Friday, April 20, 2012

El Zorro Remembered

James Robert Laidlaw, 66, died on April 18, 2012, with family by his side in Somerville, NJ, at Somerset Medical Center.

He was born on August 21, 1945, in San Antonio, TX, to J. Robert and Ofelia Onderdonk Laidlaw. A graduate of The Wardlaw School (‘63), Jim earned his bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Maine, Orono, in 1973. He met and married his wife, Judy, during his time in Maine. He moved his family to the Gulf Coast in Florida shortly after, but Somerset County, NJ, has been his home for the past two decades. Jim worked at the Barnes & Noble in Bridgewater for more than ten years.

He was an active member of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Bridgewater. He served on the vestry and as a Eucharistic Minister. A former member of the Log Cabin Gun Club, Warren, NJ, Jim was an exceptional marksman, who enjoyed skeet shooting. He was a card shark par excellence and an avid reader, with science fiction being a particular passion. Music of all genres narrated every aspect of his life. He also loved the outdoors and spent much time with his family at their cabin in the Adirondacks. Lastly, no one will ever be able to match his cheeseburgers on the grill.

Jim, or “Jan,” as only his granddaughter, called him, is also survived by his wife, his mother, and his children. He is also loved and remembered by his sister and his brothers.

The family requests that donations be made to MGH Bladder Cancer Research Fund, Massachusetts General Hospital Development Office, 165 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA 02114, in memory of James R. Laidlaw, in lieu of flowers.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Driving to Boston

I had to drive up to Boston this week. It was an exercise in futility at least as far as the reason for the trip. The trip itself, though, was somewhat interesting. It was interesting for a number of reasons. First, there were a huge number of semi's our on the interstates of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. This bustling evidence of commerce in action leads me to give credence to President Obama's assertion that the economy is, in fact, getting better. Another indication of a better economy was the number of cars on the roads. Even with gasoline edging over $4.00/gallon in many places. The roads on Wednesday and Thursday were being heavily used. Connecticut has started the summer ritual of road repair already (one of the benefits of a warm winter??) so I ran into a number (3 or 4) delays as traffic inched through the work areas. However, even this is evidence of returning economic health.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


It wasn't enough that the bladder cancer was the worst type known to medical science. No. Now they have found cancer on the prostate. Now, the nice doctor at Mass General says that it is non-invasive and that all *hah* they have to do is "scrape" it off and I'll be good to go for the radiation and chemo treatment for the bladder cancer.

OK, my bad. It has been about a month since I wrote the above paragraph, and things have progressed. They did, in fact, have me in for another bout with the trans-urethral operating apparatus, and they did, in fact, scrap off more nasty little malignant cells. My urologist in Boston assures me that he is 99% certain that he got everything and that I should be good to go for the "treatment" except...

Way back in October, when I had my fist CT scan, they noticed something in my lungs. These were very small somethings, but I was told to have them looked at after the bladder cancer was dealt with. Well, after my two operations here in New Jersey, my doctor decided that I should have a PET CT scan of the chest just to see what was there. Well, long and short of it was that the little nodes did not light up, and the radiologist who examined the scan stated in his report that the nodes in my lungs did not react like cancer and were, therefore, not malignant and need only be watched over time. However, since the good people in Boston had not actually done the scan or been first to interpret them, they have decided that those scans were "inconclusive". So, then had me do another chest CT scan at Mass General which they also deemed "inconclusive." Now they have me scheduled for another PET CT scan the 1st of March. Hopefully, the results will be the same as they were here in New Jersey and that will be "conclusive" enough to get me going on the radiation/chemo program.

As it is explained to me, if the spots in my lungs should prove to be cancer, my treatment changes radically. The problem is that, right now, all the little bumps in my lungs are too small even to biopsy. That's why they put me on hold for a month. They want to see if anything grows large enough to do a biopsy on it. Of course, if anything does grow, that means the chances of it being cancer increase by a couple factors of 10.

