Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for February 2013

Pianist Van Cliburn Dies at 78

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Very few classical musicians ever become known worldwide.  Van Cliburn was one of those few.

Cliburn, who died at age 78 of bone cancer earlier today, was the first American ever to win the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow (then part of the Soviet Union) in 1958 at the age of 23.  He was a Cold War hero ever after, as well as being a symbol of how powerfully music can communicate when, seemingly, nothing else can.

Here’s a link to the Associated Press article about Cliburn, written by Angela K. Brown (courtesy of Yahoo.com).   It gives further information about Cliburn’s life, career, touring and popularity, and is an excellent overview of what Cliburn was all about.

But to musicians, Cliburn was about much more than mere symbolism.  He played in an extravagant, romantic way that nevertheless effectively communicated any style of music he cared to play.   He believed that people should be able to tell if music made sense whether or not they were trained classical musicians, because music was and is intended to move others — and it’s been that way ever since we lived in caves and played prehistoric instruments.

Cliburn played so well that nearly all of his “signature pieces” were recorded.  Amazon.com has a list of his recordings, including a compilation of all of his known albums.  Mostly, he played well-known pieces from the Romantic period — composers like Brahms, Beethoven, Schumann, and Lizst — but he also enjoyed Debussy, Ravel, and some 20th century composers.

The Washington Post obituary for Cliburn reveals more information about why Cliburn rarely played in public after 1974.  Apparently fame was quite difficult for him to bear, as was the constant touring of his chosen profession.  Cliburn needed time to rest and recharge his batteries.

After that, Cliburn’s talent was still apparent, but his playing wasn’t as sharp or clean.  He sometimes forgot passages, which proves how human he could be (all pianists must memorize their pieces, and when you’re memorizing three or four pieces of at least twenty minutes in duration for a concert, even the most brilliant person with the best memory can make mistakes).  He was still a great pianist, but no longer in his prime — yet he continued to play, and give the audience excellent musical experiences, which was a testimony to his professionalism.

See, even a musician past his or her prime can still thrill an audience.  We tend to forget that, as a society, because we celebrate youth, sometimes to the exclusion of all else.  But Cliburn was able to prove that a musician of great gifts can still give something back in his performances, even into what most would consider to be an advanced age.

Cliburn’s recordings should help everyone remember just how much talent a young man from Texas had, once upon a time.  And how he did his best to convert upon that talent, even if not all music critics believed that he’d fully lived up to his potential.

Cliburn leaves behind many friends and a long-time male companion, as well as many people who adored his music and couldn’t get enough of it, to honor his memory.  Thanks to the magic of sound recording, we’ll be able to remember Cliburn and his major musical talent for decades to come.

Really, all any artist can ask for, upon his or her death, is that people remember him and what he did.  That’s the standard of success, when it comes right down to it . . . and Cliburn met that.

May his eternity be ever-bright.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 27, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Snow Days, Snow Days . . . .

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As of this moment, there’s about eight inches of snow on the ground — all of which fell in the past twelve hours or so.  More snow is expected to fall, which begs the question: “So, Barb.  What do you plan to do with yourself, now that you’re going to have a snow day?”

Ha!

I plan to write, as I’ve done a little of that every single day for the past week.  My word count over time isn’t great — my high day was 1100 words, my low was about 300 — but I’m glad I’m making some forward progress again after being so ill.

I also plan to edit, as I’m working on two big projects right now (the third major one having wrapped up late last week).

And, finally, I’ll watch the snow fall . . . because really, it’s much better to admire the snow from the inside, where you’re not having to walk (or worse, drive) on it, than to be out in it.

Especially when the wind is blowing the existing snow sideways (as it has been for most of the day) . . . anyway, stay safe, everyone.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 27, 2013 at 4:00 am

Posted in Writing

Just Reviewed “A New American Space Plan” at SBR

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Folks, I was able to finally review well-known SF writers (and scientists) Travis Taylor and Stephanie Osborn’s A NEW AMERICAN SPACE PLAN over at Shiny Book Review (SBR) this evening.  This is a review you want to read, especially if you love space, space exploration, or the science that goes along with “science fiction.”  (We have to get our ideas from somewhere.  And a non-fiction book like this is a precious resource.)

