Monday, August 7, 2017

Unlikely Saviors

They had come from the outer reaches of outer space. They were small, the aliens, not at all physically intimidating. They were hairless creatures of an attractive forest green wearing no clothing, nor ornamentation. They were distinguishable from one another by shapes, sizes, facial features and blemishes on their bare exposed bodies. The dimensions of full grown aliens ranged from the size of a four-foot tall child to as small as a one-foot stuffed doll. They looked harmless, benign and seemingly content like a child occupied with the task of consuming a large chocolate chip milk shake.

There had been an initial stage of human trepidation upon the aliens’ arrival with much discussion about what to do about them. Nearly a year, in fact, of heated discussion raged about whether or not to fight and eradicate the aliens from the earth. Discussion continued until their gift unto the human race. At the height of the human argumentation the aliens revealed a new clean energy technology that was far more efficient than the best technology known to man. That’s when all talk of their annihilation ceased. Well, there remained a few outliers still calling for caution, but their voices were largely drowned out. It was not until the U.S. Presidential gala that the aliens’ true intent came to light.

During the ceremony’s practice dress walk-through the aliens took action. With no outward show of anger, no words spoken, no weapons visibly employed, the vaporization commenced. Most humans present were vaporized, not all of them, not the president, but many people, most, in fact.

The offensive lasted less than a minute. The president remained unscathed, but his aids and security, and numerous elected officials had been unceremoniously dispatched. Nothing remained of them. It was a very clean attack! The president was alone and shaken. What could compete with this kind of firepower? What kind of weapon was capable of such destruction without even visible hardware of a weapon?

In total disbelief and feeling of defeat, the president sought a quiet place to collect himself. He wanted to be able to convey the proper demeanor and message when a TV announcement would ultimately be required. He opened a door into a small study, he just wanted to sit for a few minutes out of sight. The room had dark wood panels lining the walls, curtains were drawn shut, a single low wattage lamp was alit on an end table. Three cats were leisurely strung out on a chair and sofa. They were unconcerned about the commotion. They looked almost pleased, if such a creature is capable of experiencing pleasure.

An alien entered the room, closed the door behind itself and was about to communicate with the president. The president turned to face his aggressor just in time to see the nearest cat jump, land on the alien and consume it whole! Astonishing! It had been one of the four-foot tall aliens, the lead alien, and was consumed in its entirety in a matter of seconds. It seemed the aliens had no bones, tendons, or anything, apparently, requiring chewing. Their density was deceptively overstated much like chocolate covered marshmallows. The president was baffled. Also confused, but mostly ecstatic with this development. He wasn’t sure what would happen next, but he liked the possibilities. Being a man of action he opened the door and issued a single sweeping motion with his arm for the felines to exit the room. The three felines entered the banquet hall with the eagerness of grade-school humans being offered an endless supply of ice cream. The cats went to town, so to speak. They were ravenous and insatiable in their consumption of the aliens, equally as clean as the aliens’ prior vaporization attack.

The cats were more numerous now as the president reentered the banquet hall, possibly local feral cats or domestics from neighboring abodes. There were dozens of cats now racing about in a feeding frenzy. They must have been somehow immune to the vaporizing experienced by the distinguished humans. The aliens were fleeing but their effort was entirely unsuccessful as they were fully incapable of hustle.

A few people were now peeking out from behind drapes, overturned tables, a bartender was filming the action from behind the bar with her mobile phone held up high over the counter top to record the decimation. A television news report was being broadcast from Asia showing cats on the attack and aliens on the losing end of their retreat. Cats had saved the world!

[Based on a dream that was definitely inspired by my daughter’s fondness for cats.]

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Political Thoughts

·      I believe in global climate change. After all, the climate’s been changing under its own volition since well before mankind started walking upright. I also believe we are in a global warming phase but do not subscribe to the related catastrophic fears. For millions of years the climate has cycled from hot to cold and back again. The idea that it’s now locked perpetually into a temperature increase illogically defies the pattern set over millions of years.

·      Inequality as a call to action is misguided. A successful war against inequality would merely lower the median toward the lowest common denominator, not raise it toward the highest. Instead, the goal should be to build wealth and let everyone buoy their position.

