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?


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…



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.


I’m not totally sure when it all started. What? The camera/phone fetish. The constant documenting of every single, bloody, sweaty, boring, intimate, private, public, silly, and otherwise superfluous aspect of our lives.

Once upon a time, you took a picture of your new baby peacefully sleeping when you first got home from the hospital. Nowadays people shoot 4K video of the actual birth and then immediately upload it to the web so everyone can share the joy (or nausea).

Now don’t get me wrong here. I appreciate a good photo as much as the next guy. So, I truly understand the urge to document or capture important moments in our lives. But therein lies the key to the insanity: Important moments.

People now have the ability to record still images or video 24/7 and so they do. And that’s become a problem. I mean, handing someone a scalpel doesn’t make them a surgeon, so having a camera does not make you Ansel Adams or Steven Spielberg.

A great photo or video is great because it represents a singular moment or event. If you are always shooting everything you encounter, chances are many of those photos or videos will not qualify as great. Probably, many will qualify as trash. So, in essence, you’re cluttering up the world with trash. Think of it as digital littering.

The main reason for this, of course, is the ubiquity of the smart phone. In the old days, you had to carry a real camera, and then pay for film, developing, and printing. Unless you were very well off, or a professional photographer, most folks took photos only on special occasions. That’s one of the main reasons why looking at old printed photos is fun; they mostly represent truly special moments.

Another problem with the constant recording is that it’s an invasion of privacy for anyone who happens to be nearby or in the frame. If you’re having a quiet meal with your wife or friends and someone is six feet away taping a drunk friend who is stumbling towards your table, you likely want nothing to do with it.

If said video goes viral, do you want your face or those of your companions as the backdrop to some drunk person’s 15 microseconds of drooling fame? Probably not; especially if the video ends with the drunk falling on your table or vomiting in your lap.

A very creepy issue with the constant recording is that we’re creating generations of children who are way too comfortable in front of a camera. They calculate every move and word because they know there’s a good chance they’re being recorded by their crazed hover parents.

All kids start to look like those obnoxiously precocious kids you see on Disney TV shows. Why? Because once-normal kids see those TV kids and emulate them.

And what is done with these gigabytes of video and still images captured by said parental voyeurs? Not much. Most of this stuff gets uploaded to the cloud or downloaded to personal computers. That means your darling little ones are now out there on the wild and woolly interwebs along with lots of digital flotsam.

There’s also an actual cost, too. I have spent many hours cleaning up people’s overstuffed hard drives or installing extra hard drives. I’ve listened to sobs as I tell people their drives have died and they have no backup of the thousands of photos they’ve shot, including the touching birth video when mom was screaming bloody murder.

Then they really lose it when I tell them it’ll run $2,000-plus, to have a professional data recovery company attempt to salvage their precious photos — those same photos they’ve never really looked at. Guess how many people opt for that?

The final straw is that, for all this recording, people are less present than ever. Have you been to a concert; sporting event; or, goddess forbid, a school function, recently? Watch the people around you and see where their attention is riveted.

I once observed a teenage girl walk through a once-in-a-lifetime museum exhibit of Van Gogh and never look up once from her phone. People show up and spend the entire event glued to their phones, moving for a better shot, tweeting about the event, uploading to Facebook, Instagramming, or texting about the event. Do they ever actually just sit and watch or consciously attend?

If it’s your kid’s school play, do you recall their lines? Their big scene? Their actual part? Probably not. Although my guess is you have footage or stills buried somewhere that you’ll likely never look at again.

One other thing you might want to consider is how silly this is getting out here in the real world. On occasion, I’ve watched professional photographers try to shoot an event and one of the biggest challenges is to try and get the requested pictures while every shot is continuously blocked by people with cell phones. Seriously.

They’re standing there, holding several thousand dollars worth of cameras and lenses, trying to get a shot that will end up in the paper or online but they have to dodge a dozen crazed fans or hover parents deadset on getting the lead singer at the concert or little Ashley as she belts out some pop hit during the school talent show, or crosses the line at the track meet. And we won’t even mention the silliness that takes place at most weddings.

