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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

No Soup for You Dunmore

I think the local news is almost at the "Dunmore Saturation" point, with the latest being that the bank (formerly) controlled by a major borough benefactor is not issuing a Tax Anticipation Note until a budget is passed.

Story link here.

If I lived in Dunmore this kind of thing would really, really upset me; however as a casual observer I find it more interesting than anything else. As I noted in a previous posting, Dunmore's political leadership is living in an almost constant state of denial, believing that somehow it's possible to have services like a full-time fire department, but yet refusing to accept the fiscal responsibility that goes along with it. Now we have council members talking about how some form of tax increase may be inevitable, which is the almost classic politician bait and switch ploy of "hey I didn't want to raise taxes, but at least we've managed to pair it down". Dunmore council must be taking cues from the Scranton School Board, which has the "thank us for keeping the tax increase to a minimum" act down pat.

Now politicians are expert at making this kind of thing seem very complicated, but in reality it's conceptually no different that any of us who run a household budget. We all have mandatory expenditures, we all have discretionary expenditures, and we all have to look at ways of saving money when costs go up faster than our income. What bothers me is that while we make the tough decisions for our home budgets, politicians seem to think they are above such nonsense when it comes to the public's money.

The Dunmore fairy tale continues: services can be maintained without raising taxes and there are no substance abusers needing treatment.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

From the Pennsyltucky File

This would be tough to wrap.

Not In My Backyard, Part 2

Yes, the compassion in NEPA flows like still water on a 17 degree day. First we have Dunmore declaring that a Methadone Clinic isn't welcome in, of all places, an industrial park; not to be out-done, further south Sugar Notch declares that the homeless are not welcome in a church.

Sugar Notch NIMBY Story Link Here.

Apparently there are no addicts in Dunmore and there are no homeless in Sugar Notch.

Anyway, when I think about both stories I'm reminded of what I learned in high school religion class (yes, I actually paid attention), specifically from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, verse 40:

"...whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "

Not In My Backyard

Well, Dunmore Borough Council...the medical experts that they are...decided that there was no need for a Methadone clinic in their town.

Story Link Here.

Now someone could retort by saying "Steve, you idiot, they simply said it can't be located in the Industrial Park!", to which I'd respond: "Trust me, there is NO WHERE in Dunmore where they would allow this clinic to be located". This vote WAS NOT about zoning/parking/ was about the maintaining the idyllic notion that substance abuse problems don't exist in a certain town. As a previous meeting, a Dunmore resident was quoted as saying "this should be located in Scranton", which pretty much sums the opposition up: not in my backyard.

This one's for you Gerry...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I Had A Good Laugh...

...reading a posting at another blog that ripped my last posting. I know, that sounds complicated, but read on.

I find very interesting is that the blogger didn't link to my original posting, but instead used it as subject matter for several hundred words of his own content (including select quotes from yours truly). Think about that: He felt my posting was so horrible that it warranted all that effort in response, but yet he didn't want anyone else to see the source for themselves. Boy, what I wrote must have been pretty, pretty bad!!!!

Now part of me wants to pick apart what was written about my content line by line. Why bother though? I'll let the critique stand on it's own merit. I will say this in response though: My purpose was to comment about why there is so much corruption in this area; it's not an accident that there have been nearly two dozen indictments in Luzerne County, so there must be something unique afoot. Anyone can of course disagree with me, but simply saying something along the lines of "there are bad people in Luzerne County government " doesn't offer an awful lot of insight.

Anyway, you can read the "critique" for yourself at this link. Say what you like about me, but I always credit others for their work, even when I disagree with it.

Blog on Mark...and I'm glad I was able to provide you with some inspiration.

2009 - Those I Wish To Thank

I really do like the whole "end of year reflection/planning for the new year" thing, as it fits in well with my in-bred German sense of order and organization. For me, this notion that we start January off with something of a tabula rasa is this kind of wonderful gift that life gives me each and every year. In keeping with that thought, I have a few Thank You reflections to offer; some names are omitted in order to protect the innocent, some are not.

Thank You to all those who helped keep me physically and mentally healthy in 2009. This includes my Dentist, Dr Charnitski from North Scranton, the guy who finally got me to realize that there is a direct connection between your dental health and your physical health. Special thanks for my dear friend Kay (from the O.C.) Crawford who both inspired me to get off my lazy ass and is always there to keep me mentally straight. It's a privilege to know you K.A.C.

Thank You to the service professionals who did great work for me while charging me a fair price. This includes my former neighbor Jason Torrisi, who is a hell of a plumber; the guys at the local Laser Lube who never rip me off & last but not least Phil Vullo and the crew at Vullo Motors who really came through in the clutch with all those November-December repairs on my Cruiser. If you are in the area and you are looking for an honest garage to deal with, check them out.

Thank You to all my friends on Facebook, as you have actually helped me be more of an open person. Interacting with other humans on a personal level has never been one of my strongest suits, so something like Facebook is nothing short of miraculous tool for an introverted tool like me. I should also note that it was my daughter Katrina who insisted that I get a Facebook page in the first place. Thanks Trini-Bug. Social Media proves that the Internet is more than just porn and shopping.

Thank You to whatever higher power exists in the Universe for giving me the gift of life and the ability to ask a good question or two. While I have more questions about faith than I have answers, when pushed to the limit it's hard for me to believe that all of this that surrounds us was the result of some giant cosmic "brain fart".

Thank You, last but not least, to my daughters, Katrina, Korin and Rebecca for giving me a higher purpose in my life. I love you ladies more than words can ever describe, even when you are highly dramatic.

Finally, I can't think of a better way to end this post than with "Thank You"by Alanis Morissette.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What's Wrong With Us?

What's wrong with us in Northeastern Pennsylvania?

Arguable, Luzerne County is probably one of the most corrupt political sub-divisions in the nation, with almost two dozen public officials accused of criminal activity. Among the two dozen are two senior judges who sent kids to jail in exchange for kick-backs from for-profit jails. Also among the two dozen we find a County Commissioner who apparently didn't realize that taking money from someone in exchange for a vote constituted bribery. Looking forward to 2010 there is little doubt that there will be at least one indictment of a Lackawanna County official, if not more.

I could go on, but if you have been following the news you probably already know all the details.

Now in case you've never left "the valley", this is not the way things are everywhere. My most favorite example is as follows: I travel to Dubuque, Iowa on company business a few times a year. Like City of Scranton, the City of Dubuque also televises City Council meetings, which I tried to watch once. Note the word "tried". Why "tried"? Well I chose that word because the Dubuque meeting was boring....yes, boring. It was filled with procedural stuff and citizens asking reasonable questions about zoning, pending legislation, etc. You see, while I consider myself to be at least somewhat enlightened, having actually lived outside "the valley" for several years, even in my head I expected city council meetings everywhere to be the same circus that appears every Tuesday evening in Scranton. This is the same circus that consists of 3 minute sermons on everything from pending legislation to the latest happenings on Parrot Avenue to proclamations of indictment for a sitting Mayor who (to the best of my knowledge) has yet to even get a parking ticket.

So again I ask myself the following question: What's Wrong With Us?

