Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Entry for April 30, 2008

My first appointment with my new gastroenterologist was this afternoon. Pretty much this visit was just an expensive formality; apparently, he doesn’t want to shove his camera down my throat on the first date. There were nine pages of forms for me to complete. He said the usual doctor stuff, that I wasn’t in too bad of shape for a guy aged 65 (I am 55) , and that I am too fat, and that everything I eat is bad for me, and that the sins of yesterday will be the death of me unless I change my ways for tomorrow. Next Wednesday at noon I get to eat the camera to see if there is any upper plumbing damage.

So far so good. As long as the doctors are telling me to quit this, quit that, and lose weight, I must be salvageable. You know you are near the end when the doctors tell you to enjoy a good cigar and stiff bourbon after a steak and potatoes meal, three times a day.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Entry for April 29, 2008

Retirement gives me time to do all of the real manly things that I love, like planting petunias. Whenever my Daughter comes over and finds me gardening, she says I am doing “old people stuff.” Harrumph!

I’ve been in this house for nine years, but really did not start any serious landscaping until five years ago. Every year since, I have added to the collection of trees and shrubs. Most of the flowers I prefer are annuals. There is a linden tree in the front yard that I have always wanted to surround with petunias. Each year I plant them, each year they die with screaming finality. Each year I try a different solution. This year’s solution was to double the height of the border-bricks, and then to remove the old soil and replaced it with five cubic feet of the most expensive garden soil on the market. I then bought top-of-the-line petunias, whites, pinks, and purples, truly a manly mix of colors.

I planted two weeks ago and was counting on global warming to protect the flowers from frost. Last night the air temperature threatened to drop below freezing, so I braved the rain and covered the flowerbed with plastic. This morning there was ice on plastic but the plants appeared to be ok. I left the plastic off for most of the day, and just now recovered the flowerbed in preparation for tonight’s dip below freezing. In this area of the country there is always a risk of a late spring frost killing flowers planted before Mother’s day. I always try to stretch the growing season, but usually lose that bet to Mother Nature.

As far as trees and shrubs, I always use them to try to remove unsightly parts of the neighborhood from my line of sight, and to provide some privacy for when I wander the yard wearing only a thong. For “earth day,” I planted a pair of forsythias, one cardinal dogwood, and another half dozen emerald green arborvitaes in the front yard. Except for the flowerbeds, that should just about take care of the front of the house. The stuff I planted five years ago has filled out nicely. The stuff I just planted will take a while to look natural.

Hope the frost doesn’t bite your pansies.

James A. Zachary Jr.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Entry for April 28, 2008

I am an independent voter, I try to do my homework as best as I can, and my voting record would probably cast me as a conservative.

Elections have always been fickle affairs. The USA is a free country, we all hope it remains that way, and if people want to vote for the candidate that is the tallest, best looking, has the most hair, and is white and protestant, more power to them. If you are tired of the race barrier and feel that it is important to have a black for President of the United States, fair enough, vote your heart. Tired of the gender barrier and want a woman President? That is not a problem for me either; your reasons for voting are sacred. For me the nagging question is always credentials, experience, integrity, and fortitude. Who is the one person best to answer the emergency calls at 3:00 A.M.? The past two presidential elections offered lightweights. With the arguable exception of John McCain, the choices now are lighter still.

Just as a scenario, let me join the ranks of those who want to break the presidential race and gender barriers. I do think there is a person that is better choice than is any current candidate. That person is CURRENTLY answering the international emergency 3:00 A.M. phone calls, that person is both female and black; her name is Condoleezza Rice. Nobody can ever claim she came from privileged beginnings, nobody can say she did not earn all that she possesses or has achieved. Click on the link below to read her profile, which I find both impressive and inspiring.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condoleezza_Rice

If you are one who “clings to your gun,” click on the link below to read her views. During some of the darkest history of this country, her father used a gun to stand down nightriders.

http://www.thegunzone.com/rkba/rkba-condi.html

There you have it, the skin color, and the gender, along with the credentials, the experience, and the guts. I think Cactus John McCain can put this election away by choosing Condoleezza Rice for Vice President, and I believe it would be a great service to this country if he did. John McCain is no spring chicken, and I can sleep nights with Condoleezza Rice being one heartbeat away from being President of the United States. Should events mandate that she take the helm, I could sleep nights with Condoleezza Rice as President of the United States. She has the potential to be one of the greatest in our history.

