Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Season's Greetings From the Downtown Phoenix Market



My big news this week is that I am offically a member of the Board of Directors of Community Food Connections. In addition to running the Downtown Phoenix Farmer's Market, the organization's mission is designed to bring healthy, fresh, locally grown food to all populations, including the needy and school cafeterias.

Here is the latest missive about the exciting things going on at the market:
Dear Downtown Phoenix Public Market Friends –

Here’s:

an update for you on the parking lot construction for the Market
plus what’s going on with the Market Store
plus an opportunity to reach out to help fund raise – either for an end-of the year tax deduction, or a way to start the new year off by supporting the Market also.


As of last week the construction documents were filed with the City for the parking lot re-pavement and the shade cover building. They probably won’t be reviewed for a couple of weeks – and then if there are any changes we will have to make them and re-file – with any good luck, we should have building permits for this part of the project in 6 to 8 weeks. We can then coordinate the construction activities order the steel for the canopies – (it takes two weeks to get here) so we will place the order depending on when the construction team can get us on their schedule. Then, the construction itself is probably a 2 week process and hopefully all over by March! During the time it is happening – we will move the entire market out into Pierce Street to the south or over to the parking lot to the north of us – should be fun and exciting given the fact that we will have shade, visibility and electricity when we’re done…



The current tenants current of the building the Market store is to be in are planning on being out by the end of January. We are just about ready to begin getting the site drawings and construction documents underway – maybe to be filed with the City for expedited review by the end of January or early Feb. Hopefully we won’t have too many changes to make or back/forth to go through and can begin to get the little work we have to do in there done by March or April – with a move in / opening for May or June. We have already purchased some refrigerators, shelving and a freezer and bakery case…things always take longer than I think they will but hopefully the doors will open by July at the latest.



Finally, some of you have asked about fund-raising for the Store – operations and capital expenses - I have attached a letter (and copied the text below also) – that you would be welcome to use to reach out to people you know who might be interested in contributing to helping us get the doors open, plus have some operating funds till we start making some money. Since Community Food Connections is a 501 c 3 non-profit, contributions are tax-deductible, and it might be a great way to squeeze in an end-of-the-year deduction. Or a great way to start off the new year supporting this effort. We know that all of you are already incredibly generous with your time, and all that you do to support the Market – but wanted to provide you with something in your hand, just in case you know of folks who might be looking for a cause to contribute to…we will be working hard on all fronts to raise the necessary funds – grants, an appeal letter, loans, and whatever we can put together so we can do the Store right and make it a success. (Not to worry – we’ll still put 110% in on the outdoor markets also…)



So, thanks all, for all you do…

Let me know if you have any questions…

Best regards,

Cindy G.



Community Food Connections

P.O. Box 22216

Phoenix, AZ 85028

602-493-5231 phone

602-469-9400 cell

602-296-4255 fax

www.foodconnect.org



Dear Downtown Phoenix Public Market Fans:



Farming is hard work. Keeping farmers on the land and helping people have access to and eat good healthy food is just as hard these days.



Being a small business owner and finding a way to get a business started and grow it successfully is also a difficult task. Creating a low-risk low-overhead venue to support micro-businesses is an on-going challenge as well.



Yet the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, a program of Community Food Connections, is committed to ensuring that there are viable opportunities for Arizona farmers and ranchers to have an outlet for their fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, flowers, meat and cheese, and continue to nurture their land so it can feed future generations. The Market responds to a burgeoning consumer demand for fresh and locally-produced foods, while providing new and alternative outlets for Arizona’s small scale agricultural growers and producers.



The Market also acts as a low-risk incubator for emerging small businesses, particularly those owned by women and minorities, that often can’t afford the rent a regular retail setting might demand, and it creates new jobs for neighborhood residents.



And the Market has established a vibrant community gathering place in the heart of our growing city – a family-oriented public space that celebrates the ethnic diversity of Phoenix through local food, crafts, and entertainment.



The Downtown Phoenix Public Market was founded in 2005. It is operated by Community Food Connections (CFC), a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. CFC works to alleviate hunger and create food self-sufficiency for low-income households through community and economic development. It makes the link between access to healthy foods and building healthy families by supporting local food production, distribution and consumption as economic and community development engines.



Our ability to sustain the Market and grow it as a phased project based on the gradual development over the next eight years from an open-air tent market into a permanent indoor/outdoor market hall and adjacent market district depends in large part on the generosity of a committed and caring community. Your contribution will support Market operations, including the next phase of our work: opening a 6 day a week local foods store in the building just adjacent to the current outdoor Market in late spring / early summer 2008.



For example, a gift of only $25 can defray the cost of an educational handout. $100 can help purchase shelving for the store. A gift of $500 would go a long way towards making some of the necessary basic tenant improvements, such as utility and lighting installation, new outer doors, or sealing the floor so it will meet food service standards. You could also help with an in-kind donation. Our needs include a lap-top computer, tables and chairs for the seating area and office, a bicycle rack, a 6 burner stove, a double convection oven, a picnic table and benches, and outdoor umbrellas.



Please send your tax deductible contribution to Community Food Connections, P.O. Box 22216, Phoenix, AZ 85028. If you would like to donate equipment or supplies, please contact Cindy Gentry at 602-493-5231.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Holiday Greetings, a Reflection on a Year

Of course the holiday newsletter is going to be filled with the highlights of the year, all the wonderful things we did, the places we went, our great accomplishments. It is right to celebrate the positive things in life and share them with one another. In our world we have the great blessing of knowing and caring about far more people than time could possibly allow us to communicate thoroughly with. So it is a further blessing that we can learn about one another at our convenience through the miracles of modern electronics, or annually through the Christmas newsletter. This blogging thing is the perfect melding of the two, so here goes.

We started off the year with a bang. Right after the 8-foot snow back East, the Xavier Art History class took their annual President’s weekend trip to NYC to check out the art. And a wonderful trip it was: bunking at the Helmsley (never saw Leona’s fabulously wealthy dog though), floating off to Ellis Island past the Statute of Liberty.Roaming around Soho. Seeing a Broadway play-a revival called the Apple Tree that combined several favorite short stories and starred Kristin Chenoweth of Wicked fame in a wonderful old Art Deco theater around the corner from the Ed Sullivan. We toured the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum; the highlight was the Guggenheim where we stood in the lobby with Frank Lloyd Wright’s son-in-law, a very accomplished architect in his own right, and discussed the building designed by the famous architect. What a happening.

We dined at the Tavern on the Green and at a wonderful trattoria in Greenwich Village. Kim and Melanie then rented a car and headed north to check out potential colleges. We fell in love with Skidmore and its environs in Saratoga Springs. Colgate, on the other hand, was too far off any beaten path to be of much attraction. We took it as a sign when it started snowing during our tour. Great cafeteria though and yummy ice cream sandwiches in the Dean’s offices. We drove back to NYC in the snow and saw lots of rural New York. It was tons of fun. Skidmore wait-listed Melanie and Colgate axed her from the list. When we walked in the house upon our return the first thing was found was an email that played the Michigan Fight Song and invited Melanie to join the Wolverines.
She was thrilled and immediately accepted. Ann Arbor would be even groovier than Saratoga, no matter what Mama Cass said.

Next up, graduation from high school-a classic moment in all our lives.
Meanwhile Melanie got a job and her parents repeated this phrase as often as they could, “Oh, Melanie? She is at work.” The Buffalo Exchange was a perfect fit for our little fashionista.

Girl Scouts were still a hot topic. We attended the Gold Award ceremony and Melanie joined an elite group of young women, having met all the requirements for this honor, which, for the unfamiliar, is the female equivalent of the Eagle Scout. She is still getting congratulatory certificates from various officials in the mail. For her community service project she painted a mural in the dance classroom at Xavier in memory of Emily Ell who died on prom night some years prior. The project involved meeting with Emily’s family and the school to come up with an acceptable design, executing it, presenting it to the Girl Scout pooh bahs and doing the educational component. She designed a card for distribution at the prom that reminded everyone of Emily, cautioned them about driving and providing resources for further driving information.


And Kim and Doug are toiling away at their respective jobs waiting for the moment when they can join the Girl Scouts and their dear friends Mack, Dave and Judy Walker and their cousin Alisa Simmons on a grand tour of Europe-the denouement trip for Troop 2517 whose goal was European travel. This was the third and final trip for the troop and the second for Melanie who joined this troop late. (She is the last remaining member of her original troop from first grade that consisted of 19 girls-by 5th grade they all faded but Melanie simply jumped to this wonderful troop headed by Stevi Shearer and her able assistant Suzanne Gallas).



