What do you know about dark matter and anti-matter, global warming, Mormons, collies, raising teenagers, fixing plumbing, skin cancer and knee replacements? Where’s the best place to buy a used car, the best way to cook squirrel? Should marijuana be legalized, or why bother? Where was Barack Obama born? I mean really, where was he born? Is your computer giving you trouble? Cell phone gets no signal? How do you get rid of voles and moles?
A few years ago about a half-dozen of the more intelligent and good-looking citizens of Hampshire County formed a very informal discussion group which met from time to time late afternoons at the library. We sat around the conference table for about an hour or so and talked about, argued and debated, topics of interest. Some of us, if we were so inclined, would then adjourn to Mario’s to replenish our depleted brains with spaghetti and-a meat-a-balls-a.
Here’s the way it worked. A moderator was chosen for the session. On a slip of paper, each participant would put down a subject, a thought, a theory, a problem or idea that they would like to discuss. Anything goes. The slips were then drawn from a hat, the topic written thereupon read aloud by the moderator, and anyone who had anything to say on the matter got to say it. The moderator kept peace. When no one had anything more to say, the next slip of paper was drawn and more discussion followed. It was a lot of fun and often informative. Blond jokes were occasionally permitted.
If some of you from my vast, blog-reading audience would be interested in starting up a new group, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a possibility for one of the first discussion topics, Steven Brill’ article in Time magazine about ridiculous hospital costs, and the subject of my blog of March 13, has now gotten the attention of the Secretary of Health and Human Services who has authorized the release of information which shows what the hospitals are actually paying for those goods and services for which you are being billed such an outrageous amount. The American Hospital Association lobby is not happy.
I would like to draw attention to an article–35 pages, about two-thirds of the magazine– in the March 4th issue of Time entitled “Bitter Pill – Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us.” One incident tells of a woman who fell in her back yard and whose only injury was a hairline nasal bone fracture, finally diagnosed after three CT scans which cost $6,538. The total hospital bill for her six hour stay: $9,400.
When you have to go to the hospital, you most likely do not have an opportunity to ask what “things” are going to cost, you just let the medical staff take over and hope your insurance, if you have any, is going to cover everything. And the cost of some of the “things” on your bill over which you have no say? The article describes them as “outrageous” and “egregious.” How about: $77 for a box of sterile gauze pads?, $7.00 for one 2×2 inch alcohol pad used to cleanse the skin to draw blood, one 500mg niacin tablet $24.00, one 325mg acetaminophen (Tylenol) tablet $1.50.
One patient, age 52, was in the hospital for 32 days with a hard- to- treat type of pneumonia. His billing, 161 pages, totaled $474,064. After payment from his insurance was deducted, he still owed $402, 955. He was charged $84.00 for each liter bottle of saline (salt) solution. And the salary of the president of the non-profit medical center where he was treated? $1,244,000.
Here’s the way it works. Non-profit (hah) hospital groups are making huge profits. Not surprising considering the cost of the care. In order to maintain their non-profit, tax-free status, revenue must be offset by expenses. So expenses are created: new wings are added to existing facilities, expensive equipment like MRI machines are purchased–and used at every opportunity at great cost to the patient–and salaries of executives can be in the range of $ 4-5 million per year.
Medical care in the U.S. amounts to 20% ($2.8 trillion) of GDP, twice that of any other country; we spend more than twice as much as the next 10 biggest-spending countries combined. We have Medicare to thank for holding down at least some of this expense because hospitals are limited by law as to what can be charged to Medicare-eligible patients.
It’s enough to make you sick. But, hopefully not sick enough to go to the hospital. The author of the report, Steven Brill, offers several ideas for reversing what he calls a “medical gold rush.” One major step would be implementing medical-malpractice reform which could lower costs by billions of dollars each year by reducing often-unnecessary tests and the high cost of malpractice insurance. Write to your congressman. Tell him you want some laws changed. He’ll get right on it.
Reflecting on violence in the ’50s when I was growing up, it’s hard to come up with anything like what’s happening these days. Of course, we had had WW II during which millions were killed, but wars are inevitable, and there had been the St. Valentine’s Day massacre back in the ’20s, but that was pretty much all that stands out in my memory. I mean American society wasn’t set up for killing groups.
In grade school, in the good old days, if you had a grievance with a fellow student for, say, insulting your mother, you would walk up to the kid, put your left leg behind his ankles, shove him in the chest and down he would go. You then straddled his stomach and pinned his wrists to the ground, holding him until he said “uncle” or “I give.” It was over.
