Friday, December 23, 2011

Resolutions for the End of Days

Given the official countdown of the Mayan calendar to the End of Time, I’m thinking New Year’s Resolutions for 2012 rise to a level of urgency heretofore unseen.  We have fewer than 365 days now to make our resolutions and get ‘em done. 

We’ve had plenty of warnings and false starts.  We’ve enjoyed reprieve after reprieve what with a new, New Year coming after every old New Year in which we promised but did not deliver.  I confess, I’ve grown complacent.  But no more.  I really mean it this time. 

Commitment-phobes, put your heads down.  No teasing.  Don’t string yourself along.  Don’t say it unless you mean it.  This year’s resolutions may be your last!  You don’t want to wake up careening into deep space on a chunk of newly exploded earth singing, “Is that all there is?” now do you? 

Case in point:  This time last year I resolved to make a pie.  More than that, I resolved to make a pie with flaky crust.  Now I still have a few days to make good on my professed goal, but I find it sad to acknowledge in the last week of December that my convictions were so weak as to rate no effort.  No attempt.  No crust.  No pie. 

Which begs the question as to why I didn’t achieve my, er, fitness goal.  I didn’t make or eat a single pie, and yet I remain hovering near the same pull of gravity as I was this time last year.  What’s up with that? 

OK, yes, I did enjoy assorted portions of pies over the months, but so few, so few!  How could such a dearth of indulgence result in such a flop of resolution?  Of course, I didn’t make a firm note of my actual radius and circumference in January of 2011, so who can say with certainty?  Perhaps I have made progress and can’t take credit.   

I hereby resolve to keep better records as I hurtle toward my demise in 2012. 

And yes.  Yes.  I continue to resolve to improve my degree of fitness.  (I do love the euphemism.  And degrees of euphemisms.)  I’m working with a trainer now and she concurs that I am totally buff under this protective layer of … Tempurpedic foam?   

Therefore, I resolve to stick with my training in 2012 in hopes of seeing some sinew burst through when I clutch a flagpole in my frantic effort to stay on the planet a few moments longer as time runs out and the snooze alarm quits working. 

But this last call for resolutions begs for something striking, something bold.  No ordinary promise will be sufficient for taking into the ever after.  We must do something BIG.  Like mountain climbing.  Or spelunking.  Maybe speed dating!  (I’ll have to check with my husband.  Not sure he’ll buy into the end-of-the-world rationale on that last one.) 

Maybe I’ll resolve to fly in a glider.  It’s not the skydiving I’ve toyed with over the years, but I’d consider it a respectable step in that direction.  I can probably talk my sister-in-law into going with me.  We’ll plan it for mid-December, close to the end, so if it doesn’t go well, we won’t have lost too many of the end days.  

And I’m going to have that Elvis party I’ve chattered idly about over the years.  Count on it.  I went on line today and found blue suede shoes, aviator sunglasses with sideburns attached, even gold-studded white jumpsuits complete with flared legs, stand-up collars and red scarves.  That’s right.  I’ll be Elvis, not Priscilla.  Though there are some pretty cool Priscilla wigs online too.   

Elvis’s birthday is January 8th, as I’m sure you know.  I don’t think I can pull together a soirée befitting the occasion that fast.  So my attitude is that we can celebrate the King’s birthday any time we want.  Given that it might be the last birthday party on the planet serving peanut butter and bananas, I could schedule it for December 22nd, 2012, the actual last day, according to the Mayas.  

My husband will also be Elvis.  He’ll look good.  I’m hoping for a houseful of Elvises, some Priscillas and Colonels…I’m getting a karaoke machine and singing the whole playlist.  I already know the words. 

Lawdy, Miss Clawdy!  What a way to go!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Christmas Love Story

We women have ruined men where Christmas shopping goes.  We’ve taken shopping out of their hands; and we’ll even argue in defense of our mistake, saying they just mess it up anyway.  Which is true, after all. 

But I have a suspicion that men may have tricked us into this arrangement.  It may be just like my brother’s inability to vacuum adequately.  When we were kids and Mom asked him to plug in the Kirby, he always did; but when he finished the stripes were too far apart.  The carpet looked like a lawn mowed by Mr. Magoo.   

Next time, Mom would come around to me on the sly asking if I’d run the vacuum.  Glenn just couldn’t do a very good job, she’d say. 

I actually took some pride and self-righteous satisfaction in my vacuuming until I caught Glenn smirking like Tom Sawyer when he complimented me on my skill with the upright. 

In like manner, we women take the full Christmas list of family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances whom we feel compelled to buy for.  We stew and strategize.  We plan an efficient route of travels between local merchants and malls.  We make forays to and from the car while employing all the recommended security advisories – keys between fingers, head on a swivel, walking briskly, checking the backseat before we get in.  We wrap and ribbon, and sometimes wrap again to mail on schedule for a timely arrival of the gifts to HIS family back east. 

Yes, oh yes.  We’re good.  W. O. M. A. N.  Sing it again.  The men just couldn’t handle it. 

They shop only for us.  God love ‘em. 

My husband and I have an excellent system that takes all the thinking, er, guesswork out of the equation for him.  It would be an awful lot for him, or any husband, to pay careful attention to things his wife admires and comments on in the course of the year, making a mental note, taking private pleasure in planning a surprise for her of something he knows she’ll love.  

Nope.  We put that fairytale to rest about the fourth year of our marriage.  That was the year I was just finishing up with the homemade peanut butter cups on Christmas Eve when he jerked and jumped out of his recliner like a reanimated C3PO.  “Oh my!  We’re approaching the deadline for shopping R2!” he seemed to say in that adorable, befuddled manner.  “We’d best get going!”  

Out the door he went, rubbing his head and patting his pockets.  “I’m going to the hardware store, Honey,” he said, certain he’d duped me completely.   

He was gone a long, long time, came in after dark, apparently empty-handed.  But next morning, parked beside the tree with a bow taped to its handle, was my Hoky.  My very own Hoky.  It’s like a rotary-blade manual-push lawn mower, but for hardwood floors and carpet!  He surprised me after all. 

The following year we devised the system.  Actually, I devised it.  As the season approaches, I scan the catalogs that arrive in the mail.  I circle items I love, but would not buy for myself – this sweater, that pinky ring, these plush boots, that chunky necklace.  I tear out the pages and save them until Black Friday, when I give him the sheaf of papers and say something coy like, “Honey, any one of these things would make such a lovely Christmas gift.” 

I believe I see relief in his eyes, and gratitude, as he accepts the pages like Moses receiving the tablets.  He turns away, shoulders hunched, as though to hide them from my prying eyes.  We never speak of the exchange again. 

