Wasps that Will Not Die

Forget Freddie. There are these little critters under the oak tree in our front yard that put him to shame.

I first made their acquaintance a couple of years ago when a handyman who was working on the breezeway started running about, waving his arms and yelling like a crazy guy.

Yellow jackets. They had burrowed under the root of the tree next to the breezeway, and when he disturbed their nest they let him have it.

We sprayed the nest and forgot about the little monsters.

Imagine my surprise – make that horror – when I dug into the ground under the tree to plant some ferns on Thursday morning – and got swarmed. My hands, my neck, my poor tummy… they hit me everywhere.

I returned fire with Raid and the garden hose, but all that did was make them madder. They nailed me while I was spraying them – one on the chin and the other under my ear.

And it hurt!

Nothing eased the pain. Not ice. Not vinegar. Not anti-itch cream. Not Tylenol. I managed to get to sleep Thursday night by taking two night-time Comtrex tablets.

Friday I had golf (yes with my hands swollen like two party balloons… not surprisingly, I shot 97). But Saturday bright and early I went to Publix and bought a can of Raid wasp killer. “Kills the whole nest,” it proclaimed on the label.

Well, it didn’t kill the nest. And it certainly did not kill the wasps. Perhaps I needed to get closer when I sprayed? I decided t try again on Sunday.

Cunningly, I waited until dusk to launch the next counter-attack. In my experience, Jamaican wasps don’t sting at night.

But these are not Jamaican wasps. They blitzed me again while I was spraying. One little guy chased me all over the yard.

I decided to run through the palmettos, thinking the fronds would brush him away. But all that did was trip me up and send me head over heels onto the grass – with him buzzing menacingly around my ears.

It gets worse. I was wearing flip-flops. You ever try to run in flip-flops? You ever try to scramble to your feet in flip-flops while a killer wasp was buzzing around your head?

I kicked off the flip-flops and managed to get to my knees and then to my feet, which were already churning like Usain Bolt’s.

I made it to the house, with Sandra wondering what on earth was going on. She had admonished me against retaliating for the wasp attack, and had already left a message on Joe the Bug Man’s answering machine. Let a professional handle it, she had advised.

I should’ve listened to her, but do I know what’s good for me? I’m sure you know the answer.

To my amazement, the wasp followed me into the house and lit on my head, hitting me on my hand when I swatted him. His stinger even caught my finger when I picked up his little corpse to throw it in the trash.

Then I discovered I wasn’t wearing my glasses. By now it was dark, so I got a flashlight and went to look for them at the spot where I fell. Naturally, with my luck, I stepped on them and broke the lens – the same lens I had just replaced after sitting on my glasses on the bed (it cost me $80).

I should have listened to Sandra when she pleaded with me to wait for Joe the Bug Man. But I did not. I decided on the nuclear option.

First thing this morning I got some old newspapers,  set them afire and threw them on the nest. The flames leaped up, the mulch and dead fern roots caught fire… It was quite impressive.

Sandra was convinced I had gone over the edge and was trying to burn down the house. She kept yelling at me to put out the fire, and I did – but not until after the nest had burned for an hour. When I turned the garden hose on the underground blaze, massive plumes of smoke billowed over the yard – with the devil wasps flying about in the smoke trying to zero in on my head.

Fortunately, Joe the Bug Man called just about then. He came to our rescue with his professional poison and his expertise. After spraying the nest thoroughly, he got a shovel and rooted the whole thing out … big gray clumps of eggs and dirt. Then he sprayed the eggs again.

We put the mess in a garbage bag and threw it in our dumpster.

So that’s the end of the wasps, right?

Are you kidding? They’re still out there, buzzing around the breezeway, waiting for me to show my face…

Joe promised to come back tomorrow. But I doubt anyone can kill those wasps. They’re the wasps from Hell.


Oh No! Not Again!


Don’t tell me we’re headed back to to the days when Americans (and Canadians) built bomb shelters in their basements and hoarded canned foods and other supplies in preparation for the Apocalypse.

