Lower Pump Prices Can Cause Foolish Vehicle Purchases


The price at the American gas pump is creeping back up, but it’s still at least a dollar a gallon below last year. That’s $15-20 a fillup of regular. Savings add up quickly. Still, over the course of a year of driving say, 15,000 miles it is not an enormous sum–depending on the vehicle being fueled. Let’s say it’s a (relatively) fuel-efficient car that gets 25 miles per gallon. That’s 600 gallons or $600 in savings. So what happens when the gasoline cost drops? People rush out to buy that pickup they really wanted but were avoiding when pump prices went up. So now they get 15 miles per gallon. That’s 1,000 gallons. So let’s say the price at the pump is now $2.50. With the pickup, the driver spends $2,500 on gas; with the car he or she spends $1,500. So instead of saving money, the driver spends $1,000 more! What happens when the fuel costs rise back up further, which we all know they will? That’s right, the driver is further behind.  How many years will the driver own the pickup? Well, if the gas cost goes WAY up, they will sell it sooner. But when they do, they will lose out there too, because of depreciation on the truck. Consumer psychology is a strange and marvelous thing, if you are a manufacturer or dealer; not so much if you are a reflexive buyer. Many people are now keeping vehicles for 8-10 years or even more. Buying and keeping more fuel efficient vehicles really makes a difference over that time span! Yes, there are reasons why you might need a pickup. Living in rural or semi-rural environment it may be essential. Ditto for hauling stuff. But no one really needs a high performance vehicle for street use.

Bill the Bombastic–Is There a Cure for What Ailes Him?

So it has come to pass lo these many years after becoming King of Fox News, AKA False News, Bill the Bombastic has been brought low, to the brink of ignominious defeat by a guttersnipe son of the Mother Jones. What will become of him? Will Roger the Dodger be able to cure what Ailes Bill? Will there come a rescue or reprieve from Saint Rupert of Murdoch, the patriarch of the unfair and unbalanced network? Only his brother in bluster Rush matches Bill’s zeal lambasting lefties and delighting the right. All is true, he says, everything he has ever said during his entire repertorial career. Yet his words on tape, his memories in print in his own books defy reality and the truths of others present when his stories unfold. The Bombastic never set foot in a combat zone in the Falklands; he covered the affair from 1,200 miles away in Buenos Aires. He never saw nuns being killed, except possibly by viewing video coverage later; he arrived a year after the killings. He couldn’t have been outside the door when George de Mohrenschildt, JFK killer Harvey Oswald’s friend, shot himself to death in Florida; Bill was in Dallas at the time. Bill takes nothing back; it’s just the way he told the stories of the events, just the way he wrote it in his book about Kennedy’s death. Neither Roger nor Rupert can help him now, he is on his own. One who skewers  by the word is skewered by the word–his own word.

I have been trying to reduce the political posts here, but this one was too sweet to pass by.  Here is the back story: Once we write down or record our recollections, they become our memories as they are recorded. At one time, they may have been different–not necessarily more accurate, but possibly. The act of compiling and editing them itself alters them, rearranges and replaces the original. So, without excusing Bill, despite what I have just explained, here is the stylized version of current affairs, influenced perhaps just a little by the wizard’s opening narration to Conan the Barbarian. From my political perspective, of course.

Oliver Sacks Undefeated by Death

I cannot pretend I am without fear

Oliver Sacks, 81, recently learned he has terminal cancer. Sacks is a professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine. He also is the author of books such as Awakenings, the true story of his treatment of patients awakening from sleep after decades. The book was made into a movie starring Robert de Niro and Robin Williams. As a doctor, he knows much of death. But that is not what Sacks is focused on for his remaining days.

In an op ed piece in the New York Times, Sacks tells of his predicament and describes his response.

I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

Read the rest of my take on this and a little more of Sack’s words  on a blog post I shared on LinkedIn.

