Alvin Toffler was a futurist writer who had a remarkable impact on my life and the lives of millions, literally millions, of people—shaping how humans understand the world and the era that we live in. He died in June of 2016 at the age of 87.  His wife, Heidi, his wife and intellectual partner lives on.  They were great thinkers and writers.  Their view of the future had a profound effect on me as I gazed at a fax machine in 1985 and wondered how long it would be before it was replaced by something else.

Toffler’s first great breakthrough book, Future Shock, published in 1970, became a global best-seller. It gave rise to an idea, and a term, used widely to describe the vast transformation we were then living through: America was in a period of technological, social and political change. The pill was altering sexual mores. The first wave of feminism was challenging the traditional limits on women. The civil rights movement was creating hope, turmoil and conflict. Youth activism was challenging the habits and structures of older Americans. It was in this time of unrest that this book seemed especially relevant and convincing. But it was a decade later, in 1980, that Alvin and Heidi Toffler brought out their most important book, The Third Wave. It would be hard to overstate the impact of this book. Its argument was that the first wave in human history was the shift from hunter-gathering to agriculture; the second wave was from agriculture to industry; and the third wave—which we were beginning to live through —was from industry to information. This sweeping view of human history empowered people to think very differently about the world at that time.

Toffler predicted a knowledge-based economy would eclipse the post-industrial age, shifting focus from manufacturing and labor to information and data. “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”  Toffler also predicted the spread of interactive media, online chatrooms and devices that remind you “of your own appointments.” “Advanced technology and information systems make it possible for much of the work of society to be done at home via computer-telecommunications hook-ups.” .

Though his predictions focused on the human condition more than scientific advancement, Toffler foresaw a future where a woman would be able to “buy a tiny embryo, take it to her doctor, have it implanted in her uterus…and then give birth as though it had been conceived in her own body.”  His forecast that humans would breed babies with “supernormal vision or hearing” and other abilities may now seem a bit outlandish, but he did foresee the advancement of cloning. “One of the more fantastic possibilities is that man will be able to make biological carbon copies of himself.”

Toffler predicted a symptom of rapid change would be the dissolution of the family unit, noting that it would lead to a rise in divorce rates while society would also begin to embrace the LGBT community.  He wrote, “we shall… also see many more ‘family’ units consisting of a single unmarried adult and one or more children. Nor will all these adults be women.. As homosexuality becomes more socially acceptable, we may even begin to find families based on homosexual marriage.”

He also acknowledged the societal shift in delaying the decision to have children.

In the age of Amazon and the proliferation of online marketplaces and share economies, Toffler’s thoughts on consumerism as a global trend ring true.

“People of the future may suffer not from an absence of choice but from a paralyzing surfeit of it. They may turn out to be victims of that peculiarly super-industrial dilemma: over choice.”

In coining the term “prosumer,” Toffler predicted the emergence of the combined role of producer and consumer, or the trend of do-it-yourself (DIY) in every aspect of life.

Thank GOD he wrote it down.



In the 1976 movie entitled NETWORK, fictional news anchor Howard Beale exhorts his viewers: “I want you to get up right now. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell – I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore.” That is clearly the sentiment behind the Brexit vote and is probably behind the sentiment in our country to “throw all of the career politicians out!” At least 70% of voters think the country is headed in the wrong direction and that the two most important concerns are: 1) our safety; and 2) the need for our economy to grow (job creation).  In recent years, voters have been distracted by abortion and gay rights, but today our safety and our ability to support our families have become paramount.

In 2008, Democrats numbered 49% of our electorate, but now that number stands at 29%.  But the Republicans did not gain more voters. Independents have risen to 42% of the electorate and these are the people who are “mad as hell” and they are going to determine the outcome of this election.  ANGER IS THE NEW HOPE.