Anyway — the science is sound, the arguments for why the United States still needs a space program (much less that it be fully funded and that its mission stay the same regardless of which President occupies the Oval Office) are first-rate, and the style is easy to read for the intelligent layman ninety-nine percent of the time.

So please.  Do yourself a favor.  Go read my review, then go grab the book!  You will not be disappointed, as the arguments put forth are thought-provoking and interesting.

(Further reviewer sayeth not.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 21, 2013 at 7:17 pm

It’s Official — Brewers First Baseman Mat Gamel Tears His ACL Again, Is Out for the Season

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Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Mat Gamel apparently has the worst luck of any major league baseball player going these days.

Not one full week into the official start of Brewers’ Spring Training, Gamel has been confirmed as having torn his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee.  This is the same ACL he tore during his ill-fated 2012 campaign while running into that ditch the San Diego Padres call an infield.

So Gamel’s now torn the same ACL two years in a row.   That, my friends, is abysmal luck.

Consequently, Gamel will be out all of 2013.  (See this link, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, for further details.)

There are a few odd things about this particular injury according to the Journal-Sentinel report.  First, Gamel tore the middle of the ACL, not either end as is more common.  Most surgical failures — which constitute about ten percent of ACL surgeries — will re-tear on either end of the ligament, rather than in the middle where the ligament should be the strongest.  Second, Gamel had spent eight solid months of rehabilitation prior to reporting to Spring Training.  His rehab consisted of strength and flexibility exercises, and I’m sure his therapy was of the absolute best.

Consider, please, that in order to be able to hit, run, and field — strenuous activity by any other name — a baseball player has to be able to move laterally without strain, swing a bat with full extension and run without noticeable problems.  Gamel had been able to do all of this prior to reporting to Spring Training.

In addition, he’d passed two physicals, where presumably he ran on a treadmill, had to do various arcane flexibility exercises (some akin to yoga poses), and did so in front of various doctors and physical therapists.  He was given a clean bill of health because he had proven that he was ready to resume his life as an active, everyday baseball player.

Otherwise, he never would’ve stepped out onto the field.

And now, Gamel won’t get the chance to prove that he has what it takes to make it in the major leagues.  At least, not in 2013.  And possibly not at all, as two ACL tears on the same knee within eighteen months are a huge red flag to every general manager of every team in major league baseball.

However, I had a thought that might prove useful . . . if not to Gamel, maybe to someone else recovering from such an injury.  It’s a long shot, but hear me out.

Last year, I read GOOSE, an autobiography written by ex-Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Tony Siragusa.   Siragusa doesn’t actually have a working ACL in one of his knees, but he was able to work around this by coming up with a unique strengthening and conditioning plan.  Because of this, Siragusa was able to play for twelve years in the NFL and he never missed a game.

But you’d have never known he had that sort of durability coming out of college.

That’s because Siragusa was told that maybe he’d play two years, or perhaps three, for the NFL, all because he didn’t really have an ACL.  From this article from 2001 at Philly.com by Jerry Brewer of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

(Siragusa’s) quite the story, perhaps a great symbol for the NFL today. It is hyped as a league of parity and a league in which a hardworking player can become a success without having a great pedigree.

It is a league in which a then-280-pound tackle from the University of Pittsburgh could go undrafted (mostly because he has no anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee), endure nine knee surgeries, and play 11 years in an NFL career that reaches a plateau on Sunday when he plays in his first Super Bowl.

A wise old doctor from Indianapolis once told Siragusa his knee would hold up for two years in the NFL. Maybe three.

“The doctor examined my knee, and he said, ‘You have no ACL in your knee,’ ” Siragusa said. “I said, ‘You’re a good doctor.’ “

Boiling it down to brass tacks, Siragusa set out to prove the doctor wrong.  And he did — by going to one of his trusted past college coaches, if memory serves (it’s been well over a year and a half since I read GOOSE, mind you), then setting up his brutal training regimen.  This is what allowed Siragusa to play, and play well, for twelve long years without a working ACL in his knee.

My thought is that if Siragusa could do this and play football, it might be possible for Gamel to do the same thing.  Gamel is only 27 years old.  He may, if he’s fortunate, be able to find a strength and conditioning coach that can duplicate whatever it was that Siragusa managed to do.  If so, this would allow Gamel to build up his legs to the point that even if his ACL fails for an unprecedented third time, he can still play despite the injury.

