Friday, October 14, 2011

Bachmann says go with Reagan tax plan - raise taxes...

SACRAMENTO, California, USA - Someone should tell Michele Bachmann that taxes were higher under Ronald Reagan than today. (See video clip below..)

And maybe point out that he got the country out of a recession through government spending and raising the deficit.

She's making Herman Cain look like an economic genius.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Latest outrage(s) from CSU Chancellor demand action

LONG BEACH, Calif., USA - The chancellor of the California State University has made it clear for years that he doesn't have much respect for faculty and staff, or hold students in very high regard.

At least that what his actions - and most of the actions of the CSU Board of Trustees - lead any rational person to believe.

Charles Reed
In recent weeks, Chancellor Charles Reed proposed a labor contract that would in two years give him the opportunity to start pushing for (and probably getting) reductions in the salaries of faculty, if he thought it was a good idea. And he probably does think it is a good idea now, but knows he can't get away with it.

 Not yet.

This same chancellor battled hard to make sure the newest of his campus presidents (at San Diego State) would get an extra $100,000 per year bump on top of the salary his predecessor made. Apparently, there are campuses all over the nation (And the world! The world!) fiercely competiting for these presidents, whose  jobs, thanks to Charles Reed, gives them all the authority of a second tier manager of a Rite Aid pharmacy. A small Rite Aid pharmacy.

But today he managed to give yet another metaphorical digit to students, faculty and staff, when he convinced the CSU Trustees to approve a new policy which keeps potential campus presidents from  having to visit the campus over which they will lord, should he choose them to, well, lord.

It really does sound more and more like Rite Aid management, doesn't it?

According to the San Francisco Chronicle: "The trustees eliminated the visits after Chancellor Charles Reed said some potential candidates would refuse to be considered without a guarantee of privacy."

It seems pretty bizarre to select a person to be the big kahuna of a CSU campus - most of which have a history of democracy and openness - by bringing them in in the dead of night and springing them on the students, faculty and staff. And the tradition of having candidates for campus president showing up to meet with campus folks goes back to the 1960s. It seems to have worked pretty well for over 50 years.

The arrogance is appalling, but that word has seemed, well, insufficient in recent years to describe the tenure of Reed and most of the trustees, who seem to consider students and faculty and staff more annoying than anything.

There is no mechanism for recalling the trustees, nor for getting Reed out of his overly compensated position - $421,500 with a $30,000-per-year retirement bonus and a mansion in a tony section of Long Beach.

But perhaps students and faculty might start doing some picketing down south, wherever the chancellor happens to be roosting at the moment, just like faculty students are doing at Humboldt. Good for you Humboldt State - maybe Long Beach State can rustle up some signs and bullhorns to get the chancellor's attention.

Make it a loud bullhorn though, he seems quite tone deaf.

"Charlie Watch" at Humboldt State

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Fracking film offers a peek at g-normous traffic

PINE CREEK VALLEY, PA, USA - All of the reports about the gas company-imposed disaster that is known as hydrofracking talk about traffic, but most seem more worried about potential water pollution.

And we should be worried about water pollution. If we don't have clean water, well, it's game over amigos.

The video below shows the impact of traffic in a small town. And, as noted by the narrator, this is just the beginning of a huge gas company push to put in thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of gas wells.

Fracking is going to create an industrial nightmare that made the Mad Max movies look like Disney productions.

Here's the video:

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Rick Perry prays for the nation - and to be president

HOUSTON, Texas, USA - That soon-to-announce GOP presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry hopes to fill a Texas stadium for a prayer-in isn't surprising, just somewhat outrageous.

If he were a minister who got lucky and scored $500,000 from the whack-job American Family Association (founded by Donald Wildmon), it would be one thing.

But this guy is within days of throwing his 10-gallon hat into the ring for the GOP nomination, joining Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, among others.

Rick Perry
Shameless politics, no matter how much he protests.

So what's political about praying for a "nation in crisis" as he says the prayer rally is all about?

Well, the nation is in a crisis of sorts. First, the GOP manufactured a crisis out of raising the debt ceiling then used it to cudgel Democrats and the President into accepting completely unacceptable budget cuts. And there's little doubt that we should say a few prayers that politicians start thinking about what's best for the people of America and not their future political careers.

But look at Perry's stated goal:

"We're going to pray for the president of the United States, to have God's wisdom poured out over him, to have his eyes opened," Perry said.

