Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Trick or treat?

It’s that time of year again… Everywhere we look, we see ghosts, goblins, witches, and skulls with flashing eyes. There are cauldrons and tombstones in front yards, and jack-o-lanterns on porches. It’s the time of year when it’s OK to be scared. We even like it, we seek it out. Scary movies by candle light, haunted houses and hayrides – costume parties, and trick or treating. Halloween can be so much fun, with no restrictions on age. I remember wearing those cheesy costumes, which tied in the back like some highly flammable, neoprene johnnie, with the plastic masks, which not only trapped every breath you exhaled, but had eye slits specifically engineered to allow zero peripheral vision. After all, why would you need to see to the side while crossing the streets at night? There were always dangers too – I mean, aside from running around in dark clothes at night, partially blind, while having to avoid open flames. There were creepy guys in vans, candy laced with LSD, razor blades in apples, and a whole slew of other things to watch out for. And as it turned out, the apples got tossed, all guys in vans were creepy anyway, and I never ate a Laffy Taffy and saw my army men perform the closing number from Godspell.

But now Halloween has a new ‘creepy guy in a van’ - Parents. Not all of us mind you, just a select, whiney few. JFK Elementary School in Canton is the latest in a growing number of schools to ban all things Halloween. It started with switching to healthy snacks on Halloween plates… Healthy? Who wants a granola bar on Halloween? But, give a whiner an inch… This year, it’s no costumes, candy, plates, napkins, or decorations of any kind. I wonder how long it will be before Halloween is declared ‘the H word’… But all is well. Halloween is being replaced by a Fall celebration. That’s fun! Are we back to an agrarian society and nobody told me? Are we celebrating plentiful crops harvested? Why would kids want to celebrate Fall? Fall sucks! They go back to school, it starts getting colder, and it’s dark at 5:30. Woohoo – let’s party!

And for what? What is in it for the fun-busters? I don’t totally blame the schools. They unfortunately have to acquiesce to whoever complains the most, which is easier, and less expensive than getting sued for something. But why go out of your way to take the fun out of everything. What is it about Halloween that so offends you, or your little snowflake? Just like with the war on Christmas, (which I’ve written about in the past), we are giving more and more power to the oh-so-moral minority. And if we continue to refuse to take a stand, the proponents of political correctness, and overprotective parents will take the fun out of everything.

Look, I’m all about keeping kids safe, and God knows they need to eat healthier, put down the Xbox controller, and get out on the bike. But I really don’t believe in taking the childhood out of childhood. Let them be kids, and have a little fun once in a while. They have enough pressure on them. Look at us adults. After a long week at work, we can head out for a few cocktails and blow off some steam. Once a year, we can’t let the kids throw on cape and a little makeup, and throw them a few Snickers bars? (That’s a normal Friday night for me btw…)

Bottom line – let’s let our kids be kids. It goes by fast. Life will get serious for them soon enough – ahead of them is work, family, bills, and unending responsibility. My son just turned 17, and it’s amazing to me how quickly it happened. Ultimately, they have so little time to be silly, dream about being an astronaut, write letters to Santa, and dress up and pretend to be their favorite super hero once a year. It is unfathomable to me why there are those who would want to take that away.

“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men” – Willie Wonka

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What ails ya

Remember, back in the day, when you’d feel sick, and your mother would take you to the doctor, (or he’d come to you)? He’d check you out, take out his script pad, and write a prescription for something that would make you feel better. (Usually something with codeine and alcohol, mind you… just what a growing 7 year old needs). What a concept – a doctor deciding the best course of treatment to cure what ails ya. But in recent years, we seem to have removed this burden from medical personnel, whom I’m pretty sure have to go to special schools for this kind of stuff, and opted to entrust drug manufacturers, and advertising agencies. Oh, yeah… and Wilfred Brimley. He’s got diabetes ya know. How funny it must be for a doctor these days. He tries to prescribe something to help with excess acid, and even though he’s got more things on his wall written in Latin than the Vatican, we kindly let him know that we’d like the purple pill instead, because hey – the guy in the commercial looked relieved. How did this happen?

