Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Holocaust Remembrance Day


Today, April 25, 2006, is Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is largely considered a Jewish holiday, but it is a day when everyone should remember. I am not Jewish, but I was present one joyous and horrific day when a concentration camp was liberated. I will never forget. All mankind MUST remember and never let a thing like that happen again!

Chess Master, Not

I fear that one of the things that a youth of either gender, but mostly male, has to eventually learn is that he is not nearly as good at chess as he thinks he is. I learned the moves quite young as did many of my friends. I took a book or two from the library and mastered some of the standard ploys, openings and end games. I got to think in terms becoming a hot shot in the chess world. Then I went into the Army and ran into more challenges than ever before. Interesting what was hidden under the grime and tin hats of infantry men! But I voluntarily resigned all thoughts of even beginners’ competence when I started playing against the guy in the next bunk at the repo-depot on the way home from the Philippines. This guy was a drunk and I mean he was drunk 24/7. He also was the brother of a successful author. He had "issues". Most of the day he was either reading a book or writing his “great gift to American literature.” I don’t know about his writing, but he beat me at chess, he stomped on me at chess. And every time we played he also serenely read a book concurrently. I quit chess entirely and took up bridge for a while. However, I soon realized that in that game, it is possible to be yelled at by your partner at the same time you are laughed at by the opponent. I gave games up for girls about then and never regretted the move.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Our Heroes

While we probably do not express sufficiently our appreciation, the entire elder community of south Florida owes a lot to the teams of Fire –Rescue people that respond to 911 calls. Few of us reach the age of eighty or eighty-five without having been the beneficiary at some point of these ladies and gentlemen. They are on the go night and day serving not just private homes, but also all the Continuing Care Retirement Communities, but Assisted Living facilities and Nursing homes. Our neighborhood station is proud to be “on scene” in under seven minutes from the call and usually faster.

I can attest to the fact that they know their stuff. Just as important, they are caring souls that make the extra effort when necessary. My personal experience: I was on the way from the hospital to our skilled nursing center for recuperation from an operation to glue together the pieces of a shattered acetabulum. I was in a pseudo-ambulance, a vehicle equipped to transport, but not much more. I was chatting with the attendant in back with me. There was a sudden jamming of brakes and the driver let out a censorable exclamation. The attendant with me instantly became authoritative. He calmly said to the driver, “Call it in!” He examined my IV carefully as he asked, “Can you be alone for a few minutes?” I couldn’t see what was going on but I learned later that two people were trapped in a car which had been broadsided in front of us. The Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue arrived soon. I could hear them arrive. With that the crew driving me returned and we were on our way. The attendant explained to me that he was a Broward Co. EMT and his insurance was provided by Broward. He was moonlighting in Palm Beach. If he was hurt outside Boward, he was not covered. Yet he went yanking and prying on a smashed car to try to save those people even though he was not covered.

There should be a “Day” for these folks.

Monday, April 17, 2006

First Experience with Computer

I am bad at remembering dates, I can guess though that, this happened in the '50s sometime. I was working as a group leader in Research and Development. Computers were being talked about in the newspapers and pictures showed huge arrays of tubes that resembled radio tubes. The department signed up for a service offered by General Electric. A gigantic work station was installed in a central location at the labs. Supervisors were gathered together and given a lesson in "Basic" computer language. The work station was connected by telephone wire to a big computer somewhere in north Jersey. There was no monitor, no mouse, just the oversized typewriter-looking thing and an enormous printer. The printer used paper that had those holes along both margins and fed up in a continuous stream from a cardboard box on the floor. I decided that I would like to be able to enter the data my group gathered and have this miracle machine do all the calculations. But first I had to write a program.

I wasn't burdened with a lot of confidence (never was good at languages). So, I waited until after hours when most everyone had gone home. I labored away at the program-writing until I thought I had it. It was time to send my imput to the big computer at GE. (There was a substantial cost per minute of connection.) I pushed the appropriate keys and, sure enough, the printer groaned and started printing. First problem was, it was printing gibberish. Second problem was, I couldn't turn the darn thing off. I could see the Department being charged dollar after dollar as page after page of random letters and numbers accumulated on the floor. With no help available, I did the only thing I could think of. On hands and knees, I crawled under the monster and pulled the plug. I stuffed the acres of paper into my briefcase, put on my coat and went home.

p.s. Later, I got the hang of it and became a steady user.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Sky is Closing!

Remember when you were very young, there became an age when expressing fear out loud was no longer "hip", "sharp", "cool", whatever the "in" word was? My parents and I were outdoors waiting because the radio and the newspapers had reported that on today's U.S. arrival of Germany's airship,the Hindenburg, it would pass over New York City and then over the suburbs in New Jersey. It was the largest man-made object to ever fly. They told the time and we were out there waiting. Suddenly, I was frozen with fear! The sky darkened and was filled with this monster, roaring "Thing". Pop and Mom seemed fascinated so I resisted the desire to run in the house and hide under the bed. Gradually is crept across the sky and slid south. Folks were jumping up and down in some sort of excitment I didn't understand.

Follow the link above for the first step in linking your way through the romantic and tragic story of the passenger-carrying light-than-air aircrafts of the prewar era in aviation. I am still convinced I had a reason to be scared that day. I have since done the math: there were 13 houses on each side of our street. Each had a 50 foot front footage. That meant that our street measured about 650 feet. The Hindenburg was 808 ft long and 135 ft in diameter. Flying very low, it smothered our street, my world. I was rightfully frightened.
If you read further about dirigibles, you will learn that the U. S. Navy was a pioneer in their use. You may also be surprised to know that America's refusal to provide Germany with nonflamable helium may not have been the cause of the Hindenburg's demise in a ball of fire at Lakehurst the year after I saw it fly over. Another surprise to many is the fact that the construction of the Hindenburg's sister ship (the Graf Zeppelin II) was completed and it flew after the crash. The onset of World War II kept it from ever achieving fame.