The only violence I can recall in high school was one night outside the gym after a basketball game when Robert Strohmeyer beat the stuffing out of some kid from East Moline. Unkind words had probably been exchanged. I don’t remember who won. The game, that is.
In the army, in Korea, long after the shooting had stopped in 1953, if there was an alert, I was designated to go to the arms room, check out an M-1 rifle and sent to guard the x-ray clinic which was my duty station. No ammunition was issued which always puzzled me.
I bought a deer rifle when I got out of the army, shot one deer, and finally sold it after it grew dusty from disuse. I didn’t care about my right to bear arms; I had to make a living and raise our kids. I didn’t feel the need, even if I had the right, to own a machine gun, a flame thrower or a bazooka.
So what’s changed since the “50s? Is it the all-pervasive media which ferrets out and keeps us informed about every murder/suicide, implying that it’s a trend? Is it the availability of military-type weapons to every wacko on the loose? After all, if you wanted to kill a bunch of defenseless children, a sharp, pointed stick could do the job. Is it lax parenting? Is our mental health system pretty much a joke? Are there too many people on the planet and that massacres by crazies is mother nature’s way of thinning the herd? Is it our functionless Congress? Drugs? Apathy?: it’s not my kids being slaughtered. What?
In the U.S. in 2009, 31 thousand people died from gunfire; in England, which allows no assault weapons, there were just 722. In the U.S., gun ownership is 88/100 people. In England, it’s 6/100 people.
I would have been perfectly content just sitting in my recliner watching Judge Judy. But no, the Mrs. always has some kind of a burr under her saddle so that we have to travel all over the country visiting relatives and enduring unimaginable hardships and mishaps.
Down from bouncing around at 37,00 feet and 500 miles an hour, we pull up near our assigned gate at Denver International Airport where we sit for 15 minutes because we’re early. Finally, our space is open and the pilot pulls in and shuts off the engines. Everyone stands up, grabs their stuff from the overhead bins and we all squeeze out the door. “Thank you for flying Southwest.”
Now we walk from C-53, following the signs along the concourse directing us toward baggage claim. First comes a very long down-escalator jammed with travelers, then another, then a moving sidewalk. Now we take the Metro-like train that zooms us along subterranean track for three minutes and 25 seconds. We are jostled out of the car toward the very long up-escalator. The baggage carousel is just ahead. All this in just over 20 minutes since exiting the plane. That’s when the Mrs. says, “I don’t have my jacket! I think I left it on the plane.” I think of my stomach and the dinner awaiting us, prepared by a dear old Denver friend who is expecting us in about another half hour.
After administering an oath and pledge of responsibility to the Mrs. , I head for Southwest’s lost luggage office, conveniently located nearby. The Mrs. will remain at the carousel to retrieve our unlost suitcases in case they show up.
There are three Southwest ladies working in the lost office, all on the phone. Finally I am able to explain my problem to Doris. She gets on the phone and calls the plane. “Where were you sitting?” “What color is the jacket?” She holds on the phone for 10 minutes. At last, with a smile, “They’ve got it.” Now the Mrs. shows up with a smart cart and the rest of our stuff.
Southwest doesn’t have enough personnel to bring the jacket to where we are. Someone will have to go back with a pass to the gate from whence we came. The Mrs. decides that she would rather go back than to protect our suitcases stacked on the cart from thieves and vagabonds. Back she goes. Oh, not directly back. Oh, no. First through security to remove her shoes and get x-rayed and then to the down-escalators and the up-escalators and the moving sidewalk and the three minute and 25 second train, and then the walk back to C-53.
While she is gone, I commiserate with a woman who had been seated directly across the aisle from us on our flight. She is very upset. It seems that when deplaning at gate C-53, she left a carry-on bag under the seat in front of her containing her purse with her driver’s license, her credit cards and her Apple lap-top. And Southwest has not been able to locate it . So she has no money, no credit card, and is not from Denver, so she might have to spend the night in the airport . But then, good luck; they have it. However, she can’t pick it up because she can’t go through security: no I.D. Therefore, Southwest has to bring it to her. I’m thinking, why don’t they just bring the Mrs.’ jacket, too. But it’s too late, she’s probably on a moving sidewalk somewhere.
OK. We have the jacket; we have the suitcases; our friend is holding dinner and we’re ready to head out. Out into the night, into the 49 degrees and stiff breeze to wait for the car rental shuttle bus. When it arrives, does the driver help with the luggage? Nah.
