Saturday, May 28, 2011

Time to fire up the barbecue

It’s officially here. Time to move the kitchen into the backyard.

Many great memories were made around the grill. My favorites?

Opening the lid to find $30 of steaks completely enveloped by an inferno that would impress Irwin Allen. 
 Fiddling with the gas regulator because grilling at 150° is only good for making beef jerky. 
 Watching a tuna steak slip off the serving tray on my way into the house. (I never mentioned this to Mary.) 
 Watching two bratwursts roll off the serving tray on my way into the house. (I never mentioned this to Mary either.) 
 Lighting a charcoal grill. 
 Running out of propane half way through grilling t-bones. 
 The way guys who have a hard time heating a can of beans are expected to turn into Emeril Legassi just because they’re grilling outdoors.

You know how people say that food cooked over a campfire just tastes better? Sure. Better than a slice of barbecued tree bark. Maybe.

Copyright 2011 Randy Hunt

Friday, May 27, 2011

Memorial Day should be devoid of politics and commercialism

A bill was shot down in the state senate this week that would have forced retail establishments to remain closed until noon on Memorial Day. I agree with the sentiment of keeping commercialism separated from Memorial Day, but rather than attempting to legislate appropriate behavior on this most solemn day, I wish people would take the time to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day by attending one of the commemorative events.

Politicians are ubiquitous at these events, but politics should not be. This is a day for honoring our military men and women who paid the ultimate price defending our nation and our way of life. I participated in the Town of Sandwich’s Memorial Day Parade each year that I served as a selectman and delivered a speech on the library lawn the year that I chaired the board.

Since we moved here in 1998, we have had a state representative who was a resident of the town and each year that person delivered a speech on the library lawn that was appropriate in tone and could not be construed as “campaigning.” Last year, our state representative delivered such a speech. It was educational, uplifting, right for the event, and appropriately honored several veterans and families of fallen soldiers.

The brouhaha that erupted wasn’t the result of the speech, but rather that he was accompanied by a candidate for state treasurer who was also a state representative. She sat with the elected dignitaries which created the impression that she and our representative were campaigning. Letter writers to the editor cried foul. The event had been hijacked by politicians using it as a campaign stopover, they said.

I videotaped the event and posted it on my blog the day after the event. Nothing in our representative’s speech could be construed as campaigning. Click here to see the video.

Nonetheless, the parade organizers were roundly criticized for this perceived partisan favoritism and have decided to avoid such negative publicity by “uninviting” our state representative to this year’s commemoration. I understand the hesitation to risk another round of criticism.

I have accepted an invitation to speak at the Mashpee event, which seems appropriate in light of the still simmering feelings about what was thought to have happened last year.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Grieving and Alzheimer’s disease

My father died at 78. Although he had suffered from mild and moderate strokes, he recovered from those setbacks and was loading a wheel and tire into his pickup truck to take it for repair when he died of a heart attack.

His death was unexpected and my grieving took its normal course. Everyone grieves a little differently, but most spend some time at each of the five stages of grieving: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

The process of grieving comes with a twist for people with a parent suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. The person you love slowly fades away, taking with him or her the memories that define them.

My mother lives in a group home that specializes in caring for Alzheimer’s patients. Our conversations are coordinated by my brother, who lives in the same city as my mom. My most recent chat with Mom went like this:

“Hi, Mom.”

“How are you?”

“I’m doing fine. How about you?”

“Can’t complain. The weather’s nice here. How is it where you are?”

“It’s been kind of cold and rainy. Not unusual for a Cape Cod spring.”

“Are you married?”

“Yes, Mom. To Mary. We have six kids. A veritable Brady Bunch.”

“Wow! Six kids. I was one of six kids, you know.”

“I do remember that. Lots of cousins. You sound a bit stuffed up. Are your allergies getting to you?”

“Yes, it’s this spring weather. Pollen everywhere. How is it where you are?”

“Still cold and rainy, Mom.”

“Are you married?”

It’s at this point that you realize this isn’t really a conversation. It’s more of a rote back-and-forth sans any meaning because the depth in a conversation comes from the shared memories of the participants.

People who have lost a parent to Alzheimer’s do it twice. I’ve been through it once and experienced the five stages of grieving.

