Breaking up is hard to do

Mashed-heartDear Chuck,

I know this will come as a shock to you, but it’s over!

Breaking up is always hard to do.  And I’m certain you will be surprised at this unfortunate turn of events.  But you have to ask yourself how you missed all the changes.

You should have noticed that I wasn’t coming around as much.  You should have noticed that I rarely ever called.  You should have noticed how quiet and unsettled I was around you.

To be honest … it’s not you, it’s me.

Every other month simply does not a relationship make.  And yes, I’m sorry.  I have been cheating on you!

It didn’t start out that way.  At first, I was just being lazy … not wanting to put in the time or effort for our usual thing.  I was desperate once and needed a quickie.

From there it progressed so rapidly, I was – I think – caught off guard.  It was too simple, too easy, too addictive.  And once I started, it seemed impossible to return to you.

Ours has been a healthy and productive relationship.  We have been through so many life events, personal problems … Good times and bad.

You were always there to tell me I looked nice.  And I was always happy to give you my advice, although frankly, I suspect you very rarely took it.

I heard you on the phone one time after I pleaded with you to follow your heart.  I heard you on the phone with that other guy … in the other room … whispering so I wouldn’t hear.  That time it hurt, but it convinced me that all I was to you was a means to an end.

Well, let’s not rip the scabs off old wounds.

Fact is, I really don’t need you anymore.  I really don’t need anybody!  I can do all this myself.

norelco_kitWhen you offered me the Low Volume Hair Discount, I knew it was over!  So I jumped into a relationship with a damn fine Norelco …

And the next time you need a tip on a football bet, go ask that idiot who told you to take the Cowboys and the points!

I hope we can still be friends …

Mike

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My troubles with the IRS

IRS-telephone-scamWell, it’s finally happened.  I have run afoul of the IRS!

After decades of diligently paying taxes and filing returns so simple I choose to do them myself, I must have done something very, very, very wrong!  ‘Cause now I have The Man pounding on my door (phone) demanding that I respond to their verbal warnings and threats of imminent “legal proceedings”.  Yet I don’t recall getting any official notices and threatening letters from the Internal Revenue Service, filled with mind-numbing bureaucratese, enumerating my heartless transgressions against the People of America that surely should have proceeded my run-in with the IRS’s latest crop of bird-dogging bounty hunters!

It’s a bit of a puzzle.

Most confusing is the IRS’s reliance on a bunch of poorly spoken “English majors” apparently based in either West Africa or the Indian sub-continent.  It’s kinda hard to decipher their dialects.  The first call was from the latter, the latest from the former.  Don’t these hunter-killer IRS units speak to each other?!?

The second Special Agent, who called himself “Don” with an Anglo-Saxon last name spoke in a heavy Punjabi or Urdu accent (I can never tell the two apart.), was much more pleasant than the previous Special Agent, who sounded much more African (if I can be so bold as to characterize his geographical-cultural orientation).

phone-scam“West Africa” didn’t leave a name, but he was very forceful and full of implied threats.  He made sure – in no uncertain terms – that we knew the serious of our crimes against America, Apple Pie, and Motherhood.  He demanded immediate redress from our answering machine!  (The greatest invention since the brewery!) Aggressive legal action was dangling by a single hair – like the Sword of Damocles – above our heads.  I was almost convinced a S.W.A.T. team was sitting out on our back deck awaiting the word to breach the doors and drag us all off to Debtor’s Prison.

OK … So it’s a scam.  A scam of the worst kind, intended to prey on the elderly, the disconnected, the easily spooked in nothing more than any of the other usual methods of stealing from the weak.

A coworker, who also received the dreaded Tax Man Cometh scam, had the opportunity to answer the phone before he realized the call was a baited fish-hook.  Once the gig was up, he simply asked the “agent” his name, identification code, and location so he could call back after reviewing his tax return.  He heard a rustling of paper in the background, undoubtedly as the “agent” checked for this unexpected turn in the prepared script.  Then the line went dead …

But you really do have to laugh at the desperation, the obvious inattention to detail, the amateurish attempts to portray Big Bad government agent, and the huge clues they drop that are almost as good as being caught with an exploding dye pack in the getaway car while still sitting in the bank parking lot!

