Tuesday, July 31, 2007


First - almost one year to the day after I sent in my reservation money for the cruise earlier this year, and almost six months from the date I cancelled that reservation, the travel agency finally sent me my refund. One year! Aside from the fact that they had my money and the interest on it for that long the sour taste they left in my mouth probably means that never again will I use, or recommend that anyone use CARLSON-WAGONLIT TRAVEL SERVICE or their other company ON THE GO TRAVEL SERVICES.

These folks are totally unresponsive to customer needs, especially mine. Now maybe it was the fact that I was asking for a refund, but still - this was no way to treat a customer. They sent the check via DHL and that took a week.

I went to the doctor yesterday. I have been going to this fellow for over ten years - ever since I moved to this area. He is very competent, well recommended, and highly thought of by other medical professionals in the area. Over the ten years my file (paper) has grown thicker and thicker, Yesterday as I I walked into the office I notice something new. The nurse was carrying a small laptop as well as the paper file. She started entering the vitals, etc. into the laptop not on paper. The laptop BTW had a touch screen. Neat.

Then the doctor walked in and he too had the same kind of laptop. He asked questions and was filling in information on the screen as well. He told me that are slowly converting. As each patient comes in they open the file, scan in all the old records (after which they are shredded) and that night he spends about twenty to thirty minutes updating the computer files for each patient seen. I guess technology had to happen to him as well. I wonder if that means he will have to raise his rates to pay for all the new hardware and software?

Thursday, July 26, 2007


The subject of illegal immigrants is heating up all over the country. It is unclear to me just what has raised the heat recently, but certainly it has been simmering for a very long time.

When the housing boom raged here in Northern Virginia the builders all employed Hispanic labor for the landscaping, drywalling, painting, siding and roofing work, HVAC work, and just about anything else where a little skill was needed but the ability to speak English was not a prerequisite. These laborers came in droves and to their credit they worked long hours, seven days a week to build the homes. They even worked holidays. The work they did was acceptable, given that it was the builders that supplied the plans and the materials.

They kept their expenses low by living in dormitory style homes, several people to a room, and by carpooling in their trucks. As the years wore on, it was interesting to watch as the cars they drove became bigger and newer, and they started to buy their own homes. The local merchants advertised bilingually, and the media also started bilingual broadcasting. It even went so far as to cause local business to set up their phone menu systems to ask if you wanted to continue in English or Spanish. All was well until the housing bubble burst. The large number of workers was no longer needed and so many became unemployed, or under employed. But their car payments and their housing payments (bought with high interest, mortgages, and many with 100% financing and variable rate ARMs) became unsupportable. The banks and lenders started foreclosing and the foreclosure rates started to climb.

These workers were however mostly here without the aid of the legal documentation required of immigrants, but they still took advantage of the local services.

The economics made the local governments rethink their positions. Prince William County, and I believe Virginia as well, along with many other state and local governments have started to crack down on illegals.

The debate in Congress still hasn't produced a viable solution, so the state and locals have decided to do it themselves. Virginia and PWC passed laws empowering police to request citizenship documentation from people stopped "with probable cause." Those lacking such documentation will be delivered to INS for deportation. The same laws also enabled county service providers to also check for documentation, denying services to illegals and also calling INS.

Apparently the idea of a March on Washington demanding that illegals be given rights didn't sit to well with the local citizenry.

Personally I think it is ludicrous to see someone who is obviously breaking the law by entering the country illegally complaining that he is being denied his rights. Almost like the felon who tripped and broke his leg while breaking into a house suing the owner for damages. But there is hope. The TV this morning stated that in almost every state it is legal for a homeowner to use deadly force on someone who has broken into his home.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The TV

Some observations - it appears as if TV has come a very long way in the past few years. Used to be all shows were G or PG and there was no nudity, no swearing, no blasphemy, no interracial romance, etc. Now I am not a prude by any stretch of the imagination and my reading and surfing probably hit as many porn sites and any red blooded male, but I have to say TV today does surprise me sometimes. Not in a shocking, just surprising.

Summer fare used to be the home to reruns, failed pilots, and specials of all sorts. Now with the cable channels all competing for ratings they have pulled out what appears to be all the stops.

