Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cheap Bastid's: Who Wants a "Pink Slime" Burger?

Doesn’t that sound good? A big old double-stacker of Pink Slime.

Last week, “pink slime” leaped to the top of the standing in Google searches after a series of stories hit the news about 5 million pounds of it being sold to school lunch programs.

All of a sudden people were questioning whether or not their kids should be eating such stuff. Well hell, they’ve been eating it for a while in the burgers and tacos they snarf down at fast food joints.

Beef Products, Inc. of South Dakota (or BPI) is apparently the main purveyor of this tasty product which they call “finely textured lean beef”. Dr. Gerald Zirnstein of the USDA coined the
term “pink slime” in a memo a while back defining it as “boneless beef trimmings”, or such products that have gone through a centrifuge.”

“Mary Jane’s Farm”, a blog which was quoted in a post by TLC (The Learning Channel) described “pink slime” like this:
“Ten years ago, the rejected fat, sinew, bloody effluvia, and occasional bits of meat cut from carcasses in the slaughterhouse were a low-value waste product called ‘trimmings’ that were sold primarily as pet food. No more. Now, BPI transforms trimmings into something they call boneless lean beef’. In huge factories, the company liquefies the trimmings and uses a spinning centrifuge to separate the sinews and fats from the meat, leaving a mash that has been described as ‘pink slime’, which is then frozen into small squares and sold as a low-cost additive to hamburger”.

Oh yeah, and BPI produces more than 7 million pounds of it. Per Week! That’s a million pounds a day. Enough each year for more than a pound of this magical elixir for every person in the U.S.

What the blogpost didn’t say was that the “mash” is treated with ammonium hydroxide in order to kill germs like e coli.

Supposedly this product now is present in 70% of the ground beef sold in the U.S.

OK, if you’re alarmed, worried or a bit scared raise your hand and let’s count. Yep, I see quite a
few hands raise out there, including mine. I don’t want to eat that stuff, do you? I wouldn’t want my kid eating that stuff at school either.

And, there’s no requirement to label the product or otherwise warn consumers that the amburger they’re buying contains “pink slime”. I’m not too thrilled about that either. Janet Riley, Senior Vice President of the American Meat Institute told ABC News that there’s no need to label this product as anything other than “beef”. “It’s beef,” she said. “and it’s labeled as beef.”

Huh? I have a problem defining “connective tissue” and the waste meat that was discarded then treated with chemicals and put into a centrifuge as beef. I have a big problem with it.

What’s the motivation behind it? How about profit? I would guess that it’s more profitable to
take the stuff that would normally be thrown out because it dropped on the floor or might be contaminated with fecal matter to “process” it and sell it as an “additive” for ground beef than to box it up to be processed into pet food. If it can be peddled to the consuming public it means that they can 1) charge more and 2) not have to raise and slaughter as many cattle.

So, WWCBD? (that’s short for “What Would Cheap Bastid Do?”) I rarely buy pre-ground hamburger. For the last several years I have about 90% of the time selected a chuck roast or round roast when it’s on special at my grocery store and asked the meat cutter to grind it for me. My grocery store will grind it for no extra charge. I typically spend less than $3 a pound for ground beef that is $4 or more per pound if it’s already ground up.

I know the roast I picked out comes from one cow. It’s clean. I’m confident in its quality—and
there is NO “pink slime”.

When I get home, I take my meat package, open it up and divide it into freezer bags. (One other
Cheap Bastid secret is that I’m usually planning on cooking for 2 so, to me, a “pound” is 12 ounces—we don’t need more than that for 2 people. If I have “pounds” or about 2 ¼ pounds of
actual meat, I’ll put 12 ounces each into bags and then divide the last 12 ounces in half, wrap each 6 ounce lump in plastic wrap and put the 2 of those in a bag—that’s in case we’ve got more than 2 to cook for). It takes about 5 minutes to do when you get home. You’ve got enough time to do it.

Check with your grocer’s meat department to find out if they will grind meat for you. And ask the meat department manager if they use “pink slime”. If they do, find out in what products and don’t buy that product anymore if you’re concerned.

You know, my father was a food safety inspector in the Air Force for 30 years. After that, he did
the same job for the Florida Department of Agriculture for another 20 years. I remember what seemed to be his favorite word when it came to food. That word was “wholesome”. His job was to make sure that the food being processed and provided to people to eat was “wholesome”—that it was safe and fresh and that it met “standards”.