At last we are at our friend’s house, about to start dinner. As the hostess passes a large platter holding the main course, she veers off course, striking a large glass filled with red wine the contents of which then redecorate the wall, the carpet, the 100-year old lace table cloth and the table in a nice burgundy. Dinner is delayed another half hour while we clean up the mess. It is now 10:00 p.m. I haven’t eaten anything except, compliments of Southwest, six quarter-sized Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies in 12 hours.
I won’t even talk about trying to find the hotel after dinner.
We get a lot of e-mails every week from friends accumulated over a lifetime. Most of them are silly and stupid. (The e-mails, not the friends.) I personally am getting very weary of reading about Governor Romney’s income tax rate and whether or not President Obama’s birth certificate proves that he was born on this planet. I’ve gotten the following, written by a now- retired columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, a couple of times. It seems to be comprised of common sense.
545 PEOPLE–By Charlie Reese
Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them..
Have you ever wondered, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, WHY do we have deficits?
Have you ever wondered, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, WHY do we have inflation and high taxes?
You and I don’t propose a federal budget. The President does.
You and I don’t have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does.
You and I don’t write the tax code, Congress does.
You and I don’t set fiscal policy, Congress does.
You and I don’t control monetary policy, the Federal Reserve Bank does.
100 senators, 435 in the House, 1 President, and 9 Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the 300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.
I excluded the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered, but PRIVATE, central bank.
I excluded all the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman, or a President to do one cotton-picking thing. I don’t care if they offer a politician $1 million dollars in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it. No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislator’s responsibility to determine how he votes.
Those 543 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party.
What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of a Speaker, who stood up and criticized the President for creating deficits….. The President can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it.
The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating and approving appropriations and taxes. Who is the speaker of the House? John Boehner. He is the leader of the majority party. He and fellow House members, not the President, can approve any budget they want. If the President vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto if they agree to.
It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 300 million cannot replace 545 people who stand convicted — by present facts — of incompetence and irresponsibility. I can’t think of a single domestic problem that is not traceable directly to those 545 people. When you fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise the power of the federal government, then it must follow that what exists is what they want to exist.
If the tax code is unfair, it’s because they want it unfair.
If the budget is in the red, it’s because they want it in the red ..
If the Army & Marines are in Iraq and Afghanistan it’s because they want them in Iraq and Afghanistan …
If they do not receive social security but are on an elite retirement plan not available to the people, it’s because they want it that way.
There are no insoluble government problems.
Do not let these 545 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take this power. Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exists disembodied mystical forces like “the economy,” “inflation,” or “politics” that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do.
Those 545 people, and they alone, are responsible.
They, and they alone, have the power..
They, and they alone, should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses.
Provided the voters have the gumption to manage their own employees…
We should vote all of them out of office and clean up their mess!
Graduation is over and now the kids can start to use all the knowledge their teachers have so painstakingly forced into their eager, meager brains. Why, I can remember all kinds of stuff from back– way back– when I was in school. And I can’t emphasize enough how clearly I remember it and how valuable it has been as I progressed through life.
In my day, if you even thought about going to go to college, Latin was more or less mandatory. And what do I remember from high school Latin? – hic, haec, hoc, huius, huius, huius, – Latin for “this” in the nominative, genitive, ablative and abortive cases, as I recall. Also, “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres.” Gaul (France) as a whole was divided into three parts. (Julius Ceasar wrote that just before Brutus stabbed him, dividing him into three parts.) It is important to remember that when John Wilkes Booth jumped to the stage floor after shooting Lincoln, he did not yell, “HIc, Haec, Hoc!” Unlike mine, his Latin education actually had some substance. No, he shouted, “Sic semper tyrannus.” (Thus always to dinosaurs.)
Math was never my strong subject. But I can recall the quadratic equation:
x = minus b plus (the square root) of b squared minus 4ac divided by 2a
This I remember for we spent hours on it in class. I have not used this equation since high school, but probably will in later life; it must have some use, otherwise my teachers would not have taught it.
We used various mnemonic devices for remembering parts of the body in the study of anatomy. For instance, in order to remember the twelve cranial nerves, I memorized “On old Olympus towering top, a Finn and German viewed a hop.” The first letter of each of the words corresponds to the first letter of one of the nerves. The only cranial nerves I can recall of the twelve are optic, auditory, and vegas; but, the whole memory aid lives on forever. And, remembering the bones of the wrist was helped by “Never let Tom play, Grandma might come home.” Again, the silly sentence is immortal, but the only bone I can recall is the lunate.
In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Why did we need to know about Columbus? Because he discovered America we were told. Turns out he didn’t, because a whole bunch of other people got here first, but, in case anyone ever asks, I know when he showed up.