·      Capitalism, the free market economic system, is the greatest tool ever invented to build wealth for the masses. Around the world poverty rages where capitalism is not practiced.

·      A reliable source of energy is required to help poverty-stricken people grow beyond the bounds of poverty. This observation is easily substantiated by the fact that the poorest nations are often those where the citizens are without a reliable energy source.

·      Solar energy has its place in the 21st century. Its uses are currently limited because it is not yet reliable enough or potent enough for industrial-scale use like energizing a factory, hospital or a 21st century economy. It can, however, be a viable niche energy source for those people not connected to an energy grid.

·      I’ve come to terms in favor of gay marriage. Statistics indicate that marriage is good for males. With that in mind, I find it difficult to justify that those benefits be limited to only heterosexual males.

·      Free speech has been struggling recently due to protests on college campuses. If you think the other side is pitching a faulty idea, reason would suggest that it could be logically argued away and defeated. If, however, your own logic fails, maybe it’s not the opposition with the faulty train of thought. The losing side is the one that must shout down the opposing view because it cannot be beaten with words and reason.

·      The anti-nuclear environmentalists seem to be doing more harm than good to their cause. They are succeeding at shutting down nuclear power plants, but as nuclear plants are going offline around the globe they are often being replaced by coal power plants. The anti-nukes are winning on that front, but harming the environment by putting a dirtier source of reliable energy back into play. They need to decide. Is the goal to improve the environment or eliminate nuclear power plants? The two causes, at this point, appear to be counter productive.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Stash [continued]

He was a shoe hog. Dozens of sneakers stored in their original box, most of them still in near pristine condition due to his diligent post-wear maintenance protocol. The best pairs only stepping out for premier occasions like a wedding, the stadium to see a ball game or the office Christmas party. The upper reaches of his closet were easily laden with 20 boxes of kicks, mostly high-tops despite the utter lack of need for the high ankle support. One box housed the ‘found’ bands of $20 bills from that fabled hiking excursion not even a year ago.

When he got home from that hike he immediately, and sophomorically, dumped it out on the floor of his apartment. As an afterthought, he hastily closed the curtains, then just stood and stared. “What do I do now” thinking aloud.

He did not know this in the moment, but each band comprised 100 bills. He had stuffed 19 bands of $20s into his backpack. $38,000! Minus, of course, the incidental cash employed that same afternoon to purchase a tank of fuel for his hiking partner, lunch and a pair of milk shakes.

He counted it, peeled off five 20s for spending cash, put the rest in aforementioned shoe box, and returned it to the top shelf of the closet amongst the other boxes of shoes. Then he washed his hands. He had a hang up about handling cash, even visibly impeccable bills. He then retired to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal while he thought out the next course of action. The bite-size chocolate mini-wheat’s were just the thing to sort out his boisterous frame of mind.

First, he wrestled with greed: Dammit. $20 bills. Why couldn’t they have been hundreds? That would’ve been $190,000!

Second, he talked himself back to reason: Of course if they were $100s I’d be a lot more conspicuous every time I unloaded a $100 bill and asked for change. Local store owners would come to remember me. These $20s will keep me invisible. He wanted to avoid the employees’ behind-the-counter talk at the donut shop, for example, with their suspicious remarks. ‘Here comes the guy who always pays for the dozen donuts with a $100 bill. This is getting creepy, you take him this time.’

By the time the bowl was rinsed and placed in the bottom rack of the dishwasher his action plan was mostly settled and ready for implementation. He would engage cash commerce in a big way. Rent would continue being paid by check. He didn’t want to raise curiosity as the guy who always paid rent in cash. Credit card bills, naturally, would be inconvenient to pay by cash, same with the water bill, gas and electric. He had solid ideas for dissemination of the stash, ‘zero out’ as he liked to say. Gas stations. Going out to lunch. The occasional pub visit. Entertainment. Going forward, these would all become cash transactions. In fact, he put the plan into effect immediately by stepping out to buy a brand new pair of high-top sneakers.