I always give him lots to choose from, so I never know what he might select.  But he can’t go wrong.  That’s the beauty of it.  It’s a sure-fire surprise, and a guaranteed happy ending to his stressful holiday season.   

He almost always buys a couple of items from the lineup.  And he’s even taken to doing his own wrapping, usually on Christmas morning.  He’s careful not to square the corners too well, and the tape often gets bunched up and crumply.  It’s his trademark.  Wouldn’t want to get too good at it.   

Am I enabling him?  Yeah, probably.  He could do it on his own if I put my foot down and tapped my toe.  But what’s the fun in that?  

We have a win-win in the real world.  It's even romantic in its own way.  We should all be so lucky. 

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The War's Ended ~ Where's the Celebration?

When you go to the Washington Post’s online newspaper, you encounter tabs across the top of their home page:  Politics, Sports, Entertainment, National, World.  Click that “World” tab and you get a drop down menu with pages for your purusal including:  Africa, the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and War Zones. 

It clarifies so much, doesn’t it?  The need for a tab, a page, an entire section of the Washington Post called “War Zones.” 

I clicked on the War Zones tab, scanned the Wall Street Journal and Politico, flipped through the San Francisco Chronicle, my local newspapers, even checked Al Jazeera English, to read what I could about the celebration of the end of the war in Iraq.   

After almost 9 years and more than 1 million United States soldiers cycling through combat assignments, President Obama put a period at the end of the run-on sentence of this war.  The path of the Iraq war began with George W. Bush and the search for weapons of mass destruction; zigzagged its way through to the capture of Saddam Hussein; was redefined in terms of security and “peace keeping” during civil insurgencies; incorporated ferreting out al-Qaida; ultimately settling into the nation building we commit to whenever we leave a conquered country, or a quagmire that sucks at our feet. 

To be sure, there’s hope for a better life for the Iraqi people.  The fact that so many Iraqis just risked their lives to vote in free elections that would have been impossible before this war is testimony to a growth of enlightenment.  We deserve credit for that.  The human right and the inborn urge to be free have asserted themselves, thanks to us.  Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki represents a more inclusive government, though some are dubious of his facility as a leader, his long-term intentions, and our continued ability to influence him away from Iran.   

The Iraq war left nearly 4,500 US soldiers dead and more than 100,000 Iraqis killed.  Severe, life-changing injuries to bodies and minds on both sides defy enumeration.  And to be pragmatic, if crass, US taxpayers laid out nearly $1trillion for this war.  That’s 1,000 x $1billion.  We spent $1billion one thousand times on this war.   

But the headlines of the past few days have been striking, whether on the front pages of major print news sources, online publications, or cable and network news teasers:  An alleged pedophile at Penn State waived his right to a preliminary hearing; Federal fines issued to Chuck E Cheese for violations of Child Labor Laws; GOP blah, blah, blah; NTSB recommends a total ban on cell phone use while driving; Time magazine announces “The Protester” as its Person of the Year; oh, and President Obama put an end to the war in Iraq. 

That’s it?  That story blends? 

Where’s the parade?  I want marching bands!  Fireworks!  Times Square!  Ticker tape!  I want to express my joy and relief in the streets with the ecstatic masses.  I want to kiss a soldier for a picture that will live a long, long time.  The war is over!  The war is ended!  Our soldiers are coming home! 

Maybe there will be some of this today, the day of my deadline, before this column reaches your doorstep.  Maybe today, when President Obama speaks to US troops returning home to Ft. Bragg, representing the last few thousand waiting their turn to board transports home, maybe at that moment spontaneous celebrations will explode across the country.  Our joy cannot be contained, can it? 

At the very least, the Washington Post will have to update its menus.  Their webpage manager will have to take Iraq off the War Zones drop down.  Iraq will now be part of the regular Middle East section, reporting recovery, growth, success, achievement.  Right? 

The now-staunched drain on our budget will become be a boon to the economy, right?  One thousand times a billion dollars can now be diverted to health care for low-income children, salaries for teachers and firefighters, scholarships and Pell grants for university students.  Certainly we’ll soon see improved medical services for veterans…right? 

I’ll meet you on Main Street with my party hat and an American flag.  We have a lot to celebrate. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

US Post Office ~ Darned If They Do...

I’m trying to muster up some nostalgia for the US Postal Service.  It’s not dead yet, but it is staggering around, clutching its chest.  The handwriting is on the cyber wall:  The check’s not in the mail. 

Depending on who you talk to, the US Postal Service lost as much as $7 billion dollars this year.  Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe says they can’t wait around to take corrective action, though one wonders if the loss was sudden, or if he just now noticed that $7 billion slipped through the PO’s fingers.   

Its decline has been steep in recent years.  The USPS reported delivering 216 billion pieces of mail in 2006, and only 177 billion pieces in 2010.  Sounds about right:  I get almost half my junk mail electronically now.  What with e-banking and e-shopping, e-soliciting and e-advertising, the need for hard copies of almost everything has plummeted.  That saves plenty o’ reams o’ paper.   

The cost cutting measures under consideration at USPS include closing some 3700 post offices and half its processing centers around the country.  We’re warned that these closures will result in slower delivery of letters.  I don’t think this is going to bother me too much.  Ever since I switched to on-line streaming with Netflix, I’ve quit looking for the speedy turnaround of hard copy mail.  In fact, it kind of creeped me out when that distinctive red envelop reappeared in my mailbox even if I’d only turned my head to sneeze. 

And let’s say delivery of letters goes from one day to two or three days, it’s still pretty impressive.  What a bargain, for one thing.  I’ve written a letter to my girlfriend in North Carolina.  Will you pick it up at my house Monday, please, and drop it into her mailbox on the east coast on Wednesday?  Oh and here’s 45cents for your trouble.   

Reports are that the PO could wipe out its entire $14 billion deficit by raising first class rates to 63cents per ounce.  Whoa, you might say.  Another 15cents, just like that?  No way.  But consider mailing across country at FedEx’s $8.66 for one-day service, or UPS 2-day air service at $19.72. 

What’s more, the Post Office is an icon of mainstream living in the United States.  When I was a kid, I saved up my box tops and sent away in the mail for a Detective Dick Tracy decoder ring.  The “sending away” constituted a mystery in itself since I couldn’t comprehend what General Mills was and the 6 weeks return time comprised half the summer.  But even if the ring itself remains a letdown parallel to sugar-free chocolate, its delivery by mail was magic. 

As a supplement to the book mobile my mom subscribed me to the Weekly Reader delivered by US mail.  The miracle of having grown-up mail arrive with my own little girl name on it thrilled me.  

