Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Holiday Letter

By The Big Guy
Senior Contributor

Dear American Express,

A week ago you sent me an email, asking that I participate in a survey. You stated that it was important to you to listen to the opinions of your customers so you can serve them better. You advised me that the survey would be conducted and information processed by an independent research company, that it would only take four minutes of my time, that it would help you improve your products and services and my experiences with them. Just four minutes of my time.

ARE YOU NUTS???? Let’s assume just for a second that this email and the follow up email and the follow up to the follow up email are actually from you. You want to know how I feel about your products and services? Let’s see. My American Express card was caught up in the Target hack of a year ago. My American Express card was most likely caught up in the Home Depot hack of this past spring. Then a month or so ago you sent me a letter advising me that I should just assume that all of my personal information, not just my name and address but my social security number and my mother’s maiden name have probably been stolen and I should take advantage of your lavish offer of one year of fraud protection for which you would be delighted to pick up the tab. That offer, at best, will provide me with the news after the fact that someone has opened up accounts in my name, that my identity has already been stolen and it’s too late to do anything but begin the process of trying to reestablish my credit rating. All this because you, as a leader of the industry that consumer credit has become, cannot manage to put together a system with all those companies that want to sell me stuff that is safe from a bunch of common crooks with computer skills. So how do you think I feel about your products and services?

Let’s talk about those emails that show up every day, not only from you but also from my bank’s credit card division and from the spam artists who are getting better and better at what they do. Why would you think for a second that I would believe that any of them are legitimate? Why would I answer any of them or click on a link for the opportunity to provide even more information about myself? Don’t you already have enough information? What don’t you already know about me? You know everything I buy and when I buy it. You know what products I use and how frequently. You know where I go to be entertained, where I go to dine, where I go on vacation and how long I stay. You can have your computers paint of picture of me that could even teach me something about my own life. And because you and your industry clientele can’t come up with a system to keep that information safe, you are laying my life out there for the hackers and the identity thieves to see as though I had posted copies of my birth certificate, my driver’s license, my passport and all my credit cards on a facebook page for any damn friend of a friend of a friend to see.

So save the survey. Put your efforts where they belong and fix this mess that you’ve helped create. Merry Christmas.

Sincerely,
The Big Guy 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hero Of The Week

Army Pfc. Seth M. Stanton
Age:  19
1st Squadron
7th Cavalry Regiment
1st Brigade
1st Cavalry Division
Died 17 December, 2006
Balad, Iraq

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

“Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.”

- George Washington, charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Sept. 14, 1775



 "I'd do it again in a minute," said Cheney. He also spoke repeatedly of how the program was justified to get the "bastards" who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Let's Talk Torture

The Senate's scathing report on the use of torture by the CIA came out last week and the reactions from the usual suspects were totally predictable.  Former Vice-President Cheney, suspected by many to be the driving force behind the torture program, called the report "crap" and said yesterday that he would do it again.  Former CIA chiefs rushed to defend the program, insisting that it achieved results.  Liberals were more inclined to use words like "revolting" and "abhorrent". 

You can certainly make the case that those who actually carried out the torture were doing what they were told to do, akin to the Nazi version of "following orders".   The difference being that a Gestapo interrogator who refused orders to torture captives likely faced a bleak future; to their credit some CIA interrogators refused to participate, likely harming their careers.  Somewhere in the upper echelon of the Bush administration were people who were convinced that torture was the way to get the answers we needed to keep the country safe.  This even in the face of an exhaustive CIA study in the early 90's that concluded that torture doesn't work.

At the end of the day nobody is going to be prosecuted or held accountable in any way.  Man has been employing torture against his enemies since the dawn of time and will continue to do so.  The small comfort we may take from this whole sordid affair is that we are likely the only nation on Earth that would so openly self report its violation of humanity.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Board Games Anyone?

One of the perks of our supplemental medical insurance plan is a program called Silver Sneakers.  The plan pays for our membership in the YMCA as well as a variety of fitness clubs.  Once you sign up at one location you can use your membership at all of them, even while traveling.  The idea is that by doing this they will get seniors active and healthier, resulting in fewer doctor's visits and health problems, thus reducing costs.

