Back to the Game

I feel like it’s been a while.

Holy Christ, more than a couple years? Really? Wow. All this time with so much going on in the world and so many people to piss off and where have I been? Oh, right, learning things…

Anyway, I’m back if anyone was worried. I’m sure you weren’t. But if you were, I’m still alive. You can yay. It’s cool. I’ll wait…

Done? Sweet. Well, we’re in the middle of another election cycle and there’s all kinds of stupid going on in the Republican party. It’s even bleeding over a little to Duluth. In fact, at the DECC this last weekend there was a Tea Party conference. In other words, a gathering of all the paranoid, anti-government, anti-taxes, anti-anything-that’s-not-Christian people in town. With all the hot air in the room, you’d think it would be considered a fire hazard. I saw a report about this “conference” on the news in which two women suggested that there was no war on women coming from the party. To that, I’d like to remind any of the thinking people in the world that it seems quite frequently that the women of the Tea Party are working to set women’s rights back to where they were before the women’s suffrage movement. That’s right. Back to zero. If you truly think there’s no war on women going on you’d have to be crazy, or blind, or blind-crazy. For example:

Transvaginal Ultrasound Bill

Killing Abortion Providers

Protect Life Act

Blaming Single Parents for Abuse

And all this hatred is justified for the sake of morality? This is morality? For a group built around the ideas of Jesus Christ (turn the other cheek/treat others as you’d like to be treated) these Christians don’t seem very Christlike. In fact, I’d make the point that this edges toward the other side of the religious continuum (good——>evil). Just some things to think about. I’ll be back with more soon, I’m sure. Romney’s looking like a good target. Then there’s always Michelle Bachmann.

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Climate!!! or are we boned yet?

So the election was a week ago today and as I am sure everyone who reads this (if anyone reads this) knows the Republicans made giant gains across the nation. There are thousands of pundits out there who will tell you who is to blame or who is responsible depending on their point of view. What they won’t tell you is if we as a civilization are boned yet. I am not sure but the early indications are not looking good.

In the lead up to the election the “Tea Party” made climate “skepticism” an “article of faith”. In fact all of the of the candidates for Senate that Sarah Palin endorsed where outright climate change deniers. Even the republican party platform recycles the tired old line that “the scope and long-term consequences of  this (excess CO2) are the subject of ongoing scientific research”. One half of the republicans elected to the House of Representatives are at least what I would call extremely soft on the issue of Climate Change.

Since the election on Tuesday the Governors elect of Wisconsin and Ohio have already pressured  the sitting governors to put the brakes on high-speed rail projects in those states. Not only hampering our first few steps toward curbing climate change but killing thousands of sorely needed jobs in old industrial states where not many other job prospects exist. John Shimkus and Joe Barton are both running for the republican chair of the house energy committee. The two of them are campaigning on how many hearings they will drag the head of the EPA in for. “Lisa Jackson would be in front of his Energy Committee so often that she would need a reserved parking spot at the Rayburn building”. And Karl Rove has been quoted saying “climate is gone” an unfortunate turn of phrase given the gravity of the situation.

The world is already locked in for several degrees of warming and there is no telling how much farther we can push the temperature before catastrophic feed backs are triggered. Some of those feed backs, melting permafrost and an ice-free arctic, are already starting to engage. The relatively minor changes global warming has caused so far have led to the worst drought in Russian history, the storm that hit the mid-west this fall spawning some Sixty One tornadoes and the jaw dropping floods in Pakistan.

So are we boned yet? The real answer is no one knows. The people I trust say no. They contend that there is still time to avoid the worst effects of climate change but that time is certainly running out quickly. Short story is we are not boned yet civilization still stands a slim chance of making it but things need to start changing and they need to start changing now. The obstruction of the republicans in the past has prevented any form of climate change legislation and now they hold one of the houses of congress again. Maybe if the republicans in congress get their way we will be able to tell our grandchildren about the 2010 election and how that was the year we finally boned the whole world… If we live that long.

Mountian Biking

There are many days when you are training when all you can think is “why in the name of his noodellyness do I do this” today was not one of those days. I hit the trail shortly before noon and it was a ride that makes a whole summer worth of suffering and toil worthwhile. Today the hills that normally leave me flat where mere bumps beneath my tires. I reached the top of the first hill and cleared the rock garden that has menaced me all summer as if it where fresh sidewalk. Everything was right on this ride. The downhills where smooth and fast, the hurdles seemed easy. Even the sand traps that abound on my local trail slid beneath my bike with the tiniest effort. And when all was said and done I went back for seconds.