I just read a Reuters story, quoting crazy Vladimir Putin as saying:

I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers.

So watch out. The shadow of The Bomb could be making a comeback.

Putin was showing off (as he is wont to do) at a pro-Kremlin youth camp but even so, his “reminder” amounts to a challenge to those Pentagon saber rattlers. They’re sure to respond that America is also a “leading nuclear superpower.” And there are American politicians who are eager to match Putin’s bluster with their own. I wouldn’t be surprised if John McCain, for example, were to urge the US to drop the first Bomb.

It might sound absurd to you and me but there are those who seriously contemplate a nuclear showdown.

Fortunately, President Obama is not one of them.

He is already being criticized for his reluctance to wage war. His lack of a Syrian “strategy” is attracting almost as much fire as his choice of a light-colored suit for his press conference.

But I am relieved to see him taking a cautious approach to the world’s complex conflicts. I know what it’s like to dig into a nest of hornets. That’s what I did on Thursday and I am still nursing the lumps all over my hands, arms, face and body.

Of course I do not know what it’s like to engage in a nuclear war. And I don’t want to know.

I would much rather endure Putin’s threats, galling though they undoubtedly are.

But I don’t think the rest of the world should have anything more to do with Russia. Putin seems to be some kind of mad dog and we should take his advice and not “mess” with him. Nor should we trade with him or allow him to take part in the global financial system.

This dangerous megalomaniac must be quarantined for the world’s safety.

And in the meantime, America would be wise to keep its nuclear arsenal on high alert – just in case.

Click for the Reuters story.


Father Knows Best? Still?


A report commissioned by two Republican lobbying groups finds that most women consider the party “intolerant,” “lacking in compassion,” and “stuck in the past.” To fix the problem, the report recommends a campaign to convince women that they’re wrong

.What? Don’t the little darlings realize father knows best?

Slate’s Amanda Hess reports this morning that:

R.R. Reno, editor of First Things (a journal that promotes “economic freedom” and a “morally serious culture”), published a very helpful essay illustrating how this fresh new strategy might work in practice. Reno begins his piece with a richly-drawn portrait of a hypothetical female Democratic voter: She is a “single, 35-year-old McKinsey consultant living in suburban Chicago who thinks of herself as vulnerable and votes for enhanced social programs designed to protect against the dangers and uncertainties of life.”

(Reno does not specify the number of cats she owns, but for the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume the answer is “several.”)

Reno speculates that this woman (whom he has invented and preprogrammed with opinions) feels “judged” by a Republican platform that opposes gay marriage, because “she intuitively senses that being pro-traditional marriage involves asserting male-female marriage as the norm—and therefore that her life isn’t on the right path.”

So she votes for the Democrat, who does not appear to be “intolerant” of her lifestyle.

I know quite a few women who wouldn’t vote Republican if they were being waterboarded. And not one fits that description (except for the part about the cats).

But, according to Reno, that’s the kind of voter Republicans must convert. How?  Reno has a strategy:

This woman is suffering from “various kinds of personal unhappiness related to the lack of clear norms for how to live,” Reno writes. She secretly “wants to get married and feels vulnerable because she isn’t and vulnerable because she’s not confident she can.” And so, actually, she should support the party that wants to force people into traditional marriages, thus improving her chances of getting married herself.

How about that, all you little ladies out there? Do they have your number, or what?

Click for the Slate article.


Don’t Blame Burger King

tax code


It’s futile to rail against Burger King for planning to merge with the Tim Hortons chain and move to Canada. Tell the truth, wouldn’t you do the same kind of thing if you were a US corporation? After all, corporations pay 15 percent tax in Canada, while the US rate is 35 percent.

Of course, few, if any, US corporations pay anything like 35 percent. Their accountants have long ago figured out how to take advantage of the myriad loopholes in America’s labyrinthine tax code. Indeed, the big players, such as GE, pay no federal tax at all. And it’s not a new phenomenon. According to government records, two out of every three United States corporations paid no federal income taxes from 1998 through 2005.

