November Turkey Talk — Mideast Mayhem

It’s November, so we should be talking about turkey, right? While the bird which will grace your Thanksgiving table is certainly a timely topic, another timely topic is the country of Turkey. Mayhem abounds in that area of the world, and we can be thankful we aren’t there. And, due to a recent decision of our Commander in Chief, a thousand or so U.S. troops aren’t there either. Let’s talk Turkey about this news.

Back on October 6th, President Trump made an abrupt and controversial announcement that U.S. troops were being pulled from northern Syrian which borders Turkey. At the time, approximately one thousand American military members were based there. This figure was down from the 2,000 troops with boots on the ground in Syria the previous year. Woo hoo! Less troops in harm’s way in this dangerous area of the world.

A troop reduction in Syria should have come as no surprise to anyone. Why Trump campaigned for the presidency on a promise to end U.S. participation in wars such as in Syria. After becoming president, he first announced his intention to withdraw troops from Syria in 2018. So what’s the fuss? I mean, he did what he said, right? But some were taken aback that Trump decided to remove the troops pronto. His exit strategy was to exit. Period. Right then.

What was Trump’s rationale for the troop withdrawal? He wants to get the U.S. “out of these ridiculous endless wars.” The troops were in northern Syria in the first place because of an “age-old conflict” between Turkey and the Kurds, many of whom are located in northern Syria. The president noted that America is “not a policing agent.”

Turkey and Syria are neighbors; they share a border which is approximately 511 miles long. Nevertheless, their relations are anything but neighborly. Populating northern Syria along the Turkish border are Syrian Kurds who number around 1.7 million. Why doesn’t Turkey like its southern neighbor? Do the Kurds play their music too loud? Nope. Turkey considers the Kurds to be terrorists who must be eliminated. And by eliminated, I mean killed.

And the Kurds aren’t just living in northern Syria. They make up about 20% of the population in Turkey. The Kurds in Turkey have been stirring up trouble in their country an attempt to establish their own state. In fact, the Kurds, who per CIA estimates number between 25 and 40 million, are the world’s largest ethnic group without its own state.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (“PKK”) has been fighting for autonomy in eastern Turkey for 30 years. And by fighting, I mean carrying out violent acts such as bombings and assaults; it has a long history of conducting terrorist attacks. Moreover, the U.S. has formally designated PKK as a foreign terrorist organization. So, you can see why Turkey isn’t really keen on the Kurds in its own country.

But what beef does Turkey have with the Kurds living in northern Syria? They didn’t carry out any violent acts in Turkey. Well, Turkey views the Kurdish militia that dominates the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces (“SDF”) as being aligned with the Turkish Kurds’ terrorist group PKK. The Syrian branch of the PKK is YPG. Are you A-OK in grasping this background? .

Let’s recap. Turkey doesn’t like the Kurds. It doesn’t like the Kurds in their country, the PKK, because the group engages in terrorist acts. Turkey doesn’t like the Kurds in northern Syria because Turkey thinks they are in cahoots with the Turkish terrorist group PKK. The Turkish Kurds don’t like the Turkish government because it quells their separatist movement. Got it? Now, how does the U.S. fit into all this? Well, its like many relationships. It’s complicated.

The U.S. teamed up with the Kurds in Syria to fight ISIS. In this context the U.S. armed YPG, the Syrian branch of Turkey’s PKK. Kurdish-run detention centers in Syria hold thousands of captured IS fighters and their families. According to some reports, about 11,000 detained ISIS terrorists are being guarded by the Kurds. The bottom line is the U.S. was allied with the Kurds against ISIS. But the Kurds don’t get along with Turkey, a NATO ally of the U.S. not to mention an area of strategic significance to our country. What’s a world power to do?

Well, President Trump decided not to risk a war with Turkey over the Kurds, so he ordered U.S. troops to high tail it out of Syria. This executive decision led to intense bipartisan criticism. (I mean, does anything he does escape criticism? But I digress.) President Trump was vilified for abandoning our Syrian Kurdish allies; naysayers felt the U.S. owed a huge debt to the Kurds for helping us contain ISIS.  Trump responded that the U.S. may have left Syria, but it was not abandoning the Kurds.

Turkey, on the other hand, was delighted when the U.S. troops pulled out of Syria. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered an assault on the Syrian Kurds before the dust had settled from the U.S. troops’ departure. The aim of this military operation was to push Kurdish militants back from Turkey’s southern border and deeper into Syrian territory.  Can’t you just hear the Turkish commanders urging their troops, “Push ’em back, push ’em back…?” Trump, living up to his statement that he was not abandoning the Kurds, sent Vice President Pence to Ankara to broker a five day ceasefire.

