Wednesday, December 19, 2012

One shouldn't Eat and Run. It might be dangerous to your Health

The old adage is some people cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. I've been able to do that. However, it looks like I need to draw the line at eating a sandwich and running to catch the bus!

Sounds logical, eh? Well, I tested that adage and learned a valuable lesson last Sunday.

As I left church after the AM service, I checked the copy of ACTransit AnyStop on my cell phone. It looked like it would be about 25 minutes, which meant I'd be able to grab a quick sandwich at Lucky, and eat before the bus arrived.

A block away from the church I noticed the #40 bus about to pull up to the stop on Foothill Blvd. I considered grabbing that so I could eat at home. However, I blew that idea off and headed towards Lucky. Mistake #1.

I went into Lucky and grabbed one of their pre-packaged Turkey, Bacon and Cheese Wraps. As I was in line I saw a #14 bus pulling up to the stop. I commented to the cashier that I just missed my bus. He asked me, "Don't you hate that when that happens?"

Then, before I could respond, he added, "You'll have plenty of time to eat your sandwich, sit, and watch the girls walk by." (a reference to an old song that I can't remember the name of).

As I cut across the parking lot to the Athol Avenue bus stop, I notice the #18 bus about a block away. I debated quickening my pace to catch it, since I didn't know if it was early, or the last bus running late. But, decide not to.

I got to the middle of the strip and stopped because a car coming of and I'm technically crossing where I really shouldn't be. However, that car stopped, ushering me to go ahead and cross.

Waving "Thanks" I decide to try and catch the bus after all, sprinting across the street (Mind you I haven't sprinted in years, let along ran anything faster than a quick jog of a few steps). Mistake #2.

The fateful Mistake #3 came when I decide to try and take a couple of bites of the sandwich as I'm running because I know the bus driver will give me grief about no eating on the bus.

As I get about 10 feet from the sidewalk I start to stumble. It was like my upper body was moving in full speed, but my legs were in quick sand. I started pitching forward, thinking to myself that I'm going down and there's nothing that's going to stop me!

I basically did my best imitation of someone sliding into home with the catcher blocking the plate and ended up landing a couple feet away from the curb. As I turned over and tried to get up there was a severe pain in my right thigh and knee, and I couldn't put any weight on it.

Now, I've had knee problems for years, with them popping out of place every once in a while. I know how to pop them back in so I figured this was just one of those times. Unfortunately, as I went to adjust it, I felt more pain, and it was obvious it wasn't a case of being out of joint.

Dragging myself over to the curb, I once again tried to get up. However, my leg told me that wasn't going to happen! I ended up sitting there on the curb, looking down at part of my sandwich strewn in the gutter and pondering if I had broken my leg.

At this point I called my sister to see if she could come and get me. It freaked her out when I told her what happened, but she said she'd be on her way that moment. However, it was going to take a while to get there.

What does sadden me is that during that 30 minutes, or so, nobody who walked by asked me if I needed any help, or if there was anything wrong. NOBODY!

Granted maybe some might have felt intimidated by a big guy dressed in a camo jacket sitting on the curb. But, I wasn't sitting there hassling everyone that walked by for change, nor was I raving drunk…and I was obviously in distress.

I guess I should give the bus driver the benefit of the doubt that he didn't see the incident, though I can't see how he missed it because if I'd been five feet shorter I would have been right in his lane of traffic! And I can't remember whether that car, which stopped, had already driven past.

I crawled into the back of my sister's Forester for the long ride home. Sort of reminded me of the ambulance ride when I had my appendix out many years ago, where you basically just stared at the ceiling, and had to ask ever few minutes just exactly where you were.

The good news is that it's now three days later and the swelling has virtually disappeared, with mostly some stiffness and occasional joint pain remaining. The bad news is that since I've been camped out on the couch for most of that time, I've got the World's worst back ache. Hopefully, sleeping in my bed tonight will take care of that.

I cannot publicly thank my sister enough for her coming to my rescue and also for her checking on me daily to make sure I was OK.

You might be asking, why did you go to the hospital or doctor to get it looked at? Simply put, NO health care. I wouldn't be able to afford the doctor's bill.

It seems like it turned out in my favor this time. But, I can't help but think of all those people out there that get permanently crippled or are stuck on the streets who really need health care to even provide a semi-normal existence.

* * *

UPDATE (12/23/12): The knee has been becoming less stiff each day, and the horrendous back problems are going away, little-by-little. However, my sister noticed a red mark on the back of my knee, and shot a photo of it. Added it at the top for all to see.

Thinking I tore something, which might explain the lack of stability issues. SIGH…..

Thursday, December 13, 2012

movie review: Lincoln (2012)


(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

* * *

LINCOLN (2012)

I've been meaning to catch Lincoln ever since I saw the first trailers during the summer. For whatever reason, I kept putting it off until I found out it's showing at the Rialto Cinema Cerrito, in El Cerrito. Being this is in walking distance I had no excuse not to escape the real world for 2 1/2 hours of movie magic.

* * *

After all these years you'd think that movies on Abraham Lincoln have been done to death (no pun intended). Most seem to cover Lincoln with a global view, all the way from his days as a Congressman to that fateful day when he was murdered at Ford's Theater.

This movie takes a different angle, concentrating on the short three month period of time between the 1864 Presidential Election and the House of Representative's passage of the 13th Amendment.

Partially based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, we see the political intrigue which was common place in the 1800s, when you needed a score card to know which way any politicians might swing on a topic, even within the same political party!

* * *

Be forewarned. If you hate films laden with dialog and are only entertained when things go boom every ten seconds, or when special effects turn a character's skin from tan to blue at the drop of a hat, this film is NOT for you.

Lincoln relies heavily on dialog, and the relationships among several Washington DC power brokers, as they jump though all sorts of hoops in an effort to abolish slavery in the United States.

Makeup was fantastic. While Longstreet's beard in Gettysburg still  draws chuckles, there should be no laughs here. Everyone's makeup was very believable and, with the exception of Tommy Lee Jones' very recognizable face, blended into the history books I used to read in college.

Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Lincoln is a career performance. Prior to this my favorite performance of his was Bill Cutting (Gangs of New York). However, a good portion of that screen time was shared with Leonardo DiCaprio. Though there are plenty of other actors with important parts in Lincoln, they are clearly playing second fiddle to Day-Lewis, who character carries the film.

I was intrigued by Day-Lewis' vocalization of Lincoln. Normally, he has a very forceful voice in most of his roles (see Daniel Plainview, in There Will be Blood, for an extreme example of what I'm talking about).

By 1864 the real Lincoln had been worn down by several bloody years of war, not to mention a tenuous reelection battle. Day-Lewis spoke in character with the usual "folksy" tone that many an actor have portrayed Lincoln with, and there was a "frailness" sound to it.

Interestingly, Day-Lewis was not the first choice as Lincoln; Liam Neeson was. However, Neeson pulled out before actual filming started. It's 20/20 hindsight, but I just can't see him giving a performance anywhere near what Day-Lewis accomplished.

Sally Field did an adequate job as Mary Todd Lincoln, especially considering what she had to work with, as Mrs. Lincoln had a small amount of screen time when compared to the male characters.

The supporting actor list is absolutely thick with talent; too many to name everyone. Three particularly standing out are David Strathairn (William Seward), Tommy Lee Jones (Thaddeus Stevens), Bruce McGill (Edwin Stanton) and Lee Pace (Fernando Wood)

It should be no surprise that any film dealing with Lincoln and the Civil War will usually end with Lincoln's assassination. However, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner chose not to show the actual event, instead wrapping up with inspirational oratory.

