Thursday, May 30, 2013

Rob's Supermarket "Shake Your Head" Experience

This weekend I went to the local Safeway supermarket to pick up about 20 items. It was a Saturday morning at 10am and there were just 2 check out lines open (in addition to self-check). You can't buy a gift card in self check out, so I had to wait in line. There were four people ahead of me, one with the clerk, then another with a grocery cart, one solo woman standing in line with a few items, and a woman ahead of me with a loaded cart.
  After about 10 minutes, one person moved up, so the woman who was standing solo was next in line after the person being checked out. That's when the woman's husband wheeled up a grocery cart that was overflowing and he pulled up beside her.
  The woman behind them (and in front of me) looked back at me, rolled her eyes and let out a sigh of disgust. I was a little put off, too.   I can understand bringing your full cart in line while your partner runs off to get a few more things, but not to stand in line with a few things and let your other half spend 30 minutes filling up a grocery cart and suddenly cut the line and make the people behind you wait all the more.
  What do YOU think?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Why College is So Expensive: Coach Salaries

We've known this for quite awhile, because the television news talks about salaries of college and university coaches: they make way too much money. Tom and I talk about this all the time- that coaches at colleges and universities are overpaid. If you wonder why College Tuition skyrocketed since the mid-80s, it's because schools are paying coaches salaries in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. 

Deadspin has put together this handy breakdown of each state's highest-paid employee and, well, wow. What can you say. It's not exactly news that America spends a good deal of money on sports, but it's still a little stunning to see it broken down like this. 


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rate Shock-California Obamacare Insurance Exchange Announces Premium Rates

Just as the President said, his health plan would drive healthcare costs down. Now, FORBES magazine's Rick Ungar  concedes that he (Ungar) and all of the conservatives were wrong and the President's plan does exactly that in California (profiled in this article).
Rate Shock-California Obamacare Insurance Exchange Announces Premium Rates
Source: FORBES MAGAZINE 5/28/13
Every now and again, a political pundit is required to stand up and admit to the world that he or she got it wrong.
For me, this would be one of those moments.
For quite some time, I have been predicting that Obamacare would likely mean higher insurance rates in the individual market for the “young immortals” and others under the age of 40.  At the same time, my expectation was that those who fall into the older age ranges would benefit greatly as their premium charges would be lowered thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
It is increasingly clear that I had it wrong.

Yesterday, Covered California—the name given to the healthcare exchange created pursuant to the Affordable Care Act that will serve the largest population of insured citizens in the nation—released the premium rates submitted by participating health insurance companies for the four health insurance program categories (bronze, silver, gold and platinum) established by the Affordable Care Act, along with the catastrophic policy created for and available to those under the age of 30.
Upon reviewing the data, I was indeed shocked by the proposed premium rates—but not in the way you might expect.  The jolt that I was experiencing was not the result of the predicted out-of-control premium costs but the shock of rates far lower than what I expected—even at the lowest end of the age scale.
So, why the all too popular narrative that Obamacare would mean unaffordable healthcare premium costs for so many Americans?
Setting aside the never-ending nonsense peddled by the opponents of healthcare reform, everyone from the Congressional Budget Office to numerous private actuaries have warned that premium shock could be expected to set in once the public began to see the reality of what Obamacare would mean to their pocketbooks. And yet, the only real jolt to the system being felt by these public and private prognosticators today is utter amazement over just how reasonable the California prices have turned out to be.
How did the CBO and the actuaries get it so wrong?
As Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic correctly points out—
“One reason for the misplaced expectations may be that actuaries have been making worst-case assumptions, even as insurers—eyeing the prospects of so many new customers—have been calculating that it’s worth bidding low in order to gobble up market share. This would help explain why premium bids in several other states have proven similarly reasonable. “The premiums and participation in California, Oregon, Washington and other states show that insurers want to compete for the new enrollees in this market,” Gary Claxton, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said via e-mail. “The premiums have not skyrocketed and the insurers that serve this market now are continuing.  The rates look like what we would expect for decent coverage offered to a standard population.”
Cohn is saying that, despite the political naysayers, the healthcare exchange concept appears to be working very well indeed in states like California, Oregon and Washington—the first states to publish the expected health exchange prices for purchasing coverage. These are also states that are actually committed to seeing the program work as opposed to those states whose leaders have a vested political interest in seeing the Affordable Care Act fail.
Keep in mind that the entire idea of the exchanges is to require health insurance companies to compete openly with one another by offering identical coverage programs in the three created classes—each offering insurance coverage that actually delivers meaningful protection to customers—and then openly disclosing the price each insurance company will charge for that policy.  Thus, shoppers can clearly see which company has the best price on an apples-to-apples basis.
For all the negative chatter about how including older and sicker Americans in the health insurance pools would drive up the price for younger participants in the pool less likely to be ill, what we are now seeing in states like California is that the desire on the part of the health insurance companies to increase market share—thanks to the large influx of customers as a result of Obamacare—is driving prices downward.
That is precisely what the President said would happen.

Sarah Kliff at The Washington Post reveals just far off the prognosticators have been.
“The Congressional Budget Office predicted back in November 2009 that a medium-cost plan on the health exchange – known as a “silver plan” – would have an annual premium of  $5,200. A separate report from actuarial firm Milliman projected that, in California, the average silver plan would have a $450 monthly premium.”
The actual costs?
Kliff continues, “On average, the most affordable “silver plan” – which covers 70 percent of the average subscriber’s medical costs – comes with a $276 monthly premium. For the 2.6 million Californians who will receive federal subsidies, the price is a good deal less expensive…”
As you can see, the actuaries missed by a huge percentage.