So, folks, feel free to grab a shot now and then, when it really matters. More power to you. But instead of trying to be the next Spielberg, try just being present. If you paid to go to the concert, dance, sing along, listen, applaud, cheer, and maybe take a quick picture but, most of all, just be there. If you’re at a school event, put the stupid phone away and just bask in your little one’s performance, no matter what. Take a picture before or after if you must, but mostly just watch.

Social media and over-sharing have turned many people into the most connected but isolated people in the history of mankind. Try being present more and I’ll bet the mental pictures you get will far exceed any digital picture you could possibly snap.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he has appreciated pictures all his life. But he really doesn’t like being in them.


Cats, by their very design, have many fascinating qualities and talents. We all know about their keen sense of smell, fast (catlike) reflexes, and that uncanny ability to land on their feet if dropped. But did you also know they tell time better than a Swiss watch? It’s true. I see it every day. Every $%#@! day.

Just so you know, Meg and I get up most weekday mornings before 5. Yeah, I know. But we do that so we can get in our morning workout, which is usually a three-mile walk or trip to the gym in inclement weather. I have a very trusty clock radio next to our bed set to wake us up precisely on time to the dulcet tones of whatever classic rock is playing at that ungodly hour. This morning I believe it was the soft warbling of Axl Rose with that lovely classic, “Welcome to the Jungle.”

But before I could even get to Axl’s stirring melodic range, I had been roused by the not so soft meow of Lemon, our 17-pound alarm cat. Lemon was letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that it was time for the humans to get up, get dressed and feed him! If, for some unfathomable reason we’d chosen not to stir, he’d have moved on to phase two, or Defcon Two, as he likes to call it. This consists of hauling his bulk (albeit rather gracefully) up onto the bed, strolling up along my left side, walking across my pillow, stepping on my hair, doing the same to Meg and then sitting down between us and meowing.

Still no response? He hops off the bed and begins to sharpen his claws on the side of the bed or on the floor. This creates sounds reminiscent of some horror film where a madman is tearing up some poor innocent item of clothing or furniture with a badly tuned chainsaw or dull butter knife. Somewhere in here, the alarm (the real one) goes off and we get up, so he just sits and watches till we get downstairs and feed him.

Weekends are the biggest challenge as we don’t set the alarm. Starting at about 4:30 a.m. he’ll wake up and come in to check on us. By 5 he’s getting pushy, so one of us will get up and make like we’re going downstairs towards the fridge. He’ll come dashing out, blow by us on the stairs fast enough to cause rug burn, and we’ll double back and close the bedroom door. After a couple minutes he’ll realize he was faked out, so he comes silently up the stairs, begins to sharpen his claws just outside the door and then reach up and start to try and turn the doorknob. Seriously. We have those antique glass doorknobs that go nicely with our 130-year-old house and he turns, struggles and rattles, but hasn’t managed yet. Darn his lack of opposable thumbs!

Finally, after this has gone on for awhile and the floor outside the door has a three-foot hole from his claws, one of us will get up and feed the beasts. Of course, it’s highly unlikely we can get back to sleep after this, but just in case one would want to try, you get about an hour before he’s back asking for the dry food. We give them wet first then an hour later, dry. So giving them wet is like hitting the snooze button. And if you think mornings can be an issue, just try taking a nap in the afternoon. As we feed them around 4 p.m., if you’re zonked out any time after 3 p.m., Lemon will let you know that the day is waning and you might want to think about getting up and moving. Goddess forbid that he goes hungry for an extra five seconds.

Whether morning or afternoon, his timing is just spot on. And he’s good year-round. Oh, setting the clocks ahead or back does throw him for a bit, but he’s soon back on schedule, just like clockwork (pun intended). But none of this behavior answers the basic question: How in the heck does a large orange and white cat tell time with such pinpoint accuracy? Is there a Rolex hidden under all that fur? Does his brain contain some sort of chronometer the way homing pigeon brains are said to have magnetic particles like little compasses? Is he in contact with some vast, unseen cat atomic clock service? I haven’t seen a bill as yet.