So in June we made a sweep: Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, Bruges, Amsterdam, Paris and London in 16 days. It was well organized and our guide Amparo was a delight, even if her English was not all that great. To see the pictures go to: picasaweb.google.com/Doogiekim.cox.net/Euroland2007
It seemed like no time and August came and we packed Melanie up to move to Ann Arbor. What a perfect time to spend with the MacEacherns in Grosse Pointe.


The first few days we “house sat” for John and Chris Miller out at Windmill Pointe. We also took care of their fabulous BMW vehicles while they were gone.
It was tough work but we muddled through. Then we schlepped over to Leonard and Teresa’s where it is always a delight. The pool was inviting, if a bit chilly, and we managed to blend right in to the family, which seems to be in constant motion.

Mel got settled in Ann Arbor in a most efficient manner.
a>Students met us at the curb and carted her stuff up to the dorm. We attended an interesting orientation, which resulted in Doug’s column on helicopter parents! {See blog entry dated 9/16/07}They held a dinner and opening ceremonies that were just fabulous. The campus is a beauty and the town is very cool. We went to Ypsilanti and hung out with the Ed McEachern family one evening and Mel made fast friends with her cousins, Ed’s sons who were both alums of UofM. They later showed her around the town. Really cool dudes. One had just made a movie and plays in a band and the other is a very handsome young bloke and sweet as could be. Mel was back and forth to GP and got very comfortable hanging with her cousins. The last night dear Theresa McEachern drove her to campus. We only cried a tiny bit.

Ever since people ask what do we do with ourselves? Just like before we talk to Mel on the phone a lot. But her room is always clean, a very bright spot for mom.

Well, Kim finished the mosaic mural on her pool equipment wall with the help of the Hernandez family and got a new job at a law firm in Scottsdale that does lots of land use issues. She still judges two days a week in Glendale. Doug is totally immersed in baseball and football when he is not studying the major issues of the day.

The first wave of weddings of the next generation is upon us. With the engagement party of Eric Anderson, our godson, in August for their impending vows in August 2008, the maturing of the next generation is official. No nieces or nephews have yet taken the step and had it stick. We are looking forward to welcoming Shelly Aguilar into the Anderson family.

Trina Weedon,our beautiful in purple camo niece, is also engaged and her outdoor wedding in Williams to the wonderboy from Yuma, Brandon, is set for May 2008. Looks I will be officiating that one--very exciting!

And officiating is becoming a cottage industry (see next and below). In November we hosted the wedding of our dear friends and colleagues Michael Meister and JoAnne Izumi. (Pix to come). Being a spa maiden, of course we had a spa event in conjunction. The Walkers came to town and Tyla, Meister’s sister in law from a previous marriage transformed our backyard into a resort. The flip photos that everyone got were awesome. To see what that is go to www.getflipped.com It is cool.

Kim won the a big raffle prize for the second year in a row at the annual Global
Entrepreunership event put on by Karen Longo for the Thunderbird Graduate School alumni association. Last year it was giclee print that is beyond wonderful and this year a huge gold-framed mirror. Our walls would be bare otherwise. Speaking of Karen, Kim performed her wedding to Antonio Fernandez in July at the home of Karen’s parents. It was a surprise wedding (to everyone but the bride and groom)-the rest of the Longo’s thought they were having their midsummer swim party with the siblings. They did that too, after the wedding.


Speaking of weddings, Kim also united the good friends of Doug’s high school buddy Dan Mageau. On a hot summer afternoon Deborah and Richard dropped by and we did a quick ceremony and had a toast. Very casual, indeed.



But some of the most important things done by people here this year had to do with living in our community. As you know Doug and Melanie are both members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Melanie was in the founding class of Young Vincentians at Xavier. What they do is give their time in true service to the poor. Melanie’s group went to the dining hall every other Thursday to serve food to the poor families who come in. Doug devotes his Saturday mornings to deliveries of food to the poor right here in our neighborhood. After a hiatus from being in a nonprofit organization, Kim is finally taking a position on the Board of the Community Food Connections. She will work with the management of the Downtown Phoenix Farmer’s Market to grow the market and meet the goal of providing organic, locally grown food to children and the poor as well as the regular market customers.

This is the real work of our lives. The best gift you can ever give yourself is giving of yourself. Sure, we accomplished a lot in our careers and education. But the true spirit of happiness is derived from the joy you get in helping others. Interestingly, we have all found ways to do that through food. Without food one cannot live. Giving food is tantamount to giving life. Your time and the energy contained within the protein and carbs and sugars combine to become an actual part of another human being. There is no better way to truly share love than to share life through the sharing of food. We are so lucky to be able to participate in these activities for it is from them that we gain our true happiness and sense of accomplishment.

So go forth and have fun and remember that we are all one. Instead of the usual holiday wishes, please accept this prayer that we close each kundalini yoga class with:

May the long time sun shine upon you,
All love surround you,
And the pure light within you,
Guide your way on.


M go Blue in 2008!!!!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Upon hearing of the Abu Dabi bail out of Citibank I sent a kneejerk email to the spouse that read something like this: the revolution will not be televised after all, once they own us they will no longer have use for terrorism. I know it is bad to generalize but.... This reaction was no doubt fueled as well by the indication the other day from a person in the know that one of the largest homebuilders in the US was about to be sold to middle eastern oil interests as well. It seems I am not the only one who raised an eyebrow. The spouse responded with this link:http://opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110010920 .

12/11/07 Post script. Now I learn that USB a very large Swiss Bank that is caught in the web of the subprime debacle is getting an injection of capital from the Middle East and China as concerns in those regions buy interests in the bank. Even the Swiss banks, once the bastion of isolated neutrality are succumbing. There is a bigger reason than the climate for weaning ourselves from the oil of the middle east.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Answer to the Question People Always Ask

We are commonly asked, what would Michael have done if not for you guys? Well, today we saw the answer.
On Doug's rounds for St. Vincent de Paul food deliveries to the homes of the poor we met Mr. McKinney. A veteran of the army and the navy he apparently got hit in the head with an axe. In his rendition they had to "put his brains back in a couple of times." In the few moments we were there we learned the following: it took him three years to remember he had a family only to learn that his wife had cleaned out his bank account; he is on tons of meds including narcotics which is a problem because he is going blind and cannot see to take them at the proper times. He has had roommates but they end up stealing all his meds. He was cut off SSI when someone broke in and stole his ID's. The VA cannot help him with the blind training until he can prove he is stable, but he has no money to pay the rent. His landlady is working with him but she is in CA and the manager is inept; letting her family squat in empty apartments instead of renting them out. He has serious physical ailments that need constant care but he has no resources to get it. He should be in a wheelchair but only has a walker. A police detective working with him on the ID theft and an ex-marine who found him on the street some time back and has been of great help, but the marine is elderly and apparently dying also. Mr. McKinney also suffers from PTSD and there are concerns he might commit suicide. Could you blame him?
We passed on his application for rent assistance and wished him luck. It was heartbreaking to leave him there, but you can't save the world. Although he still wears his wedding ring, it was apparent that he has no one.
We have much to be thankful for and we should not ever take any of it for granted.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Unlicensed to Kill-why we should license illegal immigrants to drive

The illegal immigration debate invariably comes around to the issue of driver’s licenses. Well, this is one area with which I happen to have some personal experience. Believe it or not, it is not a prerequisite to actually HAVE a driver’s license in order to have it suspended in the State of Arizona. Nor do you need an Arizona license to attend defensive driving school.

Let me explain. Having a driver’s license is not a right. It is merely a privilege. In order for the roads to work with a modicum of safety and success, we set up rules for driving, test the potential driver on them and affirm they know them by issuing the license. It is a serious hazard for people to be out there driving without knowing the rules. It is all about public health and safety. It is not about civil rights.

Even with a license some people are really bad drivers. They get tickets for moving violations. First we offer them a refresher course in the form of defensive driving school. But sometimes that is not effective. There are several legal reasons for suspending someone’s driver’s license. Getting a second DUI is a good sign that you do not understand the rules; causing serious injury on a first DUI is another one. But the most frequent reason is failure to pay your tickets. Yes, if you get a ticket and you don’t pay, your license is suspended. It shows you don’t know the rules and you don’t care to. Now, the mere act of driving is a crime!

