Friday, April 15, 2016

USPS Fiscal Crisis


C. Neuroticus Absolutus

The United States Post Office (USPS) is a quasi-federal agency of the federal government, meaning that it operates under the direction of the US Congress. In 2006, the Congress mandated the USPS to pay forward $5.5B for 75 years annually into an account for future retirees’ health coverage.
Note here that the USPS is mandated to pay $5.5B for health benefits for employees who haven’t even been hired or born yet. While a few corporations are doing the same, none are paying ahead for future retirees’ employee health benefits for such an extended time. As you might guess, the USPS defaulted on the payment on the first due date and has run a deficit since that time.
This past week, the postal service lowered the cost of a single stamp by $.02. This was touted as a savings to the consumers of $2 billion annually. But with the current annual deficit, this is an additional loss of $2 billion annually in revenue to the USPS.
Does that perk up your ears?
In a Republican controlled congress (for over 7-years now) that wants to privatize the USPS services, increasing the USPS deficit makes the postal service look like a financial drag on the government (they conveniently ignore the fact that the mandate of the $5.5B payout to the health fund is the cause of the rising deficit). What better proof to support those calling for privatization of the USPS? Get that burden off the government’s back!
Other tactics used by the congressional privatization group have been calls for 1) service degradation (change from 6-day delivery schedules to 5 days, doing away with Saturday deliveries. 2) raising postage costs to consumers to get their agreement that USPS services are getting too expensive and the USPS is doing a bad job. Sending Christmas cards last year for me cost $50 in postage and I’m certainly not happy about that. 3) The closing of some regional offices (Roanoke, VA, for example) and moving the sorting facilities farther away from the customers they serve. For USPS customers in the 24018 zip code area, the sorting is now being done is Greensboro, NC, causing a full day delay in delivery, even for addressees and addressers in the same zip code, a certain degradation of service.
Consider that the cost of a postage stamp before the congress mandated the $5.5B pay-forward health benefits for employee retirement (2005) was $.37. Today it’s $.50, an increase of 35% in 10 years, which I dare say is higher than the inflation rate of the same period.
My question is: Why has Congress mandated the fiscal failure of the USPS, especially when the USPS is already losing revenues to the Internet and competitors like UPS and FedEx? And why hasn’t the Congress relieved the USPS of this obvious burden by reducing the annual payments?
Further, what guarantees do we have that Congress will not “borrow” some (or all) of the billions accruing in the postal employees’ future health benefit fund, just like they ripped off the Social Security funds. Since they haven’t paid these loans back, they now say that Social Security is going bankrupt and want to put it on a better footing by privatizing it.
It’s obvious that any large pot of money just sitting there awaiting future use is too much of a temptation for the Republicans (Social Security and the USPS future employee retirement accounts and who knows what else?) They would rather privatize it all and let their banking cronies control our funds and charge us large fees for the privilege.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Hacked to Death


C. Neuroticus Absolutus

I'm as much an up-to-date guy as I can be at my age. Even knowing how dynamic our American English is, the language of my juniors never ceases to amaze as well as alarm me. I no sooner learned the word, "emoticon", than a Japanese variation of the same word , "emoji," appeared on the horizon. The "ji" appears in the Japanese word kanji in reference to the Chinese writing system the Japanese adopted millennia ago. It means "character." Thus my assumption that emoji means emotional character, a great description of the happy face circle with its various mood transformations.
But I've strayed afield from the subject of my death. I was reading an article in the Writer's Digest publication Novel Writing, "Tips, & Techniques for Better Stories."Although not a novice writer, I'm always looking for always to improve my writing and the lure of articles vetted by Writer's Digest was too much to resist. After several days of part-time reading, I came across an article where the title ground me to a halt: "Characterizing Quick." As a promoter of righteous adverb usage, the word "quick" hit me like a bear scratching both claws on a slate blackboard. I would have used "quickly."
Then the sub-title, "Develop dynamic characters in no time with these 15 easy hacks." I am admittedly a newbie when it comes to this usage of "hack." I'd seen it before and from the context where it appeared, my supposition was that it meant "tip," as in hint. Seemed to work well enough. In this case, I paused for a moment before moving on. When what to my wondering eyes should appear, midway in the second paragraph, but another hack!
I immediately sought the advice of the online Urban Dictionary, which lists 14 definitions for "hack," but none solved my problem. When consulting Merriam-Webster, a 5-minute search found the following at the end of a list, obviously tacked on as though it were a new entry or an afterthought:  "an unusually creative solution to a computer hardware or programming problem or limitation." There was my hack! A solution!
But what was this qualification about computer hardware and programming? Were a bunch of backroom binary geeks attempting to scam us?
I continued to read the article and from the beginning, counted 4 uses of the word "hack." My experience and critics have taught me not to repeat words over and over. Perhaps the example I have highlighted here is a bit picky, but it stopped my reading and thoughts each time the word appeared. That's deadly if you're trying to build tension or convey a difficult point of view.
To summarize, I felt hacked to death by the time I got to the end of the article. I'll have to reread it someday to see what I missed the first time.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Caught in the "Very" Trap