But the plot thickens. Now Russia is in the mix. The U.S. supporting the Syrian Kurds gave Turkey a reason to buddy up to Russia. Turkish President Erdogan met with Russian President Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss the situation. Hey, if you have to talk politics, you might as well do it in a relaxing and beautiful location, right? Turkey and Russia struck a deal to establish a 20 mile safe zone with no Kurdish forces along the Syrian border. Now Russian military police are patrolling the Syrian-Turkish border along with Turkish troops.

Whew! What a headache to try to understand this complex situation. It has the makings of a good political soap. Will ISIS take advantage of the U.S. troops’ departure to make a comeback? Will Turkey and the U.S. kiss and make up after the U.S. teamed up with the Kurds in northern Syria but has now physically left the area? Is Putin gloating that he’s playing footsie with a NATO ally of the U.S. and getting toehold in the Mideast? All this Turkey talk is making me thankful that all I have to do is prepare a turkey for Thanksgiving and that I don’t have to deal with Turkey trouble.

JUST WONDER-ING:

Have you been following the news on the pullout of U.S. troops from northern Syria and the aftermath thereof? Did you realize that Mideast relations were so complex? Should the U.S. be involved in what’s going on in northern Syria? Why or why not? If so, to what extent should our involvement be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty Days of Thanks — Current Events Version

You know it must be November when social media is filled with posts giving thirty reasons to be thankful. Practicing gratitude is a wonderful way to improve one’s attitude. Unfortunately, most posts I see are personal to the person posting them. Aren’t there reasons for our society as a whole to give thanks at this time of year? Of course, there are! Let’s turn to current events to see what positive things we can identify for which we can be grateful.

FUR FORBEARANCE.  Animal lovers can give thanks that our animal friends are a bit safer now. Unfortunately, there will still be a mass slaughter of certain feathered birds in connection with Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, some fur-bearing animals can breathe a sigh of relief. The Queen’s dresser (What? She can rule a kingdom but can’t dress herself?) has revealed in her new memoir that Queen Elizabeth will no longer wear fur during royal appearances. OK, she will still wear fur, but it will be faux fur. Since fashion trends are swayed by anything a royal does, it would appear that real fur is out and fake fur is where it’s at.

HEALED HERO. U.S. citizens are giving thanks that a military hero is A-OK. This particular military hero has four legs and is covered in fur. He’s Conan, the Belgian Malinois. With no regard to his personal safety, Conan dashed down a dead end tunnel after an ISIS leader clad in an explosive vest. Detonation of said vest rid the world of a terrorist but resulted in injury to Conan This brave canine officer was awarded the Medal of Honor by our Commander in Chief and invited to visit the White House. Conan, who’s a good dog, won’t complain if he’s served fast food there or even leftovers. It’s wonderful to know that man’s best friend is doing his part to serve his country.

IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME. Praise be that good sportsmanship is still a concern in today’s world. A Long Island, New York football coach, Rob Shaver of Plainedge High School, was suspended for one game after allowing his team to run up the score on an opponent. He ignored a good sportsmanship rule that was intended to prevent lopsided victories. The coach was faulted for not taking his starters out quickly enough allowing his team to notch a 61-13 victory. I’ll bet the coach did not even say “I’m sorry for your loss” to the losers.

HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO CLOTHES. For those of us who don’t want to part with old clothes in our closet, we can be grateful that old clothes can sometimes be very valuable. Olivia Newton-John decided to clean out her closet recently and got rid of an old pair of leather pants from 1978. These famous pants, worn when she sang  “You’re The One That I Want” in “Grease,” sold for a whopping $162,000. The pants won’t be worn again or even relegated to a closet. Purchased by Spanx founder Sara Blakely, the leather pants are to be framed and hung in the Spanx headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. Will this make Hotlanta  even hotter?

SNAGGED SUPPORTIVE SPOUSE. We can be thankful that women behind the scenes aren’t forgotten these days. We’ve all heard that behind every successful man is a woman. In some cases there’s  more than one. Let’s take recently departed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for example. He allegedly had four wives. No wonder he rose to such heights of terrorist power; he preferred to be out causing trouble than to be at home mediating between four wives. Turkey’s president announced that Turkish forces have captured one of these wives along with several other of the slain leader’s relatives. I feel safer that Wife #1 is in custody, but should we be nervous that Wives #2, #3, and #4 are on the loose? Can we put Conan on their trail?

THE END IS NEAR(ER). It’s almost here! The 2020 presidential election, to be held on November 3, 2020, is now less than one year away. Seems like the candidates have been running since the dawn of time, but we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. And the tunnel is getting less crowded as presidential contenders drop out of the race. Bye bye, Beto!

FOOTBALL FRENZY. It’s a great time of year to be a college football fan. A monumental game is on tap this Saturday between LSU and Alabama, two SEC teams rated #2 and #3 respectively in the season’s first College Football Playoffs rankings. And if the high stakes game isn’t enough excitement, a high profile fan will be in the stadium–President Donald Trump. Who will President Trump be rooting for? Well, he is a member of the GOP whose official symbol is an elephant….Roll Tide???

