The news from Rhode Island -- 04/03/04

Yes, I'm thinking of Garrison Keillor and his weekly "news from Lake Wobegon" that he has been doing for years and years on his Prairie Home Companion radio program. (For those of you outside the U.S. or who don't have a PBS station in your area, this bit always ends with Garrison saying "And that's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." This has led to the term "Lake Wobegon Effect" for those people who endlessly optimistic about their school system or town or company and who are really weak in math and logic (I think school officials are especially prone to this -- a few months ago I heard about a school board member in some town in California -- San Diego perhaps? -- who wanted to get rid of the superintendent of schools because half of the students scored at or below the 50th percentile on a set of standardized math tests.)

Anyway, here's some of the news from Rhode Island this past week:

Patrick C. Lynch, Rhode Island's Attorney General, has selected a quotation from the Spider-Man comic books to be placed on a bronze plaque outside his state office building: "With great power comes great responsibility." He explained to reporters that his six year old son is a big Spider-Man fan who repeated those words to his father just before his inauguration to the office a little over a year ago. Lynch called Marvel Comics to ask for permission to use the quotation -- the call apparently took a while to get through to the publisher's legal department because at first they were certain it had to be a prank call. The plaque attributes the remark to Stan Lee, the editor/writer behind Marvel's creative blossoming of an array of quirky superheroes in the 1960's. (The original story is in the Providence Journal -- but they require registration to read stories -- and has since been picked up by the Volokh Conspiracy blog.)

The same-sex marriage issue has been a major topic in Rhode Island recently -- with a Rhode Island gay rights group running a major radio advertising campaign in favor of gay marriage -- and the state legislature holding hearings on the subject. On Wednesday Gordon Fox, the House Majority Leader, spoke to a rally outside the State House and then went inside to a legislative hearing on the topic and repeated his speech, revealing that he was gay and he wanted to speak in support of gay marriage. "These folks, myself included, are asking for love, dignity and respect. I feel I am a normal person," he said and added that after this announcement "I hope I'll be the same person in your eyes." In subsequent news coverage Fox has revealed that he and his partner have lived together for the past six years (he wears a silver ring on his left hand as what he calls a "symbol of our connection") but that they personally have no plans to marry. The e-mail and phone calls he has received since his announcement have been overwhelmingly positive. He has pointed out that he is half Irish and half Cape Verdean and that not too long ago mixed race marriages were frowned upon many places and were even illegal in some states.

Rhode Island Note #1 -- Rhode Island has a fascinating mixture of ethnic backgrounds, including English, French Canadian, Native American, Irish, African American, Italian, Portuguese -- and Cape Verdean. When the President of the Republic of Cape Verde visits the U.S., he seems sure to stop in Rhode Island because of the number of people of Cape Verdean ancestry here. (Note the description of Cape Verde says its total land area is "slightly larger than Rhode Island." Everything from ranches in Texas to icebergs off Antarctica must be described in comparison to Rhode Island!) Rhode Island Note #2 -- There are a number of political figures in Rhode Island who are openly gay. Most notable is Mayor David Cicilline of Providence (the state's capital and its largest city) who is openly gay and who (speaking of mixed ethnic backgrounds in R.I.) is half Italian and half Jewish. During his campaign a elderly conservative voter challenged him to discuss his "gay agenda." Cicilline's response: "That's easy. My gay agenda is for government reform, improving neighborhoods, and strengthening schools." Cicilline won with 84% of the vote, a definite landslide victory by any standard.

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island (the leading provider of health insurance in the state) has been very much in the news lately, what with embarrassing revelations about various state legislators and lobbying activities and rising complaints from the public about rapidly rising premiums (I switched from their coverage this year to another company because the increase in my share of the premiums would have been more than twenty-five hundred dollars) and complaints from doctors about drastic cuts in reimbursement rates and the governor of the state blasting them about "overly generous and excessive" compensation packages for their executives. Blue Cross pointed out that their executives were entitled to high pay because of the good job they have done, noting a big drop in the percentage of the premium dollar that goes toward the cost of administering claims. Others pointed out that this is not because of greater efficiency; it's just because they have raised their premium charges so much and so rapidly. A Blue Cross spokesperson testified this week that the problems were the fault of the people who were enrolled in Blue Cross plans: it was their fault because they did not take proper care of themselves and they overused medical services.

And then we have the political fight between the governor and the Narragansett Tribal Nation (mostly over their desire to open a casino), battles over "affordable housing" laws, the state budget, government corruption, unions, new fire code laws, and it just goes on and on. One thing you can say for sure about Rhode Island: it is not a dull place to live.

Meanwhile, the weather is still damp and chilly, with off and on rain showers. The heavy rain we had a couple of days ago ended, but the forecast for Sunday night and Monday includes a mixture of rain and snow. I did an hour on my exercise bike yesterday (the equivalent of a bit over sixteen and a half miles) and had hoped to go for a run this afternoon. I'm not fond of running in the rain. On the other hand, I'm not fond of running more than a mile or two on the treadmill. Ah, well... one way or another, I'll get my workout...

And that's the news from Lake Wobegon, uh, I mean from Rhode Island...

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