This morning Lincoln received seven Golden Globe nominations, the most for any movie, and it won't surprise me if they repeat a similar feet when it comes to Oscar nominations in mid-January, especially  Day-Lewis (Lead Actor), Kushner (Best Screenplay) and Best Picture.

Perhaps a little picky, but I did knock off a star because of a bit of time compression at the end and for a couple of scenes that, while adding to the flavor of the movie, are doubtful at ever happening, according to some historians. (Though only a sub-plot in passing, I would have liked to have seen more information on the peace overtures from the Confederacy).

RATED: 9.0 out of 10 STARS

* * *

Lincoln will be showing at the Cerrito at least through December 21st, and is also showing at several other theaters throughout the area.  Further information on show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cutting Cable without getting Sliced

Recently I had an opportunity to see what it's like not to have cable television in the house. Just the thought sent shivers down my spine. I admit it. I am a television junkie.

It was through that recent trial separation that I thought about it. How many of those zillions of channels did I really watch on a regular basis, and how many were things I could watch elsewhere, or watch alternatives to?

Last Friday I jumped in Cold Turkey, and am going through a bit of an adjustment period.

* * *

As my street is graced with overhead power lines, I've never been able to successfully use a rooftop antenna. In fact, I found that the higher my antenna, the worse the reception was. I actually got better reception with the antenna sitting six feet off my back deck. Not an optimal installation as I also nearly blinded myself by walking into one of the elements while letting the dog out after dark!

It had been a stop gap measure so I could watch the San Jose Sharks' magical 1994 playoff run; back when the team actually broadcast over the air on KICU-TV (Ch. 36). Ironically, I ended up calling Century Cable just in time to catch the Sharks' final playoff appearance that year.

That started 15 years of relationship with cable television, interrupted by a three year affair with DirecTV; blindly shelling out money to watch a fraction of what was actually available.

* * *

If you're a person who can live with simple over the air broadcast signals, that's awesome. All you may need are a set of cheap rabbit ears and perhaps a digital-to-analog converter box if you're still using an older television set.

We're blessed because most places in the westernmost East Bay have Line of Sight coverage from Sutro Tower - that 1000' tall erector set high atop San Francisco's Clarendon Heights.

In my circumstance the only programming I regularly watch over the air is The Amazing Race and Survivor. Both on the local CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV (Ch. 5).

Most of the time my cable box lived on Syfy, BBC-America, CNN and the Encore movie channels, with HBO and Starz joining the cast after being enticed with a special deal which recently expired and became not so financially special in the blink of an eye.

All is not lost. In our current Internet age a lot of what you might watch on cable is available online. (CBS now has full episodes of the above mentioned TAR and Survivor streaming immediately after they've aired in the Pacific Time Zone.)

If you're one of those people that prefers episodic television, Hulu is a fantastic option, with many of its programs available for FREE! $7.99 per month gets you lots more content, including many shows from the current broadcast season. Granted you have to live with commercials. But, that's not any different than live TV.

They also offer the chance to relive shows which just didn't cut it for whatever reason. But, were entertaining none-the-less.

While Hulu does offer movies, Netflix made its claim to fame there. Their streaming option is also $7.99/month. Unfortunately, you will have to rely on their DVD option for most newly released titles, which is an additional charge.

For the occasional new title, there's always your local RedBox kiosk.

While live sports programming used to never be available without a cable or satellite provider, that's not the case anymore. The NHL, NBA, MLS and MLB all offer live content by subscription in some form through the use of either a computer, Internet-ready TV and/or streaming device. While the NFL doesn't offer live content they do offer a package of games available once they've completed.

* * * 

While the late Sen. Ted Stephens (R-AK) was generally off base with much of his Series of Tubes tirade, you can think of your personal Internet connection that way.

The more things you are doing at one time, the bigger that tube needs to be. Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Pandora, World of Warcraft, etc. all suck up bandwidth, and if you're watching a movie while your kids are in their bedroom streaming music or playing some MMORPG, you're all fighting to pull your content through that same tube.

Even something as simple as accessing your email uses bandwidth, albeit one small chunk at a time.

Notice that "AT ONE TIME" part mentioned. If you're in a one-person household, a basic connection is probably good enough for you. For the rest of us, we're going to need a bigger tube.

It was a no brainer I'd have to come up with some type of internet connection, not just for the additional streaming load, but for everything else web-related, as my email address is more useful than my home phone!

Not widely known is that Comcast will sell you an Internet only subscription. In my experience I'm getting insane speeds on Comcast compared to other providers. As long as they don't go back to enforcing their data cap, I'll be happy. Otherwise it'll be time to go shopping for a new service provider.

* * *

Is this plan perfect? Certainly not. There are some things to consider.

Most of your viewing pleasure is at the mercy of your Internet connection.

CNN has decided to marry themselves to cable and satellite providers so you can't watch CNN, nor its sister network HLN, live unless you're a subscriber.

Lastly, and perhaps a deal breaker for some, there's no option but to go without premium channels, such as HBO and Showtime, as they currently don't offer a la carte subscriptions. (April 2013 is going to be rough in my household when Season Three of Game of Thrones premieres!),

Good luck to anyone that takes up this venture. Your pocket book may just thank you!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Adventures in SSA-Land

Generic American Social Security Card

So today I experience the surreal world of the local Social Security Administration office, in Berkeley.

I know my Social Security card is somewhere in my room. i just don't know where. Since a replacement is free, it would be easier to get a replacement than to try and tear my bedroom apart!

Till now, I'd been used to the going to the office in downtown Richmond. However, when I checked online, it seemed to be sending me towards the Berkeley office as my only option.

I hopped on the AC Transit 25 bus, yet another first time event for me. It picks up across the street from my house, but it was soooooo slow compared to the ACTransit 18 route.

As I walked to the office I wondered exactly where it was. Turns out, I nearly walked past the front door. It reminded me more of the door to a morning deli/sandwich shop, than a SSA office.

Inside there was a self-serve kiosk where a person would select what they were in the office for today, and then it spits out a ticket with a number on it. Mine was D2. Then I saw the indicator on the TV screen…D98!!!

The waiting room is probably 20' x 30' in size, with three wows of chairs tied closely together. As people sat down, they tried to keep one empty seat between themselves, and their neighbor.

I'm sitting there, watching the only entertainment…George Takei on a large TV promoting the benefits of Social Security, and checking Twitter on my smartphone, when the guy that's sitting behind me arbitrarily blurts out, "Equalized Trigger!"

I have no idea what this meant, though it certainly got my attention.

About 10 minutes later my number is called. I'm thinking that wasn't too bad of a wait as I head towards the window.

As I try and hand the woman the form which I'd downloaded off the Internet, she stops me dead in my tracks to tell me she's only checking me in. I'll have my name called later!!

Mind you my form is completely filled out, and all I'm wanting is to get a replacement card!

Returning to my seat Mr. Equalized Trigger exclaims "Jesus is coming back!" I don't know if this was in reference to my overly long hair and beard, or what, so I don't say anything. Someone sitting behind him said, "Man, I want some of whatever they gave you!!" Others chuckle a little. Mr. E.T is oblivious to the humor at his expense.

One by one, they are continued calling numbers. I had an incredible urge to yell, "You sunk my battleship" each time they called a new number. However, I refrain, figuring they wouldn't appreciate the humor. Over 20 minutes passed before I finally heard my name called.

I handed my form to the girl who called me. She informed me that she'd be asking me questions (actually called it an interview) and also mentioned the whole penalty of perjury thing. (But, she did it with a smile!).

After asking me about three basic questions, which were filled out on the form, she printed off a receipt, handing it to me. She then tossed my neatly filled out form into a shred bin!! At no time did she actually look at it.