C. Neuroticus Absolutus

For at least two centuries, pundits and critics have attacked adverbs as if they were the embodiment of the anti-Christ. My memory doesn’t permit a scan that far into the past, but I know a few things about the last 60 years of the last century. For example, the get-rid-of-all-the-adverbs in your writing movement, especially the intensifiers very, really and their ilk.
I know, for example that, in general, the generations following mine don’t know an adjective from an adverb and think it’s all right to interchange them.
For example, check out the simple answer to the question, “How are you?”
The reply used most often is usually, “I’m good,” to which Joey Tribbiani from the TV show Friends, replies, “Yeah, baby!”
Of course, good is an adjective/adverb and is perhaps acceptable in this usage. But somewhere in my past I learned that the word how begs an adverb in response, so that I want to say, “I’m well,” if you are concerned about my health. Then again, Webster’s tell me that the adjectival form of good means: healthy; strong; vigorous. So, darn that Webster guy! Guess I’ll have to forgive you for this one! And how did I ever learn even a smattering of English (American, actually).
But then, check out good ole Charlie Brown from Peanuts when he says, “Good grief!” Charlie’s usage of good in this case is an interjection! Arrrrgh!
I have deviated from my original intent of demonstrating why the deletion of the adverb very requires a modicum of restraint on the writer’s part. Don’t Find/Replace every very in your manuscript. The current approach is to get rid of very when used as an intensifier. The advice is to find another word that is stronger in meaning and replace both the word and the intensifier very. An example might be: To Kill a Mockingbird is a very good book. Forget the very good and replace it to read, To Kill a Mockingbird is an excellent book.
It looks simple, doesn’t it? But . . .writers beware! Sometimes very is the very best word for the sentence. Here’s the possible trap I mentioned in the title. “I like you very much.” Well, this example requires a writer who possesses nerves of steel and great emotional control. If you remove very in this instance, you might be tempted to say, “I love you.” But do you really, really want your character to go out on that limb? Into that trap? In this case, very is appropriate if your character isn’t ready to go over the bridge to love. You might say it is very important!
Then there are gems that are better off let alone. Check out the sentences below.
“Expect more of yourself. Expect the very best,” Steve Jobs said.
“When you expect the very best,” Maxwell House Coffee commercials implore.
The Very Thought of You. Song by composer Ray Noble.
The very idea! (Can’t do much for this one. It expresses indignation in a snobbish way.)
“Very well, Sir!” the sailor said to his captain.
‘Oh, well,” she said with a sigh.
“Believe it or not, he’s the very one she married!”
The very ground opened up beneath them.
She gasped in disbelief. Emily and Susan wore the very same dress!
As you can see, very is a very useful workhorse when you need just the right word to express what’s on your creative mind. Don’t let the anti-adverbalites get the better of you!
Write what you want to write. It’s your style and your work. But regardless what you do, someone will criticize. If that scares you, you’ll never get a word from your mind to the page.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Profanity iin Social Media

Profanity in Social Media
C. Neuroticus Absolutus

I just "unfriended" another person on Facebook for truly foul profanity. The First Amendment was apparently the first freedom our fathers decided to insured and codify for all time and I agree with them. It has served us well, even when it comes to public profanity. But I believe its original intent was not to indulge our citizens with barrages of unsavory language that most of us would not use in front of our mothers.
Television was seemingly pure in its early days, but the creep of "filth" on our home screens soon set the industry monitors to proclaim seven words as verboten. Producers jumped on this new freedom and soon every household was bombarded with all but those seven forbidden words (not to be disclosed herein). With the advent of cable television, dirty words were considered fair game by the monitors, determining that since this wasn't broadcast television, there was no limit to the inclusion of whatever limits the producers and directors could accept in their own system of righteous morality.
Broadcast television, not wanting to seem antiquated and puritanical, permitted dirty word creep to the use of all but any words pertaining to excrement -- euphemisms notwithstanding. For example, the protagonist was permitted to take a crap or a dump at his leisure.
Writers say using the vulgar words for intercourse is realistic and insist that this is their purpose for the inclusion of these words in their work. Others say they need the words for their shock value.
But I find nothing shocking about encountering the now-familiar word in every line of dialogue throughout a book.
Thank goodness for broadcast television's exclusion or these phony excuses. But the creep continues. The use of profanity is now a staple on the playgrounds of elementary schools.
This is acceptable under the First Amendment, but perhaps not under the watchful eyes of teachers and parents.
Although we are slowly approaching true equal rights, which I vigorously applaud, for some reason I expect better language from the ladies. They say the eyes are the windows of the soul, but the mouth might be an inside look at a person's character. At any rate, I find the use of profanity by women, as an insult, an attempt to attainment of equal rights by dragging her language down to the level of street thugs in an effort to be part of the in-crowd, or, I can't think of a reason why, to impress me. Well, I'm not impressed. I'm repelled and set upon by pity.
I can't help but remember the words of one of my high school  English teachers: "Is your vocabulary so limited that you must stoop to profanity to express yourself?"