Hope, Cynicism and the Stories We Share

As often told here and elsewhere I acquired the dream of being a writer at an early age. Scifi became an early objective. By the time I had experienced Vietnam and read much of Kurt Vonnegut’s work, dark humor had become a more likely focus. Watergate made that notion all the more likely.  Still, I began a quest for a means to make the world a better place than those innocence destroyers, those illusion dispellers left me with as a cynical idealist. Easier said than done. I found no  answer to regain a positive perspective or hopeful outlook. At least not until I encountered the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism. That’s all detailed in Waiting for Westmoreland, a memoir published several years ago now.  But this post isn’t about my faith, it’s about an article I read on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova, from which I cadged and modified the title of my own post:

Some thoughts on Hope, Cynicism and the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Here is what she says, in part

“To live with sincerity in our culture of cynicism is a difficult dance — one that comes easily only to the very young and the very old. The rest of us are left to tussle with two polarizing forces ripping the psyche asunder by beckoning to it from opposite directions — critical thinking and hope.

Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.

Finding fault and feeling hopeless about improving the situation produces resignation — cynicism is both resignation’s symptom and a futile self-protection mechanism against it. Blindly believing that everything will work out just fine also produces resignation, for we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. But in order to survive — both as individuals and as a civilization — and especially in order to thrive, we need the right balance of critical thinking and hope.”

Popova goes on to establish the task of storytellers, a group among which I count myself at least at times, to make things better.

What storytellers do — and this includes journalists and TED and everyone in between who has a point of view and an audience, whatever its size — is help shape our stories of how the world works; at their very best, they can empower our moral imagination to envision how the world could work better. In other words, they help us mediate between the ideal and the real by cultivating the right balance of critical thinking and hope.

I want to see myself, this site and my writing generally–as much as I can, to be congruent with this quote Popova cites from E.B. White,

“[W]riters do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life”; that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down.”

Read the article. It will make you think–think better thoughts.

Does Boredom Benefit Creative Thinking?

Rodin sculpture, the Thinker
From the gardens of the Musée Rodin









In Fast Company, writer Vivian Giang posts the article “The Science Behind How Boredom Benefits Creative Thought.”  In it, Giang notes that while past studies associated boredom with frustration and a weariness in facing challenging situations recent research suggests that bored people actually outperform others. Pointedly, that this improvement comes from a creative response to the the boring situation. Here’s a quote from the article lead-in:

“Boredom gets a bad rap. Truly amazing ideas and offbeat solutions have often come from endless hours of daydreaming.”

What do you think? Do you agree with the article’s premise that boredom can lead to more creative thoughts? Had any experiences of boredom leading you to innovations?

Get Your Kids Vaccinated; Adults Get a Booster

Toddler with measles






Vaccinations ended measles in America 15 years ago. But now it’s back. Why? Because ill-informed people choose to believe vaccines cause autism or other problems worse than the diseases the vaccines protect against. This despite the fact that the long-ago study of 12 [!} children published in the Lancet has been thoroughly debunked. In so doing, they put others at risk–others, who because of age or health issues of their own are not able to receive immunizations. Those under one year of age cannot be given the shot but can get the disease with the potential for encephalitis or other severe complications. Note that word, immunization. The word means that those who receive the vaccination are immune to the disease the vaccine is for.

Think measles, mumps and rubella are just minor colorful inconveniences producing red splotches on faces. No, not quite, especially for those whose immune systems are compromised (think organ transplant recipients taking anti-rejection drugs, leukemia sufferers and others) or who are too young to receive the MMR vaccine. Read more about this here on this article by pediatrician Sanjeev Sriram, who has no patience with the “anti-vaxxers,” comparing them to drunk drivers. His view may be extreme, but he has a point.

17 Ways to Age-Proof Your Brain

Getty Images, credit from Time article







As the world population ages, at least in the developed countries, keeping the mind young as the body grows older becomes an essential task. The oft-repeated but not entirely comprehensive or effective techniques of playing Sudoku or getting more exercise are not enough. This article from Time, reprinted from Health.com, lists and explains a number of other specifics which may or may not appeal to you, but at least some may be worth considering if you are getting into the boomer years.

The CSRS Medicare Trap

HUH? Okay, if you are not a Federal employee this is Greek to you.   At age 65 you are automatically enrolled in Part A of traditional (AKA “Original Medicare). This is for hospital care. There is no charge for this. You already paid for it through payroll deduction. CSRS (Civil Service Retirement System) employees have Medicare but NOT Social Security taxes withheld from their income.  At age 65, you can choose to also enroll in Part B OR enroll in a Medicare Advantage Plan. Here is the trap for those of you who are married and retired CSRS employees.

