostate gland of 25 grams or less; and Cryogenic treatment, which causes impotence as an after effect in 100% of patients.  No one wanted to be in the control group, so those trials made little progress.  I talked to a doctor at Duke University who was participating in the trials, but because of the structure, you could not choose whether you were in the experimental or control group, so I did not sign up for the trial.  In addition, my prostate was between 85 and 100 grams when I was diagnosed, so the French machine was not an option.

My doctor is trained to use the Sonablate® 500 system, designed and manufactured by Focus Surgery, with headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.  This machine is capable of treating a prostate glad of up to 50 grams, and has better imaging resolution than the French machine, so the doctor can “see” the area being treated more clearly.  Clinical trials in the U.S. now include the Sonablate, but I don’t know the structure of the trials yet.  I will update this information when I’ve been able to research the details of the trials.

I was on hormone suppression therapy for about a year to get my prostate down to treatable size.  This is an FDA Approved therapy, and my health insurance did pay for some of the treatment.  When my prostate shrank below 50 grams, I had to choose whether to have the procedure in a hospital in Mexico, Canada, or The Bahamas.  Treatment in Canada is more expensive, so I chose The Bahamas, because I had always wanted to take a trip to the islands.  The cost of the procedure in 2008 was $25,000 plus the cost of my airfare and hotel.  Since the procedure was not FDA approved, I had to pay for all of it myself.  The treatment took 5 ½ hours.  I was asleep for the procedure, so there was no pain.  The clinic was clean and the nurses from England and Australia were very kind and thoughtful.  My doctor from the U.S. performed the procedure.  I was up, and walking around the Atlantis resort the next day.  There was no pain and only some minor discomfort from the supra-pubic catheter.

The urethra can experience some trauma from heat generated by the ultrasound beam cooking the cancer, so the catheter is placed through the abdominal wall and directly into the bladder.  That lets the urethra rest and heal.  Debris from the prostate collects in the bladder, and is removed by the catheter.  A week after treatment, I was scheduled to see my doctor in the U.S. to have the catheter removed.  During that week, I was supposed to start closing a valve on the catheter to get the bladder used to filling up and used to voiding normally.

The recovery process was going well until the balloon that holds the catheter tube in the bladder failed.  That obstructed the tube and prevented urine from flowing out of the bladder.  I was still having a lot of prostate debris in my bladder, and a large bit was obstructing the urethra, so I couldn’t empty my bladder normally.  In the middle of the night, the pain from the pressure of an over-full bladder became unbearable, and I had to go to the ER.

The doctor in the ER would not treat me, and called the on-call urologist to come in.  I had documentation on how I had been treated, and what should be done if there was a problem with the supra-pubic catheter to give to U.S. doctors, in case I was not able to see my doctor.  Because HIFU was not an FDA approved procedure, the urologist thought he had to take 45 minutes to lecture me on the folly of choosing that treatment.  He insulted my doctor, who is a past president of the state association of urologists and has impeccable credentials, and accused him of just doing HIFU for the money.  Finally, he put me to sleep and removed the failed supra-pubic catheter, but he did not follow the instructions in my documentation, and inserted a Foley catheter, which goes through the urethra, into the bladder.

I’ve already talked about how this complicated and prolonged my recovery, so I won’t repeat the story.

Why did I write about my personal experience with the effects of FDA approval?  To demonstrate that the process is broken, and denies American patents the best options for medical care.  Whether the cause is bureaucratic inertia, or lack of personnel to investigate new drugs, equipment, and procedures, the FDA is harming, instead of helping patients in many cases.  Sometimes it seems as if the right bribe has not crossed the right palm.  I’m not accusing anyone of anything improper, but it seems that if a procedure was approved in Europe in 1997, and in Canada in 2000, the FDA SHOULD have had ample time to study it.  Why is HIFU still not approved by the FDA in 2011?

To be continued …

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Forced Choices, Part 4

This is Part 4 of a multi-part post.

This post is an attempt to explain how people can be forced to make financial decisions that are not beneficial, why Social Security is necessary, and why the system of medical insurance and private doctors in the United States needs to change.

There are SO many things wrong with what goes on in the U.S. Congress; it is hard to know what to talk about first.  I share the feelings of many Americans that the members of Congress are completely out of touch with the people they are supposed to represent. It seems that the majority of members either don't know, or don't care about the hardships most working and retired Americans face every day.  The policies they advocate are just plain bad for the average American, and only benefit the very rich and the biggest, richest corporations.

Now that I’ve firmly established that I’m not the brightest light in the sky when it comes to finances, I’m sure some people would say that I don’t deserve any sympathy because of my financial ignorance.  In fact, that sounds a lot like what so called “Conservative” politicians are telling the entire country these days.  It really seems like they are saying, “Hey, if you aren’t rich, you should just do us a favor and die so we won’t be inconvenienced.”

Now I am a classic reason why we NEED the Social Security system in the U.S. 

I’m a relatively bright guy; for example, I earned BA and MA degrees, worked for some of the top technical sector companies in the U.S. and never had a bad performance review, served honorably in the U.S. Air Force, and was number 11 in academics, in a class of 80, during my Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training, Class 71-08, at Vance AFB, Oklahoma.

However, I have consistently made bad financial decisions.  When I worked for Oracle Corporation, I lost money on company stock, when everyone else was making thousands, if not millions.  Personal life issues, such as divorces, haven’t helped, because after each divorce, it is like you are starting from zero financially.
Sometimes you are actually starting from a large NEGATIVE number.  I really needed a retirement plan where I HAD to put money into the system, it would be managed for me, and paid to me as monthly income, when I reached retirement age.  You hear people saying things like, “It isn’t the job of government to protect people from themselves.”  and, “I don’t need government acting like my parent.” That may be great for them, but a LOT of Americans do need help managing their retirement savings plans.