The officers can spot you usually by running your plate and then your driving record. Invariably there are a myriad other things wrong if you are a person who is out there driving on a suspended license, the most obvious is lack of insurance and the second is expired registration.

So how does this work then with people who can’t get a license in the first place-the illegal immigrant? Having no driver’s license is a civil offense and usually has a fine of over $100. But it is not a moving violation and therefore not eligible for defensive driving school (DDS). Most often these people are discovered when they commit a moving violation. They are found very, very frequently. That tells me something: they don’t know the rules of the road. This is confirmed when they get ticketed for no license. The best thing we can do in this case is send them to DDS. At least there they will get some exposure to the rules, having skipped all that by not getting a license. All you need for DDS is a valid, government issued ID; any government will do, including Mexico.

If, on the other hand, they fail to come to court on the ticket, it goes into default and their privilege to drive is suspended. On the next infraction they get a criminal ticket-no DDS is available. So they run around and pay all these fines, get their privilege reinstated and go right back out on the road. There is just no way to stop them.

The net result is that illegal immigrants are constantly getting misdemeanor tickets for driving on a suspended license which carries a hefty fine-first offense with surcharges and all the other little fees added in is nearly $600. But they pay; maybe over time, but for the most part they pay. Courts often incentivize this payment by giving them a discount if they get their privilege to drive reinstated. Those receiving civil fines, if otherwise eligible, get their ticket dismissed for attending the school but that is more rare.

On its face this practice makes little sense. We raise tons of money through the system but ignore the entire basis for licensing people in the first place-safety on the road. How does this help the legitimate drivers on the road? I submit not only does it not help; it is putting us all needlessly in harm’s way.

They are here and there is no way to stop them from driving. As noted, this is merely a privilege extended by our state, not a right. I on the other hand have the right to expect that everyone on the road has received at least some training, thus providing the safest driving experience the State can offer. The current practice is depriving me, a legitimate citizen, of the right to a safe driving experience. By depriving the illegal immigrant of this privilege I am being deprived of a right.

It may cost the municipal coffers but in the long run society will be much better off with a trained driving force. I’ll bet the same people who complain about illegal immigration also lament the demise of common sense in our society. Here is a chance to use some common sense and save lives at the same time. How can that be wrong?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Huh? This Makes My Head Hurt

Thursday's newspaper contains the following two stories. At least they were not in the same section:

High air pollution alert day--don't drive!!!!

Nascar this weekend-traffic will be a challenge.

Do you think Al Gore will be there?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

How Stupid Can We Get?

In my last post I lamented anonymous blogging. A sort of corollary to that is the phenomenon where people gravitate toward sites that contain content they agree with. One thing about all the personalization of the internet is that it is so insulating. If you spend all your time in one genre, so to speak, the rest of the world passes you by. A byproduct of this is that now that my teenager is out of the house I have no clue about music anymore. Someone just hand me a fully loaded IPOD, please!

As a long time watcher of political evolution I long ago concluded that the greatest thing about our system of government is the debate and compromise method of making law. To that end I have always felt that the best situation is when the power is split among the parties. I am in hog heaven when you have a Democractic congress and a Republican presidency, or vice versa and at the local level a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature. The resulting action are going to be much more well considered in that scenario.

In terms of political thinking this concept has been fleshed out in a new book of which I read a review on Salon.com. You can read an interview with the author at this link:

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/11/07/sunstein/index.html

"The Internet is making us stupid"
Legal sage Cass Sunstein says democracy is the first casualty of political
discourse in the digital age.
By Ben Van Heuvelen

Friday, November 2, 2007

Never Take Your Life For Granted Again

It is helpful to understand the context when you hear things about the issues in Africa and the Middle East and with the Muslim religion. What more insightful way to learn this information than through the eyes of people who lived it during their formative years?

I have previously recommended Dave Eggers "What is the What" a retelling of the life of a young lost boy the of the Sudan. Imagine in the late twentieth century wandering for months in the desert as a twelve year old with no food and your friends being snatched by lions right out from next to you. This is a must read for all persons living today.

Now, for another perspective I highly recommend Infidel (Hardcover)
by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2007). I am here to tell you this book is amazing and I am only half way through it.

Here is the first review on the Amazon website:

From Publishers Weekly
Readers with an eye on European politics will recognize Ali as the Somali-born member of the Dutch parliament who faced death threats after collaborating on a film about domestic violence against Muslim women with controversial director Theo van Gogh (who was himself assassinated). Even before then, her attacks on Islamic culture as "brutal, bigoted, [and] fixated on controlling women" had generated much controversy. In this suspenseful account of her life and her internal struggle with her Muslim faith, she discusses how these views were shaped by her experiences amid the political chaos of Somalia and other African nations, where she was subjected to genital mutilation and later forced into an unwanted marriage. While in transit to her husband in Canada, she decided to seek asylum in the Netherlands, where she marveled at the polite policemen and government bureaucrats. Ali is up-front about having lied about her background in order to obtain her citizenship, which led to further controversy in early 2006, when an immigration official sought to deport her and triggered the collapse of the Dutch coalition government. Apart from feelings of guilt over van Gogh's death, her voice is forceful and unbowed—like Irshad Manji, she delivers a powerful feminist critique of Islam informed by a genuine understanding of the religion. 8-page photo insert. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why you should not waste your time reading anonymous posts

Here is a link to an article that mirrors the statements I am constantly making about these websites where people rant and rave under the guise of a psuedonym. The problems are several fold: how can I care what you say if I have no clue who you are and how can you care what you say if you don't have to say who you are? The newspapers seem to be encouraging this sort of behavior by hosting these so called community conversation blogs but we can't even tell what community the bloggers live in. To me it is just detritus. This guy cohesively points out why I am right: http://www.townhall.com/Columnists/DennisPrager/2007/10/23/internet_anonymity_is_as_destructive_as_internet_porn

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Atlas Shrugged Revolution

Seems it is the 50th anniversary of the Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged. In the story she advocates for a sort of personal responsibility mode of living in the context of an objective reasoning philosophical approach. Google Atlas Shrugged right after you read about it on Wikipedia and that will help explain the philosophy.

Right after I read a Shrugged anniversary article I was perusing Ron Paul for President website. It was real interesting to read a post by a young supporter to find out what attacted him to that campaign and his reflections on our society in general. Of course, I also hear a lot about this from my own little college student who is working on his campaign.

I am thinking that Ron was reading Rand and that sparked the revolution.

Anyone else think this is an interesting juxtaposition?

Friday, October 5, 2007

From Chicanos to Churchill Cogent Quotes Abound

I keep running across these great quotes but capturing them is another matter.

For instance, I was listening to an interview with Cheech Marin, of Cheech and Chong fame. It seems that in addition to being a great comedic actor he is also a proponent of Chicano art. And yes, he uses the term Chicano; a great word and very apropos. He is not pushing Mexican art-rather it is the stuff of Americans who are of the latino ancestry. One of my friends, Kathy Murillo, is one such person with her La Chica crafts. Since helping us with our third cookbook, Gifts from the Southwest Kitchen, she has parlayed her hobby into a line of books and products and a website. In other words, her own mini-industry. Check her out at http://www.craftychica.com/.

Anyway, back to quotes, via Cheech. He said something like, “they don’t build museums for banks; art is how our culture gets reflected to future populations” or something like that. I know the bank part is right. Of course, that got me to thinking about the world because he is so right. Why do we spend all of our time chasing money to buy stuff—it is so fleeting and meaningless in the end.

Somehow we have been psyched into thinking we need all these things. But my personal experience with stuff is that it eventually breaks so you either have to spend your precious time getting it repaired or getting it replaced. Which in turn adds to the expense, the time pressure and the stress; and to what end?

Which got me to thinking-how much stuff is enough? And do people always want more such that they will do almost anything for money? No wonder we are all so cynical. And one of the things we are most cynical about is our government.

Which got me to thinking, why is the government--and politics as a necessary corollary—so bad? The president has a 30% approval rating. The only ones with a worse record is Congress—22%. Why?

