Inconspicuous news

Another look at inconspicuous news from Saturday’s papers …

U.S. and Iran: Close to a nuclear deal?

George Jahn of the Associated Press reports that the U.S. and Iran have tentatively agreed on a formula that may reduce Tehran’s ability to manufacture nuclear weapons. This of course would be big news, if it comes to fruition, particularly to Israel. However, there is much work to be done.

The agreed upon arrangements for removing Iran’s nuclear material – oddly enough – would send that bomb-making material to Russia. I guess that makes sense, since one would think the Russians probably don’t need the material any more than the U.S. does. They have enough already …

These agreements tend to come apart when it comes to verification processes that often require one sovereign nation to acquiesce to inspections, usually by a United Nations group. You just need to reminisce on Saddam Hussein’s constant cat-and-mouse games with U.N. inspections for years and years before the 2004 invasion.

When it comes to WMD programs, you can say you “trust”, but you absolutely must be able to “verify”! And therein lies the rub …

Afghan leadership in disarray

Just another indicator ( Pamela Constable) of how tenuous the hold is for Afghanistan’s government in the wake of the removal of most combat troops and the reemergence of the Taliban. Many positions in federal posts, provincial government, even the cabinet remain vacant. All this feeds the feeling of disillusionment and uncertainty that had led many Afghans to leave Kabul and their country.

Jake Tapper‘s book The Outpost demonstrated over and over again the difficulty of filling provincial offices even when the American military was fully engaged. So it’s not hard to comprehend the difficulties when there is no military protection for prospective regional leaders and their families.

Given the Taliban’s reputation, can you blame them?

This is South Vietnam just waiting to happen all over again. Check that … It’s 1996 in Afghanistan all over again …

A show about something after all apparently

Finally, the Associated Press reports that psychiatry professor, Anthony Tobia, at Rutgers University is using episodes from the still popular Seinfeld television series to demonstrate psychopathological behaviors to third and fourth-year medical students.

The cleverly named course, Psy-feld, assigns two episodes a week for students to watch then discuss. Most of the behaviors noted would not be surprising to those of us who craved our Cosmo Kramer moments for nine hilarious seasons. Jerry’s obsessive-compulsiveness, Kramer’s schizoid traits, Elaine’s inability forge meaningful relationships, and George’s egocentricism …

But I always thought George was just a neurotic mama’s boy.

I just want to be in the class when they discuss The Contest episode!

J-Roll and Me … since 2007

jimmy-rollinsNot often do I feel genuine admiration for professional athletes.  It’s rarer still that I become a dedicated fan.

If you give a twit about professional sports, you quickly learn that pro athletes come and go, sometimes on a whim and always regardless of your affection.  Pro athletes are a special kind of mercenary … Keen to their value and the limited horizon of their earning potential, they tend to move where the financial grass is greener after a few years in any one city for any particular team.

There are of course exceptions; but the best approach to avoiding repeated disappointments and that goofy fan version of “loss”, when a favored player departs, is to remain a distant and objective fan, dedicated only to statistics and the calculus of how individual players will – or will not – help your preferred team addiction.

Jimmy Rollins is one of the few players to so ingratiate themselves in my view of the professional athlete should represent to become a player  an individual I respect.  As a partial season ticket holder, I have enjoyed watching Rollins play the shortstop position in the cozy confines of Citizens Bank Park.  But now that he will move on in an unsurprising trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, it’s time to look back at his 15-year Philadelphia Phillies career.

He had his faults, don’t get me wrong.  He could have been a better hitter (.267 career average); never walked enough (averaging just 50 BB/season); and had fleeting issues with the concept of hustle on the base paths.

Through all of that, Rollins was still able to earn what I like to think is my difficult-to-earn Sports Admiration by what he accomplished in 2007.

That season he set career marks in Games, At Bats (716), Plate Appearances, Runs (139) and Triples (20).  With 17 games remaining in the regular season and the Phillies facing a 7.5 game deficit in the National League East, Rollins batted .309 with multiple hits in 15 of those games, 3 Homeruns, 12 RBI.  Leading the Phillies past the Mutts and grabbing the first of 5 consecutive NL East crowns!

St. Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies - Game 2But what really set that season apart in my mind was what he said a few weeks before the first meaningful pitch of 2007 was thrown, before a single at-bat, even before spring training started.  Following a season where the New York Mets dominated in winning the NL East by 12 games, James Calvin Rollins declared the Philadelphia Phillies “the team to beat in the National League East” for that upcoming 2007 season!

Certainly I wasn’t alone in finding Rollins’ proclamation cringe-worthy for a team that hadn’t shown much life or distinction in preceding seasons.  But that’s what impressed me most in 2007, that Rollins had the confidence to proclaim how good his team was, and then have the career season to make sure it happened.  In the end, Rollins won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, a Gold Glove (his first of four), and a Silver Slugger (his only) in what was the best season of his career.

From that 2007 season forward, I could overlook those isolated hustle-related incidents because of the confidence – even cockiness – and Leadership he provided a team that would win just its second World Series MLB championship a year later.

In his 15 years in Philadelphia, Rollins set franchise career marks in Hits (2306) and Doubles (479); appeared in 3 All-Star Games; and finished 3rd in Rookie-of-the-Year voting (2001).  At the crucial position of shortstop, he won the aforementioned four Gold Gloves; but even more impressively he ranks 3rd in Fielding Percentage (.983) among all shortstops in modern Major League Baseball history.

No doubt this places him among the best defensive shortstops ever to play the game.

In addition, Rollins was a community philanthropist whose charity, The Rollins Family Foundation, benefitted the Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis Foundation and Prevent Child Abuse PA.  Most recently, his charity has worked to educate and promote access to fresh foods for low-income families.  He and his wife also founded The Johari & Jimmy Rollins Center for Animal Rehabilitation in Woolwich Township, NJ.

However, from this day forward Jimmy Rollins will provide his special kind of Leadership and defensive play in a uniform other than the red pinstripes of a Phillie.  It will be weird seeing him play in another uniform, let alone the blue of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  But such is the nature of the tenuous pro athlete-fan relationship.

You only get to enjoy watching them play for your team for only so long.  Hopefully for Phillie fans, 15 years was long enough.

May the baseball gods be fair to you, Jimmy Rollins!  May you have the chance to recapture that elusive championship feeling once again.  Just please, not with the Dodgers … or the Mets, Braves, Yankees, Nationals or Red Sox …

Just sayin’ …

My troubles with the IRS

IRS-telephone-scamWell, it’s finally happened.  I have run afoul of the IRS!

After decades of diligently paying taxes and filing returns so simple I choose to do them myself, I must have done something very, very, very wrong!  ‘Cause now I have The Man pounding on my door (phone) demanding that I respond to their verbal warnings and threats of imminent “legal proceedings”.  Yet I don’t recall getting any official notices and threatening letters from the Internal Revenue Service, filled with mind-numbing bureaucratese, enumerating my heartless transgressions against the People of America that surely should have proceeded my run-in with the IRS’s latest crop of bird-dogging bounty hunters!

It’s a bit of a puzzle.

Most confusing is the IRS’s reliance on a bunch of poorly spoken “English majors” apparently based in either West Africa or the Indian sub-continent.  It’s kinda hard to decipher their dialects.  The first call was from the latter, the latest from the former.  Don’t these hunter-killer IRS units speak to each other?!?

The second Special Agent, who called himself “Don” with an Anglo-Saxon last name spoke in a heavy Punjabi or Urdu accent (I can never tell the two apart.), was much more pleasant than the previous Special Agent, who sounded much more African (if I can be so bold as to characterize his geographical-cultural orientation).

phone-scam“West Africa” didn’t leave a name, but he was very forceful and full of implied threats.  He made sure – in no uncertain terms – that we knew the serious of our crimes against America, Apple Pie, and Motherhood.  He demanded immediate redress from our answering machine!  (The greatest invention since the brewery!) Aggressive legal action was dangling by a single hair – like the Sword of Damocles – above our heads.  I was almost convinced a S.W.A.T. team was sitting out on our back deck awaiting the word to breach the doors and drag us all off to Debtor’s Prison.

