Tuesday, March 28

I Have Been Remiss in not Discussing This

Over the past month or so, we have seen an interesting spectacle unfold in the Tribune over the practice of medicine in our community. Of course, I am discussing the lawsuit that Benefis filed against the Clinic to stop their purchase of a speciality surgical center in Great Falls.

I have been thinking of writing something for a while, and have not had the time to do the subject justice. This post is not the comprehensive analysis I hope to post at a later time; but the subject still cries out for more debate among the community.

For as long as I can remember, the practitioners of medicine in our community have been at loggerheads. The Deaconess and the Columbus always fought with one another. Then, in 1996 they merged (against the wishes of the greater community). The Clinic and the Hospitals (and later the Hospital) have always fought.

In past years, we have seen more of the same. In every case, we see institutional Great Falls medicine trying out anti-competitive tactics to gain advantage over their rivals. Back in the late 90s, the Clinic rolled out an insurance policy with Blue Cross/Blue Shield that effectively bars insured from seeking out care at the Hospital. Most recently, (and in today's news) the Hospital has tried to block the Clinic's purchase of the Poulson Surgery Center.

I can understand why a business would want to damage their competitor. However, as a community we should not be parties to the war. I do not buy the argument that medicine is so different from other businesses that increased competition will increase prices.

Benefis' argument boils down to this: Increased competition for the more "profitable" procedures will decrease the cost of those procedures. At Benefis, those procedures have subsidized other services that the Hospital has operated at a loss (such as the Emergency Room). By reducing the effectiveness of Benefis' profit centers, they will have to increase prices for those other services.

In the short term, Benefis might be right. However, as the price for those services rise, there will be more incentive for other agents to provide those services. Eventually, the market will find a balance where the cost of the service is balanced against the demand for that service. Is that a bad thing?

The other problem with Benefis' argument is that the Surgical Center has been operating in Great Falls for years. This is not a new business. The only thing new is that the Clinic wants to buy that business and operate it. The permit that the Hospital is trying to stop is just a transfer; not a new license.

I hope to write more on this later. However, it is right that Benefis was rebuffed in its suit. The Supreme Court should also turn the Hospital away in its appeal.

End of the Line

Beat them at the Beanpot finals.

Beat them at the Hockey East finals.

Crashed and burned at the Shivering Sixteen.

Ah well, there is always next year.

Monday, March 27

Noted Rabbi to Lead Annual Aitz Chaim Passover Seder

(Great Falls; March 28, 2006)—Aitz Chaim, the Great Falls Hebrew Association, is pleased to announce that it will hold its annual Pesach (Passover) Seder on Thursday, April 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the CM Russell Museum, 400 13th Street North.

The event, which will be catered by Grocery Bistro, is open to the public at a cost of $25 for congregation members and $35 for non-members. Reservations and payment must be received by April 4. Reservations should be sent to Aitz Chaim, 1015 1st Avenue North, Suite 304, Great Falls, MT 59401. Reservation requests can also be phoned in at 216-5071 or sent via email to aitzchaim AT national-general.com.

The seder (which means “order” in Hebrew) will be led by Rabbi Allen A. Secher of Whitefish and Bozeman. Before he came to Montana, Rabbi Secher’s internationally syndicated radio show, “East of Eden” was heard weekly on 456 radio stations around the world. Ordained by Hebrew Union College in New York, Rabbi Secher has also taught at UCLA in Los Angeles and was appointed to the Montana State Human Rights Commission in 2005.

During the seder, Rabbi Secher will lead the congregation in the traditional recitation of the The Haggadah, which tells the tale of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

The seder will be a complete fleishig (meat) kosher-style dinner including traditional foods as well as a choice of chicken or fish, salad, soup, vegetable, potato and desert.

Aitz Chaim, the Great Falls Hebrew Association, is the only organized Jewish Community in Northcentral Montana. The community is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism and the Montana Association of Jewish Communities.

Friday, March 24

24 Days, and counting ...

In 24 days taxes will be due for the great majority of Americans. It also marks the day that I get to unchain my wife from her desk ...

