Friday, August 28, 2009

Somedays I'm glad I live in SC

We in SC have our political problems. A governor who won't resign. He's being pushed by the Lt. Governor and state legislators and they are in his own party. Some (most?) of the pushing is politically motivated and based on old problems.

But at least I don't live in Massachusetts. With the passing of Sen. Kennedy, there's now an open Senate seat. In most states, the governor would simply appoint someone to fill the seat and everyone would move on. But back in 2004, the now deceased Sen. Kennedy pushed for the state to create new legislation that would require a special election for empty seats.

Back in 2004, Mitt Romney (a Republican) was governor. John Kerry (a Democrat) was running for president and everyone thought he would be elected. This would have left his seat empty and Romney might have appointed a non-Democrat for the seat. So, Kennedy pushed for a change in the law.

Fast forward five years and the table is now reversed. There's a Democratic governor who, if the law allowed, could appoint a Democrat to be Kennedy's replacement. Instead, by current law, a special election must be held and the state will have to go with only one senator for 4-5 months.

Of course, my way of thinking is that this isn't such a bad thing. Sen. Kennedy was very ill most of this year and hasn't been able to do much with the seat. So what will be different? But to alleviate that issue, Sen. Kennedy last week sent a letter, encouraging them to change the law (again).

Isn't it great when politicians change the law to fit their parties needs? It makes me so anxious for the new health care, knowing that they can change things when they feel like it...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Senator Kennedy's passing

By now, you've heard a lot about the death of Sen. Kennedy. I spent a little time this morning researching what was said on some conservative blogs and on some liberal blogs. As expected, I saw some bashing of the man and some praises. I also saw some anti-bashing, a liberal blog bashing the people who bashed the man. Unfortunately, I didn't learn a lot about the man.

Back in January, I wrote about Contrary Evidence. I wrote that you needed to seek facts that disagree with your normal thoughts. I can't think of a single piece of legislation that the "Lion of the Senate" sponsored that I would have agreed on. But I have to keep reminding myself that, as much as I may have disliked him and his politics, a majority of the voters in Mass. voted for him nine times.

So where's the contrary evidence? And shouldn't we all be looking for it?

I know about the misadventures of Sen. Kennedy at Chappaquiddick (at least what wasn't covered up). I know a lot of people think he tried to live up to his family name (and many believe he failed). I know a lot of the senator's misdeeds - political, family, etc. But unless I believe a majority the people of Mass. are just off their rockers (I might believe that about California), I have to admit that they saw something they liked. Or maybe they wanted a powerful senator to represent them. What did these voters see?

I have to liken Sen. Kennedy to Sen. Thurmond, the long lived Senator from my own state. I was disappointed to learn that Kennedy served longer in the Senate than Thurmond did. But both men served a long career.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Barney Fife on Global Warming (aka Climate Change)

We all need to seek the experts on any topic that comes up. Yesterday, I heard a comment by Barney Fife (as good as any other expert) on Global Warming.

Barney, as you probably know, was Andy Taylor's deputy on the Andy Griffith show and had an expert opinion on almost every subject. The episode is titled "Opie's Newspaper" and it was aired on March 22, 1965 (see IMDB for details)

In one scene, Andy is staring out of the kitchen door, Aunt Bee and Barney are sitting at the table. The conversation goes like this:

Andy: Nice day, you know that?

Aunt Bee: It seems a little warm to me.

Barney: Well, the weather's been changing so much lately. Must be the bomb.

That proves it. Global warming is a communist plot.

(Turns out I'm not the only one interested in this episode. See the first q&a at this site. There is also a podcast with the explanation of this comment).

Seinfeld gets people fired

This story from the DesMoines Register shows how a joke from a Seinfeld episode went a little too far and got a man fired. Seems a group from the Brain Injury Association of Iowa attended an outdoor event where there were a lot of blooming plants. After one person sneezed, a lady in the group explained that in her house instead of say "Gesundheit" or "God bless you", she and her husband say "You are so good looking" - which was the basis for a Seinfeld episode. As the event went on, several people got into the game.

After the event, John Preston continued to email the lady telling her she was good looking. Apparently, he liked the episode of Seinfeld too. But this unnerved the lady, who complained to her bosses and they told Preston. A few weeks later, he met the lady in the hall and talked with her and "massaged her shoulders." She complained again and this time he was fired.