Perhaps we should try to get a grant to study this phenomenon. Imagine if we could harness the time keeping ability of cats. At the Olympics, you’d no longer need precision stopwatches. You’d just bring in a flock of cats. The starting gun goes off, the cats scatter and hide under the bleachers. By the time the race ends, they’ve crawled back out and congregated unerringly around the winner. Maybe in the future if you needed a new clock, you’d just go to the animal shelter and adopt a cat instead of going to the store and buying some mass-produced piece of plastic. The dashboard clock in the car? Nowhere near as interesting as having a small cat riding along with you. And wristwatches? Nope, a cat follows you around all day, letting you know when to do things like feed it, change the litter, get it fresh water, or brush it.

There you have our future. A world where cats let us know what to do and when to do it. Oh, wait. That’s my life every day.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he would have finished this column sooner, but one of the alarm cats kept going off.


The last time I checked, we appeared to be in the middle of the yet another food-diet-nutrition-health craze. This one seems to be centered on the concept of everyone eating or consuming only items deemed to be organic.

This craze comes on the heels of the gluten-free craze (a new study shows it increases heart attack risk), the kale craze (a new study shows kale is icky), the low-fat craze, the no-fat craze, the sugar-free craze, the low-salt craze, the low-calorie craze (you inhale water vapor in lieu of food), the no trans-fats craze, the no-sugary-drinks craze, and that pesky eat-your-darn-vegetables craze.

Whew, I just lost my appetite.

On one level, I get the organic thing. If we eat only products that have been raised naturally, then we avoid ingesting large amount of insecticides, hormones, and other nasty chemicals. OK, good idea.

The problem is that what constitutes organic seems to be in question. For instance, can a food based on GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds but raised without pesticides be organic? Can a cow raised without growth hormones but still loaded with antibiotics be organic? Can lawn and leaf bags made from only recycled wood pulp be organic? And should we care about organic lawn and leaf bags?

I think what bothers me the most about the organic craze is that it looks more and more like just another scam. For instance, oranges are considered one of the best fruits to eat as their tough skin keeps the nasty chemicals they’re sprayed with from getting inside. So why should I pay 50- to 75-percent more for organic oranges that look like they just survived a Mongol invasion?

If you look at organic foods, they invariably cost a lot more than conventional products that look suspiciously similar except that, in the case of organic fruits and veggies, they invariably look awful (like radioactive-fallout awful). And the more outlandish the product, the higher the price.

I was recently in a store that caters to the healthy-eating crowd and it offered organic everything. And the more I wandered around, the goofier it got.

I saw canned organic cat food that cost (not kidding) almost 10 times what the food we feed our cats costs. I saw organic cleaning products that cost more per ounce than unleaded gas. I saw a bag of ice that was said to have been made strictly from spring water. Yup, organic ice.

Next we’ll be planting things in organic dirt. Oh wait, we do.

The organic toothpaste and toothbrushes (with lovely wooden handles) cost enough to cover a dental visit. The organic makeup and shampoo was beautifully packaged and came with a handy home-equity loan form to make paying for them easier.

The organic cheeses were so pricey I figured it would be cheaper to just buy a cow or goat and make my own (but pay no attention to the people who were sickened by unpasteurized cheese a few months ago). And yes, the organic meats were just amazing. The packages were so small and the prices so high that I noticed a bargain bin next to them full of gold ingots that were cheaper.

Now, I know the healthy eaters out there are already gearing up to yell at me and send me packets of kale. Save your energy and kale. Just take a deep breath, drink a cup of organic green tea and listen.

I totally respect your desire to eat healthily in a world dominated by agri-businesses that supplies us with less-than-healthy foods in order to maximize their profits. I get it. Really.

But, in your single-minded rush to avoid these tainted foods, you’re falling for a lie that sounds good. Just because a label says something, doesn’t mean it’s true. And, even if the label might be true, it doesn’t mean the benefits are provable.

