And now, time for Other News.

It seems, every day, we only get one kind of news – political – and usually it’s about our dysfunctional government. Boring, huh.

So, to provide a little relief, here is some Other News – stories not about You Know Who, or his tweets, or his Supreme Court nominee. And not about his Demotractors, either.

* In East Orange, New Jersey, Wayne Carmichael, a drunken school bus driver, hit several cars, 2 traffic poles, and a hydrant on his route last Thursday. He incurred minor injuries, not to be confused with the 9 year old student who had no injuries, but did have a great excuse for not having his homework.

* Drunken Wayne’s school bus ride is not to be confused with the one in Valparaiso, Indiana, where the totally and completely sober bus driver, Joandrea McAttee, turned the wheel over to three kids, aged 11,13, and 17, while other kids on the bus videotaped the whole thing. No accidents, but Joandrea was arrested while picking up her paycheck later. First things first in Indiana, you know.

* Breaking NEWS! Meghan Markle (the Duchess of Sussex to you plebeians) actually did wear “something blue” at her wedding. A piece of the blue dress she wore on her first date with Harry was sewn into her wedding veil.

* The Grand Canyon bosses have refused to allow Will Smith to do a Bungee jump into the Canyon for his 50th birthday. The Navajo Nation will lend him one of their gorges instead. Who said Navajo’s aren’t fun?

* California businessman Rocky Del La Fuente ran in 9 primaries this year: Hawaii, California, Washington, Wyoming, Minnesota, Vermont, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Florida. He lost all 9, but boy did he rack up frequent flyer miles. And, yep, they were all legal because residency is only required after you’re elected. He says he’s running for President in 2020.

* In mid-July a teenager in Indonesia spent 49 days adrift in the Western Pacific Ocean. He was a lamplighter in a wooden fish trap or “rompong”. It had been anchored 78 miles off the coast of North Sulawesi when it broke loose and drifted 1200 miles into Indonesia waters before a Panamanian vessel saw it. He lived on rainwater and fish. Hey, enough about him; how was your summer?

* The waters off Oregon now have a season of low oxygen every year. It’s no threat to humans – yet. But it does kill off some sea creatures. A rare event in the 20th century, it happens every year now. But remember, there is no such thing as climate change.

* Have you heard of the $1 million dollar math problem? Me either. But there is one. It’s also called the Everest of Mathematics. I’ve heard of Everest. I have a friend who climbed it (she’s good at math, too, but that’s another column.) It involves prime numbers (those that can only be divided by themselves and 1). No one has been able to list them until now, maybe. Sir Michael Atiyah of Scotland’s University of Edinburgh claims to have developed the formula. But Jorgen Veisdal, of Norway’s University of Science and Technology thinks Sir Michael’s math is fuzzy.  Stay tuned. The $1 million  dollar award is offered by The Clay Mathematics Institute of Peterborough, New Hampshire. Not Amazon Prime.

* Beyonce’s former drummer, Kimberly Thompson, requested a restraining order against the singer for practicing “extreme witchcraft”, including “dark magic and “spells of sexual molestation”.  A judge denied the order. Maybe it was the “extreme” part.

* Dunkin’ Doughnuts is dropping the “Doughnuts”. Fortunately, not the actual doughnuts, just the word. Dunkin’ folks say they want to be “beverage led” to “modernize the Dunkin’ experience”. Now I can dunk all kinds of things into my coffee: my sandwich, a Starbucks croissant, potatoes skins, the dog’s nose… I’ve felt so constrained all these years. Life is good!

* According to a Jenny Craig survey, people in a relationship gain 17 pounds during the first year and 36 pounds overall. Men out-gain women. Married men averaged 22 new pounds, women 13. I guess according to Jenny  (who was married), you can be happy or skinny – your choice.

That’s Other News for today. You can go back to the regular news now.

Oh! Wait! Almost forgot. President Trump may be considering a post-Presidential career in standup comedy. He did his first set at the UN Tuesday morning and, I am told, totally cracked up the audience.

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The Kavanaugh Question

In case you’ve been vacationing in the Carolinas for the last week, you might want to know that Republicans are trying to confirm US Appeals Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court Justice. Like everything else in Congress today, his hearings are really just an extension of the war between Republicans and Democrat that has been waged since… well, the 1980’s.

Which is, interestingly, around the time 17 year old Brett Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulted 15 year old Christine Blasey.

And, in case you were in – I don’t know, Venezuela – before going to the Carolinas, you might want to know Senate Democrats are determined to torpedo Kavanaugh’s confirmation because, aside from hating all things Republican, they want revenge for Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s stonewalling of Obama’s Supreme Court pick for 14 months. That’s 5 months longer than it takes to make a baby.

Which brings us back to teenage Brett Kavanaugh, who, according to (now) Professor Christine Blasey Ford, and to put it delicately, attempted to forcibly practice baby-making on her.