This wasn't the first time Seinfeld got people fired, another Iowa case in 2004 resulted in Ronald Knight of the Fareway grocery store being fired after he repeated some comments from a different episode. And in 1992, Miller Brewing company fired an executive for telling his secretary about an episode and showing her a word in a dictionary (the referenced article contains both stories).

What lessons can we learn from this? 1) Just because you saw something on TV doesn't mean you can repeat it in the office. 2) You can carry a joke too far and 3) massaging a co-workers shoulders in the workplace is NEVER acceptable.

In this case, some blame should also fall on the female. Apparently, she started the gag at the outdoor event. If it was unacceptable for Preston, it was unacceptable for her also. She needs to learn some discernment in sharing stories from her home life.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Red Box vs Netflix

A co-worker mentioned that he uses Red Box a lot and I decided to check it out. Red Box operates those kiosks you see in the grocery store and rents DVD's for $1/day. They claim no late fees, they just charge $1 each day.

I compared this to my current Netflix plan which is $8.99/month. These DVDs tend to sit on top of the TV for a while, so at $1/day, I'd probably be paying $10-$20 a month. Of course I could delay picking up until I was ready to watch and could return sooner (even on Sundays), so maybe I'd be at the low end of that. And there's no driving with Netflix, it's all done through the mail.

Out of curiosity, I took my Netflix queue and checked it out on Red Box (you can reserve movies ahead of time). To my surprise NONE of the top 5 movies were in Red Box. Now a lot of my Netflix queue is "older" movies (2-5 years old) that we never watched the first time around. So I guess this is understandable. But it doesn't make me want to switch DVD providers

What do you think? Netflix or Red Box?

Smoke alarm false alarm

OK, once is bad, twice is downright spooky. Tonight about 9pm while watching the movie Chain Reaction, the smoke alarm went off. It lasted about 15 to 20 seconds and then quit. When it's done that before it was due to a candle nearby, but such was not the case tonight. Candles have gotten to the point where they upset my wife's sinuses, so we've stopped using them.

I checked all around, but no smoke. No smell of smoke, no reason for a smoke alarm. We joked that the hydrogen explosions on the movie set it off.

Then around midnight, it went off again. Again for 15 to 20 seconds. Again no smell of smoke, no apparent reason. I checked the attic. I checked outside. No smoke.

I took the battery out and will go get fresh batteries in the morning. But usually when the batteries are dieing, you get a nice occasional chirp and it doesn't stop after 15 to 20 seconds.


* Update - After the 4th time, I made a 1am run to CVS for new batteries. New batteries didn't help, I ended up unplugging the stupid things. I've never had so much trouble. Now I can't sleep.

* Update 2 - this morning I gently took the smoke detectors apart and vacuumed them. Each had a small cobweb in them. Cleaned them good, put them back up and all quiet so far (about 3 hours of experience). I'm afraid to test them though.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

And the winner is... And my vote is....

Glenn Chatfield is the winner.

A little over a week ago, I posted a contest, asking my readers to post their idea on who was the smartest president in recent history. Rather than try to judge the best answer, I held a drawing and Glenn Chatfield won the drawing. Glenn will be the recipient of his choice of an iTunes or Amazon gift card.

Most of the votes came in for Ronald Reagan which didn't surprise me. Most of my readers are conservatives and he is the ultimate conservative choice. But I also have some less-conservative (and some down right liberal) readers, so there were also votes for Clinton, Obama and even Carter (that one surprised me). I even had one reader expand the definition of "recent" president and include a vote for Lincoln.

Thanks for all the comments and I really appreciate the different views. Now I'll give my view for the smartest president and it may surprise some. I'd say President Obama is the smartest.

The current president is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School. That says something about his IQ right off the bat. He served in the Illinois Senate starting in 1997, then was elected to the US Senate in 2004. He gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in the same year. That's when I realized he was going to go somewhere. His speeches move people.

He's received a lot of negativity because of his use of teleprompters, but he mostly deflects these comments. During his presidential campaign, he sidestepped one of the most divisive subjects - abortion - with the comment that it was above his pay grade. After his inauguration he took action by funding foreign abortions without a lot of statements. You may disagree with his politics, but I think this shows his political IQ.

Obama has also been able to push a lot of legislation through congress by using the economy as cover. A lot of the items in the stimulus bill had nothing to do with stimulating the economy.