Opened to what? Perry should be careful what he wishes for.

If he opens his eyes, maybe, just maybe, he will stop caving in to the Tea Party wing nuts who are intent on dismantling all government.

That's my prayer anyway. But I am not going to Texas to offer it up.

LINK: Rick Perry preys

Friday, July 22, 2011

'Doc Martin' TV series offers comedy and drama

PORTWENN, Cornwall, England - The television series, Doc Martin, took place in this village (really Port Isaac) and after watching four seasons worth of it, I think I am ready to move there.

Move again? Madre mia!

Doc Martin
The village reminds me faintly of our place in Arroyo Seco, Jalisco, Mexico, except it's populated by, obviously, English-speaking people. The people in both places are both kind and occasionally not-so-kind in their interactions with everyone. But always interesting to watch.


And in the middle of all of it is Doc Martin, actually Dr. Martin Effingham, actually actor Martin Clunes who gives a tour-de-force performance as a former big-time surgeon, reduced to being a small town general practitioner when he suddenly couldn't stand the sight of blood.

Carolyn Catz
The people of the town like the Doc, who is about the rudest person - but still charming - I have seen as a major chararacter in a teleplay. Still, he is a great doctor, manages to fall in love, and is heading toward an escape from the small town toward the end of the series.

Doc Martin has a, well, interesting past that is revealed over the episodes. He proves to be a much more complex character that what you see in first few shows.

He even ends up with a girlfriend, sort of (actress Carolyn Catz). But you need to see those episodes to understand and what that situation evolve.

Doc Martin is highly recommended - but watch it from the very first episode.

Doc Martin on the scene of an emergency

Friday, June 24, 2011

Oh, just supersize that penicillin prescription, please

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - A story in today's Sacramento Bee newspaper details out a relatively new schtick for one medical plan - providing prescription drugs to patients via a vending-type machine.

The prescription drugs are pre-packaged, apparently, and with a punch-in code and identification, voila, out comes the drugs.
Sacramento Bee photo

The story is pretty sketchy, and reads a little like an advertisement for the Molina health plan. But the implications are vast.

Here's a link to the story: Supersize my penicillin, please

Perhaps in the U.S., this system might work, because pharmacists have been pretty well stripped of any ability to offer real advice about the drugs doctors have prescribed.

I recently went to a local pharmacy (ok, it was in a Wal-Mart, but we don't have many choices in Watkins Glen, NY) and while there, had some questions about the skin meds my dermatologist had ordered. The young woman at the counter said the pharmacist would need to talk to me but after waiting a good bit - and judging from how busy he was - I opted to simply read the instructions carefully.

Probably a good thing anyway.

Mexican pharmacy
In Mexico, pharmacists are frequently medical doctors who run a drug store as an adjunct to their practices. And even if the pharmacist doesn't hold a medical degree, in most small towns they offer a lot of medical advice.

And in my experience - even with the language barrier - they seem to know what they are talking about.

With prescription drugs being dispensed by a machine, how long will it before we can do the same thing with medical office visits? Just describe your symptoms to a computer-like device and it will spit out a diagnosis and, of course, send the prescription notice over to its sister machine, which has the drugs.

I may have already seen this system in a Star Trek episode.

But one big question is not answered in the story about the drugs-by-machine: Will this automated system result in lower medical costs and lower prescription costs?

I think we all know the answer to that one.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The problems with our economy explained - and drawn - by Robert Reich

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The woes of the economy are evident around Central New York, but camouflaged by the beautiful scenery and the beginnings of summer.

But the number of people out of work is astounding.

And what about young people? (Anyone under 30 these days in my viewpoint.) Very few jobs for them, outside of tending bar (a prized occupation, actually) or some work in the tourist industry. If they have left the area and returned with an engineering degree or a medical degree, it's not that much better.

There's not that many jobs for engineers or doctors, even.

And at the same time, public agencies are cutting and cutting and cutting. The great schools here might have to settle for a not-so-great environment, if the cuts keep coming.

So what the %&E^*^*^ is going on?

Economist Robert Reich explains it in about 2 minutes. Two minutes. Really.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Needed, modern day Paul Revere to shout - The Climate is Changing! The Climate is Changing!

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - Sarah Palin's off-the-cuff remark about Paul Revere (she said he rode about Boston warning the British - hoo-boy!) help spark Amy Goodman to pen a great column about climate change.