So yesterday the little lady and I went to the Y to sign up.  Membership entitles one to use any of the Y's facilities, fitness equipment, indoor and outdoor pools, a gym and a wide variety of classes.  No question it is a great deal.  They have all kinds of fitness classes or you can work with their on staff trainer to work up a routine on their fitness equipment.  The young lady who signed us up was very cheerful and helpful, answering all our questions and providing us with a little card with a bar code to put on our key rings.  Just swipe the card reader on each visit and start taking part.  Mrs. Grumpy is  going to try some different exercise classes to see what she likes; I'm going to start by walking laps around the gym, 20 laps to the mile.  I also hope I might find some pick up basketball games with guys old enough for me to hang with.  I have always been fascinated by Tai Chi and they have a class twice a week.  Hey, billions of thin Chinese can't be wrong.

After taking ourselves on a self guided tour of the place, Mrs. Grumpy had a question about classes, so we stopped back at the front desk to talk to the young lady.  After answering the questions, she pointed out that there is a group of seniors who meet every Wednesday morning in the lobby for coffee and conversation.  That's nice, but I think I'll pass.  I'm sociable when I have to be, but I don't go looking for new friends.  She also mentioned that they have an afternoon set aside for games.  Board games.  I can just picture a bunch of old people sitting around playing mahjong all afternoon.  Maybe in another 15 years, but for now, not a chance in Hell.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Holiday Chase

By The Big Guy
Senior Contributor

Boy, I thought I left all that behind. I’m talking about the holiday chase or the hunt for the toy that the kid absolutely has to have now that it has become the hottest toy in America and is no longer available anywhere. Well, perhaps if you have the cash it’s available at a very special price and by very special price I mean a markup so high that the person willing to sell it to you should be wearing a mask because you’ll feel liked you’ve been violated when the transaction is done.

Back in the day and I mean back there when there was barely electricity and land lines were just telephones, I remember running from store to store because I better come home with a cabbage patch kid and it better be cute and it better have brown hair, not yellow hair, not black hair and don’t even think of bringing it home if it isn’t a girl. Then there was the year of Nintendo 64, and standing in line outside Target on a Sunday morning for three hours waiting for the doors to open, the mad dash to the very back of the store where there were probably twenty-five consoles piled up and available for sale to the fifty guys who were standing in that line waiting. Oh, and don’t forget to grab Super Mario and Pilotwings on your way out, Dad, because the game cartridges were sold separately and yes, there were only the two games.

Also back there in the day, we didn’t have guys committing fraud on the internet, mostly because we didn’t have the internet. Instead we had guys with trucks. These were the guys who used to sell cartons of cigarettes without tax stamps on the packs or knock off Gucci purses. Now they were selling fake cabbage patch kids that came from somewhere in Eastern Asia, or Mississippi. They’d just pull up alongside an office building, stop the first guy they saw going into the building and tell him they had a truck full of cabbage patch kids to sell and word of mouth took over. In half an hour the truck was empty, long gone and the money that went with it made selling illegal cigarettes look just stupid. Ah, memories.

So here we are and nothing has changed. Well, we’re dealing with grandkids now. That’s changed. If you haven’t gotten your plush Olaf snowman or your Elsa doll or anything else from the movie Frozen you are screwed. Either that or you’re going to have to find a guy with a truck or the modern day replacement, which of course is the internet. Plenty of folks out there ready to sell you a set of Frozen sister dolls or a Lego Minecraft set or a Zoomer Dinosaur for three or four hundred percent over retail, plus shipping. After running from one Toys R Us to another, hitting the Targets in between, foolishly running into a CVS and hoping for a miracle, you’ll be back there on the internet begging for those guys to take your money and hoping the markup hasn’t hit five hundred percent.