One example of the inane things that Congress does was on the radio yesterday. As the result of the subprime mortgage debacle-due in no small part to people trying to buy more house than they can afford (why?) Congress has determined that if those people who go into default have their mortgages forgiven this is putting them in a lousy place with the IRS because that forgiveness under the Tax Code is considered income on which they would owe tax. Bummer. Congress rides to the rescue: let’s give them an exemption! But what are we going to do when we don’t get the tax money that would have generated? Why lets turn around and tax people who, in their sound financial decision-making found themselves able to own two homes-we will just charge them capital gains tax when they sell the second home. (Why anyone would want a second home is beyond me (see above) but I am on to another point now.)

How in the world do they justify that? First of all, if the subprime market had not gone bust those people would be going merrily along deducting their interest and not paying tax. So how Congress thinks they are losing out by not taxing the debt forgiveness is beyond me. Second, why punish the people who are behaving responsibly in their financial matters for something they had nothing to do with and would never have done in the first place?

Are you starting to get the picture about why Congress is more reviled than even President Bush? How do they get away with it?

Why, we elect them; that’s how. And why do we elect these dopes? In a word, money. As a journalist following the Republican presidential candidates admitted to my daughter recently when asked why they don’t give Ron Paul any ink-they and by extension we voters, follow the money. People spend money so they can get curry favor from the government so they can make more money and buy more stuff. Why?

I was looking over one of my favorite websites: http://www.boingboing.net/ when I came across an article about how Lawrence Lessig-scholar and IT genius was quitting the biz and turning his attention for the next decade to addressing corruption in governments. Lots of luck, Larry! But a noble pursuit, that is for sure. Anyway, I think Larry may soon be coming around to my way of thinking. My thought is that democracy, as an experiment, is fatally flawed in that anyone can vote. Because of this and our innate desire to have more stuff we are susceptible to the call of money and this Congress is an example of what that buys you in the end.

This brings me to the next quote. Some guy who was responding to Lessig’s announcement with words of encouragement offered this observation from Winston Churchill: “The best argument against democracy is a five minute talk with the average voter.” That is kind of what I’ve been thinking.

Looks like Cheech and the chica are a lot smarter than the rest of us. Maybe I will take the afternoon off and go look at some Chicano art. Oh, wait, I can’t--got those steamer repairs to pay for.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More Tales from the Consumer Trenches

It seems like a distant memory now. But that one click of the mouse set off a chain reaction that required an enormous time investment to correct. Ah the joys of the modern and convenient electronic age.
It all started when my brother in law Michael moved from one apartment complex to another. As his paperwork goddess it was up to me to switch his auto pay on the Arizona Public Service utility bill to the new account. I love auto pay because it sends me notice of how much his bill is each month and I report that to him for his bank balance tracking purposes and, it gets paid with no further action. Easy and amazingly convenient. Who could ask for more?
Well, try as I have over the years I am no secretary. So it was no surprise to find out that I committed an error. The problem was finding it out--and getting it fixed. It started when we received written notice that the payment had not gone through. I immediately phoned. It seems that August/September is the worst month of the year to try and call to talk to a service rep. Each time I did (and there are many) the hold time was reported to be no less than 30 minutes and most often 1 hour.
Imagine my horror to find that once I did reach a person they would not talk to me because I was not him. Silly us, we had forgotten to file a power of attorney with the power company. Just slipped our minds I guess. (But I could have had a guy call and pretend to be him and they would have been none the wiser as they verify your identity with the last four SSN digits-a number I would presume the ex would certainly have had plenty of access to-no system is fool proof I guess.)They have this strange security concern that involves ex-spouses getting even so we all have to suffer for it. Problem was, at the time Michael was in Michigan and I was in Arizona so it was a bit tough to coordinate the call. Anyway, I assured the rep (who was very kind and as helpful as she could be within the confines of her guidelines) that she would not have to tell me a thing--I would do all the talking. After describing our plight she used some magic hand signals and without telling me exactly I was able to figure out that I had entered the account number incorrectly. Easy to fix. But they were unable to waive the $15 return fee unless they spoke with him personally! It did not seem economically prudent to have him call from Michigan on his cell phone and be placed on hold for up to an hour for a $15 credit. In hindsight this was a fatal judgment.
I breathed a sigh of relief and reinitiated the autopay.
Now Michael has learned that in order to avoid overdraft fees he must check his account balance regularly. He does so nearly daily. That information, coupled with my telling him the amounts of his bills, has worked beautifully for the last year or so. So now, I have told him the amount of his APS bill-$96 and not knowing about the snafu is figuring that money is already out of his account.
Well, as luck would have it-the end of the month was upon us by the time the auto pay searched his bank account for the now $111 it needed to satisfy the debt. What luck-there was only $101 in the account AND THE DAMNED THING GETS RETURNED AGAIN!
Now, however, we are both in Michigan and on the last day an unexpected rain storm caught Mike's cell phone by surprise and sort of knocked it out of commission. When we got back home we find the new notice that the APS bill bounced (and you guessed it-another $15 fee), and two more notices-one demanding a cash payment in full for all current amounts due and for the next 12 months and a turn off notice.
Several times that week I tried calling APS again in hopes of getting the same kind rep on the phone. After being on hold for upwards of 30 or 40 minutes each I had to break off the call because I had something else to do before they answered.
I finally got through (after a 40 minute wait); I told my story to the woman who refused to speak with me because I was not him. She could not understand why he could not just call her from his cellphone at home. (See above).
We had no choice but to pay as time was running out. After a somewhat difficult website search I was able to locate the fact that most Circle K stores have a payment kiosk. So we went to the bank, got the cash and stopped at the first Circle K we saw. It was kiosk-less, of course. We finally found one an paid.
Last night I finally got Michael to call APS (figuring a Monday evening would be the least wait time-wrong) and we talked them into taking us off the cash pay status. After another wait on hold (the rep had to get the OK from the supervisor) we were graciously allowed to return to the auto pay system--but only with the stern caveat that if we screw up again--one more time, in the next 12 months we will be banished to cash kiosk hell with no exceptions.
It is not easy being handicapped. Although Michael still has his driver's license he cannot drive at all. He also got summonsed to jury duty--at the regional court center in Surprise, Arizona which is 21 miles away! Mike is very adept at zipping around the neighborhood on Dial A Ride and has even taken the bus to Scottsdale, but this is foreign territory for him.
As luck would have it the government instituted the Americans with Disabilities Act that apparently resulted in the court giving notice on the summons that if you need an accommodation you simply call this number.
So Doug calls and hears a very lengthy recorded greeting that essentially reports that this person will not call you back if your request does not fit into a specific category of accommodation, specifically for the court facilities it seemed. She was unclear about whether getting there was one of those categories. Doug took the chance and left his message-can he come to Phoenix instead of Surprise? No call back. He then thought maybe she misunderstood and did the whole thing again. No call back.
And they wonder why people don't go to jury duty. Michael certainly won't.
Michael leads the most simple life of anyone I know; due in no small part to his physical and financial condition. It really is not complicated in the least anymore. Yet between Doug and me a serious amount of time is devoted to it. Why is that?
The moral to this story is that every little thing we go to do in this progressive society has an unbelievable administrative burden. The benefits of all this automation are great until they don't work-then you are in the morass that I can only imagine as what hell would be like for an anal person like me. Just retelling the stories to the people involved takes an inordinate amount of time. If you aggregate all of these things together it is no wonder people have no time these days. Every spare moment is being devoted to keeping the machine running. We truly are rats on a treadmill with little time to think and even less time to savor the special moments. Maybe it would not be so bad if the economy slows down-perhaps we can all catch our breath!

Footnote: The court accommodation lady called back! They just have to write a letter. Maybe there is justice after all.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Helicopter parents, try landing for a little while

Doug's column on being a college parent

Sept. 9, 2007 12:00 AM
Oh, this is great . . .

Headline on the MSNBC Web site, Sept. 5: "Killer at college: Meningitis threatens students."

I try not to be a paranoid parent. I've tried hard for almost 18 years. Oh, sure, I've been known to pore over the WebMD Web site reading up on horrific tropical diseases when the Kid would start sniffling. And, yes, the Wife has rolled her eyes more than once in response to my medical judgment. But it's not completely because I'm paranoid.
Somebody out there really is trying to make me crazy.

September 5, you see, was the Kid's second day of college class. She spent a good part of that day at the University of Michigan student health services clinic, which treated her for wheezing, coughing and generally exhibiting all the symptoms of the sort of exotic tropical diseases that MSNBC convinced me were ravaging her immune systems.

I know that the MSNBC health reporter was just doing her job.

