Monday, July 16, 2012

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

…and other (hopefully) thought-provoking questions

By Bob Gaydos

  • We’ll start with the summer’s top puzzler: Soft ice cream or soft frozen yogurt? They say one is healthier for you, but this is obviously a matter of taste and mine leans to the ice cream most of the time. Maybe a strawberry shortcake sundae with soft vanilla, whipped cream, sponge cake, strawberry syrup, etc. But a friend of mine swears by the black raspberry frozen yogurt at Scoops in Pine Bush. Of course, they put chocolate chips in it. Maybe that‘s what makes it better for you.
  • Coke or Pepsi? Most people, from my observation, still prefer and say, “Coke” when asked. So how come waitresses at every diner in the area then ask you, “Is Pepsi OK?” Sure it’s OK. But it’s not Coke. What the heck happened to the Coke salesman?
  • Google or Yahoo? Not to be harsh, but why bother with Yahoo? Really. And what the heck is Bing?
  • Mac or PC? I’ve got a PC; both my sons have Macs. They love theirs; I may get one some day. I fully expect us all to be doing everything on a tablet in the not-so-distant future. Even cooking.
  • Egg and cheese sandwiches made on a grill in a deli or the pre-fab Styrofoam “eggs” served up in fast-food places? OK, we all agree on this one.
  • Obamacare or No Care? After campaigning relentlessly against the constitutionally acceptable Affordable Care Act with a slogan of “Repeal and Replace,” Republicans have conceded that they have no actual plan with which to replace it, in the unlikely case they actually did repeal it. They should just ask Mitt Romney to retool the plan he introduced in Massachusetts.
  • Jeter or Reyes? … What’s that? That’s not a question anymore? Sorry.
  • Designated hitter or unathletic pitchers trying to not hurt themselves at bat? You can deduce my vote. With fulltime inter-league play next year, the DH in both leagues is the only thing that makes sense. So they won’t do it.
  • If you read a book on a Nook, is it a book or a Nook? And does that apply to Dr. Seuss?
  • Really, what the heck is a Bing?
  • I text. All the time. Only way my kids will talk to me. But has anybody under 25 noticed that it’s still a lot quicker and more efficient to actually talk to the other person? Honestly …
  • Does anybody “get” Twitter? Am I a twit if I don’t tweet? Speaking of twits, should I care what Ocho Cinco had for lunch?
  • Whether pot is legal or not, do the SUNY trustees actually think they can make every SUNY campus smoke-free in two years without putting half the students on probation?
  • Which is the more dangerous job: Catching alligators (crocodiles?) bare-handed; driving tractor trailers on narrow, ice-covered roads or repossessing Subarus? I’m betting on the repossessing.
  • When did the above become entertainment?
  • And who did put the ram in the ramalamadingdong?
  • Isn’t it true that every item on the Taco Bell menu consists of the same items, mixed in different combinations and given different names?
  • Can we find that answer on Bing?
  • Wouldn’t it be more popular if they named it Bong?
  • Does anybody remember Frick and Frack? No? No sweat, I looked it up on Yahoo: “Frick and Frack is for any two people who are closely linked in some way, especially through a work partnership.

“The origin is from a famous partnership of Swiss comedy ice skaters, Werner Groebliand Hans Mauch, whose stage names these were. They came to public fame in the later years of a series of skating spectaculars called Ice Follies, promoted by Eddie Shipstad and his brother Roy, which began in 1936 and ran for almost 50 years. Their association lasted so long, and they were at one time so well known, that their names have gone into the language.

“Michael Mauch, the son of Hans, told me in a personal message about the origin of their names: ‘Frick took his name from a small village in Switzerland; Frack is a Swiss-German word for a frock coat, which my father used to wear in the early days of their skating act. They put the words together as a typical Swiss joke.’ ” Now don’t say you never learn anything when you read my column.

  • What is the current fascination with tattoos, or body art, if you prefer? Maybe the NBA commissioner can answer this one.
  • And by the way, why can’t Democrats defend their man (Obama) with the same fervor with which Republicans attack him? Don’t they care if he loses?
  • How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck if a Woodchuck Would Chuck Wood? Oops, sorry, that’s not a question, it’s a new show on the History Channel.
  • If I tweet that, will some twit think it’s funny?
  • … and what about Naomi?

