Sunday, April 30, 2006

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday


Like I said eariler, something is always breaking or failing or wearing out around here.
Today, it’s our telephone line. We have no dial tone and are receiving no calls.
Oddly, though, our DSL internet connection that uses the same phone line, is working fine.
I’ve found a few places where Pete, the Aussie, has chewed on phone cords – specifically the cordless kitchen phone and the lines running to the box outside the back door – so he is, of course, a suspect.
The phone company suggested I sign up immediately for their line protection program, which involves a $3.50 monthly charge and a $25 up-front fee, noting that when the phone guy shows up tomorrow it would otherwise be a minimum $50 charge, plus labor.
I kinda like not getting phone calls on a Sunday. It’s 6:15 p.m. and on a normal Sunday we would have heard from Maria’s mother, her daughter (multiple times) and both of her two brothers. Sprint’s digital cellular service is weak here, so our cell phones are useless inside the house, except up in the attic. If I want to use my cell phone from home, I usually go out to the back yard to get a signal.
We took Pete up to Petsmart for puppy school this afternoon. The young 20-something woman with a fuzzy brown puppy who usually sits to our left in the puppy training corral was there in her usual stiletto-heeled sandals and high-maintenance look. She remembered that Maria is a newspaper editor and started jabbering about a photographer friend who was getting divorced from his wife and who needed a job. At the same time, her puppy was entangled in a vicious fight with another dog and the instructor and other dog’s owner were trying to separate them. She, of course, was completely oblivious to this little drama until the instructor – down on her knees in the middle of the fray, yanked on the girl’s slacks leg and said, “Hey. Would you please control your dog?”

She, of course, took offense and defended her dog with a lame, “Poor puppy. He doesn’t know any better.”
Those of us who witnessed it instantly recognized that we had just gotten a preview of how she will inflict her misbehaving children upon an innocent public if and when she becomes a mother.
During the mid-class potty break in the mulched area to the side of the store, she confided to Maria that she thinks the instructor doesn’t like her and muttered darkly about complaining to the management because she paid “good money” for this course.
I cringe whenever I hear that expression. Ever hear of “bad money?”
Christ! What a self-absorbed twit.
Her dog’s name is Amos and I’m tempted to start calling him Anus just to tweak her up.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hey, Kids! What time is it?

That used to be how Buffalo Bob Smith opened the Howdy Doody show on Saturday morning TV.
I recently rented a DVD with 4 episodes just to refresh my memory about that cultural icon of the 1950s - the show ran from 1947 to 1960. It was a struggle to get through all four episodes and the only thing that kept me engaged was the cultural anachronisms like the gravel-voiced Chief Thunderthud and the bizarre ADD/HD behavior of Clarabelle the Clown and the commercials in which Smith told kids to ask their moms to buy Wonder Bread and Hostess Twinkies.
But I bring up that opening line today because I just noticed, for about the 10th time in the last few weeks, that my Windows XP (SP2) refuses to recognize that Indiana is observing Daylight Savings Time.
For many years, certainly since the Uniform Time Act of the 1960s, Indiana and Arizona were the only states that did not observe Daylight Savings Time. When the rest of the country fiddled with its clocks to "spring ahead" an hour in the spring and "fall back" an hour in the autumn, we dwelt in the Land that Time Forgot and did nothing. Consequently, our neighbors in Ohio and to the east fell into step with us in the colder months and the folks from Illinois to western Kansas were in synch with us in the warmer months.
Our new governor, Mitch Daniels, decided this was somehow hampering Hoosier commerce with customers in other states - I never could understand why - and persuaded the Legislature to put us on DST starting this year.
But the folks at Microsoft apparently haven't gotten the word. They reach out and tweak my Windows XP with updates on a regular basis, but they haven't gotten around to addressing the time change issue.
So when I glanced at my computer clock in the bottom right corner of my monitor a few minutes ago, it read 10:35 a.m., when it was actually 11:35 a.m.
I can't imagine than no one from Indiana has e-mailed them about this issue, but just in case, I think I'll suggest they fix it.

