Thursday, July 30, 2009

Truth and integrity

Many of you have visited "Frank and Conor's 'Bad Advice in the morning'", bless you.

What's with this "4:00 p.m.", "2:32 p.m." or "9:30 p.m." postings? A broken clock, a sick computer, malfunctioning keyboard, faux rolex?

No, the truth and I have to speak it is

"in the morning" means shortly after they become conscious and caffeinated. So do not expect all of their postings to be labeled "a.m."

Enjoy the bor's I mean bro's.

Public's right to know

As mentioned before, the Valley Health System directors decided to give a group of doctors an exclusive 90-day option to negotiate the purchase of the hospitals.

The name of the group is Physicians for a Healthy Hospitals. Notice, at least as of today, none of the members are identified. Some doctors did admit to their membership during Monday’s meeting.

During the discussion, Dr. William Cherry and other directors mentioned that they had criteria to evaluate the proposal. In response to a question, Dr. Cherry acknowledged that he would make the criteria available, but only after further negotiations.

Will the directors require new owners to keep the emergency room open? It would be important to know. The deal with Selecthealthcare require them to keep it open for 5 years.

Withholding this kind of information, I believe this is a Brown Act violation. Section 54956.8 of at the act authorizes a public agency to conduct closed sessions to discuss the price and terms of payment of potential real estate transactions. The agency could be a buyer, seller or leasing property.

But the section does not authorize the protection of any other information regarding the transaction, such as criteria to evaluate it.

Consequently, I have submitted a California Public Records Act request to VHS (see below). In it I have asked for a copy of the criteria and all other material shared with the physicians.

I’ll keep you posted on the results.

By the way, the same section requires the agency announce who their negotiators are. VHS has yet to do that.

Letter to VHS
July 30, 2009

Fred Harder, Chief Executive Officer
Valley Health System
1117 East Devonshire Avenue
Hemet, CA 92543

Subject: Request to Inspect and Copy Public Records

Dear Mr. Harder;

This letter is to request access to records in the possession of Valley Health System (VHS) for the purpose of inspection and copying pursuant to the California Public Records Act (Government Code Section 6250 et seq.).

The information that I ask to inspect is as follows:

The criteria you or the Board of Directors will use to evaluate the negotiations between VHS and Physicians for Healthy Hospitals (PHH). These criteria exist and were mentioned several times during the VHS Board of Directors meeting, Monday, July 27. Chairman Dr. William Cherry acknowledged that they would be released but would not confirm when this would happen.

I am asking for disclosure of these criteria now. Pursuant to Government Code 54956.8, the only information not subject to public disclosure prior to a public agency proposed real estate transaction is the possible price and terms of payment.

During the meeting, Board members bandied around a criterion such as “top-tier management team. Whatever the criteria are, California law does not protect them. As a public agency, the responsibility is to disclose information to your constituents.

Since the price and terms of purchase are the only information which you may continue to conceal, I am requesting a copy of all information, data or materials that you provide to PHH under the terms of the agreement approved at the board meeting on July 27.

Furthermore, VHS is under an obligation to hold an open and public session in which you identify your negotiators and the real property or properties, which the negotiations may concern. Please identify when you plan to do this before negotiations proceed further.

This request reasonably describes an identifiable record or information produced there from, and I believe that no express provisions of law exempting the record(s) from disclosure.

In light of the apparent Ralph M. Brown Act violations and pursuant to Government Code Section 6253(b), I ask that you make the record(s) “promptly available,” for inspection and copying, based on my payment of “fees covering direct costs of duplication, or statutory fee, if applicable.”

If a portion of the information I have requested is exempt from disclosure by express provisions of law, Government Code Section 6253(a) additionally requires segregation and deletion of that material in order that the remainder of the information may be released. If you determine that an express provision of law exists to exempt from disclosure all or a portion of the material I have requested, Government Code Section 6253(c) requires notification to me of the reasons for the determination not later than 10 days from your receipt of this request.

Government Code Section 6253(d) prohibits the use of the 10-day period, or any provisions of the Public Records Act “to delay access for purposes of inspecting public records.”

Thank you for your timely attention to my request.


J P Crumrine
News Editor

cc: James W. Ewert, CNPA Legal Counsel
John Marshall, counsel

Thursday, July 23, 2009

getting Old

Monk found this headline. He's worried now and I'll explain later.

"FDA Cautions Public About Electronic Cigarettes"

First, we had the gramaphone, then those "transistor" radios, now we have electronic exercise "Wi", but electronic cigarettes. I give up.

