Saturday, December 31, 2011

My 21st Birthday

A young man I work with is turning 21 on New Years Day, 2012, and so of course he is looking forward to his first legal drink as an "adult". This occasion got me thinking of my own 21st birthday, many years ago.

That landmark event occurred on a weeknight, I forget which one exactly, while I was in college at the University of Maine in Orono. Pat's Pizza was, and still is, a landmark in Orono (and now franchised in other Maine locales as well) so naturally that is where I headed to enjoy my first beer as a 21-year old. The bar was pretty much deserted when I arrived and the bar-tender brought me my beer without delay as he knew me from numerous previous, albeit illegal, visits.

No sooner had I settled back to celebrate my adulthood when two liquor inspectors, the bane of underage drinkers everywhere, came through the door and made a bee-line for my table. On any occasion previous to this night, I would have been mortified by this development, but happily I was in possession of a newly issued State of Maine ID which attested to my status as a full-fledged adult, entitled to all of the privileges thereto including the right to buy and consume alcoholic beverages. The Inspectors seemed mildly surprised when I produced valid authentication of the legality of my alcohol consumption, but they were polite and left the premises immediately after returning my ID (there being nobody else in the joint to hassle).

The bartender, having observed this drama from his vantage point only a short distance away, hurried over to my table and asked what I had produced for ID, since he had never asked for any on that or any of my numerous previous visits. When I showed him my State ID his relief was palpable, as he obviously thought I was drinking on a fake ID.

Never has a beer tasted as good or been as satisfying as that one at Pat's Pizza on 11/22/1967 did. So happy birthday, Nate. I hope your first legal drink, as you celebrate the New Year no less, is as memorable as mine was.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Baubles, bangles...

...and bright shiny beads." That's a lyric, maybe even the title, from an old song that I had long forgotten. I don't even know how long ago it was popular or why I know it. But tonight the memory of it came flooding back to me.

I'm not a huge jazz fan. I like most kinds of music but jazz has never been among my favorites, so tonight when I tuned into WMPG for some music to listen to while I relaxed with a glass of bourbon and a program featuring jazz came on, I considered listening to a cassette instead. But laziness prevailed and I left the radio on while I sat on the couch next to the wood stove and relaxed with my drink.

I was drifting in and out of conscious awareness of the music when I became aware of a recurring riff - I couldn't place the tune but I knew it was from a song that I had heard long ago. As I started to actively listen and focus on the melody words began to appear in my mind. "Baubles" came first, then "bangles" appeared, but for a long time the last part of the refrain eluded me. Then "gold colored beads' emerged from the depths of my mind, and yet it didn't seem quite right. So I relaxed and listened some more (the song that started this whole train of thought was long-since over) and just let my mind go with the flow and, lo and behold, "bright, shiny beads" appeared as clearly as if I had just heard the lyric today.

I love how the relaxed mind can retrieve pleasant, long-forgotten memories. And that jazz version of the song wasn't half bad - I'm glad I stay tuned.

Obama-Clinton 2012!

I'm excited! I just read an opinion piece by Robert Reich speculating, based on no inside information whatsoever, that the Democratic presidential ticket for 2012 might have Hillary Clinton as Obama's running-mate. Joe Biden, by this account would become Secretary of State, a position which he has apparently coveted for a long time. Stuff like this is why I love politics!

First, I think this would be a excellent choice to excite the Democratic base, which you have to admit has been pretty luke-warm toward Obama lately, and to bring a lot of Independent voter support to the ticket. Hillary inspires passion among her supporters and her detractors. The fervor of her supporters could re-energize the campaign and bring new excitement to the race. As to her detractors, let's face it most of them already hate Obama anyway so it wouldn't cost anything in terms of lost votes. So there's a substantial upside and not much to lose - I think it would be a winning combination.

Also, just imagine the apoplexy and outrage that having Hillary Clinton on the Democratic ticket would cause for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the whole crowd over at Fox News! The Hillary-haters would be beside themselves at the prospect of having her back in presidential politics - the venom and vitriol that they would spew 24/7 is sure to be impressive in volume and intensity but it won't change a thing except maybe to expose them as the irrational ideological quacks that they are to any reasoning person who hasn't already figured it out. It could be fun.