A bitter postscript for me was that I was doing homework with the radio playing on May 6,. 1937. I heard the broadcast of the fire and crash

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How Leaders Learn to be Leaders

On Monday nights it is often our (yours too, I’ll bet) misfortune to watch the bumbling efforts to practice entrepreneurship on “The Apprentice” on TV. The winner gets a job in management, something they all (almost all) seem woefully inept and ill-equipped for. We seem to be raising bunches of overweight followers, trained to move a mouse while sitting down and obeying electronically imposed rules. The really well motivated parents get their children out in the sunlight exercising by enrolling them in organized play on a properly lined play ground. But many just hang around and play video games or watch TV.

When the “greatest generation and before”, was young, they just gravitated to a group of like aged kids down or up the street and stood around until someone said “whad’ ya wan’ ta do?” The group chose a game or activity by strength of persuasion or muscle, or who owned a ball. They argued about who would be captain of the team, who would call the plays, what the out-of-bounds and goal lines would be. They chose up sides. It was their game, not “the after-school counselor’s”. It was “organized” only after they organized it. They practiced management long before they knew what it was.

Sorry, I guess I just bemoan the disappearance of: Hide-and seek, tag, two-hand touch, one-hand touch, hop-scotch- jump rope, bicycle racing, one-a-cat, two-a-cat, foot racing (aka known as “last one there is a rotten egg!”), pick up baseball and football, building a tree house, going skinny dipping, fishing in the creek. Even good old cowboys and Indians (PC be darned, besides the Indians won half the time.). Do today’s kids know what a skinned knee is? This is where leadership was learned and managers were born.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


If you are a senior, and even if you are not, you frequently see surveys and polls asking your opinion on the greatest advance in technology in the last century. The computer gets a lot of votes., probably the most. We hear about the transistor and microchip from more technically oriented folks. Disposible diapers are credited by new mothers often. Radio and TV are cited as is assembly line manufacturing. Spray antiperspirants are favored by city dwellers.

BUT AS A LIFE_LONG SUBURBANITE I would like to praise the developer of the power lawn mower with grass catcher. To this day I remember vividly the Saturday I picked up that faithful old Pennsylvania push mower in a temper and threw it as far as I could ( about 18 inches) . I walked straight to the car sitting in the driveway, drove to "Two Guys From Harrison" and without cosulting the checkbook OR my wife -- purchased a POWER MOWER. Outdoor life began that day!

Second choice goes to the power edger. Of course, the manual grass clipper developed a strong handshake, but... the calluses!

Of course, in the "home" where I now reside, I must cofess I look out the window (closed to keep the air conditioning in) and watch the landscaping crew (probably illegal Guatemalans) make the lawn pretty.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Short Paws

We will be gone again for a week. More sitting in a courtroom. This time we should hear the sentence arising from the trial we attended three weeks ago. Be back soon.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America were probably in their heyday just as I reached the age to join. There were three troops in our little town and practically every kid joined one or the other when they reached 12 years of age. One troop was in the rich end of town and we had little to do with them. But the others overlapped in terms of area. Our troop (Troop 12) was “unaffiliated” while our competition was sponsored by the Presbyterian Church. My father, a sound Episcopalian, was on the troop committee of Troop 12, so, of course, that was my troop. We had a good and active troop. I don’t think at the time I ever gave a thought as to why so many of our members were Catholics. And I think now that the “competition” was at the troop committee level. We boys didn’t much give a darn what church anyone went to or what troop anyone joined..

Now that a skillion years have gone by, and I have grown aware, suspicious, and cynical, one thing bothers me. The Scoutmaster was a middle aged man that lived in a very large house with his feeble mother. Up on the third floor he had a “scout room” which he devoted to the scouts. He would have young boys up there to give tests, etc. At the time, the “etc.” didn’t occur to me as anything to worry about. I did wonder why the scoutmaster was dismissed by the committee soon after I left for the Army. But I was such a dork at the time!!

One of the highlights of my scouting career was a father and son twenty five mile hike on the Appalachian Trail. For Westerners who aren’t familiar with the AT – It is a wilderness trail that goes from Maine to Georgia along the mountain chains and only for purposes of getting across highways and country roads does it ever touch civilization. We were dropped off somewhere in New Jersey and picked up four days later somewhere in New York State. We camped out and cooked for ourselves three nights. I suspect that I was terrified and sleepless the whole time. I know I jumped out of my skin the day my father, who was walking in front of me, stepped on a snake and it curled itself up and around his hiking boot. I was doubly scared when he chased it and caught it by its neck to show it to me and prove it wasn’t poisonous. Yeah! But he didn’t know that when he stepped on it!. I bet I almost tippi-toed the rest of the hike.

But if it hadn’t been for the Boy Scouts would I have ever learn the up close and personal beauty of the natural out of doors? And would I have had to learn self-confidence in a less basic way? We took many hikes into the deep woods and I would take my dog on day long adventures into the parks and reservations that existed then. Today the adventurous types buy $45,000 SUVs and drive “off-road”.
I find it a shame that political correctness has deprived so many youth of the virtues of organized scouting..