Friday, June 29, 2012

June 29, 2012--A Couple People (sic)

After the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act, eminent constitutional scholar, Kentucky senator Rand Paul (son or Ron, named for Ayn Rand) delivered an opinion of his own. He wrote:

Just because a couple people (sic) on the Supreme Court declare something to be ‘constitutional’ does not make it so. The whole thing remains unconstitutional. While the court may have erroneously come to the conclusion that the law is allowable, it certainly does nothing to make this mandate or government takeover of our healthcare right.

Not to be undone in their untutored frustration, others on the radical right joined Paul in calling for Chief Justice John Roberts' impeachment. The Chief committed the unpardonable sin of joining the liberal minority on the Court in finding constitutional justification to sustain the major provisions of the law.

Twitter was ablaze with conservatives calling for the chief justice’s impeachment.

“Justice Roberts is a TRAITOR. Along with all the damn LIBERALS on court. IMPEACH IMPEACH IMPEACH #SCOTUS,” said @jensan1332. 
“Looks like I’m not alone on this,” wrote @tahDeetz, retweeting a note from @CnservativePunk, which read, “I am in a vengeful mood the next move Impeach John Roberts.” 
“Impeach Roberts NOW and the rest of the #SCOTUS for upholding #Obamacare as a tax, still is un-Constitutional to force entry into markets!!!” wrote @denvercdavis. 
“Let your cry be damn obama and impeach roberts!!”added @DrTEMorganSr.
I say, Go for it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 28, 2012--Unsubscribing

At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney (who grated on me), I hate junk mail. The mail-mail version and now the e-mail version.

I think of myself as a non-suspicious type. I do not see lurking behind every unpleasant experience the forces of evil or greed; but in recent months I have been inundated by unwanted and unsolicited e-mails. All of them trying to sell me something--shoes, theater tickets, political candidates, vitamins, Viagra.

Could it be, I have been thinking, that since Facebook began to make noises about going public--hustling an initial offering of over-priced stock to privileged investors--as my social network of choice was morphing more and more into a business venture, that they were selling information about me--my interests, proclivities, and e-mail address--to hucksters who in turn were trying to get me interested in Christian Mingle (where Jesus could help me get dates) or the Canadian Pharmacy (which could help me get the little blue pills I might need for those dates)?

Forget for the moment that I am neither single nor Christian nor . . . well, let's leave Viagra out of this. But either by coincidence or mercantile intention my In-Box has been flooded.

This is aggravating enough that I am fighting back. Under "Mark As" for each of these intrusive messages I keep clicking "Phishing Scam" in the hope that my e-mail provider--Hotmail--would then block any additional e-mail ads from Bestvite or Intimo Luxury Sleepware.

(As a sidebar I aver that I do not have a closet full of nightgowns--that is not one of my proclivities.)

In spite of this, my Junk Mail folder continued to be as full as before, and I was trying to resign myself to getting used to dozens of daily pleas from the likes of Elizabeth Warren, who I would vote for, and erstwhile Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, with whom I have had my e-mail fill.

But then I discovered Hotmail's "Sweep" window. I hoped that if I begin by clicking on Alan Grayson's attempt to get me to contribute to his election campaign and then hit the Sweep button, no more e-mails from him would ever show up in my In or Junk Mailbox.

Further, as a fail-safe deletion and blocking strategy I noticed in the finest print at the bottom of the bottom of unwanted e-mails, an "Unsubscribe" hypertext. Clicking on this, I thought, could be my final solution. And so I excitedly and simultaneously marked all these unwanted e-mails both Phishing Scams and clicked on Unsubscribe.

So now, my Junk Mail folder is empty of all entreaties except, wouldn't you know it, for those from the Canadian Pharmacy. Maybe they know something I don't. To be sure, I'll check with Rona to see . . . .

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June 27, 2012--Ladies of Forest Trace: Frieda

“You’re here two minutes and already I’m giving you bad news.”

We were in Florida, at Forest Trace, in anticipation of celebrating my mother’s 104th birthday on Thursday.

We braced ourselves because, considering the ages and conditions of her friends and nearby relatives, bad news could be about anyone. Or anyones.

“What happened, mom?” Rona asked. She is much better at bad news than I.

“Frieda, poor thing.”

“Frieda . . . ?”

Frieda is one of the three remaining ladies my mother has dinner with every night. “She’s not here any more.”

“She moved? To be close to her daughter in, is it, Pennsylvania?” A lot of older folks are moving back north so their children and grandchildren can take better care of them.

“Further than that.”

“Where else does she have children?” I asked, “Pennsylvania is far enough.”

“All the way,” my mother said.

Rona understood what “all the way” suggested. “No, Ma, not Frieda. When we were here only two months ago, I know she had been in the hospital, but there didn’t appear to be anything seriously wrong with her.”

“Serious I wouldn’t know about, but I do know there was nothing right with her. She was wonderful, poor thing, but she had so many conditions that I already forgot half of them.”

“So she passed?” I said.

“She died,” my mother said, not one for euphemisms, “Two days ago. Today was her funeral.”

Rona reached across the couch to put her arms around her. “But you didn’t come all the way from Maine or New York or wherever you were to talk about funerals. You’re here for a good time.”

“We’re actually here to be with you,” Rona said, stroking her. “That’s a good enough time for us. And we don’t want you ever to hold anything back from us. We want all the news—the good as well as the bad.”

“But I don’t want to bother you with my troubles. You have your own lives to live. Which I want you to do. And not to worry about me. Poor thing.”

“You mean Frieda?” I asked, sounding stupid to myself.

“She’s the bad news.”

“Anyone else? Anything else?” I asked. “You’re not holding anything back about yourself?”

“Just the usual thises and thats. But my doctor says I should make it to my birthday. Which is tomorrow.” For the first time she smiled.

“We know that.” I was glad to see that she still had her sense of humor. “That’s why we’re here. To celebrate.”

My mother shrugged that off. “You know what I say—‘Every day that I wake up is my birthday.’”

“And we look forward to many, many more,” Rona said, still cradling her.

Many,” I added, looking for something appropriate to say.

“But no more for Frieda. Birthdays. I mean.” My mother added in case we didn’t understand. “She had her faults, which I will restrain myself from enumerating, but she was a remarkable person. She was a nurse, which in her day was unusual. We didn’t have so many hospitals and people died much younger than they do today—take me as an example—so why did we need so many nurses? But Frieda wanted a career and she wanted to care for people and so she became a nurse. This was even more unusual for a woman with a husband and three children. She had twins and a daughter. In Pennsylvania. Most of the nurses in her day were not married with a family. But she did.”

“I hadn’t thought about what you said,” I said.

“About what are you referring to?”

“How there was so much less need then for nurses. For all medical people. There was less at that time that medicine could do to help people.”