And with that we were done. I made a hasty retreat from the building towards the bus stop.

* * *

We've all heard the comments about the government being so inefficient, especially the Social Security Administration and Medicare.

Without getting into a nasty political debate on the whole situation, I do have to ask just WHY couldn't the first person that called me to "check me in" ask me the three or four simple questions the second person did, thereby sending me on my way after a  short wait?

After all, both women were in the same position - first calling people to check them in, later calling names to deal with whatever brought them into the office that day.

I also have to wonder why, in this day and age of small desktop printers  and plastic card imprinters, couldn't they have got me a card on the spot, rather than having to wait ten days for a small piece of paper printed in Sacramento?

And on an even more basic level, why couldn't the self-serve kiosk have been my "check-in" point for services? Why didn't it take three points of contact to turn in a simple application for a replacement card?

Just one of the things with the government that makes you go "Hmmmmm."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Community Tragedy













Recently our small community of Albany experienced a string of tragic events which have shaken our town to its core.

  • 9/24 AUSD learns of allegations of inappropriate actions between teacher and student. Places teacher on leave
  • 9/26 morning APD arrests teacher
  • 9/26 AUSD notifies parents about classroom shuffling and announces parent-only meeting
  • 9/26 8:17p Teacher formerly booked into Custody
  • 9/27 morning Teacher released on bail
  • 9/27 5pm  AUSD parent meeting addressing events
  • 9/28  Teacher's 2pm hearing  postponed until 10/24
  • 10/1 10:30a Sheriff receives call about teacher's death; body discovered along road in San Lorenzo
  • 10/1 3:14p AUSD notifies parents of death, indicating would not inform students till next day
  • 10/2 8:30a AUSD holds press conference regarding teacher's death

James Izumizaki, 28, was a teacher and counselor at Albany Middle School. Judging by the many comments left on Albany Patch articles by students and parents he was well liked and admired.

Interspersed with those positive comments were others vilifying the school district, police and Albany Patch - who was the news outlet which initially broke the story.

Many comments suggested AUSD was at fault for not investigating further before reporting to the police. It is NOT the responsibility of the school district to decide if police notification is warranted.

California Penal code places teachers and administrators among professionals REQUIRED to report such allegations to the police. (Penal Code § 11165.7). Furthermore, they could be held liable for not reporting (Penal Code §§ 11166(c); 11166.01).

* * *

Many comments suggested APD hastily arrested Izumizaki and that the plea for others to come forward was nothing more than efforts to fabricate a case.

At this point the public does not know what information police had prior to arresting Izumizaki. What should be assumed is there WAS enough Probable Cause to bring charges. Probable Cause does NOT equate guilt. It only means the police have something needing further investigation.

Izumizaki was obviously not considered a flight risk, or else bail would have been higher than the statutory minimum. Or a judge could have denied bail outright.

In fact, Izumizaki was released by the next morning, with notice to appear Friday. That hearing was then delayed three weeks. Having formal charges brought within seven days would have been unusual without damning evidence so a delay was not surprising.

* * *

Comments have suggested that by Albany Patch providing ANY coverage at all it ruined Izumizaki's life. That this private matter was none of our business.

Arrest records ARE a matter of public record.

For right or wrong, teachers are held to a higher standard because of their contact with children. They are placed in a position of trust.

The mere reporting of a public arrest in no way takes a side, guilty or innocent. Are there news outlets which purposely drive an agenda? Absolutely. Do I believe Albany Patch was guilty of that? No. It ONLY reported what HAD happened, without editorial comment.

To see what reporting with editorial comment looks like, check out footage of Nancy Grace's coverage of the Casey Anthony Trial. For me she clearly biased even before formal charges were filed.

* * *

Might Izumizaki's tragic end been prevented if things had been handled differently by Patch, AUSD or APD? Possibly. It's currently impossible for the public to say what Izumizaki's final act was motivated by. But, that does not make them libel for that act either.

Was the Albany Patch headline referring to "Lewd Acts" really necessary? Patch did not come up with that legal definition. It was merely citing the official wording used by the government. (At no time has Patch written a headline about Izumizaki with the word "molestation" as one commentator stated).

Was that a charged-sounding headline to use? Yes.
Was it deliberately used to imply Guilt? No.
Could the headline have been reworded to not include "lewd?" Perhaps.

However, the fact remains those were publicly available charges which any responsible reporter would have included, at the very least, in the body of the article.

Should commenting have been turned off on articles? Hind sight is 20/20.

I can understand the rationale on why public comments were allowed - To allow people an outlet to express feelings on a very serious situation.

In retrospect, comments seem to have accomplished nothing more than vilifying Patch, APD, AUSD, or the person alleging the improper relationship.

* * *

I've personally known two people who have committed suicide. One was because they were in the final stages of terminal cancer. That reason, though extreme, could be comprehended.

The other had been fighting an ongoing battle with mental illness. From what I understand intimate friends saw no outside appearances treatment wasn't working. Then one morning they simply found them dead. Two weeks before that I'd seen them smiling and happily dancing around.

No matter what drove him, the ultimate responsibility for the decision to take his life lies with Izumizaki.

One commenter would have liked to have heard Izumizaki's side of the allegations. By taking his own life, Izumizaki chose to remain silent, except for any parting comments he put in the note found inside his car.

It now rests with the Alameda County judicial system on whether they will release any contents from that note. Doing so could provide some closure to everyone involved, and it would be coming from Izumizaki.

My heart goes out to Izumizaki's family and co-workers. They will have to live with the knowledge of these events for the rest of their lives.

My heart also goes out the student who brought the allegation to light, as well as the students who are now confused after having nothing but good memories of the man.

I'm afraid this chain of incidents will be with us for weeks to come.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Remembrances of the Holy Land (Prologue)

Graphic: Robert Marshall

I can hardly believe next April will mark five years since I took what is turning out to be my trip of my lifetime – My pilgrimage to Israel and Jordan.

Despite occurring prior to my starting Robert's Ramblings, I had intended to journalize everyday through a blog so I'd be able to capture my thoughts, fresh in mind.

Alas, I didn't. I didn't even write a single entry summarizing the trip once we returned home. That error in omission is all water under the bridge now.

What follows is partially an exercise in jogging my memory, and partially wanting to recreate those missing journal entries before they fall even further from my recollection. (I hate to call it a memoir because that sounds so serious and suggests finality).

* * *

At first I went through my limited amount of photos I'd taken, along with those taken by Dave Young Kim, one of the ReGeneration interns, who was tasked with taking photographs for the church.

You will find copious amounts of hyperlinks to other source material, such as locations, religious explanations, and words that I figured some people might not necessarily know.

Once the first draft was completed, and I'd had a chance to do a second reading to clean up errors and clumsy wording, I took at look at any trip photo albums others may have shared through their Facebook profiles.

Originally, I'd hoped I would be able to remember enough to create two to three blog posts summarizing things - give or take 3,000 words. It is now two weeks later and the length has ballooned to 15 blog entries, containing over 31,000 words.

As I started writing, things just kept popping into my head. (Which I hope is a good thing!).

Most entries cover a single day. However, a couple days were broken into two parts because they became so long. Rather than boil it down considerably, I decided to keep what came to mind. Think of it more as a personal travelogue, interspersed with comments along the way.

I'm sure there are items I've forgotten, or possibly had a different take from other people on the trip, and I should probably apologize in advance if you find any of the items I recalled monotonous or inconsequential at best.

* * *

I've chosen to use initials when I'm referring to people on the pilgrimage other than our guides, Doron (Israel) and Robert (Jordan). Hopefully, that shouldn't take away from the worth of the piece, and those that went should be able to remember which initials refer to whom.