To see how younger Californians will make out when they shop on the public exchanges, take a look at the graphs Kliff provides here. You may be very surprised to learn that the meaningful insurance that you are now required to purchase is far more reasonably priced than you imagined.
There is a moral to this story for those open to receive the message.
If you are among the many Americans who have bought into the fear and loathing that has been the campaign against Obamacare, you just might wish to reconsider. With every passing day, the various myths, legends and lies put forward by those with a political axe to grind, TV or radio rating to be raised or vote to be purchased, are falling victim to the facts.
Of course, if you continue to find it more useful to hate the Affordable Care Act than to recognize the benefit of what this program offers to you and your family, nothing I can say is likely to change your mind.
But, accept it or not, the reality is that the early report card on Obamacare—at least in those states willing to give the law a chance to succeed—is looking pretty darn good. So good, in fact, that the data reveals that even a supporter such as myself was off the mark when predicting significantly higher rates for the youngest among us.
This is one time that I could not be happier to be proven wrong.
UPDATE: A number of readers have responded to this article by asking the question, “If the California exchange is so good, why have United Healthcare, Aetna AET +3% and Cigna CI +3.38% decided not to participate?”
It is true that these companies are not going to participate in the CA CA +0.93% healthcare exchange. And while this makes a great meme for the opponents of healthcare reform, there is something they are not telling you —these three companies have never been players in the California individual insurance market so there was never any expectation that they would participate. While each of these companies are a major factor in group health insurance-both large and small- their combined participation in the individual market in CA has not been more than 8 percent for a great many years. Meanwhile, the other large insurance companies that have participated in the individual policy business in California have comprised 85 percent of the market. Each of these insurers are participating on the exchange. So, things are not always as they may seem which is why it is so important to read beyond the headline.
Contact Rick at and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Another Radio Interview: TONIGHT 9pm EDT- Rob & Inspired Ghost Tracking

On Tuesday, May 28 at 9 p.m. EDT, Inspired Ghost Tracking will guest on the Internet Radio show, Metaphysically Speaking on the ParaX radio network. 
Host Ladean Snodgrass  will interview the team that includes Margaret Elrlich (team lead), Rob Gutro, Medium, and investigators:  Craig Allen, Ronda Dixon, Anthony Holmes, and Diane Grainger.

Ladean will highlight the members and air the Team's EVPs 
Ladean's show airs live and has over 10,000 listeners !

Ladean's Website:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Review! - "Stake & Eggs" Mystery

Recently, I (Rob) read the mystery "Stake and Eggs" by Laura Childs. It's one in the series of "Cackleberry Club Mysteries" that feature three women who run a restaurant in Minnesota. They always get involved with the local authorities and have funny, quirky personalities.  Suzanne, Toni, and Petra found a second life after losing their husbands—opening their own successful business, the Cackleberry Club cafè. In this mystery, they try to solve the murder of a banker, and everyone that comes into their restaurant is a suspect. It's well-written, and a fun read with interesting characters.  I recommend it!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

IN THE NEWS: Gay Texan cut off from partner of 34 years who has Alzheimer’s after sister-in-law obtained guardianship

It's time for an end to this kind of stupidity: greedy relatives swooping in to steal what isn't theirs. States refusing to recognize long-term relationships. I guess we'll learn within the next 30 days what the U.S. Supreme Court's position is on the matter. - Tom
   I'm outraged that the man's sister would commit such a heartless, heinous act and prevent his partner from visiting. I'm seething about the entire matter. -Rob

Gay Texan cut off from partner of 34 years who has Alzheimer’s after sister-in-law obtained guardianship

The article:
TORN APART | Lon Watts, right, and Jim Heath are shown together the last time they saw each other.
PITTSBURG, Texas — With his partner of 34 years in a nursing home, a court order preventing him from entering the facility and two weeks to get out of his house, Lon Watts sold his wedding ring to pay for gas to get to his mother’s place in Oklahoma.
Watts never expected to be in this position, because he always thought of himself as part of his partner Jim Heath’s family.
But after Heath was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, his sister stepped in and took guardianship from Watts, who is now unable to see or talk to Heath. After the story of Heath and Watts recently made national news, Watts has renewed his fight to bring Heath home and launched a legal fund, but the fight could take years.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fun visit with Hil and Richard

This past weekend we had the chance to enjoy lunch with our friends Hil and Richard. They've been together over 50 years. They have two great dogs, Bamba and Amy and are always fun to visit. There are some people in your life that just being with them, sitting together and chatting about everything and anything just makes your day. That's how it is with Hil and Richard. They are a true light in our lives.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Man of Steel" - Trailer #3 !

The Superman film "Man of Steel" comes out June 14th, and stars hunky Henry Cavill. That's a double treat for us. Henry was in the Tudors series as Henry VIII's best friend and we were fans then.
This new trailer is incredible. As a big Superman fan, I can't wait to see the film.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tom Clarifies what Senator Coburn Said About Aid to Oklahoma Tornado Victims

Whenever there is a natural disaster, that's when some politicians show their true colors. Just like the GOP after Hurricane Sandy - they refused to vote for federal assistance for the people of New Jersey because it typically votes for the democratic party, despite the state a republican governor. They claimed it was because of budget constrictions. NOW, the Senator in Oklahoma, Tom Coburn is asking for money for the Moore, Oklahoma tornado victims (and they should get it, just as the people in NJ SHOULD have had it and not wait 6 months for it).  
  Below is a clarification from Tom about an idea going around on the Internet about what Coburn said about the disaster relief. - Rob
WHAT'S GOING AROUND: "Coburn said "no" to help for Hurricane Sandy victims, and "yes" for the Moore, Oklahoma tornado victims and wants to take money from Hurricane Sandy aid to pay for it."

