Thursday, November 10, 2011

Early white stuff leads to lengthy blackout

All of our "modern conveniences" (heat, light, water, and other luxuries) have been restored, but we had a difficult time last week. A freak snowstorm dumped about 14 inches of snow here in New Milford, CT, and was similarly brutal across much of southern New England and portions of New York. Coming, as it did, on October 29, the falling wet snow encountered many trees full of brightly colored leaves. The added weight to tree limbs caused all sorts of destruction - toppled trees, broken branches, snapped powerlines, blocked roadways. And about 102 hours of cold, quiet, darkness at the Hunt home.

We used melted snow to flush the toilets, candles and flashlights to see at night, and the propane grill to cook. We huddled in the basement for warmth at night - nighttime temperatures outside were well below freezing, inside reached into the forties. Though somewhat creepy, the basement was nice and warm.

Our power company, CL&P, has a great deal to answer for. Still reeling from the "once-in-a-lifetime" hurricane that caused massive Connecticut power outages in late summer, the company was slow to respond to the autumn snowstorm (MANY were in the dark far longer than we were, and some are just getting power back now) and was found to have been cutting back on its maintenance budget in recent years, even as it posted enormous profits. An independent investigation into CL&P performance has started. I'm convinced that a number of dramatic changes will be called for.

While the continued outage left us greatly inconvenienced and frustrated, there were some positives to the experience. The kids rediscovered the fun of boardgames and cardgames and neighborhood friends and even their family. With luck, the memory of the happy moments we created together during trying times will not fade during the electronics-filled days ahead.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Solutions will not be found on the Right or the Left

The Occupy Wall Street protest appears to be growing in strength and spreading from its original home in Lower Manhattan. The movement apparently is appealing to those who are concerned about current economic problems and alienated by the Tea Party movement of the radical, religious Right.

Personally, I am not sold on the Occupy Wall Street movement. I understand the motivation that has brought so many out to protest. And I do share their concern over greed and corruption and the improper influence of the corporate world in our politics.

However, I would not change many of the things the group finds objectionable, including executive bonuses, corporate "personhood," and the forced repayment of student loans. In fact, I don't want to see the banking and investment systems of my country changed in any significant way, other than to compel them to adhere to the letter of the law.

I, perhaps a bit like Herman Cain (the GOP Presidential candidate who has drawn a lot of heat for criticizing Occupy Wall Street as "unAmerican"), find it difficult not to question the objectives of those who seek dramatic change to those systems. I certainly would stop short of calling the protestors "unAmerican" - I'm not sure that any free thought that occurs to an American can ever be "unAmerican." But I recognize that the free market is the core of the American system and has contributed to our national success story. I am not willing to discard it in a time of temporary trouble.

I agree with my friends on the Left that the Tea Party movement has been a force for harm on the Right. I believe that is undeniable - an irrational focus on government spending at a time of serious economic woe has only extended our problems and caused a great deal of unnecessary suffering. But we should not attempt to counter that by introducing a force for harm on the Left.

The solution must be to oppose irrational radicalism in all its forms with reason and a sincere desire to improve the lives of ALL our fellow citizens.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

P.O. closings may be right move

I read the linked article ( ) with interest. It is about the proposed closure of a few thousand of the United States Postal Service's offices around the country and ALL the many reasons for keeping the doors open despite the USPS's dismal financial outlook. Having a personal affinity for outdated concepts (as I realize I will eventually become one, if I have not already), I do hate the idea of local post offices closing. But... just a few observations:

  • There are about 32,000 post offices in the U.S. right now. But there are an estimated 20,000 municipalities - all sizes - in the country. Isn't that overkill? I'm sure some municipalities require more than one post office simply to deal with volume, but what about the Alaskan coastal tribal village of Wales, population 162? It has two post offices for those 162 people. Surely, even if every single man, woman and child in the community went to just one post office every single day there would still be some lulls in the traffic! The post office closest to the coast is slated by the USPS for closure. If you know a bit about Alaskan geography, you might think that the coastal closure would unfairly oppress the very isolated 170 residents on Little Diomede island 25 miles away in the Bering Strait, but no, they have their own post office!
  • The article writer speaks about poor people lining up in an ever-dwindling number of remotely located post offices merely to acquire money orders to pay their monthly bills. (By law, they better be low-spending poor people, because money orders cannot be valued at more than $1,000.) However, the writer does not mention that money orders can also be purchased through Western Union, in grocery stores, in department stores, in convenience stores. (By the way, with all the money order fraud lately, the postal service money orders have virtually become private postal service currency, as attempting to cash them anywhere but a post office, where they can be verified, is risky.) In fact, Walmart offers its own money orders at a cost that is about half of what the post office charges, and I think many would find Walmart's service hours to be more agreeable than those of the post office. Now, I'm not a fan of Walmarts, generally, but I notice that there are about 4,000 of those things scattered around the country. I bet a bunch of those money-order customers will comfortably line up in them when their bills become due.
  • The writer does some "math" to determine that Americans collectively will pay $50 million in extra fuel costs if the postal service makes office closures and suggests that figure somehow minimizes the effect of the $200 million in annual savings to the postal service. Apples and oranges. In addition, this alleged math is built upon the premise that every single household located near a closed post office would make two extra gas-guzzling-vehicle trips each month in order to visit a neighboring post office. I'm fairly certain those are invalid assumptions. Some of the residents near the Hope Street, Stamford, post office, for example, may be able to stop in at one of the more than half a dozen other post offices within a three-miles radius of it on their way to work or the store. And, I'm almost ashamed to point out, many of us do not make any trips to the post office, ever, and should not be expected to make 24 more per year if our local post office is closed. I personally purchase stamps, communicate and pay bills online. And I use UPS to ship packages whenever possible, as its slightly higher costs already include delivery confirmation and insurance that must be paid for separately at the USPS.
  • Ignored by the article writer is a statistic I recently noted. Four out of five local post offices are operating at a deficit - they are losing money. But, apparently, the USPS monopoly is legally required to maintain service to all areas of the country, even when operating at a loss. Closing post offices is serious business, requiring all sorts of tough-to-get federal approvals. And what congressperson is ever going to vote in favor of closing the local post office? So, added to its other significant problems, the postal service is mandated by law (and by the lawmakers who hope to be reelected) to bleed hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Let me just state the obvious: This is not a recipe for business success.
  • Privatization is all the rage these days. There are some on the far right who would like to see the extreme of that concept applied to Social Security, healthcare, education, environmental protection... Why not the mail? Though the article writer did not discuss it in much detail (or objectivity), the postal service's idea of creating village post offices within existing small businesses in small towns seems an excellent one. Personally, I do not see why the postal service intends to pay these businesses to offer mail services - it seems to me to be an excellent thing for a general store in a small town to offer just to bring folks in. But USPS is awarding small sums to the host businesses of its village post offices.The article writer noted with some criticism that the village post office in Malone, Washington, made just $2,000 through the program last year. Strangely, I don't believe anyone has heard the owner of Reds Hop n' Market complaining about the extra two-grand. And the few hundred people in the area seem to have no problem doing their mail business while stopping in at Reds for their beer and bait.

Bottom line: It seems to me that the postal service is a thoroughly antiquated concept. But its leadership does seem to have some good ideas for adjusting to the new environment and, perhaps, surviving in it. However, instead of realizing that these changes are good and necessary, postal patrons, postal employees and the elected leaders of our country are determined to oppose them and maintain the same old course, which certainly leads straight over a cliff.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Survived Irene

We're fine. Irene dumped a lot of water across Connecticut and caused power outages throughout much of the state, but she didn't effect our household much. We lost cable TV briefly a couple of times. And there was a power flicker or two. Getting in and out of town became difficult due to the flooding, road washouts and downed trees, and at one point New Milford was effectively an island. But many other communities were hurt much worse.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Here she comes

Hurricane Irene is slowly closing in on North Carolina. She is still a few hundred miles out, but the Carolina coast is already feeling her waves and winds. Things are going to get much, much worse out there over the next day or so.