TO: BP, CB, CH, CM, DB, DE, DK, ED, GC, HS, KG,  LL, MG, PD, PW, RC, RP, RW, SH, ShL, StL, RF, RV, TB, TS, WC and YB, Thanks for being my traveling partners.

To: Doron and Robert (our guides) thanks for helping to expand our knowledge and understanding where historical events fell - especially with a Biblical perspective.

* * *

Lastly, I've decided to back date the entries to the actual dates as if I'd followed through with my original plan. Admittedly strange, but it seemed like a smart thing to do. Clicking on the "TO BE CONTINUED" link at the bottom will take you to the first trip entry (April 9th, 2008).

Enough with explanations! Thanks for reading and I hope it inspires you to go on pilgrimage yourself (or again if you've already been).


Saturday, September 22, 2012

To Endeavour is to Succeed

I hope everyone had the opportunity to see the last aerial hurrah of Space Shuttle Endeavour last Friday. It didn't matter that it would be hitching a ride on the back of a modified 747. It would still be amazing.

The local news had hyped up the flight for days. Rightfully so as once the shuttle hit the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport, it was destined for a slow ground crawl to its final resting spot, the California Science Center.

When I woke up I turned on KRON-4. I figured they would have the best news coverage, and not be hindered by network affiliation. Amazingly, they stayed live with the flight all the way from its take-off from Edwards Air Force Base.

Another amazing thing was that NASA actually delayed the flight by one hour because they wanted to make sure the any fog hand burned off here in the Bay Area. How cool is that?

Getting close to the estimated 9:30a appearance in the Bay Area, I grabbed my camera and zoom lens. I hadn't shot anything in months and couldn't find my tele-extender, which irked me a little. But, you make do with what you have.

I also didn't know from where the shuttle would appear because the FAA was keeping quiet the exact flight path Endeavour would be taking. Some armchair investigators had cobbled together approximate routes based on available info and people they knew. The most common route would have her fly out over the bay from Emeryville. Fortunately, I saw another one that showed her flying over land all the way up the East Bay to Richmond.

Due to delays coming up the Central Valley and parading around Sacramento, the shuttle didn't actually reach central Contra Costa County until around 10am.

I headed outside to take a position on the other side of the street from my house and then checked Twitter once more. Someone had just posted she was over the Rockridge BART station.

One of my neighbors was leaving his house and came over as his car was parked next to where I was standing. I told him what I was waiting for, nervous Endeavour would sneak up on me while we were talking.

Suddenly, I could hear the dull roar of the engines. But from where???? Then a gray blob appeared off in the distance, somewhere over Berkeley.

The plane slowly sauntered over the cities, lower than any plane of that size which I could remember. While I had a good view, it must have been stellar for anyone further up Solano Avenue. I can only hope teachers in the Albany schools let their students out to watch.

I was able to fire off, give or take, 20 shots. Many were garbage, with autofocus catching an errant wire or phone pole. Some people say it spoils to watch something through a camera view finder. In this circumstance it was a help, not a hindrance.

Just as quickly as it had appeared, it was gone; headed towards Richmond, and then over to the Marin Headlands for a couple of loops before pointing South.

* * *

My first introduction to the Space Shuttle program was somewhere back about 1972. Every week I looked forward to receiving the newest copy of My Weekly Reader, a topical newspaper given out to students when I attended Fairmont Elementary School. The issue I'm thinking of talked about the upcoming Skylab program.

On the back was a diagram about future space programs and had Skylab (1973), Apollo-Soyuz Mission (1975) and the Space Shuttle program (1980). That seemed so far off at the time.

Fast-forward to April 1981, and the maiden space flight of Columbia. This was in the days before my family had a VCR. We had a movie camera though, and I had recently discovered a half dozen Kodak film cartridges!! I was determined to record this for prosperity (Ignore that fact it was silent film!).

I'd marked the living room floor with masking tape so I could set the tripod quickly. I thought I was all set. Everything was ready…except there were no nine volt batteries!! Mind you this was something like 3am. Not to be deterred I found a whole bunch of D-cells and some wire. The idea was to use electrical tape to create a circuit between the batteries and camera handle.

(It was probably fortunate that it didn't work as it probably would have shorted out my father's expensive Nizo-Braun S480).

Resolved to just watching the coverage, I received a reprieve when NASA delayed the mission due to weather conditions in Florida. I took this as a sign and silently snuck out of the house and took the Chevette in search of proper batteries. I let the car roll down the steep hill before starting the engine, and I can only imagine how my father would have freaked if he'd seen the car gone.

Scoring batteries from Jay-Vee Liquors, I returned home only to hear the mission was delayed yet again. It eventually flew, and I eventually filmed it. Film which is still sitting in a box somewhere, unprocessed.

* * *

Like most Americans I became complacent as shuttle missions became common and routine. Even broadcast television stopped carrying launches live after a while. Sadly, it took the Challenger and Columbia disasters for many of us to pay any attention to NASA anymore.

Now the Space Shuttle program has come and gone, with no immediate replacement. Adding insult to injury Astronauts are hitching rides to the International Space Station aboard Soviet designed rockets.

Hopefully, America's enthusiasm will be fired up once again by Curiosity's recent escapades, and we will endeavour towards eventual manned flight to Mars.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Intolerance of Tolerance

Is anyone else getting really concerned about the polarization of society lately? I'm not talking only in the political sense, but the way people treat each other in general.

Clearly, we're not going to agree on everything. But, everything seem so be a hot button issue.

The most heated example surrounds the debate on homosexuality and same sex marriage.

Most people are familiar with the Holy Bible. Perhaps not the contents, but at least by name.

Leviticus is the third book of the Bible, and can be described as a Conduct guidebook. Some consider Leviticus 18 and 20 as specifically addressing same-sex relationships.

This blog entry isn't to tell you which way you should think. People believe what they believe, and I'd hazard a guess that most people are tolerant of others having viewpoints that don't jive with theirs. But, then there are groups like the Westboro Baptist Church.

WBC goes out of their way to practice a form of extremism in professing their beliefs, and are eager to offend those who don't share those beliefs 100%. I guess the hope is that shock value will make people change.

WBC's intolerance is obvious in their actions. But, what about the opposing side where the most common goto statement is to label anyone in opposition to the same-sex lifestyle as being full of hate regardless of whether they really do hate them, or not.

* * *

Look at the political climate in the United States.

Since the early to mid 1800s, most Americans have been in one of two major parties, the Democratic and Republican. (it may surprise you to know there are currently five major and 33 minor parties nationwide; along with all sorts of regional parties.)

It's fair to say that Democratic and Republican controlling interests have polarized this country to a point not seen previously in our lifetime.

Four years ago, Barack Obama was elected President. He is the first African-American to ever hold the post. Obama is also a Democrat.

Within a week's time we started seeing distasteful things like Obama Monkey and Moo-chelle Obama. Clearly those have overt racial implications and were aimed at the first family because of their race.

In 2010, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) famously proclaimed,  "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." It's one thing to say that after codifying social issues that would lead to how that would be accomplished. However, more than once, it was stated as being the top priority, and seemingly the only priority, with anything else happening along the way being gravy.

There's no denying that many comments were only because of the color of Obama's skin, but I think it can be said that much of the anti-Obama behavior can be summed up as a lack of respect for the man, with no consideration for his position.

It's become more important to tear down those in the opposition than it is to support your own position.

During the recent political conventions, actor Jason Biggs lashed out with a string of vulgar tweets about Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and their wives. Not to be outdone, commentator Ann Coulter followed the next week, smearing Bill Clinton and Sandra Fluke.