So, I wait for March 1st to roll around and I try not to let it eat away at me. God, I do want this episode in my life to be over and for me to get on with things. I am so tired of waiting...

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

One of life's little surprises

Early last August I noticed a few drops of blood in my urine one morning. Not only did that little spot of pink wake me up, it made me most vigilant. When the blood continued to appear for a few days...not much, just a little pink tinge at the end...I called my doctor and made an appointment. She first treated me for a urinary infection (there was one present), and, when  the infection went away but the blood didn't, then she sent me to a urologist. Well, to make a long story short (and to avoid talking a lot about medical procedures--something I have little patience with when others do it) he found a couple small tumors in my bladder, and told me they had to come out. But, he added, not to worry because 80% of these tumors are the low grade type which are easily cured. Well, tra-la, my little cancers were of the 20% high grade variety which are not easily cured.

The cancer was formally diagnosed mid-October. I had my first trans-urethral bladder resection October 27th. It was when the pathology lab looked at the specimens from that operation that they determined that my cancer was of the high grade variety. That necessitated a second bladder resection which was done on November 17th. It was after that surgery that it was determined that the cancer had "invaded" the bladder's muscle tissue. This, I am told, is Not Good. So, "Not Good", in fact, that my urologist informed me that we needed to talk about complete removal of the bladder. Complete removal! All because there was one little speck of cancer on one small muscle tissue sample. I was devastated.

I should mention that, especially in males, complete bladder removal also means complete prostate removal. Removal of the prostate means the surgeon is messing around where the nerves that govern male sexual arousal are located. In the large majority of bladder removals, the ability to engage in sexual intercourse is also removed. Now, while sex is not absolutely necessary for my wife's and my ongoing relationship, it does add to it. And I am not ready to let that part of my life go yet, so I/we began to look for alternatives.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

One of the problems with ebooks

So, I was going through some shelves when I came upon a stash of books I had purchased back in the early ‘70s. They were all non-fiction mass market paperbacks with an average cover price of about $1.25. Just for hoots, I checked Barnes & Noble to see if I could get any of these as an ebook.  Turns out there was one (Adam Smith’s Supermoney) that was available, but its price was $9.99. Now, why would anybody pay that much for a 40 year old book about what was happening on Wall Street and the economy in the early 70’s? Sure, my old paperback’s binding is starting to fall apart because the glue is 40 years old. I did glance at a couple of chapters and had a slight case of deja vu (what goes around, comes around: those who don’t pay attention to history are doomed to repeat it….and other pithy aphorisms) so it might be interesting to reread it. However, probably not…unless I can get an ecopy for under two bucks. Then it would be worth my time and effort.

The fact of the matter is that ebooks are still a mystery to most publishers. They haven’t a clue how to price them to make them truly attractive. The current pricing tiers for new books, while not optimal, can be lived with. Yeah, I’ll probably pay $15 for the new Clancy book as an ebook rather than the $20 it would cost me as a hardcover. The ebook is much more portable and easier to hold while reading than the hardcover, and I am not a collector so I don’t really care about owning a physical copy. However, I will not pay $15 or $10 or even $5 for an old (more than three years) mass market fiction book. Other than the truly rare book, popular fiction usually only sells a few copies a year by the time it is three years old because, let’s face it, most mass market fiction is pretty much crap.

What I want is the ability to buy a book and have it both as a physical object which I can use to decorate my walls and a digital entity which I can load into my portable reader and carry around with me. But I don’t want to pay $25.00 for a hardcover book and another $10 to $15 for the digital version. So, I have challenge for the publishing industry: come up with a way to give your customers both digital and physical copies of their books. Otherwise, piracy will be a major, ongoing problem for the industry.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A test...and a change of content.