“And help she did. Even here when she herself was not well. Which was always. I can’t begin to tell you all the things she did to take care of people here who came back from rehab but weren’t ready to. Because their benefits had run out.’

“I didn’t know that,” Rona said. “I did know about her knitting.”

“She was knitting all the time even with her diabetes. Poor thing had so much pain from poor circulation. Especially in her feet and hands. But she never stopped crocheting. She sold the little booties she made to the ladies here, for their great-grandchildren. And gave all the money to her causes. Especially to help children with serious conditions. I think she herself wasn’t well when she was a child. She never forgot that.”

“She was remarkable,” I said, finally finding something not awkward to say.

“She also had her political causes. With me she was the first here to support Obama for president. Like me Hillary was her second choice. All the other girls were for her. And as some here became disenchanted with Obama she stuck with him. She was that loyal. And she would have applauded him the other day, if she had not been in hospice and great pain, when he spoke out about the immigrants. The young ones who were brought here by their parents when they were too young to have done so themselves.”

“When he issued an executive order to give them legal status if they had gone to college or served in the military.”

“Yes, that. In fact, the last time she was here, Frieda—before the hospice—she was talking about her own family. About when they came to America from Poland. Where I came from with my mother and sisters and brother. My father was already here. He came to make money to send back to us so we could join him.”

“So many families did the same thing,” Rona said, “I can’t imagine what that was like. By comparison we’re so spoiled.”

“Frieda spoke with so much passion about how America was the refuge for the world. An exaggeration, I know—there were those quotas, and still are--but she was making a good point. Especially when she said that not everyone coming to America in those days were so legal. People may have come through Ellis Island, that’s true, but how many, she reminded us, didn’t tell the truth about who was in their party. She confessed that among the children in her family who left Poland were some who were not really her parents’ children. They were children of relatives and friends who didn’t themselves have the money to buy a boat ticket. So, Frieda reminded us when some at dinner were complaining about immigrants that these children were not strictly speaking legal.”

“But most . . .” I tried to say.

“I know what you’re going to say—that that was small by comparison to what we have now with people sneaking across the border or escaping from Cuba and Haiti by boat.”

She was right. Even as someone who believes it important and just to come up with some national policy to enable people here illegally to have the chance to become citizens, I felt it important to take note of the complexity and size of the problem and to acknowledge that many here feel angry and taken advantage of. That we have to try to find ways to help people become more understanding and compassionate.

“We can talk more about that later because I agree that this is a very complicated issue. But not for Frieda. She saw things like this very simply—when there is an injustice something must be done to correct it. Just as when she saw someone sick or suffering how she never held herself back from trying to do all she could manage to make things even just a little bit better.”

We sat silently for a moment to contemplate some of the meaning of Frieda’s life.

“That was Frieda.”

“I’m glad to have had the chance to get to know her,” Rona said. I nodded in agreement.

“So now there are just three ladies left. Fay and Esther and me. How much time is left for any of us? It’s not realistic to . . .”

I didn’t let her finish her thought, “One never knows about any of us. How much time remains.”

“And remember what you said,” Rona jumped in, “about how every day is your birthday. You’re been saying that for many years and I too have tried to live that way. You set the example for all of us.”

“But it is every day getting harder to do.”

“And . . .”

“And, so, as you said, we’re here to celebrate. I must admit, 104 is a big number.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26, 2012--The Supremes

En route to Florida via a flight from Newark Airport we stopped overnight in New York City. And went right over to the Smile for a couple of their wonderful cortados.

Walking back we ran into our "personal" banker and neighborhood friend. After the briefest of hellos, he asked if we had heard about "the Supremes."

"Were you at the Smile too?" I asked. "This morning they were playing songs from the 60s and the Supremes were well represented."

"I don't think those are the Supremes he's referring to," the ever-alert Rona said.

"Oh, you mean the Supreme Court," I said. He looked over toward Rona as if commiserating for the kinds of things she has to put up with living with me.

All excited--he's a very liberal banker--he said, "They just voted to overturn most of the Arizona immigration law. Actually, most of the worst parts of it."

"Really? There were enough votes for that even though Elana Kagan recused herself? She had to because she was Obama's Solicitor General."

"Yeah, incredibly, Roberts voted with the majority. And, not as surprising, Kennedy."

"I think I know why," Rona said with a wry smile. "Roberts voted this way so he could more easily vote later this week to overturn Obamacare. To show that he's open minded. To make it seem that the Court is not ruled by ideology."

In the midst of this back and forth about the Court, if I had been wondering exactly where I was after driving nearly 400 miles from Maine, I had no doubts anymore--two minutes after running into our friend we were involved in a heavy discussion about the Supreme Court. Not about the fog over Johns Bay or how Ken's work on his boat was coming.

"About that," without missing a beat our banker friend continued, "You know what they should do about the Affordable Care Act? They should do a version of what they did back in '54 when they voted unanimously to declare segregated public schools unconstitutional.

Puzzled by this reference I stared at him skeptically. He reminded us that, "It took decades before the South, as well as much of the North, actually desegregated their schools."

"I'm not following you," I said, really still thinking about Ken's boat.

"The Court didn't require that this had to be done immediately. They called for it to occur 'with all deliberate speed.' Remember that?"

"I do," Rona said.

"How about doing a version of the same thing now, saying the mandate part or, for that matter, all of the law is unconstitutional but adding that with all deliberate speed the Congress and the president need to come up with a constitutional alternative--say, the single-payer option: in effect, Medicare for all--and that until that time the 30 million effected will continue to be covered, that children up to age 26 can continue to be covered by their parents' policy, and that people with preexisting conditions must be able to buy insurance at affordable rates. Why couldn't they do that?"

"I don't know if they can or not," Rona said, "but if they don't do something like that they will be handing down a death sentence for tens of thousands who are currently receiving life saving treatment under Obamacare but will be denied coverage if the Court throws out the law. I mean this literally."

"Talk about death panels," I added.

"Further," our friend said, "we need a grand health care bargain. To afford to cover everyone--putting aside for the moment whether it's via the Republicans' voucher plan or the mandate or, better, the single-payer approach--we can't afford to do this as things are currently structured. We will totally bankrupt ourselves unless we make significant changes in the current Medicare program."

"By changes I assume you mean cuts?" Rona asked.

"That's the bargain part," he said, "Cuts need to occur not only to save most of the system but also to pay for  all those covered by the Affordable Care Act and still other millions not even taken care of by it. I'm as liberal as it gets," he added, "but the truth is the truth. Many, many things have to be done to bring down costs--the cost of testing, the over-doctoring of many Medicare recipients, the . . ."

"We're about to go to Florida," I cut him off, "for my 104-year-old mother's birthday. She, I would argue, sees too many doctors but does because it's covered by Medicare."

"These would all be difficult things to do," our banker said, "but we need to and the Supremes, which is where we started, if they could do what I mentioned, would really help."