Everybody agrees the US tax code must be rewritten. The President has been begging Congress to get on it.

But you know this Congress isn’t going to vote for anything the President suggests. The Republicans are sworn to oppose anything he tries to do, and they control the House. They also use the power of the filibuster to sabotage anything useful that shows up in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the nation’s corporations wriggle and dodge as best they can to avoid paying taxes. They’re doing a heck of a job, too. Back in 1955, corporate taxes accounted for nearly 28 percent of the federal government’s revenue. In 2010, the percentage was under 9 percent.

The loss of corporate revenue means Uncle Sam has to look to individuals – you and me – to make up the difference. Or cut services.With the Tea Party crowd controlling Congress, it isn’t hard to figure out which route the government will take. They would trash all federal programs if they could.

It’s one reason highways and bridges are in disrepair, schools are a shambles and cities are going bankrupt.

Burger King is not the only corporation fleeing America. Fourteen companies have already abandoned the US this year. And Walgreen’s was on the verge of moving to Switzerland until public pressure made company bosses back down.

Obviously, something must be done to stop the rot.

And obviously it’s up to Congress to do it. But this Congress won’t. So we voters have to get us a Congress that will. Just remember that in November.

In the meantime, boycotting Burger King is not the answer. Go ahead, enjoy your whopper. And have some Tim Hortons coffee with that. I hear from my Canadian relatives that it’s really good coffee (the doughnuts rock, too).

Click for more on corporate tax dodgers.

Click for more on the boycott idea.

Click for more on the merger.


Sounds Like a Nice Name

We voted yesterday, Sandra and I. We did our civic duty. Sort of.

To tell the truth, we didn’t know who we were voting for. I searched the web and found little or nothing about the local candidates. And the local paper no longer offers recommendations. The New York Times sold the paper to a group in South Carolina in January, and the new owners think it would seem partisan to offer recommendations. (It might also turn off advertisers.)

We knew who Charlie Crist was, of course. He used to be our governor. He used to be a Republican. Now he’s a Democrat. From what we know of him, he is a reasonable guy. But he might be “pro-life.” That’s what a telephone robocall assured me. It was a recording that sounded a lot like Crist, and it warned me not to believe the stuff people were saying about him, that he was a staunch conservative anti-abortionist still, so I wasn’t to worry.

Of course, it could have been fake. The Republicans could have doctored the tape. They do that kind of thing. Creepy, isn’t it?

Is Crist against gun control? Nan Rich said so. Who is Nan Rich? She is the lady who ran against Crist in the Democratic primary. She was definitely for gun control and against Rick Scott. We didn’t vote for her although we agree with her and might disagree with Crist (if the robocall was genuine). But why waste our vote? She didn’t have a chance against Scott. Nobody knows her name.

A few of the names seeking my vote for positions like circuit judge and school board member sounded familiar. I thought I’d read something favorable about a candidate named Christine Thornhill so I filled in the oval next to her name. And the name Randy Wilkinson rang a bell. Wasn’t he the crazy guy who used to cause so much trouble on the County Commission, or was it some other guy with a similar name? Anyway, just in case it was the same guy, I voted for his opponent. I didn’t want some nut on the school board.

Sandra had commented that “Taylor Davidson” sounded like a good name, so Ifigured she would vote for him. He was running for a circuit judge seat. So I voted for his opponent. If he turned out to be a horror, I would be canceling Sandra’s vote. No harm done.

I know, we were … confused. But at least we voted. More than 80 percent of our fellow-citizens in Polk County didn’t even bother.

Was the exercise useful? Democracy in action? I doubt it.

It seems to me the same results could have been achieved by casting lots, as they used to do back in Biblical days.


What? No Golf for Obama?

Golfing ObamaIke

What is it with the “pundits”? Are they living in the past, when there were no smart phones? Or are they just determined to find fault with President Obama no matter what?

Obviously, I don’t agree with everything the President does. But I wouldn’t want his job.

