Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Parenthood and Paranoia

Blokker on Parenthood and Paranoia On January 19, 2015, a strange item appeared on the Today Show. It seems that someone called the local police somewhere in Delaware to investigate two young children who were walking by themselves through the neighborhood. The police found the children and asked if they were lost. The older of the two, who is ten, told the officers that they were not lost, they were walking home. They do it all the time. The officers offered to take the children home in their car; reluctantly, the children agreed. As I understand it, once the police had delivered the children to their home, the police interrogated their father. Upon learning that this was a common practice for this family – letting the kids walk without supervision for short distances through their neighborhood – around the block, to and from school and the park – the police considered arresting the father for negligence. Social Services was brought in, and their agent threatened the father, demanding he sign an agreement that he not allow the kids out on the streets alone pending the investigation. He refused, wanting to consult with his wife and with an attorney, but the agent threatened to remove the children from the home. The parents were considered negligent. Hearing this, I thought: wait a minute! Are we that scared as a nation that we have accepted the certainty of harm to our children if we do not hover over them like helicopter parents? Is America that unsafe? If this is so, it is not these parents who should be investigated, it is our country. There is a deep and growing shame in our over-protectiveness to the point of paranoia. And who needs foreign grown terrorists to keep us afraid? The mother, on Today, pointed out that walking to school was much safer than being driven. Vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death for children in that age group in America, while abductions, though horrific, are extremely rare by comparison. And most car accidents happen within five miles of home, while walking is undeniably healthy. But this is a side point. The real issue here is the change in America that this story represents. Twenty years ago, our children were encouraged to walk or bike to school every day once old enough. In just twenty years, allowing children to do what our children – their parents – were free to do is now, at least in this instance, considered a crime. Freedoms are eroding quickly enough. To allow our fears to dictate repressive new attitudes adds fuel to an already burning fire. I do believe in an abundance of caution, but this story is ridiculous. H. L. Mencken once said, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the population alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” This story from Delaware serves to prove his point and underline my own growing fear that people in the United States have allowed their fears to rein them in. The story may be only symbolic. It may even be isolated. But the alarm bells are tolling, and they toll for thee.

Monday, January 26, 2015

High Anxiety: GERD, GAD, and Winter Perforations

High Anxiety I have been battling with Acid reflux for a year and a half. I have had it before. Back in the day, about six years ago, I was diagnosed with GERD, which means gastroesophageal reflux disease. This disease caused acids in the stomach to want to travel back up the throat and otherwise cause pain. I took Nexium to control it, and when I lost my weight the condition completely went away. A year and a half ago, it came back, but manifested differently. This time I had severe chest pain related to the gas my body was producing. I had my heart checked out thoroughly to rule out cardiac issues (always an area of concern for me). What was left was a return of the GERD. I expected to battle the condition on a daily basis, like the last time, and my PA prescribed Nexium again. I did expect not to have symptoms as long as I used the drug, but the symptoms continued. They were less severe, but I experienced chest pain almost daily. When I went to my PA (a different lady, same office) to get a new scrip, she became alarmed at my symptoms and ran a blood test. .Guess what? It turns out I have an ulcer. As the French would say, “Quelle surprise!” I have another condition, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder). I worry. I worry a lot. I worry about everything. It’s how I’m wired. Someone might look at my truly blessed life and say, “What do you have to worry about?” Well: Getting the work done. Not getting the work done. Will people read me? Why won’t they read me? How do I get them to read me? Will I be home when Steven Spielberg calls to buy the movie rights? Getting to my job on time. Getting up in time to get to work on time. Sleeping through the alarm clock. Did I set it? Did I set it correctly? Not being able to sleep for worrying about getting to sleep and getting enough sleep. Death (the Big One). The state of the world my grandchildren will inherit. The price of propane in January. The cost of gasoline. Why the cost of gas is tanking. How long that will last. The age of my car. The reliability of my son’s car. Driving in the winter: can I get down the hill without sliding into a ditch? Can I get back up the hill? Taxes (just thought I’d throw that in here). In particular, I worry about Di driving down to work in the middle of the night on icy or snowy roads. I sleep better when I do the driving. The heat in summer. Forest fires. The cold in winter. Will my chickens freeze to death? Wait – I don’t have any chickens – but if I did, would they? Will the roof hold up under all that snow? How much snow? When will it be Spring? And what happened to the rabbits? What’s going to hurt next? Kevin’s health. Jane’s behavioral issues. My health. Diane’s health. My hip, my stomach, my eyes. Cataract surgery – will I blink? Are my kids happy? When will Doctor Who return? Wait, that’s anticipation, not anxiety. Not having money to travel, which means not being able to see people I love dearly for years at a time. Oh, yes, and I’m afraid of heights. But not airplanes. Ronald Weasley might ask, “How does anyone hold that much inside his head?” I worry about that, too, so I make lists. Like Santa, I check them twice. Unlike Santa, then I check them again, reworking and reworking daily. I scratch off each item I have done with great satisfaction, then think of three more things that require my attention. My lists are famous. I even have lists to tell me where my lists are. I just hope my pen doesn’t run out of ink! I’m not fearless, but I do what we all do: push through. Obviously, for me, it has taken a toll physically. Oddly enough, “You have an ulcer,” is good news. It’s curable. Anxiety, however, not so much, and that worries me.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

