Comprehension of English

In recent years, I have had reason to contact several large companies whom one might label as technology organizations. They appear to be run by teenagers of employees in their early twenties with a poor comprehension of the English language in written form.  One can spend hours sending multiple messages to get a simple request across. Last week and today, I had the miserable experience of contacting a large, international, on-line retailer of books. I was seeking to cancel an account I opened in 2009 to publish my eBooks. I gave the recipients of my emails all the information associated with my account and referenced the webpage on which they advertise my books. The responses I received either directed me to other departments in the same organization, or gave me information I never requested. At this time, my account with this unhelpful organization remains open and my books continue to be advertised for sale.

I am not surprised that business is moving out of the U.S. to other countries. Like all my contact with technology companies, my most recent experience confirms the belief that either the recipients of my emails are used to receiving abbreviated text messages rather than straight English, or they don’t understand the language at all.

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OUR FUTURE

Most of us who remain in the upscale retirement community where I live, congratulate ourselves on being isolated from the crime and mischief that occurs outside our boundaries. We are indeed fortunate to be able to pursue our pickle-ball, golf, tennis, bridge, and mahjong activities without fear of drug pushers accosting us on the street corner or a junkie shooting us while we ride our golf carts. In addition to staying physically isolated, we can also stay mentally secluded if we follow the advice of the well-known Doctor Andrew Weil, who recommends we get healthy and stay that way by not following the News. Altogether then, we can inhabit our starter castles and applaud an existence envied by ninety-five percent of the U.S. population, to say nothing of the rest of the world.

Some among us — a relative handful in our 9,000 population — recognize our good fortune in being able to live here. We strive to give back to those surrounding communities who fared less well in life’s game of chance. Others, however, consider they have earned their place in this small heaven-on-earth via a life of hard work and thrift, while believing that those outside the gates of our small sanctuary, who struggle for their daily bread, have gotten what they deserve. A resident recently remarked that the rising cost of living was a good thing in that it would drive out of our neighborhood those in a lower income bracket. He probably considered that those forced to leave lowered the tone of the neighborhood.

It is saddening to reflect on the multiple conditions that have slowly, but surely, divided the rich and poor more clearly in recent decades, while destroying the middle class and robbing so many of a chance to attain what used to be known as The American Dream. The humanist and philosopher, Clive James, once observed that class now divides America more than in European countries. America is closer to a South American nation such as Brazil in accommodating extremely wealthy citizens together with abjectly poor ones. The forces driving this unhappy evolution include a gigantic military-industrial complex that drains resources in a self-fulfilling scenario of perceived global threats; the consolidation of power and wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people; globalization of national economies; and the sad abdication of the ordinary person from resisting an autonomous system.

Can anyone really believe that an electoral system that relies on prospective government officials collecting money from donors who are mostly in the top one percent of the power-wealth segment of the nation, and who effectively buy future influence, is a healthy one?

Elected politicians no longer control our national society; they just fit right into the system. For the 2016 presidential campaign, more than a billion dollars of influence peddling again changed hands, and the vast majority of the American people had no qualms about the situation — to the sheer amazement of onlookers in other democratic nations. True change and control is in the hands of the ordinary person if they really see what is, and has been, happening around them. From the recent election, one has to ask, “Are so many people blind? Don’t they care? Do glib phrases and slogans so easily sway them? Are they more interested in TV soaps than in their own futures or those of their offspring?”

We have major problems looming. The collective internal debt incurred by successive U.S. governments for Medicare, Social Security, and The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (the federal insurance program) now totals in excess of $50 trillion. Lifetimes of severely reduced economic prosperity face our children and grandchildren. Which political party is going to have the guts to break the bad news to the nation? While this situation remains hidden from the majority of citizens, we tolerate a political party that would like to continue spending vast sums on wars we don’t need. At the same time, we have tens of thousands of bridges and other key infrastructural services needing repairs whose estimated costs run to trillions of dollars. In addition to our financial problems we are facing a global warming disaster so dire that our government is paralyzed with fear in case the man in the street realizes how badly our planet is threatened, and wants immediate action to return things to normal, so he can resume wondering how The Cubs will do next season or who will be the next star of American Idol.