The second time will be to lose her when she dies. I’m not even sure how I will react. I’ve talked to other people who experienced the initial shock of a parent dying but don’t move through the normal stages of grieving because they had already done that and came to acceptance, the final stage.

There is a sense of guilt associated with the thought of a brief, or no, grieving period when an Alzheimer’s parent dies. Will I be thought of as calloused? Uncaring?

Mary lost her mother to Alzheimer’s and understands these feelings. She assures me that this is a normal way of dealing with what is a difficult way to lose a parent.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pay-As-You-Throw starts July 1st

“Get your PAYT bags here! Get your PAYT bags here!”

“Gimme one large, one medium, and one small.”

“That’ll be $2.05.”

“Is there sales tax on that?”

“I dunno.”

Here’s a five.”

“Do you want change back?”

“Are you kidding?”

“One. Two. Two twenty five. Two fifty. Two seventy five. Two eighty five. Two ninety five.”

“When I was a cashier, we counted the change from $2.05 to $5.”

“What?”

“Never mind.”

Link to information about Sandwich's PAYT program: http://www.sandwichmass.org/Documents.asp?ID=251&DID=43

Informational meeting at Town Hall on Wednesday, May 25 at 7:00pm.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I'm definitely not in the running (for President)

In keeping with the riveting drama that Mike Huckabee brought to us last week by announcing his intention not to run for President and now with Donald Trump jumping into the fray by throwing his hat into the “Not Running For President” ring, I am officially announcing my intention not to run for President of the United States.

Perhaps Haley, Mike, Don and I can meet to discuss next steps.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Where umbrellas are used to block the sun

I grew up in the desert of far west Texas where kids had one winter coat, got suntans on Christmas Day, and marveled at why John Steed carried an umbrella on The Avengers. Was it to provide shade for Emma Peel?

Seeing next week’s dreary weather forecast for Massachusetts and watching the president’s recent speech under the blazing hot sun in El Paso, Texas, reminded me of my daughter’s high school graduation ceremony.

The weather had been stormy for several days in El Paso before graduation day, especially in the late afternoon and early evening. With a 6 o’clock start, the school superintendent had a tough call to make. Keep the ceremony outside and risk a thunderstorm ruining the commencement exercises or move it inside where there was only room for four relatives per student.

The decision was made at about 4 o’clock to go ahead with the outdoor venue. At the time, there were huge thunderclouds, lightening, and downpours around the city. Spotty, but heavy.

Mary and I were at my mother’s house and thought it a good idea to grab some umbrellas, just in case. Digging through the coat closet, I came up with a single umbrella. Well, not really an umbrella, but more of a parasol that was designed to look like a daisy complete with scalloped edges. It weighed about three ounces and spanned an impressive two feet.

I figured it was better than nothing. Maybe I could use it to keep my video camera dry.

We arrived at the stadium along with two or three thousand other people carrying a variety of parasols, from Barney and Friends to Dora the Explorer (qué precioso). We climbed the 50-yard line steps to stake out a spot with a good view and waited for the procession to start.

That’s when another family showed up and plopped down right in front us. No problem. It was a football stadium and you could easily see over the row in front of you, or so I thought.

This family apparently didn’t have the ubiquitous Sesame Street parasol. No, not even one of those annoying golf umbrellas. They brought the umbrella from their backyard patio table. The dad was holding the pole steady on the bleacher seat while his kid was cranking the ratchet.

With it opened in all its glory, all fifteen of their family members fit easily under it with plenty of room to spare. Of course, our view had now changed to what looked like the top of a giant party tent with the nearest open seating down in the end zone.

They tell me that our daughter graduated with honors. I’ll just have to trust them on that.

Copyright 2011 Randy Hunt

Friday, May 13, 2011

League of Women Voters: Nonpartisan?

Under the guise of issue advocacy, the League of Women Voters has funneled money from a yet-to-be-announced contributor to pay for ads attacking Senator Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican, and Senator Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, for their votes on an amendment to Senate Bill 493 in April.





Questions:

Is it issue advocacy when ads like this are released a month after a vote?

Is the League of Women Voters a nonpartisan organization?

Weigh in with your comment and vote in the poll.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Massachusetts House passes court reorganization and probation reform legislation

In an unusual moment of unanimity, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed legislation 152-0 to reorganize the courts and restore public trust in the state’s Probation Department.

