Friday, March 27, 2015

Gratitude: My Friend Photoshop

The edited photo, color saturated. (Click on each of the three photos for a larger, more detailed view.)
PhotoShop is a program that, like digital photography itself, has made me a far better photographer than I was before it came along. There is still a great deal more to learn--probably exponentially more--than I know, but I have fun wherever I am on this learning curve. It's like tennis in that respect: I can enjoy playing no matter how good/bad I am.

This is the original shot, unedited.
The photos of the cabin here were taken yesterday out near Carvins Cove, on the way home from a kayak run, using a small point and shoot Exilm camera. Nothing fancy about the camera. It is more convenient than the rigs I carry around for the hard stuff and it takes presentable images. PhotoShop provides what you see, with a little effort ... and really, not much.

I have put together a few PhotoShop classes--taught by people who know their stuff--and it always amazed me how the teachers know a lot, but the students always know things the teachers don't. It has been a group learning process, in my experience.
This is the same photo as a watercolor painting.

Finally, a Sensible Medicare Bill?

Congress is working at refining Medicare, and the latest effort by it and the president looks like it will become good law. It changes the way physicians are paid from one based upon volume to a basis of quality care, which makes huge sense.

The NYTimes reports today (here) that "Marilyn Moon, a health economist and former trustee of the Medicare program, said the vote Thursday had far-reaching implications. 'If doctors respond to the incentives in this bill, they will have to change the way they do business. Now doctors get paid more if they do more. In the future, they will be paid more if they do it better — and may be paid more for doing less.”

"Better" often means they clear up a problem that will not reoccur. "More" most often means "cover your ass with unnecessary and extremely expensive tests." I've experienced both. I prefer "better."

This makes makes so much sense that we have to ask a simple question: What took you so long?


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Photos: Opening Day on the Cove

Janeson chases a flock of water birds.
After a dry spell, the water is quite high.
The temperature eased up to about 75 in Roanoke today, so I guessed it was time to take out the kayaks for a shakedown run at Carvins Cove near Roanoke. Proved to be an inspired decision.

It was simply beautiful out there: the water was high and choppy because of wind; the water was chilly, but the air was warm; birds flocked and followed my pal Janeson and me all over the lake.

Could not have been a better March day for a paddle. These little runs do more for the spirit than a heck of a lot else, which is why, I suppose, so many of us are addicted to them. Here's some more of what we saw today.

Janeson wore jeans, and they got wet.
Pampa didn't wear jeans, but he got wet, too.
Here's Pampa the paddle man, paddling away from Tinker Mountain.
Looking around the cove: There's awe in that glance.
Janeson paddling home.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Homeschooled Kids: Let Them Play!

Homeschoolers even have conventions.
Having a governor who is a member of the Democratic Party continues to keep Virginia's government from so thoroughly embarrassing itself as to be considered Mississippi or Kansas wannabees.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, whom conservatives love to hate in the same way they hate Barack Obama, is in the process of preparing vetoes for some truly awful legislation, almost totally the responsibility of the House and Senate majorities of the Republican Party.

One of his vetoes (which would keep homeschooled kids out of public school activities), however, is wrong-headed and I don't think I will ever convince my more liberal pals of that because they see "homeschool" and think of nothing but the out-of-control Christian right. Homeschooled kids come in all political stripes these days and they are often better educated than their public school counterparts.

Those who want them banned from limited public school participation would never consider banning me from using the library because I prefer to buy the books I read.

Homeschool parents pay full taxes and get no exemption for schooling their children at home, but these kids are not allowed to participate in public school extracurricular activities, which is a sham and a shame. Their omission is good for nobody. It deprives them of the activities, which round out students; keeps the public school students from exposure to alternative students of this type; and keeps society from getting a student who is better educated overall. Where's the benefit?

Most extracurricular activities come with fees, so it's not about the money. It is about bigotry and it angers me a great deal. My side--the liberal side--is so smug about conservatives being bigots that we often forget we have our own issues with it, especially when it comes to tolerating conservative religion, which is how home schooling became a large franchise in Virginia. Those familiar with homeschooling these days, however, understand that there is much, much more to it than religious education.

For those who harp on the fact that homeschool parents make the choice, knowing what it means, I say it doesn't have to mean what it has meant, especially if we are a good and generous people, one looking out for all the children and caring about all the people.