The USPS made possible my childhood membership in the Audubon Society.  Full color glossy pictures of exotic birds made me a nerd before I understood the implications.  Thanks Mom.  No, I mean it, thanks.  Birds still provide elegance and fascination. 

The US mail afforded an early sense of adulthood:  My first gas and electric bill – not exactly ecstasy, but a validation.  Kind of like that first book of pre-printed checks.  I have a bank account.  So I must have money.  I have bills, therefore I am. 

Of course the "yippee!" drained out of that scenario in short order.   

In 2011, I maintain hand-written correspondence with the 95-year-old mother of a friend of mine, and with my husband’s second cousin in Scotland.  It’s a lovely, sort of Victorian sensation, quaint, almost genteel, to discover their letters in the box.  Sure, sometimes I think it might be nice to trade emails with them.  But if something were to happen to either of them, I won’t be holding my HP touchscreen monitor to conjure up their memories. 

If the Postal Service closes its doors, I’ll miss my mailman, er, letter carrier.  We’ve gotten acquainted since I retired.  He’s a nice man.  It’s impressive how much he knows about our town’s history by virtue of his years crisscrossing the neighborhoods.

These reminiscences are premature, of course.  Since Congress has to approve any recuperative actions before they’re implemented, it’s unlikely we’ll see any change at all in our lifetimes.  But inaction creates a catch-22:  no cost cutting leads to bankruptcy, and full circle back to nostalgia.  

Oh, the irony.   

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dinosaurs Loved Thanksgiving

Back when I was a high school principal, my blood pressure spiked, for about 13 years.  But that’s not what I want to write about. 

One of the things that used to work my nerves back then was holidays.  Not actually the holidays themselves, but the school days off.  No, I loved the days off, so let me try again to get closer to the object of my administrative vexation:  Over the years I observed that parents and therefore their students, even teachers and staff padded their holidays:  If we had a Monday holiday, absences shot up the on prior Friday.   

When Thanksgiving break comprised Thursday and Friday, folks took off that Wednesday.  Then, when the District conceded Wednesday, absences Monday and Tuesday skyrocketed.  In the latest stage of progressive excess, when Thanksgiving break became a full five days plus two weekends for nine, students and staff tacked on a Friday travel day!   

Proverbs crowded my crabby, principal’s mind:  inches and miles, slopes in bad weather.  Cat’s away…oh, never mind. 

What I’m really getting to is Black Thursday Night.  Must we have Black Thursday Night?  Black Friday sidled up next to Thanksgiving long ago, establishing an uncomfortable cohabitation of the holiday weekend – pure gratitude bumping up next to pure materialism.  Awkward, but separate and distinct.  Acceptable perhaps, as necessary and reasonable. 

But Black Thursday Night intrudes on Thanksgiving, the gentlest of holidays, except maybe Arbor Day.  Black Thursday Night seized the perfectly good tradition and milestone of Black Friday and stretched it out of shape.  Both Thanksgiving and the start of the shopping season are now distorted.  They don’t resemble themselves anymore and my ACE inhibitors can’t quell my exasperation. 

So, I’m casting about for someone or something to blame:  Even though retailers are the frontline perpetrators, it’s hard to impugn them in these economic times.  They’re laden with anxiety and struggling to survive.  They’ve been waiting to get into the black for long months of slow and slower. They say competition from 24/7, 365-days-a-year internet shopping caused them to throw open their doors on a day once sacrosanct from crass acquisitiveness.   

Brick and mortar retailers cite internet vendors’ encroachment into their formerly secure territory as justification for the creeping growth of their hours of operation.  But cyber sellers only identified and capitalized on the shift of tech-minded shoppers.  In 2011, even Luddites are browsing online!   

So “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” as Abraham Lincoln put it when he established the national holiday in 1863, has shrunk again.  That’s right, again; Black Thursday Night is not the first finger to be pulled from the dyke protecting our reflective and peaceful respite.
In fact, it was Franklin Roosevelt who first tampered with the ideal by moving Thanksgiving from the last Thursday, to the fourth Thursday in November in an overt attempt to lengthen the holiday shopping season and bolster retail sales during the Depression. Maybe we should get it over with and move it to the first Thursday after Halloween.
Black Thursday Night, effectively the holiday’s demise as a no-shopping interlude, stems from a steady retreat from wide spread blue laws that once banned shopping not only on Thanksgiving and other major holidays, but also on Sundays.  Today Massachusetts and Rhode Island are the only remaining states to restrict shopping on Thanksgiving.
Black Thursday Night steals a little bit of beauty from Thanksgiving.  It dilutes the meaning and intent.  Thousands of petitioners agreed with Anthony Hardwick, the hourly employee who asked Target to abandon its plans to join the merchandizing blitz.  His efforts were heartening, but alas.  The levy is tumbling down. 
The frenetic and cutthroat environment created by these midnight sprees seems to contribute to the awful episodes making headlines around the country:  Parking lot robberies, shootings, and stabbings; shoppers trampling each other to get at advertised loss leaders; a grandpa accused of shoplifting during the chaotic rush for discounted merchandise; a mother pepper spraying other shoppers to gain an advantage in the surge to buy an Xbox. 
This battle is lost already.  I know.  As Pogo surmised so long ago, “I have seen the enemy, and he is us.” 
We comprise the herd.  We’re the peers who apply the pressure and give into it.  We’re the extinct species whose passing we lament.
I guess I’ll just take another pill.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thank You, More Please!

I saw a sweet little movie with the title, “Happy, Thank You, More Please.”  It tells three love stories in vignettes with quirky characters and novel circumstances.  Nice.  Not mainstream.  

One of the characters, a beautiful woman with alopecia, (I said they were quirky) has an epiphany during a cab ride.  The cabbie turns to her and, apropos of nothing in particular, says, “The universe is steeped in abundance of all good things.  When you feel this, say, ‘Thank you; more please,’ and you will begin to experience more of the abundance.” 

And then she does just that.  She becomes more thankful, expresses it, asks for more, and receives it. 

Now, I never had that epiphany.  I hardly ever ride in cabs, for one thing.  But I try to be conscious of and express my gratitude daily.  I am thankful for so many things…and they just keep coming. 

Just now I’m thankful for the view from my window as I write this column to you, Dear Reader.  (I’m thankful for you too, by the way.)  I can see the water of the Carquinez Strait made silver by the afternoon sun with clouds’ intervention.  Any moment, a dazzling, golden, heavenly shaft of light might break through inviting spirits to soar.  There is little wind, leaving the water to ripple as it does with a rising tide.  Lovely. 