Besides being a three ring circus, this election cycle is of paramount importance. First, it determines who controls the House of Representatives. Second, it will decide who controls the Senate. And third, it likely sets the direction of the Supreme Court for a generation considering three of the justices are 77 years of age, or older.

People are “mad as hell” for a variety of reasons:

  • Middle class workers are losing ground in this economy. Jobs are being created, but 49% are in the lowest wage category.  Working 2 or 3 jobs has become necessary, which diminishes the quality of life.
  • Wages have returned to the level of the 1970s. Prices are not being rolled back.  It takes more to support a family, but real wages have moved below sustenance levels.
  • Many believe that illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from local workers. The belief is that these folks will accept a lower wage.
  • The middle class has a declining share of the wealth. Among major industrialized countries, the USA has the lowest middle class share of wealth at 19.4%.
  • Health care has become prohibitively expensive. Drug companies are engaging in unfettered “price gouging.”
  • Education has become prohibitively expensive. UVA has a $2.3 billion slush fund, but raises tuition.  Most likely, the fund is to provide a means to “go private” so that it can be a member of the “IVY LEAGUE.”

I will leave the safety issues to the experts, but I do not feel as safe as I used to and to say it can never happen here seems to be an invitation.

The economy is problematic.  The US economy is growing just slightly above a “recession” pace. As the following chart shows, our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is growing somewhere in the neighborhood of 1%.  The norm for high levels of employment is about 3%.  Despite the availability of money at low rates, consumers are paying down debt not increasing it.

We have a similar problem that the Japanese have had for 15 years, a declining and aging population.


The baby boomers are retiring, spending less and are not supporting growth.  Consumer spending is by far the largest segment of our GDP at about 70%.  With real wages declining, it is difficult to see large increases in in spending. But the millennials are another story. Among adults ages 21 to 45, 35% receive financial support from their parents. Of those, more than two-thirds could not get by without their parents’ help.  This is the way boomers are now spending their money.

It appears that economic activity and wage growth are going to remain disappointing for a while. ANGER IS THE NEW HOPE.

Speed Bumps


Speed Bumps are the common name for a family of traffic calming devices that use vertical deflection to slow motor-vehicle traffic in order to improve safety conditions. Variations include the speed hump (or speed ramp), speed cushion, and speed table.

The use of vertical deflection devices is widespread around the world, and they are most commonly found where vehicle speeds are statutorily mandated to be low, say25 mph, or 5 mph in car parking lots.

Although speed bumps are effective in keeping vehicle speeds down, their use is sometimes controversial—as they can increase engine noise and may damage vehicles if traversed at too great a speed. Poorly designed speed bumps that stand too tall or with too-sharp an angle, which is often the case in private automobile parking lots, can be overly disruptive for drivers, and may be difficult to navigate for vehicles with low ground clearance, even at very low speeds. Many sports cars have this problem with speed bumps. Speed bumps can also pose serious hazards to bicyclists if they aren’t clearly visible. Though, in some cases a small cut across the bump allows those vehicles to traverse without impediment. Speed bumps cost between $50–$200 and may need have to be replaced over time due to wear.

Last year, parking lots and driving lanes in our community were re-paved and along with this new pavement came some speed bumps.  If you think the current generation of 70-100 year-olds is complacent you better guess again.  Two large speed bumps were installed in the main driving lanes for access and egress from the main residential parking area.  It became obvious immediately to all of us that these speed bumps posed an immediate hazard.  When you drove across them at 10 mph, you would bounce to the ceiling of your car.  It was impossible to go slow enough to avoid being bumped around. They did not have stripes like the speed bump pictured above.  The speed bumps blended into the pavement and they were upon you before you could react.

Most of us over 70 have enough pain at is and we don’t need a hazard to bring out every pain all at one time.  Naturally, there was a lot of talking in The Grille and the DINING ROOM and no one was defending the administration or the maintenance department.  Who authorized these abominations?  We didn’t have speed bumps before!  It’s only the delivery people and visitors that speed.  I can’t leave the parking lot now.  Speed bumps have to go.  The person who designed these speed bumps is a moron.  It’s obvious to anyone that looks at them that they are too high and steep!!

