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 (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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Molasses and the NBA

People are interesting. They have a total love/hate relationship with government. As long as there is a law that works for one's personal interests, it is great. But if it doesn't work in "my favor" it must be bad. We love to control, inspect, judge and punish behaviors as long as they are not things we like to do. But the minute we are in the regulations sights, we cry foul.

David Stern is not a popular guy in Phoenix these days. Being the "government" of the NBA his local image is in the toilet after his strict enforcement of the NBA rule that turned the worm against the Suns. Some say it cost them the series and the chance at the championship. But I would argue that poor David is a victim to be pitied, not an evil perpetrator of unfairness.

The June Arizona Attorney magazine features a brilliant "illustrated" article by Bob McWhirter that lays the genesis of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure on a barrel of molasses. The article traced the English government's response to certain unfavorable trade and economic developments in the colonies to the concerns that Madison and the gang were addressing when they drafted the language that the people have the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure. This really brought home the fact that all laws are situational.

Americans have a sort of detached reverence for the constitution and its appendices but fail to realize (or even teach) that rather than divine inspiration, most of the hard-fought compromises represented there are set forth by people who paid close attention to what was going on around them. Would that people had the fortitude to pay such close attention these days.

Democracy is supposed to work on behalf of the people. In my view, the divinely inspired part is the checks and balances system intended to curb the "tyranny of the majority." Just because most people agree on an issue doesn't make it right. The classic example is slavery.

More and more it seems that whenever and where ever we perceive an injustice we go running to our legislature or, lately because they can't make a move without alienating some political base, to the ballot box on our own initiative, to pass a law to fix it. There is rarely a day that goes by in city court when no one comes in seeking to limit the liberty of another with an order of protection because they just don't like that person.

Rushing our judgments into law, though, carries risk as it is often based upon shallow knowledge. And what's worse is our complete disregard for the doubled-headed serpent of unintended consequences and the slippery slope. I can guarantee you that for every new law we pass there is a Stoudemire/Diaw effect-maybe it won't show up for a while but very often it is immediately discernible.

And every time we come up with a grand justification for a broad based measure that seems to make nothing but common sense (like the statewide smoking ban for instance), it makes the next big rule seem that much more acceptable and/or tolerable. I have no doubt the NBA powers that be are currently drafting new rules to solve the problem created by enforcing this old rule.

One thing you never hear of is a movement to repeal a law. Oh sure, they get repealed but only in the context of being reenacted as the part of some other scheme. Today we have an enormous set of laws on the books that try to regulate illegal immigration (it could not be illegal if there wasn't a law). That law has never been enforced never having been given the proper resources. What is the point of enacting a law that is never properly funded? The politicians get the brownie points for passing it in the first place and some later generation gets the blame for its utter failure. This is the theater currently playing out in Congress: ad naseum debates about amnesty and circular discussions about how to stem the tide of those coming in. The horse is out of the barn-12 million people have traipsed across the undefended border, while we ration spots to foreign applicants seeking to learn and/or work at our institutions and industries and return to their homeland and apply that knowledge (and then gripe when they do and our jobs get outsourced).

At some point you so over-tax the government that it can't fairly or effectively perform ANY task. The result is a total loss of confidence. Stern knows about that at least in the Phoenix market-the bench infraction occurred earlier in the game on the Spurs side, but the resources were not allocated to pursuing that one. (They certainly don't sit around watching the tapes for infractions, big brother style after the games either). For principled fans this undermines the authority of the league president because it is patently unfair. No one at the NBA is paying attention and seeing the big picture (except those with a 65" liquid screen).

A law here and a law there form an ultimate aggregate in the quilt of the whole country. But when some of the quilt pieces are squares and some are octagons, the quilt can't be sewn together. And we end up with a pile of fluff. That is what happens when we don't pay attention. Madison was not a molasses trafficker, but he understood the big picture because he knew what was going on in the world. Today we merely pretend to know. Meanwhile we distract ourselves with sports, but even there the game has become the rules and the athletic beauty of just playing ball is secondary.

Now that we are out of the championship, maybe we will have some time to think about it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Sweet Side Dish

Love this recipe and make it often:

Stir Fried Bell Pepper

Cut two lushious sweet bell peppers (preferably a red and a yellow) into 1/2" squares.
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Swirl a hot pan or wok with oil to coat.