OK … So it’s a scam.  A scam of the worst kind, intended to prey on the elderly, the disconnected, the easily spooked in nothing more than any of the other usual methods of stealing from the weak.

A coworker, who also received the dreaded Tax Man Cometh scam, had the opportunity to answer the phone before he realized the call was a baited fish-hook.  Once the gig was up, he simply asked the “agent” his name, identification code, and location so he could call back after reviewing his tax return.  He heard a rustling of paper in the background, undoubtedly as the “agent” checked for this unexpected turn in the prepared script.  Then the line went dead …

But you really do have to laugh at the desperation, the obvious inattention to detail, the amateurish attempts to portray Big Bad government agent, and the huge clues they drop that are almost as good as being caught with an exploding dye pack in the getaway car while still sitting in the bank parking lot!

For me, I had to laugh at Don of The Sub-Continent when he ended his call of dire warning and imminent legal and financial ruin with the following salutation:

“Good night and God bless”

Imagine that … An IRS attack dog that signs off saying, “God bless”!?!

Game, set, match …

Sights of the WW1 battlefields

Mike Shortall:

Interesting look at World War I memorials in France and Belgium.

Originally posted on Stephen Liddell:

This my penultimate post for now on WW1 and my recent tour to the battlefields of France and Belgium.  There are simply so many places to see and despite being out all day, every day for a week, we only scratched the surface.

One of the first places that we visited was Vimy Ridge.  This is the location of a beautiful Canadian memorial and which lies surrounded by forests, parklands and crater hole after crater hole.    You can see the Vimy memorial from miles around as the ridge itself is comparatively very high over the surrounding countryside and at night-time it is well-lit up.

Vimy Ridge is a large area of high ground the dominates the region and it was first the subject of French, then British and finally Canadian attention before it was taken.   Ironically whilst many other WW1 memorials were destroyed by WW2, Vimy was saved…

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9 Circles of Ikea

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Something to do on a Sunday afternoon … Rain in the forecast … Remodeling projects in various stages of completion …

Perfect setting for the four words every red blooded male longs to hear, “Let’s go to Ikea!”, dear Carol exclaims.

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.

Ikea was founded by a 17-year-old (which explains a lot) in 1943, and is renown for it’s architectural designs of furniture and appliances and an eco-friendly approach to interior design.

This was the First Time for me, although Carol insists I had been there before.  But no, I would have remembered this experience had I lived through it before.

The store was inviting; painted in bold Blue and Yellow – the national colors of Sweden, the visuals reminding me of a favorite U.S. icon, the Blue Angels.  What could possibly be more inviting?

systembolagetYet something was gnawing at the pit of my stomach like a yellow worm with teeth (Ween).  What is wrong here?  What about this makes sense? Didn’t the Swedes also create Systembolaget, a government-controlled alcohol monopoly?

Danger, Will Robinson …

We walk into a bright but spartan lobby that invites you to ride the escalator to the retail floor.  This was an oddity in the Land of Good and Plenty.  Nothing to sell while rendering first impressions?  No impulse-buying enticements?  Primary retail space on the second floor?  Not even one store greeter … no Nordic blondes playing Abba music on nyckelharpas?

But they do have plenty of these over-sized eco-harmonizing shopping bags.  And large enough to fit a Volvo

My shopping psyche is a strange amalgam of wonderment and an anxiety of what lies beyond … I was in Limbo.

And violà!  We arrive on the retail floor!

Immediately you realize the Swedes ain’t no dummies!

We are immediately driven to Lust for the quirky, practical designs of Äpplarö, Falster, Arholma.  This is going to be an epic quest to furnish that unique space in our home.

Did I mention, I’m not a big fan of Quests?

And just then I see the store map …

Rule of Thumb:  Any store that requires a map for you to figure out where you are and to find what you want, can use the same device to make sure you can never leave!

Can you get to the cheese?

