Wednesday, December 16, 2009


For more photos click on the Flickr cloud to the right....

Most years I vowed to start the Christmas letter early or to keep track of major events all year and so to post this primary-source, family history but this year I didn’t even try.
In January Rick and I went to Singapore and then cruised around Australia and New Zealand. We traveled 5 weeks—a trip made possible by friends who helped with house, mail and cat tending.
The photo above was taken looking down from the top of the monument at Borobodur while the next photo is from the paper factory and museum in Burnie, Australia.

Next is of a farmer works his field in Bali.

While we were home in the summer Rick and I (mostly Rick) worked on doors— 4 of them. My favorite is the door to the basement studios. Rick repaired a door rescued from a trash pile and we installed my handmade sunflower tiles in place of the glass. As part of the door project I meant to paint the front door green but all I managed was to leave the can of primer in the front hall for 2 months. Maybe in the spring

The other big event this summer was our garden. Rick a rototilled the sand and compost into a nice mix and I planted snow peas, tomatoes, broccoli, garlic, pumpkins, squash, strawberries and rhubarb.

The rhubarb & pumpkins took over the land. I planned on strawberry rhubarb crisp for Rick but there were few strawberries (next year will be great) so looked toward apples but we didn’t get a single apple this year from a tree that generally had bushels to share.
The radishes were round and spicy; the carrots short and sweet and the lettuce grew faster than we could chew. One gourd seed from the compost germinated and gave us about 50 gourds but the tomatoes rotted for us as they did for most.

The broccoli produced until after snowfall. We’re making the garden larger next year and planting okra and more things that appeal to Rick so that means fewer zucchini.

While our tomatoes rotted we went to the Baltic States on a cruise. This photo is part of the city wall in Tallin, Estonia.

I spent Halloween in Boston with Emilie and Josh. Em was a speaker at the Boston Vegetarian Society Food Fest. Josh and I helped her serve 400 samples of food to her guests during the event and then we all went out dancing that night.

Jay had several pieces of his work accepted as part of the Fleisher/Ollman Gallery annual group exhibition. “I Don’t Watch the Internet” opened on Dec 10 and runs through January 16. Rick and I are going after Christmas. a(This is Rick, Me, Miss Dot, and Jay in Philly. Miss Dot is Jay's neighbor and extended family.

Other than that I continue to play flute and make pottery. Rick builds furniture, works on the 1939 Chevy and fixes things I break. The cat purrs; snow falls; fire snaps and one hopes the world comes to value kindness.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Alfred University Equestrian Teams

The Alfred University Equestrian teams work diligently to ride precisely. They aim for technical perfection as a rule but once a year they get a little wacky and ride in costume, to music, without judges, just for fun. That happened last Sunday at the Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center.

There were top hats, feathers, glitter, donkey ears and a horse’s tail fighting for relief from a green Shrek costume.

First up was Kristen Kovatch in her equestrian version of Brittney Spears. Kristen rode “Docs Peppy Image” – her own horse – while Brittney’s recording of “Circus” filled the arena. There was some impressive galloping where she and the horse leaned into the turns as if she was taking a winding road full speed on a motorcycle.

Nick Munch rode “Mighty Little Lena” and Katherine Kennedy rode “Roan” with her fluffy skirt blowing to the tune of “Love Story.”

Aeryn Dougan dressed her horse, “Spring Start” as Shrek and herself as a big-bellied donkey and performed to “Bad Reputation” from the first Shrek movie.

Hanna Certis rode “Old Frank Hickory” to the sound of “I Can Sleep When I’m Dead,” one of several country western tunes that thumped along with the hooves in the area. Another was “Address in the Stars,” a song that accompanied Kayla Summerville on her glitter-speckled horse “Paulie.”

There was an impressive dressage duo drill by Rebecca Jacobson and Beth Ulbrecht. Beth is the head captain of the English varsity equestrian team which is currently in second place in the region – their best performance ranking so far.

Finally there was another freestyle western performance – a trio with Kristen Kovatch, Natalie Grow and Kate West.
The arena is a fairly large area but it seemed to shrink when filled with three speeding, skidding horses. It took guts and confidence to attempt that work with a trio but it went smoothly as one would expect because these three women are members of the Western Riding Team and are in 2nd place in the region.

There are 3 more events open to the public in the near future. All are free though there will be food for sale in the concession stand.

On January 16 & 17 Alfred U will host the Western Interscholastic Equestrian Association Show and on February 6th they will host the Western Intercollegiate Horse Show Association. Both evens generally run from 9 am to 4 pm and the arena has heated viewing areas on both floors where visitors may sit or stand and watch. All are welcome to attend.

There’s also a horse sale scheduled for December 12. The sale will feature 5 colts used in the Training Program. These colts were purchased so that students could experience training a horse and the sale is a part of that class. In addition to those 5 colts there will be about a dozen other horses for sale.
For more information visit or contact Nancy Kohler, Program Director, at 607.587.9012 and remember to “cowboy up.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Allegany County Citizens for Responsible Government

I attended the October 26 meeting of Allegany County Citizens for Responsible Government. The meeting of people from around the county was inspiring because it was real citizen action with people coming together without regard for political party to work on one issue.

The meeting started with the approval of the minutes from the last meeting, plowed through some correspondence and then jumped full force into a review of name-calling and what the board members and legislative guests felt were ies and political manipulation.

The tinder in this ongoing conflict is the proposed “Citizen’s Plan” that would renovate existing spaces in the old jail and the old Belmont School to provide for the Allegany County Court’s need for space at considerably lower cost in dollars and environmental impact than the construction of a new Court House wing. I favor this plan because I’m one to reuse and recycle.

Barb Hetzel, the only Democrat on the group’s board, read a letter from Chairman Crandall denying permission for citizens to tour the third floor area of the old jail. He cited safety concerns and security concerns because the area is used for storage. They wanted to see the floor to personally as they had toured the available space at the old Belmont School.

Hetzel also read parts of a letter from the office of the Unified Court System, Sixth Judicial District. The letter discussed the use of an existing building to satisfy the needs of the courts in the city of Oneida. The UCS indicated that “there is no requirement that court offices be all on one floor” and stated that the City of Oneida would be reimbursed “for construction renovation costs to an existing building at 100% for interior construction, electrical work, and plumbing work for the space the court occupies.”

The letter elaborated that Cooperstown recently completed a similar project where an old grocery store was reworked to serve the needs of the court system. Where courts were given space by renovating existing buildings the cost of the project was “approximately one third the cost of new construction.”

The letter sounded as if there was great support at the state level for renovating an existing space and that the state should cover the cost of the program rather than stacking the tax burden on Allegany County.

Then the steam really poured on the issue when Hetzel read a lengthy letter presented, by Dave Pullen, to the county legislature at their meeting. The letter, dismissive of the lawsuit and several specific individuals involved with it, was read in full at the meeting after Pullen was “granted privilege of the floor” while time to respond to it was denied to Kruger.
Pullen said that the lawsuit pages were riddled with errors and strikeouts but Scott guessed that what, at a glance, looked like strikeouts were actually underlines meant to indicate case names. Scott also said that the deadline to file was nearly expired by the time he was able to prepare the paperwork and that once filed he would be able to make amendments and corrections.

Pullen said that the order of show cause was not signed by a judge. This is true, said Ross, but it is because all of the local judges recused themselves and it was necessary to wait for a judge to be assigned to the case. Now that a judge is assigned, the paper will be signed.

Kruger was displeased that the letter trumpeted the value of letting the vote of the people stand and cited cases where the legislators worked to dismiss the voice of the people. He said that legislators had tried to have Young and Giglio create a special state law to allow the construction of a court house next to the jail without a local vote on a the matter.

Kruger also stated that Hornell built their court facilities in an old bank and the total cost was $2 million. He said that listening to Pullen read his letter without being able to respond or question was like being a mule in a hailstorm with no choice but to take the pelting.

Kruger said it was important for voters to look at who really has concern for the tax payers. While Social Security recipients will get no COLA this year because there is no inflation, they will have to pay higher taxes because all the department heads were voted raises. He also said that while he has never been a member of ACCFRG that he has attended all meetings to answer questions and to listen to the people. That, he said, was his job and he intended to do it as well as he could. “Where he the other members (legislators) been? They chose to hide in caucus,” said Kruger.

For the matter of the lawsuit being brought to support the candidacy of Ross Scott, several members made it clear that this was not a decision made by one or two people but many voters - over 100 citizens attending the September meeting. Those citizens donated their money to pay the fees. Scott said that he was working on the project, gratis, as a public citizen and he’d have done it whether or not he was running for office. The timing of the stages of the project, and therefore the actions against it, has always been the choice of the county board of legislators and not of Scott or of ACCFRG.

