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Dec 262016
 

I was driving in a four-lane (two in each direction) boulevard, in the left lane, preparatory to turning left onto I75, In front of me was a bald guy on a Harley, I think a “Lowboy”, if I understand the designation correctly. I had been in his vicinity for about 20 minutes, and I had been thinking that, by his behaviour, he was a novice rider.

Image result for bald harley motorcyclistHe was now exhibiting another such behaviour, by riding on the yellow line, all the way to the left, almost on the shoulder. My own motorcycling philosophy is to ride in the middle of the lane in traffic; pretend I am a car. Besides, the lines are slippery when wet, so making a habit of avoiding them is a good thing.

Anyway, he was going slower and slower —  something that he had been doing before — the traffic light ahead is red, maybe he’s not confident about stopping? or about taking off? But it’s still about 300 yards ahead, clear road, and it’s going to turn green any second.

Now he’s going really slowly, to the point that he is wobbling. Has he broken down? Is he lost? Does he want to stop for a pee? I overtook him on the right, giving him a wide berth. I thought to myself that in South Africa, the rider would raise a hand to me to thank me for being so courteous.

He immediately accelerated, driving dangerously close to my left side, and obviously shouting abuse. I activated my “road rage” behaviour: eyes straight ahead, keep my course, keep my speed. He accelerated again and pulled in diagonally in front of me. I couldn’t move; there was a line of cars on my right.

I wound down my window, and he screamed at me that it is FLORIDA LAW! that I am not allowed to overtake on the right. Plenty of insults and expletives. I resisted the impulse to explain to him that it is perfectly legal, see Florida Statute 316.084. The number was actually stuck in my head because of an argument I had with Jenna a few weeks ago.

I asked him why he was going so slowly, I thought he was going to stop. Or fall over. He screamed about the red traffic light, still 250 yards away and now bright green. More expletives and insults.

I saw a gap on my right and I made a getaway.

I know I shouldn’t have wound down my window.

 Posted by at 2:30 pm
Dec 252016
 

Jenna and I went out for Christmas Eve dinner at Ruth’s Chris, pretty decent steakhouse, if a bit on the expensive side. We were given one of those tables for two that they reserve for times when they are very busy — they have a long upholstered bench along a low wall, one person sits on the bench, one sits on a chair. In these situations, Jenna always sits on the bench, she likes to look at the other diners, and I sit on the chair, I like to look at her.Image result for ruth's chris

This time there was a problem. The couple next to us, we assumed man and wife (not so, we quickly discovered) were sitting next to each other on the bench, with her handbag next to him, more or less halfway into the space that Jenna would have liked to occupy. After a short conversation, he moved the handbag, Jenna squeezed past, and now I was looking three people in a row: my lovely wife, a large, loud, balding Stranger, and his bemused companion.

“I bet you like the Beatles!” he bellows at his companion. OK. This is more or less a first date. They are not married. Their relationship is quite new. Just germinating, you might say.
“Yes, I do. How did you know that?”
“I have a PhD in People!” he roars.

He’s already bored with her and starts a conversation with the couple on his other side, an older couple. They start the usual snowbird routine.

“Where are you from?”
“I’m from St Louis, Missouri”, he announces. “I love it there. Have a house there. I come to Sarasota in winter. I stay in her house.”  Gestures with his thumb. She looks at him with the expression of a high school cheerleader who has just wandered into a lecture on quantum mechanics when she was expecting Home Economics.
“I bet you’re from Philadelphia!” announces our Stranger.
“Why, yes, I am. How did you know that?”
“I have a PhD in People!” he shouts.

The conversation now turns to the Penn State football team, and then immediately to the Sandusky scandal.

“My dad came home one night from a Penn State game, and he said ‘There’s something wrong with that Sandusky'” confides our self-appointed entertainer for the evening. “He was absolutely right, I know because….I have a PhD in People!”