Hope to see you all at the polls in November.


James A. Zachary Jr.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Entry for April 25, 2008

How high will gasoline go? No one knows for sure. $4.00 a gallon is getting real close, so let’s just look at that for now. Unless you have money to burn, the cost to you is quite a burden. Don’t expect much sympathy from your cheapskate employer. The biggest pay raise you may get for the foreseeable future would be to get a job that pays the same but is closer to your home, and / or to get a vehicle that gets better gasoline mileage.

Below is what $4.00 per gallon gasoline sucks from your annual budget, based on vehicle gasoline mileage and the distance you drive.


Miles Year...10 MPG...15 MPG...20 MPG...25 MPG...30 MPG
..5,000...........$2,000......$1,333.....$1,000.......$800.........$667
.10,000..........$4,000......$2,667.....$2,000....$1,600......$1,333
.15,000..........$6,000......$4,000.....$3,000....$2,400......$2,000
.20,000..........$8,000......$5,333.....$4,000....$3,200......$2,667
.25,000........$10,000......$6,667.....$5,000....$4,000......$3,333

That IRS rebate check does not look so big anymore, does it?

They say burning less fossil fuel may help save the world. Screw the world, burn less fuel to save or improve your own quality of life.

For what driving you can afford to do, Happy Motoring! I have brought my 30+ MPG Geo Metro back out of mothballs. I hope that it will help take me longer to reach the poorhouse.

James A. Zachary Jr.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Entry for April 24, 2008


It is time to put an end to my boat cathexis for year 2008.

I’ve used spreadsheets since the days of
VisiCalc. I was a spreadsheet beta tester for a major player and for a few minor players. I have used spreadsheets for work and for my personal life. I have done some commercial applications. Spreadsheets are great tools for letting you know where you are and where you are going. It amazes me when multi-national corporations need to restate earnings; it amazes me when they fail to see they are going broke. In short, I believe in spreadsheets; numbers don’t tell lies, but some people do choose to ignore what they see. I did not learn spreadsheets because I was smart. I learned spreadsheets to help keep me from making so many dumb mistakes.

To boat or not to boat, that is the question. If I violate some of the rules I set for myself many years ago, the biggest rule being “Don’t Spend the Principal,” the decision is easy, go buy the darn boat. That choice could work out and I could still manage to live happily ever after, but the spreadsheet tells me I would be “spending down” my assets at a rate that could affect my quality of life should I live into my 80’s. If you could know years in advance the exact date of your death, many decisions would be as easy as getting dirty while digging in the garden.

A coworker once told me that investment income is like having a job you never need to get out of bed for. If you spend none of the income, the principal grows. Once you spend part of the principal, that income will drop. Spend the entire principal, and that income will stop.

Currently my only debt is my mortgage. My rules allow me to carry debt for anything I choose, provided the payments are low enough not to create a “spend down.” There is almost enough money in the “Major Purchase Fund” to buy the boat outright, but the sundry other expenses of owning a boat put the numbers well over the edge. As far as buying the boat this year, my numbers tell me “no tengo bastante dinero,” I do not have enough money. The limits of middle-income mandate that this middle-aged pirate will have to wait for a while longer to play like a high roller. We’ll see what next year brings.

Being a responsible adult has always sucked. It is against my nature, it is against my culture.

James A. Zachary Jr.



Monday, April 21, 2008

Entry for April 21, 2008

They call it 4-foot-itus. No matter what the size of your last boat, the next one has to be at least 4 feet longer. My original boat was 24 feet long by 8 feet wide.

The boat in the photo is a Marinette, 28 feet long by 11 feet wide, twin Chrysler engines, able to be piloted from the flybridge or from the main salon. It has an aluminum hull, which makes it light and a tad easier on gasoline consumption than a boat of the same size with a fiberglass hull. With the weight of the high flybridge, the light aluminum hull also makes it tippy in Lake Michigan’s bigger waves. Trying to dock it during a big wind can be an exercise in controlled-crashing because the light weight and the high profile of the flybridge make it easy to blow around. Still, it is a very tempting rig, made for fishing, cruising, and for use as a floating summer cottage. It has great potential to be genuine redneck yacht.

My savings would take a substantial hit to purchase the boat. The sum of the dock fees, insurance, winterization, winter storage fees, and routine maintenance could easily be $7,500 per year. Major repairs costs can be beyond imagination. Filling the fuel tank once is $500. It makes no fiscal sense at all. Then again, there is not much sense in being retired if you are not going to get a little nutty and enjoy yourself. It would make better fiscal sense to use the money to buy a winter home in Florida. Real estate USUALLY can be expected to gain value over time. Boats NEVER gain value.