As I understand it, what Siragusa did in his conditioning program was to strengthen all of the muscles around where the ACL should be.  These other muscles took the place of the ACL — or at least bore the strain of a rough and tumble NFL season — so isn’t it conceivable that Gamel could strengthen these same muscles around his ACL, which might take enough pressure off the soon-to-be twice-repaired ligament to allow him to continue his career?

However, if what Siragusa did is not able to be duplicated, perhaps Gamel would be better off to consider coaching.  Or figure out some other passions to cultivate along with baseball to help him pass the time.

As of right now, it surely seems to me that unless Gamel is able to duplicate whatever it was that Siragusa did, Gamel’s body is telling him that it’s time to make other plans.  Gamel has heart, moxie, and drive — everything you want in a major league baseball player — but if his body won’t hold up, he just isn’t going to be able to continue.

That’s why I hold out at least a slight amount of hope that Siragusa’s regimen may work for Gamel.  Because it seems to be the best hope Gamel has.

And any hope beats no hope at all.  Especially if you’re the unluckiest Brewer this side of Brad Nelson (Mr. “0-for-21” himself).

————

Note: Corey Hart has said publicly here that he will help Gamel all he possibly can.  Hart, who is truly a class act, said he feels for Gamel and will encourage him to continue to pursue rehab.  The Journal-Sentinel’s Todd Rosiak quoted Hart as saying:

“I’m just going to hug him and hope things work out. He’s going to have to have support everywhere. This is a tough situation. The biggest thing for him is suport (sic) in here. I told him to move in with me and I’ll help as much as I can. I’ll be leaving before him (to go on minor-league rehab) so I’ll let him stay at the house.”

(This is just one more reason why Corey Hart is my favorite current Brewers player.  Just sayin’.)

Books I’ve Read While I’ve Been Ill

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Folks, I’ve spent most of the last three or four weeks sicker than I don’t know what . . . but I have read a number of very good books.  Some are new, some aren’t, but all kept me interested and focused.

And as I really didn’t want to have to blog yet again about how terrible I feel, I figured I’d concentrate on the books instead.

The one author who consistently has entertained me during this time — aside from my old standbys — is Regency romance novelist Judith A. Lansdowne.  Ms. Lansdowne’s last book, JUST IMPOSSIBLE, was published in 2004, and is about the unlikely pairing of William, the Duke of Berinwick, and Lady Julia Delacroix.  Julia has a secret that’s likely to take her life if she’s not careful, and Berinwick decides to mix in mostly because there’s something to the stubborn set of her chin that intrigues him.  (Julia also doesn’t like men very much.  There’s a reason for that.  Which makes this unlikely pairing all the more compelling, as Berinwick is a decidedly strong man in more ways than one.)  How these two meet and eventually end up together is very intriguing . . . one enjoyable read from cover to cover.

Anyway, you want to read Ms. Lansdowne’s work primarily because there’s a lot of humor in it.  But there’s also pathos, genuine emotion, and some rather complex situations . . . really fine writing.  (I hope Ms. Lansdowne will soon put her work up as e-books, providing the rights have reverted to her.  Her writing is way too good to be left in obscurity.)

The other three or four books I’ve read that I’ve really enjoyed during this time were mostly new ones.  First, I read Victoria Roth’s INSURGENT, the sequel to DIVERGENT, both starring Beatrice “Tris” Prior and her love interest and combat instructor, who goes by “Four” but whose real name is Tobias.  These books are about a dystopian society that split into five factions and shut off the city of Chicago, apparently to see what the five factions were likely to do in an enclosed space.  It is unknown whether Chicago is the only place these factions exist, but what is known is that you have one chance to change factions — when you turn sixteen and take part in a “choosing ceremony” after taking a whole battery of assessment tests.

Roth’s work is absorbing, and as such I really enjoyed reading INSURGENT even though there’s a great deal of violence and some really awkward situations for the heroine, Tris.  (Tris’s brother, in particular, is a rather ambivalent character.  I still can’t figure him out.)  The romance between Tris and Tobias is quite strong, with some believable tension between them that’s not all sexually related.  And the action scenes are first-rate.