The best example of this type of deceptive marketing is the vitamin-supplements industry. Not too long ago, a certain TV “doctor” was all sorts of nuts over Raspberry Ketones. This is a substance derived from raspberries that supposedly has vast health benefits. Except that there’s little to no scientific proof that any of it is true.

The same can be said for megadoses of vitamin C, doses of cinnamon, fish oil, and every other supplement that costs more per gram than platinum but can’t be proven to work. That’s pretty much where we’re at with organic foods.

Marketers and sales types are slapping the word “organic” on any and every product they can find, bumping prices by huge margins, and people are falling for it. “But the government regulates what they can call organic,” you say.

Well, there might be some guidelines, but who is enforcing them these days? The folks looking to gut the EPA? The same guys who want to drill for oil in national parks? Those guys? Yeah, I’m sure they’re very concerned about whether or not your organic baby food actually contains several parts per million of industrial-grade crud. Chances are better they helped manufacture the crud.

So, to put a fine point on it, don’t always believe what the package says. Don’t trust that the government is there to safeguard your health. It isn’t.

If you really want organic kale, plant a garden and make sure to avoid chemicals. If you want organic eggs, raise a chicken or go to someone you trust that does. But most of all, do that rarest of things and use some common sense. You’d be amazed at the results.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he attempts to eat in a healthy manner between trips to the Chinese buffet. Hey, no man lives on kale alone; he needs the occasional egg roll, says Seinberg.


If you want to become a submariner, you have to get through the Navy’s basic training. Then you have to apply to enter the submarine service, pass a lengthy series of psychological screening tests and aptitude tests, and then undergo specialized training. This makes sense. You’ll be, potentially, manning billions of dollars worth of sophisticated technology with the real potential to do enormous damage.

So, you’re wondering, what point am I making? It occurred to me that we put a great deal of time, energy, and money into screening and training a lot of people in our society. And yet, the people in charge are not screened, tested, vetted, checked, or in any way monitored to determine whether or not they should be in charge. Take Congress, as a prime example.

There are only three requirements to be a member of Congress: You must be 25 or older (30 for the Senate), be a United States citizen for at least seven years (nine for the Senate), and you must be an “inhabitant” (as opposed to inmate) of the state where you’re elected.

I’m sorry; I know several aging dogs and cats that could qualify (if you go by dog/cat years). I mean seriously, these folks make big salaries, get amazing benefits, and can even be convicted felons and still serve.

And where’s the after-hire evaluation? Who is holding these folks to their campaign promises? Who keeps track of how many new laws they got passed or how many good projects they got funded?

But getting back to my original point, I think it’s high time we began to screen potential elected officials. We’re all sick of corrupt politicians voting based on campaign contributions, lobbying efforts, or just straight-up bribes. They abuse every perk and on the rare occasions when they get caught, they either get away with it, or get convicted and still keep their pensions and jobs. Really?

A person working at McDonald’s who pulls a dollar out of the register and pockets it would be fired on the spot and likely charged with a crime. How does Mickey D’s have higher standards than Congress?

From now on, anyone who wants to run for office (any office) must pass through the following set of checks, tests, and screenings. First, if they’ve been convicted of a crime (felony or serious misdemeanor), they’re disqualified.

Next, a psychological screening is done by a qualified mental-health professional to see if the candidate is sociopathic or psychopathic (most chief executive officers, many lawyers, and more than a few surgeons are, it turns out). Also, they need to be mentally healthy, not raging narcissists or megalomaniacs (sorry, Mr. Trump).

Finally, several members of the clergy of different faiths should interview the person to determine their moral health. Please note, this isn’t to find out if they’re pious; they fake that all the time.

No, the idea here is to see if they actually understand the difference between right and wrong. Bribes are wrong, voting in a manner that represents your constituents is right. Sending genital pictures via cell-phone is wrong, treating women with dignity is right.

And finally, they have to answer a simple, but critical question: Why do you want the office?

The science-fiction author Robert Heinlein once wrote that anyone who sought the office of president should be immediately disqualified from holding it. Kurt Vonnegut said, “There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don't know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.”

