Old hat

In some ways 2004 was a rotten year. We were peppered with hurricanes and tropical storms, Cheryl had to stay home on bed rest due to an at risk pregnancy, and to top it off… Bush won a second term that November.

Sitting around waiting for the 11am, 5pm, and 11pm updates from the National Hurricane Center brings back some memories – but not all bad though.


A very pregnant Cheryl checks for an update on the trusty old eMac on September 5th, 2004.


After a string of storms that September, Adam was born on the thirtieth. He was a month early, but as healthy as you could hope. He caught up quick and hasn’t looked back.

Cheryl thinks I’m nuts (what else is new), but I’d forgotten how soon Adam was born after the storms passed through.

That was one wild year.

The three day track still ain’t gospel, but…


I was just checking the county elevation maps – you know, just for kicks – no real reason. I noticed we’re eleven meters above sea level. Woo-hoo!

We went out tonight to refresh our supply of batteries and non-perishibles, to try and beat the rush. If the track still put’s it here Tuesday in tomorrow’s forecasts, we’ll probably start to see the stores’ hurricane supplies thin out a bit tomorrow night.

Here we go again

There’s been a lot of talk in the news here recently that hurricane season was about to giddy-up. Sure enough, look what arrived in my inbox this afternoon:


A few months ago Cheryl and I were talking about what it would be like to live in Vermont. I think I might be willing to trade severe tropical weather for a little cold air in the winter. I say a little like it’s a trifling matter. Fifty degrees, zero degrees… what’s the difference?

You know, I’ve been thinking. It seemed like our little off-ramp on the hurricane superhighway was pretty quiet while my sister was living Indy. She’s been here all of a month and we’re already looking at a possible landfall.*


*The five day forecast for a tropical storm is almost worthless, but we’ll be keeping an eye out just the same. It’s weird how these things pop up, even when you think you’ve been keeping up with the news.

This is summer

This is another post that got lost in the shuffle, written sometime during the last week of June.

My least favorite time of year is here, but a string of days with our typical (at one time) afternoon thunderstorms have my spirits up. It’s one aspect of summer in Florida I enjoy. It’s hot and sunny all morning, until the early afternoon. Then dark clouds start forming on the eastern horizon. We get blasted with a wicked downpour and window rattling thunder for twenty exhillarating minutes. You have to take the bad with the good though. The sun always comes back out. Any standing water seems to boil away in an instant, supersaturating the air with so much heat and water it’ll make the strongest person weep for their momma.

Mr Carrier, we salute you.

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We like Florida, really

I went a little shutter crazy this spring, snapping lots of shots of wonderfully sweet citrus blossoms and gardenias. It’s hard for me to like much about Florida in July (or August, September…), but looking through these pictures the other day reminded me there’s more to Florida than heat and humidity.


I hear gardenias are supposed to be hard to grow, but they’ve been thriving in my yard with nothing but the occasional trim for ten years. They must really like being in the shade of my lime and tangerine trees.

If you want to know where yard work falls on our list of priorities, just ask our lawn.

water sold separately


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Tuna waffle

I wonder if Charlie is feeling a little heat…

The gov’s words, via St Pete Times:

“Only when we are able to do so far enough from Florida’s coast, safe enough for our people, and clean enough for our beaches, should we even consider increasing our oil supply by drilling off Florida’s shore. Let me repeat: far enough, safe enough and clean enough.”

But allow me to pile on a little. Later-day drilling doesn’t sound so clean, not with all the crap they put in the water when they start to drill (before they get the first whiff of crude).

Again, from the St Pete Times (a different article):

Critics like Enid Sisskin of Gulf Coast Environmental Defense, a Pensacola group that has opposed offshore drilling for more than a decade, say they are not as concerned about oil spills as they are about what she calls “the routine, everyday, day-after-day pollution they dump in the water.”