All of a sudden a petition appeared on the residents’ bulletin board.  In a heartbeat, there were 175 signatures on the thing. It was delivered to Joe, our Executive Director, with the demand that the speed bumps be removed.  He said he would get with maintenance and the contractor to decide the course of action.

At the Town Meeting two weeks later, our chief maintenance guy, Dana, who is a diligent worker and great fellow, came to the podium.  He said, “we are going to lower the speed bumps and paint stripes on them.  That should solve the problem.”   Bedlam ensued with at least 15 people speaking at once decrying that solution.  Our folks are not docile and they are vocal about things that bother them.  Bob stood and said, “These things are poorly constructed and are a driving hazard. The only solution is to remove them.  They do not need to be replaced!”

Overwhelmingly, the residents wanted the two on the main drag removed. Dana looked to Joe for help.  Joe was engrossed in his shiny shoes.  To be fair, I believe he was reviewing all of his options.

Finally, he stood, “We’ll take them out!”  Another victory for the grey panthers.  The democratic process at its finest.





The Balladeers


A Balladeer: a singer of ballads.   Or in our case, it is the male chorus made up of residents in our independent living facility. I have not been in a chorus or choir since I was ten, particularly as my voice started changing around fourteen.  But I love singing with The Balladeers.  I avoided the group for the first six months of my residence.  One day I was cornered by U.V. who asked me to join.  I said that I couldn’t sing a lick.  He said not to worry, neither could anyone else and so singing wasn’t required.  Reluctantly, I went to a rehearsal, found there were no auditions and was immediately given a song book.  I was in, just like that. I am about to perform in my third spring concert and am amazed how much my singing has improved.  It’s still not good, but it’s better

We have a conductor/chorus master.  His name is Bob. He is the former Dean of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.  Nationally ranked and internationally renowned, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) is a preeminent institution for the performing and media arts.  CCM’s educational roots date back to 1867, and a solid, visionary instruction has been at its core since that time.

You can readily appreciate that Bob is in over his head. We are sixteen in number.  About half of us can’t read music and don’t know what all the littler signs and signals mean.  Some of us don’t hear very well and a few don’t know where they are.

Bob stands at the front of the practice room behind a podium.  Our pianist is a woman who has played for the Balladeers for 15 years and she knows where we are most of the time.

“Let’s start with the first song in your book.”

From, the second row, “Which one is that?”

BOB, “The first one!!

The enquirer turns to his neighbor, “Is it the first one in the book?”

“Yeah, I think that’s what he said.”

Can you imagine a first year student at CCM under Bob’s tutelage surviving by asking these questions?

“Okay, the next one we need to work on is Let There BE Peace on Earth which is right behind Oh What A Beautiful Mornin. On this one you have to watch out for the Coda.”

“What’s a Coda?” I was, demonstrating my complete ignorance of musical terms.

“See the word Coda on page 2.  It means on the third line of the second verse, you go to the 2nd verse on page 2.”  I drew an arrow to attach the two lines.  It didn’t make any sense to me, but I at least knew what to do when we got to that point.

Again, “Which one are we on?”

In frustration, Bob goes to the back row and finds it in the book.  Three people move closer to see where the song is located.

I love Bob’s facial expressions.  He has a great smile, an even better grimace and a particularly good pained look.   When Bob says, “that’ll work,” it means anymore effort would just be too painful.

Amazingly when we sing in some concert venue (mostly other independent and assisted living places), we sound pretty good, sometimes very good.  It is a testimony to Bob’s patience and skill as well as the number of times we have practiced.  We have at least 12 rehearsals before the first concert, three or four more before the second and at least 4 before the grand finale, when we perform with the Belles, our ladies singing group. We perform with the Belles twice a year at our home auditorium.  It is a 7 pm concert filled with residents, guests, and our loving children and grandchildren.