This idea isn't exactly correct. While I categorically can't stand this guy, what he actually said was that federal disaster relief for the victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes must come from cuts in the federal budget elsewhere - NOT specifically from relief extended to Hurricane Sandy victims.

What is kind of disturbing is this guy doesn't know how the government works. What he considers "pork" is how the federal government pays for programs - as attachments to bills working their way through Congress.

The fact that one of the Smithsonian buildings needed a new roof or that funding was needed for highway construction was attached to the Hurricane Sandy relief bill is just the way the government works. That's how things get done in Washington.

If he doesn't like it, then Sen. Coburn should be working to change the system, i.e. change the requirements for how Congress pays for stuff, not become a road block and jam up the works so that nothing gets accomplished.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sprite Update /Creatinine Testing /More Lives than a Cat

Our senior dachshund Sprite has been experiencing a lot of ups and downs as he continues to deal with kidney failure. Sprite will be 16 1/2 in June and has had renal failure since at least January this year. In the last 2-3 weeks, he's been unable to hold his urine and has been either waking us up several times in the middle of the night or going on old towels in the house (he stays in the kitchen since his symptoms have increased).  He's very responsible and really conscientious.

  Sunday morning, he had to "go" about 7 times in 6 hours - so we knew his condition advanced. Last week, there was blood in his urine. Both of these things are signs of advancement of failure.  So, on Monday, Rob took a sample to the vet to be tested for levels of Creatinine, etc.
  RESULTS: Sprite has an infection in his kidneys, which is common for dogs dealing with kidney failure, so he's now on antibiotics. It could easily recur, and then we'd have to take other steps.
  He also seems to have more lives than a cat!  Several times over the last year we thought he wouldn't be with us much longer, and now he's used up another "life" (and of course we're so happy that he's got something that can be dealt with for now).  
  It turns out that when kidneys are failing they tend to cause infections. So, we're treating the infection with antibiotic. He hasn't had any accidents in the house in the last couple of days, so that's a good sign. We honestly don't know how long he'll be with us, given his condition and advanced age, but as long as he's not in pain, we're happy.

 If you have a dog, and you don't know what that is, now you will. The most common blood tests used to diagnose kidney disease are Creatinine and BUN (also called Urea Nitrogen). However, several other standard blood test results also provide information about kidney disease, including Phosphorus, Calcium, and the Sodium:Potassium ratio.
  WHAT IT MEANS: When creatinine is elevated above the normal range (usually around 1.6 mg/dL, or 141 µmol/L), this generally means that there is a problem with the kidneys.
  EARLY KIDNEY FAILURE LEVELS: In general, creatinine values up to around 2.0 (177 µmol/L) are  indicative of mild, or early stage, kidney disease
   MODERATE KIDNEY FAILURE LEVELS: Values from around 2.0 up to about 5.0 (177-442 µmol/L) are more significant, but it is still likely that your dog may not be showing any symptoms
  SEVERE KIDNEY FAILURE: Values above 5.0 (442 µmol/L) indicate more severe kidney failure, and are often accompanied by clinical signs such as vomiting and lack of appetite. At this stage, fluids can be very important, especially when your dog is vomiting, and your dog may even need to be hospitalized for IV fluids (I personally feel it is best to bring them home at night, even if they need to stay at the vet's during the day, if at all possible). Antacids (Pepcid, Zantac or Tagamet) and Carafate (anti-ulcer medication) should be given, along with Reglan (metoclopramide) for vomiting if needed, with your vet's approval.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

VIDEO: Oklahoma tornado survivor finds dog buried alive under rubble !

**This story and video really touched us and will do the same for all pet owners.**
An Oklahoma woman who thought her dog was killed in yesterday's tornado has found it alive during a television news interview.
Barbara Garcia was being interviewed live by a CBS reporter about how she survived the devastating tornado which has swept through the town of Moore in the Oklahoma City suburbs.
Garcia, whose home was destroyed in the storm, mentioned during the interview that her dog was still missing amidst the rubble.

IN THE NEWS: Before the IRS harassed the Tea Party, it harassed gay rights groups

Okay- the IRS unfairly may have targeted the tea party, but when they did it to gay groups, no one cared. They also targeted liberal groups, too, but no one cared. Now, it's a big deal. Regardless, it has always been WRONG. I just find it fascinating that only when they did this to conservatives is there an outcry.  **BTW, I lived in Kentucky and there were groups that had in their titles the words the IRS looked for, and those people were scary. Just my 2 cents. –Rob

  Before the IRS harassed the Tea Party, it harassed gay rights groups
 By Neil Irwin, Published: May 15, 2013  
Before there was the Tea Party, there was Big Mama Rag, Inc.  It was a radical feminist collective in the 1970s, and it devoted itself to lectures, seminars, a free library, and publishing a newspaper to voice its ideas, namely the Big Mama Rag. The group applied for nonprofit status from the IRS, and was initially refused for, among other reasons, “the articles, lectures, editorials, etc. promoting lesbianism.”

It wasn’t the end of the IRS taking a discriminatory tone toward nonprofit groups that dealt with homosexuality, however.  In 1996, the Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Support System, a group devoted to helping young people deal with harassment and prejudice due to their sexuality, applied for tax exempt status. In response, an IRS official wrote that the group could be viewed as “tending to encourage or facilitate homosexual practice and propensities by the young and impressionable,” and asked the group to “describe in detail the procedures and safeguards in place to assure that counselors and participants do not encourage or facilitate homosexual practices or encourage the development of homosexual attitudes and propensities by minor individuals attending your programs.”