Also, in the matter of timing, Scott stated that the lawsuit challenges the unconstitutionality of the plan’s approval. The deadlines for dealing with an unconstitutional process are different and this lawsuit was filed within the timeline for that process.

Responding to Pullen’s letter asserted that the purchase of 2 houses in Belmont had nothing to do with the court house project Cindy Gowiski read a letter written by Mr. Margeson to one of the home owners. The letter specifically says that their home is needed to provide area for parking because of the project.

Galen Stout reported on his pursuit of the naming of the Allegany County Courthouse as a historic structure. The State Historic Preservation Office determined that the Allegany County Courthouse is eligible and sent letters regarding that Mr. Crandall, the Preservation League and others. None of the recipients have responded.

I’d like to thank these people for digging into the dry numbers and issues and speaking up in the face of “hailstones.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stop the Pottery -Time for TV

Being president of the Allegany Artisans is one of those jobs pointing in more directions than a porcupine’s quills.
Last Wednesday was like that. I was trying not to skid into panic mode over the Studio Tour (just 11 days off) and was making one of my to-do-list/calendars that would map my way through the studio and end with all pots dried, bisque, glazed, priced and displayed when I remembered that one of my points of duty involved calling Lea DiCenso, executive producer at AM Buffalo. I had talked with her a week earlier and she said that hosting the Allegany Artisans on the show this year unlikely but she never knew what might happen. She has managed to feature the Artisans every year for a while now. We couldn’t complain about a year off.
I dialed expecting voice mail. She answered. I expected her to accept a few photos and information for WKBW’s website but she jumped into business mode. There was a cancellation. 6 minutes were available on Thursday – 18 hours hence. Could I make a few things happen?
My first use of the to-do-list/calendar was to flip it over to take notes from Lea while swallowing concerns for pottery. Pots could dry while I was on TV on Thursday.
I started mental calculations and plans. Sarah Phillips agreed to throw her gardening aside and go with me. She would pack up some paintings. I started taking tracking down 6 photos – 300 dpi – horizontal orientation.
Lea needed a poster that would work on TV. She had rattled off pixel dimensions that I immediately forgot. (Don’t tell her that.) The Allegany Artisans always have a vertical poster and she wanted horizontal. Sarah and I brainstormed options and I remembered that Hope Zaccagni had sent a pdf of part of the brochure for our website. Rick dropped what he was doing to work on that. If he cut off the top and bottom and photo-shopped the Tourism phone number and website over the group photo, we could call it a horizontal poster.
Hope Zaccagni designed the brochure so had all the photos but she was in meetings all day but Steve Walker had some and so did Kandace and Alec and so did I. Mine were from 2008 but a Bruce Greene teapot is timeless. WKBW had jpgs in a couple of hours.
Russ Allen agreed to drop off a wooden train and Bob Chaffee promised a carved plate and a never-wrinkles table cover. I packed my Pete Midgley vase from the mantle, Hope’s drawing from the dining room and chose a shirt that would show off my Jim Horn pin in googly-eyed splendor.
In the morning Sarah and I drove to Buffalo. Security at WKBW is strict. There are lots of doors but visitors go to the front door and call the person who is expecting them. Inside there are reception areas, offices and rooms filled with monitors, keyboards and blinking lights all held together by miles of cables and wires.
AM Buffalo is a live show and the studio has a few areas – the jackpot drawing set, the sofa set, the rolling table and the kitchen. There are 5 cameras aimed in different direction. Each wears a monitor for the text above its unblinking eye but there are no people behind the cameras. The people are off in those equipment-filled rooms. At least I expect they are during the show. When we arrived just after 9 a.m., the crew that came to work at 4:30 that morning was having lunch.
Sarah and I set up our art and talked about it. Linda Pellegrino laughed at my cow bank while Lea insisted it was a pig. Mike told me to bring in the table and clay demo stuff that Lea said to leave in the car. “Ask Lea,” I said, not wishing to be stuck in the middle of anything.
As if Sarah and I had a smidge of Linda’s experience and ease we were given a 2 minute sketch of our 6 minute show. It was my 3rd show and I knew not to try to prepare. What I hoped to say would never fit with what Linda would shoot out as a question.
I set my inner monitors to keep with the conversation and mention as many artisans as possible. Push the phone number. Name the website. Keep breathing. Try not to look doopy. Don’t cough. Don’t sneeze on Linda.
Seconds later the segment was over. Linda said it was easy to go on air with us. We were so confident and at ease. Could have fooled me.
I stopped at the Allegany County Tourism office on the way home. Patience Regan jumped out of her chair saying I should have warned her before getting myself on some big TV production. She had 18 phone calls in just 2 hours. Whether or not you caught us on WKBW, come to my studio for great pots, Jim Horn’s pins, and refreshments. Sarah says to see her in Rushford for paintings, silk scarves and better refreshments.
Of course there are more choices. Visit to find all 36 locations and all 47 artisans offering locally made, quality work during the 22nd annual Studio Tour.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

St Petersburg

St Petersburg: I almost hate to say it but one of the best parts of visiting St Petersburg may have been the people in our tour group. Jo and Rob were fun and cheery and it was totally Jo’s fault that I sat on that carved lion at Peterhof. (Well, maybe not totally Jo’s fault.) There were also 4 people from western NY one of whom worked at the white house for over 20 years and had some very interesting stories to tell. He couldn’t tell the best of the stories because White House staffers take vows of silence but it was still pretty interesting to talk with him.

The cruise ship’s people made us believe that it would be hard to get through immigration and that the officials would be rude but they weren’t at all. We were in line for about half an hour but it was pretty straight forward – show passport and proof of tour agency contact with immigration card and go. The cruise ship told us to have copies of our passports but we didn’t need them and they told us that we couldn’t bring food into Russia but that wasn’t true either and the food at the tourist locations was darn expensive – such as the tiny $18 sandwich – so on the second day we took food.

Our guide was the articulate and knowledgeable Sophia from J & T Travel. Russian tour agencies are allowed to bring people into Russia without visas. J&T arranged for us to go right into museums and churches instead of waiting in lines; had bottled water for us both days and gave us Russian dolls at the end. Also, we signed up for a tour with 4 people at a given price but when they expanded the group to 13 people the price went down to 2/3rds of the original price so that was a great surprise.

We started with a photo stop at a large square in the middle of town by St. Isaacs Church. It was damaged in the second war but when they rebuilt it damaged areas of the pillars were left as is. We were there early so it wasn’t open.

We went to Catherine’s Palace for our first taste of royal taste. There was a band playing and trying to sell CDs outside the palace. Inside was gold leaf everything.

One room was windows on one side and mirrors on the other 3 with 500 lights (replacing 500 candles) and all the decorations were carved wood with gold leaf. The room shimmered with glitz. The floor was marvelous and the mirrors were aching for fancy gowns instead of travel pants and T-shirts. The ceiling was painted and carved and gold leafed. Royalty really goes for bling.

In the halls were 2 Cupid statues. One Cupid sleeps – that’s the west – and in the east Cupid wakes up. The statues were to help guests know which wing of the palace they were standing in.

There were portraits of hims and hers and visitors and generals. There were some empty dresses showing the detail of clothing. Catherine (I think it was Catherine) never liked to wear the same gown twice. I think they have 14,000 of her gowns. How they made them fast enough is a mystery. It’s not like these were simple shifts or as if they had Singers to work with. When I think of the stitching on those yards of fabric it seems the seamstresses who first had machines must have thought they were sent from heaven.

There is a big deal made of the Amber Room. The walls are covered in bits of amber.

There are some lovely amber picture frames and I looked and squinted and turned this way and that but it seemed to me that there was no actual picture in the frames. I thought the amber would form an image in mosaic pieces but I don’t think so. I took a couple of photos before realizing that they aren’t allowed. There’s a long story about the room being stolen and taken by the Nazis and never recovered but then being reproduced from sketches. After such a build up about the amazing and marvelous Amber Room I was disappointed.

The palace looks great now but in the time of the soviet rule it was really allowed to run down. There was a lot of damage during the Second World War but it’s mostly tip top now though the upkeep on a palace is significant.

We went to an out of the way Russian Orthodox church. The yard was a bit of a mess with some construction going on and the gardens in disarray but the church looked like a cross between a cake decorating contest and a crazy quilt. There were colors and details everywhere. The outside was bright with tiles and domes and turrets and the inside was totally painted. A wedding had just taken place when we arrived and the bride and groom were leaving with guests so we went inside and looked – gawked more likely. My photos will go on flickr but they are only of the exterior and of the entry hall. No photos were allowed in the church itself but the exterior is more than enough to understand how fancy a building can get.