TRASH TECHNOLOGY.  Thanks to technology, household chores are now less onerous. The world’s first self-changing trash can is currently on sale. Townew’s Smart Trash Can automatically seals the bag inside with the touch of a button. No muss, no fuss. Once the bag is removed, a new bag is automatically installed. Unfortunately, the smart trash can is not smart enough to take the discarded bag out to the street for pickup, but progress has been made.

IT’S BACK!  Didn’t get to try Popeye’s new chicken sandwich when it debuted in August, promptly sold out, and dropped off the menu?. Hallelujah!  The apparently to die for fast food feature is now back and available for purchase. Unconfirmed rumors indicate the chicken sandwich boldly asserted, “Ill be back” before fading off the menu. A chicken fight is back on between Popeye’s and Chck-Fil-A, although Chick-Fil-A observes a ceasefire on Sundays.

We can all be thankful that there is more than simply bad news out there. It may take some searching to find them; however, some current events do provide reasons for us to be thankful. Keep an eye out for additional reasons to give thanks this month when you are reading or listening to the news. And express gratitude when you come across them.

JUST WONDER-ing:

Can you think of other current events that give rise to a reason for gratitude? Do we tend to focus on good news or bad? Which attracts more media attention? Does giving thanks promote a more positive attitude?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take Me Out To The October Ballgame

Just in time for Halloween, baseball season finally concluded on October 30th with the Washington Nationals winning Game 7 of the World Series. Personally, I don’t think of the end of October as baseball time; I’m more focused on SEC football at this point. Nevertheless, I tuned in to the Fall Classic to watch the best of the AL BAT-tle the best of the NL. I also had a BALL gathering information on the Series and its participants.

After a regular season of 162 games which began on March 20th, it all came down to a winner-take-all seventh game in the World Series. While a game 7 is exciting, it isn’t all that uncommon. A little over a third of the World Series match-ups have come down to a decisive game 7. In fact, a game seven was required when the Astros beat the Dodgers to win the 2017 World Series..

Speaking of sevens, the officiating crew for this year’s World Series consisted of seven umps. What? You could only count six on the field? Yup. There were only six present at the game live and in person. Number seven wasn’t even at the ballpark. He was the replay official assigned to MLB’s New York office. Well, that’s boring to sit in front of a monitor nowhere near the baseball stadium.

This year’s World Series was the 115th World Series to have been played. The American League’s Houston Astros were heavy favorites, having attained the best record in baseball this year. Best is, of course a relative term. The Astros’ 107-55 won-loss record was only a .660 winning percentage. That kind of percentage would be a failing grade on a school test, but hey, this is sports. The National League’s Washington Nationals, who only made it to the playoffs as a wild card team, logged a 93-69 win-loss record, a winning percentage of a mere .574.

Pitted against each other in the role of skipper for the Series were two former Major League Baseball players. Houston’s A.J. Hinch, a catcher in his prior MLB playing career, opposed Washington’s Dave Martinez, who was a catcher in his playing days. Hinch, with a degree in psychology from Stanford, had the educational edge since baseball is such a game of strategy and a thinking man’s game. Since his team lost, perhaps Hinch should consider pursuing a master’s.

The first game of the 2019 World Series was played at Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston. The Astros secured home field advantage by being the pennant winner with the better regular season record. And just how many of the 41,168 seats in Minute Maid Park were filled with fans imbibing fruit juice? Somehow I think the majority were washing down their ballpark franks with beer rather than lemonade. The sea of orange seen in the stands was not orange juice but Astros’ fans sporting their team’s color.

After two games in Houston, the World Series action switched to our nation’s capital. Nationals Park, situated in the southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C., holds slightly more fans than does Minute Maid Park–171 to be exact. Home field was no advantage in this World Series though. In fact, the home team lost every single game of this series. Home wasn’t home, sweet home.

Even if you aren’t a sports fan and don’t care about the action on the field, people watching was fun during the World Series. What crazy get-ups were rabid fans wearing to draw the camera’s attention? Take, for example, the man who had his face painted like a giant baseball. There was also ne wearing a colorful ASTROnaut helmet. Nowhere to be seen was Houston Astros’ pitcher Justin Verlander’s wife a/k/a Kate Upton. Maybe she was cheering her hubby on incognito.

Even the people on the field were fun to observe. What was up with all that facial hair on the players? Marge Schott (former Cincinnati Reds’ owner who required Reds players to be clean-shaven) must have been turning over in her grave. Every time Anthony Rendon came up to bat I had a strong urge to go find a pair of scissors to trim that long hair on his chinny, chin chin. Not sporting facial hair was young Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. Soto not only had the thrill of playing in a World Series, but he got to play in a World Series game on his 21st birthday–October 25, 2019. Less thrilling was the fact that his team lost the game.

