Friday, December 31, 2010

Unlocking a door can be hard work

In fact, at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois it can lead to "repetitive trauma" and that can earn one a workmen's compensation insurance award. In the past three years 230 guards, about one-quarter of the work force at the prison, have submitted claims that they have developed carpal tunnel syndrome by opening and closing locks on the cell doors.

The prison has to be a tough place to work. In the past three years more than half of the staff have collected workmen's compensation. More than $10,000,000 has been paid, including $75,678 to the warden.

Should these members of the prison staff become inmates of the prison?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Militarization of the Economy

That's what Wesley Clark, former military leader, says about the incestuous relationship that has developed between retired senior military officers and companies seeking to win Pentagon contracts. The Boston Globe has a lengthy article discussing some of the generals and their companies. Here are some claims the article makes:

■ Dozens of retired generals employed by defense firms maintain Pentagon advisory roles, giving them unparalleled levels of influence and access to inside information on Department of Defense procurement plans.
■ The generals are, in many cases, recruited for private sector roles well before they retire, raising questions about their independence and judgment while still in uniform. The Pentagon is aware and even supports this practice.
■ The feeder system from some commands to certain defense firms is so powerful that successive generations of commanders have been hired by the same firms or into the same field. For example, the last seven generals and admirals who worked as Department of Defense gatekeepers for international arms sales are now helping military contractors sell weapons and defense technology overseas.
■ When a general-turned-businessman arrives at the Pentagon, he is often treated with extraordinary deference — as if still in uniform — which can greatly increase his effectiveness as a rainmaker for industry. The military even has name for it — the “bobblehead effect.’’

The article claims that 80% of the 3 and 4 star officers who retired in 2004 - 2008 now are making money from their Pentagon contacts and military experience. Many hold voluntary positions at the Pentagon, such as chair of the Air Force Studies Group, while simultaneously trying to sell the Pentagon goods produced by such firms as Northrop-Grumman. More senior military officers realize the potential money they can make. In 1994 - 1998 only 50% of retired officers were still sucking at the Pentagon tit.

Part of the problem seems to revolve around the military character which puts senior officers on pedestals.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sounding more and more like W

"Today we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future," said Mr. Obama when he visited Afghanistan recently. Well, some leaders of NGOs, including the UN, in Afghanistan disagree with the president. Even the Pentagon disagrees with the president. Last month they said Afghan insurgents "capabilities and operational reach have been qualitatively and geographically expanding."

Wasting Money

It should not be a surprise to you that I think we would be better off spending money on treating drug addiction rather than putting people in jail and hoping the problem goes away. We now spend $74 billion a year on putting drug addicts in jail and $3 billion trying to treat them. This is crazy.

The AP has another article on a country that moved from a prison- to a treatment-orientation and it seems to be working. That country is Portugal. Admittedly, there are a lot of differences between the U. S. and Portugal. But here's what was found in Portugal when they changed the laws:

There were small increases in illicit drug use among adults, but decreases for adolescents and problem users, such as drug addicts and prisoners.

_ Drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.

_ Drug-related HIV cases dropped 75 percent. In 2002, 49 percent of people with AIDS were addicts; by 2008 that number fell to 28 percent.

_ The number of regular users held steady at less than 3 percent of the population for marijuana and less than 0.3 percent for heroin and cocaine — figures which show decriminalization brought no surge in drug use.

_ The number of people treated for drug addiction rose 20 percent from 2001 to 2008.

Some powerful results.

Friday, December 24, 2010

She was here in 1859

She being the Virgin Mary and here being Champion, Wisconsin.

The church has validated that the Virgin Mary appeared to Adele Brise three times. The church did not validate the appearance willy-nilly. They investigated for two years. This validation is only one of 386 appearances claimed in the 20th century. The church investigated 75 and validated twelve. That's not very many, about 3%. Still, one has to wonder whether the recent scandals in the church had any effect on the investigation.

One Positive Step?

A friend of mine believes that Michelle Rhee has some good ideas and we should listen to her in her new role of CEO of Students First. The video is fairly general but recognizing that education is the nation's problem, not only the problem of the younger generations, is a good start. I suspect we'll be hearing more from Students First.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Learning Math

I've reported several times on the poor results our students achieve when taking standardized tests that are given internationally. The Atlantic reports on another one of these tests. This study looks at the performance of students in individual states. Our top performing state is, naturally, Massachusetts, my state. But, we can't break out the champagne as the state ranks behind 16 other countries, including Taiwan, Czech Republic, Macao, Lichtenstein.

While many in this country think we need to spend more on our schools, this may not be the answer. We now spend more than twice as much on elementary and secondary education yet our math and reading scores remain about the same. Only three countries spend more per student than we do, yet we're still not in the top ranks.

The authors think Massachusetts is on to something and have seen more states adopting the Massachusetts methods.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

38 Years Ago

Liza Minelli appeared at the Lyceum Theatre in NYC. SHO has been running excerpts from this concert, which took place in 1972. Which of today's concerts will still be played in 2048?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The American Foreign Legion?

That's what George Wilson calls our volunteer army. Wilson argues that a draft is needed in order to give the people the ability to pass judgment on whether or not we should go to war. He points out that Congress has abdicated that responsibility. Unless we people directly experience the effects of our wars, it is very unlikely that we will say "no" to our leaders when they decide to straighten out some nation.