When the rigs first drill into the ocean floor, the crews use fluids called “drilling muds” which include toxic substances including barium, chromium and arsenic. The EPA found that such discharges into the eastern gulf would “introduce significant quantities of contaminants to these relatively pristine waters.”

In 2002, the Mobile Press-Register tested grouper and other fish caught around Alabama’s offshore rigs. They contained so much mercury that they would not be acceptable for sale to the public under federal guidelines. The source: the drilling muds, which left mercury in the sea-bottom in concentrations as high as that found at Superfund sites.

It’s great the oil companies (and their well compensated representatives in government) say offshore drilling worries are “so thirty years ago,” but I don’t even need all my fingers to count back to 2002.

You want that grouper sandwich with or without mercury?

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Oil on my mind – or – A well oiled rant

Sorry for the swearing…

For the moment, let’s set aside the merits of offshore drilling. It seems to me like some “conservatives” (note the strategic use of my buddy, the quotation mark) bat around the words “offshore drilling” like it’s an act of patriotism; a shared sacrifice for a greater good. I think it’s code for building a bunch of oil platforms in Florida’s gulf waters. It’s a nice/neutral/GOP-speak way of saying “I wanna turn the west coast of Florida into a shit-hole, fuck-you very much.” As you can guess, I think I’ve got a lot to lose in this debate. Two Pinellas county beaches consistently appear at (or near) the top of a ranking of all U.S. beaches – including Hawaii. Caledesi Island (just down the road) is this year’s number one. Ft Desoto was number one in 2005. Call me a selfish prick, but I think that’s worth something. Then again, my car isn’t big enough to re-enact the sinking of the Titanic, so my sensibilities don’t mirror those of the Hummer horde.

What I can’t figure is why the director of a Florida tourism organization (not in Orlando) would be in favor of drilling. Tell me friends, how many hotels does an oil rig fill? (figuratively speaking, of course)


Larry White, the executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau on Florida’s Gulf Coast, said the area depends on its pristine beaches but is also affected by rising gas prices. He said 70 percent of the area’s tourists drive all the way to the Bradenton area — many of them from Texas.

“I want to protect my beaches,” he said. “But if we don’t get some relief they’re going to say, ‘I can’t afford to come.’ “

Let me get this straight. A bunch of folks are driving all the way from Texas to see our beaches (even those not within a 4-5 hour drive of the major theme parks). Don’t they know they have beaches in Texas too? Even if gas is relatively cheap, semi-circumnavigating* the Gulf of Mexico is more expensive than a quick trip to the coast.

Oh… I know. Maybe it’s because the black stuff doesn’t seem so golden when it’s mixed with sand and accumulating between your toes.

I’ll bet you’ve been waiting for me to take down those hanging merits. I’ll warn you though: this won’t be a comprehensive review. My time’s in short supply lately, so I’ll only be covering those points with handy, off the shelf rejoinders. Still, you may feel free to consider the sentiments genuine.

Unless you’re a tree-hugger or a hotel owner, you might be thinking oil is WAY greener than tourism – in the only way it matter$. That may be true in the short term, but what happens when the oil runs out? How long are we left with the crap that’s left behind? Maybe you’re among those who see the burning of the world’s oil as America’s manifest destiny, but the price at the pump is ruining your ride’s allure… its mojo. I’d ask you to consider an oft-cited government study which suggests tapping the remaining offshore oil in the U.S. wouldn’t have an impact on domestic oil supply or prices until 2030. Granted, the study arrives at the 2030 date by assuming we wouldn’t start exploring/drilling until the current federal bans expire, in 2012; but either way you slice it (2030 or 2026)… that’s a long time before we’d see any changes in price. Or consider this quote from the report (taken somewhat out of context, but I think still applicable):

Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.

So yeah, let’s get right on that.

I know what you’re thinking: a government study, from this administration? Yeah, I know. Leave it to the Bush boys to pee on the oil parade**. (Does that qualify as sarcasm, irony, the coveted daily double; or am I just being redundant?)

