Sep 28, 2011

The USPS Beatdown

The United States Postal Service is an easy mark for both the "big gubment's got me down" crowd as well as the rest of us who are frustrated by waste and inefficiency of any sort, especially the taxpayer-funded kind. See, consensus points DO exist out there, despite the new American Civil War that is being waged.

But like every other issue on the table today, it is impossible to frame any of them in a fair and proper manner as a means of tee'ing-up a productive discussion of forward-looking policy. The media much prefers screaming matches between paid hired guns spewing the tired old BS from both the left and right side of the divide. Why? It's all about theater, kiddies, not serious stuff. Serious stuff is for adults. This is true of the USPS situation.

Here is a fact that seems to have gained zero traction: the USPS does not lose money from "operations". It actually turns a profit. Say wha'aaaaa? Yeah, me too. There we go, we're not necessarily being spoon-fed that reality (aka fact), are we?

The problem for the USPS is a unique one: it is forced, by past Congressional action, to pre-fund its future employee retirement fund. Future, as in seventy-five (75) years!. That pulls $5.5b/year from cash flow, thereby creating an illusion of an inefficiency that is not necessarily there.

Without delving into the intent or rationale of such a move (it may be perfectly legit), one overriding question needs to be asked: WHO ELSE is under this requirement? Is there another government entity, quasi- or not, with the same burden? How about a private sector firm? Name it. I know that USPS's competitors (FedEx, UPS) are not.

So, if it is all about competitiveness (which we are all for here at the 'burgh), what about that twin concept of a level competitive playing field?

This point is not meant to discount the review of the USPS's mission, structure and service delivery model currently taking place (eliminating Saturday delivery, closing offices, bringing labor rates into line, etc). Such a review is not only timely but absolutely warranted. After all, technology has changed the face of the game here and the old Reinvent the Corporation thing is just what the doctor ordered here in this case.

But having an infrastructure to move physical goods from Point A to Point B remains (and always will remain) a necessary ingredient of a functional economic and social system. Having three major options for accomplishing such a mission is better than one or two, especially if all three have proved to be effective (and profitable) at doing such.

For all the obvious reasons.

Sep 26, 2011

Bits & Bytes

Today's Laugh

Former NYS Governor George Pataki recently announced an exploratory committee for a possible presidential run. Our reaction: Bahahahahahahahahah!

The Cost/Benefit Analysis of War

Energy experts predict that a regime change in Libya will result in a $20/bbl reduction in the market price of oil.

The USA consumes approximately 20,000,000 / bbl / day.

One could therefore conclude that this regime change will result in a $400 million /day consumer savings / shift in US spending away from oil (primarily an import) to other consumption choices (which one could surmise would tilt more towards domestic buying).

One could further conclude that these fig's provide a more effective (by far) economic boost than any tax cut or federal spending program that has been discussed as being the best-bet policy move for jump-starting the moribound domestic economy. One model predicts that this alone results in a +.4% GDP gain.


1) It really IS all about the oil, isn't it?

2) Those who criticized the US involvement in the NATO-lead Libyan action on purely financial grounds ("it costs too much") should be eating crow now.

More on Libya

The moving-forward challenge for the Libyan people is "where do we go from here?" (cue old Chicago tune). Keep in mind these stats:

- 92% of its GDP is oil
- It imports just about everything else
- 72% of its workforce is in the public sector

The optimist would say that this sounds like a pretty darn good opportunity for a favored trading partner to take advantage of; particularly one on good terms with whoever fills the new power void.

Maybe the US role is support of the rebel cause was well-played after all? We sure won't be hearing that question asked on Fox News or the right wing talk radio; that much we know.

Going Out on Top

George Costanza always used this maneuver. Maybe HP is doing the same, as today's descendant of the dream of Mr Hewlett and Mr Packard has signaled that it wishes to get out of the PC hardware business.

This could be the first time in US business history that a company exited an extremely profitable business in which it is the industry leader (38% share).

In an totally unrelated question: I wonder if the Compaq purchase has completely depreciated yet?

In a totally related question: Meg Whitman? But why?

Ooo-oo That Smell

The skunks have been on the move in the Adks. Summer, we hardly knew ya!

The Great Scam, Part 57

So the Republican party demands (and gets) the renewal/extension of the temporary (ha!) Bush upper-bracket tax relief. But now these same champions of Middle America stand against the renewal (and expansion) of the payroll tax reduction which benefits every single person that draws a paycheck. Do I need to continue...?

The Markets Know

Looking back over the numbers of the various markets' performances of the past few months, this is interesting to note:

- On the day that the DOW dropped 600 points, all of that money seemed to flow into US Treasuriess.