That was ten months ago. The action plan remained strong with little need from varying this simplicity. He definitely could not make bank deposits, the bills might be marked in some way leading to his discovery. As mentioned, he did alter many of his prior credit card purchases. The savings from a vastly decreased credit card bill were used to boost his home down payment fund and max-out his 401k at work. He was pleased with himself, even if he felt a little dirty on account of the unknown origin of the cash.

He had studied Economics in college and was aware of opportunity cost. He realized he was losing 2-3% of purchasing power every year simply due to inflation. Not a major issue, he reasoned, since the acquisition cost was precisely $0. Nevertheless, he was aware of its devaluation and ruled it to be an acceptable loss. He was also aware that he was losing out on the 1% rebate from these cash purchases compared to a credit card transaction with the card’s rebate offer. Again, this was easily reasoned away given the acquisition circumstances. The goof simply could not block these financial quirks from his thoughts.

The shoe box still contained nearly $33,000 from the original $38k. He was not a big spender and had practically no expenditure increases despite the windfall. The exception was his monthly allocation for buying a new paper back book, his reward for having taken a chance, he justified. New book, yes, a tremendous extravagance to his prior habit of reading mostly library books or buying used books from eBay for no more than $4. His largest financial goal was saving his income and expecting to be ready for a home purchase within three years. This stash was helping to indirectly feed the fund.

That duffle bag, he thought often, what a tremendous find! But it carried an unquenchable mental burden. Who’s money had it been? Where’d it come from? Is someone looking for it? He wanted to zero out by the time he bought a home. He wanted to be able to cleanly turn the page on this episode as soon as he had his own digs. A new home with no question marks stowed away in the closet for some inconvenient accidental finding. “Hey Uncle Jimmy, what are these bundles of money for? I found them in the closet playing hide and seek. Can I have one, please, I’d like to buy some baseball cards.” Indeed, he must zero out before buying his home.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Stash

It was more cash than he’d ever seen in his life, at least to date. It was also more than he could abscond with and remain inconspicuous. He was presently equipped with only a pair of pockets and a backpack. It was imperative that he decide quickly and correctly.

He’d been hiking with one other in the nearby mountains, foothills as they were so referred by the locals. Trailhead was an hour’s drive from his current residence, a studio apartment, give or take the traffic variable. They had been off the main trail following an obscure path when he excused himself for a nature break. The morning Slurpee on the drive seemed to have unfavorably comingled with his breakfast bowl of Grape Nuts cereal. It was there, behind and partially covered by low-lying bushes and heavy tree canopy, that he saw it. A duffle bag, black, caked with dirt and signs of having absorbed a good deal of weather in its stint at this locale. What gives? There was no lock, the zipper, though rusty, remained intact sealing the contents. An irresistibly curious find. Of course he’d open it.

Bundles of cash! Twenty-dollar bills all banded together as if withdrawn from the bank in an orderly fashion. It was a medium sized duffle, not over stuffed, but absolutely more than he and his pal could handle. What now? Take what he could carry? Tell his cohort? Or just keep this secret and reduce the chance of anybody else finding out about the stash?

He decided to take a little taste for himself. Two bands of bills were removed from the duffle and placed in his backpack. If he was going to keep this secret he couldn’t and wouldn’t tell his pal. They weren’t really friends anyway, he justified in the moment, work acquaintances that liked talking football Monday mornings before the team meeting. These two ended up on today’s hike together merely because the third person, the mutual close friend who bound them together, was a last minute cancellation. He would not share the wealth he decided. ‘Keep it to myself and there’ll be no awkward questions at work. No rumors about the source of the money every time I pull out a $20 to pay for lunch,’ he thought to himself.

Before walking away he also decided he’d never return for the balance of the cash, that’d be too risky. He didn’t know from whence the duffle came, if the bills were marked or if someone would be looking for it. Maybe there’d be a transponder indicating the location of this stash and he wouldn’t want the transponder to lead to his apartment. Heck, ‘marked bills,’ he didn’t even know what that meant, just a term he heard in some movie. He was an office wonk, a guy who rocked a desk 40 hours per week. He wanted nothing to do with anyone who had anything to do with this bag ending up here.

