Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Retirement Planning

They say you should start planning early for your retirement. So, while I’m only 44 I’m weighing my options now. I can’t decide if I want to be a Dirty Old Man or a Cranky Old Fart. I can see advantages and disadvantages to both of these, but I don't think I can be both.

 

The DOM option fits in with my lifelong appreciation of feminine beauty. One can’t continue looking at pretty young women at age 70 without being thought of as a DOM. And if I’m perceived that way, I might as well live the part. The disadvantage here is that the only really successful DO Men are the ridiculously rich ones. Wealth is the only real attraction a DOM has. That means I’ll have to do some serious financial planning, something I’m not too good at.

 

The COF option has its merits. A COF can say pretty much what he wants whenever he wants to, which is appealing because I like to speak my mind. People will just dismiss my comments by saying “Don’t mind him, he’s old.” I’ll also be able to get away with not practicing whatever political correctness will be in vogue circa 2035. When I make a social faux pas, which for me is likely to occur with some regularity, people will excuse it because I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. “In his day people didn’t know how to be sensitive” they’ll say, and I’ll get away with saying whatever I please because I’m old. Unfortunately COFs don’t usually have many friends in their final days.

 

So, alas, I’ll probably end up being that sweet old man who lives in that cute little house with his sweet old wife he’s been devoted to 60years. That, I’m afraid, is my apparent destiny.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Bush vs Kerry

I was a supporter of John Kerry before it was fashionable, when Howard Dean was the alleged "front runner." That was before people actually voted.

 

Before I go any further, let me make one thing clear. I am not a Democrat. Nor am I a Republican. I am a former Republican, registered independent. I think for myself, thank you. Republicans generally don't encourage that sort of behavior anymore. Just ask John McCain.

 

This election is supposedly about which candidate is strongest, particularly on national defense. In this regard popular punditry (the same process that anointed Howard Dean) declares Bush as the stronger candidate. That in itself is questionable, but not really important because this election is not about strength. It is about wisdom.

 

Bush often has the right idea. Invading Afghanistan after 9/11 was the right idea, and was reasonably well executed. I fully supported the President during this campaign. Removing Saddam was a good idea in theory, but poorly executed. Not only was the premise wrong, there were no WMD (as UN inspectors already discovered), it drained resources from fighting the real enemy that actually did attack us, and is continuing to attack innocent people all over the world.

 

Bush comes on strong with talk about good vs evil, right vs wrong, etc. It is comforting, as far as it goes, but he lacks depth. His thought process is two-dimensional, linear. If X happens, then Y will automatically follow, regardless of what word you're trying to spell. But since his opinions cannot be altered no matter what, he is thought of as a strong, decisive leader.

 

Kerry has earned a reputation in the Senate as someone who digs into issues to understand their intricacies. He has a curious mind and his knowledge of the issues has considerable depth as well as breadth. He likes to get all sides of a story, and consider all possible consequences before taking action. Furthermore, Kerry is not afraid to change his mind when new information comes to light. For this Kerry is accused of being inconsistent, a flip-flopper, someone who can’t be trusted.

 

I have watched John Kerry on C-SPAN many times, and I am always impressed with his comprehensive grasp of the issues. During the primaries he stood out from the pack as the most thoughtful candidate. He is especially strong in his understanding of foreign policy, which is essential at this time in history. He is not a perfect man, but he is a prudent man who will make wise choices based on the big picture instead of a narrow ideology. That is why I support John Kerry for President.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Do I need a banjo?

I posted that question on a forum at Banjo Hangout and the answer came back as a resounding YES!

No surprise there.

I had a 5 string banjo once. It was an Aria. I bought it for $99 circa 1980. It today's dollars that would be about $225. I never learned to play it very well, but I had fun with it. Alas, I lost it in a  rental truck fire when we moved back to California in 1984. Every now and then I wish I still had it. Maybe if I did, I might have become reasonably proficient by now.

Fast forward to last March 1. We were on Amtrak's Coast Starlight returning home. There were some bluegrass musicians playing in the Pacific Parlour Car. The banjo player asked if we played any instruments. Mrs Toy plays the piano. I hesitated to say anything, but he could see I wanted to say something. Finally I told him I had a banjo 20 years ago.