This was four days after the S&P downgrade of the same. D'oh!

How to Wage War Against Facts

When facts are not on your side -- yet one is determined to continue the effort to win an argument -- three options can be employed:

1) Deny the Facts
2) Historical Revisionism
3) Redefine the Parameters

One just needs to consider the Climate Change discussion for the best examples of all three.

Option # 3 was presented to me just yesterday by an otherwise informed individual. His statement (verbatim): "Peer review doesn't work. It just brings politics into the process"

Wh'OK, then! The Culture Wars seem to have found a new battleground. But if that's what one believes: fine. But realize that in doing so, you ARE, in fact, opting-out of one of the fundamental aspects of the scientific process, thereby doing the same for "science" itself.

We constantly hear of the inability of the US to compete globally because of its educational system not producing graduates versed in the highly valued "science & technology" skill sets.

Gee, might it have some thing to with their parents not buying into the general concept itself?????

Darwinism is at work here: ignorance breeds (and raises) ignorance, and ignorance will eventually lose out to the enlightened and educated competitors. Anyone concerned about the American Decline needs to take notice.

But then again, that Darwin was one of those "science" guys, right?

Sep 25, 2011

Google's Google Problem

The Google anti-trust hearings present some interesting questions of how to ensure fair and competitive markets. Whereas some folks disagree with that as being a worthy goal -- instead they feel that that a firm should not be thwarted in any means in a sort of "earned monopoly" way of thinking -- I personally believe (with the support of the current anti-trust legislation on the books) it to be the proverbial key to the mint for economic innovation and growth.

Geoff Duncan gives an excellent overview of the specific issues involved in these hearings in the current issue of Digital Trends.

Google basically admits that, yes, it does re-shuffle the deck of search results to give preference (higher rankings) to chosen firms. Those firms tend to be those in which it has a financial stake or those outside companies who pay for the love. But "so what?" it asks.

A slew of companies -- e-commerce and similar -- counter by claiming that this practice puts them at a serious competitive disadvantage, given Google's market dominance. But The Senate's job is to determine whether the consumer is harmed, not necessarily those offended firms, for the anti-trust laws are focused on that point of view.

Stay tuned; this should be interesting. Well, to a few of us, at least!

Sep 24, 2011

The Dawn of the Post-Science Era

Logic? Reason? Science? Education? Fuggetaboutit!

Keep It Simple Stupid: Cults and Psychos with the Solutions

Local Woman Walks Fine Line with Medical Kooky Talk

New TV Series to Debut: That Dark Ages Show!

The timing could not have been worst. I had just completed a four-hour stretch, volunteering in aid of a local group organizing one of those common Charity Walks that we often see. I have certain skillsets of value to these types of efforts, and I'll gladly offer those talents from now 'til the cows come home to worthy organizations. In this case, the event was being staged to benefit the American Cancer Society.

After tossing off the shoes upon returning to the palace, I logged online to see get caught up on correspondences and web-chatter. Greeting me as the first entry scrolling across my Facebook Wall was this gem:

“I am so sick and tired of hearing about walks for Cancer! Why is that? It is because I have LEARNED about a CURE for Cancer with my interview with DR. STANISLOV BURZYNSKI. Here is their web site. My friends this is huge! PLEASE believe me! Send all your family and friends if they have Cancer. The Clinic needs to be walked more the American Cancer Society...they have only collected $$$ they have not claimed to cure Cancer...Burzynski has!!!“

See what I mean about that timing thing? I didn't react kindly, for both the obvious and at-hand reason, but also for the fact that this sort of nonsense/insanity seems to have become the standard for public discussion of modern affairs, whereby stupidity reigns supreme and formerly important concepts such as logic, science and reason are tossed aside and treated as quaint little relics from the past not worthy of a place at today's dinner table. Let us drill deeper:

The author of this post is a woman from my old hometown of Saratoga Springs, which is depressing enough in its own right – that fact means we likely graduated from the same high school. We supposedly met once ( I think she was looking for a job), which is probably the reason we appear on each other's Friends list in Mr Marky Z's neighborhood. A look at her profile and posting history reveals a flair for multi-level marketing programs, Sinatra, talk radio (surprise!) and male figureheads claiming to have the keys to human happiness (someone could do a Psych 101 term paper on that one). But fair enough; different strokes and all...