Peterhof – now that is really fancy but this fancy is about fountains and statues.
There are hundreds of fountains in the property and the water runs through all of them by force of gravity. It shoots tens of feet into the air at some fountains and cascades down others but it’s all just gravity. Sophia said that the water was regulated by having it flow through pipes of different diameters. It was hard to believe. Really hard to believe.

This is also a place where one can understand how detached from the ordinary people a member of royalty is. It’s not very different in the US where the members of congress at state and national levels learn to live a life of power and prestige.

That White House staff members told me that it was absurd that he should have the power over the president’s schedule that he did and also said that the major corporations own all the politicians and that there is no way that we’ll get health care or banking regulations. The country will slide so much further into decay and that change is not likely in my lifetime. So depressing and yet it is what I have often felt. Obama said, “Yes we can.” He never said, “Yes, we will.” I fear he just won’t.

About sitting on the lion at Peterhof. I saw someone do it and so decided to get into the act and Jo took the photo. I guess that after that the police came over and told people to stop. I wouldn’t have done it but the lion was polished smooth from people sitting on it so I thought to go with the flow.

The Metro was great. It was just a short trip but I’m so glad we did it. The Stalin-era stations are the best, Sophia said. They were elegantly dressed in tile work and gorgeous brass lighting fixtures and there were statues and mosaics and scrolls and some crazy Britt lady making faces at me on the longest escalator ever.

The metro is used by half the citizens every day and they need to go far below the surface to find the tracks. The Stalin Era stations are the most beautiful and beautiful is the right word. They are the palaces of the underground. Sophia said that the houses built in the Stalin era are also very well built and bring the best prices now.

She said that lots of stuff fell into ill repair during the Soviet era because an apartment meant for a family would have 5 or 7 families living in it with nobody being an owner so nobody took care of the places. Now people buy apartments and they keep them well-maintained.

We went into the subway and crunched into a packed car to go one stop and then walked through a station to another train where we spent 2 stops worth of time stomach-to-back with the citizens of St. Petersburg. When we got out the driver was there with the van and we went to the Kiznechny Market which is where folks can buy gorgeous (organic) fruits and vegetables. Sophia said that people are willing to pay the high prices to get less food because the flavor is so much better. The market also had caviar and meats and cheeses. It was beautiful.
The city is filled with gorgeous buildings and bridges. Sorry about overusing that word but it’s just the best fit. It was a real work out for the cameras.
On the second day we saw a puppy in red carpenter jeans and a fuzzy puppy that actually turned out to be a bear cub available for photos near a lovely bridge.

The Church of the Spilled Blood was the most amazing. It had been severely damaged during the Second World War and then was used as a potato storage house during the Soviet era. An unexploded shell landed in the main cupola but was removed. The church has been totally renovated now. The entire inside is covered in images made with tiny mosaic tiles - floors, walls, ceiling. It was the most impressive building. Czar Alexander II was murdered at the location so the church was built on the spot in his memory.

Then there was the Hermitage. Just when a person thinks that there can’t be anything more spectacular or ornate or complex, there is the Hermitage. It’s an art gallery containing the treasures of the royal family. These folk bought Rembrandts and Rodans and Cezannes when those guys were just artists down the block working for food so the walls are covered in treasures valued at about a million for every penny invested.

The Hermitage also holds a collection called the hidden treasures. These are works stolen from Jews by Nazis and now being contested in courts. There are no photos of these paintings allowed ostensibly because the ownership is disputed but I wonder if it is because with no photos fewer connections will be made. These people making the claims are also getting pretty old and dying off.

I’m sure I saw and heard and thought a hundred interesting things during the 2 days in St. Petersburg but the ideas have all been crowded out now by the visits to so many other places.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

the first 4 days of our trip

Warning – If you are going to Amsterdam and plan to buy train or metro tickets with your credit card, know your pin number. Rick and I never use our pin numbers. (Do we actually have them?) Not having pin numbers added a level of difficulty to our purchase of train tickets but that was nothing compared with the level of difficulty that Delta Air assigned to our flight.

We parked in Rochester at the $15 per week parking lot at the entrance to the airport. There were only a few empty spaces and that’s the most packed we’ve ever seen it. We rolled past the gas station and across the street through the official parking lot and checked our bags to JFK. That was the last easy part of the trip.

In JFK the check in line was huge – a human snake of luggage, squirming children, exhausted adults and very serious faces. It seems that Friday’s 3:40 flight had been cancelled so an entire plane load of we’ve-been-waiting-for -24 hours-people stood demanding attention and transportation to Amsterdam in addition to the already booked plane load of we’re-going-to-Amsterdam-on-Saturday-people.

There were computer check-in kiosks for the regular Saturday flight and another group for the rescheduled people who would leave at 4:40. A person led us to the 3:40 line and Rick entered our information. The machine spit out 2 boarding passes. While we were trying to move into a line to check the luggage a man called my name. He had our luggage tags and while I was being amazed about the speed of his finding us he said, “Look at this mess.”

It was a mess. The floor was covered with people and suitcases. There were lines crossing lines. There were throngs of people; hordes of passengers; seething pools of frustration pulling wheeled suitcases.

The representative continued, “It’s because of these self-serve computer kiosks,” he fumed. “They fired people, added computers and ruined our system. They cut costs and piled on the work. They’ve ruined everything.”

I hardly dared to talk with him. He was so frustrated and exhausted. He put the tags on our suitcases and sent us to join a line for the self serve suitcase security. The passengers in that line were possessive of their bit of floor space and shooed us away. We tried to find the end of the line for the 3:40 flight and when we found someone set to go at 4:40 they let us in. We didn’t have as much time as they did, right?

There were 2 x-ray machines and 2 exhausted people feeding them suitcases. The machine would slowly pull a suitcase inside, examine it and shove it out the back with a vehement kick that rocked the entire machine. With a mix of faith and hope we left our bags there and went to the gate.

We boarded the plane a little behind schedule and then sat there on the tarmac. What was going on? When the captain spoke about a half hour later I expected him to say something cheerful like that the plane would be pulled to the taxi way but, nope. Instead he told us a little story about the cancelled flight on Friday and the rescheduling of flights that was done without a provision for food for an extra plane. That “extra” plane had food but we did not. He hoped the wait would be short but in the meantime the crew would serve what they had and he’d have them start the in-flight film.

The crew had apple juice, orange juice and water. They said that there was no food at all but we learned later that first class folk had wine and nuts.

The half hour grew to 2 hours when the captain announced the wait would be at least 90 minutes longer. The groans and complaints swelled. People were missing connecting flights. Babies declined to be patient. Everyone was getting hungry and stiff and they weren’t even getting anywhere for it.

Likely someone asked if we couldn’t just take the food from the 4:40 flight and we were told not to be jealous. That flight hadn’t taken off either. They were without a full crew to serve “our” food so they were sitting and waiting also. Was that true or a clever bit of spin?

To forestall mutiny, the captain arranged $10 food vouchers for each of us and called the buses back to take us to the terminal to amuse ourselves. On the way out we passed the first class folk eating nuts and drinking wine. Rick and I got to the door in time to find the first bus had filled and gone so we stayed there and talked. One of the crew echoed the frustration of the luggage-tag man. People were cut from the workforce. Workloads were doubled. People were exhausted from working past the breaking point, forgetting things, making mistakes. “It can’t go on like this,” she said.

The bit of JFK that we were able to walk through had a couple of rest rooms; a Hudson; a coffee shop and a Chinese restaurant. The vouchers were good at the coffee shop and restaurant only. The staff there wasn’t prepared for an extra planeload of people all at once.

Rick and I went to the coffee shop and easily spent our $20 on not much food but it was better than sitting on the plane. Still the problems continued. When we got back on the plane the food still had not arrived. It really made sense when we thought of the task of making meals for 150 people while trying to stay on schedule for all the other planes.

The food finally arrived at about 9 pm but by then we were blocked in by another plane so they had to take away the boarding ladder, tow the plane and then tow us out to where we could join the queue waiting to take off and that finally happened at about 10 p.m. – 6 hours later than scheduled. The flight was only 6 hours and 25 minutes so this was like double duty in that seat. I will admit that we arrived with our luggage but we lost half day in Amsterdam.

Instead of getting to Amsterdam at 6 a.m., we arrived after noon expecting to roll right out to the Botel. Once we bought train tickets we easily made it to Central Station and it should have been an easy walk to the Botel but, and who could be prepared for this, they moved it. A regular Hotel is quite attached to the ground and unlikely to change addresses but a Botel can move across a river. Instead of walking we had to take a ferry.