As for me, I got lucky. Used the Target app to narrow down the possibilities and at the third one I got me a Zoomer Interactive Dalmatian Puppy. It wasn’t the one called Shadow but I’ve been given the okay on the change. Victory!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hero Of The Week

Army Sgt. Julia V. Atkins
Age:  22
64th Military Police Company
720th Military Police Battalion
89th Military Police Brigade
Died 10 December, 2005
Baghdad, Iraq

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

No More Worries

Mrs. Grumpy had a doctor's appointment last week and I went along because, well because I had nothing else to do.  It was just a follow up visit about a problem that has been resolved for some time, sort of a wellness check.  That's really not all that important.  It sets the scene for what turned out to be the most important day of my life, and maybe yours.

As we were leaving the exam room the doctor, almost as an aside, asked if either of us was taking aspirin on a regular basis.  If you recall, there has long been a belief that taking aspirin each day may help prevent heart attacks, a belief about which there has been some conflicting evidence lately.  Anyway, he told us about a recently published report of a long term study conducted over many years and using doctors as subjects.  What they found was that long term daily use of low dose aspirin resulted in much lower instances of colorectal cancer and dementia than would normally be expected.

We drove straight to Walgreen's and picked up a bottle of 365 St. Joseph's Low Dose, 81 mg. aspirin, a six month supply with each of us taking one daily.  I can now cross colorectal cancer and dementia off my list of worries.  That was easy.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Better Than The BCS?

All college football fans hated the BCS system of picking the teams to compete for a National Championship.  Which is why there was much joy when a playoff format was announced and a committee appointed to pick four teams to compete for the championship.  Seemed like a good idea.

Then on Sunday the committee announced their Final 4, supposedly the four best teams to fight it out on the field.  I'm not sure this worked any better.  In my mind Baylor got hosed.  The committee chose Ohio State for the fourth and final spot.  It appears they chose a team that can put more butts in the seats and eyeballs on the TV screen over a more deserving team.  If Ohio State had beaten Wisconsin 21-20 would they still have gotten in?  I don't think so.

For the first and last time in my life, Roll Tide.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Unnecessary Death

I don't pretend to know what happened in the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.  We will probably never really know.  But in the Eric Garner case in New York it's pretty obvious what happened.  The man was choked to death.  We have photographic and video evidence to prove it.

Five police officers are surrounding a guy who is suspected of illegally selling cigarettes.  That's such a major crime that five of New York's finest are sent to deal with it?  Apparently Mr. Garner had previous contact with the police for the same offense.  While not excusing the illegality of his behavior, is that a complaint that requires five officers?  Mr. Garner clearly felt the police were picking on him as he can be heard to say "...just leave me alone...".  The officers, instead of using reason and common sense (remember, it's a few cigarettes) decide he must submit and be arrested.  When he objected they wasted no time in taking him to the ground.  One cop immediately applies a choke hold, his forearm clearly pressing against Mr. Garner's windpipe.  As they take him to the ground the officer's arm remains across his throat.  Mr. Garner can be heard saying "I can't breathe".  He said it 11 times.  By the time the cops let up, he was unconscious on the sidewalk.

The coroner ruled his death a homicide.  The NYPD rules forbid choke holds.  The grand jury failed to indict.  Go online and watch the video.  Decide for yourselves.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Holiday Season's Musings

By The Big Guy
Senior Contributor

It seems to me retailers continue to prove that no matter how many hours you are open during the Thanksgiving weekend, people have a finite amount of money to spend. Aside from a few dozen HDTVs and snow blowers, items on sale remain available at the sale prices. Cyber Monday starts on Black Friday and Black Friday runs through Cyber Monday – longer if necessary. So merchants are actually cutting into profits adding hours. Maybe there will come a day when stores are once again closed on Thanksgiving. Maybe reindeer will fly.

I think we’ve reached that tipping point where attorney Gloria Allred should probably just keep a list of all those women who haven’t had sex with Bill Cosby. Ick.

Counting tonight, the funniest person in Late Night television has only twelve shows left and then he’s done. While Craig Ferguson will go on to other things, it will never be in a format that lets him do pretty much anything he damn pleases on TV. So while you can, tune in the Craigers, his sidekick Geoffrey Peterson the robot skeleton, and Secretariat the pantomime horse because, as they say on the show, there’s just a few more weeks of this crap.