A past spitting match arose between us awhile back, related to her propensity to spew a wacky version of ultra-right wing politics thru some cult-like zombie organization called The Twelve Visions Party (aka the Neothink Society). Those of you that know me realize that while I can't stand this shit, I nonetheless have a bad habit of trying to engage these types of people in dialog. But that effort didn't exactly work out very well (it usually doesn't): this gal refused to engage in what-if scenarios or to go deep on the underpinnings of her position. Instead, the response was always to basically “go read the enlightened words” of the founding guru (some guy that looks like a California used car salesman on acid). She was either intellectually incapable of doing so or under direction not to – both of which are common cult characteristics.

There does seem to be a component of this Twelve Visions thing that includes a “live forever” (endless human life potential) mantra. Hey, I told you it was wacky, right – now are you starting to believe me? When the usual far-right doses of conspiracy theories and perpetual victimology are tossed into the mix, there emerges some sort of crazed babble about Big Pharma eugenics and the oppression of the rights of man. The second act of this Rand'ian drama, as always, is the Savior figure:

"I am just a messanger who has met some amazing people who are changing our world. Dr. B has FDA approved clinical trials. Robert has no clue as he did not research. I am demanding that all of our Federal tax dollars that are going to Cancer sent to Stanislaw Burzynskii "

"In his own words...Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski tells us he cures cancer...I'm just the messanger."

"... Someone who actually has cured cancer  … "

“ I am promoting real people who have experienced real cures.  “

"One patient was given 5 years to live with her brain tumor...she was told that Burzynski's treatment was not going to work...mri after Burzynski's was gone...duh...can you say this clinic can cure cancer? "

"Pass this to ANYONE you know who had Cancer. The Clinic CURES Cancer!!!"

"If you were to research his web site you would be able to read the MANY testimonials from his patients .. "

There you have it, folks: there is Exhibit A as to what passes as the modern era's state of discussion, fact finding and conclusions-making. Scientific proof? Bah, who needs it, we have testimonials (undocumented, of course). Peer review? WTF is that? Clinical trial designation as validation of a theory? Yes, that is the new paradigm (her words). A virtual library of journals discounting the good doctor's claims? P'tooey, didn't you look at his website? That's it: the fact that he CLAIMS to cure cancer means that he HAS cured cancer! Go back and read the above posts: that is exactly the logic this troubled woman is using here!

(Note: I could have also added a "spelling" comment, if not for the old "those who live in glass houses..." saying!)

No harm - no foul, you might retort? Well, what about the “Send all your family and friends if they have Cancer” part, I would ask in return. This woman is actively pushing this treatment option, all while making unsubstantiated claims as to its effectiveness. As pointed out by a mutual friend on the FB discussion trail: where is the line drawn between an individual legitimately voicing a personal opinion and that same individual participating in a campaign that is in violation of FDA guidelines? It is suggested that such a line is drawn if the actor is somehow involved as an integrated part of that “marketing” effort; i.e., a paid consultant or one who offers free airtime, etc. I don't know that answer to that question, but is sure is an interesting one, is it not?

Likewise, I do not know if Dr B's claims and treatments are the magic cure for this dreaded disease called cancer. I am not a cell biologist. But I do have some research methodology smarts, which tells me to await the data from this first round of clinical trials before offering some conclusions on that subject matter. I'm certainly not going to be broadcasting “this is fact” propaganda with such life and death implications to third parties without such benefit.

In the meantime and as promised to her: I'll keep an eye and ear on the online and over-the-air claims being made by this terminally underemployed MLM reject – turned – cultist on this specific matter. The first query has already been directed to the FDA.

Why? Because, as mentioned: it is a life and death matter.

Sep 20, 2011

Sue Foley coming to Saratoga

Sept 29: The Karp-Foley band
Blues star returns in unique collaboration

Saratoga Springs, NY --- Guitar goddess Sue Foley was well into her successful career by 2006, having garnered the prestigious Juno Award (aka “The Canadian Grammy”), performing at hundreds of gigs around the world and receiving numerous media accolades. But it was a chance backstage encounter with American singer-songwriter Peter Karp that summer at the Ottawa Blues Fest that would lead to a new path in both her future musical direction as well as in her personal life.

For the next two years, the two artists exchanged frequent emails, a process which acted as a catharsis to the individual trials and tribulations that each was going through at the time.

"What started as a casual exchange became a revealing account of the personal struggles and dramatic changes that were happening in our lives,” Karp shared with a writer. “Our shared thoughts became intimate. Then, we turned those letters into songs and made a great CD together."

The end product is “He Said - She Said," an inspired collaboration of originals based on the content of those correspondences and which runs the gamut from folk to jazz to roots-rock to (naturally) scorching electric blues. Released in 2010 on Blind Pig Records, the title reigned at #1 on the Blues Chart for 6 weeks while also cracking the all-encompassing Billboard Top 10.