She writes that Judge Kavanaugh “physically pushed me into a bedroom”, and, along with his friend, Mark Judge (Yep, his real name- you can’t make this up, folks)  “locked the door and played loud music precluding any successful attempt to yell for help”. Then “Kavanaugh was on top of me …They both laughed as Kavanaugh tried to disrobe me…put his hand over my mouth…”.

Apparently it was so much fun that drunken Judge jumped on top of drunken Kavanaugh, who was already on top of terrified Blasey, whereupon “the pile toppled,… and I was able to take this opportune moment to get up and run across to a hallway bathroom.”

As evidence she provided her therapist’s notes from 2012 and a recent lie detector test, given by an ex-FBI agent, which she passed.

The Republicans now have to defend Kavanaugh. I see possible six lines of defense for them:

1) “He said; she said”. Judge Kavanaugh denies it all. He cites her lack of specificity about the location and date, and claims she imagined it or confused him with another guy. His friend Mark Judge refuses to testify.  The risk: Because Mark won’t testify, its his word vs her lie-detector test and 2012 therapist’s report.

2) “I was drunk.” Kavanaugh admits to memory problems from drunken blackouts as a teenager and “I don’t recall ever doing that and I am not that kind of guy.” The risk: the possibility of a blackout drinker on the Supreme Court.

3) “Statute of Limitations”. The “Statute of Limitations” is past and everyone is “innocent until proven guilty”, so he’s innocent until…. forever. Risk: None of that disproves her accusation or facts.

4) “Different time; different rules”.  It was just a loutish teenage pass, and what is considered criminal now was simply considered bad behavior then. The risk: As a judge, will he uphold yesterday’s standards or today’s?

5) “Boys will be boys”. A variation of #2 and #4, this could be supported by the recent knowledge that a person’s brain isn’t fully developed until age 24 or 25. The risk: that requires a full mea culpa from Kavanaugh.

6) “The Conspiracy Response”. This can range from small  (the Democrats waited until the 11th hour to bring this up) to large (Ford, her shrink, even the ex-FBI lie-detector operator, are actors.) Regardless, the whole thing’s a scam. They refuse an FBI investigation. The risk: a scam? Really?

As for the Democrats, without a thorough FBI investigation or witnesses to question, they have only one option:

Senator: “Judge Kavanaugh, we’d like your opinion on a case involving a 53 year old man and a 51 year old woman. She says the man sexually assaulted her when he was 17 and she was 15 – and his friend witnessed it. Her story has been verified by a lie detector test given by an ex-FBI agent and a therapist from an interview 6 years ago.

Kavanaugh: “As a judicial candidate, I can’t respond to hypothetical cases.”

Senator: “Yes, you’ve told us that many times. This is not a hypothetical case. It’s real.”

Kavanaugh: “Oh…”

Senator: “The 53 year old denies the entire event, categorically. His friend says he doesn’t “recollect” anything, but refuses to testify.”

Kavanaugh: “As a judicial candidate, I cannot comment on an on-going case that I might, at some future date, have to decide.”

Senator: “Good point, Judge. But this case can’t go to court; it’s past the statute of limitations.”

Kavanaugh: “Oh…”

Senator: “So, based on those facts, as an experienced and principled judge, would you have reasonable doubt about making this man a Supreme Court Justice?”

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Avoiding a $108,951 Heart Attack

Imagine you have a massive heart attack. Yes, you, a 44 year old high school swimming coach and Ironman competitor, history teacher, father, and all around good guy.

Now imagine you’re rushed to the hospital in the nick of time. They put in four stents and you’re saved. Then you get a bill for $108,951, nearly twice your yearly salary – this after your insurance company already paid $55,840.

(A reasonable bill – for everything – according to industry experts, would have been between $26,985 and $36,800.)

“They’re giving me another heart attack”, you think.

That happened to a guy in Austin, Texas. Until the press got the story. Then the hospital, St. David’s Healthcare, known for exorbitant billing and run by the immense for-profit HCA Healthcare, immediately reduced the charge to … uh….$782.29. Oops!

Such is the state of US healthcare costs today.

Politicians love to argue about universal healthcare. Republicans say it smacks of socialism (it does), which is really communism (well, no), which is one step away from devil worship (I’ll leave that up to you). Democrats say it’s righteous (being righteous, they would know), is embedded in the Declaration of Independence -“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (hey, two out of three ain’t bad), and should be paid for by rich people (anyone worth more than them).

While Obamacare brought 21 million people into the system, it also brought more bills. Covering all those people is one thing; making the system effective and cost-efficient is another.

Some examples: The US has a higher rate of healthcare deaths than comparable countries. US adults have slower access to doctors and nurses. Our use of the ER is nearly twice that of comparable countries. We spent an average of $8233 per person on healthcare in 2010; 33 other developed nations averaged less than half that – $3268. We have a shorter life expectancy than average. We have fewer doctors than other countries.