Someone told us to take the ferry on the left but she meant the left most of the 4 blue and white ferrys and not the green ferry that was all the way to the left of the pier. I bought a pair of tickets for the greens (at a computer kiosk with no people and not much English). When I realized that they were the wrong tickets, I tried to sell them to someone else. The first few people wanted round trip but we had one way and then the next bunch of people wanted children’s tickets and we had adults. I finally found a pair of women who wanted them but I couldn’t make change so they dug in their purses for coins and I only lost a bit on the transaction.

So we got on the free – yes, it was free – ferry. Once settled we decided to strike out to see Amsterdam. We looked at buildings and tried to take heed of the warning – Many a vacation has been ruined by a silent bike or tram. Look both ways when crossing streets. Amazing how hard it was to attend to the small bikes in one direction after maneuvering around a large tram from another.
We decided to get some snacks for dinner and head back to the Botel for an early sleep. We were about to pay at the checkout when the store went dark with a snap. It was very sad to leave the goodies on the counter and be shooed out of the store but we all need to deal with life’s small disasters and I suppose that they often do accost us one after another.

Day 2
I think that this day is mostly photographs to go on Flickr. We had a great meal on the roof of the public Library and went to 2 museums. When we come back in 2 weeks we’ll take a canal cruise and rent bikes. That is, if I can get Steuben Trust to allow my bank card to work.

Day 3 – at Sea on the Celebrity Century
Our cabin is very nice. The wood furniture is rich and we have so much storage that there are 4 empty drawers and 2 empty shelves. They are small drawers and shelves but still all our things have a place and there is room to spare and it looks nice. The cabin feels large though it’s a mystery where people put their large suitcases. Our small bags fit in the closets.

Cabin aside, the ship is a disappointment. There is no promenade deck. One holds that name but there is no place where one can walk laps. There’s a jogging track up on deck 14 but the wind is tremendous and we don’t want to jog. If we did it would require 14 laps per mile. There are treadmills but the walking gait isn’t the same and so they don’t do the trick for us.

The library here is about 1/10 the size of the library on the Volendam which is a smaller ship – 500 fewer passengers. The Volendam had nearly as many travel reference books as this library has fiction and this library is only fiction. There are no daily papers and no magazines that we have found here.

There is no self service laundry. The Volendam had them on all cabin floors and it was great to do a quick ironing touch-up or a load of underwear and socks. We talked with others who said that this is the first cruise they’ve had without self service laundry. Since we, or more accurately since I am basically cheap and fussy of my laundry soap this is a problem the solution to which is rinsing out clothing at night and hanging them in the shower or over the back of a chair.

The Volendam (our ship for 3 other cruises) crew took us on behind the scenes tours into the kitchens and behind stage and such but here that only happens for a fee. There’s a self guided art tour onboard but I tried diligently to find the works and failed. Niches are empty and works are inside of restaurants that are only open now and then and nobody knew (including an officer and the main desk) that there should be an original Picasso somewhere.

Our waiter is attentive and helpful but I am unable to convey to him that I would like a dessert without milk. He offers gluten free and sugar free but the concept of milk-free dessert does not exist in his world.

Day 4 – Germany

We might have gone to Berlin while the ship was docked in Warnemunde but the tour was $300+ per person for the day and involved 6 hours in a train so we took a self guided tour of Rostock and intended to make it back in time to see Warnemunde too.

In the cruise ship terminal we purchased Rostok value cards for 7 Euros. These gave us the use of all local trains and trams for the day and entry or discounted entry into several places in both towns as well as details for the train and tram and maps of both areas. The train was a double decker that ran every 15 minutes all the time and the line was thoroughly decorated with graffiti festooned pipes and overpasses.

I took a photo of a huge apartment with sunflower motif mosaic tiles on the entire wall. Another apartment complex was decorated in the same way with a starburst. It’s nice to see such large scale art where a plain cinderblock wall would do the functional job. There isn’t enough public art in the world.
Rostok was easily walkable. Well, the distances were easy to walk. The cobblestones, no so much. Ankle twisters they are and while concentrating on one’s footfall it is also necessary to watch for the silent bikes and trams as it was in Amsterdam.

The town square was huge and held an open market for fruit, vegetables, meats and cheese and also for cooked food including fried potatoes, wienersnitzel, sausage and drinks. The sausage looks like overlong hot dogs and are offered in up to half meter lengths with or without curry sauce.

The buildings looked a lot like those in Amsterdam with those great shapes on the roof tops. The town hall was built in 1270 and then 2 neighboring houses were attached to it. The jail was in the bottom floors and the remaining building areas held offices, a market and wine cellars. The renovation was lovely and it’s possible to look through heavy glass panels on the floor to see the huge wooden beam that form the skeleton of the original building.

A traditional building material is brick. Sometimes the brick is glazed black or white or cream. The most common is black and it is used with red in alternating rows. There is also a traditional pattern called the German string which puts the brick at an angle so that a corner points outward and the negative space between is a v-shape. The lighthouse in Warenemunde is made of cream and white glazed brick and several old buildings in Rostock are of the red and black brick. When the East German communist party took over the old styles and indeed old buildings were not honored. They particularly blew up churches. They (the city planners) did not just take buildings down. They blew them up and, as I said, particularly churches. It seems a pity to blow up a thousand year old church or anything.

St. Mary’s church was not torn down. It continues to stand and house an astronomic al clock built in 1200 and still running. Every couple hundred years they have to repaint the part of the dial concerning the year. At this point that dial holds 1885 to 2017. It chimes on the hour and once a day an apostle marches out and bows to Jesus. While I saw nothing move I did record a lovely set of bells and one can hear the gears churning away in the background. Happily the organ rehearsal stopped to allow the chime of the bells.

We also found St. Peter’s church, long the tallest tower in the town so the beacon for fishermen to return to port. We took an elevator to the top of the tower. The elevator was oddly placed just inside the front door so that was smack in the line of vision when entering the church door but when we climbed down the steps we were really happy it was there to take us up. In the tower a massive web of timber climbs to the top of the spire above while 12 windows offer a view of the town from every direction. On the way down we found a bit of a crack in the tower wall – the kind that allows daylight to peep in. It didn’t seem an ideal situation for a church, or any brick, wall.

Climbing down was easy at first with normal stairs but at the end we had to go down the 800 year old, small spiral steps, gripping tightly to a thick, dirty, white rope.

When we returned to Warenmunde the E-café was closed as was the lighthouse. The mini train was parked for the night and we were tired from walking on cobblestones so we missed most of the town.

The seagulls escorted the ship into the harbor here, swirling and crying for bits of food thrown by passengers (forbidden by the captain), blown from dishes on the veranda or churned up by the ship as it passed in the water. There are white gulls whose wings cross at the end and wear an orange spot on the center, lower beak as well as brown gull with unadorned beaks that hide their wing tips when they walk. All of them turn their heads and fix their eyes on this and that with jerked movements and call out demands, “Mine. Mine.”

The many islands along the shipping lane have trees, small cottages, large houses and rocky cheeks. In the water the smaller cruise ships from the Viking Line bring passengers back and forth from Finland to Sweden on overnight shopping/drinking jaunts. Rick’ s guide book claims that the ships stop briefly at some non-European Union Islands so that the trip becomes international and thereby the shopping tax free and this makes the jaunt very popular.

I might add here that the Dutch spell island without the “s” in a very reasonable and enviable manner.
Our ship docked flawlessly. It is amazing to experience such delicate control over a huge, or as our neighbor Gail has aid, ginormous vessel. The nose goes dock ward first and a rope is tossed to the dock with the aid of a small ball tied to it. Then the dock men strain to pull the light rope in order to pull the heavy rope out of the water and loop it onto the rope goes over it thing. As they pull the rope forward, the rear of the ship moves in line all so slowly and gently that there is no perception of movement on the ship.

We chose to go on our own so left the ship for the public ferry which took us directly to the Vasa museum. We passed some cranes painted to look like giraffes. I love that stuff. Did the company pay workers to do that? Did some artist ask to be allowed? Is the giraffe’s head ever in the way? Was it done for tourists, for fun or as a lost bet? Whatever the start, the tradition continues. The cranes are giraffes.
The Vasa museum building is irregularly shaped with ship’s masts through the roof. It was once a dry dock but the Vasa was towed into it; the water drained and a museum built around it.

Here’s the story of the Vasa. In 1628 Sweden was at war with Poland and the king chose to have a special war ship built with two rows of cannons for power and hundreds of carvings for beauty. The ship was well under construction when the king demanded more canons. More canons were brought but the ship builders were concerned. They had tested the ship in the usual way. 30 seamen stood on one side and ran together to the other side and turned and ran back to check the stability. Generally the exercise involved running back and forth 10 times. If the ship didn’t capsize, it was stable.