It is days like this that keep us riding. Those few fleeting days that happen once perhaps twice a season where the weather is just right the trail is dry and in good shape and our bodies are ready for the level of performance that is required. Why suffer through unending summers of heat, humidity, flies and injures you ask? Why do all of that just for a few fleeting moments of transcendence? I ask you where else can you have such an experience?

Whatever you do you will have good days and bad the good ones are great the bad days not so much but get out and do something! Life is too short to spend it on the couch.

Cyclocross

I finally got to my first Cyclocross race this week. For those who don’t know and don’t like following random links (don’t blame you) Cyclocross is an off-season short course bike race that is time limited. You race over grass, mud, dirt, rocks, roots and some asphalt. And because the race is so short you really have to hammer with all you have for the whole race. What it really boils down to is a timed trip through Hell.

So why do it? It is really fun, the people you meet are great and it is a killer way to test your fitness against some really great athletes.

The race I did was all soft grass because of some over night and morning rain. It was a flatter course with only one hill and two sections of three hurdles. I got in four laps and finished one behind the leaders and most of the pack. For my first race I will say that I did OK.

Cyclocross is not for everyone, you need to be skilled on your bike and you need to be fit enough to keep up because most races will pull you if you fall too far behind. But it is always fun to have a new way to motivate some fitness and get you off the couch.

Aftermath of the Strike

Nurses chant "Go home scabs" and "Shame on you" as replacement nurses are bused away from Abbott Northwestern

[Metro Minnesota] hospitals prepared for the strike by bringing in extra non-union staff, hiring 2,800 replacement nurses and reducing patient counts by transferring patients to non-affected hospitals.

Dr. Penny Wheeler, chief medical officer of Allina Hospitals & Clinics, said the preparations paid off, that patients at all of the affected hospitals received quality care with no major problems.

I’m calling shenanigans.

On a cloudy Thursday, June 10th, nurses across the Minnesota metro took to the streets to fight for patient care. Many people, including the hospitals, continue to purvey the misguided idea that the only real reason for nurses to strike was money. Ask any nurse and they’ll tell you the truth: it was about caring for their patients. Don’t listen to the doctors who only spend fifteen minutes at a time with each patient. They don’t have a clue of what it means to really care for a patient. As for the management and the higher ups in the hospitals, Allina’s recent activity in changing 403b retirement plans to 401k’s can serve as a thermometer as to the direction they are going: to a for-profit business.

This whole ordeal boils down to contract language determining nurse-to-patient ratios. MNA and their nurses want defined ratios, according to their website:

Safe RN Staffing Levels: Nurses are asking for contract language that provides the appropriate number of nurses to care for patients. National studies prove time and again that RN-to-patient ratios are critical when it comes to patient safety and quality of care. Safe RN Staffing Levels have also proven to actually SAVE hospitals millions in costs.

MNA provided the hospitals a 10 day warning to strike, giving the hospitals plenty of time to prepare. During the strike, hospitals brought in replacement nurses, about 2,800, from all over the state. They also took many precautions to keep everything safe: Surgeries and elective procedures were mostly canceled for the day, non-union hospitals increased their staff loads to prepare for higher censuses, many patients were discharged, and more MD’s, NP’s, technicians, nurses assistants, and other non-direct care staff were asked to work for the day. All union hospitals decreased their censuses as much as possible. Essentially, replacement nurses were provided with an average ratio of about 1.5 patients to each nurse, something uncommon to the standard nurses and an obvious means to keep everything running smoothly.

But in contrast to the trouble-free, “smooth” day that the hospitals portray, there was some trouble in paradise. Nurses from all over the metro, upon returning to work, have begun filing incident reports detailing the errors made by replacement nurses and the general trouble felt by patients from hospital to hospital. Many simple things happened, such as replacement nurses giving a patient their medication and admitting they know nothing about it or even how to pronounce the name. Some technicians reported needing a nurse but not being able to find a single one on the floor. There was even a story of a man who, after being unable to find a nurse on his floor to fix his IV, walked down to the line to get one of the picketing nurses to take care of it.

Those all seem relatively innocuous, but there was one rumor of a man who needed attention for a minor problem with his lab values but was ignored. He eventually had heart troubles and had to be taken to the ICU. As for whether he survived this, the information is not available.

