Friday, February 25, 2011

My take on the high speed's too big a risk...

The State of Florida is facing a budget crisis and though I did not vote for Governor Scott, I support his decision to turn down $2.4 billion in federal money for the bullet train project between Tampa and Orlando. 

When I first heard about the proposed 85-mile high speed rail plan, I was furious. I mean seriously? 85 miles? Would I really want to pay more than it would cost me in time and gas to get between those cities about 30 minutes sooner than by car? Not really. And I can't find a single person who has traveled between those two cities who would either. 

On the surface, knowing what I know about high speed rail and how it never seems to make any money (Amtrak is a fine example, not to mention that once fat cat businessmen and politicians get their greedy little paws on this project there will be mismanagement, corruption and major cost overrun), I really don’t want my state taking on this burden. I don’t care how many jobs it’s alleged to create. In the end, it’s going to cost us and cost us BIG.

Governor Scott made three excellent points in his argument to turn down the money.  From the Examiner:
  1. Capital cost overruns from the project could put Florida taxpayers on the hook for an additional $3 billion.
  2. Ridership and revenue projections are historically overly-optimistic and would likely result in ongoing subsidies that state taxpayers would have to incur. (from $300 million – $575 million over 10 years) – Note: The state subsidizes Tri-Rail $34.6 million a year while passenger revenues covers only $10.4 million of the $64 million annual operating budget.
  3. If the project becomes too costly for taxpayers and is shut down, the state would have to return the $2.4 billion in federal funds to D.C.
If you’re interested, Newsweek did a short but excellent story in October 2010 (definitely worth reading) titled “High Speed Pork: Why Fast Trains are a Waste of Money”

I have some thoughts on this issue based on what I’ve read so far. It is 85 miles one-way between Tampa and Orlando. I’ve driven the corridor many times and on a good day the drive between Tampa and Orlando takes about 90 minutes. The bullet train would travel up to 168 mph and would make five stops between Tampa and Orlando, and the trip would take about 60 minutes. So it is alleged to save about half an hour.
It is estimated that 4.5 million people travel between the two cities annually and that a bullet train might draw 11% of that number. Now by my calculations, 11% of 4.5 million = 495,000. Say a one way ticket cost $50 (there will likely be other costs to riders such as parking fees for their vehicles and luggage/fuel surcharges), that’s roughly $25 million in ticket revenue annually. However, what will it cost to maintain the rail and pay the employees? You’ve got overhead, maintenance, salary, benefits, etc. The costs will be much more than the annual revenue. What does this mean? The high speed rail will be running in the red, forcing it to be subsidized by the government. Remind you of anything? Amtrak perhaps?

Would you pay $50 to ride a one-hour train from Tampa to Orlando? Would you pay roughly $20 to park your car on either end? You might, but would 495,000 people annually be willing to do that? Sure $50 is pretty high for a one-way ticket but I’m estimating high. Any lower would result in a lower revenue for the project (thus equaling higher costs for the taxpayers) but I needed a number. 

Senator Bill Nelson claims that eliminating the project will cost 24,000 jobs and obstruct economic growth along the I-4 corridor. Though I’m wondering…if there are only five proposed stops between the two cities, how exactly will the rail encourage economic growth along the corridor? The train is not likely to stop in small towns but in more populated areas where there already is economic growth. It’s more likely that people driving the corridor will stop more often in places other than those planned five train stops.

How many of the 24,000 jobs will come to an end when construction is complete and how many will be permanent? How many of the 24,000 jobs will be outsourced? If private companies will be hired to build this line, they may not be pulling local workers. There just may not be enough people in the area, or in Florida suited for the jobs required for the rail. And will these companies be local? Or will they be from other states? As private companies should they be required to hire unskilled local workers as part of the deal? 

Who will essentially own the rail? The State? Private companies? Who will maintain it? Will the employees be private corporate employees or state employees? Will they be unionized? 

The main reasons this rail is being pushed is for the 24,000 jobs, the alleged reduction in emissions, and the reduction in overcrowding on the I-4 corridor. Oh and then our politicians supporting this try and make us feel guilty by telling us that if we don't accept the federal money, it and our tax dollars will go to building a rail in another city anyway.  So they say. I don’t buy it. Not good enough reasons.