The theory behind the current Social Security system is that it is better to be proactive than reactive.  In other words, it is better to help workers save for their retirement so they have a reliable monthly income, than to have a large number of destitute elderly people.  Of course the current advocates of “Rugged Individualism” would do away with any kind of welfare system too, so the families of the retired poor and religious charities would be the only places the destitute elderly could turn.  We all know how little empathy many of the very rich have, and how ruthless the corporations are, so in reality, the elderly poor could expect very little help.  It sounds like the “Conservatives” who long for “The good old days” are actually trying to take us back to conditions in England, during the Industrial Revolution.  Next thing you know, the Tea Party will be advocating the establishment of Work Houses and Debtor’s Prisons.  Yes, I think it really does come down to the Tea Party saying to Americans, “If you aren’t rich, you don’t matter, so just go die and don’t bother us. We have shopping to do on Rodeo Drive.”

I’m sure some adjustments need to be made to ensure to continued financial stability for Social Security, but this system has worked since it was implemented in 1935, and it just doesn’t make sense to scrap something that works.

Setting up some “privatized,” patchwork system of mutual funds and bonds you can buy and sell is just going to make Wall Street richer and leave most working people with very little in their retirement accounts.

I believe that is the whole point of the current attack on the retirement system.  The rich aren’t content with the majority of the wealth of the country, they want it ALL, and they don’t want you and me to have ANY.  In addition, I think lots of employers would like to reduce the cost of having employees, and see the employer’s share of the Social Security Tax as something they would like to abolish.  The freshman class of Representatives seems to be firmly in the pocket of those interested in stealing the little, that working and middle class people still have, to further enrich themselves and their campaign contributors.

Social Security certainly isn’t socialism, because all workers and self-employed people put money into the system.  I contributed to the system from 1966 through 2010. I deserve a return on my investment, and I hope you won’t sit quietly in your rocker and let some lying politician steal the hard earned money we contributed to the system.

To be continued  …

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Forced Choices, Part 3

This is Part 3 of a multi-part post.

This post is an attempt to explain how people can be forced to make financial decisions that are not beneficial, why Social Security is necessary, and why the system of medical insurance and private doctors in the United States needs to change.

There are SO many things wrong with what goes on in the U.S. Congress; it is hard to know what to talk about first.  I share the feelings of many Americans that the members of Congress are completely out of touch with the people they are supposed to represent. It seems that the majority of members either don't know, or don't care about the hardships most working and retired Americans face every day.  The policies they advocate are just plain bad for the average American, and only benefit the very rich and the biggest, richest corporations.

One day, soon after I could withdraw my 401k money without a penalty, I saw an ad on the Internet for what looked like the perfect sailboat for my retirement home. On spring break I drove to Florida with my kids, Adam and Danielle. We took a half-day test sail on the boat. Everything on the boat seemed to work perfectly, and the kids and I had the most enjoyable day together that any of us could remember.
1973 Gulfstar 41, Much Ado

Newly painted hull with anti-fouling bottom paint

Clean and neat as a pin inside

Newly overhauled engine, with batteries and water heater on their shelf in the background

My first smile since January, 2007
Adam unfurling the jib
Danielle being Danielle

I bought the boat for about $45,000. Since I had inspected everything carefully, and since everything seemed to work correctly, I didn’t see a need to have a Licensed Marine Surveyor inspect the boat.  This was a fatal omission, because without a Surveyor’s report, I had no way to establish the condition of the boat at the time I signed the contract with a marina to store the boat.  I was planning to moor the boat in Charleston, which is north of most hurricane activity. In Florida, purchased before the start of hurricane season, the boat was effectively uninsurable. Moored in Charleston, I would be able to get insurance that didn’t cost as much as my mortgage payment.

The plan was to leave the Florida Gulf Coast as soon after the end of the school year as possible and with the kids and a couple of their friends as crew, sail around Florida and ride the Gulf Stream north to Charleston.  I used the balance of my 401k money to buy about $5,000 worth of charts, electronics, life jackets, a satellite rescue beacon, and a lot of other equipment for the boat.

During this time I was being treated for Prostate Cancer, and the kids needed to take Driver’s Education, so we didn’t make the mid June departure date.  Then, my doctor decided my prostate was small enough to treat, so the trip had to be postponed until the next year.

Recovery from the procedure was complicated by a medical equipment failure that sent me to the ER in the middle of the night.  The ER Urologist felt he had to lecture me on the folly of choosing a non-FDA approved treatment for 45 minutes before he would treat me.  He refused to replace the piece of equipment that had failed, and insisted on inserting a Foley Catheter instead.  This slowed my recovery and dramatically compromised my ability to teach for about three months.  Because recovering bladder control, after the Foley was removed, took so long, I had to bring two complete changes of clothes to work every day. If I had not had a rest room in my classroom, I would not have been able to work for the first three months of the school year.  I started to feel OLD and SICK.  I was tired all the time, and this made it more difficult for me to cope when I got difficult students.  Feeling OLD, SICK, and TIRED all the time also pushed me toward choosing early retirement.

I had a painful development in my personal life, after my diagnosis in 2007, and I was filling the role of single parent for two teens, and had no spouse or partner to give me emotional support.  When I went to Nassau for my treatment, all the other patients had their wives there to help them. I was the only patient who was alone.  The emotional toll of the loneliness and sole responsibility for the kids made me emotionally fragile, and I had to go back into therapy in order to deal with the resulting depression.

My health insurance paid for some of the therapy, but there was a considerable out of pocket expense that further undermined my precarious financial situation.  I still had to drive 3 hours to see my doctor for follow-up care after my procedure. My Daughter, Danielle, drove me or rode with me to most of these appointments.  Some of the time, it was almost like she was the parent, having to take care of me.  It was difficult for her to deal with at such a young age, and she had trouble talking to me and expressing her emotions anyway, so I’m sure it was very difficult for her.

