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Friday, October 26, 2012

Foreign policy sparring

You have to admire Mr. Romney's chutzpah

In the debate last night he once again raised the false accusation
about Mr. Obama's "apology tour" (Sparring Over Foreign Policy, Obama
Goes on the Offense. New York Times, October 23, 2012: A1).

This from a man, who in his last two years as Governor, went around
the country running down Massachusetts; he used to claim that he felt
like ""a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention."

It sounds to me that he did much worse things than Mr. Obama.

Sent to New York Times

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Romney's Taxes

Have I got this right?

Mr. Romney pays about 14% of his income in Federal Income Taxes.

His platform contains a plank to reduce Federal Income Taxes by 20%.

If this is enacted, it will means that he will pay Federal Income
taxes at 11.2%.

I always though his paying 15% was unfair; paying 11.2% is obscenely unfair.

Sent to New York Times

Monday, October 22, 2012

Volunteering at the Antiques Roadshow

Antiques Roadshow

Here is the original long version.

Volunteering at the Antiques Roadshow


My wife and I are great fans of Antiques Roadshow. We record the US Roadshow on WGBH every week and we record the British Roadshow that comes from New Hampshire Public Television most Friday evenings. We watch the Roadshow for half an hour each night before we go to bed.

We were therefore delighted to learn that the US Antiques Roadshow would be taping in Boston later this year.  We really wanted to go – as did many, many others in the community.

We put our names in the ticket lottery but were unsuccessful

We so much wanted to go that we put our names in to be volunteers at the taping . Alas we were also unsuccessful. We are on the wait-list, so something might yet happen that gets us to the Roadshow

Our parents also left us a few pieces of antique furniture so we submitted several to be considered for inclusion in the show. Would the pine wash-stand catch an expert's eye, would the Edwardian inlaid
corner cupboard be our piece to star in the show? My wife favors the chances of her parents' desk, with the Victorian hall table as the runner up. My hunch is that the turn of the century Hepplewhite card
table with its green baize top will entrance the people doing the furniture triage; or perhaps the Wellington chest. We both agree that the gaudy inlaid chess table won't stand a chance of being selected.

We still had not heard anything when the taping was just a couple of weeks away.. We figured that we would just have to watch the roadshow on TV from our living room couch and sneer about how much
better our objects were than the ones that made it to the show.

By two weeks before he Roadshow taping, we had given up hope and resigned ourselves to the couch. And then a surprising reprieve: we received an email saying that they were activating many of the
volunteers on the standby list. We had been chosen as volunteers. It took but a second to e-mail back a resounding “Yes!”


On June 8th we turned up for the rehearsal at the Boston Convention Center.. What a big barn of a building it is. . We walked a long, long way from the security booth to the event hall. They fed us coffee and cookies and an inspirational speech by Jon Abbott, the General Manager of WGBH.

Then came the instruction phase of the evening. DO NOT under any circumstances help a person with their favorite antique. If you drop it, WGBH will be liable and we can't afford that. Do not forget that
you are the public face of the Roadshow. Be cheerful when you greet people.

Then it was time to get our assignments. There were four work stations. The first was in the innermost sanctum: the set. There was a mad dash of people for that assignment; we were barely out of our seats by the time that had been fully staffed. The second group of volunteers were off-set but in the same room as the set. These volunteers were to guide people to the queues for each specialty appraiser: books, pictures, posters, china, silver and so on. We did not make the cut there either. The third station was post show: to guide people exits. The fourth and final station, to which we were assigned was at the entrance to the Roadshow. We got a sweet assignment, just after the clients had been checked in at the door, we were to hand them a booklet explaining the program for their day at the Roadshow, together with a copy of the Roadshow Magazine. It was a sweet assignment because the materials were set up on a table and behind the table were some chairs. We would be able to catch a sit down when the flow of people was not too heavy.

Others in our group were to check the ticket times to make sure people did not arrive too early, and to manage the lines, each for a different hour, and the triage tables where people were handed slips to direct them to the appropriate expert area (Silver, Porcelain, Pictures, Posters, etc.).

