Thursday, June 30, 2011

My friend Peter



"Good day, Peter!"
"Good day, Steve!"

That's the daily email dialogue between two friends, that has routinely started my day for 10+ years. Mundane. Occasionally it varied; perhaps a language variation such as "Buenos dias, Pedro!" "Buenos dias, Esteban!" or some other embellishment.

Tuesday, June 21.

"Good day, Peter! Happy summer! Summertime - and the livin's easy."

No reply. Very uncharacteristic of Peter.

The day went on, and I didn't get any messages, or phone calls. Troubling. We're 2500 miles apart - me in Boise and he in Billerica, Mass. But we work closely together doing tech support, etc.

I asked around - nobody expected Peter to be out; he hadn't signed up for vacation time. Not a peep from him all day.

Wednesday, June 22.

I arrive at the office at the same time as Stan, the president of the company.

"Did you hear about Peter?" he asks. (It should be noted that everybody in the organization knows Peter.)

"No - what?"

"They found him outside his house, with a severe head injury. It doesn't look good."

NO!!!

I ran to my cube and emailed his colleagues, across the Fruited Plain in Billerica. I was imagining a mugging, or some other violent incident. But... Peter? Something like that couldn't happen to Peter!

And it didn't. The evidence pointed to a tragic accident. The door of his house was locked, the upstairs window was open, with Peter lying directly underneath.

Personally, I reckon some marauding raccoons may have been involved. For you see, Peter had told us (myself and a circle of a half-dozen friends in a half-dozen locations) that he'd been having raccoon trouble. One of the last emails I got from him the day before:

Don't tell Teri, but I got the pepper spray to ward off those dang raccoons!
Bring it on!
;-)

Could Peter have been leaning out an upstairs window, delivering pepper spray at the rascals, and lost his balance? (What other explanation could there be?)

They airlifted him to the big hospital in Boston - arguably the best medical care on the planet. They did surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain. His mother came in from Philly. And we waited... and waited... and prayed... and waited some more...

Peter never regained consciousness.

I feel like a permanent cloud has blocked the sunshine.

Yeah, I'm feeling sorry for myself. (I'm sure Peter's fine. And I expect we'll be reunited someday, Up Yonder. As my bride replied, when I told her: "I guess that's just one more thing to look forward to in the future. Lucky guy, he's in a much better place. It's hard being the ones left behind.")

Peter Allen - a man with a natural cheerfulness and optimism, that most of us can only envy!

A "Renaissance Man" in every sense of the word - excellent at his job, but with a wide variety of outside interests and talents. Some of them that I'm aware of: music... theater... movies... crazy cars... amusement parks and roller coasters! Peter loved the coasters! He'd tell us of his coaster-specific jaunts. He'd tell us of the latest 90-degree, 4-G-force, 85mph coaster to come on the scene. (He was happily anticipating "Untamed" - a coaster that just came online on June 11, up in his "neck of the woods.")

Peter had a gift with the English language... speaking and writing. One of his jobs was to document software bugs for our vendor. A real snoozer of a responsibility, huh? Not necessarily... a couple times he wrote 'em up in "hard-boiled gumshoe" style. He referred to himself as "Mister A - Private Investingator." (The misspelling – investingator – was deliberate. We teased him when he "fat fingered" it once, and it became an ongoing shared amusement.) The software vendors were not amused at Peter’s poetic license, but some of us laughed so hard we cried.

We made up job-related lyrics to some well-known tunes, and Peter regaled us by phoning 'em in to voicemail. In one, Peter does a pretty decent Elvis interpretation of "Heartbreak Hotel," lamenting the frequent network drops we were experiencing at the time.

(NOTE: If you are interested in reading some of Peter's hardboiled detective prose, or listening to his vocal stylings, click on the little folder link, just below. If the music sounds as though it's coming out of a speaker-phone... that's how it happened. Enjoy!)



Peter loved and admired his mom. If he wasn't off ridin' a roller coaster, he was using his vacation time to visit his mom in Philly... or to travel someplace with her. My recollection is that the two of them had gone to the California Bay Area not too long ago. On May 5, I got an email, "I'm going down to Philly for the day on Sunday to visit Mom."

Peter referred to literally everybody as "my friend." A lot of people have lost a friend in Peter.

When he was last in Boise, Peter came over and had dinner with us in the back yard, on a lovely summer day. Since then, whenever I have boasted about my granddaughter - it's a frequent, pathological thing - he would remind me that he held her in his arms, when she was a tiny baby. (She's 4 now.)

