Thursday, December 17, 2009

living in a satirical world

Sometimes I think there is no choice but to have a satirical outlook of the world. After all, there has always been a steady diet of paradox to digest. Of course, a patently ridiculous setting during my early years in elementary school provided some good fodder from the start. In the long walk-in coat room, behind six rows of desks, or in the hallway outside the classroom I was enrolled as a member in a multi-year study regarding the exploitation of common sense. The prerequisites were that I needed to be able to sit on the floor, with legs crossed and curled while keeping my corduroy coat atop my head. The pretense was that this simple skill set would allow me to roll with the shock waves of a nuclear explosion. And, thanks to my jacket, I could do so without getting dust in my eyes.

The religious setting of my parochial education added another layer of incongruity. It was a regular occurrence to observe a child getting lashed across the knuckles with a yardstick length pointer for such things as fidgeting and turning around in his or her seat to borrow pencils, or perhaps distracting other children. Ironically, it was also common that the person who was wielding the stick would be wearing a cross. As a six year old, this kind of contradictory behavior scared me because it was unpredictable-at least at first.

Expecting to survive a nuclear blast with corduroy armament was a culmination of denial and insanity. As for the yardstick, I am confident that many of the children exhibiting behavior problems in the 50’s and 60’s had ADHD. But society was largely in denial about it until the 1980’s. We didn’t just suddenly spawn a generation of agitated children. We gradually and painfully came to a realization about the genuine needs of some children and the learning problems they face. The theory of the 1950’s and 60’s teacher was to lash out strongly at anyone exhibiting behavior problems so that the rest of the class got the message that they had better behave. But, developmentally, most young children want to please people and they do not need intimidation as a means of motivation.

Over the years, I have grown to expect unpredictability because I think it is a byproduct of a favored coping mechanism utilized by mankind. Our default to denial causes us to engage in a considerable amount of insanity. Fast forward to the present and note that the favored method of protection against dirty bombs and chemical warfare is that we seal our windows with duct tape. I have twenty-nine windows in my house. By the time I would near completion and be done with all the measuring, cutting, tucking and untwisting of the gluey cloth I would either have coughed up a lung or be ready to jump off my roof.

Currently, our back and forth power plays over climate change reflect another glaring case of denial. We have a finite amount of fossil fuel to burn in this world. But instead of recognizing this fact, our climate summits, proposals and debates are fundamentally based on trying to figure out how quickly or if the planet is getting warmer. Meanwhile, we are just digging a bigger hole. No person or group will be declared a winner when we hit the dryness of this bottom. The level of denial here is enormous. At some point soon we have to wean ourselves off our addition to fossil fuels and look to alternative energy sources in a serious manner. We cannot drill our way out of this dilemma.

Denial was certainly a leading cause of the wholesale miscalculations Wall Street made regarding how far they could push the envelope as well. The end result of that denial was quite messy. Lehman Brothers went down the tubes, and banking and insurance giants had to be bailed out and propped up with billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars. And what amuses me is that while this bubble was being inflated regulators were busy putting Martha Stewart in jail. Meanwhile, Bernie Madoff was having the time of his life manipulating people and institutions out of almost incomprehensible sums of money.

Just this past week I have been trying to understand yet another interesting peculiarity. Let’s say a world leader addresses a military academy on 12/02/09 in West Point, NY and orders 30,000 troops to war. Would it be possible that on 12/10/09 in Oslo, Norway that the same world leader is bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize? Would it be possible to slip so quickly into denial as to rationalize a good acceptance speech over the fact that within 8 days of getting honored for peace this leader had ordered 30,000 troops to war to try to prop up a corrupt government that is highly unlikely to change? Well, it’s hard to believe, but it happened.

I think this deviation from common sense may be less about denial and more about undiagnosed learning deficits that are coming back to roost. I think a little more focus is required here. Peace is peace. War is war. I don’t care that President Obama talked about scaling down the war in Iraq and paying more attention to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan during the election. This build-up is hardly a must do and the eighteen month pullback statement was silly. If predictions and time lines were so easy to come by regarding Afghanistan, then Obama would not be calling for 30,000 more troops after we have already been there eight years. I voted for President Obama, and I view him mostly as an intelligent, level headed leader. But, to pronounce him a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate at this point in his tenure is a far-reaching stretch indeed.

In the future, it may be worthwhile if the NNC members in Oslo, Norway made a phone call to a town a little to the north of West Point, NY before casting their vote. They could ask to speak with someone associated with the BBWAA in Cooperstown, NY. Hopefully, they could become familiar with a methodology called career numbers. It is the guiding principle that got Ted Williams inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966 instead of 1941, when he had a season batting average of .406 from April through September.

