A Really Nice Healthcare Story

“Black or Blue?” she asks.

The young man hesitates, before answering.  

An illustrator/author is a person who writes and then draws and paints pictures that clarify his writing (for people like me). Subjects can cover everything from comics to mythical creatures to science concepts. 

In the case of this young New York artist, it’s all three. His blog, Veritable Hokum started a few years ago with comics telling funny stories from history (my favorite is The Emu War (http://www.veritablehokum.com/comic/the-emu-war/). His book about myths, Gods and Heroes, came out last spring. The Invention Hunters, a series of four books explaining science concepts to elementary school kids, starts hitting store shelves this July.  

When he’s not illustrating his own books, he illustrates other authors’ books. Busy guy.

Illustrators (and artists) earn their living with one hand, like professional pitchers or quarterbacks. If a professional athlete injures that key hand, it can be career ending. Ditto illustrators and artists. With one important exception: professional athletes have multi-million dollar incomes to cushion disaster; freelance artists don’t.

This young man is typical, a struggling artist on the cusp of success. It isn’t easy. His latest deadline requires months of long days spent researching, writing, and illustrating concepts like magnetism, electricity, and leverage, in a form that appeals to school kids. (His solution: four goofball academics – The Invention Hunters – parachute into places with mysterious things they’ve never seen, like toilets and jackhammers. They guess – badly – at what these things do and how they work, until an elementary school student sets them straight.) 

After months of drawing, his hand becomes so painful, he can’t use it. He buys an arm brace. Nothing. Even a simple circle is impossible. 

Specialist’s appointments, if you can find one, are usually months off. He perseveres and finds one. He describes his pain and work deadline.

“Any opening in the next week or so?”  

“No. Goodbye.” 

 New Yorkers can be very efficient.

When a publisher calls with a contract to start illustrating another author’s new book that week, he has to turn it down. 

With no other choice, he takes his first break in over a year to visit his father in Florida for a week. Better to ponder his dwindling career in Florida sun than in New York sleet. Although he doesn’t say it, he is scared.

That’s when he gets lucky.

A friend of his father recommends a Dr. Douglas Carlan in St. Petersburg.  He gets an appointment for a few days later – with one call.  When they learn he doesn’t have insurance, instead of rejecting him, they allow a modest cash payment. They x-ray his hand. 

(Wait! What? No “your call is important to us”? No “we’re booked, try the ER”?  No “the doctor’s out; you can see the PA”? … What?)

Dr. Carlan actually listens as the young man describes his work, the pain in his hand, and his time constraint, then checks the x-ray and methodically and carefully examines the hand. He finds the exact pain center and diagnoses a severely inflamed ligament. He smiles and tells the young man there is no permanent damage. 

He writes a prescription for a brace and therapy: “There’s an office down stairs. Go right now and ask for Elizabeth. She’s really good.”

The young man goes to the ground floor. Elizabeth, who is leaving for the day, stops to listen to his story.

“I can’t take a lot of time, because I have to pick up my daughter, but…” 

She grabs some thick plastic sheets, one blue, one black.

“Black or blue”, she asks.

“Uh…black, please.” (He is from New York, after all.)  

As he answers, she is already measuring his hand.  She cuts three Velcro strips, then cuts the black plastic to fit his forearm, warms it on a machine to make it pliable, and gently wraps it around his forearm, securing it with the Velcro.

The pain, once part of his life and future fear, immediately begins ebbing away. While he is moving his fingers and marveling at his newfound freedom, Elizabeth writes down some exercises to strengthen his wrist. 

Then, “Sorry. I have to pick up my daughter. Call me if you have a problem!”

She waves and is gone. 

On the way home, the young man calls the publisher he had turned down. He asks if the contract is still open. The answer isn’t quite “For you? Yes!” But it is pretty close. 

Now that’s a happy ending.

Is this story just wishful thinking in light of today’s healthcare mess? Nope, it really happened. I know. I was there. 

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Avoiding Bad News

Attacks on the media have increased over the last few years.  They’ve been wrong and they’ve been right.

Some people think the “liberal” media has secret meetings where they dream up and coordinate anti-conservative news campaigns. To do that, as with any conspiracy, would involve thousands of reporters, editors, producers, and directors all working together. That would be like organizing thousands of wild cats – an impossibility of nature. 

So, wrong.

They’re right about one aspect though; newspapers, cable and broadcast news people tend to be liberal. And there’s a good reason. They see a lot more of the seamier side of life than do their viewers or readers. They report on murders, rapes, robberies, corrupt politicians, cops, and pedophile priests, and worse.  

More important, they report on the victims. That can crack belief in the status quo pretty fast. 