Immediately after that, things are going to much, much worse around here in the greater New York area. New York City has been right in the middle of the hurricane's "cone of unpredictability" since early on. Current projections call for the hurricane to pass right over New York and into western Connecticut.

At this point, we expect significant flooding throughout the region. On approach, Irene's winds will likely force a great deal of extra seawater into the funnel of Long Island Sound. That plus a foot of rain could be bad news for coastal areas.

Many are also likely to lose electricity as a result of the storm. CNN anticipates that as many as a half million will be without power for up to a week. It could possibly be worse than that.

All of that is reason for tremendous concern. But, for me, there is another nightmarish possibility. It now seems likely that the long awaited relief of the kids' first day of school, scheduled for Monday, will have to be put off in Irene's wake.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Brackman still impresses

Just acquired a copy of The Other Nuremberg by Arnold C. Brackman. I don't know why it took me so long to get the book, which was released back in the mid-1980s. I suppose I was a little spooked by the fact that the manuscript was completed during the time I was Arnold Brackman's journalism student at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. He died just after finishing it.

Mr. Brackman was a dynamic and passionate teacher. He was physically small but had a presence that commanded attention and respect. I recall his gray, carelessly combed hair, his bright blue eyes, and his crooked fingers, flattened at the ends, likely from years of "hammering" news stories out of manual typewriters. I recall his preference for Foster's lager (I scrupulously avoid the beverage, waiting for an appropriate moment) and for watching baseball but nothing else on television. And I remember a scarf-like thing, with small pockets in the ends, that he wore on cold winter days.

Mr. Brackman was "old school" in the classroom - he resisted technological advances and employed a bit of old-fashioned student-ridicule when it suited his purposes. He loudly accused careless students of "bloody libel." He seemed to especially enjoy getting Communications majors tongue-tied. But none of that never came across as mean-spirited (at least to me, as I majored in history, a field of which he approved).

It was a tremendous honor just to sit in his classroom. (I used to think, "What is a man like this doing teaching introductory journalism in Danbury, Connecticut?") Earning his notice was a special bonus that I experienced more than once.

After gauging the ability of his incoming Journalism I students on the first day of class, Mr. Brackman called me aside. It was entirely unexpected. I had no intention of pursuing journalism. I planned at the time to become an attorney, and I suspected that some journalism might be helpful. But Mr. Brackman had other plans. He ordered me - there is no more accurate way to phrase that - to report to the university newspaper office for assignment. He was going to make a newsman out of me. He also told me that he was going to set me up with a job at the local daily newspaper.

I was flattered, and I reported for my university newspaper assignment from then-Managing Editor Lisa Sforza. I never expected that Mr. Brackman actually intended to get me a job. I had recently started working at a neighborhood 7-Eleven to earn some spending cash. But, during a break in our second journalism session, he handed me a slip of paper with a name and telephone number on it. I had a job as a sports stringer at the Danbury News-Times, he told me, and I needed to call Sports Editor Paul Palazzo to find out when to report for work.

I really didn't know much about sports (the most athletic thing I had done to that point in my life was "captain" the high school chess team) and I admitted as much. "Well, this will be an excellent way for you to learn," he said. "I just took a job at a convenience store," I resisted. "Get out of it," he instructed.

Paul Palazzo, an earlier Brackman-disciple, graciously put up with me for a long time. I think I eventually got the hang of local sports. But, honestly, I disliked the News-Times (and still dislike it). What really excited me at that point was the WCSU's Echo newspaper, where I quickly became part of the decision-making process.

I held quite a few jobs during my years at the Echo - reporter, assistant editor, circulation manager, copy editor, columnist. After my first year there, Mr. Brackman recommended me for the Grolier Award for Excellence in Journalism - a set of Americana Encyclopedia that remains the centerpiece of my now-large book collection. I'm sure he also had a hand in squeezing me onto the Echo editorial board as an assistant editor and getting me the job as Echo columnist.