At the concert, we were lined up in four short rows instead of the normal two longer rows. By the way, we always sit.  If we stand too long, someone will fall out.  If we scare our audiences, we won’t get any new gigs and we love to perform.  The Belles were arranged similarly to us and right next to us.  Each chorus would sing six songs and then we would sing four together.

Our jokester said, “There are lots of airplanes on the ocean floor, but you never see a submarine in the sky.”  He keeps on trying!

There was a conversation behind me between two of our long time members.  I’ll call them Joe and Herb.

BOB: “We are ready for the first number in our book. It’s A Grand Night for Singing.”

Joe: “I don’t seem to have that one.”

Herb: “I think your book is upside down.”

Joe: “O yeah. I still don’t have it.”

Herb. “I think your book is backward.”

In a rather loud voice, Joe  says: “YEAH, there it is, right where Bob said it would be.”

Bob had been holding his arms in the air while waiting for this conversation to end.   I was about to explode with laughter, which I could no longer hold.  Bob smiled just a bit and off we went.  It was a grand night for singing.  We even did several ballads: Aura Lee and I’ll Be Seeing You. The ladies were excellent and our combined selection of Sentimental Journey was over the top. The concert was absolutely terrific. The 16 of us were dressed in white shirts, black pants and a black bow tie and all of us were beaming except for Bob.  He was simply relieved that another Balladeer season was over and he would have a three-month respite.

Bob graciously accepted kudos from the audience and he reminded us several times that we were going to sing at the NRC with the Belles and we would meet the next day to turn in our music.

“What did he say?”

“We meet tomorrow at 10!!”

“Oh, do we have another concert?”

“Yes. At the NRC.”

“Across the street?”


Bob: “After we get back from the NRC, we will meet in the community room to turn in the music.”

Another round of “who, what when and where.”

This conversation was repeated at least five times with different people involved each time.





Monsanto, Bees and Politics




I was thrilled to see the recent article in the Roanoke Times on the declining bee population. This is a major problem for agriculture because bees pollinate plants. Well, you say, there are genetically modified seeds produced by Monsanto that don’t require pollination. But these seeds contain the pesticide dioxin, a deadly chemical agent. That’s the same chemical agent Monsanto used in Agent Orange. the killer agent from Vietnam. Dioxin is so toxic that it wipes out non-GMO crops, bees, other insects, animals and human health. I personally do not want any food produced by a Monsanto seed. Remember this company gave us saccharin and aspartame. The world’s center of PCB manufacturing was Monsanto’s plant on the outskirts of East St. Louis, Illinois, which has the highest rate of fetal death and immature births in Illinois.
It’s not so much that this company has produced toxic substances for years, but they fight so hard to defend these products with money when they come under attack. Our government is so susceptible to money. The big fight right now is the proper labeling of GMO foods. You have a right to know that you are eating a product of pesticide laced seeds. A bill (S. 2609) was defeated two months ago in the Senate that would prevent states from requiring labels. But Monsanto is already back lobbying for a watered down federal law on labeling. Our legislators are so weak. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine voted against the earlier bill (S .2609, but what about now.  They both think a federal solution may be needed.

And then there is Bob Goodlatte. He is on the Agriculture committee. He is essential to Monsanto. Bob takes money from Monsanto for his campaign. Do Bob Goodlatte, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine understand this issue? I am biased by my belief that Monsanto is an evil company. Because these seeds are engineered to be toxic pesticides masquerading as food, the EU(Europe) has banned their use. This is a matter of life and death. Stop killing bees and properly label genetically altered food.