Case in point - last night on FX Glenn Close starred in a new series called Damages - Excellent, she is really really good in that role.

Monday night on TNT, Kyra Sedgwick in the Closer - back for a second season and well worth the watch.

Monday night on TNT following The Closer a new series starring Holly Hunter called Saving Grace - again an excellent show

USA network has a summer series called Burn Notice (I think the actor is Tate Donovan) - again an excellent show

These are over and above the ongoing and outstanding established series such as Monk, the Law and Order family of shows, House, Bones, the CSI family of shows, NCIS, etc.

Makes me wonder if anything on HBO, Showtime and STARZ that is any better to watch

Friday, July 20, 2007

Family and pseudo-family

My ex had a large extended family. Both of my in-laws belonged to cousins clubs which held frequent get togethers. But that's where it became strange. It seemed that there was a lot of match making going on, and as a result my ex-father-in-law's cousin met and married my ex-mother-in-law's youngest brother creating an aunt-uncle-cousin link which meant that they would show up at most of the family gatherings and functions. Of course the confusing part was that they weren't at all of the gatherings and functions, only some, and of course because there were so many cousins on both sides I never knew when to expect to see them and when not. To this day although no one in my ex's family talks to me, Phil and Gloria are still friendly and warm to me. It says a lot about their maturity and even more about my ex and her parent's and brother's lack of same.

All of which leads me to my daughter's friend Felicia. I was introduced to Felicia several years ago. Felicia was, and is, the leader of my granddaughter Lindsey's scout troop. Felicia also became one of my daughter's best friends. Because of this, Felicia always seemed to be invited to my daughter's family and social functions - barbecues, birthdays, Seders, Hanukkah gatherings, etc. It seemed like Felicia was almost like one of the family, and it was strange when there was a function and she wasn't there.

Well, Felicia had a baby girl on Monday and mother and daughter are doing well. The baby's name is Brooklyn Emma Levy, which is different, but not strange or unusual as some of they names parents seem to burden their kids with these days.

So congratulations to Felicia and her daughter - Brooklyn Emma Levy

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Heat and humidity

Virginia, especially Northern Virginia is a lovely place to live, and 10 or so months out of the year it is quite comfortable here, even winters are mostly mild. But during July and August it gets really hot and really humid, and unbearable for some of us.

For the folks who frequent the various community pools of course love this weather. The sit out and bake in the sun, basting themselves like turkeys.

I hate the heat and humidity - never liked it, don't like the beach, don't like sitting around pools, nothing.

In 1996 my mother invited me to live with her in Florida. Her rationale was that we both lived alone and that if something happened to either of us there was no one around to help. It sounded good, but my suspicion was that she was really lonely and wanted company. So I went down there. What a mistake - the weather in North Miami Beach was, and always is hot and humid, really hot and humid, and for me very uncomfortable so I moved back to Virginia as soon as was feasible, and haven't looked back since

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

From the past - crime and punishment

Anyway, so I was checking through my files and I came across the CD with the Bayside High School directory that my brother sent me a while back. So I started browsing.

Looked up old girl friends, no luck. They I looked up my old friend Mark
V. He was my best buddy in High school. Used to come over the house every Saturday morning on his way to Shul to pick me up. After High School I sort of lost track of him, but we kept in touch. His father used to play cards with my Dad so when Mark got married they invited us. My ex didn't like him, and I wasn't really thrilled with his wife A. so we drifted apart. Mark married the daughter of a "Nuveau Riche" manufacturer with expensive tastes if the wedding was any indication

In any case I had heard that Mark went into business with his brother Allan. Allen went to Law school after he graduated college and started his practice after he graduated. Mark became a teacher (to avoid the draft) after college and after his eligibility passed he also went to law school. When he graduated he went to work for his brother. His brother was doing really well as a retainer attorney for some Hispanic organization, being paid in cash and raking it in hand over fist. Allen's father told my Dad that Allen used to come over for Friday night dinner and start to empty his pockets of cash.

Apparently, Allen kept that for himself and Mark was left to make a living doing real estate closings.

I was curious as to what he was doing these days, so I googled him. Apparently my friend and his brother got into a bit of trouble. I won't post everything I found but the following should give you a taste:

Two Lawyers Charged With Mail Fraud
By Mark Hamblett
New York Law Journal

Two brothers who are lawyers at a small personal injury firm in Manhattan have been charged with defrauding clients by switching retainer agreements on them after cases were resolved.