The seamen on the Vasa were stopped after 3 runs because the ship began to tilt too much. The ballast added to counteract for the extra canons was insufficient but the king was waiting for the ship to pick him up – a colorful and powerful chariot of glory on the sea.

The sailors were allowed to bring their families onboard for the short trip in Stockholm to pick up provisions. It was a glorious, clear day. They opened all the cannon doors and began to sail. The wind picked up and tilted the ship. The insufficient ballast consisted of round rocks that rolled to one side causing more of a problem and then the open cannon doors allowed cold Baltic waters to enter. In 20 minutes the ship was sunk along with 30 or so people, two of them a man and woman in embrace.

The water was only 30 meters deep but the ship fell on its side so was totally under water for 333 years. In 1640 (or so – not quite sure) an effort was made to raise the ship but all that was accomplished was to stand it upright and to reclaim the canons and the masts. The technology for raising a ship was not at hand.

The ship was joined with wooden pegs and iron nails. Where the parts were held with wooden peg, it pretty much stayed together. The iron nails rusted and the smaller parts fell to the ocean mud where they were preserved. The ship was found in the late 1950 and what was pulled to the surface were over 14,000 parts of the ultimate jigsaw puzzle.

The ship is preserved and reassembled, a process that took several years. Iron picks were used to line up old nail holes and put parts back together. Some parts were reproduced and fitted in but these are easy to see. The old are rough and the new are smooth. 95% is original. The carvings include Roman warriors, lions, coats of arms, and mythical creatures such as mermaids and tritons.

There is a reconstructed below decks area with roughly formed, full-sized statues of men and reproduced cannons so that visitors can walk through and get a sense of the space. A model stands in full sail and in full color to help understand what a masterpiece the Vasa was. A film explains a lot of the project and English tours are given regularly by lovely Swedish guides.

Our next stop was the Nordiska Museet just behind the Vasa. It was a gorgeous building with samples of folk art and table settings, clothing and furniture, photographs and toys. I learned several things such as in the 1500s when guests came to dinner they brought their own cutlery. The main focus for art and entertainment is the wedding or the funeral. Both bring large numbers of people together to see or use things and to eat. The Sami are the main indigenous people in Norway and they care for reindeer herds. The Chernobyl disaster disrupted their lively hoods for a long while. People wouldn’t buy reindeer meat for fear of contamination. Even now, the reindeer are fed food brought to them rather than being allowed to graze where Chernobyl’s fall out has contaminated.

This is a Sami poem about floods.
Violated Village – In agony the village breathes – flees in terror from new waters – the water rises high toward the settlements – With toil the dwellings are moved – smooth slopes, green pastures – they must leave with a heavy heart.

Punch (water, sugar, tea, lemon and arrack) was originally for men only and was served hot or cold with cigars at card games. Tea was for ladies but servants could take used tea leaves to brew their own teas.
At the turn of the century it was acceptable to invite people for coffee rather than for a full dinner. Coffee meant at least 7 kind of cake or cookies and the guest had to taste them all.

In the garden in front of the Nordic Museum a bronze Jenny Lind sits in a ruffled skirt. The lovely gardens are segregated by color with the purple being my favorite.

We finished our short time with a full circle around the harbor taking photos of gorgeous buildings, including the palace. The cruise schedule allows for only short visits in each city and the time goes quickly.

I did learn that the expensive – to me they seem expensive at $70 to $300 per person for a tour – tours offered by the ship include an hour or more shopping in selected stores. It seems a waste of time to shop where there are only 6 hours or so to see a major city. So many lovely places to see and so little time because it’s a big deal to miss the ship.

We started with the Sunday morning Flea Market, Rumble Sale, Boot Sale in a square midway between the cruise ship dock and mid city. It was a small area with people set up with tables but also with a great number of clothing racks. I would say that nearly every [person was selling clothing and not a few things had sequins or some sort of glitter. There were shoes and ties and the very best Scrooge McDuck statue I ever saw. It would have been great to toss in the back of the car and drag home for a joke for Rick and maybe for a garden piece later but the operative word here is drag and there is only so much dragging home can be done. The Mickey and Mini Mouse clocks were a hoot.

Rick liked an antique knife and also a set of weights (the largest was a KG itself) and also an old set of ice skates but all he bought was a donut. It’s easy to like things and smile at them but the carrying home sets the bar pretty high for actual purchases.

There were a great number of books for adults and children and sparkly sneakers and scarves and plates and goblets and sorts of things one could never get home in one piece. The prices were really low and the shoppers numerous and enthusiastic.

Our first stop was the Church of the Rock which was blasted out of a huge rock in the 60s. Entry to the church was free but the use of the rest room was 1 Euro. (Rick and I paid $3 between us to pee. He said it cost more to pee than to drink.) There was a sweet organ there and pulpit had a green cloth draped over it that ended with plants growing at the base. The dome is copper outside and 15 miles of copper ribbon inside. There’s a full balcony for the church and outside it’s okay to climb the rocks though not to climb on the actual dome.

The Lutheran Cathedral was topped with the most brilliant onion domes. We couldn’t figure how they got them so shinny. Inside it was open floor or folding chairs but ornate altars and things on the walls.

The Russian Church was filled with pews with closed sides. It was necessary to open the gate to walk into the pew. The organ was massive and ornate. The whole thing was pretty ornate or I thought so till we found another church where there couldn’t have been one more bit of folderol squeezed in with a shoe horn. In this church there had just been a concert and the microphones and sound equipment were being put up and CDs were still for sale.

That’s about all we had time for in Helsinki though we took photos of lovely buildings – lots of them art novo. We did again manage not to be smashed by a silent tram and hardly saw any bikes at all.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Senator Kristen Gillibrand

ANGELICA: Two cars rolled up to the Angelica Sweet Shop just after 1 on Monday afternoon for one of Senator Kristen Gillibrand’s many stops across 10 of New York’s southern counties. With Gillibrand were her two small sons. Five year old Theo headed for the candy counter at the Sweet Shop while little Henry was content to peek around his grandmother’s neck. Gillibrand put her Senate office on wheels to move it from Chautauqua County eastward to her home in Columbia for what she calls “The Senate at your Super market” tour.
Several county dignitaries and an array of citizens from Wellsville, Andover, Alfred and certainly Angelica were on hand to greet the Senator offering her pamphlets and books to thumb through later hoping to build a concept of what Allegany County offers.
The visit started with Theo’s tour of the Sweet Shop candy wall where Gillibrand nabbed a quick Twizzler and then moved outside to take questions and define her position on a variety of topics. She is not holding town hall meetings but rather talking in small groups with constituents.
Health care is a huge concern. She’d like reforms to the health insurance industry that would end the practice of excluding people for pre-existing conditions. She supports preventive care and proposes that there be no co-pay for cancer screening tests. She also supports that there be a universal form to simplify office work and increase efficency.
Gillibrand supports a public option for which people would pay premiums of no more than 5% of their income. Along with that she would require a better reimbursement rate to the medical providers. In cities, the volume of patients helps the money flow into a service provider but in rural areas, the fee for service has to cover the cost of operating. There just aren’t enough people using the service to make up for low rates in rural areas.
Having said all that, she was doubtful that the legislative chambers would pass such an inclusive bill even though the end result would be lower costs for everyone. Right now insurance costs are increasing at four times the rate that salaries increase and it’s just not sustainable.
The average family income in Allegany County is $40,000 while basic insurance plans are $10,000. People can’t pay that. That makes people depend on the Emergency Room - the least efficient/ most expensive way to go.
Gillibrand is also looking at bringing alternative energy projects to the Southern Tier. She said we have the workforce, the education and the resources to get into cellulose ethanol, wind and solar power. There’s a history of manufacturing in this area and the country needs to make use of remaining expertise.
Gillibrand said that the anger over the cap and trade bill is really anger about the economy. In rural areas of New York the unemployment rate is 15%. She said that cap and trade allows clean industries to sell their carbon savings to dirtier industries that produce more carbon but said that what we really need is to clean up our air. In the Bronx, 25% of all children have asthma. The federal government might make money available to entrepreneurs to develop clean energy sources or to reduce air pollution and such small businesses could drive the economic engine.
“Our energy policy is part of the health debate when you look at air quality,” she said going on to voice concerns about obesity. The country spends $100 Billion a year on medical matters related to obesity and another $500 Billion on heart disease. She wants to ban trans-fats to encourage people to eat calories with more nutrition and to increase reimbursement rates for school lunches so schools can serve children actual chicken and not a frozen, processed item. She wants mandatory physical education for children for an hour a day in schools and she wants health insurance to cover dietary counseling for all.
At the end Gillibrand was asked to push for a public option while her party holds a majority in the senate. A robust, aggressive public option would drive prices down. She was also asked to make insurance companies subject to anti-trust laws. She said that the Senate just has to do something to help, to take a step forward and to start making changes.