Now don’t be bashful, please. I would really appreciate comments, answers, jibes and japes (look it up on Bing) on any of the above. This is supposed to be an interactive medium, so interact, please. At the very least it will me make me feel good and at the most I may be able to get another column out of the replies. Isn’t that worth interacting?

PS: If you don’t know the Joe DiMaggio answer, look up Paul Simon. And shame on you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gambling: The 'Hidden Addiction'

By Bob Gaydos
They call it “the hidden addiction.” There’s no physical sign of it. Nothing is ingested. You can’t overdose on it. People with the problem can often go a long time before anyone close to them becomes aware of it. By then, it is often too late to prevent the devastating consequences.

Problem gambling leads to stealing, loan sharking, suicide, domestic abuse, homicide. It destroys families, leaving loved ones feeling shocked and bewildered, not to mention angry and betrayed. Homes, businesses, jobs, savings, relationships all disappear as the compulsive gambler drags those most important to him or her down the desperate path to getting even.

We don’t hear much about that aspect of gambling these days, what with virtually every state trying to figure out a way to balance its budget by allowing more ways for people to gamble legally. Indeed, as opportunities to gamble have increased in New York, with racinos and seemingly a new lottery game every week, and as politicians talk about allowing more full-fledged casinos, the funding for education, prevention and treatment of problem gambling in the state has been slashed to a lip-service level.

According to the New York Council on Problem Gambling, a not-for-profit independent corporation dedicated to increasing public awareness about the problem and advocating for support services, New York allots about $1 million for the effort. The state agency responsible for dealing with compulsive gambling, the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, states on its web site, “Roughly one million New Yorkers are dealing with problem gambling.” So that’s about a dollar per problem gambler, the price of a scratch-off ticket. Your odds of success are better buying the ticket.

Still, there is help available. Sullivan County, in the Catskill Mounains, is one of only 15 in New York that have a facility offering an outpatient treatment program for problem gambling. The Recovery Center in Monticello primarily treats alcohol and substance abuse issues (as do the other 14), but it also has five certified alcoholism and substance abuse counselors trained to help problem gamblers and their families.

Izetta Briggs-Bollings, CEO of the Recovery Center, also supervises its gambling treatment program. She notes that while gambling games have become ever more seductive, “to keep you coming back,” a similar effort has not been made to make casinos more accountable for protecting their customers from their worst instincts, the way bars are expected to recognize and stop customers who have had too much to drink. She’d also like to see the state devote a penny out of every dollar raised through legal gambling to the education and treatment of problem gambling.

E., who lives in Sullivan County, is among those who have sought help for her gambling compulsion at the Recovery Center. Her problem started at the racino in Monticello, she says, but “it didn’t stop.”

“There were stresses in my life,” she says, “but when I’m there, they disappear. There’s excitement going in, pain going out.” At some point, though, she decided, “I wanted to live, to look my mother in the eye again.”

Shame is one of the primary stumbling blocks to compulsive gamblers seeking help. E. says she knew she could get help at the Recovery Center. “There’s a stigma attached to it,” she says. “A lot of gamblers say they won’t go into the Recovery Center for treatment ‘with those addicts’.” Today, she’s glad she’s not one of those gamblers.

The center offers an outpatient program -- “The “Bettor” Choice Program -- with individual counseling, group counseling and family counseling. Carol Gillespie, the counselor who runs the group, says it has 10 members, about half of whom have another addiction, which is not uncommon. She says most people who come for help, prefer individual treatment over group, again, because of shame.

The center has tried, with little success, to keep a Gamblers Anonymous meeting going. Shame, again. Problem gamblers don’t want to be seen going into a center that treats addicts (who, ironically, do not have similar reservations), even though the meeting has been held in an adjoining building. Gillespie says she is willing to help anyone trying to start a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, anywhere in the area, so gamblers can receive the support others receive in 12-step programs.

“In the big picture,” says Robert DeYoung, clinical coordinator and addiction specialist, “education, treatment and prevention saves millions.” Such efforts are often targeted at young people, for obvious reasons. But DeYoung says, “I don’t think people realize how many senior citizens gamble.”