The trade-offs as a result of this project are in no way in favor of the taxpayers. A lot of money will be put into this project but the return will not be anything close to what the backers predict. What are you willing to give up for the alleged 24,000 jobs and a revenue of $25 million annually, which of course the taxpayers will not see because it won’t be nearly enough to cover the actual cost of running the rail each year? 

Florida is a state where most of the jobs are in the service industry. We have no state income tax and most of the revenue is dependent upon sales taxes and tourism. The high speed rail project is too high a risk. If we want to create jobs, we need to encourage the creation of small businesses as well as manufacturing. We also need to encourage education both in the academic and vocational areas because the more skilled one is be it in an occupation such as teaching and nursing or welding, carpentry, and plumbing, the better chance he or she has at obtaining a well-paying job and career. 

Necessity is the mother of invention and great while things have been done in this nation in the name of necessity but this project is in no way one of them. It is time to focus our energies elsewhere for real solutions to the real problems facing this state using a more practical common-sense approach.

BTW I used a variety of sources: Tampa Bay Examiner, Newsweek, Orlando Sentinel, and the Washington Post

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

First Iraq, then Egypt, now Libya! Who is next?

Muammar al-Qaddafi should have dropped dead years ago but he's still kicking ass. Isn't it amazing how barbaric terrorist dictators live to a ripe old age? I guess it's all that permanent silencing of the opposition that encourages a long life span. The guy has been in power since I was one-year old and I'd say that's about 40 years too long already. This is the moment we've been waiting for--we Americans live for this---the moment when the people of a dictator-led nation rise up and overthrow their leaders.

I'm in awe of the courage of the people in Iraq, Egypt and Libya who are risking their lives for something better. The people of these nations, ruled by evil dictators for years, finally decided they'd had enough. They may not want to be westernized and that's ok, they just want something different than what they've been subject to for so many years. They want freedom. I don't blame the people of these nations for being wary of the things freedom brings because it includes both good and bad. I believe the good always outweighs the bad but sometimes compromises are made in order to preserve freedom and some of those compromises are not always looked on as favorable. However, in order to maintain a free nation as we do in America, we trudge on with compromise because it's the right thing to do. 

I'm hoping that once the Libyans oust the aging Colonel, this trend will extend to nations like Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela. I know what leadership follows in the footsteps of the ousted dictators could be far worse but if the people don't at least try, they will never know. If there's anything we Americans can teach other nations (and yes we have a lot of good things we can pass on), it's that if you want freedom bad enough, it is possible to achieve and there is no doubt that America is the finest living breathing example of that achievement.

Blow the Somali pirate ships out of the water

What happens when you don't take action against terrorists? They win. From the moment Somali pirate ships began taking hijacking merchant vessels, we should have been out there with a major show of force escorting merchant vessels and blowing the pirate ships out of the water. Instead, we did nothing. And now, four Americans are dead. I'm not blaming the Navy, their hands are tied. We don't want any international incidents do we?  The pirates are the same as terrorists and it's time to treat them as such. When FOUR US Navy warships trail a yacht hijacked by Somalis and the four innocent Americans on board are killed, one has to wonder what in hell is going on here? Crews of merchant vessels should be allowed to arm themselves (many ports of call do not allow the introduction of weapons into their waters).

We don't negotiate with terrorists of any kind. And so perhaps if we begin blowing their ships out of the water they'll get the message that their barbaric behavior will no longer be tolerated.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I'm still here...

So far the midlife crisis is evolving and I'm still here. I haven't done anything drastic though my behavior has changed slightly, enough for me to notice, maybe others. Something interesting that comes to mind is that my sense of guilt seems to have eroded dramatically.

Now, in my family there's this overwhelming sense of guilt that we grew up with, it's just a personality trait inherited from generations of women from both the European Jew side and the Western European Italian side. For generations, the women in my family have been experts at passing along the guilt complex without ever coming out and saying "hey I'm passing this annoying trait on to you, have fun!" ---no---they just passed it on without warning. I had a guilt complex for years. If I didn't call my parents or my grandparents, if I didn't do things the way someone wanted, if I said something that was taken the wrong way, I'd always apologize and come to my senses admitting guilt even if I wasn't guilty of anything. Now, I don't do that. It's not like I'm unfeeling or unemotional, or that I don't care. Well maybe part of me doesn't care but I can't tell you why I feel like that as I don't know myself.