Get Thee to a Nunnery

Sister Marie Thornton was in a nunnery when she apparently embezzled funds while she worked as Vice President, Finance, of Iona College. How much she absconded with is a matter of conjecture; it could be as much as $1,200,000. The school is perhaps understandably not overly forthcoming about the issue.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Moving through the Panama Canal

The Luck of the Draw

Fundamentally, the cruise and, in particular, the visits to cities along the way reinforced my belief at how lucky I have been to have been born in 20th century America. Sure, like you, I've had my bad, really bad days. But when you look at how tough some others have it, you can only be grateful for how much better your living arrangements appear to be.
We visited Ocho Rios in Jamaica. Mick Jagger has a home on a hill there. Many live on the level ground in far less palatial quarters.

A couple of people live in caves. That's right, caves.

When the cruise boats come in, the people go into selling mode. The kids (and some adults) display monkeys and sloths in the hope that you'll give them some money.

And the adults really lay out the fruit and other edibles.

I was most struck by Costa Rica. While we visited only Port Limon and then only for a few hours, I did not see much difference here. There were the same ramshackle houses, the kids begging, the adults looking desperate. I had thought that Costa Rica was the beacon of Central America. It may be, but I didn't see it.

And in Aruba.......

We saw black swans. My son had seen black swans before - at a Hyatt in Hawaii. Guess where we saw the swans pictured above? A Hyatt in Aruba.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Some Memory Clips

The cruise was a time to "veg out", but some things did implant themselves in my mind. For example
Ft. Lauderdale has to be the cruise capital of the U.S., if not the world. There were about 10 ships boarding passengers when we arrived at the terminal. If each ship's capacity was 1500, there were 15,000 of us signing on to our ships. Yet, actually getting into one's cabin was not too big a deal; it took us about 30 - 45 minutes and I walk very slowly.

I traveled with my eldest son, who is up on today's gadgets, otherwise known as cell phones. He knew that our phones would not work on the ship without some adjustments AT&T, our provider, would make. So, he arranged for these adjustments. The problem was that the adjustments did not work on the high seas, they only worked in port. However, texting did work on the high seas and I found myself committing the sin of texting. I do not have large hands;I found texting a pain in the arse.

I did not take my computer as the cruise line was offering a "deal" of 55 cents per wireless minute. I was not that interested in looking at my e-mails at a price I considered usurious.

I did have my Kindle and was able to read a book I had downloaded. However, I could not download anything else until I got back to Ft. Lauderdale. It's obvious that cruise lines see technology as a profit center.

I learned that my brain has regressed in that I found it difficult to write anything without having access to a keyboard. Of course, when I started writing back in the 20th century, I wrote everything longhand and had it typed by a secretary. Gradually, I began to use keyboards but, for a long time, I would write extensive outlines by hand. Gradually the outlines became less extensive and, in fact, I ceased writing them. Now I was stuck with access to a writing device other than my hands. I was too lazy to use those hands to write. Hopefully, I would know how to really use them if there were a need to do so.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

10 Days

It's been an interesting 11 days since my last posting. Ten days of vacation and more and day 1 of recovery.

The ten days were spent cruising the Caribbean. It was my first ocean cruise; it was quite different from the river cruises we have taken. First of all, this boat was huge, 1930 people, 961 feet long. The river cruises had 150 or fewer passengers on a ship only slightly larger than the Vineyard ferry. The river cruises were more relaxing; the ocean cruise had something going 24 hours a day despite the fact that the age of the average passenger on both types of cruise was about the same - 70. As usual, I was able to do my own thing. I read 4 mysteries, visited the port towns and generally vegged out. While the mind seldom stops cranking away, this time my mind was in an another quieter world most of the time.

My major distraction was the realization that for the first time in 48+ years I was not a homeowner. I sold my house here on the Vineyard, with the closing papers being passed on my second day of vacation. Soon, I will be starting the final act. I can't say that I have yet to fully understand all the scenes that will be played in this act. The acts so far have been interesting to me and to some that I love. Maybe you'll check in here every so often to see what's happening.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Patted Down

Here I am in Ft.Lauderdale waiting to board a ship. The trip down was uneventful even though I was anticipating a problem at Logan Airport. Given all the commotion there has been about TSA's security efforts, I was expecting to be put through a minor form of hell that was worse than purgatory. Guess what? Nothing really happened. Our country is still safe from terrorists like me.

I think the ease with which I went through the procedure was due to a couple of factors. Because of a disability, I have been subjected to pat-downs for virtually all the flights I've taken in the 21st century and before. Then, the TSA agent could not have been nicer and more understanding. He explained everything he was going to do (the explanations were a tad excessive) but nothing he did was an invasion of my privacy or an affront to my sexuality.

Since I do feel that our strong focus on air travel is misplaced, I mentioned the lack of TSA attention to transportation modes which carry many more people than air. He acknowledged that the TSA does focus on air travel, however, he said that he, as a TSA agent, has been involved with preventing terrorism on other travel modes. Just two days ago he had been dealing with the transit police of a major metropolitan area.

Is the brouhaha about the full body scans, which I also underwent and did not find overly invasive, or is it due to insensitive agents?