September 29, 2009

The Update Desk

My Sweet Baboo and I returned Sunday night from a quick trip to the Lake Champlain area of New York, with side trips to Ausable Chasm, the connecting islands between New York and Vermont, and a long ride on Route 100, a beautiful trip on a perfect fall day. On both the way up and back, we avoided major highways and meandered through the Adirondacks instead. It takes longer, but it's worth it. We came home relaxed, refreshed and ready to head into the last quarter of the year.

I'm now hoping to find time to download and organize all of my pictures; this trip I went solely digital, while MSB brought along his regular camera and several lenses. I get the sense that, as usual, his pictures will be better than mine, but I had a few that I think are OK, and will be posting some up in the coming days. And, because of the trip, I’m a little out of touch with what's been going on in the world and behind on my reading, but I thought I’d provide some updates on some previous posts.

Regarding President Obama’s intervention into New York politics, most everyone in the state agreed with me that it’s our responsibility to vote folks out, not Washington’s responsibility to 'encourage' them out. In this poll, taken a few days after the news broke, 62% of New Yorkers indicated that Obama should stay out of the race.

After the shenanigans in Albany earlier this year, where Republicans adopted a couple of ethically challenged Democrats and ‘stole’ the Majority, only to have the Dems ultimately regain power through some very shady dealings of their own, I wrote to my State Senator asking for responses to some simple questions. I never did hear back from him; I’ll keep trying, though.

I did hear just a few days ago from NY’s Junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, after I sent in a postcard to her asking that she not support the kind of health care reform that could theoretically put my regional, not for profit health insurance company out of business and me out of a job. She basically thanked me for writing, then proceeded to completely ignore my opinion but tell me hers, which was in support of a public option.

Today, the Senate Finance Committee failed to get approval for a couple different versions of public option. I hope they’ll keep trying to get real reform, in a thoughtful and fiscally sound way, just as my company will continue to support other significant health care reforms. Let the debate continue, sanely, until a solid solution can be realized.

Last, in this post from March, I talked about the trees that MSB and I started to care for after they were planted on an empty lot several blocks down the road. We had hoped to be able to tend to them throughout the spring and summer, but they were in the middle of a construction zone from April through last week. Now, it's too late for us to prune them. We’ll check back in with them in the spring, and hope for better luck next year.

September 20, 2009

PPOD 9/20/09: Let us do the dirty work

According to published reports, President Obama has sent a message to New York's Accidental Governor that he not run for election next year. As of today, Governor Paterson is vowing to stay in the race, but only time will tell if he's got the fortitude to stick around under this kind of pressure.

Apparently the President is not happy with Paterson, who became our governor because Eliot Spitzer is an idiot. Paterson's poll numbers are down, he's apparently "committed a series of missteps that raised questions about his ability to govern" according the the NY Times article, and there's the whole thing with Kirsten Gillibrand, the woman chosen to replace Hillary Clinton as our junior senator, which angered the White House as they apparently thought there was a better decision to be made on that, some promises not kept, or some kind of offense committed by the Gov.

Regardless of what the White House and President Obama think, determining who gets to sit in the Governor's chair in Albany is a decision that belongs to us here in New York - not people in Washington DC. That they're even thinking of manipulating the race for Governor makes this my PPOD of the day.

Frankly, I want the chance to vote him out of office myself - and I'll be very disappointed if Team Obama deprives me of that opportunity.

September 15, 2009

PPOD 9/15/09: A Two-fer

Ever wonder why it is that we Dems can’t keep from shooting ourselves in the foot? Two recent examples, one national and one local, make up today’s Pet Peeve of the Day.

Here in my hometown, our local DPW spent about $1500 in labor and supplies, trying to remove a couple hundred posters
that an unknown person hung around town. The posters were critical of our lame-duck mayor, who got a retroactive raise this year, his last in office due to term limits.

In addition to the time the city workers spent, another set of folks from a downtown-centric group have also been out trying to remove the posters from the city center, which apparently were so well-glued that they defied scrapers, wallpaper paste remover and the strong arms of the DPW. Some that couldn’t be peeled off the poles were painted over to keep us from reading them and perhaps drawing the wrong conclusions about the mayor.

In most opinions (mine included) the former bar owner has not lived up to his promise to help turn our city around. While he’s been a big proponent of Syracuse as a center of ‘green’ at the regional and national level, and bringing green business conferences here, that’s about all he’s done lately. I think his legacy will be more about promises unkept and opportunities missed than about accomplishments, and I'm not surprised that someone resorted to a public display of dismay in protest.