State of the Union Speech to a House Divided

The State of the Union in a House Divided I watched the State of the Union Address the other evening. I found it remarkable how time and again the Republicans sat there like logs in a row. The only times they stood up were when the President touched upon something patriotic, or the fight against terrorism, or singled out someone in the audience. Even all that good news did not cheer them up, it only made red-faced John Boehner look more miserable. They did not applaud the idea of guaranteeing workers seven paid sick days a year. They did not applaud the idea of equal pay for women. They did not applaud the idea of a tax credit for daycare. They did not applaud the idea of making community colleges tuition-free again. When it came time for the Republican – slash – Tea Party response, their spokesperson, Iowa’s rookie Senator Joni Ernst, harped on your Republican Congress, which you elected, as if winning an election in which only 36 of the eligible voters bothered to show up was a mandate from the people. Hell, that wasn’t even a quorum. I watched the speech on MSNBC. They ran a continual poll during the entire affair, that asked, “Do you agree with what President Obama is saying?” Only once during the one hour speech did the level of approval dip to seventy percent, among independents. Among Democrats, as would be expected, the agreement rate was at 90% or better. Among Republicans, the poll showed a surprising agreement rate consistently at 85% or higher. On the same question posed while the Republican response was being made, their spokesperson scored 30% or less in agreement across the board. Only on the hot button issue of Obamacare did they score reasonable agreement from those participating in the poll, and that at around 55%. But Obamacare is deeply misunderstood and loudly overplayed by Republicans. On what the Republicans hope will be a hot button issue, the Keystone Pipeline vote, agreement was hard to come by in light of the facts: the job creation argument falls apart when most of those jobs will be temporary and when the economy is adding tens of thousands of new jobs a month and has been doing so for, literally, years. Add to that the fact that America has suddenly re-emerged as the number one oil exporter in the world, and the pipeline seems somehow much less relevant. I hope the Republican leadership is paying attention. A different poll taken the day after the speech showed strong approval for the President and his “vision for America” that included 43% of fellow Republicans, a higher percentage than expressed disapproval. The leaders of the party pledge to overturn Obamacare and to pass the Keystone Pipeline bill. Are they that out of touch? Or are we that stupid? The Affordable Care Act is law and, if at first cumbersome, is working. The Pipeline bill will be vetoed. Meanwhile, job creation continues. Rather than looking for ways to protect the one percent from paying higher taxes, the Republicans might better spend their energies convincing the one percent that a happy workforce is a productive workforce – and that access to affordable health insurance and a decent wage are key ingredients to insure that happiness. Temporary pipeline jobs are not our best option. This is not Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party. This is not Theodore Roosevelt’s Republican Party. This is no longer the Grand Old Party. It is just the Old Party; the wood is old and rotten. I particularly enjoyed the President’s suggestion to anyone in Congress who believes a family in America can make ends meet on $15,000 a year: try it. He arrived at that figure simply by multiplying the minimum wage by a forty hour week for a year with the current Federal minimum wage at $7.25 per hour. A family of four would have to earn $10,000 more per year just to reach the poverty line; even at $10.10 per hour, a wage earner would fall short of the poverty line by four thousand dollars if he or she had a family of four to support and was the only breadwinner. Obama was talking to a room filled with millionaires with a base annual salary of $174,000 ($83.65 per hour or $669.20 per day) and the best and most inclusive health care plan in the nation. It would be fun to watch them spend a year without, at minimum wage – sort of a Trading Places scenario. Better yet, perhaps they could vote themselves a pay cut to that level, which might weed out people who are in it for the money. Yeah – like that would happen. The median income for an American is just over $51,000 – three times what a single worker could earn at minimum wage. The median worth for a household is $56,355. A Congressman would be hard pressed even to make ends meet on that. The median worth of a member of Congress is $1,029,505. And yet one in six Americans lives below the poverty line. Twenty percent of American children live in poverty. Our members of Congress do not seem to have their finger on the pulse of real America. They believe they are real America, that everybody gets a new cell phone every four months, a new car every two years, and internet access. They do not seem to accept the moral responsibility of helping the general populace. They don’t see us. Yet the God so many of them claim to believe in told us to help those less fortunate than ourselves, over and over again. There are no exclusion clauses in the Covenant. The Republicans should be careful about what they don’t do. Yes, they won control of both houses of Congress. But that is more a sign of voter disillusionment than endorsement. Ironically, those citizens who failed to vote essentially cast their ballots to continue the same patterns that earned Congress approval ratings in the low teens and a full thirty points lower at any time than the President. . Voters, are you listening? Not voting wastes the one thing you can do proactively to effect change. I know that Democracy does not really exist. Billionaires pick the candidates for us. But our choices still can send a message to the elected. Choose your message carefully and act on it. Not voting is a vote: for stagnation, as proven yet again in the 2014 elections. And shame on those Democratic candidates who did not want the President to campaign for them. His approval rating at the time was hovering around 40%, but Congress was at 12. Shame on us. H. L. Mencken once said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” Our President, however, is no cynic like Mencken. Obama closed his speech beautifully, retaining the hope that we are all one nation as intended. He knows better. He must, especially after six years in the White House battling Congress and barely unspoken prejudice. It is not naiveté that prompted his words, it is holding the American people and their representatives in Congress to a higher standard. Do we deserve his confidence and his optimism? Joseph de Maistre, French lawyer of the early Nineteenth Century, famously said, “In a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve.” An election is coming. Ultimately, it is on us.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Edge of Distraction: DeflateGate