I actually have pondered this very question, although I can't claim any revelations in terms of answers. At best I have a few observations, coming from someone born here, but who has both lived outside the area and traveled at least a bit. Here's my best shot:

  1. Insulation - I'm not talking about the stuff that surrounds your pipes and prevents them from freezing in January. No, this insulation comes from a generational tendency to not really want to see or understand what happens outside one's own little patch, borough or township. I'm simply convinced that there are many in NEPA who simply don't care what happens in the rest of the world. Why does that matter? not looking outward many simply have no perspective...they believe that the way it's done here is the way it's done everywhere. "Of course the indicted School Board Director should be elected Board President; what's wrong with that? Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in this country."
  2. Lack of Opportunity - Government is seen in NEPA as a driver of employment. Now that's not unique to NEPA, but what I think is unique is that, unlike say that town near the Air Force Base (where the DoD is the employer), government at all levels here is seen as an employer of choice. Whether it's the 23 year old Housing Inspector or the School Board Director who "magically" gains employment as a full-time teacher (both real examples, by the way), people view a government job as the thing to have. Why? Because we have had generations who could only find marginal employment outside of government. It's my belief that our Economic Development officials have failed us over the years. Yes, there have been some successes, and in fact I owe my private-sector employment (at least in part) to an economic development success of SLIBCO, but the successes have been far and few between. Want a real-world example? My sister-in-law, upon graduation from college (with a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting) , got a job as a Bank Auditor (at a "name changed to protect the not-so-innocent" local bank), earning around $14,000/year for a job that would have paid double that in any other market. "Why pay them more? This is NEPA after-all; people are used to working for less."
  3. Apathy - Because people work harder for less in NEPA, I genuinely believe that some are simply too tired to care. I know, that sounds way too harsh, but I've seen and heard it. "It's always been done that way here in the coal region."
  4. Blind Obedience To Authority - Related to apathy, people in NEPA are accustomed to being obedient. Whether it's the Assistant DAs in Wilkes-Barre not questioning a judge who didn't allow a juvenile access to an attorney or good church-going folks who defended a Catholic Bishop who told them to ignore the teachings of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, many folks in this area are simply conditioned to blindly follow any authority figure in front of them. Apparently some residents of NEPA never got the memo about adults having the ability to use logic to discern fact from fiction, obedience from faith. "Either obey Bishop Martino or stop calling yourself a Catholic!".

By the way, I'm not implying that every local government employee crooked and I'm not questioning those who exercise their faith. I am, however, strongly questioning the notion that we should never question. In the end, that's 75% of the problem here, and it's the sum total of what I've noted above.

Road Apples, #53

In The Anti-Gluttony Department - My crusade against not eating like a starved swine continues to go well, with Thursday's weigh-in showing a total loss of about 17 pounds. Now I didn't do all that great yesterday, but as my former Dietitian used to say, "Steve, you can have a holiday, just don't make it a holiweek", which is pretty good advice. On the plus side, my clothes are fitting better and I'm not really all that hungry. I know that the balance of the holidays will be a challenge, what with stuff like cookies laying around, but I'll do my best. As I've told myself time and time again, this isn't about dieting, it's about eating better for the long haul.

In The "Only Microsoft Would Think This Is Okay" Department - It seems that netbooks shipped with the new MS Windows 7 (Starter) operating system don't allow users to change the desktop background. Instead, the desktop has a fixed background that consists of a Microsoft logo. Lest you think I'm making this up, here's the skinny directly from the evil empire itself. Yes, to get the ability to actually change your background, you need to upgrade to a higher version of Win7. Somehow I'm thinking the crew at MS just doesn't see just how bad that one looks. Now as I understand it, there are technical reasons for having a fixed wallpaper on the 7 Starter edition, but why plaster a MS logo? Why not simply have it a single color?

In The Technology Department - I'm writing his on a new Gateway netbook that Santa was kind enough to provide. Making matters even better, it's running Windows XP, so I can actually change my background (which I did, to a lovely 'Dunder Mifflin Paper Company' graphic). I'm still using my Sony Vaio, but its ultimate fate is to be determined, as it's running Windows Vista but is dramatically bogged down with a virus that even Microsoft could not solve via on-line support. My options include buying Windows XP for it or maybe changing the operating system to Linux. It's a great machine with a terrific display, so I will end up using it somehow.

Time Off - My extended holiday vacation continues through next Thursday. Now that I'm mobile again (having had the car repaired for hopefully the last time in the near future) I actually feel a little less stressed and more like actually trying to enjoy myself. Here's to hoping that everyone out there also has a restful, enjoyable holiday.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pennsylvania's Government: We fight drugs and vice, well unless we get a piece of the action!

I find the table games gambling debate in Harrisburg both fascinating and sad.

Fascinating because our "leaders" are engaged in this intricate dance about table games, debating and arguing, but it's all for naught: table games will come, the state will get its cut, and legislators will get more WAM to buy re-election (I mean to dispense to worthy local projects).

Sad because this is yet again another example of a government that is at best two-faced when it comes to vice & drugs; at worst I'd describe Pennsylvania's legal endorsement of gambling and the twin drugs of alcohol (where the state has a monopoly on certain sales) & nicotine as being engaged in organized crime. For example...

...when Tony Soprano collects a cut from a poker-table at a hotel in the Poconos it's called "illegal"

...when Eddie Rendell and the members of the Legislature collect a cut from table games in various Pennsylvania casinos, it's called "revenue"

In both cases, it's still gambling, right? What makes one "illegal" while the other is considered "revenue"?

As for drugs, anyone who thinks that alcohol and nicotine aren't drugs needs their head examined. They are both very, very powerful drugs. Nicotine addiction has been described as being as powerful as that of various opiates. I guess it's a good thing that they don't dispense Methadone as a treatment for smoking, as the residents of Dunmore would be screwed. Not to be outdone, alcohol addition affects as many as 14 million Americans. We all know this stuff, but sometimes we kid ourselves into thinking that somehow how nicotine and alcohol are "different" than other drugs; let's be intellectually honest for a moment: they are not. The ONLY thing different in this case is that as a course of history & tradition, the government has decided that THESE DRUGS are somehow acceptable.

All of the above does beg a valid question though: if Pennsylvania can make revenue from gambling and some drugs, why not end the hypocrisy and simply legalize all vice? Let's open 6 regional Crystal Meth labs (two in Bradford County) and impose a 25% tax on the sale. Let's legalize betting on all sports and open parlors in the casinos. Let's open Opium dens in all the major cities and charge a $25 entrance feel. Why not?

Now for the record, I don't smoke, I only very occasionally drink (and then it's just a glass of wine), I don't gamble and I've never tried an illegal drug. Maybe my attitude is too Puritanical. However I am very fond of personal responsibility, so if someone else has a vice, then that's their problem, as long as it doesn't negatively impact me. I also know that some vices don't automatically lead to terrible consequences: some people enjoy gambling every once in a while, some folks can drink in moderation and some may actually enjoy a recreational drug every now and then and not be seriously impacted. My point though is that we are allowing Pennsylvania's government to become this bizarre peddler of vice and viewing it through this sanitized, amoral lens, as if there were not ever any other consequences (as long as the government is involved). The fact is that when government becomes involved in vice, it simply pushes out other middle-men.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Is Health Care a Right?

In American, we have a "right" to free speech. In fact it says so right in the U.S. Constitution:

1st Amendment - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The Constitution also defines other rights in other sections (such as the right to bear arms, trial by jury, etc.).

So some who view themselves as strict Constitution constructionists could argue that no such federal right to Health Care exits. But the argument about Health Care is broader than simply the reading of a document, and our society in fact couldn't function in this day and age if it's only guide were the constitution. For example, our Founding Fathers never considered the subtleties brought on by things like the Internet and thermonuclear weapons, and so their use has to be guided via an interpretation of the Constitution (Free Speech/Press & National Defense, respectively). While a mental dolt such as myself was able to make something of a connection between two modern things and the Constitution right off the top of my head, the issue of Health Care is a bit tougher.

Yes, I guess the cheap and easy way to approach this would be to tie Health Care of that well worn phrase in the Preamble "...promote the general welfare...", where welfare (as a word) refers to...