"We'll see soon enough," Rona said, "To tell you the truth, I'm not optimistic."

"But there was the Arizona decision," he reminded us.

"All in the name of love, right?" Rona winked.

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25, 2012--En Route

En route to Florida to celebrate on Thursday my mother's 104th.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 22, 2012--Local News

Medomak Graduate Rewarded For Decade-Old Deed

By Shlomit Auciello

Hours before Rebecca (Becca) Brow received her diploma at Medomak Valley High School, June 6, she was given another honor. A good deed she had done 10 years previous came back to reward her, when Craig Lee, of Flippers Market, came by her home to thank her and hand her the papers for a college savings account.

"When my daughter was around 8, in 2003, Flippers Market in South Waldoboro had been robbed," Kimberlee Brow said. "My sister and I had been talking about this robbery and what a bad deal went down and my daughter had $25 and she said 'I want to go to Flippers and give Craig and Lisa some reward money.' I said I don't know they'll accept it, but I'll take you."

Brow took her daughter to the store, where the young girl offered Craig and Linda Lee the money, to use as a reward for the capture of the person or persons who had robbed the store at gunpoint.

"Craig didn't want to take it," Brow said. "Rebecca insisted, and he took the money."

That could have been the end of the story, but Craig Lee had another idea.

"The store was robbed at gunpoint and the culprit never got caught and we lost quite a bit of money that day," Lee said. He said he did not know the Brows when mother and daughter came into the store a week after the incident. Lee said the emotional damage was harder on him and his family than the financial losses. He said he began to question human nature and whether people were good or not.

"When somebody holds you up at gunpoint it's hard, emotionally, to get beyond that'" he said. "We spent a lot of time wondering why it happened."

"I think Becca was 8 years old at the time," he said. "Basically, she gave us her life savings at the time. I thought that was pretty cool for someone that young. I tried to give it back, but her Mom said it was something she wanted to do. For someone like her to come in and in one small move wipe those emotions meant a tremendous amount."

Because the gift, from someone so young, had helped bring him out of a very dark time, Lee decided to pay it forward, instead of putting the money into a reward or using it to get the store back on its feet.

"I had two children and had already started a 529 college investment plan, basically an educational IRA," Lee said. Using the experience he had from his own children's college savings, he opened a college account in Becca's name.

"I took her $25 and matched it each month - $50 a month until January of this year," he said. At the close of business, the day of Becca's graduation, the fund had slightly more than $6000 in it.

Becca Brow said she doesn't remember the good deed she did.

"I remember that they got robbed," she said. When Lee called and asked to come to the Brow's house before graduation, Becca's mother reminded her about the $25. "Then he came with this huge stack of papers and told me," she said. "I cried."

"I want to be a cook," the recent high school graduate said. "I'd like to own my own bakery someday." Brow works in the kitchen at Chase Point Assisted Living in Damariscotta and said she would like to attend the University of Maine at Augusta and take classes at the University College at Rockland, "because it's close to home."

"It's something that was pretty easy to do," Lee said. "It wasn't going to break the bank every month." He set the account up as an automatic withdrawal, occasionally changing the investments to produce a higher yield at the start and to be more conservative as the total in the account got larger.

He said he has kept track of the Brow family.

"As children get older you don't see them as much." he said. "She's a good kid. She always has been. She looks out for her family, has a good work ethic and is a very polished young lady."

When he handed Brow the paperwork for her college account, it was worth $6019.

"We're all blown away," Kimberlee Brow said. "That's a lot of money. I am overwhelmed with pride and love for my daughter."

June 21, 2012--Midcoast: Weed Whacker

After a mild winter and wet spring our lilacs, lupine, and rosa rugosa are exploding with blooms. As are our weeds.

I know from some study of botany that, in effect, everything is or was a weed. That even our most luxurious plants and flowers were once weeds (i.e., grew naturally in the wild), but as the result of centuries of hybridization have been transformed into the flowers we appreciate and love and that everything left over--deemed not worthy of transformation from weeds into horticultural specimens--are, well, weeds.

And they tend to do very well even in the worst of soils and retain a vitality not bred out of them by too much time in hothouses. They do so well in fact that anyone maintaing a garden goes after them with a vengeance in a variety of natural and toxic ways. This includes using a weed trimmer or, as I prefer to call it, a weed whacker.

We've been yanking out weeds by hand for a long time, but they are so powerfully and deeply rooted this year that we decided to go after at least the stalks of them with gas-powered assistance. So I did my research and from Consumers Report found that the Stihl FS 45 is top-rated for the non-professional gardener.

That would be me.

We got a good deal on one at a local hardware store and it is now gassed up and waiting in our shed for a cool morning. Rona warns, "Don't go whacking too early. It's the season and we have neighbors now."

She knows that I get up before dawn every day and after my blogging work have been known to be out weeding in the garden by 6:30. Silently. By hand. Just me and the chipmunks and rabbits.

"And be sure to read the instruction manual. Especially all the safety information. I don't want to wake up one morning and find you with a toe whacked off." (As you can see she too likes to refer to the weed trimmer as a weed whacker.)

It comes with separate operational and safety manuals. The English language version of the latter runs 23 pages. That's a lot of safety warnings and tips, I thought, for a simple machine. Isn't it enough to recommend wearing goggles (Stihl includes a pair at no extra cost) and to be sure not to wear open-toe shoes. Rona would insist on that anyway, safety manual or no safety manual.

Being a reader I plunged in.

On page 1 it warns--

The use of the machine may be hazardous. If the rotating line comes in contact with your body, it will cut you.

Of course, I thought, that's the whole purpose of the whacker--to do lots of cutting.

It goes on--

You must be in good physical condition and mental health and not under the influence of any substance (drugs, alcohol, etc.) which might impair vision, dexterity or judgement.

It doesn't, though, require that I submit to Stihl letters from either my physician or psychiatrist attesting to my physical and mental health; but the next time I have an appointment, I'll check to see if in their judgment I'm fit to whack weeds. My doctor will probably sign off on me; the shrink on the other hand, who knows. She thinks I'm crazy for having bought an 85-year-old house only 50 feet from the bay.

But if my internist were to see all the warnings maybe he would suggest I go back to tearing at weeds on my hands and knees because the manual states--

Prolonged use of a power tool (or other machine) exposing the operator to vibrations may produce whitefinger disease (Raynaud's phenomenon) or carpal tunnel syndrome.

That's it, I thought, slamming the safety manual on my desk. I'm OK wearing goggles, I'll be sure not to  lacerate myself, and will cut back on the meds and red wine when weed whacking; but if I get that whitefinger thing (sounds terrible) or, worse, carpal tunnel, there will be no more typing and thus no blogging for me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 20, 2012--Remember Joe the Plumber?

Samuel “Joe The Plumber” Wurzelbacher, the 2008 campaign pseudo-celebrity and current Ohio congressional candidate, has a preposterous theory about the Holocaust. 