When it finally looked like I was going to be able to take the boat to Charleston in the summer of 2010, I hired a Licensed Marine Surveyor to give me recommendations on what should be done to make the boat seaworthy and capable of sailing from the Gulf Coast of Florida to Charleston.  His findings were that the boat had been damaged by a tropical storm in August of 2008, and was a total loss.  The marina owner failed to properly secure the boat when I had it pulled out of the water, as the storm approached, as was recommended by the marine insurance industry.  The boat was blown on its side, there were stress cracks in the fiberglass hull, all six batteries were dumped on top of the engine, spilling acid everywhere, a drain hose broke and dumped thousands of gallons of rain water on the engine and electrical system, and the list of damage went on and on, for seven pages.  Given enough time and money, those things could have been repaired or replaced.  However, the marina owner was content to collect his $200 a month storage fee, and never told me there was a problem or lifted a finger to help, so the entire interior was covered with mildew and black mold.  My clean, neat little ship was a wreck. I had to pay a salvage company $1,500 to scrap the boat so I would not be fined by the Florida and Federal EPAs.  It turned out that our wonderful afternoon sail in April of 2008 cost $50,000.  I would have been better off paying $5,000 to charter a NEW boat for a week during that Spring Break.

Just one example of stress cracks in the hull

Mildew everywhere

All my stuff thrown everywhere and more mildew everywhere

Engine with batteries and water heater dumped on top. Not visible is the toxic soup of diesel engine oil, battery acid, and rain water underneath, and filling the bilge from stem to stern.

Because I had not had the boat surveyed before I bought it, I had no way to prove the marina owner was lying about the condition of the boat, when I purchased it, so it was inadvisable to take any legal action, since the odds of success were too low.

At this point, I was a complete emotional mess.  Twenty years of savings were gone, all the gear I bought was useless without the boat and there was no market for the stuff, 400 miles inland, where I was living.  My dream of rocking at anchor off the beach of some tropical island and sailing to foreign ports, which I’d had since age four, was smashed beyond repair.  With no insurance the boat would cost more than I paid for it to repair, and I knew that even if I was recalled from my "lay-off" I would not have enough working years to be able to save enough money to replace the boat.

To be continued …

Forced Choices, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a multi-part post.

This post is an attempt to explain how people can be forced to make financial decisions that are not beneficial, why Social Security is necessary, and why the system of medical insurance and private doctors in the United States needs to change.

There are SO many things wrong with what goes on in the U.S. Congress; it is hard to know what to talk about first.  I share the feelings of many Americans that the members of Congress are completely out of touch with the people they are supposed to represent. It seems that the majority of members either don't know, or don't care about the hardships most working and retired Americans face every day.  The policies they advocate are just plain bad for the average American, and only benefit the very rich and the biggest, richest corporations.

When I worked in the computer industry, I put as much money as I thought I could afford in 401k plans. The money I put in the 401k was to buy a sailboat, which would be my retirement home, and on which, I would cruise the world.  When I was laid off in January 2007, I had about $50,000 in my 401k.

Otherwise, I was a good little American consumer, and spent everything I earned. Some of that was a rebellion against my "Children of the Depression" parents' extreme thriftiness, and some was the blind confidence in my ability to always find a good job. Throughout my working years, if a company closed or a job became problematic for me, I was always able to find not just a better paying job, but a MUCH better paying job. I had a skill set that was in demand, and good performance evaluations from all my managers. I just didn't see a need to save for the proverbial "rainy day" because I thought my skills and references would always be my umbrella.

I talked about not being able to find work in the computer industry in Part 1 of this post. Here are some reasons why. First, my primary skill set, as a UNIX System Administrator, was based on the products of one hardware manufacturer.  In July 1999, IBM bought out Sequent Computer Systems to acquire patents for Non-Uniform Memory Access technology. They killed the Sequent product line, and the DYNIX version of UNIX that was their operating system, in favor of their own AIX version of UNIX. By 2007, my skill set was obsolete, and no longer in demand.  I had been lazy and complacent, and hadn't earned certifications for other systems or versions of UNIX because all the MAJOR companies, like CISCO, ORACLE, and BOEING were using Sequent hardware, so I felt very secure as a Sequent "expert." These factors, along with my age, years of experience, and pay history, made it impossible for me to find work in the computer industry in 2007. The tech sector was already slipping into the recession that would wreak havoc on the rest of the economy in 2008.

I had always worked, mowing lawns and shoveling snow as a kid, and for an employer, since I was 16, and so I used my fall back skill, my teaching degrees, rather than sit collecting unemployment, and deluding myself that I would find a computer job.

In a misguided attempt to "make a difference," I took a job teaching children who had been expelled from their home school for serious violations of district rules. At first, it seemed like a dream job. I had one fourth grade student who brought a weapon to school because he was afraid of bullies. He was a nice kid, and we got a lot of schoolwork done, while I tried to help him build up his self-confidence, problem solving, and decision-making skills.

When a fifth grader was added later in the year, it actually helped accelerate the learning process. The fifth grader was also a "nice kid." He brought a weapon to school to show off. He wanted attention because his mom was giving most of her attention to a new boyfriend. The little guy got a lot more attention than he bargained for. He was a curious kid, and fit right in with my way of running the class, because I always tried to use what a student was interested in as the introduction to the research skills and academic work they needed to learn about their interests. It took a lot of extra work in my lesson plans to show the principal how studying, honey bees, for example, fit in with the "standard course of study," but I thought it was worth the effort.

Both of these students did well, by my evaluations, but did not show that progress on their standardized tests. The fourth grader returned to regular school, and successfully stayed out of trouble for at least the next two years. The fifth grader went back to regular school and was selected as "Student of the Month," his first month back in regular classes. Later, he was back in an "Alternative" program. I suspect the birth of a little brother caused a need for attention, and our work on better ways of getting attention hadn't jelled as well with him as I had thought. However, all in all, I was feeling like a successful teacher, and was very happy with my job.

