Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Where there's smoke, there's ire

Ah, the Great Indoors

Last night I went to Laurelhurst Park and watched “Singing in the Rain” along with a few hundred other Portlanders. I'm not sure there is a better way to enjoy a balmy summer evening that doesn't involve taking off all one's clothes or imbibing tall drinks with Spanish names. There were snow cones for sale at a tropical-themed cart, though most people brought their own picnics. The movie, which I hadn't seen in years, is one delightful song and dance routine after another, including the famous eponymous scene, plus the songs “Make 'Em Laugh,” “Good Mornin'.” and the incomparable “Gotta Dance.”

But this is a somewhat political blog, so for me, it's “Gotta Kvetch.”

It was the cigarette smoke. Enough people were smoking in the crowd that at times I grew a bit nauseous. At the least, it was irritating. And that brings me to my point: cigarette smoking must be prohibited in outdoor public places.

I applauded the extension of cigarette bans to bars, although it went into effect about a year and a half too late. Now I can go into even the most divey (and therefore most interesting) bars in town and inhale comfortably. It's great to be able to walk to my neighborhood pub and have a beer and dinner without suffocating from tobacco smoke.

Unfortunately, by implementing this ban on smoking in bars, we have ceded the outdoors to smokers. It's great indoors now. But it's virtually impossible to sit on at a sidewalk table, or on the patio of a restaurant or bar, without wondering if a tremendous fire is consuming Mt. Hood National Forest—except that forest fires, as devastating as they are, smell better than the incineration of tobacco.

So let's just ban outdoor smoking. Let the smokers puff away in a closet or a car with the windows rolled up. Or their own home, if they own it themselves, since very few landlords want to rent to smokers anymore.

Not that I'm totally unsympathetic. I did make this suggestion last winter when the bar ban took effect:

But don't cry to me about smokers' rights. Those of you who smoke should have no rights. You are drug addicts. You suck on an extremely lethal drug that is more addictive than heroin. Like meth tweaking, your addiction harms the people around you. And the weird thing is, it doesn't even get you high.

In any sane society, tobacco would be illegal. Only the largess and lobbying power of the tobacco companies keeps it legal. So that's not going to happen, but the non-addicted public is going to keep making it more difficult to feed your addiction. Get used to it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dagnab gummint burrocrats

If the DMV did health care

One of the main points in the argument against a single payer, government-sponsored health care system is that it would be run by heartless gummint burrocrats. One line I’ve heard several times is: “Do you want to trust your health care to the kind of people who run the DMV?”

A week ago, I got a letter from the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles. This letter informed me that a vehicle registered to my name was not insured and that I had to procure auto insurance for it unless I had sold it or if it had been wrecked and thus taken out of circulation. In my case, however, the vehicle in question, a 1960s vintage Ford stepside pickup, was in a friend’s garage, not going anywhere until a loving restoration was completed.

There was a phone number at the bottom of the letter. I called it. A person answered. Yes, a real human being answered. No tedious menu of numbers to push or things to say to eventually get to a point where you are on hold long enough to watch Schindler’s List. A woman just answered the phone, said her name and asked how she could help me.

When was the last time that happened when you called your insurance company?

She was very helpful and told me to write my explanation at the bottom of the slip that I was supposed to return and all would be fine.

Again, when did that ever happen when you inquired about something from a health insurance company?

Fact is, the DMV Express center at Lloyd Center has always given me better service than I get from any other commercial interaction, with the possible exception of my favorite coffee house. The people there are friendly, courteous and extremely helpful. And most of the time, you get right in and out, with a minimum of waiting.

So, as to whether I want to have my health care administered by the same people who work at the DMV, I’m saying, “Hell, yes!”

Monday, July 13, 2009

Our sick economy

Nothing Pencils Out

Nothing pencils out anymore. Maybe nothing ever did, but it seems flagrantly more obvious today that virtually all business activities are entropic. Unsustainable. Oh yes, businesses survive, even thrive, but only by begging, borrowing, stealing, cheating or government subsidy.

No business seems to make it on its own. No business can operate profitably without either cutting corners or receiving unearned revenue.

You know the big names, the ones who got the billions and hundreds of billions from the feds. So you know:

--Banking doesn't pencil out. Banks need large infusions of your tax dollars to stay afloat.

--Ditto for insurance companies. In addition, insurance companies have to aggressively deny benefits to their customers to stay in business.

--American auto companies haven't penciled out for decades and now need not only government money but supervision.