Immediately he put his into my lap, as if I could remember anything. I sorta plucked at the strings then gave it back to him.

Now I want one.

I don't need anything fancy. But it seems a good banjo costs a lot of money. Even a decent "student" banjo costs a lot of money. More than $225 anyway. And the real banjo players insist that I'll eventually want something louder and better sounding than any student banjo. I'll need that for jammin' they say.

Bah! Just let me learn the thing first.

I don't even know if I have the manual dexterity to make one go. But at age 44 I think I now have the patience to practice until I get it right. It seems that a lot of people take up the banjo at my age, or even later.

I think the model that is best for me is the Gold Tone Cripple Creek CC-100R from Banjo.com. It is good looking, but simple. The manufacturer is highly respected among banjo players, and those who own them like them. Plus, the price is right.

Unfortunately, my desire comes at tax time, and Mrs. Toy just found out she needs major dental work. There's no money in the budget for a banjer. Sigh.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Crossing safely

Pet Peeve Department: Every day when I go to work, I have to cross a two-lane one way street. And today the routine annoyance happened again. It goes like this: A driver in the near lane sees me waiting for an opening. They will stop and motion for me to cross. When I don't budge they look at me like I'm stupid. What they seem to forget is that traffic in the far lane is still whizzing by!

I'm really not interested in getting half way across the street alive. I am quite content to wait 15 seconds until the signal two blocks down turns red. It blocks traffic sufficiently to cross freely and safely.

This points to a larger lesson, though. Individual perspective is often assumed to be the final reality. The driver sees nothing but a constant swarm of cars, and assumes that pedestrains have no safe way to cross unless someone stops. If they are always driving, they never see the periodic clearings caused by the stop light. They only see the road when it is full of cars. Drivers never see the gaps betwen cars, because there are no cars, and thus no drivers to witness their absence!

But meanwhile, traffic backs up behind these people who stop. Inevitably, one of them will try to cut around the driver who stopped for me. If I were to cross, it is unlikely I would be seen in time for an impatient lane-changer to stop without hitting me.

Maybe someday if I'm feeling mischievious I might cross half way, and wait in front of one of these people until the far lane clears. That'll learn 'em.

A related pet peeve regards drivers who are the last ones in a long line of passing cars. All I need do is wait a couple of seconds for them to pass before I can step off the curb. Instead they slow down to a crawl, as I spend several seconds trying to guess their intentions. Then they finally come to a stop to let me cross. If they had just gone by at normal speed both of us would have gotten where we were going faster.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Lord of the Rings

I finally finished my book last night. Lord of the Rings was probably the longest book, save for the Holy Bible, that I have ever read from cover to cover (I bought the one-volume version). I started it just after New Years, having finished the prequel, The Hobbit, just after Christmas.

I have wanted to read Lord of the Rings ever since high school, when everyone else was reading it. The Hobbit was recommended to me even earlier, as a pre-teen, by my trombone teacher, Mr. McTeague. But I never quite got around to it.

Then the movies came out. I didn't want to see them until I had read the books. I wanted to form my own images of characters and events before I saw someone else's interpretation. Still it was hard to avoid the movie stills on the cover flaps, which had some effect on my imagination.

Overall, the story was a good adventure. Tolkien writes in such a way as to keep you going with little effort, yet gets into great descriptive detail without dragging things down. My only complaint was the lack of depth to the characters. Eventually I came to know them fairly well (and I will miss curling up on the couch with them in the evening) but adequate character development came awfully late in the reading.

One minor incident of curiosity occurred when I was about half way through the book. There was a word Tolkien used, descry, that I wanted to get to know better. So I looked it up in the dictionary. Much to my surprise, the dictionary provided, as an example of usage, the very sentence I had just read in the Lord of the Rings which prompted me to look it up!

To those considering reading it, I highly recommend you read The Hobbit first, for it sets up the story for Lord of the Rings.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Welcome

Today is the last day of the first part of your life. Thus I begin a new Journal. I learned about this AOL feature maybe 30 minutes ago, so I have no idea where this will lead, if anywhere.

I started to write a lengthy piece about the latest book I'm reading. Then AOL crashed and I lost the whole thing. This will have to do for now, and perhaps I'll find time to put it back together again.

But now I've got to go back and finish my book.