The next school year, I got some hard core gang members who had been retained numerous times, and who were taller and bigger than I was, a crack baby grown into a teacher's nightmare, and a seriously emotionally troubled kid who was assigned to the program because he physically assaulted the security officer at his home school. At one point, I had 11 powder keg kids in my classroom. The year was not a good one for me. My low key approach didn't work with these kids. They weren't interested in anything except gang stuff, criminal activity, weapons, and gangster music. Because I couldn't find a key to unlock their curiosity, I had no leverage to direct them into learning. I was at a complete loss, so I just used End of Course Test preparation workbooks, and marked time, praying for the end of the year.  When the four foot tall crack baby threw a 70 pound desk across the room at me, and left a foot deep dent in a steel cabinet, I was at an all time professional and emotional low point. This was probably the moment that was most responsible for my decision to retire as soon after I was 62 as possible.

There is always a process that leads a person to a given decision. For me, the process started with my dad, who retired at 62.  He saved a LOT of money over his working years, and had the benefit of a civil service pension, so that between his pension and his Social Security, he didn't take a pay cut when he retired. I wasn't in as sound a position, but I remembered when he told me that the extra money he would get from working until he was 65 was not worth the stress he was getting in his job. A new City Manager was making his life miserable. As City Treasurer, he was appointed, by the pleasure of the City Council, so he felt like his job wasn't secure for the first time in 30 years. I did some preliminary math, and decided that working until I was 66 was not worth the stress I had in my job, just to qualify for teacher's retirement.  I would get less than $500 a month additional income because I would only have five or six years of service.

My choice to retire at 62 wasn’t forced, except in the sense that the failing U.S. Economy and the side effects of bad legislation left me with no good options for earning a living.  Perhaps if I could have worked in Special Education, in my specialty of Learning Disabilities, I would still be teaching now, getting paid at Master’s level, and I’d still be making mortgage payments on a house. There is no way to know.

To be continued …

Friday, July 29, 2011

Forced Choices

This is Part 1 of a multi-part post.

I have not been posting for a while, but I'm in the process of trying to increase readership of my blog, and hopefully, get my ideas out to more people than just my friends.  This is an attempt to explain how people can be forced to make financial decisions that are not beneficial, why Social Security is necessary, and why the system of medical insurance and private doctors in the United States needs to change.

There are SO many things wrong with what goes on in the U.S. Congress, it is hard to know what to talk about first.  I share the feelings of many Americans, that the members of Congress are completely out of touch with the people they are supposed to represent. It seems that the majority of members either don't know, or don't care about the hardships most working and retired Americans face every day.  The policies they advocate are just plain bad for the average American, and only benefit the very rich and the biggest, richest corporations.

When I retired at age 62, I made some forced choices. First, I chose to move to the Philippines so that my income would go further due to the lower cost of living. Second, I chose to pay for health care in cash, as needed, rather than pay for health insurance. Many Americans living in the Philippines do this, and due to the lower cost of hospital and physician services, it is not as crazy as it sounds, but it can be very stressful, when you have known health issues. Now because I have a "break in coverage," I can't get health insurance that doesn't exclude my "pre-existing conditions," forever.  Now the members of Congress would say that problem is my fault because I made bad choices.  However, there are many circumstances that forced me to make those choices.

The policies that made outsourcing or setting up tech support call centers in India and Brazil made me expendable to my employer, and I was laid off from a $100,000 + a year job in January 2007.  The tech sector economy was already sliding into the great recession, so it was impossible for a 58 year old, with nearly 20 years experience with major tech companies, to find a job.  I worked as a substitute teacher, while applying for a current teaching license, barely paying the bills, and paying for COBRA from my severance pay.  I was never able to get even a doctor's visit paid for through the COBRA "coverage" and when the severance money ran out, I couldn't pay the ridiculously high premium, so the "coverage" lapsed.

I had to turn in two of the three cars I was buying, to the banks that held the loans. Now these banks treated me just the same as if they had to send the repo man to get the cars in the middle of the night, and then sold the cars for very low prices, and told me I owed them the difference between the loan balance and what the cars brought at auction; about $13,000 and $11,000, respectively.  I continued to make my mortgage payments from my savings.

Because of the so called, "No Child Left Behind" legislation, which, by the way, only benefits the testing company mandated to establish qualifications, I found that my Master's Degree was completely irrelevant to the certification agency, because I hadn't taken the prescribed test.  I had taken a test that was acceptable to establish my competence as an Elementary School Teacher, but only at the Bachelor's level.  As a result, I could not be hired in my primary skill and experience area, with the most job opportunities.  I had to apply for jobs in Elementary Education, with the least available jobs, and the most competition.  I was eventually hired in January, 2008, at less than 1/3 the salary I had been making.  The main reason I took the job was that I got health insurance.  My pay covered groceries and utilities.  I still had to pay my mortgage and car payments from my savings.

I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in July 2007.   I went on hormone suppression therapy to shrink the gland to a treatable size.  I had to drive for 3 hours, every month, to get to the doctor's office for my treatment.  They injected a slow dissolving "pill" under the skin of my thigh, which suppressed my testosterone production, because testosterone is like fertilizer for Prostate Cancer.  Having lots of estrogen and very little testosterone in my system let me experience the joys of menopause, first hand. I went through hot flashes, which are nothing to joke about, guys.  I thought I was losing my mind, because I would start crying for no reason.  In July, 2008, my prostate was down to maximum treatable size. I had to fly to Nassau, Bahamas for treatment, because the FDA had not, and still has not, approved High Intensity Focused Ultrasound treatment.  All of this treatment was entirely at my expense because the of the FDA approval status.  After 5 1/2 hours of treatment, my cancer was completely killed, and I have been cancer free since then.

To be continued...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why we can't all get along...

Good people often ask, "Why can't we all just get along?" There are four main reasons that, as the world exists today, it is impossible for us to get along unless we make some changes.