Throw in the peppers and stir fry for a couple of seconds. Sprinkle in salt and stir to coat. Cook for a minute or so. Stir in soy and vinegar. Cook for about a minute and add the cilantro. Remove from heat.

Gorgeous, delicious and good for you!!!! This is from the late Barbara Tropp. Her book is my Asian bible-"The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking."

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Menopause Watch-Cool Days Ahead

I got my recommendations from the herbologist. I went to two local herb outlets; neither had any of the items listed. I am now trying to obtain them from the distributor that the herb man works with. In the meanwhile he also suggested I double the dose of Estroven which I get at Trader Joe's and double the Arbonne progesterone cream. Well, that seems to be working. The hot flashes have gradually dissipated in intensity and frequency. As a matter of fact I don't even remember having one yesterday.

I also have an inquiry pending regarding the psoriasis. I will keep you posted.

Everyone is different and I am not suggesting that you follow this course. Do your own research and consultations. But sharing this information is part of that process; the more we know the better off we will be.

Now, however, I am looking forward to saving on AC this summer.

Watch Out For the Other Guy

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Time for a Rant

Many years ago I opened a file on my computer called "The World Is Upside Down." There I would file anecdotes that illustrated the theory. It got too full and I let it languish. I was becoming a slave to a bitter, thankless master. Today, however, I must return to that long abandoned practice to vent.

I was speaking with one of my more cynical acquaintances and he noted, as more and more people seem to of late, that things are so "Orwellian." I appreciated his perspective, particularly since moments prior to that conversation I was serving as a civil traffic hearing officer and watching a video of the defendant running a red light. It doesn't get more big brother-ish than that.

Whether Orwellian or not, when the world gets as regulated and complex as ours has, it makes achieving even the most fundamental tasks monumental; in the process sucking out one's enthusiasm and drive and leaving behind a raving cynic. A big reason for this is that we are at the mercy of powerless individuals whose jobs allow no variance from the dictated march of regulations. They are merely interpreters. Customer assistance is a misnomer and that is perhaps why we rarely see the phrase anymore.

In just the last few days of normal existence I have repeatedly encountered such mind boggling pointlessness.

First, I am trapped in an endless spiral of dental/health insurance referrals that has been my bane for nearly five months. I must admit that I turn to it only periodically after some newfound encouragement or just enough of a hiatus to start to forget just how frustrating the whole thing is.
The issue: my daughter needs her wisdom teeth removed and her jaw fixed, procedures that both require anesthesia but could be done concurrently. The problem: one is covered by dental, the other by medical; both were initially diagnosed by the dentist who referred her to a very qualified specialist. (The medical doctor failed to connect her hearing problem with her jaw and sent her to a hearing specialist who confirmed that yep, she couldn't hear and wanted to send her to a neurologist. Even a high school anatomy student knew that was a ridiculous idea, as confirmed when she got her teeth cleaned, but I digress).
Now the competent oral surgeon is not on our medical plan but is on our dental plan. So we have to go back to the medical doctor for a referral. This involves an office visit, faxes and several phone calls for the medical office to appreciate just what the referral issue is. That requires the medical office to enlist the services of their FTE who does nothing but work on these issues with insurance companies (and who pays for that?). After a couple of weeks she determines that we cannot use the already identified and already consulted oral surgeon unless we can make a case that he is the only competent practitioner available to perform the procedure within a 25 mile radius.
So I go to the insurance website and take off the information for all the potential Aetna doctors who might fit into my puzzle. After calling 25 offices I found exactly ONE that even does jaw surgery. Coincidentally that person also does wisdom teeth and takes both of our dental and medical plans! Wahoo!
He is 25.03 miles from my home and his earliest possible appointment for a consultation (yes, we have to do that AGAIN)is in 8 weeks.
So, I figure I am home free and can just go back to the original surgeon. Buoyed by this new found evidence I take my dentist's advice and contact the medical insurer. But as he also advised, I didn't simply write as that would generate no response whatsoever. No, I emailed and snail mailed a letter and placed a personal call.
At least response was swift: they cannot talk to me about it unless I get a REFERRAL from my medical doctor's office--who, as noted above, HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!