My Burmese kitten Uma sleeps here on my desk.  She’s a wheezer; so little squeaks match her rising chest on the inhale.  I’m thankful she doesn’t wake up and pace back and forth across the keyboard as she often chooses to do while I write.  I’m also thankful for my new, all-in-one touch screen computer on which she can cut and paste text with a brush of her furry little butt.  She changes the font size and stands on the space bar when her Inner Kitty calls her to do so.  I’m thankful that the IK rests quietly in the moment. 

On vacation this week, my husband works just down the hall.  He’s putting knobs on the doors and drawers of the cabinet he installed for me in the laundry room.  He’s skilled, meticulous, and patient.  His work is excellent and wherever you look in our home, you can see the improvements he’s made for us.  Thanks Honey. 

Our son is healthy and making his way in the world.  Not as fast as we’d like.  Not always in the direction we’d like.  But in spite of his struggles and his side trips, his big heart, quick mind, generous spirit, and loving nature shine the brightest.  Thank God for a good kid.  Thank God. 

Thank God for the US Congress.  I don’t know why, exactly.  I still hold out hope that somehow the rancorous spell of entrenchment will be lifted and their mission and selflessness will kick in.  I say thank God for the Occupy movement.  In spite of their foibles, they show us courage and call us to speak out.  I guess I’m just glad, still and always, to be born and living in the United States of America.  

I’m thankful that whenever I want I can drive my fine car to a grocery store, tantamount to Disneyland for a poor nation, and buy a fat turkey and fresh green beans.  Thanks to my mom, gone since 1977, I can make savory stuffing and gravy without lumps.  I’m grateful to be able to give a little bit to our food banks.  So lucky to be on the giving side. 

I’m thankful for and miss my Oklahoma family at Thanksgiving:  My brothers so tall and handsome and smart and funny.  Their beautiful wives.  My nieces and nephews so sweet and dear.  My stepmother, our only surviving parent or grandparent.   

My California in-laws are about the best a person could ask for.  Compared with my raucous family, they seem quite reserved, even genteel.  They’ve taken me in with such kindness.  I am very thankful for that.  Special thanks for my father-in-law, now 91 years old and precocious.   

I’ve held onto childhood friends and find new friends to be revelations.  Such mighty blessings! 

And so to mark Thanksgiving, I say to the Universe:  I’m happy, thank you.  More please.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

To Breathe or Not to Breathe

Exhaust fumes kill brain cells! 

It’s not as if we didn’t know.  Or that we somehow felt OK about sucking in diesel vapors and billows of petroleum rich emissions while we sat stacked up at the toll plaza with James Taylor on the airwaves.  Damn!  This traffic jam! 

But now, the Wall Street Journal reports that commuters in high traffic corridors are spending record amounts of time inhaling tailpipe gases.  In fact, drivers traveling the 10-worst U.S. traffic corridors each year spend an average of 140 hours breathing in and out behind the wheel, idling in traffic.  That’s a month’s worth of grey matter, up in smoke.   

And it’s not just 'rush-hour' congestion anymore, what with midday and overnight traffic jams accounting for almost 40% of total delays.  The wait in line for an average commuter rose to 34 hours in 2010.  In the 15 largest urban areas, commuters wasted 52 hours every year, each burning 25 extra gallons of gasoline.   

Researchers suspect that the tailpipe exhaust from cars and trucks—especially tiny carbon particles already implicated in heart disease, cancer and respiratory ailments—may also injure brain cells and synapses key to learning and memory. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any synapses or cells to spare. 

And guess what?  The Washington, D.C., area had the most wasted hours for commuters last year, the most exhaust fumes taken in, the greatest number of brain cells compromised and the maximum number of synapses snapped. 

It all adds up, doesn’t it?   

Rick Perry can’t remember the government agencies he’d scrap if elected president:  Let’s see…Education, Commerce, and…doh!   

Herman Cain has “so many things twirling around in his brain” that Libya doesn’t sound familiar.   

Perry said, “Oops;” Cain swatted gnats.  They could have blamed their campaign dampening brain freezes on traffic in the beltway!  After all, these new public-health studies and laboratory experiments suggest that traffic fumes exact a measurable toll on mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability.   

Congressional gridlock may be due to rush hour gridlock!   

Oh, right.  Perry and Cain aren’t in Washington.  Traffic must be horrible on the campaign trail. 

Remember the research that cautioned us against buying a car built on a Monday?  The hangover effect:  Assembly line workers needed a full workday to recover from their weekend.  The cars they put together on Mondays manifested problems reflecting their diminished mental capacities, maybe the residual effects of too many brews. 

This new research could be extrapolated to conclude that bills passing Congress on Tuesdays may be similarly suspect:  Tuesday is the busiest morning peak period for traffic backups and fume inspiration.  Woozy legislators make cloudy laws.   

Pedestrians and bicyclists need also beware:  The Journal reviews recent studies that show breathing street-level fumes for just 30 minutes can intensify electrical activity in regions of the brain responsible for behavior, personality, and decision-making.  No question where this will end up ~ in the courtroom.  It’s the next Twinkie defense!  Air pollution made me do it.  No wonder road rage is on the rise. 

Scientists say they don’t know yet whether regular commuters breathing heavy traffic fumes suffer any lasting brain effect, but it seems likely.  Just look around the office.  You can spot the long-term, long-range commuters.  They’re the ones with the hazy eyes, vague expressions, and crabby attitudes.  They can’t complete a sentence without taking a swig of their dark roast Kona and gasping like Perry Mason.  Best to steer clear until research provides us a better antidote than caffeine.  It may be exacerbating the syndrome. 

The scary thing is exhaust fumes can extend farther from roadways than once thought.  Traffic fumes from some major L.A. freeways for example, reached as far as 1.5 miles downwind—10 times farther than previously believed.  It’s creeping into homes, parks, even schools. 

Children in areas affected by high levels of emissions scored more poorly on intelligence tests, were more prone to depression, anxiety, attention problems, and were twice as likely to have autism as children growing up in cleaner air. 

Thank Heaven researchers are exploring ways to alleviate traffic and its toxic exhaust.  Some simple solutions ~ E-Z pass carpool lanes, rerouting cars away from high congestions areas ~ already provide significant improvement.  

Children need their brain cells!  They have a long way to go.   

You and I may just have to hold our breath.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Power of 11 ~ The Meaning of the Day

The sunspot cycle is approximately eleven years.  I thought you might want to know.  After all you don’t want to go through life unaware of the implications of high vibrational numbers and their attendant events, do you?   

The number 11 itself seems to be a big deal. 

This week’s date, 11/11/11, Friday, November 11, 2011, is a “high vibrational day.”  Your connection to the spiritual realm is heightened.  Just sayin’.  Or, more precisely, the numerologists who calculate and track these things are sayin’. 