So, my vote goes to Obama as the smartest president even if I don't agree with his politics.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How many pillows does one man need?

I'm traveling this week and the idea hit me last night as I crawled into the king sized bed at this Hilton - how many pillows do they think I need? In this case, the answer seems to be five. Being the only one in the room and being unable to have a pillow fight by myself, that left four unused.

Don't forget my contest and your chance to win the $10. All you have to do is tell me who you think is the smartest president and why. I've had some good answers with votes for Obama, Reagan and Carter (you can't get more diverse than that). Read all about it here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pre-existing Conditions

The health-care reform bills currently in congress are receiving a lot of national attention. This post will cover a single aspect of the discussion, preexisting conditions. I recently did some research about this for a family member and I relayed some of the information via email to one of my readers. I'll first explain what the term means, speak about the current law and then offer my opinion. As always, I'll welcome your comments.

In health terms, a preexisting condition is any medical condition that exists before you first sign up for insurance. Those big evil insurance companies don't want to pay for them. For example, suppose you are part of the 46 million people who don't have insurance and suppose further the reason is you just want to spend your money on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not on insurance. You wake up one morning and find you can't stand without a severe pain in your hip. After a visit to a doctor, he suggests this might be related to back problems and sends you off for an MRI. You decide to enroll in insurance on the way.

After the MRI (which costs $1000+), you learn that you will need cortisone shots and surgery for your back. The total cost is expected to be over $50,000. That big, mean old, awful, capitalist insurance company doesn't want to pay the bill because you knew about the problem when you signed up and they want to keep their profits. (see here for my discussion on profits).

In his recent town-hall meeting in Montana, President Obama said that with the new legislation "Insurance companies will also be prohibited from denying coverage because of your medical history. A recent report found that in the past three years, more than 12 million Americans were discriminated against by insurance companies because of a preexisting condition." (see here)

I'm a little confused why the president mentioned this, it turns out that discrimination by employers based on past history isn't allowed. "One of the most important protections under HIPAA is that it helps those with preexisting conditions get health coverage." (from here) Maybe the president is talking about something else all together.

Insurers are "allowed to look back only 6 months for a condition that was present before the start of coverage in a group health plan." That means in my example above, if you waited 6 months for the MRI, cortisone shots and surgery, you would be ok. Maybe the president's idea is right, maybe you should just take a pill and delay the surgery.

Another confusing point happens when people change jobs. Suppose that in my example before you had insurance through your employer when the doctor told you you'd need the surgery. Then you decided to change jobs and look for greener pastures. Assuming your new employer provided insurance, the new insurer would have to cover you. As long as your "creditable coverage" did not lapse for longer than the new employer's preexisting coverage clause, you would be ok. I'm no lawyer, but this doesn't seem like it would really exclude anything if your previous coverage had been in effect for at least six months.

So, in summary, in many cases, preexisting conditions are not an issue at all. If you hear reports of someone complaining, they should examine this web site and see if they really have a problem (often times the reports you hear are from a friend who heard a story about someone who knew of a person whose first cousin-once-removed heard a story. Somehow, details get lost in the conversation.)

My opinion is probably tougher than most people would like. I believe insurance should be insurance, not automatic payment. Everyone needs insurance and everyone should have some. They shouldn't wait until they have an issue to buy it. If President Obama is right and 12 million Americans were discriminated against, he should use his executive powers to go after the insurance companies in question. If they broke the law, they should be prosecuted. If not, by definition, they weren't discriminating.

This topic only deals with preexisting conditions. There are a lot of other issues in the new heath care bills that warrant discussion and I may bring them into my blog in the future.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Contest for comments (If you bribe them, will they come?)

This thought has been on my mind a lot recently and I want involvement from others. Several of my readers are apolitical - it's not that they don't have political ideas, they just don't want to share them. So I'm going to entice them a little bit, I'm going to have a contest. The winner will get their choice of a $10 iTunes certificate (assuming I can figure out how to get one) or a $10 Amazon certificate.

All interested parties should comment on this post with an answer to the following question - "Who do you think is the smartest president we've had in recent history?" By recent history let's say as any president including JFK and beyond, I get hazy on who was who before that. The comment should include a brief description of why you think your choice is the best choice. I'm not going to restrict the answers by defining the word "smartest", I'll let you do that, but be sure to explain your choice.