Plug and smoke?

Can you connect it to your home internet device and it will start smoking as soon as dinner is over.

Now we don't to worry about what happens after … when we roll over and take a proud draw on the cancer stick? Can you set it to go out automatically in case you fall asleep in bed … … reading?

Maybe the electronic device zaps the smoke before it becomes old and second hand.

It keeps on smoking without any puffing? One charge is worth the price of 4 packs of cigarettes (which today is about equal to Idyllwild cabin).

So Monk has heard of climate change and smog! So this product kinda scares him. He'd like to know if the carbon offset for an electronic cigarette includes the coal or gas burned to power the cigarette?

More Headline Analysis

July 23rd, 2009
EXCLUSIVE: Live pigs wounded, euthanized in troop trauma training

For breaking news on a hot, dusty afternoon, the above headline ought to bring a lot of traffic to this media's Web site.

I know many of my friends and I often discuss the fate of "live pigs". We wonder about the sanitary condition of their home — pig sties — and the care and benevolence they receive.

But this headline confused me. Unfortunately, Monk wasn't nearby to interpret it.

First what is the purpose of the adjective "Live"? I mean can you "wound" a non-live, aka "dead" pig? Or more importantly, can one euthanize a "dead" pig?

If so, will you readers who how please share those well-guarded and kept secrets with me and perhaps some other readers? There are some others out there, right?

So wounding and euthanizing pigs, remember the "enemy" are pigs and not wild boars, is suppose to be part of the trauma training for our troops? What are these — a troop of Cub Scouts or Brownies?

We're training soldiers for battle, hardening their reactions to the bloody and deathly melee, the grisly carnage to be found all about them. So pigs are a substitute? Just because biologists claim the DNA is similar and they can test new drugs on pigs, the military is now bombing and shooting them? Actually some were stabbed.

And what about "euthanize", is that "ize" for "kill"? If euthanizing is suppose to be trauma training, why not send these rookies to some animal shelters. The workers there are very disturbed that they have to work full-time reducing the world's cat and dog populations.

Anyways, don't you think the "Return of Animal Farm" or "Animal Farm: the Slaughter of the Pigs" would have been better headlines and raised fewer of these insightful questions?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A new "Hot Spot"?

Riddle me this Idyllwild!

What's going on at the dump, foundly known as the "Transfer Station" in bureaucratese. Fess up you cognoscentes!

On Friday, as we were huffing up Saunders Meadow, Monk alerted me to the car parked in front of the gate to the "Dump". Since this was before 7 a.m., we wondered what's happening at the dump if people are lining up 60 to 90 minutes before it opens. Really!

So what's the big deal about a car parked in front of the gate? It's the second time in 10 days that we've notice this phenonomen. They were different cars each time, but drivers were behind the steering wheel and motors off both times. Do you think they were trying to reclaim a valuable before Waste Management transferred it to a decent burial site?

Once the driver looked asleep. The head on the steering wheel was the clue.

Thinking outside the box is Monk's specialty and he offered the following suggestion:
  • Maybe they aren't lining up to get in, perhaps they're leaving. Is the dump a secret "Rave" site? On Thursday nights, is this where the in crowd goes to get wasted, talk garbage and pick up a trashy date?
That's Monk's idea. But we'll offer a reward for the right answer. We have a 30 gallon bag stuffed with the best recycled paper on the Hill for it. So get the answers flowing!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sites of San Diego: A small town view

What a busy weekend. We were in San Diego, the big metropolis southwest of our mountain aerie. It was a great time, but I always return amazed at how quickly life progresses elsewhere compared to here.
Are we really living in Brigadoon? Am I rube? I’ve lived and worked in cities larger than San Diego for more than 30 years, so why now does it seem different than my own life experiences?
Let me give you some examples:

  • When did vodka become the principal ingredient of martinis? I grew up drinking them with gin and a twist of lemon. If someone wanted vodka they asked for it specifically.
  • A sign of the bad economic times was spotted while I was working through the neighborhoods downtown. I passed a dog and cat pet care establishment. That’s not strange, but painted on the front window, not on a sign in the window but permanently on the pane, so it must be their business — “Do it yourself dog or cat baths”
  • So what do they provide, the water and soap? Maybe they offer instructions on how to wash the ears or the under carriage?
  • Can you imagine three or four other dogs getting bathed will you wash your “child”. They’re all shaking the water off their backs, jumping and barking. Nice.Why would I go pay to do that myself?
  • Then I was made aware of the ability of large cities to plan land use more efficiently that small towns or villages. For example, next door to the dental office was the “Pain Center”. Good idea!
  • How about the location and connection of businesses on this block? First was “Pole Sinsations — fitness”, Next door was the bridal shop, along comes “Women’s careers in the future today!” Then I notice a counselor for couples and finally across the street was the San Diego County Department of Health Services!
  • San Diego is obsessed with fitness. Every few shops have something to do with your body, but it’s the city government’s participation that convinced me how much infatuation with one’s body is a part of the San Diego culture.
  • There are countdown crosswalks! “15, 14, 13, 12, 11 … 1” Now you can time yourself sprinting across the street or even run laps back and forth before the countdown hits “stop”.
  • Finally, let me share this one. As I passed a parking lot on Fifth Avenue, I saw the following sign: “Handicap spaces in this lot have excessive slope.” Is that good or bad? Maybe it gives wheelchairs a head start to the banks or restaurants.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Anonymous Sources

Anonymous sources are the bane or pleasure of reporters and editors. These secretive agents can offer some juicy stories. The Washington Post and New York Times are champion advocates of these news origins — senior White House staff, member of the Secretary's policy team and even "Deep Throat".

Deep Throat was less an original source for quotes, but a guide to where the famous journalistic duo —Woodstein and Burnward— would find original and authentic data and sources who could reveal action from the first person.

While I am not castigating "anonymous(e) sources", I am advising readers to consider the adage "you get what you pay for". I, myself, have used them occasionally and then I tried to ensure independent verification of the statement or observation. But the number of times I've employed these sources can be counted one of Monk's paws.

While I have admit my own contamination from playing with these hidden news revelations, I will offer you some insight to the actual dangers of this tool and again warn you of its intrinsic low value and high combustibility.

As some know, I frequently report on the meetings of the Valley Health System (VHS) Board of Directors. The last regular meeting was June 29. I was there, so apparently was a reporter from our esteemed daily neighboring paper — The PE.

I'm always interested to read another reporters story of the same meeting or incident. I compare it to see if we had the same observations, interpreted the comments and behavior similarly, thus at the same meeting, and if I missed something critical.

In the middle of the story, I read the following sentence:

" Quorum renegotiated contracts, including those with five major carriers, to go to a fee-for-service model, which board members say didn't work."

This immediately raised the question in my mind, "which board members?" Although several board members were quoted in other places in the story, it would be unfair to assume it was them. This reference criticizing the new contracts is actually attributed to no one, just "directors".

The reason that concerns me is that it conflicts with VHS management's views and the directors' response to a question that I posed at the June 29 meeting. After Melanie Van Winkle, vice president of finance, made a presentation on the May financial results, I asked if I was correctly interpreting the revenue from July through May. She confirmed that I was right.

For the 11 months of 2008-09, the net patient revenue was $153.8 million compared to $138.4 million for the same period during 2007-08. A $15.4 million increase, with the new fee-for-service contracts, is an 11.1 percent growth.

I then asked if the capitation (fixed fee-per-patient) model had been continued, would VHS have collected more revenue than the fee-for-service model generated. Winkle was quite certain that the former model would have lagged behiind the current revenue models and VHS had made a prudent decision to switch contract terms.

After Winkle answered the question, none of the directors made a comment or contradicted Winkle.

So that's the problem with anonymous sources, were these directors telling the PE the truth, but afraid to admit that in a public board meeting? Or was something more nefarious at play here and the private comments could not stand the light of public scrutiny?

I don't know the answers, but it again raises my concern about employing sources who are reluctant to acknowledge publicly what they say or think.

Monday, July 6, 2009

More Headlines

I’m a little late commenting on this announcement of important tidings:

“Effort to have 50-meter pool falls short so far”

Do you think they could construct a 40-meter or a 45-meter or maybe a 100-foot pool? Perhaps if the idea creators were not so grandiose, a good 46-meter pool could be installed.

Then again maybe the problem is simply not enough money for any size pool, but the author obviously thought the length was an important carrot to gain your attention to his reporting.

But if all the words are important, let’s not dismiss “so far”. The story must be a status report, keep on checking here to know when that 50-meter (actually a 150 feet) hole begins. So progress will proceed swimmingly, I hope.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Better Journalism for All

Okay, enough with the evolution and zoology Idyes. I want to devote this blog to better journalism — both yours and mine.

After nearly six years, I feel I can begin to share some pointers with you that will make reading the newspapers more interesting (even outside the bathroom).

So I’ll begin with headlines, which are what you usually see first, unless you’re farsighted.