It’s a good day, so say the sooth sayers, for insights and prophetic visions.  You could even find clarity about something that has eluded you.  Hmmm…so many elusions, so few 11-11-11’s. 

Most predictions and superstitions concerning 11/11/11 are rooted in its mathematical uniqueness.  Basic mathematics reveals some interesting peculiarities relating to the number eleven.  To wit:  Multiplication of 11 - 
(2 digits) 11 x 11 = 121
(4 digits) 1111 x 1111 = 1234321
(6 digits) 111111 x 111111 = 12345654321
(8 digits) 11111111 x 11111111 = 123456787654321 

Blackjack players love the number eleven.  Time to double down!  Dice players fancy the number eleven.  On the come-out roll, it’s as good as the number seven. Number eleven is a popular lottery number, resulting in the per-person payouts being below average when eleven is one of the winning numbers. 

According to those numerologists, we should open ourselves to receive higher order messages on this day.  Be sure, they say, to look at the news events of the day for special meaning. 

You know, I’ve been looking at news events for a long while, hoping to discern some distinct connotation.  Most of the implications seem instead mundane, if not dreadful:  History repeats itself.  And:  History repeats itself. 

It’s no true wonder that the human spirit longs for special meanings, special dates, signs and omens.  We search the horizon for any indicator, any marker that something singular will occur to lift us up, enlighten us, improve our prospects.  

There are media reports that businesses around the world are having 11-11-11 sales, discounts, and deals today.  No doubt some of those sales will extend through the weekend.  That’s a signal that there’s good shopping.  Churches booked weddings for this date in record numbers.  That portends continuing hopefulness. 

My web search found an “eleven expert” with the moniker “paradigmsearch” who declares that for the date 11*11*11, there are only three possible scenarios: 

1. Something good happens — there is no scientific basis for this belief.  Nor are there any known logical premises for this belief.  The belief that something good will happen on this date is based solely on spiritualism, faith, or innate optimism.  This belief is not necessarily a bad thing.  We don’t know everything, intones “paradigmsearch.”  The probability is not zero that something really cool will transpire. 

2. Nothing remarkable happens — this is the most likely scenario.  Just because an unusual date / number sequence occurs doesn’t mean that something extraordinary will happen.  Most often, such a date constitutes a non-event. 

3. Something bad happens — there is no scientific basis for this belief either, thank your lucky stars!  There are no known logical premises for this belief.  The belief that something bad will happen on this date is based solely on pessimism.  But, this belief is not necessarily false; after all, things are most often a mess.  The probability is not zero. 

Kind of a buzz kill that paradigmsearch guy.
But we must not overlook what is vital about this unique date, something that can uplift us and offer hope:  November 11th marks Veterans’ Day. 

Veterans’ Day commemorates the end of “the war to end all wars.” 

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France.

Fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  

President Eisenhower later signed a bill to change the name from Armistice Day to Veterans’ Day, shifting the focus from an ideal concept, armistice, to our revered troops. 

For my part, I pray that nothing bad happens on this Veterans’ Day, 11-11-11. 

I pray that Veterans’ Day will not slip past as a non-event. 

I pray that a high vibrational insight occurs in the psyche of human beings as we pause to reflect on the sentiment of armistice:  End all wars.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

So Many Heroes, Such Tiny Stamps

You don’t have to be dead to be appreciated.  Not any more anyway. 

Up until January of 2007, the US Postal Service required that a person be deceased for 10 years before appearing on a commemorative stamp.  That year, the rule was relaxed to five years deceased before such an honor.  (By USPS tradition, former presidents have always been remembered on stamps the year following their deaths.) 

But now, hoping to boost its sagging revenues, the US Postal Service has abandoned its long-standing rule that stamps cannot feature living people.  It’s a first.  It means that living sports stars, writers, artists, and other prominent people could take their places in postal history along with the likes of George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., and Marilyn Monroe. 

The postal service got into its financial bind at least in part because of the near complete abandonment of “snail mail” in favor of email.  So there’s irony in the fact that the USPS issued its invitation for nominations of living people to be depicted on new stamps on their Postal Service website, as well as Facebook and Twitter.   

Suggestions for commemorative stamps already came in via traditional pen-and-ink submissions at the rate of 40,000 per year.  Now that the electronic call has gone out for suggestions as to whom Americans think should appear on the next round of commemorative stamps, it’s hard to imagine how many ideas will stream through the newly opened automated floodgate.  Who’s going to sort through all that stuff?  Maybe that person should have a stamp! 

On-the-street interviews and my own informal survey drew ideas for honorees from across the spectrum:  Michelle Obama for her work on childhood obesity.  Charlie Sheen, “an American icon.”  (Uh, winning?)  Lady Gaga for her creativity and individualism.  Jimmy Carter for his humanitarian work.  Alice Waters for all that good food. 

Steve Jobs.  Of course!  So sad that he passed before he could receive this particular recognition.  The thought that follows immediately is Mark Zuckerberg.  Life-on-earth changing guy.  Bill Gates.  His philanthropy may be the legacy that gets his face on the forty-three cent-er. 

Comedian Stephen Colbert has already begun his own campaign to become the first living person depicted on a government-issued postage stamp.  He has proposed a “Farewell to Postage” stamp sporting a photo of himself holding a smartphone with an email message to the Postal Service: “See Ya!” 

If fake newsmen are allowed, I’ll vote for Jon Stewart.  George Carlin should already have been “stamped,” along with Richard Pryor.  Other entertainers might be shoo-ins:  Meryl Streep, Halle Berry, Ron Howard, Francis Coppola, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney.   

Perhaps the opportunity presents itself not only for those living folks who already get lots of attention and accolades to get even more recognition, but also for the rest of us middle class schmos to be acknowledged for the following the rules and doing what’s right.  We make the country work.  Put a face on us and that face on a stamp, because gosh darn it, we deserve it. 

Seems like categories of honorees are called for:  Educators, of course.  It might be amusing to show a frazzled middle school teacher trying to coax a seventh grader’s homework out of a dog’s mouth.  Or how about a high school principal throwing a wet blanket at a Homecoming Dance?   

Moms!  Without question moms should get a stamp.  I’d like my mom to represent all the single moms who struggled to provide for their children.  Dads too.  Modern dads engaged with their kids.  Nurses and doctors deserve a nod for their devotion to others. 

Why not stick representatives of American life and cultural phenomena on the corner of an envelope:  Someone who danced with the stars, got lost, hoarded, picked, or remodeled.  No!  The Biggest Loser!  Perfect.

Don’t overlook the over-looked:  sanitation workers, baristas, dry cleaners, and convenience store clerks.  Postal workers themselves! 