For me, I had to laugh at Don of The Sub-Continent when he ended his call of dire warning and imminent legal and financial ruin with the following salutation:

“Good night and God bless”

Imagine that … An IRS attack dog that signs off saying, “God bless”!?!

Game, set, match …

Jefferson Station and the thing about Healthcare Reform

20140905_jeff_1024The acquisition has become quite commonplace in recent years, from sports stadiums and entertainment venues to infrastructure basics like roadways and railway stations.  Naming rights, long reserved for notable philanthropists placing a family name on hospitals, university halls, museums and libraries, are now a convenient – though costly – method to promote brand recognition and consumer confidence.

Earlier this month SEPTA announced the naming of Market East Station to Jefferson Station in a deal between the regional transportation provider and the Jefferson Health SystemThomas Jefferson University Hospital is only two blocks south of Market East.

The naming deal follows an earlier arrangement to rename the Broad Street Subway station at Pattison Avenue “AT&T Station” and previews a future naming rights deal with their Verizon or Comcast for Suburban Station.

http-planphilly-com-sites-planphilly-com-files-dsc_0027_2-jpg.752.502.sFacility naming deals are an easy way for cash-strapped or opportunistic entities to raise funding from wealthier, healthier corporations.  In the overall scheme of things, it’s a no-brainer for a constantly short-funded regional utility, like SEPTA, to use its captive commuter audience as a way to raise needed capital.

SEPTA’s five-year deal with AT&T cost the communications company $5.4 million, although SEPTA only received $3.4 million.  It’s advertising agent made out very nicely, pocketing $2 million in the deal.

But what of a hospital spending $4 million to buy branding rights all in the name of product recognition?  To me, it speaks to several interesting questions and one Big Duh observation.

First off, the obvious question … Is it prudent, necessary or progressive for a medical provider to seek publicity of this sort at what most would consider a sizable chunk of cash?  Arguments could be made that such attempts at name recognition promote Jefferson as a top-class service provider, educational institution, and research facility.

Yet, I would think that’s a tough nut to crack since Jefferson is already a renown regional name.  Once you get outside the Philadelphia region it’s hard to figure exactly what naming a railway station adds to the Jefferson brand.   How many prospective medical students or established medical professionals would actually be swayed by a name on a subway marquee?

artmax_178They might even look at such largesse as a needless and wasteful expenditure in a research-heavy profession where funding often determines how much a dedicated research professional can accomplish.

On another level, it’s difficult to ignore what equipment, expansion of service, or community involvement could be financed with that $4 million marquee grab.

Jefferson’s argument might be that all testing, diagnostic and treatment equipment is sufficiently updated and in top-level performance condition.  Yet I would be willing to bet you can find a few areas of their network that might very well be begging for additional investment, updating, and manpower.  From that point-of-view, buying a railway station would seem like an unnecessarily extravagant expense to anyone who consumes Jefferson medical services.

Which brings me to my real reason for making so much more out of a relatively small ball approach to the Naming Rights Game …

Healthcare reform … REAL healthcare reform … The kind of healthcare reform we did not get in the Affordable Care Act.  The kind of healthcare reform that would make a difference to those who consume and those who are forced to pay big premiums, big deductibles, and large shares of those Usual, Customary, and Reasonable costs.

Affordable was supposed to be the key word ...

Affordable was supposed to be the key word …

My Big Aha Moment was in the realization that if the Jefferson Health System has $4 million to spend on a subway station, they certainly have a lot of other money available for a lot of other non-medical investments!

This is not an attack on JHS alone though.  This I’m certain is the same financial truth that can be found in any large, successful medical system, be it in Philadelphia or Dallas or Nashville.  I have never hidden my contempt of the ACA, mostly because of the way it was birthed … forced in hurried fashion through a brow-beat Congress.  And as “healthcare reform” it wasn’t real reform at all … Not even close in any way, shape, or form.