To the victor go the spoils. What are the spoils in the World Series? First of all, the winners get to brag that they are the best of the best. Second, they get a big payout; victors have earned a bonus just shy of $400,000 for winning the World Series. Of course, no players have to live off of food stamps playing professional baseball; the average baseball player earned a salary of approximately $4,000,000 in 2015. And then there’s some bling–a World Series Ring. Ever since the 1922 World Series, players on the winning team have each been gifted with a ring. Similar to a class ring, a World Series ring typically has a large stone with the team name and logo. In some instances, the ring is inscribed with the player’s name and number. Every MLB player wants to put a ring on it–his own finger.

The winning team receives the Commissioner’s Trophy. It is the only championship trophy of five major sports in North America not named for a person. (The NFL has the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and the NHL has the Stanley Cup.) Fortunately, the trophy looks way better than its name. At 24″ tall and 30 lbs. in weight, the award is made of sterling silver. Featured on the trophy are 30 gold-plated flags, one for each Major League team. Below the flags is a silver baseball covered with latitude and longitude lines, symbolizing the world. A new trophy is made each year, so the recipient doesn’t have to cough it up a year later to the winner of the next World Series.

The baseball season’s now officially over, but the party continues for the Washington Nationals, the World Series Champs. While each player on the winning team can truthfully say, “Baseball’s been very, very good to me,” we fans can all say that this year’s World Series, one that came down to the wire was very, very good to watch even if we had to wait until the end of October to see it.

JUST WONDER-ing:

Did you watch the World Series? If so, for which team were you rooting? Is the baseball season too long? Do you agree with the statement that baseball is a thinking man’s game?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Maps And Men — Bemused By Belts

The constant barrage of news about squabbling politicians frustrates me so much I just want to belt something. Violence, of course, is not the way to go. Why not shift focus and learn about the numerous belts which exist here in the good ole USA instead? At least we’ll be distracted from all the political nonsense for a bit and learn some fun facts.

According to worldatlas.com, there are about 20 belts in our country. No, the site is not referencing the fashion accessory clearly not utilized by males whose pants are sagging and whose drawers are visible to anyone and everyone. These belts are areas which have shared characteristics such as agriculture, climate, or industry.

The term “belt” was first applied to agricultural areas which often follow lines of latitude and call to mind a long clothing belt. These agricultural belts include the Cotton Belt, the Corn Belt, the Rice Belt, and the Wheat (or Grain) Belt. It seems odd to think of belts and farmers together. I tend to picture farmers in overalls which, of course, don’t require a belt to keep them up.

The Corn Belt, located in the Midwest, is characterized by fertile soil and level land making it suitable for farming. This area has dominated corn production in the U.S. since the 1850’s. Four states in this belt produce more than 50% of our country’s corn–Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota. Thus, it’s no wonder that Nebraska’s football team is known as the Cornhuskers.

Just below the Corn Belt is the Rice Belt. Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas are located in this belt. And guess where Rice University can be found? Pardner, it is in the Rice Belt–Houston, Texas to be exact. Rice University has nothing to do with rice the grain though. It was founded out of funds from the estate of William Marsh Rice, a businessman, who made his fortune in real estate, railroad development, and cotton trading.

At least one belt involves a food product. I give you the Grits Belt. This belt is where 75% of the grits sold in the U.S. are bought. Those living in this belt are as likely to say “Kiss my grits” as they are to eat some grits. The Grits Belt covers a large swath of the South stretching from lower Texas to Washington, D.C.

One belt I’d never heard of is one in which I grew up–the Stroke Belt. Located in the Southeast, the Stroke Belt is an area with a high incidence of strokes and other cardiovascular diseases. The Centers For Disease Control (based in Hotlanta where I grew up) first noticed this concentration back in 1962. Diet is partially cited for this bad belt; folks in the Stroke Belt tend to eat food high in fat and fried foods. Yes, we love fried chicken, fried okra, etc. Eleven states, including Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee, make up this belt.

Largely overlapping the Stroke Belt is the Bible Belt. This area of the South lays claim to a higher church attendance than any other part of the U.S. And the church affiliation is mainly Evangelical Protestants. Pass the fried chicken and say “Amen!” at the church potluck! Interestingly, the U.S. is not the only country with a Bible belt. Canada and Australia, among other countries, also have such a belt.

Changing circumstances have required a name change for one belt. The Steel Belt, situated in the Midwest and Great Lakes area, was once dominated by steel production and manufacturing. Nevertheless, deindustrialization beginning in the 1980’s as the result of increasing automation, the decline of the steel and coal industries, and the use of overseas manufacturers resulted in a new belt designation–the Rust Belt. This pejorative term aptly describes the significant change in the area caused by deindustrialization. For example, the population of Detroit declined dramatically, by 29%, between 2000 and 2016. Residents were motoring out of Motor City at a brisk pace.

