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Archive for March, 2010

Step One: Add in generous amounts of nuts…

(The Washington DC area has grown by 3 percent a year during 2007 – 2009)

Step Two: Mix in more and more amounts of metal until stuffed…

(The Washington Metropolitian Area Transportation Authority Board approved a rate hike for public transportation, meaning fewer people will ride)

Step Three: Place in oven and then ignore.

(The Virgina General Assembly adjourned its 2010 session without addressing the serious issue of transportation in the region)

The result:

…congestion in the Washington-Baltimore region worsened as commuters drove to new government-related jobs. That area’s ranking rose to fourth place from sixth last year, and time lost to congestion increased by 10% on a typical trip.

The study done that ranks my area as number 4 on the “worst” list was done by INRIX.

Yum…Tasty! The best part is that thousands of people can enjoy this delicious jam daily.

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Tying up the loose ends from a previous post where I noted that The Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins counted her losing Hoyas Cagers before they hatched, I ended that post with a prediction of my own of the eight teams I thought would be in the Final Four for both the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournament. Those guesses were:

Men: Georgetown, Xavier, West Virginia, Duke
Women: Connecticut, Tennessee, Stanford, Nebraska

The teams in bold, as you will notice, are the teams that actually made it to Indianapolis (men) and San Antonio (women). This means out of the eight teams, I predicted four correctly. I could mention that out of the one hundred and twenty-eight possible bracket teams I could have chosen from, I predicted four correctly…but why quibble.

Now I apologize as I do not have Sally Jenkins’s predictions for either Final Four, but courtesy of another fine web page over at Mahalo.com, I see that of the ten experts mentioned (such as Dick Vitale, Gary Parrish, and Greg Anthony), only two (Dick Vitale, Gregg Doyel) correctly predicted two teams to make it to the men’s Final Four. Three prognosticators correctly identified one team and five laid goose eggs (uh…that means they got zero right).

I guess this means I’ll have to go back to my day job as a software tester as I will never make it as a sports columnist since being able to predict the outcome of events is not a job prerequisite for these experts.

But to be fair, if sports columnists could accurately predict the winners of a sporting event, don’t you think they would be in Las Vegas laying down money rather than interviewing sweaty men in humid locker rooms?

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For the struggling writer attempting to craft the Great American Novel (or Great Ukranian Novel…let’s not be too nationalistic over here), one of the hardest things to do is to come up with an opening line. So, as a general public service, I offer six (yes, count them…six) random sentences you can use (and free of charge) to start your work of great literature:

  • I just met a girl named Marietta.
  • Robert was his Christian name, but he preferred to be called Billy.
  • He bartered his frequent-flyer miles for the detail work on his car
  • After receiving the military honor, the penguin returned to his home amid the muted fanfare.
  • It was not common, but neither was its occurrence rare.
  • Marvin would argue with anyone who would listen over the fact that “data” was a plural noun.

Please, no need to thank me, and I hope to have more soon.

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Ceditra: Questions

It’s time to celebrate Passover. Last week, after his Hebrew school lesson, my eldest son, Christopher asked me this question about the Passover story.

If God loved the Israelites so much, why did He make them endure slavery for so long?

First off, I am quite proud that, at the age of eleven, he has begun to ask questions about the logic of his faith. It took me much longer to begin to push against the boundaries of what I had been taught about my religion. Part of that questioning, and quasi-cynicism, can be seen in this ceditra entry of mine from over a decade ago.

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September 7, 1999

Then the priest shall command that they empty the house, before the priest go into it to see the plague, that all that is in the house be not made unclean: and afterward the priest shall go in and see the house” –Leviticus 14:36

Reading the rest of this chapter of Leviticus reveals little as to who “they” are. However, it is laid out in no unclear terms that the plague mentioned is that of leprosy.

We’ll forgive the fact that leprosy is not technically a plague, but those were biblical times and it should come as no surprise that the folks of that era would call such a disfiguring disease a plague.

This chapter of Leviticus is devoted to laying out the process of how to clean a house that has been infected with leprosy. The process of how to deal with a person with leprosy was already discussed. I find the notion that a house can contract leprosy quite interesting. But I have to remember that the modern concept of disease was not known to the followers of Moses.