OK, I have Drivel editor on my Linux laptop now. Drivel is compatible with Blogger, so I can use this without having to go through Firefox to post stuff to this Blog. I say this blog because I have another Blog over at Typepad. For the most part it has been a place where I rant in lonely splendor. But that is about to change. From now on, this space will be for personal know, entries about my life. This is where you will find the "horrible driver" rants and memoir-ish essays. Over on the Typepad Blog (, is where I plan to do most of my socio-political blogging. In the past, I have done some cross posting between the two, but, from now on, I will keep this personal and that overtly political. Now, in the past I have pretty much kept my light buried under a bushel, so to speak. No longer. From hence forth I plan to publicize that blog as much as I can because I think that it is important to add as many voices against the Republican agenda as possible. However, it is also important to get actively involved: which is why I will be getting the hell off my fat butt and going out in the world doing.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

life goes on

I'm not quite sure how to handle this. I mean, it is not like I'm the only person in the world to have ever been diagnosed with cancer. But it is a life altering event. The long and short of it is that I had three tumors in my bladder (had because they were operated upon Thursday last), and I have some suspicious nodes on one of my lungs that they want to look more closely at. I go back to my urologist November 7th to hear the results from the pathologist and to learn whether I have to go through this exercise again because they have to dig deeper to make sure they get all the nasties out of me. The real problem is that one of the tumors was not caught either by CT scan or by initial visual examination of my bladder in the doctor's office. (Don't ask: it involved shoving what looked like a very large tube up the urethra. 'Nuff said.) That leads me to think that it was a type CIS tumor, and that is not a good thing. However, I will learn the actual truth in about a week. I don't want to make too much out of this. The truth of the matter is that this seems to have been caught early, and the long term prognosis should be pretty good. On the other hand, I don't want to gloss this over as being relatively insignificant in my life...because it isn't. So, I will pretty much leave this right here...and get on with life.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


Potholes. They are, in fact, what is wrong with us right now. Well, not exactly the potholes themselves, but, rather, how we are dealing with them. Why, I ask, could this nation build of thousands of miles of roads in the first thirty years (more or less) of the last century, but we have trouble filling the potholes in those roads today. I think I know the answer, and the answer is greed. In the  past forty years or so, we have institutionalized greed to a point where it is no longer considered one of the basic evils of this world.

"Gimme mine, and to hell with the rest of you." has become acceptable in our culture. It is, in fact, the mantra of the Republican party and their fellow travelers on the right edge of the political spectrum. Over the past 40 years, or so, this mindset has led to a massive imbalance in the distribution of wealth in this country. We have in fact become a two tier society with the middle class being squeezed to a point where it has shrunk to the smallest percentage of the population it has been in the last 100 years. In fact, today the top 1% of the population controls more wealth than the bottom 90%. The implications of this fact are huge, and they do not bode well for the future of our democracy.

Think about it. The primary purpose of all that wealth is to acquire even more wealth. As more wealth is absorbed into that vast pool, two things become true: first, there is less wealth available to the rest of the population which means we are all scrabbling after a smaller and ever smaller piece of the pie. Second, the pool of wealth becomes even vaster and it accretes at an ever increasing rate. It is like a black hole which is growing ever larger, and our nation's wealth is disappearing into it.

And this brings me back to potholes. We are not filling the potholes on our nation's roads, much less building new roads, because the wealth necessary is no longer available to society. We are rapidly become like the vision portrayed in Blade Runner where the rich live in palatially sumptuous surroundings while the rest of us live in squalor.  However, this future is not inevitable. There is still time to reverse this process of wealth accretion. The first step is to increase the marginal tax rate on income above [pick a number-open for debate-for argument's sake, let's use $500,000/year] to at least 90%. The second step is to break up large fortunes by instituting a graduated estate tax that taxes estates over [pick a number-let's say...$10 million] at, again, at least 90%.  This recirculates wealth through society. It means that the government can pay down debt, and fund current operations without borrowing. It means more money is available for entrepreneurs to start their own businesses. It means the middle class becomes stronger. It means the growth of an aristocratic class slows and (hopefully) eventually reverses.

