Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Friday, February 29, 2008
In 25 years in professional kitchens, I've heard the cooks make a lot a tough talk and snotty comments when customers complain, but nothing that comes close to this:
Kropp admitted to police he put a few of his facial hairs on the steak, saying he was angry the customer sent the other steak back and thought he was "just trying to get free stuff," according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, a second kitchen worker told police Kropp put a slit in the steak and pushed something inside, then stated, "These are my pubes," referring to pubic hair.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
  Affordability vs 23% of my paycheck
Nathan Newman hits one of main problems I have with the Commonwealth's so-called healthcare for all plan.
# Under the Massachusetts plan as implemented, an individual earning just over 300% of poverty, or $31,000, and who is not eligible for subsidies, could face total health care costs of $7,100 when you include premiums and all out-of-pocket costs.
# This would amount to a whopping 23% of the individual's income.
# Accordingly, the state has exempted at least 65,000 residents from the individ
State by state and using the existing patchwork of insurers to get people decent, affordable healthcare (*not* health insurance) will fail.... miserably.

Nationwide single payer. It is the only way to actually fix the mess we're in.
Monday, February 25, 2008
  Cinderella's Bubble
Over the past year, or so, I've refrained from saying much on the deal that is supposed to bring a Lowe's to Curran Highway. Truth be told, I've got mixed feelings. Competition is the American way, but huge multi-national corporations competing with much smaller regional and local operations leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I moved away from urban/suburban mega-store sprawl and I much prefer the small town version of retail.

But this post isn't about my thoughts on unbridled corpratization. No, it is about something I wrote in some blog's comments when the North Adams deal was announced last year. I can't find the original comment right now, but I wrote something to the effect of
'I'll believe the store is opening only after the ribbon is cut simply because the housing market is getting ready to crash and Lowe's depends on contractor business.'

And today I read via Atrios:
This morning, Lowe's reported same-store sales declined 7.6% for the quarter.

But sequentially sales are even worse.

From the Lowe's conference call:

Same Store sales fell 4% in November (YoY)

Same store sales fell 9% in December

Same store sales fell 11% in January

CEO Niblock said he was "a bit surprised" by the weakness.
I am not saying that Lowe's is going to pull the plug on opening new stores, but it is straight out of Business 201 that if your existing operations are contracting, one of the first rounds of belt tightening tends to be preserving capital. In plain language, if your income goes down, you start watching your bank account a lot more closely and pinching pennies.

I suspect that getting the North Adams store built and open will be race against the clock. Too many bad quarters for Lowe's and a weak commercial real estate market for the developer, combined with global credit crunch for both, might just turn the carriage back into a pumpkin.
  Two Degrees of Oscar
The sister of local writer and blogger Alison Benjamin won an Oscar last night for her short documentary Freeheld.

Congrats to all!!
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
  The Beauty of the "Internets"
Judge Jeffery White may have to brush up on his con-law, but has a new site - in Belgium for now:

Someone suggested that, perhaps, Judge White may have some some of his, or his former client's, retirement funds invested in the Cayman Islands. All I can say is that such a scurrilous rumor should not be given any credence, but it sure would explain a lot.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
  The Perils of Spam Filters, part deux
The greg at email is back and working, but as expected, any email you may have sent since February 8, or so, is long gone. Send 'em again.

The moral of the story is that every few days, check you spam folder to make sure that important stuff, like domain renewal notices, aren't ending up in the wrong spot.
Monday, February 18, 2008
  We don't need no stinkin' rights....
There are any number of Constitutional rights being diminished by the various branches of government at any given time. In the 21st century the more egregious erosions are fundamentals like Habeas Corpus, Due Process, etc, etc....

While some of these issues are far more troubling than others, sometimes it is the smaller stuff that really bothers me. Take this one for example:
A controversial website that allows whistle-blowers to anonymously post government and corporate documents has been taken offline in the US., as it is known, was cut off from the internet following a California court ruling, the site says.

The case was brought by a Swiss bank after "several hundred" documents were posted about its offshore activities
Hmmm. Sound suspicious, but maybe the judge had grounds to order this, maybe, or...
However, the main site was taken offline after the court ordered that Dynadot, which controls the site's domain name, should remove all traces of wikileaks from its servers.