She found an unfortunate college freshman at Indiana University . . . a Big Ten school which, coincidentally, is just 328 miles, according to my research on Mapquest.com, from my Kid's school (another Big Ten college, please note!) at Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Hoosier student had contracted meningitis. She was a freshman. First time living in a dorm. And she exhibited symptoms that, OK, weren't exactly like those of my Kid, but were vaguely similar if you dwelled on them long enough. And dwell I did. Then two cases of the disease were discovered in Flagstaff, including one infecting a Northern Arizona University student. And, suddenly, I was in full-paranoid mode.

The fact that the circumstances that help promote the spread of the awful disease exactly mirrored those in which I had just plopped my kid did not help.

Dusty, dirty, claustrophobic dorm rooms? Check. Close proximity to hacking, wheezing strangers from all 50 states and over 60 foreign countries? Check. Heartless, uncaring parents who race away cross-country at the first opportunity to revel in their newfound status as empty nesters? Well, not exactly "check." But until I learned the kid had a sinus infection and had all the marvels of modern medical science at her disposal, I sorta felt that way.

At least I'm not the worst sort of insufferably oppressive, self-torturing parent. At least I'm not a "helicopter parent."

During a parent-orientation session on campus, a UM psychologist described modern moms and dads as people who hover over their kids' lives like helicopters, ready to swoop down and take charge of problem mitigation at the first sign of trouble. Rather like the Harvey Keitel character in Pulp Fiction who sweeps in to clean up John Travolta's bloody little messes.

This is not an unfair description of the current generation of parents of college freshmen.

During the question-and-answer period of parent orientation, one mother asked the psychologist if it would be too much for her to continue calling her son to remind him to eat lunch. He told her that, yes, any mother who would do such a thing to her 18-year-old son is an overbearing harridan. Not in precisely those words, of course. But something gently akin to it.

Another mom wanted to know if it would be OK for her to call her son each morning to make sure he got up on time for class.

What was truly amazing about this parent was that she lived in Spain. So, in order to call her son each morning before class, she not only would have to know his precise class schedule, but she would have had to calculate the time difference between Madrid and Ann Arbor each day. The UM shrink assured her that playing long-distance alarm clock to a near-adult is not a good thing.

So, the Kid is OK. Happily under the influence now of who-knows how many neo-Marxist professors, Ann Arbor anarchists and wild-eyed vegans.

And here I forgot to pack her a copy of Friedrich Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.

Argh. I'm a miserable dad

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tips for Slow Cooking in the Fast Lane

Many people I know say they don’t cook--don’t have the time or the know-how. The way I look at it is that after breathing, eating is the most frequent thing we must do or we die. So if it is necessary, why not make it a good thing? The slow food movement has basically the same goal. But the unfortunate name makes the harried rat racer avoid the subject. But it does not have to be that way.

I know cooking seems like a burden. You have to plan and shop and chop and clean up. But what is the alternative? I notice that when I get lazy (and yes, there are times when I think it is too much trouble to make a meal) I find that I resort to convenient foods that never seem to satisfy my hunger. So I keep snacking around and then I fell gross for the next couple of days. I suppose if you did that all the time you would not realize that you really don’t feel too good and would just keep doing it.

But I have a few suggestions to get you out of that routine of mindless eating of prepared foods. Following these ideas makes it relatively easy and believe me, the people in my house are very happy.

First, I learned back in the cookbook days that anything is possible, even on short notice, if you keep a well-stocked pantry. Once full of the basic items you simply add that item to your shopping list for the week when you use it and you never have to worry about having things on hand. So take some time and make sure you have flour, sugars, salt, canned beans, dried rice and legumes, pastas (orzo, spaghetti, penne) crackers, vinegars, oils, etc. And start collecting dried herbs and seasonings. My favorites are the bulk herbs and spices hanging in the Mexican food section. Put those in air tight jars (they have cute clamp lid jars at World Market) when you get home and you will have an ample stock that will last quite a while. Go for cinnamon, coriander, cumin, garlic powder, powdered ginger, cloves, star anise, red chile flakes, dried chiles, chile powder, whatever strikes your fancy. And don’t forget the cooking spray! Pam is good and there are some that are olive oil that are great.

Then, stock up on meats. Buy in bulk at Costco, Sam’s or on sale at the grocery store. Fill your freezer with ground beef, short ribs, pork chops, chicken breasts, whole chickens, fish and shrimp. Repackage them in amounts that you will use at a time. Also buy bulk nuts--pecans, walnuts, hazlenuts, almonds and store them in your freezer.

Once you have these items all you will need is the perishables. For these it is best to eat local. I go to the downtown Farmer’s Market each Saturday morning and I buy whatever is there in amounts that seem like they will last the week. This is a terrific way to get around some of the menu planning headaches that keeps people from cooking. Eating local means that the seasonal output is always changing. Some of the items that are offered remain pretty constant here in the desert, but there is always something coming in and something else going out. Using the changing vegetables to define your meals reduces planning time to next to nothing--the ingredients do it for you.

My farmer’s market trip lasts one hour, including travel. And it is always so fun. You get to know people and constantly discover new foods-like Queen Creek olive oil laced with blood orange flavor, mmmmm. Now that you have the kitchen stocked you will only need to go to the grocery story to buy milk and eggs and bread and to replenish your pantry stock. That makes the grocery-shopping trip very quick. So, I have already saved you lots of shopping time!

With the supplies on hand, the key to this whole process and the secret to my success lies in a subscription. Several years ago I was turned on to Taunton’s Fine Cooking. This magazine is the best practical and accessible cooking tool you will ever have in your kitchen. It comes out 8 times a year and is filled with pictures and features and recipes and tips presenting in such a way that you want to sit down and devour it immediately.

When I get home from work and have no idea what to make, I simply assess the ingredients I have on hand and go to the Taunton’s recipe index (either in the magazines themselves or on line) and search for recipes that fit the time and materials I have available. And, almost every time, it is like a gourmet meal. And to be honest, I rarely make the same thing twice because there are so many variations to this method.

So dinnertime is always an adventure; it is nutritious and like a fine dining experience. Please get the magazine and see for yourself.

Check it out at http://www.taunton.com/finecooking/ .

And, it makes a great gift! My mother has been making it a Christmas gift to me for years and I could not be happier.

Good luck and good eating.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

ASU, the official center of the universe

No, not my alma mater- I am talking about Appalachian State University in North Carolina. First, on Saturday September 1 2007 they pulled off the athletic feat of the century (or maybe two centuries) when they beat the University of Michigan on its home turf in the college football opener. We were more stunned than usual, given that we were in the vicinity when it happened. We were installing our daughter in her dorm and helping her transition into life as a wolverine. After that tragic event Doug ran around screaming “We are going to pull her!!!!”

Meanwhile, the now infamous Youtube video clip of the Miss Teen USA contestant who could not string two coherent words together in response to the question about why most Americans cannot locate the U.S. on a map was making the rounds. Turns out she is also headed for the hallowed halls of Appalachian State.

Just two days after the miserable defeat in Ann Arbor, Hootie and the Blowfish played a date at the DTE venue in the Detroit metro area. Turns out two members of the band were alum of-- you guessed it-- Appalachian State!
The latest revelation is the goofy advertisement for the school also making the rounds on the Youtube that has been the subject of copious snickering critique. For more on that see Doug MacEachern’s unsigned editorial “A Toast to the Other ASU” at http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/opinions/articles/0906thur1-06.html://

Friday, August 24, 2007

Food Critics on the Stick

http://www.startribune.com/video/rich_media/1379573.html
will take you to a video of the MN state fair as seen by the food editors of America, including the famous Judy Walker of the N.O. Times Picayune!

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Slice of New Orleans, Post K from Judy Walker

Link to Judy Walker's blog here: http://blog.nola.com/judywalker/

Opinion piece: Hallelujah! An eyesore is on the way out

Posted by Judy Walker August 09, 2007 10:19AM

This recent opinion piece on the editorial page is about my family's struggle with the blighted house behind us -- and even worse problems that my neighbors have because of it.

Saturday, August 4, 2007
METRO - EDITORIAL Page 07 Point of View
Opinion

By Judy Walker

Last week was fantastic. I nearly went blind finding it in all that tiny legal notices type, but the first and second notices of the impending demolition of the blighted house behind our home were published Wednesday and Friday. The notice must be published once more before the house can be bulldozed.
Hallelujah.

