the gRumpcAst

Not for the mearly gloomy or the slightly crabby, the gRumpcAst is for the professional grumps. We feature rants, raves, dreams and some amazing music to provide a yang to the yin.

Socialized Banking vs. Socialized Health Care

Bond Community Health Care Center in Tallahassee

Bond Community Health Care Center in Tallahassee

Over the past few months, the financial system in the US has suffered a bit of a meltdown.  The politicans are all pointing fingers at each other, while riding to the rescue of ailing insurance companies, banks and brokerage houses to pay for their errors and, in some casese, criminal misconduct, with taxpayer dollars.

If you ask those same politicians about a national health care system, they are quick to call it “socialism” and “welfare” and say it’s not the American Way.  Apparently, with the current financial problems, those same politicans are not quite so opposed to socialism.

The case for universal health care in the United States.

Americans pay 40% more per capita on health care than any country in the world that has universal health care.  We’re far from the healthiest nation with a higher infant mortality rate and a lower expected life span than many other countires.

To me, this is the “sentinal” issue that I use in deciding who I vote for.  As you might guess, Barack Obama is going to get my vote.

The image in this posting is from the web site of the Bond Community Health Center, a group of local heros in Tallahassee, Florida who operate under a very limited budget and who provide health care to a limited number of local citizens.

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Bicycles and Death

Ghost bike image from flickr user ( kurtz ) and is covered by a creative commons license.

Ghost Bike

I just received word that a young friend and neighbor was killed this evening in a accident while riding his bicycle. In my city, and most of the US, there is not a whole lot of transportation planning that focuses on bicycles. Instead, it’s all about the cars and trucks.

I was already pretty pissed off about how bikes are treated in my local transportation system. I have a brother and a son who commute on their bicycles every day. I commute on mine every now and then.

The death of this boy is a tragedy in my community and in my city. It’s a tragedy for his family and friends. We all handle grief in our own way. I’m planning to channel mine into being a pain-in-the-ass to the politicians and bureaucrats who claim they work for me on the issue of bicycle infrastructure in our transit system.

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The downside of bargaining.

euphonium and tuba
The instrument on the left is a euphonium.  The instrument on the right is a tuba.

A week ago, I wandered through one of the many salvage shops in Tallahassee and spotted what I thought was a small tuba.  I’ve been enamored with brass instruments after a visit to Festival International in Lafayette Louisiana a few years ago.  It’s a great festival and pulls in acts from around the French speaking world.  We thought we went there to hear Urban Trad (a great band from Belgium) perform, but it turned out that we went there to hear all sorts of wonderful musicians.  That year, for me, the theme was tubas.  There were tubas in at least 5 of the bands we heard.  In one amazing band from Quebec, there was  a sousaphone.

So when I saw the little “tuba” sitting on the shelf at the shop, I had to check out the price.   It was out of my comfort range so I forgot about it until today. I was back in that store and sure enough, it was still there.   The manager saw me checking it out and asked if I was going to buy it.  I said “not for that price” and made a counter offer a lot lower than I thought they’d go.  So now it’s mine, at least temporarily.

It turns out that it’s not actually a small tuba, but something called an euphonium.  Mine is a little dinged and two of the four valves need a bit of love.  It might be for sale or I might just keep it and toot on it.  Even with the dings and sticky valves, it’s making a very lovely noise when I blubber (is that the proper term?) on it.

I guess that the moral to this story is: “sometimes a good deal at the salvage shop is a lifestyle decision.”

This post is dedicated to furry fat boys of the 1999 James Madison University Marching Band tuba section.  Greece rocked.

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Loafing on a Saturday

It’s been a long week and I even went into work for a bit this morning. It’s time to loaf. My favorite kind of loaf is turkey loaf. In honor of my brother Steve, who’s going to be older next weekend while I’m out-of-town, I’m cooking a delicious turkey loaf. Here’s my recipe:

turkey loaf

This image is by a flickr user with a trademarked user name. It’s covered under a Creative Commons license. Mine looked a bit different but I’m too lazy tonight to get my own photo together.

Start with ground turkey. The quantity is up to you. Put it in a mixing bowl and add bread crumbs (I like panko for the better texture), an egg, some hard grated cheese, some fresh herbs (today I used tarragon, rosemary and cilantro), chopped up green pepper, scallion, onion (I did a big Vidalia)

Chop everything up as big or as little as you want. Mix it up as much or as little as you want. Add salt and pepper but go easy. It’s not a good idea to taste raw turkey.