Hell, I don’t know why I care. At the rate we’re going Florida will be underwater anyway.

*I thought it had a nice ring to it, even if it makes little sense and makes me sound like an idiot.

**See above.

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Light tuna in oil


Describing his position as evolving, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he now supports exploratory drilling for oil and gas off Florida’s coast because “Floridians are suffering…”

The National Petroleum Council estimates the eastern Gulf might hold 36.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 5.2 billion barrels of oil. Others doubt those numbers but say there is no way to know without further exploration.

Environmentalists warn, however, that Florida’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry, its fisheries industries and its soaring coastal real estate market are as much at risk as the environment if drilling anywhere in the Eastern Gulf is allowed.

Federal environmental regulators acknowledge that drilling discharges harmful drilling fluids and cuttings, disturbs delicate marine life and poses a threat to endangered sea turtles.

For those and other reasons, Florida politicians from both parties have considered the endorsement of oil drilling as a ”third rail” of political issues to be avoided. They have worked to keep the drilling ban in force along Florida shores for more than 25 years.

Let’s be clear about something. Everything in Florida comes down to tourism. Our entire system of government depends on sales tax receipts and a few other taxes paid by tourists (on hotels, etc). There’s no income tax. Taxes on wealth, like estate and intangibles taxes, have been slashed by our Republican legislature. There are a few miscellaneous fees and taxes, but we live and die by the sales tax. Guess what happens to those sales taxes our tourist friends pay when oil rigs pop up on the horizon, and trace amounts of the stuff they bring up start coating our beaches?

You may argue that it’s in the nation’s best interest for us to fall on our sword, but lets not mince words – that sword’s going to run us through. Others might argue that it’s well past the time we start looking to energy alternatives.

Charlie must not be interested in running for re-election, or for VP either. A lot of us Floridians suffer from a little too much sun, and we can appear to be a bit dim witted at times (re: 2000). But a lot of us still have enough wits about us to recognize what our meal ticket is, and it ain’t natural gas. We may be suffering at the pump (and from the resulting inflation) like everyone else, but it’s nothing like the suffering we’ll face if the backbone of our economy breaks. Just ask the folks in the rust belt what it’s like when your main industry pulls up stakes.

So now I have to wonder, what good does Charlie do McCain if he can’t bring Florida with him? I used to think he was a pretty savvy politician. Now, not so much.

Have pity on your health insurance company

I mentioned a Republican representative from our state legislature the other day, the one I heard on the radio. I kind of suggested he might’ve said something that made me a little mad; “pissed off” may have been the words I used. Well, if you don’t want to read a rant on Florida politics, now is the time to bail.

The Florida Legislature is in session for two months of every year, and has been in session for a little over a month now. That means I’ve been slowly grinding my teeth down to smooth, uniform stumps… for a little over a month now. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in a mouth guard every spring, like the ones they wear in football. It’ll save me some grief with the dentist down the line.

But I digress.

I love to digress. Have you ever noticed that?

We’re having a little health care debate in Florida, in case you haven’t heard – and I’ll bet you haven’t. Our governor (last year’s winner in the Hooters’ George Hamilton look-alike contest), along with his pals in our legislature, have been hell bent on making health insurance more affordable in Florida. I say that like it’s a bad thing. I don’t mind paying less for the same thing, something nearly as good, or even something that’s good enough. I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about though.

Back to that Republican on the radio on Friday. He was calling attention to the suffering of our health insurance providers in Florida, saddled as they are with laws which make it mandatory to cover over fifty different illnesses and procedures. It’s amazing they can make any money in Florida at all.

Pardon my french, but boo-fucking-hoo.

If I know my party talking points, I’ll wager he even said something like, “we want the citizens of Florida to be able to choose the kind of coverage they want, not some bureaucrat in Tallahassee.” Not to quibble…. No, on second thought, I really do want to quibble. If it’s a law that makes insurance companies provide certain kinds of coverage, it’s not some unelected government bureaucrat calling the shots, it’s the elected representatives of the legislature and the governor. And given the state of Florida politics the last twenty years, it was probably a Republican legislature (with A BIG majority to boot).