Climate belts such as the Sun Belt and the Snow Belt are easy to pinpoint. To no one’s surprise, the Sun Belt is in the South, and the Snow Belt is in the north. The former stretches from the southeast to southwest and receives a higher amount of sunshine than the rest of the country does. States in this belt, such as Florida and Arizona, generally have warm and sunny climates. Snow Belt states, in contrast, experience severe wintry weather with heavy snowfall. These areas are mostly around the southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes.

The traditional belts make sense. But I’m thinking there are at least two belts out there which have not been officially recognized. First, shouldn’t the Washington, D.C. area be dubbed the Bureaucratic Belt? It’s the seat of the federal government, for Pete’s sake, so who could argue with that designation? The area is populated by government operations (can you say “bureaucracy?”) which is run by government employees (can you say “bureaucrats?”). You can’t shake a stick around there without hitting a bureaucrat or the bureaucracy for which he works. And the way the government spends money, some belt-tightening is in order.

The other missing belt is the Sin Belt. We here in the Bible Belt are certain that it’s not located in the Southeast. No, the Sin Belt is in the Wild Wild West. Think of all that gambling in Las Vegas (it’s called Sin City for a reason, you know) and Reno. Think of the brothels which are legally run in Nevada. Think of the hedonistic lifestyle of those in the entertainment industry in the neighboring state of California. Yee haw! It’s the Corn Belt because corn grows there. It’s the Sun Belt because the sun shines there. It’s the Sin Belt because sin occurs there.

Our country is big and diverse. Even though they share common characteristics, some belts cover different states or even different regions. Regardless of what belt you may be in, one thing belts us all together–we are Americans. So let’s embrace our commonality and quit hitting each other below the belt.

JUST WONDER-ING:

What belt or belts do you live in? Is a belt a good way to visualize an area with common characteristics such as climate or agriculture? Are there any belts you think should be recognized?

 

How Do You Spell Fall? P-U-M-P-K-I-N

 

When I was a child, sight and touch were the two senses everyone utilized to enjoy fall. We’d see the beautiful colors of the leaves as they changed their dress in anticipation of falling to the ground, and we’d feel the cool, crisp fall air against our skin. Today fall is about smell and taste, and leaves and air have nothing to do with it. now, fall is about smelling and tasting all things pumpkin, particularly pumpkin spice. And pumpkin/pumpkin spice products are as prevalent as colored leaves on the trees somewhere other than in Florida.

Are we out of our gourds? Apparently so, seeing as how a pumpkin grows on a plant in the gourd family. Pumpkins, a winter squash, are native to North America and are one of the most popular crops grown in the U.S. They are reportedly the oldest domesticated plant; evidence indicates their use as early as 7,500 to 5,000 B.C.

But despite having been around for thousands of years, it is only fairly recently pumpkins have taken front and center during the fall season. A couple of decades ago, pumpkins started to make their move on leaves as the symbol of fall. They first appeared on the fall scene innocently enough as pumpkin spice candles. Mmmm! They smelled good.

Then Starbucks had the brilliant thought–what smells good probably tastes good as well. In 2003 the coffee chain rolled out the pumpkin spice latte, familiarly known as PSL. And voila–a coffee star, and a trend, was born. An unbelievable amount of PSL’s were sold, so Starbucks added to its pumpkin repertoire.

Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew is now on the Starbucks menu. I confess that I’ve never had a PSL, but I adore the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew. (No, Starbucks is not paying me to say this, but if the company wants to give me some free PCCB’s for my efforts, I won’t turn them down.) The PCCB is a to die for cold brew; it contains vanilla syrup topped with pumpkin cream cold foam and, as so poetically described on the Starbucks’ website, a “dusting” of pumpkin spice topping. I give you fall in a cup.

The marketing world’s current mantra seems to be “Pumpkin spice makes everything nice.” And when they say everything, they mean EVERYTHING. It’s not fall unless every conceivable product  available comes in pumpkin or pumpkin spice. Think I’m joking? Think again.

What better way to start a brisk fall day than with pumpkin breakfast products? Take your pick from PS bagels, PS oatmeal, and Pumpkin Pie frosted Pop Tarts. Wash your choice down with some coffee made from PS K-cups. If you prefer your breakfast in a bowl, there’s a selection of PS cereals–Frosted Mini-Wheats, Special K, Life, and Cheerios. More of a visual person? You can order a mini waffle maker on Amazon for a mere $14.99 to produce pumpkin-shaped goodies such as waffles.

But pumpkin’s not just for breakfast any more. You can enjoy pumpkin goodies all day long during fall. Indulge in some pumpkin flavored peanut butter, yogurt, or pudding for a snack. Indulge in a Pumpkin Pie Kit Kat, a concoction of crisp wafers in pumpkin pie flavored creme, for a sugar fix.