Yes, it would be comforting to concentrate on our golf game and not listen to the gloom and doom of the news, but the really bad stuff is yet to come! We remain connected to the rest of the human race, undeserving as we might think them to be. There is a world around us that is crumbling. It needs us to rise up with our collective voices to bring sanity and decent instincts for justice to the way we govern ourselves and spend our collective capital.

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I HAVE A COMPLAINT

Everyone thinks he or she is a better driver than most other drivers are, but I believe there are a lot out there who should receive electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or, in exceptional cases, a dose of potassium cyanide. Topping my list is the motorist who signals his turn when already in the left-turn lane and halfway through the intersection. He presumably does this to remind himself that he has made a turn; it has nothing to do with signaling his intention to other road users. Many drivers apparently suffer from acute arthritis or a complete loss of strength in one or more of their fingers; otherwise, they would be able to depress the turn-signal lever on their steering column. They breeze around corners or change lanes blissfully unaware that they share the highway with other folk not blessed with telepathic powers. That the law permits motorists to drive while texting, conversing on cell phones, applying makeup, shaving, or studying maps, indicates the abysmal understanding of good driving habits on the part of those who establish driving regulations and of the driving population as a whole.

In a different field of complaint, there are male pests who, despite wearing an ounce of cheap cologne, try to demonstrate their manliness by shaking hands with a grip that could crush bricks. Tall men with long legs, who are obliged to squeeze into tiny airplane seats, take their revenge on the airline and society by constantly bumping the back of your seat through the thin piece of fabric between your spine and their foot or knee.

How do you feel about people who use the last sheet of toilet tissue without mentioning the fact to those responsible for replenishing supplies? There is the hotel room-maid who fails to report that the room she has cleaned daily for many months lacks a light bulb by the bed, or has a dripping shower faucet, or a washbasin plug that doesn’t function.

A frequent pest is the dog owner, with the voice of a drill sergeant, who stands outside your bedroom window at five a.m., and holds a conversation with another dog owner three-hundred feet away.

There are hosts who provide guest toilets with tanks that take fifteen minutes to refill after flushing. Other hosts think it’s cute for their hyperactive pooch to jump on you as soon as you enter their home, or they smile as it insists on sharing the sofa with you, thereby liberally spreading its hair all over your clean clothing. There are homeowners who dump loose newspapers on top of their garbage or recycle bins and let them blow down the street in the wind to collect on neighbors’ driveways; while others persist in leaving their garage doors open semi-permanently so fellow neighbors can enjoy its messy interior.

So many women appear to believe they can only look attractive if they wear their hair shoulder-length or longer. That would be OK except for those who are rough around the edges and who spend so much time fussing with their hair: checking and brushing it in the rear-view mirror while driving, or running their fingers through it and tossing it around while standing or sitting close to you. Very unhygienic! They are as rude as men who think it acceptable to sit in cafés or restaurants while wearing a baseball hat and filthy sneakers!

And another thing: I can’t stand people who complain about everything.

 

 

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WHAT’S HIS NAME?

I finished my shopping in Costco and had pushed my shopping cart half-way down the aisle toward the checkout when an overweight, gray-haired man about my age, wearing sunglasses with bright-green frames, a pink T-shirt, purple athletic shoes, and cut-down denim shorts, came steaming along in the opposite direction with sweat on the brow of his red face. He stuck out a large hand. It shot out the way I recalled having seen a robotic tool on an auto assembly line push a bolt into place, and it gripped my arm with the strength of a pipe wrench. This invader of personal space screeched to a halt beside me.

“Well, hello there; I haven’t seen you for a long time. How are ya doing?”

He registered in my brain as a total stranger and certainly no name came to mind. Anyway, I’m not good at remembering names, a trait my wife calls antisocial, but as a rule I’m better with faces than with names. In this case, neither face nor name clicked.

Where could I have met him before? With those awful sunglasses and sneakers, he doesn’t look as if he’s from our retirement community and I can’t recall anyone like him from my former job. Were he better dressed, maybe I’d recognize him.

I decided I might remember his name and avoid embarrassment if I strung along with him for a while.

“I’m fine thank you. Fancy meeting you here,” I said, playing for time.

“Oh, I come to Costco quite often; it’s one of my favorite stores. On some days, they have people standing at the end of the aisles giving out food samples and you can get a whole meal that way if you keep walking past them. You know, you haven’t changed a bit since I last saw you; it must be years ago. Last time, I think we met in a Target store. What are you doing these days? You’re looking well so it must be good for you whatever it is.”

