As you might have noticed, the news pretty much sucks these days. Hatred, thievery, corruption, anger, division, and puppy-kicking dominate the airwaves and smartphones of early 2019.

So, what’s a humor writer to do? When my editor recently suggested she’d like me to write more often, I admitted I was having trouble coming up with much humor.

I mean I’m happy to laugh at the sheer absurdity of the antics in Washington and Albany these days but that’s more black humor and cynicism than anything. And then I realized something.

I knew a happy person. We’re talking seriously thrilled here. Just blissfully happy about even the smallest things. And so, I decided to ask her what the secret is.

My little happy person is Audrianna Rae or Audri. She’s 11 months old and our newest granddaughter. Audri likes everything pretty much. When you say hi, her eyes go wide, and she grins and wiggles.

When you set her on the floor, she immediately starts crawling in pretty much every direction, exploring the carpet texture; the toys we set out for her; the cats, who give her a very wide berth; and the little solar critters we have around the house.

Nothing makes Audri happier than the solar hula dancer and flamingo on the kitchen windowsill. She stares, in rapt baby attention, at the wiggling hips and flapping wings as if they are the coolest things she has ever seen. And to her, they are.

They’re colorful and move for no apparent reason and just make quiet little clicking noises, and that’s all they do. And for Audri, that’s good enough. That’s great, in fact.

When I stare at them, I like the movement too and the sheer silliness of a pink flamingo and tiny hula dancer just wiggling away. They’re kitschy and silly and have no real purpose except to entertain small humans and anxious writers. And it works.

Have you noticed that the world is filled with textures? Audri has.

She loves to rub and grip and grab at carpets, couches, my beard, blankets, cane chairs, and pretty much everything else. Her tiny fingers explore and feel, and she stares intently, trying to figure out what it is she’s touching. Try that sometime.

Food is huge these days. Audri loves to eat. But she most definitely has her own tastes.

When she sees a full bottle, she is ready to rock. She reaches for it, squeals happily, and sucks at that puppy like it’s the center of the universe. Of course, I see similar reactions from adults when confronted with a cold beer, a glass of wine, or those amber-colored rust inhibitors (hard liquors) people like to rave about too. So even some grownups kind of get this.

After a bottle, the real fun begins. Audri likes crunchy puffs, applesauce, and various multi-colored baby-food concoctions. She no sooner gets a spoonful in her mouth than she’s looking for the next one. This kid eats with purpose and dedication, grinning all the way through and making happy noises.

She’s like a baby foody in a gourmet eatery as the waiter brings out each exquisite course. When was the last time you enjoyed a meal that much? You could. You just have to slow it down and savor. Just focus.

Ignore calories. Just be there, and savor and munch and slurp and become one with the meal. Get all Zen on it! The marketers would crow about mindfulness at this point. Audri doesn’t do marketing, she just lives it.

And there, I think, is the real secret. Audri doesn’t multi-task. She doesn’t anticipate or worry and hold grudges or analyze.

She is right there in the moment at all times, laser focused on whatever it is that’s in front of her. Well, at least for 15 seconds or so. I mean, when was the last time you were in the moment like that? Totally focused. Doesn’t matter what you’re doing, just actually try and be there.

At the moment, I’m typing. I feel the keys under my fingers, hear the sound of the keyboard, and see the words appear as black shapes on a white field. I’m trying to get something from my brain onto the screen and eventually into print.

I’m just writing. I’m here. Where are you? What are you doing? Are you actually there?

So, do you want to be happy in 2019? Take a tip from a baby. See the world through new eyes. Laugh at it; it’s pretty damn silly. Savor it all. Stay present.

And the news? The hell with it. It’s all fleeting anyway. Are you furious over some moron move in Washington? Some horror overseas? The economy? Expanded rights for some group or other?

Sure, many of these stories and issues are important. But, can you fix them by being angry? Maybe spend a little more time trying to understand what’s getting you riled and maybe see about doing something concrete.