If authors can figure this out, then we should all rethink whom we elect these days. Some folks say we get what we deserve, and, when you look at the sad state of voter turnout and registration, maybe that’s true. Some people have suggested that, if more people voted, we’d have better representation, as the folks in office now were rarely, if ever, elected by an actual majority of eligible adults.

Right now, many folks are appalled by the behavior of the current president and his crew, and for good reason. None of these people are qualified for their jobs. Actually, most of them aren’t qualified to be dogcatcher.  A retired brain surgeon who lies in his autobiography; a failed CEO; a climate-change denier in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency; and, of course, the ego in chief who has gone bankrupt how many times?

Politics has been disreputable, dishonorable, and dysfunctional for as long as anyone can remember. It’s ruled by crazy people, paid by greedy people, and has nothing to do with the democracy. So let’s start elevating the level of candidates and I’ll bet things improve.

So, Mr. Trump, Mr. Pruitt, Ms. DeVos, can any of you tell us what the term “ethics” refers to? No, Mr. Mnuchin, not whatever you can get away with. Sorry, Mr. Trump, your hair does not constitute a platform (though it could be a structural member). Uh, Mr. Bannon, put down that kitten and back slowly away and, no, you may not kick that puppy.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he has been watching politics and politicians for the last few decades and noted that things have gone downhill — a lot.


This must happen to everybody. You’re sitting at your computer, working, and a cat climbs into your lap.

“Hi, I need ear scratching please,” says the cat.

So you pull one hand from the keyboard and start scratching. Purring commences and the little furry head lazily turns to the multiple screens. And you know what comes next. Yup, politics.

“Who is that guy with a cat on his head?” asks the suddenly curious feline.

“Umm, that’s the president.”

“Why is a cat sitting on his head? Is he cold a lot? Wait, is that my old buddy Teddy from litter-box school?”

“Well, no, that’s his hair. Litter-box school? You went to school for — never mind.” The cat climbs out of the lap and over the keyboard to view the screen more closely.

“No way, that’s a yellow cat on his head.” So you switch to a photo showing his hair blowing around in order to prove it’s hair.

“Wow, that poor cat is getting blown all over!” exclaims the now disturbed feline.

“Really, that’s not a cat, it’s just the guy’s hair. Well maybe a hairpiece,” you venture, trying to calm things down. The cat stares a little longer and climbs back into your lap.

“More scratching please.” Typing one-handed is slow. But purring can lower your blood pressure.

You’re sitting on the couch with an iPad in your lap when a large cat jumps onto the couch, slides into your lap, dislodging the iPad, and looks up at you.

“Some full-body petting please.” So you move the iPad over, switch it to CNN and proceed to stroke the cat from head to tail and loud purring commences. After a bit the cat turns to the news.

“Why does that man look so angry?”

“Oh, that’s the president’s spokesman and he’s talking to reporters,” you explain trying to get the concept of a press conference across.

“But why is he so mad? He keeps yelling at those people every time they ask a question. By the way, scratch under my chin please.” So you scratch the chin and the purring resumes.

“Well, some people think he’s angry because he doesn’t like what he’s told to say.”

“By who? Who tells him what to say?”

“The president, you know the guy with the cat on his head?”

“Why doesn’t the president talk then? Why make the guy so upset? And why is he chewing so much gum?”

“Well the president is too busy to talk all the time and they worry that he might say the wrong thing if he tried.”

“And he probably has to hold still so the cat stays on his head too.” Right. Cat logic.

You’re at the kitchen table having lunch and watching MSNBC and a cat jumps into the chair beside you. The cat looks at your sandwich and then at you. “You going to eat that whole thing?”

“Well, yeah that’s why I made it.”

“OK, just checking. I mean, I don’t want you to overeat. It’s not healthy you know.”

“This from the guy who inhaled breakfast and barfed it on the carpet. Thanks for your concern.”

The cat looks up at the screen inquisitively. “Why are those people arguing with each other. They’re all talking at the same time and you can’t understand anything. It sounds like a cat fight I saw yesterday by the library.”

