Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Income tax day

I sent ours in last week.  We generally end up paying, partly because I refuse to go to a tax consultant.  I have this theory that someone with a Ph.D. in political science who has fairly simple sources of income ought to be able to figure out his taxes, although I really should get some help.

One year when we lived in San Jose we had to sell our car to make the payment.  I also was a procrastinator, and more than once we were in the line of cars at the Post Office beating the midnight postmark deadline.

Occasionally I have to pay a penalty because I don’t make quarterly payments the I.R.S. would like.  I would rather pay the penalty than to deal with the whole tax thing four times a year.

I’m hoping that our payment is going to foreign aid or the Death Valley National Monument or Walter Reed Hospital.  I’d hate to think that Sen. Ted Cruz is getting any of it.  Too bad we can’t earmark our returns.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Stone Age

Recently Elisabeth Rosenthal, an environmental writer, published a chart comparing how much electrical energy was produced by renewable sources in a number of industrialized countries.  An amazing 97% of Norway’s electricity comes from renewable  sources, mostly hydroelectric.  Canada, home of tar sands, produces 63% of its electricity from renewables, again almost all of it hydro power.  Denmark produces 40% of its power from renewables, almost entirely wind power.

And the U.S.?  13%, mostly hydro.  We should be moving away from oil, natural gas, and especially coal.  It doesn’t matter if we have more gas available from fracking, more coal available from removing West Virginia’s mountain tops.  Global climate change is here, and it is getting worse each year.

Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, former oil minister of Saudi Arabia, once said, “The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.”  It ended because bronze, and later iron, were discovered.

Oil and coal use is the modern equivalent of the stone age.  It is time we moved past it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Prostate Cancer

For the past eight weeks I have been receiving radiation treatments for prostate cancer.  This will be my ninth and final week.  I think the statistics are that at least a third of the men in the U.S. will develop prostate cancer, and I believe it is generally when they are in their seventies.  I’m sure I could look all of this up on the internet, but it is one of those things I’d prefer not to know too much about.  That way I can just do what Dr. Alden and Dr. Rosen tell me to do without asking too many dumb questions.

The treatments themselves last six minutes each.  I have not succeeded in falling asleep during a treatment, but I’ve come close.  While the machine is working, music is piped into the room, either Elvis, the Beatles, or oldies.  Remember, all the patients are old men.  

The center is in Allentown off Hamilton Boulevard.  So far I’ve driven myself, and I don’t think that will change during the last week.  I did receive offers from about a dozen people to drive me if I needed a chauffeur.  I listen to books on tape (literally--I have a portable tape player) or lectures from the Teaching Company, so the trip seems short.

These last few weeks I have been getting some side effects, but they are the type of thing I’d prefer not to discuss in public, and so far it is nothing I can’t handle.

Perhaps the worst side effects are from the hormone shots that go with the radiation.  They give me hot flashes.  And when I tell that to women, they seem positively gleeful.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Toomey pushes for more federal power

I just had to use that headline.  Sen. Toomey is one of those Republicans who’s always whining about the evils of federal control.   In today’s Morning Call I learned of a bill Toomey introduced to mandate that all school employees undergo state and federal background checks and repeat those checks periodically.  States that did not comply would lose some federal dollars.  The bill does not provide any money for compliance.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said the proposed bill amounts to a federal mandate and undermines state and local decision-making.  He also said that Congress would be constituting itself into a “national school board.”

I personally see nothing wrong with Toomey’s bill, which is also supported by the PA School Board Association.  I do like the fact that Toomey is getting a little taste of his own medicine.  That’s sweet.

Friday, April 11, 2014

John Morganelli, D.A.

It seems like just about every day for the past two weeks I have opened my Morning Call to a picture of Amanda Hein, a 27-year-old woman on trial for killing her newborn baby in the bathroom of a Lehigh Valley pub.  Yesterday she was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

Northampton County D.A. Morganelli was quoted as saying, “If she didn’t intend death, she would have called for help, to have her little baby live.”

Maybe Morganelli wants to run for PA Attorney General.  Maybe he wants to prove how tough he is on crime.  In any case, 27-year-old obviously desperate woman sentenced to life in prison is cruel and vindictive.  That woman needs help badly.  She needs psychological treatment. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Teaching at Soledad State Prison

In 1984 I taught a political science course at Soledad State Prison south of Salinas.  The course was entitled Parties and Elections, and the inmates who took it received three units of college credit.  Not many prisoners participated; I was told the average reading level was between third and fourth grade.  Out of several thousand inmates, fewer than 100 were in the program, run by San Jose State.

None of the instructors were allowed to wear any sort of blue clothing.  In case of a prison riot, the authorities concentrated on people wearing blue.  We were also told not to ask any of our students what they had done, but Soledad was a real prison, and you had to commit a real felony to get in there. It was best not to know.  We were also warned that in case of a prison riot, there would be no negotiations for hostages, which, being a potential hostage, was sobering.

My students were about 1/3 black, 1/3 white, and 1/3 Latino.  As in any class, some of them were excellent; some were scraping by.  The students did not have it easy.  The library was rudimentary, study time was limited by lights out, and twice lockdowns resulted in cancelled classes.  Nonetheless, students did manage to complete the program and received a degree from San Jose State.  The recidivism rate for graduates was amazingly low.

The program ended a few years after I taught there.  Voters complained about prisoners receiving a free education while their kids had to pay tuition.

This all came back to me when I read an op-ed piece by Bill Keller in today’s Times about Gov. Cuomo’s plan to spend a million dollars out of a corrections budget of $2.8 billion on a college program for N.Y. prisoners.  The cost of the program would be about $5000 per year per student, compared to $60,000 it costs to house a prisoner for a year.

New York Republican Assembly staffers made their opposition clear with two photos.  One portrayed jubilant white kids tossing their graduation caps in the air, over the caption: “Studied hard.  Worked summer jobs.  Saved.  Took out loans....” The second featured a line of minority prisoners in orange jumpsuits: “Stole a car.  Robbed a bank.  Shot a bystander.  Got a free college education paid for by YOU.”

Gov. Cuomo’s proposal, as you might guess, was DOA.  Sometimes I just get discouraged.

Note to readers:  Somehow last night I posted the title but not the contents of the posting.  It's there now.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fossil Cycad National Monument

You're visiting a national monument or park, say Death Valley, and you see signs asking you not to take any rocks home with you.  And you think, who are they kidding?  There are millions of rocks, and no one will miss them.

Which brings us to Fossil Cycad National Monument in South Dakota, created by President Warren Harding in 1922.  A cycad is a fossilized plant, about 120 million years old, and is considered a possible forerunner of flowering plants.

You can't visit the Cycad National Monument, however.  By the Fifties, visitors had stripped the park clean of the fossils.  On September 1, 1957, the Cycad Monument was removed from the park system.

The next time you are in a national park, overcome your temptation to pocket a souvenir.  Buy some postcards at the visitors' center.  (And if you are a meth tweaker cutting burls off redwoods in the Redwoods National Park for sale to China, I hope you accidentally slip with your power saw and cut off your goddam hand.)

(Information on the Cycad Monument is taken from the spring 2014 issue of National Parks magazine.  The opinion on people who are stealing and selling burls for coffee tables is my own.)