21 months ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I elected to have surgery, and confided in a few close friends, including Peter. His faith and optimism buoyed me up, and made me recognize in him a true spiritual brother. (And he and Crystal sent me some fantastic butter toffee, that surely hastened along my recuperation! The "Bacon Mints" that he sent me on another occasion? Not so much. HAHAHAHAHA!)

Can a close friendship be maintained when those friends are 2500 miles apart, and sustained primarily by emails and phone conversations? I emphatically declare, "Yes!!"

I expect the sun will come out from behind the cloud, eventually. But the departure of my friend Peter will leave a big void, for quite some time.









Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Beethoven must be rolling over!

I'm sorry, folks, but I feel compelled to speak out. For you see, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's inductees this year include Neil Diamond and Tom Waits.

I'm assuming it's the well-known "Sweet Caroline" Neil Diamond.

He's talented... and he may belong in some sort of Hall of Fame. But the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Not on my planet!

Who's next? Barry Manilow? Wayne Newton? Steve and Eydie?

(I might also mention Doctor John. He's a talented guy - plays that New Orleans gumbo on a piano and has contributed to many, many nice recordings. But "hall of fame"? I'm not convinced.)

Some interesting stuff from the Hall of Fame Web Page...
- Currently there are 605 people in the Hall, in its 25th year.
- The inductees include performers, "early influences," and non-performers like producers, engineers, etc.
- They "generally induct five to seven performers each year."

I think they better slow down, if they're inducting Neil Diamond and Tom Waits. There aren't five to seven good rock and roll acts coming out each year any more. And they're diluting things.

Consider:

In the first two years, they inducted Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Elvis, and Muddy Waters (among others).

In the most recent two years, they've inducted Abba, Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, Genesis, The Stooges, and Tom Waits (among others).

I rest my case.

(Sure - those more recent folks have made some fine music. But I question that their names should be chiseled in stone alongside those earlier ones.)

Another tidbit from the website, about the nomination/induction process:

The Foundation’s nominating committee, composed of rock and roll historians, selects nominees each year in the Performer category. Ballots are then sent to an international voting body of more than 500 rock experts.

The recent inductions make me question the nominating committee and the aptitude of these so-called "rock experts." (For the record, I've never gotten a ballot. What's with that?)

I know there are millions of Neil Diamond fans out there. But surely his induction in to the Rock & Roll thing has even them scratching their heads in wonderment... wouldn't you think?

Here's some speculation... maybe next year the inductees will be The Bay City Rollers, Bobby Goldsboro, and the band that did that "Nah-nah, hey-hey, goodbye" song.

Notable absences from the Hall (in my opinion):
- Jimmy Buffett (Some would say he doesn't "rock" - but putting Neil Diamond and Tom Waits in there kinda blows THAT argument…)
- Deep Purple (according to Wikipedia, they've sold 100+ million records, and I like 'em!)
- Jethro Tull (Wikipedia - 60 million, ditto)
- Stray Cats / Brian Setzer
- Richard Thompson
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- REVEREND HORTON HEAT (Yeah, probably not famous enough… but IMO they are the current KINGS of Rock & Roll! If not them… then who?)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Visiting the "new" statehouse!

Since I'm not riding the bike right now, I've been going on a short walk on some afternoons. (Don't want the moss to start growing!)

Yesterday I decided to stroll over and take a look at the newly-renovated State Capitol, 3 or 4 blocks away.

(It has undergone a 2+ year, $90+ million renovation, to add space, bring everything up to code, and to repair 90 or so years of decay. One might ask if the taxpayers can afford such an expense when we're not making budget, and when there are schools around the state with leaky roofs. But you must realize that the guys who hold the purse-strings use the Capitol, so miraculously they found a way!)

The first door I came to had a sign in the window:
OFFICIAL BUSINESS ONLY
GENERAL PUBLIC, USE THE STATE STREET ENTRANCE


Okay... that's reasonable. I strolled on around to the State Street entrance. The sign there said:
OFFICIAL BUSINESS ONLY

I figured I'm a taxpayer! That's pretty darn official! So I went on in.

There was a rent-a-cop sitting at a desk. Some older folks were in front of me, signing into a guest book.

Then it was my turn. I proceeded forward and took hold of the pen to sign in.