Money Pit Redux

The downside to having a lot of stuff is that, sooner or later, all of it is going to cause problems.
Today's problem list is topped by the clothes dryer. We have a washer-dryer combo - washer on the bottom, dryer on the top. I had a splendid one that I paid $1,000 for when I lived in my condo in Indianapolis, but when we moved into this house in 2001, Maria insisted on bringing along her own washer and dryer, despite my predictions that they would not fit into our half-bath/laundry room.
So I included my washer-dryer in the condo sale.
Of course, when it came time to move her appliances into the laundry room, guess what. They were too big. So we ended up giving them to her Amish brother and paid about $1,000 for another combo unit.
A couple of weeks ago, the washer unit started making a horrible screeching sound on final spin. So I called the appliance repair guy. Naturally, we couldn't get it to screech while he was here. He examined the drive belt and pronounced it sound and went away after charging me $65.
Early this week, the dryer started making a scraping noise like a piece of metal was stuck between the drum and its housing.
So I called the appliance guy again and now I'm waiting for him to show up and take more of my money.
Next on the list is the pair of MotoLites mounted on the front brake calipers of my BMW K1200GT motorcycle. They're halogen auxiliary driving lights that I added in the interest of (a.) being more conspicuous in the traffic mix and (b.) being able to see better at night. I discovered last night that they aren't working.
That forced me to finally make an appointment at the nearest BMW dealership - 100 miles away in Savoy, Ill. - for the long overdue 24,000-mile service. I'm on their schedule for 9 a.m. May 23, so let's pray for good weather that day.
Third is our 2002 Subaru Forester, which needs a new catalytic converter. The "check engine" light has been on for nearly a year because the electronic sensors don't like the information they're getting from the exhaust system. The techies at Subaru say it's not a crisis and we won't hurt anything by driving it, but eventually we'll see a degradation of performance and have to pony up the $1,100 or so for a new catalytic converter.
Close behind is my 1994 Honda del Sol, which is waaaaaaay overdue for a new timing belt ($600). The owner's manual says timing belts should be replaced every 60,000 miles. My car has 185,000 miles on the odometer and is still on the original timing belt. Clearly, I'm on borrowed time and it could fail any day.
And I almost forgot about the construction crew scheduled to work on my roof tomorrow. We've had roofers chasing a leak for more than a year and finally we think we have a correct diagnosis.
Seems the bozos who did our current roof did a mostly okay job except they didn't get the flashing right around the main chimney. This made it possible for wind-driven rain to come through our bedroom and bathroom ceilings.
The work tomorrow, which is estimated to cost us $1,800, will correct that problem and also remove an old unused chimney that has served as a point of entry to our kitchen for birds on at least three occasions and also admits minor amounts of rain. This, obviously, is must-do stuff considering how much damage continued rain infiltration could do.
Sometimes I think I retired a bit too early.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cleaned up

Dressed up... sorta, for a Chamber of Commerce awards dinner. At least I'm not wearing a BMW motorcycle t-shirt.

Eagle Watch

If you have a good broadband internet connection, check out www.infotecbusinesssystems.com/wildlife
It's a realtime webcam of a bald eagle nest in British Columbia where the eggs are set to hatch any time now.
Thanks to my ATO Fraternity brother Dave Knight for this one.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It's for your own good, Pete


Pete, out for a car ride.
Our 6-month-old Aussie, Pete, has a rendezvous with destiny on Monday next.
Pete is going to the vet to get neutered.
I'm reminded of the Gary Larson cartoon of the dog with the smug smile on his face telling the family cat that he (the dog) is going to get "tutored."
As a male, I have a very negative visceral reaction to this business of making my little friend Pete into a eunuch.
He loves me and he trusts me and this is how I pay him back. It seems like betrayal on a horrific scale.
But the vet and others who know about dogs tell me I'm really doing Pete a favor. Male Aussies who aren't neutered have a very high risk of testicular cancer. Also, the overwhelming majority of dogs who get hit by cars are un-neutered males out looking to get laid.
So the best way to assure that Pete will have a long and presumably happy life with us is have him neutered.
I hate it, but I guess it's got to be.