He wasn't around much after that. He suffered a heart attack in the summer. I learned about it shortly after it happened when I bumped into Lisa Sforza at the university. That fall, Mr. Brackman participated in Echo editorial board meetings via the telephone. I believe Lisa visited him a few times. (I was jealous of that.) He wrote me one very complimentary note on the columns I was writing - I probably still have it somewhere. Then he died in November 1983, a couple of weeks after my 20th birthday. He just died.

The loss was staggering. To this day, I have to fight back tears when I bump into some of my fellow Echoites. My feelings at the time were entirely selfish: It seemed so unfair. Mr. Brackman - he said in class that we should address him as "Mr. Brackman," and it has always been impossible for me to refer to him any other way - had been my guide, my mentor, my "godfather." He took me aside at a moment when I was wondering who and what I was, what was ahead for me, and he showed me the answers to my questions. He put me in touch with my abilities and set me on a path that would always challenge them.

I'm happy that I was able to earn his notice in those few small ways, though I know my story is far from unique. And I'm very happy that my name is linked with his by my receipt of the first-ever Arnold Brackman Memorial Scholarship for Journalism at WCSU. But it's never been enough. I felt that I needed to impress him - really impress him. I think that would have been a way to show him my appreciation for all he did for me - you know, knock his socks off with some achievement and credit him for making such an impact on me and making it all possible. I never had the opportunity. I never will have the opportunity.

And the very notion of becoming "impressive" is insignificant as a result.

Yet somehow, almost 28 years after his death, Mr. Brackman is still able to impress me. That, I suppose, defines the gulf between us, between our abilities and personalities. After a distinguished newspaper career, he authored some of the most interesting books ever written. I have been picking them up through the years. Reading them, studying them, listening to them to hear his voice through them. Being soothed and yet also tortured at those moments that his voice comes through most clearly.

A Delicate Arrangement has been my personal favorite. But The Last Emperor is truly an amazing work. I also have marveled at The Dream of Troy and The Search for the Gold of Tutankhamen. I've been wanting to get hold of The Luck of Nineveh, but haven't gotten around to it yet. I honestly don't know what caused me to search for a copy of The Other Nuremberg. I was aware of the book for some time. Perhaps I just became emotionally "ready" for it.

Upon my first glance at the back cover of the book, I was impressed with Arnold Brackman all over again. There was a black and white picture of Mr. Brackman, then probably in his early twenties, his hair dark and his clothing military in style, attending the Tokyo war crimes trials. I wondered how he happened to be photographed at such an event, when cameras should have been pointed at far more significant people. Then I noticed that he was sitting in the witness chair. Yes, the WITNESS CHAIR! The caption indicated that, as a kid reporter, Mr. Brackman got in some trouble with the chief trial judge. His news story about defense opening arguments was published just a bit earlier than the judge would have liked. That's why the war crimes trial cameras were pointed at him at that moment.

When I was in my early twenties, I was covering town carnivals and municipal budgets and snapping pictures of the occasional car fire. Mr. Brackman at the same stage of life was making headlines on the other side of the world! Now that I think of it, I might have been fortunate that he exited this life while I was still in school. What could I ever have done, what could I ever do to impress a man like that? Yet, it seems I should have had the chance.

Irene's coming for a visit

Looks like Hurricane Irene will be Tropical Storm Irene when she collides with Connecticut sometime on Sunday. (Perhaps the kids will have a "tropical storm day" instead of their first day of school on Monday.)

The storm is currently sweeping up from the Bahamas. The "cone of uncertainty" - the collection of possible paths the storm will take - sweeps up the east coast of the United States. At this moment, Connecticut sits right in the center of the cone, meaning we're likely to experience heavy rains and strong winds no matter what course Irene finally decides.

This image from NOAA is a look at how winds are expected to pick up over the next few days. It calls for tropical storm-level winds here in Connecticut.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What quake?

We had an earthquake, and I missed it. Near as I can figure it, the three kids and I were sitting in our car in the New Milford Stop & Shop parking lot (finishing our late McD's lunch before shopping), when the earthquake hit. I first heard about it when we entered the store. People were huddled here and there, commenting about how strong the vibrations were. I did not join in the conversations because I felt nothing. The kids felt nothing. Could be that my three teens were bouncing the car around so much while they shook in time with the music of their private iPods that it was impossible to note the earth's rumbling crust.