That’s what I think this is all about. There are a lot of us who wonder and question whether or not “finely textured lean beef” or “boneless beef trimmings” or “pink slime” is “wholesome”. We’re paying for it at the grocery store and at the restaurant and I think we’ve got a reasonable expectation to know exactly what’s going on and to have any product which contains “pink slime” labeled with big bold letters “contains chemically processed trimmings”.

That's the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Apathy Man to the Rescue on Super Tuesday

Yesterday’s San Diego Union Tribune (a newspaper which is sliding inexorably downhill at an ever increasing rate) had an editorial cartoon which really got my attention and made me stop and think.

It seems as though we have been in the most insane political “season” that I can recall ever since the mid-term election. It’s been non-stop posturing, debating and spending. All of this to the point where so many of us reached our saturation level long ago and wish only for it all to go away.

Anyway, before I take off into my rant, I wanted to share the cartoon with you. This is from R.McKee at The Augusta Chronicle on March 2:

Yep, it’s “Super Tuesday”, a supposedly pivotal date in Presidential Primary season. I love this cartoon suggesting that somehow or another we should be paying attention and become actively engaged. But why on God’s green earth would any of us want to participate in this insanity and inanity?

Apathy Man. What an apt description. But one has to wonder—what caused it? Is it that we just don’t care? Is it that we’ve been beaten down by the incessant “nattering nabobs of negativism” (remember that fromSpiro Agnew?) who day after day after day come up with some piece of minutiae to waggle in the face of an opponent and the public?

We constantly hear about SuperPacs and we cringe and grow numb. We don’t know where the money comes from exactly but we suspect it is from sources that we don’t trust. So why then, are we apathetic?

Primaries and caucuses have traditionally been the venue for the “party faithful”. They’re supposed to be an exercise in which the candidate proves his or her credentials and worthiness—and ultimately electability. They used to be occasions for candidates to get out into the “hustings” and communicate directly with small groups of voters in a give and take which crystallized positions and clarified issues. But no more.

It’s like the internet where one is inundated with a constant barrage of crap. I went to a job search site the other day and got an e-mail this morning from them bluntly asking why I haven’t paid for their service. Geesh, because it’s a free site, that’s why. And that’s what happens on the political front. I had the temerity to “sign up” at a site promoting Obama and now I get solicitations each day for money.

It used to be that we had some sort of sense that our point of view and our vote counted for something. There are those who, like this cartoon, lament the apathy of voters and point to that as a signal that voters are either satisfied or just too ambivalent to do anything other than accept all the garbage that is being pewed forth. And this becomes a justification for all the garbage that’s dumped on us through various media sources.

It’s not that at all. We’re numb. We’re beaten down. We’re tired of it already and we’ve got to go until the first Tuesday in November.

Sometimes I wonder though, maybe “they” (whoever “they” are) want it this way. If enough of us get sick and damned tired of all the garbage then perhaps “they” (whoever “they” are) win. See, if we become apathetic then those who aren’t apathetic get their voices magnified. That means people like the “teabaggers” get a stronger voice. (By the way I always use the word teabagger—uncapitalized—because I refuse to refer to those folks as a “party” of any sort. Using the word “party” legitimizes them and I won’t do that).

It’s a technique that has been used pretty effectively in the past. What we need to do is just to
sit back in the weeds. Observe. Think. Talk to each other. And then at election time, kick the bastards to the side of the road. I’m tired of the crap. I’m more disgusted now than ever before in my adult and political life—and that includes Watergate and Bush the Younger.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as though anyone gives a fat damn about what people like me think. And between now and November it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.

And now, Sen. McCain is advocating that we bomb Syria. President Obama is trying to mollify Israel with veiled promises that if necessary, the U.S. will bomb Iran. Legislatures are trying to force women into invasive procedures to be “eligible” to have an abortion and state and local
revenues aren’t covering the costs of services.

We’re numb. We’re overwhelmed. And we know that ultimately we’re the ones who will have to pay the price. Not some politician who’s trying to coerce us to vote for him.

Friday, March 2, 2012

These Guys Take the Damned Cake

Ann Landers once provided her definition of chutzpah in her column. She wrote that chutzpah is the young man pleading for mercy from the court because he is an orphan—when he was
being sentenced for murdering his parents.