Seeing a 30 second news story about poverty in what some call a “ghetto” that you only drive through when you get lost, and reporting on life there are two entirely different things. Spending hours learning the details about everything from drugs, to toilets that don’t work, to rats, to cockroaches, to dirty water is eye opening. Doing the interviews with people who are hungry, sick or just broken, is not just eye opening; it is wearing, physically and emotionally. Being able to leave for the office or home after just a few hours or days immersed in that life, doesn’t leave it behind. Even though you can never fully understand, being just a visitor, those details stay with you from then on.

So, yes, people who report the news tend to be liberal. 

Actually, objectivity in news is a relatively recent phenomenon. Slanted – bad – news was common in the early days of the country. Thomas Paine’s pamphlets helped gin up anger at the British prior to the Revolution. Newspapers in the North and South fomented the Civil War. William Randolf Hearst’s papers either blew up the “Maine” or blew up the story and triggered the Spanish American War – take your pick. The media contributed to our entry into WWI and WWII.

The reason? Sell newspapers and ads.

It was the arrival of radio that helped bring objectivity and fairness to the media.  The Communications Act of 1934 required stations to give equal airtime to opposing political candidates. 1949’s Fairness Doctrine required honest, equitable, and balanced coverage of issues of public importance. That helped most papers, post WWII, to focus on objective – fair and balanced – reporting.

Good news.

It continued in broadcasting through to the 1980’s, when Reagan dropped the Equal Time Rule, reasoning that cable news would guarantee a variety of points of view. That spawned Fox News, which has never been fair or balanced, which was eventually followed and poorly imitated by MSNBC and the rest.

Bad news.

So here we are, back to the early days. Only now it’s not just slanted news, it’s primarily stories designed to scare us into following news more closely.

From headlines about “Breaking News”, which is frequently about something as mundane as traffic jams, to breathless follow-up reporting on traffic jams, news organizations now work on – not objectivity – but ginning up your adrenaline. One of the worst (or most effective) at this approach, in my mind, is ABC World News Tonight. They rarely even use complete sentences, just rapid-fire, breathless phrases. That’s scary. 

They – and the rest – also freely embellish objective facts with un-objective adjectives designed to generate emotion – usually fear. “We have sad news to report”, “It was a stunning setback”,  “This is a disturbing story.”

A friend of mine deliberately cut himself off from the most of internet, TV and radio for a few months. After going back to it recently, he said it was a jolt. It all felt quite scary. That’s good news for the media. The “fight or flight” approach is working. 

Not so good for us, though.

To avoid being ginned up by hyper-news, check out news entities that don’t live or die on clicks and eyeballs, that don’t try to adrenalize their audiences: PBS, NPR, BBC, CBC, The NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Inquirer, as well as AP News, Reuters, The Economist, to name a few.

They’ll help you save all that adrenaline for important things like sports, freeway driving, or finding a parking space. 

Or – Holy cow! It’s April 10th!! – doing your taxes!  (See?!)

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I’m Thinking About 2020

I’m not sure, and this is tentative, being based on the way things are today (as opposed to tomorrow), so I may change my mind down the road, because that’s the nature of these decisions, but I think I’m going to decide soon about my candidacy for President in 2020.

That is, I’m pretty sure. 

As for my qualifications, well, first of all, I’m over 35, even though my youthful good looks make that hard to believe. Fact is, I like to think of myself as over-35 in wisdom, but under-35 in terms of symbiosis with millennials and generation Z-ers. I have kids in both those age groups and I H-E-A-R you, guys! 

That’s the mark of a good politician, right? Time for the oldsters to move over, right? Let’s give some room to the people we’ve been paying so much to educate all these years, right? Am I right on this? Am I? Right?  

Right on!

So, while I like you, Joe Biden and your adorable “Favorite Uncle” thing, it’s clear you’re no longer qualified, because you are O.O.D. (Out Of Date). You may have bearing and the dignity of an earlier time. You may have revered old ethics like: telling the truth, respecting others and debating issues not nicknames.  

But you have a fatal flaw, old boy: you can’t go hugging and kissing strangers the way you used to. It may have felt nurturing and caring to you in the good old days of 3-4 years ago. But, hey, that was pre-Harvey Weinstein. It’s a new era and all men are suspect. Strangers just do not put an arm around each other any more, unless they’re taking a selfie.

Speaking of O.O.D, Hey Bernie! What’s with half-bald and half-white hair? It shows your age. Die it, blow-dry it, sweep fake hair over the bald part. And poof it!  You can’t be President with non-poofy hair.