The headline is supposed to capture your attention, raise your curiosity and entice you to read the whole story, unless you speed read and omit modifiers).

Let me give you and example from last week. This is an actual headline that appeared in one of our local periodicals (actually a daily).

“1 dead after car hits fence, tree, pole “.

It captures your attention because you wonder how hard the car hit these objects, why did it hit them and what caused the altercation. More importantly in this example, you become curious about whether the tree, pole or fence succumbed to the impact of the vehicle.

This choice and the unknown are what really tempt you to become involved with the story premise. It’s a guessing game and you want to be right. A challenge, such as throwing down the gauntlet, is a literary device more than 100 years old.

But you are familiar with it since elementary school. You may not remember it (unless you watch “The Price is Right”). So you accept the challenge. Rather than an writing essay, the multiple choice test offered in this headline evokes your memories of eighth grade (which is our target reading level). Those old wooden desk were much safer and more comfortable than today’s stainless steel or composite wood.

During those years, you read about the “The Lady, or the Tiger”, written in 1882. What’s behind door number 2? A successful headline evokes these feelings of youthful competition.

Hidden within this story, you discover another common journalistic trick — irony. None of the objects mentioned in the headline — the tree, the fence or the pole — died. Ironically, it was the driver. Congratulations for those who thought outside the box.

Good reporting surprises you with additional information and keeps you keenly attentive to the next paragraph.

Later this week, I’ll explain the difference between your local scribe and the New York Times, Washington Post and the PeE. (besides the number of Pulitzer Prizes and other awards). You’ll learn about a cherished and established journalistic tradition — anonymous sources.

Remember all this who, where, when, why and how are “off the record”.

Walking with Monk

I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately with my friend, Monk. Sometimes the conversation is a little one-sided, but the other day he offered a novel idea for how the homo sapiens species may have developed skills which allowed them to escape the confines and clutches of that dangerous and hot, dry savannah into the freedom of the frigid and barren lands to the north.

Currently, evolutionary biologists are jousting over the advantage offered by the opposable or “prehensile” (if you like to obfuscate the discussion) thumb versus the enlarging brain and tool development.

But Monk suggested a slight modification of this theory, which suggests the opposable thumb may have developed concurrently with bipedalism (bikes with pedals on both sides).

Although the ability to walk and grasp weapons was a major advantage, it was not sufficient to break the bonds of the insect-dominated and allergy-fertile Savannah. As we discarded a pair of feet, we needed those two thumbs.

Monk pointed out that when the saber tooth tiger or vicious homo habilis was chasing young, virile and frightened homo sapiens, the ability to scratch without stopping is a huge evolutionary advantage. The itch that delays an escape may have cost us some valuable ancestors.

By the way, how valuable are opposable thumbs if our cousins the opossums (notice only one “p”) have opposable thumbs on their rear feet! You cannot run and scratch with the same limb, that’s kinda hoping you can hop fast.

Monk has recently demonstrated the benefits of non-stopping scratching or itch killing to me on several walks. When he gets an itch, he stops, plops and scratches.

No problem except he has no taillights and it requires my best athletic agility to avoid his ill-timed block. (Although I usually do and am ahead in the game, he stills has fun trying to tumble me.)

Dogs can’t move and scratch (don’t confuse the scoot and wipe with run and scratch), which is why they became our pets, to be PET-ected.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

National Gnat

I’d like to make a nomination for the “National Bird of Pine Cove” — the San Jacinto Pineous Cover gnat.

Yesterday, about 7 a.m., I began a walk — don’t want to offend real hikers. As I went west of Idyllwild Arts, I started up control road 6S10. It becomes the Red Hill Truck Trail and winds around the western edge of Pine Cove, almost to the northern edge near Station 23.

It was there I encountered them. Worse than Hitchcock’s “Birds”. From the time I left the open, sun beaten uncovered portion of 6S10 and entered the forested area. I was engulfed by the tiny critters. I must have reeked of Idyllwild from the way they kept attacking and pummeling me.

For several miles, until I could get to the safety of paved road near the “Speed of Light” monument, the gnats surrounded my head. I had no worry about sunburn, because of the density of the swarm.

But I did pull a muscle trying to swat the swarm. Ugh.

So help me with a good defense, please.

Keep the “Green” devices in the first column, the effective solutions, next and, please, please, keep the carcinogenic ideas private.

Finally, a tip of my cap to Pine Covers for the natural defense team they have nurtured. I wonder if another brood is on the eastern edge?