Can you get to the cheese?

I’m struck by the resemblance the Ikea store map has to those primitive maze tests used to measure the learning habits of lesser species.  This causes one to wonder, who exactly is the “lesser species” in this Nordic inspired ecosystem?

We push on with our journey, moving right into Gluttony as we peruse the quirky, imaginative shapes and functions of the Artichoke Pendant Lamp, Befintlig candles, Smörboll bedding, and Ödmjuk coffe cups.  Hours seem to have passed in minutes, I am aware of a foggy, detached feeling as though floating through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, barely tethered to the Earth.

When I am able to roust myself from this peculiar state, Carol is nowhere to be seen and the cart I am pushing is overflowing with abstract Swedish home appointments.  I must find her before we descend any further into the bowels of Scandinavian home furnishings Hades.

And then I see her!  Not Carol exactly, but that head looks familiar …

Tallemaja - seductive Scandinavian forest creature

Tallemaja – seductive Scandinavian forest creature

She appears from out of the flimsy veil of the Åderblad window treatments.  She appears to be unclothed with what looks like the tail of a cow.  When I ask her name, she replies in a foggy voice that sounds so very far away, “Tallemaja”.  She beckons me to follow.

An overwhelming sense of pressure and heaviness … When I look down I am holding three of those enormous Ikea saddle bags crammed full of sheets with artsy patterns and ingenuously designed table lamps.  I absently reach for my wallet …

The Circle of Greed!

I fight the urge and set out once again to find Carol.  I find her sorting through a clutch of Gräddig wall decorations, semi-catatonic and mumbling incoherently.  I warn her not to fall for the charms of Tallemaja.

She looks at me, her head cocked to one side.  “Who the hell’s Tallemaja?!?  I was talking to some guy named Nykkjen.  I don’t think he’s an Ikea employee; but he seemed to know a lot about this place!”

Cue the spooky music …

I urge Carol to dump her load of Riktig Ögla and Malma mirrors so we can make a hasty retreat.  I glance nervously over my shoulder half expecting her to morph into a pissed off naked forest nymph.

We need to get out of here … Now!

Heresy!”, she shouts in Anger.  I look around embarrassingly at the mumbling shoppers nearby, displaying those same blank stares, speaking gibberish …

No one here can hear you scream …

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Swedish futboler, shape shifting nicker

But finding an Exit in this place would be as likely as stumbling upon Zlatan Ibrahimović picking through a collection of Bild posters.

Desperate to escape this madness I prod Carol along.  We manage to move but a few steps when Carol calls over her shoulder to a figure bent in appreciative study, “Hey, Nykkjen, let’s go!  We’re outta here.”

So of course Zlatan Ibrahimović – Carol’s tricked out psyche version of Nykkjen – unfolds slowly to his feet triumphantly holding his latest acquisition … a Bild poster!  

Stunned momentarily I stumble in confusion, the Home Furnishings Department spinning dizzyingly.  I reach out and steady myself against the Norwegian soccer nicker’s shoulder, and – true to his Euro fùtbol tradition – collapses like a gunshot victim, grabbing at his ankle in fairy tale agony …         

 Wonderful …

Fraud and Violence in the blink of a referee’s eye … And stand perilously close to the boundary of the 9th – and final – Circle de Dantè!

I convince Carol that we should concentrate on the table and cabinets she wants for her craft room and leave this Den of Temptation before it’s too late.  She agrees and we race through the remainder of the retail floor, heading downstairs to the furniture warehouse.

By now I’m a nervous wreck, with my wallet shoved down the front of my pants and a terrified look on my face.  Carol – always quick to pick up on this sort of thing – asks me what’s wrong.  And I tell her we were oh so close to joining the lost souls in Hades, crossing 8 circles out of Dante’s 9.

Treachery - I tell her – was all that remained.

She rolls her eyes and glances around almost seekingly.  I swear she’s really searching for Zlatan that hunky Nykkjen.  “Well then, let’s get out of here, Mr. Treachery.”, she says, “You know you have to put all this crap together when we get home.”

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo  ……

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