The problem with removing the posters, of course, is that someone – whether the mayor or a member of his administration – has a thinner skin than the glue used to hold the posters on the poles. There’s nothing wrong with hanging critical posters - they're really no worse than the bazillion garage sale and CD sale posters that litter telephone and streetlight poles all over the city. Or, if there is something wrong, all of the posters should get this kind of attention, not just the ones critical of the mayor.

On the national level, again it’s too much of too little, and too distracting when there’s too much to do. Is that too confusing?

The House of Representatives today officially chastised South Carolina’s Joe Wilson, the idiot who yelled ‘You Lie!’ during the President’s address last week to the joint session of Congress.
Seven Republicans joined with the majority, while twelve Dems crossed the aisle and voted against the resolution. Kudos to them.

Within the first few hours of the spectacle last Wednesday, Wilson and his opponent in the 2010 election collectively raised a few hundred thousand dollars; the opponent raised more, which I guess is a good thing, but the real problem is the more the Dems keep this in the national headlines, the less time they’re spending paying attention to the things that matter… like the health care reform debate itself, which was the precursor to Wilson's outburst. It also keeps the crazy right-wingers in the news, allowing them to profit (with very little expenditure of effort) from our inability to get out of our own way.

Obama’s acceptance of Wilson’s apology should have been the signal for the House leadership to move on; barring that, the official reprimand should have come immediately, not almost a week later. Hopefully now, we'll be able to get back to the business at hand.

September 13, 2009

The Weekend Trifecta 9/13/09

A trifecta is generally described as a type of bet where, in order to win, the bettor must pick the top three finishers in the correct order. Here are the weekend’s top three:

Alegria . We attended this Cirque du Soleil extravaganza which was in town for several shows over the past few days, featured tumblers, fire jugglers, clowns, contortionists, aerialists, a hand balancer, a guy who spun around in a ring so many times I got dizzy just watching him, and a few other characters which defy description, as well as a great band, a moving stage, and some really good-spirited audience members who ended up being in the show by virtue of having seats on the floor. One man was dragged away by the band, another was pulled up on stage to dance with one of the characters, and the last did a great set with the clowns. Cirque du Soleil has been on my list of things to see since I first became aware of it (them?) a few years back. I missed opportunities twice to see their shows in Las Vegas, but My Sweet Baboo and I had great seats on Saturday and really enjoyed the show.

Antiques and apple fritters on a Sunday afternoon. I received an unexpected email Saturday, from the proprietor of my favorite local antiques place, offering a one-day unadvertised sale. Frank is one of a kind, with a knack for making us smile whenever we visit. I’ve been going to his place for a good 10 years or more, with the ex and of course with MSB, and each time is a treat. We don’t always buy anything, but we always have a good time and a good conversation. After all, how can you not have fun with someone who places ads
that include stuff like this:

“…Only here might you find Queen Anne's Lace ... the ceremonial shawl, woven by skilled pygmies, that she wore when assuming the English throne. Only here will you find Milton Berle's pajamas -- the top half, anyway. (You can still smell traces of lilac-in-winter talc.) ONLY the Granary brings you such wonders and many more. The antiques we've mentioned may well be gone when you arrive…”

We did manage to find a couple of things today, nothing major, but good purchases. On the way home, we stopped at one of the local orchards for apple fritters – hot, perfectly sweet, and delicious.

Bulbs, bulbs, and more bulbs. I’ve talked before about the process we follow leading into the spring flower planting season. In the fall, I typically go through a few catalogs, pick out a few bulbs, and get my order in usually by mid-August. I had been resisting getting any more bulbs this year, in part because I got so many last year (a couple hundred daffodils alone) and had decided that maybe I wouldn’t do any fall garden shopping this year. Then I started getting emails letting me know to watch for the fall catalogs…then the fall catalogs themselves…then emails letting me know about specials beyond the great deals in the catalogs. Today, however, I finally succumbed to the siren’s song and purchased more lilies, allium, and yes, daffodils, as well as some striking green tulips. So, now I have more work to do in the yard. I’ve got just the spot to put these new bulbs… Of course I do – I just have to dig out some rocks, pull some vines, move a few things around… you get the picture. Can’t wait to get started!

Speaking of pictures, here are some shots of the fall garden. Enjoy, and have a great week!

September 10, 2009

Returning September 11th

As most folks do, I remember where I was when I heard the news back in September 2001. I was in our Utica office, to do some training and observations. I had some down time and was trying to locate a phone number for someone in our Rochester office, but couldn’t get logged into my computer, so I reached out to a coworker in the CNY office for help. The friend I called has an irreverent streak a mile wide, and a great sense of humor, so when she told me we were under attack, I assumed she was talking about at work, by her boss, or by someone in her training class having a bad day. It didn’t occur to me that we had been attacked by terrorists.