1. the good fortune, health, happiness, prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organization; well-being: to look after a child's welfare; the physical or moral welfare of society.
2. welfare work.
3. financial or other assistance to an individual or family from a city, state, or national government: Thousands of jobless people in this city would starve if it weren't for welfare.
4. (initial capital letter) Informal. a governmental agency that provides funds and aid to people in need, esp. those unable to work.


But again, I don't know that this really answers the question. "Welfare" is just too squishy of a noun, and "promote" isn't a very strong verb.

So all this blabbering on my part and I still don't have an answer yet as to whether or not Health Care is a right. Of course I am not done though, because in my mind the Constitution was never intended to be the country's owner's manual, instead it more like a "guide to getting started". In some ways it's like your parents: they set black and white rules for you (if you steal you will go to jail), they let you go off and do things and if you make a mistake, they provide feedback (the judicial systems role in interpretation of the law). It also helps to define us as a people, which is where I think the answer lies to the Health Care right question.

In defining us as a people, the Constitution has evolved into a document that removes artificial barriers between people: the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 15th Amendment ended racial differences at the polling place, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, the 26th Amendment gave those who are 18 the right to vote. Given all of this, do we want to believe that a barrier should exist for something as basic as access to life-saving care? Is that less important than, say, allowing someone 18 to vote?

So by my estimation, you can almost infer a "right" to Health Care in spirit/sense of the Constitution. But again, that's simply not enough.

To really answer this question, you have to look beyond simply legal documents and view our society as we would like to be viewed by others. A hallmark of the American society are the notions of charity and forgiveness. It was those things (among others) that drove us to lead in the reconstruction of Germany and Japan after World War II. On a more micro level, these notions drive millions of small, individual acts performed by all of us all of the time. We want to be good as a people and we want do good as a people.

Maybe that last sentence nails it for me: "We want to be good as a people and we want do good as a people." As a society we can't be good if we exist knowing that some among us are dying simply for lack of basic medical that is nothing more than a taken-for-granted afterthought by the affluent. We can't do good conscience...if we know that some among us suffer and die because they don't have access to reasonable medical care; simply making the effort would be hypocrisy of the worst kind ("here, let me give you this donation to your foundation, right after I step over the dying child in the gutter").

So Health Care may not be a legal right, but it does seem to me to be a societal obligation. All the wonderful legal rights we enjoy mean far, far less if we chose to live in a society where things like compassion, fairness and charity don't exist. Why bothering telling someone that they have "free speech" when they are busy dying from a treatable illness? What's the point in having a "free press" if the older among us go blind due to treatable cataracts?

One final thought: In my mind, Health Care is a societal obligation, but it is also a personal obligation as well. Some of the left-side of the debate seem to forget this. Having great Health Care means nothing if someone abuses their health. In essence Health Care is a shared obligation between ourselves as how we chose to live healthy lives...and our society as a whole...which has a vested interest in ensuring that everyone has the ability to enjoy the legal rights we enjoy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Culture of Thin

Actress Britney Murphy, who I couldn't pick out of a crowd by the way, recently died, apparently of natural causes. Now while that's certainly tragic for her family and fans, I think there is another story here, alluded to in an MSNBC article. You can link it it here.

According the "The Scoop", there is at least some speculation that the late Ms Murphy may have suffered from an eating disorder that could have contributed to her death, a-la the late (and incredibly talented) Karen Carpenter. If this is the case, then it does give you pause to think about what drives people to such extremes. Surely, there are mental health issues at work, but I think here is also a far more broad, almost cultural issue at play, namely our obsession over weight.

Ironic, isn't it? Just about the fattest nation on Earth has this obsession with physical perfection that includes as part of it's definition the notion that there is no such thing as too thin. You hear the stories all the time about models who, already at healthy weights, being told that they are "too fat". As the father of three girls I can tell one and all from first-hand experience that weight pressures, especially on young girls, are incredible these days. Making matters worse is that this "culture of thin" isn't really supported by our eating infrastructure; think about it: you go to a fast-food restaurant and they ask you if you want to "super-size" your meal. You don't need to be brilliant to see the conflict that exists today between how we define beauty and how our society's rabid desire for consumption (be it cars, clothes or cheeseburgers).

I write this as someone who has struggled his adult life with weight issues. As I've noted before, over the past ten years my weight as been as high as 262 lbs and as low as 211 lbs. Right now I'm squarely in the middle of that, thankfully on a healthy but down-ward trend. Even I though can sense the pressures and see how people succumb to an obsession over eating and being thin. As I've tried to eat less and eat better, I sometimes have to remind myself that it's okay to eat. If I, as a dopey middle-aged guy feel this way, I can't imagine what the feelings must be like for actress in Hollywood.

In the end, this just proves, once again, that Americans love a good contradiction. Whether it's our...
  • Democracy where we don't actually get to vote for President (we vote for electors that vote for President)
  • Drinking laws (you can die for your country at 18 but can't drink until you are 21)
  • Twisted notion of what's proper on TV (you can show someone getting violently shot to death at 9pm, but don't dare show a nipple)
  • Drug laws (we "approve" of the drugs alcohol and nicotine, but we disapprove of marijuana and others)
  • Down-right bizarre insistence at sports hero-worship (hell, being a football hero even got someone elected county commissioner...well until there was that little bribery thing)
  • Money as "free speech" political system (if Rush Limbaugh is right and campaign contributions are really just an expression of free speech, doesn't that mean that his speech is "free-er" than mine, as he can contribute more than I can?)
...we are awash in mixed messages. It's just a shame that sometimes these mixed-messages actually seem to cause real, personal harm.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Plastic Jesus & Perspective


That's a hell of a headline. Now given that, just what are some of the residents of Luzerne County actually protesting? Judges that send kids to work-camps in order to get kick-backs? A District Attorney who turned a blind eye to the actions of the previously noted judges? A county commissioner who was apparently ignorant as to the definition of bribery? Nope.

Plastic Jesus.

Yes, people are protesting the removal of a plastic Jesus from the county courthouse. Now to be fair, it's just just plastic Jesus that was removed: it was the entire Nativity scene and a Menorah. I actually like a well constructed Nativity scene. I also happen two own a plastic Menorah as well (see above).

So what's the problem? Well the problem lies in the fact that what Luzerne County had was a display that consisted almost entirely of the Nativity and Menorah. To me that looks like the Luzerne County government supporting/advocating a particular set of religious beliefs (namely those that are Jewish or Christian). The local government exists to serve all the residents of the county...those that are Agnostic, Atheistic, Hindu, Buddhist, Religiously Confused, Sikhs, Muslims, Zoroastrians, etc. IN ADDITION to those that are Jewish and Christian.

The solution to this problem is simple, and was noted by an ACLU lawyer who I heard speak on the Steve Corbett/WILK show: simply add things to the display so that it's not just a Jewish/Christian display but is in fact a holiday display.

So this holiday season let's keep things in perspective: evil judges & corrupt officials present far more of a problem to the residents of Luzerne County than does the temporary removal of some plastic on public grounds.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bob Morgan as a replacement for Greg Skrepenak?

The blog 'Scranton Guardian' linked to an article in the about how Bob Morgan has the inside track as a possible replacement for Greg "I didn't know that bribery was illegal" Skrepenak, who is now probably wondering how he got himself into this mess in the first place*. Anyway, I'll look for Gort and others with far more political savvy to dissect this in greater detail, but I did want to mention give it mention.