That’s kind of what’s been going through my head today after reading an article from Bloomberg News. The headline of the article read “Bonus Withdrawal Puts Bankers in Malaise”. So while you’re reading the rest of this play this song because it really, really fits these guys.

Now I don’t know if the headline was suggesting that bonuses
have been withdrawn or that bankers were suffering withdrawal like an addict
goes through but probably it doesn’t matter.

Over the last few years I’ve gotten kind of numb to the machinations of brokers and investment bankers and the harm they have done to both our economy and our nation. And I’ve avoided taken too much umbrage because it just doesn’t do any good.

I’ve kind of taken an approach like Mister “T” who has long been know for saying “pity the fool”.

But this is just the absolute worst kind of arrogance. Unmitigated gall. Sense of entitlement. Here's a couple of excerpts from the article that really got me spitting and spluttering:

"People who don't have money don't understand the stress," said Alan Dlugash, a partner at accounting firm Marks Paneth & Shron LLP in New York who specializes in financial planning for the wealthy. "Could you imagine what it's like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?"


The malaise is shared by Andrew Schiff, the New York-based marketing director for Euro Pacific Capital, where his brother is CEO. His family rents the lower duplex of a brownstone in Cobble Hill, where his two children share a room. His 10-year- old daughter is a student at $32,000-a- ear Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn. His son, 7, will apply in a few years.

"I can't imagine what I'm going to do," Schiff said. "I'm crammed into 1,200 square feet. I don't have a dishwasher. We do all our dishes by hand."

He wants 1,800 square feet -- "a room for each kid, three bedrooms, maybe four," he said. Imagine four bedrooms. You have the luxury of a guest room, how crazy is that?" The family rents a three-bedroom summer house in Connecticut and will go there again this year for one month instead of four. Schiff said he brings home less than $200,000 after taxes, health-insurance and 401(k) contributions.

The closing costs, renovation and down payment on one of the $1.5 million 17-foot-wide row houses nearby, what he called "the low rung on the brownstone ladder," would consume "every dime" of the family's savings, he said.

"I wouldn't want to whine," Schiff said. "All I want is the stuff that I always thought, growing up,
that successful parents had."

Awwwwww, too bad for those poor fellows and their underprivileged children. Having to sacrifice by only renting their summer home for 1 month rather than 4. Having to risk the spectre of their children attending public schools with the “unwashed” and “untouchable”.

Man I feel bad for these guys. Don’t you? They are so obviously struggling just to make ends meet.

And people wonder why there is talk of a risk of class warfare in this nation? And people wonder why so many are angry at the “1%”?

I just leads me to shake my head and mutter to myself, “assholes.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cheap Bastid Finally Kills Off the Thanksgiving Turkey

It’s taken me 2 months but that bird is finally gone. Well not completely. We’re having the last of the turkey noodle soup tonight with home made French bread and I’ve got a bunch of turkey stock that will last me several months.

But that damned turkey breast carcass is finally out of the freezer. All that’s left is a small mound of bones which now resides in the garbage.

The weather forecast for the weekend was for rain and blustery winds—which is the closest thing that the San Diego area will ever get to a blizzard. So I decided it was time to finish off the carcass with stock and soup.

You can make your own any time you want. All you need is to keep the carcass of a turkey, turkey breast or chicken with shreds of meat still attached. Do what I did, take out your slow cooker or your stock pot and put in about 6-8 cups of water and put it on slow heat. Now toss in your carcass (I mean I just took mine out of the freezer, pulled it out of the freezer bag and dropped it into the slow cooker).

That’s all you need to do. Except if you’re like me, go check it occasionally, especially after it starts to send off that fantastic aroma. After a couple of hours it’ll start to look like weak broth and a couple hours after that it will look and smell rich and start to taste a bit richer. I’m going for stock here, not broth. Broth is for wusses.

And after 4 or 5 hours you might want to add another cup or so of water. So after 6 to 8 hours I turn off the heat and slide the cooker pot into the fridge overnight. The next morning what I’m going to do is skim any congealed solids off the top and throw it away.

Then, strain the liquid getting out all those meat bits and bones which could cause a problem. After you do that, just pour the liquid into ice cube trays and turn it into “stock-cicles”. Let them freeze solid and then put the cubes into freezer bags for use throughout the year.

But I wasn’t done. I was going to make stock AND soup. I kept about a cup and a half of the stock for “stock-cicles”. And I used the rest—about 2 ½ cups as my soup base. Then I picked through the meat—shredding it and discarding the bones and any remaining skin. What I had left was just about a pound of turkey.