I'd like to ask respect for all presidents, so as my daughter would say "don't be dissin' nobody." I'd also ask for respect for my readers, if you don't agree with what they have to say, please refrain from commenting on their comments, just offer your own opinion of who is best.

Rather than try to pick a winner based on content and risk showing bias, I'm going to put all of my commenters names into a hat (or bowl) and choose a winner at random. I've asked the lovely Vanna White to do the picking, but she's not available, so I'll ask my lovelier wife to do the honors. I'll post the name of the winner. Be sure to include your name in your comments.

I'm traveling a bit this week and next, so I'll close the comments on next Friday, August 21. That gives everyone a little over a week. Enjoy!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cash for clunkers - Grandma doesn't qualify

I saw this story on NBC this morning, now it's popping up everywhere. Seems 90 year old Rachel Veitch in Florida has over 557THOUSAND miles on a car (some reports say 559Thousand). No, it's not a Honda or Toyota, it's a Mercury Comet. Made in the USA in 1964. Back in the day, when you bought a car, you named it. Her car is named "Chariot." (my first was "Red Bird", third was "Betsy" -- can't remember second).

Veitch said her "Chariot has never lied to me or cheated on me and I can always depend on her." (source here) It "has outlasted her three marriages and has gone through eight mufflers, at least 17 batteries and three sets of shocks" according to this story. She says that she's a believer in maintaining a car, "I've never been a destructive person and I've just taken care of everything, except my husbands."

According to reports, she's had the car up to 120mph (as high as the speedometer goes) and once got a ticket for going 92mph (she installed a cruise control after that). She even got to take the car onto Daytona Motor Speedway once.

Clark Howard, the master penny-pincher picked up the story. When Veitch started driving her Comet, gas was 39cents/gallon. Even though the car only gets 15mpg (well below the CARS threshold of 18mpg), she isn't eligible for the program. Her car is 45 years old and CARS is limited to 25 years old or younger.

Even if it did "she'll never sell, and she packs a .38-caliber handgun in case anyone tries to take her chariot for a ride without her."

Somehow, I don't think I'd mess with Grandma...
(Photo credit here).

Friday, August 07, 2009

I see the bad moon arising...

With apologies to Creedence Clearwater Revival, I off the following fact list:

  • My paternal grandmother did everything based on the phase of the moon: planting, cutting wood, even weather forecasting. Anecdotal evidence proved her right more than the local TV weather man.

  • Nurses and doctors believe the ER and the OB both fill up under a full moon.

  • Teachers believe students misbehave more often under a full moon.

  • Yesterday, a full moon, congress approved an extension of the cash for clunkers program and approved Judge Sotomayor as a Supreme Court Justice.

Grandma wasn't wrong very often...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Cash for Clunkers - Continued

Well, it looks like it's official (see here), the Senate has now approved an extension of the Cash for Clunkers bill. The bill was either a huge success or a huge expenditure depending on your point of view. It's a redistribution of wealth from the taxpayers (only 50% of Americans) to those who are in a position to buy a car. Or maybe it's another bailout for car manufacturers.

Some interesting information has come out about the program and actually a lot of details have not come out. But so far, it looks like GM has been the biggest winner with 18.7 percent of new sales. Ford has actually seen a profit. From my previous post, I showed how the increase in sales was short lived, so I hope Ford is investing the profit wisely - it won't last.

Another report I saw said that Ford Explorers were the most traded in vehicle along with older mini-vans. My suspicion is that these owners had been waiting to get rid of their "clunkers".

Remember the program had a dual purpose: #1 to help the auto industry and #2 to increase fuel efficiency. If the Ford Explorers and mini-vans were actually being used and the new cars are taking their place, the second goal will have been reached. I suspect the less fuel efficient cars weren't in heavy use and the newer efficient cars will be used by new drivers, thereby increasing overall fuel usage. (I considered selling a clunker and getting my wife a new car, but I didn't qualify).

Details of the clunker program have been hard to find. The AP reports that the "Obama administration is refusing to release government records on its "cash-for-clunkers" rebate program that would substantiate — or undercut — White House claims of the program's success." So despite promises of "transparency in the people’s White House," things seem to be mostly cloudy. I guess like the stimulus plan, we don't have time to be forthcoming, we have to act now.

My main concern though is the change in the program. The program was initially approved (after a lot of discussion) for $1BILLION or until November 1, which ever came first. We've reached the $1BILLION mark, so the program should be ended. The expansion is going on without any real analysis. Everyone's having a good time, so we just go on spending.