Am I trying to talk myself into this or out of this? I really dunno.

To be continued, or not,

James A. Zachary Jr.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Entry for April 20, 2008

I got frisky this weekend and almost bought a boat. After sitting through a few hours of trying to work it into the budget, it probably isn’t going to happen.

It amazes me that interest-bearing accounts have dropped so low over the past several years. It must be dire for those who retired and counted on their certificates of deposit paying six percent and above. Some must be rethinking their entire retirement. For example, if they had banked a million dollars and were counting on an annual fixed income of $60,000 without touching the principal, their income now would be down to around $40,000 annually. For many it is too late in their lives to risk shifting to an aggressive stock portfolio from a fixed income portfolio. I look around and see some retirees are doing well, and some are not doing so well. Planning can only go so far.

Supposedly, my pension is sound, guaranteed by law to be good as gold, no worries, etc. If nothing else has been learned during the past decade, there is nothing truly guaranteed, and we all better have some sound contingency plans, just in case. If a full Social Security check is there for me when I reach age sixty-six, great, but I didn’t budget one dime of it when planning for retirement. I did not include the annual pension increases in my budget, and presciently used a three percent yield on my domestic savings, and on my 457B account. So far, I have needed nothing but my pension; the principal, yield, and gains on the accounts remain untouched. Further, I used what I thought were some outlandishly high inflation values to budget for health care, housing, and living expenses. All I need now is good luck, good health, and no boat.

Still, that cruiser sure is pretty.

Your ship’s Captain,

James A. Zachary Jr.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Entry for April 17, 2008

With gasoline prices at stratospheric levels, most of us will take the lowest pump price regardless of the brand. Caveat emptor, after forever-buying bargain gasoline, mostly from Hugo Chavez’s CITGO stations, I have come to rethink my habits. Back in the 1970’s any kid could rebuild a gummed carburetor, so low quality gasoline was not too much of a problem. Today’s electronic fuel injection systems can be quite complex, and every vehicle I have owned with EFI, usually sooner than later, died due to the system gumming up. Generally, it was thought and taught that all gasoline was equal, and “additives” advertised for the different gasoline brands were simply viewed as snake-oil salesmanship. After paying for the latest in a long series of “degumming” of the injectors on my 1999 GMC Safari (at 141,000 miles) the symptoms returned (at 145,000 miles). The dealer said they could again degum the works, and maybe replace a few expensive components here and there. I decided to drive the near-crippled vehicle, as it was, not willing to sink another large wad of cash into a recurring problem on a vehicle nearing the end of its useful life. The one thing I did was look on internet for advice. By changing to Shell gasoline, I literally drove the old GMC clean. At 148,000 miles, the engine runs better now than it ever did.

Shell is a TOP TIER Detergent Gasoline. TOP TIER Detergent Gasoline is the premier standard for gasoline performance. Six of the world's top automakers, BMW, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen and Audi recognized that the current EPA minimum detergent requirements did not go far enough. Since the minimum additive performance-standards were first established by the EPA in 1995, most gasoline marketers actually reduced the concentration level of detergent additive in their gasoline by up to 50%.

Below is a list of TOP TIER gasoline brands. Some major brands not listed say they meet the TOP TIER detergent criteria, but they consider the TOP TIER label a marketing gimmick. Until I am convinced otherwise, if a station is not listed as TOP TIER, I will not be burning their fuel.

TOP TIER Gasoline Retailers:

QuikTrip
Chevron
Texaco
MFA Oil Co.
Conoco
Phillips 66
76
Entec Stations
Shell
The Somerset Refinery, Inc.
Kwik Trip / Kwik Star
Aloha Petroleum
Tri-Par Oil Co.
Turkey Hill Minit Markets
Mileage Stations
Chevron Canada
Shell Canada
Petro-Canada
Sunoco Canada

Visit this
Ted Serbinski Blog entry on gasoline

Visit this
Ask Patty entry on gasoline

Happy motoring,

James A. Zachary Jr.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Entry for April 14, 2008

Test was last Wednesday, and as of this morning still no word on the CT scan results. At 1:30 this afternoon, I decided to make a guest appearance at the clinic where my personal physician practices. The clerk said nothing was listed on the computer, and the doctor was not in. She took my contact number and said she would pass my questions on to the head nurse.