Basically, she said, we need a modern-day Paul Revere to ride around shouting about how close to the precipice we are when it comes to changes in the world's climate. Tornadoes, weird temperature swings, hurricanes over the oceans, earthquakes and on and on....

Here's the link to her column: Paul Revere shouts, the Climate is Changing, the Climate is Changing

It's a well-written piece, analytical without being too preachy. But it also reminded me of a book I read not too long ago called The Long Emergency. It's as scary as any Stephen King tome. Actually, it's more frightening because you can see where we are likely headed.

The latest news about the likelihood of famines again this year - and how many hungry people are surging towards borders of nations where there is food - well, read Amy Goodman, then The Long Emergency. Then light a candle or two - at home or church.

Or maybe both.

Here's the author of The Long Emergency on what's happening to the economy today.

LINK: Hold on tight to what you have left

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

'So Much For That,' is so much of a great novel

PEMBA, Zanzibar, Africa - Lionel Shriver's novel So Much For That hits just about every high and low note I can bear to read.

Lionel Shriver
There's absolute joy, horror, family dysfunction, employment bullying, death, life, taxes - and a very healthy whack at health care - and health insurance - in the United States.

And in the paragraph above, I left out a lot.

The book is the tale of a fellow named Shepherd Armstrong Knacker who has sold a business (think Home Depot, but on a local scale). He has a dream and that dream is about his having a life on Pemba, an island that is part of the Zanzibar archipelago.

But there are problems, of course, with getting to that dream from New York City (where Shep lives with his wife Glynis). Shep has a job, friends, children, an aging father, a sister (who believes she is an artist) and, eventually, there is an illness.

In all of So Much For That, Shriver shows great cleverness as a novelist and uses a device I have rarely seen, but which works fabulously. At several points, she will have a character suddenly dealing with an issue, but without stating directly what that issue is. It will be many pages later when the reader discovers what the character has actually had to contend with.

It makes sense and works out, somehow. She has a magic style in her writing.

Another novel device that hits the reader from the first page are the chapter subheadings - nineteen in all - like this:

Shepherd Armstrong Knacker
Merrill Lynch Account Number 934-23F917
Dec. 1, 2004 - Dec. 31, 2004
Net Portfolio Value: $731,778.56

You can guess that the bottom number changes frequently. But how it changes, and what it means to the story makes for a compelling tale.

So Much For That, despite dark overtones, is not a dark book. It's real life with twists that suggest tears and laughter, frequently simultaneously.

If you read it, you will likely weep and laugh, too, of course - right through the last page - where the final two sentences wrap it up as nicely as any novel I have ever read.

And, no, you will not be reading those sentences here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Gasland: Oh-My-God watch this movie, then pray

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The movie Gasland should not be listed in the documentary section of videos on Netflix or at video stores. Instead, it might better be placed alongside all those disaster movies like Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, and The Day After.

Those movies, of course, were works of fiction.

Gasland is not, which makes it sooooo much more frightening. And kind of sickening, too.

It's a tale of an out-of-control gas drilling industry, greed, corporate (and government) corruption and real suffering. The real suffering is not on the part of the corporations or gas drilling industry, of course. It's the people who live where the gas drilling - frequently referred to as 'fracking' - are having their well-water and air poisoned.

If the air you breathe and the water you drink make you sick, that's suffering.

Gasland is the work of independent filmmaker Josh Fox, who lives in the Delaware River basin near where gas drilling companies are getting ready to frack the countryside. In the process, the movie makes it obvious the ground water will be polluted with enough cancer-causing chemicals to make it unsafe to even use to wash a car. Fox had been approached by a gas company, wanting to lease his land to drill.

He had questions. And he made a movie about the answers.

The science is simple. Millions of gallons of water, laced with hundreds of nasty sounding chemicals, are injected into the ground (where shale rock formations exist) to create mini-earthquakes which release natural gas. The gas, in turn, is captured by the drilling companies, and sold as a product. The problems? Jaysus, where to begin?

The gas doesn't all go back up neatly into the collection wells, sometimes it bubbles up right through the ground, poisoning steams and water wells.

The water pumped in - under huge pressures - is toxic and remains so. It too leaches into ground water and even if most of it is recaptured, it has to be trucked away and disposed of. Check your local wastewater facilities and see if fracking water is being dumped there. If it is, try to stop it. Municipal wastewater facilities can't possibly deal with the toxic chemicals in the water. So the chemicals just come out and enter the water system. Your water system.