T. Michael Smith

mon 2

Four Freedoms


I had the opportunity to take an adventure with some of my friends to the Taubman Museum of Art in downtown Roanoke, Virginia.  The museum is featuring the work of Norman Rockwell and we were fortunate to have a talk at our place by Della Watkins, the executive director of the Taubman, on Rockwell and his paintings. Rockwell’s Four Freedoms—Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear –are the paintings at the top of the page. The paintings were reproduced in The Saturday Evening Post over four consecutive weeks in 1943, alongside essays by prominent thinkers of the day. They were first published on February 20, February 27, March 6, and March 13, 1943 along with commissioned essays from leading American writers and historians including Booth Tarkington, Will Durant, Carlos Buloson, and Stephen Vincent Benet. The Four Freedoms paintings were the highlight of a touring exhibition sponsored by The Post and the Treasury Department. The exhibition and accompanying sales drives for war bonds raised approximately $132 million

The paintings had their genesis from The Four Freedoms Speech which was delivered on January 6, 1941 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president of the United States, to a joint session of Congress. Roosevelt’s hope was to provide a rationale for why the United States should abandon the isolationist policies that emerged from WWI. In the address, Roosevelt critiqued isolationism, saying: “No realistic American can expect from a dictator’s peace international generosity, or return of true independence, or world disarmament, or freedom of expression, or freedom of religion–or even good business. Such a peace would bring no security for us or for our neighbors. “Those, who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The speech delivered by President Roosevelt incorporated the following text, known as the “Four Freedoms”:

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

FDR lists the benefits of democracy, which include economic opportunity, employment, social security, and the promise of “adequate health care”. The first two freedoms, of speech and religion are protected by the First Amendment.  His inclusion of the latter two freedoms went beyond the traditional Constitutional values protected by the Bill of Rights. Roosevelt endorsed a broader human right to economic security (a job). He also included the freedom from fear against national aggression.

What has happened to our need to be free?  After the war, there was a lengthy period where all Americans prospered.  There really was a middle class that was the backbone of our American economy.  In 1975, the seeds of major change were sown with the founding of Microsoft by Bill Gates and Paul Allen.   A major revolution was underway led by rapid-fire technological change. Administrative jobs were replaced by computers as were mid-level bean counters.  Lives began to be turned upside down.

During the ten years of 1994-2004, four companies emerged that would change the landscape for everyone.  Amazon, Netflix, Google and Facebook changed buying patterns, the delivery of entertainment, the source of all information and human interaction.  Today our friends share articles and website offerings to let us know how they are doing.  Politicians and CEOs picked up the globalization theme and sold everyone on the idea that we didn’t need to make things, but we would control technology and therefore information.  So manufacturing went to China and Asia along with the jobs.  We were losing factory jobs and middle management jobs now  With the Patriot Act, we have given up on freedom and liberty as well as the American people..

Today we stand in America wondering where the spending will come from to support the economy. People tend to trim their opinions to match those of the group.  Only a fraction of the educated population of North America is prepared to think for themselves, even where matters of grave importance are involved.  The wiring of most people’s brains keeps them from thinking independently.  The brain is hard-wired to conform.

Conformity goes a long way to explaining the oblivion of Americans to the dire prospects of the US economy.  Our leaders use this tendency to conform to manipulate the perception of the economy in ways that jeopardize your future. Listen to this solution for the deficit.  They fiddled with inflation adjustments on Social Security and federal pensions.  Outlays for SS are about half of what they would have been had the adjustments not been made. They will lie to you.

Most Americans have little chance of enjoying a better life if they must pay for everything from their own resources. Living standards in the US are heading lower. Our government has overspent the available resources, will increasingly rely on predatory taxation, and will do all that is necessary to preserve the state at the expense of the people.

I miss the days of Norman Rockwell and FDR.

Presently, your government is making it very difficult to maintain financial assets abroad.  Many foreign banks will no longer take deposits from American citizens because of regulatory concerns.  Will you need special approval to travel abroad in the near future?

Full time work is an endangered species. Look for McDonalds to begin serving our food in kiosks with robotic servers.  Good jobs have disappeared and lower paying jobs will soon be giving way to technology.  Mercedes has driverless trucks on the autobahn.  But you can’t eat gigabytes.