Wednesday, March 22

A Sudoku Solver in C

OK, I admit it. I am a geek. More than admit it, I revel in it.

However, even the non-geeks among you must think that this is pretty darn cool.

Tuesday, March 21

L'Chaim to Chaim!

At approximately 5 p.m. MST today, Chabad Rabbi Chaim Bruk will be standing under his chuppah with his kallah, Chavie. Rabbi Chaim has visited the Treasure State many times, and has taken a special interest in helping to develop Jewish life in Montana.

Incidentally, Chaim is marrying into a family that has also been influential in the Yiddishkeit of our State. Chavie's father, also Rabbi Chaim, visited Montana many times in his youth and even led a Chasidic children's camp in Great Falls (which I attended!)

Please join me in raising a glass to the kallah and the chatan on this joyous occasion! It is a very sweet mitzvah to celebrate with the bride and groom!

Israeli Rock/Folk Personality Yehuda Katz to perform at Baker Bob's this coming Saturday night!

Yehuda Katz, described by some as the Jewish Jerry Garcia, is returning to Great Falls for his second concert in the Electric City!

Katz, the lead vocalist, songwriter and guitarist for the hit Israeli rock group Reva L’sheva (which means “Quarter to Seven”) will perform in Great Falls for a free concert on Saturday, March 25 at 7 p.m. at Baker Bob’s Backstreet Pub, 112 Central Avenue. Food and drinks will be available for purchase from the pub. Please note the change in time and date from that published in the Aitz Chaim newsletter.

Katz’s group, a Grateful Dead-inspired, quasi-jazz inflected, Rock and Roll “jam band,” performs in the style of the Grateful Dead and Phish, with a Jewish flavor. A student of the “singing rabbi,” Reb Shlomo Carlebach, Yehudah Katz performed with his teacher around the world. Yehuda grew up in a traditional Jewish home but had left religion for many years. During that time he grew close to The Grateful Dead and many faithful "Dead-heads". He claims that it was at a Dead concert that he had his first open experience with Godliness, reflected through the performance of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia. This opened the door for him to be connected with Reb Shlomo.

This event is sponsored by the Israeli rural outreach group Soultrain and Aitz Chaim, the Great Falls Hebrew Association.

Archbiship of Canterbury Criticizes Teach Creationism in Science Classes

Thanks to V over at Left in the West for finding this link. The original article was published in the Guardian, here.

The Archbiship of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has announced that he is opposed to teaching Creationism. He believes that doing so would just water down faith by presenting it as a theory alongside of other, equally relevant, theories.

The First Amendment was not only written with the idea that government had to be protected from religion. Another important reason for the importance of a separation between church and state is that religion must be protected from government.

Swearing-In Tonight

At the City Commission meeting tonight at 7, I will be sworn in as a Councilor to my neighborhood.

So, what can we do to make our neighborhood, city and State better places? How do we make our civic places better places to live? How do we attract jobs, reduce crime and improve schools?

If you have any issues you want brought before the council, please let me know.

Monday, March 20

We Should Revisit the Curricula for Math

That headline just makes you want to jump into this post, doesn't it?

Probably not. But that doesn't mean that the topic isn't worthy of discussion. I just read a fascinating post on math curricula here. It argues that the way we teach math is, well, wrong. The author is a programmer, and argues that, especially for computer programming, current math curricula is both not especially relevant and taught in an inappropriate order.

Anyway go read the post. Very interesting reading.

Apparently, I need to "Get a Life"

At least so-says John Mercer. It appears that the Trib asked the former legislator and Regent about my speculations in this post. His response was "no way."

For the record; I never claimed to know him, and at least I think that I have a life.

Sunday, March 19

Down with the Eagles!

It is a rare day when both the Griz and my alma mater have a common opponent. Especially so when that common opponent is arch-rival BC. You know, we have a saying on Commonwealth Avenue; I root for BU and anyone playing BC.