A recent article by Ryan Cooper inThe Weekoffers some interesting insights.

A frequent argument cites the “fee for service” model for high costs. But studies show that when insurance companies paid some providers a flat fee per patient per year, costs didn’t go down. Another argument is that, because Americans rarely see all their bills, they overuse the system. That, too, was disproven by studies.

However, studies do support two big differences between our system and those of other countries: administrative costs and drug prices.

Any visit to a doctor’s office illustrates administrative costs. Clerks outnumber the doctors. Why? Complying with a maelstrom of rules and regulations required by the government and the many insurance companies. To lower costs most doctors now join groups.

Insurance companies also pressure doctors to see more patients in less time.

So, what was once a reasonably pleasant 20 – 30 minute visit with your family physician is now a 45 to 60 minute ordeal of presenting your insurance information, sitting in a packed waiting room, filling out medical and HIPA forms, and eventually seeing the doctor for – maybe – 10 to 15 minutes.

Ryan’s Solution: cut administration by reducing government regulations and get insurance companies to standardize procedures and rules.

Americans frequently pay roughly twice what other developed countries pay for drugs. One reason, in 2003 Congress prohibited Medicare, the biggest provider in the country, from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies.

Ryan’s Solution: Let Medicare, the biggest buyer in the country, negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, which would lower prices for everyone.

Ryan is just one of many people studying healthcare. Recently, some big names in private enterprise, frustrated at government inaction and incompetence, also produced some solutions:

1) To cut insurance costs, Amazon, Berkshire-Hathaway, and JP Morgan recently announced a joint project to establish their own health system. That’s over a million people. Stock prices of insurance and pharmaceutical companies tumbled.

2) To educate more doctors, New York University announced free – yes, free – tuition for medical students.

3) To cut drug costs, 500 hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic, just formed a not-for-profit drug company, Civica Rx, to negotiate with makers of generic drugs.

While not changing the whole system, a lot of people are certainly sending a message to government, healthcare providers, and insurance companies alike.

Will their solutions heal a clearly ailing US health system? Let’s hope so. They’re certainly a step in the right direction.

And, at least, a start on eliminating that second heart attack.

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The guys who give away bicycles

Steve Oliver is behind the counter of Zummo’s Hardware in Norristown, PA. He’s replacing the bearings on a rusted bicycle wheel. Tools are scattered across a wooden counter nicked and worn from years of service.

Zummo’s Hardware recalls an era when people shopped at downtown stores on a Saturday, kids rode bikes barefoot, horse buggies outnumbered cars, and the Sears Mail-Order Catalogue was the Amazon of the day (actually better – Sear shipped entire prefab houses to people). Zummo’s is a family business, now owned and operated by Joe and J.J. Zummo, and celebrating its 100 anniversary.

I had met Steve in a previous career when he was selling early MacIntosh equipment and I was a computer novice. My first Mac ran out of storage and he introduced me to something he called an “external hard drive”.

“Hey Henry!” he said recently. “Remember that hard drive? A mighty 10 megabytes – top of the line!”

Steve eventually “got a divorce” from the computer business and started an entirely new business: finding and rehabbing shared homes for elders. “It’s being part of the village. We can’t just pay taxes. Wegottaactually do stuff for each other.”

He met Joe Zummo while buying supplies for his housing business, preferring local stores to big box stores. “We have to support the little guys.”

One Saturday, while Steve was at Zummo’s getting supplies, a 13 year old boy brought a bike in for repair. The employees were busy, so Steve fixed it. But the fix didn’t last, so Steve gave the boy a bike his son had grown out of. That got him and Joe talking about bikes and kids, and kids with nothing to do, and kids whose families couldn’t afford bikes. And that’s when Jeanie, Joe’s daughter who taught third grade, told Joe the biggest problem for elementary schools today is attendance.

Thus was born ZUMMOBIKE.com– the idea of giving bikes (“pre-owned and refurbished” ) to kids as a reward for perfect school attendance.

“Her school taught us the business”, says Steve. “Getting and giving away bikes is a business. It doesn’t make any money, but its still a business.”

The mission of Zummobike.com: Get kids to school.

The challenge to kids: “Never miss a class for a year and get a bike, helmet, and lock.”

This June, ten year old Amy Dieng was one of 38 out of 470 kids at Hancock Elementary with perfect attendance. Later Steve learned she had perfect attendance, not just that year, but every year of elementary school – and kindergarten. They gave her a brand new bike, blue with pink and white markings, along with a brand new helmet and lock.

She is shy and holds tightly to her father’s hand as she tells me: “Steve, he teach me how to use pedal and hand brake. I ride it outside with my cousin, around the apartment complex.”

“It made them very happy” says her father.