The conversation, to the best of my recollection, went as follows:
RAC (rent-a-cop): Do you have official business?
Me: I suppose not. I just wanted to come in and look at the newly-renovated building for a few minutes.
RAC: Well, I'm afraid you can't. Lori Otter [the governor's wife] is going to have a grand opening ceremony on the front steps this Saturday. Until then, it's not open to the public.
Me: Hmmm. Maybe I misunderstood. I'm a taxpaying citizen, and I thought this was my building...
RAC: Oh, it is your building!
Me: But... only in the sense that I help pay for it. NOT in the sense that I can actually come in. Is that correct?

The RAC was kinda flustered... I guess I got in the last word. I exited, figuring the alternative was to get wrestled to the floor by jack-booted government thugs... or maybe Tazed into whimpering submission. And who needs THAT?!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Tea Party" 2009

Count me among those citizens who are deeply concerned about the total lack of fiscal responsibility by our "elected representatives," particularly those in Washington, DC.

People and organizations with a lick of common sense (and in the case of the State of Idaho, organizations that are constrained by the State Constitution) live within their means, and tighten their belt when the going gets tough. By stark contrast, the Fed spends money like never before, in some ill-conceived scheme of "spending our way to prosperity." It's never worked in the past... but by golly, let's try again! And our kids and grandkids can pay all that money back, anyway. No worry!

I was delighted that a grassroots "Tea Party" materialized in Boise (along with hundreds of other places across the Fruited Plain). I was there. I met the marchers enroute and joined in, marching down Capitol Boulevard to the State House.

Are these fringe radicals? Are they anti-government? Maybe a few are. I believe the vast majority are patriotic American citizens who are deeply concerned about the direction we're headed. (And I don't mean the direction starting last January... we've been headed in a bad direction for quite some time. Unfortunately, some people have come to expect that the government should take care of every citizen's every need. And unfortunately, it's not sustainable.)

Is anybody paying attention?

2009TeaParty1

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(One comment/criticism... this should have been strictly about deficit spending and fiscal matters. But inevitably there were fringe issues that attached themselves. There was the "Bibles in school" crowd. And the "Pro Life" crowd. And the "Get us out of the U.N." crowd. And I saw one lady with a sign that said, "Show us your birth certificate, Obama." I suppose one view is that the issue we have in common today is government spending. But I can't help but feel that they were a distraction on Tea Party Day.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Change We Can Believe In?

My daughter, who's in high school and will be old enough to vote in less than a year, came home yesterday and said, "We had to watch that inaguration stuff in all my classes! It was so boring!!"

Her momma replied something like, "You should be interested in government, because you're almost an adult and you'll get to vote soon."

"But Mom, it just doesn't matter, no matter who gets elected!"

Although I have admiration for the "Obama Youth" who energetically supported his campaign, as a firm believer that "small government is good government," I can certainly appreciate my daughter's sentiments. And I can understand why so many of my fellow citizens are apathetic and cynical about government.

The size and scope of government grew exponentially during the 8 George W. Bush years. And I'm not seeing much to give me hope that it will soon change.

President Obama gave a stirring inaguration speech. I listened to his every word, and was truly moved by some of the things he said.

To our enemies, he said, "We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." Fantastic. But he also cited "... the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint" as part of our arsenal in the war on terror. Some people, unfortunately, don't recognize such ideological weapons; in fact they perceive them as weakness.

But... back to fiscal policy and the size/scope of government.

More of President Obama:

"Greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey ... has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work..."

"Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."

"As much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate."

All of that sounds great.

But my small-government mind sounds the alarm when I hear something like, "We have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. This is the price and the promise of citizenship."

Is that a new and difficult government task he's referring to, that we should all be loyal to as good Americans?

"... there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage."

Is that "purpose" defined by new government mandates?

48 years ago (!), on January 20, 1961, another newly-elected president said, "Ask not what your country can do for you."

How times have changed!

Unfortunately, there seems to be a huge group of citizens and voters who are asking precisely, "What can our government do for us??" And I didn't hear much in President Obama's eloquent speech to refute it.

Obama: "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end."

To be replaced by different programs and initiatives? Most likely.

We have evolved to the point where many feel entitled to cradle-to-grave financial security, free health care, free prescription drugs, free internet. If a bank fails due to incompetence or greed... bail it out! (Give 'em more taxpayer money.) If a company is failing because its customers have abandoned its obsolete product... bail it out! If unwise consumers move in to a house that is way more expensive than they can afford, and fill it with installment-plan furnishings that they can't make payments on... no problem! The taxpayers will pick up the tab! (It'll help the economy!)