Yes, I live in a world where I expect inconsistent, unpredictable and ironic behavior. I then take the events that scare me most and I turn them into humor—that’s how I cope.

(c) 2009 Christopher's Views

Saturday, December 12, 2009

ode to a tiger

a Thanksgiving day faux pas
beside a driveway
lengthening a three par

a rifling through the PDA address book
prompts a rambled pleading
to hurry up and reset the greeting
oh my dear, texting so late? the query

time to pig out on turkey, lay low on Ambien
and usher in a plan, becomes the theory
but the cat gets out of the bag
and the tiger goes on the run
time to go
time to duck
whoosh whack!!

a festive food fight?
amid flailing golf clubs round about midnight
a dog legged turn unnavigable
a fire hydrant and a big old tree unmovable
when air bags do not inflate
prop up a story of courage in place
unworthy although to placate
and oh no pictures please
this tiger would rather hibernate
than dare to show his face

retreat to the bunker
and hunker down on the web
the tabloids have a scent
and the gold digging cannot stop
until the sordid tale is long gone dead!

breakout some old footage
run some loops
good times, bad times
mom, nanny, wife
mistresses and blonde's galore
porn stars, harems
heck, an a to z medley of a traveling man's party life

pancake house parking lots
hotel doors ajar
try concealment a little bit
tour with point men of interest
coordinate with the secretary of affairs
promote this, expose that
backseats, penthouse suites
and pass the Vicodin

yes to liposuction, it is told
no not much for brunette's, as it seems
lawyers, agents, ad exec's
payoffs, buyouts, prenups
Jamie who?
Rachel when?

savor the twelve days of a Christmas past
savor the twelve lays of a Christmas past
now check the list twice
and please Santa please
a new cell phone
encrypted, password protected and tucked into a golf bag
is all that a tiger really needs.

(c) 2009 Christopher's Views

Monday, October 26, 2009

a fan is born

As a NY Mets fan I have found the last few weeks to be difficult. I have never rooted for the NY Yankees. My formative years for baseball enthusiasm were the late 60’s. The Yankees struggled in those years and the Mets flourished. I felt more of a natural connection to the Mets as well. I grew up in Brooklyn-a la Gil Hodges and the Dodgers. I loved the flare of Agee and Jones, the tenacity of Seaver and the humanness of Swoboda. And I keenly tuned in for a few minutes of Kiner’s Korner after each game.

Now that the National League and Eastern Division Philadelphia Phillies are joining the NY Yankees in the Fall Classic I am almost without words. Only utterances flow past my lips when I speak of baseball.

My six year old son, however, is with words and free of mumbles. I had hoped he would naturally become a Mets fan, as did my daughter. But my daughter grew up with better Met teams. She was weaned on the affability of Piazza and Franco, the resolve of Leiter and the humanness of Bobby Valentine. I have not lived with any Yankee fans for over 30 years. I wholeheartedly wish that family loyalty could trump independent choice on this matter. But, in the final analysis, I favor the joys of fatherhood over the pleasures of sports fanaticism.

And so I did have a smile on my face at breakfast today as I took in the images on the morning back page. My happiness was not derived from connecting with the picture of Jeter, Rodriguez and Teixeira waving arms in celebration. My happiness was grown from seeds planted a couple of weeks ago. I had been informed by my sprouting six year old that the Yankees were in the first round of the playoffs. I was not even aware that he knew there were different rounds to the playoffs. The next week he gave me more news—they were in the second round. Then as he came to the table this morning he peered over my shoulder and saw the pinstripes, the smiles and the hoopla. He said, “Third round Dad-third round.” I said, “It’s worse than that-it’s the World Series.” He waved up his arms and said-“Yes!” There were no words for me but a big smile for him.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

an absurd and weak link

Not long ago on a Friday afternoon I agreed to chauffeur a friend, who had been visiting New York for a few days, back to LaGuardia airport from his hotel room on Long Island. His flight was scheduled to depart at 6:00PM, which meant getting to the airport by 4:15. Friday rush hour in New York seems to be evolving into the 3PM hour, so I thought I would make my 1 o’clock business appointment in Queens the last of my day.

As I was low on cash at the end of the week, I made a quick stop at a bank branch ATM. Posted on the lobby door was a notice to remove hats and sunglasses before entering the bank for security reasons. After all, what good are surveillance cameras if the images are revealed in disguise? I took off my sunglasses and proceeded to the cash machine. Dunkin Donuts next door would be my next detour as I start few trips without a cup of coffee. I waited on line, watched CNN on one monitor and the back on my slightly balding head on the other.

Back in my car I proceeded east on Northern Blvd. I figured to avoid the Cross Island Pkwy snarls by taking Northern to Little Neck Rd and then head south to the LIE Service Rd. Luckily, at the intersection of Douglaston Pkwy, I had the presence of mind to steer clear of the grid lock, preventing my license plate from being photographed and then mailed back to me along with a fine. Main streets all across America are coming online, geared up to take your snapshot, and happy to send you the print-along with a demand for payment.