When you turn 70, food takes on a new meaningin your life.  Old folks like me really look forward to eating! Our ability to lift, run, and jump seems to disappear, but our taste buds remain intact.  Eating gives us something to do three times a day and mealtime, particularly at our independent living center, often involves good conversation or not.  Eating is one joy you sit for and only have to lift a fork a few inches. We are fortunate at our place to have a dedicated and experienced cooking staff as well as a serving staff of mostly young people.

BUT there is controversy.  The quality of the food offerings is debated constantly and with passion.  “The fennel was so hard you couldn’t cut it with a knife.  I like fennel. Why can’t they cook it right?” “The Beef was tough on Sunday.  If that was tenderloin, I’ll sing in the atrium.” “The chocolate silk pie was delicious.”  “My sugar goes through the roof when I eat that.” “Why don’t we have gluten-free cookies?”

Our dining room tables always have a beautiful flower arrangement, a white table cloth and a comment card.  About 90 cards are filled out each month concerning the food and service.  Many offer praise to the wait staff.  Some have a suggestion on how to fix a certain dish or to request an addition to the menu.  Only about five or six have a true complaint.  But those writing these critical comments are quite serious.

Let’s talk green beans.  For some reason our staff doesn.t like to sting beans.  Of course, it is boring and time consuming.  But this is a valid complaint. Beans need to have the strings removed as do snap peas.

Northern versus southern green beans is a new chapter in the Civil War.  I grew up in the south and the green beans were cooked most of the day until my grandmother got a pressure cooker.  But she cooked her green beans often with “fatback” and they were cooked.  Northern green beans are crisp which means they are not cooked long at all. Sides are taken with considerable passion.  The solution was to offer both and keep the count even since there are folks who keep the score.

The most interesting food fight was The Great Spinach War.  The benefits of spinach are many. Leafy greens like spinach provide more nutrients than any other food, when compared calorie for calorie. Here are some spinach facts to consider: Many of us older folks appreciate spinach because it is a very nutrient-dense food. It is low in calories yet very high in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. When you consume this healthy food, you don’t need to worry about your weight-loss diet as you take in abundant, valuable nutrients. This leafy green is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, magnesium, folate, manganese, iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B2, potassium, and vitamin B6. It’s a very good source of protein, phosphorus, vitamin E, zinc, dietary fiber, and copper. Plus, it’s a good source of selenium, niacin, and omega-3 fatty acids

We love spinach and other leafy greens on our menu given all of these benefits.  But how do you cook it?  Therein lies the problem. Cooking spinach on the stove top is a fast and easy way to enjoy this dark, leafy green. The recipe can be as simple as sautéing the spinach with garlic in olive oil and topping it with a bit of lemon juice. I always add a pinch of red pepper flakes for some heat. A heartier recipe is with the flavors of cumin, cinnamon, chilies, garlic and ginger. To stir-fry, I heat some sliced or slivered garlic in olive oil, throw in a ton of spinach and stir-fry until hot and wilted. Season it with tamari and a garnish of sesame seeds.

To steam, I wash the spinach leaving water clinging to the leaves. I place it in a large pot over high heat and cover. Don’t walk away — the greens get tender and toothsome when just collapsed from the steam. This happens really fast, 3 to 4 minutes. For me, over steaming separates the moisture from the leaves and results in mushy, gloppy spinach.

Part of the controversy seems to be that some like their spinach mushy.  This is not a large crowd, but they are vocal.  They also want to forego all of the aforementioned spices.  Just pass the vinegar and leave me to my wonderfully cooked mush spinach.