“This major reform legislation will improve upon an already strong court system by facilitating a more efficient and cost-effective infrastructure for the disposition of justice,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “Not only does this bill create a civilian administrator to oversee the business aspects of the Trial Court, but it also adds needed transparency to the hiring and promotion practices at the Department of Probation. By passing this reorganization bill, the House has committed to bring a more transparent, efficient system of justice to the people of Massachusetts.”

The subcommittee that worked to draft this bill rejected the idea of moving Department of Probation employees into the civil service system. I agree with this assessment because, as rigorous as the civil service hiring process is, it is very difficult to remove someone for cause. Many towns and cities have moved positions out of civil service to promote hiring and firing flexibility, including the Town of Sandwich for its chief of police.

Following the recommendation of the Monan Commission Report, the bill creates an Office of Court Management and a Chief Justice of the Trial Court to divide the responsibilities currently held by the Chief Justice for Administration and Management.

The Chief Justice of the Trial Court will serve as the judicial head of the Trial Court, responsible for planning, policy, assigning judges, judicial discipline, and all other inherently judicial functions.

Under the legislation, the civilian Court Administrator will be responsible for the general administration of the Trial Court, including reviewing and approving the hiring of non-judicial employees, administering appropriations and expenditures, negotiating contracts and leases, and any other inherently non-judicial administrative functions.

The Court Administrator will also be required to identify core administrative functions and create cost savings and efficiencies by consolidating certain administrative activities of the various departments of the Trial Court. The Court Administrator will also be charged with implementing a hiring model and applicant tracking tool for all employment within the Trial Court.

The Chief Justices of the various departments of the Trial Court will continue their current appointments and will be responsible for core judicial functions.

The bill also reforms hiring and promotion practices in the Department of Probation which, according to the legislation, will remain in the judicial branch. This parts ways from the Governor’s preference, which was to move Probation into the executive branch.

An objective entrance exam will be established for the hiring and promotion of all probation and court officers. Successfully passing the exam will enable candidates to advance to the interview stage, provided that they meet all other requirements for the position.

Candidates who pass the exam and meet all other requirements will then be subject to a rigorous background review and interview process, which will be based on best practices recommended by the Harshbarger Commission on Probation Department Hiring.

Furthermore, the bill removes unilateral hiring power from the Commissioner of Probation, instead making hiring within the Probation Department subject to the approval of the Court Administrator.

The bill also adds needed transparency to hiring and promotion practices across all state agencies by requiring recommendations offered on behalf of any applicant to be made in writing and shielded from hiring authorities until the final round of the interview process.

In addition, applicants for employment within the executive, legislative, and judicial branches will have to disclose the names of all immediate family members who are state employees. This information will be made public for successful applicants.

Finally, to continue the ongoing reform effort at the Probation Department, the bill establishes an Advisory Board to help craft additional improvements within the department. The board will be comprised of seven members with expertise in the fields of criminal justice, public policy, human resources and management.

The bill was shipped over to the Senate where it is expected to be acted upon this month.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Comparison of gasoline prices to oil prices

Prices at the pump go up mercilessly when oil rises, but when oil drops, where is the relief?

The question is often asked: Why is it that gasoline prices always go up immediately when the price of a barrel of oil goes up, but never come down right away when oil drops? Of course, it’s a rhetorical question in the sense that the questioner has already concluded that service stations and oil companies are on the take” and are quick to raise prices but snail-like in the other direction.

So what’s the real answer?
To get to the bottom of this, I’ve aligned the prices for a barrel of oil sold into the United States with the average price in the United States of a gallon of regular gasoline over the period from January 1997 through April 2011. By picking a point in time (January 1997) and setting an index between the price of a barrel of oil and the price of a gallon of gasoline to be equal to 1, we can track the percentages of increase or decrease of the prices of each to see if one leads the other (which you might assume), whether they move together, or if they appear to have not so tight a correlation. I chose the beginning date simply because that is when the Department of Energy data started publishing these prices on a weekly basis. I have colored-coded the index columns in the spreadsheet to show week-on-week increases in green and decreases in yellow, making it easier to spot correlations.

Click here to see a chart of oil versus gasoline pricing from 1997 to April 2011.

Click here to see the data (Excel spreadsheet).