But where’s the beef? Fortunately, I haven’t come across any pumpkin flavored beef products yet. Nevertheless, pumpkin spice meat is indeed available. I give you Spam’s limited edition Pumpkin Spice Spam; it’s just perfect for frying up to serve with waffles, hash, or eggs for a fall breakfast or brunch say the Spam producers. Perhaps the individual who came up with this outrageous spiced up meat in a tin can idea had imbibed one too many pumpkin spice Captain Morgan’s rum shots from a pumpkin shaped bottle.

And not only can consumers smell pumpkin spice from available food products, but they can smell like pumpkin themselves using PS beauty products. It just wouldn’t be fall without using PSL deodorant on your armpits and PS lip balm on your mouth. Your skin can be glowing like a Jack O’Lantern on Halloween from using pumpkin facial masks.

Man’s best friend should be allowed to enjoy the fall season as well, don’t you think? Rover can sink his teeth into PS Greenies Dental Dog Treats which can freshen his breath and fight tartar at the same time. Who wants natural, icky dog breath when your pooch can have PS dog breath?

So there’s literally pumpkin everywhere now; actually, it has been everywhere since before fall even officially started. But has it really? Not exactly. You might want to sit down when I tell you this. There’s no pumpkin in pumpkin pie spice. Say what? Yup. PPS is actually a blend of ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and allspice. Grant may be buried in Grant’s tomb, but you can’t find pumpkin in PS.

What’s the big deal about PS? Why is it so trendy? Psychologists have suggested it’s because the smell evokes warm memories of happy times experienced during holidays and family gatherings,  Such occasions were often the backdrop against which home-baked goods containing PS were served. We smell or taste PS, and a a nostalgic emotional response is triggered. Everyone wants a warm, fuzzy feeling, so we just have to have anything PS.

The smell or taste of PS in our deodorant, facial masks, Pop Tarts,  cereals and doggy dental treats may indeed evoke thoughts of fall. But is smelling and tasting PS the best route to experiencing the fall season? Fall brings a change in the weather and to the landscape. Rather than trying to capture fall in a bowl or under our arms, shouldn’t we just go outdoors and enjoy the fall temperatures, sights, and smells? It costs you nothing to step out the door to and experience fall. Can you say that about buying a PCCB or a PSL at Starbucks?

JUST WONDER-ing: What PS products have you tried this fall? Can you think of a new product that could be produced with a PS flavor or smell? Has the PS craze gone overboard? What says fall to you?

 

 

 

 

 

Desperate Parents — Their Cheating Hearts and College Admissions

 

It’s a special time of year for college-bound high school seniors. They are deep in the college admissions process, taking the ACT and SAT and completing applications for admission to their desired institutions of higher learning. The thought of Junior becoming a college man warms a parent’s heart–or perhaps gives rise to cheating thoughts. While Junior is hard at work earning admission to college the old-fashioned way, Mom and/or Dad may be deep in legal trouble from trying to “help” Junior get in. Hello college admissions scandal!

The latest white collar criminals making the headlines are good old mom and dad. Make that good old RICH mom and dad. Thirty-three parents were busted as a result of Operation Varsity Blues. Their crimes? The fancy-schmanzy legal term is wire fraud, but for the average citizen what the parental units did was try to scam their offspring’s way into an elite university by bribery and false athletic credentials. OK, make that allegedly scam college entrance for their offspring for the 28 of the 33 parents who have not yet been tried or sentenced.

Haven’t heard of Operation Varsity Blues? Certainly you have heard of some of the high profile individuals arrested as a result of the investigation. Lori Laughlin of “Full House” and Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives” are the two most famous of the arrestees. Lori is fighting charges so she won’t have to go to the big house. Felicity followed up her TV role with a real life role as a “Desperate Parent.”

Why the need to scam a child’s way into college? Well, it wasn’t just ANY college. The colleges for which the scams were undertaken involved “elite” colleges such as Georgetown, Northwestern, Stanford, UCLA, and Yale to name a few. Noticeably absent from that list, I am proud to say, is any SEC school. Competition is so fierce to get into these “elite” schools that apparently people will do anything, legal or otherwise, to get in or to get their kids in.

What did these desperate parents do to ensure their offspring would go to the right school? They did something wrong. The first wrong step was getting hooked up with 58 year old Rick Singer, CEO of The Key, the world’s largest private life coaching and college counseling company. Singer, clearly old enough to know better, helped students from wealthy families gain admission to the right school by engaging in wrong behavior. He admits to unethically facilitating college admission for children in more than 750 families. His scheming dates back to 2011.