Reason 1:
The animal part of the brain is in charge a surprising percentage of the time, and the animal brain does not like anything or anyone different. There is a well known Biology experiment where you take a group of chicks that hatch at the same time, and when they are about a week old, you use food coloring to dye one of them red, one green, and one blue. The little yellow chicks are soon pecking the dyed chicks to the point of injury. There seems to be a template in the brain based on the faces a child grows up with, and a face that doesn't roughly fit in the template brings feelings of uneasiness and distrust. Kids who grow up going to day care in the San Francisco area seem to be exposed to enough different faces that all the kids seem to get along. If you introduce a kid with a different skin color or ethnic facial features into a remote rural area where kids have only seen their immediate family members faces, there are usually bad reactions.

Reason 2:
Parents usually feel a need to pass on their political beliefs; biases and prejudices; religious beliefs; and life philosophy to their children. This is highly successful most of the time. As a result, we have two factions of Islam still hating each other over who should have succeed Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullāh as leader of the religion when he died in 632 CE.  We have many different groups of Christians who disagree about even basic principles. We have several different groups of Jews so polarized it is difficult to believe they are part of the same religion. We have tribes who hate each other because one took slaves after winning a battle 300 years ago, and so on and on and on.  Too many grudges to count. We even have families who hate each other over something great great great grandpa Wilber did in 1792.  The European colonization movement provided the conditions for people in the colony to hate a whole country. Various missionaries, believing they were doing the will of their god, perpetrated terrible atrocities on indigenous peoples in misguided efforts to "save" and "civilize" the heathen savage. The North American colonists and later, the United States government wiped out many cultures and languages, not to mention whole tribes of people.  Now most of that would just be inconvenient if it weren't for one thing: each group believes they have the one and only truth that came direct from the hand or spoken word of their GOD, him or herself. Christians point to a passage in their book, that according to the circular logic they are so fond of, PROVES that they have the one and only exclusive truth. Combine that with being passed from parent to child, the strength and irrationality of their beliefs, and the conviction that everyone else is WRONG, and you have a downright dangerous situation. Because of this, only a few learned and brilliant scholars can discuss religious thought with members of different religions rather than argue or fight. I always wanted my children to decide for themselves what they believed because I've never been sure about anything, except that it is wrong to treat other people badly. Giving your children that freedom is a little uncomfortable, but I believe parents need to stop teaching after we communicate some basic ethical principles. Until people are able to look at religious, philosophical, and political issues objectively and discuss calmly; allowing themselves to recognize the possibility that another person may have a worthwhile point, rather than feeling a need to prove them wrong, we will always have the seeds of violence between people on the earth.

Reason 3:
My father told me that human greed was the single most dangerous emotion. He said that without greed, con games wouldn't work, people would not gamble away their savings, and there would be no reason for war. Someone always profits from war. Starting with the flint knappers, the people who supply the weapons profit from war. They always find ways to exploit Reasons 1 and 2 so that everyone else, who has everything to lose, will fight in their wars. Kings waged war to expand their territory, and thus increase their income by having more people to tax. In Shakespeare's play, "Henry V," Prince Hal has led a wild, drunken life and so the people didn't expect much from him. His father doesn't know Henry's true capabilities, so on his death bed he advises, "Have a foreign war." The father's advice was based on the idea that having a foreign enemy would bring the people together behind their new king. I can definitely visualize GHWB, or George I, advising GWB, or George II to have a foreign war.

Reason 4:
People are lazy, especially intellectually. Most people don't want to think for themselves. They want the Preacher or Rabbi or Iman to tell them what to believe. They read their holy book, but don't bother to get the education needed to properly interpret what they read or put it in context. Historians copy from older historians without bothering to research whether the old historian knew what he was talking about. For centuries, people were content with Aristotle as THE authority on everything. Sadly, Aristotle just pulled things out of the air and never did a real experiment. Because people are mentally lazy, they are easy to manipulate. So much is known about the psychology of selling and advertising that it is a simple matter to convince a whole country that WMD are an imminent threat, when in fact, no Weapons of Mass Destruction existed. I see evidence of mental laziness in politics today because rather than present data, politicians (and lots of citizens) just call someone a "liberal" as if that is a dirty word, and that name calling alone is sufficient to make a case or prove a point. There is little meaningful discussion or debate in U.S. politics today, and so elections have become popularity contests.  Most politicians today don't do any work to learn how to run government more efficiently and how to work for the good of the people. Combine that with the greed of politicians who allow themselves to be bought by corporations and special interests, and you have the mess the U.S. Government is in today.

Now how can we get ourselves out of this mess? Well, it would take good old fashioned work. First, people who really want to fix things need to organize, find and train candidates who are completely committed to honest government, for the people and by the people. Second, they need to work to get those candidates elected. The Presidency is really not as important as the Congress in putting together a working reform movement. If you have a majority in Congress, you can do a lot whether or not the President agrees. If you have a big enough majority, you can override the Presidential veto, and pass legislation in spite of Presidential opposition. It certainly would be a lot safer to make changes this way than to take to the streets in a Twitter uprising. I don't think the corporations who have the real power now would hesitate to use deadly force on even a million protestors, and I'd hate to think what military weapons would do to massed or marching protestors. The question is, do we have any people honest enough and hard working enough to make real change possible? Can we stop bickering over ideology long enough to actually get something done? What do you think?