Blokker on Blokker and the Edge of Distraction I hear people say, “Life is hard.” It is, for some; indeed, for many. I can quote statistic after statistic about how hard life is, from varying points of view. I have in the past, and I will in the future. But I cannot say that life is hard for me. There have been difficult moments, but more accurately, life has been inconvenient at times. I have never gone to bed hungry, except by choice and a squirrelly diet plan entered into during my youth. I have never lived in a war zone or a disease hot house. I live in a society in which I am free to complain, at a time when theoretically my complaint could go viral. Life is hard, and I can observe that, sympathize with it, even empathize with it. My poet’s soul can scream at the pain others have felt. But at the same time I count my blessings, which are almost beyond counting. Does this mean I am not qualified to talk about war, poverty and disease, and related subjects like enslavement, terror, ignorance, apathy, and their opposites: peace, kindness, education, and involvement? Particularly after the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish delicatessen in Paris on January 7-9 of this year, which has subsequently galvanized much of Europe into participating in the so-called “War on Terror,” and the resultant increased suspicion of all things Muslim, I have to ask myself as a peaceful resident of Montana in the old Wild West, am I qualified? I have been given the opportunity to think, and the right to speak my mind – to report and interpret what I see. Silence is not an option. Yes: my eyes being open, I am qualified. I see the handwriting on the wall. I did not put it there. It is written in the languages of frustration, hardship, anger, and all too often hatred. It looks like prophesy, but it is not. It tells us what could be and reminds us of what should be. The languages are universal: anyone can read them. the wall surrounds us: anyone can find it. Most of us would rather live safely in the middle, among the herd. I like it there, too, but I live near the edge. But first comes the Super Bowl and DeflateGate Distraction. I’ll think about the world after the party. The world can get along without me for a week or two.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In and Out of The Zone

Distractions, Pseudonyms, and the Work Ethic: The Zone When I want to write, distractions, like the last two episodes of Ripper Street, abound. I can admire someone else’s writing and postpone my own, watching a brilliantly written but seriously underappreciated bit of costume drama. Perhaps Ripper Street’s costumes are a bit too grubby for modern tastes. The setting is the Whitechappel District of London in 1890, perhaps the armpit of the city, or perhaps lower than that. All I know is, the writing and presentation felt careful, concise, and totally entertaining. The show took on several hot button issues, including different forms of prejudice still prevalent today, 125 years later. It also provided an ending (the series was cancelled) that presented the audience with several stories to follow into our own imaginations, and of all the characters only one who found his true nature to be good. The others, even those who seemed to be good, showed their ugliness, and that ugliness led to failure within each of them. This from a bunch of early forensic crime solvers no one watched. I understand about small audiences. My own audience is microscopic. It’s a shame, really: those who have tasted my words tell me how much they enjoyed the read. My friend Jean Saltzman just the other day told me how enjoyable my novel Amber Waves is, and I know she was not just being kind. It is a ripping good yarn. Her opinion is another encouragement to write the sequel, even with the realization that, unless I hook into a major publisher or agent, that book will also sell poorly. But sales or the lack of them will not stop me once the muse strikes. So when I sit down to write, distraction calls. When I answer the distraction – when I watch Ripper Street or some other program or sporting event, or when I am wiping the toilets with bleach at my mini-job, the writing calls to me and offers its own distractions – called ideas – that get hastily scribbled down in the notebook I carry with me everywhere for just such occasions, then set aside for that precious hour or two “when I get to it.” The biggest trouble is that I get so many ideas. When I can translate an idea into a poem or a short piece of prose, I know I can finish in a timely fashion. But when the idea relates to a larger project, like the planned sequel, the notes themselves can be intimidating at the very least. Add to that the constant worry, “Am I really the one to tell this story?” – All of a sudden those distractions can’t come at me fast enough. In that spirit, I often wonder if I should use a pseudonym when I write longer pieces. I ask myself if writing under another name would give me the freedom to be bolder and more honest in my work, protected from the gaze and criticism of the people who matter to me. For example, if I took the name of one of the main characters for my new book as my own, would I have more courage to “tell it like it is?” I still have not decided, and I still use my own name, and I think I am still honest, though not exactly blunt. I also wonder if another name would be more melodic to the ear of a potential reader than my own. If anybody wants to offer me feedback on this point, feel free. Finally, however, an idea or set of words grabs me by the (expletive deleted) and compels me, like the exorcist compelled the demon to leave that little girl. And I write. And nothing will stop me. Be it a poem, a blog, a short story, an essay, or a book, I am now firmly in the Zone, and will be for the duration, and nothing but nothing will distract me unless my dog Meg needs to go outside or it’s time for dinner.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Education in America: A Failing Grade