Two days ago he released a campaign video in which he blamed the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide on gun control laws.
“In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917 one-point-five million Armenians, unable to defend themselves were exterminated,” Mr. Wurzelbacher says in the video. “In 1939, Germany established gun control. From 1939 to 1945, six million Jews and seven million others unable to defend themselves were exterminated.”
Of course he is both ignorant and a fool. 
But, he has been brought into our political discourse by ignorant and foolish behavior and rhetoric emanating from right-wing talk radio, a desperate John McCain, the Republican Party held hostage by the Tea Party, and the likes of the very popular Fox News and its various media outlets and raggy newspapers.
He has little chance of winning in his very Democratic congressional district, but he did win the GOP nomination and Herman Cain is one of his most enthusiastic supporter. So, in this fearful time, who knows.

Monday, June 18, 2012

June 19, 2012--Sic Transit

I have a friend of some years back in New York who, because of his work, was issued an iPhone. The institution of which he is a part concluded that it would make things easier and more convenient for senior executives to have one.

My friend doesn't find it to be useful. In fact, he doesn't use it. In fact, he does not even know how to turn it on!

So, of course, how would he know if getting his e-mails this way would make his work more efficient?

Actually, he isn't all that interested in efficiency. He doesn't do e-mails and is principally interested in producing thoughtful, deeply reflective work. He doesn't care that much for doing things at the speed of light. But he cares about doing them right.

I asked him about this recently. Why, since the phone didn't cost him anything to purchase, and he doesn't have to pay the monthly connectivity fee, why doesn't he ask someone to show him how to turn it on and give it a try?

"Because I like things they way they are," he said. "I'm doing just fine."

And from all evidence he is. He is widely esteemed and honored. He is at the very top of his profession. It is hard to think of anything else he might do to be more effective and influential. So liking things the way they are makes more than sense.

I am hardly of his stature or accomplishment, but I too do not have a smart phone or any fancy iStuff. And so, concerned about my own standing in this 21st cyber-century, I asked, "But don't you think the world is passing you by?"

"Yes," he said, smiling. "In fact, I am quite happy that some of it is passing me by." He paused, I thought, because he sensed I might be concerned that he is beginning to retreat from modern life and, to reassure me, said, as if reading my thoughts, "I don't need to e-mail and text and Tweet, or whatever it's called, to be involved in current life. In fact, if I my suggest, modern life needs a few of us not to be always so continuously connected. For some work, of course perpetual access represents progress; but for anything that benefits from reflection and careful thought, less connectivity can be an advantage."

Later that evening I said to Rona,"Forget the iPhone we've been thinking about getting. I want to let a little life pass me by."

June 18, 2012--Regulations

"You know, for the summer I need to hire a dishwasher," we were having lunch at a new place in town, "and I found this terrific kid, but there's one problem," the owner-waitress said out loud to no one in particular, "Just one problem."

A lobsterman sitting next to me at the counter asked, "And what's that? The one problem?"

"The one problem is that he's not allowed to wash any knives."

"I'm not followin' you."

"That's right." He was looking at her skeptically. "The regulations say that until he's 18, until anyone's 18, they can't wash knives in a restaurant."

"Federal regulation?" I couldn't help myself from asking. While here for less than a week whenever a discussion drifts into politics, government regulations and the unions are blamed for our economic woes.

"Regulations," she continued to say. "Just regulations. They're killing me. You should see all the inspections and certificates I had to get before they let me open my door to business. I was almost bankrupted before I could cook my first scrambled eggs."

"That not only sounds crazy--about the knives," I said, "Not that I doubt you, but it must be Maine's regulations not the federal government."

"It's all the same to me," she said, turing to take the orders from a couple who had slid into a booth while we were discussing who could and couldn't handle knives in a restaurant.

"You mean to tell me," Rona joined in, "That a 17-year-old couldn't wash this knife?" She was waving hers in the air. "It's just a knife to butter toast, for God sakes, not one with a sharp edge. Even it it was, it's crazy. Seventeen-year-olds can drive."

"And join the army with their parents permission," another counter person said.

"It's gotten out of hand," Sarah the owner-waitress said, "And it's not doing Obama any good."

Here we go again, I thought; and not wanting to see my blood pressure rise, I tried to deflect the direction of the converation, "It's good to hear that high school kids are willing to wash dishes for the summer. And that you have an open job and want to hire someone."

From another booth a local contractor said, "I've got good jobs open. We have a contract to put in some new culverts along Pemaquid Road. They're hopefully getting ready to repave it. It's falling apart. Jobs digging ditches."

"Nothin' wrong with that," the lobsterman said, "It's an honest day's work. I did some of that when I was young. Helped get me straightened out. Built confidence and a good work ethic."

"I agree with all of that" the contractor said, "And there are youngsters willing to take it on. But my problem, too, is with all the regulations. especially from the environmental people. I have to have this girl from the state looking over my shoulder all day--it could be a guy, too," he added nodding in Rona's direction. "She watches us to make sure that there's no run off into any of the creeks along the road or one of the ponds."

"That's a good thing, no?" said the women in the booth. "I mean, we have to take care of our water. If we don't, who will?"

"I'm all for that, mind you," the contractor said, "I'm no tree-hugger, but I care about the land and water. I fish. I hunt. I want to be able to eat what I catch. And I've been doing this kind of work since I was nine. I worked for my grandfather and then my father. They taught me the right way to do things. I don't need someone looking over my shoulder. And it has an effect on getting the job done and what it costs taxpayers. I used to be able to put in five culverts a day but now with the same size crew I can only do three."

"The other day I wanted to hire a kid to do some cleaning up for me," Sarah said as a kind of non sequitur, "And the one I wanted to hire, when I asked him to sweep up, told me he didn't know how to use a broom. A broom! Can you believe that? What's happening to us?"

Everyone knew what she meant by her plaintive question.

"I know I don't sound like one, but I consider myself a Liberal," she confessed.

"Maybe the only one here," the contractor said with a good natured laugh.

"Voted for Obama last time around," she winked over toward him, "and plan to do so again. But he's got to do something about all those regulations. They're killing small businesses like this one."

"But aren't they from the state?" the woman in the booth asked, "The regulations about the 17-year-old dishwasher?"

"I s'pose."

"Then what would you have Obama do? He didn't come up with the crazy one about the knives."

"She's right," the contractor said, getting up to pay his check, "Actually, you're both right. It's more the state's regulations killing us, but Obama could do more too. I didn't vote for him first time around and don't intend to come November--even though I think Romney's a horse's ass--but he needs to speak out about this. It would even do him some good. Politically. If he talked about smart regulations."

"I agree with that," I said, opting not to add anything about my own voting.

"And while he's at he he should do something about the unions," the lobsterman added, also getting up to leave. "They're out of control and killing the economy."