And if I had his job, you bet I would take a break from time to time to play golf. It’s exactly the kind of stress reliever an American president needs.

For pundits like the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd to complain that the President was golfing (top photo) while the world burned is absurd. He might have been on the golf course but his smart phone was in his pocket, and Air Force One was waiting to whisk him back to Washington.

Back in the days before smart phones, President Eisenhower spent a lot of time on the golf course (bottom photo). And Americans loved him for it. Wasn’t the world burning then? You bet it was. Soviet missiles were primed and pointed at the United States, and US missiles were baring their nuclear warheads at Moscow.

It seems the world is forever burning someplace or other. If the American head of state waited for a tranquil interlude before taking a break, there would never be a break.

I guess President Obama isn’t supposed to take a break. And I thought slavery was abolished. Silly me.

There was a time when I thought Dowd was worth reading, but no more. She has become a pompous bore whose attempt at biting satire only exposes her lack of talent. Here’s a sample of her “wit,” as cited by writer Simon Maloy in Salon.com today:

FORE! Score? And seven trillion rounds ago, our forecaddies brought forth on this continent a new playground, conceived by Robert Trent Jones, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal when it comes to spending as much time on the links as possible – even when it seems totally inappropriate, like moments after making a solemn statement condemning the grisly murder of a 40-year-old American journalist beheaded by ISIL.

So it’s shameful for a black president to play golf in times of trouble, but it was endearing for a white president to do the same thing?

Would it have been more seemly for President Obama to hit the basketball court, perhaps?

News flash, Maureen, golf is no longer just a white man’s game. Haven’t you heard of a golfer named Tiger Woods?

Click for Maloy’s article.

Click for more on the president’s golfing.


In a Medicare Maze


I used to be horrified at the thought of privatizing Medicare, but now  I am not so sure. How much worse could it get? My experience with the present system has been truly bizarre.

Many moons ago, I belonged to a Medicare Advantage program called Quality Health Plans, and it went belly up. So I joined another program called Physicians United Plan (PUP). It was one of those really cheap plans – no monthly premium, minimal co-pays and so on. It seemed too good to be true, and apparently it was because two months ago it also collapsed.

As soon as I found out, I got on the web and compared various Medicare Advantage providers to see which would offer me the best deal. I settled on Coventry.

That was in mid-June and I couldn’t get enrolled until July 1, but the pharmacy assured me Medicare was paying for my prescriptions until my new plan kicked in.

It turns out that Medicare was doing no such thing. What Medicare did was hand me over to AARP.

(I know, I thought buying and selling human beings was obsolete, but apparently not.)

Imagine my surprise when I received a little coupon book from some United Health Care program. Apparently, I was now committed to paying these folks a monthly premium (I think it was $21).

I got on the phone and yelled at a United Health Care rep, but that didn’t do any good. So I mailed them the $21 under protest and told the rep to cancel my “membership.”

But that was not the end of it.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a letter from Coventry telling me that there was an “adjustment’ of $42 to my account “from my previous provider.” The letter seemed to be in some kind of code, so I was not sure what was being “adjusted” but I was relieved to note that “no payment was beng requested at this time.”

I called Coventry, and their customer service representative figured the adjustment had to do with co-pays I was expected to make during the time I was assigned (unknowingly) to AARP.

Still fuming from this outrage, I went to the pharmacy on Friday to pick up a couple of generic prescriptions. To my horror, I was told there was a co-pay of $12 and some cents.

As soon as I got home, I tried to call Coventry, and spent an hour listening to some really irritating music before I found out their Customer Service Department was closed.

After fuming all weekend, I called them this morning, and got hold of a pleasant young lady. But she couldn’t tell me what was going on. After an extended chat about my date of birth and address and so on, she told me I had to talk to someone in Pharmacy, and asked me to hold. The music was much better this time, the wait was much shorter, and the Pharmacy rep was very polite.

But she had bad news. I was in the doughnut hole.

Already? I don’t usually get in the doughnut hole till November. Where did they get their figures? From PUP?