I called my neighbor, Dwayne, who lives next door to the blighted house. He was equally happy. In our continuing dialogue over the last two years on this topic, he said recently that a staffer for our City Council person told him the house was due to be demolished soon, and here was confirmation.

At last.

In this house I see all the similar stagnating properties around New Orleans, spreading noxious funk to all the houses around them, adding another layer of vexation to the long hard slog of recovery. Though some undoubtedly can and should be saved, the Reggie White Foundation, operators of the Crescent Rising program offering free demolitions to New Orleans residents, estimates there are 15, 000 storm-ruined structures that need to come down.

In the old pre-K world, this house already was on the city's blighted and adjudicated list (whatever adjudicated means). But a good neighbor lived a semi-rural life there, with a big garden and flowering trees. For his grandchildren, he had rabbits, beagles, chickens and an above-ground pool. He sent his rent checks to a guy in California. Post-K, he lives with his daughter in eastern New Orleans.

The house was never gutted.

Hurricane winds miraculously twisted a giant branch from the 50-foot pecan tree on this property so as to miss the five houses it could have smashed, including ours and Dwayne's. It fell on top of the above-ground pool, creating a perfect mosquito environment. After about a year of our semi-continuous phone calls, FEMA paid for the removal of the downed part of the tree, a task that took two days and several dump trucks.

Somebody -- I wonder who? -- carried out stealth Round-Up spraying on this property, which kept the weeds down until summer. But then, aggressive vines spring to life, flex their tendrils and grow before your eyes, the giant squids of horticulture. Currently, three different types of vines are flourishing on the blighted house.

Finally, a year and a half after three feet of water covered it, I had time to focus on our outdoors. As is the case for many local gardeners, my space went from full shade to full sun after the overhanging hunk of pecan tree fell.

But the biggest challenge is that the most aggressive of the vines wants to grow on our side of the new fence. Every morning, I scour my flower beds for sprouts pushing through the soil, and the fence for tendrils sneaking between the boards, clawing toward my Meyer lemons and antique roses. (At times like this, an obsessive compulsive attitude toward pulling weeds comes in handy.)

Dan Gill, our resident plant expert, told me he once had a patch of this same vine on his property, and after four years of vigilance he eliminated it.

Four. Years.

The vine is invading the attic of the other neighboring house and is attacking Dwayne's fence. Then I found out Dwayne has a far worse pest.

"Do you have a rodent problem?" he asked.

It seems that rats are coming from the blighted house up through the drains into his bathtub. Because the rats are able to push the plug out of the way, he has to keep the bathtub half full of water at all times.

Did I mention that Dwayne has the cutest young kid you've ever seen?

"It's enough to make you question your commitment to New Orleans, " Dwayne said.

Now, multiply the problems that one house can cause times 15, 000. I'm hoping for much more of that tiny legal type soon, a giant step toward whatever might pass for normalcy for all of us who live near blighted houses.

We'll be singing a chorus of hallelujahs.

And pulling weeds for years to come.


. . . . . . .

Staff writer Judy Walker can be reached at (504) 826-3485 or jwalker@timespicayune.com.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

You Can't MakeThis Stuff Up

From my favorite magazine, to which I strongly suggest you all subscribe, or at least read on line at: http://www.theweekmagazine.com/ there is this, which raises the question: If they can't afford housing how do they afford to travel about playing a game?

Copenhagen, Denmark
Soccer players defect
Fifteen of the soccer players who took part in the Homeless World Cup last week failed to return to their home countries. The Homeless World Cup is an annual amateur tournament for homeless people. This year, 500 players from 48 countries participated in the games in Copenhagen. When it was all over, seven players from Burundi, four from Liberia, three from Cameroon, and one from Afghanistan were missing. Organizers of the charity event said they were “upset and angry” that players would exploit the trip to sneak off into the West. “We want to review the situation and put new measures in place to ensure this doesn’t affect the positive impact of the tournament,” said tournament spokeswoman Kat Byles.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

US public sees news media as biased, inaccurate, uncaring: poll

http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=070809222839.jzdcwmy8&show_article=1

Follow this link to the story under the above headline.

Hmmm. You don't suppose this would have anything to do with plummeting newspaper subscriptions do you?

It is so much easier to blame the Internet and the electronic generation!

Make This As Soon As Possible. . .

was the subject line in the latest email from Judy Walker, food writer extraordinaire. This is the recipe that won Second Place honors at the Great American Seafood event in New Orleans last weekend. Judy says even if you just make the salad part you will end up like her. She can't stop thinking about it after having only a taste!

Sounds yummily summery too!

Saute red snapper with melon and mango salad

Makes 6 servings

½ cantaloupe

½ honeydew

1 mango

4 tablespoons chopped cilantro, divided use

1 tablespoon chopped mint

2 tablespoons honey

½ cup seasoned rice vinegar

¼ teaspoon Asian chili paste

1 cup seedless watermelon, cut in large dice

1 cup cantaloupe, large dice

1 cup casaba melon, large dice

Juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

6 red snapper fillets, 8 to 10 ounces each, scaled and
scored, pinbones removed

Salt, pepper, flour

2 tablespoons each canola oil and butter

Cut the halves of cantaloupe and honeydew, and the
mango, into julienne strips. Mix together the honey,
rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, mint and
chili paste, and toss with the julienne melon and
mango.

In a separate bowl, mix together the diced melon and
gently toss with the salt, sugar, lime juice and the
additional 2 tablespoons cilantro.

Season snapper fillets with salt and pepper and dust
with flour. Divide the 6 fillets, skin side down, into
two large saute pans preheated with 1 tablespoon
canola oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in each pan.

Cook over medium to high heat for about 3 to 4
minutes. More of the cooking needs to be done on the
skin side so it's nice and crispy. Turn and continue
cooking for additional 2 to 3 minutes.



Friday, August 3, 2007

CODA TO THE HEALTH CARE FIASCO-Miracles do happen

After 8 months of working on the issue of getting the wisdom teeth out and the jaw work done simultaneously by an out of network doctor who is highly regarded in his field, we threw up our hands in total frustration.

You may recall it started in December. Mel’s cartilage had migrated to the front of the jaw hinge. The specialist recommended arthocentesis and gave us an estimate for combining it with the wisdom teeth extraction. In December the matter would have been divided between Delta Dental for the teeth and Aetna HMO for the jaw. This is when we learned that Doc is not in the Aetna network. This required going to the primary care physician and getting a referral for the medical portion (even though the medical doc never had anything to do with it). After a couple of months and a zillion calls requiring intervention from the Aetna participator rep on the primary’s end we finally learned that it was up to me to search the list of participating specialists and find one in the network. After much more research I find only 1 in the entire metro area who does jaw work at all. He is 25.3 miles away in Chandler so I figure I am home free. I write in for the out of network approval. Well, it is denied ( the travel limit has somehow gone up from 25 miles to 30) which I learn after several more calls just two days before we leave on vacation.
I relent and make an appt with the network guy for the day after our return. This is time critical as college is starting in August, Mel is working and this is going to take some time. Well he does not want to treat the matter the same way, opting instead to do the extraction and try some splint therapy. And he was wrong on a number of things that Mel had just learned in anatomy class. Skeptical I call the regular dentist and he cautions that the original specialist knows what he is doing and if that were the efficacious route he would have recommended it himself.
So back to square one. I attempt to work out some kind of cash deal for the medical portion with the original specialist only to find that after January 1 Delta no longer covers wisdom teeth extractions if you have medical that will do it, the specialist’s rates have gone up and he forgot to include the estimate for the splint follow up on my document which is $1900. Now I would need to pay $4800 in advance and risk getting nothing reimbursed.

So now I am back on the insurance track again. I ask for a copy of the first denial, having never received it in the mail. Incredulous the Aetna phone person indicated I was out of luck-it was an electronic file and they could not make a copy. Now I have to get our HR department involved at work from whence the coverage emanates. Numerous conference calls later I finally get a hard copy of the letter faxed to me and now I know my appeal rights.

I appeal. I hear nothing until a couple of weeks later when I get a letter acknowledging receipt of my appeal. THE VERY NEXT DAY I get the denial. Now it seems that I have NO COVERAGE WHATSOEVER as TMJ is excluded under the policy under every circumstance. If only I had known that in first place. We consulted the policy’s fine print regarding the wisdom teeth but it never occurred to us that the jaw issue would not be covered.