He opened the duffle bag, removed another 16-20 bands and stuffed them deep into his backpack, closed the duffle, rubbed dirt on the zipper thinking it may jumble his fingerprints. He hastily returned to his hiking partner, having forgotten to take his ‘break,’ they hiked on. No mention of the find.

He had been feeling tired and worn-out, his knees and thighs aching for a rest. Understandable since this was a 12-mile hike with a 4,000-foot incline and 9,300-foot peak. He felt now only rejuvenation, plus a sense of being watched. The cash added only four pounds, but the increased volume made it an awkward load that now dug savagely into his shoulders. He liked the pain, though, and stubbornly showed no outward signs of physical discomfort.

They peaked, enjoyed the view, he ate a leisurely lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwich, soda pop, apple, and several fistfuls of candy. The sugar would fuel his downhill and distract him from the anticipated painful knees, feet and ankles.

They hiked back to the parking lot and drove down the hill. He offered to pay for fuel and lunch including milk shakes! “Thanks for driving today, my treat as a show of appreciation.” At inception he had peeled off a few bills and put them into his pocket for easy access. The two parted ways until Monday morning’s meeting at work.

He was delivered to his car in the public lot. Without taking another look inside his backpack he simply loaded it into the trunk of his car, changed shoes, pulled an unopened cold bottled water from the cooler and drove home. It had been a five-hour hike, a very profitable way to spend a sunny Saturday morning. He didn’t know where he was going to put this load of cash. He didn’t know what he was going to do with it. He knew only that he couldn’t simply roll into the bank for a deposit of $40,000 in cash. He’d have an hour’s drive home to come up with answers and an action plan by which the bills would be concealed and employed.

[to be continued . . .]


Thursday, March 16, 2017

‘How do you like President Trump?’

We’re living in volatile times where calm, reasoned political discourse has become an anomaly. When such a question as above is posed the proverbial trigger warnings should flash in your head. For me, I like our president about as much as I like a sack of snakes. But the more properly worded question is ‘How do you like the policies of the Trump Administration,’ not so much the man himself. Certainly the administration has appeared clumsy, disorganized, cantankerous and factually inept at times. The setting is ripe for a subsequent question, ‘What do you think of Hillary now?’

Look, if I disagree with a politician 90% of the time, the fact that they’d be more proficient at holding a press conference would be no consolation. On the other hand, if I agree with a politician 70% of the time I’ll begrudgingly endure the press conferences that look more akin to a professional wrestling post-match interview.

The reactions of the hordes to Trump are regrettable what with the relentless marching [I concede their admirable gumption] and protests. If a person chooses to be offended at every farcical motion of the Trump Administration then they’re a hysteric. Similarly, if a person agrees with every action of the president then they would seem to be a non-thinking beast simply accepting their team’s talking points. Either way both personifications are operating in absence of reason and judgment.

So then, what do I think of the Trump Administration? I mostly agree with their policies, yet I definitely want our highest official to stop with the Executive Orders. Conservatives didn’t like it when President Obama pushed out Executive Orders like coasters at a pub during happy hour, and it’s entirely understandable President Trump would get similar push back from opposing forces.

As far as I’m concerned, there is almost nothing the government can provide for me that is made better if it is expedited. Stop with the Executive Orders and let this stuff take the long way through the House and Senate. Sure, I know, Trump owns all three branches of government why not push everything through? I prefer a more complete vetting before the president’s instructions go live. It’s important for the American people to see both political teams work together to find common ground and lay down bipartisan work. Executive Orders disallow this opportunity and foster a bountiful amount of resentment. The congressional process is necessary to let these bills see the light of day. I don’t want anyone to be able to hide their bilge behind the unilateral act of our president. Make the elected officials stand up and explain what they stand for.

We need to be able to agree or disagree without each Trump challenge being praised as if it were a gallant act of defiance. Reasonable adults should be able to disagree without prancing around for high fives and validation. Let’s strive to be those reasonable adults and discuss our positions without the self-important gesticulating. And Mr. President, put down the Twitter, sir!