"But only about 12 percent of the workforce are union members," I tried to say.

He waived me off. "Trust me, I know what I'm talkin' about--most of our problems are because of those unions. Like I said, they're out of control. Always wantin' something for nothin'."

"Look at the concessions the autoworkers made to save their jobs," the man in the booth said.

But by then both the contractor and fisherman had left. They had lots of work that needed to get done.

Friday, June 15, 2012

June 15, 2012--Making History

One reason why baseball is my favorite sport is because so much of it is about making history.

Case in point--just two days ago, Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants pitched the first perfect game in the team's history. After 129 years, the first perfect game.

Through those years, the Giants, who originated in New York City and played in the Polo Grounds, had some of the game's greatest pitchers on their roster. Hall of Famers such as Joe McGinnity, Rube Marquard, Christy Mathewson, Carl Hubbell, and Juan Marichal. They pitched a few no-hitters, but none of them ever pitched a perfect game.

Then along comes this kid and does something that not even Christy Mathewson, who pitched for the New York Giants for 16 years accomplished--Cain retired 27 men in a row and not one of them got to first base through an error or in any other way.

Go figure.

But that's the point--go figure.

Baseball teaches many lessons and has even penetrated our language--the aforementioned "getting to first base" is one of our American idioms. And baseball is also very much about history. That is not true for any other sport. They're about the here and now. Yes, stats are kept in basketball (how many assists a player makes, how many triple-doubles) and in ice hockey (how many "hat tricks" a hockey player accumulates in a life time or how many shutouts a goalie manages to pull off), but a great deal about baseball is keeping close track of its history--teams history and of course the achievements (and mess-ups) of individual players.

For every hero (Matt Cain now joins that roster--there have been only 22 perfect games in all of baseball history, including only one in a World Series game) there is a "goat"--a player who screws up big time: the Brooklyn Dodgers Ralph Branca who threw the pitch to Bobby Thomson that he hit out of the park for a walk-off three-run home run that propelled the Giants to the 1951 pennant; Bill Buchner, the Boston Red Sox first basemen who let a softly-hit ball trickle through his legs for an error in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series that allowed the improbable New York Mets to get to and win the decisive seventh game.

Baseball history, sometimes real life history, is waiting to be made on the diamond; and sometimes it happens in an out-of-the-way place and is accomplished by an unexpected person.

By Jackie Robinson, for example, who in 1947 became the first Negro to be allowed to play Major League baseball. For the Brooklyn Dodgers in an out-of-the-way, rickety band-box of a ballpark--Ebbets Field.

And, as they say, the rest is history. Which again is the point.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 14, 2012--The Chinatown Chicken

Years and years ago, when I was trying to impress certain people (mainly girls I was interested in) in certain ways (that I was "cool" and knew about all sorts of unusual things to do in New York City), depending on how any given evening was going (if things appeared to be working out), one of my favorite stops was the Chinatown Arcade on Mott Street.

This was pre-video-games time and in the arcade there were mainly pinball machines and a mechanical gypsy fortune teller who for a quarter would pivot in her chair in her glass booth, and with eyes rolling exaggeratedly raise her twitching right hand in which there was a card that she would then pass to you through a slot in her cabinet. On it was printed your fortune--English on one side and Chinese on the other. Fortunes such as, "You will be lucky in love." Just what I was hoping for.

If, on the other hand, the fortune was more Confucian ("A superior man is modest in speech, but exceeds in his actions"), though 'action' it was that interested me, Confucius is not much of a turn on and so I would play my trump card--take my date to try her luck at playing tic-tac-toe with the Chinatown Chicken.

With a live chicken, which was set up in its own glass-enclosed booth, not unlike the mechanical gypsy's.

I am not making this up. Check the linked article from the New York Times that will vouch for my veracity.

Back to my date in a minute, but first about the tic-tac-toe playing chicken.

On one wall in its booth was an electrified tic-tac-toe board on which it made its moves and outside was another one on which, again for a quarter, humans punched in their X's and O's. If you beat the chicken, out would pour a handful of fortune cookies. If the chicken won, a couple of food pellets would drop into its food cup.

One would think that the arcade owner would have to buy fortune cookies by the gross--after all, how could a lowly chicken do against a brainy Barnard sophomore?

Well, to quote 82-year-old Bunky Boger, a chicken trainer who works out of Lowell, Arkansas, "We go a week sometimes and nobody beats a chicken."

I can attest to that. I must have taken a dozen dates to the Chinatown Arcade and none ever won. Feeling, well, humiliated, after losing they invariably challenged me to see if I could do better. Though I eventually graduated with honors from Columbia, I too never was able to get three O's in a row.

I thought it only fair for the chicken to go first. I was a good sport; and after all, it's only a chicken so it deserved that advantage. But in every instance either the chicken triumphed or, at best, I, like some of my dates, was able to force a draw.

The worst of my dates thought I was making fun of them by schlepping them to Chinatown only to be humbled by a chicken. They insisted that I take them right back to their dormitory. On the other hand, my favorite dates in thought the chicken and I were pretty cool. Their more conventual dates tried to impress them by taking them to a concert at Carnegie Hall or dinner at a French restaurant. The Chinatown Arcade, they felt, was much more "authentic" and fun. However, they too needed to get back to the dorm before curfew.

Now I learn, through revisionist journalism, that the whole set up was bunk. Thank you Bunky.

He didn't train his chickens to think through all the possible tic-tac-toe moves but rather to respond to flashing lights. Chickens are good at that, especially if food pellets are involved. The machine itself figured out what moves to make and signaled the chicken to place its X's in just the right spots to blunt its human opponents' O moves.

Clearly those were more innocent times.

The Arcade now is full of thumping video games and no longer has a gypsy or a chicken. Maybe the PETA people had their way and the caged tic-tac-toe playing chicken has been banished. The rodeo no longer comes annually to Madison Square Garden and thanks to friends of animals there are no bucking broncos and now no arcade chickens. Alas, I suspect that Lily, the last Chinatown Chicken, may have wound up sweet and sour.

Or perhaps her retirement is the result of market forces--college students now go out to clubs and not video arcades. In fact, I don't think college kids go out on dates anymore.

Sic transit . . .

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June 13, 2012--Pachelbel

Schmaltzy as it is, Pachelbel is playing on Pandora and not Chris Matthews on MSNBC.

I'll get back to Chris in a few days, but for the moment I want to take a break.

The day before yesterday I was emailing back and forth with a friend about what and who are to blame for the failed economy and why (or why not) we are (or aren't) in danger of turning into Greece.