The end is near

We may be nearing the end of our nearly year-long wrangling with Maria's ex over us owing him child support for their son, who has lived with him since graduating from high school last May 30.
We were supposed to go to court this morning, but the ex decided he wanted a new judge since Maria and I are good, longtime friends with the judge in whose court the case is pending. And, at the same time, we got serious about working out a settlement so we won't have to pay our attorneys to slug it out in court.
It appears we're going to have to pay $100 a week for the boy, but if he stops being a fulltime student or moves out of his father's house, no further payments are required.
Considering how hard Maria and I worked to get him through high school, we have serious doubts about his father and stepmother's ability to keep him on track at the vocational technical school he's attending this year. So the odds are good that we can end this financial drain before he turns 21 - he's 19 now.
One of the requests the ex makes as part of his settlement offer is that he gets to claim one of their two kids as a dependent on his income tax.
Ha!
I discovered when I calculated our tax return this year that the tax law has changed and neither kid can be claimed as a dependent because they both earned more than half of their support in 2005. As it turned out, it didn't hurt us that much and it was an enormous boon to Maria's college junior daughter because she got to claim a student tax credit that jumped her refund from under $100 to more than $600.
We told the ex about this discovery - even mentioned that I spent an extra $20 to confirm it over the phone with an H&R Block tax consultant - but he apparently thinks he knows better. (He waited til the evening of April 16 to work on his and his son's tax returns.)
The exasperating thing, as I have said before, is that the father has hidden income for the past 10 years to avoid paying his fair share of his kids' support and education. And we recently discovered the current settlement is based on a lie. He claims to have made only $60k in 2004, but we have it on good authority that he had another $49k in farming income that he wrote off through bogus expenses.
We're going to let that slide as far as the support settlement is concerned, but I'm going to have a chat with the Internal Revenue Service about the ex's creative accounting practices, (read: tax fraud), telling them precisely where we think the hinky stuff is in his return. I'm willing to bet anything that he also claimed one of the kids as a dependent on his 2005 return.
I think he'll look pretty good in handcuffs and an orange jail jumpsuit.
I'd worry about the karmic implications of ratting someone out to the IRS, except that in this guy's case, he's committing a crime. And when one has knowledge of a crime, one is compelled to act or become an accessory after the fact.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Getting Malled

Shopping, shopping, shopping...
God! How I hate shopping.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The dawn patrol


Got up at 6 a.m. and left home in semi-darkness to make an 8 a.m. dental appointment some 50 miles south of here on Indy's southside.
I had allowed for rush hour traffic that didn't materialize, so I arrived in time for a quick McDonald's breakfast. Took a chance on the bacon, egg and cheese McGriddle sandwich. Gack!
Wrapping blueberry pancake-ettes around bacon, egg and cheese is not my idea of a pleasing taste combination.
Also, what's up with the "Let us add the cream and sugar" campaign with their supposedly deluxe coffee? I think they were losing their ass on sweetener and creamer excesses and decided to cut their losses by controlling the stuff, while making it look like an added service.
Anyhow, I think I need to find a dentist closer to home. I wonder how many I passed on my way to my current dentist...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

No cake for Adolf

Today is Adolf Hitler’s birthday.
He would have been 117 if he were alive today.
When I was a kid, the pulp magazines of the time were full of speculation that Hitler had escaped from Berlin during the last days of the Third Reich and was hiding out in South America or maybe Africa or Southeast Asia. The barbershop I went to as a kid had a subscription to Police Gazette, a smarmy rag that wasn’t all that different from the stuff you see at the supermarket checkout counter.
A lot of writers made a pretty good living cranking out stories about how Hitler and Martin Bormann and Dr. Josef Mengle were skulking around somewhere in the bush, having been spirited out of Europe by an underground network of Nazis and Nazi sympathizers.
Now we know that Hitler and his new missus did themselves in down in the Fuhrerbunker and their burned bodies were discovered by the Russians. There is supposedly some pieces of Hitler’s charred skull deep in the archives of the Kremlin.
Forensic evidence likewise finally determined that Martin Bormann was killed while trying to break out of Berlin.
Mengle, it turns out, was the only one of the three to actually make it out of Germany and Europe, hiding out in Argentina until his death in 1979 while swimming.
But even if Germany hadn’t lost the war, Hitler was doomed. Research of his medical records indicates he was in the final stages of syphilis, probably contracted as a young man in Vienna or perhaps as a solder in World War I.
So he only made it a few days past his 56th birthday.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Duty