I happen to like my spinach sautéed with olive oil and garlic.  This tastes great to me and I can eat a lot of it.  But there are some that are concerned about the amount of oil used in the cooking process.  One of our residents attended a food committee meeting with a Ziploc container holding something liquid.  Turns out it was oil that she had drained from her sautéed spinach.  I had to admit that it was a healthy amount.  She thought it was vegetable oil, but the chef assured her that it was olive oil.  She was happy about that, but still thought the volume was too high.  She preferred steamed spinach or a more modest amount of oil.

There are those who claim that that the steamed spinach has not been cooked enough.  They contend that it is akin to eating raw spinach.  Of course, many of us like raw spinach, particularly in our salads. It is also very good with a little olive oil drizzled over it.

Olive oil is a great oil for cooking.  Strong flavored olive oils can be used for frying fish or other strong flavored ingredients. Olive oil has a high smoke point, 410 degrees F, and doesn’t degrade as quickly as many other oils do with repeated high heating.  Our chefs use an extra virgin olive oil that has health benefits and wonderful Mediterranean flavor.


There are some myths which have recently circulated about olive oil. Olive oil has been used for thousands of years and is one of the cornerstones of the healthy Mediterranean diet. As far as making a saturated fat, all oil repeatedly heated to very high temperatures such as is done in commercial frying operations will oxidize and hydrogenate to a degree. Virgin olive oil is a highly monounsaturated oil and therefore resistant to oxidation and hydrogenation. Studies have shown oxidation and hydrogenation occurs to a lesser degree in olive oil than in other oils. But in any case, the amount of hydrogenation is miniscule and our chefs would never experience this problem.

Compromise is the name of the game when you’re trying to satisfy two hundred sets of taste buds.  The sautéed and steamed are offered on the buffet on alternative dates, but steamed spinach is always available from the kitchen.

Pinto beans are good. Pinto beans are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, as are most other beans. In addition to lowering cholesterol, pinto beans’ high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal, making these beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia. When combined with whole grains such as brown rice, pinto beans provide virtually fat-free, high quality protein. But this is far from all pinto beans have to offer. Pinto beans are also an excellent source of molybdenum, a very good source of folate, and a good source of protein, vitamin B1, and vitamin B6 as well as the minerals copper, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.  BUT PINTO BEANS SHOULD NEVER BE SERVED WITHOUT CORNBREAD AND VICE- VERSA.

Corn meal, the basic ingredient of corn bread, is a whole grain. Whole-grain foods contain the bran as well as the germ and endosperm of the fruited grain — and all of the nutrients they contain. Whole-grain foods provide needed fiber for the diet, which not only help regulate bowel movements but also absorb cholesterol and lower blood sugars as they move through the digestive system. A 1-oz. serving of cornbread contains 1.8 g of fiber. And because fiber is not digested, but simply passes through the digestive system, it is filling without adding any calories of its own. Calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, folic acid, folates and vitamins A, B-6 and B-12 are found in corn bread. A generous piece of cornbread has about 150 calories.

Our pintos are always accompanied by cornbread.

I admit that I live to eat. It’s the organizing principal of my days: At any given moment, it’s likely that I have already decided what my next meal will be, and often, even the meal after that. When I look back on a life that has taken some sharp turns here and there, I remember the food that accompanied those new directions, whetting my appetite for change. Other people take photographs, make scrapbooks or remember life’s big moments by what they were wearing. I remember what I ate.

It’s not that I’m a foodie, although I’ve been blessed with some of them in my life—true epicures who can differentiate between merely excellent gazpacho and soup that is out of this world. Nor am I a connoisseur, like the people who can taste the difference between grass-fed and conventional beef with a single bite, or sniff out the difference between Jamaican or Ethiopian coffee beans. I’m just a hungry man who will eat just about anything.