I’ve read K.E. Kimbriel’s FIRES OF NUALA, which I hope to review soon over at Shiny Book Review.  (I must have more concentration than what is currently available to me in order to do so, as it’s a complex plot that deserves to be explained as well as I can without giving away all the plot-points.)  Let’s just say that Ms. Kimbriel’s novel is excellent, and it kept me riveted.  And if you like science fiction novels where there’s great, unexpected romance with believable complications along with intrigue and a subplot about how only corrupt people deserve to be taken (“con only other con artists,” in brief), well, you will love FIRES OF NUALA as much as I did.

I’ve also read Travis Taylor and Stephanie Osborn’s A NEW AMERICAN SPACE PLAN, which is just as it sounds — a rationale for what the United States of America needs to do in order to stay in space and create many new jobs.  This is an absorbing piece of non-fiction written in a compelling and likable style — and is yet another book I hope to review, and soon, over at SBR.  (Why this illness just refuses to leave is beyond me.  But it definitely has cut down on my reviewing.)

I also read Ally Condie’s REACHED, the third book in a dystopian trilogy about yet another failed society and how they try to control everyone.  The characters of Cassia and her two love interests, Xander and Ky, are interesting.  There’s a vicious Society which kills off everyone at age 80, a rebel group called the Rising, which opposes the Society, and a third group made up of Aberrations (people the Society didn’t really plan on having, so they denigrate them, marginalize them and exploit them whenever possible).

REACHED shows what happens when the Society is overthrown.  But it’s not as easy as all that to get rid of old habits overnight, much less the people who were the actual movers and shakers of the Society — which all three teens find out.

Mostly, the story is gripping but incredibly downbeat. There’s a plague to be fought against, which is why the character who does the most and actually grows and changes the most is Xander, a medic (called a “physic” in this universe).  Which is rather odd, because this trilogy started out in Cassia’s point of view.

Anyway, it held my interest, but it was definitely one of the most disturbing books I’ve read in quite some time.

Finally, I’ve been reading a book by Carl Sferrazza Anthony about a forgotten First Lady, Florence Kling Harding, called FLORENCE HARDING: THE FIRST LADY, THE JAZZ AGE, AND THE DEATH OF OUR MOST SCANDALOUS PRESIDENT.  Mrs. Harding was a trailblazer in many respects; she was honest, forthright and opinionated, and believed that women should have the same rights as men — including the rights to vote, play in any sports and work in any job.

However, Mrs. Harding’s husband was the weak-willed and amoral Warren G. Harding, a man who definitely could not “keep (his) legs closed,” as the saying from the MAURY show goes.  (Usually about women.)  In fact, Harding slept with so many women that his own father, according to author Anthony, once told Harding that if he’d been born a woman, Harding would’ve been constantly “in the family way.”  (I laughed out loud at that one.)

President Harding himself is the main reason why Mrs. Harding gets knocked down on the various First Lady rankings, even though as First Lady (for two-plus years, until her husband died in office), she did many good things.

And that’s just not right.

Mrs. Harding’s only real crime — if you can call it that — was to fall in love with Mr. Harding.  She was brilliant, and he definitely wasn’t; in a later age, she would’ve been the politician and probably would’ve divorced Harding many times over due to his rampant infidelity (as she apparently knew about at least three of his affairs, with two of those affairs resulting in illegitimate children that she may or may not have known about).  She had no children with Harding, and only one child overall by a previous, common-law marriage.

Anyway, Mrs. Harding was the first divorced woman to become First Lady.  She more or less created the modern “photo-op.”  She talked with journalists, which before she became First Lady wasn’t a regular occurrence (or even a semi-regular occurrence).  She helped her husband understand legislation and deal with various legislators, as she could keep it all straight — and he definitely couldn’t.

But with all of her good qualities — and I believe she had many — she also had some bad ones.  She was so loyal that she actually burned many documents after her husband died, mostly because she wanted to shield her husband.  (Laudable, but I wish she hadn’t done it.)  She trusted the wrong doctor, a family friend she’d known for many years, when a different (specialist) doctor told her flat-out that Harding would die if he didn’t rest and that even if he did rest, he still might . . . yet because of her trust in the family friend, her husband died sooner than he might have on a grueling coast-to-coast trip.  (They even went to Alaska.)  And she’d been known to use corporal punishment on the newsboys she  supervised as the business manager of her husband’s newspaper, though to be fair many people used corporal punishment at that time and very few people batted an eye at it.