Let them play, dammit! We all benefit.


Throwback Wednesday, Too: 20 Years and 20 Pounds Ago

This is your favorite editr at Camp Alta Mons about 20 years ago, posing at a barn that no longer exists. Alta Mons has always been one of my favorite hiking spots and judging from the foilage in this photo, the time of year would be early to mid-spring.

The editr was not only 20 years younger (at about 45 or so), but also about 20 pounds thinner (about 180). I was a little shorter, too, at 5-9 3/4. My knee replacement two years ago put me up to 5-10 1/4, which I round off to 6-feet-2. I would also have been recently sober at the time of this shot, which might account for the smile.

Throwback Wednesday: Remembering Moon

This is my friend Moon (Donna Rose Stewart) visiting me in my relatively new home of Roanoke about 1975. I'd taken a job at the Roanoke Times as a sports writer and moved my family up here. My wife and I split and Moon came up for a visit.

This photo was taken on the footbridge over the Cowpasture River in Bath County, which was erased in the flood of 1985. We were probably camping up there, though I don't recall specifically.

We'd been close friends for a good long time. Moon was and remains bright, sensitive, kind, creative and full of energy. At the time this photo was taken, she probably weighed 100 pounds but taught aerobics, could do century (100 miles) bike rides and was a body builder. She was also a virtuoso piano player and wonderful singer.

Moon got her nickname from me because she was always so other-worldly in so many ways. She dabbled in stuff like runes, astrology (she was good), aura balancing, eating only uncooked veggies ... and, well, you get the idea. A woman with her own band to follow.

I keep in touch with her and it is always good to get a message on the Internet from her, though I don't get to hear that lovely voice much any more. I miss Moon sometimes.

Sentence of the Day: What?

Sentence of the Day:

The institute will be a cohort-based professional development program that transitions undergraduate students into workplace-ready professionals who know how to problem solve with a "sustainability lens" and communicate effectively.

This horror of "effective communication" announces the Virginia Tech Sustainability Institute and one of my old PR buddies wrote it. I won't give you her name because my guess is that she wrote an initial sentence and the good people of the Sustainability Institute altered it over and over until it was almost completely filled with impenetrable jargon.

Not a good lesson in how to communicate effectively, guys.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Refuting Ted Cruz: Point by Point

Cruz: Just kidding, right? No.
Ted Cruz, the chief nutjobbie of the Republican Party and the first man out of the box as a presidential candidate today, made a lot of his numbskull pronouncements about the economy with his announcement. Money Magazine, which is hardly liberal, took the opportunity to refute them. Here's what Money says, in brief.

Cruz says the U.S. has a "job problem," but the truth is we've just had the best jobs year since 1999 and the unemployment rate is 5.5 percent, the best since 2008.
The candidate says Americans are "dropping out of the workforce." Yep. They're retiring. And the 77 million Baby Boomers will continue to do so for a few years. The Boomers are leaving and jobs are being created. "Dropping out"? Yeh, after a fashion.

Cruz wants a flat tax and he wants to kill the IRS. The flat tax would be yet another Republican assault on the poor, who pay a smaller percentage of taxes in most cases, and without the IRS, there is some question how Cruz would collect the taxes (from the poor or anybody else).

Cruz says inequality is rising and, yes again, that's likely true. But how'd that happen? Money says, "The wealthy have benefited from a six-year rise in the stock market, while the working class has barely seen any increase in household income since 1955." Wages are growing slowly, costs are rising and the rich are getting a hell of a lot richer. Republican policies are primarily responsible for the gap.

Cruz wants to build an "energy economy." Sure, let's build the XL pipeline, drill more offshore, rely heavily on coal and stay right where we are. Carbon energy has seen its day. If he wants to build the energy economy, let's talk about alternate forms.

He wants to audit the fed, which is audited twice a year. Simple matter of intimidation at a time when the dollar is pretty dang solid.

Gratitude: Dealing With DMV Is Rare

DMV Now? Yeh, right.
Today, I am grateful for:

The simple fact that I don't have to deal with the Division of Motor Vehicles any more often than I do. DMV is the very definition of unwieldy bureaucracy. It is an agency the workers don't understand, whose rules and regulations don't always make sense and where an explanation is most often insufficient when it isn't simply wrong.