What do the data show?
For one thing, a barrel of oil in April 2011 is 5.5 times more expensive than it was in January 1997. On the other hand, the price of a gallon of gasoline is only 3.2 times more expensive over the same period. I have applied no inflation factor because I am comparing the price of a barrel of oil to the price of a gallon of gasoline, both priced in U.S. dollars. During this period, the price of a barrel of oil rose 410 times (week-on-week), whereas a gallon of gasoline increased only 362 times. Correspondingly, the price of a barrel of oil went down 336 times (week-on-week), whereas gasoline went down 376 times.

The increase/decrease statistics as well as the overall price multiples seem to counter the thought that gasoline prices go up quickly and ratchet down slowly. Apparently, people’s memories of gasoline prices going up are sharper than their memories of prices going down.

Conclusion
Not being an economist, I wouldn’t even venture to draw a conclusion based on these data, but it’s the first time I’ve seen them compared this way, so perhaps a more astute analyst than I can derive some relevant conclusions.

Copyright 2011 Randy Hunt

Friday, May 6, 2011

Driving for Charity: April 2011 - Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod

I made a campaign promise, at the urging of Matt Pitta, WXTK Radio news director, to pass through my state representative travel per diem to a local charity each month. Unlike most of us who do not get paid to commute, legislators receive payments based on the distance they must drive to the Statehouse. My per diem is $45. Click here to see Who gets paid to drive to work?

April’s per diem payment of $360 represents eight trips to the Statehouse and I am honored to donate that amount to the Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod. The Club, located in Mashpee, provides nearly 1,000 kids access to a variety of programs, including afterschool activities, a summer camp, teen groups, sports, and many others.

I visited the facility to meet with Ruth Provost, executive director and former state representative, several staff people, volunteers and lots of happy and busy kids. The positive energy and enthusiasm I witnessed was truly inspiring and all of this done on a shoestring budget.

I encourage everyone to learn more about the Boys & Girls Club and to make a donation to this deserving public service.

For more information and to donate: http://www.boysgirlsclubcapecod.org/

Sandwich school committee: Time to reorganize

The first meeting of the newly minted school committee will convene with a vote for chairman. Who is best prepared to lead the committee?

Log your favorite in the poll at the right.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sandwich school committee: Eleventh hour decisions

Is it just me, or are we witnessing (once again) that elections, or the threat of them, have consequences?

Just before last year’s school committee election, our superintendent’s contract was renewed at a rushed and what turned out to be a nullified meeting. This year, two days before election day, the superintendent was banned from school property except for three hours a day after everyone else is gone.

Last night’s meeting was a caricature of the in-fighting and dysfunction that has plagued the school committee for the past two years.

I’m off to the polls. Join me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What’s in a tune?

The May 1st mission to take out Osama bin Laden provided a sense of closure for millions of people affected by the September 11, 2001 attacks.

I am proud of our special ops forces and though I know this mission does not close the book on this era of terrorism, it does fulfill a promise made by George Bush while standing on a pile of rubble, using a bullhorn to speak to the search and rescue teams, to the nation, and to the terrorists. I congratulate President Obama, the Pentagon, the CIA, and all who planned and executed this raid.

With these feelings still riding high this morning, I was flipping through the TV channels looking for bits of news. When I switched to our local cable access channel, I stopped and wondered if the music playing as background to the community bulletin board was intended to convey a message.

I enjoy most styles of music. I often play a tune to put me into a particular mood. By the same token, my mood changes in reaction to some songs I hear. Today, I was in a mood akin to John Philip Souza’s when he wrote several of his patriotic marches.

What I heard was hardly Stars and Stripes Forever.

Am I overreacting?

Probably so.

I don’t know.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

T-T-T-T-Trump

After last night’s White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner, Donald Trump appeared this morning via telephone on Fox News a little irritated that he was the butt of more than his share (in his opinion) of jokes. Read about and see the dinner speakers by clicking here.

He lashed out at Seth Meyers, Saturday Night Live’s head writer, by saying “I thought Seth Meyers, frankly, his delivery was not good. He’s a stutterer.”

Stutterer?

I have a problem with anyone who resorts to name calling as a substitute for informed debate. Not to mention that people who do stutter are not doing it for their or anyone else’s amusement.

Seth didn’t stutter at all when he said: “Donald Trump has been saying that he will run for president as a Republican, which is surprising since I just assumed he was running as a joke.”