Which brings us to the IRS scandal of the moment, in which tax officials screened applications for status as a social welfare organization based on whether they included “Tea Party” or “Patriots” in their name. The Inspector General’s report on the Tea Party scandal paints a picture of mid-level IRS employees being extraordinarily insensitive to the fact that their method of screening applications to form a “social welfare organization” for possible excessive political involvement was by definition rigged against the conservative groups that exploded in number in the early years of the Obama administration. Even after being told to stop using politically tilted methods of screening the groups for review in 2011, the Cincinnati IRS office charged with reviewing the applications reversed course in early 2012 and went back to screening based on the group’s name.
There are two big similarities with the IRS’s struggles over groups dealing with homosexuality in decades’ past.

The most clear-cut similarity is that when legal standards around nonprofit groups’ tax treatment is vague, it leaves far too much power in the hands of tax collection bureaucrats.  In a 1980 ruling on the Big Mama Rag case, the U.S. Court of Appeals found against the IRS, writing that “applications for tax exemption must be evaluated . ..   on the basis of criteria capable of neutral application. The standards may not be so imprecise that they afford latitude to individual IRS officials to pass judgment on the content and quality of an applicant’s views and goals and therefore to discriminate against those engaged in protected First Amendment activities.”
Sounds about right. But now, 23 years later, IRS officials have done it again.  The Big Mama Rag case was about 501(c)3 tax status, the Tea Party scandal is about 501(c)4 social welfare organizations, but the original sin is the same: The standards for deciding whether a 501(c)4 is engaging in excessive political activity are impossibly vague, which inevitably assigns too much latitude to IRS staff to use their instincts and judgment.  They are allowed to engage in political activity, but not as a “primary” activity. Which means the IRS has to decide what counts as political activity, and what counts as primary. As Brad Plumer notes here, the IRS itself calls this a “facts and circumstances” decision, which a whole range of factors are to be weighed against each other. “Politics is not an exact science,” the IRS’s own guidelines say, understating things.
   But here’s a second similarity with the anti-gay IRS cases of the past, though this one is harder to prove. When standards are vague, it leaves too much room for IRS agents’ decisions to be colored by their own instincts. They’re human beings, after all.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Cool Search Tips - Looking for Photos on Web/ Telling Time Around the World

A Cool Tip - if you're searching the Internet for Photos
If you're looking for photos, illustrations or any kind of image similar to one you have , you can do a search with Google for the image (at different resolutions) or one like it.
Type the URL: ""
Then drag your image into the "search box" line.
- You'll see many images that are similar to yours.
Technology is Amazing!!!

A Cool Tip -Checking Time around the world
Use Time Zone Converter. com: can use GMT, which is "Greenwich Mean Time" -where the Prime Meridian is located (through Greenwich, England), or you can type in the time in your location.
-There are 2 boxes of locations.
The TOP Box is to pick the place where you're currently telling what time it is.
The BOTTOM Box is to pick the place where you want to know what time it is now.

What you get:
13:47:03 Friday May 17, 2013 in GMT converts to
09:47:03 Friday May 17, 2013 in US/Eastern
Daylight Saving Time is not in effect on this date/time in GMT
Daylight Saving Time is in effect on this date/time in US/Eastern

Sunday, May 19, 2013

New Video from NASA: Earth from Orbit 2012

NASA recently released this for Earth Month 2013 (April), as part of an effort to raise awareness of the agency's Earth observation programs. 
It features a variety of big-picture satellite and computer modeling imagery, including true-color satellite photos, data visualizations, computer models and time-lapse footage from the International Space Station. These are the kinds of things that I use daily at work- how cool is that?

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Tom explained to me how the fines under the Affordable Care Act work, and what it means to people and businesses. I found it educational and enlightening, and think everyone should be educated. - Rob  Here's Tom's Blog: 

  The rollout of the President’s healthcare law, affectionately dubbed “Obamacare” by its detractors, will begin next year; but the full effects and benefits of the law will not be realized for many more years to come.  There’s so much misinformation out there, and the law is so voluminous and so complex, that it’s difficult to sift through and make sense out of it all.  What is true is that beginning next year, businesses that employ more than 50 employees that work at least 30 hours per week will have to provide health insurance or be subject to paying a penalty (called a “mandate” by the politicians).  Likewise, individuals that are employed, but do not have health insurance through their employer, will be responsible for finding their own health insurance policy or be subject to paying a mandate.  
   You can sure bet that there are employers out there that are already “doing the math,” and deciding whether it will be more beneficial to them to just pay the fine rather than provide health insurance coverage for their employees.  So here’s a really quick primer on the fines.
Beginning in 2014, individuals WITHOUT health insurance will be subject to paying a fine of $95 per adult, up to a maximum of $285 per household or 1% of a families’ total household income, whichever is greater. 
In 2015, individuals WITHOUT health insurance coverage will be subject to paying a fine of $325 per adult, $162.50 per child, with caps of $975 and 2%, whichever is greater.
In 2016, individuals WITHOUT health insurance coverage will be subject to paying a fine of $695 per adult, $345.50 per child, with caps of $2,085 and 2.5%, whichever is greater.
The mandate would be paid in installments over a 12 month period.  Households that fall below the IRS poverty thresholds of $10,000 per individual and $23,050 for a household of four will NOT be subject to paying the fine.
   As stated above, Obamacare requires that employers with 50 or more workers must provide health insurance for employees who work at least 30 hours per week. The fine for not doing so will be $2,000 per worker with an exemption for the first 30 employees.  Doing the math, this means 20 employees times $2,000 per worker equals a fine of $40,000 levied on the employer.
Let’s say that an employer complies with the law and offers a health insurance benefit, but the premiums are just too expensive for the employee to pay (defined as more than 9.5% of the employee’s pay).  In this scenario, the employer will also be subject to paying a fine.  Here’s how it will work:  the employee will receive a tax credit to help pay for the premiums; the tax credit will be funded by a fine levied on the employer of $3,000 per subsidized worker.   So, you begin to see the wheels turning in the heads of employers as some of them will begin to figure out ways to scam the system:  $2,000 per employee versus $3,000 per subsidized employee. 
   Just a few years ago, the architectural firm that I (Tom) worked for was paying on average, $14,000 per employee for basic health care coverage.  That figure represents a significant expense to a company.  You can begin to see the tremendous cost benefit to an employer’s bottom line to STOP offering health insurance and just pay the fine.  The downside to this decision will be that a significant number of individuals will be forced out into the market place to figure out very complex policies for themselves - policies that were previously analyzed by well qualified human resources personnel.   
   We’ve been going to the Hair Cuttery in Crofton for several years now, and have befriended a couple of the hair stylists that work there.  Last weekend, Maggie (not her real name) was telling me that her employer has decided to comply with the new healthcare law and begin to provide health insurance for employees that work more than 30 hours per week.  Here are a couple of the policy’s provisions:  $20 per doctor visit up to 6 doctor visits per year, and $200 towards any hospital visit up to 1 visit per year. 
  Somehow, I have to wonder if all this is what the President really had in mind.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Come see Rob at the Frederick Book Festival Sat. May 18th- TOMORROW!