I have had the occasion in the past year to have to call (literally) upon the DMV for several matters of the utmost importance to me and I have found the workers to be uncaring and uninformed. The regulations are so complex and often so totally without any logic that they are difficult--at best--to follow. The website that I visited this morning crashed twice and had my primary car listed as a car owned by a friend, one I've never even sat in (I co-signed for it). I could not call up either my car or my truck.

So I am left to call DMV--oh, god, relieve me--or visit and try to figure out how that unspeakable customer numbering system works and why, when the waiting room is full, there are only five people at the windows, while another five to seven wander around behind them.

Thank you god, or whoever is in charge of DMV interaction, for not making us have to deal with this agency more often than we do.

Photos: Here Comes Spring!

A walk in the damp, sunlit woods yesterday revealed the first real signs of spring: buds a-poppin'. They were everywhere and in a wild, electric variety of colors. We had to look closely to find most of them, but they are there and in about a week, they'll be a lot more evident, especially if the sun continues to shine. There's plenty of water to make them bright. Here's some of what we saw.

Photo: What is that Footprint?

Yesterday, this was the puzzle. What kind of animal would produce this palm-sized print that roughly resembles a horse shoe. Not a deer. Not anything with a paw. Hmmm.

So, a little further down the trail, this came up:

Problem solved. The top photo is the back part of a boot. The lower pix is the rest of the boot.

Here is a pair of deer prints near the boot print, just for comparison:

OK, so the hike was not one of high adventure. We takes our pleasures where we finds them.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Recommended: 'Like Sunday, Like Rain'

I don't want to get involved in a full-blown movie review here because it's gorgeous outside, supper's on the stove and, well, I have other things that outrank this. But in just a minute or two, let me strongly recommend the charming movie "Like Sunday, Like Rain," playing at the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke.

This one stars a couple of people I don't know (but I'm sure we'll see in the future), Leighton Meester and young Julian Shatkin as a down and out nanny and a 12-year-old prodigy, the son of a very wealthy mother who is mostly absent. It is, at the most basic, a love story (without all the romantic complications) and a sweet tale of two people finding something special when their worlds aren't.

Simple, lovely story, beautifully told.

Give College Basketball Back to the Colleges

Kentucky's John Calipari makes a living with freshmen.
(Update: Here is a NYTimes article that updates all this, asking why Calipari is being honored by UMass, the school where he first had wins vacated for cheating.)

 "I'm very much in favor of high school kids going pro. I had six young men commit to me out of high school that didn't go to college, that went to the pros. I'm very much for that because they didn't want college. They wanted to go to the NBA. And if they go to the [NBA Development League], that's fine with them. But the six-, seven-month education, online classes second semester. I don't know what that does for a young person." --Louisville basketball coach Rick Petino.

The rule now disallows competition in U.S. professional basketball until kids are 19, meaning that if they're going to play at an advanced level for a year before going to the NBA (or the NBA Developmental League), they have to enter college for a spell, usually a portion of a freshman year. Many of these boys have little interest in formal education and actually begin the last portion of their freshman year taking online courses. They leave school as soon as the basketball season is over.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari, whose team is undefeated this year and a heavy favorite to win the NCAA title, has made a living with extraordinarily talented teenagers who have no more interest in college than they would in NASCAR. They use Kentucky to get to the NBA and Kentucky uses them to generate millions of dollars.

Petino suggests in an ESPN story today (here), "... if a kid doesn't want to go to college, let him go to the pros. Let him go into the [D-League]. And if someone does want to go to college, let them go. We're still going to have great basketball teams."

Kentucky's Calipari tells the world he has a 100 percent graduation rate (for seniors entering their senior year), which is admirable, but that doesn't tell the story of the program's ability to graduate its athletes. If money, and not a college education, is the goal, then opting for the NBA is certainly more lucrative--if the kid makes a team. First round draft picks this year will earn a minimum of $1.8 million over a two-year contract, 33 percent more than an engineering major could expect in a lifetime, according to Glenn Logan of the Kentucky site, which can be pretty defensive about this issue. Even a player overseas makes a lot of money by recent college grad standards, though the career is certainly short.
Tom Izzo, the successful Michigan State coach who rarely relies on freshmen, suggests a study would be helpful: "We have not researched where a large majority of these guys that come out early [are]. ... Some day, 10 years from now, there's going to be a study of how many kids came out and ended up on the streets. That's the crime of this whole thing."