If you don’t know enough to go to a men’s salon and get a professional dye job like half the guys in Congress, then you don’t know government. I, for example, have just a touch of white in my hair – enough to show real wisdom – but not so much it buries my infectious and youthful vigor.  

And, as a candidate, I have real hands-on experience. I was the President of my town Council for ten years. Sure it’s not a big town and the entire government can fit into the Manager’s Office, but in terms of debating and convincing the other Council Members to agree to a new law, the techniques are the same as in DC. We would all go to a local bar and hash out the particulars over a few pitchers of beer, offered free by the bar tender. (Just kidding. Two members once wanted to accept the free beer, but I refused. See how honest I am?)

I’ve always had moral authority. 

And that’s the key here. Moral authority. That’s why I like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (Dem. NY). She’s got moral authority like me. She chased Sen. Al Franken all the way home to Minnesota for making politically incorrect hand gestures toward a sleeping woman, while he was still a comedian. He may have been a great Senator, but spontaneous playfulness, even in an earlier life, does not pass the Gillibrand test. (Look over here! I’m still talking to you, Joe Biden!).

And, I’m way ahead of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was mean to her staff. Of course, I may – once – have been a little brisk to a camera operator when I was a TV director, but that was LIVE TV and the idiot wasn’t panning fast enough! —and… uh, I mean the football players were running too fast down the field… 

I could go through the rest of the Democratic field and illustrate my God given superiority to each of them (Beto is actually an out-of-work actor who once played Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”. Elizabeth Warren throws chalk if you don’t pay attention. Booker really is too smart for his own good. And, who is Yang, anyway?). But that’s for later.

And besides, I’m still not sure. I’m a registered Republican and I’m waiting for a groundswell of public opinion. 

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Get Over It, America!

The fact is he won: the election and the court case. 

Did he win fairly? In his mind, any time he wins it’s fair. In your mind? Depending on your political bent (Trump or Anti-Trump), maybe not. 

There is room for debate and dismay. He won the electoral vote, but not the popular vote. He had Russia’s help on the election, whether he and Putin had an actual agreement or not. He won the court case, but he appointed the man who chose the winner.

So, now what? If you’re a believer in Trump, you celebrate, give a sigh of relief, and cheer him on. If you’re Anti-Trump, you suck your thumb, whine about the stacked system, and keep attacking him in any way you can.

Either choice is just plain stupid.

I don’t know many people who think Trump is honest, honorable, or interested in anything but himself, including a lot of people who voted for him. Then why did they vote for him? Because they thought Hillary was worse. 

I suspect that opinion of Trump includes Attorney General Barr as well as many of the ret of the people Trump brought into his government. Then why did Barr make the decision he made?  I suspect he felt that was the correct decision according to law.

But none of this speculation matters. None of it.

Trump won. Twice now. It’s that simple. Get over it.

In a little less than two years we are going to have another battle. We’re going to have another choice. We can take sides according to what are now religious beliefs (Trumpism or Anti-Trumpism) generated by one man, Donald J. Trump. We can continue with Hate Politics or try something new.

Or we can grow up and line up according to our vision for the country.

Here are some issues that our two new religions have buried.

Education. Our educational system, once one of the best in the world, is now far behind leaders like Scandinavia, the UK, most of Europe. Many of our teachers are paid like street sweepers. Many of our school buildings and curricula are moldy and inadequate. The system is failing.  And taxpayers, rather than fix the system, argue about the cost and courses.

Infrastructure. We bounce from pothole to pothole on many roads. Bridges are being closed due to risk of collapse. Trains are slowed because the rails they ride on are decrepit. Airports are overcrowded. Water systems are being closed due to filthy and poisonous water. The electric grid is wide open to hacking. Sewer systems are overwhelmed. Subways in New York are running through 100 year old tunnels. In California, the electric company caused wildfires that killed people and communities.

Climate Change. We are not only unprepared for climate change, we’re still debating its existence, even as midwest farms are being destroyed by 100 year floods – every few years – even as the seas are rising, even as the icecap is melting, even as violent weather ravages lives and economies.

Foreign Relations. Once the world’s leader, we’re now being dismissed, not by our enemies, but also by our allies. Europe is sticking to the Iran treaty and ignoring us. China is stealing our technology, not to mention our customers. Russia takes over neighboring countries militarily and we simply wag our fingers at them. Refugees are fleeing countries in desperation, a worldwide problem if ever there was one, and we do virtually nothing. Russia clearly attempts to rig our elections and we don’t even replace vulnerable voting machines.

IT. The internet is wide open to attack. We are allowing companies like Comcast and Verizon to operate as monopolies in communities all over the country. Hackers use the Internet to steal billions; they are even extorting hospitals, by threatening to shut them down. We have no way of stopping them. Companies like Facebook, Google and others are stealing and selling the details of our daily lives without us even knowing. Foreign enemies are stealing and using state secrets against us. We do nothing.