I've embedded a neat little widget that tells the reported intensity of the earthquake at any given ZIP code. Despite the fact that I reported feeling nothing at all, the widget says New Milford experienced something on the order of a 2.9 quake.

Friday, August 12, 2011

What I thought I heard from GOP debate

I wasn't taking notes, so I may be just a bit off on some of my quotes. But this is what I believe I heard at the last debate of GOP Presidential hopefuls.

Bachmann: I'm more conservative than you are.

Pawlenty: Nuh uh.

Bachmann: Uh huh.

Pawlenty: No way.

Bachmann: Yes way.

Pawlenty: I'm so conservative that I don't care if poor people have health care.

Romney: Well, I've never cared about the disadvantaged either.

Pawlenty: Oh yeah? Romney-care, Romney-care.

Romney: Real mature!

Cain, Pawlenty, Bachmann, Huntsman, Gingrich and most of audience: Romneycare, Romneycare.

Romney: [sniffle]

Questioner: Mr. Gingrich, how come your campaign sucks so bad?

Gingrich: No fair asking "Gotcha" questions!

Santorum: I'm so conservative that, when I'm president, I will see to it that we return to colonial status in the British Empire.

Huntsman: I'm so conservative that I believe taking money away from public schools is the best way to improve them.

Bachmann: I'm so conservative that I would treat homosexuality as a mental illness. And I would see to it that high on the wall in front of every public school classroom there was a crucifix and a photo of Ronald Reagan.

Pawlenty: I'm so conservative that I don't believe Bachmann should have the right to vote.

Questioner: Mr. Gingrich, what would you do as president?

Gingrich: I refuse to answer any "gotcha" questions.

Questioner: Well, why should anyone vote for you?

Gingrich: It's just one "gotcha" after another.

Questioner: As president what would you do about the debt ceiling?

Romney: I won't eat dog food.

Pawlenty: Romneycare, Romneycare.

Gingrich: [shakes head]

Bachmann: We should have left the ceiling where it was. Plaster it here and there. Maybe a new coat of paint.

Paul: Well, I think marijuana should be legal, the Federal Reserve should be illegal, and we should be friends with Iran.

Questioner: But, Mr. Paul, the question was about the debt ceiling.

Paul: [snores]

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Occupational hazard

You probably couldn't tell just by looking at me [roll eyes], but I have put on a few pounds since writing has become my occupation. This appears to be a natural development - an occupational hazard.

I've noticed that the act of writing has peculiar effects on the human body. It makes one hungry without burning a great many calories and makes one tired without the benefit of exercise.
This wasn't always the case. I recall that the use of manual typewriters years ago was superb aerobic exercise (particularly for the left arm that was forever slapping the carriage return lever). And, if you ever had to move your writing device, it could qualify as weight-training as well.

Pushing the buttons on feather-light keyboards just doesn't have the same effect.

I've heard of one "green" option that might help writers keep slim. It involves hooking an electrical generator up to a treadmill or stationary bike and then plugging a notebook PC into the generator. Sounds like it could work. But, I dunno, setting it up seems like so much work...

Friday, August 5, 2011

It's safe; just ask the kid with the cast

Had a conversation with my kids about the safety of trampolines. One of them referred to a friend who had a trampoline and insisted that they were safe. "Which friend is that?" I asked. "You know, the one with the big cast on his arm," was the answer.

It was a humorous moment. But to parents the situation is far from funny.

According to a CBS News story this year, in 2009 there were 98,000 trampoline injuries so severe that they required Emergency Room treatment. Eighty-two percent of those injuries were to children under the age of 15.

Manufacturers have made some efforts to keep children from falling off the devices and from coming in violent contact with the hard metal frames. We've all seen the padding and the nets that have been added to trampolines. Strangely, manufacturers often sell the things without these safety features. Even when trampolines are equipped with these safety measures, the pads and nets can easily be removed.