We gave up. Mel got her teeth cleaned as the 6 months had elapsed between regular cleaing appointments. It was a bit challenging to hold her mouth open. But generally she is not in any immediate pain and her mouth limitations are bearable. Our new plan is to wait for open enrollment, change plans (I will never do the HMO thing again, EVER--something I had sworn off in the past but thought that Aetna would be a better deal than that old program, but, no, they are too busy spending $358 million buying a local insurance agency to pay for my piddling claims) and up the flexible spending account to cover what will be left. Of course that may be the whole thing as it will no doubt be considered a preexisting condition and declined even if we can find a jaw policy.

So I let it go.

Then the miracle. Seems Mel was jumping on a trampoline with her pal Ned and he bashed into her face (on accident). She said it hurt like hell for about 3 hours but ever since her jaw seems to be in perfect alignment. We are now rushing to get her to a regular oral surgeon (½ mile from our house I might add–not 25.3 miles away in Chandler) who will take both insurances and work it out from there. How is that for turning lemons into lemonade? I figure if I billed my time this whole thing would require a second mortgage on my house.

THIS SYSTEM IS INSANE!!!! We have got to get the insurance companies out of the way. There is no relationship with your doctor anymore and that is the key to maintaining proper health. By delaying and arguing and faxing and appealing we add huge costs to the system, the most major of which is the lack of efficiency (here we would have had two procedures, two anaesthetics, etc) not to mention the increased cost associated with treating the worsening condition while time passes. INSURANCE companies add nothing of value to the system. The value they add is to their bottom line. This takes all of the market place decisions and moves them to a secondary market. This dilutes the value of information necessary for making a sound economic decision in the market place. This is not capitalism-it is an aberration
I have noted before that the problem with capitalism and the environment is that it is impossible to put a market value on the air/water, etc.(this carbon trading thing is simply a bunch of hoo haw). Well we have the same problem in the health care industry. The cost of maneuvering the system, which is often borne by a coopted family member is never captured. Therefore the measurement is seriously distorted. If my time were quantified and added to the mix in this fiasco along the actual cost would probably boggle the mind and make it simply a bad way to go financially.

We need to get to the private health care account model as soon as possible (unless someone can come up with a better idea in the meanwhile). At least that would get the biggest impediment out of the way.

Now, I am really letting it go. I mean it this time.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Our Complete Vacation Photo Album link Euroland

http://picasaweb.google.com/Doogiekim.cox.net/Euroland2007

Tour the 20th Century With Billy Joel and Ye Li

This is visually stimulating.
http://home.uchicago.edu/~yli5/Flash/Fire.html

Friday, July 6, 2007

Radio Killed the Newsprint Star

I happened to be in my car during Talk of the Nation on NPR on Thursday. Stephanie Roberts was guest hosting and interviewing an editorial board member from the Wall Street Journal about the Libby commutation. She mentioned that they had a hard time finding any newspaper’s editorials supportive of the move. I remember thinking to myself, “well I know one” as Doug’s quick hit that morning said just that.
At dinner that evening I mentioned this experience to my husband. Just then his eyes got really big and his face lost all color. “Oh, I get it now!” he said. Apparently an NPR producer had called him looking for the writer of the editorial to appear on TOTN. Well, Kathleen Ingley had written the editorial (which was not supportive) and Doug-- not appreciating the background --just referred the call to her; and of course they did not opt to put her on the air.
Only when I told of my cyber-experience in the car did he realize that yes, the producer was looking for him. But for the nuance of the Quick Hit vs. the Editorial, I could have been listening to my husband instead of that inarticulate WSJ dude.
Who knew?

How We Spent Our Summer Vacation

Byline:
Doug MacEachern, The Arizona Republic


VISITING EUROPE THE GIRL SCOUT WAY


It was not a highbrow tour of the old countries.


In Salzburg, Austria, we visited a castle where sprays of water gushed from the antlers of mounted heads of deer in a garden. Not -- how do you say? -- the stuff of resplendent Old World culture.

In Munich and Amsterdam, we sought out Mike's Bike Tours, as perfect an antidote to pretentious refinement as you can find in Europe.


If you wish to balance your parade of cathedrals and art museums with an American slacker's view of the continent, I highly recommend Mike's guided tours. Our leader, a young Hawaiian named Frankie, was amazingly versed regarding the Chinese Tower outdoor beer hall in the English Gardens of Munich. They serve lots and lots of beer there, you know.

And so it was throughout our group's little "sampler" tour of Europe. We did some theater in London. But, well, it was Monty Python's Spamalot. Not exactly A Midsummer Night's Dream in Regent's Park but a genuine laff-riot, nonetheless.


Which is not to say that our 16 days in seven European and British cities acked cultural or educational purpose. We toured the Louvre. Some of us did the "Da Vinci Code" tour of the Louvre (what is "kitsch" in Latin, I wonder?). But it's not like we wasted time in Paris hanging around the cafes of Montparnasse eating bad cheese.



Oh ... wait. We did that, too.


Left to my own devices, I might have sought out a bit more Shakespeare, a few more cathedrals and a lot fewer cities.


But this trip was not of my own device. It was a tour structured,organized and arranged by a troop of Girl Scouts, each of whom paid her own way for this tour de force across the world's most expensive continent.



Most of us know about what good things the Boy Scouts do for boys. Self-reliance. Character-building. Knot-tying. A lot of wonderful things. Few boys leave the Scouts lacking memories of camp-outs, canoe trips and adventurous forced marches through the woods.


For girls, though, Scouting is a different experience. Most girls who get into Scouting tend to drift away right about the age that their male counterparts are reaching their Scouting stride. There are girls who stick with it. There are girls who stay in Scouting through high school, often earning their Gold Award. But the very fact that you have to explain to most people what a Gold Award is -- it's the Girl Scout equivalent of Eagle Scout -- tells you all you need to know about the prevalence of older teens in the Girl Scouts. There just aren't many.


In our group of 16, there were four of them, as well as several parents of Scouts (including me), a few friends and neighbors. But it was the girls for whom the trip was organized, the last remaining members of a "travel troop" of Girl Scouts whose primary focus (besides, of course, doing good deeds) is organizing trips to Europe.


Under the aegis of troop leaders Stevi Shearer and Suzanne Gallas, my daughter's troop has traveled to Europe three times. In three-year sequences, they would conduct all manner of fundraising events and, of
course, sell countless boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Then, they used the proceeds for the big trip.



With all due respect to the boys, the diligence, determination and long-range true grit that it takes to accomplish such a feat puts even the best-ever Boy Scout jamboree into some perspective.


In a perfect world, such an enormous, years-long undertaking would seem amazing. In a world besotted of the values of instant gratification and thick with Paris Hilton role models, it is practically beyond
comprehension.


What kept the girls going was a goal -- a tantalizing, reachable goal that they knew would end with bike trips through Amsterdam and tours of the Louvre if only they stuck with it and worked hard.


And, except for the odd nudge from parents and the indomitable Stevi Shearer, they did it on their own.



As our Euro-slacker tour-guide Frankie might say, "How cool is that?"

It's All Sicko

Michael Moore is catching it for his latest opinumentary. Well, if his point is to make us all aware of the mess our medical system is in he is preaching to the choir. From the fallout it doesn't sound like he does a very good job of proposing a solution. But that seems to be the raison d'etre these days.
In this blog I have previously whined about the hassle with getting Melanie's dental/medical problems addressed. The medical system is bad enough--couple it with the dental and you have a Rube Goldberg machine.
After a month I have finally, and with the intervention of HR gotten the written denial to go out of network to my surgeon of choice. Aetna initially told me they mailed it to me once and could not print out another. That proved to be false.
The problem I now have is that we went ahead and took her to the only other jaw person on Aetna's list. Luckily he also took our dental plan. Dr. Shah is 25 miles away in Chandler (so much for global warming)and he decided we should try a splint first and scheduled her for the dental surgery.
This is nuts. I could get the dental surgery over here on the corner-I sure don't need to drive to Chandler. Further even I know a splint is not going to move the cartilidge back in place and even if it did it would not happen before Mel leaves for school. (We have been trying to schedule this for 8 months now and time is running out.) And when it does not work that necessitates another surgery with the concomitant anasthesia, cost and time out of pocket. Plus the guy said several things that were not quite right according to the recent student of anatomy.
So now we have to appeal.
Meanwhile, my mother was given a number of prescriptions she didn't even need and it seems like the surgeon forgot to put on a stoma when she had her perforation surgery. The surgeon's office refuses non-surgery related calls so she had to go back to her regular doctor to get him to call all these boobs.
It is all sicko, no?
We need to figure something out!!!!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