COME BY TOMORROW and say hello to Rob at the Frederick Book Festival!
WHEN: Saturday, May 18, 2013
TIME:  9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
*Free to the Public*
Rob will  be doing a Meet and Greet/ Book signings
WHERE:  The E-Centplex at Frederick Fairgrounds, Frederick, Maryland.

NPR Report: Man Of Tomorrow: Superman, Orson Scott Card And Me

**I enjoyed listening to this NPR story, being a big SUPERMAN fan. I totally agree with Glenn Weldon, the author of Superman the Biography and interviewee that writer Orson Scott Card should never write a Superman novel.  Card is a known fiction novelist, but also a right-wing activist who certainly doesn't embody what Superman is all about - caring for everyone. This is an interesting story from NPR: 

NPR: Man Of Tomorrow: Superman, Orson Scott Card And Me

Glen Weldon is a freelance writer and regular contributor  
   Let's make this perfectly clear at the outset: I don't work for NPR, and what I'm about to say doesn't represent NPR. I'm but a lowly freelancer they're dumb enough to publish a bunch, and what I say now I say as me, which is to say:
1. An inveterate Superman nerd, and
2. A gay dude.
DC Comics has hired Orson Scott Card to write the first two issues of a new digital-first Superman comic. I won't be reading it.
It will be the first piece of Superman-affiliated pop culture that I will bypass in my 45 long and geeky years on this planet, and I am a man who saw Superman IV: The Quest For Peace in the damn theater. (Jon Cryer as Lex Luthor's bitchin' New Wave nephew Lenny! Superman repairing the Great Wall of China by STARING AT IT, because suddenly "spackle-vision" is evidently a thing he's got now! A banana-yellow villain in a gold-lamé codpiece!)
(... Okay, the codpiece was pretty rad, actually.)
Why will I be giving Card's Superman a miss? Three reasons:
First: Card isn't just a guy whose opinions I happen to disagree with. Trust me, the comics industry is rife with writers, artists and editors whose politics I don't share, who hold views they're quite public about in interviews and various internet forums, and I would defend — to the mild inconvenience — their right to hold those views. This isn't about that.
Card is different. Card is an activist. He sits on the board of the National Organization for Marriage, an entity entirely devoted to attacking and defeating marriage equality and spending millions of dollars lobbying to do so.
(One comics site has warned that boycotting Card's Superman book represents the kind of thinking that "leads to witch hunts." OK. I mean, I generally associate the term "witch hunt" with innocent people getting falsely accused and pressed to death by stones, not with one hugely successful millionaire bigot having to explain to his accountant why a side-project made an infinitesimal amount less money than he'd hoped it would, but let that go.)
Second: If Card were writing any other character — Ant-Man, Matter-Eater Lad, Batroc the Leaper — even a high profile character like Iron Man, whom he did write for a while — you wouldn't see this reaction.
Because Superman is different.
Superman is not just a superhero. He's the superhero. He created the very concept of the superhero, and everything that's touched on that concept for the past 75 years — we are talking vast swaths of popular culture — exists because of him. Regardless of how you feel about Superman and superheroes, you can't deny the cultural impact the character has made, and continues to make. Why, someone could write an entire book on the subject. And call it Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, say. And have it published by Wiley on April 1. And make it available for pre-order now.
The third reason I'm skipping Card's Superman is to me the most central, and most personal, and it has less to do with how popular Superman is, and much more to do with who he is. And what he stands for.
Superman is an ideal. He represents our best self. That's what he's for.
He's not the hero we identify with — that's what Spider-Man is for. Spider-Man worries about rent, and girlfriends, and his sick Aunt May still, again, some more. In him, we see ourselves as we are.
In Superman, we see ourselves as we hope to be. It's right there in the name — he's not "Pretty Good Man" or "Doesn't Suck Man"; he's Superman. He personifies our noblest ideals, ideals we believe in, and strive for, but only inconstantly attain: Truth and Justice, but also Fairness and Compassion.
He is a man born with tremendous gifts, who could do anything he wants. Anything at all. And what he chooses to do, first and always, is to help others.
In Action Comics #1 from 1938, Siegel and Shuster slapped together a one-page origin story in which he discovers his powers. We don't actually see him in the baby-blue longjohns until the very last panel of this introduction.
But when we do see him for the very first time, these are the first words that appear directly below, the first epithet applied to this newly-minted creation as it was unleashed upon the world:
Champion of the Oppressed.
There it is, coded into his creative DNA from the very beginning: He fights for the little guy.
And that's why this bugs me, and why I'm not the least bit curious about what Card's Superman might be like.
DC Comics has handed the keys to the "Champion of the Oppressed" to a guy who has dedicated himself to oppress me, and my partner, and millions of people like us. It represents a fundamental misread of who the character is, and what he means.
It is dispiriting. It is wearying. It is also, finally, not for me.
One of the other nicknames that accrued to Superman right away – that predates "Man of Steel" by a good amount – is "The Man of Tomorrow." And much of his early iconography bears a distinctive Socio-Realist, Diego Rivera vibe: a lot of burnished golden sunrises, eyes raised to the horizon, gazing into the future.
Because that's where he lives, Superman. And that's what he says to us: We can do better. We can be better, to ourselves, and to each other.
Hey, DC Comics? Be better.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Tonight! Rob's Radio interview with Shelley Wade -Paranormal Mayhemzone