What about those who are so often maligned?  Lawyers?  DMV clerks?  No?  Oh well. 

Today the early commemorative stamps are prized by collectors.  But back in the day, the appearance of commemorative postage stamps caused a backlash among some stamp collectors!  They balked at the prospect of laying out ever-larger sums to acquire the burgeoning proliferation of stamps.  So in 1895 they organized to blacklist what they deemed to be excessive stamps, forming the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps.  Really.   

We might need a curmudgeon stamp.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween with the King

My husband quit wearing his pig mask.  For years he kept a full rubber headed, blunt-nosed, cigar-smoking pig mask near the door on Halloween.  When the tiny Tinker Bells and Bat Men approached in innocent anticipation and rang our bell, he’d rush into position; sweep the snouted face over his head, swing the door open, and growl.  What pig growls? 

The tiny trick-or-treaters, stunned mid-sentence, could only step back and stare.  Their parents would press forward just in case the need arose to swing into protective action.  But it was all in good fun, ha ha!  We kept lots of Snickers and Milky Ways in a large jack-o-lantern bowl, and never rationed the kids.  It’s the least we could do to compensate for the confusion.

Now, that mask, wadded up and stuck to its latex self, jams a corner in a box in the attic along with residual spider webs, my witch’s pointy hat, and a life-sized, glow-in-the-dark plastic skeleton.  It’s just as well. 

Our claim to Halloween glory, my husband’s and mine, was the year we won the costume competition dressed as “Pat.”  You remember Pat, don’t you?  The androgynous character from Saturday Night Live who creeped everyone out because you could never be sure:  Was Pat female or male? 

Pat had short-ish curly black hair; so we bought wigs.  Pat was heavy; so we padded ourselves – this was back in the lean days, you understand.  Pat had breasts, though it was never clear if these were man breasts or woman breasts; we incorporated accoutrements for the illusion. Black horn-rimmed glasses, matching blue plaid snap-button western shirts, Wranglers, and boots completed the ensemble.  

But the crowning touch was Pat’s wheezing, whining voice.  My husband perfected it.  He spoke for us both all night long.  The voice, and the self-caressing gestures that made the judges cringe, blink, and pull away as though they’d just inhaled a big whiff of yellow onion, secured the trophy. 

Aahh.  Those were the days. 

In my heyday, I dressed as Andy Rooney, the Living Dead, even punk rocker Sid Vicious – or at least someone he would have hung out with.  One of my students spiked my hair in what he called a “Statue of Liberty,” and lent me his heavy black leather jacket.  Ripped black nylon hose, chains hanging and safety pins everywhere; black lipstick and black fingernails.  Man that was fun. 

One year I wore a Superman costume complete with boots and cape.  I flew all over campus that year.  The kids loved it.  Not sure what my boss thought when I attended a meeting at the District Office in full Man of Steel regalia.  I felt powerful.   

I kept the full-body panther suit handy and wore it for many years, whenever the mood struck me, not just Halloween.  Where is it now?  No matter.  The moths have had their way with it. 

It’s not important.  The past few years, the number trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood have dwindled to single digits.  We still stock up on just-in-case candy, but wind up sending it to my husband’s office the next day.  The kids don’t visit houses anymore.  They wear store-bought costumes prescribed by Hollywood merchandisers and patrol stores downtown or at the mall, moving from merchant to merchant with their parents, working a pattern for maximum take, minimum interaction. 

Gotta be this way.  I understand.  Still… 

Gone is the excitement for a teenager, face painted, costume pulled together out of mom and dad’s closet, carrying his pillowcase, and running through the darkness with his friends, thrilled with the imaginary world that’s only open once a year.  This year, teens will dress like Snookie.  They’ll buy false six-pack abs and make like “The Situation.” 


The next step in homogenizing Halloween?  Government takeover!  Connecticut lawmakers have a bill pending that will move the event in that state to the last Saturday of the month instead of the 31st.  OK.  Why not?  Civilize it.  School nights.  I get it. 

But I’m not done.  I don’t have to give it up.  I’m not a kid.  And I still have an Elvis in me.  I’ve got a hankering to dress up like Elvis.  I know.  I should settle for Priscilla Beaulieu, but she’s just too easy.  Anyone can tease her hair into a rage and line her eyes with a magic marker.  

But Elvis.  Elvis!  Now that’s Halloween!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Meet the New Boss ~ Same as the Old Boss

Occupy Wall Street has drawn our attention, but trying to understand them feels too much like trying to find Waldo:  Lots of details and no center of focus.  We’re unclear where we should be looking.   

When asked by news media what their cause is, protestors at each location have answered with a remarkable range of hopes, dreams, frustrations, and non-sequiters.  One said, “We’ve got to get the money out of politics.”  Another said, “These corporate dollars should be going to schools.”  A third said we should be growing corn for ethanol!   

Even those who seem to be targeting the unpunished bankers of Wall Street haven’t articulated what they want.  In the unlikely event that a Fat Cat in a high rise had even the mildest inclination to inquire, who would step forward and speak for the protestors?  What would she say? 

No doubt there is unrest in the United States.  Something’s wrong and Americans don’t like it.  At the very least we know that Washington’s infuriating partisan charade has settled into our living rooms.  While politicians play-act, they seem to mirror the malaise drifting across the countryside, through our towns and businesses, tugging at us, weighing us down, contributing to our economic doldrums.

But the thing is, most of us don’t understand the conglomerated behemoth of a financial system that has swollen and continues to swell.  What does it want?  More?  Shouldn’t it be on our side?  After all, if it saves us, we save it.  Right? 

We do know that we resent “them” and blame them for the joblessness sleeping on our couches and standing in the kitchen in front of the fridge at midnight.  We feel them reaching into our pants pockets when we know they have money of their own.  We don’t like the arrogant, indifferent attitude that shrugs its shoulders and looks away when asked what has gone wrong. 

Even the analysts don’t seem to understand our economy; otherwise it wouldn’t be so easy to find “experts” with views diametrically opposed.  They’re giving it their best guess, God bless them everyone, but “black is white” and “up is down” just aren’t helpful.  Have the banks flexed and the government flinched?  Who’s in charge?  What are the rules?  Who’s the enforcer? 

When pelted with fact after conflicting fact, that is, opposite statements which all may be true, we cannot surrender just because we’re unable to spell out our own internal certainty that we’re being messed with on a national scale.   

That’s where the Occupy protestors come in.  But they didn’t think it through.  They haven’t done their research or planned their arguments.  They don’t have a spokesperson or a point to stay on.  So they camp out and shout out the Tommy Smothers retort, “Oh Yeah?” 