Blokker on Education in America On the morning of January 14, the Today Show reported that schools in Florida are considering cutting recess times for their students in order to capture more time to train these children how to pass their examinations. 99% of those polled by Today think this is a bad idea. That it is even under consideration clearly indicates what is wrong with education in America. That there is much going badly here is obvious by the study of 63 nations of the world that ranks the United States 36th overall in education, behind Costa Rica. The strangest thing that was said was that there just aren’t enough funds available to add time to the school day. Of course, test scores are useful as yardsticks both of how well a child is learning and how well a teacher is teaching. But the danger is and has been that our focus in education has changed: we now are teaching our children how to answer questions, but not how to ask them. The test is everything. It secures funding (or loses it). It boosts arguments that we are doing well in education when the reality is that we are doing horribly. It encourages children to learn just what they have to in order to pass the test. It does not express concern that what is learned to pass a test can be quickly forgotten, the job done. And as to studying more deeply, forget about it. It discourages curiosity and independent exploration. The level of education has been diminishing throughout the Twentieth Century and well into the current one. If you talk to someone twenty years older than me, you will find it common to have been taught classical languages, history, literature, and philosophies. By the time I was in school, the de-emphasis on classical education already had begun to emerge. Studying classical history, literature and philosophy was still encouraged, but studying dead languages was seen as irrelevant. I studied Latin as an elective, but the fever to shrink what I needed to know had taken hold, and I stopped studying Latin after my first year in college. I did study French as well. Given the choice between French and Spanish, in America it might have been smarter to study Spanish – and I would have been able to practice my knowledge daily, which would have entrenched it for me. By the time my children were in school, classical history, literature and philosophy were being de-emphasized into about two weeks of the school year. They had become irrelevant subjects as the curriculum shrank further. It continued to shrink to the point that many legislators are considering apprentice-like programs to replace a broader education for most people. It would be cheaper and more pragmatic. It also creates more people who do not think to ask questions, or if they do, who are afraid their questions will jeopardize their potential livelihood. I think it is about time Americans faced the facts and stopped calling the United States the greatest country in the world. She is not. It is not patriotic to insist that she is, against all evidence. It is patriotic to say, she could be. According to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, among 27 highly industrialized nations, the US educational system has a failing grade: we rank 22nd in graduation rates, 25th in Math, 17th in science and 14th in reading. Similar studies show similar results. In education we are average at best. The leaders of the future world will not be found in American schools unless they are exchange students. And I have to ask myself, who benefits from a dumb America? As to cutting recess time: it has been shown that recess helps refresh the brain and improves social skills. Without improved social skills, individuals become more and more isolated from each other. Without the impetus to think, they will be more easily controlled. But together, placing our youth into pre-ordained pigeon holes and keeping them isolated will lead to massive numbers of socially inept and even socially hostile groups. Such people might find that fighting wars is just the thing for all that pent up aggression. Will all this result from simply taking ten or twenty minutes of playtime away from our kids? Just give them a smart phone and a new game app. They’ll be fine.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Blokker on Terrorism: Defining our Terms