The time has come to challenge the Right Wing of the political spectrum before it become too powerful. Allow another generation of wealth accumulation, and it will be too late. Even now the super-rich nascent aristocracy will fight tooth and nail to protect every penny in their coffers. However, right now, we still have enough wealth and the numbers to return us to the true path of freedom in this country. There will always be this tension between the rich and the rest. The goal should be, not the elimination of either side, but, rather, a state of balance between them. Sure, there will be tilts where one side or the other gains ascendancy, and, when this happens, the goal should be to bring things back into balance.

The time is now. We dare not fail in this task.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Yesterday, I was within four days of finishing our sunroom addition. All that was left was the second coat of primer, two coats of final color and varnishing the door at molding. Now, this project started in November of 2008 when, to my everlasting shame, we let a salesman pressure us into signing a contract. Since then, very little has gone right with this project.

The whole thing was subject to us refinancing our existing mortgage. Well, that took about five and one-half months. We finally got our check the first week of May, 2009, and we promptly sent Tri-state Building Specialties a big check. They didn’t wander back until late September. Between October and December, they got about 80% of the room built, and then they went away again for four months or so.

Over that winter, we discovered that we had a couple leaks. When they finally came back, we told them about the leaks and they supposedly fixed them. By June of last year, they had pretty much finished. And I had paid them about 98% of what was owed on the job. I told them that I would give them the final check after the first hard rain so I could be sure that the leaks were fixed. They took the power cord to the heat pump to hold as hostage.

Sure enough, the first hard rain came, and the leaks were still there. So, I went out and bought another power cord (screw them!), and hired another contractor to deal with the leaks. Well, after shelling out more money than I owed Tri-state to get the leaks fixed, we thought we were good. Of course, by this time it was late fall of 2010. We were now two years into the project.

Now, Tri-state only builds the shell. All finish work is up to the homeowner. It took a little time, but I got Judy to go on a couple of shopping trips to pick out things like the slate floor tiles and to begin the search for sconces.

This is all so depressing.

To cut to the chase, it took us all last winter to do things like decide on the final color we wanted for the back wall and what kind of door we were going to put in. (Originally, we weren’t going to have a door, but the rain on the plastic roof is so loud that doors are a necessity.). I had to mud in the rough work the electricians did in installing the receptacles for the lighting in the room which, I admit, took a long time. However, we also found that to use that room in the winter meant we had to run the heat pump almost 24/7 and that just is not economically feasible for us right now! So, it didn’t matter that we had plastic sheeting in the archway leading out to the room all last winter.

The good news was that it appeared that the leaks were dealt with. We got through all the storms of winter without any further signs of leakage. Finally, last week after, now, two and one-half years of this project, I put the first coat of primer on the wall. And that brought out all the little imperfections in the spackling. So, I think I got most of them done, and yesterday, while it was raining very hard outside, I started putting the second coat of primer on the wall. And that was when I saw the signs of the leak.

So, now, at the least, I have to wait a week (mol) for the drywall to dry out. Then we have to decide whether to go back up on the roof and put a bunch more roofing tar in that corner where the sunroom roof and the main roof meet, or to bite the bullet and have the whole house reroofed. I was hoping not to have to deal with that, but it is beginning to look like a probability.

(Fill in a whole bunch of 4-letter words right about here…)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ah spring...

I love my house! Here I am, out by the barbie on a cool spring night cooking pork chops and blogging on the Internet in between ministering to the chops. We went out and spent over $400 on stuff for the house at the Toy Store (otherwise known as Home Depot). Got all the molding for the french doors and three sconces for the wall. We also got a new faucet for the kitchen, but I digress. I've got to call our landscaper (also know as the lawn mowers) to arrange a meeting before his guys show up to do the clean out and lay the sod in the backyard. Just want to be sure we are all on the same page.

In preparation for their arrival with the sod, I place the stones for the stone border along the north boundary garden. I will wait until the sod is in before I trench and place the stones in their permanent homes.

OK, that's all I had on my mind tonight. Tomorrow I'll post something nasty about the Republicans and how they obviously hate the founding ideals of this nation.