Real healthcare reform would have addressed the REAL problem with healthcare … The Cost!  All the SEPTA-JHS deal did was highlight the crux of the healthcare problem … Medical services that are so expensive that a hospital has a few million lying around to buy a subway station name.

All the ACA did was dump more people into a system that costs way too much.  Logic would dictate that if you want to provide medical coverage to more people the trade-off should be reducing the costs – if at all possible – of the services to be provided.

Can anyone imagine saying that medical costs in this country were affordable prior to the passing of the ACA?  Obviously not, since “Affordable” was the first word they thought of when they created the Affordable care Act!  Yet no significant action was taken to make healthcare more affordable prior to adding millions to the Well-Care portion of U.S. healthcare (i.e. that segment of healthcare that the uninsured COULD NOT AFFORD to use, resorting to Emergency Rooms as their sole source of healthcare once they became sick).

Wouldn’t it have made more sense to take a long, deep look into the cost structure and profit margins of American healthcare BEFORE adding a significant new market for services that would only see demand and usage skyrocket with the passage of the ACA?  Would it not have seemed a reasonable approach to restructure medical costs in a way that potential savings might have paid for many new ACA subscribers?

The SEPTA-Jefferson Health System deal suggests that it would have been on both counts.  Not that we were ever given the chance to find out …

 

Well, health and maybe a good game of railroad Monopoly ...

Well, health and maybe a good game of railroad Monopoly …

 

 

9 Circles of Ikea

images-1

Something to do on a Sunday afternoon … Rain in the forecast … Remodeling projects in various stages of completion …

Perfect setting for the four words every red blooded male longs to hear, “Let’s go to Ikea!”, dear Carol exclaims.

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.

Ikea was founded by a 17-year-old (which explains a lot) in 1943, and is renown for it’s architectural designs of furniture and appliances and an eco-friendly approach to interior design.

This was the First Time for me, although Carol insists I had been there before.  But no, I would have remembered this experience had I lived through it before.

The store was inviting; painted in bold Blue and Yellow – the national colors of Sweden, the visuals reminding me of a favorite U.S. icon, the Blue Angels.  What could possibly be more inviting?

systembolagetYet something was gnawing at the pit of my stomach like a yellow worm with teeth (Ween).  What is wrong here?  What about this makes sense? Didn’t the Swedes also create Systembolaget, a government-controlled alcohol monopoly?

Danger, Will Robinson …

We walk into a bright but spartan lobby that invites you to ride the escalator to the retail floor.  This was an oddity in the Land of Good and Plenty.  Nothing to sell while rendering first impressions?  No impulse-buying enticements?  Primary retail space on the second floor?  Not even one store greeter … no Nordic blondes playing Abba music on nyckelharpas?

But they do have plenty of these over-sized eco-harmonizing shopping bags.  And large enough to fit a Volvo

My shopping psyche is a strange amalgam of wonderment and an anxiety of what lies beyond … I was in Limbo.

And violà!  We arrive on the retail floor!

Immediately you realize the Swedes ain’t no dummies!

We are immediately driven to Lust for the quirky, practical designs of Äpplarö, Falster, Arholma.  This is going to be an epic quest to furnish that unique space in our home.

Did I mention, I’m not a big fan of Quests?

And just then I see the store map …

Rule of Thumb:  Any store that requires a map for you to figure out where you are and to find what you want, can use the same device to make sure you can never leave!

Can you get to the cheese?

Can you get to the cheese?

I’m struck by the resemblance the Ikea store map has to those primitive maze tests used to measure the learning habits of lesser species.  This causes one to wonder, who exactly is the “lesser species” in this Nordic inspired ecosystem?

We push on with our journey, moving right into Gluttony as we peruse the quirky, imaginative shapes and functions of the Artichoke Pendant Lamp, Befintlig candles, Smörboll bedding, and Ödmjuk coffe cups.  Hours seem to have passed in minutes, I am aware of a foggy, detached feeling as though floating through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, barely tethered to the Earth.