Why? As I mentioned a few months back, I actually knew Bob Morgan when he worked for Prudential Retirement. In fact, I believe that he was something of my replacement when I left the world of account management to purse the far more exciting world of separate account asset-to-liability proofs (I am being sarcastic...but that whole episode is a story in and of itself). Back in those days, Bob was a well known and well liked guy. Hell, he may still be. But getting back to the history lesson, the Bob Morgan of those days was well known mainly for two things:
  • His very professional sounding voice; in fact, we used to call him "the voice of Prudential" because he did so much voice-over work for the company. Going back to October-ish, the moment I heard one of his commercials for Controller, I knew that was the Bob I knew. Voices like that don't grow on trees.
  • His fairly conservative leanings. Not show how that worked out, as Bob ran as a Democrat, but that's okay...there are plenty of conservative Democrats out there.
Bob back then was a very decent guy who was smart, loved his family, and always seem to try and do what was best. Now I'll confess that I haven't followed his career since the mid-90's, so who knows what has happened; remember, we are talking about Luzerne County here, where there must be something in the political water that breeds graft like bacteria in a Mexican well. Being an optimist, I'm going to hope that the Bob Morgan of today is a lot like the Bob Morgan of yesterday...all be it with less hair.

So good luck Bob, for if this whole story comes true, I have a feeling that you will need it.

(*) Here's a free hint for Skrep-Daddy: in spite of what he was told during his years of grid-iron success, being a football hero prepares you for one...and only one...thing: playing or coaching more football. It no more prepares you for political leadership than Dungeons & Dragons prepares you for a military career.

Representative Smith Knows Who Votes

Representative Ken Smith has apparently found a way to appease the NIMBY crowd in Dunmore (where apparently no one suffers from narcotics additions) by suggesting that there should be an immediate moratorium on new Methadone clinics across all of Pennsylvania.

Link Here.

Call me a cynic, but the following things come to mind:
  • Rep Smith is not exactly the "star performer" of his class in the Legislature.
  • Rep Smith is regularly getting skewered for being behind in his property taxes at Smith's Restaurant (a great place to eat, by the way). He once (in)famously blamed his wife for the accounting lax. Smooth.
  • Rep Smith knows that the crowd that opposes the Methadone clinic is loud.
Throwing logic and proportion to "sloppy dead" (with apologies to Jefferson Airplane's great song "White Rabbit"), what better cover to oppose an unpopular drug rehabilitation clinic than to say "we need to study them all?". What better way to get some positive PR from a loud crowd and alienate who? A bunch of dope-fiends? Hell, do "those people" even vote anyway? Besides, asking the Pennsylvania Legislature (a body known across the universe for gross inefficiency, graft, and general disregard for anything that doesn't enhance the re-election on incumbents) to study anything is like asking someone to go on a scenic cruise to Somalia: just not a good idea.

Look, I'm a realist. I know that having a Methadone clinic in a residential neighborhood is not a great thing, which is why the one proposed would be located in an Industrial Park. I also realize that many who oppose this clinic are probably acting out of ignorance than anything else, their minds filled with visions of 70's cop shows like Kojak, where drug-addicts litter gutters and steal fruit. But I also try to use logic to think there things through; and a logical place to start would be to look at where a clinic like this already operates and evaluate its "threat" based upon that review. Lucky for us a similar clinic already exists in Wilkes-Barre, where again (as I understand it) there have been very few problems.

In case this hasn't been loud and clear enough, I think a Methadone clinic located in an industrial park near the interstate is a great idea. There are drug-addicts in this area. There are drug-addicts in Dunmore. The people who would use the services of this clinic are people who want to get off of drugs. The clinic can be structured such that there is no loitering allowed. What's the harm here?

Let me answer that last question: the harm is to the idyllic vision that some folks have of their home town. They don't want to believe that there is a need for this; and if there is a need, it probably exists someplace else, you know like in Scranton. These folks use things like traffic studies and legislative action as excuses to oppose this clinic when the real reason is that it simply offends this idyllic vision of Dunmore that has never really existed anyway. How very sad, for both them and their communities.

As a final note, someone could respond to this posting by saying: "Dear Idiot, would you want a Methadone Clinic next to your house?". Fair enough. The problem is that I live near a school (JFK Elementary in Scranton), not an industrial park. Locating such a clinic in a residential area does create a few legitimate issues of concern, but that's not the case here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

$aved by Fundamentally Oral Bill

Televangelist Oral Roberts died this past Tuesday in California. While I'll save any comments about his methods (600 ft Jesus visions, Jesus "calling home unless you pay up", etc.), I couldn't let this pass without noted the best commentary ever of Oral Roberts: Namely the time that cartoon feline Bill the Cat became a televangelist named named "Fundamentally Oral Bill".

I actually had a "$aved by Fundamentally Oral Bill" tee shirt in the last 80's. See the bottom left of the above tee shirt quilt.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

$25 vs. $75,000

Interesting article in today's Scranton Times regarding the on-going medical care saga at the Lackawanna County Prison. Link here.

Here's a key line for me:

Meanwhile, the commissioners and county controller's office approved paying $114,083 to Correctional Care to cover hospital bills, $75,000 of which was paid without receipts to back up the payment.

Want to know one of the differences between the bubble-world of county government and the private sector? I need to provide a detailed receipt (that includes who was paid, how they were paid, date paid, etc.) for any expense I incur of $25 or more. Apparently you can do business with Lackawanna County and the receipt threshold is, shall we say, "somewhat higher".

Now this whole mess would border on the laughable if it were not for the more serious nature of the underlying problem: namely that service being provided is very important. I know, I know, there are some out there that have the "they are in jail, screw'm" mentality, but I disagree. Not everyone in Lackawanna County jail is a hardened criminal, and regardless, no one should have to suffer without proper medical care...especially when the taxpayers are in theory paying for it.

This one doesn't steer my vote towards Corey O'Brien for Congress.

Monday, December 14, 2009

3 Sentences on "Too Big To Fail"

  1. Too Big To Fail is more about pandering than regulation.
  2. Too Big To Fail is scary: why trust the government to decide what's too big to fail in the first place (isn't the federal government the ultimate example of "too big to fail" itself?).
  3. Too Big To Fail takes away from a real issue: namely the fact that the financial services industry has been allowed far too much self-regulation.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Various Contradictions

"Military Intelligence" is one of those famous contradictions that is often spouted, but I am seeing more and more of late. Some examples:

Fast Food Nutritional Information
I've been working on eating better lately (and it's been fairly successful), but there is just something blindly contradictory about a fast food place having nutritional information. While not technically "fast" (or maybe even "food"), a great example can be found on the T.J. Cinnamon website. Yes, a pecan sticky bun has a total of 2026 calories (yes, that's per bun). Not to be outdone, I had to look up the calories for that Pizza Hut sandwich I had for lunch, which happened to be 640. I stripped the cheese off the bun, so I scored it at 625.

Rolling Stone's 100 Best of 00
The current incarnation of Rolling Stone has an issue out that lists the "best songs of the 00 decade". As side note/tirade, I remember when Rolling Stone was actually a larger publication that mainly covered rock/metal/alternative/pop. Now it's about 80% rap/R&B/hip-hop, etc. Anyway, I can think about 10 decent songs over the past 9 years. Maybe.

Social Conservative
Okay, this isn't so much a contradiction by name as it is by definition. In my view, a conservative is someone who stands for self-reliance, limited government intrusion, limiting taxes and spending, etc. How then do we reconcile the notion that some conservatives want the government to intrude into the most personal aspects of our lives through things like legislating morality? It's not just being anti-gay, it's about being against virtually any personal choice that runs counter to a specific (evangelical Christian) religious code. So that individual who stands for limited government, low taxes, personal responsibility, etc. can't truly be "conservative" in some eyes because he may do something in his bedroom that others may find offensive. Score one for contradictions.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Brian Kelly Jumps Ship to Notre Dame


I know, that's harsh, but consider this: Coach Kelly will be leaving No.3 ranked Cincinnati before their January Sugar Bowl appearance.