I just finished Duty by Bob Greene, the Chicago Tribune columnist.
It's a memoir about Greene's father, who raised his family in Columbus, Ohio. And it's about Paul Tibbets, another Columbus resident, who happens to be "the man who won World War II."
Tibbets was the commander of the 509th Composite Group and the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Greene's father, Robert Greene, also served in World War II, holding the rank of major and fighting in Italy.
The book is about Greene's effort to know his late father - to understand his dad's life and the impact the war had on it. His conversations with Tibbets yielded a series of newspaper columns and grew into an ongoing friendship. He had lingering questions he never got to ask his father, so he poses them to Tibbets - things like how today's sexually liberated America squares with the morals and standards his generation professed and what's become of civility and good manners in public.
He also probes Tibbets' feelings about committing what was at the time the single most violent act in the history of mankind and whether incinerating Hiroshima troubles his conscience.
It's a book that deserves a wide audience, especially among those who question the rightness of Harry Truman's decision to use atomic weapons to end the war.
Tibbets' answer, echoed by countless soldiers who would have had to invade Japan, as well as by many Japanese, is that Truman and Tibbets did the right thing.
Tibbets' mission was a factor in the lives of most of the people I know - certainly those who count American soldiers, sailors or airmen among their ancestors.
That includes me. Had there been no war-ending atomic attacks, my first father-in-law, an Army captain in the 144th Field Artillery Group, would almost certainly have been shipped from Europe to the Pacific to participate in the invasion. He wrote to his wife on V-E day that he expected to be ordered to the Pacific soon. Had he been one of the predicted hundreds of thousands of casualties, my first wife would not have been born in 1946. And, while I may have fathered two sons with another woman, they would not be the two fine young men I call my sons today. And my granddaughter, had she been born, would have a different heritage.
Greene writes about a Memorial Day weekend trip he took to Branson, Mo., with Tibbets, his navigator and his bombardier and their wives. One evening, they were guests of a Japanese-born violinist - now an American citizen and country music star (yeah, go figure). The entertainer tells Tibbets he and his family lived near Hiroshima at the time of the attack and afterward fled into the mountains.
He said his father told him that if the war had continued "all would have died;" that his father had said the end of the war spared the lives of men, women and children all over Japan.
And he thanked Tibbets for his role in ending the war.
Tibbets turned 91 in February. At the time of the writing of Greene's book, he was still driving - a Toyota - and enjoyed dining at Bob Evans restaurants.
He still makes occasional public appearances. I had the honor of shaking his hand at a militaria show in Louisville, Ky., a few years ago.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Congressman Steve Buyer


I had a pleasant conversation with my Congressman today.
Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., was back in Indiana's Fourth Congressional District checking in with constituents and his office arranged for my wife, who is editor of a medium-sized daily newspaper, to meet with him.
I was also invited along because Steve has an interest in the Patriot Guard Riders.
Even knowing that, I was a little surprised when he thanked me profusely for my involvement in the PRG and for what we do to honor U.S. military personnel who die in the service of their country.
I'd met Steve a time or two before at political functions. He has an easy manner and comes across as an old friend rather than a politician.
He said he's working on a bill, similar to the law recently passed in Indiana, that would shield the families of our war dead from the insults of those would would show up at funerals to demonstrate for any religious or political purpose.
Earlier this year, the Indiana General Assembly passed a bill making it a felony to disturb the peace at a funeral. Further, the bill requires any protestors to remain at least 500 feet from a funeral. It was immediately signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels, just in time to protect the family of a Kokomo soldier.
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kans., had expressed intentions of demonstrating at the Kokomo kid's funeral but they never showed up.
Likewise, they were absent from the funeral of an Indianapolis soldier last week.
Buyer's bill would pertain to demonstrations on federal land, such as Arlington National Cemetery and other military cemeteries.
He said he hopes to get it through Congress and on President Bush's desk for signature in time for Memorial Day.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

For Spc. Antoine McKinzie

With the PGR.