The couple will bring the touring version of that collaboration – in a full band format – to the Parting Glass in Saratoga on Thursday, September 29 for an 8PM show as part of that venue's Autumn Blues Series.

Sue Foley first hit the blues scene with the release of Young Girl Blues in 1992. Her rapid ascent can be attributed as much to her unique I'm in Charge Here vocal delivery as to her fearless guitar licks, which have consistently landed her in Best Guitarist polls year after year. The ten subsequent releases were highlighted by her Juno winner “Love Comin' Down” in 2001.

Meanwhile, Perter Karp embarked on his journey in '96 by playing solo gigs in a New Jersey dive. Former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor caught wind of his third release, and their joint efforts put Karp on the national radar. That got him signed to the prestigious Blind Pig label.

A followup schedule of 150+ gigs each year was brought to a halt by the serious yet long-lingering illness --- and subsequent death -- of his wife of 24 years. Ms Foley became his disembodied, long distance confidante. 2009 found them reconnecting in the real world, and the current dual-definition partnership was sealed.

The reviews of the musical aspect of this collaboration are in – and they are resounding in praise:

"Peter Karp and Sue Foley are turning the battle of the sexes into a duet.
With Karp's lyrics and Sue's guitar, you wanna get your hands on this album." (House of Blues)

“...the results are as compelling as they are candid." (Philadelphia Inquirer)

“one of the most intriguing album projects in a long time." (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Discounted Advance Tickets: Here

Sep 16, 2011

That Vision Thing: Tea Party's America

Health (and life) as a luxury commodity

The lines are drawn: it's time to choose sides

“I've got some bad news,” were the words greeting me upon picking up that late night phone call many years ago. “Mark's dead.”

Mark was a dear college pal, as was the caller. Our close knit crew had been members of the real world for a little over a year at the time, and had all been together just a few months earlier at one our's wedding. You don't expect to be getting this kind of news about a 23-year old, but there we were suddenly making airport arrangements for gathering again in Buffalo.

The cause of Mark's death question can be answered one of two ways: 1) he died of that once-in-a generation influenza outbreak that hit the USA in that very year; or 2) he died of a lack of health insurance. Both would be accurate.

Our pal had found himself in that common modern day no man's land: school's over but there's no job lined up. The school daze fun is done, but the bus to the lifetime grind hasn't made it to his stop yet. There was no health insurance because there was no job, and with no job there was no money. Health insurance? How about finding something to eat and a place to sleep first, then we'll get to that other stuff like opening the mail from the student loan collectors or insurance? His widowed mom had taken him as far as she could and things were looking bleak in that year of America's stagflating recession. That's where he found himself in that dreary winter.

But a bit of an opening pierced the clouds: an offer to let him crash in Atlanta, with a list of potential employment possibilities to chase once he got there. A hometown buddy was willing to do his best to help him stake his ground and to lead the charge. Mark borrowed a few bucks and off he went, carrying with him nothing more than his clothes and a few precious record albums.

He got sick almost immediately upon arrival in Georgia. I don't think he even made it to his first interview before a fever dropped him into a bed, where his conditioned mysteriously and quickly deteriorated over the next few days. His friend knew it had become serious and got him to Atlanta Medical Center. He never got to see a doctor and his lack of an insurance card sent him home, without even an antibiotic being prescribed.

Three days later, he was dead. Dead at twenty-three, in a strange bed in a strange building in a strange city. Three days after that, his friends and family were saying goodbye back in the frozen north, with his Atlanta friend somehow feeling the need to tell us “I did the best I could for him down there.” Mark didn't even own a proper suit yet, so he was buried looking just like the character we knew, running around the dorm and campus with his madcap look. All these decades later, the whole thing still aches terribly in this corner.

The reader no doubt knows where I am going with this. We're all familiar with the troubling (to the reasoned amongst us, at least) scene at this past Monday 'Tea Party-sponsored' Republican debate, where audience members shouted “Yes!” and '”let him die!” when the hypothetical question of whether the denial of medical care to a dieing but uninsured 30yo would be a proper course of action or not.

To these Denizens of Darkness, it's all about couching their personal greed with code words like “personal responsibility” and “financial risk” and the convenient feelgood insanity of “let the charity sector handle it” or the red meat dogma of “get the government out of my life.” What-if scenarios like “what if the uninsured person is in need of care because of the negligence of an insured one?” or “what if he is incapable of logical decision-making?” are ignored as are the more nuanced discussions of such topics as luck, circumstance and community. No need to bother with these complicated issues; t'is much easier to break it down to simply protecting one's own – with one's own being one's checking account. After all, I earned it myself!