What's the message here? Well as I see it's one of greed and prestige meaning more than loyalty for a bunch of college kids who you coach. I realize that Coach Kelly wants to be at Notre Dame as soon as possible to start recruiting, but his current players deserve to have their coach on-hand when they end a remarkable season.

There is a lot of talent among the Cincinnati players, but apparently that talent isn't matched by the integrity and loyalty of the head coach.

Here's to hoping that the Cincinnati players go out and kick-butt in the Sugar Bowl, just to send a big "F.U." to Brian Kelly.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

From the Pennsyltucky File

A Hamlin, Pennsylvania burglar stole $3,000 worth of cigarettes early this morning.

Story Link Here.

Personally I think the story has a kind of "funny/sad" aspect to it.

Actually this gives me an excuse to create a "Pennsyltucky" label. I have to give credit to a former co-worker, Shannon Johnston, for cluing me into the word "Pennsyltucky". While I hate to admit it, sometimes my home state is more rural than I'd like to admit; sure we have our oasis of culture here and there, but damn there is an awful lot of "backward-ass" going on.

As for the 3,000 cigarette thief, well I really, really hope he/she is planning on selling them on the black-market. The alternative is, well, really frightening.

Tiger Woods: Great Golfer, Mac Daddy or Both?

I love the Urban Dictionary. I found it one day while trying to figure out what just what something I heard on the radio meant. I am not going to mention the term, as I try and keep this stuff "PG Rated" but suffice to say I was enlightened. Anyway, another term I found a definition for in the Urban Dictionary is that of "Mac Daddy". My favorite entry for the term? Why that would be...

"Mac Daddy" or Mack Daddy, is a term used to describe a man with an unusual power over women,

...and so we have Tiger Woods who, at last count, was cavorting with at least 13 different women, if you count his wife.

Now let me say this: I fully understand the fact that not everyone is in an ideal marriage, and that sometimes people have needs for attention, affection, friendship, support, caring, etc. that they can not find within the confines of an existing relationship. Being in a marriage like that is no doubt torture, but that's a different issue than what I think the situation is with Tiger Woods.

Is Tiger Woods in a bad marriage? I don't fact none of us can know. However, there is one, ever-so-slight clue that tells us something about the nature of his extra-marital relationships: Namely that there have been about 12 of them, some apparently happening simultaneously.

No, it appears that Tiger Woods has had his harem for reasons that seem a bit more simple than those complexities founds in a difficult marital relationship: he did it simply because he could. Why else would there be 12 of them? Actually I suspect that there are probably even more than 12. Why stop there? I am not judging Tiger Woods as an person, husband or golfer. I don't know him and I stink at golf, so by my logic I am unqualified to stand in judgment of him or his actions. I do know this tough: seeming to have it fame, a beautiful wife, a nice house, etc. apparently were not enough to make Tiger Woods happy. That says as much about the nature of fame and money as it does anything else.

What happens next? I have no clue, but I'll no doubt stay interested, as I think this is a fascinating case to follow. I do know this though: as the late, great Dr Hunter S. Thompson once observed, "(you) buy the ticket, take the ride". For Tiger Woods, the ride is only just beginning.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Lou Barletta

Picture this: you are the mayor of a small city in Pennsylvania's Anthracite coal mining region. Municipal revenues are down, the economy isn't producing jobs, the costs of providing city services keeps going up and your population is on a steady decline into oblivion. What do you do?

Well, if you are Lou Barletta, you start a crusade against illegal immigrants. Forget little "technicalities" such as:
  • That the closest international border to your city is hundreds of miles happens to be the U.S, Canadian border...and we haven't had too many problems with Canadians swimming Lake Erie to get here
  • Only the Federal Government can enforce immigration law anyway
  • The only growing segment of your city's population lies in the group you are trying your best to alienate
No, by starting this little crusade, you ensure that at least hard-working, narrow-minded white people will still like you. Oh, and those folks vote. Oh, and your little crusade will make you the darling on the modern-day version of the "Know Nothing" party set.

If I sound unnecessarily harsh in this post, then so be it. I have ZERO TOLERANCE in my life for racist swine, period. While I can't look into Mr Barletta's heart to know for certain that he is a racist, I can offer the following bit of evidence:

One of Mr Barletta's proposals was that landlords were to validate the citizenship of prospective tenants ("The act imposes a $1,000-per-day fine on any landlord who rents to an illegal immigrant" here). A landlord, "Bob" has an apartment to rent. Two prospective tenants approach him about the apartment...Carol (white, non-Hispanic) and Pedro (Hispanic). Now who is Bob more likely insist on seeing "papers" for? Hell, who is more likely to get the apartment, assuming that Bob is not even motivated enough (or scared of the $1000/day fine) to even want to see "papers"? How is that not racism in action?

I am not a fan of Paul Kanjorski, however the GOP needs to offer up something better than a race-baiter as an alternative.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Road Apples, #52

Winter...Is it me, or did winter just suddenly arrive last week? Now we have the next three and a half months to worry about snow, ice and all that other misery. Three words: "Warmer Climate Retirement".

Tiger Woods...No snarky comments, other than to simply note that playing a sophisticated game doesn't make you a sophisticated person. I am, however, shocked by the apparent number of "golf groupies" out there. Wait, maybe they are really "money groupies" instead.

On This 1980, John Winston Lennon was assassinated outside his apartment in New York City. I was at home at the time, getting ready for school (Bishop Hannan H.S.) at the time, and I remember hearing the news on Good Morning America. For many of us who are at a certain age, December 8, 1980 was the Day the Music Died. Rest in Peace Beatle John. In tribute, here is my favorite Lennon solo song...

So long ago, wasn't it a dream? Was it just a dream? It seemed so very real, seemed so real to me.

On The Work Front...Things are finally starting to slow down as the year winds down. That's a good thing. Quite frankly, I worked my ass off in 2009. While I always strive to work hard and do my best, sometimes the cost is far too high.

On The Health Front...I'm continuing to watch what I eat and exercise 6 days a week. The results so far have been pretty positive in that I'm sleeping far better and a few other physical problems has diminished as my weight as diminished as well. The most important thing is that I'm not doing anything now that I couldn't do for the rest of my life. Here's to staying healthy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Magellan Quote

"The Church says the Earth is Flat,
But I know that it is Round,
For I have seen the Shadow On the Moon,
And I have more Faith in a Shadow Than in the Church."

- Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521)

I know, this could be viewed as being anti-religious, but I disagree. What's more, I am a firm believer that religion and science can coexist, as long as religion sticks to matters of faith and science sticks to matters of logic and reasoning.

"Too Big To Fail"

"Too big to fail" is the phrase being used by some in Washington D.C., including NEPA Congressman Paul Kanjorski, to justify the possibility of the government forcing the break-up of large financial services companies. It's a smoke-screen designed to deflect from poor regulation and virtually zero accountability. Don't buy it for a minute.

Some large financial services companies (such as AIG) were given enormous government bailouts because of the "blind eye" system of regulation that exists in the financial services industry. It's the same system where the "blind eye" was turned away from Bernie Madoff as he stole billions from his customers. Now, since the federal government has failed in it's system of allowing the financial services industry to regulate itself (which it does, by the essence the federal government has allowed the fox to manage the hen-house all these decades), some in government want to shift the blame away from themselves through sloganeering like "too big to fail".