Anyway, it’s very easy to see that Mrs. Harding should be classified right up at the top of the list with Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. (Eleanor) Roosevelt, not at the absolute bottom of the list of First Ladies.  Mrs. Harding was a very strong, tough and smart woman who helped her husband quite a bit.  She was an excellent First Lady up until her lone bad choice — that of the family doctor rather than the specialist — spiraled into her husband’s passing while in office, then compounded the problem by burning a whole lot of records needlessly (possibly to help shield her husband’s fallen reputation).  She has been unfairly maligned by history, mostly because her husband was a failed President . . . and I think that unfair treatment deserves to end.

So in that respect, I’d say that the two books that have captivated me the most during this three- to four-week stretch of illness have been JUST IMPOSSIBLE and the book about Mrs. Harding.

And really, when you’re ill, isn’t that the best you can possibly ask for?  Some books that take you away from it all?

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 15, 2013 at 11:56 pm

U.S. Senate Filibusters Defense Sec. Nomination of Sen. Chuck Hagel

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Folks, sometimes I truly do not understand Washington, DC, whatsoever.

Former Republican United States Senator Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska, who has been nominated by the Obama Administration to become the next Secretary of Defense, has been effectively filibustered by the U.S. Senate on a 58-40 vote in favor of Hagel — with one Senator, Orrin Hatch (R-UT), only being willing to vote “present.”

Sixty votes were needed in order to end this stalemate.  And the Senate could only muster 58.  (Plus Hatch’s “present” vote.)

My word.

Here’s the four Republicans who voted against the filibuster and for Senator Hagel: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine.

Only four Senators voted for their former colleague, a well-respected, decorated military veteran.  And a member of their own political party.

(Plus Hatch, who voted present — thus proving he was unwilling to vote against Hagel even if by doing so he looked timid, at best.)

What is wrong with the Senate, if they can’t even vote to confirm a respectable, responsible guy like Senator Hagel?

Look.  I lived in Nebraska for several years.   I know Hagel to be a political conservative, but he is honest and principled and understands the military extremely well.  He has the courage of his convictions.

Hagel will make an admirable Secretary of Defense, as he would most likely be mighty unwilling to spend lives needlessly.  And having a former military veteran as the Defense Secretary has to help, doesn’t it?

Well, apparently not if you’re a Republican Senator.  Even when it comes to one of your own retired colleagues.

Now we get to wait ten days until another vote can be taken.

All I can say is, I remain unimpressed by what I’ve seen out of both houses of Congress this year.  And I echo what Harry Reid had to say as quoted by this article via the Huffington Post:

Reid decried the outcome immediately after the vote Thursday evening, emphasizing the need to relieve outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta of his obligations and confirm Hagel at a time when the country continues to face military challenges.

“There is nothing going to change in the next 10 days about the qualifications of Chuck Hagel,” Reid said.

“I’m going to go call Chuck Hagel when I finish here and say, I’m sorry — sorry this has happened. I’m sorry for the president, I’m sorry for the country, and I’m sorry for you, but we’re not going to give up on you,” he added.

One final thought: Hagel will be confirmed, and deserves to be confirmed.  So all of these machinations merely make most of the Republicans look foolish (save the four who voted against the filibuster, thus for Hagel).  And that doesn’t give me a whole lot of hope for our country whatsoever.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 14, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Four Words I Thought I’d Never Write: Pope Benedict Steps Down

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This morning, after I saw the headlines that Pope Benedict XVI plans to step down as of February 28, 2013, I knew I had to write this blog.

Now, why is this such a headline-making event?  It’s simple: Most Popes die in office.

In fact, Pope Benedict is the first Pope since 1415 to voluntarily step down, according to Sky News.  And the reason is simple: he is a frail man now at age 85, and he says a younger and stronger man is needed.

According to the article from Reuters (found via Yahoo.com):

In a statement, the pope said in order to govern “…both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.