The court also ordered that Dynadot should "prevent the domain name from resolving to the website or any other website or server other than a blank park page, until further order of this Court."
Oh, wait, this isn't a restraining order, it is summary judgment effectively killing the site...
The case was brought by lawyers working for the Swiss banking group Julius Baer. It concerned several documents posted on the site which allegedly reveal that the bank was involved with money laundering and tax evasion.

The documents were allegedly posted by Rudolf Elmer, former vice president of the bank's Cayman Island's operation.
NOW I get it. A really really rich group of folks doesn't want to be embarrassed by being called tax cheats. But this is America, right? No judge would summarily toss freedom of the press and freedom of speech at the behest of some European bankers in one fell swoop, would he? Guess again:
Wikileaks says it was not represented at the hearing because it was "given only hours notice" via e-mail.

A document signed by Judge Jeffery White, who presided over the case, ordered Dynadot to follow six court orders.

As well as removing all records of the site form its servers, the hosting and domain name firm was ordered to produce "all prior or previous administrative and account records and data for the domain name and account".

The order also demanded that details of the site's registrant, contacts, payment records and "IP addresses and associated data used by any person...who accessed the account for the domain name" to be handed over.
Wait a second. Judge White killed the entire site, with millions of documents, so the European Bankers could go on a fishing expedition to expose their critics? WTF?

What kills me is that unless the BBC is way off base, this case doesn't even begin to pass the smell test. The judge is obviously and transparently violating some of the elemental core protections of the first amendment. And to make matters worse, as of right now, only the British and the tech geek media seem to have noticed.

Welcome to the future, folks. If corporations can't buy 100% of the of press to control the message, I guess our legal system will be their Plan B.

UPDATE: Just so you know what you're missing, here is a cached version of the front page. Glimpse at it now 'cause it will disappear soon, too.

UPDATE II: I see Drudge has linked to the BBC story, and since many in a lapdog press use his site as an assignment editor, this might, yet, get some play. Will the Rupert Mudochs and Mickey Mouses of the world allow a detailed examination of "legal" money laundering?
  The Perils of "Spam" filters
If you've tried to send me email at the address listed to the right over the past week, I NEVER got it. It has likely gone down the memory hole due to a screw up with my domain renewal.

If you've still got copies, wait 'til tomorrow and send 'em again.

Thursday, February 14, 2008
  Makin' some Beer Money off the Wingnut Welfare Machine!
Congrats to my nephew Drake Ballew, a bona fide liberal Democrat, for making $50 bucks off the Ayn Rand Institute in a college essay contest! Now if only he could heal up in time for the NCAA track season which he is not allowed to make one penny from.

(This is what happens when I do genealogy research. I get sidetracked by all the cool stuff I discover my relatives doing.)
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
  Throwing Sh*t at the Wall & Hoping Some Sticks - Luce Road Style
It seems that Mr. Bergman is really, really mad that his letter to the editor of the Eagle (quoted below) wrongly claiming massive fraud regarding Harriman West Airport's runway upgrade did not cause people to grab their pitchforks. He's even more pissed that a reporter actually called the FAA to ask about it:
"Too many to be true" (Transcript story, 2/9/08) is a thinly disguised, hollow rebuttal to local residents' concern over wasteful spending with regards to the Harriman West Airport Improvement Project (AIP).

I'm sure that, with little effort, I could add a hundred signatures to the list of people who "scoff" at the airport's reputed yearly operations.

It comes as no surprise that the FAA backs up those numbers due to the fact that they rely solely on the"Sponsor"(cityofNorth Adams) to provide them -- a sponsor that, by the way, unashamedly admits to not keeping records!
Bergman then tries the guilt by association game by claiming that since there has been fraud with other airport's improvement projects local residents should be outraged and demand that Harriman West's safety upgrade be stopped!!! Outraged, I tell you!!! Blah, blah, blah.