How did Singer manipulate the system? One scheme was to assist students in cheating on their ACT’s and SAT’s. These tests are the standardized tests widely used for U.S. undergraduate college admissions. In some instances, Singer arranged for a stand-in test taker for the student. Mark Riddel, a Harvard alumnus and a college admission exam prep director, took a number of exams in place of students whose parents had sought (or perhaps more accurately bought) Singer’s assistance. Wow, a Harvard grad whose mark on the world is to excel at cheating? Even if the student took the test himself, Singer could pay off someone to alter the scores, i.e., make them higher. Gregory and Marcia Abbott paid $125,000 to have their daughter’s college entrance exam scores changed. For their efforts they were awarded admission to prison for one month each.

Felicity Huffman was was charged with paying $15,000 to Singer to facilitate cheating for her daughter on the SAT. Amazingly, as a result of Singer’s efforts and that of a bribed test administrator, Huffman’s daughter made 400 points higher on the SAT than she had on the PSAT one year earlier. A proctor changed the daughter’s SAT answers after the test to achieve the higher than would be anticipated score.

Huffman plead guilty to the charges against her. She was sentenced to 14 days in prison, a $30,000 fine, 250 hours of community service, and one year’s probation. Judge Indira Talwani told the former Desperate Housewife turned Desperate Parent that “Trying to be a good mother doesn’t excuse this.” Huffman reports to prison on October 25th; thus, she’ll be behind bars on Halloween. Trying to treat her daughter to an undeserved admission to an elite school resulted in a bad trick for Huffman–admission to the big house.

A second wrong strategy pursued by Singer on his clients’ behalf was to bribe college coaches and athletic officials to say an applicant should be accepted because the student was a recruit for their sports team. In Lori Loughlin’s case, she and her fashion designer husband Massimo Guannulli allegedly paid bribes of $500,000 to have their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team. Of course, neither daughter rowed competitively or otherwise participated in crew. Details…minor details, right?

The most recently sentenced parent, 53 year old San Franciscan Agustin Huneeus, didn’t want to leave anything to chance. He decided to get his daughter’s ACT score fixed AND to try and bribe her way into acceptance as a fake water polo recruit. Because of his double-pronged scam, prosecutors sought an elevated sentence for Huneeus, who, prior to the scandal had owned and operated a family Napa wine business. As a result of this desperate parent’s poor decisions, he resigned his job and was sentenced to 5 months in prison. In addition, a $100,000 fine and 500 hours of community service were imposed.

Singer’s goal of helping students achieve admission to an elite college superficially seems to be a good one. Nevertheless, his goal turned into getting students into the college of their parent’s dreams. But the end, college admission, cannot justify the wrong means by which Singer sought to attain it. He slyly set up a nonprofit foundation, KWF, to serve as a front for laundering the money paid to him to get parents’ kids in by hook or crook–apparently mainly the latter, i.e., by a crook. Perhaps Singer should spend time now figuring how to get out instead of in–that’s out of jail where he will hopefully and deservedly end up.

As for the parents who sought to “help” their children in this way, I can only shake my head. What kind of “help” did they think breaking the law, cheating, and being deceitful could possibly be to their child? What kind of role model are they for their child? And, with all due respect to Judge Talwani, no “good” mother (or father for that matter) does these type things. A good parent raises his or her child to be all that he can be. The emphasis is on “all that he can be.”  It’s not what he can be if the parent breaks the law and cheats to make sure his child gets to the top of the heap.

Were these actions even about the child? Maybe mom or dad was more concerned about themselves and how they would look if their child were successful. Mr. Huneeus admitted that his cheating for his daughter “was not about helping her, it was about how it would make me feel.” Sad. Shouldn’t parents be more concerned about their children than themselves? Apparently not today. We live in desperate times which for some call for desperate, i.e., illegal, measures.

JUST WONDER-ing:

Can a parent go too far in trying to “help” their child that they end up hurting them? Do you determine “help” by the actor’s intentions or the reality of the consequences? Is a prison sentence justified for these parents who broke the law trying to “help” their children?


 

 

 

 

 

 

Pain From The Ukraine

It’s the biggest and the poorest country in Europe. Right now it’s causing both political parties in the U.S. a bunch of pain. If you have heard any news report in the last two weeks, you should be able to guess that this country is Ukraine (formerly “the Ukraine”) even if you aren’t a geography whiz. How and why is this Eastern European country causing such an uproar here in the U.S.?

First, for all those geographically challenged citizens, let’s take a minute to get up to speed on Ukraine. The country came into existence in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union. It’s capital and largest city is Kiev. Whether Ukraine can lay claim to creating Chicken Kiev is a controversy for another blog post. Ukraine produces and processes its own natural gas and petroleum an industry which sets the stage for the present goings on with Americans.

Ukraine has some disputes, land and otherwise, with Russia. The enemy of your enemy being your friend and all, Uncle Sam is Ukraine’s friend. And as any good friend would do, Uncle Sam is providing hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid to Ukraine to fight Russian-aligned forces.