Last, consider 2016 and beyond. If Hillary serves as Vice-President during Obama's second term and they don't totally screw things up, she'd be a shoe-in to be the Democratic nominee for the next election cycle and (I'm being optimistic here) she could be President from 2016 to to 2024! That would mean 16 years of Democratic presidential administrations and that's long enough to put in place programs that will ensure the social justice, equality of opportunity, and economic fairness that is the promise of America. Hey I can dream, can't I?

So say it with me: "Hill-a-ry, Hill-a-ry, Hill-a-ry".

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The BEST Health Care System

How often have you heard that we in America enjoy the BEST health care in the world, that our system of providing health care services is unsurpassed in efficiency and quality of care? It is so good, in fact, that it would be folly to make changes to try to improve it. But here's the thing: by all quantitative measures we do NOT enjoy the best health care; in fact in some areas we're not even near the top. So why do we keep hearing that it's the BEST.

It's easy to understand the answer if you keep one economic principle in mind: under our system of capitalism profits are good. By extension, more profits are better and maximum profits are BEST. Our current system of health care delivery and insurance provides maximum profits to the giant corporations that administer the system, so the system is in fact the BEST - for them. Any change that would diminish the bottom line has to be defeated. It really is just that simple.

So the next time you hear a representative of the "health care industry" or any of the politicians who do their bidding say, "Americans have the BEST health care in the world", remember what they mean by "BEST". Then ask them, "How can a system that's the most expensive in the world but produces results that are only mediocre when compared to those of other developed countries be called the BEST?" Then stand back because you are about to be inundated with bullshit.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Day After Christmas Holiday!

I have a lot of respect for public service workers at all levels of government. Since I am a retired federal employee with 32 years of public service of my own I guess you could fairly say that I am not an impartial judge, but I truly believe that government employees provide vital services that benefit all of us and I appreciate their efforts.

I'm also a taxpaying citizen and while I do not object to paying my taxes I want to be sure they are spent wisely and efficiently. And since I live on a "fixed" (but pretty generous) income supplemented by wages from a part-time job I am sensitive to the economic woes that we are currently experiencing. I'm all in favor of eliminating waste and fraud in government (and everywhere else) but I do not approve of drastically cutting or even eliminating programs that provide vital services, as seems to be in favor in some circles.

Having said that, I have a suggestion for a change that could save some money for government entities at all levels while having a negligible effect on the employees, and it is this: Eliminate the provision that closes government offices and gives employees a paid holiday on Monday when the actual holiday falls on the weekend. We the people would get an extra day of service at no extra expense and the employees would not have to work on the "real" holiday because they have the weekend off anyway!

Of course I was a beneficiary of the federal holiday provision for my entire career so I guess a charge of hypocrisy would not be unfair. But these seem to be dire economic times that call for some sacrifice from all quarters (Yes, I'm looking at you, 1%) and this would seem to be a reasonable contribution on the part of public service employees. Not only would this result in some (probably minuscule in relation to the overall problem) savings but it would help address the image of public servants as being under worked and overpaid. Surely it can't have escaped notice that about the only functions closed on this "holiday" are government services, and I think it's a fair question to ask, "If I have to work, why don't they?" (well, it wouldn't be fair for me to ask it, but you know what I mean).

So, "Happy Day After Christmas Holiday" government employees - now get to work!

Monday, December 19, 2011


Are you tired of your radio station? Sick of hearing the same songs over and over again? Well have I got a radio station for you!

WMPG is the radio station of the University of Southern Maine, with its studio on the Portland Campus. It calls itself "Southern Maine Community Radio" and that seems pretty accurate given that its signal, even after the recent "Power Up" campaign, is limited to a fairly small geographic area, i.e., "southern Maine".

If you are like me, you like all kinds of music from old-time rock and roll to red-hot smokin' blues, with some bluegrass and barn-dance music thrown in and maybe a little Indian "Bali-wood" movie score every now and then for variety. I like the occasional Irish song, too, and sometimes a Jewish folk-dance song hits the spot and who doesn't like Gospel music on a Sunday morning? Listening to WMPG is kind of like putting every song you ever wanted to hear on your Ipod and hitting "shuffle" - you're never sure what will play next but you know you'll like it.

And if you are tired of Rush Limbaugh's rants about what is wrong with the country, tune in to "Democracy Now" or "Free Speech Radio" for a while to get a new perspective on things - it will make you feel better, I promise.