In the last thread, occasional commenter and serious FAA regulation junkie Cap'n John lays out some bare facts:
Airports that receive federal grant money (Harriman and West got $150k in 2007) are required by FAR Part 77 to "identify and mitigate hazards to navigable airspace at their airport". In the case of H-W, having a 4200 foot runway means that any object penetrating a 100:1 slope within 20,000 feet of the runway (in any direction!) is "potentially" subject to regulation.

In more practical terms, it means that the airport has a regulatory obligation to knock down any growing obstruction (like a tree) that tries to penetrate an imaginary surface that slopes upward from a line at ground level 500 feet off of each end of the runway, up to 750 feet each side, at a 20:1 slope, out another 5000 feet. A 50 foot tree a half mile from the runway and 300 (or even more) feet off centerline is fair game.

The thing is, this regulation doesn't have anything to do with the number of operations an airport has. All that matters is that it is public, and it receives federal funds. It has to comply.
Maybe Mr. Bergman should start reading the FAA regs rather than Reason Magazine for his facts. He might actually learn something useful.
Monday, February 11, 2008
  I have to tell you I hate you in a song
If you're like me, you think that Ann Coulter is best/worst example of everything to do with the Republican attack machine that has been standard operating procedure for the GOP since 1988 and Lee Atwater:
Saturday, February 09, 2008
  First it was trees, then flooding, now fraud. What's next?
One of the things that most people don't know about me is that I am an aviation buff. I grew up in a family with two pilots, and even though I had a tendency to puke in little planes (sorry dad!) I spent a fair amount of time hanging out at small airports watching the day-in and day-out operations of civil and small-time commercial aviation. I live about a mile directly off the east end of the airport and watch dozens of flights any given sunny afternoon pass a few hundred feet over my head. My current next door neighbor is also the Harriman-West manager, but he and I tend to talk about lawn mowers and home improvement rather than planes.

I guess what I am trying to say is that while I might have a bias towards the aviation community, I am not talking out of my rear-end when I comment on the latest "gotcha'" NIMBYism going on over around Luce Rd at the west end of the airport. Evidently some people are still mad that they didn't read their deeds when they bought their homes within a few hundred yards of a friggin' runway:
"I can hardly believe that numbers such as 44,000 operations (takeoffs/landings) per year, 120 per day, are still being thrown around as if they were believable," Raymond Bergmann, another Luce Road resident, wrote in a letter to the editor of The Berkshire Eagle last week.

Spokesmen from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission (MAC)said the numbers were correct and said the residents' point was moot because such figures are not considered during the funding application process.
Kudos to Bonnie at the Transcript for getting the proper information about how the airport's safety upgrade funding was determined and knocking down this latest rumor of fraud.

It amazes me that these residents would rather take the chance of having a plane hit a tree and drop flaming on their house than play it safe. The FAA did not determined these rules arbitrarily they are developed based upon real world experience and physics. (Little things like gravity and inertia tend to make plane crashes messy)

The odds are good that there will never be a future serious mishap at Harriman West. Aviation is very safe. But accidents do happen - sometimes with tragic results, and THAT is the real issue - not trees.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
If there has been a benefit of "The Great Republican crack-up of '08" beyond the grand entertainment it has been the effective emasculation of the hard right. Limbaugh and Coulter have both threatened to take their balls and go home if Romney doesn't win the nomination. Yesterday the other shoe dropped. Dr. James Dobson:
"But what a sad and melancholy decision this is for me and many other conservatives. Should Sen. McCain capture the nomination as many assume, I believe this general election will offer the worst choices for president in my lifetime. I certainly can't vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama based on their virulently anti-family policy positions. If these are the nominees in November, I simply will not cast a ballot for president for the first time in my life. These decisions are my personal views and do not represent the organization with which I am affiliated. They do reflect my deeply held convictions about the institution of the family, about moral and spiritual beliefs, and about the welfare of our country."
Does this sound like a public tantrum? Maybe the Doc shouldd re-read his own prescription from The Strong Willed Child; in particular the passage of how to get a dog off a toilet seat:
"I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me "reason" with Mr. Freud.