And what are those toxic chemicals?

Hard to say, exactly.

 In 2005, President George Bush, at the urging of (wait for it, here it comes) Vice President Dick Cheney, signed a bill that exempted gas companies from the various environmental laws that would have required them to disclose what they were pumping into the ground.

It was called the Halliburton loophole, a paean to Cheney's years as CEO of that company. Halliburton is big in the gas drilling industry. Very big.

Various agencies and individuals have analyzed fracking water samples and discovered why the gas companies wanted the exemption so much. The toxic-chemical stew is soooooo awful, so ridden with cancer causing chemicals, it should never be used.


As soon as the 2005 federal law was signed, it touched off of wild rush to drill across the U.S., the results of which are documented very well in the movie.

Gasland is a must-see movie: Where else can you watch people light the water coming out of their kitchen taps on fire.

Really... check this out:

Saturday, May 07, 2011

'Freedom' ponders functional dysfunction, really...

SOMEWHERE IN MINNESOTA, USA - The novel Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen, had been on my list to read since it first came out in 2010.

It was one of those books I picked up in Costco three times, each time reading a few more pages before deciding I just couldn't part with the $25+ dollars Costco wanted.
Jonathan Franzen

Still, the lives of the family in the book - Walter and Patty - and children Joey and Jessica - had me fascinated from the first few pages. There's love, hate, a touch of violence and enough familial intrigue and interplay to give almost anyone gas, gasps, and very occasionally a guffaw.

Very occasionally.

It is not a book for everyone, even though the family themes and woes and joys are nearly universal.

The author's narrative voice probably drives some readers to distraction. (The librarian in Watkins Glen where I checked out the book told me she tried to read it three times and each time gave up). And it spans many years, with significant flashbacks, a device some people find maddening. It does work in this book, though.

I found that I could not wait to pick it up, and so I read it in just over a week, this in between regular life, writing assignments and adjusting to life here in upstate New York.

So why is the dateline on this review Minnesota? Well, life in that state figures prominently, as does the little blue bird on the cover.

But to find out about either, you will have to read it, or find a reviewer who doesn't mind spoiling a story.

Recommended summer reading, if that list isn't already filled.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gas well blowout in Pennsylvania forces evacuations

CANTON, Pennsylvania, USA - A blowout at a natural gas well in Bradford County sent families packing and pollution officials scrambling to figure out the dimensions of a spill of well-related chemicals.

The well started leaking highly toxic fracking fluid into nearby Towanda Creek (noted for its trout fishing) and as a precaution, families living nearby were evacuated.

The fracking system for extracting natural gas from deep in shale rock formations, so far, is being studied in New York. Currently, it is not allowed in New York State, but is in many others around the nation.

The full story from the Elmira Star-Gazette can be read here:

A frack-up in Pennsylvania

A natural gas well site owned by Chesapeake (Photo by AP)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sac State uses riot police to evict sleeping students

SACRAMENTO, California, USA - A group of students peacefully occupying the administration on the California State University, Sacramento to protest budget cuts - and the way CSUS is cutting classes and faculty  - were rousted from their sleep at 3:30 a.m. Friday and threatened with arrest by police clad in full riot gear.

The move on the part of the police came after the students spent days trying to convince university president Alexander Gonzalez to pledge - among other things - to put a hold on more salary increases for his administrators.

Police enter, ready to arrest
He declined.

The middle-of-the-night eviction is best described by the students themselves in their online blog:

"This morning on the fourth day, April 16 at 3:24 A.M. we were met with the administration’s opposition expressed through a riot taskforce...

...At 3:24 AM there was a police officer at the front doors unlocking the entrance, when asked what was happening and why, we were told that he could not answer that question. At the same time police were assembling in a militant formation with full riot gear, batons, and a large amount of zip ties. They were approaching sleeping students from multiple directions within the building. They threatened with force that if we did not leave we would face arrest. Our police liaison met with Lieutenant Christine Lofthouse that if we did not leave the peaceful demonstration that we would face arrest...

...When the police moved in to take action there were only about 4 students awake out of 27. The campus police felt that it was necessary to wear full riot gear, and act in a threatening manner to a completely non violent student movement...

Here is a link to the student's blog about the occupation and the subsequent police action: LINKSac State students speak out

The middle-of-the-night police action was, of course, designed to ensure that there would be a minimum amount of media coverage. All the TV anchors (and their cameras) were sound asleep at that hour and so there would be no opportunity for the students to get their message out.