And then, go enjoy your favorite snack. Really get into it. Take a walk and look at the color of the sky. That is some serious blue some days.

Sit and read a really good book or story and lose yourself in the words and images. And if you can, read to a baby or a child or someone else and share the moment. You only get a certain number.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he is doing his best to take his own advice. Mostly. Audri says he needs work.

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Roughly 25 years ago on a warm May day (Garage Sale Day, actually) I moved permanently to Altamont and found my first real hometown.

I grew up moving and by the time I settled here at age 29, I’d moved at least 10 times. My dad was a corporate attorney, so we moved for his career. It was like being an Army brat but with better benefits I suppose.

While I sometimes envy those who stayed in one place their whole lives, living in different places gives you a great deal of perspective. That’s why I think of Altamont as my adopted hometown more than any place I’ve ever lived.

One of the things that has always meant a lot to me about living here, is the real sense of community we have. We’re a small place with 1,500 or so residents, far smaller than Voorheesville and a mere flyspeck compared to Albany or Schenectady.

Walking around, you see familiar faces and you get to watch people come, have kids, raise them, send them off to college, and start talking retirement. Some old neighbors have gone, some new ones have joined, and many others have stayed. It really does take a village to raise a child and a family, and we have that here.

Years ago, I wrote a column I think I called “The Altamont Wave” in which I waxed poetic about the fact that we all tend to wave to one another around here, even if we’re not sure who we’re waving to. In a divided, angry, and frightened world, that means something. It really does.

Why do we all fondly remember when they all shouted, “Norm!” in “Cheers?” Because we want to live where everybody knows our names.

All that being said, I find one thing about living here to be a real problem. Change. And I don’t mean change like storms, floods, houses falling down, or being attacked by roving bands of angry chipmunks.

I mean greed-driven change. When I first arrived, they were just building Kushaqua and I remember riding my mountain bike through the muddy construction sites. Since then, we watched Brandle Meadows blight a pristine stretch of green space and the new development out on Bozenkill inflicted on another green buffer. Though, in fairness, 10 homes and most of the trees left intact is a lot less of a problem.

In the past couple weeks, we’ve watched as our elected officials bowed to the wishes of Stewart’s instead of listening to the residents who elected them. And now the same developer who schemed (gift basket, anyone?) to erect Brandle Meadows is intent on adding more apartments right in the center of the village on another green buffer (replete with 50 parking spaces). Has this person ever met a piece of virgin land he didn’t want to pave over? That’s a rhetorical question; we already know the answer.

I know change and growth are part of life, and I generally accept that. But not when the change involves upheaval and destruction that will only benefit one person or a small group of people whose driving force is greed.

Every time you build another residence, it means more stress on our water and sewer systems, more work for emergency medical services and firefighting folks, and a small-but-never-adequate increase in the tax base. And the fact that the village boundaries have been extended to the benefit of the developers just reflects that our elected officials don’t have the interests of the residents at heart.

Anybody who attended the Stewart’s meeting recently knew the fix was in from the very start. A bigger Stewart’s with a massive parking lot and surface-of-the-sun lighting doesn’t fit into our quiet little village. Neither does the destruction of an old, occupied, and architecturally correct home (comprehensive plan, anyone?).

Our mayor should have recused herself from the vote due to her prior public support for the project, which rendered her utterly biased and incapable of rendering an objective decision. That a recently-appointed board member who has yet to be elected also voted in favor certainly gives the appearance of impropriety. In our current political climate, optics are everything, as they say.

But enough of that. Altamont is still a small village made up mostly of people who moved here for that reason. They didn’t want to live in the suburban wastelands that surround us in Guilderland.

For many people, the suburbs are a perfect place to live and raise their families. More power to them.

But for those of us who are looking to live in a functional community, the character of Altamont is something precious and worth preserving. I want to live in a place where people wave, ask after the kids and the cats, and tell you how they’re doing. In a world full of problems and worry, it’s nice to know your neighbors and care about them.

Consistently giving in to commercial pressures serves only those who benefit financially. I don’t want Altamont to turn into Guilderland. But for developers, the character of a community doesn’t matter when there’s money to be made.

Let’s all remember why we moved here, why we live here, and why we stay here. Next time someone suggests building, tearing down, or changing things, let’s ask them a simple question: Who will this really benefit?

I want to live in a place where people know my name. During our short time on this little blue ball, that’s something that really matters.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg points out that he and his wife have lived in Altamont a combined 85 years and they have also walked thousands of miles through the village in that time. Remember to wave, he says; they’ll wave back.

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There has been an ongoing debate about whether dogs are smarter than cats or if other animals are as smart as people. I grew up in a household with dogs and then had cats later in life, so I have some thoughts on the subject.

But, to be fair here, I am not a behavioral specialist, animal psychiatrist, crazy cat person, or dog-centric pet aficionado. I like most animals (generally more than most people) and find them all pretty pleasant.

But is any given animal smarter than another? And how do animals, in general compare to humans? I suppose that depends on what you think indicates intelligence.

In my younger years, I had gerbils, hamsters, mice, fish, and even a chinchilla (yes, they really are that soft). In all cases, they exhibited behaviors that might, or might not, constitute various levels of intelligence.

But this raises a question. Is it fair to compare animal behavior to human behavior? For instance, have you ever watched a dog sniff at a vertical surface before peeing on it? According to experts, the dog is smelling and getting information from the dogs who also peed in that spot and then leaving his or her own message to add to the urinary bulletin board.

The thing is, we have no idea if your dog is leaving the next chapter of “War and Peace” or a snotty comment about the grooming habits of the beagle on the next block. But for a human to do the same thing would require pen and paper, a computer, smartphone, or a can of spray paint.

In other words, dogs can naturally communicate in ways that require us to use advanced technology. So, who is smarter?

As I sit here at the computer, peeing on a virtual signpost in cyberspace, one of our cats inevitably climbs into my lap and curls into a classic cat loaf. I oblige with a little ear or neck scratching, and purring generally commences.

So, without using any form of technology, the cat has attained a state of utter bliss and relaxation. Most humans spend money, energy, and time in a futile attempt to reach such a state. A purring cat has attained oneness with the universe without Ambien, weed, booze, meditation, yoga, travel to exotic lands, a hike in the woods, or a lengthy bike ride.

Dogs seem to be able to achieve the same state with a simple belly rub. So again, who appears more advanced intellectually?

So, which is smarter? A cat or a dog (drumroll please)?

Well, I’d say they’re about even on average (though science suggests dogs have the edge). If you look at the behavior of the average cat or dog, you find they have simple needs (eat, sleep, poop) and are generally in a pretty good state of mind.

They own nothing, owe nothing, desire very little past the aforementioned basics, and generally glide through their lives in a pretty effortless manner. They play, wander about, nap with great frequency, and wait for us to take care of their basic needs. Overall, they have us pretty well trained.

So, as you drive your over-engineered gas guzzler to your bland, unpleasant office through dangerous traffic, all in an effort to earn money that you hope will allow you to buy things that bring you happiness, think of your cat or dog napping in the sun.

While you answer the phone; sit through endless, pointless meetings; do work that, in many cases, is boring or downright unpleasant; and then return home tired, and frustrated, what suddenly makes you feel better? When someone crawls into your lap and purrs or jumps up happily to greet you at the door. Of course that could be a kid, pet, or spouse.

Maybe the real answer is that animals are way smarter than humans because, for all of our technology, we’re just watery meat sacks full of angst and insecurity while animals are more self-actualized and content on a bad day than we are on our best day.

I have no idea if dolphins have already come up with faster-than-light travel or if Chihuahuas nailed the unified field theory 1,000 years ago, but they all seem happier than we are, and they also do a lot less damage to the planet than we do.

So again, are animals smarter than people? I suppose, if we ever develop the technology to actually communicate with them, we might find out. But I doubt it.

I suspect most humans don’t really want to find out that the Basset hound next door cured cancer before lunch and left the formula sprayed on the stop sign at the corner of Main Street. It just wouldn’t make us feel very smart.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he believes that all animals are likely smarter than humans. Evidence? No animal has ever been observed watching Fox “News” voluntarily. Any questions?

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I recently learned that there are techniques for driving a hybrid car that actually improve the gas mileage (as if 50 miles per gallon isn’t enough). They also tend to have the effect of improving the whole driving experience and many of the lessons transfer over to everyday life.

Now, please stay with me on this as I’m not, as you may suspect, under the influence of mind-altering substances.

To begin with, a hybrid car is basically a car that has a gas engine plus one or more electric drive motors and a big battery pack that gets recharged as you drive. The electric motors take over for the gas engine periodically, or totally depending on conditions, and thus, you get very good mileage compared to a car with just a gas engine.

This is all controlled by a bunch of computers and sensors so all you really do is just drive the car. But, as noted, there are ways to drive that make the car run even better.

One of the first things you learn to do is glide periodically. The car will actually run if you take your foot off the pedal once you have some momentum built up or are on a downhill. The battery will charge as you glide down a hill or step on the brakes as you approach a stop.

Gliding in a car seems odd but then so does gliding in life. Our society is always telling us to put the pedal to the metal and blast through at high speed. Gliding is quieter, slower, and more calming. It makes driving an act of kinetic mindfulness.

Another skill is coming up to speed slowly. In a hybrid, if you mash the pedal to the floor you invariably cause the engine to run, burn gas, and kill your mileage (but the car does actually accelerate). If you build momentum slowly, allowing the electric motor to help you and then use the gas sparingly to get up to speed, you save gas and find the trip more peaceful.

Granted, you have to deal with the realities of traffic; nobody suggests taking your time on the Northway getting up to speed. But on many roads and at many times, you can, and should, take your time. It’s like waking up or starting some new task. If you start slowly and work into things, it’s just a better experience all around.

When most of us learned to drive, we were taught how to use the brakes. The driving instructor would help you learn to apply the brakes steadily and soften at the end so you didn’t come to a jarring stop. The instructor told you not to jam on the brakes as you’d possibly skid or lose control plus you’d burn out the brakes prematurely.

In a hybrid, braking early and steadily recharges the battery, thanks to regenerative braking. In life, slowing down gently is always a good idea as coming to rest is important on a regular basis.

One of the oddest things about most hybrids is that, if you are running on gas and then come to a stop, the engine usually shuts down. This saves gas while you wait for the light to change or you’re at a stop sign. When you touch the pedal, the engine starts up again or the electric power kicks in, depending on conditions.

But shutting down when you come to rest is a good idea. We’re always so busy keeping in motion and worrying about where we have to be next. Many of us forget to shut down when we come to a halt at different times during the day. It’s good to shut down and save a little energy here and there and let the internal engine take a breather.

Overall, the real key to driving a hybrid is to take the whole experience in a more mindful way and with a slower approach. You plan your moves, your glides; you brake with intention and accelerate with care.

As in life, being in the moment, seeing what’s coming or just slowing down the process and going with the flow is generally a healthier way to approach things. We’re all here for a finite period and the key seems to be to make the most of it by paying attention. Too many of us jump in the car, hit the gas, engage cruise control, and zoom to the next destination — but miss the trip itself.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but there are many times when I step out of my car and feel relaxed even if I’ve just traveled through heavy traffic. Can you say that?

Now, I have to go see a client but I’m taking the motorcycle today. It gets even better mileage than the car and leaning through a turn is really going with the flow.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg has been driving hybrids for two years now. He’s hoping the next car will be a pure electric. Maybe it will fly too. Talk about gliding…

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My wife and I recently went through the semi-traumatic process of replacing a car. We had the car for 13 years, so it was like saying goodbye to a mildly-liked pet that drinks really expensive food and gets sick periodically requiring very expensive trips to the vet.

Ever replaced a fuel pump on your cat? Serious money there.