Sample the broth! Add salt and pepper a little bit at a time. I also add garlic powder and cumin (why do I add cumin? Because we like cumin!). Remember, go easy with the spices—you can always add more, but once it’s in, you can’t take it out.

That went into the pot and I let it simmer for several hours. From there, I added a little over a cup each of diced onion, diced carrot, diced celery and diced jalapeno. I let that cook for a couple more hours and added 2 or 3 handsful of frozen corn.

Now about an hour before serving, toss in about half a bag of egg noodles. By now this is going to be smelling so fantastic that you’ll be drooling. Sometimes I make drop dumplings for this soup, but not this time. They’re fantastically easy to make. Instead, I sliced some French bread and lightly toasted it in the oven for dipping into the soup.

Oh man, it was fantastic. Stick to the ribs good. Silky, tasty texture—just enough spices to bring out the full flavor of the soup. And what’s best is that this was really inexpensive.

The Cheap Bastid Test: This started out as an 8 pound turkey breast. We got 3 dinners and several sandwiches from it. And we just got 2 more nights of dinner out of the soup plus multiple meals with a flavor boost from the homemade stock. That’s a bargain. And for the soup, I used the left-over carcass and meat and added about $2.50 worth of vegetables and noodles.

In today’s world, you have to stretch every dollar. It’s even better when the result of the stretching is comfort food this tasty and nourishing.

That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good. Eat Cheap. Be Grateful!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Warren Buffett Gets it Right Again--He Blames the Tax Code Not Romney

Bloomberg News just reported on an interview today with Warren Buffett. He echoed his earlier sentiments about how the rich should be paying a higher rate of tax.

While some may take it as a swipe at Mitt Romney, Buffett put himself in the same category. Buffett said that the tax rate that he pays along with Romney comes reflects “poor laws rather than failings by the candidate…”

John Boehner probably classifies Romney and Buffett as “jobs creators” who should pay even less than they are now. But, a guy who can buy and sell Mitt Romney 25 times over says otherwise.

Buffett is kind of like the old fashioned ads from E.F. Hutton. When he talks, people listen.

Here’s the full article from Yahoo News and Bloomberg:

Buffett Blames Congress for Romney's 15% Rate
By Andrew Frye and Andrea Ludtke Bloomberg – 5 hours ago
Warren Buffett, the billionaire calling for more taxes on the rich, said Mitt Romney's U.S. tax rate of about 15 percent reflects poor laws rather than failings by the candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

"It's the wrong policy to have," Buffett told Bloomberg Television's Betty Liu in an interview today. "He's not going to pay more than the law requires, and I don't fault him for that in the least. But I do fault a law that allows him and me earning enormous sums to pay overall federal taxes at a rate that's about half what the average person in my office pays."

Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A) , supports Democratic President Barack Obama and said Congress needs to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans to close the budget deficit. Romney has agreed to release his 2010 tax return tomorrow, under pressure from Republican opponents, after saying he pays about 15 percent. Romney co- founded Boston-based private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC.

"He makes his money the same way I make my money," Buffett said. "He makes money by moving around big bucks, not by straining his back or going to work and cleaning toilets or whatever it may be. He makes it shoving around money."

Friday, January 20, 2012

"I'm Building A Ship"

Once upon a time, in the later 1980’s, I lived and worked in the small city of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. This town of 9,000 was the county seat of Door County which was, and still is, one of the largest destination tourism areas in the Midwest. I ran the County’s Chamber of Commerce.

There were 3 sizeable shipbuilders in the city—between the 3 employing about 2,000 workers. One, Peterson Builders was the lead contractor for a new series of minesweepers for the U.S. Navy. These are fiberglass sheathed, wooden hulled vessels (you don’t want much steel on a ship which neutralizes mines, many of which have magnetic detonators). Peterson was expert at designing and building these vessels.

It was quite an event whenever one of these ships were launched or commissioned. There would be dignitaries from Washington and Madison in attendance and I was fortunate to participate in several of them.

One of my all time favorite stories though deals with another organization in our community called the Sunshine House. This was a sheltered workshop for adults with developmental and other disabilities. It was an amazing place full of people engaged in work that was both therapeutic and meaningful.