Blokker on Terrorism: Defining Our Terms The War on Terror goes on and on, through terrible acts and horrific responses throughout the world. The incidents in Paris were just another set in a long string of attacks by fanatical individuals against “soft targets,” that is, vulnerable people without the means of returning fire against the attackers. The other obvious element in such attacks is that the victims are often innocent bystanders, or, in another Twentieth Century term that I hate, “Collateral damage.” The greatest irony for me, in this particular brand of attacks, is that the Koran, to which many of the current fanatics pledge their faith, expressly and strictly prohibits the slaughter of innocents. But the fact is that terrorism targets the innocent. We can go further back, since Moslems, Christians and Jews all are “children of the Book,” to the Ten Commandments, specifically, Number Five. As often stated, what part of Thou Shalt Not Kill do we not understand? There is no fine print. There are no clauses: except on alternate Tuesdays. Yet governments and organizations feel free to order us to kill, and we feel free to follow those orders. Let us be clear at the outset: terrorism is not a philosophy or a way of life, as are so many “isms.” Terrorism is a tactic. It is perpetrated to instill deep fear (terror) to draw attention to a cause or to manipulate others into bending to your will. In today’s jargon most people want to define terrorism as “political or religious violence by non-state actors.” But the definition is broader than that: some want to include any act of unlawful violence or war. This means we have to include state actors. And since war was outlawed in 1928, any war is unlawful, and by extension, a form of terrorism. The origin of the concept itself comes from the Reign of Terror in France in the late Eighteenth Century, from the institutionalized employment of terror by the new government of that country to establish and maintain their control. Terrorism therefore is a relatively new concept, gaining deeper and more expansive meaning in recent times. When the Greeks took the city of Troy, it was understood that they would rape, pillage, steal, vandalize, burn, murder, even toss babies from the ramparts. Civilians were part of the “spoils of war.” When Nieuw Amsterdam faced attack by the British in the 1660’s, it was understood that, if the Dutch resisted, the British would be within their rights to level the colony to the ground and kill anyone within it. To avoid that outcome, military governor Peter Stuyvessant capitulated. The city, renamed New York, thrived as the center of international trade and the seat of progressive Dutch-influenced thinking. The outcome would have been radically different and acts of terror would have destroyed that influence, and been well within the understood laws of the time. The use of terror as a weapon has been a constant in human history. But the concept of terrorism is a modern one. Along with pacifism, genocide, and collateral damage, terrorism grew as a concept in the 20th Century to help define current legal and moral ideologies. But it remains a tactic, and fighting against a tactic redirects the real struggle. That struggle, the reality of human nature, is clearly seen in the historical record. The Nazis institutionalized terror when they turned the center of Rotterdam into rubble on May 14, 1940, and then told the Dutch government to surrender or Utrecht was next. In past battles and sieges, civilians were often targeted, but never so blatantly. The bombing of that city was designed to kill civilians in order to terrorize the population and force the Dutch government to capitulate – and it worked. And terror works every time a Nobody like me thinks, “If I speak my mind will they come after me?” Using this broader interpretation