Town Hall meeting

OLEAN, Sunday August 16

I went to the Eric Massa town hall meeting in Olean on Sunday night and then sent this Email to 6 people. On Monday, at the meeting with Senator Gillibrand I learned that my Email traveled to several other inboxes so I'm sending it to a few more.

It was exhausting.
In part it was bad because Eric let people go on and on. When I left I talked with some staffers to say that it might be better if he would give people 2 minutes to pose a question and let them come back a second time if there is time left. (A later Email from Eric said that he will continue to listen to every person's every word and try to understand them all.)

One guy wanted the government out of health care but he also wants the government to tell all insurance companies that they must become non profit. He doesn't want them to be not for profit because the profit motive is important but they should be non profit.

Another man said that money for women's health matters means for abortions because women are fornicators and abortions are the only women's health issue that there is. He wasn't the worst one but he said he was a retired doctor and that he knew what women are really like.

People railed against the left's plan to turn us into a socialist nation. Eric said that under socialism patients have no right to choose their doctor, doctors don't get to choose hospitals and there's someone else dictating what procedures would be allowed. That, he said, is what veterans face. Eric is on the veteran's insurance plan and refused to take the golden plan offered to all congressional members. He won't take it until all his constituents are covered by insurance. He also introduced an amendment that was accepted into the bill that would require congressmen and senators to be on the insurance plan created by whatever bill is passed.

I think that most of them were angry that they lost the election. I think the angry people at this meeting get their information from one or two right wing voices who enjoy manipulating people.

They would say that page such and such of the bill said this and that and Eric would turn to the page and read it to them and they would say he was lying. There were claims that the bill allows for the government to have full access to everyone's checking account when it actually says that it allows for e payments. Is that full access? They said that if the provision for an end of life directive wasn't about requiring death panels then it wouldn't have been rescinded.

Eric was patient and polite. He several times pointed out inconsistencies in the questions and demands put by an individual such as the person with the non profit/not for profit business but was repeatedly told that he was lying. He'd offer them the pages and insist he read the words on that page and they'd say, "Liar."

'there was yelling and booing. People would say they read the real bill on the internet.

He'd say that he really couldn't help them more than that and that he had to move on but I wished he'd said that more often.

I felt that the hall had about 1/3 mean spirited, nasty, loud people and 2/3 people interested in discussion. One man said that he knew he was speaking for 90% of the people in the hall and another woman said that he had no right to claim to know her feelings which differed sharply. That woman was great. Lisa someone.

One woman said she was being laid off and losing her health care but that she didn't want a public option,she wanted a job with health care. A public option wouldn't help her at all.

The air was full of anger and hatred. It was truly an awful place to be.

I was there with a supportive friend or I'd have sat in the car and sobbed afterward. We stayed for 3 hours. The meeting went on for 4 1/2 hours. The selfishness of the people speaking at the meeting who have insurance was astounding.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Canisteo town hall

CANISTEO: On August 12th the Canisteo Town Hall often filled with applause, sometimes with laughter, occasionally with frustration. Several citizens said that they had gone to the town hall meeting expecting to be annoyed and disappointed but instead they found that they appreciated and respected their Congressman, Eric Massa.
The meeting focused on health care with the majority of time spent with questions and answers. Because of several unpatriotic episodes at other town hall meetings Massa asked that people not boo or clap “because that intimidates people and that keeps me from accomplishing my job.”
Massa’s copy of HR 3200 (the Health Care bill) was spattered from his morning in Gowanda where he helped clear mud from basements. He described the flood water devastation in Gowanda and talked of the spirit of camaraderie experienced when strangers work side by side.
Massa has read HR 3200, a thousand page bill, 4 times- so far. He said that a lot of information going around the internet is just not factual. One segment he read was on Advanced Care Planning Consultation. That segment allows Medicare to pay for a doctor’s visit to discuss end of life care.
If a person wants every heroic measure taken to prolong their life, they can direct that in a document sometimes called a living will. If they want to have maximum pain relief or minimum pain relief or if they wish to die at home or in a hospital then each person can put their personal beliefs and preferences in writing so that when they can no longer carry on a discussion their family will know just what they want. Contrary to some discussion on talk radio, a living will puts end of life decisions clearly into each person’s hands, away from government reach.
Massa sees a living will an implement of self protection and has, for himself, a very detailed living will because 10 years ago he battled cancer. His living will tells people clearly his choices regarding pain medication, feeding tubes, respirators and other tools and procedures so that his voice can guide his doctors even if he is unable to talk.
One thing that Massa doesn’t like in HR 3200 is that it reduces Medicare payments to doctors and hospitals. That’s bad because if Medicare doesn’t pay enough, doctors won’t take Medicare patients.
There was a great deal of discussion about Medicare. Massa said that the promise of Medicare was that if people paid 1.5% of their earnings toward the program and then a monthly premium while they use this government-healthcare they would have medical coverage for life. That percentage hasn’t changed though costs have skyrocketed.
Some constituents pointed out that though the percentage stayed at the same level, the amount of money contributed increased. While that is true people paying health insurance premiums are spending 30% of their income on insurance- an amount that has exploded over the past 10 years. It has been suggested that changing the Medicare deduction to 2% could rescue the program long-term and still be a bargain compared with private insurance plans.
Another frequent statement was that people don’t want the government interfering in their health care and over and over it was pointed out that Medicare and the Veteran’s health care system are both government administered healthcare systems. When asked, about 40% of the audience indicated involvement in government healthcare now. Some people said that it was unconstitutional for the government to be involved in health care but it wasn’t clear whether they supported the continuation of government involvement by continuing Medicare and Veteran’s health programs or if they want those programs to end.
Massa said that there is no proposal to establish socialized medicine in that patients would continue to choose their doctors, doctors would continue to choose their hospitals and doctors and patients would choose procedures. He said that nobody was looking at adopting the Canadian system or the French system. Massa would like to blend existing good ideas into a unique American plan but at this time there is no provision for a public option in the bill.
There is a provision that would require that insurance plans have stable premiums, end the practice of excluding people because of pre-existing conditions and keep co-pays stable and predictable.
Someone asked why the bill was written to protect the insurance companies and someone else said that it was all kept in secrecy but Massa said that the entire bill can be read online by anyone. Massa would like the bill to include tort reform that sets a limit on payments for pain and suffering.
Massa reported that he attended a meeting with insurance company representatives who said that they did not want to compete with a public option such as Medicare because Medicare provides insurance cheaper and more efficiently than private companies can.
Massa feels that a for-profit insurance company provides an ethical conundrum because the insurance corporation exists to provide share holder value. The fewer payments made for health care, the more money paid to investors.
Should all Americans have health insurance? All Americans are required to have car insurance and few would argue with the wisdom of that.
Massa supports eliminating the Medicare prescription plan donut hole. He promised not to vote for any bill he wasn’t given time to read. He would like to stop pharmaceutical companies from advertising on TV. A billion dollars spent on ads is a billion less spent for medical benefits. Pharmaceutical companies spend more on advertising than on research and 50% of all the advertising dollars were spent on Viagra, Cialis and Levetra.
When people brought up the costs involved in giving medical care to people Massa said that the concerns about costs were really concerns about the explosion of the national debt in the last 8 years. He was against the bank bailout bill and the Iraq supplemental emergency bill which wasn’t used to fund the war in Iraq and didn’t address any emergencies.
“If we do nothing about health care reform we do so at our peril,’ Massa said. ‘Health care premiums have doubled in the last 10 years and will double again in the next 10. We can’t afford to do nothing. Only the insurance companies are excluded from the Sherman Anti Trust Laws. Insurance companies divide the territory so they don’t compete. This is called collusion.”
One older gentleman in the crowd told Massa, “You exude the code of honor. Thanks for being helpful. I came here to scoff but you have a lot of Navy in you and I’m pleased.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

In a Timely Manner

Once upon a time, time was different. It’s hard to believe but the whole idea of standard time was controversial – the stuff of Sunday sermons and arguments. Watches were expensive and nowhere near accurate until well into the 1800s so people set clocks or watches daily based on the directive of God - high noon - apparent solar time.

High noon rolled across the country in a slow, even pace without a care for standardization and that was good enough until the country went from rutted dirt roads to smooth rails. With the extension of the railway system a person could move at such speed that the hodge-podge of times became a problem. The train couldn’t leave Philadelphia at 8 a.m. and arrive at its destinations for orderly departures without a regulated time system.