* * *

Even deep within the heart of liberal and progressive Northern California, our little community of Albany isn't immune to the intolerance of tolerance.

We have a small core of people that regularly comment on things. One of the vocal individuals is Ulan McKnight. (In full disclosure, Ulan and I graduated from high school in the same class, though we didn't run in the same circles.)

Over the past couple of years we've had two very contentious issues make their way to the forefront of local politics; a proposed medical marijuana dispensary and the development of the University of California's Gill Tract.

Ulan was very vocal on the pro-dispensary side during the VitalGen application, and I think it is fair to say he agrees with the Occupy the Farm movement. While he and I may have been on opposite ends of the spectrum in many of our comments on Albany Patch articles, I've never felt the need to personally attack him.

Unfortunately, that cannot be said for some others who seem to relish any opportunity to disparage him by bringing up things from the past, which have no connection to the topic at hand - even to the point of belittling him based on his choice of clothing captured in a Patch photo.

* * *

Recently, I experienced this myself.

On a photography forum I sometimes visit, someone started a thread about the need for photographers to be more conscious about labeling some of their photos "NSFW," the acronym for Not Safe for Work. It's usually used as a warning for images where there's a good chance someone somewhere might find something objectionable.

I supported his argument because, as of late, there seems to be more and more photos with less and less clothing in them.

Many of the comments were along the lines of, "It's fine for my workplace" or "why were you surfing a photo gallery at work anyways?"

If those were the only comments, I'd ignore them. Unfortunately, there was someone feeling the need to start labeling people as babies and whiners. Then, when I said it was sad about the comments being left, I was told I was seriously lame. Yes, these are childish, but when said over and over they are obviously meant to be hurtful.

* * *

I'm not suggesting we should all sit down around the drum circle, bang on the bongos, and sing Kumbaya. What I AM suggesting is that it should be OK to have differing views, and to feel free to express them without resorting to Over the Top behavior, or being subjected to it. People MUST think about HOW we treat each other when expressing those feelings, no matter how distasteful we may find them.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Doing the Lustrum Limbo

Last night I was surfing around Xfinity onDemand. After wasting ten minutes on the abysmal Meet the Spartans, I latched onto The Vow, a movie released last February, starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum as a couple who's marriage is divided by a horrific car crash.

While Leo (Tatum) makes it through with just some bumps and bruises, his wife Paige (McAdams) loses her memories from the last five years. At first she wakes up and it appears all is normal. That is, until she recognizes her husband as her doctor.

As Leo saying the in the film, "(I need to) make my wife to fall in love with me again."

This is loosely based on the true story of Kim and Krickitt Carpenter. VERY loosely based when comparing the Carpenter's story vs. what's portrayed in the movie. Sadly, in real life, Krickitt never regained her memory. I won't spoil the ending of the film by saying what happened in case you want to watch it.

* * *

While I was watching it, I started thinking about my last five years. If I was in an accident what would I not remember? Would I miss anything?

Jumping into the Wayback Machine and dropping myself off in August 2007, I still would have been working at my last job at a school photography business.

This would have been eight months before, what I consider one of my pivotal moments in life, going on pilgrimage to Israel and Jordan.

After the longest plane ride of my life, we landed in Amman, Jordan exhausted. Despite that, some of us took a quick walk looking for what was supposed to be the BEST knafeh shop in Amman. I can still remember the sugary aroma and sweet sights when we wondered in. The half dozen locals, ALL Jordanian men, looked at us in puzzlement, especially our Amerikiya that stood out like a fish out of water.

After sampling way too many sweets for way too late at night, we beat a hasty retreat back to the Golden Tulip Grand Palace Hotel.

There are too many wonderful memories from that pilgrimage to share in this blog entry, as it would be 2000+ words if I tried. Suffice it to say, every few days I think back to walking in the Holy land, amongst all the special places in human history.

That's probably my most precious memory that I would have lost in the accident.

Just as Paige remembered her first engagement as if it was just yesterday, I would still be grieving over the loss of Glacier, probably the smartest dog I have ever known. She was in our family basically all her 16+ year life, and she'd been caring enough to go around and thank everyone in the room with a weak nuzzle when she probably knew she was going to die in the next couple of days.

And Jake and Sally, my current Constant Canine Companions, would be total strangers to me. That hurts just typing it.

A not so happy pivotal event occurred sometime in March 2011. Our parents died in 2000. Despite good intentions we'd basically kept their stuff in the old house. While not being a hoarder in any way, shape of form, I also had a ton of memorabilia from childhood days gone by in my old bedroom.

I guess criminal elements in the neighborhood noticed nobody coming around the house much and so decided to see what they could scavenge for a quick fix in their vein, or to numb their brain. Lots of items were taken. Unique items that can never be replaced.

My father and I were members of a model train club. He'd always planned on building a home layout, and I can still remember him telling me a few years before his death, "these will be yours someday.

I can also still remember the creepy chill that went down my spine when he said it, and how it bothered me to think he'd die. Little did we know it'd only be a scant few years later.

I had always intended to carry through on that plan for a layout. However, that's pretty much all gone now. The thief took everything, including some that were in broken and in shambles. All I have left is one locomotive and a couple cars, which happened to be at my grandmother's house for whatever reason.

Not a week goes by that I don't tell myself I need to run over to their house and grab something I need, only to rudely wake up and realize it disappeared in the robbery.

I also think of the gorgeous ring/pendant which my mother's mother got when we was a young woman in Russia. Family lore was that it was given to her by a representative of the Czar. It saddens me to think it adorns some crack head, rather than my sister, as is my mother intended.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the thieves also saw fit to turn the place upside down. The place was a total wreck. It took us months to go through some of the rooms, and to be honest, there's still more that needs to be cleaned up.

Those are just some of the memories, good and bad, that I realize I would have lost. Everyone should do the same exercise and remind themselves what they should be thankful of.

* * *

A Lustrum was an Ancient Roman term for a five year period of time. However, it's more likely you're familiar with the term from when Rooster Cogburn was in front of Judge Parker, in True Grit.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I have such a BIG hangover today

Olympics Motel Sign_DONE
I have such a BIG hangover right now. No alcohol was involved. I'm dealing with Olympic Overload and withdrawal.

Every two years, I curl up on the couch, remote in hand, to watch as much Olympic coverage as I possibly can, including many events I probably wouldn't think about during most of the waking hours.

The first Games I remember watching were the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics. I can still remember the family sitting around the old Hitachi set as Olga Korbut flipped and flew around the gymnastic apparatus; and Mark Spitz giving new meaning to Aqua Man! And who can forget the big Soviet "coal miner" turned weightlifter Vasiliy Alekseyev, with his huge torso shaped like a beer barrel.

Unfortunately, I can also vaguely remember the horrific Munich Massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. Fortunately, I don't think I realized what was happening at the time since my parents were pretty good at shielding my sister and I from things like that.

1976 marked the first year I really had any say in whether I'd watch. I say that with tongue in cheek as the Winter Olympics took place in Austria! How could I not watch? My grandmother was born in Austria. I marveled at what I thought was the final Downhill run of the day as Franz Klammer flew down Patscherkofe to win Gold.

I guess I was too young to realize this was a big taste of tape delay and editing for evening Prime Time. We never saw all 74 competitors, including ones from such winter sports hotbeds as Iran and Turkey! ABC treated us to only the Top 15 ranked skiers. They tightly packaged it and I was happy to see what they allowed me to see.