First PGR mission

I finally made a Patriot Guard mission today.
Fellow Indianapolis BMW Club member and fellow K1200GT rider Harold Patterson and I joined about 150 other riders - mostly Harley-Davidson guys - to shield the family of an Indianapolis soldier from the wackos from Topeka.
Actually, we never saw the protesters and I'm waiting for the evening TV news to see if they even showed up.
For me, the highlight of the day was the moment when we were all standing at attention, saluting the funeral procession as it headed south on Zionsville Road from the Pike High School Performing Arts Center and the car carrying the soldier's parents came by.
The mother was sitting in the front passenger seat with the window rolled down. She smiled at us and said, "Thank you."
We formed a double line of bikes about a half-mile long as we followed the hearse about 8 miles to Crown Hill Cemetery.

--
Sent from my Treo

Monday, April 10, 2006

Aha!

Well, well, well.
We finally figured out how Maria’s ex has been hiding income all these years.
And the amount is staggering.
From the time of Maria’s divorce in 1995 until he stopped paying child support early last year, her ex paid her the same amount of child support every week. Well, kinda. He was late a lot.
This, even though he was supposed to bump it up whenever he got a raise. So we are to suppose that he received no raises from 1995 to 2005.
Maria never believed that, but didn’t press the matter because it was just too painful to drag his ass back into court, plus she had an incompetent attorney.
About five years ago, I finally persuaded her to seek a readjustment in child support and her attorney requested the ex’s tax returns for the previous couple of years. We’re still waiting for those returns. His official excuse was that he was moving and couldn’t locate the records. Maria lacked the will to continue the struggle, so she let it drop.
Now that their son has graduated from high school and is living with the ex, the ex has gone to court to try to get us to pay support for the boy.
As part of the negotiations, he provided us with last year’s tax return, even though we requested the last two years’ returns.
According to his IRS Form 1040, his income from his job as a bank IT guy, plus organic truck farming, plus grain farming with his dad, only came to $60,427.
This seemed incongruous, considering that he adopted his wife’s three feral children and is restoring an old farmhouse and still finds money for extended vacations, and on and on.
The light came on this morning when Maria got a call from the girlfriend of the ex’s widowed father. When Maria mentioned to her that the ex is trying to get child support out of us and shared our suspicions that he’s been hiding income, the girlfriend shared that the ex’s dad picked up all of the grain farming expenses and let the ex have the profit.
Oh?
Well, that changes everything.
The ex claimed he only made $3,649 from the grain farming operation after his bogus expenses. However the gross income from the grain farming – the amount he actually pocketed – was $49,558.
Suddenly his income jumps to $109,985, which makes a whole lot more sense, considering their lifestyle.
Naturally, we will bring this to our attorney’s attention and, if the ex doesn’t get reasonable in a hurry, we’ll share it with the IRS. Hell, we may rat him out to the IRS anyway, just out of a sense of good citizenship.
Under the IRS reward system, if a recovery is made as a direct result of information you provided, you may qualify for a reward of 15 percent of the amount recovered including taxes, fines and penalties, but not interest - with a maximum payment of $2 million.
I realize there are karmic implications to this, but it's certainly amusing to contemplate.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Pete


Pete the pup had his second session of puppy school this afternoon at Petsmart and he's doing great.
He's got "sit" and (lie)"down" cold.
He was pretty shy during the 20-minute socialization period at the beginning of class but seemed to gain confidence as the class went on.
He's still not getting it where toilet training is concerned, but we remain optimistic.
I'm sitting in the Meijer parking lot with Pete relaxing in his crate in the back of the Subaru while Maria does the grocery shopping. Suits me, since I hate grocery shopping.
I've never been a big fan of bumper stickers, largely because I was a newspaper reporter and we're not supposed to have opinions. The last time I put a bumper sticker on my car was in the 1970s and it was one promoting Transcendental Meditation.
But the one pictured above struck me as a humorous way to tell people we're proud Aussie owners, so it now adorns the back of the Forester.

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Sent from my Treo

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Crap

Went to the eye doc for my annual checkup and he says I have early cataracts.
Just what a photographer wants to hear.
He guesses I won't need to do anything about them for about 5 years.
Well, my mother had 'em, so I guess I shouldn't be that surprised.

--
Sent from my Treo