Well, the Griz might not have had so much luck yesterday. However, a basketball elmination wasn't the only conference game played against BC in the last 24 hours. My Terriers faced the Eagles yesterday for the Hockey East championship.

The game went to OT, but the Hockey East crown went to BU, 2-1. Go dogs!

Now time for the NCAA's, and hopefully the Frozen Four!

Friday, March 17

A Controversial Question; are High Railroad Rates Good or Bad for Montana?

It is almost an unquestioned truth that low railroad rates and 110 car loading facilities are good for Montana.

I am not sure that this is so, and I'll tell you why.

I have used this space before to argue that we need to build an infrastructure to process the raw foodstuffs we produce in Northcentral Montana. More than just flour, we need more investment like the Pasta or Malting plants that have recently sprouted up here.

Such development seems like a natural fit; we produce grain, cattle, etc. Adding value to those raw products here would bring jobs, spur economic development and revitalize our economy. The idea has its basis in a concept called vertical integration.

To my way of thinking, one of the real benefits of vertical integration is to take economic advantage of the high cost of transporting products; why should we ship grain to parts East and West to be processed into finished products when it could be processed here, saving the fuel costs?

However, it may now be true that the cost of transporting raw grain or flour is overshadowed by the cost of transporting those finished goods. The lower the price of a railcar, the more economic advantage can be found in shipping products elsewhere for processing; especially if that elsewhere is geographically close to retail distribution centers.

I haven't quite finished thinking this through. I would like to read what some of you think about this, particularly those of you (and you, and you) that are more intimitely involved with agricultural production.

Tuesday, March 14

Thanks to Craig for this Silly Quiz

You know, I am a homebrewer. Something of a hophead, beer has to be big, bold and bitter. This result is not really much of a surprise.

You Are Guinness

You know beer well, and you'll only drink the best beers in the world.
Watered down beers disgust you, as do the people who drink them.
When you drink, you tend to become a bit of a know it all - especially about subjects you don't know well.
But your friends tolerate your drunken ways, because you introduce them to the best beers around.

A Prediction; Mercer to challenge Burns in Primary?

I have never claimed to have finely attuned political senses. However, this one strikes me as so obvious that it is almost a given. However, it is just a WAG (wild assed guess).

Let's get this straight; one of the most prominent Republican voices in the State resigns from his high-profile job as a Regent in the University system at the same time that our junior Senator's popularity is reaching all-time lows due to a DC scandal.

Am I the only one that smells a primary challenge here?

Monday, March 13

I Agreed to Do What?!?!?!?!

At the Neighborhood Council 7 meeting tonight, the councilors held an election to replace two positions left open due to resignations. I ran for one of those seats and was appointed to fill one of those positions.

Why did I run? Quite frankly, I would have preferred not to put my hat in the ring. Getting out in the evening when there are kids to get ready for school the next day is not my preference. However, I think that our neighborhood has an incredible amount of potential. I would like to help develop that potential.

In any case, as of the next city commission meeting (Tuesday, March 21), I will be a member of the council. If you live in the council district (the lower North and South sides) and would like me to bring up an issue, please send me a note and let me know. My email address is a a r o n AT w e i s s m a n DOT c o m.

Want some Good News?

The Brady Campaign gave our State an F! I have never been so happy to fail an exam.

MAJCO Holocaust Posters on display in Missoula until April 20

Please see the appended press release from the Missoula County Public Schools. If you live in the Missoula area, there are three opportunities to see the exhibit, the first tomorrow evening at Big Sky High School.



Big Sky, Hellgate and Sentinel High Schools in Missoula will host a special historical and educational exhibit that focuses on the Holocaust.

The exhibit will be displayed at each of the three high schools during the next six weeks and will coincide with freshmen students reading “Night,” a memoir by Nobel Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel. The book was first published in 1958 and recalls Wiesel’s survival as a teenager in Nazi death camps. A new edition of the book, translated from the French by Wiesel’s wife and frequent translator, Marion Wiesel, is now available in bookstores and was featured as an Oprah Book Club selection in January.