Mark V., 58, stole $350,000 from 24 different clients and misappropriated money deposited in escrow, according to a criminal information charging him with 24 counts of mail fraud filed by the Southern District U.S. Attorney's office Wednesday. His brother, Allen V., 56, is charged with a single count of mail fraud involving the taking of more than $16,000 from an estate.

The two men handled personal injury claims in federal and state court from the offices of their two-partner firm V. & V. at 225 Broadway. They waived indictment on the charges before U.S. District Judge Denise Cote Wednesday morning.

A defendant's decision to waive indictment and agree to be prosecuted by information, as opposed to being charged in a criminal complaint, traditionally means defense lawyers have reached at least a preliminary agreement on a plea deal with prosecutors.

Defense attorney Joel Cohen of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, who represents Mark V., declined comment on a possible plea deal. Benjamin Brafman of Brafman Ross, who represents Allen V., said his client will plead guilty in the case before Cote on Oct. 3.

"Allen V. is a wonderful, very decent individual who is also a very caring attorney," Brafman said. "For this to happen to him is a real tragedy."
According to the information, there were two types of retainer agreements that were switched by the lawyers beginning in 1998 through early 2001.
The first kind of agreement set attorneys fees at one-third of the money actually recovered by verdict or settlement. Under the second type of agreement, the lawyers would be paid on a sliding scale, receiving 50 percent of the first $1,000 recovered, 40 percent of the next $2,000, 35 percent on the next $22,000, and 25 percent on any amount recovered over $25,000. \

But the size of the recovery rendered either one of the two retainer agreements more profitable than the other, the information charges. In several instances, after the size of the recovery was calculated, Mark V. would switch the agreement to ensure a larger fee for the firm.

The information also states that the law firm would collect the proceeds from personal injury settlements or verdicts and deposit the money in escrow, where, on several occasions Mark V. allegedly misappropriated some of those funds for his own use and never paid the clients the money they were due.

The amounts of money that clients lost on the 24 cases listed in the information ranges from a low of $1,009 to as much as $79,968.
The brothers, who are residents of North Woodmere, N.Y., could be sentenced to as much as 5 years in prison for each count in the information, but in all likelihood, they will be sentenced to far less time than the maximum, with Mark V. likely to receive a stiffer sentence. Both men are also eligible to be ordered to pay as much as $250,000 in fines for each count.

"When injured persons have to take their cases to court, they need to know they can trust their lawyers and not be victimized again," U.S. Attorney James B. Comey said in a prepared statement. "We will seek out and punish attorneys who cheat their clients."

Date Received: September 25, 2002

Both brothers were sentenced to jail, fined, forced to pay full restitution to all clients and both were disbarred

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On record keeping

By nature and by training I am a compulsive record keeper, and a very organized one at that. I keep records on, and of everything. I keep receipts, bills, statements, etc. Most are for tax purposes and are kept for four years, some are kept forever, like copies of the actual tax returns.

For many years I was a management consultant and would travel around the country to work at my clients sites. Since the assignments were usually six months to a year in length I carried almost everything I needed with me. I also made up a medical history, every illness, surgery, condition, etc., the date diagnosed, and where, and how treated. I also maintained a list of all my medications, strength, prescription quantity, and schedule for taking them. It made it easy that way so that when I ha to go to a new doctor or clinic in a new city I just gave them the printed sheets and that had everything they needed. It also had the additional benefit that by writing it all down, I didn't forget and of the things.

So, yesterday when I went to the Clinical Research Center for the initial interview I brought the printed material with me. The interviewer was impressed. He said he had coordinated over 100 trials and never had anyone bring in medical records as organized as mine. - wow.

The after he read them, he said, well everything I need is here, but when were you born - that was not on the printout. It wasn't there because I didn't think that I would ever forget that date.

Then I got to see the doctor who was conducting the trial and who was to give me the first physical. He looked at the material and asked some questions, like when did this happen or that happen, they he asked me how old I was, again no birth date. I told him, and he seemed pretty surprised - he said he would have guess I was only about fifty years old, not almost 65. ow that made me feel really good. It is one thing to look older than you actually are, and quite another to look younger.