Conceptually this stuff isn't so hard: simply set standards for conduct and risk management and enforce them. Of course the enforcement shouldn't come from the industry being regulated, so this notion of the SEC "outsourcing" part of its responsibilities to FINRA needs to be examined. I'm not claiming that there isn't a rule in the industry for self-regulation, but clearly there was a massive failure of oversight when it came to AIG, Madoff, etc.

The real answers to these problems are more complex than simply "too big to fail". Some companies (including the one I work for) did not take any federal bailout money and have actually done rather well this year. Why should my firm be under the threat of "too big to fail" if it has done the right things relative to risk management and its customers?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fear & Loathing In The Kitchen: My Twisted Eating Saga

I've been making a concerted effort, since the beginning on November actually, to watch what I eat and actually commit to exercising on a regular basis. Why? Well as I've noted before, I have twisted relationship with my health in general and my weight specifically. Over the past ten years my weight as been as high as 260 and as low as 211 (and I'm 6'3.5" for the record). While I'm not going to quote any numbers at the moment, I will note that I've lost about 11 pounds since November 3rd. That's good, but not for the obvious reason.

It's All Mental

I once lost about 50 pounds the right way, namely through diet and exercise. It didn't, however, stay off. In retrospect, I couldn't keep the weight off because I had the wrong motivation. At the time, a member of my immediately family was going through some horrible health problems, and it seemed that so much of that impacted me greatly, yet there was nothing I could really do to impact that situation. What to do? I just seemed to mentally say to myself "well, if you can't get them healthy...if you have no control over that situation...then you might as well find something at you can control", which in my case was my own weight and eating. So there you have it, the Instant Karma of weight loss. Anyway, all-be-it convoluted logic in hand, I proceeded to work with a dietitian and lost the 60 pounds simply by exercise and limiting myself to about 1700 calories a day. In addition to the weight loss itself, there was one other benefit: I was at my lowest weight for my 20th high school reunion. What a score: not only did I have almost all my hair in tact, but I actually was fairly trim to boot.

So what went wrong? As I've noted before, I learned how to lose weight, but I wasn't motivated to keep it off. Over time, the weight crept back on as my eating habits slowly deteriorated. In retrospect, had I had the right motivation, I probably would have kept the weight off. Hindsight being 20/20, I'm not going to cry over what happened; I gained much of the 50 pounds back, and my health once again began to suffer.

Hitting Rock Bottom

I don't know that I actually hit rock bottom recently, but I did come to some kind of realization that I was slowly committing suicide via eating. Now there is something ironic for you: a guy who has had members of his family suffer from severe mental health problems, a guy who always seemed to have his "$hit together", a guy who could be counted on to be calm in the face of adversity was severely messed up in the head. Think about it: I would eat to the point of making myself ill, but yet I kept doing it. I would eat that cereal at 10 pm knowing that it was bad for my acid reflux, bad for my weight, made me generally feel like crap, but yet I would still do it. I really didn't seem to care.

What was wrong? I am really note entirely sure, but I do have some ideas. I do know that I've been under a tremendous amount of stress this past year at work. That's not a great excuse, but it has the benefit of being basically true. I also know that I have a lot of other stresses in my life, but yet none were worse than others face on daily basis. More than anything else, I think it was yet another form of internal rebellion: I knew what I should be doing to protect and enhance my health, but yet I loathed the thought of being "controlled" by having to eat right. I hate the notion of being controlled. When you deal with family members that suffer from mental health issues, you learn to absolutely, positively HATE that feeling of circumstances being out of your control and in fact controlling you. You deal with individuals who you just want to grab by shoulders and scream "suck it up God D^%$-It!" because somehow YOU manage to deal with reality every day. Yet the sum total of those they of helplessness or being controlled by circumstances...take a horrible toll. I felt spent and void. I still do, at times, feel spent and void. So much seems to have come out of me, but yet so little goes back in.

Making Turns

I promised myself earlier this year that, if I ever decided to better manage my weight again, it would be at time when I could look myself in the mirror and know I was doing something for the right reasons. I had to be in a position where the motivation wasn't one of displaced anger, or some strange longing for control while the universe around me spiraled out of control. I don't know if I am really "there", as in fact I suspect that I will always harbor some mental baggage from my life struggles. We all carry that baggage anyway.

At the beginning of the month, a dear friend of mine began some medical challenges that I'm not even going to allude to, as that would be unfair to them. For some strange reason it just came to me that if this person could go through this, I could at least stop trying to eat myself to death. I know, more third party displacement, but it's not as if the thoughts were not already in my head anyway. Regardless, I decided to do four things:

1. Figure out the calories/day that I needed to lose, maintain, gain weight.
2. Make a concerted effort honestly count the calories that I ate every day.
3. Try to normally eat enough calories that I would gradually lose weight over time.
4. Become more active.

I also made myself a promise: that I would, from this time forward, actually LISTEN TO and ACT ON what my body told me about eating. Before I put anything in my mouth I was going to ask myself if I was actually hungry.

So far, things have been going well. In addition to eating better, I'm sleeping better, and a few other minor health concerns have noticeably changed for the better. I know I could screw up any moment now, but I also know that if I do screw up, that I can also make the decision to pick myself up, dust myself off, and try to do the right things again.

In The End

The one thing that stuck with me from my first adventure in losing weight is the simple fact that weight loss is much more of a mental exercise than it is a physical exercise. Two pieces of pie don't taste better than one piece of pie, so why over-do it? A coup of soup for me is just as filling as a hamburger, so why pick the hamburger?

I don't know if I will ultimately be successful in this round of trying to do right by my body, but as is implied by the title of this blog, for me it's always more about the journey than it is the destination anyway.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Lessons from The Godfather

I confess to being a big fan of The Godfather movies. I think I've seen Godfather I about a dozen times; Godfather II about a half dozen times and Godfather III about three times. What's amazing to me is how, over time, your perspective on the movies changes.

When I first saw The Godfather, I was much younger and being a young man, I was attracted to the whole "mafia" thing. Yes, the story seemed kind of long, and the wedding scene was boring, but seeing Connie's husband get beat-up by Sonny, seeing the horse head scene, etc., ...the all made up for it. As I grew older I began to see how parts of the movie that I simply glossed over before, such as the Johnny Fontaine scene during the wedding, were actually pretty entertaining ("Be a man!"). That phase, where I learned to appreciate the movies in their totality for entertainment value, lasted a while.

Over the past year, I think I've grown into a new appreciation of I, II, and III. I now see the moves through a much more complex lens, and a few things stand out:

Innocence Lost
In Godfather I, we see how Michael goes from this more or less detached (somewhat least in terms of the operation of "the family") college graduate and war hero to the de-facto head of the family. It's the circumstances around him...the assassination attempt on his father (by drug dealer Sollozzo), the murder of Sonny, his marriage in Sicily (and then the bombing death of his wife) that force the change in him. You can actually see the turn in Michael being made when he volunteers to kills both Sollozzo and crooked cop McCluskey. There is a telling scene in the movie where the Godfather tells Michael that he "never wanted this" for him, that instead he could have been "Senator Corleone". What innocence that Michael had was taken away from him, and he is left becoming something that was never supposed to be in his destiny.

In Godfather II, we see how the Godfather himself was just a child named Vito Andolini, innocent and (according to his mother) not so bright. The movie just barely touches on how this child goes from being just another kid (with a dead father, something that happened a lot in Sicily we learn) to his position leading a crime family. The sharp turns in his life, such as the death of his father, his hiding and immigration to America, his oppression at the hands of the local street Don and how he reacts to that oppression all shape his future. It's amazing really, these sharp turn I mean; it's as if you are looking at road map where you can see what's down the way from that fork in the road. Vito kills the local Don and then becomes the de-facto leader of his neighborhood. In II you also see the complete transformation of Michael from college kid/war hero into hardened Don. The capstone of the transformation, at least in my own mind, is the death of his brother Fredo. In a culture where family rules supreme, it takes a hardened man to order the death of his mentally-slow brother.