What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt. I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!
Just in case you think that Dobson recounted this episode tongue-in-cheek....
"But this is not a book about the discipline of dogs; there is an important moral to my story that is highly relevant to the world of children. Just as surely as a dog will occasionally challenge the authority of his leaders, so will a little child -- only more so." (emphasis Dobson's)
If I believed in Karma, I would say that Siggie is finally repaying the favor.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
  Medical Theology
Sara Robinson, a US citizen living in Canada, gives a pretty good run down on the myths of Canadian healthcare as perpetuated by the Limbaughs of the world:
First, as noted, [doctors] don't have to charge higher fees to cover the salary of a full-time staffer to deal with over a hundred different insurers, all of whom are bent on denying care whenever possible. In fact, most Canadian doctors get by quite nicely with just one assistant, who cheerfully handles the phones, mail, scheduling, patient reception, stocking, filing, and billing all by herself in the course of a standard workday.

Second, they don't have to spend several hours every day on the phone cajoling insurance company bean counters into doing the right thing by their patients. My doctor in California worked a 70-hour week: 35 hours seeing patients, and another 35 hours on the phone arguing with insurance companies. My Canadian doctor, on the other hand, works a 35-hour week, period. She files her invoices online, and the vast majority are simply paid -- quietly, quickly, and without hassle. There is no runaround. There are no fights. Appointments aren't interrupted by vexing phone calls. Care is seldom denied (because everybody knows the rules). She gets her checks on time, sees her patients on schedule, takes Thursdays off, and gets home in time for dinner.

One unsurprising side effect of all this is that the doctors I see here are, to a person, more focused, more relaxed, more generous with their time, more up-to-date in their specialties, and overall much less distracted from the real work of doctoring. You don't realize how much stress the American doctor-insurer fights put on the day-to-day quality of care until you see doctors who don't operate under that stress, because they never have to fight those battles at all. Amazingly: they seem to enjoy their jobs.
along with some great insight into the brainwashed mind of "movement" conservatives:
The philosophical basis of America's privatized health care system might best be characterized as medical Calvinism. It's fascinating to watch well-educated secularists who recoil at the Protestant obsession with personal virtue, prosperity as a cardinal sign of election by God, and total responsibility for one's own salvation turn into fire-eyed, moralizing True Believers when it comes to the subject of Taking Responsibility For One's Own Health.

They'll insist that health, like salvation, is entirely in our own hands. If you just have the character and self-discipline to stick to an abstemious regime of careful diet, clean living, and frequent sweat offerings to the Great Treadmill God, you'll never get sick. (Like all good theologies, there's even an unspoken promise of immortality: f you do it really really right, they imply, you might even live forever.) The virtuous Elect can be discerned by their svelte figures and low cholesterol numbers. From here, it's a short leap to the conviction that those who suffer from chronic conditions are victims of their own weaknesses, and simply getting what they deserve. Part of their punishment is being forced to pay for the expensive, heavily marketed pharmaceuticals needed to alleviate these avoidable illnesses. They can't complain. It was their own damned fault; and it's not our responsibility to pay for their sins. In fact, it's recently been suggested that they be shunned, lest they lead the virtuous into sin.

Of course, this is bad theology whether you're applying it to the state of one's soul or one's arteries. The fact is that bad genes, bad luck, and the ravages of age eventually take their toll on all of us -- even the most careful of us. The economics of the Canadian system reflect this very different philosophy: it's built on the belief that maintaining health is not an individual responsibility, but a collective one. Since none of us controls fate, the least we can do is be there for each other as our numbers come up.
  What your campaign donations pay for:
Click on the box to make it bigger:

I guess I am now officially part of the Massachusetts Net-Roots. Who knew?

Monday, February 04, 2008
  Mardi Gras Madness
So who will I vote for tomorrow in the first actually and truly contested Super Tuesday of my voting career? I might as well flip a coin. I've been voting for Prez since '88. Never before have I actually felt I had a choice during the primaries. (I have worked on one previous Presidential campaign but we were out of the running after South Carolina.) I suppose the current state of affairs points to a race that is healthy for our democracy.

But there's a not-so-nice side of me that wishes I could pick up a Republican ballot tomorrow just so I could vote against Mitt Romney in his so-called home state. Oh well.

Any Massachusetts Repubs out there want to pick my candidate for a promise that they'll
vote for McCain?