(Full disclosure: I’m a bureaucrat.)

So stick that up your quorum.

Of the oft-cited illnesses and procedures we force our downtrodden insurance companies to cover, they (with a capital R) often mention organ transplants, and HIV treatment… like there’s something wrong with organ transplants and HIV treatment. Well, I dove into the law this weekend (something I don’t recommend, by the way) and found a few more things our communist manifesto (aka the Florida Statutes) mandates coverage for (all of which come from Chapter 627… I didn’t have the stomach to read any more):

  • A requirement for the continuation of coverage for handicapped children who remain dependent due to their disability (after they would otherwise be old enough to support themselves).
  • A requirement that maternity coverage must also provide coverage for post-delivery care (for the mother and baby).
  • A requirement that maternity coverage may not limit hospital stays to fewer days than is deemed medically necessary (either by guidelines established by the American Academy of Pediatrics, or the physician).
  • A requirement to provide diabetes coverage.
  • A requirement to cover the diagnosis and treatment for osteoporosis for at risk patients.
  • A requirement to provide coverage for newborn care.
  • A requirement to cover adopted children (in a family plan) the same as biological children would be covered.
  • Requirements regarding breast cancer coverage (may not limit hospital stays, must provide coverage for outpatient post-surgical follow-up).
  • A requirement to cover mammograms for women over 40.
  • A requirement that any policy that covers a child under 18 must provide coverage for treatment of cleft lip and/or cleft palate.
  • Limitations on the period of exclusion for pre-existing conditions.

That’s where I gave up. Reading through the Florida Statutes was even less fun than I thought it would be, but you can clearly see from my partial list (and the aforementioned requirement to cover organ transplants and HIV treatment) the law in Florida is completely unreasonable. What are we, a bunch of sobbing, sentimental pinkos?


Here’s the next thing my fine Republican friend said (who has no idea who I am): “We’re requiring everyone to drive Cadillacs in Florida, when most people can only afford a Chevy.” (Just in case I haven’t been clear, what they mean by that Chevy analogy is coverage that doesn’t cover as much stuff.)

Just so you know, from here on out I’m going to refer to “Cadillac coverage” as “good coverage” and “Chevy coverage” as “cheap” (with out the quotes).

Boy oh boy, I don’t even know where to start on that one. First, why is it that folks still go broke paying for health care despite their Cadillac coverage? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist a primo opportunity for sarcasm.) But that’s not even my biggest concern, or my strongest argument. (I’m losing more and more humility by the minute.) Think about insurance pools and their intended purpose: risk sharing. Think about who is more likely to purchase cheap coverage, besides the people who can’t afford good coverage. I’ll tell you who: healthy people. Hell, I don’t count on ever needing a mammogram, so there’s coverage I don’t need right there. If there’s one thing that Wal-mart has taught us, it’s that a lot of us, regardless of means, will buy the cheaper alternative – regardless of quality. Presumably more people would have insurance due to the lower prices, but will that offset the money pulled out of the pool by people opting out of good coverage, in order to realize savings in their monthly bills? Why is this even a problem? We stop sharing the risk of getting sick, that’s why.

What happens to the cost for that good coverage when only sick people are buying it? If overall we’re siphoning money out of the system by rolling healthy people into cheap coverage (more on that later), how does an insurance company make money on sick people? Simple: it raises their rates. It seems to me that sick people are the ones who are least likely to be working, or working at a high level of productivity, so they’re already the ones in the pool that are most likely to be priced out of good coverage. And what happens to the folks with cheap coverage when they get sick and find their insurance doesn’t cover them? How many employers that provide costly coverage for their employees now will decide on behalf of their employees to buy cheap coverage? We talk about having choice in our “free market” system of health care, but who’s really making the most important choices?