Meanwhile, my disabled brother in law, Michael is planning a trip to the family home in Nova Scotia this summer. This requires a passport now thanks to the political response to illegal immigration-do nothing that will make a true difference but impose a massive burden on the people who have absolutely nothing to do with the problem. (I give you a million examples of those programs, starting with the TSA-but I fear disgression).
You may have noticed the advertisements at your local US Post Office-apply for your passport here! Well, we certainly did and from them purloined the passport application form which we took home and completed. We then followed the instructions carefully, gathered the necessary birth certificate information and cut the required check for $97. We left the oath and signature portion blank as that would be completed before an authorized government representative, who presumably works at the PO. With address and file folder in hand, Michael heads to the local PO with the assistance of Dial-A -Ride (one government subsidized service I am not about to complain about).
Michael dutifully waits his turn in line (no more number calling at the PO you know, a practice which I agree is much less efficient than merely waiting in line) only to be told that one requires an appointment made in advance to have the PO window attendant take in the application. Michael, understanding his lack of bargaining power, sadly wandered outside to call for the Dial-A-Ride home. Well, apparently the not so busy postal guy spied him standing outside for about 15 minutes and relented, bringing him in to complete the process without the almighty appointment. However, in an apparent effort not to let his emotional vulnerability overcome him, the postman requires Michael to stand there and fill out an entirely new application. Michael's limitations do not keep him down-he is no idiot-but his impairment to his left side has effected his sight and writing without a hand to hold the paper can be difficult-all of which add up to a potential for a mistake. Given the time frames for processing passports, any mistake is a potential huge delay.
To add insult to injury, the PO then charged him an ADDITIONAL $30. This part confused me the most. All we could figure was that he misunderstood and thought Michael was seeking to expedite the process, which does cost an additional $32. But we had no way of knowing as Michael had no clue why the guy charged him. (He has a limited income and had to time the application so that he had the $97 available to apply in the first place; $30 more is a big deal under such circumstances.)
My husband appeared to complain about this entire situation the following day. After explaining the $30 was a processing fee and referring him to the "federal government" to file the complaint, the irritable postman, emotions now carefully in check, observed that he probably should not even be discussing this with my husband due to privacy concerns.

Don't even get me started on the absurdities and unintended consequences that have been unleashed as the result of our new obsession with privacy!

My final gripe for this last fortnight is with the girl scout organization. My daughter has earned her Gold Award. This is the equivalent of the Eagle Scout. Oddly everyone knows of the Eagle Scout but virtually no one is aware of the Gold Award. This is due to the absolute lack of public relations skill on the part of the organization. If it doesn't involve cookies they are hopeless.
I will be the first to admit that my daughter was less than enthusiastic about this project and had to be poked, prodded and practically dragged to getting it done (she is, after all, a teenager). But her lack of zeal is perfectly mirrored by the behavior of the people at the top of the GS food chain. Every step of the way they had to be poked, prodded an practically dragged to return a phone call, communicate with one another, process paperwork, etc. And most annoyingly they acted like it was a hassle for them to even have to deal with the process.
Even more puzzling is their reaction to these accomplishments. It seems that our troop is viewed with a jaundiced eye as they have an absurdly high rate of Gold Award achievers. Rather than seeking out the leader to tap into her successful process and package it for use by other troops they react with suspicion that these girls somehow cheated to get the jobs done. I will say this, the requirements for earning badges and patches were clearly dreamed up by some committee in the clouds in need of a reality check. The time and effort required for many of the nonsensical hoops associated with them were on par with a thesis. Although systems like that almost force cheating because they are so unrealistic and impossible, I can attest that there was no cheating here. What a disappointment to find that this organization has become a victim of its own bureaucracy. No wonder out of 19 kindergarteners in the original troop, my daughter is the sole high school senior survivor.

I am certain I am preaching to the choir with these complaints but for heaven sake can this really continue? All of this waste is extremely expensive: it costs us in cold hard cash, precious time, and psychic health (not to mention global warming).

We know the VA Tech shooter has just been to the post office and had recent encounters with the health system; I wonder if he knew any girl scouts.