I remember when I was living in Florida that everything was oriented around senior citizens, 65 and older, and I was doing everything I could to look older than I was, but I am not doing anything these days to look younger.

I just received an email from my son telling me that my daughter-in-law's grandmother passed away and that they are flying to Korea for the funeral. My condolences to Misun and her family

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


So.. I was watching some show or other on TV the night before last and there was a brief ad - a call for people to participate in a clinical study - the only qualification was that you have to use either Glucophage or Metform (the generic form of Glucophage) both of which are medications for diabetes control.

The phone number was local so I assumed that the research center was local as well. Yesterday morning I called and made an appointment for this morning. Turns out this center runs multiple studies for pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment companies, etc.

After my initial interview they decided that while I was a candidate for the diabetes study, they really wanted me for their high blood pressure study.

Eighteen weeks, weekly visits, check-ups and physicals, plus full blood tests, EKGs and echo cardiograms, etc.

I get a new blood pressure monitor, and the test meds, plus $40.00 per visit as a stipend. Not bad.

Today was the initial physical, and the initial EKG. Monday is the initial echo cardiogram. That's all I know for now

Monday, July 09, 2007

And the list goes on...

We all have one - The List. You know the kind, it has all the things you plan to do, but haven't gotten around to - yet. For whatever reason things seem to get added to the list faster than they get taken off. Maybe there is a level of comfort in knowing that The List exists. Maybe it means that as long as there is something on The List you will be needed, or something like that. Mostly however the items on the list are accompanied by reasons (no never written down,) why they are still on The List

So my list (or at least part of it), in no particular order:

Paint the trim on my townhouse - this is not a big job, there isn't that much trim - reasons not done - too hot, too cold, too dry, too humid, too cold. Yes I have the paint, and yes I have the brushes, and yes I have the caulking and other preparation materials, but for some reason, no paint as yet been applied

Get rid of the weeds on my patio. A few years ago I planted some flowers in two black plastic planters, you know the kind rectangular, about 6 inches high, maybe 8 inches wide and maybe 18 to 24 inches long. The flowers did fairly well, but the morning glories, or at least I think they were morning glories did the best. At the end of the season I got rid of the remains of the flowers and the next year I didn't plant anything new, but back came the morning glories with a passion. Not having to contend with other plants, they grew to outstanding height and curled around everything, the fence, the gas and electric meters, the drain pipes - everything. At the end of the year I tore them out, cleaned out any remaining roots in the flower boxes and thought I was finally rid of them. This year they were back - in full strength. So I have a bottle of Roundup - touted as the ultimate weed killer, and for that matter any green thing. It is sitting in my garage waiting to be used. No good reason why.

I bought a recliner rocker which is a nice unit, but a touch to small for me, and a touch to delicate. When I sit and relax I have several times popped the some of the backrest supports from their place. You know what I mean, the back is a frame with rods extending from holes in the seat to holes in the top rail. Fairly tightly set, but if you push back hard enough they bend and pop out. Easy enough to fix, a little glue and all better. Did that, but a few months later they popped out again. This time I decided to use my hot glue gun. So there I am, squatting on the floor trying to maneuver the rods into place (as I said, a tight fit), concentrating more on the rods than anything else I reached down and picked up the glue gun, which was still plugged in and therefore on, and it dripped some very, very hot glue on my hand, which caused me jump, and some more very, very hot glue dripped on my leg, causing more yelping and jumping and finally a large dab fell on my index finger and raised a very large blister. I finally unplugged the gun, and tried to wipe the glue off, somewhat successfully, But my hand was now useless (fortunately my left hand). So I trotted out some bandaging materials and wrapped my hand in gauze and surgical tape, but I still have to finish that chair repair project (after my hand heals.)

I bought a replacement garage door opener remote - universal. Package says it will work with my opener. I got it home and determine that it is not set by dip switches, but rather you "learns" when you press and aim it, sort of like a TV universal remote. But you have to set the brand mode (dip switches) which in turn depends on whether the LED on the old remote was yellow or green. My favorite colors - for little old color blind me. So I now have to rely on trial and error - changing switch settings and pressing buttons until I hit on the correct combination - why is nothing easy?