Ready to lock the doors
A clever move on the part of the public relations staff at the university. But did the police have to show up in riot gear? Really?

What that  cleverness on the part of the CSU, Sacramento administration has done is galvanize the students - and not just the 27 who were in the building. Across campus, students are likely talking about the president's unwillingness to take their demands seriously.

And they are pretty angry at the police tactics.

"This is only the beginning, we are committed and we will see this through. To put it in the words a fellow activist said “even though we walked away from our sit in, we have not walked away from our movement."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gas storage on the front burner in Watkins Glen, NY

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - A proposal to use salt caverns on the shores of Seneca Lake to store propane and natural gas is drawing a lot of attention - most of it negative.

The proposal is by a mega-corporation called Inergy (LINK:Inergy website) to use the caverns owned by its subsidary, U.S. Salt, to keep propane and natural gas - and become the transportation and distribution hub for gas for the entire Northeastern United States.
U.S. Salt (Photo by Observer-Review)

The proposal currently under discussion seems relatively modest and the company has been pedaling it hard with local government officials.

But many local residents believe that if Inergy gets the approval to do this, it will be a case of the camel getting its nose into the tent.

Increases in heavy truck traffic, noise, water and air pollution are all cited as reasons to oppose the project.

And those factors are especially important to local residents who have watched the area bloom in the past 10 years as a major tourist destination for central New York.

Watkins Glen has a gorgeous downtown area, a world-class race track, natural attactions like the Watkins Glen waterway and Seneca Lake.  Added to that are more than 50 wineries around the lake that draw thousands of people ever weekend, nearly year round.

A gas-based industrial project - one that would send heavy trucks rumbling down the only highway through the center of Watkins Glen - would seem at odds with that.

Complicating the issue is the ongoing proposal to extract natural gas in the area using the 'hydrofracking' method that has been an environmental disaster in nearby Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Many local residents fear that if hydrofracking is allowed in New York (it is currently being studied), that the gas will end up being storde by Inergy on the shores of the lake.

Some believe that Inergy's project is actually counting on hydrofracking being approved as part of its business strategy for doing the project in the first place.

William Moler
An interview with Inergy's point man on the Seneca Lake project, William Moler, would seem to give pretty strong evidence that Inergy is banking on the gas from hydrofracking become part of its storage.
"The development of the Marcellus Shale has steadily increased the interest and value in its storage and transportation assets in a region that critically needs energy infrastructure to efficiently allow the Marcellus to proliferate," Moler told the Pipeline and Gas Journal last July in an interview.

The full interview and more comments about the connection between Inergy and the possibilities for hydrfracking in New York can be read here: LINK: Marcellus Shale and Inergy

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 - I asked for it...

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - I was intrigued by the reviews of the recently published Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, largely because I found out that most of Twain's classic books were written in Elmira, New York - not exactly a locale that inspires.

But maybe it does.

As I read more and more of the reviews (and now the actual tome), I realize that flights of imagination are sometimes easier in places where you have to use your imagination.

Here at the condo where I write this, I don't need to imagine scantily clad young women around a pool, I just need to look out the sliding glass door. (Whoa, lookey there!)

And so as we live in the midst of a palm-lined paradise (here in Nuevo Vallarta and down in Arroyo Seco), I realize that for me, the writing comes easier when the foul rain of upstate New York is pounding on the roof. Ah, and summer is coming in a few months and so will be the rains of Valois and Watkins Glen, New York.

I was so intrigued by the reviews - and then by a conversation with Elmira attorney John Mustico about the book in December - that I ordered a copy once here in Mexico and had nephew Nate Schwartz pack it with him when he came down a few weeks ago to visit La Manzanilla.

Be careful what you wish for and order from

Volume 1 is nearly 800 pages long - with more than 200 pages of prequel, explaining how various people, foundations, authors, organizations, committees and noted scholars put this book together. It would be interesting to see what Twain might think about how it was drafted.

But the work is all Twain - either written or dictated over many years.

At first, it was very difficult reading. His style is interesting and complicated, but 100 years after his death, readers are used to a more direct style of writing.  I sure am.

Still, now that I read 10 pages or so per night, his style is catching on with me and I look forward to the time I get to spend immersed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Perhaps it might be time this summer to review Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn - providing I get through the next 500 pages of the Autobiography by the time I return to New York.