Healthcare. The pharmaceutical companies over- advertise and over-charge, leaving people to die in the process. Insurance companies are over-charging and underpaying our health costs, thereby bankrupting people. Doctors give us 10 minute dollops of time because the country isn’t producing enough of them and the ones we have are quitting due to insurance companies.

These are just a few of what are clear and growing national problems. The next President, the next Senate and House, will have to tackle these problems. Hopefully.

What are your solutions to these problems? Which politicians will pursue those solutions? And how are you going to help elect them?  

What’s your vision for this country we love? Are you going to continue to engage in Hate Politics or are you going to do something productive?

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What to name a French Poodle.

“Monsieur Le Chauffer, I have a question for you”, says my newly “re-homed” black standard  French Poodle the other day.

We are driving to a dog park and the radio has just finished a story on the rise of White Supremacy around the world. He’s spread across the entire back seat. He likes to lounge.

“Sure, Bud!” I say. I rarely get a question from him. Even though he’s only a year old, he has the ego of a much older dog and prefers to answer questions, rather than ask them – in French, English or Bark!

Today, it’s English, which is fortunate for me. I don’t speak Bark! and my French is old school – as in dusty high school French.

About two months ago, when I first got him, I noticed a small white spot at the front of each of his ears, as though he was wearing “Earbuds”. So I named him “Ear Bud”. Clever, huh?… (OK, not so clever. He told me it was “tres stupid! I’m French! Not common!”)

The next day my neighbor saw us walking. “What a beautiful French poodle!!” she said. She gave him a big hug and rubbed his ears. “You are so-o-o-cute!” He reveled in the attention. (Me? I’m just a necessity at the end of the leash.)

We get to the dog park. As I look for a spot for the car, he asks again, “What’s a White Supremacist?”

(I feel like saying it is a white person who believes in the superiority of the white race, kind of like a certain French Poodle who believes in his own superiority. But I am nothing if not gracious.)

“It’s a white person who believes in the superiority of the white race”, I say, and then turn directly to him,  “kind of like a certain French Poodle who believes he is superior to humans.” (Hey, I don’t get many chances, you know.)

“I will ignore that puerile little comment,” he says, as I leash him up.  “Really. What makes white people superior? You are white and you are certainly not superior. In fact…”

(What? What!  How does he do that so effortlessly?)

I sigh. “Well, it’s kind of convoluted. But the idea is that white people are smarter, win more wars, and are more successful than, say Africans, or Asians, or Middle Easterners, and others. So some white people ignore the thousands of years of other cultures’ successes and think their current success is strictly due to the color of their skin. They think they’re superior because they’re white”.

We get out of the car. The other dogs see us and start barking.

“Oh, so you’re saying non-whites are stupid, weak, and losers ?”

“Well, no. I didn’t say —“

“—But you just did.”

“No, it’s what the White Suprem—“

—Suddenly the leash almost pops out of my hand as he yanks me toward to the gate. I open it and unleash him. There’s more barking as he bolts to his friends. I see my friend Stephanie who has just gotten back from France. I join her. 

“He hates the name “Bud”, I tell her. 

“Yeah, well, he’s pretty smart, alright.” (Hey!…)

We watch as Bud plays with a Shelty. Shelties are herding dogs. Although he’s far bigger, the Shelty runs circles around Bud, nipping his heels until he moves where the Shelty aims him.

“Why don’t you give him a French name?” 

Bud does the one thing that only Poodles do. Using one of his huge paws like a hand, he plops the Shelty to the ground. Then, he runs off, this time after a Yorkshire Terrier, who darts under a bench. Bud tries to wriggle under the bench, but is too big. All we see is his big rear with its wagging tail. 

“You could call him Mon Ami.” When she says it, it sounds musical and sophisticated.

“Hey! Monna…Animini…ini !” I shout to him. She laughs. “Or you can stick with Bud. We’re not in France.”  

All three dogs now run after a greyhound, who does what all greyhounds do, leaves them in the dust. 

Bud comes over and stares at me, breathing hard. “C’est la vie” (such is life). Sometimes even French Poodles aren’t best at everything.”  Stephanie wraps her arms around him. “He is so-o-o- cute, isn’t he!”  He looks smugly at me, “But we are best often enough, as you can see.”  

And, over his shoulder, as he runs back to the other dogs, “Especially black French poodles. We may not be superior to other dogs all the time, but to certain individuals, we are definitely superior – bien sur!” (for sure!)

That does it. The name is Bud.

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