Back in JFK's day, government spending was measured, and debated, in the millions. Nowadays they can spend HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS without batting an eye! And if there is no positive result, the answer is "We didn't spend enough - let's spend hundreds of billions more!"

What would George Washington, or Ben Franklin, or Alexander Hamilton, say about how government is conducted in the 21st Century?

And why, oh why, didn't they put something in the Constitution about spending all those billions that haven't been collected yet? That's a heavy burden to put on our kids and grandkids, along with Social Security, Medicare, and all the other ongoing programs. President Bush obviously has tremendous confidence in his daughter's earning power and ability to pay the installments. I suspect Obama will have the same confidence in his two beautiful little daughters.

President Obama's critics say he's a socialist at heart, who will grow government even more than his predecessor. He insists he's a moderate. And the thing about his speech is... it was quite ambiguous, albeit eloquent. And a speech can be delivered by anybody, once it's in the teleprompter. That speech could've been delivered, perhaps without Obama's considerable delivery skills, by Nancy Pelosi or Ron Paul... know what I mean?

Time will tell.

Meanwhile, by nature I'm cautiously optimistic... tempered by a large dose of learned cynicism. "Small government" seems as old-fashioned and quaint as JFK's speech, nowadays.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Let Them Eat Asphalt!

In his 2009 State of the State speech, Governor Butch Otter discussed at length the economic conditions that will surely force a pullback in government services this year.

There's no getting around it. Aside from raising taxes, or spending money we don't have (which is prohibited by the State Constitution... THANK GOODNESS!), the only alternative is some significant belt tightening.

Otter continues to push for more money for roads. This an ongoing theme; he claims we need $240/million more per year, just to maintain the existing infrastructure. (He wants to raise the money with a combination of gas tax and increased registration fees. I've commented previously on that topic, HERE.)

Of course, the "loyal opposition" jumped all over Otter's plan to scale back the budget.

Women, children, and the poor, will be hardest hit! (Same old story.)

"My senator" (Werk) even came up with a catch sound-bite, condemning Otter's "Pavement over People" priorities.

Criminy! You'd think only the aristocrats were allowed to drive on the roads! (And if that were the case, I bet maintenance costs would go WAY down!)

Here's some Harsh Reality... at least as I see it.

Reality: We've had a string of decent years, economy-wise, and we've seen government budgets at every level (federal, state, county, city) grow faster than inflation, or population, or any other indicator. New programs have been added, and old programs have been shored up with increased funding. But alas... the party is over. The Feds can continue to spend like there's no tomorrow, and even add new programs, bailouts, incentives, with impunity. (Our grandkids will have to pay it back.) But everybody else is facing some uncomfortable budgeting decisions. (Kinda like responsible families and businesses, when funds are cut back.)

Reality: This is NOT a good time to ask taxpayers to dig a little deeper. A significant number have joined the unemployment lines, for cryin' out loud! (Of course, a more astute economic genius might be able to explain to me, "We are giving you a $1000 stimulus payment... paid by you the taxpayer sometime in the future... why can't you give $500 back to the government?")

Reality: It makes sense that those who will suffer most from significant budget cuts are... the people who use the most government services. (You don't have to be Einstein or that wheelchair guy to understand that!)

Reality: There are people who truly have heavy burdens to bear. But there are also people whose main focus in life seems to be finding every government program they can take advantage of, to lighten their personal load. I know both kinds of people; I bet you do, too. Perhaps Roger Miller said it best - they "know every handout in every town, and every lock that ain't locked when no one's around." Not only that - they quickly develop a sense of entitlement - taxpayers OWE those services to them from that point forward, for some reason.

Reality: It is WAY easier to add a new government program, than to eliminate one. In fact, it's almost impossible to eliminate a program, because it will negatively impact some constituency. I guess we'll find out this year if programs can be scaled back, or maybe even eliminated.

These statements from Otter resonated with THIS taxpayer/citizen:

"... those of us in state government are facing the same kinds of painful, gutwrenching choices that individuals and families all over Idaho are making with their personal finances. And the decisions you and I make will bear on the ability of every Idahoan to fulfill their own responsibilities."

"The question that you and I must honestly answer on every occasion is whether meeting those [real peoples'] real needs falls within the sphere of the necessary and proper role of taxpayer-funded government services."

Frankly, those questions should be asked in the "feast" years as well as the "famine" years, seems to me.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Who's funnier - Liberals or Conservatives?