Just like the United States, Ukraine has a president. The current Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was elected back in April 2019. Like President Trump, Zelensky was not an experienced politician when elected; he was an actor and comedian. President Trump appeared on the TV screen in “The Apprentice” before his election to the nation’s highest political office. President Zelensky starred in the TV series “Servant Of The People” where he played the Ukrainian president before being elected to fill that office in real life.

With that background, let’s look at THE biggest news story receiving air time right now. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced on September 24th that six committees would undertake formal impeachment inquiries against President Trump following reports of controversial interactions between Trump and Ukraine. Apparently six committees instead of just one are required to undertake these proceedings because the government cannot do anything without duplication and repetition.

Although the word “impeachment” does not have a “U” in it, you can’t talk about the current impeachment goings on without Ukraine being smack dab in the middle of it. The apparent last straw to fuel the impeachment fire was President Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president. This conversation has been characterized as Trump’s solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 election. Hey, what’s an American election without foreign interference, right Russia?

As verified by transcripts of the phone call, Trump suggested an investigation by Ukraine was in order of some fishy business involving Americans in that country. So far, that sounds reasonable. The catch is that the individual in the crosshair was none other than potential 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

How is Joe involved with the Ukraine? Wasn’t he busy being President Obama’s VP and now running to unseat President Trump? Why yes, but Biden is not just a politician, he’s a family man. Surely he is a proud papa of son Hunter, a Yale Law School grad. And not only does Hunter have a law degree, but he is savvy too. In 2014, he managed to land a position the board of directors for Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s largest private gas producer. This scandal-plagued Ukrainian natural gas company took Hunter on despite his having no background or experience whatsoever in oil and gas. And for that lack of background and experience he was paid up to $50,000 A MONTH to so serve. (Where do I sign up for this kind of work with my law degree?)

Why on earth would Hunter Biden of all people have obtained this clearly lucrative position in a Ukrainian business? COINCI-DENTALLY (or not), Hunter’s dear old dad was serving as U.S Vice President at the time and was personally involved in U.S. Ukrainian policy; in particular, Joe was pressuring Ukraine to do better at rooting out corruption. At best, taking such a job was poor judgment on Hunter’s part; at worst, it represented a conflict of interest.

But, hey, that’s simply Hunter’s bad, right? Well, there’s more to the story. In March 2016, VP Joe Biden threatened then Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko that $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees would be pulled if Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin was not fired immediately. The Prosecutor General had been generally denounced by Western leaders as corrupt. Ukraine sacked Shokin as a result. So, if he was corrupt, what’s the big deal? COINCIDENTALLY, Shokin was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into Burisma Holdings at the time he was fired. Getting Shokin removed could be seen as an attempt to keep Sonny Boy’s business from getting in trouble and him thus losing his enviable ~$50,000/month board position.

Fast forward to July 2019, Trump is chatting with Zelensky president to president and mentions that some bad things might have been done in Ukraine. Shouldn’t a leader want to get to the root of corruption and bad dealings in his country? Sure. But, as with Hunter Biden, this request, which put a Trump political rival under a microscope, might be seen as a lapse in judgment or self-dealing.

A transcript of the July 25th Trump-Zelensky conversation was released. To absolutely no one’s surprise, readers reached various conclusions. Trump supporters found nothing horrible while Trump foes were aghast at such egregious behavior. Additional accusations were levied that Trump used military aid as leverage; specifically, it was said that he was blocking millions of dollars the U.S Congress had approved for aid to Ukraine. (This move would be a no no as opposed to Biden threatening to withdraw a BILLION dollars in U.S. loan guarantees to obtain leverage.)

Was Zelensky pressured by Trump? Why not get the answer staight from the proverbial horse’s mouth? In a September 25th press conference at the U.N., Zelensky addressed this very issue. He stated, “It is impossible to put pressure on me.” The Ukrainian president went on to stress that “nobody pressured me” to investigate Biden. But, he’s a president (not to mention a former TV star), so can we believe what he says? Trump supporters say “yes,” while Trump detractors say “no.”

It remains to be seen where the impeachment inquiry will lead. But the story to date provides some takeaways. It’s politics as usual for both political parties. Those involved, regardless of their party affiliation, often make poor judgment calls (pun intended as it applies to Trump and his phone conversation with Zelensky). Monetary assistance, or the lack thereof, is a frequent political weapon of choice. Whether or not a politician’s particular actions are outrageous or acceptable lies in the eye of the beholder and his political affiliation. In any event, the Ukraine’s involvement has taught people some geography and provided a solid news story as opposed to reports about Justin Bieber’s second wedding to Hailey Baldwin.

JUST WONDER-ing:

Have you read the transcript of President Trump’s phone conversation with President Zelensky? Does the fact Zelensky claims nobody pressured him to probe Biden resolve the matter? Should alleged instances of corruption be investigated no matter who brings them to the attention of the authorities? Why do successful, well educated people make poor judgment calls?