By 1976 I was hooked. I can still remember the shiver when I found out Moscow would host the 1980 Games as my other grandmother was from Russia. For a while I actually posted a drawing of Moscow Olympic symbol with the number of days and the weather on our fridge. I can also remember the depression when I heard that the USA would boycott those Games due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and that NBC would not broadcast them either.

1980 was my first experience of an American Olympic Games, with the Winter Games in Lake Placid, NY. All I have to say is USA! USA! USA! and visions of the Miracle on Ice game probably pop into your head.

* * *

From that point forward, the television coverage expanded at an astonishing rate; from 54 hours in 1980 to over 5000 hours for the recent London, which included the first major use of the Internet to stream events that would otherwise not get televised.

Unfortunately, the hangover came, not only from the amount of hours I watched, but from frustration with NBC's coverage.

It is true that NBC had more live coverage than ever before, especially relying in the CNBC, MSNBC and NBCSN cable networks. However, it is also true that those of us not on the eastern seaboard were treated to tape delays of the supposed live events.

With the explosion of social media, there was a really good chance we'd find out about the results even before they were telecast. This lead one friend to tweet that "The Internet is ruining my Olympics!"

I started watching the internet live streams of the events  the first day. It was awesome! I watched as much archery in the first day as I'd watched in all my previous Olympic viewing COMBINED. There were no commercials; just a banner ad at the top of the browser.

On about the third day it changed. I was greeted with an ad for an upcoming Will Farrell movie. I wrote it off since I had just logged in. HOWEVER, it the same ad popped up about EVERY FIVE MINUTES.

The next day a Citibank ad with Meb Keflezighi droned on. I sent an angry tweet suggesting I'd seen him more with that hour's ads than I probably would during his actual event!

At this point, I started seeing people commenting about the BBC's coverage. No commercials, streaming of every event live, or available in their entirety shortly after completion; and what could be more fitting than British coverage of a British Olympics? I thought, "What's not to like about that? I'm in!"

Well, yes and no. You see, broadcast rights are sold on a national basis, and since I'm in the United States, the only feeds they want me to watch are those from NBC.

I loaded iPlayer and was greeted by a warning page telling me BBC video streaming is only available to residents of the United Kingdom.

When I had searched for iPlayer, I noticed ads proclaiming, "Watch the BBC Olympic Coverage from…anywhere."

Each Internet connection has what's called an IP address. You can think of this as your computer's address, which includes city, state and zip code of where your computer is connecting from. The BBC servers saw my California connection and said "No way, Jose!" 

Those ads were basically for companies offering proxy servers that would allow you to connect to them (for a price). Think of that as being a hotel room where your computer is taking a vacation. Once you connected to their proxy, your computer would then send out an IP address with a British location, and iPlayer would say, "Welcome!"

Coverage of every shot; every stroke, every step! Not just the top athletes, but those who only came to participate. It was INCREDIBLE…when it didn't crash. Unfortunately, it did fairly often. Sometimes it would recover, but more often I was rudely greeted with a message that the feed appeared to not be working, please try again later.

Additionally, if I should decide to watch the event from the beginning, the feed would arbitrarily end with no warning, and the message would say it should be available shortly. In all their British properness they were nice and tidy and ended "recording" the stream immediately upon end of of the event. At least NBC's recording continued for quite some time before ending the live feed.

Sometimes, when I restarted the feed, I'd inadvertently find out the results because they have chapter bookmarks at the bottom. I ruined several beach volleyball matches that way.

By the penultimate day, I had run out of time on the proxy server so I was back to watching NBC. In case you haven't heard, they butchered the Closing Ceremonies pretty badly, not to mention sticking a sitcom episode and the late local news in the end, which delayed the final 10 minutes of the program, the anticipated set from The Who. Makes ZERO sense, and they were taken to task in social media.

* * *

So what are my suggestions for NBC to win me back?

Offer ALL events streaming live online, including the ceremonies. Don't block the more popular events once they're complete so you can save them for Prime Time. Also, I'd be willing to see a banner at the top of the browser page at all times if it meant no commercial breaks that take away from the events. If you must have interruptions, will you please have someone watching the feed, and only insert ads at times when there's no action.

Assuming your cable lineup is still the same 500 days from now, continue portioning out coverage over multiple channels. This coverage should be live, with taped coverage of some events during Prime Time.

I cringe at the idea of tape delayed coverage, but NBC has to make money somehow, and Prime Time advertising is where the best money comes from. They don't have the luxury of the BBC, where all UK households must pay a TV License fee to watch live television.

It sounds funny to say you need a license to watch TV, but it's really nothing more than a tax to pay for public television, something the British have less of a problem doing. The fee is about $228.

Since British public broadcasting is done on a national scope, with only a half dozen channels, they can get away with it. This would never work in the US, with over 1200 stations across the nation, and public funding is a hot button issue.

NBC will need to recognize they need to ratchet back on how many commercials they run. With the World moving to more and more content being available by the web, it's far easier for viewers to turn to alternative methods to get what they want.

NBC will also need to reign in their announcers. Many are great. However, some try to be cute and say stuff that sounds dumb, like when Madagascar was described as an island where a group of movie animals come from, nothing more.

I'm eager to see if NBC takes public comment to heart. But, just in case, my computer is ready to book a vacation in the UK again.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

'Twas a Decade…Yet a blink of an eye

Yesterday morning was the ten year anniversary of my dear grandmother, Paula's soul slipping from her body, to be reunited with her husband and son, who preceded her.

My sister and I thought about that briefly, but didn't put any flowers out as it's preferable to celebrate births, marriages, and happier dates, rather than the date one is taken from us. There will be plenty of other dates for flowers.

It's hard to believe it's been ten years now. Feels like just a blink of an eye, and in the scheme of things it probably is.

For Believers there is the promise of being reunited after you have also left the Corporeal World. As for non-believers? I task you with this.

Ten years, one day and a little over seven hours ago, I was laying in my bed upstairs when all of a sudden I heard my grandmother, loud as day, scream urgently "CLARIE!!!" (She confused me a lot with my father and grandfather after hip surgery clouded her mind). Not stopping to think about it, I answered "I'm coming!" and rushed downstairs.

Of course she was still laying there in utter silence --- as she had for the previous 11 days she'd been in a coma. My sister had been sleeping in a chair across the room. Surely she would have heard it too. But, hadn't woken up. I felt her pulse. It was there, albeit weak. I woke my sister, and a short 10 minutes later it was all over but the crying.

The strange thing is that there was no crying; at least not immediately. It was early in the morning. There were birds chirping outside and the early morning Sun was warm to the face when I went outside. And I was experiencing a feeling of peace and calm all over. (It had been a VERY long two years since she broke her hip).

Most assuredly she had NOT vocally cried out. She couldn't have even had she wanted to. I believe she was in the process of passing and wanted to comfort my sister and I with knowing we were there with her when it happened and that she was now alright.

If there is no existence after Death, surely there would have been no chance of that event happening.

Have a good Sunday everyone and make sure to call your grandparents when you have a chance. I wish I still had that luxury.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sometimes it takes a Child to raise a Village

As have many many Americans, I've seen the news coverage of the horrific events in Aurora, Colorado. I think pretty most everyone are asking many of the same questions
  • How could it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What could be done differently to prevent it?
The very first question is clearly the easiest to answer of the three. We know someone walked into a theater, threw some smoke grenades and then opened fire, killing at least 12 people and injuring 59 others.

The second question does not have an answer right now. So far the authorities have said that the shooter was not crazed. He left no manifesto with reasons on his action. He did not have a vendetta against the theater chain. He did not personally know any of the victims. Had any of those been true, it would have been far easier to rationalize his irrational actions for general consumption.