Among other things he wrote--
I don't think there is the remotest chance of our becoming Greece. First, most wage earners pay their taxes, unlike in Greece.  It's the wealthy and the corporations who don't pay their taxes. 
Second, I understand that by reducing others to virtual penury, and depriving them of all basic social supports, the ruling class can foster resentment towards those who do have social security (in the largest sense.) Nowhere is this even remotely being abused as it is with corporate welfare.   In fact,it should be the goal of our society to provide adequate, even generous, social security (in all senses) to our working people.  
Instead of blaming those who are getting what we should all be getting, we should be fighting to get similar social security for everyone.  We're the richest country in the history of the world, and yet we fall near the bottom of virtually every measure of a society's well-being.  

Then I wrote--
We agree about the larger picture but still disagree about the importance of union reform. Since there is little hope that we are  going to become more egalitarian--without legitimate reform of government workers' work rules and other protections--as a part of a truly grand bargain--the unions will continue to wither.  
Remember Dave Powers and the type setters union? How they won the strike with the Herald Tribune but helped put themselves out of work. If they had been more compromising they'd still have versions of their jobs. I feel that to ignore this allows the demagogues to have their way.  In addition, I do not want everyone to have the protections that teachers. municipal workers, and federal civil servants have. Then we'd really be cooked.
And so it went. All day.

So you can see why I'm enjoying Pachelbel. Sometimes I need schmaltz.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 12, 2012--Midcoast: "It's a Tough Place"

We'd been here less than 24 hours and were reminded how a true community functions.

At dinner, we saw Alison whose husband had been seriously burned last fall when a car he was working on, welding, exploded. The gas tank, which was supposed to be empty, ignited and burned his arms and much of his face.

As terrible as that was, they had just moved into a new home--a double-wide--and he, Tom, had not had much work all season. So they had been barely getting by on her waitress salary.

When this happened, the days here in the midcoast of Maine had turned cold--very cold; lows in the 30s overnight--and they didn't have enough money to fill their oil tank. So their young girls had to wear all the sweaters they owned before going to bed. And Alison had to drive back and forth to Portland every afternoon before work to visit Tom and supervise his care in the burn unit. A hundred-twenty miles roundtrip, five gallons coming and going at $3.50 a gallon pretty much wiped her out. But she felt she had to be with him to help him overcome his understandable depression.

The good news is that his arms, though severely scarred, have healed and he is getting his strength back so he will soon be able to look for jobs; and his face, except for a small patch over his right eye, is fine. As Alison put it, "He looks like Tom again."

She couldn't help but sob softly as she told us this. "And you know how we got by?" Though we knew part of the answer we didn't respond. "The owners of this place held a benefit for us. They served everyone dinner who came and those who did contributed more than $2,000. Mainly local people who themselves don't have much."

"That's wonderful," Rona said. "We heard about it and were only sorry we couldn't be here. You and Tom are such good people."

"But we did get your check," Alison said, "And as you wrote in your note it was to help with the heating oil. Which it did. And then," more tears streamed down her cheeks, "Someone, who I think is a summer person, gave us $5,000. Can you believe it? It meant more than money to us. Though we appreciated it. All of it. Especially from those who gave us their last twenty. But that's the way people up here are."

The next morning we were in town to get the paper and do some grocery shopping. As we pulled into the parking lot Paula ran over to say hello. We knew that during the winter her husband left her with two young children. "I was devastated," she told us. "We both needed to work to make ends meet and since we worked different hours, equally important, we both had to be available to take care of the kids. Believe me it was hard. Very hard for what happened and then how to make things work."

"I can only imagine," Rona said, but quickly corrected herself, "In fact I can't imagine. I'm so fortunate that . . ."

Paula cut her off. "I know you and you are a good person and I believe you can imagine. But I know I'm not going to convince you."

"That's right," I said, looking over at Rona.

"But most important you seem good now," Rona said. "How are you managing?"

"When he walked out on me, I couldn't make myself leave the house. Though I did get the kids ready for school and a friend came by to pick them up and take them there, I lay in bed, not eating and barely able to stop crying and feeling sorry for myself."

"Terrible," I said, not knowing what to say.

"But then these people over here," she pointed to the restaurant outside of which we were standing, "both of them, the owners, came over to my house and wouldn't take no for an answer. They told me to get up, get out of bed, and pull myself together. It isn't the end of the world they said to me. In fact, we need someone to work for us. The hours are flexible. You can work when you have the time and not when you don't. Without much notice. Just give us a half hour, they said."

"That's wonderful," Rona said. "Is it working out for you?"

"Better than I would have thought. To tell you the truth, they made a job for me. Look, they can use the extra help but I know much of what I'm earning--I should say getting--is coming from them. Not forever but to tide me over. To get me going again."

"That's wonderful," I said.

"We had a little savings and he's been pretty good about sending the checks he's required to send. But, at least as important, I'm getting back on my feet. Just like they said I would."

"And the children?" Rona asked.

"Managing, managing," Paula said. "They're tough. And if they're not, this will toughen them up. You need to be tough here. It's a tough place." She paused as if to think if she had expressed herself as she intended.

"I mean to say, not tough in an unfeeling way. But times are always hard here. Not just now. Pretty much always, and that makes it tough. And . . ."

"I think I know what you're going to say," Rona said, nodding her head.

"We need to learn, they need to learn how to take care of themselves and others. Which we do. I'm not saying it's a paradise here. Every small town has its issues. I think that's because we know so much about each other's business. But we also take care of those we have issues with. That's the way we have to be."

"And," Rona said, "that's the main reason why it feels so good to be back."

Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11, 2012--Dinner With Liberals

We hadn't seen each other for awhile so there was lots to catch up about.

After updates about Jim's new job (not going well), Agnes' boyfriend (appears he is stepping out on her), and our various medical conditions (all good colonoscopy results), we turned to the serious business--how Obama is doing (disappointing), the state of Romney's campaign (better than we would hope), and the recent recall election in Wisconsin (also disappointing).

About the latter, I mentioned that even more ominous from a progressive perspective were the municipal referenda that voters approved in San Diego and San Jose to severely cut pension and health benefits for government workers.

"Ominous in what regard?" Agnes, the most liberal of us, asked.

"From an organized labor perspective," I said.

"What's so bad about that?" I was surprised by the skeptical tone of Agnes' question. Over decades she had marched on many picket lines.

"Well, there appears to be a national movement to blame our economic problems on unionized government workers. You know, teachers in Wisconsin and all the city workers in the two California cities."

"What are they supposed to do?" Jim asked. "Aren't these cities broke?"

"Probably," Rona said, "like pretty much every other city in America."

"So," Jim asked, "if they have no money how are they supposed to pay for all the benefits and pensions for retired workers?"

Silence and depression settled over the table. We concentrated on our tagines. Clearly none of us had a good answer to any of these troubling questions.

Finally Agnes leaned forward and whispered, not wanting to be overheard, "Please don't quote me but I think things have gone too far."

"What things and in what regard?" I in return whispered.

"With the unions."

"But since Reagan fired all the striking air traffic controllers back in 1981, hasn't union membership been in steep decline?"