The Chamber contracted with Sunshine House to do quite a bit of our “fulfillment”. We would get thousands and thousands of inquiries from tourists for information on lodging and activities in our area heading up to the busy tourism season. We found that we could contract with Sunshine House to put mailing labels on our “vacation planning guide” and mail them quicker and cheaper than we could do it in-house. We’re talking 100,000 or more pieces of mail over a several month period.

One day I was touring the Sunshine House. They had just picked up a new contract for Peterson Builders. It seems as though the decks of the ships were made of white oak and needed pegs to hold them together—the pegs were about ½ inch by 6 inches. Another company had been making them but their quality wasn’t very good and their price was quite high. So, Sunshine House bid on the contract and received it and started to make the pegs out of scrap white oak from Peterson.

OK, to make this long story short, as I was touring the facility I stopped next to a young man who was sanding one of the pegs. I stopped and watched and then asked him, “so, what are you doing?”

And instantly he answered me, with a light in his eye and a smile, “I’m building a ship.”

I’ve thought of his answer many times over the years. When I was working in economic development I knew that I was “building a community”. When I was a consultant for Ford Motors I knew that I was “building a car company” or “building a car dealership” even though I was helping a dealer do a better job of selling more vehicles. When I sold cars, I thought of myself a “building a dealership” rather than selling cars or just making commissions.

Yeah, “I’m building a ship.” That young man was a professional. And he was right. For building that ship is the sum of all the parts that go into it and his part—a humble white oak peg—was a vital part without which the whole ship would not come together.

Let’s build some ships. Maybe those politicians who constantly bloviate with the new buzz-word “jobs creators” will get the message.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Sleeping Through the "Southland" Premier on TNT 1/17/2012

My wife and I really enjoy TNT’s “Southland” (formerly on NBC which was stupid enough to cancel this well-written, well-cast, well-directed and well filmed show).

So, we we’ve been anticipating it’s “season premiere” which has been promoted on Facebook and other places for the last couple of months (I don’t “like” too many things on my Facebook page but “Southland” is one of them). It premiered last night at 10 p.m., a little late but we’ll stay up occasionally for something worth watching.

So, here’s what the season premiere was like…including the welcoming of Lucy Liu to the cast.

9:45: Carolyn announces that she’s going to go into the bedroom and watch it in bed. I’m in the living room reading a book (you know, those things with covers and paper with words printed on them). “OK,” I say, “you know that if I come into the bedroom that I’ll just fall asleep and miss it.”

10:05: Carolyn comes out of the bedroom and wakes me up on the couch to tell me that it’s started. Damn. “Why don’t you come in and watch it in bed?” “Naw, I’m fine here,” I respond.

10:06: Cops driving down street. See young street thugs chasing one another with guns. They give chase in car. One kid gets shot. Cops chase the other. Thug runs into school yard chased by 4 cops. Kid is shot but keeps going. They follow blood trail through corridors of school and find kid “bleeding out” on floor of restroom.

10:15: I wake up again. Michael Cudlitz, Officer John Cooper, is working out, lifting weights shirtless going through full range of motion including lower back. He gets done and walks towards showers showing a scar running up back from surgery. “Hmmmm, he got his back fixed. Wonder if it’s OK.”

10:20: I wake up again. They’re in briefing for their “tour”. Michael Cudlitz is assigned to a new partner who wants to drive. New partner is Lucy Liu. Looks a lot different from other roles she’s played like in “Kill Bill” and “Ally McBeal”. Hair’s pulled back, not playing the vixen…

11:10: Carolyn comes out to the living room. Wakes me up. Drags me off to bed. “Did you watch it?” I ask. “Oh yes, but you didn’t”. I crawl in bed and go back to sleep.


Monday, January 9, 2012

How Many Public Works Guys Does It Take to Change a Light?

About a month ago I did a post on my recent experience serving—albeit briefly—on a redevelopment committee for the City of Vista, CA where I live. It was, to say the least, an interesting, although brief, experience. If you recall, a month after I was appointed, the City disbanded the Committee.

Well, since then I have had a wonderful opportunity to get “re-acquainted” with the machinations of the City of Vista. Here’s my sordid, but true tale. It all started on October 25, 2011.

You see folks, there’s a street light just in front of my apartment building. I mean if the wind is right I can spit on it—that’s how close it is. In mid-0ctober I noticed that it was dark along our street—really dark. Now, the City had been threatening/promising or whatever for months that it would have to turn off most of the residential streetlights as a budget saving measure. But, the light would come on. Then in about 5 minutes it would fizzle out. A few minutes later it would sputter and come back on. It did this all night long—well at least as late as I’ve ever chosen to stay up.