Godfather III is much tougher to watch. At first I thought it was just simply not as good of a screenplay, as you can't fault the acting (well I can fault George Hamilton's acting, but that's another point); I've come to the realization that part of what makes III tough to watch is the nature of the story: it's how the consequences of all those turns in his life result in Michael losing what seems to be the most important things in his life, including his daughter Mary. It's Mary that seems to embody Michael's ambitions for more of a legitimate existence, but yet Mary falls victim to the violence that always follows as a consequence of how Michael has chosen to live his life. In the end you are left with Michael as an old man, sitting in a chair in Sicily, where he dies all alone.

Great art, in my opinion, constantly challenges you... music, it's to hear the subtitles of the instrumentation (such really hearing that bass line for the first time or picking out the individual voices in a harmony) paintings, it's seeing some unforeseen detail or taking that step back and noticing something about the totality of the work that you missed before a story, it's seeing the layers built into the author's work and how those layers change the the very meaning of the experience

The Godfather movies are truly great art.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Follow-Up, (Scranton) Comedy Central

As a follow-up to yesterday's blog about Comedy Central's interest in Scranton City Council meetings (Times story link here), I was going through the reader comments attached to the story. Not too surprisingly, they seemed to be split along two lines:

1. This is an embarrassment for Scranton.

2. This is actually pretty funny.

Now I've long written about how the meetings really are embarrassing. In fact, I recall writing a blog about my experience watching a televised city council meeting for Dubuque, Iowa and actually founding it BORING! I mean it was all procedural, no one said anything funny, no one had to be escorted away from the podium by a uniformed police officer, etc. I had been Scranton-conditioned to believe that these kinds of meeting should be a display for the absolute worst of citizen "activism" (if that's what you generously want to call having mentally ill individuals ramble on for 5 minutes just so that they can be on television). So I guess you could say that I fall firmly into both camps: this is pretty embarrassing for Scranton, but on the same token there are some pretty funny moments (noting that some fall into the "sad-but-funny" category) to be had.

What to do?

The answer here is pretty simple: simply stop televising the citizen comment portion of the meeting. Yes, citizens absolutely do have a right to address city council with questions, comments, grievances, etc. They don't, however, have a right to do it on television. That's what you call an "extra". Now to respond to feedback that removing television coverage from citizen's participation would hinder the public's "right to know". I'd also suggest that council minutes be posted within 48 hours and be prominently displayed on Scranton's webpage. Anyone who takes the time to watch this lunacy could take the time to launch a pdf file from the city's homepage.

Making Scranton City Council meetings more business-like is not, to quote a certain frequent council speaker, 'ridickoolus'.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

(Scranton) Comedy Central

Some of us have been saying all along that the finniest show set in Scranton is not 'The Office', but rather the weekly airings of that reality show known as Scranton City Council meetings. Well apparently Hollywood got the word.

Article Here.

In case you are wondering what the fuss is all about, here's a sample ('Federal Attorney General'). Note the gentleman in the background wearing the "Legion of Doom" protest tee shirt.

YouTube Link

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

If We Have The Greatest Health Care System In The World Why...

...does every reasonable statistic I've found show the opposite?
(Source of data is the World Health Organization, unless otherwise noted)

Life Expectancy/Measure: At birth, as of 2007
U.S. = 78 years
U.K. = 80 years
Canada = 81 years
Japan = 83 years
France = 81 years
Comment - Maybe we are fatter than most. Wait, I've seen some fairly pudgy Canadians, so that can't be the only reason, ey.

Infant Mortality Rate/Measure: Per 1,000 live births, as of 2007
U.S. = 6 (actually 6.26, but I rounded down)
U.K. = 5
Canada = 5
Japan = 3
France = 3
Comment - I doubt even Bill Frist could defend this one. The overall statistic itself is pretty misleading as far as the United States is concerned, as the actual rate is substantially higher in certain urban centers, such as Washington DC. In our nation's capitol, 10.6 infants die for every 1,000 live births. Source here. Is that bad? Well Boznia has a a lower rate at 9.10, as does the Ukraine (8.98), Hungary (7.86) and Latvia (8.77). What's the source for this no-doubt "socialist" data? Why it's the CIA World Factbook. You can link to the infant mortality list here.

Given the none-too-stellar numbers noted above, you would think that the problem in the U.S. was one of spending, i.e. we simply don't send enough on heath care, right? Well that would be wrong.

Spending on Health Care/Measure: % of Gross Domestic Product, as of 2006
U.S. = 15.3%
U.K. = 8.2%
Canada = 10.0%
Japan = 8.1%
France = 11.0%

The Bottom Line
Many supposed conservatives pride themselves as being driven by facts, not the emotions that they berate as being the motivators behind "bleeding heart" liberals. Unfortunately, when it comes to any measure I've seen regarding the quality of health care, there are no facts that support the notion that the United States has anywhere near the best health care delivery system in the world. Well, I should qualify the last statement by noting that when it comes to access to specialists, the U.S. does lead most other's just that having the access to these specialists doesn't actually translate into any meaningful result (such as a higher life expectancy).

Look, people are going to believe what they want to believe. However, few things in life bother me more than blatant hypocrisy, and when it comes to the debate about health care reform, there is so much hypocrisy coming out of the conservative talking heads that if it were water, you would be able to dive head-first into it (and not suffer a traumatic head injury...which would be bad, especially in the United States). The facts about health care tell a simple story:

In the United States, we pay more but get less out of our health care system.

That's something which is virtually impossible to deny.

Monday, November 30, 2009

States "Rights", States "Wrongs" & Marijuana

I enjoy reading George F. Will's columns, even though I disagree with him often. You can find his column archive here. His latest column, entitled "Rocky Mountain High" can be found here. The aptly named column deals with the legalization of marijuana, and while I could talk about that issue at length (and I may in fact do just that...) it also spurred another thought in my head, namely that there are more than a few "states rights" conservatives who seem to let their "states rights" convictions be more fluid than solid.

Now to be fair to Mr Will, he didn't come out in say in the column that allowing states to regulate marijuana sales was wrong. However there was definitely an undercurrent of "states shouldn't be allowed to do this" to the piece, at least in how I read it this morning (while on the elliptical machine, sweating profusely I might add). It makes you wonder: if you support "states rights" as a general principle, then shouldn't you support the right to states to regulate something like marijuana sales?

Now the cheap-n-easy response to my last question would go something like this: "Listen Albert, you bleeding-heart hippie sympathizer, marijuana is a drug, plain and simple. What's more, it is a gateway drug, leading kids to try things that are far worse!". Now since I asked myself a question, I'm going to answer myself:

Marijuana as a drug: Yes, it is a drug. So are caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. How many pot-heads have killed people on the roads at last count after binging on massive amounts of ganja? Now compare that the numbers killed by users of that legal drug alcohol. The worst I've ever seen a pot-head do was make peas to eat at 1:30 in the morning.

Marijuana as a gateway drug: I love this argument, mainly because it's so blindly absurd. How about this: the vast majority of people that try marijuana probably tried cigarettes. Does that make cigarettes a "gateway drug", by extension, for crystal meth or crack?

The bottom lining this from my perspective is that Marijuana is a drug, but it's probably not as harmful as alcohol is over the short term, and it's on par with tobacco in terms of it's long-term impact (as a smoked substance). It might have a negative brain impact over the long term, but then again so does alcohol. All things considered, net-net the same. As long as tobacco and alcohol are legal, I honestly can't see why the use of Marijuana should be criminalized.