Along with the railroad system, telegraph companies stood on the side of time-standardization while others resisted holding instead to the belief that God didn’t intend for time to be defined. The sun at its peak each day was timely.

In 1870 there were 80 time zones based on the parade of shadows on sundials. By 1880 there were 56 time zones. Over the decades, as miles of train track grew, the number of time zones decreased. In 1883 the General Time Convention approved standard time zones in North America (4 in the US and 5 in Canada). On November 18 that year during “the day of two noons” the system was adopted by many people. Some communities resisted standardized time saying it was “unnatural” but over time most people accepted it so that it was mere formality when a 1918 law established standardized time.

I learned this at the National Clock and Watch Museum in York Pennsylvania where odd time pieces tick and chime with myriad pendulum heartbeats and fanciful bells in clocks tall and small, plain and fancy.

I live among clocks –grandfather, grandmother, regulator, schoolhouse, mantle and more – clocks that require a Saturday morning ritual of pulling chains and turning keys to renew the kinetic energy that keeps home time marching on – clocks built by my husband Rick. Surrounded by clocks I never thought of the fight behind establishing the right for our clocks to chime the quarter hour.

Stranger still to me was the whole Japanese concept of time using 12 segments of time – 6 in the day and 6 for the night. In the summer the daylight hours stretch but in the winter the evening hours dominated. Correspondingly, Japanese clocks were built with sliding numerals to stretch or shrink the “hours” to fit into the patterns of day and night. No matter how long the day or the night, each held 6 units of time.

This too was based on religious beliefs. People were called to prayer with one, two or three chimes so time was marked with four to nine bells with noon and midnight marked with nine bells each. God changed the length of day and night so people changed the length of hours.

In 1873, outnumbered by those following the western system, Japan accepted the 24 equal hour divisions for each day and redesigned and imported clocks.
The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors regards time keeping as both an art and a science. It seems they are right. Museum hours change seasonally. Admission.

The Engle clock, built Stephen D. Engle (1837-1921) over a 20 year period in Hazleton Pennsylvania. The clock toured the country for 70 years until 1951. It now chimes, marches, parades, peeks, whistles, plays and otherwise entertains at the National Clock and Watch museum.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Health Care Rally in Washington DC

Washington: Medical insurance companies attract anger like Velcro captures lint. Who, of those clutching tightly to their own health insurance, hasn’t waited while doctors file with some desk jockey for permission to do a medical test? Who hasn’t heard about someone fighting to get out of the tight spot between doctors needing payment and insurance companies stalling? It’s time to clean up some of the health care mess so on June 25th approximately 25,000 American citizens traveled from nearly every state to form an army of citizen lobbyists demanding lives over dollars as the US looks toward health care reform.
Senator Chuck Schumer was opening speaker, seemingly cheerleader, with wildly enthusiastic and mercifully brief comments to the crowd steaming in the sun at Senator’s Park in front of the capitol building. Schumer declared that it’s time to change business as usual in health care. What does Schumer want? A strong public option for health coverage for everyone. Schumer shouted, “The greatest country in the world should have the greatest health care in the world.”
As the New York State Senate is mired in conflict that has business in Albany flailing, it seemed that that people’s voices may actually be heard in Washington. Senators Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand as well as Representative Eric Massa are on board with proposals to bring an aggressive public option to health care in the US.
The most recent polls show that at least 72% of Americans want to have a public option for health care. What’s a public option? Some call it Medicare for all in trying to explain the goal but others call it socialized medicine when trying to protect the status quo.
Why isn’t it socialism? Because the government won’t employ the doctors or own the hospitals but rather hospitals and doctors will be independent as they are now. Because people will have their choice of doctors, clinics and hospitals. Since nothing of the system would be run by the government, there’s nothing of socialism in the plan.

Speakers at the rally from workers to pastors to small business owners said that they hate that insurance companies decide on treatment options. They hate that insurance companies decide who they will insure and set the rates without oversight operating in a near-monopoly situation.
What the House and Senate are looking at are bills that would allow people to opt into a public program similar to Medicad. People could choose to participate the same way that people can choose public or private schools or the public post office or private mail carriers such as UPS or FedEx. In the same way that public and private can co-exist in those business models, public and private health insurance can also fit into the market place.
Possibly shining stars in the language are passages that take the dreaded “pre-existing condition” problem out of the conversation. With the public and private models in competition and with companies no longer being allowed to consider pre-existing health problems in their billing structure citizens should benefit. Another change is that coverage would have to include preventive care.
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said that America needs a health care system with a strong public option but that the health insurance industry is claiming that the government can’t do anything right. “If so,” said Brown, “why are they afraid of a public option?”
Brown and Schumer along with Rockefeller, Leahy and dozens of other senators all declare that having an option for public health care would increase competition, lower prices, improve quality and benefit consumers. Massa stepped through the numbers to show how the program could be paid for by shifting money that’s already out there in the health industry – using it to pay doctors and not insurance corporation big wigs.
The public health option is good for the economy – perhaps closer to necessary. Many senators and representatives stated that the economic recovery is hindered by the health care crisis.
Under the current patchwork program nearly 20,000 Americans die every year because they have no health insurance. Worried about expenses, they ignore problems or fail to treat chronic disease and die early. According to the Institute of Medicine, the US is the only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not provide health care for all citizens.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

iLoves iPod

Not long ago iTunes was a foreign concept; the iPod a device of mystery and podcasts of no more importance than a mote of dust among the billions on the computer monitor. No more. The iTunes logo is prominent on my desktop. I’m a regular in the iTunes store and iPod goes where I go. I’ve become a podcast junkie.
Now everyone over 30 has rolled their eyes in contempt and turned away so it’s just us older folk left. Go now - download iTunes. It’s like a Bergren Forum lecture series available 24/7 at home on your computer or anywhere in the world where an iPod may whisper in your ears.
I bought an iPod because when we travel Rick likes to drive with the radio off. I, on the other hand, wish to be aurally entertained.
Emilie encouraged me certain that I would like an iPod and Jay said it was easy to understand. My friend, Susan, said that if she could download podcasts, anyone could. Buoyed with their reassurance and enthusiasm I ordered an iPod - engraved - Elaine Hardman, CEO
ITunes is a free download offered with the Barbie-Doll philosophy which is that people will buy things to go with the free system. Not willing to disappoint I started with the iPod and added a docking station so I could listen in the studio and then needed a case to protect it and finally (or not) new headphones for comfort.
Ready to make nice with this technology I began by ripping the Dixie Chicks. I don’t actually know what ripping is but iTunes asked if it might perform the service when it registered presence of a CD and then it sped through the music. When it finished, the screen showed each song title, length, genre, artist, recording date and the name of the album. It even, as if my musical opinion mattered, allowed me to rank the songs with zero to four stars.
I ripped through every CD in the house including AU Concert Band music that I needed to become fluent with and all the great music from Emilie and Josh’s wedding. With the historic cowboy music Jay found somewhere and lots of old rock tunes it added up to 1270 songs in one day.
Either iTunes or the iPod can sort and play by many criteria and it will just play and play and play without juggling CDs. Who invented this thing and why didn’t they tell me sooner?
After ripping I dove into the iTunes store where it seems that the best stuff they offer is FREE. That’s my kind of store.
Waiting for me now are nearly 558 podcasts (19 days of steady listening) including 13 short lessons in conversational Spanish and countless lessons on technology and science. If I wasn’t born a geek, I have evolved into one.
While walking through Wellsville one week doing errands the Vinyl Café visited my ears. The VC is rather like the Prairie Home Companion but set in Canada and featuring Dave and his friends. In this particular episode Dave acquired and faced his fear of rats and brought one home for the kids after being locked in the trunk of his car with it. I likely looked the fool laughing while picking up toothpaste.
This American Life is often, and deservedly, at the top of the podcast download list. It’s always interesting - so interesting that I donated to the show because it’s just too good to be free.
Podcasts aren’t all fun and games. There are programs about philosophy and debates on moral questions. CBC radio offers Quirks and Quarks as well as Ideas. In the political arena I like Rachel Maddow’s information but not Bill O’Reily’s vicious streak. For balance I listen to Left, Right and Center. For daily living advice there is Stuff You Ought to Know and Stuff Your Mother Taught You. For emotional and human interest there is The Moth - a series of programs with real people telling about themselves or family members. One can download whole books and listen while walking the dog or weeding the garden.
My exercise videos nestle into the 120 gig hard drive along with a photo album, all that music and days worth of podcasts and vodcasts (videos) and yet 80% of the drive is empty, waiting for more - and it all fits in my pocket.
iTunes holds a marvelous world of information and entertainment with podcasts that are like winning the information lottery every day. The computer makes it work, the iPod makes it portable and all kinds of things make it really worth having.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Coup in New York Senate

The spectacular New York State Capitol building stands glorious and stately. It’s a building to be proud of but civic prides stops at the magnificent doors. Inside the halls feel slimy with the corruption of “pay to play”.