This is not meant as a hit on the nurses who took over in lieu of the regularly staffed nurses (however many were rather antagonizing to the striking nurses and certainly do not deserve the benefit of the doubt), but to simply bring up the point that these replacement nurses were by no means ready for the position they were placed into. Many were placed on floors in specialized units, such as cardiac or ICU, which require a certain amount of knowledge, skill, and experience. The hospitals obviously did not consider this when they staffed these units.

Overall, labor disputes are ugly and rather childish, with both sides making digs at the other. The hospitals claim that their effort to avoid the strict language dealing with ratios is based around money, but they felt that increasing staffing and paying some $2,000 per day per nurse (as well as paying for housing and a charter bus system to bus the nurses in and out) was a worthwhile use of their money. In addition to these costs were the costs for laying down stripes to mark the border of their properties, paying for painters and paint, maintenance crews, security, and a host of other services (not to mention the potential for lawsuits) that in the long run must have cost them, or will cost them, millions of dollars. If it was really about being simply unable to pay the extra cost to accomplish these ratios, where did this money come from?

On the other side, the question has been raised: is MNA requesting this strict nurse-to-patient ratio of based on shift, or maintaining the same ratio throughout all shifts? If so, one could understand why negotiations are breaking down. One must wonder often times, with these nagging labor disputes, if the union is drawing their members into a strike simply to make a point to the employers.

Regardless, the matter at hand is that this single day strike was by no means the simple and easy day the hospitals are making it out to be. There were problems, and there continue to be problems. And if the hospitals choose to ignore the whole thing and allow the open ended strike to happen, they are truly playing with unseen forces. This will only end in poor patient care and a disgruntled staff. Perhaps it is time to be a little progressive, make some compromise, and stop paying management and the higher-ups six, seven, or eight figure salaries.

Tim Pawlenty and the Skewed Priorities of Republicans

Do I even have to say anything? There is a movement to build a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. It would involve tearing down the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome (previously deemed outdated for the Twins and requiring a new stadium for them, now deemed far too outdated for the Vikings) and erecting a new beast of a thing in its place. This new stadium would, according to consultants, cost $870 million if the construction were to begin next year. And a new group, called Save the Vikes, is building a grassroots movement to push the state senate and representatives and Governor Pawlenty into footing the bill for the stadium, lest the Vikings go the way of the Lakers.

Pawlenty, on his weekly radio show, said that the matter is how to pay for it. He is refusing to increase taxes in effort, and said that diverting existing taxes would be “dicey.” That kind of language tells me that he hasn’t completely discounted this possibility. Ziggy Wilf, owner of the Vikings (whose net worth has never been divulged, though he bought the team for $600 million) seems completely opposed to paying the cost of the new stadium and expects the state to do it.

What I’m seeing here is a case of skewed priorities. If Pawlenty chooses to have the state pay for the stadium it’s just like high school, when the music classes and arts suffer in a money crunch but the sports continue to soar. We know that Pawlenty is adamantly opposed to the health care reform bill, suggesting at one point that he may take advantage of the 10th amendment, state sovereignty, to keep Minnesota from participating in the entirety of the reform bill. So, why pick sports of the health of the nation. This sort of thing isn’t rare, either, on the Right. In fact, both sides pull the same sort of thing, but when the conservatives do it, it’s more focused on saving profits at the expense of the people.

White Noise Orchestra

This is just painful.

 

And they claim not to be the party of “NO.” I call shenanigans.

On Saturday, the House of Representatives passed their version of the health care reform bill that will now move on to the Senate. However, it was not without problem. It seems the Republicans will try anything to delay the movement of this bill. The sad thing is that this appears very similar to the tactics used by the Right in town hall meetings countrywide. Simply make enough noise so that nothing at all can be done. Which brings the question to my mind: Do Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and various other conservative pundits really control the power of the Right? It was, after all, their urging that led to the disruptive behavior in said town hall meetings. So, do they control the minds of Representatives, elected officials, as well?

The problem seems to me that no one on the Right, or at least none of the people who actually make a name for themselves, can come to their own conclusions. Mindless sheep is all I see. One of them suggests something and then the others follow suit. I’ve had discussions with Republican friends who go to make a point and it’s simply one that has been made on FOX news over and over again. I hear it again and again on the conservative radio station my coworkers listen to. The only ones who seem to have original ideas are the ones who are crazier than a box of rocks.

So where is the value in watching or listening to this repetition? I suppose it just boils down to people simply liking to hear their concerns are held by a number of people. Branching out takes initiative and guts. Thinking for yourself is a radical idea. That’s why, in the long run, there are only two parties that make any headway in Presidential elections.