Putting this all together, if you are a "states rights" kind of person, then you clearly believe that states should be able to set their own policies about the sale of alcohol. Why then would there be any argument about allowing states to also set their own rules about Marijuana use? Unless of course you simply cry "states rights" as a more palatable covering for the notion that government should try and control behavior (be it the use of certain products or services). Do not true conservatives stand in support of self-determination and less government interference?

By way of disclaimer, I want to note the following: I have NEVER tried Marijuana, nor will I ever try Marijuana. In fact, I don't smoke (never tried it) and I almost never drink alcohol. My opinions aren't those of a substance user, but rather those of someone who believes that adults should have the right to make asses of themselves and cause undue harm to their bodies if they so desire to, just as long as they keep it to themselves.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

It's PUBLIC MONEY (Airport Hubris, Vol. XI)

I was enraged after reading this article in this morning's Sunday Times

Contractor Party for the Scranton/W-B Airport

If you are so inclined, you can read the details for yourself, but here is the nut of the issue from my perspective: a PRIVATE PARTY was thrown for 900 INVITATION ONLY GUESTS in celebration of the opening of a PUBLICLY-FUNDED facility. Am I going mad here, or does anyone else see the incredible disconnect at work? The money paid to the contractors that foot most of the bill for this "event" came from the public sector, either through borrowing or federal/state grants. This is hubris in the worst degree.

The cheap-n-easy thing to do would be to simply blame the Republican county administration at the time, but that's like focusing your efforts on scratching an itch while you live in a mosquito-infested swamp. What's more, I'm sure that, among the 900 that represented the creme-de-la-creme of NEPA there were plenty of Democrats. Good swank is non-partisan, and both liberals and conservatives do love a good laser show.

While I think that he hasn't been terribly effective as a leader, Lackawanna County Commissioner Mike Washo has the best response I read to this whole sad thing when he said...

"...the airport should have served hot dogs and hamburgers and instead invited the public..."

Damn straight Mr Washo.

Now let's get the list of who attended.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Smaller Tent (a.k.a. the GOP Purity Test)

As reported over the past week, there is a "GOP Purity Test" making the rounds that, I suspect, is making Lee Atwater roll-over in his grave. In case you missed it, here goes:

(1) Smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill
(2) Market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;
(3) Market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;
(4) Workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check
(5) Legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;
(6) Victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;
(7) Containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat
(8) Retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;
(9) Protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and
(10) The right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership

Speaking of stimulus, this certainly stimulates a lot of thoughts in my head. First, here is how I measure up against this version of "political ethnic cleansing":

(1) AGREE - In principle I am for smaller government, lower taxes, etc. I am also not wildly fond of the stimulus bill either.

(2) DISAGREE - Market based? I've written a lot about this. The "market" puts profits ahead of all else. The market works when the product is a laptop computer or machine gun. The market doesn't work when the decision is between profit and patient (because profit wins).

(3) NEUTRAL - #3 is a sound-byte (well many of them are...) not a principle. Cap and trade is actually a fairly sounds economic principle, although implementing it would be tough. What's interesting is that the GOP has no alternative to cap-n-trade.

(4) AGREE - I am not in favor of the pending card-check legislation. I do, however, find it funny that the GOP uses the phrase "workers right", when generally speaking Republicans have never been all too fond of bills that advanced other workers rights.

(5) AGREE - Amnesty is an insult to all of those immigrants who followed the law and entered this country legally. Simply put, it's always a bad idea to reward illegal behavior.

(6) DISAGREE - We shouldn't be in either nation, period. Funny how this principle completely ignores the very reasons why we are in Iraq in the first place. What's more, trying to bring democracy to countries with zero history of it and in fact religious opposition to the very notion of democracy seems a bit of a problem in my book.

(7) AGREE (kind of) - The wording though is touchy, as it seems to hint at military action.

(8) NEUTRAL - I do not believe that any religious body should ever be forced to recognize same-sex unions. I also am actually fine with the term "marriage" being used to define a union between a man and a woman (etc.). HOWEVER, I do very strongly believe that same sex couples should have the right to enter into legal unions that protect property, codify other financial arrangements, etc. and that these unions should be valid in all states and territories.

(9) DISAGREE (kind of) - This is another sound byte, not a principle. Healthcare is already rationed in this country. That's not an opinion, it's a fact.

(10) NEUTRAL - I do believe in the right of lawful U.S. citizens to bear arms, but I do not believe in the right to "superior firepower". The government has an obligation to impose reasonable, common sense restrictions on gun ownership, including such radical ideas as not allowing "cop killer" ammunition and banning the private ownership of machine guns, flame throwers and main battle tanks.

So, what's missing from this list? Among other things, no mention or reference to the environment. Apparently the GOP ideologues believe that the "market" will keep our air and drinking water clean while also providing us with affordable healthcare.

No room in the tent for me.

What's interesting here is that this could end up creating a split in the Republican Party between those who are fiscal conservatives and those who are socially conservative. Ideological purity is a great idea when tossed around the think-tank, but it makes for bad governance simply because it takes the one-sided view that there is always just one solution to any problem. Pragmatism is necessary for governance to proceed in a meaningful way, as the vast majority of Americans will never be as "pure" as the list requires. In the end, governance is about governing ALL, not just those that agree with you.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

On Writing...

Friday, November 27th, 7:30pm
Note: I wrote this yesterday evening, but at the time I just didn't want to post it. That happens from time to time. Anyway, on second blush it's not all that bad, so I'm posting now.

************************* I sit here and watch The Godfather Part III, for some reason I'm thinking about of all things writing, and blogs in particular. Maybe it's that this edition of The Godfather is my least favorite, or maybe it's because the blog I wrote this morning was so very, very tough to write that I'm still sore from trying to squeeze it out. Anyway, this is what's on my mind.

That's the first question that I ask myself about this whole blog thing. It's also the one word sentence that most frequently comes up in this blog. I think "Why?" is my favorite question. So, "Why?"? I don't have an easy answer to the question actually. I suspect...and that's the highest standard of proof I can muster at the moment..."suspect"...that the answer to why lies partially in this bizzaro introverted world that my brain resides in 24/7/365. By introverted I really do mean introverted. I scored a perfect introverted score on the MBTI test several times running. Clearly, I'm a man who is, shall we say, "wrapped tight". Writing, I suspect, provides me with this way to deal with the internal dialogue that constantly runs through my head at all times. It's the spillage if you will. I seem to need, on some level, the conversation that this blog represents.

Now a logical question to ask would be "well why don't you just talk to people more often?", and that would certainly be a reasonable thing to do. Part of the answer is that I'm simply not in a position, for various reasons, to really have much of a dialogue in my private life. That's not to say that there are not people who will listen, because there are; it's just that none of those people are physically close enough to listen when the stuff spills out. Thank God that they are there, because I would be a basket-case without them. I am truly blessed to have these friends, even if they are not physically close.

Does all of this actually, really matter? I'd say yes: it matters to me. I think in my first blog entry here I noted that it doesn't matter to me if anyone else reads this, and that's as valid now as it was over a year ago. Want proof? It can be found in the stacks of paper I've written on all these years that sit in drawers, waiting to be discovered (by others) or shredded (by me). This is, in a very real, tangible way, part of how I process the world. I would do this no matter what.

By the way, the view statistics for this blog were stuck at 590 from about six months. For some bizarre reason they have started to count views again. I have no clue why.

What of all of this? Holidays do make you think, and Thanksgiving is a good day for thinking, even this morning...the thoughts are harder to pass than too much cheese in the diet. Call it lame, call it rambling, call it pathetic, but I call it me.