OK – it was a rhetorical question. We all know how. Money, money, money… Pharmaceuticals are a multi-billion dollar industry. I remember the big rivals were Tums vs. Rolaids, and Tylenol vs. Excedrin. Now, it’s a bit more high stakes. And the saturation is absurd. Every commercial break during any show, movie, or sporting event on TV will have at least one product in the so-called healthcare family. Whatayagot? Joint pain, acne, athlete’s foot, high blood pressure, lines, circles, belly fat? They have commercials for herpes medicine. Do they not think a licensed MD can handle herpes? They need to get you to go and request stuff? I’d actually like to see the alternate version of the herpes commercial. Girl in the foreground, guy walking up behind her with a very serious look on his face… Girl begins, “I have herpes”. Guy – “and I… WHAT??? I thought this was a Pepsi commercial!!! Get Sid on the phone!”

I have another question – When did we all get so sick? Everyone seems to have ‘something’. Acid reflux is popular. Depression is huge. Hypertension, high cholesterol – the list goes on. Let’s not forget the acronyms… PAD, ADHD, GERD, Afib, IBS, PTSS and PMDD, which is kind of like PMS on steroids… Oy. We need drugs to cope, drugs to stay awake, to curb our appetites. We have drugs for erectile dysfunction, and drugs to help us sleep, (talk about your ups and downs)… There is even a drug now that acts as a supplement to your depression medication in case it doesn’t work by itself. I’m no doctor, but isn’t depression medication supposed to alleviate your depression symptoms. If not, isn’t it just pretty much a Tic Tac? So, just a recap – there is now depression medication for depression medication. You can’t make it up! Look - I don’t deny that some folks really have afflictions, where medication is a necessity, but come one. America is turning into one big episode of House.

I also find it quite intriguing, (as if to say, ‘hmmmm’), that there is plenty out there in the way of treatment, but not a lot in the way of prevention. Why? There’s no money in it. It really isn’t a horrible thing for the bottom line to have a high percentage of the population with what seems to be a cornucopia of ‘treatable’ ailments. Think of the dichotomy - It’s not uncommon to see a McDonald’s commercial hyping the new 1/3 pounder, followed by a Lipitor commercial. Beautiful! I don’t know. Maybe I’m nuts. Some things just really don’t make sense to me. Like, why have the red pistachios when you can have the tan ones and not have stained fingers? – Anyway, maybe we should take advertisements for what they are worth, (some are kind of funny), stop surfing WebMD, maybe try adding a healthy element or 2 to the every day, and let the medical folk make the medical decisions – not Madison Avenue.

Damn – now I want pistachios.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The age of the Unimpressed

“When Alexander looked upon the breadth of his domain he wept, for there were no worlds left to conquer.” Any fan of Die Hard knows this line. Maybe one of you will know it from it’s author, Plutarch… (If that person is you, you need to get out more.) What made me think of this line was the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin taking those first historic steps on the moon. I have admitted before to being kind of a ‘space geek’, so I really enjoyed all of the specials, and the interviews – it was especially cool because Endeavour is up at the International Space Station, and had a scheduled EVA on the 20th. So there were astronauts, outside of their ship, orbiting the Earth on the Anniversary itself. (What? I told you I was a geek!)

It was July 20th, 1969… Just a little over 8 years after President Kennedy made his speech in which he mentioned, “achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Which was a scary gauntlet to throw down to the folks who actually had to do it. Virtually all of the technology to fulfill this little promise to the American people had yet to be invented. But, apparently Marilyn wanted a moon rock necklace, so… And granted, it did take close to half a million people, and around $22 billion, (that’s 60s money btw), but they did it. And with that, folks began to wonder… Are we done? What is our next great achievement?

All through our history, it seems there’s been something to strive for. Great achievements to better mankind, and keep America competitive and strong. Edison, Westinghouse, Bell, Morse, Eastman, Ford… and the list goes on. How about Wilbur and Orville Wright? A couple of bicycle repairmen who were stupid enough to think they could fly! Louis and Clark heading West to see what was out there. Of course, they eventually hit LA and immediately got hammered by the fashion police. “Beaver pelt in June? Puh-lease…” We climbed Everest, (without Gore-tex mind you). Made it to the North Pole. We had the industrial revolution. Yes, we actually made things, and were impressed by progress. The cotton gin, the printing press, and moving pictures wowed the people of their time. It seems very rare nowadays for folks to really be taken aback by great feats, or new technology. Is that the problem? Are we just unimpressed? We have people living in an orbiting space station, our iPods contain entire record collections, doctors can now do ‘micro’ surgery with actual robot arms, our GPS systems hold our hand and guide us to Aunt Millie’s house, our favorite vacation spot, nearest restaurant, or strip club… (I hear!)