I fought the traffic out to Rockville Center and arrived at the hotel at 2:45. I smiled as I went by the concierge desk trying to post my best face on the bank of video screens I assume are lined up in the office adjacent to the counter. In the elevator I consciously wore my sunglasses, even though I believe a camera lurks behind the tinted glass of the control panel. Once the car was loaded with luggage, my friend and I meandered our way to the Southern Pkwy. Tracing our exact route to LaGuardia would be an easy task for any geek with a laptop. The many traffic cams, cell calls from our wives (hands free of course) and GPS signals leave a wide trail of crumbs.

At 4:10 we arrived at the drop off line. I get a bit flustered on the airport ramps. There is a heavy police presence, too many signs to read and way more cameras than I prefer. I helped my friend carry his luggage to the curbside bag check and waved goodbye as I backed up toward my car. In my hurry I brushed up against a couple of pilots, who where neatly uniformed and were making their way to report for duty. I voiced my apologies, reached for my keys and began my careful drive away from the terminals.

I glimpsed a view of a parking lot security cam while merging to the left. I began thinking there must be no place left within fifty miles of New York City that is free of an electronic eye. Then suddenly it came to me-the cockpit. The final sanctuary, a safe haven with mysterious black boxes but no cameras, where one can play cards, have sex, perhaps even get in a few z’s and no one would be the wiser.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

LOTTO dreaming

If I were to win LOTTO, I would open a bank.

I would pay less than 1% on the money deposited into my savings accounts. I would set 18% as the annual lending rate on items charged to my credit cards. I would have a $2 ATM fee. I would impose an automatic overdraft fee of $35 per occurrence hidden in the fine print of my debit card policy. I would clear deposits in 2 days, but not free them up for 7 days. I would charge a $300 mortgage application fee and the customer must fill out the application. The actual disclosure would be almost impossible to read and the lending process would be extremely difficult to recreate. This would allow me to bump up the originally promised interest rate by a 1/2 % at the closing, as I know that most consumers would be too weary to start the process over again. I would apply 1 point across the board on my loans and list it as an origination fee so that many people would glance over it.

I would be in strict observance of all Federal Holidays. I would fly the American flag prominently on all my properties. I would be an honorary speaker, political donor, venture capitalist and capitalist advocate. I would be a mentor to entrepreneurs, an aspiring example of risk management and a free enterprise model. I would be an enemy to socialism and denounce it at every turn.

I would keep my government bailout applications in the top right hand drawer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

what is it all about?

Over the last several years I have spoken with many people about health care in The United States of America. Dreadfully few of these people expressed happiness with the system. Employers are continually in disdain over the high and still rising premiums. Employees are contemptuous of the high and rising deductibles, coinsurance percentages and out of pocket maximums. Patients boil over with accounts detailing errors on claims, denied claims, appeals, delays, dubious reasonable fee scales, excluded prescriptions, overcrowding, misdiagnoses, infections and poor case management. People in transition, either by job loss or career change, generally fall into two categories. They make exorbitant Cobra payments or go without coverage and white-knuckle it until they get back on their feet.

It seems almost incomprehensible that a large percentage of people would oppose changing the current system. But, that is the predicament in America today. Disdain for the current system and fear of a new system. We fear overspending more acutely than ever as a reaction to our gluttonous feast on bailouts. We fear government control intrinsically. And who among us has sunk back into enough denial to believe that without regulation corporations and insurance companies will do the right thing? Even among the experts there is great confusion and disagreement. Alas-we are stagnant to action.

No action and no change will of course produce the same results. Perfection will not appear as an option. We need to be open. We need to work together. We need to put our best collaboration of plans and ideas forward, take action and take a leap of faith.

‘In God We Trust’ is the official motto of The United States of America. It is a phrase that is proudly presented on our currency. I suppose the phrase has different meanings for different people. I view the phrase as an acknowledgment. In a way, it is a daily reminder that all of our efforts and all of our plans are ultimately beyond our control. Whether we change our healthcare system or not our medical requirements will continue to consume large amounts of our currency. I suspect that it not really about the money-it’s about the trust.

Monday, September 7, 2009

day 1, lesson 1

Two of my late summer tasks this year were a dichotomy. I helped my daughter move out of our house and into an apartment she found near her new job. On the reverse action, I helped my son prepare for first grade. My daughter moved out about ten days ago and so today most of my time was spent with my son.