When I am able to roust myself from this peculiar state, Carol is nowhere to be seen and the cart I am pushing is overflowing with abstract Swedish home appointments.  I must find her before we descend any further into the bowels of Scandinavian home furnishings Hades.

And then I see her!  Not Carol exactly, but that head looks familiar …

Tallemaja - seductive Scandinavian forest creature

Tallemaja – seductive Scandinavian forest creature

She appears from out of the flimsy veil of the Åderblad window treatments.  She appears to be unclothed with what looks like the tail of a cow.  When I ask her name, she replies in a foggy voice that sounds so very far away, “Tallemaja”.  She beckons me to follow.

An overwhelming sense of pressure and heaviness … When I look down I am holding three of those enormous Ikea saddle bags crammed full of sheets with artsy patterns and ingenuously designed table lamps.  I absently reach for my wallet …

The Circle of Greed!

I fight the urge and set out once again to find Carol.  I find her sorting through a clutch of Gräddig wall decorations, semi-catatonic and mumbling incoherently.  I warn her not to fall for the charms of Tallemaja.

She looks at me, her head cocked to one side.  “Who the hell’s Tallemaja?!?  I was talking to some guy named Nykkjen.  I don’t think he’s an Ikea employee; but he seemed to know a lot about this place!”

Cue the spooky music …

I urge Carol to dump her load of Riktig Ögla and Malma mirrors so we can make a hasty retreat.  I glance nervously over my shoulder half expecting her to morph into a pissed off naked forest nymph.

We need to get out of here … Now!

Heresy!”, she shouts in Anger.  I look around embarrassingly at the mumbling shoppers nearby, displaying those same blank stares, speaking gibberish …

No one here can hear you scream …

zlatan-ibrahimovic-wallpaper-586742-3-s-307x512

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Swedish futboler, shape shifting nicker

But finding an Exit in this place would be as likely as stumbling upon Zlatan Ibrahimović picking through a collection of Bild posters.

Desperate to escape this madness I prod Carol along.  We manage to move but a few steps when Carol calls over her shoulder to a figure bent in appreciative study, “Hey, Nykkjen, let’s go!  We’re outta here.”

So of course Zlatan Ibrahimović – Carol’s tricked out psyche version of Nykkjen – unfolds slowly to his feet triumphantly holding his latest acquisition … a Bild poster!  

Stunned momentarily I stumble in confusion, the Home Furnishings Department spinning dizzyingly.  I reach out and steady myself against the Norwegian soccer nicker’s shoulder, and – true to his Euro fùtbol tradition – collapses like a gunshot victim, grabbing at his ankle in fairy tale agony …         

 Wonderful …

Fraud and Violence in the blink of a referee’s eye … And stand perilously close to the boundary of the 9th – and final – Circle de Dantè!

I convince Carol that we should concentrate on the table and cabinets she wants for her craft room and leave this Den of Temptation before it’s too late.  She agrees and we race through the remainder of the retail floor, heading downstairs to the furniture warehouse.

By now I’m a nervous wreck, with my wallet shoved down the front of my pants and a terrified look on my face.  Carol – always quick to pick up on this sort of thing – asks me what’s wrong.  And I tell her we were oh so close to joining the lost souls in Hades, crossing 8 circles out of Dante’s 9.

Treachery - I tell her – was all that remained.

She rolls her eyes and glances around almost seekingly.  I swear she’s really searching for Zlatan that hunky Nykkjen.  “Well then, let’s get out of here, Mr. Treachery.”, she says, “You know you have to put all this crap together when we get home.”

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo  ……

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Worst trade ever …

BergdahlSo after five years Bowe Bergdahl is heading home.  But there is hardly unrestrained joy and relief outside of the small community of Hailey, Idaho, where Bergdahl grew up.  In fact, Hailey decided to cancel its planned celebration in the face of much doubt over his circumstances and the deal to exchange five Taliban military leaders for his freedom.