With disbelief, I headed off to the cafeteria to check the news, and had only been watching for a couple of minutes when the first tower collapsed. Shocked, stunned, amazed, and horrified are but a few of the emotions I felt in that instant. I remember one of the Utica employees had a family member who worked at the WTC, and her friends were distraught with the not knowing, something that was repeated hundres of times over that day. For all of us, even those who didn’t lose someone, something was lost that day.

And now, tomorrow as we have every year since 2001, we’ll be reminded of a horrible day in our country’s history, through the moments of silence, prayer vigils, candlelight ceremonies, and other methods of remembrance for the anniversary. Interviews with survivors, photos of those lost, or pictures of the now emptier New York skyline, the burning Pentagon, or the field where the last plane went down are likely to fill the papers and TV news.

Sadly, September 11th will always be known as a dark day, with only a glimmer of our American spirit showing through, in the rushing of the hijackers of flight 93. But here’s the thing – while we certainly should not forget what happened in 2001, that’s not the ONLY thing that happened on that day, and it’s not all bad. Here’s just a brief list of things that can be celebrated, treasured, remembered, discussed, or in some way recognized on September 11th. There’s no real rhyme or reason for what made the list, it’s just things I found interesting after noodling around on the Web, with some added commentary.

  • 1297 Scots, led by William Wallace defeat the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, proving that real men do wear kilts.
  • 1773 Benjamin Franklin writes "There never was a good war or bad peace."
  • 1792 The Hope Diamond is stolen along with other crown jewels when six men broke into the house used to store the jewels. Apparently Ted Nugent was not home that day – he woulda shot the bastards!
  • 1814 The Americans defeated the British at the Battle of Lake Champlain; remarkably, this is the quadricentennial year for Lake Champlain and the Hudson River.
  • 1847 Stephen Foster's Oh! Susanna, is first performed at a saloon in Pittsburgh. It’s been performed at a saloon somewhere every day since then.
  • 1918 My Boston Red Sox won the World Series, beginning a drought that would sadly last until 2004.
  • 1940 Buckingham Palace was damaged during a German air raid.
  • 1941 Ground was broken for the construction of The Pentagon.
  • 1944 The first allied troops of the U.S. Army cross the western border of Nazi Germany.
  • 1946 The first mobile long-distance car-to-car telephone conversation was held. My guess is some guy got lost and refused to ask for directions, so his wife picked up the phone and called someone.
  • 1950 The Dick Tracy TV show sparks uproar concerning violence. Imagine that…
  • 1954 The first Miss America TV broadcast. The winner was all natural.
  • 1962 The Beatles cut "Love Me Do" and "PS I Love You" and I still love them.
  • 1965 The 1st Cavalry Division of the United States Army arrives in Vietnam; not our proudest moment.
  • 1970 The Ford Pinto is introduced. I actually learned to drive in our red Pinto hatchback. That may be why I never got my license...
  • 1972 The Closing Ceremony of the Munich Olympics takes place. It was the Summer Olympics when the terrorist attack known as the Munich Massacre happened.
  • 1985 Cincinnati’s Pete Rose got his 4,192nd career base hit, breaking Ty Cobb's record which stood for over 60 years. He had bet he’d get the hit the day before, so he didn’t make any money.
  • 1987 Dan Rather walked off the set of the CBS Evening News in a petulant snit over being interrupted and postponed by a sports program, leaving six minutes of dead air. This set the stage for today’s fair and balanced television news.
  • 1989 The iron curtain opened between the communist Hungary and Austria. From Hungary thousands of East Germans throng to Austria and West Germany.
  • 1997 NASA's Mars Global Surveyor reaches Mars. This was only possible because someone made sure they had directions before they left the house.
  • 1998 Independent counsel Kenneth Starr sent a report to the U.S. Congress accusing President Bill Clinton of 11 possible impeachable offenses. In most countries, having sex is not an impeachable offense.
  • 1999 Tennis: Serena Williams won the U.S. Open, becoming the first African American woman since Althea Gibson to win a Grand Slam tournament since Althea Gibson in 1958.
  • 2002 The Pentagon is rededicated after repairs are completed, exactly one year after the attack on the building.
September 11th is more than just the 9/11 attacks and all of the things I’ve listed above. It’s someone’s anniversary, it’s the day someone lost their first tooth or had their first kiss. Tom Landry, the legendary coach of ‘America’s Team’, the Dallas Cowboys; Brian DePalma, who directed classic films such as Carrie, Body Double, Scarface and countless others; DH Lawrence, of Lady Chatterly’s Lover fame; and my friend Jason Greenley share this birthday with tens of thousands of others, and most of them, like Jay, would like to be able to celebrate their birthdays again, without feeling guilty or being accused of being disrespectful.