They know they’re right about the gut of the American people:  We know in our hearts and minds that those whom we’ve trusted are screwing us over, either through their greed, their cynicism, their self-interest, or their incompetence. 

We know our protestors mean well.  We also know the road to hell.  One of several fates looms for Occupy Wall Street.  First, they and their affiliates could slip into that pale corner of the conversation inhabited by those who failed to plan and thereby planned to fail.  They could become the shooting star, the flash in the pan, the limp noodle of grass roots movements. 

They could, God forbid, lose control, vent those frustrations borne from their own lack of focus, lack of leadership, lack of response, and ineffectiveness.  They could be put down the hard way.  Ill portent for all involved. 

And a third, most intriguing option presents itself:  Occupy Wall Street has amassed a mountain of food and supplies, filling a cavernous space near Wall Street with those donated goods to sustain their movement.  

Even more interesting, they have collected $300K and opened a bank account.  That’s right.  Amalgamated Bank, which bills itself as the only 100 percent union-owned bank in the United States, is the repository of Occupy Wall Street funds. 

Who signs those checks?  Who will be paid to do what with that money?  Will the cities “hosting” these occupations be repaid for the added sanitation services, for example?  Will Occupy Wall Street redistribute these funds among the other Occupy groups across the country?  With no stated goals and no pact with anyone, the imminence of irony arrives.   

Will “Occupy” go corporate?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Goodday Australia!

Hello Innaloo!

So great to hear from you!

Keep reading!

TDP ~ Carolyn

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dad, Can I Sell Pot? Go Ask Your Mother!

What you permit, you promote.   

I received a swift demonstration of this lesson when I was a high school principal.  During Breast Cancer Awareness Week I chose to ignore a student’s T-shirt sporting a smiley face declaring, “I Love Breasts!”  He was a good kid after all.  Happy go lucky.  His shirt reflected breast cancer awareness, right? 

Next day, a half dozen of his buddies donned similar shirts, now depicting happy hands reaching toward the breasts they loved.  By the end of the week, awash in inappropriate references to healthy breasts and all that affection, I learned another lesson:  It’s a whole lot easier to loosen up than it is to tighten up. 

It looks like the federal government is about to be schooled in those two truisms.  

The Justice Department practiced benign neglect when Californians, and voters in other states, made it legal to cultivate and sell medical marijuana.  They did nothing, thereby promoting the actions of enterprising vendors who established dispensaries across the country. 

Sure enough, business boomed and expanded into lucrative markets.  “Research and Development” introduced new, improved products.  All aspects of the marijuana industry flourished, from cultivation to sales.  One Northern California dispensary reports selling $51million dollars’ worth of medical marijuana between 2004 and 2007.  It paid no sales tax citing the state law exempting prescribed medicines. 

Even President Obama declared he had little interest in going after state policies related to legalized cannabis in spite of the fact that they contradict federal laws.  Why?  Civics 101 taught us that states can make laws stricter than federal laws, but not more lax.  Yet Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder gave the issue low priority.  OK.  Just look the other way. 

Now, after15 years of inattention, the Feds have wakened from their benevolent snooze.  And they woke up cranky.   

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said, “[Prop.  215 was intended] to allow marijuana to be supplied to seriously ill people on a nonprofit basis, but it has been hijacked by people who are in this to get rich.” 

You can see she’s shocked.  Seriously. 

This week, the Justice Department notified dozens of California’s dispensary owners, as well as residential, commercial, and agricultural property owners involved in activities deemed to be drug trafficking, warning them to cease such operations within 45 days or face consequences including bank account and property seizure, civil lawsuits, and criminal prosecutions.   

“These actions should surprise no one,” the Justice Department intones, “[the DOJ is] simply making good on the threats they’ve been issuing for years.”  Like the permissive parent who warns and warns and warns a child, but fails to follow through, they’ve now reached a threshold and lost their temper.  Let the punishment begin.  

That’s the unpleasant business of tightening up.  Reason doesn’t always prevail when you’re trying to save face. 

In the name of logic, and at the risk of showing my naïveté, I wonder aloud, why isn’t medical marijuana dispensed from pharmacies?  No other drug prescribed by a doctor can be sold from a dispensary unless it’s a licensed, regulated pharmacy. 

In every other case, a doctor sees a patient, diagnoses a problem, and issues a prescription.  The patient takes his prescription to a pharmacy; the pharmacy dispenses the drug, which the patient takes home and ingests.  Why is medical marijuana different? 

Even those who might object to recreational use of the drug accept its medicinal benefits.  At the very least, the medical community itself endorses marijuana as an alternative to mainstream drug therapy. 

So, why is it OK for those patients to acquire their medicine out of a storefront?  Why is it acceptable for those patients to fire up their Maui Wowie on the premises, essentially getting high in public?  Oops…we can all stop at the drinking fountain and take our pills.  We can even get high at the brewpub without so much as a fare-thee-well.  Best not cast those stones. 

The better question is:  Why must they buy their prescribed treatment in sometimes unsavory and unsafe circumstances?  If my grandma has glaucoma, why does she have to traverse the unkempt masses to secure her legally prescribed remedy?  (Why do so many medical marijuana patients seem unkempt?)  That’s just wrong. 

Somebody needs to step up and be a parent, er, leader.  Define your terms:  what’s legal, what’s not?  What’s medicinal, what’s recreational?  Set clear expectations and realistic, enforceable consequences.  Then do what you said you would do.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Is Time Running Out for the Beautiful People?

Here’s the beginning of our ignominious end - NBC News anchor Brian Williams teased viewers this week with the headline of an ominous lead story coming up on the nightly news:  certain hip replacements are failing and will have to come out. 

Easy for him to say.  Seems thousands of bionic men and women now face the daunting prospect of enduring a double surgical procedure to remove and replace their…replacements. 

So what’s next for Jane Fonda and all the rest of us boomers who’ve succumbed to deteriorating joints and metal-on-metal replacements for our ailing bones?  Jane’s a perfect representative of the post-boom phenomenon.  She’s had knee and hip replacement along with back surgery.  She’s 72, healthy, and looking great.  But that may be more aptly attributed to her cosmetic surgery.  She’s owned up to having the bags under her eyes deflated.  

What if all manner of high-tech enhancements developed and implanted over decades of the boomers’ era turn out to have a shelf life, as it were?  What if it’s not just Jane Fonda’s hip and knee replacements that will need recycling?  What about her baggy eyes? 

More than a few folks have had similar elective procedures.  Sure they’re non-essential and totally vain.  But are they susceptible to the ticking clock, too?  Are we approaching the Y2K of the self-conscious aging elite? 