As we went through the process of research, test driving, and fending off rabid sales pitches, I began to notice something about the new cars we were looking at. They all had varying levels of technology that I found variously to be silly, interesting, intimidating, frightening, and overwhelming.

There’s a lot of talk today about distracted driving and rightly so. But here’s the funny thing: We keep blaming cell phones, makeup, food, and other external factors. Has anyone looked at just how distracting a modern car is, by itself?

Take the “infotainment” systems in today’s cars. They offer everything including a wireless interface with your phone, satellite radio, AM/FM (for nostalgia buffs), CD players (for Luddites), backup cameras, front-facing cameras, navigation systems, and enough driving and environmental information to write a book.

If you ignore that, just the traditional dashboard is enough to make your brain ooze into overload. Our hybrid cars have screens that look more like video games that tell us how we’re doing mpg-wise, how charged the batteries are, what our range is, and whether or not we’re charging when we put on the brakes.

Most cars now tell you your speed and some still sport tachometers to give you a read on the engine RPMs. There are also lights for tire inflation; inside and outside temperature; time; date; time zone; your current blood pressure; stock-market reports; and. of course, a video system to keep the kiddies in the back seat entertained (unless they’re busy staring at their smart phones).

There are buttons everywhere. The driver’s side door on my car has more buttons than my first car had in total. My steering wheel looks more like the control yoke on a fighter jet what with remote buttons for the phone, the stereo, and the environmental controls.

The center console that controls most of the car looks like those desks NASA guys sit at to launch a rocket into orbit and there are sockets strewn around to plug in phones, iPods, iPads, computers, and probably hair dryers, for all I know.

New cars now have fobs, not keys. The fob has multiple buttons to lock, unlock, set off the alarm, start the air conditioner (seriously) 10 minutes before you get in on a hot day, open hatches, close doors, and there’s even a hidden key inside in case you get locked out.

To start the car, the fob simply needs to be with you and you just touch an on/off switch. Oh, and if you lose the fob, it only costs one or two mortgage payments to replace.

The sun shields now sport lighted makeup mirrors and a panel above the rearview mirror has lighting controls and storage for sunglasses as well as controls for sunroofs, moonroofs (not sure what the difference is), and just random buttons that you need an owner’s manual the size of “War and Peace” to figure out.

Our new car has a 600-page main manual plus four or five other smaller ones. It’s like it came with its own version of “Encyclopedia Britannica.”

Even the lowly windshield wiper stalk now has built-in controls for speed, fluid, rear wiper, front wiper, and piano metronome (to make better use of the beat). And let’s not forget seat controls, heated seats, cooled seats, and a joystick plus buttons to control the side-view mirrors.

We won’t even get into the new features such as self-parking, out-of-lane alarms, radar, sonar and an aiming screen for anti-ballistic missiles built into a heads-up display that shines data onto the windshield just like a fighter jet (really, well, maybe not missiles).

In an effort to make cars safer, they’ve now jammed so much technology into them you literally have to take lessons at the dealers in order to get the car home safely and not start a world war just trying to adjust your seat.

I like technology, possibly more than most people in that I make my living through and with technology. But there should be limits. I think maybe car-makers should back off until they’re ready to just give us a true self-driving car. Until then, cut back on all the gizmos and shiny lights and switches and leave all that to the fighter pilots.

If you’re older than 40, think about what your first car was like. Mine had no air, no power windows, no door locks, or anything else. It had a stereo that played the radio and cassette tapes. It got decent mileage and didn’t cost more than a house.

It lasted me 10 years till I sold it still running and, oh yeah, it had a stick shift. Nowadays, I’m told that less than 20 percent of the United States driving population can handle a vehicle with a stick shift. Pretty sad, as the popular saying goes. Of course, back in the day, we were too busy driving to tweet.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he has has been driving a computer since 1977, a motorcycle since 1979, and a car since 1981. His current motorcycle is 21 years old and has no technology. His current car is smarter than his first computer.

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