If you're a News Junkie, like me, you probably saw the recent flap about a parody song called "Barak, the Magic Negro."

I have never heard the song; from what I understand it's sung to the tune of "Puff, the Magic Dragon," by a guy who's impersonating the Reverend Al Sharpton. And the jist of the song is apparently about how President-elect Obama has succeeded because he doesn't have a "ghetto" background (as perceived by other African-Americans).

Defenders of the song say it's a sarcastic indictment of the mainstream media and their unwavering embrace of Obama throughout the recent campaign and election. Detractors say it is racist.

I doubt most of those detractors know any more about the song than I do. But since it has the word "negro" in it, it's obviously racist.

(The song has been out there in the public for quite some time; evidently Rush Limbaugh used it regularly, much to the delight of his loyal fan base. The reason it recently was thrust back into the news is because a guy who wants to be Chairman of the Republican Party sent out CDs to Republican colleagues, that contained the "Magic Negro" song.)

The whole episode causes me to ask myself, who's funnier, the liberals or the conservatives?

The liberals confidently declare that they are MUCH funnier than those stuffed-shirt conservatives. And they point to their celebrity champions, like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. And of course, since they see themselves as much more tolerant than the conservatives, they dismiss the feeble comedic efforts by various conservative voices as being driven by racism, or hatred, or some other form of bigotry.

I'm not so sure.

Maybe I'm wrong, but liberals seem WAY less likely to laugh at themselves. Sure, they guffaw it up when the fun is being poked at George W. Bush (who's certainly not a FISCAL conservative, but he's no liberal, either!) or Sarah Palin or Charlton Heston or Proposition 8 supporters. But you better not make fun of them or their champions, or you're a racist bigoted hate-monger!

There is a small segment of the population whose self-determined mission in life is to be offended by everything. Their ranks are made up of mostly liberals, seems to me.

Most of us fall somewhere in between. Although I don't perceive George W. Bush as being a bumbling idiot, I certainly laugh at some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth! (Funny that the people who make fun of Bush-the-moron also seem to think the same guy is somehow a scheming manipulative evil genius.) Bubba Clinton was (and is!) a laugh-a-minute! Tina Fey's Palin impression is pretty impressive... but there's not enough material there to bring it back, week after week after week. (Perhaps if she had been elected VP, it would be different.) But I'm also a little anxious. Will we all be walking on pins and needles for at least the next 4 years, because we don't want to be branded racists if we laugh at Obama?

As Obama takes office, it will be interesting to see how the "mainest" of mainstream media - Leno and Letterman - handle him. So far, they seem to be treading pretty lightly.

I'm not much of a "broadcast media" follower; when I think about it, most of my news comes through "reading" sources. But here are some (non-expert!) personal opinions and observations on some people in the limelight:

John Stewart - I don't have cable and only see him very occasionally, but his material seems to be directed toward an audience with a superficial, "drive-by" comprehension of current events. Some of it's pretty funny; some of it not so much.

Stephen Colbert - ditto on not being very familiar with him, but when I've seen him, I always get the impression he's mostly playing to himself. And he thinks he's hilarious! (Obviously people must agree, or he'd be off the air.)

Dennis Miller seems to fancy himself as a conservative counterpoint to those guys. The few times I've seen him (typically as a guest on one of the late-night network shows), he comes across as pretty funny.

Rush Limbaugh - I used to listen to Rush all the time. And I think the guy's a comic genius! Much of his stuff is serious, but first and foremost Rush is an entertainer and he's the first to declare that. A lot of his material is hilarious... either intentionally or otherwise.

(Most of those conservative-leaning talkers, like O'Reilly and Sean Hannity and Glen Beck, don't seem to be TRYING to be funny most the time, from what little I hear of them. People who listen to them regularly might have a totally different viewpoint.)

The funniest conservative stuff I'm personally aware of is the Iowahawk - click HERE to link. (The guy is a Comedic Genius! I urge EVERYBODY to "favorite" it and check back at least weekly.)

Another website that is consistently funny is the "Blame Bush!" website - click HERE. (I'm not sure if it has a future, with that specific content. I say that by 10 years from now, everything will no longer be Bush's fault!)

(BE ADVISED... as with everything on the WorldWide Web, it's a wasteland of freedom of expression out there. Pretty much EVERYBODY is offended by something; both liberals and conservatives have widely-varying tolerance levels. There's a good chance that both of those sites have some content intended for mature audiences.)