It is also important to note that many injuries result from attempts to do "tricks" on the trampolines. Children can break spinal bones from unsuccessful attempts at somersaults and flips. According to one Canadian study, 10 percent of those injuries result in paralysis.
Statistically, giving your children a loaded handgun to play with is only slightly riskier than giving them a trampoline.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

USPS racket

I'm starting to think we need to bring a class action suit against the USPS for its blatant refusal to acknowledge the existence of low-cost Parcel Post and Media Mail shipping methods.
If you doubt the need for this action, check on the problem yourself: Bring a package to your local post office and ask to ship it the cheapest way possible. You will be given a number of choices, none of which are as cheap as Parcel Post or Media Mail.
Even if you know about these methods of mailing AND specifically request them, postal clerks will do their best to talk you out of them. Here is a recent conversation I had with a postal clerk:
"I'd like to send this package by Media Mail."

"What's in it?"

"It's a book, and I'd like to send it Media Mail."

"If there's anything other than a book inside..."

"There's isn't. It's just a book. You can feel the book through the package, see?"

"Because we have the right to open the package and check."

"That doesn't matter. It's a book, and I'd like to send it Media Mail."

"Well, it will take several days longer to ship that way."

"I don't mind. Just send it Media Mail."

"For just a dollar-twenty more, you can have it there by Thursday."

"That won't be necessary. Media Mail is fine."

"I'm just saying that's a small price to pay to get the package there so much quicker."

"Nevertheless. Media Mail."

At this point, the clerk finally gave up. I paid the Media Mail rate. The clerk took the package, dropped it to the floor, kicked it into a dusty corner of the room and spat in that direction.


The first few times this kind of thing happened to me, I imagined that it was just the pattern at my local post office. Since then, I have encountered the same behavior at other post offices. And friends and relatives have encountered it too. It really appears that this is a policy of the USPS. I don't understand why the postal service and its employees would deny the very existence of these low-cost shipping options. And how could postal clerks be motivated to try to talk customers out of those options when they know they exist.

Perhaps USPS allows postal clerks to pocket the difference in cost between the actual cheapest forms of shipping and the more pricey Express Mail.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Taxing churches

As we're tightening our government-budget belts, it might be a good time to consider the money that would flow into municipal, state and federal coffers by removing the various tax exemptions from churches and similar organizations.

These businesses pay no taxes on income or property, providing they do not engage themselves in political activity. Obviously, many DO engage in political activity. One church's whole reason for being seems to be to protest against the national agenda by picketing the funerals of fallen American service men and women. Another large church has for many years opposed political candidates based upon their views on the legality of abortion. That same venerable institution recently took a stand against the New York State Legislature's approval of same-sex marriage. So, the idea that churches have only other-worldly concerns is entirely a myth. On this grounds alone, the tax exemptions should be canceled, but no one in the government appears to be taking notice.

But there is a more basic issue. The establishment clause of the First Amendment is supposed to guarantee that no individual, group or business is given an advantage because of his, her or its religious beliefs. By granting a tax exemption to religious institutions, the government is effectively compelling ALL the rest of us to subsidize the religious institutions through our taxes. Our taxes pay to build and maintain the roads and sidewalks that lead to the churches. Our taxes pay for the police protection and fire protection enjoyed by the churches. In every way, the religious nature of the institutions provides them with a financial advantage that the rest of us do not enjoy. We are forced not only to pay for government services for ourselves but for others' churches as well.

Of course, there is much there for legal scholars to argue about. I'm more concerned with government budgets right now. So, how much money could we hope to gain for government by taxing churches?

The short answer seems to be: no one knows. Since any church income or property is not taxed, there seems to be very little interest in keeping track of just how much of it there is. Some sources note that 40 years ago the value of all church property in the U.S. was around $110 Billion. That figure sounds low. It is certainly a lot lower than the value of church property in the U.S. today. Sources place the annual church income of about 25 years ago in the neighborhood of $100 Billion. The current figure is probably much higher.