Friday, February 18, 2011


I am always amazed at the total lack of discipline in people here both as drivers and as pedestrians. I am constantly reminded of the wonder on the paleontologist's face when the herds of dinosaurs in the movie, "Jurassic Park" wheeled and swirled like flocks of birds. This is exactly how people here move. I don't think anyone is even capable of walking in a straight line. The stop for no reason, move in different directions without looking, don't ever seem to look where they are going, and walk straight at you and expect you to get out of their way. They are totally oblivious to what the packages they are carrying are doing. On the MRT the other day, a lady was fanning herself with a fan woven from palm fronds and on a fairly stout stick handle. Every other swish, it was whack on my left shoulder, pause, whack, pause, whack. I squeezed Grace's hand a little harder than I intended, and tried to remain serene. When driving, people who own their cars seem almost sane, but the traffic mix is insane here. There are pedal powered bikes with metal side cars welded to them, pedal powered cabs, push carts, motor powered tricycles, totally under powere scooters, taxis, jeepneys and all sizes of buses trying to use streets that are too narrow for the traffic volume, all at the same time.  The tricycles, both human and motor powered, pull out in front of anything, always seemingly without looking, and the vehicle that should have the right of way has to slam on the brakes. Speaking of "right of way,' it seems to be law of the jungle, and who ever cares least about getting hit and is most aggressive TAKES the right of way. This is the ONLY place I've ever been, where people drive on the right side of the road, where people turning left think THEY have the right of way. This total lack of self discipline is to blame for a lot of the traffic chaos here. Taxis and tricycles and buses win NOT pick a lane and stay in it. They are constantly trying to jockey for a few feet advantage. I've said before that people here are only really happy if they are driving in two lanes simultaneously, and it is totally true! This applies to walking too. It seems that some people feel their mission in life is to get in front of the person ahead of them. If they are fast walkers I don't mind that, but when the get in front of me, 90% of the time they slow down to a crawl. It is impossible for us to walk together holding hands, most of the time, because people walk straight toward our hands and expect us to clear the way for them. The streets are so wide some places that it is impossible to cross them. There are lots of pedestrian bridges, but it is very difficult to use them because the steps climb at a very steep angle, and because of all the pushing and shoving from other people. Most of the time, the steps and walk ways are steel, and when it rains, they are VERY slick.  The other day, I bought a small slow cooker. By the way, I'm cooking beef stew and it is almost ready. It smells very good. When I was bringing it home, the MRT security guard decided I must be a terrorist, smuggling a bomb in my Rustan's shopping bag, with my Rustan's receipt on top of the slow cooker box, so I had to not only take the box out of the bag, but take the slow cooker AND every bit of packing out of the box so he could visually inspect and make sure I hadn't hidden some C4 in the bottom. Grace doesn't like beards, but does like stubble, so I also had a new Braun cruZer in the shopping bag so I can keep a uniform stubble look. Grace says it makes me look like a bad boy. Now that all of you who have know me forever are done rolling on the floor laughing at the idea of ME being a bad boy, I'll get to the point of the story, which was that I was afraid he would make me open that and have to inspect all of the small combs and parts that come with it. Mercifully, he didn't, but the whole slow cooker inspection took a terribly long time.  Usually, security guards don't check me carefully because they think Americans are not a threat. Maybe it was my "bad boy" stubble that made him visually profile me. There are security inspections at the entrance to every mall and public transportation terminal.  Not that long ago, a package in the luggage locker of a long distance bus exploded and killed several people, so there is an actual need for security checks here. There is a different line for men and women for inspection, and Grace didn't see what was happening, so she was already out of sight when Mr. Efficient got done with me. I felt like the three year old who got too brave and now can't see mom. In our business, people frequently hang up when I answer the phone, I guess they are afraid they will get a terminal nose bleed if they hear more than two words of English. (That's what native Tagalog speakers say about talking to me...I give them a nose bleed.  It means that the mental work of thinking and speaking in English is too much work.) Grace usually answers my phone, and had it in her bag, so I didn't have a way to get in touch with her. I didn't know whether to just stand there and wait or to go down to the platform and hope I could find her. Fortunately, she came looking for me before I had to sit down and start crying. I THINK I could have made it home by myself, but it probably would have involved finding a taxi, and have been more expensive. I need to remember to keep a phone on me when we are out!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

About My Pre-Retirement Life...