Titled “The Courage to Remember: The Holocaust 1933-1945,” the exhibit includes 40 photographs that provide a chronological and historical perspective of the Holocaust. The exhibit is on loan from the Montana Association of Jewish Communities and was part of a larger photographic exhibit established by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The exhibit provides a historical perspective on the killing of six million Jews and others in concentration camps during the Nazi era. The photographs are startling and emotionally engaging. The exhibit will be available for high school students at Big Sky, Hellgate and Sentinel High Schools to view, however any student may choose not to view the photographs.

Each high school will also sponsor an evening for parents and/or the general public to view the exhibit. The exhibit openings for parents and the public are as follows:

§ Big Sky High School, Tuesday, March 14, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

§ Hellgate High School, Tuesday, April 11, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

§ Sentinel High School, Tuesday, April 18, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

The exhibit is not recommended for children younger than grade 6. In addition, it is strongly recommended that students in middle school who view the exhibit be accompanied by a parent or guardian. The exhibit will not be open to the public during the school day.

For additional information on the exhibit, contact Lesli Brassfield, MCPS Public Relations Specialist, at 728-2400, ext. 1024.


Saturday, March 11

Blogging Pretty Light this Week

You know, there is something very interesting about this blogging phenomena where a blogger feels guilty about not posting in a while. I mean, this isn't a job where I have to write anything, I just like to write and spout off my opinions.

Anyway, I am pretty busy with a new project at work and I haven't been paying as much attention to the world in general for the past few weeks. That and the fact that it is my wife's tax season makes life pretty hectic.

More than anything else, I would like to spend the time to write something cogent about this Benefis/Clinic debacle unfolding in our courts and on the front page of our paper. For as long as I can remember, the Clinic and the Hospitals (actually, the entire Great Falls medical community) have been fighting over something or another (usually money). Maybe the old bromide is true that smart doctors are good at treating patients, not at practicing their business.

I am a consumer of health care. With a family of four, that is quite a few dollars (from my perspective, anyway). It seems to me that all of these folks should, and in fact have a vested interest, in getting along.

Instead, they fight and invest money in duplicative resources. Money goes to lawyers and to providers of high cost high-tech medical gear for two (or more) of the same piece of equipment.

There was a WSJ editorial last week that I think got it right. It tracked the cost for LASIK eye surgeries since their FDA approval. It turns out that most commentators are wrong; competition is generally good for the consumer, even for medical care.

How is that for a stream of consciousness rant? More later.

Tuesday, March 7

Said my piece

Well, I said my piece at the meeting. Greg also gave a nice speech decrying the NIMBY attitude that seems to surround any new growth.

When it comes down to it, Stuart Lewin is right. Our municipal planning has been exceptionally sloppy for the past several decades. We need better planning as we develop the property around our town. However, punishing Walgreens for playing by the poorly written rules is wrong.

Success of our community requires accepting growth

I will present the following statement at the commission meeting this evening.


Madame Mayor and Honored Commissioners;

Tonight I rise to speak about growth in our community.

We live in a wonderful community, one with a very bifurcated history and promising, yet troubled, future. While we are suffering a declining population base, we remain the population center for all of Northcentral Montana. That gives us promise.

However, we can only fulfill that promise if we allow, accept and nurture growth. That growth might not always come in a form we might more appreciate, like a new manufacturing plant or call center. Today it comes in the form of a large retail enterprise, be in called Walgreens or be it called Wal-Mart.

If we deny this retail enterprise the opportunity to move here, we are making many statements. One of those statements is that we do not welcome growth in Great Falls, and that we want our community to continue to decline.

For one, I do not want this. I want our community to grow and prosper. I want my children to be able to make a living and stay here.

While retail enterprises from national and international chains might not bring the high paying jobs we need in this community, the availablity of retail opportunities is one factor that might just convince the next manufacturing plant or call center to call Great Falls home.

Madame Mayor and honored commissioners, I urge you to accept the zoning ordinance before you today. Allow this growth to come to our town.