Some of my kids have learned (the hard way) that only the Federal Government can continue spending when they run out of money. In this case, the government doesn't even know how much it has. It's like ignoring the balance column in the checkbook register (do people still use those?)

The new bill should have gone the way of the clunkers -- into the shredder. What do you think?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Defying Gravity - New Series review

Last night I watched a pilot of a new series, "Defying Gravity." My wife was unenthused, as she is about anything sci-fi. But I decided to hog the downstairs TV and watch it anyway. The premise is that a new space-ship is taking off for a 6 year tour of 7 planets. First stop is Venus, after a brief pitstop in earth orbit. Only the astronauts don't know that some unknown thing, "it" or "Beta", is making all the decisions, including who is on the mission.

Set in 2054, the mission is commanded (or some other role, it was difficult to tell), is the man who commanded a Mars mission 10 years earlier, a trip that left two people stranded on the red planet. The show is full of flashbacks to the Mars mission and to the 5 years of training this set of astronauts went through to earn a spot on the ship.

One interesting aspect is the view of abortion. Now we're never really told that one of the astronauts had an abortion, but it's certainly implied. Zoe, had a one night stand with the mission commander (the one from the Mars trip). She was drunk and he was persistent, so they ended up at a no-tell motel. He's quite a womanizer, seen hitting on several different women in the pilot (and one woman actively hitting on him).

It is confirmed that she's pregnant and her friend tries to talk her into an abortion. We haven't seen yet that she decided to go through with it, but presumably she wouldn't have been allowed on the trip with a 5 year old at home. What makes all of this interesting, is that all through the pilot, she hears a baby crying. No one else hears the baby, so I'm assuming that it's the baby she aborted.

The series focused more on the romance and tension between characters than it did on any real sci-fi. I was surprised at the free sex within the astronaut community (maybe AIDS and STDs have been eradicated). The tension between former sex partners is shown, so surely, some mission psychologist would have prevented this kind of action. Also, all of the characters went on a drinking binge the night before lift-off. Today airline pilots are prohibited from drinking the night before flights (which makes me glad), why would you let astronauts drink before their flight? One astronaut is even confronted as being an alcoholic, they would let him go? Oh yea, Beta is making the decisions.

All in all, it was a good show. I'll probably watch again next week, but it comes on very late for me (10pm). I can't stay up that late every Sunday night.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Upcountry - Book Review

The other day, I posted a quote about the book Upcountry, by Nelson DeMille. I finished reading the book and thought I'd post a review. I had read other DeMille novels - Plum Island, The Lion's Game and Nightfall, and knew this would be an adventure. The further I got into the new novel, the more adventurous it became.

Upcountry is set mostly in Vietnam. The lead character, Paul Brenner, is a retired Vietnam War veteran who stayed in the Army for several years in the Criminal Investigation Division. After his exit from CID, he is called back for one case - to investigate a 30 year old murder that occurred during the height of the war.

Brenner's travel to Vietnam brings back a lot of memories, some of them quite graphic (not for kids). While I was too young to know details back then, the details provided in this book seem accurate and an epilogue explains DeMille's background and gives authenticity.

Of course there has to be a woman involved, in this case it's Susan Weber. She's been in Vietnam for a number of years and likes the fact that she's living in a new territory, likened to the Old West. Susan decides to accompany Brenner and he's not sure he wants her there.

Typical for DeMille, the novel is action packed. There's some romance in it, and a lot of unanswered questions at the end (but none that affect the quality of the story). The novel is somewhat of a sequel to The General's Daughter (which was made into a John Travolta movie), but I didn't know this until half-way through and I didn't miss anything.

Vietnam War veterans may find this book brings back memories and that could be good or bad. Also, the graphic descriptions could prove too graphic for some people - on at least one occasion I had to take a break from reading to wash my hands. But the story line was excellent and kept you guessing as to what would come next. The ending questions (what happens to Susan Weber?) are not so bothersome as to leave you hanging - I hate it when that happens and often refuse to buy the sequel on purpose alone.

Lately, the idea of race relations has been forefront on my mind, and this book helped understand the issues a little deeper. As noted in my previous post, the regional pride of the North and South Vietnamese, seemed to echo the regional differences in the U.S.

All together, a very good read, I recommend it. I'm interested in your opinion.