For the time being, you will not hear me calling him by service branch and rank.  From what I have read, he doesn’t deserve it.  I do not take this position lightly, even as one who never wore the uniform.

Normally, I stay silent in cases where an investigation is clearly warranted.  It’s not for me to judge.  But this situation truly makes my skin crawl.

Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen and ...

Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen and …

By all reports, accepted as truth by those who served with Bergdahl, he willingly; knowingly; and worse of all recklessly relative to the safety of his fellow troopers, walked off his duty station to “start a new life“.

Bergstrom did not simply walk out the gate or go under the perimeter wire; he may have even hid in a contractor’s vehicle to secretly exit his outpost.  He went out of his way to send many personal belongings home before abandoning his unit.

Bergdahl’s desertion is unforgivable for no other reason than the danger in which it put other troops once he was listed as missing.  When that happens, the U.S. military – whether you are on land, in water, or missing from the air – is going to try to find and recover you. They will not leave a man behind if at all possible.

That puts a number of military personnel in an order of magnitude several times greater than your personal worth in harm’s way; exposing themselves to all the dangers of that theatre of operations; going into dangerous and volatile situations they would normally avoid just to find you.  Bergdahl’s actions in this regard were unconscionable.

... Private First Class Morris Walker were killed by IED while searching for Bergdahl.

… Private First Class Morris Walker were killed by IED while searching for Bergdahl.

Certainly Bergdahl deserves his day in court, privileged by the assumption of innocence as provided by those very principles he decided to leave behind when he so clandestinely worked to melt into the Afghan countryside.  Hopefully the truth will come out, though I doubt he will receive more than a dishonorable discharge if found guilty.

Of course, that assumes he doesn’t receive a White House pardon.

The troops who served with him and who lived closest to him before he deserted his post are very free in their feelings towards Bergdahl.  They are – to say the least – angry at his selfishness and furious at the losses incurred on his behalf.  They knew him to be a loner, though no sin in itself.  They knew he didn’t want to be there.  They saw him gaze into the mountains near their base, wondering if he could reach China by heading in that direction.

They are the ones to whom we should be listening.  They are the ones who knew him best.  They could tell whether he was with them in duty or looking for a way to salve his disillusionment with his chosen profession.

When Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel went to Afghanistan and announced the release and repatriation of Bowe Bergdahl, his announcement was met with stony silence from the American troopers in attendance.  Don’t buy the story line of young American troopers showing “reluctance to display emotion in front of the Pentagon chief”.  That never seems to be a problem with emotion when the Commander-in-Chief shows up.

Their lack of reaction and none-so-fond memories of Bergdahl’s fellow unit members are good enough for me.

A Trolley unfazed and not so jolly Holly Days

photoIt’s not often that I write about my experiences as a consumer of products and services. Sometimes though, these experiences simply beg to be addressed for either for their positive or negative experiences.

This post will address an example of each.

Do Not
Eat Here …
You’ll never eat at home again!

This was the plaintive – and rather imaginative – plea and a tweak directed at a Philadelphia trade union from the good folks at the Trolley Car Diner, located on Germantown Avenue in Philly’s Mt. Airy section.

Carol and I frequent the Trolley Car as part of our pre-game ritual for “Business Person Specials” Philadelphia Phillies games that starts at 1:05 PM.  As we had the game played last Wednesday, May 14 (a sleeper of a shutout loss to the LA Angels), we headed down early for the pre-game breakfast/lunch.

It’s only called “brunch” on Sunday’s, right?

Anyways, as we turned onto Germantown Avenue, we immediately noticed signs imploring the public “Don’t Eat Here!”.  My first reaction was “Crap! Don’t tell me we have to find somewhere else to eat!”  Then as we got closer we noted more signs, including one with a likeness of the owner and another that alleged the owner’s role in depressing fair wages and benefits.

My reaction was immediate.  “Unions …”, quickly followed by ” … Philadelphia!”

Those two thoughts, neither of them presented here as negatives within themselves, seem to always be connected.  And maybe my thought process was primed a bit by the ongoing union travails and controversy at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which included the unusual sight of union members in several trades crossing the picket lines of others.