The NBA is considering raising the minimum age to 20. I believe Petino is right: drop the age and let the the most talented players go to the NBA out of high school. The college game won't suffer. In fact, it will be great to have college teams--and not pro teams like Kentucky's--playing for titles again. And the kids? I don't think they won't miss the seven months of college that they don't want, aren't prepared for and will never appreciate.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Photo Essay: First Hike of the Spring

Sometimes a rock is as soft as a cloud and the sun feels like delicate fingers.
Interesting message.
Today presented the opportunity for the first hike of the spring (on the first full day of spring) and Mill Mountain was the destination. This is a hike in the heart of the city that is about a mile and a half of vertical climb and this early, it's tiring. Is for me, anyway.

My buddy Janeson and I climbed the steep trail in about an hour and descended in about 30 minutes or so, taking time at the top to visit with a whole gaggle of people who filled the small parking lot and created quite a traffic jam.

This was breakout from cabin fever at its very best: bright, sunny day, about 69 degrees, light breeze, happy faces and the wondrous feeling that maybe spring really is here.

This is some of what we saw.

(Pictures of me by Janeson Keeley. I shot the sheriff and the other photos.)

This little guy was plum tuckered out.
The view of Roanoke you know and love (a little more colorful than you remember, perhaps).
A Roanoke couple photographs some Asian visitors.
Janeson said this was a "bear pottie."
For a closer view ...
Janeson lets the sun shine in.
Color is creeping in to the woods.
This Spanish woman photos her buddies.
I like this shot of Janeson's sharp jawline.
Pampa at the star in black and white.
Downhill hikes are tough on shoe inserts.

Fixing Up the Artwork

A friend gave me this little Texas Tavern plaque for my chochka mantle in the living room. It looked empty and the TT is anything but empty, 24 hours a day, 364 days a year.

So, I did a little doctoring (with apologies to the original artist), using a couple of photos I shot recently. I cut out these details from the photos, and stuck them in the appropriate places.

Both pictures were taken just after the St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Roanoke on a recent Saturday. The cook in the door was actually at the back door, taking a smoke break. The shot in the window is one of the most photographed spots in the city.

Photo of the Day: Parking Lot Hogs

The score here (taken a few minutes ago, Saturday morning) is 2 trucks, 8 parking spaces. It would have been simple for the trucks to have taken half as many spaces (they're big and they need 2), but no, sloppy, inconsiderate drivers rudely hogged the lot.

This is not good, boys.

(Stupid) Quote of the Day: Bootstraps

Scott Walker: Hater of the poor.
“In America, it is one of the few places left in the world where it doesn’t matter what class you were born into,” [Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker said in Iowa in January. “It doesn’t matter what your parents do for a living.”

Except it does. Much of the new evidence on the causes of inequality finds that moving up from one class to the other in America has gotten far more difficult. The rich, even doofus members of said class, get the right tutors that get them into the right schools where they make connections to get the right jobs. They never face the peril of losing everything because of say, a large medical bill, or the dead weight of a college loan.

--Timothy Egan in the NYTimes today


Today's Thought: The Republican Budget (Hint: It's a Fraud)

Paul Krugman: The GOP budget is a Big Lie.
Thought for the Day:

Look, I know that it’s hard to keep up the outrage after so many years of fiscal fraudulence. But please try. We’re looking at an enormous, destructive con job, and you should be very, very angry.

--Paul Krugman in the NYTimes today on the Republican budget proposals.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Gratitude: Memorable Moments

Today, I am grateful for:

Small, memorable moments.

I took a walk for an hour with a friend this morning--one that was totally unexpected and spontaneous--and the 60 minutes were filled with enthusiasm, interest, creative thought and the kind of life energy I so enjoy. It is especially rewarding when those moments come out of the blue and on the first day of spring ... when the weather outside is frightful. The weather inside was warm and electric.

I like that.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Photo of the Day: Tea for the Tillerman

The official arrival of spring on Edinburgh Drive in Roanoke is not the chirp of the fat robin, it is the whir of the backyard tiller, churning up my garden plot--and expanding it by 20 percent this year.

Every year, I wait for the right day like a novelist hanging around for inspiration and like the novelist, there's never the exact moment. So today, the sky was bright, the breeze light, the sun warm, the ground damp and soft and the air cool. It was the right time.

So, now I have to go find some spring plants and stick them in the ground. That's spring, too.