of our term, President Obama and before him President Bush could be seen as terrorists – and are seen that way, by those on the receiving end of mass bombings and drone attacks. Radical Islamists will point to such acts as justification for their own. This is not to excuse those extremists: to paraphrase Stephen King, if they did not have radical Islam (or White Supremacy or some other radicalized cause), they would have to find some other reason to justify murder. The tragedy in Paris is another in a long list of terror attacks. This one is different in that this attack was as much an assassination as anything else: the attackers intended to assassinate specific cartoonists and the paper itself. They only partially succeeded. They failed in this: the French Parliament voted, 488-1, to join the fight against ISIS. Yet it turns out that Al Qaeda in Yemen claims responsibility for the attack. The one dissenter, echoing California Democratic Representative Barbara Lee, who was the only dissenting voter on September 14, 2001: military action will not prevent future terror attacks. History has proven Lee correct. On HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, the guest panel made this critical point: the West is a side show. Even though western soft targets have been pinpointed, and western nations are continually stirred into a frenzy by such attacks, those attacks are as much propaganda as anything else to those who organized them. Hating the West is convenient and useful in recruiting followers. Successful terror attacks are a recruiting tool. Hitler used anti-Semitism to the same effect. But what the radicals in the Middle East want is control – of the Middle East. They want to push their agenda upon the rest of the Moslem world. They see freedom of thought and expression as dangers to the moral center of the world and want to pull the Moslem world backward into what they think is true Islam. In other words, there is a power struggle going on in the region between many factions, and every act of terror is designed to strengthen the position of the responsible faction. ISIS is an organized army bent on regional conquest and willing to do anything to achieve their goal of a separate state, part in what is now Syria and part Iraq. They may be brutal and behind the times but they are not unprecedented. When three thousand Saxon prisoners refused to convert to Catholicism, Charlemagne had them decapitated one by one. There were, however, no children among the Saxon victims and terrorism as a concept did not as yet exist. It was business as usual even for the most enlightened ruler of his time. I see no real difference between a suicide bomber in Iraq, a set of gunmen killing school children in Pakistan, a lone gunman doing the same in Sandy Hook, a neo-Nazi planting a bomb in Oklahoma, nineteen plane hijackers on 9-11, a crazed bomber/shooter slaughtering more children in Norway, and on and on. They all are mass murderers. And all mass murderers are terrorists. Those brutal and ignorant killers can point their finger wherever they want. But terror extends far deeper than acts of random or targeted terrorist attacks. 26 million human beings are enslaved worldwide. Most of them are women pressed into sexual slavery. Terror and the threat of violence is a key tactic in keeping them in chains. And that is just perhaps the most extreme example of how terror can be used against even one individual. It is all well and good to stand up and say, “No more!” But no one has taken either the tactic away, or the root inhumanity within each of us that allows it to have power over us. It would be difficult at best to accept a terrorist calling someone else a terrorist. Ultimately, we are what we do, not what we say.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Buyer Beware: Anti Wrinkle Scam