"Mainly for private sector workers," Jim who is up on all sorts of data informed us, "Now only 7 percent of them are union members. Down from more than a third."

"What about government employees?" I asked.

"That's the real story," Jim said, "And why so much attention and ire are now focused on unionized public workers. Their number has actually increased. And by quite a lot. There are now nearly 8 million unionized government workers, about 35 percent of all city, state, and federal job holders."

"I'm getting your point," I said. "Why we are seeing so much public union bashing while soon, even without anyone doing anything further, hardly anyone working for a corporation will belong to a union. Look at what the UAW workers had to give back to keep their jobs when GM and Chrysler were about to go bankrupt."

"I agree," Rona said, "But, Agnes, make your point again because I'm not fully following you."

"Demagogues on the right are trying to distract us from the real problems with late-stage capitalism. After undermining traditional unions they are now trying to hold public sector unions responsible for our economic ills. But think about it some more. Traditional unions have effectively been busted so now they're going after government employee unions."

"Again just between us liberal friends," Jim looked around conspiratorially, "don't you think things have gone a bit too far with some of these unions and that this gives legitimacy to the conservatives' attack? Take government workers who, as Agnes says, are bearing the full brunt of this critique. Putting aside whether or not they should be unionized in the first place, why should they uniquely have civil service protection, which in effect means they have guaranteed jobs for the rest of their lives? It's almost impossible to fire a teacher or federal worker after they pass a two-to-three year probation period. Even if they are demonstrably incompetent. And why should they have uniquely protected lifelong benefits that they hardly contribute to?"

"To protect them from being arbitrarily fired," I said.

"Someone working for the Department of Agriculture in a mid-level job needs that protection? There are all sorts of laws on the books that protect workers' rights--pretty much all workers--so why do civil servants get additional protection? Again, even the most incompetent are untouchable."

"I'm not quite ready to sign on to stripping away this extra protection," I said, trying to cling to my progressive bona fides. "After all, some governmental firings in the past were more because of political or ideological reasons than the result of someone not doing a good job."

"You mean they were given a version of academic freedom protection?" Agnes asked.

"You could put it that way."

"So even elementary school teachers who are teaching basic skills and subjects need tenure--a lifetime job--so they can express freely their political philosophy to 3rd graders? I don't think so."

"I do see it to be a big problem--a political as well as a cultural problem," I conceded, "that someone in a private sector job--by definition an insecure one--who doesn't make that much more than a fireman or cop (and with benefits maybe less) could easily feel frustrated and angry about a neighbor who's a government worker who can retire with a generous package after only 25 or 30 years on the job."

"And which of course is paid for by the resentful neighbor through taxes," Agnes added with some heat.

"Look at us," I said, after ordering baklava for dessert, "We're far from being Tea Party members but scratch the surface and we too are feeling angry about some of this. True?"

"Yes," Jim chimed in. "And one doesn't have to scratch very far below the surface at that."

"But by comparison we're doing very well," Rona acknowledged. "We're all financially pretty secure."

"So what can we expect someone to feel whose house is underwater, whose kid owes $50,000 in student loans and can't find a job, or someone who lost her job and with it her health benefits?"

"And looks across the hedge," Jim said, "at her fireman neighbor who at 55 is about to retire, get 90 percent of his last year's salary, and free health care coverage for life."

"So my point is," Agnes said, as the coffee arrived, "it's an oversimplification to blame these feelings and the votes in generally liberal Wisconsin and the California cities to right-wing fanatics. Plenty of Democrats and Independents voted the 'wrong' way last week." She made air quotes.

"And if we want progressives to do better," Jim said, "we had better open our eyes to the truth and do something about it because otherwise the union movement is cooked and we'll have Romney in the White House and the Paul Ryan budget enacted by Congress."

"And over the fiscal cliff we will go."

"I need a brandy," Rona said.

"How about one for each of us?" I suggested. "On me."

When they arrived we wolfed them down and immediately started feeling better.

Friday, June 08, 2012

June 8, 2012--Day Off

I will return on Monday.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

June 7, 2012--On Wisconsin

On the same day that Wisconsin voters opted to retain their controversial governor--not recall him--voters in San Diego and San Jose, California overwhelmingly voted to cut pensions and benefits for city workers.

The common theme--

To people struggling to hold onto jobs or find work much less keep up with mortgage payments and pay for health care insurance and college tuition for their children, as they look at their neighbors who are teachers or cops, while taking note of how they can retire with full pay at 55 and along the way contribute very little or nothing to their generous package of benefits, resentment sets in and they shout, "Enough!"

To them fairness is not so much millionaires paying a little more in taxes--how many people do they know who make $1.0 million a year--but people in pretty much their own circumstances getting a free ride at taxpayer (their) expense.

Up in Maine when we get our real estate tax bill attached to it is a breakdown of how our tax money is allocated--much more than half of it is designated for public schools. And almost all of that to pay for teachers' salaries and benefits. Pretty much everyone else in New Harbor is working two, three jobs if they are fortunate just to make ends meet. There is nothing itemized on that bill that shows how much of our tax money goes to pay for tax loopholes for the wealthy. That remains obscure and abstract.

So it is no stretch to understand that the frustration, fear, and anger that is building up in America is turned much more toward unionized government workers who, the conservative media and their corporate sponsors, have identified as the cause of all our economic woes.

And it doesn't help make the counter argument when, for example, so many public schools are ineffective. It's hard to convince struggling taxpayers that teachers should have such a "sweet" deal when so many of their students can't read or write.

Thus we have San Diego, San Jose, and Wisconsin.

Sure there is a disproportionate amount of right-wing money flowing toward union-busting activities and to demonologize teachers and sanitation workers, but there are in fact abuses that progressives refuse to acknowledge. No one should be able to retire at 55 (while everyone else is feeling they'll have to work until they drop) and all workers should have to contribute to their pension and health care packages. Liberals would be on much firmer ground if we fessed up to this before turning attention to all the individual and corporate welfare that is available for the wealthy and powerful.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

June 6, 2012--My Florida

Virtually every state with a Republican governor and legislature has been actively involved in various forms of voter suppression. More specifically, they are attempting to limit voting among people who are more likely than not to vote Democratic--poor people, college students, people of color, legal immigrants, and ex-felons who have served their time.

They have been hard at work at it in advance of the 2012 presidential election. The theory is that if enough swing states make it hard or impossible for, say, legal immigrants to register and thus vote, they will enable the Republican nominee (Mitt Romney) to squeak into office come November.

Among the strategies that are being implemented, most common are new laws that require voters, on Election Day, to show state-issued photo IDs such as drivers licenses. Thirty-four states now have these laws. Poor people who are less likely to have these are required to make a special trip to a state office to get another form of acceptable ID. As is obvious, these new laws alone will significantly reduce the number of poor and minority voters.