Also behind the counter is a lanky teenager who is cleaning a donated bike. Steve shows him how to flip it and put it on the counter so it’s easier to work on.

“Bocar comes in every Saturday morning for a few hours. He’s learning how to repair bikes. He’s a good man. Works hard.”

Bocar is Amy’s older brother. Their mom is a Home Aid caregiver. “And Dad’s getting a masters degree from Strayer University in three weeks,” says Steve.

Steve shows me the basement of Zummo’s. It is filled with bikes of all sizes and colors, some kept for parts, some almost new. Floor to ceiling shelves, jammed with new helmets, line both walls. I ask where he gets the bikes.

“All over. There’s a reverend in Somerdale New Jersey who gave us 75 last year.”

Later, an eight year old girl, Remi, tells me about the bike she got from Steve. “Because I was perfect attendance”,  she says, proudly.

“At the time we were so down financially”, says Remi’s Mom. Her husband had moved out and left the family. “With that bike, we were living in a dream world.”

“Remi was a good salesman”, says Steve. She grins as she describes the day she got her bike – and then told Steve about her two sisters, 15 and six.

“I gave them bikes, too.”

How many bikes have they given away?

“About 200 in the three years since we started”, says Steve. That’s around 200 students with perfect school attendance records.

And three guys – Steve, Joe, and JJ – with pretty good giving records.

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Check out my new book, Gods and Heroes

Its full title is Gods and Heroes: myths around the world.  It has cool stories and lots of pictures – a must for any book of mine.

Why a book about myths?  (from the Introduction)  “Myths are the traditional stories of a culture… we can see a reflection of the people who wrote them – what they thought of the world and themselves, how they were different from us, and how they were the same… (and) why might this culture have thought it was important to continue telling this tale, year after year, generation after generation.”

Think of today’s stories: George Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie” about the cherry tree; Lincoln walking miles to return change to a customer; Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders charging up San Juan Hill; even JFK and PT 109. Whether myths or historical facts, they reflect who we are or want to be.

What separates history and myth? Probably time and who’s doing the telling.

My book describes myths and heroes from thousands of years ago in stories that reflect past cultures and, in small ways, tease the cultures of today.

For example, before there was Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio, there was Heracles (p. 107), “the most popular hero to come out of Greek mythology”. Somewhat like the Eagles’ 17 game path to the Super Bowl immortality, Heracles was given 12 tasks to accomplish for personal immortality. Instead of demolishing the Cowboys 27-13, though, one of Heracles’ tasks was to clean all the stables and grounds of King Augeas, “who owned the largest animal herds of all of Greece as well as the most poop-filled stables.”

(Did I mention my book was written to entertain and educate middle schoolers? Works, doesn’t it.)

Like Boston’s shock at 2ndstring Nick Foles’ superior passing, which immortalized him in Philadelphia, King Augeas didn’t expect Heracles “to divert a river to do the cleaning for him”, which immortalized Heracles in Greece.

There is the story of Leizu (p. 140), wife of the Yellow Emperor of China. “One afternoon she discovered some cocoons in a mulberry tree.” When one fell into her tea, “the hot water made the cocoon unravel, and she pulled and pulled at the string… to make silk threat and fabric”.

Far-fetched? How long will it take for the more recent story of making thread from a spinning wheel to feel like a myth?

And then there is the Greek god Zeus (p. 285), “god of kings and king of gods…ruling gods and mortals alike with a muscular arm and a fist full of lightning bolts.”

Being a god didn’t make Zeus a good guy, though, because, “while he may be married, Zeus had enough affairs and children to put him at the center of any Greek family tree.”

Today’s parallel? I just read about Eddie Murphy having 5 wives and 10 kids. (Just saying…)

The Romans liked Zeus so much, they copied his myths for their own god, Jupiter.

You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the Achilles’ heel. (p.10) “It’s named after Achilles, a Greek hero from the Trojan War (in which Greek soldiers hid in a large wooden horse statue which they gave to the Trojans and then, at night, climbed out and killed all the Trojans.” Thus the “Trojan Horse” of today.)

Anyway, back to Achilles. “When he was a baby, his mother dipped him in magical water that would make him invincible…except the heel she held him by. He grew up to be one of the greatest warriors of his age, undefeated until he was shot in the heel with a poisoned arrow during the Trojan War.”

And let’s not forget Inanna (p. 115), “the subject of one of the oldest love poems in human history, but it’s a little too risque to repeat here.” (Middle schoolers, remember).

I recommend you get this book, not because it’s my book, because it really isn’t. Well, it is, really, because I bought it the day it came out. On the other hand it isn’t, because I’m not the one who wrote and illustrated it. I can’t draw – a thing – and I sure as heck can’t write 300 pages about anything, especially gods and heroes.

However, I did bounce on my knee the young Briggs who grew up to write and illustrate it.

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