Let’s return September 11th to them, and to everyone else who should be allowed to remember this day for something other than a tragedy.

September 9, 2009

Obama's Address on Health Care Reform

Much will be said in the coming hours and days about the speech the President gave to a joint session of Congress tonight. For those of you interested in the full text, it's available here. Without going into the rhetoric (that is, the fun stuff), here are the highlights of the Obama Plan, generally in his own words:

For people with coverage now:
  • nothing in our plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or doctor you have
  • it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a preexsiting condition
  • it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick, or water it down when you need it most
  • they (insurance companies0 will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can received in a given year or lifetime
  • we will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses
  • insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care like mammograms and colonoscopies.

If you currently don't have health insurance:

  • health insurance exchange - marketplace - where individuals or small businesses can shop for health insurance at competitive prices.

If you still can't afford the lower-priced coverage in the exchange:

  • tax credits, based on need
  • insurance companies that participate in the exchange have to meet the above requirements
  • exchange takes effect in four years
  • for those who can't get insurance today due to preexisting conditions, we will immediately offer low-cost coverage that will protect against financial ruin if you become seriously ill

No one goes without coverage - everyone particularly the young and healthy will be required to have insurance. Hardship waivers will be available for those who still can't afford insurance and 95% of small businesses will be exempt from having to offer health care of chipping in to help pay for it.

What's not included:

  • death panels to kill off seniors
  • coverage for illegal immigrants
  • federal funding for abortions

Paying for the plan, which is $900 billion over ten years:

  • will not sign a bill that adds one penny to the deficit
  • additional spending cuts if the savings in the bill are not realized
  • savings within the existing health care system, including Medicare & Medicaid
  • an offering to take up tort reform (medical malpractice insurance)

Republican rebuttal indicated generally that the plan is too expensive and not bipartisan enough, creates too much bureaucracy, and that the public option is a bad idea. No real surprises there.

We'll talk more later.

September 8, 2009

Presidents Speaking to Kids

Some children may have heard the President speak today, live; some may be seeing his speech delayed on tape, and some may never hear or read his words, which would be a shame. They may not be allowed to see them, because some people think that our President is not an American citizen, or that he’s a radical Muslim bent on destroying our country, or that he’s a racist trying to make life hell for whitey, or he’s a socialist or a fascist or a communist or a Nazi or some other ungodly creature put here on earth to drive our country into ruins.

What our President really is, is the person that a majority of eligible voters elected following a lengthy campaign and in accordance with the law of the land. What he also is, is a dad who has two girls in school. What he’s not, is the first president to address the nation’s schoolchildren. He’s also not a wizard or some kind of mystical being trying to brainwash American children. That was Ronald Reagan:

“But America's world leadership goes well beyond the tide toward democracy. We also find that more countries than ever before are following America's revolutionary economic message of free enterprise, low taxes, and open world trade.”

And then there’s this one: “The basic values of faith and family will be just as true when people are living on distant planets as they are today. So, for America to gain greatest benefit from all the exciting new technologies that lie ahead, we will also need to reaffirm our traditional moral values, because these values are the foundation on which everything we do is built. So, yes, I would encourage you to study the math and science that are at the basis of the new technologies. But in a world of change you also need to pay attention to the moral and spiritual values that will stay with you, unchanged, throughout a long lifetime.”

Last, there’s this: “And, again, I would say that the most important thing you can do is to ground yourself in the ideas and values of the American Revolution. And that is a vision that goes beyond economics and politics. It's also a moral vision, grounded in the reverence and faith of those who believed that with God's help they could create a free and democratic nation. They designed a system of limited government that, in John Adams' words, was suited only to a religious people such as ours. Our Founding Fathers were the descendents of the Pilgrims -- men and women who came to America seeking freedom of worship -- who prospered here and offered a prayer of thanksgiving, something we've continued to do each year, and so that we'll do it again on Thursday of next week.”

So much for indoctrination. Here's a quiz. The statements below came from either President George Herbert Walker Bush or President Barack Obama. Can you tell which comments belong to which President?