Anyone out there know what a positive feedback loop is?

In effect we have a kind of universal health care system now… paid for by those of us who have insurance. People who don’t have coverage (or insufficient coverage) tend to wait to get treatment because they can’t afford it, and our system won’t pay for it if they can’t – until it becomes an emergency (and much more expensive). That care isn’t free, but it’s hard to collect from a dead person who’s been too sick to work. So those of us who can pay for services ultimately bear the cost… many of us with the assistance of our good coverage. But now we’ll move a bunch of folks to cheaper coverage, betting on A LOT of people signing up who didn’t participate in the system before. But what if the additional people paying into the pool doesn’t offset the money lost by the folks already in the pool being rolled into cheaper coverage (either by their own choice, or by their employer’s)?

I’ll tell you what happens. We’re in trouble.

I desperately hope there’s a hole in my logic here, because this appears to be a done deal.

By the way, I’m sorry for rambling on and on. I know I’ve been a bit repetitive, but what decent rant isn’t? (Not one that’s at all cathartic anyway.)

The post Beth wanted to write

A few weeks ago Beth begged me to set up a blog – or more precisely, begged me to let her set up one herself. She wanted write this post, but call me old fashioned, I think ten is still a wee bit young for a blog. I offered to post it here, if she wanted to write something for internet consumption, but that wasn’t good enough. It HAD to be her own blog. She HAD to do it on iWeb. She HAD to post it to her own web site. I suspect she wasn’t really that interested in the writing part. What she really wanted was to play with a new online toy.

I can’t say I blame her. I know the feeling.

This evening Beth gave up hope of getting her own blog and asked me to write about it.

This is for Beth. (Though she probably would have said it better.)

A few weeks ago our house was given a good shake just after dark. It came with a really loud boom.

This is not normal. This was not like the rattling you get with a close lightning strike. This was like some force gave all the exterior walls, windows and doors of the house a sharp push all at once. Oh all right, that’s just like a close lightning strike – but the sound was all wrong. This seemed deeper – somehow more powerful.

The tip off, if you weren’t too startled to notice (or lose control of certain muscles you don’t think about much, unless you’re losing control of them): it was actually two loud booms very close together. Just so you know… I didn’t notice the second boom (but I did manage to stay dry). If I had noticed, I would have known right away what it was: the shuttle on approach for landing at the cape. It doesn’t always land at Kennedy, and even when it does it normally doesn’t follow a path so close to the I-4 corridor (where a lot of people live… who have enough problems with incontinence as it is). It turns out they’d made at least one extra orbit waiting on some storms to move through – that didn’t – so they made a slight change in approach. We can normally hear the twin sonic booms of the shuttle coming in, but it’s usually far enough away that it doesn’t shake things off the window sills (I might be exaggerating at teenie-weenie bit).

It’s really cool when it comes in just before sunrise and you can see it glide by silently (a couple brief exceptions previously noted) with the mark-one eyeball. For a space/sci-fi junkie like me, it’s almost a religious experience – especially with a good pair of binoculars. This time it wasn’t sunrise, but it was still a religious experience… just a different kind.

I’m not too proud to admit it: it scared the bejesus out of me. It was way too loud for a car accident, and the power stayed on so I didn’t think it was a transformer blowing. That doesn’t leave a lot of (mostly) harmless explanations – that come readily to mind when you’re struggling to retain all of your fluids.

I suppose it didn’t really scare me that much – long term anyway. We did go outside. It was still dark out, there wasn’t any ominous glowing on the horizon, and the moon was still right where it was supposed to be. But we didn’t go looking for breaking news items on the web, and I didn’t give it much thought until dinner the next night, when my dad asked, “did you all hear the shuttle come in last night?”

Have you ever slapped your forehead so hard you left a mark? I haven’t either, but I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again: it’s hard to let the truth get in the way of a good line. (Aren’t I presumptuous?)