One of the things they've said is he had been planning this for months. And if his actions at the movie theater weren't bad enough, he booby trapped his apartment so that anyone coming in would get a big, and fateful, surprise.

Hopefully, some explanation will eventually became known so we can get a better understanding on what, if anything, makes this different than any of the previous rampages by gunmen in the United States.

The third question is the most contentious of the three; and one of the most fiery issues in this country.
On one side is the pro-gun lobby which makes the basic argument that if we make owning a gun illegal, only criminals will own guns. On the other side you've got the anti-gun lobby which says we should make it a crime to own any type of fire arm because limiting their availability will cut down on crime.

I will agree with organizations, such as the National Rifle Association, that making gun ownership illegal for law abiding Americans won't do anything to take guns away from the criminals. Anyone arguing against that basic statement is misguided. With that said, that's about as far as I'm willing to publicly agree with their gun control stances.

The basic thorny issue is the meaning of Amendment II of the Constitution.
In 2008 the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4, in District of Columbia vs. Heller, that citizens CAN own guns regardless of whether they're in the National Guard (i.e.: militia), or not. Obviously, this was a very close decision, and one vote the other way would have changed gun laws in a major way.

if you want to really get a handle on what the original intent of the 2nd Amendment was, you need to look at what the Founding Fathers wrote.
There should be NO question what James Madison intended when you read his original wording:
"The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person."
The placement of that semi-colon is important as it, grammatically, separates gun ownership from the militia membership. That semi-colon got changed to a comma along the way by a Congressional typesetter, NOT by Madison, or the Congress. When the Bills of Rights were ratified, the semi-colon was not returned.

Getting past the intent of ownership issue, the next subject is regulation. It would take a novel the size of War and Peace to summarize all the court cases on whether there should be any, what type.
With all that said, I ask you to consider something. When the Founding Fathers were around, the leading edge technology was the Flintlock Musket. It could be fired at an Earth shattering rate of four shots a minute if you were using premade cartridges! It would be around 100 years after the Revolutionary War before the first fully automatic rifle was developed by the Mexican military.
In the next 100 years we have seen semi and fully automatic rifle and pistol manufacturing made common.

Beyond the question of how fast a bullet can be delivered, there's also the advancement in quality of the projectile. During the Revolutionary War, mini balls were individually cast by hand. No two were alike, and by 1800 standards they were expensive. Today, bullets are stamped out by machines thousands at a time allowing people to access a virtually unlimited supply with a simple phone call.
In fact, the Aurora assailant purchased 6000 rounds over the past few months. What justification can there be for an individual to buy that many rounds during that short a period of time?

Anti-gun control proponents say there should be no limit on gun types or ammunition purchases. Do people really need to the ability to buy a 50 caliber rifle capable of blowing a hole through 2+ inches of bullet-proof glass just because they might want to go moose hunting?

A Facebook friend recently commented on how people should be allowed to openly carry guns wherever they want to, and about how it would be a deterrent to anyone that might want to go on a shooting spree.

Had that been the case I can only imagine many of those 59 others wounded would have ended up at the morgue instead of the hospital, due to crossfire amongst the clouds of smoke and darkness; and that doesn't even take into account it was a fully packed theater for a hugely popular film.

I'm not asking for an outright prohibition on gun ownership. I think people should have the right to have firearms if they wish to enjoy hunting, or for protection in certain circumstances. However, it's time for a more robust regulation on some types of weaponry, such as assault rifles; and some type of system to track ammunition.

To be most effective this control needs to start at the time of manufacturing, not the sales. Some guns just don't need to end up in the hands of the general public.
Additionally, registration should be considered for anything more than the basic rifle/pistol that uses something above the smallest of calibers. The argument is that this violates a person's right to privacy. But, I suggest your right to privacy is already abrogated when you filled out that form to buy that firearm. If you didn't, you've ALREADY violated the law.

* * *

Some will find the title I chose offensive, suggesting I was sensationalizing the death of a young girl just to attract more readers.

Quite the contrary. I used it to illustrate the need to do something to turn the growing violence, and the availability of far more dangerous weapons that are being mass manufactured.

As of when I'm writing this blog,  12 people have lost their lives in the Aurora theater shooting. Fifty-nine others have been injured, so that first number might go up.

With the exception of her family and friends, Veronica Moser-Sullivan may not be any more, or less, important than any of the other people cut down that day. To me, I look at a photo of a smiling six-year-old girl and I cry a bit inside. In the first decade of her life, she was enjoying life. In fact, she just learned how to swim.

I can think back to when I was six-years-old. My cares in life would have been watching baseball or going camping with my family. One of the first grade art projects I had that year in Mrs. McQueon's class, was to make a drawing of what I wanted to do when I grew up.

With the typical vision of a six-year old it didn't stay the same for long. At that point I wanted to grow up and be a park ranger. A few months later it would to be a police officer, which was followed a short time later by something else. Obviously, I didn't know what I wanted to be at that tender age, but I had a vision.

I wonder what Veronica wanted to grow up to be? It's a shame that she wasn't given that opportunity to fulfill whatever her dreams might have been.

And I ask shouldn't society do SOMETHING to make sure other Veronicas (…and Tommys and Glens and Patricias, etc.),  have every opportunity to live a long life and find out if they reached their dreams?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Your Government at Work II (DC version)

Rep. Al Green (R-TX) compares the Obamacare Act with the alternative being offered by opponents (in his right hand) during Congressional debate.  - CSPN

* * *

Over the past couple of days I've had the opportunity to watch the House of Representatives in action, courtesy of CSPN, the cable network which televises the United States Congress, as well as other governmental and historical programming. If you have cable, but have never availed yourself of this source, you really need to. And I hope that high school political science classes use this tool that's available to them. It's one thing to crack open a dusty text book, but another thing to watch them in action.

However, perhaps I should have said "House of Representatives in INACTION" in the previous paragraph. It's not a well kept secret that we have one of the most gridlocked federal government ever, but the last two days makes me shudder. It seems the word compromise is a four letter word as of late.

To be fair, both sides of the aisle seem to have issues, though the more conservative side seems to have an extra hard edge to grind. What they seem to forget is that while extra sharp steel may cut quickly, it also gets ground down a whole lot faster and needs more maintenance.

I'm sure by now you've figured out I was watching the debate and voting on HR 6079, a bill to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act 2010. (Though it's usually used as a derogatory term, I'm going to refer to it as Obamacare for the rest of this blog out of expediency).

Obamacare was passed in March 2010, after nearly two years of discussion in the House and Senate. Almost immediately, efforts were brought forth by Tea Party members Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) for repeal. None of those bills made it out of committee.

You would think that after dying in committee they might get the message. NOPE! That was during the 111th Congress. During the current 112th Congress, there have been THIRTY-ONE bills introduced for repeal, including the one voted on today. What was not introduced was a reform alternative at the same time.

And there were several Republican Congressmen who were only too happy to exclaim that if they did nothing other than repeal Obamacare, they'd be very satisfied. If my Congressman said he'd be happy with only accomplishing one thing during his two year term, I'd be looking for someone else to vote for.

I think the most perfect illustration of this was from Rep. Al Green (D-TX) who compared a five inch thick copy of Obamacare with an invisible copy of the proposed alternative.

While today's House vote was for repeal, it was a hollow victory because it will never pass muster in the U.S. Senate, nor is President Obama likely to sign it, should it actually reach his desk.

Both sides of the aisle say that healthcare reform is necessary. Obamacare was passed, and has been ruled Constitutional by the United States Supreme Court. People are certainly within their rights to try and repeal it. However, a more rational effort would be to propose alternatives to parts of the Act, rather than simply going back to the status quo; and doing it over and over and over when it's obvious their efforts will not succeed.