English was my best subject. But, who could have known that my teachers predicted, even back then, that many of today’s teenagers, the current generation, would begin narratives with, “Me and him was just hanging out.” English was sometimes confusing. The rule was: i before e, except after c. Weird, huh? (Get it?)
At one point I must have taken a psychology class. In that class I learned that a Russian scientists named Pavlov had a dog, named Snoopy I believe. When Pavlov rang a bell, the dog would salivate. In other words, spit would run out of its mouth. My teacher said so.
I hope your kids appreciate and remember what they have been taught.
”What are you doing this summer?”
“I’m taking an on-line college class, History of the World Since 1300.”
“Oh yeah, what college?”
“Princeton. The professor was educated at Oxford.”
“Really. How much does that cost?”
“Nothin’, it’s free!”
This could be a true scenario. Coursera is start-up organization offering 42 on-line classes from Princeton, Stanford, UC Berkley, Penn. State, and the University of Michigan all free for nothin’. And these are among the top universities in the country, if not the world.
The courses include Humanities and Social Science (e.g., Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Penn. St.); Math and Statistics (e.g., Introduction to Logic from Stanford); Healthcare, Medicine and Biology; Computer Science, Economics, Finance and Business; Society, Networks and Information. The courses do not confer college credit, but studying neurology beats watching reruns of the Beverly Hillbillies. (I just read that the cost of attending Sarah Lawrence College in New York state is $60,000. Per year. So this is by far a cheaper way to impress your friends while improving your mind.)
Google over to Coursera and check it out. Perhaps we’ll meet and have an intelligent discussion some day.
I didn’t write this, but loved it.
It is important for men to remember that, as women grow older, it becomes harder for them to maintain the same quality of housekeeping as when they were younger. When you notice this, try not to yell at them. Some are oversensitive, and there’s nothing worse than an oversensitive woman.
My name is John. Let me relate how I handled the situation with my wife. When I retired a few years ago, it became necessary for Debbie to get a full-time job, along with her part-time job, both for extra income and for the health benefits that we needed. Shortly after she started working, I noticed she was beginning to show her age. I usually get home from the golf club about the same time she gets home from work.
Although she knows how hungry I am, she almost always says she has to rest for half an hour or so before she starts dinner. I don’t yell at her. Instead, I tell her to take her time and just wake me when she gets dinner on the table. I generally have lunch in the Men’s Grill at the club, so eating out is not reasonable. I’m ready for some home-cooked grub when I hit that door. She used to do the dishes as soon as we finished eating. But now it’s not unusual for them to sit on the table for several hours after dinner.
I do what I can by diplomatically reminding her several times each evening that they won’t clean themselves. I know she really appreciates this, as it does seem to motivate her to get them done before she goes to bed.
Another symptom of aging is complaining, I think. For example, she will say that it is difficult for her to find time to pay the monthly bills during her lunch hour. But, Boys, we take ‘em for better or worse, so I just smile and offer encouragement. I tell her to stretch it out over two, or even three days. That way, she won’t have to rush so much. I also remind her that missing lunch completely now and then wouldn’t hurt her any (if you know what I mean). I like to think tact is one of my strong points.
When doing simple jobs, she seems to think she needs more rest periods. She had to take a break when she was only half-finished mowing the yard. I try not to make a scene. I’m a fair man. I tell her to fix herself a nice, big, cold glass of freshly squeezed lemonade and just sit for a while. And, as long as she is making one for herself, she may as well make one for me, too.
I know that I probably look like a saint in the way I support my wife. I’m not saying that showing this much consideration is easy. Many men will find it difficult. Some will find it impossible! Nobody knows better than I do how frustrating women get as they get older. However, Guys, even if you just use a little more tact and less criticism of your aging wife because of this article, I will consider that writing it was well worthwhile. After all, we are put on this earth to help each other.
John died suddenly on January 31 of strangulation. The police report he was found with a Calloway 50-inch Big Bertha Driver ll golf club jammed down his throat. His wife was arrested and charged with murder. The all-woman jury took only 10 minutes to find her not guilty, accepting her defense that John had been attempting to balance the club on his nose when it slipped and slid down his throat.
The following is excerpted from Lamentations of the Father by Ian Frazier. Anyone who has ever raised kids will immediately identify with the frustrations which led him to write the piece, which I found hilarious and had to share with you. There are three books by Frazier in our local library.