Or maybe I'll just make sure I have a quarter in pocket tomorrow.
Sunday, February 03, 2008
  My Pre-Superbowl Moment of Zen
..... Watching Bob West refuse service to four somewhat obnoxious and intoxicated Williams students while buying beer for the big game. Heh.
  Timing is everything
Hopefully the impending train wreck can be held off until after a national plan is passed and signed in DC. If the Commonwealth's plan blows up before then, you can bet that the notion of universal coverage, let alone universal healthcare, will be D.O.A. for another decade, or so.
The subsidized insurance program at the heart of the state's healthcare initiative is expected to roughly double in size and expense over the next three years - an unexpected level of growth that could cost state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars or force the state to scale back its ambitions.

State projections obtained by the Globe show the program reaching 342,000 people and $1.35 billion in annual expenses by June 2011. Those figures would far outstrip the original plans for the Commonwealth Care program, largely because state officials underestimated the number of uninsured residents.
I would suggest that many more things have been "underestimated" as well, not just the number of uninsured. Beacon Hill had best be prepared to take flak from both sides for the foreseeable future - at least until a national plan is in place.
Friday, February 01, 2008
  Will anybody go to jail?
Seems unlikely:
Securities investigators for Secretary of State William F. Galvin have opened a probe of Merrill Lynch & Co.'s dealings with Springfield after the city lost nearly $13 million in investments that Galvin said were too risky for municipalities.
more stories like this.

Investigators in Galvin's office subpoenaed Merrill Lynch officials yesterday in an effort to find out who advised the city to make the investments and what kind of advice they offered
The fact is that the massive fraud that is causing both equity and credit markets to freak out world-wide is not the "sub-prime" mortgage mess. It is, very simply, the result of MBAs and brokers lying about risk.

The sooner the media and the law get their collective heads around this, the sooner we can put this mess behind us. And in the words of Harvey Keitel's character in National Treasure - "Somebody has got to go to jail."
  Not to whine or anything, but...
Why did Williamstown close its schools today? I know the weather is supposed to get ugly, but we aren't talking about a blizzard. The last time they "proactively" closed the schools, we only got an inch of slush that was gone by 2 pm.

UPDATE: Looking out the window and at the web radar, maybe they got it right this time.
  What our insurance premiums pay for. Part 2
Well, after a lot of kicking and screaming, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts has decided to cover the Albany specialist for my wife. It was the right thing to do.

So what was the cost of this?
  1. Two Physicians having to stop what they were doing and write formal letters of medical neccesity.
  2. I had to take an afternoon off of work to help write the "greivance" letter to appeal my wife's case.
  3. At least one physician on the staff of BCBS not only had to review the case and reject it, but then had to review the appeal and change his mind.
  4. Administrative staff at BCBS had to write and send the respective letters to the docs and my wife.
  5. A customer service rep at BCBS had to spend time on the phone trying help us sort this out.
  6. No fewer than four nurses and/or administrative staff at two medical practices had to field our phone calls and probably fill out the additional insurance forms for their respective employing physicians.
  7. And, of course, BCBS's Public Relations folks felt the need to monitor this blog.
How much did this non-medical thumb-wrestling actually cost? I'd bet that it adds up to at least $1500. (plus a whole bunch of ill will on my part, which as we all know is priceless.)

Keep that in mind the next time you hear insurance companies whine about "rising medical costs." Remember that 1 out of every 3 dollars spent in the completely screwed up American system is spent on paper pushing - not healthcare!

Grrrrrrrrrr. I really feel the need to punch the next MBA I meet in the nose.
A blog of random thoughts and reactions emanating from the bank of a mountain stream in the farthest reaches of the bluest of blue states.

May 2006 / June 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / May 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / February 2008 / March 2008 / April 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / July 2008 / August 2008 / September 2008 / October 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / January 2009 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / November 2009 / December 2009 / January 2010 / February 2010 / March 2010 / April 2010 / May 2010 / January 2011 / May 2011 / June 2011 / July 2011 / October 2011 /

greg at gregoryroach dot com

"Livability, not just affordability." - Dick Alcombright

My ongoing campaign for North Adams City Council

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Because a Chart is Worth 1000 Words

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