(Photo by my buddy Janeson Keeley.)

Here's Who the Republicans Are (Really)

The budget House Republicans propose "does nothing to boost the paychecks of working Americans and makes it harder to buy a home. Students will see deep education cuts and college will be less affordable. And this budget takes away the tools that allow people to climb the ladder of opportunity."--Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), House Budget Committee. (Story here.)

Republicans in Congress are slowly beginning to drop any pretense of supporting anything that helps poor and middle income Americans, preferring instead to put their money into war (which profits the rich) and tax cuts for guess who.

Their new attacks on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, aid to dependent children, health care for the poor and affordable medications for poor children gives you a very good look at who these people are: soulless automatons who worship at the feet of the Koch god.



Benjamin Netanyahu: Republican

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel's top Republican.
"Mr. Netanyahu resorted to fear-mongering and anti-Arab attacks while failing to address the issues that Israelis said they were most worried about, namely the high cost of housing and everyday living in Israel. Although the economy has grown, the country has experienced widening income disparities and is now one of the most unequal societies in the advanced world." --NYTimes editorial today (here)

Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu is sounding more and more like the radicals in the American Republican Party these days, isolating the country from the rest of the world and threatening U.S. support. I, for one, have been disabused of any notion that Israel's dominant leaders wanted peace for some time. When Netanyahu addressed his brothers in arms in the U.S. Congress recently (while Democrats boycotted), their "brotherhood" was cast in stone. When the wild-eyed warring radical's party was given its plurality in the Israel ruling body yesterday, my suspicions were confirmed.

Netanyahu, who was shown by polls to be trailing late into the day of voting, went on a Republican binge of racism and scare tactics and squeaked out a victory in much the same way his American counterparts have learned works for them.

The tactics and the result is the same: constant war, ever-widening income gap, isolation from the rest of the world, complete obsession with racism and fear. The enemies have different faces for Netanyahu and the GOP, but they are basically the same: irrationality and a complete refusal to change what they're doing when it has shown consistently that it doesn't work. That is the very definition of insanity.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Huge Loophole in the Supremes' ACA Decision? Could Be

"Most people who receive tax credits will never sue to challenge them. Lawsuits can be brought only by those with a personal stake, so in most cases the tax credits will never come before a court. The administration is therefore free to follow its own honest judgment about what the law requires." --NYTimes story this a.m., outlining the Obama Administration's options should the Supremes rule against the ACA.

Lawyers would have no real purpose to exist if it weren't for loopholes and there's a huge one looming in the Supreme Court's pending decision on the Affordable Care Act, especially if the court shuts the program down. A shutdown will affect only four people in the strictest sense, if the administration wants to play its cards that way.

'Course the Republican Congress would be apoplectic, would scream "impeachment," would sue again and would probably have a big-headed baby on the floor of the House. But there's not a damn thing in the world they can do about it in a practical sense. Those who want to can sue the government to suspend ACA for themselves, but for nobody else. That's what could happen with the four (reluctant, if you read the press) plaintiffs. Most people who are covered by ACA want to keep it, so why would they sue (unless they watch Fox News, of course)?

Ah, loopholes. Aren't they delightful?


Maddie's 10th Birthday: A Short Recollection

Baby Maddie with Jake and Elwood Blues.
Scottish ancestry.
Happy 10th birthday to my best girl. You're growing up to be as sweet and kind as we could hope, Madeline, and I love you dearly.

Maddie with Kara: 30 minutes old.
"All babies look like me." --Winston Churchill.
"Oh, lord, what now?"
Oh, so this is walking?
Oh, boy! I can chase the cat now!
No, mom, I don't like dogs in green hats.
Maddie Musician and her favorite teacher.
Pampa said they named this park after me.
Teaching Pampa to bake cookies. Chocolate chip, of course.
Helping Pampa record a radio essay.
Long jump in Wasena Park.
Vamping is easy with these dimples.
At the pool with Maggie.
Hound Dog teammates.
At a concert with Pampa.
Viking princesses.
The Spanish Maddie.
Embracing Picasso.
Warrior Maddie.
Maddie and her men.
Oh, yuck, Pampa!
Maddie's third grade class sings at Christmas.
Pals forever.
Grandpas and grandgirls have a connection that doesn't exist elsewhere in nature.
Happy 10th, little girl who is becoming a big girl.