You don't live in southern Maine, you say? No problem - you can listen to WMPG at WMPG.ORG. And if you do live in southern Maine tune them in at 90.9 or 104.1 on the FM dial - I guarantee that you will like what you hear. Tell them Dirigonzo sent you.

The Iraq War is over

So why don't I feel any better? And who won, I wonder.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The neighbors across the way

I've lived in the same house for 36 years - that's a very long time. During that time I've had lots of neighbors (and a few wives - but that's a subject for another time) come and go, mostly without any particular consequence to me. Today, though, the departure of my next-door neighbors of 11 years has left me a little sad.

I should explain that my house is situated in such a way as to provide almost total privacy from most neighboring homes, the exception being the house across the way where the departing family lived. I share a drive-way with that house and parts of my back yard, where I spend a lot of time, can be seen from the property so having good neighbors in that house is important to me. So far I have been extremely fortunate; in all the time I have lived in my house there have been only three different owners across the way, and they have all been what I would call good neighbors.

My definition of "good neighbors" is pretty basic. I'm a private person so I like to be left alone; neighbors who constantly stop in to visit annoy me, although if we run into one another in the driveway I don't mind chatting for a while. I have three dogs who spend a lot if time in the back yard, and if they see or hear someone next door they feel the need to bark at them; I realize this can be annoying, even to dog-lovers, so I try not to let it go on too long but still, a little tolerance is necessary. Likewise, if they have a dog who barks at me as I drive in or out of the driveway (Copper, I'm looking at you) I'm perfectly willing to tolerate it as the neighborly thing to do. Raucous late-night parties could be annoying, unless of course I'm invited - I probably won't go but being invited would make me feel better about the noise (but I hope they don't block the driveway). That's about it - if they'll tolerate me without complaining, I'll put up with them. But my dogs will still bark at them.

Rick and Tammy were pretty much perfect neighbors in every respect, and I grew very fond of them and their animals. I miss them already and I hope they do come back in two years, as they promised to do - but I'm not counting on it as they are young and have to go wherever opportunity takes them. In the meantime, I'll be waiting to see what my new neighbors are like. I sure hope they like dogs.

The Death Panels are here

During the dust-up over health care reform, opponents (that is to say every Republican in Congress)resorted to some pretty low tactics in their attempt to defeat the measure. Not the least of these was (mis)applying the term "Death Panels" to describe a perfectly reasonable provision which would have paid for "end of life" discussions with one's physician.

Sadly this tactic and others were largely successful with the result that the "offending" provision was dropped and the overall final bill that was passed was a mere skeleton of the type of reform that was really required to fix our dysfunctional health care system. Even that, of course, was too much for Republicans so now promising to repeal "Obamacare" has become a central issue for every Republican candidate for President (even, ironically, Mitt Romney).

Now the specter of "death panels" is again on the political horizon but this time it's not the Godless liberals who will create them; this time the Republican themselves, with the Tea Party leading the charge, will create the emergence of "death panels" in the form of budget-cutting legislative panels that reduce or eliminate funding for programs that are vital to the well-being of our neediest citizens.

As a prime illustration of how these "death panels" will come to be, Maine Governor Paul LePage has proposed drastic (I don't think "Draconian" is too strong a word) cuts to the budget of MaineCare, which provides health care insurance and services for the state's poorest residents. The probable effects on the program if the cuts are imposed are dire; it's certain that tens of thousands of Mainers, most of them elderly, disabled or dirt-poor, will lose their access to any health care (except by going to an emergency room). Inevitably some of these unfortunate souls will suffer an untimely, unnecessary demise for lack of proper medical care. The Legislature, if it passes the Governor's budget cuts, will be the literal "Death Panel" that ordained this result.

I'm not trying to say the we don't have a budget crisis, either at the Federal or State level, that needs to be addressed. But to address it strictly with budget
cuts that will cripple vital programs (yes, I consider health care to be a vital program) is unconscionable. Unless we consider sources of additional revenue (aka "higher taxes") to fund agencies that provide services critical to the well-being of those in need, then "the die is cast" and "Death Panels" will be the result.

Of course Republicans have taken a pledge (to a lobbyist, no less) not to raise taxes on anybody, ever, and they will fight against anyproposal that would increase revenue (unless it involves making even the poorest wage-earners pay some income tax)so I think it's fair to say that when the "Death Panels" emerge, they will own them - which is only fair since they created the concept. How can they live with themselves, I wonder?

"What goes around, comes around."