Put it into some sort of baking pan. For tonight, I’m using a French ceramic casserole pan with a cover. I checked two sources for the appropriate internal temperature. A professional cook told me 155 degrees F. A cooking web site told me 165. You should make your own decision about that.

It’s guaranteed to be yum.

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Death and taxes.

Alpha Omega Tax Service
Creative Commons Attribution Licensed image by rachaelvoorhes via flickr

When someone dies, there are taxes to be paid. The estate pays taxes and individuals who receive assets from the estate pay taxes too. There are ways to “minimize” taxes and the current bunch running things in Washington would like to eliminate what they call “death” taxes.

Actually, from where I sit, taxes are not an evil thing. I try to look at the other side of the equation; what I receive for what I pay. The closer I get to my home, in terms of governments, the better deal I get.

My county taxes provide fire and police protection, environmental management, trash disposal, and excellent schools. I don’t mind paying my county taxes at all. In my state, the state revenue comes mostly from our version of the V.A.T., the state sales tax. I’m a little less happy with how my state government spends money. They seem to waste a lot more of my tax money than the county does.

Don’t get me started about my federal income taxes and how they are spent. Geesh.

Then, along come this new “run the country like a business” and “cut taxes, downsize government” crowd. These guys really piss me off. They get their money from folks who make their money through their investments and pay a much much much smaller share of their earnings in taxes than working people do.

Of course, they’re not doing much cutting of federal taxes here in the U.S. Instead, they’re spending money that they don’t have and putting our great great great great grandchildren in debt. They’re spending on big defense projects that put a lot of money back in the pockets of the rich folks investment club. Meanwhile, the services to working people; the folks who get most of their money from their paychecks are being eliminated.

Don’t even start on health care. They used to fool us by pointing to long wait times for medical services in countries with single-payer government-run health systems. Now, with “managed” care, it’s not a bit different. What is different in the US is that a large number of hard working Americans don’t have any health coverage.

We spend way too much of our national health care budget on paying for useless insurance infrastructure, not to mention the obscene profits being made by the “investors” in the scheme who make more money by not providing services to insured sick people.

It’s disgusting.

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Don’t bother asking a grumpy old guy. He’ll be rude and tell you what he thinks anyway.

Recently, a neighbor asked about the wisdom of cutting a tree that was leaning against what she thought might be a power line.  Here’s my response: undefined  

It’s never a good idea to touch anything resting on a power line.  If the line is charged, there’s a good chance that you could be badly shocked.    Even if the line is dead or a low voltage line, it’s under a lot of tension and has  a lot of potential energy stored up. Think “spring’.After Hurricane Kate, a group of neighbors decided to cut the 10 inch oak tree that had fallen on the phone line at the top of “Incredibly Steep Hill.  The phone line hadn’t snapped but was under a lot of tension.  Six or 8 of us got on the tree; half on one side of the phone line and half on the other. One brave soul started up his chain saw and said, “Get ready y’all” as he moved toward the tree. He got about  7/8’s of the way through the tree before there was a loud cracking sound and the tree started reacting to the energy of the string.  It flew up in the air taking the chain saw and the guy holding on to it, up and over,  into a sort of summersault.  Somehow the chain saw managed to land without cutting off anybody’s foot.  The rest of us were tossed to either side of the tree. The guy who did the flip landed pretty hard.  I can’t remember if he passed out but I do remember that he was acting weird enough that he agreed to go to the ER.  So no, don’t go all do-it-yourself on overhead utilities.  If it’s a power line, or if you’re not sure, call the power company.  If it’s telephone or cable TV, call those folks.  Of course, if it’s sparking and you’re worried about the woods catching on fire, call 911.  Image source:  Wikimedia commons.      

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Rate Beer y’all.

I’ve checked into most of the social networking sites over the years and am active to varying degrees in different ones. One that I especially enjoy is RateBeer.com. It’s a site where members rate and discuss beers, breweries, places that serve beer and places that sell beer. It’s a wonderful site. Here’s my most recent post, on what happens to be my favorite beer.

Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio

This is absolutely my favorite beer on the planet. It comes from a tiny museum/brewery in Brussels Belgium. I find one now and then in my travels. I haven’t been to Europe much lately (that pesky devalued dollar and all) but found this one in April of 2007 in a grocery store in the Yokohama Japan train station. That little bottle had quite a ride until it got to my belly in a home on a dirt road in North Florida.

This is an incredibly well balanced guezue with palate that is quite dry but not offensively so. Smell is so subjective. Either you love or it reminds you of a sheep pen. I love but then I kind of like the smells of a barnyard so take that at what it’s worth. It poured a beautiful amber with a very tiny and quickly evaporating head. It’s an amazing beer.