“Gambling is like an affair,” he says, “and the lover steals all the money.” And the gambler’s family often finds out too late because the gambler hides the problem by controlling the money -- taking care of bank accounts and investments, credit cards, paying the bills, taking care of the mail. Like the alcoholic hides the booze, the problem gambler hides the money, desperately seeking to “manage” a life wholly out of control.
* * *

Gambling facts and figures
  • 5 percent of adults, 18 and older, have a gambling problem
  • Adult males are three times as likely as adult females to have a problem
  • Adolescent males are four times as likely as females to have a problem
  • Most frequent problem areas for adults: lotteries, sports betting, cards
  • 20 percent of adolescents are at risk for or have a gambling problem
  • 22 of the state’s 62 counties have a problem gambling treatment program
  • New York is the only state without dedicated funds from the gambling industry for problem gambling services
New York Council on Problem Gambling

Where to find help
  • For treatment, information, or to set up a Gamblers Anonymous group: The Recovery Center: 845-794-8080, Ext. 191; the center is located at 396 Broadway, Monticello.
  • For information from OASAS: 1-877-8-HOPENY, 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  • For Gamblers Anonymous meetings: or

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bosons and bankers: What's up, God?

By Bob Gaydos
Sometimes, having to have an opinion on any topic that comes down the pike actually requires a bit of work. Usually, it’s when you don’t have the foggiest idea what people are talking about, but they all appear to be smart and they all say that what they are talking about is very important, or significant, or shocking, or historic.

And so this week, I give you two of potentially the most important stories of the year, which I feel safe in saying most of you -- being American, like me -- also don’t know much about and have heard very little about from what passes as our news media these days:
  • Higgs boson, or, as it has been dubbed, the “God” particle.
  • LIBOR, or as I see it, the God complex.
In fairness, some of the media did try to explain Higgs boson (illustration) and its potential significance -- explaining the origin of the universe and the nature of the matter, stuff like that -- but most, in my experience, bogged down in an energy field of scientific mumbo jumbo whose mass could only be contained by the Internet, but certainly not my brain.

Still, the fact that scientists in Geneva, using a $10 billion atom-smashing super-collider, say they have found a subatomic particle that would not only validate “The Big Bang Theory” on television, but in real life, is literally mind-boggling. As I understand it, the boson particle (named after Scottish physicist Peter Higgs) is kind of like a universal sticky particle to which other sub-atomic particles, such as quarks, “stick” as they whiz around wherever. The more such particles that stick, the more bosons involved, the more mass the particles eventually have and, with gravity added, the more weight. They become something.

No boson, no sticking, no universe. Nothing. With bosons, we have planets and primordial ooze and dinosaurs and humans and science and evolution and rock and roll and super-colliders and big banks, all neatly aligned as if some higher power had cleverly laid out the whole plan to explain the Big Bang.

If you guessed the big banks reference was a hint on LIBOR, good for you. You are promoted to honors economics. LIBOR stands for London Interbank Offered Rate. It is the average cost of borrowing at which Britain's banks lend each other money. It is calculated daily, based on information supplied by those banks and is used worldwide to set prices on trillions of euros and billions of dollars worth of derivatives and other financial products.

And yes, there’s that word derivatives again. What’s happened is that a bunch of too-big-to-fail big banks, playing God with other people’s money, got together between 2005 and 2009 and rigged the rate to keep it low. They lied about their financial health and conspired to make each other look better than was true, thereby luring unsuspecting customers to invest even more in worthless mortgages, loans and, ugh, derivatives. The big difference in this story is that, while the big banks in America pretty much got away with their deceit and theft, the Brits are getting tough on them.

The chairman of Barclay’s has resigned and the bank, apparently claiming it thought it had received the OK to lie from the Bank of England, Britain’s central bank, has agreed to pay a $450 million settlement. It also agreed to cooperate with police authorities and Parliament, which are looking to hold major banks and their executives legally responsible for this massive scandal.

That’s a lot different from the cloying welcome Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, got in the U.S. Senate recently in explaining his institution’s loss of $2 billion in customers’ money through synthetic derivatives and other risky bets. Chase, along with Citigroup, HSBC, RBS, and a half dozen other banks are involved in the LIBOR conspiracy.

The U.S Justice department has all the evidence uncovered in the LIBOR investigation (which is reportedly extensive) and appears to be letting Britain take the lead in prosecution for now, which is just as well, given how many American bankers have been prosecuted to date for throwing the world economy into crisis.