I think about my son’s life, and the things he’s always known. There has always been digital music, DVDs, camcorders, video games, microwave ovens, personal computers, and cell phones. Maybe it does take more to impress someone who has been inundated with technology their entire life. Those of us who are a little more mature, and wiser… aw hell – older, remember having to mess with antennas, and the dreaded ‘outer’ dial to try to limit the snow on a UHF channel so we could watch the 3 Stooges. Then suddenly, there was crystal clear cable… magic! Pong, Commodore computers, bag phones – all of these great strides in technology really got our attention back in the day. How about safety? When we were kids, the only airbag we had was maybe a sibling sitting between you and the steel dashboard of your parents car… You know, the one with the seatbelts stuffed way down between the seats. How about medicine? We have over the counter remedies for ailments that killed people not so many years ago. They taste better too!

I do think that’s the case. We seem to be simply hard to impress. Throughout all of the Apollo hoopla, I heard over and over again, ‘why haven’t we done anything great since?’ I don’t think it’s a case of lack of great achievement on our part. I think great achievements happen at a rate that we are either accustomed to them, and therefore almost numb to them, or we just can’t keep up. Imagine the guy who just got an echocardiogram done so his doctor could see a live, 3D, multicolor view of his heart beating to check on a murmur he heard. This guy is now on the road, talking to a client in Japan on his Bluetooth, his GPS guides him to his next meeting, as his iPhone gives him up to the minute traffic updates, (Yes – there’s an app for that)… And, ironically, this is the guy who’d say, “Ya know, we can put a man on the moon, but we can’t stop the condensation on my iced coffee from dripping on my pants when I take a sip!”

‘and that’s the way it is…’
Walter Cronkite 1916-2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Boogie Woogie Flu

Mask? Check… Purell? Check… Panic? Check… Okay – you can leave the house now. But, no shaking hands, no kissing, no hugging, no sneezing, and whatever you do – try to refrain from licking any pigs. (Didn’t see that on CNN, I’m just assuming.)

Yes, my friends, it’s upon us – the 10th plague. At least that’s what the cable news folks want us to think. The Swine Flu is back! It’s been a while… I think last time through, it toured with Boston, and Blue Oyster Cult. But this is a different strain – harder to contain, scarier, and infecting more people… Like Amy Winehouse after a bender. This new strain is a viral cocktail comprised of not only swine flu, but human, and bird flu’s as well. What the hell is going on in Mexico anyway? Should someone tell our neighbors to the South that the ‘Speak n Spell’ where you point the arrow to the farm animal and pull the string, is not a talking ‘spin the bottle’ game? Actually, it seems that the most likely origin is one of the biggest factory farms in Mexico. Sure, factory farms heavily contribute to high methane emissions, land degradation, nitrogen pollution of land and water, and now - new diseases… But Oh my God! The meat just falls off the bone!!!

Whatever the cause, can we just calm down a little? What is it about peril, and impending doom that we Americans find so alluring? Simply mention things like ‘new strain’, or ‘pandemic’, or ‘virulent’, and suddenly we all turn into Glum from the Gulliver’s Travels cartoons – you remember that depressed, monotonic, “we’re doooomed… We’re all gonna die”. And the media loves it. The apparent Apocalypse is great for ratings. Of course, they don’t just report the news, which would be that there are only 50 cases in the U.S. – hardly reason to panic. (that’s as I’m writing this – if, when you read it, the world outside looks like NYC at the beginning of ‘I am Legend’, maybe I was wrong). But they go on and on with ‘worst case’ scenarios;

“If the disease were to morph further, causing people to, say, spontaneously expand to 4 times their normal size, those wearing unnatural fabrics, like polyester, could suffocate in their own clothing… And if this were to take place as the sun exploded, there would be little hope for the cotton wearers as well, Tom…”

And why is the media staying away from what’s really going on? It’s really starting to smell of conspiracy… Think about it – Chicken Pox, Swine Flu, Mad Cow Disease, Eastern Equine Encephalitis…. I can’t be the only one to whom it’s painfully obvious that Old MacDonald is the Angel of Death!!!