“Thank you. You’re looking well too. I’ve been retired for four years now and play a little golf, although I’m no good at it. I also enjoy home improvement projects and spend some hours on the computer most days — always have a computer project of some kind to work on. What do you do with your time?”

“I must say I didn’t realize you had been retired for so long. As for me, I’m retired too of course — made the break six years ago, when they offered me a big retirement package. Dorothy and I do a lot of traveling in our RV. It’s a forty-foot motor home, a beauty. We’ve been everywhere in it. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t beat having a motor home in retirement. I’ve always wanted to tour the good ole US of A and Dorothy quite enjoys it too, thank goodness. These days she’s having a bit of trouble with arthritis in her legs and touring in the motor home is her favorite way to travel. We’ve seen some great sights — Arizona’s not the only state with terrific scenery — and we’ve driven along the Rockies all the way to Canada. A few years back we even drove to Alaska and met the governor. She’s a class act. You get to meet some first-rate people when you travel. Do you like to travel? You don’t have an RV by chance do you?”

“That’s correct. We don’t own a recreational vehicle and we haven’t done much traveling since retirement because I’ve had back surgery and find it uncomfortable to drive for too long.”

“What a shame. I’m keeping very fit myself — knock on wood. Quit the ciggies a few years back after watching a TV program on lung cancer, but I do like a nice cigar occasionally; and I’ve cut down on the beer. I used to have a terrible time controlling my thirst. Once I got started on a new six-pack of Samuel Adams, I couldn’t stop until I’d finished every bottle and then I got started on another six. Stopping the beer helped me lose a bit of weight; look, I can stick my arm down inside my waistband real easy now.”

He nudged me with his elbow, leaving a bruise on my ribs that took two weeks to heal. “Don’t tell anyone but perhaps I’ll have a beer when I get home. This shopping routine makes one thirsty and I think it’s all right to indulge oneself a little when one deserves it. Ha! Ha!”

Before I could interrupt his confession and roar of laughter, he started up again.

“Changing the subject, how is your wife doing these days. Big tennis player isn’t she?”

“No, she plays a little golf now and then but she damaged her right shoulder a few years ago and can’t play tennis anymore. In fact, tennis was never really her game.”

“Is that so? I thought she was a big tennis player. Must have her confused with someone else. I could have sworn your wife was one of those champions who go off playing tennis all over the world: New York, Saint Andrews, Hong Kong, Wonga Walla, you know… wherever. Now then, I reckon she ought to see a sports doctor about that shoulder. My neighbor, Sammy Carson, used to have a terrible time with his knees until he went to see this sports doctor in town, a guy named Henderson. He did a wonderful job on Sammy. Now he skips about like a spring lamb — Sammy Carson I mean, not Henderson. They did it under Medicare of course. You should look him up in the yellow pages — Henderson I mean, not Carson. Can’t think of his first name but I’m sure you’ll find him there, under sports doctors I suppose.”

I now realized beyond a shadow of doubt that I had never known this character and wondered how I might get away unscathed.

I said, “I’ll have to remember that doctor’s name. Thank you. Well, I suppose I’d better be…”

“What about a cup of coffee? Let me buy coffee for us at the stall outside,” he said, waving his generously proportioned arm toward the exit.

“No,” I said. “That’s very kind of you but I really ought to be heading home.”

“OK then. That’s up to you. On the subject of sports injuries and sports doctors, my son Robert is the one you should speak to. He’s always been into sports in a big way—played for the Wildcats while at college and was constantly breaking bones or dislocating them. He had a hip replacement last year and he’s now so fit you would never know it. He took part in the Tucson marathon last December and placed three hundred twenty, which is darned good for someone with a hip replacement. What’s your son doing now? Wasn’t he going to be a big-shot lawyer in one of those Ivy League schools where they come out earning millions of dollars right away?”

“I don’t have a son. I have two daughters, Ann and Shirley.”

“You don’t have a son? I remember your boy was always coming round to spend time with our Robert. Your boy’s name was Henry, Henry Albertson. You are Fred Albertson, his father, aren’t you?”

“Well no! My name is Bill Houghton. I’m sorry, there seems to have been some sort of misunderstanding.”