I put up with it for a few nights. When it’s out, it’s dark along our street. Really dark. Dangerous dark—there are always pedestrians going up and down the sidewalks. So I decided to do something about it.

But what to do? I went into the City’s website which is decidedly not “user-friendly”, almost as if the City acknowledges that it has to have a public website but that it would really prefer if no citizen actually used it to get information or contact their local government. I was looking for the Department of Public Works or some other way to contact someone who could do something about my streetlight. Finally, I stumbled on a “feedback” link which let’s someone send a generic message to the “city”.

I sent about a 2 sentence message (I was limited to about 300 characters, which for me is not much) and much to my surprise within an hour I had a response. Not just one response but 2! The second one was from a project assistant in public works who actually read what I had sent and who said she would check it out.

A little while later I got a second e-mail from her telling me that there wasn’t a streetlight out in front of my building but that there was one on the other side of the street about 100 yards away. Hmmmm, no, there’s one in front of the building all right. What to do? I was encountering bureaucracy.

So I took out my camera and took a few pictures showing the light from my balcony and then went across the street to photograph the light with my building and its address in the background. These I attached to a new e-mail. Oops! The city official sent me back a response saying that she would update the city’s map and put in a “work order” which should be taken care of in 6-7 “business days”. OK, 2 weeks.

Two weeks go by. Nothing happens. In fact, on October 30 (the day before Halloween and trick or treating) I sent another e-mail to the person suggesting that it would be nice if the light could be fixed before Halloween and all the extra kids and families who would be walking up and down the street the next night. No response—even though I played the “public safety trump card”.

So I waited some more. Now don’t get me wrong. I didn’t sit out on my balcony all day, every day waiting for a city crew to come by. I kept on with my life but each night, I would grumble and complain while watching the light “bzzzzzt” off and on, off and on all night long.

The positive side of it was that at night when the light was on we could get a much better view of the stars in the dark sky. It was in its own way pleasant—but not really safe.

About the 5th or so of November, I called the Department of Public works and talked to a nice guy who also told me that there was no light in front of my apartment. And then, just as quickly told me that there was (he had just pulled up my original e-mail proving it’s existence). He also pledged that he was updating the map and would schedule the work—apparently it hadn’t happened the first time. And so I waited. And waited. Still nothing.

So, along about mid-November I dug out the big guns. I prepared another e-mail. This one (after doing some more online research) was addressed to the Mayor, City Manager and Director of Public Works. Wow! Even though City Hall is a whopping 3 blocks away, one could almost hear the gears of the system screech and grind as these officials seemed to drop what they were doing and take action.

In less than an hour I had an e-mail from the City Manager AND the Public Works director pledging action the following day. I don’t think I was very snotty to them in my e-mail—OK maybe a bit sarcastic. And maybe it helped that I sent the pictures of the light, along with a new photo of the light at night, burned out.

Anyway, there were e-mails and promises. “Yeah, yeah,” I thought.

Let’s fast forward to the very next morning. It’s 8:10 a.m. I don’t work until 2 p.m. So I’m checking out e-mail and the blogs and the news and drinking coffee—still in my pajamas.

My phone rings. “Walter, this is Jim Howell, the Director of Public Works here in Vista,” a voice tells me.

Now, my first thought is that it’s pretty early for a city employee to be on the phone. The guy’s voice is a bit hard to hear because there’s a diesel truck out in front of the building idling.

“I’m standing out in front of your building and we’re fixing your light now,” he proceeded to tell me. “Do you have a minute so I can explain the situation to you.”

“Hold on just a minute, Jim,” I replied. “Yep, I see you. Tell you what, I’ll come down and we can talk rather than on the phone.”

There’s this tall, professional guy in a shirt and tie and leather jacket standing across the street talking into a cell phone. I went out the door and down the stairs—still in my pajamas.

There’s a boom-truck with several guys right by the streetlight and they’re actually working. OK, so how many city workers does it take to change a light bulb? A total this day of 5—one in the bucket, one to run the controls on the truck, 2 to keep an eye on traffic and the Director of Public Works. Damn! This has got to be a fairly pricey light bulb change!

So I went down and talked to the guy while my wife took my picture in my jammies. He explained to me that they had actually done some work on the light (and showed me a work order) on October 10 but apparently didn’t realize that the ballast was bad.

OK, that’s fine with me. I’m just glad that they’re getting to it. Now, I know that Vista, California is a bigger city than I’ve lived in most of my life and that by California standards at 100,000 it’s not that big but…

Yeah, “but”…I still didn’t think that it should take the better part of a month to fix this and to have to convince people that there is, indeed, a streetlight in front of my address. I can’t help but wonder whether it would have been accomplished any quicker if I lived in a more “upscale” neighborhood—but that’s not fair to the folks at City Hall.

But these guys showed up and didn’t laugh at me out talking to the Director of Public Works in my pajamas. And, start to finish, it only took a month.

I guess I’m just getting too old and grumpy but it was kind of cool seeing that big old truck hoist a guy up in the air to change a light bulb and then hang around watching it for a half hour to make sure that it worked.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iowa Caucuses--Gotta Know the Territory, Territory, Territory

Here we are, January 3, 2012. It’s Iowa Caucus night. It’s the night Republican contenders/wannabes/candidates have been anticipating for months now. Regrettably the preening and posturing is just getting into high gear.

Most Americans, I think, wonder why the process of nominating a candidate starts in such an unassuming state like Iowa or New Hampshire. After all, these places really “don’t count”. Or do they?

And, Iowa’s not even a primary. It’s a damned caucus for crying out loud. What’s a caucus anyway? I did the Iowa caucuses 3 times over a 12 year period of living in Iowa. They were a fascinating experience. All 3 of them were as a Republican even though I was almost invariably the most liberal person in the room. (In Iowa a pro-choice Republican is like being a fiscally conservative Democrat).

But wouldn’t it be nice to have some sort of rule that says the candidates can’t even begin to posture and preen and sling manure until after Halloween the year before primary season? If that were the case, the only “losers” would be the media—both “news” and advertising.

Here’s the thing as far as I’m concerned: Meredith Wilson wrote a wonderful musical set in Iowa (he was from Mason City, after-all) called “The Music Man”. Professor Harold Hill gave all traveling salesmen a bad name. Why? Because as the opening number in the musical said, “he doesn’t know the territory, territory, territory.”

But I digress. Yes, indeed Iowa’s caucuses count. I remember the caucus season in 1983 (damn, I’m old, aren’t I?) when I was living and running the local Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation in Algona, Iowa—population 6,000. This was the year that Democrats were trying to wrest the White House from Ronald Reagan who had defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter in 1980. Walter Mondale, Carter’s VP, secured the nomination.

One of the things I remember best was John Glenn coming into town to a gathering at the Chrome Country CafĂ©—a truck stop at the junction of Highways 169 and 18. There were about 20 people who showed up—mostly older farmers and their families along with a smattering of business types from town. Glenn showed up in a van, with a retinue of maybe 3 people accompanying him. And no media—other than the local reporters from newspaper and radio station.

It was a conversation over coffee. What were people actually thinking? What did they want? How was Glenn going to help provide that? It was a time for a very short “stump speech” and lots of feedback. And that’s what the caucuses are all about—putting a human face on the candidate; expecting the candidate to do this thing called listening.

Now, the expectation is for the candidate to strut their stuff and address their “core” or their “base”. Hell if they want to do something with their core, they should do crunches and planks.

Yeah, Iowa is a largely rural state (unless you live in Des Moines or Waterloo or Cedar Rapids and think the world revolves around your city). And indeed, many in the larger cities started out in small towns. But the caucuses are about interaction. They’ve been bastardized by the changes in the process over the years.

My last caucus was in the late 90’s when “W” was going after the nomination. By then the process had become totally centered on the media and mean-spirited. And it has only gotten worse.

Here’s the thing—Iowans tend to be “what you see is what you get”. They have a fairly low bullshit tolerance. This is a state which has consistently re-elected arguably one of the U.S. Senate’s most liberal members, Tom Harkin and one of it’s most conservative members, Chuck Grassley to term after term.

Why? Because each, in his own way, speaks to the people of this state. Each is passionate about his beliefs and yet shares the root values of the state. The cross-over vote each time one is up for re-election is phenomenal. Republicans routinely vote for Harkin and Democrats for Grassley.

Yeah, Iowa counts. But I don’t think the current crop of contenders really understand the how or why of it. Wouldn’t it be nice if they made an effort to know the “territory, territory, territory.” Maybe then they’d be able to muster the ability to actually do something productive and positive.