Eric's Daily Weblog
Lance and I are visiting friend (and mentor to Lance) Chuck Kimmerle and his wife Brenda in Casper, WY. Lance and Chuck are talking shop. Earlier today, we went to the Nicolayson Museum of Art in downtown Casper. Brilliant! Great building, great collection.
Funny how the reviewer (who we think is a former teacher of her's) just plain gets the mood the paintings wrong. "Impending doom?" Nothing ever happens in these scenes! There is no doom on the way!
I think the same crowd which appreciates the movie Nebraska will understand these scenes as more comforting than eerie.
The light at 7,000 feet elevation here in Santa Fe is almost unbearably bright, and casts deep shadows. This is the view in our room at the St. Francis Hotel, a downtown Santa Fe landmark. We got the room using the app Hotel Tonight on my iPhone.
Last night, we had probably the best hotel experience I remember in my life at the Hotel Central Parq in Albuquerque. The building is a former hospital and sanitarium. The room was small, but everything, every detail, both of the room and of the service, was thought out and perfect. This morning, I suspect it was the manager who stood in front of the front desk to thank guests as they left. Last night, we went to the top floor where they had an Oscar party in the lounge. Then you could walk outside on the roof and see the downtown. Everybody was well-trained and friendly.
The only downside was that I think the ghosts of the place affected my dreams: All night, I was stuck in a hospital. I had come in for a tonsillectomy, but when I came out of anesthesia, they kept me for mental health reasons--and I could not get out. I couldn't find the door. In my search for the door, I came across friends, family and acquaintances, and they were all friendly, but when I asked them to help me find the door, they became vague and tended to disappear.
So let's just hope that dream isn't realized. Once I awoke, I was back to enjoying the great hotel.
Just now, back in Santa Fe, we just went to a bistro on the square which has been open a month. Again, everything was excellent.
How often do you get so many great customer experiences in such a short time?
The news from the Ukraine is unsettling. It is going to take skilled diplomacy to tamp down this crisis, if it is even possible. Eastern Europe replete with ancient grievances, as well as some very large more recent grievances. The region bore the brunt of World War II. Civilians suffered bloody repression by Stalin, then Hitler, then Stalin again. The area has mass death in its recent memory. Not just in the concentration camps, but in massacres of civilian populations by the two dictators.
What's worse, both sides are amply armed. The potential for escalation is high.
Those who find catharsis when simmering conflicts finally break out in the open ("Hey, I say let them fight it out!") might take real pause. Eastern Europe is not like the Mideast, where tribalism and religious factionalism––and poverty––cause conflicts to break down into incomprehensible chaos and sticks and stones. Eastern Europe is where the three great religions meet, where nationalism aligns with religion, and where stockpiles of Cold War arms remain.
One consolation: There aren't two massive competing political ideologies in the region, as there were before World War II. However, the picture isn't that different than it was before World War I.
World War I started in Sarajevo, and historians still haven't sorted out how the dominoes fell. What is known is that the great powers were drawn in by treaty guarantees they never imagined would come into effect.
I don't even know what international treaties have been signed in the shadow of the Cold War, under the assumption they would never be needed. For example, is the United States guaranteeing Poland's borders? Who is even in NATO now? Is it suddenly going to matter?
Let's hope not.
This stunning photo essay is from Romania, not the Ukraine, but it shows something of life in Eastern Europe.
Packed and left Carlsbad yesterday morning just as the coast storm set in, drenching the area in horizontal rain. I took one last walk down to the beach to see the ocean during a storm. The water level was higher than I had seen, I suspect due to a combination of storm surge and tide.
The month in Southern California went by fast. It gave me a feel for the place. Some random observations:
•Drivers were polite and sensible, which makes up some for the traffic congestion. One time, due to a botched lane change at an unfamiliar, congested, weird intersection, I ended up blocking traffic in the right turn lane. Nobody even honked. They were tanning through their sun roof, I suspect.
•You never break out into the open. All roads, all streets wind and curve, rise and fall. To a prairie dweller, it gets confining.
•Eighties rock played in nearly every restaurant, including ethnic restaurants.
•A beach town can be very humid. The mists from the ocean can make a day which is clear and warm upland hazy and humid along the beach itself. When mail arrived, the envelopes were soggy and swollen, even on a nice day. Any exercise at all and I was soaked.
•The ocean changes daily. Like a lava lamp.
•The people in southern California seem earnest in a way Midwesterners are not. Sometimes I found it laughable. For instance, I sat at a coffee shop. What looked to be a couple settled in at the next table, got their coffee, removed their windbreakers. The man looked big and thuggish, probably a construction worker, and the woman looked like an artist. It took the longest time before either of them said anything.
"Well," finally said the man, opening a notebook, "I guess the reason I asked you to meet me here today is so we can see if we do have anything in common, or if we should persue this, if there is the possibility that a relationship might develop, or like whatever."
"Okay! I guess I'll start...." the woman said. "Well...I have three cats!"
That was the end for me. I couldn't take it. I packed up my computer and left.
Yet, I heard other similar conversations throughout the month, open conversations about matters we Midwesterners usually reserve for...twelve step programs or funerals, if even then.
"My roofer––great guy––but he was really into snorting coke at the time, so anyway, I had keep reminding him to finish the job..." The comment about the cocaine contained no judgement in it at all. It was just an observation.
Downtown San Diego is just plain beautiful. I could spend more time there.
I wouldn't want to go too far offshore, but one day I want to experience fishing on the ocean.
All in all, it was a relief when after crossing the coastal range, we sunk back down into the Imperial Valley where the vegetable fields stretched out for as far as one could see and the highway was straight and blissfully empty.
The nursing home in tiny Hoffman, MN is forced to close.
These closures are due entirely to deliberate--and faulty--state policy. Almost every nursing home in rural Minnesota, particularly in Northwest Minnesota, is in trouble. Reimbursements from the state have been cut drastically over the past few years. It is impossible for nursing homes to stay afloat. Rural nursing homes have gotten the short end of the stick. Their employees don't need very high wages, the argument goes, because their cost of living is low. So the CNAs who do the miserable and necessary work, who provide the care, get by on $10/hour.
No wonder they leave to work elsewhere.
Here is what has happened while we all looked the other way:
1) The state figured small-town nursing homes were too inefficient and could be replaced by cheaper options, so they cut the number of beds allowed. Drastically.
2) The state not only cut the reimbursement for residents on aid, but it limited the amount nursing homes could charge anybody, even those who have the funds. This is "rate equalization," which is theory may seem like good policy, but which is in practice going to speed the demise of rural nursing homes.
3) Pay for staff has fallen way behind pay available at other jobs in the area, and at health care jobs elsewhere. Staff cuts are stressing those who remain. Morale is rock bottom. Nursing home staff rightly feel unappreciated. You can say all the nice things you want about the work they do, but until they get a living wage, it is just hot air.
The problem is going to get worse. Although the number of elderly people needing care dropped a little in the last couple of years (due to a temporary drop in birth rate during World War II), it is about to explode as the baby boomers advance en masse towards decrepitude.
Rural nursing homes are often the biggest employer in town. The nursing home can be a community center.
They must be preserved and improved, for soon we will need them ourselves!
Just for kicks, I went on the MNSure website, registered, and evaluated a bunch of insurance options. I didn't qualify for subsidized health insurance, but I sure enjoyed looking at the options I had to replace my present plan.
Within an hour, I had replaced my present plan with one 65% cheaper, and had added Lance to the plan--at a small cost, since he is young and healthy. All in all, our household is completely insured for less than half what I paid before. My deductible is higher, so it isn't apples to apples, but when I look at what I was paying, even with my tonsil surgery this summer, I would have been better off just paying it out of pocket than paying my premiums for the past 18 months.
I have heard similar stories from others.
Although the program's launch was less than ideal, so was the launch of Bush's prescription drug program.
What I would emphasize is, I received no subsidy. My insurance remains a contract between me and a private insurer. However, my rates came down due to a government-sponsored marketplace where competition and comparison was encouraged.
If nothing else, it is obvious that Obamacare, even if it won't work for everybody––is going to work for most, is a good idea, is not socialist, is not going to result in the collapse of our civilization, is not, as Michele Bachmann claims, going to be overturned through prayer, and will soon be taken for granted--and may reduce costs of health care in this country.
The rabid, insane opposition to Obamacare was not in response to any unwisdom of the policy; it was due entirely to hatred of our President. When you don't call it Obamacare, polls show its individual provisions are popular. Attach the label Obamacare to the Affordable Care Act, and you upset the ignorant bozos who don't like that we elected a black president.
It is that simple.
They could really put it away, George, Thomas, Benjamin and the crew.
An excellent Ken Burns documentary on Prohibition gets underway with a section entitled "A Drunken Nation." He details the heavy drinking of the early Republic, and the social problems it created.
The article cited in the post above shows how artists renderings of the Founding Fathers were later altered to eradicate evidence of their libations.
Here is one of Bach's simpler major works for organ, a Prelude and Fugue in E minor. This one is sometimes nicknamed the "Cathedral" because it seems to have been composed for a space with ample reverberation.
The organ in this video has been refurbished to 1750 standards. Imagine what this organ would have sounded like to the ear of a person in 1750, an ear unpolluted by loudspeakers, earphones, car stereos and all form of electronically reproduced music. Maybe they heard a ukelele on the way in to the church. But that's it. Those cathedrals, and their organs, were designed to overwhelm the peasants into a fear of God (and the priests representing He or She on earth) and I'll bet they fulfilled their purpose.
I am fond of this piece because it contains Bach's genius without overwhelming the ear with so many notes that it becomes incomprehensible to the mortal human. The fugue, which begins around 3:30, is a stately and slow exposition of the form, one more accessible to the modern ear than some of Bach's more dense and agitated fugues.
When I took organ for two quarters in college, I played a Bach piece (badly). At one point, I played for my instructor, the venerable and revered Dr. Edward Berryman, and I started to lift my hands dramatically off the keyboard after completing phrases, just as this organist does in the middle of the piece. Dr. Berryman stopped me and said, "What's this all about?" and mimicked my dramatics.
UPDATE: Here is another version of my candidate for the most beautiful piece of music ever written: Mozart's Laudate Dominium. Every note is perfect.
The pitchers and catchers are reporting for spring training. In one week, the Twins play their first spring training game.
I am lukewarm about the team's chances this year. I think they should have brought in a more aggressive, less accomodating manager, somebody who incites a little respect, even fear from the players––a Billy Martin, without his propensity to ruin a pitching staff.
Or, Tom Kelly. But Kelly is weary of young players and their entitled attitudes.
Or, just for the joy of it, Ozzie Guillen. After all, it is a game meant to entertain the fans, and Ozzie would make sure there were fannies in the seats. Ozzie would be able to communicate directly with the young Latin players. Oswaldo Arcia. Miguel Sano. Pedro Florimoen. Josmil Pinto.
But alas, we have garden variety Gardenhire for two more years, managing with one foot firmly on the brake.
The reporting from spring training is always awful. I get no satisfaction at all reading the obligatory and blindly optimistic reports about somebody who lost ten pounds, or who lifted weights for the past three months, or who might be ready by June, or has a new attitude thanks to his newborn child, or who thinks this might be the year, at age thirty, when he finally puts it all together.
Sidney Ponson. Ramon Ortiz. Tony Bautista. Hope springs eternal for the washed up.
Josh Willingham is "open to an extension" from the Twins. Well, that's nice! How about hitting a few home runs first? I think they need to release him and make way for the young guys. You don't need two muscle-bound mediocre corner outfielders on a team, and I think it is more likely that Jason Kubel will return to form than Willingham. But even Kubel should be let go if the young guys step up and do the job and who can play the field as well.
If I were in charge, I would put Joe Mauer at third, where his arm will be put to use, and put sore-armed third-base super-prospect Miguel Sano at first. Send Trevor Plouffe to Houston. Put Arcia, Buxton and Hicks in the outfield and let them play.
Starting pitching: If it comes around, and it could, as there is a lot of talent there, the Twins will win. If it doesn't, they won't. The bullpen follows the starters. If the starters do well, the bullpen will be rested. If not, they'll get tired and start to falter.
I think I'll wait until May or so to see if I want to re-start my TV subscription.