Laws Pertaining to Dessert
For we judge between the plate that is unclean and the plate that is clean, saying first, if the plate is clean, then you shall have dessert. But of the unclean plate, the laws are these: If you have eaten most of your meat, and two bites of your peas, with each bite consisting of not fewer than three peas each, or in total six peas, eaten where I can see, and you have eaten enough of your potatoes to fill two forks, both forkfuls eaten where I can see, then you shall have dessert. But if you eat a lesser number of peas, and yet you eat the potatoes, still you shall not have dessert; and if you eat the peas yet leave the potatoes uneaten, you shall not have dessert, no, not even a small portion thereof. And if you try to deceive by moving the potatoes and peas around with a fork, that it may appear you have eaten what you have not, you will fall into iniquity. And I will know, and you shall have no dessert.
Do not scream; for it is as if you scream all the time. If you are given a plate on which two foods you do not wish to touch each other are touching each other, your voice rises up even to the ceiling, while you point to the offense with the finger of your right hand; but I say to you, scream not, only remonstrate gently with the server, that the server may correct the fault. Likewise if you receive a portion of fish from which every piece of herbal seasoning has not been scraped off, and the herbal seasoning is loathsome to you, and steeped in vileness, again I say, refrain from screaming. Though the vileness overwhelm you, and cause you a faint unto death, make no sound from within your throat, neither cover your face, nor press your fingers to your nose. For even now I have made the fish as it should be; behold, I eat of it myself, yet do not die.
Laws When at Table
And if you are seated in your high chair, or in a chair such as a greater person might use, keep your legs and feet below you as they were. Neither raise up your knees, nor place your feet on the table, for that is and abomination to me. Yes, even when you have an interesting bandage to show, your feet upon the table are an abomination, and worthy of rebuke. Drink your milk as it is given you, neither use it on any utensil, nor fork, nor knife, nor spoon, for that is not what they are for; if you will dip your blocks in the milk and lick it off, you will be sent away. When you have drunk, let the empty cup remain upon the table, and do not bite it upon its edge and by your teeth hold it to your face in order to make noises in it sounding like a duck; for you will be sent away.
Complaints and Lamentations
O my children, you are disobedient. For when I tell you what you must do, you argue and dispute hotly even to the littlest detail; and when I do not accede, you cry out, and hit and kick. Yes, and even sometimes do you spit, and shout “stupid-head” and other blasphemies, and hit and kick the wall and the molding thereof when you are sent to the corner. And though the law teaches that no one shall be sent to the corner for more minutes than he has year of age, yet I would leave you there all day, so mighty am I in anger.
Leave the cat alone, for what has the cat done, that you should so afflict it with tape? And hum not that humming in your nose as I read, nor stand between the light and the book. Indeed, it will drive me to madness. Nor forget what I said about the tape.
Just about the time that Andy Rooney was signing off for the last time, I was watching 60 Minutes present an interview by Steve Kroft with a guy named Grover Norquist, a lobbyist. I had missed the beginning of the program, so I was not sure at first what they were talking about. Finding out didn’t make me happy.
Lobbyists are handsomely paid by special interest groups to hang out with congressmen and influence them––by making large contributions to their reelection fund or flying them to Hawaii for “important meetings”––to vote favorably for whatever legislation the special interest group is promoting. (The congressmen, of course, remain purely objective. They are only interested in what is best for the folks back home and refuse to be influenced by these smooth talkers.) (Yeah, right.)
Anyhow, it seems that Grover Norquist is a lobbyist for the non-profit Americans for Tax Reform. He has gotten 238 (out of 435) members of the House of Representatives and 41 (out of 100) Senators to sign pledges not to raise taxes. Ever. Under any circumstances. Even if the country has a $14 trillion problem, and 1% of the citizens have most of the wealth and escape with minimal taxes.And why do our duly-elected-to-do-what’s-best-for-the-folks-at-home representatives sign these pledges? For two reasons. One, Americans for Tax Reform will contribute large chunks (millions) of money to their reelection campaigns, helping to reassure reelection. And more trips to Hawaii. Two, if the representative should break his pledge and vote for increased taxes, when it’s time for reelection, Americans for Tax Reform will contribute large chunks of money (millions) to his opponent.
And where, you ask, if you have been paying attention, does Americans for Tax Reform get all these millions of dollars to persuade 54% of our duly elected from the House of Representatives and 41% of our duly elected from the Senate to sign a pledge not to raise taxes? Well, duh, from contributions from the 1%, the wealthiest individuals, and the giant corporations of course. And who, specifically, are these contributors, that we might single them out and admonish them for buying our representatives? We can only guess. Americans for Tax Reform does not have to reveal the source of the contributions. It’ s non-profit. Especially for you and me.