If we don’t get this under control, we could wake up to the luddites’ nightmare:  All our technology turns on us, rebelling in the most unfortunate and unattractive ways. 

Remember Eddie Murphy in the remake of “The Nutty Professor”?  He had what we all want – a magic elixir – one sip and voila!  Thin!  Sexy!  Funny!  But of course, no Fountain of Fitness can exist in the real world. 

Murphy’s Professor Clump, as his newly svelte alter ego Buddy Love, seized the opportunity to pursue the girl of his dreams, the one his flabby, unfortunate self could not hope to impress.  But alas, in a crucial, public moment, just like Jane’s time-sensitive hip, Buddy’s potion breaks down.  Before our eyes, the professor bulges back to his prodigious former self, body part by gelatinous body part. 

Given the impending expiration of our man-made yet mortal appendages and restitutions, we could find ourselves in the same discomfiting circumstance. 

What if nose jobs expired, for example?  Right in the middle of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” Kim’s pretty proboscis might just revert to its original, lumpy form.  A whole new kind of reality could present itself if the Plastic Surgeons of America sent a recall notice for the scaffolding underpinning Bruce Jenner's face work.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Imagine all the serene conversations in Hollywood bistros and suburban country clubs when, out of nowhere, a timer goes off and dozens of lifted foreheads advance to their rightful, age-appropriate positions, coming to rest somewhere in the neighborhood of one’s delicately plucked eyebrows.  In Washington, Nancy Pelosi would blink, giving Republicans in Congress false hope of victory. 

Why, those eyebrows themselves would travel into real estate appropriated by tacked-wide-open eyes, creating uninvited squints even in the shade of Carrera sunglasses. 

What if Botox … oh, never mind.  It does expire.  We know already that.  The wax melts and you’ve gotta keep getting shot up if you want to maintain that expressionless guise of indifference. 

Otherwise, Joan Rivers might disappear altogether. 

Hair transplants!  That would be hilarious!  What if those perfect plugs just unplugged, on cue, like so many spontaneous champagne corks, no matter where the “plug-ee” might find himself?  Like an electrified porcupine coming undone on the fairway, or the boardroom!   

In an apocalyptic scenario, voluptuous lips would shrink back to their original, severe Frau Bluchers.  Silicon breasts would collapse leaving folds of skin and yards of unfilled fabric limp in their wake.  All those pinned-back ears would once again flap free. 

Reminiscent of the cages being flung open at the zoo, all God’s creatures would run in gleeful abandon, returning to their natural states. OK, maybe not gleeful. 

I decline to reveal where I might wind up in such a scenario.  Parts of me could be susceptible to the fall of the empire, shall we say?  But which parts and where they’ll land remains a confidential, eyes only, need-to-know Top Secret.   

Suffice it to say that I keep the joints greased with glucosamine and the clocks wound tight.  Vigilant.  Ever vigilant.                                                                                                  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Big Brother Married Nurse Ratchet

Uh, oh.  Mark Zuckerberg is at it again!   

First we caught him sneaking his face-recognition software into Facebook without letting us know.  Now he’s following us around the web, even when we’re not logged in to Facebook. 

Oh my goodness, Mark, Mark, Mark!  You megalomaniac, you! 

Of course we lost control of our Older Male Sibling long ago.  Back when we put our Social Security numbers on job applications we surrendered ourselves to being watched and dogged by what has become a voracious, titanic mogul in the sky. 

Until recently, I didn’t feel watched or dogged.  In fact, I had a hard time imagining that any one person up there in the cloud could be bothered with the mundane routines of my comings and goings.  Ho hum.  

But of course it’s not my comings and goings that interest the industrious Zuckerberg clan.  Their interest lies in my willingness to spend my money on their stuff.  

Case in point:  My experience with Spanx.  It’s underwear, OK?  Specialized body slimming underwear – the latest thing in the 100 Years War of the Waistline.  If you want to know more about Spanx, you’ll just have to look it up.  But do so at your own risk. 

I confess I went onto the Spanx website and shopped around.  I didn’t buy anything because I didn’t buy their pitch.  OK, I kind of do accept their squeeze-it smooth-it pretend-it’s-not-there premise, but their stuff is ‘way too expensive for me.  Still, I noodled around with the detached interest of a shopper who hopes to find a comparable product at a reasonable price at Kohl’s. 

Let’s say that was Monday.  WEDNESDAY, I got a catalog, from Spanx, with my name on it, in the US mail!   

Did Mark Zuckerberg just send me a Spanx catalog?  Now that’s weird. 

And he’s meeting with all kinds of powerful people – House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan - the President!  What’s that all about?! 

I’m starting to feel a kinship with all those conspiracy theorists who believe “they” are reading our mail and tapping our phones.  Pass the aluminum foil. 

You know, my crazy Aunt June thought her sister-in-law (my crazy Aunt Daisy) was reading her mail, opening her electric bills, and examining her cable viewing habits.  Turns out, she was!  Caught her red-handed steaming envelopes!  Not so crazy after all.

Now Zuckerberg unveils some of the most drastic changes ever made to Facebook's service.  The fear among users relates to what some say portends a worrisome privacy situation on the social network, led by Mr. Z’s new feature, “Timeline,” and changes to “Open Graph.”  Zuckerberg said he believes these “improvements” will help users share every single facet of their lives on the social network.

Timeline provides users with a way to view "the story of your life," including a collection of all the “stories” users have shared on Facebook over the years, as well as the pictures they've posted, and the applications they've used.  Oh yes, it’s all in Mr. Z’s sky-vault.

Facebook's updated Open Graph enables users, thanks to Timeline and a new addition, Ticker, to see what a “friend” is doing in real time, for example if he’s watching a movie on Netflix or listening to a song on Spotify (whatever that is!).  Then the viewer can engage in that same activity from within the social network.  Imaginary friends have become virtual friends.  

If that’s not enough to make you twitch, over the other shoulder comes OnStar following us around town even if we cancel their GPS service or never activate it in the first place.   

Not only does OnStar store data on your vehicle diagnostics like oil changes, tire pressure, the gas type you use; information about crashes such as whether you’re wearing a seat belt or whether an airbag deployed; and the car’s GPS/location information – including the speed of the vehicle, when the vehicle moves, and the precise location of the vehicle moment-to-moment.  All the more ominous when we’re reminded that GM offers a “free” trial of OnStar with each new vehicle it sells.  

I haven’t had that kind of monitoring since I was a teenager trying to elude my dad. 

Of course, OnStar reserves the right to sell aggregate data to third parties likely to be advertising, insurance, and analytics companies eager to gather as much information about us as they can for their own prying, greed-based reasons. 

And you thought you were alone.