And how much of the evolution of these diseases is our fault? Antibiotics are over-prescribed by doctors, and misused by us. We’ll sometimes take them to avoid getting sick. Which not only doesn’t work, but over time has helped to breed more resilient bacteria. That’s why we never see Penicillin prescribed anymore. It was the miracle cure for a time, was prescribed for everything, (I think at one time it came in a Popeye Pez dispenser), and now most bacteria is immune to it. There is also the argument that antibacterial soaps may be contributing to different types of bacteria becoming more resilient. We used to wipe the counter with a sponge, now we have the entire CDC in a spray bottle. ‘Out damn spot… Out I say!’ (I know – King Duncan wasn’t bacteria… But I heard he was a fungi).

Look, when it comes right down to it, Swine Flu 09 is an aggressive form of influenza. We’ve all had the flu. It’s not fun… It’s not Leprosy either. Unfortunately, like other strains of the flu, this will be dangerous for the very young, and very old. All we can really do is what we would normally do to avoid catching a cold. Keep your hands washed, try not to get sneezed on, and I already mentioned the ‘licking the pig’ thing. Also, keep in mind – during flu season in the U.S., an average of 40 million people get the flu, resulting in about 35,000 deaths. – That’s every year - But they don’t keep a daily tally for this on cable news. So as we see Swine Flu cases begin to rise… and we will - every day… maybe we can try to keep some perspective, and try not to panic. Oh - If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my custom built, ISO 14644-1 certified, hermetically sealed ‘clean’ bunker, complete with redundant HEPA and ULPA air filtration, and reverse osmosis water purification. By the way, I dictated this blog… keyboards are the petri dishes of the office world.

Good luck everyone…

“A-th-th, a-th-th, a-th-th – That’s all folks!”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

That's Entertainment!

Is the entertainment industry completely out of ideas? From movie remakes to an almost constant barrage of so-called ‘reality’ shows… their incredible lack of creativity is evident at every turn. What ever happened to writing? There is an actual Writer’s Guild, so there must still be writers. No reason to have a guild if not. I’m really not actually sure what a guild is to tell you the truth. Sounds prestigious enough. I wonder if they have a secret handshake, and have to wear a red, tasseled fez to meetings where they take ‘minutes’ and talk about dues and stuff. Can I start a guild I wonder? I could probably join theirs, since I’m doing more writing right now than ‘the guild’ did over the entire Bush Administration. It’s kind of our own fault though. If they put it on TV, we tend to just watch it - whatever it is.

I guess I just don’t see the appeal of the reality show. I live in real life – I don’t want to watch it when I get home. I want revenge fantasies. I want to see the guy in the movie do what I wanted to do to the nit-wit who cut me off in traffic, but couldn’t because I’d go to jail. I want to see Dr House be extraordinarily un-PC in a ridiculously over the top PC world - and get away with it. And I want Jack Bauer to keep having much worse days than I could ever have. Why do I want to see a gaggle of pampered housewives, who want for nothing, and contribute nothing, sit around, whine about their lives and bitch about their husbands… Isn’t that what we have neighbors for?

I don’t care if Brodie Jenner gets a new ‘bro’. I don’t want to see your intervention, or little people buying groceries, or top chefs, top models, cougars, millionaires, bunnies, sextuplets, survivors, racers, or Joan Rivers try to smile. And I’m fairly convinced American Idol represents the unlocking of the 4th seal of the apocalypse. (You know Randy Jackson had to have made some sort of deal with the devil – ‘dog’).

What I’m really annoyed with is what’s going on in the movie industry. I recently sat through ‘the Day the Earth Stood Still’ with Keanu Reeves. I’m a big fan of the original from 1951, and wanted to see what they did to it… Ugh! Just another empty, boring script relying on CGI to get them through. Why? Why do these studios feel the need to mess with the movies we love. Is it ego - the feeling they can ‘do it better’? Or is it purely economics? They’ve already sought to destroy The In-laws, Sabrina, Psycho, Planet of the Apes, and King Kong, just to name a few. And this year alone, the list of remakes slated to be made are Arthur, The Birds, Clash of the Titans, Karate Kid, Footloose, (oy!), The Dirty Dozen, and My Fair Lady. There are actually about 40 others as well.