At 7:00 this evening, I finally get a call. The nurse asked why I was bothering the doctor, that I should be speaking to my gastroenterologist and asking him about the test results. I re-explained to the nurse that the doctor had ordered the CT scan and that the results would normally be sent to whoever ordered them. She sifted the pile of crap on the doctor’s desk and, voila, she found my CT scan results. She read the summary to me, and other than something about my liver, pancreas, and gallbladder looking like a family of fat opossums, they could find nothing that could account for the pain in my stomach. She suggested that I make haste to the gastroenterologist and have him shove the camera down my throat.

It has been a week and a half since the “attack,” and the good news is the pain is mostly gone. Tomorrow I’ll call and arrange for my next medical adventure.

Thanks for checking in.

James A. Zachary Jr.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Entry for April 12, 2008

Last Sunday Candidate Obama gaffed during a speech. In the spirit of fairness, I will print Candidate Obama’s “clarification,” made today, of what he said. Somehow, it does not read any better than the original, but then again I am just some working class glob clinging to my guns and to my Bible, apparently too dumb to know why I am voting.

“There has been a small "political flare-up because I said something that everybody knows is true, which is that there are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania, in towns right here in Indiana, in my hometown in Illinois, who are bitter," Obama said Saturday morning at a town hall-style meeting at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. "They are angry. They feel like they have been left behind. They feel like nobody is paying attention to what they're going through. So I said, well you know, when you're bitter you turn to what you can count on. So people, they vote about guns, or they take comfort from their faith and their family and their community. And they get mad about illegal immigrants who are coming over to this country."


Barack Obama needs to take the advice they have given his wife and not say anything unless his high priced speechwriters and focus groups clear it. Don’t adlib, don’t say what he is thinking; just shut the hell up. In case his handlers did not explain it to him, in order to win an election you must NOT motivate the supporters of your opposition.

Each time I hear about
Barack Obama’s “middle-class roots,” or “middle-class upbringing,” I feel the need to vomit real blood in a public place. At the lowest point in his life, wherever he was in this large world, he was privileged. If any part of his life can be considered “middle-class,” then I was raised in total abject poverty. He absolutely has no way to relate to “the average American,” and his candidacy would be better served by his not pretending. For the first time in my life I will agree with the great storyteller and famous “sniper dodger” Hillary Clinton; Barack Obama is an Elitist.



James A. Zachary Jr.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Entry for April 09, 2008

All of the medical and clerical experts finished arguing. The CT scan was today (Wednesday) at 11:00 a.m. Obviously, CT scans are painless. For gastroenterology, modern medicine uses an old-fashioned torture to make up for that convenience, barium. Three hours before the test, you have to drink about a half-liter solution of this vile glop. One hour before the test, you again have to drink the vile glop. When you arrive for the test, you fill out the customary redundant papers, and then you drink even more of the vile glop. No matter what flavors they use to disguise it, vile glop will always taste like vile glop. Halfway through the test, they I.V. you with radioactive iodine for more image contrast. You go back home feeling like human hazardous waste. Then you wait for the technicians and the physicians to all review the images, and then to call you, or not.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Entry for April 06, 2008

Thanks again to everyone that peeks in on this blog. My apologies, entries will again be hit or miss for a while, this time due to some medical issues. Last Thursday at 3:30 AM, my stomach again decided to try to nuke me to death. All of us can deal with pain; none of us can deal with agonizing pain. This pain is like a road-flare burning inside my stomach. This is my third such attack in two years; the one prior to this one was just last Labor Day weekend. I missed my follow-up medical tests set for last fall because of Mom becoming ill. Obviously, those tests are now my top priority, the pain is louder this time and lasting longer. There was some urgency for me to have a CT Scan last week, but the hospital pointed out that my health insurance approval was for the CT Scan, and my personal physician signed an order-form for an MRI. I am hoping they have it all worked out by Monday morning, else I will need to make some more road trips and phone calls. Another of the tests will be the endoscope down the throat into the stomach and beyond. I will need to make an appointment with a new gastroenterologist for that, my old gastroenterologist and his affiliate hospital no longer deal with my health insurance company. One step at a time; Doctor Deepthroat will wait until after the CT Scan problems are resolved. For now, Ultracet has me fuzzed out, and my gut gets plenty of healing pills a couple of times a day.

James A. Zachary Jr.