Finally, well at least for this post, I seem to have been invaded by ants, little, very little, almost invisible ants. I have sprayed but they seem to come back. There are not a lot of them, but every once in a while I find a few crawling across the counter top or or on the table, or on the floor, in the dish washer, or even in the sink. Can't figure out where they are coming from, but they don't seem to want to go away.

Friday, July 06, 2007

saving money

Comcast cable has been bombarding the channels with advertisements for their VOIP phone service. Now I mostly use my cell phone, or at least I used to before I turned in my license and the home phone mostly sits idle. Well almost idle. Almost all incoming calls are from either my kids, or from people soliciting donations for the local police. Actually its not the police or fire departments that are actually doing the soliciting, it is the "friends of the fire department orphans" the "police chiefs/sergeants widows and orphans fund" etc. You get the picture. They are the folks who collect money and they get $.90 of ever dollar, and you get a sticker for your car, and a card telling you that this is not an IRS recognized Charity.

But Comcast phone service had one main advantage, it was twenty or so dollars cheaper than Verizon. So I called and ordered the service. That's when the fun started. Now when I ordered the service I asked whether it would adversely affect my 911 service or my monitored security system (which uses the phone lines), No and No. I also asked how they hook it up, and the answer was that they would swap out my Internet Modem (also Comcast) and put in a new one (at no extra charge) that would handle both phone and Internet service. I also asked what the charge would be. Well I was paying $139 per month for Internet and HD cable service including the DVR player. This new service would add $25 more per month bringing me up to about $165

So they installed the service and lo and behold I now had two, count them two modems, but I was assured that I would only be paying for one.

Now I have a phone my my computer and a fax machine by the wall, and one phone each on the second and third floors. The one by my computer worked great, nice and clear. They left the box and that was it. Then I noticed that my security system had a trouble light, seems the phone connection was dead. So I called Comcast again and back they came, only to discover that the phone by my computer was direct wired to the phone box, but not to any of the other phones. (the signal from the modem goes into a phone jack and propagates to all the other lines.) So he had to check all the systems and make sure all the phones had a signal/dial tone.

Then I opened the box they left expecting to find an instruction book. No such luck. I also received a flyer in the mail telling me about their special preferred plus triple play package for $129/month.

So I called and innocently asked what package I had and why I wasn't offered the triple play package. Well apparently I qualified for it, but the original person just forgot to complete the entries. I also asked about the two modems,

The third tech came today and hooked the phone service and the Internet service to one modem and took away the other one. He also made sure that my triple play package was set up. I mentioned that the flyer said it included HBO, STARZ and Showtime and he said yes it does

So for $129 per month I now have Phone service, Internet service, HD cable service, a DVR and HBO, STARZ and Showtime. All it took on my part was a little persistence

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


It is the day before the Fourth of July and the weather is absolutely glorious, dry, sunny, and the temp is hovering around the 80 degree mark. The windows are all open and the place is airing out from a long winter of hibernation.

It is official, my Real Estate license is inactive, I have turned in my lock box keep, and sold my lock boxes. I stopped by the Weichert office yesterday to turn over the lock boxes to the agent that purchased them, and visit with the folks there,

So... what is the difference between what I am doing now and being an agent?

as an agent my cell phone went off on a regular basis - mostly with voice mail announcements from the office, now it sits silent for hours on end. +

as an agent I would get daily email messages from Big Jim Weichert trumpeting how great the market is and how we can all expect huge transactions in the immediate future - I still get those, but not as frequently -

I no longer have to spend lots and lots of money to maintain the pretense that I was actively pursuing real estate business. +

as an agent I used to sit in the office on the phone waiting for a customer to call, now I don't +

the biggest difference however is that as an agent there was a hope, maybe a prayer, that I would earn some money (those unhatched chickens) to justify all the money I spent on supplies, memberships, etc. now with that out of the way it feels as if a load had been lifted. +

finally, even though there was no money coming in, no prospects, no customers, etc., and even though the market was in the crapper, homes weren't selling, and everyone was offering huge bonuses along with pleas to please bring your customers to buy the homes we have to sell, even after all that it was sort of like gambling, you weren't winning, in fact you were losing, but there was always the thought that somewhere somehow you would win one and recoup some of your sunk costs. That hasn't changed much