Potential property tax income is easy to calculate. Just run a reasonable property value figure through whatever mill rate is handy to get an approximation. Other taxes could be influenced by the way the churches kept their books. But, clearly, we're talking about a decent amount of money - enough to eliminate the need to cut important programs and employees and various levels of government.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Captain America

I hear that a movie about Captain America is due to open soon. I have to admit that I have always considered Captain America a bit of a national embarrassment. The guy's only weapon is a shield, and he doesn't even seem to know what it's for.
Other superheroes have all sorts of nifty weapons and powers. Even Captain Canada occasionally wields a broken beer bottle - Molson, I believe. And I hear Captain Antarctica has a mobile penguin launcher that does all sorts of damage. Captain America doesn't even have a utility belt. How can you expect to be a superhero with just a shield and no utility belt?
I've always felt that Thor was pretty lame as a superhero. But at least he's equipped with a hammer. When he's not clubbing criminals with it, he can use it on odd jobs around the house and can also make some pretty big holes in stuff. (The whole flying gimmick, in which he supposedly throws the hammer and then quickly grabs the handle to be carried along with it, is a bit of a stretch though.)
However, Captain America just has this big, colorful shield. And, at the first sign of trouble, he THROWS IT AWAY! I'm sure he gets a lot of ribbing from the other superheroes about that.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ticked off at Amazon

In order to avoid paying sales taxes under Connecticut's new law, Amazon has severed its business relationships with all CT-based web associates. That means Amazon will no longer pay us the small referral fees we used to receive when our websites drove customers to the bookseller.

For me, referral fees never amounted to a huge amount of money. (Though Amazon made tens of thousands of dollars from my web visitors each year.) But they did help make my various websites viable. I will likely be joining Barnes and Noble as an associate in the near future in an effort to make up the lost revenue.

Very discouraging.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Re-reading Hawking

Had a few minutes of spare time recently and used them to go back over some of Stephen Hawking's works. I was re-reading the very basic descriptions of the relativity principles. While a lot of the subject is still challenging, I feel like I am least able to identify some of my own mental block. The notion of Time as variable just doesn't fit with human experience. I mean, it may make sense in the mathematical equations, but it is as unimaginable for me as additional dimensions of space.

I suppose it could be easier to accept Time as a variable and Velocity (of light) as a constant if velocity was not always expressed in terms based upon time units. Maybe we should refer to all velocities in relation to the light speed constant and leave off the "per hour" part of the description.

Mafia forum sets new record

The American Mafia discussion group I moderate hit a new record for message posts last month. During the month of May, 347 new posts appeared on the group. The previous record was 237 posts, set back in April 2009. The group now has more than 100 members.

Recent discussion topics have included Joseph Bonanno's kidnapping, the 1928 murder of boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila, the Castellammarese War, and Allessandro Vollero's warning to Joe Valachi.

The discussion group is hosted by Yahoo! and can be accessed at this web address:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New mob history website

I've been spending some time lately designing a website to supplement the book Mike Tona and I are completing. The site and the book (DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime) will contain information on the Mafia in western New York. Some of the site skeleton is in place and can be viewed at these web addresses:,

Initially, the most eye-catching aspect of the site probably will be the horizontal "crawler" of mugshots across the top of the main entrance page. The crawler, based on a design by John Davenport Scheuer, will allow visitors to link to biographies of mob figures by clicking on mugshots.

If anyone decides to take a look at the fledgling website and would like to provide feedback, comments can be added to this post or emailed to

Monday, April 11, 2011

Twain and Christian Science

Some recent Facebook posts prompted me to read through Mark Twain's assessment of Christian Science. Twain was at his sarcastic best in the opening of the book. He relates a tale, in which he was horribly hurt during a fall from a mountain ledge and required medical care for broken bones. Unfortunately, the only healthcare workers in the area were a horse-doctor and a Christian Science healer. He opts for the latter and begins receiving treatment for his fractures remotely. When the healer visits her patient the next day, the two enter into a wonderful conversation about reality and illusion.

You can download the book to your Amazon Kindle for free.

Friday, April 8, 2011

First post

While I publish other blogs relating to specific projects, it seems a good idea to have a more general online site that deals with all that work and with other projects that may be of some interest. At this point, I honestly have no idea how busy the "generic" Tom Hunt blog will be.

We'll see.