Only in Philadelphia …

As we entered and were greeted by the host, I kiddingly asked him whether we should even eat there.  But he was immediately ready with a one-page letter, written by owner, Ken Weinstein about what was happening out front and why.  The letter, addressed “Dear Friend”, is a public relations homerun!

For my fellow Phillies fans, whose team currently ranks 28th out of 30 MLB teams in round-trippers, a homerun is a very, very good thing.  Just sayin’ …

Trolley Car Diner Mt. Airy, Philadelphia

Trolley Car Diner
Mt. Airy, Philadelphia

The crux of the matter – of course – was the inability of unionized electrical contractors to compete with subcontractors who use non-union labor.  In this case the very same International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, led by Philly labor icon John Dougherty had out-priced themselves from a Weinstein redevelopment project.  This is one of the very same unions that had recently crossed the picket lines of Carpenters and Teamsters in the aforementioned Philadelphia Convention Center incident. 

That – my friends – is karma!

In his excellent letter to some very loyal customers, Weinstein explains his plan to rehabilitate four vacant, historical buildings that previously served St. Peter’s Episcopal Church; his hiring of a general contractor; and the effort to solicit competitive bids from both union and non-union contractors.  Weinstein’s claims that the only union contractor to bid was 35% higher than the selected non-union provider.

This should be of no surprise to anyone, nor should the union’s reaction when losing fair-and-square in the market of competitive bidding.  They picket, not the site of the prospective work to be performed, but the wholly separate earning capacity of the developer – the Trolley Car Diner – with accusations of “depressing wages” and “denying benefits”.

They are nothing, if not dogged and disingenuous as to the cause of their particular problem!

Sorry, IBEW, you get no sympathy here.

So if you get the chance, show the Trolley Car Diner some love.  With a fine menu, great food, and a nice selection of bottled craft-brewed beers, you will not be disappointed!

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Next is my negative experience with Holly Days Nursery, a well-regarded botanical nursery in Horsham.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I did not take my aggravation any further than the landscaping representative that decided to blow me off last Tuesday for an appointment scheduled for an estimate on planting a few trees and bushes.  But after taking a few hours personal time from work to meet him between 3:00 – 4:00 PM, a quick apology and an offer to reschedule does not in any way recognize the fact that my time should be just as important as theirs and any other customer they purport to serve.

The only thing that prevented those few hours being a complete waste of my time was that the lawn needed cutting anyway.

I already had trouble with two previous trees from Holly Days.  Both were purchased at the nursery, but planted by another landscaper.  I do not necessarily blame the nursery for both losses; but simply chalk them up as further indication that for whatever reason our relationship was not destined to be fruitful.

In an area where high-quality nurseries are easy to find, one would think competitive pressures would ensure a faithful adherence to the appointment schedule … or perhaps the drive to work a longer day when commitments are missed … or maybe a bit more than a “Sorry, I couldn’t get there. Let’s reschedule.”

The kicker was his response to my complaint of already having wasted 3 hours of personal time.  “Well, do you have to be there?”

Yeah … I do “need to be there”.  But you certainly don’t!

Primary colors

Turnout in the Horsham 1-3 is approaching 10% (84 voters).  Not sure whether to be relieved that we might hit my 125 prediction or go take a nap …

Both maybe ….?

* * * * * *

So Pennsylvania’s DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was struck down today.  Am I a bad person for not caring … Neither celebrating or belaboring …

is it OK that I never cared what others do in the privacy of their own world to express whatever love they feel?

Is it OK that accepting the concept of Personal Liberty, brought here in The Declaration of Independence – that makes this country so strong – leads me to the conclusion that I should have no feeling or take no action one way or the other?

Is it OK to be of the mind that I have way too much to manage in my own life to have the time, energy, or desire to manage everyone else’s life?

Can I rightfully believe that we have way too many and much more important issues and problems facing us than this?

DOMA’s dead?  Wonderful …

Now can we get some REAL problems solved?!?