What is fascinating is there ARE common traits between Obamacare and Massachusetts healthcare, which was passed under Mitt Romney. I'm not going to say they're carbon copies, but there are things that both sides of the aisle can agree on, if they can get past the partisan bickering.

Massachusetts has a penalty if you don't buy insurance. So does Obamacare. Massachusetts requires companies with 11 or more full-time employees to provide insurance. That requirement doesn't kick in until 50 full-time employees with Obamacare. Both plans prohibit denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. Both plans prohibit insurance companies from arbitrarily canceling coverage.

The biggest issue that needs to be worked on is exactly how to pay for it. This is not as easy to answer as comparing a state insurance program vs. a federal one.

Obamacare is basically being paid with new taxes. The sooner proponents admit that, the sooner they can move on to other discussions. Some of the taxes are minimal at best, and won't be noticed. Some are definitely going to hit people more the closer we get to 2018. This is where discussion would be helpful, rather than just sticking their heads in the sand, hoping it will go away.

On the surface Obamacare opponents exclaim they can't be made to buy health insurance. That was my initial reaction. But, then I have to ask how the states can require drivers to buy automobile insurance? You will certainly face a penalty if you're caught driving without it!!

Opponents say people won't be able to keep their current insurance. That's not true. The only way they don't have that option, is if their employer decides to cancel their employee's coverage.

* * *

One of the more egregious things mentioned today were stories of children that had life threatening illnesses before they were born, or immediately after, and had to get treatment just to survive birth. After receiving that treatment they were told they were uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions. How rational is that?

While I'm not personally familiar with those cases I can speak from personal experience.

Many years ago, I was covered by a national HMO under my parent's plan. After graduation, I was able to enroll in the same HMO through my first job after graduating college.

Like millions of other Americans I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, and was prescribed medication. Unfortunately, after the company went bankrupt I was laid off. I chose to use COBRA to continue my plan, and paid out of pocket.  When I first started paying it was $187/MTh. Over the next four years, there was a steady increase EVERY year until it was $488/MTh, which I couldn't afford so let it lapse.

What's somewhat ironic is my HMO claimed to be a non-profit, yet every year they finished in the black financially, and every year they constantly built new facilities around the Bay Area to the point of being one of the area's larger real estate owners.

As bad as that price increase looks on paper, it wasn't the most incredible part of the whole thing. My new employer happened to offer the exact same HMO for their coverage. I filled out the paperwork to apply. However, I was denied due to a pre-existing condition. They denied me for being treated for high blood pressure.

It would have been interesting to have had a blood pressure cuff on when I heard the reason. I explained to the person on the phone how ridiculous that was since it was their HMO which had diagnosed my situation and had prescribed the medication. There was silence and then a bit of telling me that's the way it was.

After multiple phone calls to multiple departments and mangers they finally woke up and gave me health care. I shouldn't have had to jump through all those hoops and loops to get care; and under Obamacare I wouldn't have.

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It's a shame we have came to a point where we're basically required to get government regulated health insurance. Unfortunately, the emphasis on profit vs. society and legalistic treatment of individuals has driven us to it.

Friday, June 29, 2012

600 channels and nothing to watch???


Recently, I've had to make some changes with my Internet service provider. I'd been sharing a connection with someone for over 12 years. However, it was time to get something of my own.

At the same time, I had been reviewing my cable television bill. If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area changes are extremely good that your provider is Comcast. I've had Comcast at my current residence since April 1994, when the San Jose Sharks made their first NHL Playoff run.

After considering non-cable options for Internet, I finally decided it was best to go with Comcast's Triple Play. I was able to get a deal that was a little more than what I currently pay for cable only, and yet I didn't have to sign up for a long term contract, something that I'd have to do if I switched to another carrier. A Win-Win IMHO.

* * *

It amazes me when I hear people say, "There's nothing good to watch on TV these days!!" Now, granted some of the shows are pretty abysmal (Jerseylicious, Big Brother or Housewives of <fill in the blank> are perfect examples of TV gone wrong). But to say there is nothing to watch when you have between 200 and 600 channels to choose from if you have cable is astounding.

As I sit here watching all sorts of programs that I didn't have before last Saturday I started thinking back to when my family first signed up for cable television.

We could say with pride that our family was among the first houses to get cable in the San Francisco Bay Area. I can't speak for what was available here in Albany back then as we were next door, in Richmond. Our service provider was Bay Cablevision.

I think I must've been at school when the cable man came because I don't remember seeing him install it, and just know that's something I would have been sitting there watching get done.

On top of the old TV sat a gray-brown box with two rotary dials that would make a loud clicking sound as you turned them. This WAS the cable box of its day and you manually switched channels by the use of the two dials. One dial had numbers on it, while the other one had letters. The differing combinations would offer different channels.

(The remote control never entered my house until many years later. After all, it was only a few years earlier that we bought the first color television ever in our family, a Hitachi. I still have that TV in storage, and the colors were just as good the last time I hooked it up, as the day we brought it home from Dale Sanford Television, in Alameda.

Back then it seemed you got multiple channels for each of the THREE networks. This was way before Fox, WB and other newcomers came to play. All your news coverage was local, unless you happened to catch the evening national news, presented by Walter Cronkite (CBS), John Chancellor (NBC) or Howard K. Smith & Harry Reasoner (ABC). CNN wouldn't show up until I was in high school. And I can remember when Atlant's WTCG, proclaimed itself the first super station, being seen Coast-to-Coast thanks to cable TV.

TV Guide was something like 10 cents, and was a real guide, not the magazine you see these days. Beyond that, Bay Cablevision used to release a heavy paper guide that showed what was on HBO and the other special movie channels they had. There were three colors, Green, Red, and Yellow. Each one was a higher priced package. I remember us having the Red package, which included Green, but the Yellow package must've been financially out of reach because I remember looking at it and seeing what we wouldn't be getting. Also, movies were on, generally, for three months, before something else rotated in.

To get HBO, there was a special filter you connected to your cable box by way of a patch cable, and then the outside cable from the telephone pole. It was apparently very important not to disconnect the filter because if you did, the cable man had to come out and set it back up. Not sure if that was real, or not, but that's what we were told. Also, there was a $50 deposit on that filter, which is comical because I think it was nothing more than a low or high pass, filter which probably cost $3.

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But now we've reached another metamorphosis in the world of television entertainment, which will make today's television offerings seem as antiquated as my first experiences were in their day.

Though traditional broadcast channels and cable networks has the largest variety ever, it's also the hardest for a new producer to get into. It seems that networks will spend most of their production dollars on what they think are sure hits that will get them a high rate of return. That's why you're seeing so much Reality programing. It's relatively cheap, and fills what they perceive as being the viewer's most common wants.

However, in steps the Internet to fill a need. With higher and higher streaming speeds available, and storage costs plummeting, anybody can become a programmer. I'm a tech news junkie and more often than not I'm watching one of the TWiT.TV shows streaming on YouTube.

Leo Laporte has to be one of the most successful producers who has made a jump from traditional media to the Internet. After having his career controlled by others, he took the plunge and started netcasting his first show, This Week in Tech, in 2005, from an outbuilding on his property. Last year he made a move to a major production facility in downtown Petaluma, producing 29 shows, as well as maintaining a live 24/7 streaming channel. 

Chances are good that if there's a subject you are interested in, there will be some type of netcast about it. If not, there probably will be one shortly. And if you feel so inclined, you can start a program yourself. Most of today's smartphones have a good enough quality camera, which shoots high-definition video, which can be used till you decide to upgrade your equipment.