“Misunderstanding my ass! Why are you pretending to be Fred Albertson? I’ve been standing here wasting my time talking to a complete stranger. Do you do this all the time: going around impersonating other people and trying to con innocent passers-by? You’re a public menace and ought to see a psychiatrist before they put you away.”

Muttering about idiots being worse than terrorists, Mister “what’s his name” stormed further into the store, his picturesque, purple sneakers angled at ninety degrees to each other as they each hit the concrete floor with a pronounced thud. Other people nearby looked at me as though I represented some kind of threat and I felt fortunate to leave the store without being arrested.

I guess I’ve learned my lesson about speaking to strangers in stores and am thinking of wearing a large name tag around my neck when I go shopping in future.

How could I ever have thought I knew someone with such a horrible taste in sunglasses?

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D is for D-Day (a military term)

My home town of Portsmouth in Hampshire, England has been a naval base since medieval times, but Henry VIII fortified it in the 16th Century when French naval activity began to threaten England’s south coast. Since then, it has been the premier base for the British Navy and occupied a strategic role during WWII by preventing Germany from getting its capital ships into The Atlantic Ocean via the English Channel. Portsmouth is an island, joined to the south coast by a causeway. On both west and east sides, there are large harbors, but the western harbor is deeper and its narrow entrance shielded by the Isle of Wight has always provided an ideal protection for a naval base. In June 1944, it was destined to be the port from which the vast accumulation of military might would leave to invade the coast of Normandy, France.

        Planning for the invasion of northern France began in 1943 but Winston Churchill persuaded the Joint Chiefs of Staff to delay such an invasion until German forces along the Mediterranean coast had been defeated or pushed back. By early 1944, the Allied invasion of Italy was proceeding sufficiently well to encourage an invasion of the German occupied French coast with General Dwight Eisenhower as overall commander and British General Bernard Montgomery commanding all land forces. These commanders estimated the buildup of weaponry around Portsmouth would be complete by May or June, but did not finalize the date for an invasion of Normandy until hours before the choice of June 6 because of weather and tide considerations.

        As a five year-old, I recall the excitement of watching tanks and trucks gradually fill first the city streets and then country lanes out fifteen miles beyond the city. Ships and landing craft filled both east and west harbors. American tanks lined our street while British tanks and Canadian trucks occupied neighboring streets. Housewives like my mother and grandmother supplied the tank crews with hot and cold water and helped with laundry needs. My school friends and I picked up phrases such as “Got any gum chum?” from those crews. I still find it amazing that camouflage and security were sufficiently good to prevent German intelligence from discovering the vast collection of armaments on England’s south coast. The Royal Air Force destroyed any German reconnaissance aircraft venturing anywhere near it, but permitted them to catch sight of a clever dummy invasion force mounted by General Patton on the southeast coast opposite Calais.

        Eventually, thirty-nine Allied divisions were committed to the Battle of Normandy: twenty-two American, twelve British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, totaling over a million troops and forming the largest invasion force in history. Eisenhower selected five invasion targets, with the American forces assigned to Utah and Omaha Beaches, British forces assigned to Sword and Gold Beaches, and Canadian forces assigned to Juno Beach.

        The invasion progressed slowly at first because of unforeseen obstacles and the obstinate resistance of the extensive and embedded German forces along the entire French coast, but it gathered momentum as the weeks and months passed. Allied casualties were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead, while estimates of German casualties on D-Day are 4,000 to 9,000.

        On those now rare occasions when I return to my hometown, I try to include a visit to the beach where I spent many happy afternoons swimming and sunbathing after school. On the esplanade there is a white marble monument built in memory of the million men who set sail for Normandy on June 6, 1944.

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OTHER VICTIMS OF TERRORISM

There’s no question we should feel moved and sympathetic for the recent victims of terrorist violence in Manchester and London, but in the past week terrorist activity has killed many more people, including numerous children, in Afghanistan and Iraq. While it’s easy to feel sympathy for people who look, sound and behave like us in America, we should try to remember these other victims of murder, encouraged and supported by the same criminal minds as those responsible for the UK deaths.

The victims in Kabul and Baghdad did not look or sound the same as us, and news of their tragic deaths and mutilation has not received the publicity it maybe ought to attract from all decent people.

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PARIS ACCORD ON CLIMATE

laughingTrump says other countries are laughing at America. Not true. They’re laughing him. Crying for America.

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