As of January, Republicans had 40 consecutive years of majority in the NY Senate during which New York’s “Empire State” image decayed. Democrats took over in January and several bills to benefit the general public made it into committees, a discussion series that was meant to culminate with a celebration of democracy – public hearings that would send bills to Assembly and Senate floors.

On Monday the Assembly Standing Committee on Insurance and the Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary met publically. On Tuesday, buses from around the state were set to bring citizen groups to several more hearings when legislative directives supported by up to 70% of the state’s voters were expected to be passed to the full floor with probability that they would become laws.

Now forget that for-the-people stuff. Instead, a Florida billionaire strode the Capitol’s halls making arrangements with New York’s legislators, an entourage of suits jogging in his money-power wake.

Tom Golisano, founder of Paychex, a NY business worth billions, said that New York’s tax system was too high and he moved to Florida. Even though he moved, he reportedly poured money into legislative campaigns to change the leadership in the Senate where Republicans have led the agenda and created tax codes for decades.

According to the Buffalo News, Golisano was dissatisfied with tax rates and with the staffing of the Senate’s Buffalo office so, reportedly, Golisano tugged on his financial ropes to bring politicians to his way of thinking leading to a coup in the New York Senate.

Golisano was photographed with Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate who announced they would caucus with the Republicans. Why is this a big deal? There are 30 Republican and 32 Democratic senators - a majority margin of 2. With Espada and Monserrate crossing the aisle to the Republican side, the majority structure flipped. The majority party chooses who will chair each committee and those chairs choose what legislation to consider and what to send to the shredder. The majority party can kill bills by simply not allowing them to come to the floor.

It is also no small matter that the majority party draws the lines for legislative districts, a deed regularly done with regard not to community lines but to party lines thereby ensuring the reelection of the majority party (gerrymandering). Republicans have controlled those lines for the last 70 years.

Changing the majority meant changing all committee chairs and cancelling all the hearings scheduled for this week “for the people.”

According to officials of Citizen Action NY, corporate lobbyists outside the Senate Chamber cheered as the Republicans declared control of the Senate on Monday. Republican control likely signaled job security for them with the “Pay to Play” culture in Albany for lobbyists and bad deals for millions of work-a-day people.
The busloads of citizens took their meeting rooms in a spirit of anger rather than excitement over being involved in the political process. About 100 people from Citizen Action NY protested outside the office of Pedro Espada just after Golisano exited.

News crews from all major stations filmed the group and recorded statements, both prepared and impassioned off-the-cuff, while the majority of citizens stood behind them holding placards and wearing tape over their mouths to illustrate that the voices of the people have been cut from the process. After the statements, they tore the tape off and chanted “Golisano pays, Pedro plays.”

Citizen Action of NY then occupied the office of Hiram Monserrate until he met with them. Monserrate, while he has personal legal problems outside the legislature, had worked with several citizen and labor groups to sponsor the legislative measures that were to have been ushered out of committee that day. Monserrate told Citizen Action NY that he would work with the Democratic Party to try to find a resolution to the stalemate and on Wednesday he refused to caucus with Republicans instead meeting with Democratic senators.

For the rest of the week there were protests in Buffalo, Rochester and Albany and negotiations among lawyers for both parties. As of Friday, the legality of the coup remains under discussion, government work has halted and those who hoped that clean elections would come to New York are once more disappointed.

On Monday, Hiram Monserrate returned to the Democratic Caucus resulting in a 31-31 tie thus sending the decision of leadership to the courts.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Senate Hearing in Rochester

ROCHESTER Our state's government operates behind closed doors in hushed halls where people focus on money. Committee meetings are as muted as a gray cat in the fog. At least, they were.

Senator Joseph Addabbo now chairs the Senate Committee on Elections and he opened his committee doors so wide that every citizen in New York can find a chair. Right now in New York money is the primary determinant of who is elected and what laws are passed. Bills in Addabbos’s committee may change that.

Addabbo has offered a series of hearings across the state, most recently at Nazareth College in Rochester where he found over 80 people and heard 27 presentations. Addabbo complimented attendees saying that this was the largest turnout the committee has experienced.

The room was filled with people fired up over a plan to revamp NY's system of funding political campaigns. For years citizens have been knocking on closed doors in Albany, shouting about the pay-to-play political system that serves special interests groups over constituents. Mario Cuomo proposed changes nearly 30 years ago only for things to get worse.

New York is recognized as having the most dysfunctional state government and that puts us low on a depressed stage. Lobbyists in Albany outnumber legislators. Hands that give out campaign cash come back after elections to lean heavily on the shoulders of legislators creating a system where money buys campaigns and campaigns pay up by passing tailored legislation.

Addabbo opened his committee to constituents for comments on several bills on electoral matters that have been long stewing in the legislative pot. He brought the discussion on the road breaking tradition with senatorial secrecy.

At the hearing people repeatedly called for Clean Money/Clean Elections, the long-running campaign for public financing of elections. Before you roll yours eyes over the use of public money understand that the states using public financing (Arizona and Maine) have seen the cost of running government decrease because legislators don’t seek funding from special interest groups; they don’t make thousands of calls for donations; they don’t duck out of legislative sessions to chase contributions. What they do is talk with constituents, define problems and work out solutions.

Most of the 80 people in Rochester were private citizens. One, Stewart Berger, asked that the laws create a program that is simple, comprehensive and fair.

Basically, proposals are that potential candidates would collect some number of token donations - $5 to $250 - from natural persons. (Natural persons are living, voting people rather than legal persons which are corporations. Corporations were granted personhood in an 1886 Supreme Court ruling.) When potential candidates collect the required number of donations, they qualify for public funding in an amount specified for that office. Larger districts would allot more money.

With donations coming only from natural persons, corporate influence would be reduced significantly.

Blair Horner, representing NYPIRG, presented Abbaddo with large written testimonial which he summed by stating that New York has inadequate disclosure laws and what laws exist are poorly enforced. Three things are needed. 1. Public financing for elections. 2. Lower contribution limits. 3. Aggressive enforcement of campaign contribution limits and an independent enforcement agency that is well staffed and funded.

Horner continued, “I’m optimistic this year. The Governor, Senate majority leader and the Assembly leader all say that it’s time for campaign finance reform. This creates a window of opportunity and it’s important to jump through that window.”

Nathan Jassic, from Binghamton, asked that NY break the link between money and elections. Jassic was echoed by Paula Hanser and Ed Scutt who spoke about the influence of money on recent bills and voter turnout. A Zogby poll indicated that 58% of New Yorkers feel that legislators listen to contributors and not constituents while voter studies show 80% of the states have better voter participation than NY.

Sam Fedele from Rochester said that there can be no progress on any issue until the problem of money is solved. “A business weighs each action on the value to its bottom line. A corporation is not moral or patriotic. When it makes a political donation, it wants a financial return.”

Thomas Ferrarese from the Monroe County Board of Elections spoke against changes saying that we should be proud of the system in New York State. He cited Help America Vote Act as a hastily written law that did not make elections safer or easier for voters. He suggested that NY increase penalties for abuse of campaign funds and institute a multi-tiered system so that those running for small, local offices would have less accounting and reporting demanded of them than those running for statewide offices.

Jon Greenbaum, representing Metro Justice of Rochester, made 4 requests. Candidates need enough funding to launch a reasonable campaign. They need extra rounds of funding to counter spending by wealthy candidates. He cited that the cost of elections in Arizona decreased significantly since extra round grants were added saying that wealthy candidates learned they can’t outspend the system. Greenbaum pressed for a donation limit of $100 but said that $250 might work. He asked that to qualify for public money people should have to do something serious, something difficult but not impossible for the ordinary person.

Senator Abbaddo asked Greenbaum to read the committee's proposal for bundling contributions and to give feedback on the measure.

Time and time again citizens brought up redistricting asking that it be based on population and not on the political party registration. There were also repeated complaints about out-of-district corporations pushing money into congressional races. People want that outside money out of their political lives. While it seems like a fairy tale to hope that NY could lessen the influence of money in politics, it might be possible this year.

If you care about the issue call Senator Young at 518-455-3563 or 1-800-707-0058. Put your voice behind keeping things as they are or ask her to support changes in campaign finance.