I don't usually write about specific products, but I want you all to know: On December 31, 2014, my wife and I saw an internet advertisement from Foresight Media on behalf of Ojas Enterprises, LLC, in Newurgh, NY, for Ayur Skin Cream and Wrinkless Cream, touted as a wonder product supposedly approved by both Doctor Oz and Ellen DeGeneres. The ad offered a 30 day free trial for just the cost of shipping. We proceeded to place an order and submit our credit card information, once for each product. The product arrived on January 8, 2015. When we opened the boxes we found an invoice. On the invoice we were informed that by accepting the free offer we were automatically enrolled in their Premiere Club. This meant that the company would send us refills every two months and automatically charge our account. There was nothing in the free trial offer about this club. The letter further stated that the company would not accept any refused packages, and that returns had to have an authorization code given by the company and were subject to a $10 restocking fee per item returned. Nowhere in the letter or in the original advertisement could we find the actual price of the items. Not wanting to be on some automatic program before we even had a chance to discover whether we liked the product or not, we called the company. I talked to a young lady named Aubrey Kay. When I asked for her last name she refused to give it, stating company policy did not allow it. I asked her to remove us from the automatic program. Verbally, she told me she had done so before the call ended, and that we could use the trial product with the company’s compliments. In the meantime I received emails from the company stating that my requests were under consideration. This aroused our suspicions, so today I called to confirm that we were indeed removed from the automatic program. As chance would have it, Aubrey Kay answered. She confirmed that we had indeed been removed from the automatic program. She then went on to tell me that our free trial period was ending today, two weeks after the order was placed but only one week after receipt of the products and not the thirty days stated in the original ad. Since the shipment was actually a sixty say supply, had we not responded today we would have been billed for the full amount -- $99 for one and $130 for the other – and that amount taken from our account automatically. In essence there is no free trial. If this is not strictly illegal, it is certainly questionable practice. It is a scam intended to trap unassuming customers into an expensive program that will remove money from their accounts before they have a chance to stop it. We feel we were misled and lied to, and that you have a right to know Foresight Media practices its business in this manner