Pope Benedict had the unenviable job of following John Paul II as Pope, and for the most part did a good job.  While not perfect (he angered many Muslims with some ill-advised comments), he visited Auschwitz, prayed with Jews and Muslims, and was active in trying to root out pedophile priests (and those who covered for them) in the Catholic Church, paying close attention to Ireland and the United States in particular.

Whenever a major religious leader steps down or passes on, it’s a solemn occasion.  But it’s less solemn when someone actually realizes his time has passed and steps down rather than dies in office.

Good for Pope Benedict for realizing that he’s older now and not up to the task of the heavy workload of a modern-day Pope.

My hope for him is that he’ll enjoy the remainder of his life as a retired Pope, odd as that sounds, and that he’ll continue to work to remove pedophiles from the priesthood even in retirement as best he’s able.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 11, 2013 at 8:58 am

Post Office Tries to Cut Saturday Delivery — Will Congress Stop Them?

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Earlier today, news broke that the United States Postal Service (USPS) wishes to eliminate mail delivery on Saturday.  (Supposedly, packages will still be delivered, but nothing else.)  This is despite the fact that Congress, as a whole, has opposed eliminating Saturday mail delivery as it would be disastrous for rural communities, as many of the US Representatives have said — including Republican Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) — along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont, a long-time US Rep. before ascending to the Senate) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).

I picked these three members of the US Congress for a reason — none of them, not one, are Democrats.  (Yes, Sanders caucuses with the Ds.  But he still isn’t a D.)  Which shows there’s bipartisan support to keep the Post Office open six days a week, both a sensible and logical decision.

It may not seem like it to those of us who live in cities, but post offices are desperately needed in smaller communities.  There are places with only one post office for the town or municipality (and that one being the only one for miles around).  There are states that are largely rural (Nebraska, for one).  Having mail get delivered only five days per week would be incredibly harmful to Nebraska, much less Alaska . . . especially as in the latter, people get oil mailed as well as food, medication and paychecks.

For that matter, those of you who believe all checks are electronic need to think again, too.  There isn’t always a viable alternative to a paper check, especially if you’re sending in a bill.  Many companies charge you a “convenience fee” to pay by debit card or other electronic means, which is why checks are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.  And if you think your car company, for example, is going to be more likely to give you a break due to your payment being late due to a postal service cutback, think again.

Senator Sanders was blunt about the impact of these potential cutbacks, especially considering how a bill he’d proposed last year passed the Senate with ease — but was never taken up whatsoever by the House:

“Providing fewer services and less quality will cause more customers to seek other options.  Rural Americans, businesses, senior citizens and veterans will be hurt by ending Saturday mail,” Sanders added.

Amen, brother!  Amen.

While the Los Angeles Times article about the proposed cutbacks pointed out another possible reason for the USPS to make this announcement at this particular time:

The announcement came with little advance notice to lawmakers, who were preparing to renew an effort to pass postal legislation this year.

Though many members of Congress insist they would have to approve the cutback, Donahoe told reporters that the agency believes it can move forward unilaterally. The current mandate for six-day delivery is part of a government funding measure that expires in late March.

“There’s plenty of time in there so if there is some disagreement” with lawmakers, “we can get that resolved,” he said.

Or in other words, the USPS did this to force the Congress to act.

Here’s the main problem with the USPS, folks.  It’s that the Congress requires the Post Office to pre-fund retirements and health care fees for seventy-five years.  (No misprint.)  No other company in the world is forced to do such a thing, yet the Congress put this onerous burden on the Postal Service because it helps the Congress mask the deficit a little bit.

As the Huffington Post article says:

But change is not the biggest factor in the agency’s predicament – Congress is. The majority of the service’s red ink comes from a 2006 law forcing it to pay about $5.5 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other agency does. Without that payment – $11.1 billion in a two-year installment last year – and related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion for the past fiscal year, lower than the previous year.

So because the Congress has “fuzzy math skills,” the rest of us get screwed.  (How typical.)

My view is simple: The Post Office should not eliminate Saturday delivery.  The main reason for this is logistical.  Right now on Mondays, there’s twice as much mail to be delivered.  With the possible elimination of Saturday delivery as well, there would be three times as much mail to be delivered — but with the same amount of carriers.  What sense does this make?