Some of you have known me forever, and some of the people I think are significant in my life have been out of touch for a while, so this is a brief autobiographical sketch.
School and Work:
After graduating from Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa in 1966, I attended Grinnell College and graduated with a BA in History in 1970.  I attended U.S. Air Force Pilot Training at Vance AFB, Enid, Oklahoma but did not graduate, and was assigned to Navigator Training at Mather AFB, just outside Sacramento, CA. I graduated and went on to Navigator Bombardier training, eventually becoming a navigator on B-52D aircraft at Dyess AFB, Abilene, Texas.  I did 2 TDY tours to Anderson AFB, Guam and flew 3 combat missions at the end of the Vietnam war.  I resigned my commission in 1975 and went back to school at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, to get my teaching certificate.  I worked as a janitor at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Abilene while I was attending classes. I taught one semester in the Abilene, Texas Public Schools in 1978 as a Special Education teacher at Jefferson Jr. High.  I worked nights at Jack-in-the-Box, and the third time they asked if I wanted to be an Asst. Manager, I asked how much it would pay. It was twice what I made teaching, so I went to work for Jack. I was transferred to Albuquerque, NM to help open a new store in 1979.  In 1980, my store manager told me he was really an alien from another galaxy, and he was totally serious. I found out there was a teaching vacancy at Taylor Middle School, and the next day I was teaching again. I taught several Special Ed. programs at Taylor until the new Lincoln Middle School opened in Rio Rancho.  At that time, Rio Rancho was part of the Albuquerque school system, so I transferred to Lincoln. I taught there until November of 1987, when I took a full time position with the New Mexico Air National Guard. Before that time I had been a weekend warrior, working in Personnel and as Budget Officer. My new position was Commander of the Mission Support Flight. In 1989, my good friend, Don Wetzel, got me an interview with GTE Educational Network Services in the Dallas, Texas area, and I was offered a job answering their customer support line. A year later, ENS upgraded their main computer system to a reconditioned Sequent S-81, and my boss told me, "George, you are good at making things work, so you are our new UNIX system administrator." After looking up UNIX to make sure it didn't involve amputation of any body parts, I accepted the job, and ENS paid for a number of classes at the Sequent factory in Beaverton, Oregon. I am proud of the work I did for ENS because I ran hardware that was both a production and development system simultaneously. In 1994, the parent GTE company decided to close ENS, just as we were on track to be profitable in 1995.  I interviewed with Oracle Corporation, and took over as the Sequent System Administrator. The position had been vacant for over a year, so there was quite a backlog of work, but I was single and didn't mind long days or working all night, so I got the backlog cleared in about three months and reduced configuration request response time from 2 weeks to 24 hours or less.  I got a programmer's bonus share that quarter, and bought a 23 foot Santana sailboat, which I sailed on San Francisco Bay from the Coyote Point Marina. In 1999 I went to work for West Interactive in Omaha, Nebraska, mainly because the cost of living in California was so outrageous. In addition, IBM bought Sequent to get their patents to Non Uniform Memory Access or NUMAQ technology, and I realized that my time at Oracle would be limited when IBM killed the Sequent product line.  I did a lot of the pre Y2K UNIX work for Oracle, and wrote a lot of the policies, so West hired me to make sure their preparations were adequate.  West fired me shortly after Y2K came and went without an issue.  I worked for First Data in Omaha, and then got a call asking me what it would take to bring me to Charlotte, North Carolina. It seems Electronic Data Systems (EDS) had a major client running Sequent hardware.  I gave what I thought was an outrageous figure, and 2 weeks later I was driving a U-Haul to Charlotte. I worked for EDS from  October 2001 until I was laid off in January 2007.  The client bought Sun systems, and it was much cheaper for EDS to hire someone in India or Brazil than to pay me, even though I was fully qualified on Sun systems.  I briefly worked as a consultant for Wachovia Bank, but apparently the manager who put in the request had moved on, and no one could find anything for me to do, so at the end of 3 months, my contract ended.  I was not able to find any UNIX SA work, so  I did substitute teaching in the Cabarrus County, North Carolina schools while I worked to qualify for a North Carolina license. In 2008 I was hired to teach any elementary students assigned to a school for kids expelled from their home school, usually for some criminal act or serious violation of district rules, like bringing a gun to school,  in the Charlotte school system. I had one 4th grader to start with, and taught him on the stage of the multipurpose room.  The next year I had my own room and as many as 11 kids, all 6th graders, in my class. When I reached 62, I was ready to retire, and have never regretted that decision.
Significant Relationships:
I married Kathleen Cory Avise in May, 1969. We were friends in High School, and our youth minister's wife pushed us at each other Christmas vacation 1968. We had two birth sons, Kristofer  Kane Avise-Rouse, in December 1969 and Kelly Kyle Avise-Rouse in January 1971. We adopted two children, Kymethe Kory, and Kenneth Kevin.  Kate and I were primarily casualties of the Vietnam war, and divorced in 1977-78.  Kate passed away in 2005.  I married Earlene Louise Maharg in June 1978. We had one son, Jason Martin Wolfe in November 1984.  We divorced in 1988.  I married Gwen Marie Helm in June 1996. She already had 3 great kids, Tansy Marie Wolfe Perlman (Tansy changed her last name to mine the day after her 18th birthday, so I must have been an OK step-father), Adam Michael Wait, and Danielle Brooke Wait Leffler.  Gwen and I divorced in 2008.  I married Mary Grace De la Torre on November 30, 2010 at Paranaque City Hall in the Philippines.
Health Issues:
I kept getting sick and the doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong. I had my left kidney removed because they were sure a growth on the main artery was renal cell carcinoma, but it turned out to be benign. I had my gall bladder removed. Nothing helped. Finally, I got so sick they were able to diagnose the problem, acute pancreatitis. I was on no food for a week, and then took 8 pills before every meal for 2 years. I changed to a low fat diet, and have been fine ever since.
I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer in 2007, which, by the way, was a terrible year for me. I was on hormone suppression therapy for a year to get the prostate down to treatable size. That was a TRIP! I got to experience the joys of menopause first hand. Guys, don't ever joke about hot flashes. They are NOT fun. Neither is wanting to cry when there is really no reason, and wondering if you are going crazy. Then I flew to Nassau, Bahamas for High Intensity Focused Ultra Sound treatment. Basically it microwaves the prostate 2mm at a time. Fortunately, I was asleep for the 5 1/2 hour process.  I chose this treatment because it is least likely to have undesirable side effects, and since I met Grace, I have been VERY glad I made that choice.  I have been cancer free, according to my quarterly blood tests, since July 2008, and had that confirmed with a 12 needle biopsy in September of 2010, here in the Philippines.

So now you are pretty much up to date with the "Long and Winding Road" that led me to the Philippines.

The Philippine Obsession With Written Records

When I worked at Radio Shack to earn extra money so I could buy Jason Christmas presents, I had to ask every customer for their phone number because the company customer database was keyed off telephone numbers. Many privacy conscious people objected, and I lost more than one sale as soon as I asked for the phone number. Well, record keeping is an obsession in the Philippines, and it isn't just putting a phone number into a computer, in most stores, it MUST be hand written. This makes the process of purchasing something difficult and terribly time consuming. In addition, employers have ZERO trust in their employees, so a minimum of two people have to sign off on everything. For example, one employee gets the item from the stock room and makes out a hand written paper ticket. You accompany him to the check out person who verifies that the box has the correct product number on it. In some cases, they will open the box to make sure it really contains, for example, a desk chair, and you aren't using the box to smuggle out a flat screen TV. You pay for the item, sometimes a manager has to sign off on the transaction, then a security guard escorts you to the door, where you have to sign, acknowledging that you have indeed received the item. This is all done with multiple carbon paper copies. However, no one has ever told me to "press hard" as the U.S. cashiers used to do when you had to sign NCR forms in triplicate.  I don't think signing for Top Secret documents was ever that time consuming when I was in the Air Force! I saw a security guard escorting a janitorial employee to the shredder truck the other day with a bag of what looked like carbon paper and receipts, I'm sure to verify that the paper wasn't stolen or sold for potential credit card information or signatures. EVERY security guard carries around a cloth bound record book and at frequent intervals, makes what appear to be detailed notes. I'm not sure what they are supposed to record, or if anyone ever reads it, but I think it is an attempt to show they are working and justify their employment. The major department stores and the super markets, fortunately, use bar code scanners, but still, standing in line for an hour to pay for your groceries is not that unusual. We have learned that there are some days and times to avoid stores at all costs because the lines will test both my back and Grace's patience.  I have said before that I enjoy the fact that there are always store employees ready and willing to help you find things, but many times there are not enough cashiers to check out the long lines of customers, and I think there should be a higher ratio of cashiers to sales associates to speed things up. Still, it beats searching for half an hour for an orange apron or an hour for a blue jacket or apron when you can't find something at Home Depot or WalMart. Stores don't trust customers either. Every store requires you to check packages before they will let you go into the store. Once we were at the super market just before closing time, and the left overs from our dinner got left in the package check because it was closed when we got through the check out line. We decided against reclaiming the bag the next day because the shrimp would have only been good for catfish bait, and I don't think they have catfish here. If they do, the streams are so polluted, I wouldn't want to fish in them anyway.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Necessity is the Mother of Invention, or Third World Realitiies