“Those are members of Congress from different parties arguing over health-care reform. They have different opinions. The guy at the desk is a newsman and he’s trying to calm them down.”

“Parties? Yeah, they must be drunk to be shouting like that. If he wants to calm them down, can’t he just shoot them with a dart or something or maybe slip them a Valium? Worked for my Aunt Maude after she got fixed.”

“No, political parties. Groups of people who have different philosophies. The ones on the right think everyone should have easy access to health care and the other ones think they should make tons of money.”

“What does one thing have to do with the other? If you’re sick you go to the people vet, right?”

“We do, but not everyone can afford to without insurance.”

“Insurance? Do we have insurance for the vet?”

“No, but we can get it if we want to spend a lot of money.”

“Oh, so the insurance companies get rich but people get healthy?”

“Not really.”

“You know; you people make no sense at all. And why is that one guy so red in the face? Does he need a vet?”

“That’s Mitch McConnell and yeah, he definitely needs a doctor of some sort.”

“So, you done with that sandwich?” And you pick the chicken out and give it to the cat as he makes far more sense than the TV.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he talks politics with all four of the family cats regularly. He hasn’t finished a sandwich in months.


We live in interesting times. No two ways about it. Some people are focused on the idea that the world is crashing down around us as a result of the election in November. Others see the world as on its last legs since the dawn of man, and still others think things have been going to hell since maybe the 1930s.

Personally, I’m getting just plain exhausted by all of it. I’ve been involved in the media in one way or another for over 30 years and I can say that the current mess that’s passing for American politics isn’t really new.

When I was still in college, I got into a public debate with James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior from 1981 to 1983. He was the guy who suggested trees cause air pollution. He and I went at it in a public forum and he won. Not because he was right, but because he used rhetorical tricks to get the crowd on his side.

Fast forward to 2017 and Tweet Wars, alternative facts, hacking, and, well, you get the picture.

The fact is, we have always had hatred in our country. We’ve had intolerance, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, sexism, and just all-around grumpy people.

The difference for those of us who live in a blue state in little old Altamont, is that we’re seeing this hatred very clearly and it’s sad, frightening, unnerving, and nasty. So what do we do about it?

Some folks have taken to social media on a daily basis to rant, rave, sign petitions, send letters, and speak out, based on their point of view. Others have gotten even more active, joining protests, groups, and marches.

Phone calls are made, signs are displayed, and chants are shouted. And, of course, leading the opposition is “Saturday Night Live,” skewering the current administration on a weekly basis in contrast to Fox, Breitbart ,and Rush (Limbaugh, not the band).

Other countries are alarmed and speaking out, too. So here we are in what would appear to some to be open political warfare. So, again, what does one do to remain calm and sane? Well, I have a few ideas I’d like to share.

First off, tune out. Really. Turn off the news, shut off Facebook and Twitter, silence your phone, and go outside. Look around. Things are melting; streams are burbling pleasantly; birds are singing; and, miracle of miracles, the sun has continued to rise every single day.

Love your partner, love your children, your parents, and your animal companions. Sit quietly on the couch and just breathe. Water your houseplants. Do some laundry or vacuum. Spring is starting on March 21.

Dust off your bicycle and put away the snowshoes. Go to your job and be nice to your co-workers. Wave to people as you’re out and about (practice the Altamont Wave). Smile at people, pet strange dogs, say hi to squirrels, and enjoy the fact that you’re alive and functional.

Remember that most people want the same things: A safe place to live, enough food, a decent job, good schools for their kids, a clean world to live in, and maybe a little money in the bank.

Many of us in Altamont are fortunate in that we have many of our basic needs met. Not everyone, to be sure, but many of us are doing OK thanks to work, luck, and maybe karma. In other words, each day it’s probably a good idea to focus on what’s working in your life as opposed to what’s wrong in the world. I’m not saying to ignore things, maybe just give yourself a break on a regular basis.

Back in the 1960s, one of the more famous slogans was, “Make love, not war.” It’s still true today.