He is now reminding himself that he has been neglecting Jenna.
“…and where are you from?”
“Philadelphia also” she answers randomly and not entirely accurately.
“I knew it! I have a PhD in People!” he roars.
“What kind of dogs do you have?” he asks. For a moment I am stunned. Then I realise that we had been discussing some doggy topic while he was engaging the couple opposite.
“We have three Welsh Terriers. And a Kromfohrlander.” Normally, this either shuts them up or else leads almost anywhere. But now she decides to get playful.
No automatic alt text available.“Do you know them? Kromfohrlanders, I mean?”
“Yes, of course. I love dogs!” (There are 18 Kromfohrlanders in the USA).
“They have quite an interesting history…”
“Yes, I know. I love dogs.”
“American troops found some of them wandering around France during WW 2. They adopted them as mascots, and took them into Germany with them, where they were…”
“WE SAVE THEIR FRENCH ASSES IN THE WAR AND WHAT DO WE GET? NOT EVEN A THANK YOU!”
<A silence>
I address Jenna in Afrikaans:
“Now, that is how you change the subject into one of your choosing. Take note.”
<Another silence, slightly longer>
“Were you speaking in French?”
“Yes, I was.” (Some people just beg to be lied to) “How did you know?””I have a
“I have a PhD in People!” he bellows.
 Posted by at 11:21 am
May 112014
 

An Open Letter to Netflix:

Dear Netflix

On Saturday, I received a DVD from you — something that I always look forward to with great expectation. This was: Inspector Lewis: Series 2: Disc 1. Even better!

With great excitement, I loaded it into my DVD player. Loading, loading, loading….it was not loading. Something wrong. Drat. Wait… Let my try it in my PC’s DVD drive…

It spins up — almost came alive — then… CRACK! Like a pistol shot. Grinding noises. Tinkling sounds. Grinding noises get worse.

I open the DVD tray. It opens halfway, then I am able to retrieve a fragment of the precious DVD.

Shut down the computer. Remove the DVD player. Open it up, which is a lot harder than it sounds. All the fragments of Inspector Lewis tumble out on the towel that I had the foresight to spread.

I have heard of defragmentation, but...

I have heard of defragmentation, but…

I carefully pick out every last fragment from the DVD player, and reassemble it. (The DVD player, not the DVD. That would be impossible.) This is a lot harder than taking it apart. Eventually I have it all together, except for one screw. I find it on the floor after a short search, and replace it. Then I toss the DVD player in the garbage.

The previous paragraph really has nothing to do with Netflix, it’s just to give you some idea of what kind of person I am.

My question now is: Do you want me to mail the fragments back to you in the envelope you supplied? I am concerned that your automated systems may be damaged by these shards of plastic.

 Posted by at 7:22 pm
May 232012
 

The King of Africa

This is an ancient story from the San people of Africa (slightly adjusted) that can be read as a parable for our present times and troubles.

Elephant and Rain got married. The animals were excited: this was a real power couple. They both enjoyed the attention, paparazzi and all, but it wasn’t long before their egos got in the way of their relationship.

Elephant insisted that he was the original Big Man of Africa, that he was the most powerful. Rain, elegantly dressed in a rainbow, in turn insisted that she was the real Giver of Life, and without her everything died. That would make her more powerful than her husband. Couples therapy got them nowhere. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 6:25 pm
May 232012
 

Stéphane Hessel (93) with Jane Birkin (remember her?)

A book of just 13 pages, written by a relatively obscure 93-year-old man, which contains no sex, no jokes, no fine writing and no startlingly original message. A publishing disaster? No, a publishing phenomenon.

Indignez vous! (Cry out!), a slim pamphlet by a wartime French resistance hero, Stéphane Hessel, is smashing all publishing records in France. The book urges the French, and everyone else, to recapture the wartime spirit of resistance to the Nazis by rejecting the “insolent, selfish” power of money and markets and by defending the social “values of modern democracy”. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 6:20 pm
May 232012
 

Real Average After Tax Income

Of all the many banners being waved around the world by disgruntled protesters from Chile to Australia the one that reads, “We Are the 99%” is the catchiest.

It so turns out that it is also supported by some solid economic data. A report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) points out that, on average,  income inequality in America has not risen dramatically over the past 20 years — when the top 1% of earners are excluded. With them, we see a dramatically different picture.

Continue reading »

 Posted by at 6:04 pm
May 222012
 
Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayenne

The search for a deal to save the euro seems futile. George Papandreou introduced some drama into the staid business of banks and governments lending money to each other by calling for a referendum to approve a bailout plan. This maneuver sent Germany and France back to their tents on the French Riveira to sulk, from where they then summonsed the embattled premier to come and explain himself.  However, there is more bad news ahead if the extent of Greek tax evasion becomes known.

Here’s the startling fact: there are more Porsche Cayennes registered in Greece than taxpayers declaring an income of 50,000 euros ($68,500) or more, according to research by Professor Herakles Polemarchakis, former head of the Greek prime minister’s economic department. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 11:55 am