At this point, I’ve stopped judging myself for my food-focus, just as I’ve backed off (at least a little) from my worries about being on the pudgy side. Food, I’ve accepted, is just one way I connect with and orient myself to life. When I get hungry for something new, I indulge. It means I’m ready for a change, looking to add new flavors, textures and experiences to a life that might be feeling a little

Social Security Mythology

Social Security generates more unintended confusion and deliberate misinformation than any other issue.  Political candidates of both parties accuse their opponents of “raiding” the trust.  Some writers disparage the trust funds as “funny money,” “IOUs,” or a “fiction.”  All these claims are nonsense.  The Trust fund reserves stand at $2.73 trillion.  The reserves are expected to grow each year until 2020 according to actuaries.


Social Security’s financial operations are handled through two federal trust funds — the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI)(monthly income for seniors) trust fund and the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund.  They are legally distinct, although commonly referred to collectively as Social Security.  All of Social Security’s payroll taxes and other earmarked income are deposited in the trust funds, and all of Social Security’s benefits and administrative expenses are paid from the trust funds.


In years when Social Security collects more in payroll taxes and other income than it pays in benefits and other expenses — as it has each year since 1984 — the Treasury invests the surplus in interest-bearing Treasury bonds and other Treasury securities.  Social Security can redeem these bonds whenever needed to pay benefits.  The balances in the trust funds thus provide legal authority to pay Social Security benefits when the Social Security program’s current income is insufficient by itself.


Social Security has run a surplus in every year since 1984, as was anticipated when Congress enacted and President Reagan signed new legislation based on the recommendations of the Greenspan Commission in 1983.


Under current projections, the combined Social Security trust funds will continue to run annual surpluses until 2020.   Actually, the DI trust fund faces exhaustion in 2016, and the much larger OASI fund is projected to last until 2034.  Congress must therefore take action before late 2016 to replenish the DI trust fund.  Increasing the share of the payroll tax that is allocated to DI (and reducing the OASI share) would assure that both the OASI and DI programs pay full benefits through 2033.  Congress has reallocated payroll tax revenues many times in the past, and doing so has not been controversial.


At that point, if nothing else is done, Social Security could still pay more than three-quarters of its scheduled benefits using its annual Social Security tax income.  Contrary to a common misunderstanding, benefits would not stop.  Of course, paying three quarters of promised benefits is not an acceptable way to run the program, and Congress should take action well before 2033 to restore long-term solvency to this vital program.

Source:  Annual Report of Board of Trustees of Social Security to Congress           Michael Smith


Recently, a friend was visiting me from Maryland and wanted to go to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.  I was keen on doing that since I had heard Bev Fitzpatrick speak of the museum a few months earlier.  We went for our visit on a cloudy Saturday afternoon.  There were a fair number of folks wandering through the exhibits, but not so many that it seemed crowded.

The O-gauge model trains brought back some memories—I sold my Lionel train to buy a baseball glove I had admired at Jennings Shepherd.  The bus and car collection was terrific and I imagined the street car was the one I used to ride with my mother.  The story about the Claytor bothers was fascinating.

But the memories came flooding back when I saw the refurbished 611 engine.  I was standing in the old train station looking east toward The Shops, hoping for an early view of the Powhatan Arrow.  The train would take me to the farm of my beloved grandparents, John Weaver and Dora Perdue Hager.  It was in Brush Fork, West Virginia, a little spot between Bluefield and Princeton.  I loved it there and I rode The Powhatan Arrow every summer to Bluefield, where my grandfather would pick me up and “carry” me to the farm.  “Here it comes! I see it!  It is great! Look how big it si!”

Can you imagine that my Mother felt comfortable putting me on that train and sending me by myself at age 7?  She did—it was a different time, a truly lovely time.  She put her trust in the Conductor, who promised to faithfully watch over me, a promise he kept. I made the trip for 6 summers and a few time at Christmas, although my parents went along on those trips. Those gave me an opportunity to display my knowledge of train conducting.

My mother often came for the last two weeks of my summertime on the farm.  I was always a little disappointed because it meant summer was coming to an end and, more importantly, I would not get to ride home on that wonderful train. Somehow my father’s Buick was not that much fun.


  1. Michael Smith