No matter what side of the political spectrum you might be on, it’s probably time to start thinking long-term and big-picture. We’re a little planet in a big universe and just a single country among many others. We have limited resources and not terribly long lives, so maybe it’s time to put the nonsense aside and focus on getting along and enjoying life.

I’m all in favor of fighting for what you believe in. But remember the old saying: Be careful what you wish for; you might just get it.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he is focused on petting animals and looking for sunshine these days when he’s not ranting and raving periodically. The cats just prefer he keeps up with the ear scratching and feeding. They couldn’t care less about politics. Smart animals, those cats.


About two years ago, maybe a bit longer, I began to hear about the tiny-house movement. No, it’s not about living in the Barbie Dream House, but you’re closer to the truth than you think. The idea was that people, fed up with high mortgage payments, loads of possessions, and a high cost of living, would shed their huge houses for a tiny alternative, many of which they built themselves.

There were articles; websites; and then, after a time, TV shows about building, buying, and living in tiny houses. Now, keep in mind that most people define a tiny house as having 400 to 500 square feet of living space.

In 1978, the average American home was 1,780 square feet and, in 2013, it was 2,662 square feet, despite the shrinking of the average size of the American family. One other detail to keep in your mind: The last state room my wife and I had on a cruise ship was under 200 square feet and that included a full bathroom, queen bed, and an ocean view.

Many of the hallmarks of tiny houses are almost nautical, in that, like the accommodations on boats, every square inch of space is used in as efficient a manner as possible. Storage is found in every nook and cranny, large appliances are avoided, and many accommodations are made that most of us would find tough to live with (folding furniture, loft sleeping, one room).

And the folks in these shows and documentaries all say the same things: They want lower costs; simpler lives; fewer possessions; and a focus on experience and living life, as opposed to working non-stop to afford stuff.

You might peg these folks as crunchy-granola, left-wing, hippie folks who love kale and run vegan restaurants on the side, and, in some cases, that might be true. But mostly they just want lower bills and fewer things cluttering their lives.

I have no problem with those goals and, in light of our current economy and world situation, they seem quite sane. But, alas, the forces of capitalism have invaded and kind of hijacked the tiny-house movement.

Now a tiny house can be bought just like a regular house complete with custom finishes, multiple sizes, all sorts of gizmos and at a price that is no longer any great bargain. Many early tiny-house people were able to build or have built a livable structure under $20,000, but now you can easily spend triple that.

I even saw one model that opened at the touch of a button like the pop-out on a big travel trailer. This is not your mother’s tiny house.

Some of the shows follow people who have their houses built by “tiny house experts” but, from what I saw, the experts were just greedy carpenters who had glommed onto a new market. One guy was quoting prices so high I swear he was salivating on camera.

Now, the thing is that, while a new house for many people can cost anywhere from $275,000 to $750,000 depending on size and locale, one could look at a tiny house at $60,000 as a bargain. Well, I don’t see the bargain when one features a single tiny bathroom, many times with a composting toilet and maybe a total of 400 square feet of living space and the other features many bathrooms and 2,000 to 5,000 square feet of living space.

Some people have suggested the tiny-house people are too extreme and most Americans could never downsize that much. That might be so, but what I think we really need is a small-house movement.

What if you could buy or build a 750- to 1,000-square-foot house that featured good-quality materials, energy-saving features, and decent-quality workmanship for maybe $75,000 to $150,000 depending on size and locale?

I’m talking about a house like our parents and grandparents would have lived in. I’m talking about kitchens that don’t feature granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances. Bathrooms that have sinks that look like sinks and not modern art. And houses that are built in clusters or on large lots for the sake of green space and privacy (pick your preference).

Tiny houses will never be the norm in this country but they certainly point in a positive direction. Now, if we could just get things out of the hands of the money-grubbing marketers and greedy developers and into the hands of people interested in serving the people as well as the planet, we might have something.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg notes that he and his family live in half of an 1880s-era house in the village of Altamont. They rent out the other half to a tenant. There are no granite countertops in either apartment.