TUNE IN TONIGHT! -Thursday, May 16 at 9 p.m. -11p.m. EDT
Rob's Radio interview with Shelley Wade  -Paranormal MayhemzoneRadio Interview: Rob guests to talk about his paranormal experiences and 2 books

Rob profiled in "Conversations with Goddard" article

I (Rob) was profiled recently in NASA's "Conversations with Goddard" and thought I'd share it with you. You can find the actual story here:

Conversations with Goddard banner

Rob Gutro, deputy news chief, manager of breaking news and the NASA Hurricane and Fire websites, is Goddard’s “Master of Disaster.”

Name: Rob Gutro
Title: Deputy News Chief, Office of Communications
Formal Job Classification: Public Affairs Specialist
Organization: Code 130, Office of Communications, Office of the Director

What do you do and what is most interesting about your role here at Goddard? How do you help support Goddard’s mission?

I am the deputy news chief. I have degrees in meteorology, English and broadcasting, and I used to work as a forecaster for The Weather Channel. At Goddard, I work with the news chief to review everyone’s press releases and features, coordinate issue dates and approvals with NASA Headquarters, and I use NASA satellite imagery to write about breaking news on hurricanes, wildfires, volcanoes, severe storms and other natural disasters.

I coordinate the day’s releases first thing each morning and check to see what natural disasters are occurring in the world. I am known as the "Master of Disaster" in the office.
Photo of Rob Gutro› Larger image
Photo of Rob Gutro. Credit: NASA/W. Hrybyk
Each day, I access satellite imagery on various mission websites from NASA’s fleet of Earth science satellites. I then interpret the satellite imagery and write about what it reveals on any breaking news story, like a hurricane. For example, NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite shows us the rate rain falls in a storm, but NASA does not forecast the actual storm.
Photo of Rob and his family› Larger image
Rob with his furry family. Photo courtesy of R. Gutro
I am also a science writer for the James Webb Space Telescope and the coordinator for Hubble, and NASA-NOAA joint mission releases and features. Coordination is time consuming; it requires good record keeping, editing and being detail-oriented to obtain the many approvals involved. I also coordinate press releases for events, education and technology. In addition, I manage the NASA Hurricane Web page, the NASA Fire Web page and the NASA Facebook and Twitter Hurricane pages. On average, I write about 20 or so stories a week, but during a busy hurricane season I could write as many as 40!

I also edit press releases and features from all of the other science writers every week, so I have to know a little bit about science ranging from supernovas to melting glaciers. Our releases cover Earth science, astrophysics, heliophysics, planetary science, technology, education and other events. I have learned a lot of science on the job. When I edit, I try to be helpful but not critical. My edits are suggestions, not demands. The trick to good editing is to edit like a teammate.

Who is the most interesting, inspiring or amazing person you have met or worked with at Goddard?

There are several who come to mind but the first four are Jeff Halverson, a research meteorologist; Amber Straughn and Paul Geithner, both astrophysicists on the Webb telescope; and Dr. John Mather, our Nobel laureate. All of these people are funny, personable,
passionate and energetic, which are things that motivate me. They can all covey complex idea in an easy to understand way.

What is the coolest thing you’ve ever done as part of your job at Goddard?

In 2005, I helped create the NASA Hurricane Web page and became the manager and writer of it. It is my passion! I love hurricanes! I have always been fascinated by hurricanes since Hurricane Belle hit New England in August 1976 when I was 13 years old. Hurricanes are powerful and not fully understood. You cannot easily get out of a hurricane’s path, so preparation and advance warning are critical.

What lessons or words of wisdom would you pass along to somebody who wants to be a writer?

Everybody wants to be a writer. I recommend reading a lot about many subjects. Always be open-minded to everything. Start a blog and blog daily about things that interest you and about which you are passionate. Share it with your friends.

My dad inspired me to be a writer. He read books every day. My dad bought me comic books, which inspired me to read, write and draw my own comic books. I still collect superhero comics and graphic novels. I feel like a character who belongs on “The Big Bang Theory” – a scientist, a geek and a superhero fan.

If you weren’t in your current profession, what would you be doing?

I would probably be a TV meteorologist.

Is there something surprising about you, your hobbies, interests, or activities outside of work that people do not generally know?

My partner and I work with two dog rescue organizations, the Coast to Coast Dachshund Rescue Group from which we got our 16-year-old and 1-year-old dachshunds, and the Wolf Creek Weimaraner Rescue Group of Tennessee, which is how we got our 8-year-old Weimaraner. We also have another dachshund who is 9 years old. We foster dogs who do not yet have homes, which is how we got three of our four dogs. We also help transport dogs and donate money to several other rescue organizations.