Another thing that has appeared lately is my being selfish. By nature I am not a selfish person but I've always been one to put everyone else first and one day I just woke up and decided that nobody is going to look out for me like I will. That's when it hit me that I need to focus on me first. It doesn't mean I don't care about others, but I suppose now I am making up for lost time. I told someone the other day "you have to live for yourself first, you have to do what you want first"  so I guess that's what I'm doing.

I suppose all of this is the process of taking control of my life. I wonder how different the new me will be from the old me. I've a feeling that when all is said and done I'll still be me, just a better me, the me I want to be. 

Monday, February 07, 2011

This is how you sing our National Anthem!

Every year the day after the Super Bowl I have to watch this video so I can remember the good old days.  

Nobody does it like Whitney.

I remember the night. It was January 27, 1991. I lived in the Old Hyde Park area of Tampa. We had a Super Bowl party and all eyes were glued to the television. Most of us had graduated from high school in the 80's when Whitney was at her peak and we all loved her, so we were excited at the prospect of hearing her sing the National Anthem. Many of us were military folks, including active duty and veterans, and there was a war going on in the Gulf and things were pretty heated, making the meaning of this song even more significant. We were having a great time, partying, eating great food, drinking great beer and when Frank Gifford announced Whitney, everyone got quiet. As she moved through the Anthem with grace and perfection we could feel the prickling of goosebumps on our skin. Then the jets from MacDill AFB which was not far from us, flew over the Stadium. You could hear them and feel their power and the entire experience from start to finish was amazing.

I shake my head in disgust at how so-called musical artists of this new era continue to butcher our National Anthem to pieces. Stop putting so much "soul" into it, stop butchering it. Let it FLOW naturally. If they can't do it with grace and style like Whitney, just don't do it at all.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

How to pick a Super Bowl favorite...

I'm not really a fan of professional football. It's not that I have anything against the game, it's just that I don't give a damn. It wasn't always like that. In my youth, I was a huge 49ers fan. It all started in 1985 when I watched a Monday night football game and I was hooked. Frank Gifford and Al Michaels taught me everything I ever needed to know about the game which actually helped me in later years when I'd watch games with guy friends who were no doubt impressed with my knowledge of the game. The older I got the less I cared about professional football and so when people asked me recently "Who do you pick?" to win the Super Bowl, I'd just say "doesn't matter to me" but then some folks became downright angry, as if I was required by law (I'm sure some state has a law about this) to pick a team. I stood my ground and my answer would vary from "doesn't matter" to "whoever gets the most points" to "frankly my dear I don't give a damn." But after being inundated with the big question by so many people I felt maybe I'd missed out on something. Maybe I needed to jump on the bandwagon and choose a team and perhaps it would fill a void missing for years. Maybe it would make me a better, more worldly person.

The problem is if you don't really care about the two teams competing, how do you logically pick a favorite? Knowing nothing about what's going on with either team this season I felt that was a disadvantage but then I began to think maybe not. Maybe not knowing a thing about either team is an advantage. I've got no bias, surely I can pick a favorite. And so I wracked my brain trying to come up with the team I want to win but decided I had to go through a logical well-thought out process explaining my decision. And so this is what I came up with:

Pittsburgh seems like a really dull boring place. You don't really see too many people shouting, "Hey, I'm moving to Pittsburgh!" with any kind of joy do you?  I mean when is the last time you heard of a mass migration to Pittsburgh? I mean, what do they have besides industry and smog? I don't picture Pittsburgh having museums and coffee shops and broadway shows and nightlife. There was this one time I was stuck in the Pittsburgh airport for three hours and I gotta tell you it sucked big time. I just sat there looking out the big glass windows at the most dull and dreary sight I've ever seen. Nothing but gray skies and snow as far as the eye could see. I couldn't wait to get out of there. I've met people from Pittsburgh who are pretty darn nice so I'll say that that's a plus.  Oh yeah Terry Bradshaw played for the Steelers and who does NOT like Terry Bradshaw? He's funny as all hell. Another plus is the team colors, I love the colors, very manly.  like the helmets too. And I also enjoy the legendary Cowboys-Steelers rivalry though I always rooted for the Cowboys. Add points in for the fact my mom's best friend June is a huge Steelers fan and well, I like June, she's cool. But then again I close my eyes and think "Pittsburgh" and I think steel industry and smog and well it just doesn't set my heart a-fluttering. 