I asked if we could occasionally swap assignments to get a bit of variety in our jobs; as an academic organizational psychologist I had long taught the virtues of job variety for the job holders. I was told, “No Way. We need you to focus on your own job.”

The Day of the Roadshow

Next morning we were up early and got to the Convention Center by 6.15am. At that time of morning, the roads were empty and there was even parking right next to the building – apparently the tales of roadshow clients sleeping in their cars at the appraisal location were myths, or perhaps only true of the days when they did not issue timed tickets.

After picking up our badges and name-tags, we had a terrific breakfast of bacon, eggs, muffins and hot coffee. We hurried through breakfast and went to our positions. All the people at our station converged on our table and started assembling the brochure and newsletter combination. This was a great help for us as it gave us a large inventory to begin the day with. Over the rest of the day, Nancy and I took turns handing brochures out and assembling packets.

Before the first clients were let in, we could see over at the side, some of our favorite appraisers coming in to the arena: Colleen Fesco, James Callaghan, Nickolas Lowry, recognizable by his suit. David Rago and Suzanne Perrault from the art pottery business, and so on. Alas there were no furniture twins!

At about 6.45, the doors opened and the first wave of clients poured in. Nancy and I were very busy for the next 20 minutes handing out brochures and pointing people in the right direction: for the first few we said “Go over there (pointing) toward the gray roll-down door, then turn right in front of the concession stand lights; when you get there, someone will tell you where to go next (into the line for the person's ticket time).” For those at the back of the wave, we merely said, “Follow the crowd”.

With that first group, we did not have time to greet or chat with people; the rule that both we and they obeyed was: Keep Moving. Later in the day, when lines had built up and the incoming crowd had thinned, we were able to engage some people in conversation. The most obvious feature, shared by all, was how excited they were to be at the Antiques Roadshow. They recognized that they had won the luck of the draw. Second was the variety of conveyances that people were using to carry bulky items: dollies, shopping carts, and most frequently a child's Red Flier. Wagon. I wonder if any of them turned out to be unique. Interestingly the two or three people who had brought antique sleds, did not drag them across the floor but carried them carefully. Many people came in pairs with each on the end of a bulky table, trunk, or chest. Again, the truism that one person's treasure is another person’s junk held true. I did not envy the owners of much of the furniture that passed us. However, I did covet a couple of the paintings that we saw.

In the middle of the morning, the mayor rolled by on a golf cart to the front of the line with his artifacts – we later learned that they were quite valuable. There were other VIP's too: friends of the crew and the TV Station, family members of the crew, local politicians, and of course, later in the day, the volunteers themselves.

While we were doing our jobs, a film crew from WGBH came by and filmed us at work. When this happened, I made sure that my directions were extra accurate, extra distinct, and extra loud for the benefit of the film crew.

Nancy and I both wondered how we would fare as the day rolled on. We did well. Having the chance to sit and assemble the materials was a big boon for us. We flagged around lunchtime, but another good meal revived us. We remained outwardly perky and cheerful for the whole day, remembering our role as greeters. However inside we were beginning to feel tired. In the middle of the afternoon, a friend from Common Cause came in. He later told me that the line for books was so long that he didn't stay but left without having his items appraised.

At 3.00pm the experts began to receive the volunteers in shifts This was our chance to see inside the sets and meet one or more of the experts. I took my chances first. I went to the very front of the triage line where I got slips for silver and china. Going through into the next room, I was met by a volunteer who took me to the back of a very long line-up for the China appraisers. I waited for about half an hour – and for the first time during the day, felt a bit tired – before being confronted by David Rago. My words were: “Good afternoon, I recognize you, but you won't recognize me.” I then handed him my mother's Rockingham Tea Cup and Saucer. Rago turned to his colleague on the left and said, “What do you think David (Lackey), mid-Victorian, $100 the set?” Lackey replied something like “No nearer to $50, they are very undervalued these days, nice though.”

My second item, a silver plate spirit Tea Kettle was also valued, by a different appraiser (and not someone we had seen on the Roadshow) at about $75 (“Plate, that says it all, no one wants plate these days”), so no big ticket items there.