Certainly, the failed economy doesn't help matters, but this thought came to me awhile ago, before millions of jobs went up in smoke.

--Big agribusiness doesn't pencil out. The corporate farms are totally dependent on the pork-laden agriculture bill that Congress passes every few years.

--Small farms haven't penciled out for nearly a century.

--Food product manufacturing doesn't pencil out unless the product is loaded with heavily subsidized commodities such as corn and soybeans.

--Most other kinds of manufacturing doesn't pencil out in the U.S., which is why it's done in China and elsewhere.

In Portland, however, it's no different, just perhaps more bungled up than many other places, but definitely not alone.

--Major league sports franchises, though universally owned by billionaires, evidently can't make it unless taxpayers pay for their stadiums and arenas.

--The hotel industry doesn't pencil out, since it needs to hire illegal aliens to clean the rooms. And it needs subsidies from local governments to build new hotels.

--Restaurants, too, need illegals in the kitchen to pencil out.

--Bars evidently will go bust if they don't get revenue from video poker.

--Newspapers aren't penciling out and thus are near extinction.

--Radio and television news doesn't really pencil out either, because these media really don't report news, just gossip and opinion.

--The construction of buildings no longer pencils out, because there's no buyers anymore. Unless a builder wins a contract from the government, at which point taxpayers foot the bill.

--Pharmaceuticals don't pencil out. Yes, the drug companies make obscene profits, but only by convincing people to take lots of drugs they don't need—and then the government or the insurance companies pay for those drugs.

--Health care in general doesn't pencil out, even though prices are escalating at three times the general inflation rate. Hospitals can't make money treating the sick, but instead have to seek profits treating the vain.

--A lot of little boutiques in trendy areas may appear to pencil out, and do so in the short run, but wait a couple of years and see how many are still around.

--Small business in general hardly ever pencils out. Either the employers or the owners make pitiful wages for what they do, and never have good health plans.

--Big business doesn't pencil out either, because it doesn't have to. Big business is too big to fail, so the government keeps it alive.

I can come up with a handful of business activities—coffee, sex, IPhones—that seem to pencil out. Maye I haven't examined them closely enough. Maybe there are more. There definitely are more that don't. Give me your list.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Keillor gets it right

Potato Salad is NOT Ice Cream

Garrison Keillor's latest commentary is on potato salad and he nails it. I, too, went to a July 4 potluck and found, among the chips and guacamole, crackers and cheese, carrots and celery sticks, pork and beans and fried spring rolls, buckets of over-mayonnaised goop containing finely diced potatoes and some other stuff mostly added for color. This stuff passes for potato salad in grocery stores and delis these days.

Keillor observes:

The eerie-yellow store-bought stuff in the tubs was manufactured at Amalgamated Salad in Houston by undocumented 12-year-olds from the hills of Michoacan. Worse, it is teaching our children that accomplishment doesn't matter.

A child served yellow slop from a bucket is being told that it's OK to plagiarize a term paper off the Internet just so long as it's poorly written.

He then gives the basics for real potato salad: "Take half an hour away from your Facebook page and do the job right. Boil some eggs, chop the celery and chives and green onions, boil the potatoes, make your mayonnaise, maybe toss in a little sour cream, use plenty of dill, and sprinkle paprika on top." To that I would add some dill pickle and a dollop of mustard (dijon or spicy brown), and probably take out the chives.

Myriad reasons exist for the promulgation of crappy potato salad, not the least of which is at most Americans will put up with anything that has too much mayonnaise in it. But one culprit is the ice cream scoop. Old fashioned potato salad is chunky and you have to use a big spoon to get it out of the bowl and a small spoon or fork to pull it off the big spoon and onto the plate. But sometime in, I think, the 70s, though maybe earlier, deli counters figured out they could more efficiently transfer potato salad from one container to another with an ice cream scoop, if the salad was modified to something with the consistency of rocky road ice cream. And out went the big chunks of potato and the halves of hard boiled eggs and celery slices big enough to crunch. Thus potato salad became tasteless and bland.

So you ask, why didn't I bring real potato salad to this potluck? I guess I should have, but I decided there would be plenty of starchy salads (potato and pasta), and opted to bring real cole slaw instead. Not the ice cream scoop variety, but slaw with coarse cut cabbage, chunks of apple and onion and a few diced pepperoncini tossed in for spice.

Rule of thumb: other than ice cream, food should not be dishable with an ice cream scoop.