Now, on to Green Bay. While I think that fat guys wearing no shirts, with green and yellow painted chests and big cheese hats on their head look absolutely ridiculous, I gotta admit, they've got balls. I mean, no self respecting Steelers fan would dress like that although what would they put on their head? Steel? Nah, wouldn't have the same effect. That said, I don't like Green Bay's uniforms. I think that green and yellow have to be the worst combination of colors for a professional football team. However, it does make a statement like "our colors may suck but we're not afraid because we kick ass" and you have to respect a bunch of guys who aren't into the whole fashion thing. I also like the big "G" on the helmet because it helps remind you of which team is playing. Green Bay is located in Wisconsin and I have family in Wisconsin so that's another plus. A friend of mine and his family are from Wisconsin and are huge Packer backers so score another point there. And then there's the fact that I only know the name of guy who recently played for either team and that would be Brett Favre. Though I know he doesn't play with them now, he did once and who forgets a name like that? Not to mention how many times he retired. When I think of Green Bay I think of green grass, cows and lots of.....well....cheese. I mean Wisconsin is known for its cheese. And cheese is good, right? And the cows in the commercials are so cute!

So in the end, there's only one logical choice here----the Packers but mostly because I like cheese. I think that's reasonable, don't you?

That my friends is how you choose your favorite in the Super Bowl. 

Saturday, February 05, 2011

It's all about family in this week's [H]ouse...

I absolutely loved 7x11 "Family Practice"

The mood lighting was excellent. Dark episode, lots of rain, dark clothing...perfect!


Loved the House-Team scenes. Laughed my ass off at Loved House and the team watching cartoons, House's reaction TO the cartoon (he's such a kid!), the way the team placed bets on who House was hiding from, the way they all looked at him when Cuddy says to House "this is my mother"....

Loved all the House-Cuddy scenes. Loved their arguments/discussions and the non-verbal communication. Something fascinating about the argument in House's office where she confronts him about switching the meds, and how he talks to her, the way he says to her "you told me to keep you out of it, do what i needed to do, the hell'd you think that meant?" (I've NEVER heard House sound like that before) and all of their arguments seem on a more deeper level, as a couple, NOT as diagnostician vs. Dean of Med adversary.

House/Martha. Martha for being so damn righteous LOL (I wish she'd stay!) Loved that he recognized his weakness---that he needs a moral compass, a conscience to keep him in line so that Cuddy doesn't have to jeopardize her job or their relationship.

I felt bad for the way Arlene treated Cuddy and then I began thinking maybe she treats Cuddy like that because Cuddy lets her? Maybe Julia stands up to her mom and that's why they have a better relationship?

I'd love to see what's in Cuddy's yearbook!

And WTF with House setting up Martha, though did he really do it? Seriously? Or was he bluffing?

Great episode all around.

I missed Wilson but his presence/conscience would have interfered with the dynamic flow of this whole situation. Wilson would have no doubt been too much of a conscience here for both House AND Cuddy.

You know how for years Cuddy always saved House? This time House saved Cuddy in more ways than one. This case wasn't about the puzzle, it was about Cuddy. He wanted to save her mom for no other reason than for Cuddy. House has himself been saved by Cuddy (and Wilson) by toughlove before and now he gave a little dose by pushing Cuddy to be the strong person he knows and admires. She is NEVER one to back down from a fight except with her mother. House could no longer sit by and watch her give in, that's just NOT the Cuddy he knows. And by telling just how he was taking it personally with the comment about one day, a week from now, or a year she'd be blaming the man who sleeps next to her for her mother's death was incredibly MOVING and spoke volumes about how much he needs her in his life.