  • You choose Part B, for which you must pay a monthly premium (currently $104.90).
  • You have three options to pay this premium
    • by mail (check or credit card) in quarterly installments
    • by debit from your bank or credit union (called EZ Pay)
    • by deduction from your retirement check from OPM
  • The catch: Whose Medicare account applies to you?

Despite the fact that my spouse (the former CSRS employee) paid into Medicare for more than 30 years (and I, several years less), unnoticed by us, the Social Security Administration (which operates Medicare) assigned her to my SSN (same number used for Medicare, with a suffix added). Result, the deduction from her retirement check is NOT possible. Nor, apparently, can her “claim” be switched to her number. Now, what is the big deal you might ask? She is still covered. We can still have the premium debited from the bank. True, but aside from the principle of the thing (which to us is no small matter–since she paid in for all those years) the setup for deduction from her retirement check is a simple, one-time deal. We never have to worry about bank account balance issues, changing accounts, etc.

So, if this may apply to you, look carefully at that letter you get a few months before 65. Check whose SSN is on the information they send you. Take action then, BEFORE all the paperwork is processed.


Snow Falling on Cedars, an Excellent Book

Cover image, Snow Falling on CedarsWhat I found most interesting is the extreme diversity of opinions about the book–ranging from those unable to finish it and seemingly finding it difficult to give it one star to those who found it outstanding. I can only surmise that any writing instructor will tell you–readers bring their own perspectives to a book. If you are looking for serious suspense, crime fiction, action adventure, a spellbinding legal drama or romance, just skip this book. If instead you are looking for a primer on how to develop characters using a literary equivalent of a fugue and see the locale as if viewing it in a Nat Geo documentary, Read this book. It has vivid imagery that takes you to small town (island) life in the Pacific Northwest of fishermen and stawberry growers. It provides a sometimes painful depiction of the racial tensions between Japanese-Americans and the Caucasians of the island community following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the detention of those Japanese-Americans and the lingering animosity among people in the early 1950s. Before the war, all were friends, for the most part. After the war, especially among those who had fought in WWII or lost loved ones during the conflict, resentment festered. Guterson does a great job of showing the reader the conflicts through the eyes of the various characters in the book. All of the exposition revolves around the murder trial of a Japanese-American. From there, characters shoot out like ribbons from a May pole. While not being a lawyer, Guterson does a great job of handling the narration of the legal proceeding. Throughout the book, the author defines each character through one scene after another–never just giving heavy doses of background but bringing out their lives over time. Some might object that some of the racial characteristics are stereotypical or the biases knee jerk; I don’t think so. Rather, I think they show specific people as they really are–warts and all. The back story of the youthful romance between the Caucasian reporter, Ishmael Chambers and Hatsue Miyamoto, wife of the accused, is particularly well done. I would say more about that relationship, but I don’t want to introduce any spoilers.

Toke Up to Save Your Brain


Photo: AP

OK, let’s not get carried away, but prompted by an offhand comment from our eye doctor to my wife that marijuana leads to Alzheimer’s, I had to do a web search on the matter. The doctor wondered why the rush to legalization when “marijuana leads to Alzheimer’s.” Turns out either he had been smoking some OR getting his news from an unreliable source. I quickly and easily found reports of numerous studies around the country and overseas that in fact, the THC-related compounds in marijuana actually may slow or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease! Certain compounds compete to bind with the amyloid plaque receptors in the brain–those which are associated with the ravages of the brain disease, blocking the formation of the plaque. No less a liberal source than Fox News has reported on this! So, just one more in the many medical applications for marijuana. Come on Congress–get with the 21st century an discard your antediluvian attitudes.

Oh, and don’t take my word for this, here is a very short list of the many studies out there, which came out as much as ten years ago:

Eubanks, Lisa M., et al. “A molecular link between the active component of marijuana and Alzheimer’s disease pathology.” Molecular pharmaceutics 3.6 (2006): 773-777.

Campbell, V. A., and A. Gowran. “Alzheimer’s disease; taking the edge off with cannabinoids?.” British journal of pharmacology 152.5 (2007): 655-662.

Aso, Ester, and Isidre Ferrer. “Cannabinoids for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: moving toward the clinic.” Frontiers in pharmacology 5 (2014).

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