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Snow Days

True to form, it has been several days since my last blog. That sounds like something you would say in confession! In fact, as much as I want to get onto a daily writing regimen, I still have not done so. Usually I would be angry with myself for that. I would rant and rave inside my head and become a grumpy bear to those around me. I would grow more and more anxious, and start thinking, “All I need is a solid block of time to get myself started.” I would make all sorts of excuses, and then I would find myself looking for new ways to distract myself, but the work would remain untouched and I would get angrier and angrier with myself. But not today: today I feel really good about both the fact that I am not writing by schedule, and for the reasons why. I start by noting that our second born, Nik, turned 36 today. Where did the time go? I am a grandfather of three, with four thirty-something kids and my bride of forty years. I don’t feel old. Of course, the book says “old is fifteen years older than you are now,” which means, old is always far ahead of you. So I am not old. I just ache a lot. We also took down most of Christmas. Now that was a job. Next: it snowed here in Montana this week. It snowed a lot. It snowed more over the last three days than in any other snow storm we have experienced since we’ve been up here. In Kalispell eighteen inches of snow fell on Monday alone. Xander experienced the first two snow days of his young educational career. In Lakeside they estimate close to fourteen inches. And that means shoveling. It would have been tempting to tell myself, skip the shoveling until after the storm is done. But with the projected snowfall, you worry about the weight of the snow on the decks, and the depth the snow will reach when the last flake falls. The longer you wait, the deeper the snow and the harder it is physically. So I went out each day to clear what I could, even while the snow was falling. It was good exercise, even if it seemed like an exercise in futility. But at two a. m. Tuesday morning a co-worker called to tell me he couldn’t get out of his driveway because it was buried under a foot and a half of snow. I looked outside the window of my house and saw two inches on the deck, all that fell after I had shoveled on Monday – so I was good to go, and I took his shift. I was prepared. Tired, but prepared. Feeling that good inside, it was easy for me to give myself permission not to write for a few more days. Of course, I did not not write: a couple of new poems crawled out of my brain, and an idea popped in for some of the details for the novel I am outlining. I also sat down to watch CNN’s The Sixties, sitting in my DVR since October. I am drawing inspiration from that material as well. Even in the quiet of snow falling my unquiet mind opened itself comfortably but assuredly toward the future.

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year's Evolutions

A new year dawns. I make no resolutions, no promises I cannot keep. I do not pledge, for example, to blog every day this year (I would have blown that one already anyway). I do make plans and give vent to my aspirations: my hopes for 2015. After all, the new year is a moment for Hope, for turning toward the future, for putting aside regret. I have trouble with the last, regret, but I am working on remembering my successes – which are many – and not giving into the Blues. I did indulge myself in the Blues yesterday, but once I got some quality sleep I began to write this blog: looking forward. 2015 is going to be a major year for me. I turn 65 in February. It’s daunting. I used to think that 65 was ancient. But now that I’m nearly there, I feel as though I’m just beginning. Like the t-shirt says: “I plan to live forever; so far, so good.” But I know my days are shorter than they used to be, and fewer in number than once upon a time. And yet, with that reality in mind, I still squander them. We all know our days are finite in number yet we all squander so much of our time. Maybe we need to, to remain healthy and important within ourselves. Kevin, my cat, squanders time like a professional. But he has no legacy to build, no monuments to erect, and no audience to entertain or impress. He’s a cat. He has staff. He spends twenty hours a day inside his own head, napping. He has never once expressed to me concern that his time is wasted. So perhaps “squander” is the wrong word. “Preparing” may be a better choice. Or: “being at play in the fields of my mind.” What we achieve is far more important than the amount of time it takes to achieve it. I remember one critic’s assessment of the composer Richard Wagner: “He lived sixty years, wrote sixty hours of music, of which six hours are brilliant – not a bad trade.” There are a few things I want to improve about myself, a few places for improvement. I tend to forget to be grateful for what I have. And, I lack discipline. I do really want to improve on that: I am way too easily distracted. I seek distractions. Oh look! A squirrel! With more than a little help from my best friend, editor in chief and bride of forty years, and others, I have already given the world a novel, a biography, and a good poem or two, like “Banned in Boston” and “Charles Sorley’s Ghost.” Hundreds of people have seen them. I want the number to swell to thousands, hell, millions – but hey, it’s not a bad trade, and I am only getting started. Squirrels, beware!