Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I did my part

About the only thing any of us can do in this debt ceiling theater of the absurd is write to our legislators. I don't do this very often if you define not very often as "never."  But I did write this time. Here's what I wrote to my congressman, my senators and the White House.


I know you don’t want this time in our history to go down as the beginning of the demise of America after our short 235-year experiment. It sure feels that we’re heading that way to my eighty-year-old mother, to my friends, to my family and to me.

Please continue to do all you can to resolve this debt ceiling crisis and even more important, address the deficit and debt issues our country is facing. The former is artificial and, as my father used to say to me when I complained about my latest high school sports injury, self-inflicted. The latter cannot be ignored without jeopardizing the future of our country and, not to put too fine a point on it, our planet.

It’s time to be let the positions and posturing (that make us an embarrassment to the world) go. It’s time for rationality, compromise and courage. It’s time solve the long-term problem -- not just put a short-term patch on things.

Let’s move in the direction the debt commission recommends. It's reasonable and it’s the right thing to do. We can’t get it done by Tuesday, but let’s at least move in the right direction.


Elijah Cummings was on the job -- he wrote me right back. ;)  The rest had apparently gone home for the night.

Today with each side coming up short on the debt reduction side, it's almost been comical.  It would be comical if it weren't so darn important. 

Let's hope they can get it right and get it right quickly!   It's a lot eaiser keeping the genie in the bottle than trying to get him back in after the damage is done.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

It's Hot

It’s hot.

At work yesterday afternoon, at the request of BGE, our local utility, we were asked to turn off lights, fans and anything that we could to conserve electricity. Walking through the complex, I spied a mini-Fukushima event. Not in the sense that anything was going to melt down, but it was so hot that there were fire hoses trained on the bank of air conditioning units to keep them cool and functioning.

Coming home from work, the outside temperature read 106 degrees in Marcia’s car. I borrowed it so Emily could use my car to drive into DC for her college room-mate’s wedding rehearsal. I don’t drive Marcia’s car much, but last time I drove it I was wondering if the air conditioning system was working. It’s not. (Note to self: need to get that fixed.)

The outside temperature spiked at 107 on the way home and then dropped to a cool 102 once I hit the forested hills of the last few miles of my commute. Thank goodness I was home to working air conditioning. Or so I thought.

I noticed that air was a little warm as I came into the house, but tried to put that out of my mind, as I read the news in The Week and took a fifteen minute nap. I awoke to alarm and a frazzled wife who was convinced that our air conditioning compressors were broken. It was 88 degrees inside the house and the outside units weren’t running.

This was uncomfortable. It was also little concerning because my mother-in-law, who is a tad older than we are and therefore less able to tolerate the heat, was visiting. It wasn’t just her, though, being pampered by air conditioning everywhere we go has probably made us all a little softer and less heat tolerant.

The logical thing to do is to call our power company and see if they had cycled off our outside units as part of the deal we accepted (Peak Rewards) to do that on occasion. It would be the logical thing to do if you could complete the call to find out. Nothing but a rapid busy signal on the line. What about the website? Nothing posted there, either.

Finally I was able to break the code on the power-outage phone line and get through to a human. The human said the outside units would be back on in five minutes. Twenty minutes later I had to call again. The second human said they would be back on within an hour of the “end of the event” which, thanks to being able to log on to our account, we discovered ended 45 minutes earlier. Thirty minutes later I was back on hold waiting to talk to another human when the outside units kicked on.

I know it was hot, but BGE really booted this situation by inadequate planning. I don’t think that anyone who signed up for this program thought that cycling off your compressor would mean that it would be off for eight plus hours on the hottest day the year. And how about planning for adequate phone lines to take the inevitable calls or at least a web-site posting on your homepage? Too much to ask?

But even if BGE did everything perfect, people (looking in the mirror I can see an example) tend to get irritable when they are hot. They don’t always think clearly and can become impatient. There are a few guys walking around in sports coats about forty miles due south of here that illustrate the point.

While I was on hold between the second and third BGE humans, I saw on CNN that Obama and Boehner had come to impasse on the little debt ceiling deal they were working on. I gather that Boehner walked out and wouldn’t return Obama’s phone calls.

While this is probably like every contested negotiation that’s ever gone on or will go on and will only get resolved at the last possible moment, the stakes, being the financial stability of the planet, make this one a little more important than typical. And it looks to me like the parties are way late in the game to be spouting positions. There’s a deal to be had and a deal that will make things better for our country, our successors and the world if only the parties would lose their positions and focus on their (and their constituents’) interests. It would be a shame to lose this opportunity.

So here’s my advice:

1. Fix the air conditioning system in the President’s and the Speaker’s cars
2. Cancel the Peak Rewards program for the White House and the Capitol
3. Lose the sports coats – it’s hot for crying out loud!

May cooler heads prevail!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

River Perspective

When my girls were small, anytime we crossed the Susquehanna River over the I-95 bridge, I’d look at the beautiful vista of the wide river and say “someday, girls, we’re going to canoe down that river.” Last Saturday, Marcia and I finally did that. We’ll, not exactly. We took a guided tour in a 50 year old john boat equipped with two plastic lawn chairs and a 15 hp Evinrude with a retired banker, Jim, as guide.

The part of the river we toured was a couple of miles upstream and downstream of Selinsgrove, PA. Jim has lived on the river all his life (except for a few years in Vietnam, which he didn’t like). His home is on the waterfront and about a half-mile from where he was born and raised. His birth home is occupied by his brother – the latest of four generations. His great-grandfather used to farm one of the many large, rich-soiled islands that dot the river. Jim knew his territory.

One story Jim told was an event his grandmother was fond of recounting about his great-grandfather. She told of time a barge going down the river stopped to inquire about buying food for the crew. The captain of the barge wanted to buy 25 pounds of potatoes. She said her grandfather got quiet as he contemplated the request, but finally shook his head and said, “No, sir. I can’t do it. I’ll not cut a potato in half for anyone.” (When I recounted the story later, I called it a Tall Bunyan – a little spoonerism mixing Paul Bunyan and a tall tale. I kind of like it.)

While we cruised the river (it’s amazing what 15 horse-power can do), we saw numerous blue heron and five bald eagles – four adults and one juvenile -- and Jim told history -- of eel fishing, coal harvesting, colonial times and ancient Native America times. One of the most striking historical facts, though, is that this broad, shallow river has been around for 300 million years. In fact, it’s one of the three oldest rivers of the world and was flowing when North America was part Pangaea. It puts things in perspective.

I need a little perspective right now. As Congress and the President play high-stakes poker betting the country’s (or perhaps the world’s) financial stability, with minute by minute media updates on all the posturing, positing and drama – all resulting in no progress, I had to declare a media holiday. It looked to me like I was watching a train-wreck, could see it coming but could do nothing to stop it.

I don’t where things stand now, we may have already had the train-wreck or may be getting closer to having one as we hit the on-coming 0802, but not watching it all unfold has been helpful. It’s been helpful to separate myself from the illusion that there’s anything I could do about this by worrying it along. I can no more influence the outcome than I stop the flow of the Susquehanna. And whatever unfolds, with the perspective of 300 million years, just how important could it be?