Do you have a favorite superhero?

My favorite superheroes are Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Spectre and, of course, the Red Tornado. In 2012, I attended the Baltimore Comicon as Green Lantern and teamed with two other Green Lanterns to win second place in the costume contest.
Rob at the Baltimore Comicon› Larger image
Matt Christensen (Left) as Guy Gardner, Green Lantern; Rob Gutro (Center) as Hal Jordan, Green Lantern; and Mike Mason (right) as John Stewart, Green Lantern. Credit:
Related Links:

› More Conversations With Goddard
Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tom Debunks Mass Email: Example of How the Right Wing Slants Things

Today's Blog is written by Tom about an email and right-wing slanted Photo gallery page that his mom received from right-wingers at her church. The way that right-winger slant things to serve their "religious" purposes is sickening. Read Tom's posting and his Email following to his mother, and see how he debunks their propaganda.  - Rob 
From time to time, my Mom sends me things that she receives from her church's listserve. Usually, I just respond by telling her that she shouldn't believe everything that her conservative, hate-filled church tells her, but this one was just too much to let pass with such a casual response.
     I find it truly disingenuous when people clip the President's speeches without allowing him the opportunity to finish making his point. In this video clip, you can even hear the inflection in his voice letting the viewer know that he wasn't finished making his point.
    Then they carefully frame the camera angle so that it clips the rest of the quotation from the Jefferson Memorial, because God forbid the reader were allowed to read the ENTIRE inscription, because then their point would lose its validity.

Anyway, I could go on and on about what's wrong with this:

BTW, if you're interested, here's what the full quotation from Panel 2 of the memorial ACTUALLY SAYS (the stress is mine):  "Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion. NO MAN SHALL BE COMPELLED TO FREQUENT OR SUPPORT ANY RELIGIOUS WORSHIP or ministry OR OTHERWISE SUFFER ON ACCOUNT OF HIS RELIGIOUS OPINIONS OR BELIEF, but ALL MEN SHALL BE FREE TO PROFESS, and by argument to maintain, THEIR OPINIONS IN MATTERS OF RELIGION. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively."
   This is exactly the same point that the President was trying to get across in his speech which was so maliciously clipped.


Here's Tom's  reply to his mother about the email and video gallery: 
Focus on the Family is a right wing wacko organization filled with hate, and filled with a bunch of crazy people.  Did you catch the misspelled words along the bottom of the video? 
More importantly, note how they selectively clipped not only the president's words, but also the words on the Jefferson Memorial to frame their argument. 
In reality, Jefferson was a deist, who actually bordered very close to being an atheist.  As individual age, mature, and read more - their belief structure changes.  I suspect this happened to Jefferson over time.  His writings during the time he was president are different from when he was not in elected office.  Note how in the video, they carefully cropped a quotation from one of the panels in the memorial.  Here is what the full quote actually says: 
"Almighty God hath created the mind free.  All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion.  No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.  I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively."
How come the video didn't want you to read that part?  Because the Founding Fathers believed that NOT EVERYONE was going to see things the same way, that not everyone was going to be a Christian, and that we must be careful in preserving the freedom for ALL PEOPLE to worship (or not worship) as they choose in their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. 
The people behind this video don't want this.  They want everyone to be Christian, and to worship the way they do.  President Obama believes as Jefferson - that we must be careful to not infringe on, or restrict the rights of others.  Even atheism is a religion. 
The fact that "In God We Trust" is over the dais in the Capitol reflects the thinking of the country in the 1950s when it was installed - the same time that it was put on our money, and added to the pledge of allegiance.  I don't believe that the Founding Fathers would have approved of these inscriptions.  We may actually see movements in the not so distant future to have these inscriptions removed because they are in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution. 
Mom, I encourage you to not believe these things that are sent to you.  They are meant to persuade you to a line of thinking that is very dangerous.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Video: The Daily Show: John Oliver's Australia & Gun Control's Aftermath

From the Daily Show- It would be funny if it weren't true. America needs to learn from Australia. John Oliver learns it's pointless for America to study the Australian gun control experience because the situations are just too similar.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rob's Internet Radio Interview Tonight at 8pm EDT!: Primarily Paranormal

Rob will be the guest on an Internet Radio Interview: Primarily Paranormal tonight- to talk about his books and experiences.
Monday, May 13, 2013 from 8:00 to 9:00 PM EDT
General Website:

Psychic Tena Marie is a gifted Psychic and  Psychic Medium that performs Psychic Readings and Paranormal Investigations in the Sunshine State of Florida in Fort Walton Beach. Tena is internationally recognized and respected throughout the Psychic & Paranormal world and has assisted people all over the globe; England, France, Holland, Canada, Australia, Mexico and here in the USA.
    Tena invites you along on her journey weekly on "Primarily Paranormal" every Monday night at 8PM Eastern. Join Tena, along with her husband Bob Weber and their special guests each week, learn about paranormal happenings and psychic mini readings in the second half of the show.
To learn more about Tena & Bob visit &

Mary Ann's Visit: Part 5: The Washington Mall: Monuments

This is the last entry on Mary Ann's visit and the second part of our trip to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
   In an earlier blog, Tom talked about the state of repair of the monuments and the reflecting pool, etc. so you can flip back a couple of days to see that if you missed it.
KOREAN WAR MEMORIAL -  We stopped at the Korean War Memorial, which I think is one of the best memorials. It consists of soliders marching through what looks like underbrush, and the expressions on their faces show the emotion of war.
Mary Ann and Tom join the FDR memorial bread line
THE FDR MEMORIAL -  Another of my favorite memorials (and Tom's, too) is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. Tom told Mary Ann and me that the 4 different rooms, each signified the four terms of his administration. The waterfalls in the exhibit were designed to convey the turbulence in office. As one moves from room to room, the waterfalls become larger and more complex, reflecting the increasing complexity of a presidency marked by the vast upheavals of economic depression and world war.
  Sculptures inspired by photographs depict the 32nd president alongside his dog Fala. Other sculptures depict scenes from the Great Depression, such as listening to a fireside chat on the radio and waiting in a bread line (where Mary Ann and Tom stood in the picture here).
Fala and his "dad" Franklin Delano Roosevelt