The US Senate plan, which was passed in April of 2012, should be followed.  There should be a two-year moratorium placed on the Post Office eliminating one day a week from their delivery system, while every other way of cutting costs should be pursued.  (Let’s hope the Senate will include rolling back the onerous requirement of pre-funding retirements and health care costs for seventy-five years, as that’s the main reason why the USPS is so far in the red.)

At the end of two years, if there’s no other way to proceed, then a day should be picked in the middle of the week to eliminate as that would be likely to be less harmful than the elimination of Saturday delivery.

So the way to fix the current problem is this — the US House of Reps needs to act.  They need to pass a bill that goes along with the bill that has already passed the Senate in order to keep the USPS from unilaterally acting in a way that would be seriously harmful to rural residents.

Or as Senator Sanders said in his press release:

“The postmaster general cannot save the Postal Service by ending one of its major competitive advantages.  Cutting six-day delivery is not a viable plan for the future.  It will lead to a death spiral that will harm rural America while doing very little to improve the financial condition of the Postal Service,” Sanders said.

So, the USPS has shown its hand.  Many are upset about it, including Sens. Sanders and Collins and Rep. Crawford, the President of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Fredric Rolando,  and talk show host and MSNBC analyst Ed Schultz.

(And if you haven’t guessed yet that I’m upset as well, you need to up your reading comprehension skills a bit.  Seriously.)

Now, will the Congress as a whole act?  Or will they do what they’ve generally done for the past four or five years — sit on their butts, point fingers, and otherwise be useless wastes of time and space who are getting paid for what seems like very little reason?

It’s all down to you, Congress.

Act responsibly.  (Please.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 6, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Finished and Sent Off a Short Story

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While I remain more under the weather than not — and boy, am I tired of having to write those words — I was able to complete a short story and send it off to an anthology over the weekend.  (For those of you also on Facebook who’ve seen my recent status updates, this is the same story I discussed on Friday evening.)

Mind you, this is the first short story I’ve written in at least four months.  And as such, I’m pleased with it.

Of course, as with just about all of my shorter efforts, my story has a plot that would probably better befit a novel.  And I’ve already had one offer from a friend to help me turn it into just that down the line, so I guess there must be some promise in it.

Let us hope the anthology editor thinks so as well, whether she is able to buy it or not.  (I take all the reassurance I can get.)

As far as everything else . . . you might be wondering why I checked both “remembrance” and “persistence” with regards to this post as far as categories go.  It’s simple: the reason I came up with this particular short story has a great deal to do with my (deceased) good friend Jeff Wilson.  In this newest of my short stories, I showed an unlikely friendship between a human and an alien and how many things were left unspoken between the pair that seemed to be in complete accord.

Then something happens where the alien is no longer able to speak for himself.  (I know aliens don’t have to be male or female, but in this case this particular alien is male.  So let’s go with it, shall we?)

The human friend does her best to figure out what’s going on even though her alien friend is no longer available to discuss all the options with her.  And she solves a mystery — or perhaps comes up with a new one — while vowing all the while to never, ever forget her friend.

As I said, this story was prompted because of how much I miss my friend Jeff.  It’s not a story that I would’ve come up with otherwise, though I have had a few stories since my late husband Michael’s death that, to one extent or another, were greatly impacted by his passing.  (Most of them, to be honest.  Save this one.)

I’d like to think that my friend would be honored by the fact that I’ve written this story, even though it’s far from perfect.  (I know I shouldn’t say that, as the story hasn’t even been read by the anthology’s editor as of yet.  But I tend to think none of my stories are perfect — not even ELFY, though that one comes the closest by miles to what I’d dreamed it should be — which perhaps means I’m being overly perfectionistic again.)  I also think he’d be pleased that I’d written a science fiction story — when he had to know I’m more conversant with fantasy — because it means I’m better able to let the story tell me where it wants to go, rather than go where I think it should.

(This last may make no sense to non-writers.  But it is still the truth.)

I would like to think that our loved ones — friends, husbands, makes no nevermind — will live on as long as we remember them.

All I know is, I will never forget Jeff Wilson.  Not ever.

I just hope he knew that.

And I hope, someday, in some faraway place, that I’ll be able to ask him what he thinks of this story.  Because when I wrote it, I thought a great deal about him.

And smiled.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 4, 2013 at 7:43 am