If you’re going to have an opinion, look for the links. The links between the Higgs boson and LIBOR stories, beyond their complexities and lack of attention in the United States, are obvious. Both have gravitas, in these cases, a combination of mass, gravity and universal significance. Both involve amounts of money most of us cannot comprehend. Both involve an incredible amount of teamwork among people within the same profession. One group effort, as noble an investment of money, time and brain power as is imaginable, seeks to explain why we are all here, at least in a physical sense. The other, money, time and brain power notwithstanding, only makes me wonder if we’ll ever figure it out morally.

Monday, July 2, 2012

John Roberts, unlikely hero of the left wing

By Bob Gaydos
So, John Roberts, hero of the left wing and savior of Obamacare. Who wuddda thunk it?

Actually, the chief justice’s law school professor, for one. Laurence Tribe, who taught Roberts (photo) as well as President Barack Obama at Harvard Law School, opined on Tuesday, two days before the historic Supreme Court ruling was revealed, that he felt Roberts would vote to uphold the law, as much to reinforce the image of the court as an apolitical neutral umpire as to rule on the law’s constitutionality.

In an interview on MSNBC, Tribe said, “I think that the chief justice is likely to be concerned about the place of the court in history and is not likely to want the court to continue to be as deeply and politically divided. Doesn't mean he will depart from his philosophy. You can be deeply conservative and believe the affordable care act is completely consistent with the United States Constitution.”

Which is pretty much what Roberts did, siding with the four so-called liberal justices to preserve the major legislative victory of Obama‘s presidency. Of course, the airwaves and the blogosphere exploded Thursday as anyone with a law degree and an opinion on the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act and a means of transmitting that opinion to a large audience explained why Roberts did what he did. Or, as many Republican politicians did, to call Roberts a traitor to their cause. Safe to say, many of the latter group aren’t too concerned with the nuances of judicial restraint and co-equal sharing of power among three branches of government.

I don’t have a law degree and I don’t belong to any political party, but, hey, I‘ve got a blog, too. And without pretending to read Roberts’ mind, some things seem obvious in the wake of this ruling:

  • Obama got a huge boost in his re-election campaign, since repealing the health care act as unconstitutional was all Republicans have talked about for months. Case closed. It’s constitutional. Spin it any way you want, the president wins this one.
  • Republicans are now going to have to find an actual plan to replace Obama’s if they want to continue their argument. House Speaker John Boehner seems not to care about that. All he keeps talking about is repealing the act, which the Senate will never do. Plus, with so many provisions in it that Americans like (no refusal for pre-existing conditions, kids on parents‘ plan until age 26), that will not be easy for any Congress.
  • Mitt Romney, who actually has talked about replacing the health care act after he repeals it as president, seems to be stuck with offering up his own plan, which he introduced as governor of Massachusetts. That plan, of course, is what Obama’s plan and an initial conservative plan, was modeled on. So Romney continues to talk in circles of fog and disingenuousness.
  • Roberts obviously possesses a chief justice’s concern for the way his court is viewed. He does not, for example, think justices should be offering strong political views on issues that are not contained in the case on which they are ruling. (Justice Antonin Scalia, who acts as if his life term gives him the right to pontificate and criticize -- as he recently did on Obama’s order sparing tens of thousands of young immigrants from deportation -- obviously doesn’t get the neutral umpire view.) Roberts both criticized the Obama health plan (an overreaching regulation of commerce by requiring insurance) and ruled on its constitutionality -- it’s a legitimate tax, even though Democrats didn’t have the guts to call it that.
  • By stressing that the court’s role is not to judge the law, but to decide if it can be upheld and, if so, to do so, Roberts demonstrated control of his court and reassured some Americans who have had an increasingly dim view of it since Bush v. Gore. It falls to Congress the power to pass laws, he reminds us, whether they seem wise or not. This is a definition of judicial restraint.
  • Spinning the 5-4 ruling as a conservative victory for the future because Congress is warned off trying to expand use of the commerce clause to regulate behavior and Republicans will be energized to actually replace the Obama health plan with one of their own doesn’t come close to the overwhelming victory it gives an incumbent president seeking reelection right now. If I’m a politician, I take that trade anytime.
So, Chief Justice John Roberts, intentionally or not, hero of the left wing.