Much as I tried not to, I had to go to the Fox (pretend) News website today to check something out. When I was done I showered immediately – twice.

This seems as good a time as any to remind everyone that a week from this Saturday is December 13, 2014 or, that’s right, 12/13/14! So all the early in the century calendar craziness we’ve been tweeting about since January 2, 2003 (There wasn’t any Twitter in 2003, was there?) is finished until January 2, 2103 (and I’m gonna guess there won’t be any Twitter then either) for any of you who think they’ll still be around. Good luck to you all.

The good news: Google is about to eliminate those stupid log in tests where a twisted set of letters shows up that you have to type into a box before you’re allowed to buy One Direction tickets. The bad news: It’s because while you have trouble figuring out if it’s an “r” or an “n,” a “p” or a “q,” the robot doesn’t have any trouble at all. You’ll realize this next time you go to a One Direction concert and the bots have all the seats up front.

I think that’s it. It’ll be interesting to see what comes to a conclusion first: The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson or Cyber Monday.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hero Of The Week

Army Staff Sgt. Henry E. Irizarry
Age:  38
1st Battalion
69th Infantry Regiment
New York Army National Guard
Died 3 December, 2004
Taji, Iraq

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Try It, You'll Like It

I'm not much of a drinker, I'll admit.  I like a beer with dinner sometimes or at a football tailgate, but I haven't been drunk in probably 30 years.  Don't feel the need to get smashed, can't drive, can't carry a weapon and I hate the resulting hangover.  Also, there's very little alcohol that I like.  My parents were bourbon drinkers, usually with coke.  I never liked the taste.  Scotch is even worse.  Like I said, maybe an occasional beer or glass of wine.

Now I've found my drink.  When we visited family in North Carolina in April, they had a bottle of Ole Smoky Moonshine.  Ole Smoky Apple Pie Moonshine to be exact.  I immediately liked it.  When I returned home I found a local retailer that carried it and bought a couple bottles.  Actually, it doesn't come in a bottle; it is sold in what is made to look like the Mason jars that real moonshiners use.  I got in the habit of drinking some each night before bed.  Wasn't helping me sleep, but I liked the taste.  Then I decided to branch out and try their lemon flavor.  Yuck!  Went back to the Apple Pie flavor.  Stick with what you know.

If you're out at your local liquor store (I haven't seen it in groceries) and you feel like trying something new, I would suggest looking over the available flavors and taking a bottle home.  You can drink it at room temperature or keep it cold, but by all means drink it straight from the bottle.  That's how you drink shine.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Big Day For Gun Sales

While you were at WalMart or Target or Best Buy on Black Friday wrestling your neighbors for that 50" TV, a lot of your fellow citizens were buying guns.  According to the FBI department tasked with running background checks, Black Friday has become the biggest gun sales day of the year.  Over 600 FBI and contract employees handle over 175,000 background checks on Friday alone.  That's 3 requests per second, and they predict this year will see an all time record number of requests for checks.

The FBI has 72 hours to approve or disallow a gun sale submitted for a background check.  The problem is that the system is only as good as the information supplied by the states and in many cases that information is not reliable or up to date.  If no action is take within the 72 hours the seller must complete the sale to the buyer, even without an approved background check.

Hopefully, most of the guns that get sold without an affirmative background check will go to what the NRA calls "good guys".  I wouldn't bet on it, though.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving...

...from the whole gang here at Grumpy Old Dog.

If you’re reading this you’re probably somewhere you don’t want to be or think it’s safer to be looking at your device than engaging in conversation…or maybe you need a nap. Perhaps it’s the tryptophan. Just make the best of it because the people who surround you now are mostly just there for the day.

And in the long standing yet brand new tradition of American consumption, don’t forget to stop back at 5:00 PM today when we, like so many merchants in your vicinity, will be open for business with a brand new column at a very special Day Before Black Friday discounted price!

No, not really.

Enjoy your holiday.