I never saw House as arrogant in this episode, he was just protecting Cuddy and by forcing her to confront her mother, he was MORE supportive than if he'd just sat there with his arms around her letting her cry. House may have saved her relationship with her mother and made it stronger and he helped Cuddy let go of some past demons related to her relationship with her mom. He also helped strengthen their relationship. He definitely was taking this case personally and that was something unusual for House.

What I see here is a stronger bond between House and Cuddy, a deeper respect, admiration and commitment. House still has issues to resolve like the fears of committing to being a father figure to Rachel, a lifetime relationship with Cuddy.

House's biggest challenge will likely be overcoming the above fears as well as figuring out how to cool his heels at work a bit while still being the arrogant ass with a God complex who saves people's lives WITHOUT jeopardizing his relationship with Cuddy (or their jobs) doing it.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Tale of a midlife crisis...

I'm completely convinced that I am facing a midlife crisis head-on and that's alright with me because I openly admit and acknowledge it. I've read that denying a midlife crisis can be unhealthy and fortunately for me, denial is not appealing to me. I prefer to just admit early if I am facing some kind of unusual situation, this way it's out in the open, there are no secrets and I don't have to play games trying to hide it. For over a year I've been wondering what in hell I'm dealing with here and finally after sitting back and thinking about it seriously on more than one occasion, and of course doing my research, I'm convinced this is it and I am prepared to deal with it.

There's no specific age a person deals with a midlife crisis, but generally it happens in one's 40's or 50's, if it happens at all. At 41, I think it's reasonable to believe that's what I'm going through and I would imagine the reason it takes place during that particular time of life is because there's enough life experiences, both good and bad, to stir the need for change in some people. Some people have affairs, some buy new expensive cars, some take trips around the world. Some people take it to the extreme but that's not for me. My way of dealing with things for the most part is generally more subtle, up to now anyway. I've read that midlife crises can be triggered by any number of things and I can't say exactly what triggered mine. Everyone deals with life differently, the key here being that we do deal with it, rationally anyway.  Having acknowledged my own situation eases a huge burden. I don't have anything to hide or be ashamed of, after all it's life.We're dealt a hand and it's up to us how we play it.

The experts believe a midlife crisis is an attempt to sort out one's inner conflicts. I believe that's true. My personality is balanced, sometimes I go with feeling, sometimes logic. Sometimes it's an extreme battle of of wills between the two and so far the score is pretty even. Right now the battle isn't in full gear yet, but it's there. It's about doing what your mind believes is the logical thing to do vs. your need to do what you feel is the right thing to do. I am attempting to resolve inner conflicts but not knowing how or where to begin. I just know that they are there and I need to deal with the desire for change.  It is said the process of change starts before one even realizes it and that I would say is true. This began long before I even realized it.

I am not sure when the realization of the need for change hit me but I think it was over a year ago. I knew something was different. I sensed I was not happy with the direction my life was headed.  I don't necessarily want to be a different person, I just want to be a better person, living up to my potential and making the most of the life I've been given. To be honest there are many times I do not feel I am meeting that challenge. I have the ability, as anyone who knows me would attest to, but I am just not doing it, perhaps out of fear. For some people fear is a motivator, for others it is a hindrance. For me, it's been the latter. The fear of taking chances and the possibility of failure can be enough to cause a person to put up a shield and watch from the sidelines. Oh I'm good at telling other people to live and I'm a great giver of advice but in the end I protect myself from doing what I tell others they should do. I'm not trying to be hypocrite, it's just easier to dispense advice to others and live vicariously through them, than actually throw myself out there and live it myself.  The comfort zone I've eased myself into all these years is nice but I think it's outlived its purpose.  There's a time and place for the comfort zone but it doesn't have to be there all the time.

I don't have a bucket list of things I'd like to do before I die and I can't tell you how this need for change came about or how it will progress, but rest assured that I feel it's a good thing. However this metamorphosis began, it has to be followed through to its conclusion. There's a road to be traveled, a journey that must take place and knowing that change is inevitable, I'm just going to enjoy the ride.

Don't worry though, I am most certainly in the driver's seat this time.