In the verse right before this one in question, the Lord makes plain that it is He who is the one that would place the plague of leprosy on a house (and on a person too, I wager). So to put the sequence of events in order – God makes the plague, the people clean out the house (“…they empty the house…”), the priest cleans the house.

If the Lord creates the plague, why doesn’t He get rid of it Himself? The answer is because the priests have to do it to show their value. If the lay people could clean a house with leprosy, they wouldn’t need the priest as the middleman to God. And if they didn’t need the priest as middleman in that transaction, why would the people need the priest as middleman at all?

On the other side, if God removed the plague Himself there would again be no need for the priest’s special services.

Part of the analysis of this verse shows that the Torah (or this part of it) is attempting to solidify the power of the priests. It is only the priest who can cure the house of the plague. While it may be true that only the Lord actually removes the unclean elements from home and person, God only does this using the priest as His channel.

The priesthood gains power by showing how indispensable they are. “Without us,” they say, “your homes will never be cured.” And this verse highlights only one “can’t-do-without” aspect of the priests.

My other thought about this verse (despite the odd fact that it is lay people who do the grunt work by cleaning out the house and possibly exposing themselves to the plague while the priest stays outside and safe) is the concept of a just, loving, and merciful Lord bestowing leprosy on the people.

No reason is given, that I could see, as to why the Everlasting Holy of Holies would inflict leprosy on anyone, especially one of His followers. I do find that odd but this is the same God that denied Moses entry to the Promised Land for hitting a rock against the Lord’s wishes.

Go figure.

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Back to 2010 and it would be cheating of me to tell you what answer I gave my son as to his query about the Lord’s logic.

As for me, like the Israelites following Moses through the desert, I have completed my own personal journey only to discover the footsteps of all those who have wandered before me.

Now, please pass the gefilte fish and horseradish, if you don’t mind because my youngest has Four Questions to ask.

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Snowflakes

Human beings are akin to snowflakes. Each one is unique. Each one is a work of God. Each one is beautiful. And each one is gone far too quickly.

As a member of own personal troika, I have admired the comedy and writing of George Carlin for most of my forty years of life. So it was obvious that I would buy and devour his last book, Last Words, published after his death in 2008.

I know you as the general reader could not care less, but I do so want to share with you the majesty of this man’s use of the English language to conjure up images and feelings. These are the last two paragraphs from Chapter 3:

There’s one other thing with snow. Even when you’re fifteen or sixteen and you just want to get laid and snowballs no longer hold the slightest interest for you — or even for that matter if you’re never going to see sixty again — when it snows you’ve always got to make one snowball. Only one, but you gotta.

Just to see if it’s good packing.

There was no one like him and there never will be.

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Politco reporters Erika Lovley and Patrick O’Connor wrote the story about how the recently passed health-care bill signed by President Obama would require congressional staffers to buy insurance from the state-run insurance exchanges the legislation will create.

Seem fair enough that folks who work for Congress should have to play by the rules their bosses pass, but Lovley and O’Connor write that:

[P]age 158 of the bill defines “congressional staff” narrowly, as “employees employed by the official office of a member of Congress, whether in the district office or in Washington.”

The Congressional Research Service believes a court could rule that the legislation “would exclude professional committee staff, joint committee staff, some shared staff, as well as potentially those staff employed by leadership offices.”

If that’s so, staffers who work for Nancy Pelosi in her capacity as representative from California would go into the exchange program, while staffers who work for her in her capacity as speaker would stay on the government’s plan. Other Capitol employees, like those who work for the clerk of the House or the House historian, would be similarly exempted.

Now as much as I would enjoy to sit here and rage against the stunning hypocrisy of those who help to write the rules (e.g., those staffers who work on the committee that crafted the rules exempting themselves from those very rules), I have to admit that I would do the same thing.

And I have.

About seven years ago, I lived in a townhouse that was part of a homeowner’s association (HOA). Being the good and helpful citizen that I am, I volunteered to be part of the Architectural Committee (ArCom). As it turned out, since our community was brand new, this particular ArCom was starting the process of writing the rules and regulations that would define how the buildings could be modified, what additions were acceptable, and so on.

The trio that comprised the ArCom worked for months researching other HOA’s regulations until we came up with a draft document to present to the board. Since I was the most computer-literate of the threesome, I volunteered to type up the draft. It was while typing the draft that I noticed my issue. In the section on doors, our new rules stated that a storm door added to the front door could only be either “a) white or b) the color of the trim of the front door“. My issue was that right after I moved in, I installed a gray storm door. I now saw that my own door was against our new proposed rule.

So as I sat in front of the computer screen pondering my dilemma, I simply inserted the phrase “or c) gray” to the new rules about storm doors.

Rage all you want, but when the shoe is on the other foot (or the finger on the keyboard is yours), be honest with yourself and know you would do the same thing.

After all, our representatives and their staff only represent us, are voted in by us, and thus, ultimately, reflect us.

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According to a survey conducted by Dove Men Care, of the 1,000 male British folk surveyed, the responders said they do an average of 13 hours a week of housework – mostly taking out the garbage, do-it-yourself tasks, and childcare.

As a part-time worker and full-time dad, I can completely relate to the survey’s finding that men are doing more around the house than our fathers ever did.

What I found more intriguing in the story was the fact that 60 percent of the survey takers said they felt all their housework went unnoticed by their female partner.

What shocked me about the above sentence was that Dove Men Care could find 400 (there’s your number for the day; 40% of 1000) women who would actually complement a man for doing housework.

I think the men on the isle are being far too generous, but maybe it’s different in Britain.

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As I wrote in an earlier post, I said that several states were in various stages of the legislative process of crafting bills to make it illegal for the federal government to require individuals to purchase health insurance.

The time has now arrived when the battle of state’s rights versus federal sovereignty will again take center stage again in this country as thirteen attorneys general have filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate. With a little bit of pride, I take time to notice that my state’s own AG, Ken Cuccinelli, is one of the thirteen.

I take finger to keyboard here not to discuss the merits of the challenge but to wonder why the Republican party, the political party of most of the challenging AGs, hates big business, in this case, health insurance companies (HICs).

Oh, please, let me explain.

During the 1993 HillaryCare debacle, one reason that the Clinton health-care initiative failed was that HICs were not on board helping to make the laws. This resulted in the “Harry and Louise” series of advertisements that helped to push public opinion away from Bill and Hillary’s effort.

Fast forward to President Obama’s push for health care and the “Harry and Louise” ads that appeared were actually in favor of health care reform. Why? Because Obama gave HICs a seat at the table and while some aspects of the new law were not to HICs liking, there were some parts that HICs found absolutely enticing.

My guess is that one of the reasons HICs went along with all the restrictions them (i.e., cannot drop an individual with a pre-existing condition, children can stay on parent’s policy until age 26, etc.) is because they saw that in the individual mandate they would receive around 34,000,000 new (and paying) customers. All that new potential revenue is a heck of a lot sugar to make the new medicine of increased regulation go down.

But now the (mostly) GOP AGs are coming to topple that apple cart. If the suit challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate is won by the AGs and people are not required to buy health insurance, then HICs will have none of the benefits (new members) of the new health care law but still have all of the burden (restrictions and regulations).

What a lovely little present from the GOP to big business.

If I was a member of a HIC political action committee, I would seriously be reconsidered where my contributions go this year.

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Well it’s nice to know I have company.

Last month, I wrote a post about how I wondered how much the predictions of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) could be trusted. For examples, I used thier predictions about budgest surpluses and deficits over the years and matched them to what really happened. No surprise, but the projections of the CBO were seriously off-base.

I was glad to see in the March 19 edition of The Washington Post an op-ed column by Ruth Marcus, entitled “Score One for Skepticism” where she also questions the CBO predictive abilities in terms of thier scoring of the health-care reform bill that recently passed.

In her column, she gives a good explanation as to why the CBO may be wrong about their prediction that the bill would save $138 billion over the next 10 years:

And here is the accompanying tablespoon of salt: The CBO is required to assume that Congress will do what it promises. So, for example, Congress promises in the measure to cut several hundred billion dollars in Medicare spending.

Because of politics and contributors, Congress rarely does what it promises.

Marcus finishes with:

I hope that the CBO’s projections prove correct. I wouldn’t bank – or base my vote – on it.

So really, maybe the CBO isn’t to blame for their poor track record. Maybe the fault, dear reader, lies not in the CBO, but in our representatives…who are elected by us.

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New Year – Old Joke

This weekend saw the celebration of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, where celebrants welcomed in the year 1389, but I know I’ll be still writing “1388″ on my checks for a couple of weeks.

[insert rimshot here]

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