OK – You may be thinking this is a fairly benign thing to bug me as much as it does, or that I’m a little crazy, or being a little dramatic, or that it takes me too long to return calls, or that I look really good in baseball hats - and that may be true. But I think movies are an art form, like paintings, or songs, or books. A representation of someone’s vision, passion, effort, and sacrifice. You’d never see a picture of a seated, homely woman with a crooked smile, drawn in crayon, and entitled ‘Mona Lisa’, hanging in the Louvre. And while recording artists cover songs all the time, they don’t change the lyrics… Well – P Diddy aside of course.

Look – ranting aside. There’s nothing wrong with a little mindless TV – whatever relaxes you, and helps mark the end of your long day is fine… Hey, one of my favorites is a reality show - Deadliest Catch - and I love South Park... doesn’t get more mindless than that. It just disturbs me that Housewives of Orange County, and Who wants to Marry a Millionaire are now synonymous with American Culture. From the golden age of television, to the magic of Hollywood, America set the standard in film and television entertainment. There is a certain responsibility that comes with that, and I hope that is something we don’t lose sight of.

(I wasn't kidding about 'Idol' - Locusts to follow... Dog!)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Instant Karma

Normally, I’m not surprised at people’s capacity to disgust me. From frivolous lawsuits and censorship to spoiled, overpaid athletes and corrupt politicians – there is usually a representative or 2 of our fine nation that leaves me shaking my head on an almost daily basis. Things were a bit different last week however. I heard that at the Presidential Inauguration, where there were an estimated 2 million people in attendance, there was not a single incident, or arrest. Pretty amazing! ‘Could it be,’ I though? ‘Could this change about which we’ve been hearing ad nauseam, be upon us already?’ Well, as it turns out, that wasn’t the case at all. As I said, hearing or reading about people’s stupidity, greed, piety, entitlement or outright apathy toward others is so commonplace, it’s rare that I get ‘wowed’. Yesterday, I got ‘wowed’.

Travel back with me if you will… Thursday, Jan 15th at 3:26 PM, US Airways flight 1534 took off from NY’s LaGuardia Airport bound for Charlotte, NC. Shortly after takeoff, several geese were sucked into 1 of its 2 engines causing it to blow out and catch fire. Since the Airbus A320 was just taking off, and was still at low altitude, and low speed, it could not maintain flight with just one engine. Knowing he would not be able to maneuver the big jet back to the airport for an emergency landing, Capt. Chesley B Sullenberger opted for a water landing in the Hudson River. As a result of the pilot’s quick thinking and skill, and the crew’s professionalism in the face of potential catastrophe, all 155 passengers survived, and most escaped without injury. OK – that, you already knew.

When you purchase an airline ticket, the Airline is required to either make sure you get your belongings back after the flight, or compensate you for loss or damage up to $3,300. That would easily cover my alligator bag, platinum toothbrush, and mink boxers. You know – necessities. US Airways has offered the passengers of flight 1534 $5,000 for the loss of their belongings. Most folks are OK with that, because like most of us, upon walking away from a plane crash, replacing luggage wouldn’t tend to be something we’d be consumed with. But of course, there are a few who don’t want to make any rash decisions just yet. Me thinks somebody got a lawyer… You just survived a plane crash! How do you spit in the face of karma/God/fate/nature like that? A Salesman named Joe Hart from Raleigh, NC is one of the displeased. Joe says he would like to be “made whole again”, and adds that, “flying is difficult now”. Death is easier Joe, though lacks a certain excitement. There is also an advocacy group for crash victims involved… Really – I couldn’t make that up! The National Air Disaster Alliance & Foundation thinks aside from lost possessions, the passengers went through a ‘terrific ordeal’, and $5,000 is not enough. I know what my Blackberry cost, but how much is a terrific ordeal worth? Also – Kreindler & Kriendler, (guess what they do), are representing several of the survivors. They will of course be entitled to 1/3 of the terrific ordeal pay. The plaintiffs are lucky. K&K don’t do ‘ordeals’, but ‘terrific ordeals’ are right up their alley.