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. As I've gotten to know these Tea Party types, certain characteristics emerge. Among them is the fact that very few of them actually did that earning by means of an entrepreneurial endeavor: most are drawing a paycheck (with an insurance benefit) from someone else's dream, and not their's. One can only contemplate the mindset if we were to somehow disconnect healthcare from employment, forcing these earners to fend for themselves at market rates without the precious entity known as the employer contribution. Not to mention the friendly landscape (courtesy of that dreaded Big Gubment) that further eases the path (COBRA, equal access, etc)

Secondly, one must consider the concept of wealth accumulation as it relates to this predominantly middle class Tea sipping crowd. Dig into their bank accounts, and we can predict this finding: most of it didn't come just from that aforementioned earning, but from circumstance. A safe and healthy childhood provided by dear old Mon and Dad, along with (for some) that primary predictor of financial stability: an education. Now add in the fact that many are also sitting on an inheritance benefit (usually housing-based) and we can really have a discussion on fairness, level playing fields and equality. One might ask if we are a true democracy, shouldn't our embedded capitalist structure give everyone an equal chance at success, not just the circumstantially advantageous? But such a worthy goal might lead to free education for all and (gasp) the elimination of inheritances, and that sure won't fly. Plus, the conversation itself might distract from more important pursuits, like talk radio or NASCAR.

Rage should be a suitable reaction to countering these cretins. That works for me, not only upon this type of reflection but also the fact that it again hit home in the past few days when I was made aware of the passing of a childhood friend last week, with a familiar theme again rearing its ugly head. Yes, let's run with the rage, stop treating these zombies as curious yet ill-informed fellow citizens but as a very real enemy to what should be our collective goal of a civilized, passionate and functioning society.

It's time time to stop being polite and start fighting back.


FYI: a similar reaction; the now very viral "That was my brother's death you were cheering, you a$$holes"

Sep 5, 2011

The Herd is on its Way

Donna the Buffalo at Putnam Den

Roots music dance party – and loyal herd – coming to Saratoga

With the thoroughbred herd having left town earlier in the week, another type of herd rolls into Saratoga Springs on Saturday nite, September 10.

It's on that night the beloved cajun-Americana-jam band Donna the Buffalo bring their eclectic dance party joy to the downtown Putnam Den live music venue for a 9PM show. The group's loyal Dead-like following – referred to as The Herd – will certainly be along for the ride.

Formed twenty years ago as an old-timey fiddle outfit in the Ithaca region, Jeb Puryear and Tara Nevins soon thereafter turned the group into a plugged-in electric outfit. The result is a mashup of just about every style of American roots music mixed together into a unique groove-centered sound filled by a myriad of instruments, including guitars, keyboards, accordion, fiddle, reggae-influenced drums and even the occasional washboard. Topping it off are socially conscious lyrics sung my both of the group's founders.

Along the way, Donna the Buffalo has released nine albums, each of which made noise on the national Americana, folk, rock and roots charts. The latest, Silverlined, dates back to 2008, which makes the anticipation high for the new upcoming release, produced by John Keane of REM and Widespread Panic fame.

Several solo projects have also dotted the timeline; the most recent being this summer's critically acclaimed “Wood and Stone“ by Nevins, which features guests Levon Helm and Jim Lauderdale. The influential music media powerhouse No Depression called the album, "as invigorating as it is mesmerizing.”

But Donna the Buffalo's live performances are the true heart of the matter and the source of all the love from The Herd and the summer festival masses around the continent. The shows bring together an interesting mix of young and old, traditionalists and Jam Band Nation, folkies and rockers. Happy feet run wild and wide smiles rule the night.

Then there is always the 'name question' from the newbies: “Where'd they come up with Donna the Buffalo?” The answer to that mystery goes back to the Ithaca beginnings, when a rum-soaked band pow-wow devoted to that “what do we call ourselves” issue came up with Dawn of the Buffalo. But in relaying that decision to management, the room noise (as well as the rum) made it sound like Donna the Buffalo to the other ears. Being the humorous souls they are, they ran with it.

Such a story just adds to the emerging legacy of what is already one of the nation's most popular club acts.

Donna the Buffalo will appear in concert at The Putnam Den (63A Putnam Street in Saratoga Springs, NY) on Saturday September 10 at 9PM. Special guests the Roy Jay Band open. Admission is $20, at the door or in advance at: