Saturday, June 30, 2007

The horse race

I'm wondering how much attention those of you assembled here have been paying to the early jockeying for position for the Presidential primaries? It seems like it's a long ways off, but with the number of states that have moved up their primary dates, odds are that the Democrats and Republicans will both have their nominee by early February, for better or worse.

I confess that I haven't been paying much attention to the early debates. The debate formats don't portray the candidates in their best light, and I can pick up the highlights from the political blogs and the print media.

Myself, I'm not sure whether the best choice for the Democrats would be John Edwards or Barack Obama. Edwards seems to have the strongest domestic platform of all Democrats, having some well thought-out ideas left from his 2004 run. Some of the statements I've heard him make towards the Arabs, particularly the Palestinians, seem harsh, though. Obama can make the claim of being against the war from the beginning, though it must be said that he wasn't in the Senate when the war votes were taken. A lot of people will knock Obama for his lack of experience, but as an Obama supporter I know says, "What better place to get experience is there than the White House?"

A lot of people I respect, particularly in the blogosphere, support Bill Richardson. Richardson does promise swift action to end our occupation of Iraq, and his views on health care and the economy are in line with most progressive Democrats. He may earn my vote yet. But if ideology were my sole consideration, I'd be out there behind Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich would move boldly on Iraq, universal health care, and campaign finance reform. With Kucinich, it's the old Catch-22: he's such an ideal liberal candidate that we worry he's too left-wing to be electable.

Hillary Clinton is the Democratic candidate I'm least enthusiastic about. I feel that she'd be that candidate least likely to end the Middle East debacle. Yet if you look at her stands on the issues, she's in agreement with most of the progressive agenda. She's still held in high regard by the 98% of likely Democratic primary voters who don't read Daily Kos. A Hillary Clinton presidency probably wouldn't be the disaster many progressives fear.

Of course, the Republicans are going through the process at the same time. I don't have a lot to say about the Republican contenders right now except I won't be voting for any of them. All of the Republicans are deeply flawed on their approach to the Middle East, the exception being Ron Paul, whose minimalist view of government is not to my taste.

Kick this around amongst yourselves while I entertain the in-laws for the next few days.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The rainmaker

The Hill, like much of the southeastern US, has been in the grips of a serious drought for much of the year. The drought here hasn't been near as bad as it has been further south, but we are still several inches below normal for the year.

Pole Hill Crick is normally dry this time of year, but nothing stops the weeds from growing in the creek bed. One day last month, I headed down to the creek with my weedeater to hack the weeds down. The sky had been cloudy the last several days, yet not a drop of rain had fallen. But the moment I got down in the creek, the heavens opened up. I worked all afternoon in a steady drizzle, the first substantial rain we received in more than a month.

The weeds are back, and this afternoon I went back to the creek with the weedeater. Not a cloud in the sky. Within fifteen minutes, the winds picked up, and storm clouds suddenly started rolling in from the west. Work on Pole Hill Crick was shortly suspended due to the resulting downpour.

Need rain in your parts? Have weedeater, will travel. For a nominal fee...

Friday, June 22, 2007

Simon Pretty update

Back in March I wrote a little bit about Simon Pretty, an Englishman suffering from leukemia whose sister refused him a bone marrow transplant. I was struck by the cold-heartedness of the man's sister; I couldn't imagine how anyone could do such a thing to a sibling. To my surprise, that story has become the most-viewed item in the history of Pole Hill Sanitarium to date.

Fortunately, all has turned out well for Mr. Pretty. An anonymous American donor agreed to provide marrow for Pretty, and following surgery, he has returned home to England and is doing well in recovery.

Sadly, the relationship between Pretty and his sister Helen, as well as his mother who supported the sister's decision, has been destroyed.

Today the father of three said: “I’ve a long way to go before I’m well enough to kick a football with my kids. But this has taught me who really loves me.”

Mr Pretty said he would never forgive Helen or their mother, Rosalie, whom he claims stood by his sister’s decision.

Speaking to a national newspaper, he said: “They didn’t care that my three children would lose their daddy, my partner would be widowed, or that I’d suffer a painful death.

“I’ve disowned them. It’s sad, but the kids will never see their aunt or grandma again. And neither will I.”

The Hill wishes good luck and good health to Simon Pretty.

UPDATE: For the latest on Pretty, go here.

It rang a bell

You know about it, you just may not have known what it was called. Kevin Drum, writing about Rudy Giuliani (draw your own conclusions) brings up something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, described as follows:

1. incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill,
2. incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others,
3. incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy,
4. if they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill.

Where I work, our job has a direct relation to public health and safety matters, and the folks I work with take their technical knowledge seriously. Sometimes one of the bosses gets the bright idea to "experiment" with something, which leads to headaches for the next shift. Most of the problems have to do with issues of supervision and leadership; in other words we have supervisors who think they know how to handle people, but they don't. Generally they know better than to fudge answers about the treatment process itself, but when it comes to departmental and personnel policies, it's another matter altogether.

I don't know, I just saw that and it reminded me of where I work. You folks may or may not have had different experiences.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

Durex condom ad, nicked from Randy Raley's View From The Dark Side. Sorry, couldn't resist...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Original Random Soundtrack

Memes. They're fun. They're informative. They're (mostly) easy. They're everywhere.

Beth caught this one, as did Christie, as have several other bloggers in their orbit. This one's easy - all you need is an iPod, an iTunes library, or anything that will work on random play. My weapon of choice is The Hill's 200-disc CD changer, since it takes too damned long to download tunes on the dial-up connection we're saddled with out here in the sticks.

Set your library on random play, then fit the tunes to the soundtrack categories (no doubt cribbed from a John Hughes movie) that follow. Here's the complete instructions:

1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question, type the song that's playing.
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
6. Don't lie and try to pretend you're cool...

This is something like asking the Magic 8-Ball...

Opening Credits: "Lionized", Tragically Hip (Your opening credits should always be obscure.)
Waking Up: "Let It Grow", Eric Clapton
First Day At School: "God", Tori Amos
Falling In Love: "Sweet Jane", Velvet Underground
Fight Song: "Burning House Of Love", X
Breaking Up "Beth", Kiss (I swear my changer is smarter than I am...)
Prom: "Wait", White Lion
Mental Breakdown: "Baba O'Riley", The Who
Driving: "Adam Raised A Cain", Bruce Springsteen
Flashback: "Matte Kudasai", King Crimson (perfect for flashbacks)
Getting Back Together: "Northern Wind", Steve Earle (a nice acoustic instrumental from Train A Comin')
Wedding: "Members Only", Sheryl Crow (one of my favorite Crow lyrics, perfect for receptions: "All the white folks shake their asses / Looking for the two and four")
Birth Of Child: "These Foolish Things", Bryan Ferry
Final Battle: "I'm Your Captain / Closer to Home", Grand Funk Railroad
Death Scene: "Fly By Night", Rush
Funeral Song: "I Hope You're Happy Now", Elvis Costello
End Credits: "Sad Dress", Belly (End credits should always be obscure as well. Although Belly deserved a better fate.)

Among other things, this gives you some idea of what's on The Hill's sound system. As I said, this meme's simple and easy, and available to anyone who wants to take a crack at it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pam Melson

My first reaction to the story of Pam Melson was along the lines of "How on earth can they get away with this?"

Pam Melson wants to donate one of her two healthy kidneys to a dying friend.

But officials at the Waynesboro, Tenn., factory where she works refuse to give her time off, even without pay — a decision that a business ethicist and organ donation experts find troubling.

"They said letting me off to get this surgery would be like someone getting let off for getting breast implants," said Melson, who has worked at the factory for four years. "I think what I'm trying to do is a little more important than getting breast implants."

Dave Roberts, Tennessee Apparel's vice president of manufacturing, said he's not trying to discourage Melson from going through with the donation. But, he said, the Tullahoma-based company won't hold her job for her.

"If she decides to do that we'll give her every consideration to come back to work," he said. "She would come back as a new employee."

Melson, 31, is her family's sole financial provider since the store where her husband worked went out of business, and she said she can't afford to lose her job.

So, the transplant operation originally scheduled to take place this month at Vanderbilt University Medical Center has been postponed until officials at Tennessee Apparel relent or another donor is found.

You would think that if you wanted to help a dying friend, your bosses would give you a little bit more consideration than that. She's even willing to take off without pay, for Chrissakes, but the company is going to kick her down to the bottom of the seniority list - that is, if she even has a job when she's ready to come back.

While the operation may be elective for Melson, it's not for 36-year-old Donnie Hammack, who is married to Melson's distant cousin.

Hammack's transplant surgeon, Dr. Mark A. Wigger of Vanderbilt, said he could probably survive for another five years. But if Hammack relies on the national waiting list to get a kidney, he could die waiting.

Average wait times are anywhere from two to five years, according to Janet Jarrard, Tennessee Donor Services' public education coordinator. However, Jarrard said, she's heard of people waiting for as long as 10 years.

In 2006, 4,079 people in the U.S. died waiting for a kidney. Eighty-five of them were Tennesseans, she said.

While Donnie Hammack might die waiting on a kidney, his wife's cousin is willing to provide hers. But her employers are giving her grief about taking off work for the surgery, perhaps because they suggest that Pam Melson isn't exactly a model employee:

Tennessee Apparel's Roberts said the primary reason Melson's request was denied is her "excessive absenteeism." He declined to say how many days she's missed.

Melson, who works on military pants manufactured at the factory, said she gets one week of vacation each year. She said she's missed more than a month of work this year, primarily to care for her children when they were sick.

"I have three children. When they are sick it's my job to take care of them," she said. "I told (the company)don't ask me to pick my job over my kids because I will not do it."

Despite her absenteeism, Melson and Hammack don't understand why company officials won't grant her a four- to six-week leave, considering that she isn't asking to be paid and Hammack's Medicaid would pay for medical expenses.

"My reaction is the guy has no heart," Hammack said.

I've translated enough boss-speak over the years to know that when management complains of "excessive absenteeism", that's just part of the story. The bosses at Tennessee Apparel figure that Melson is unreliable and uses her kids as an excuse to not show up for work. Still, in my experience, the subject of absenteeism generally doesn't come up unless there are performance problems in other areas.

So, if Melson's such a bad employee, why don't they just fire her? Maybe it's because they can't. Not because of labor laws or anything, but because, even in a podunk like Waynesboro, they'd have a hard time filling her position for what they're willing to pay. Tennessee Apparel doesn't want to pay overtime, so they threaten Melson with losing her job to keep her on the line sewing those fatigues.

Or consider this: Maybe Melson isn't such an unproductive employee after all, but it hacks the bosses off that she's always calling off work to stay home with the kids, and they need a good excuse to get rid of her. So maybe they'd just as soon see Melson take off to donate her kidney to Hammack, which would then free the company up to hire somebody who would rather sew pants than take care of her kid's runny nose. We could solve a lot of those problems if we had better laws in this country mandating family leave.

Meanwhile, Donnie Hammack is wondering how much longer he has to live because a willing organ donor's employers want to play games instead of doing the right thing and letting Pam Melson off work to donate her kidney, and letting her have her job back when she's able to work, if she wants it.

( Tennessee Guerilla Women note the ties between Tennessee Apparel's CEO and the Bush Administration. I guess that's how you get a contract to sew army pants. As we say in these parts, "That's bidness...")

UPDATE: Tennessee Apparel revises its policy; Pam Melson will be allowed time off to donate her kidney after all. Never underestimate the power of bad publicity.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Take a letter

Although I don't lack for topics to blog on at the moment, I have been lacking the time to do them justice. In order to keep things going this week, I went over to Christie Fermicat's and picked up a letter for The Great Letter Meme. The idea is to list ten favorite things beginning with that letter. Christie gave me the letter "S" - don't know why, must stand for "smartass"...

1. Sunrises. A beautiful sunrise is always a great moment. It's the start of another day, the start of a new set of possibilities. Back in the day, the goal of a night of hardcore partying was to stay up to see the sunrise. I'm still doing that today, but now it's because my work schedule demands it.

2. Spring. A time of renewal. After the winter, everything starts blooming again. The first warm day of spring, when you can roll the car windows down, or walk around in your shorts and watch Nature come out of hibernation, is a special moment. The cold days are over, it's time for everything to start growing again.

3. The sky. Sometimes it's clear blue. Sometimes there's those thin wispy clouds. Other times it's dark and foreboding as a storm's coming on. It never looks the same twice, and there's always a hint of wonder at what lies beyond.

4. Soap bubbles. It may sound crazy to us "mature" folks, but there are few things more relaxing to me than going out on the porch and blowing some bubbles off into the breeze. Just watching them float takes me back to my childhood and memories of simpler times, before mortgages, car payments, insurance and all the other grown-up stuff. I would love to be able to float on the wind like that.

5. Springsteen. BRUUUUUCE! The Boss. Back in the 70's he was called "the future of rock 'n' roll", and for those of us who just missed seeing the great 60's acts in their prime, Springsteen was the ultimate live performer. He's also one of rock's greatest songwriters and a heckuva guitarist, too, something he seldom gets credit for.

6. Seger. The quintessential heartland rocker. A lot of folks on the coasts may still consider Bob Seger to have been a second-rate Springsteen clone, but if you grew up in the Midwest during Seger's rise to fame, and especially if you caught one of his phenomenal mid-to-late 70's concerts, you know that Seger belongs with the all-time greats. One of the best voices in the history of rock 'n' roll.

7. The Stones. They really were The World's Greatest Rock 'N' Roll Band once. Seriously. These days the Rolling Stones are geriatric wonders, somehow managing to put on amazing live shows for a new generation of fans when they could have put their feet up and lived off their royalties decades ago.

8. Sports. Baseball, football, basketball, hockey, golf, tennis, extreme sports - once I figure out what's going on, I can get into them all. I figure that it's far better for humanity to work off its competitive urges on an athletic field or in a sports arena than on a battlefield.

9. The St. Louis Cardinals. Ten World Series championships. The Gashouse Gang. Musial. Brock. Gibson. Ozzie. Pujols. A franchise steeped in baseball tradition. Growing up where I did, you learned to love your Cardinals alongside your Budweiser.

10. Sex. Need I say more? Although there's something to be said for down-and-dirty, horny, casual screwing, the best sex by far is when you can share heart, mind, body and soul with that special person you know that you were meant for.

Want your own letter to play with? Leave a request in comments and I'll write one for you on my prescription pad.

Friday, June 01, 2007

It was forty years ago today

On June 1, 1967, the Beatles released their landmark work, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and in doing so changed the course of music history. Today Sgt. Pepper is remembered not so much for the quality of its songs (though it's a good set, as a whole the LP doesn't quite reach the almost impossibly high standard set by Rubber Soul and Revolver) but for its impact upon pop culture in general, and the way rock musicians regarded their work in particular.

Although over the past year or two the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and a few other acts started to expand upon the concept, for the most part in 1967 albums were seen as a collection of potential singles held together with filler. Listeners mostly bought singles, and with a handful of exceptions, radio stations saw no point in playing album tracks. With the release of Sgt. Pepper, the Beatles helped blow these perceptions wide open. The striking thing about the LP, and what a listener in 1967 would have been most impressed with, is how the songs seem to be loosely tied together by a general theme. This was arguably the first concept album. The impression one gets is that the Beatles intended for the listener to regard Sgt. Pepper as one unified work, and not as a collection of individual songs. The decision not to release singles from Sgt. Pepper seems to emphasize that impression.

Sgt. Pepper made an immediate impact upon the rock world. Brian Wilson was so blown away by hearing the album that he canceled further work on the Beach Boys' Smile project, figuring that the perfect album had already been made and there was no sense trying to top it. The Rolling Stones, the Who, and others went to work on their own grand concepts. Sgt. Pepper defined the sensibility of the rest of the 60's and 70's, as artists and listeners alike came to see rock albums as unified works in their own right. Us kids growing up in that time thought we were too cool to listen to singles, while rock artists who felt obligated to create full-blown concepts produced a number of artistic successes, along with a fair share of intriguing failures.

Although the concept is what immediately strikes the listener, the songs had to be strong enough to support the Beatles' weighty ambitions, and they do so admirably. "With a Little Help From My Friends" is one of the Beatles' best melodies. "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and "Lovely Rita" are nice slices of psychedelia. George Harrison provides a glimpse of his future career in "Within You, Without You", while Paul McCartney whimsically muses on aging in "When I'm 64", which must have seemed a million miles away to him at the time. The entire disc is seasoned with lyrical references like "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and "Henry The Horse" which caused many to regard it as a sort of drug-users Bible.

The final track, "A Day In The Life", achieves and surpasses the standards the Beatles set with their earlier work, and is simply one of the greatest songs anyone, anywhere, has ever recorded. Backed by simple accompaniment, John Lennon begins by telling the story of a young man who "blew his mind out in a car / he didn't notice that the lights had changed". The music builds to a climax in the second verse as Lennon tells about a film he saw. McCartney then comes out of this section up-tempo getting up and going to work. (Originally conceived as two separate songs, Lennon and McCartney put their ideas together during recording.) Somebody speaks as Mac is having a smoke break, and Lennon provides a dreamlike atmosphere with his "ah-ah-ah"'s backed by the horn section. Picking up the tempo again, Lennon sings the last verse - now we know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. "I'd love to turn you on", John sings one last time, and the music builds to an incredible climax as a 42-piece orchestra, multitracked by producer George Martin, builds from relative quiet to a shattering finale. If you listen closely, you'll hear Ringo Starr keep on time all the way to the very end. The final note lasts 45 seconds - the microphones were turned up so high you can hear the air conditioner running in the background at the end - and secures Sgt. Pepper as a landmark of popular culture.