I was a little worried about how this bottle had fared on it’s long journey. Fear not, pilgrim. It was just as tasty as it was when I drank a bottle in Antwerp a few years ago that had had a much shorter trip.

This bottle came with the makenpis statue on the label and a Japanese label (with barcode) pasted on the back. If you have a chance to try this beer, you owe it to yourself, even if you don’t think you like lambic’s.

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Dead Letter Box

When you die, your body systems stop but the mail continues. The first time I opened my friends mailbox, it was jammed and I seriously considered sending the post office a “died – left no forwarding address” notice. As nice as that would be, you really can’t do that because there are bills that have to be paid, accounts that have to be closed and tax matters to attend to.

Catalogs and fund raising appeals were the bulk of the mail. At first, I just put them into the recycling bin but then a new hero emerged. A friend said that he’d like to take a run at getting the junk stopped. He started calling the catalog merchants and fund raisers to tell them that my friend had died and would they please save a tree and stop sending their stuff. It took several months but eventually the torrent of junk turned into a trickle.

Bills were another issue. In U.S. folk history, there’s a persistent story of a bible salesman who shows up at the widow/widower’s house a day or two after the death with an expensive bible saying that the deceased had ordered it several months before as a gift and that the salesman was there to deliver it. Of course, the story goes, the grieving widow/widower would pay for the bible even if money was short.

We had our own version of the bible salesman. Most of the bills were what you’d expect; utilities, insurance, credit cards, etc. One was from a small private hospital in a city far from where my friend lived. They were convinced that she had been a patient there several months before and owed a considerable sum of money. We checked pretty throughly and didn’t find any indication that my friend had been out of town during that time. We wrote the hospital asking for more information. They didn’t respond except to continue to send the statements.

We finally decided that it was either an error or that the hospital had a habit of sending bills to the dead for imaginary services.

When a person dies, the estate has several duties including doing an accounting of the assets and liabilities of the deceased. My friend, a single person with no children, was financially better off than some people. She had a lot of accounts in a lot of different institutions. While her notebook gave details on most of her accounts, there were surprises. One day, one of those “privacy policy disclosure letters came from an out-of-state bank that I had never seen a reference or a statement. We wrote the bank and found an account that we had no idea existed.

The most difficult letters were those from friends. They typically started out, “Dear _____, We’ve been trying to call you but your phone is out-of-service, and we’re worried. Please let us know you’re OK.” . At Christmas time, there were cards from friends who hadn’t been notified.

My friend died in the summer (2007). It’s now March and mail, although less of it, is still coming in. Just last week, a late year end tax statement arrived. The estate is almost closed and I haven’t decided what to do about the mail. Telling the post office to stop delivering it somehow makes my friend’s passing seem final.

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We gots google phone goodness!

Yipee…The =grumpcast= has been selected to participate in the beta of Google’s GrandCentral telephone service. Now you can call us for free by just clicking on the “Call Me” button in the sidebar.  You enter your phone number and in seconds your phone will ring. Pick it up and you’ll be connected with the Grumpcast for free.  It’s really easy and more google goodness.

More information on GrandCentral here.

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Dancing with the dead – Finding the assets.

I was at the hospital when my friend died.  With her lawyer’s blessing, I took custody of her purse and went to my friends  home to read the notebook.  There was a little confusion about her will.  Several people remembered comments about her having hidden her will in a variety of strange places.  We searched pretty throughly and finally found it in her file cabinet in a folder labeled “Last Will and Testament”.

I attended a parochial school until 6th grade.  I remember the Roman Catholic priest who taught my religion class very well.  During one class he shared what he thought the origin of the word “testament” was.  According to the priest, it came from ancient Greece where when a man wanted to swear that something was true, he would point to his testicles and say “cut them off if I’m lying.  I remember the priest pointing to his crotch as he told the story.

That first day, we collected the will, the notebook, and some of my friends financial records.   Over the next few days, we collected and secured the most valuable assets.  Jewelry and small things went to a safe deposit box rented by the estate.  Big things like fancy china were packed and stored at neighbors houses.

We had the locks changed but one day, found that someone had gotten in the house.  We found what appeared to be the remains of a coin collection on the kitchen table.  None of those of us who were caring for the house had seen it before and I had the only key.  The cops were called and a nice deputy came out.  He noticed that one side of a pair of locked French doors could be opened by shaking the doorknob.

According to the deputy, burglary of the homes of the newly deceased is quite common in our part of the planet and I suspect, around the world.

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