I have awarded Grace an Honorary Doctorate in Philippine Engineering.  She can figure out how to make anything work with rubber bands, a paper clip, a twist tie, or a 25 centavo coin.  She used 2 coins to wedge the shower hose onto the water inlet of the washing machine so we don't stand there and hold it.

There is no adaptor available to connect the two different sized connectors.  There just aren't big stores like Home Depot where you can get an adaptor for the adaptor for the adaptor.  This is pretty typical of life throughout the Philippines.  You realize this is a Third World country, despite the modern high rise buildings as you see all the vulcanizing shops repairing the bald and endlessly recapped tires.

OSHA would have nightmares. Scaffolding on major construction projects is sometimes made of bamboo poles lashed together. Other times, it looks like a rope ladder.  I saw one man, lifting a panel larger than himself,  into place while balancing on one scaffolding pipe. No safety harness, and 3 stories up.  Watching them build the new condo cluster behind ours has been an education.  They still hoist everything up using rope and pulley, even though there is a big crane built into the center of the building.  I guess it is reserved for the REALLY heavy stuff.

I've talked about the shoddy cement block construction before, and now I have an explanation.  Apparently mortar has a time limit once you mix it, and if you take a break for lunch and then try to make it workable again by adding water, it doesn't have the right consistency, does not dry correctly, and does not have any strength.  Grace's uncle Burt says this is the main reason concrete block work is so poor.  He also told me that the blocks themselves are poorly made and crumble around the edges during shipment and handling, so the workers use whatever pieces they have, piece them together any way they can, and don't worry about it because everything will be coated with cement anyway in the finishing stage of construction.  When done, the buildings look great, but they are rotten to the core, and I'd hate to be in or near one if we ever have a major earthquake.

Plumbing is poor quality with galvanized pipe the usual water supply line.  That makes repairs difficult because it corrodes so quickly.  Our condo is not that old, but the fittings for the water supply to the toilets are already solid rust.

The electric utility workers here don't have bucket trucks. They prop a ladder up against a pole and climb up.  They seem to have no fear.  Of course if they want to keep their job, they had better just shut up and make do because there are at least a hundred, if not a thousand others willing to take their job.

Government services are also interesting here. When we filed my application for Permanent Resident Status, we were told that as part of our application we had to supply our own legal size folder.  I thought we would have trouble finding one because Immigration is in an out of the way corner, close to the old city. Not to worry, Mini Stop to the rescue. I was afraid our white folder would not meet government standards, but as soon as I paid my fees, they happily took it, and then I saw that all the other folders on the desk must have come from Mini Stop too.  With all the budget problems at all levels of government in the U.S., there may come a time when you will have to supply your own folders too.  I've often said that it seems people are determined to turn the U.S. into a Third World country.  I don't think those people have ever BEEN to a Third World country, or they would realize that it isn't much fun unless you have a good source of income that isn't dependent on the financial stability of a country that could go bankrupt.

With two wars wasting billions of dollars a month, the U.S. could find itself going begging to the world bank for a bailout just like Ireland and Greece if something isn't done to stop the financial bleeding.  Remember, Russia lost their effort to invade Afghanistan because they went broke, and Russian communism fell because of that bankruptcy.  I fought in a war that had no purpose other than to use up war stuff and make defense contractors rich, so I have a better perspective on this than people who are brainwashed into believing patriotism requires blind, unquestioning obedience.  Americans have a DUTY to speak up when our government is not doing what is in the best interests of the PEOPLE of the United States!  We have a responsibility to hold our representatives accountable and not allow policies that are ruining the country to continue.  I feel a great deal of regret that President Obama has been convinced that the wars George W. Bush used as a smoke screen to hide his incompetence and hidden agenda to restrict Americans' Constitutional Rights, are necessary.  I hoped he would have the courage to lead us on a new path toward being the good guy in world affairs and true Liberty and Justice for ALL in the U.S.

Now, the majority party in the House of Representatives thinks they have Carte Blanche to turn back the clock to the bad old days when no one but WHITE males had any rights at all, and they are hijacking religious beliefs to justify their actions.  Even then, if you were Jewish or your family immigrated from certain countries, there were rigid limits on where you could live or play golf.  Reactionary thinking is always a sign of people who have NO original ideas to offer and trade on fear and a misremembered past that wasn't as nice as they think it was.  Even as a white male, when I visited places where there were segregated facilities, I felt a sense of oppression and wrongness.  I was a pretty ignorant kid from the midwest, but even then, I knew it was wrong to treat other people that way.  Some of the proposed legislation in the House of Representatives seems intended to turn back the clock and treat women like they have no right to make their own choices or control their own lives.  Just because someone has power because they are an elected official and just because their party happens to have a temporary majority does not mean they have a mandate to take away the rights of OVER HALF the population in their misguided attempt to bring back the good old days.  Please let your representatives know you object to this assault on women and will not tolerate this gross misuse of power.