Why does someone else always have to be responsible? Life is random, unpredictable, and based on choices that we make. Life, in big part, is a crap shoot. There is chance in getting out of bed in the morning – driving, flying, athletics, marriage, work, even going to the store… Some choices work out, and some don’t. And when they don’t, it doesn’t entitle us to a check! Tell me how Heather Mills was worthy of $40 million in her divorce from Paul McCartney. Or the woman who spilled her own coffee on her own legs while holding the cup between her knees to add cream and sugar, and was awarded $2.5 million because the coffee was hot! If Ronald McDonald himself threw the coffee in her face while maniacally laughing at her pairing ‘that sweater with those pants’, then I could see a little compensation. Clowns are mean, ya know.

It saddens me that we’ve gotten so litigious, that our experiences now have price tags. The fallout from our bad choices make up who we are as much as the benefits of the good ones. Our buddy Joe, who fell from the sky in an 80 ton aircraft full of fuel, and walked away with a bloody nose and soggy shoes, feels he’s entitled to a settlement for his ordeal, from a company who really did nothing wrong. Hey… Maybe they can sue Canada too - They were Canadian geese after all.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Happy New Year

“Order this free DVD… it will change your life.” How many of these commercials have you seen in the past couple weeks? Yep, we’ve segued from the season of ‘eat, drink, and be merry’, to the season of redemption, and resolution. Tis now the season of diet supplements, deals on gym memberships, Bowflex, Total Gym, Nutrisystem, and Jenny Craig. We are bombarded with success stories – Marie Osmond, Valerie Bertinelli, Mike Ditka, Dan Marino, Jillian Barberie, (who still hasn’t returned an of my calls… busy I guess), and a host of other unknowns who’ve lost large amounts of weight in very little time. It’s also time to wash out the gray, and re-grow that bald spot. Everything we see this time of year seems to offer us an opportunity at a new beginning of some sort. Improve your appearance, start a new career, or find that special someone on-line. Every year the resolutions seem the same. Somehow, the beginning of a new year inspires us to start things we, for some reason, couldn’t start in October, or June. But statistically, most resolutions have gone by the wayside my mid-March. So why do we do it year after year? What’s your New Years resolution?

Let’s face it, we all have ‘things’ about ourselves we don’t particularly like, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve our quality of life. But New Years seems to be the time of year that the advertisers like to remind us of our flaws. You can’t blame them, it works like a charm. Just drive by a gym and see how much more packed the parking lot is as opposed to a month ago. Yes – I feel bad for spandex this time of year. The abuse… Oh the humanity! I wonder why it is so many folks bail after 8 or 10 weeks. After that long, you have to be seeing some sort of result for your effort. Why quit? It seems like it would be inspiring. I’m hoping I last longer than that. I resolve to eat healthier, and give up wearing spiked heels on the weekends… Sure, they make me feel pretty, but I twisted an ankle pretty badly last month.

And while I think we Americans could be in a little better shape, here are a few other things that would be good fodder for New Years resolutions…

We resolve to...

- Not sue anyone, even though Jim Sokolove says we should.

- Stop voting by phone so American Idol will finally go away.

- Not order the new 20 piece Mcnugget meal to eat alone.

- Use directionals… That’s why cars have them!

- Stop being so whiney, and offended by everything!

- Be more creative in naming a newly created drink as opposed to just sticking the suffix ‘tini’ at the end.

- try to coerce Tyler Perry to stay dressed as a woman… He looks more creepy as a guy.

- If you’re a rap artist thanking God for the award you just won, stop saying ‘first and foremost’. It’s redundant.

- Help a friend – in this economy, at least one person we know will need it.

- Not talk on the phone while putting on makeup and taking a sip of coffee, in rush hour traffic. (I actually witnessed this, and admittedly was a little impressed!)

- Make an effort to show appreciation to at least one member of our Armed Forces for their efforts, and sacrifices.

So, here’s to new beginnings… 2009 is prime for both optimism, with the upcoming change of administration, and a bit of fear and uncertainty when it comes to the economy. And while the latter is foremost in everyone’s mind, (see? No need to add ‘first’), I remain optimistic. I’m sure it will be a hard year, but I think the difficulties will bring about changes for the better in the long term. I wish everyone luck and success with your resolutions – and good fortune with work, family, and friendship in ’09.

Happy New Year!