An Email Exchange Regarding the Evils of Excess That Somehow Segues to Paris Hilton/Workman's Comp and Jail

My friend sent me the following observation:

> > We had a very interesting experience in Napa Valley prior to arriving up here (in Bend Oregon for the summer-they are retired and very smart). We attended the wedding of my college roommate's daughter. They live in Darien, CT - but the groom's family is from Piedmont (very posh neighborhood in the bay area) and both the bride and groom work in LA. This is the young woman who manages the private art collection for a movie mogul. (he called her an hour before the wedding to tell her to negotiate a sale before her wedding!)
> > Anyway, this was the most unreal wedding experience I've ever seen... A multiple day/event occasion. The reception was at the Culinary Institute of America (which is in the old Christian Brothers winery/castle) - cocktails on the patio at dusk overlooking Napa Valley - dinner in the cask room....candlelit, rose petals on the floor, flowers EVERYWHERE - an orchestra and singing waiters (like opera singers) - not to mention a gourmet meal.......The wedding and reception was relatively small maybe 100. But then on Sat night they had a black tie dinner /dance in another castle..for 250! (we missed this event...)
The attendees all seemed to be very wealthy (we felt like the country cousins although we were treated very well))....anyway, they all seemed to think this was just normal. (did I mention the grooms sister was married to a movie producer? His last movie was Charlottes Web) This crowd just seemed clueless about anything but themselves! ( I am being a bit hard...the bride's parents really do not live like this....in fact they live very modestly even though he has been very successful) And we did meet some really interesting people - like the young man who grew up on a farm in South Africa, would spend days with the Zulus in their villages...And now is an American citizen and SO proud of that.......so there were exceptions.
> > This whole thing left me feeling badly about the excess....makes north Scottsdale look dull by comparison! What a horrible waste of resources! Think of all the incredible things that someone could do with all that money and energy! Really - what is the point!

This was my reply:
> > The wedding story is amazing. I contrast it with my brother-in-law Lloyd who is getting married in July (second time for both). He was feeling guilty about the expense of the invitations, thinking it would have been more reasonable to donate the money to charity. He is having a very lovely affair at the rose park and a reception at a romantic sounding local bar/restaurant Portland.
I told him that he deserved to have a lovely celebration of this important moment and that the invitations are a symbol of that and besides, it provides a job and a living for the invitation makers which is a good thing too.

My point is that there is no shame in living a nice life. But isn't it interesting where we each would draw our own line between nice and excess? We live in challenging times....read on....

Paris Hilton went home! For a day! It should be noted that the decision was made by the sheriff, contrary to the court's ruling. This is not an unusual situation. People are turned away from our jail all the time. This past spring there was a huge fiasco when the jail entry requirements were changed to require that each potential prisoner jump through hoops proving medical fitness. If they did not have the right papers to self surrender, home they were sent (and back to court for another ticket to get in). This is tantamount to changing a judge's order, something I just don't think is contemplated by our constitution.

Then how, you may ask, do the sheriffs get away with it? Their justification is fear of liability; they are simply trying to avoid a lawsuit by ruling out potential medical claims in advance. The sheriff gets sued all the time for mistreating prisoners and sometimes loses. Now, I am not defending that by any stretch, but when it rises to the level of excluding sentenced prisoners from the jail, I think we may wish to take another look.

The other day I was researching a workman's compensation claim for an on the job accident that resulted in death. Arizona has a very comprehensive workman's compensation program and it basically says that unless the death was intended by the employer the estate cannot recover from the employer beyond the amount provided for in the worker's compensation law. They can go after a third party, but try getting the information to do it!(Presumably life insurance policies and other resources would supplement this). It seemed to me that the trade off: reduced litigation for a certainty of payout/return, might not make sense in every case but that is what we have. This is a major shield for the employer.

Why then, do we not use a similar standard at the jail? It seems to me that this places prisoners in the position of having far more access to the tort system than upstanding, hard working employees. Does this make sense? So, why not employ the same standard in the jails that we do in the workplace? There is always the ballot box to keep the sheriff in check; do we really need the tort system on top of that?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Simple Summer Pasta Recipe

Inspired by the AZ Republic Food Section story on simple pasta dishes that ran 5/30/07 and by the veggies in my fridge, I threw this together last night. It was easy and delicious.

1/2 pound of fresh sweet pea pods string removed
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 leek, thinly sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 medium sized yellow crook neck squash, halved and sliced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp each chopped fresh basil and oregano or 1/2 tsp dried
1 cup chopped arugula
1 pound capellini or thin spaghetti
1 ounce Emmanthaler or Parmesan cheese freshly (and finely) grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring water to boil for pasta and throw in pea pods for about 3 minutes. Meanwhile in about 1 T of olive oil saute onions and garlic for about 1 minutes. Add squash and cook stirring often until the squash begins to soften. Add tomatoes, with juices, herbs and arugula. Salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook while the pasta is cooking, which you should add to the water and peas now as it only takes about 2 minutes.
Drain the pasta/peas and place in a large bowl. Top with sauteed vegetables and toss to combine, adding about 1/2 cup of the pasta water to moisten as needed.
Serve topped with cheese.

Makes a ton.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hopefully Star Struck

Having come from a politics oriented family, I have been around it all my life. Sometimes I have even come close to being in politics and then I got a grip and ran the other way. There was always something a little creepy about it for me. Trading favors with a bunch of other people to get something that really needed to be accomplished made it seem so seedy. Also, I married a journalist. So, it seemed more fitting to be a [frustrated] observer rather than a direct participant. But along the way I have learned a great deal about American politics, the government and the law. Having working in all three branches of government I can tell you alot about what works and what doesn't and how politics drives it all. I have very strong opinions about many things. Knowing this much has its drawbacks. I have had an absolute inability to cast a vote for a presidential candidate for most of my adult life. I sure didn't vote for Carter, Clinton or GW; in each election I just skipped that box. So far in 2007, in the ranging field of candidates I was thinking that my nonparticipating trend would continue. (Sorry John McCain but you missed your window.) This is depressing, people!

But, there on the horizon is my ray of hope and he is chewing cigars and sipping bourbon in just the self confident, manly sort of way that exudes all the right pheromones to get my ballot puncher so excited any chad would be blown to oblivion (or the computer screen might short circuit with my very touch). Call me a groupie, but I must be viscerally attracted to macho actors for my hope stands 6'2" in the frame of Fred Thompson. The only thing that could be better than this would be if he were a woman. [Not because I am viscerally attracted to women, but because I think it is about time a worthy woman stepped in and straightened it all out.]




Fred is the kind of person who gets it. He is not afraid and is not in the game for political gain--he term limited himself out of the Senate. He is not beholden. He has a background that speaks loudly to his independence which is based upon sound reason. A commenter to a news story about his impending candidacy announcement compared him to Obama in terms of experience. Excuse me? That person has clearly not read his resume.

Fred is sort of like me. He has had experience in every branch of government and in the private sector. He (and his then wife) put himself through college and law school while raising a family. Hailing from Tennessee, he has a middle America appreciation for what is important. A moderate populist conservative he believes in the federalism defined by the states taking the lead. His razor sharp analytical skills cut to the crux of an issue and succinctly address it (his observations could actually fit into sound byte size). And he has a blog.

Also, like me, he has a side job. Surely his screen stardom is not quite at the same celebrity level as mine, a southwestern cookbook author, but that is his problem.

Best of all, he does not take himself too seriously-check out his video response to Michael Moore's tossing down the gauntlet for debate on the state of the Cuban medical community.

Unlike me he has tons of experience on international and global issues. He has an acute appreciation for context and history that seems to be at his fingertips (I can't remember most of what I know). Unlike me but like many people I know and therefore, most middle American of all, he has cancer. Most unlike me, he apparently likes kids, having started a second family not too long ago despite being a grandparent. [But this roots him securely in the next generation even though he belongs to the past generation.]

You can find his resume on Wikipedia, his blog and podcasts on ABC.com (which, by the way, is the rival network for his on screen work at NBC-showing you what a wizard at bipartisanship he can be). I highly recommend you check him out.