She didn’t know anything about that. I would have to ask Customer Service. Transfer me, I pleaded.

Back at Customer Service, I talked to a nice young man, who told me that the figures came from Medicare. Coventry had no access to any figures from my previous providers.

So on to Medicare, where I eventually managed to negotiate one of those infuriating machines and get to a human voice. No, the voice said, they did not give any figures to Coventry. They have no record of my pharmacy expenditures. Only PUP would have that. And PUP no longer exists.

I was beginning to feel like the banker in Kafka’snovel.

What could I do? I could speak to a supervisor.

So I did. And the supervisor told me the same story. I was in the doughnut hole based on figures which were no longer available. So there.

Was there nothing I could do to find out more? She would refer my case to Advanced Resolutions. They would call me within two business days.

Perhaps they will be able to solve the mystery of my missing pharmacy expenditures. Or perhaps not.

Click for more on Medicare Part D.


The UN Steps in – Sort of



I suppose striking at the pocketbooks of terrorists is an effective tactic over the long term, but how I wish the UN could get its act together and become a real world police force.

The UN Security Council recently passed a resolution banning purchases of oil and other products from the terrorists. Financiers, arms dealers, traders and member states face “punitive action” for buying their illicit oil and other black market wares.

Anyone caught doing business with the terrorists will face such penalties as international travel bans, asset freezes and arms embargoes. Member states will also be prohibited from making available to the lawbreakers “any funds, financial assets or economic resources or financial or other related services.”

One of the most horrific groups, ISIS, derives around $2 million a day from black market oil. This terrorist organization also finances its evil operation through extortion, kidnapping, arms deals and sales of looted antiquities

They use the money to buy arms and operate government facilities in an ever-growing swath of the Syria-Iraq region, which they have declared “the Islamic State.”

Of course there are those who will ignore the UN sanctions – or find ways of getting around them. Money is a powerful incentive, and decency is rare in the arena of global trade. Also, thousands of ISIS members have western passports, which makes it a lot easier for the terrorists to launder money.

It doesn’t look like much of a response to the barbarism of ISIS. I want to see those blue helmets in Syria and Iraq. I want to see the UN keeping the peace with boots on the ground.

I am puzzled by the way UN peacekeeping has kind of fizzled in recent years although I realize there have been failures and criticism of the way the concept has been implemented.

I read in Wikipedia that there was “a rapid increase in prostitution in Cambodia, Mozambique, Bosnia, and Kosovo after UN and, in the case of the latter two, NATO peacekeeping forces moved in.” And there was that deadly cholera outbreak in Haiti a few years back that was blamed on aNepalese Peacekeeping troop.

But the UN has been earnestly trying to reform its peacekeeping operations. With any luck, the organization will one day become a more cohesive force for good, able and willing to keep the world safe.

In the meantime, I suppose economic sanctions will have to suffice.

And, sadly, it will be up to the super powers – especially the United States – to shoulder the responsibility of ridding the world of the terrorist blight.

Click for more on the UN resolution.

Click for more on global peacekeeping.


What Family Values?

Republican Gubernatorial Canidate Bob McDonnell Campaigns In Alexandria, VA


When it comes to family values, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (above with wife Maureen) used to be among the true believers – at least on paper. In his 1989 master’s thesis – “The Republican Party’s Vision for the Family: The Compelling Issue of the Decade” – McDonnell earnestly defended the sanctity of marriage and the role of the family in keeping society strong.

Influential Republican leaders thought he was the kind of family man  who would make a fine running mate for Mitt Romney. Some pundits even talked about his chances of becoming President some day.

That was then. This is now.

In a desperate attempt to avoid jail time, McDonnell  is smearing his wife’s reputation and trashing their marriage.

Here’s the deal. Under Virginia law, public officials can accept “gifts” as long as they don’t do favors in return. McDonnell is in court because he allegedly did both. He – and his sons- played golf at a fancy country club. He drove around in a Ferrari. He vacationed at a luxurious resort. He and his sons got golf clubs for free – all paid for by rich businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Williams even underwrote the wedding of the then-governor’s daughter…. and bought him an engraved Rolex.

McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, also benefited from Williams’ largesse. Court records show Williams spent nearly $20,000 buying her gifts at luxury stores in New York City. He even bought a $1,690 dress for her chief of staff.

Prosecutors also say Williams provided a loan to bail out troubled MoBo Real Estate Partners LLC — which McDonnell owned with his sister.

None of it would have been illegal under Virgina’s lenient laws if the governor did no favors in return. But Williams testified the gifts were intended to buy support for his Anatabloc dietary supplement. And prosecutors said the governor provided that support, introducing the company to Virginia health officials and suggesting to state universities that they conduct studies related to the product.

The McDonnells also hosted a luncheon at the governor’s mansion to celebrate the launch of Anatabloc in stores. Samples of the supplement were provided at the visitors’ place settings

But McDonnell denies tany quid pro quo. He would have done as much for any business, gifts or no gifts, he said. Promoting businesses to create jobs was part of his job as governor.

As for his wife’s activities, well,  she “had a crush” on Williams so she wanted to help the guy. What could possibly be wrong with that? She wasn’t a public official, was she? She certainly wasn’t doing it on the governor’s behalf. Their marriage was a total mess, and they were barely speaking to each other.

I know. Creepy, isn’t it?

As the soap opera unfolds, the media are predictably distracted by the juicy details.

Will the jury be distracted, too? Bob McDonnell is counting on it.

Click for the latest on the trial.

Click for details of the charges.


Justice for Foley?



In their preoccupation with the troubles in Ferguson, the media are underplaying another equally disturbing news story – the beheading of American journalist James Foley by the ISIS barbarians. As someone who made a living as a journalist, I am especially horrified, but I am sure any civilized human being must share my outrage.

I haven’t read or heard any comment from the President – or anyone in his administration – on America’s response to this affront.

The atrocity reminded me of the War of Jenkins Ear in the mid-1700s. The Spanish boarded Captain Robert Jenkins’ ship, the brig Rebecca, off the coast of Cuba and cut off one of his ears as a warning to the British against trading in the Caribbean.

The British declared war on Spain. The war ended inconclusively with the outbreak of the more far-reaching War of the Austrian Succession. And what happened to Jenkins? The history books don’t say.

I can understand why the British reacted as they did. I feel the same way about the beheading of Foley.

And I am not alone. Several US publications are demanding vengeance for the atrocity. The New York Post, for example,  declared that it’s “Time to Bomb Isis.”

I expect the voices of America’s war lobby will be clamoring even more loudly than before for US intervention in Syria. Several pundits (and the usual roster of politicians) have argued that air strikes in Iraq are inconsistent with President Obama’s policy of non-intervention in Syria. After all, they say, ISIS is as much Syrian as it is Iraqi.

But the voice of reason warns against an emotional response.

Isn’t that exactly what ISIS wants? Isn’t Foley’s beheading intended as an irresistible provocation? Islamic extremists do not seem to mind being blown to bits. They regard it as martyrdom and expect to be rewarded by Allah in the afterlife. They would relish a bloodbath involving American troops, regardless of the casualties they would incur.

I wonder what Foley would advocate. He was dedicated to exposing the misery of the Syrian people, according to a statement by his family. Would the escalation of violence alleviate that misery or aggravate it?

I am sure President Obama is horrified and infuriated by Foley’s barbaric execution, but he has to consider all the implications of a military response. It would undoubtedly be emotionally gratifying to launch a retaliatory assault on ISIS in Syria, but where would that lead?

The implications are complex. The stakes are astronomical – in treasure and in blood.

Undoubtedly, the President will increase the degradation of ISIS forces in Iraq, and the American people will support the attacks. But I doubt he will be lured into the Syrian quagmire.

James Foley’s memory will be best served by prudence – even as America seeks justice for his murder.

Photo shows Syrian residents acknowledging James Foley’s work to expose Assad and ISIS.

Click for more on James Foley.

Click for the British response.