(1) I'm not here to teach a lesson. You already have a very good teacher. I'm not here to tell you what to do or what to think. Maybe you're accustomed to adults talking about you and at you; well, today, I'm here to talk to you and challenge you. Education matters, and what you do today, and what you don't do can change your future.

(2) But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

(3) This report (national school report card) tells us a lot about what you know and what you don't know. It gives us something to build on. It shows us our strengths and the weaknesses that we've got to correct. It sets forth a challenge to all of us: Work harder, learn more, revolutionize American education.

(4) I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

(5) So, let's just put it on the line. You've got the brains. Now, put them to work -- certainly, not for me, but for you.

(6) Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

(7) I'm asking you to put two and two together: Make the connection between the homework you do tonight, the test you take tomorrow, and where you'll be 5, 15, even 50 years from now. You see, the real world doesn't begin somewhere else, some time way down there in the distant future. The real world starts right here. What you do here will have consequences for your whole lives.

(8) And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

(9) Let me tell you something, many of you may find very hard to believe this. You're in control.

(10) Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

So, how’d you do? The odd statements are Bush’s and the evens are Obama’s. Here’s one final question. Did we really need to spend a lot of time and effort worrying and arguing about whether Obama should do this speech to kids, or was it just a bunch of nonsense all along?

Bet you can guess my answer.

September 7, 2009

The Weekend Trifecta 9/7/09

A trifecta is generally described as a type of bet where, in order to win, the bettor must pick the top three finishers in the correct order. Here are the weekend’s top three:

Serendipity. There’s a giant black walnut in our neighbor’s yard, with several good-sized limbs that hang over our patio. The trees are so flush with nuts that we have more than our usual complement of squirrels this year, and when we go outside all we hear is the sound of them chewing green walnut hulls. Sadly, one of the consequences of too many squirrels and too many walnuts is (pardon the visual) mountains of partially chewed nuts coated in squirrel spit. Saturday My Sweet Baboo and I were discussing how we were going to have to hire a tree company to come in and get some of the branches down so that it’d be a little cleaner and a little harder for the squirrels. So where does serendipity come in? Well, today when I was in the midst of a garden weeding marathon out front, a guy stopped to give me his card and let me know he did tree work, general yard cleanup, and stuff like that. We talked a bit, got permission from the neighbors to work on the tree, and about two and a half hours later, they were done. Not an easy job, because it was not reachable by bucket truck but instead was all rope and ladder work, but it looks great!

Getting up early. On Saturday mornings, I usually sleep in a little after My Sweet Baboo gets up. He does his morning chores, including making the coffee, getting the paper, feeding the cats, and feeding the birds. We have a pretty large contingent of birds in the neighborhood, including chickadees, sparrows, hummingbirds, several kinds of woodpeckers, grosbeaks, nuthatches, cardinals and blue jays. The blue jays are extremely vocal, particularly when they're hungry. The only thing they’re interested in is peanuts - lots of peanuts - and they put on quite a show. MSB puts two or three handfuls on the platform feeder, and then the fun begins. It’s a little like O’Hare airport – one jay comes in, lands on the feeder, grabs a peanut, and takes off; a second one is right behind, hitting the feeder just as the first one gets airborne, the third one in the tree above waiting for his clearance to land. It goes on like this for several minutes, one right after the other, a landing coming immediately on the heels of each takeoff. Saturday, I had the chance to witness the action, because I dragged myself out of bed early.

The New York State Fair. The Fair ends its twelve-day run today, likely shy of a new attendance record, but a good run nonetheless. We had a great time there yesterday – saw the pigs, sheep, goats, and llamas; spent some time at the International Horse Show; got our ice-cold chocolate milk (still a fantastic bargain at 25 cents a ticket) and saw the butter sculpture; and took in the Horticulture Building (too much non-horticulture stuff if you ask us) and the Center of Progress building. It’s sort of comforting to know that the same guy has been demonstrating the amazing chopper thing for the past five years or more. It's comforting to know he’s still out there, making salsa right before our eyes. The New York State Senate had a display, but no Senators were there so I didn’t get a chance to ask how they really feel about Pedro Espada and the whole coup thing. I thought about asking the folks from the Attorney General’s office if they were going to investigate the Senate for bribery and other acts, but figured I’d save that one for later. One other item of note – in the youth, amateur, and professional art and photography competitions, frogs were big winners – two blue ribbons in photography and at least two ribbons on the art side. Not sure why, got any ideas?

A long weekend’s always nice; we made the most of this one, and we both have tomorrow off as well. I’ll spend part of the day trying to sort out where the mayoral candidates stand on the issues that are important to Syracuse, so I can make an informed decision next week for the primary. I'll let you know what I learn.