THE GEORGE MASON MONUMENT - George Mason University is famous in northern Virginia, but we didn't know that there was a monument in his honor, and it's part of the National Park Service system. But, during our walk around the tidal basin, we stumbled upon it. It's near the Jefferson Memorial. The monument is located at Ohio Drive, S.W. in Washington, D.C. For information about it, visit:‎. 
Rob testing the camera next to Mason's statue and Tom's pose!
   If you don't know much about him, as we didn't, he helped draft the Fairfax Resolves that recommended a “continental congress” to preserve colonial rights. According to the National Park Service, in 1776 Mason wrote the landmark Virginia Declaration of Rights that not only inspired the American Declaration of Independence, but also France’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the United Nations’ 1954 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
    The memorial is actually a little garden of flowers with a walkway that circles it. At the back of the memorial is a stone semi-circled bench with a statue of George Mason. A trellis overhangs the cement bench, painting a picture of a nice, quiet, relaxing area to admire the flowers. So, we stopped, sat and took a couple of pictures!
Rob, Tom and Mary Ann
 OUR TEE SHIRTS - You may notice our tee shirts in the picture and wonder what they say. My (Rob) tee shirt says "All My Children Have Paws," Mary Ann's tee shirt has drawings of the Avengers superheroes (she wore it because I love superheros, like her grandchildren do); and Tom's tee shirt says, "I love dogs, it's people that annoy me." :)

 THE JEFFERSON MEMORIAL - The last monument we visited was the Jefferson. It's amazing to walk up the marble steps and gaze at the huge statute of Thomas Jefferson. What's even more interesting is the things that the former president said, that are etched in the walls of the memorial. If only ALL of our legislators re-read what Jefferson said, and followed them!
   This quote is on Panel Two in the Memorial, and should be adhered to:  
Panel Two
"Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens...are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion...No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively."
For all of the quotes under the dome of the Jefferson Memorial, click here. 

    We had a fun, adventurous and fantastic time with Mary Ann, as we always do- and look forward to her next visit. If you want to see Baltimore and Washington, D.C. come visit and we'll show you around!  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day: Reflections and Dementia

Happy mother's day to all the moms out there. Most of us are fortunate enough to have good mothers. Others don't (if you watch TV shows like Judge Judy where horrible mothers appear like in a parade).
2008:Rob's family: Mom and dad in the middle
      Sadly, Mother's day this year for me (Rob) means dealing with the mother that isn't the one I grew up with. That's because dementia has brought out really bad qualities in my 86 year old mother. She used to help others all the time, take elderly friends and neighbors on errands or visit them, she always hosted birthdays, holidays and graduations at my childhood home. Neither her brother or sister's families every hosted anything, and my dad was an only child- so the burden always fell on my mother. She loved to draw and painted "Winnie the Pooh" on shirts and our bed sheets when we were kids. She made my 2 brothers and me shirts (she was good at sewing and could make clothes). She made me a Batman costume , cape and cowl- that I cherished for decades. She used to make draperies for the house. She could cook anything.  Holidays were well-decorated, but dinner making was always stressful... and not always peaceful. Mom loved being out in the yard, and today even still gardens...
but she's had dementia for about 4 years, and her personality has changed.
   Dementia is a horrible thing - it has transformed my mother into an oftentimes mean, angry person. Once out of every 4 or 5 conversations, she'll be lucid and not irritated or angry. However, most times she is. She's mad at my dad for dying in 2008, and she takes her anger out on me and my brothers who are the only ones around for her (which makes it difficult for us to be around). Oftentimes my mother creates an "argument" in her head to get angry with me and my brothers and slam the phone down in our ears. She's been on a downward slide for the last couple of years, especially this year. She's refused invitations and then gets angry at us for not being there. It makes it difficult to call her, but we all call her daily (and brace ourselves for being yelled at). I miss the mother I had as a kid. - So, if your mom has all her faculties, give her a hug, tell her Happy Mother's Day for me.
 - I will say that I'm SO thankful for the world's greatest Mother-in-Law (Tom's mom) and other moms that I've adopted like Mom Feldhaus in Maine. Happy mother's day to all our friends and my sister-in-law Sue, and Tom's sister Lisa.

Gift/Memorial Suggestions

Several of our friends have lost loved ones (human and pets) and we found that one of the best ways to honor their memory is to give to an animal charity.
What better way to recognize a life of love, than by giving another life a chance for love?
We donate to many animal rescues, but because we volunteer with
DC Weimaraner Rescue and Coast-to-Coast Dachshund Rescue, those are our 2 favorites.
Consider giving the chance of life to a dog or cat.

About us

We're two married guys who enjoy the simple things in life, especially our dogs. We volunteer for dog rescues, enjoy splitting dinners, exercising, blogging, helping friends and neighbors, ghost investigations, coffee and tea, Tudor history, weather, superheroes, comic books, mystery novels, traveling, 70s and 80s music, classic country, piano, gardening, writing books on ghosts and spirits, architecture, keeping a clean house, cooking simply, and keeping in shape. You'll find tidbits of all of these things on this blog and more.

Tom and Rob Thinking Hard!

Tom and Rob Thinking Hard!
Wondering what home project to do next