Monday, March 6

Line Item Veto Proposal Deserves Speedy Death

Over here at TSJ, I like to stay away from national politics. For the most part, I find them to be irrelevant and a distraction from real issues. However, today, the following tidbit arrived in my email box. This exceedingly bad and politically tone-deaf action even rose up my ire enough to post:

President Submits Line Item Veto Legislation to Congress
“Today, I'm sending Congress legislation that will meet standards and give me the authority to strip special spending and earmarks out of a bill, and then send them back to Congress for an up or down vote. By passing this version of the line item veto, the administration will work with the Congress to reduce wasteful spending, reduce the budget deficit, and ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely,” President Bush, March 6, 2006.
Today's Presidential Action:
Ø Legislative Line Item Veto Act: Special, fast-track procedures would be created to guarantee an up-or-down vote by simple majority in Congress on a proposal by the President to rescind specific spending or tax legislation that has been passed. Leaders from both the Republican and Democratic parties, in the House and the Senate, have supported this approach in the past.
The Legislative Line Item Veto Will Help Reduce Earmarks. Giving the President enhanced authority to seek rescission of new spending will help ensure that taxpayer dollars are not wasted on unjustified earmarks that are not national priorities. Since the Supreme Court struck down the Line Item Veto Act in 1998, the number of earmarks has significantly increased.
The Line Item Veto Has A Long History of Bipartisan Support. At least 11 presidents from both parties have called for the authority to address individual spending items wrapped into larger bills: Ulysses Grant, Rutherford Hayes, Chester Arthur, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. The governors of 43 of the 50 states already have this authority.
The President’s Proposal Is Fully Consistent with the Constitution. In its 1998 ruling striking down the Line Item Veto Act of 1996, the Supreme Court concluded that the Act “g[ave] the President the unilateral power to change the text of duly enacted statutes.” The Legislative Line Item Veto Act does not raise those constitutional issues because the President’s rescission proposals must be enacted by both houses of Congress and signed into law.

This extremely bad idea deserves a speedy death. At a time when the Executive continues to exert more and more power at the expense of the other two constitutional branches of government, the President proposes to take even more power from Congress.

IMO, one of the problems we face today is a legislative branch that is too timid and willing to be steamrolled by a powerful executive. If this passes, I have the feeling that the Framers would be spinning in their graves.

Worse, it would move us farther down the road toward a system of government without checks. PoliSci types like to talk about "a finely crafted system of checks and balances." When it works as it should it acts to gunk up the works of government to the point that only the exceptionally good ideas become law. That, I submit, is an exceptionally good thing. Undivided rule of goverment has made it way to easy to pass laws.

Friday, March 3

The way our country processes Income Tax returns is Foolish

Here is a complaint you are likely to hear parroted by anyone who is either in the tax preparation industry (my wife), or is the spouse of anyone in that industry (me).

Once a year, accountants have to run around like chickens with their heads cut off to process returns or extensions for everyone in the country. It involves four months of long hours followed by eight months of much lighter hours.

This, I submit, is retarded.

I have a modest suggestion; one that would allow private tax preparation firms, the IRS and state Departments of Revenue to more efficiently staff their offices.

Roughly one-twelfth of the people in this country are born in each of the twelve months of the year. Therefore, if everyone's taxes were due on the 15th of the month corresponding to their birthday, then tax preparation wouldn't have to happen at such a breakneck pace to try and get everyone in the country processed by some arbitrary and capricious deadline. Instead of temporary, seasonal workers, the firms and agencies that process taxes could hire full-time help.

Plus, I would get to see my wife.

Forty-six days to go.

Once again, it would be nice if our government listened to its own experts ...

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that "I don't know anyone who wasn't caught off guart by Hamas' strong showing," in answer to Hamas' election victory in January.

Well, maybe she knows a few people that weren't caught off guard. In this report in Secrecy News, it turns out that the "Office of Research" in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the (wait for it ...) State Department were predicting the "likely success of Hamas at the polls" in a report published on January 19.

This is the same office that disagreed with the Administration about whether Hussein's Iraq had restarted its nuclear weapons program.

Maybe officials on high should start listening to these folks?