We reviewed our summer highlights. Learning how to swim, grasping how to ride a bike without training wheels, and tying a worm on a hook to snare a fish were some tops on the list. One of the low points was not being able to attend a birthday party to which he had been invited. I figured that parents of six year olds could strive for more appropriate behavior than mock battles with toy guns in a mixed group of graduating kindergartners. My son still would have preferred the party, but I believe teachable moments are great opportunities and I would rather drive through them cautiously than to steer away from them altogether.

Tonight, as he was becoming familiar with his new school backpack, we reviewed what to expect at his first day of first grade and what kind of behavior we expect of him. He read a couple of short books and dozed off to sleep. Almost simultaneously, our phone rang. Upon answering I was greeted by an automated message from the Superintendent of our school district. The announcement was to inform me that it is okay for me to send my son to school tomorrow and that the district is aware that many parents are concerned about the children viewing President Obama’s address to the students. However, in order to ease those worries, the schools will be previewing the President’s remarks first and then allowing appropriate grades a later viewing.

I chuckled at the word ‘appropriate’. I suppose a teachable moment awaits us in the morning. Day 1, grade 1, lesson 1: tolerance, even in the face of ignorance.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

elusive...but worthy

embrace others
embrace peace

Friday, July 24, 2009

thoughts from today

Today's Trillions
+ Tomorrow's Trillions
= Generation Screwed

thoughts from yesterday

Regulators: these are the same group of geniuses who were carting Martha Stewart off to jail while Bernie Madoff went undetected.

Friday, May 1, 2009

pigs, people and paranoia?

Only a few days ago I was immune to the 24 hour barrage of reports squarely obsessed on the swine flu outbreak. I thought too many people were over the top with out of place trepidations. Sometimes, however, immunization breaks down and a crack in the shell appears. My crack surfaced and revealed itself in my level of consciousness.

Driving home from work yesterday, in compliance with Joe Biden’s proclamation, I made Alley Pond Park in Queens a via-point to carry out one of my habitual running sessions. I made a quick visit to the park house, twice I thoroughly washed my hands (following President Obama’s decree) and I began my mental preparation for the 6 mile round trip trek. As I began to envision the route of my trot, the paranoid side of my brain realized that the half way point loops behind St. Francis Preparatory High School. Yes, the same St. Francis Prep associated with the New York outbreak of H1N1. Random inane voices seeping through my logic began to ask questions. Is it safe? Will I be too near the epicenter? Should I get back in my car and fight the traffic to another trail? Is there a hotline I can call? What would Joe Biden do?

As I bent down to tie my sneakers, reason thankfully began to take hold. Deliberate utterances in my head said of course I will run here. But, true to my form-I compromised. I decided not to follow my normal trail through the woods, for that road leads to a prep school. Instead, as I took my first strides, I began to map out a circuitous path that would mimic the overall length of my desired workout by utilizing the surrounding streets to encompass a broad sweep of the park that would manage to safely round back a few blocks short of the virus hub.

I made a turn and headed west on Union Turnpike, passing only the wooded outskirts of the park for about a quarter mile. Serenity began to set in. A few blocks more though and I skirted by a couple, as they headed hurriedly into a doctor’s office. What’s their rush? Is this safe? Should I be at home?

I kept running, as my tempo was good, the temperature was in the high 50’s, dry and I certainly wanted to take advantage of these prime conditions. As I ventured toward Hollis Hills Terrace I chose to veer north along a boundary between Alley Pond and Cunningham Park. There were more crowded ball fields to pass, more ice cream vendors to dodge and my antennae involuntarily heightened. A man zigzagging back across the road, following his dutiful retrieval of an errant soccer ball sneezed heavily as we cut past each other. Was he sick? Or was it an allergic reaction to the recently cut grass? I kept pace and didn’t look back.

I did not want to risk penetration into the more populated areas and so I turned back east along 73rd Avenue and then south on 210th street, all the while using fences and park perimeters as my guide. I meandered my way back to Union Turnpike and headed east for a second time. Back once more by the physician’s office, and strangely now I became the object of a woman’s glare, as I blew out a deep breath to maintain my body rhythm beginning mile 4. Does she think I’m sick? Is she paranoid? Am I allowed to run here? What would Joe Biden do?

I darted across Springfield Blvd, feeling lively, strong and ready to step up the pace for the home stretch. Briskly I pursued the park house I had embarked from 35 minutes ago. A sharp turn north at Winchester Blvd dropped me in the midst of more ball fields, more crowds and more concern. I managed to clear my head and spurred myself on for a few more laps, hoping that in a month or so the higher summer temperatures may eradicate this pandemic wannabe of a bug.

I came to rest at the far end of some tennis courts and then began a slow cool down back toward my car. But I was veered off course by a klutz, swiftly exiting and loosely swinging his bag and racket. ‘Hey-damn it’, I yelped. I declare six feet. You are in violation of the six foot rule!