Also effective in suppressing voting are laws in 12 states that require individuals, again on Election Day, to show proof of citizenship before being allowed to vote. Without a valid passport or birth certificate they will be turned away. (As a sidebar, I assume Donald Trump will be hovering in Barack Obama's Chicago polling place on November 6th to check his birth certificate.)

Thirteen states would end same-day registration; nine will be reducing early voting periods; two (Iowa and Florida) are planning to take voting privileges away from ex-offenders even if they have completed their sentences.

And in Virginia, the legislature and governor are attempting to change the way in which Electoral College votes are allocated. Unlike in the past, with the exception of two states (including my Maine), the candidate who wins the popular vote receives all the state's Electoral votes, if they have their way, in the Commonwealth these votes will be distributed proportionally, congressional district by congressional district. This means that if, as expected, Obama wins the popular vote he will get only slightly more than half the Electoral votes.

Having mentioned my state of summer residence, my snowbird state, Florida, is ground zero among the battleground swing states. Recall that successful voter suppression efforts back in 2000 gave the presidency to George W. Bush.

To assure the same result this year, the GOP governor and legislature have been hard at work on even more draconian voter suppression efforts.

Until a federal court in Tallahassee last week blocked part of the new voter suppression law, third party organizations such as the nonpartisan League of Women Voters was able to turn in new-voter registration forms weeks after they were filled out. But under the new law, they have to do so within 48 hours or would be cited for "voter fraud" and receive a hefty fine. As a result, until the court ruling, there were 81,471 fewer new registrants this year than at the same time four years ago.

People who have been convicted of most crimes, after they complete their sentences, are routinely allowed to register and vote. This has also been true in ultra-conservative Florida. But now, even ex-felons who have voted in the past are required to, in effect, register again. One-by-one, they have to seek permission to vote via a torturous state bureaucratic process that could suppress tens of thousands of votes come November.

College students are among Florida's favorite voter suppression targets as they are very much more likely to vote Democratic than Republican. To limit their votes, there is a new law that changes residency requirements for out-of-state students. Until recently, it had been relatively easy for out-of-staters to register and vote on the college campuses. No longer. And so the state has been sending students letters telling them they had better arrange to register in their home states or risk being disenfranchised.

And then, as in many other Republican-dominated states, Florida is limiting the time prior to Election Day when those registered can vote early. When Jeb Bush was governor the period was extended to a full two weeks; but with Rick Scott as governor, it is now just eight days. This of course primarily affects low-income people who cannot easily take time off from work to vote.

As one measure of how effective Florida's efforts are in restricting voting, one of the 2,700 voters targeted in the initial list the state has determined are not citizens and are ineligible to vote was 91-year-old World War II veteran, and Bronze Star recipient, Bill Internicola.

With a last name like Internicola, Bronze Star aside, he must be a foreigner.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

June 5, 2012--Medically Confused

Among the things we do while in New York City are catch-ups with friends, keeping the search going for the perfect morning coffee (by far the best are the cortados at The Smile on Bond Street), and checking in with our corps of doctors. 

Thankfully, all our vitals appear to be working; but, while waiting for test results we have become increasingly confused about how best to monitor and take care of our health. 

This is because there is increasing evidence that in the absence of symptoms many of the tests we have routinely submitted to may in fact be more harmful than helpful.

Here is a summary of concerning things from Sunday's New York Times:  

Imaging for common headaches A careful medical history and neurological exam usually
are sufficient.
Imaging for lower back pain of short duration In most cases, with no sign of nerve
damage, scans bring no improvement in outcomes.
Bone scans to detect osteoporosis for women under 65 These often result in patients’
taking unneeded drugs rife with side effects.
Pre-operation chest X-ray Many hospitals do this, but it is a largely wasted effort unless
patients have signs of heart or lung disease.
Prostate specific antigen test A government panel no longer recommends this, saying its
harms far outweigh its benefits.
Annual Pap smear This test, for early detection of cervical cancer, is needed only once
every three years after a normal test.
Annual cholesterol test Adults need these only once every five years after having a test
with normal results.
Annual blood work Routine blood tests are no longer recommended for people who feel
well. Again, false positives are common.
Annual EKG For healthy people with no symptoms of heart disease, the electrocardiogram
is more likely to mislead than to identify early disease, leading to further needless tests — like
CT scans with their accompanying radiation — and perhaps unnecessary drugs or surgery.
Annual physical For healthy, asymptomatic adults, it’s an inefficient gauge of health, more
likely to find false positives than real disease
While struggling to figure this out, and hearing that coffee is a good source of antioxidants, I think I'll order another cortado.

Monday, June 04, 2012

June 4, 2012--"Sterling Career"

First Obama surrogate Cory Booker on Meet the Press blurted out that hearing President Obama talk critically about Bain Capital makes him "nauseous" and now Bill Clinton on the Piers Morgan Show does the Newark mayor one better--he spoke glowingly about Mitt Romney's "sterling" career at Bain.

What's going on here?

The quick answer is that both Booker and Clinton are more comfortable in the world of private equity moguls than among the "people." Both go to them for support and funding. A goodly portion of Booker's campaign money comes from Bain partners (at least $300,000 worth) and the Clinton Foundation gets most of its cash from the uber-wealthy.

Also, the very rich throw great parties.

The more interesting answer is that they both are ambivalent about Obama--Booker, as an African-American always thought about himself as becoming the first black president but then along came Obama and shunted that ambitions aside.

Clinton's real reason for undermining Obama is a bit more complicated. Recall, it was Toni Morrison who designated him the "first black president" and to be thus anointed was his all time favorite thing.

Then, of course, out of love and guilt he worked hard in 2008 to secure the Democratic nomination for Hillary. Even though husband Bill was our first black president, as Bubba, he also felt he had cred among white folks in the South and was the first to overtly play the race card during the crucial South Carolina primary.

Interviewed by ABC News during the 2008 campaign he linked Barack Obama to the much more militant-feeling Jessie Jackson who won the SC primaries in 1984 and '88. For Clinton to plant the idea that Obama was just like Jackson was more than racial code.

But, in spite of Bill Clinton's best efforts (at least his conscious ones), Obama won the nomination and the presidency, adding insult to injury along the way by describing Ronald Reagan (accurately) as a "transformative" president. Bill Clinton? Not so much.

And then Obama made things better (or worse) for Bill by naming Hillary Clinton his Secretary of State.

Back, then, to last week's comments about Romney's "sterling business career": Barack Obama during his first term has rarely turned to Bill Clinton for more than casual advice. Yes, Bill has his foundation, is widely visible, and has made tens of millions; but he has been kept agonizably at arms length from presidential power, the ultimate aphrodisiac.

And we know how important that is to him.

Friday, June 01, 2012

June 1, 2012--Lazy Day

Yesterday was spectacular but tuckered me out. So I will return to this place on Monday.