Sunday, May 31, 2015


Reviewed by C. Neuroticus Absolutus
Although a stand-alone novel, Uncharted Territory is the second in a series featuring grandmother Mad Max’s tribulations as she raises her two precocious grandchildren Emilie and Alex. Since the death of her daughter, Max has traipsed after her son-in-law Whip and the changing geographic of his work to allow the children the advantages of having their father in their lives along with a dependable and financially independent adult: Max. His most recent assignment takes him, Max and the children into the Deep South where hurricane Katrina has ravished the lives of millions. Whip and his crews immediately start work to repair and rebuild sections of Route 90 along the Gulf shores in Mississippi. Max’s entourage consists of a British tutor for the children and a boyfriend who share custom-built trailers as their homes and a school bus fittingly converted into a classroom.
The gathering of buzzards darkening nearby skies soon leads Max’s boyfriend Johnny to discover the bodies of three Hispanic workers who are undoubtedly the victims of murder. The local Sheriff―with blatant, undeniable Southern bias―refuses to waste his time investigating the death of illegals from Mexico. When additional bodies are found, Max’s trailers and the shelters of the crews are fenced in and an armed guard posted at the gate. They will provide their own security as a roaming band of trouble makers circles nearby, daily threatening the working crews and the children.
While seeking to identify the young hoodlums, Max encounters racial tensions between two Baptist preachers, one black, one white, both waiting for their flocks to return home and to their ministrations. But the overpowering fist of Katrina had demolished almost everything standing above ground level. Add to the mix a nearby Catholic Church manse populated with a Hispanic woman, her teen-age daughter and a physically and sexually abusive priest who has his eyes on the ripening young girl. Max makes it her mission to save both the mother and daughter―if she can.
Ms. Ashton brings her keen mind to bear on the hell-on-earth wrought by Katrina: the desolation; the death of 1,833 people; the flooding that perhaps outmatches the destruction of the hurricane-force wind; the palpable social, political and economic devastation and the ruination of countless families’ unity. Within the short sweep of Uncharted Territory, she exposes the pervasive discrimination, reveals the disrespect for authority and propensity for violence among undisciplined young men, and forces us to examine modern man’s puny attempts to face down the un-dammable forces of nature. Ms. Ashton is a rising star in literature with her acute observations about the current state of our society, the development of heroic yet fallible characters and the interplay between them. An acerbic New-York-Yankee wit comfortably rounds out Max’s characterization. If you’re looking for a five-star read, get your copy of Uncharted Territory now.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015






     Japan is a world of illusions, of facades and masks worn for the world to see, from views of happy, prosperous families seen from neighbors’ windows to television images of Japanese society a world away. The face presented to the world is an illusion, a well-crafted projection to entice others to perceive circumstances that may not reflect the unvarnished truth.

     Kenji Sasaki is a mid-level manager in a large trading company with a wife and three children. Kenji’s devotion to the company allows little time for his family. The task of running the household falls to his wife Akiko, who sacrifices her own comforts for her husband and her aging parents, while guiding her children into the new world that Japan has become. Grandmother Sada epitomizes the wartime generation and remembers the sacrifices they made to bring Japan from the ashes of war to a world-class economic power. Nineteen-year-old daughter Nami, who is imbued with modern ideas and ideals foreign to her society, yearns to break free from the constricting girdles of traditions and customs. Akiko lives in the world in between, trying to honor centuries of tradition while preparing her children for the changing world.

     As with all stories of author Wayne White - who lived in Japan for 9 1/2 years - drama, mystery and romance are sprinkled throughout the book, enough to keep the reader turning pages.