I then returned to my post near the entrance to the Roadshow and continued to hand out materials to the people coming through. While I had been away, a friend of Nancy's had come in to have something appraised. Those were the only two people that either of us knew. Nancy then went to get her items appraised; again nothing earthshaking either. Her Brass Tea kettle was worth about the same as my silver plate one. The nice “sweet” quilt was unfortunately damaged and worth about the same.

For the next couple of hours we kept on going, handing out programs and directing people to the lines. By 5.30 pm the lines were quite short, so we ended up directing people directly to the triage tables rather than having them walk all the way to one side of the vast space and back again.

At about 6.00pm our supervisor came by and thanked us from our service and sent us on or way.

It had been a long, tiring, but ultimately satisfying day. We can't wait to see the show in the Fall.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Regulation and Compounding Pharmacies

In the article, Spotlight on Compounding Medicines, Roni Rabin
provides a list of six questions that patients should ask of their
prescribing doctors and the pharmacy that fills the prescription
(Science Times, October 156th.: L1, L6).

The questions range from challenging your doctor as to whether an
ordinary FDA approved drug might be substituted, ask the pharmacist
whether they have experience compounding this kind of drug, be
vigilant about IV drugs, and so on.

Now I am all in favor of "caveat emptor," but this is beyond
ridiculous. It requires patients, who may well be sick, to challenge
and perhaps alienate their health care providers. This is an
unreasonable expectation.

We, the patients are not medical experts, that is why we go for care
to these specialists.  In a perfect world we would be able to rely on
the professionalization of providers. However this world is not
perfect so my cry is for increased government regulation and
inspection of the compounding pharmacies.

This will require financial resources to hire regulators, but we will
all benefit from the security; a security which we cannot be expected
to provide for ourselves.

Sent to New York Times

Friday, October 12, 2012

So Mr. Romney wants to introduce "means testing" to Social Security (Next seniors may see benefits tied to means (Boston Globe, October 10, 2012: A1, A8).  He seems unaware that Social Security benefits are
already subject to means testing.

The payout from Social Security is, unlike the contribution, quite progressive. Right now the Social Security formula for computing one's pension depends on Average Lifetime Earnings. Each year's earnings are converted into constant dollars and then a monthly average is calculated. Based on this, Social Security pays you:
** 90% of the first $767.00 of monthly income (lifetime average),
** 32% of income between $767.00 and $4624.00, and
** 15% of income above $4624.00 to the cap of $9175.00 ($110,100.00 per year).

So what additional means testing would be imposed? Would the top two percentages be reduced? Or would Mr. Romney suggest taxing Social Security as regular income? The latter would seem the most sensible to
me as only those with substantial additional income would see a reduction in after-tax income.

The real solution to the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund would be to raise the cap on Social Security earnings (currently $110,100 per year) so that higher paid individuals contribute more.

Sent to Boston Globe

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

We in Massachusetts were not surprised by Mr. Romney's performance. He is excellent at projecting an image. Where he lacks is in substance.

For example, when running for Governor, the then liberal Mitt Romney played at being an ordinary worker for a day. Of course, the The day at work program provides great photo opportunities. But Mitt Romney
would have learned a lot more about the problems facing low paid workers from reading Nickel and Dimed (Barbara Ehrenreich) or When Work Disappears (W. J. Wilson). In these books the complete set of
difficulties of a low paid person’s life are laid out in detail:
* The lack of jobs in the inner city;
* the difficulty of getting transportation to a distant job in time
for the start of a shift;
* the theft of one’s time through unpaid overtime;
* the difficulty of finding affordable accommodation (and that insurmountable barrier of accumulating two month’s rent in advance).
It is this context of life’s difficulties that is so debilitating before one even does a hard day’s work. A context that Mr. Romney could even believe to understand. This is the context faced by the 47% and for many of the 99%.

If he developed an understanding of that context he would not be endorsing Mr. Ryan's budget with its drastic cuts to the social safety net.

Sent to New York Times